‘Fly away home…’

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The ladybird was swimming desperately as I scooped it out, feeling that little rush of warmth at having rescued the tiny creature from a watery death. It wasn’t happy, but I placed it on the side of the sink to dry out while I soaked. I would take it outside when I was clad in something more decorous than a towel.

From my supine position in the steam, I could see it begin to move, flexing its legs and shifting on the slippery surface; a tiny splash of colour against the porcelain. I like ladybirds. As a child, they always fascinated me and I was almost offended when I read that they could bite. Surely… they wouldn’t?

They are called ladybirds, apparently, for the Virgin Mary, who was often shown cloaked in red in the early paintings. The seven spots of one of the commonest types were said to symbolise her joys and her sorrows. There is an older association, with the Norse goddess, Freya too; it is said the ladybird came to earth riding a bolt of lightning There is a lot of old lore about them… as predictors of weather, for instance. It would rain if one fell into your hand. It is true they do not fly when the world is chilled.

This one, however, was recovering nicely in the warmth of the bathroom. As I dried and dressed I thought that perhaps I would only need to open the window for it shortly for it to ‘fly away home’… I watched it flex the fragile wings, glad to see it unfurl them. A short flight and it landed in the bowl of the sink as I was running the tap… and slid straight down the plughole, carried by the force of water into oblivion. There was nothing I could do, the little creature was gone.

I waited a while, hoping to see it re-emerge in the manner of the spiders that hide there when threatened. Nothing. There would be no happy ending for this harbinger of good fortune. I was, I admit, quite upset by the incident, having saved it from drowning just minutes before, only to have assisted its passing with the running water.

I couldn’t help but think about it though. It is said in many cultures that the number of our days is predetermined. If it was the ladybird’s time, then perhaps there really was nothing I could have done. Perhaps it only mattered that I had cared enough to try.

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I thought of the verses from Ecclesiastes, relevant regardless of faith:

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones,
and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

I am not a believer in strict predestination, though I do subscribe to the belief that we choose the broader outlines of our lives in order to provide us with the opportunities we need that we may learn and grow; a vessel into which the wine of life is poured. I am a firm believer in the gift of free will and the ability to shape our lives and futures within a greater Perfection. I do, however, feel that there is ‘a season and a time to every purpose’.

There is an intuitive understanding of when the time is ‘right’ that most of us feel; a tide of possibility that ebbs and flows with the seasons of our lives, and while some things carry an air of obstinate inevitability, others open before us as new landscapes full of adventure. At these moments we have a choice, whether we retreat to safe familiarity, or move forwards, through the open door into the unknown. At such times we cannot know whether a dragon or a pot of gold awaits us, only whether or not we have the courage to find out.

Yet there are other times when we know we simply need to be still, to find an oasis of calm within ourselves, away from the hustle and bustle of a world that moves too fast around us. A place to breathe and simply be… right here, right now.

And then there are the times when events move beyond our control and we can do nothing to change them. Yet even here we do have choices… we can ride that ever-flowing wave of time and tide and face inevitability in a manner of our choosing. And we can choose to learn and grow, even from the smallest event. In this way, even the seeming vagaries of fate are at the mercy of a reality altered by will. When the ladybird goes down the plughole, in spite of all your efforts, you have a choice… will you simply shrug and move on, grieve and salute the passing of a life, however small… and will you have learned to ensure that the plug is secure next time?

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A question of choice

I have been thinking a lot lately…there is more than enough time for that at the moment. Not that a mind often stops. It sleeps occasionally, though even dreams may keep it busy. Sometimes it feels as if conscious thought goes into abeyance and I stand back and watch another me, one who knows something that I do not. A bigger me. Not, as my sons would gleefully tell you given my mere five foot that this is a difficult thing.

Many writers recount how their characters write the book and they, as authors, simply take down the words as dictation. I can verify this for I have felt it myself, learning to know and love my creations as they create themselves. All the writer does then, is set the scene and give them a form to inhabit. The characters seem to write the rest for themselves and the writer taps away at the keyboard, watching and waiting to see how the story unfolds and frequently being taken by surprise.

It is a curious feeling and one that has made me wonder whether this is how deity feels, fondly watching us play out our stories upon the backdrop of life, waiting to see what we will do with the opportunities we are given. For they are opportunities, each and every challenge with which we are faced. Some of them are bigger than others, some pass almost unnoticed, but we meet them every day.

The big ones, those that affect our lives, inwardly or outwardly, are the ones we remember. They are the heartaches and grief, the fears and loss, even the joys. For they all carry choice as part of their gift. Even when we are faced with a seemingly choice-less situation, we still have the ability to decide how we act or react, how we learn, what we carry away from the moment.

I’m not even sure that the choices themselves matter. It is what impels them that counts. Too often we merely react, thinking we have chosen, when in fact we are the victim of our own conditioned responses and we stumble through life unconscious of the fact that we are not fully aware of our own selves. But choice is a precious thing. We won’t always get it right… sometimes there is no right. We will inevitably make mistakes, but that is okay. We can learn from those too. Every single second presents us with the wonder that is choice. And each choice we make will change our world in a very real way.

Have you considered that we are the authors of our own reality based upon how we face each moment. We can change our worlds with a single thought, a shift in perception, a change of heart. We can hurt and cause pain by simply reacting in anger or frustration, or we can share joy and comfort, choosing to look beyond the surface of the moment to see what lies beneath.

When we do make these choices consciously, we do not do so with the mind alone.

There is a stream of thought that sees manifest reality as the ultimate expression of divinity, by whatever Name we call It. If this is so then we are not separated from the Divine, aspiring to be worthy of Its love, but both we and the world in which we live are an inherent part of It… and expression of It’s Self.

We may choose for good or ill, each choice will carry consequences and bring further choices, to be conscious of our choices or to allow ourselves to react. But the simple fact that we have this gift is also an expression of the perfect design of the One. Made in awareness, our choices will reflect that and we can touch something finer within ourselves than we would normally see in our everyday lives. We do not do it often, but when we do, we Know.

A matter of choice…

I never did like doing as I was told.

I might, through necessity, for example, obey the authoritarian order of an autocratic boss, but orders would never inspire me to give of my best. I would do just enough to be obedient within their sphere of influence… and not a sausage more. Both mentally and emotionally, I would be kicking against the bars of the imaginary cage… and although I might be a dutiful underling, I would never be an eager and willing participant.

Ask me, on the other hand, trust me to see a job done, give me a choice and let me take responsibility and I wouldn’t just go the extra mile… I’d run the marathon.

I do not, for one minute, think I am alone in feeling this way. Most people respond with far more enthusiasm to a modicum of trust and will pull out all the proverbial stops to not only meet, but exceed expectations, when they are given a choice and thus accept responsibility for their actions. A good boss knows this and handles their employees accordingly, allowing them to utilise, explore and extend their own strengths, which in turn gives them a sense of self-belief and self-worth… which in the end, is good for everyone… and especially the business.

Oddly, thinking about this put me in mind of a daft sketch I had done over a decade ago. It was the product of a conversation between Running Elk and myself. My memory is not precise about the sequence of events, but at some point during that online exchange, we spoke of Hades’ Ferryman, who carries the souls of the departed across the River Styx. A typo later and the Keeper became the Kipper of the Styx and, a few scribbles after that, the kipper was committed to paper.

I was pondering the liminal Kipper and realised that he is, if nothing else, the guardian of a point of transition, a point of choice and change.

In Greek myth, the river forms the boundary between the Earth, where the living dwell, and the Underworld, which is the realm of the dead. There is always a price to pay for passage across that river and those who do not pay, cannot cross, nor can they return to the lands of men. They do not know where they are going, they know only that the time has come to cross into another phase of existence. They must pay the price and move forward in trust. The only part of that story that worries me is the idea that someone else can pay the Ferryman for your crossing. I don’t think that, in real terms, that is ever possible. Sacrifice, too, must be a choice. It has no spiritual value if it is imposed…it must be a willing contract in order to hold power.

Like the Death card in the Tarot pack, death and the Underworld in symbolic terms, usually refer to a change in the state of being that is not always a physical death. The year I drew that sketch was the year my son was stabbed, leaving him facing change on a monumental scale as he addressed the physical, emotional and intellectual challenges of a sudden and enforced removal of both the popular and his personal concept of normality.  The one thing that remained to him and completely within his control, was choice. He could not choose to return to the normality he had known for twenty-five years; that life was over and there could be no going back. He could not simply choose to be on the other side of the nightmare either. The choice lay in whether or not he chose to make the journey between the two, paying its price or remaining locked into the imposition of disability, like a soul wandering in limbo.

He chose to make that journey, trusting that the undefined goal was the right destination to aim for. He did not know what lay ahead, nor how far he could go. But he went anyway.  At first, he followed what to many seemed to be a false trail, chasing the red herring of complete physical recovery, even whilst he accepted that such was unlikely. The distant, seemingly unattainable goal, was a good one. It demanded a high price, making him push the boundaries of his own expectations and carrying him much further towards that stated goal than anyone could have expected.  It may have been a red herring, but the quest for that recovery taught him a great deal about himself and what really mattered to him.

Then came a point when he began to reassess and exercise his inner choices rather than his muscles,  with the emphasis he chose being less on how to walk and more on how to live. Again, he had to trust that the journey towards impossible goals would take him to where he needed to be… and now, another world of his own making lies open to him, full of adventures.

My son’s situation was unusual, but the choices we each of us have to face are much the same, from the small, everyday moments where we have to trust in the outcome of our decisions, to the life-changing and momentous situations where all we know is that we cannot stand still and must move forward, even if we cannot see where the current will lead.

There is another story in mythology about the Styx. As a baby, the invincible warrior, Achilles, had been dipped in the waters of the river. The only point the water did not touch was his heel… and that was the only point of vulnerability he had. To bathe in the river of choice at a point of transition does render us invulnerable, for, like water, our choices ebb and flow about us all the time, and choosing to embrace, in trust and full awareness, whatever journey lies at our feet gives us a strength that cannot be easily broken. Even those choices that are red herrings will offer us opportunities to learn and teach us things we may never have known without the false trail.

Our choices are not always right, we do not get it right first time very often, but when we listen to the promptings of the inner heart and being,  and choose our way with courage and conviction, the effort of the journey is always worth the price we choose to pay.

The edge of the precipice

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Driving home, there was one of those moments of sheer, unadulterated joy when the fields were lit with pale sunshine, the sky a clear blue and the feel of the car around me occupied my whole being. I can’t think of a better way of putting it. It is one of those things for which words seem too small. Yet, you could argue, it is only a car… getting on a bit, less than perfect and just a machine.

On the other hand, what it means to me, personally, is something quite different. The world inside the car is a place out of the ordinary. It is a haven from importunate necessity, an oasis of silence in spite of the roar and rattle it carries with it; a place where thoughts can blossom and bear fruit. It is possibility, control and freedom… and sometimes escape. It allows me to serve the needs of everyday life, as well as to follow my heart into the hills.

In itself, it is none of these things. It is just a metal box on wheels. It becomes, however, the symbol for all these things and more because it is the vehicle of my choices.

It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to learn to drive. I had started… had my first lesson… in my late teens just before a drunk driver ploughed into the car in which I was a passenger. A fractured skull and a rearranged, reconstructed face left me too afraid of cars to try and drive again. The blow to the fragile self-confidence of a teenager was profound and the scarred face itself a major life-lesson it took many years to appreciate for the gift it was.

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Over the years many people encouraged me to try and learn to drive. It was nearly twenty years before I found the courage to try again and only then because I felt it necessary when my partner was terminally ill. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise… I was too scared and had absolutely no confidence in my ability to become either safe or proficient. Fear had me completely caged, but I came to a point where I felt ready to tackle the bars of my self-imposed prison.

Perhaps those who had encouraged or pushed me to learn earlier were right. Or perhaps I would not have had the confidence to learn before I did. I may have missed years of enjoyment… or avoided a potentially lethal fear hitting the road. Who knows? Be that as it may, I made a decision and went for it.

All I do know for certain is that by the end of that first month’s lessons I was hooked. I loved it. These days, even some twenty years later, there are few places I am happier than behind the wheel. I love driving. Facing the fear had proved it to be no more than a shadow and, critically, one I finally realised that I had adopted and accepted as a habit. The car, previously a symbol of distress and panic, became a thing of confident joy.

It is often the way. There are choices we have to make, fears that we have the opportunity to face; personal precipices where we stand on the edge looking out over what seems to be a huge gulf of terrifying uncertainty knowing you can only fall or fly.

There is a moment of calm and clarity when you know that you can choose your course of action. There may be those who urge you forward or who seek to pull you back, holding you in safety away from the edge. Yet while their advice and counsel may inform your decision, you are the only person who can make that choice. You are the only one who has the power to choose what course of action is really right for you at that time. It is only necessary to be genuinely prepared to face the moment and make a conscious choice.

You may choose to turn away from the edge… to step back into the safety of the known. You may choose to step off the edge of the precipice, knowing that you may fall.

And sometimes you find that you have wings.

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Choose your own adventure…

New Year … it is one of those threshold points where we resolve to make a new start… quitting bad habits, starting a health kick or a new project… drawing a line under some aspect of the past and moving forward in a new way. And yet, for all that determination, most of those who commit to change will have broken their resolutions by the middle of January, and that can leave behind the bitter taste of guilt, inadequacy or failure… which, by a cruel irony, was often at the root of the problem in the first place.

It does not have to be that way… we have a new opportunity with every passing second. Every moment is a potential crossroads where we have the chance to choose our way forward. Every choice we make, consciously or unconsciously, shapes the path our future will take and leads us off in a new direction. Like any interesting path, we cannot see where it may lead as we stand at the crossroads, and we have yet another choice… to face the journey with excitement and curiosity, or fear.

The idea reminds me of the old ‘adventure’ books that were popular a few decades ago. You read the story so far and, at a critical moment, were presented with a number of choices. Each choice sent you to a different page in the book where the story took a new direction, leaving you with a new set of choices and eventually leading to one of the many possible endings. In effect, you ‘wrote’ the story, based upon your choices. All the words were written… all possible endings were in there…all combinations of the choices were available… and every time you made a new choice, you rewrote the story. You know the sort of thing…

…you turn the corner and are confronted by a ravenous monster…

Do you:

a) Stand and face it

b) Run away

c) Buy it lunch

The ‘choose your own adventure’ books were targeted primarily at young teens and inadvertently provided a graphic life-lesson. They illustrated that while you may not be able to control external factors in your life, you always have a choice in how you face them… and a responsibility for the path you have chosen to follow and its consequences. The advantage that they had over ‘real life’ was that, if you made the wrong choice, you could always go back to the previous chapter and try again. We do not have that luxury, but we too can learn from our mistakes…and learn more from our worst choices than our best.

I doubt if there are many of us who have not made glaring errors of judgement at some points in our lives and many of us have carried them as a burden of grief, guilt or simple embarrassment that may have weighed us down for years. In many ways, this too is a ‘choose your own adventure’ scenario:

you are confronted by a ravenous monster…

Do you:

a) Stand and face it

b) Run away

c) Feed it

If that ‘ravenous monster’ is named Fear, Guilt or Shame, the chances are that most of us feed it a diet of regret, reliving old emotions engendered by the events that caused it to appear. Just like the adventure books, you cannot erase the chapters that went before…nor do you need to do so. Each step you have taken and choice you have made have combined to bring this you to this moment… and this you can choose to rewrite your adventure whenever it wishes.

The mistakes and apparent failures of the past are a valuable part of our journey. In 1159, John of Salisbury wrote: “Bernard of Chartres used to compare us to dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. He pointed out that we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.” In 1675 Isaac Newton said, : “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” If we have a past filled with mistakes and failures, then perhaps the bigger they seem to us, the higher we can climb upon them and the farther we can learn to see beyond them.

There is only one New Year’s Eve every year where we can make those traditional resolutions, but there are three hundred and sixty four other days. Each one of those has eighty-six-thousand-four-hundred seconds within it… and any one of those can be a threshold of opportunity when we can choose to change our world.

The courage of conviction…

‘They’ve got that completely the wrong way around.’ I almost winced as I read the article, completely disagreeing with the perspective that was being outlined. The basics were correct, I felt but there was something decidedly ‘off’ about the way it was being put across. I read on regardless, listening to the running commentary in my mind… then winced in good earnest. This time at me.

By what right did I think I could judge another person’s perspective? Anyone can challenge facts if they have better information, but this was not a factual piece; it was an article on an aspect of spirituality, which, by its very nature, deals with the unseen and unknown. I may have the right to disagree with a belief or an opinion, just as I have a right to my own perspective… but I have no right to judge another to be wrong on such a subject, no matter how deep my own convictions may run.

How can we know? None of us can prove there is anything beyond this realm. None of us can prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that anything exists beyond what we are experiencing right here, right now, with our own physical senses. And even that is debateable, subjective and at the mercy of quantum physicists. We cannot even be sure that we exist in the way that we think we do.

We accept that we are solid beings in a physical world where walls are impenetrable and water is wet, all the while knowing that there is more space between the particles that make up everything in the universe, than there is solid matter. Even though, theoretically, our atoms should be able to pass through walls, we don’t try to walk through them. Experience says it doesn’t work.

But we all know that there are things beyond what we are seeing. I know my sons are in their homes as I write. I know the dog is sleeping in the hallway and that the sun will rise in the morning. I cannot see any of these things, but I know them to be true. I have learned from experience, and such things are part of my image of the world that has been built over time. If I doubted that experiential reality, how could I move through the world?

When it comes to spirituality we are, by definition, dealing with things unseen and unprovable in any scientific way, yet as soon as we wonder whether there is a greater reality of some kind, we are looking at a plane of causation, something which affects and is an integral part of this reality.

We are faced with three ways we can go. There is scepticism, where we withhold judgement until and unless we find some reason to change our minds. There is belief, where we can choose to accept …or reject…a vision of reality put forward by others. Belief, on its own, implies that choice and choosing not to believe comes into that category. There is faith…trust, conviction, knowing…call it what you will. It may have, but does not require any religious affiliation or dogma, it transcends logic and simply settles on the heart.

Scepticism and belief can argue their corner. They are based on knowledge and reason. Faith is unreasonable, subjective, emotional, often illogical… and yet it can grow from both scepticism and belief. Faith ‘just knows’ and the conviction is so deep it permeates every aspect of your life and answers its every question.

And you cannot prove a thing.

You might very well be wrong.

The only ‘proof’ you can offer is how you live your life. How your convictions shape you and carry you through the trials and tribulations each new day can bring. And the trouble is that, regardless of the specifics of that faith, you are not alone. There are people whose convictions sustain them exactly as you are sustained… yet their path is different from yours and may not include faith at all.

So how can we judge another’s faith, belief or conviction when we cannot prove our own? As long at it follows some version of the Golden Rule and harms none, how can we say who is right and who is wrong?

All we can do is refuse the impulse to dismiss another’s belief, believe without seeking to impose our own perspective and accept that there is always a paradox… we can know with utter certainty, knowing that we might be wrong and that it is okay.

That, I think, is the true courage of conviction.

Time for change…

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I was given a clock for Christmas, a clock framed by pictures of my grandchildren. I hung it on the wall, marvelling at how quickly life can change. I, who was a young woman not two minutes ago, or so it seems, have grandchildren.

My eldest granddaughter had made me a card too and written it herself…with a little help from her father. I had to smile at the design the pair of them had chosen, a single red candle with holly leaves and berries… a design I had made from sugarpaste, every year, to decorate the family Christmas cake when the boys were young. Christmas is a time for tradition and memory. My granddaughter has recently changed from being an only child to being a big sister. She is trying to work out relationships and needed to check if her Daddy had been in grandma’s tummy, once upon a time. Her father raised his eyebrows and grinned… we shared a glance that was not only between mother and son but between two adults who are parents and who understand the odd things small children can say. In one sentence, little Hollie had summed up a lifetime of changes.

I have seen so many changes, both natural and unnaturally brusque, over the years. When life creates change, we have little choice but to accept them. We do not always find it easy to create change for ourselves… even n the small things.

I yawn at the computer, finish my coffee and stand at the back door in the freezing night air to wake myself up. It’s only eight o’clock. Way too early for bed.

Or is it, really? Why?

Let’s think about this. I’ve been up since five…there’s no one here now but Ani and me, no requirements at this time of night to do anything, only the choice to work, wallow in a bathtub or put my feet up with a film. Granted, I can’t go to bed too early or I’ll have a desperate dog climbing the walls by morning, but she is asleep for the evening so this is a reasonable time as far as she is concerned. Especially given than ‘early to bed, early to rise’ will kick in if I sleep soon. It would do me good to stop tapping away, and relax for a while. So, what stops me?

Guilt. Years of habit, that’s what. Eight o’clock isn’t bedtime, it is the start of the evening in a busy household when everyone is at work all day. This is the time when cooking and dishes are done, time to sit down and relax with the family.

This no longer applies. My household has gone minimalist, just me and the dog, my official working day starts early and my unofficial working day finishes at whatever time I choose to stop writing. Still, the habit of being awake all evening is a hard one to break.

I’m working on it, taking the odd hour or two out to watch a film or read for a while. Because I can. That was a hard one. I can. Me. Selfishly, indulgently.

I hadn’t actually realised the conditioning, the programming, I had both accepted and imposed upon myself over the years; habits and routines that have inadvertently dominated the decades. It is only when that old saying kicks in that you start to notice; ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’… and it works both ways.

Like a chronic pain that you learn to live with for so long, that it is only when it disappears that you notice it, so it has been since I began to take stock of how hidebound many aspects of my life had become. Many things have changed over the past few years, and those changes highlighted how much of my day was lost to habit. With subtle shifts in responsibility, the ‘I’ that I was is no longer required, redundant. As with many redundancies there was a period of floundering in the unknown as I emerged from under the security blanket of habit, desperately scrabbling to keep hold of at least some of the familiar yet tattered threads.

Routines are not all bad. They allow us to get through the necessary tasks and have time for getting out there and living. There are many routines, however, we are simply unaware of, and because we have done things ‘that way’ for years, we neither notice nor take the opportunities for change.

Now, finally, the I that I am is beginning to unfold. Not because it has to in order to keep pace with the changing circumstances of life, or some outward imposition of change, but because I am choosing, in awareness, to let go of many old and outworn behaviours. And yes, parts of me are kick and scream in protest as I strip back the familiar spars and start the spring cleaning of my days. As with physical spring cleaning, the de-cluttering will hopefully leave me with only those things I need, freeing up the dark cupboards and stuffed drawers. It doesn’t mean changing everything; I am still going to brush my teeth before bed and comb my hair before I go out. It just means being aware of what I am doing and why… and I am finding it to be an ongoing voyage of rediscovery.

We fear change in our secure routines, even when we don’t recognise them as such. They are what we think of as our lives after all, forgetting that these habits are no more than patterns with which we regulate our days. Life may be waiting patiently in the wings for us to give the cue for it to begin a new act, but while we are still immersed in the last, the curtain cannot rise.

Behind the times…

Louis XIV, by Bernini. Image: Louis le Grand

 

“Verily, verily, do I say unto thee,

Be wary of those who write your history.”

….so wrote Stuart a little while ago. Reading it, you might be forgiven for thinking of politicians, biased historians or religious bodies. I came across something even more insidious the other day, though… television. Not just any television either… this was a programme under the aegis of the BBC, once the most respected of institutions.

We all know…or I hope we all know… that Hollywood has always taken gross cinematic liberties with history, chopping, changing and reshaping it, just as they do with books, in order to produce something that gives a vague interpretation of events. This is Hollywood after all… Tinseltown… La La Land…the visual fantasy factory of the world. It rarely produces historical accuracy, that is not its brief. It produces entertainment and the definition of that mission is ‘to provide amusement or enjoyment’. Even the best and most accurate films deviate from reality… how could it be otherwise when a literary masterwork or a lifetime or two has to be squashed into ninety minutes?

The BBC, on the other hand, has built a long reputation as a source of educational and informative programming. It provides entertainment too, but we have acquired a habit of trusting it does its homework on its history.

Now, I do not have television. I have a television, but it is connected only to the player that was a gift from my son. I do not miss TV, but when I am unwell and cannot retire to bed because the dog still needs walking, feeding and access to the garden, I can happily relax with a film. I mention this to explain why I was ignorant of what I was about to see, for I had also acquired, by pressing one of those ‘find out more’ buttons, a free trial of an online viewing service. Scrolling through what was on offer, the title ‘Versailles‘ caught my eye. ‘Oh‘, thinks I, never having heard of the series and being, apparently, very much behind the times, ‘that might be good…

I lived in France for many years. I know a fair bit of French history, I know the palace of Versailles… the period and its people are fascinating for many reasons. I settled down to watch… and I was shocked.

It was not the inclusion of sex and violence, for they without a doubt reflect certain aspects of life at Louis’ court. Not that I think we need either representing quite so graphically on mainstream TV. I was more shocked by a reported statement from a producer that modern TV series’ should have a scene of sex or violence every fifteen minutes. Is this really what we require? Or it is that we have become so numb that we barely notice.

Pornography is widely available on the internet already. Gratuitous gore is so much a part of ‘entertainment’ these days that we barely flinch any more, and ever more shocking examples are placed before us to get our attention. That is a problem in itself and I wonder how close we now are to the scenario played out in the 1987 film ‘Running Man‘. The film portrays a totalitarian state where all artistic and cultural expression is  censored and the populace are controlled via the media feeding them increasing levels of sex and violence in ‘reality TV’ shows.

If that really is what we require, then we are a society in the final throes of decay… comparable to the Romans with their bloodthirsty arenas and ever more outlandishly staged contests designed solely to sate the appetite for blood and vicarious ‘thrills’.

What shocked me just as much was how far the producers of the film had rewritten history. It is one thing to set fictional characters against a backdrop of history… that is a staple of both fictional literature and film-making… but to twist facts to misrepresent historical figures, that is another matter altogether.

The series, I am told, runs through several seasons, presenting historical fiction mixed with historical fact as if it were one and the same. There seems to be no disclaimer that states it to be a fictional interpretation and viewers without prior knowledge will be learning ‘history’ from the script and assuming it to be true.

This worries me.

We can probably all discern that the sex and violence are only shown for shock value and the ratings. But how many could or would pick apart the fact from the fiction? We will just accept there is an element of dramatic licence, without questioning where it begins and ends, yet we still unconsciously absorb ‘facts’ that are fed to us via the imagination and in the safety of our own homes. That, I believe, affects how we view and trust things, the fact that we are within our own safe walls. Yet that is exactly where most media reach us.

There is little that can withstand a man who can conquer himself.
~Louis XIV

One of the tenets of the Silent Eye is to accept nothing and question everything. We encourage our Companions to take responsibility for their lives, thoughts and beliefs rather than simply accepting what they are told. In this age of bombardment by visual and aural information, I believe that developing a conscious attitude of discernment, the ability to exercise informed choice, and taking responsibility for those choices, is more important than ever.

We live in an age where both information and misinformation are as widely available as opinion. We have access to the thoughts, stories and histories of the world seen from many different perspectives. For the first time in human history, we have the ability to really think for ourselves in an informed manner, not follow blindly where our lords and masters may lead, either physically or intellectually. Do we not owe it to ourselves, and perhaps to those who have walked this earth before us, to choose a path of growth rather than the slippery slope to anaesthetised decay?

The future is ours to shape. Our future… personally and globally. Call me old-fashioned, but I would rather make an informed choice of the road I take than be led blindly by the nose… or a TV screen.

Inner whispers

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Every so often there is a shift in a life’s pattern that leads you off at a new tangent. Sometimes these are things you have worked for, dreamed of and created for yourself… an opportunity seen and grasped. Sometimes these events simply land in your lap and you have to choose whether or not to accept them and go with them… and sometimes there simply is no choice.

Occasionally these new directions may leave people questioning your sanity… why would you take such a risk after all, when there is no real reason to do so that is obvious to the outside world. You are doing okay, everything seems to be in order and life is pootling along quite nicely, thank you very much. Suddenly you pull the metaphorical rug from under your own feet and start behaving in what the world might see as an unusual manner.

‘Mid-life crisis’, say some, ‘lost the plot’ say others… and there are unkinder epithets available too, as well as the slightly envious, or respectful ones of those who want to break free of their own routine and Do Something.

Of course, you may well launch into one of these ventures… or adventures… and find things seem to unfold in their own way, regardless of the nice, tidy plans you have made where you thought you had everything under control and your vision of the future ran between nice, neat lines of predictability. Then you wake up one morning and realise that while you were sleeping the universe, as is its wont, has seen a vessel shaped to its need and rushed in to fill it.

At this point you realise that you are running along merrily with a cup filled to the brim with something unfamiliar, unplanned and suddenly very easy to spill. It demands a more considered approach and some major readjustments in thinking. You might, it is true, simply empty out the cup and start again to your own plan, or you can accept the gift and begin to learn what it will need from you in order to grow into what it could… perhaps should…be. It was such a scenario that saw the birth of the Silent Eye… a desire that became an imperative that has become both response and learning curve for those of us involved.

We are lucky, we are none of us on our own in this and we each have the companionship of the others to check, teach and learn from, for we really are the first students of the School. We have to be…anything else would be hypocrisy. You cannot teach what you are not first prepared to learn although that learning may be damnably uncomfortable at times, as we learn to look into the mirror of self and see ourselves without mercy, but with justice, love and understanding. It is a necessary process and a valuable one, as from those personal lessons we learn to teach from experience, not mere theory.

There are other gifts and shifts along the way too, and every so often you pull up short and wonder about everything, up to and including your own sanity in following these pathways into an unknown that is yet not unknowable, especially when the going gets rough. Learning to trust that the path knows where it leads isn’t always easy. But there are treasures to be found along the way and some of them are the people who drop into your life at just the right time, with just the right understanding and experience to restore your faith in your sanity and allow you to hitch up your backpack and follow the path forward. They are not always obvious, these gifts; for although sometimes they stand in a clear light, easy to see, at others they are like the ragged beggar or the beast in the fairy stories that turns out to be the hero or the sage in disguise, but they await on our journey if we have eyes to see.

Our individual journeys as human beings, though, are not fairytales, they are our lives and each of us encounters these moments of choice and self doubt in the quiet of our own minds. There is, deep within us all a part of us that observes and Knows, shaking its head fondly at our errors with love unconditional and a clarity of vision we might call conscience, but which goes beyond that to a deeper understanding of our self, our motives, our strengths and our frailties. On the surface we may be as children, fingers in our ears in our refusal to hear a truth we already know, yet learn we must and grow we will, like it or not, one day.

That inner knowing pulls together all the threads of being and manifests as that inner voice of the heart and that, perhaps, is our best guide through the journey of life if we can simply learn how to listen and act on its whispering song.