Step by step…

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The path winds around the embankment of an ancient hillfort… a fairy fort, they are sometimes called, gateways to the Otherworld of myth and legend. There is silence save for the rustle of leaves, the ever present birdsong and the high keen of a red kite overhead. The sounds of the modern world do not intrude here.

The ground is soft beneath my feet, pliant and yielding with a thick carpet of last year’s leaves as I walk through the green tunnel that feels like a track left by some great serpent. The old ones knew of the great beasts; they saw the dragons that slept in the curve of the landscape and they carved their coils into their sacred hills. Hills such as this.

There is a liminal feeling to this place, a ring of earth high above the valley, guarding still the sacred space within, a gold topped tower now at its heart; a younger expression of an ancient power half glimpsed through symbols.

Through the green a portal of light… a window perhaps that shows a glimpse of that Otherworld, a door to another dimension? What will I see if I walk into that light… or will it blind the eyes, leaving other senses to find a way and a meaning? And what is that world… which is the reality, here or there… and can I pass through?

The landscape itself seems to mirror my mood with its path that moves in circles until I see the point at which I can break the endless round and move to a different level. A path that circles a sacred space within, older than years, but as old as being.

The walls of earth enclose, wrapping me in a silent isolation from a greater reality I cannot see with eyes, yet I know it is there, I feel its presence. The landscape beyond is veiled from view by trees that seem to be the ribcage of a serpent through whose belly I must pass, as in the myths of the old ones, day after day, perpetually swallowed and excreted until I can reach that place where the light comes in, that chink in the scales that leads to a place beyond.

And I can find it, that shaft of light. But only if I walk this path, and only from the dimness of the shadows of this place could I see the brightness of where I must be. If I walked within that light, could I see it? Would I recognise it? Could it lead me so clearly onward? A guiding beam must be brighter than the shadows it chases and the shade serves to make visible its path of light.

I walk once more around the wooded hillfort, marvelling at the beauty of this liminal place. A simple walk has become meditation, awe and prayer. Words fail as understanding opens. Words no longer carry meaning. To be here and now allows a glimpse across the threshold of worlds… my own and a greater, the worlds of legend and dream, of faith and aspiration… of Knowing and Being. A glimpse from shadow into the light and the reassurance that even in the deepest shade, because of that deepest shade, there is a bright path waiting to be found to take the traveller’s feet beyond the circled coils.

To sleep, perchance…

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I snuggled under the duvet. The night was chilly but the bed, with its big feather pillows is perfect in this weather. Bliss, in fact. And I was ready to sleep, looking forward to it… it had been a long day, an early start. The dog had burrowed beneath the cushions again… I’ve given up on that. She needs an igloo. Me, I burrowed under the cosy duvet. I relaxed, switched down, let the muscles go and the breathing slow, into that meditative pre-sleep state. As I was drifting into dream I thought about the whole affair of sleeping…

Then I was wide awake again.

Hang on a minute here… what is it with this sleep thing that we look forward to so much? Rest… yes, that I can go with. Relaxation… that I can understand. A chance to recharge the batteries; for the mind and the brain to process learning, memory and emotion… for the body to heal and cells to renew… But what do we actually do when we are asleep that makes us look forward to it so much?

Think about it. We do… nothing.

In sleep the conscious self goes into abeyance. It may as well cease to exist. We… the we we think we are… is no more. Gone. Zilch. Might, to all intents and purposes, as well be dead.

We have no control over anything. The body ticks over on autopilot, the mind wanders off on its own to play in those strange landscapes and weird circumstances we call dream…places our logical, staid conscious mind would dismiss out of hand as arrant lunacy. The thought of firing wet fish out of a canon would normally be anathema… flying by flapping your arms just isn’t going to work aerodynamically and lemurs in hiking gear don’t turn up on your doorstep armed with champagne and the latest philosophical gossip. Well, not every day, anyway.

Look, I am not responsible for the content of my dreams, okay?

But this is serious stuff. Not the lemurs. Or the fish to be fair. But the whole question of where is the ‘we’ when we are asleep? That part of us that observes our lives unfolding, acts in a considered manner and fails to go around flapping its arms to try for lift off. Because all the elements are accounted for. Body is busy doing what it needs to for scheduled maintenance. Brain is busy processing the content of mind and overseeing the body… a sort of junction box between the two. So I got to wondering. The body takes its orders from the brain; the brain keeps tabs on the body and digests what the mind has been up to… filing, processing, writing reports etc. It is a fairly corporate entity. We’ve got a nice chain of command going here. And it takes sleep for all that to work at optimum efficiency.

It’s rather neat really. The body is fairly obvious to all of us. Especially as you get a bit older… but lets not go there. The mechanics of it are fairly easy to get a grasp of and it contains the brain. The brain we understand at the physical level, though there are still a lot of things we don’t know. We know enough, though, to infer the gaps in our knowledge. It almost seems as if the brain is ‘bigger’ than the body. You could say it ‘contains’ the mind… although I wouldn’t. Mind, though physically non-existent, seems bigger than the brain through which it manages, nonetheless, to manifest.

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So what’s the next bit up from the mind? Where is that getting its orders from and how big is that??? What, though too big to be contained within it, is manifesting through the nature of mind? And what is that part of us doing as we sleep? We are into metaphysics now… not a good move when you are crosseyed after midnight… especially when the dog is not the most voluble of conversationalists and the lemurs might arrive any minute.

By this point I am musing about the relationship between the absence of our apparent self during sleep and the absence of self after death… Then there is the soul to consider… that subtle part that pervades all of us… the junction box between us and the divine…and I appear to have opened a whole can of intellectual worms. And worms I do not wish to have wriggling through the images in my dreaming mind, thank you very much.

Maybe I should just go back to bed….

sleep* paintings by Polish surrealist painter Jacek Yerka

Silence

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In a silence broken only by breath

Words lose their sound;

Spill their essence on the pristine page

Or curl in tendrils through a mind undone,

Fleeing logic on wings of fantasy.

Fabled spectres rear their heads,

Horned dilemmas bow before a ghost

Of newborn Understanding,

Mewling helpless in a night

Of infant shadows.

The dreamer dreams the song,

Seeking music in a voice,

A poem in the starlit dark

To break the silence

And give birth to sound.

Muted whispers kiss the soul

That stays to listen in the darkness

Reaching for the Word it almost hears

Until it knows the only sound

Is life’s first breath

Sighing in the silence.