To have and to hold

From behind the curtain I am watching the birds in the garden. I am waiting for the hawthorns to grow tall and become a haven for feathered things. They are, for the moment, little more than bushes, but even so, every morning, sparrows and blackbirds, bluetits and doves visit my little patch. Ravens and jackdaws fly in most days, while Ani lies by the open door and watches, or bounds out to scatter them when she sees that I am watching. Every day, overhead, the great red kites soar majestically. Yesterday one landed on the roof behind my home and I watched, not daring to move for the camera, as the huge beauty surveyed its domain.

It was a rare privilege. Though I would give the proverbial eye-teeth to take a really good photograph of these birds in the wild there are some things you can only experience, not seek to catch. Had I moved for the camera I would have missed the moment; had I sought to capture it, I would have lost something precious. Some things are simply a gift from the Earth, just for you in that moment, to be enjoyed, cherished only in the heart… not to capture.

There are things, moments, that are so beautiful, yet so ephemeral and fragile that they cannot be held or possessed, only accepted. Like a sunbeam that cannot be caught, but only felt as it plays across your skin, or seen as it lights the rainbows in a diamond… or like a butterfly whose fragile wings are crushed by a child’s grasp at beauty. The ancients knew and told the story of Eros and Psyche… Love and the Soul…. Psyche could be with Eros only as long as she did not seek to look upon him and when she did, he disappeared.

By seeking to hold we can often lose the very thing that moves us. Yet it seems we are programmed very early on to want to ‘have’ what touches us, instead of being able to simply love something that is free to be itself.

Even language seeks to impose a degree of ownership on all we do, and particularly in regard to human interaction. Language conditions us and the careful choice of words can have devastating effect, for good or ill. While we may be aware of the effects caused by the deliberate usage of words in terms of propaganda, we unconsciously do the same all the time, not realising, perhaps, the insidious implications a single word can have.

Even the simplest statement… “I have two sons…” implies a degree of possession. We do not intend it that way, we may simply be using the easiest words… we may be indicating affection rather than ownership, if we think about it at all… yet the verb ‘to have’ implies ownership at some level.

Yet, when we possess something it ceases to be itself and becomes little more than an extension of ourselves… it loses more than freedom and autonomy, as its own identity becomes subsumed in our projection of our own. Even deeper than that, we often become, even in our own eyes, defined by what we think we possess… yet in truth, we come into the world naked and leave it the same way, so we possess nothing. We may think we hold things for a while, but the only thing we truly ‘own’ is our self. And even that is debateable.

As I watched the birds I was thinking about that. Would I want to cage a sparrow? No… I delight in their antics in the garden. I love them for their freedom. Would I want a red kite on a perch, just to say it was ‘mine’? No, I want only to see them ride the wind… though a little closer to the lens would be nice, I admit!

We all delight in the unexpected glimpses of wildlife. And, by their very nature, they are free… wild… unowned…untamed. Over the years a good many baby birds or injured ones have passed through my hands. While it is a delight to have that close contact for a while there is never any other goal, and no greater joy, than to see them fly free as soon as they are able. You are left with nothing but memories… perhaps a photo…with empty hands but a full heart. Maybe that is the only place we can truly hold anything.

Dramatic license…

Image: Pixabay

It was the morning coffee conversation, the one where I perch on the end of my son’s bed while he considers getting out of it. Even fuelled by good, freshly ground beans, that can take some time, especially if we start talking… and that invariably happens.

Today, the subject that caught out attention was the media…. TV, films, books, the works… and how fiction inevitably draws us in to a place where our own lives can seem bland in comparison to their imaginary ‘reality’. From the formulaic drama of romantic novels, to the condensed ‘reality’-bytes of the soaps, their storylines raise unconscious expectations and, in contrast, our own experience of life can appear to be lacking in the essential ingredients, plot twists and the rollercoasting emotions that are their stock in trade.

No good tale goes from beginning to end without a well-planned story arc of highs and lows. Even when a book or film spans an entire lifetime in a couple of hundred pages or minutes, telling only the highlights and barely hinting at the calm years in between, it is the peaks and troughs that capture our attention and engage our emotions… and it is by those that we can be tempted to judge our own lives. Vague dissatisfaction and the insidious thought that we are ‘missing something’ creeps in, even though our logical minds and fragile hearts would really not want to be put through the proverbial mill with the intensity displayed in fiction.

For most of us, the majority of our lives will be spent doing things that are routine, humdrum, necessary… but not necessarily dramatic. Vast swathes of time are swallowed by tasks and actions that barely register. Even though all such moments seem to be stored in memory, they are generally relegated to levels so deep that they only resurface when some chain of association dredges them up again. In contrast, the times of joy, perfect peace, pain and grief seem much easier to recall, and, were we to write our life stories, it is of these moments that we would tell.

It is not the fault of book or film that we may end up questioning whether or not our lives match up to those of other, albeit fictional, lives… it is something within us. Fiction can be a great teacher, allowing us to safely experience situations we might not otherwise meet and, from that imaginary encounter, we may learn to understand and empathise with others. It only becomes a problem when we begin to make the invidious comparisons that change our expectations and leave us with a hazy fear that we are less than who we are.

No-one knowing my son’s story would ever say it lacked drama, yet he has felt that uneasy  dissatisfaction after watching a film. My own life had had plenty of ups and downs. In fact, most lives, if condensed to just the ‘good bits’ or major events would make gripping stories. Yet, unlike the characters of book or screen, it is precisely the quiet, in-between moments that make life so worth living.

The daily touch of sun, snow or rain on your skin, the smile of a child, the first time you wash a pair of someone else’s socks and go all gooey and tender… Watching a ladybird, a butterfly, or the birds nesting in spring. Snuggling with a dog, the fingers of an infant curling around yours, or the touch of a hand reaching out in the night for your own… These are not the big things of which movies are made, nor are they the plot points that would sell a book. These are the essence of the human experience…and far more beautiful than any fiction.

Riding the rapids

 

I feel like a limp rag at the moment. It has been a hectic few weeks… just an accumulation of small things. Most of it has just been busy, some of it, behind the scenes, has not been so good and it is that side of things that has me feeling as if I had been squashed by a small but determined behemoth.

Not that it matters. There is  always Stuff to be done, regardless…  and a dog who seems to think it is fun to bound through the deep and muddy puddles in the fields every day, leaving me with floors to scrub, just for good measure. She also seems to think it is her bounden duty to keep the door between my shivering carcass and the frozen world wide open by parking her backside in it. However, it is a backside I love and her lunacy keeps me smiling even in the worst moments. She reads me so well I am sure she chooses to be more idiotic than usual when she knows I need to smile.

And we all have them, don’t we … those ‘worst moments’? Life seldom follows our hopes and dreams, nor does it always flow gently. There are rapids and currents, white water and hidden rocks and while some seem to have found a current of smooth silver that sparkles in the sunlight, it is impossible for the casual observer to see what lies beneath the beautiful reflections and shimmering ripples.

But,  it is not the course of the river that defines who we are… no matter how battered we may seem by the rocks and eddies of the stream. We define ourselves by our own actions, by our thoughts and choices and it is neither feasible nor possible to expect others to know or understand the myriad combinations that have led any one of us to a particular fork in the river. We cannot know over which pebbles a drop has flowed or where the mud has clouded the water. We see only the part of the stream we have shared and have to do our best to understand each other with that limited knowledge.

Yet there is another way. If we cannot know the whole story of another, we can know our own. We cannot always know what has guided the path of others, but we can, with inner honesty, know ourselves. It is not an easy thing to look within and see ourselves as we truly are, though ‘Know Thyself’ is possibly the most oft-quoted phrase in the world of spiritual seeking. More often than not we look only at the reflection of self that we see in the stream… a reflection we have created and projected onto the moving waters of our personal world. It may not be pretty, it may not be what we would like it to be. Ripples will distort it, clouds and foam will shadow it… but it is ours and familiar… comfortable.

Yet the reflection is not the stream. Nor is it the reality it mirrors.

 

That reflection is our focus, and others looking on may find their gaze drawn there also, into the flowing waters of the stream of life… yet what is reflected there is real. It stands above the water, separate. It stands in quiet stillness upon the bank and is not pulled by currents or battered by rapids, seeing a wider view of the landscape… looking back to whence the stream has come and forward to where it flows. It may see the waterfall ahead and understand the currents, or the tumbling wash over jagged rocks that explain the roiling pools. It sees too those calm places where the reflection is perfect and gazes back with clear and knowing eyes.

If we can live in the awareness of that true self and not in the rippled reflection, knowing ourselves for who and what we truly are there is a deeper peace and a greater understanding of the tides which move us, each one of us. In learning to see ourselves, our actions and choices in a clear and ever present light we glimpse that wider landscape and see that no matter what the stream is doing or how it churns the reflection, we remain. We can drink from the waters of life and find them clean and pure and as we stoop to drink our image comes closer to meet us… and as we drink they kiss and become One.

Into the Deep…

*

…Shiduri, the tavern keeper, sat,

at the edge of the Great Ocean,

her golden brewing-vat resting by her side.

*

Gilgamesh, whose heart was still full of anguish,

strode toward her…

*

‘This desperate man must be a murderer,’ thought Shiduri,

‘Why else would he be heading straight for me?’

She locked the lid of her brewing-vat and stood in front of it.

*

Gilgamesh heard the lock click and looked up.

There stood Shiduri staring at him, “Who are you,

and where are you going?” she said.

*

“I am the king of Wall-Girt Uruk,” said Gilgamesh, “I am

going to find Utnapishtim, so that I can ask him about the Herb of Immortality.”

*

“Why is there so much grief in your heart?” said Shiduri.

*

“My beloved friend, Enkidu, is turned to clay,” said Gilgamesh,

“Won’t I too, one day, lie down in the dirt like him

and never again rise?”

*

“There are none who can cross the Great Ocean

to Utnapishtim,” said Shiduri,

“Only Shamash, who traverses the sky, is brave enough!”

*

“But I am the man who slew the tree demon, Humbaba.

And it was I who tore the Bull of Heaven limb from limb.

There must be a way!” cried Gilgamesh, drawing his knife…

*

‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

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The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

A Dramatic adaptation of the Epic of Gilgamesh…

Full details, cost and booking form are available by clicking HERE

 

Lord of the Deep: Death of the self?…

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‘…When Anu heard this, he called for the Bull of Heaven,

And handed its nose rope to the Princess Ishtar.

Ishtar led the Bull of Heaven down to earth.

 

*

When the Bull of Heaven snorts on the earth,

a crack will open in the land and swallow all the men-folk…

*

When the Bull of Heaven snorts a second time on the earth,

the land will crack open further and swallow all the women-folk…

*

When the Bull of Heaven snorts a third time on the earth,

the land will crack open still further and swallow all the child-folk…

 

*

I will cast your corpse down the narrow streets,

that the city orphans may gorge on it.

*

I will toss your innards to the city dogs,

that they might fight over them.

*

I will present your two horns to Shamash

to serve as a flask for his sweet oils.’

*

 

A DRAMATIC RETELLING OF

THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH

*

The Oldest written story known to man…
What spiritual treasures lie hidden in this, five thousand-year old, Epic?
What can this ancient civilisation teach us about the questions of existence?
Join us on the quest of a life-time, this coming April, to find out…

*
‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

*

Fully catered weekend package, including room, meals and workshop: £235 – £260

Click here to download the Booking Form

Updated Gilgamesh booking form

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com

Lord of the Deep: The quest for Immortality

26-28 April, 2019 – Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

Feeling Beyond Form…

*

We certainly hadn’t intended to talk about Arthur, let alone Merlin when we pencilled in Penrith as the starting point for our weekend workshop.

But the land has a way of communicating it’s own ‘sweet terror’ and when we came across a Welsh Triad referencing Penrith or ‘Pen Rhionydd’ as one of the ‘Seats’ of the legendary British King the ‘cogs’ had inevitably started to turn…

Our June workshop in Dorset had thrown up some poignant ideas with regard to how the ‘ancients’ might be regarding their kinship with Mother Earth…

The constellation we now know as Orion, with its mid-summer rising over the Cerne Abbas hill figure may well have gone under a different name in former times and we still have Arthur’s Wain or ‘Waggon’ illuminating a course across the night sky, better known today as The Plough…

Since our research for the very first literary outing we penned together we had been aware of a plethora of local legends that predated our national Dragon Slayer, George, himself a late medieval replacement for Edmund, as Patron Saint of our Blessed Isles and all relating a similiar tale of sinuous earth energies ‘brought to book’.

The Lambton Wyrm, The Wantley Wurm, and The Laidley Worm, which also featured in our September workshop, to name but a few that we had, only recently, encountered.

Could the notions of authentic, living-land directed, leadership and ‘snake charming’ be linked in some esoteric way we had singularly failed to spot?

Our thoughts came home to Penrith with a jolt of recognition.

The ‘Spirit of Place’ had certainly been operative all those years ago when first it had impinged upon our consciousness and insisted we cross the busy main road to say, ‘Hello’…

And was that any different from being dragged to Dragon Hill at Uffington, or being repeatedly accosted by Glastonbury Tor, not to mention our Ambush by Stone at Long Meg? etc.

What were these sites trying to say?

There was really only one way to find out…

*

Chief Prince of Pen Rhionydd…

*

D: Before Merlin was a soothsayer he was a miraculous child who solved the mystery of Vortigern’s Tower.

W: What mystery was that?

D: Every time the tower was raised by Vortigern the hill on which it was built swallowed the tower whole.

W: And the answer to that mystery?

D: The answer to the mystery was that the hill was hollow…

and in the hollow of the hill was a pool…

and in the pool two stones languished…

and in each of the stones was a dragon struggling to get out.

One Dragon was White, and the other Dragon was Red.

W: And what was done to reveal this mystery?

D: The Hill was excavated…

The pool was drained…

The stones were pulverised… and the Dragons loosed.

W: What happened then?

D: The Dragons contended… and became One.

W: Thus, the braided tower was raised upon the hill… and remained.

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