Exploring reality?

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It was one of those conversations where a simple thought ended up taking us a long way. There had been a dream… one of those where it seems more real than reality and a lifetime is lived in the space of a night, and though completely out of context in terms of the waking self, it has its own validity and depth.

In such dreams you have relationships… ones that feel, to the dreamer, to be as full and rounded as in an ordinary day. That’s where the discussion started. How do relationships work in dreams? They are built on memory… How can a dreamer have memories of events neither their dream-self nor their day-self has experienced? And if that is impossible, how can there be relationships of love, friendship, fear? And yet, when we dream, we feel them. An interesting one to ponder…

You could put it down to a ‘straightforward’ psychological ability to synthesise emotional relationships in dreams based on experience in ‘real life’. You might consider past life memories if you believe in that possibility. We considered the theory of parallel and multiple realities where a dream might be a glimpse through a rift between them… We came to no conclusions except that the phenomenon is strange, whatever the cause and must be akin to what is felt in full awareness with those who have visionary experiences.

The more you think about it, the odder it seems. Most of us can call up the image of a face of a stranger… any face will do… probably one you have seen but taken no note of that has lodged in the photographic part of the memory. The image may be sharp or hazy… but the emotions are basic, little more than a gut reaction, if that. What you are calling up is a deliberate construct. Nothing more than a mental photograph about which you know nothing.

It made me think, for some reason, of my experience with PTSD. The flashbacks take you into a snapshot of emotion… the images, sounds, sights and smells are all ‘real’ during an episode, a moving image in which you walk… but the memory is false, being stuck in a scenario that has lost its connection to time and cannot therefore move forward or be filed in the past.

When a face to which we have a connection already comes unbidden to the mind, it brings with it a whole raft of response based on the span of time and emotion shared up to this point as well as our feelings for what the future may hold. It calls up their history, our own and our shared story; you know so many things about that person… not just that face.

And that is where the problem of dreaming takes you; if a dream is no more than a mental construct, how can it have such depth? How can there be past and future? You know nothing of the past, present or future… you have no memories, no experience of the people you meet in sleep. They should be ‘flat’… their stories as empty as if you tried to show the whole of an epic trilogy in a single photographic frame… yet instead there are those who imprint themselves on our memories and find a place in our hearts or our fears, because, somehow, we know them.

Dreams bend the rules of normality in so many ways and the most ridiculous situations can seem absolutely feasible. The most meaningful of relationships can flower in what may be measured as the blink of a sleeper’s eyelid. We did come to one conclusion; perhaps, just perhaps, our dreams serve other purposes than those posited by psychologists and scientists… maybe they allow us to explore the impossible and through their very impossibilities and give us space to question our perception of reality itself.

Halflight…

Six a.m. on a Sunday… I groaned and turned off the alarm clock. I hadn’t been sleeping well, or enough, and did not want to obey the imperative summons… especially not on a day when, historically, most folks get to sleep later. As I clawed my way through the fleeing remnants of a dream in which I had been dreaming about dreaming, I wondered about the whole sleep thing. We are supposed to spend about a third of our lives in slumber. Is that a design flaw, a superb bit of physical engineering or a gift? Maybe it is all three, or perhaps that depends on where you are standing.

There has been a huge amount of research done on the need for and benefits of sleep, from both the physical and psychological perspectives. We have identified the stages of sleep, the way the mind solves problems and the body heals and recharges. But that side of things wasn’t what was bugging me.

Other than the ‘low-battery’ warning that tells us our bodies need sleep, what is it about the process that makes us crave it? We look forward to sleep and yet, during the night hours, normal consciousness takes a hike; we have no control over our bodies or, apparently, our minds. We are defenceless… and we surrender ourselves to sleep willingly? You have to admit, that seems an odd state of affairs.

And we are not on our own. We don’t understand sleep in all other creatures, can’t even fully define it,  but it seems that all of them sleep in one way or another. Fish sleep with their eyes open, as most of them don’t have eyelids to close. Dolphins only let one hemisphere of the brain sleep at any time, so they can keep moving. Others only cat-nap for minutes… though cats sleep around sixteen hours a day.

There was a sci-fi programme on the TV at my son’s home the other day, in which a machine had been invented to condense the required hours of sleep into minutes, so that we need not waste our time unconscious. In real world terms, I could see where that would be a money-spinner for its inventor… there is never enough time to do everything we need, want and would like to do. The first part of our lives we are pretty much helpless and do as we are told. The latter years of life are often limited by failing health, depleted finances and energy. The middle years are generally pretty full between work, relationships and families. Time to follow our dreams is at a premium… and perhaps that is the beauty and attraction of sleep.

Dreams are weird things. Some people remember them in detail, others not at all. Some dream in black and white, others in colour. Dreams can seem totally random or make perfect sense…and sometimes both at once.

You can experience a whole lifetime in a night, ride dragons, explore outer space, change careers, do and be anything your waking mind can imagine… and then break all the barriers of possibility and do the impossible too. We are superlative storytellers in our dreams, creating whole and believable worlds, down to the last small detail, peopled with  perfectly ‘real’ characters. For a moment, I had an odd thought. What if dreaming were the real purpose of living? Rather like a reversal of that sci-fi machine, where our bodies themselves are just the machines that allow us to sleep, and where our waking life just gathered impressions to fuel imagination so that we could cram all the experience of multiple lifetimes into a short few years… It would make sense of why we tend to remember our dreams so imperfectly; why would we want to live ‘ordinary’ lives awake after the adventures of the dream word?

I know science and the conscious mind have explanations for dreams, as well as the stages and uses of sleep, but I have a feeling there is more to the dream state than we yet know.  And yet, we speak of people being asleep who walk like automata through the world, unaware of its magic and beauty.. We use the term ‘dreamer’ as a disparagement, when everything useful that has every been invented was first dreamed up in someone’s imagination.

Maybe we should be paying more attention to our dreams and what they might be capable of showing us? I know that one of the pivotal moments of my own life to date was experienced in dream… an experience so profound that, forty years later, it is as fresh as ever in memory and as relevant to the way I live my life.

Science would probably say that the dream was just my subconscious mind collating and presenting what I already knew deep down… or seeking justification for my choices… or something equally sensible. I honestly don’t care where things come from if they can change my life for the better. And if dreams give me access to a level of mind that knows better than the surface ‘I’, I’m quite happy to dream.

All I need now is a boss who will let me…

 

Seeds of Change

‘Dr Dee’, ‘Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I’, ‘Sir Walter Raleigh’ and ‘Master Shakespeare’

Time does strange things. It is just a week since our workshop and already it feels as if it is receding into the mists, and yet, it is also as clear and sharp as if we were about to enter the temple space for another act. In many ways, that last is the truest perception, for, even though we draw our inspiration from tales of bygone eras, any seeds we sow within the ritual drama of the weekend are designed to grow slowly within us and be taken out into the world.

Such seeds are not ours alone. We may plant ideas and nurture thought, but it is in the fertile soil of love and friendship, and the shared experience of working together with a common intent, that such things blossom. Even so, it is only when we pluck those flowers and carry them as part of our daily lives that they begin to bear fruit.

‘Essex’ and ‘Bess of Hardwick’

Although much time, effort and laughter goes into the creation of the ‘five acts’ that form the core of our workshops, the spiritual journey is not a matter of playacting, not is it enough to dip a toe in and out of the water on a whim; the journey is ongoing and ever present, the story…our story… is a perpetual work in progress, as are we.

Every one of those present at our workshops brings their own perspective, adding a unique gift to the weekend. It is in the athanor of friendship that such alchemy produces gold and I would like to think that we each leave the richer for our shared experience. Our personal paths are many and varied, from druid to ordained ministers, mystic to magician, yet ultimately, our goal is a shared service to whatever aspect of the Light we recognise.

For each of us, that service takes on a different hue, but for all of us it is at the heart of life. Being able to work with so many people from so many paths is one of the true joys of these weekends and both the experience of the weekend itself and the intent of our work is amplified by this coming together of many paths and perspectives in a simple acceptance that knows none of the judgement of ‘tolerance’.

‘Dr Dee’ and ‘Mistress Jane Dee’

Egoic myopia, intolerance and prejudice may be played out symbolically within the crafted drama, where they may be brought to healing, understanding and resolution, but outside of the written roles, such things have no place at a Silent Eye weekend… or indeed, within the hearts of any who profess to follow a spiritual path. Our ‘Essex’, admirably portrayed by Russell, sought power and was brought to his knees by his self-serving ego… only to be given into the healing care of those he sought to betray. Our much-reviled Jesuit ‘Gerard’ was embodied with quiet grace and dignity by Jan. In spite of the intolerance shown by most members of the ‘Court’, Gerard showed himself to be a man of great compassion who led the tortured Dr Dee back to life and love.

The Elizabethan Age marked the beginning of a new era in many ways, and so was a perfect vehicle to reflect aspects of the current of change now brushing the shores of the present. Can a small group of people play a part in shaping that change? The answer to that depends upon what we understand by the question, perhaps. What is undeniable is that change can only happen if we, as individuals, choose to make it so. No-one can legislate for the heart and it is there that we can each begin to shape and heal our little corner of the world.

‘Lady Frances Walsingham’ and ‘Sir Francis Drake’

 

Shades of the Golden Age…

As a child, I loved the old movies of the swashbuckling variety. Even then, I knew the stories were not real and the history likely to be wildly innaccurate. Romance and adventure did not wait behind every tree. Magic, though, had its own reality.

With a family who told me a closer-to-true version of the histories portrayed on the screen, I learned early the difference between fantasy, fact and fiction. What was produced for entertainment was never supposed to be a history lesson. I learned not to believe in what I saw… except for the duration of the film, when I could lose myself in make-believe.

The over-the-top acting, the swordplay and implausible heroics delighted me, and that has never really changed as I have grown older. A more mature eye sees the flaws with clarity, but I can still choose to ignore them and daydream about flashing steel, wild gallops through the night and the elaborate gowns of a bygone era. But, let’s be honest, the days when I could even dream of being the romantic, blade-wielding heroine are long gone. Or so I thought, until last weekend.

Fair bristling with concealed weaponry, this Elizabethan lady was not happy when her betrothed attempted to discard her in favour of a rarer prize. Mine was really not supposed to be the role of heroine. But, just for a moment, with ‘Lord Essex’ on his knees, and a wicked blade poised over his heart, all my daydreams came true. (Which might be why my younger son asked if I should be ‘looking so cheery’ with a knife aimed at someone’s chest.)

The pictures were taken after the final ‘curtain’ had fallen on our Elizabethan escapade… we do not take photos until the work is done. I think most of us were on a high, either because of the weekend itself… or because we had survived it! By this point, all that was left to do was discard the costumes for the last time, talk, hug and say our farewells.

Many of the photos that were taken are blurred, and that is why I rendered a few in monochrome. I was immediately struck by how they reminded me of the golden era of Hollywood and my love of old movies.

We had come together to explore a story… a fictitious history that drew upon the lives, dreams and beliefs of some of the prominent people of Shakespeare’s day. It was never supposed to be an accurate history… but in truth, it was crafted as somewhere we could lose our ‘selves’ in make-believe.

The everyday self is left behind in play. We are hidden by the mask of our role and so our true self is free to explore the magical and spiritual concepts presented throughout the weekend, concealed, like my daggers, in velvet folds of imagination, friendship and laughter. And that particular alchemy is always in glorious Technicolor.

On reflection…

Created by Kjpargeter – Freepik.com

I woke this morning with the image of a dream imprinted on my eyelids. The image was a simple one… an empty landscape with a lake that held the reflection of a tree.

I could replay the dream in silent freeze-frame. The image was divided in two by the shoreline of a lake.  A tree stood tall and straight as a Scots pine, wide as an ancient oak, right on the edge of the empty shore. Below, the calm waters held its reflection with barely the shimmer of a ripple.

The thin line of the land, a horizon drawn by a child, never changed, no cloud marred the pale, immutable luminescence of the sky. Only the tree, as if dancing to the song in its branches and the rising and setting of the light.

I watched as the birds flew and sang through the bole and children played at its feet laughing. I saw the seasons paint themselves in green and gold, scarlet and black on its limbs. I saw the children grow,  saw their trysts beneath the branches… and saw their children return in their turn to laugh and love and pass.

After an eternity, men came with axes and tried to fell the tree, but they could not. Later, they came with chainsaws, yet still it stood. Then I watched as the tree, whole and healthy, seemed to fall of its own accord, yet where it fell, no trace of it remained, only an empty horizon.

Yet in the clear mirror of the lake, the reflection of the tree still stood, tall and straight as a pine, wide as an ancient oak.

The birds flew above it, and their reflections played still amongst the branches. Children leaned from the bank to play amongst the reflected roots. The seasons still painted the reflection with green and gold, scarlet and black. But on the land, the tree was nowhere to be seen.

Men came and called it sorcery and poured oil and ashes into the waters to obliterate the reflection, but the water retained its clarity. They built a tall fortress, surrounded by a city, to replace the reflection with something of their own creation, something that they did not fear, but the mirror of the lake showed only the tree. The masters of the fortress forbade the people to look out over the city walls, forbade them to approach the lake on pain of death, creating a fear to mask their own, until the lake and its tree became no more than a myth.

When the drought came, many died of thirst in the city on the shore, but the branches of the reflection were still brimming with life in the pure water.

But there were those to whom the lake called… the madmen, the dreamers and those whose hearts played like children… who heard the song of the birds in the branches and the whispering ripples on the shore. Some marvelled at the magic of the shimmering image, captivated by an unattainable beauty. Some believed the reflection to be the truth and gave themselves to the waters, drowning in ecstasy. Some turned away, weighed down by sorrow at the passing of the tree from the world. And some saw that the reflection was no more than an image cast by something they could not see and, turning their backs on the lake, sought the source of the image. For these, the tree still stood, straight as a pine, wide as an oak, its branches still painted with green and gold, scarlet and black…the reflection no more than a promise and a shadow of reality.

When I woke, it was one image that remained… of a tree on a shoreline drawn by a child, an empty horizon and a perfect reflection below.

Field of dreams..?

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Long, long ago, when the world was still young and I was younger still, I moved into a house with a garden. It wasn’t much of a garden, long-deserted, overgrown and gone to seed, but my mind painted it in rainbows. Since getting married, we had lived in a flat and a ‘street house’ that opened straight onto the pavement. My only forays into gardening had been herbs on the kitchen windowsill. It was the first time I’d had a garden of my very own, though there had usually been one at my parent’s home and my grandparents’ long-established gardens were places of magic and mystery.

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It is odd to think that although I remember every home I have lived in very well, as well as those of my grandparents,  I remember the gardens better. I have but the vaguest of memories of my father’s family home. We probably did not visit all that often as my father was stationed in Kent where we lived in married quarters and I cannot have seen Longfield after I was about three years old. I recall the tiles on the floor of the porch, the billiard table in the cellars, and being helped to slide down the great oak bannister that framed the huge staircase in the hall. Outside, though, my mind still paints the shadows cast by the rhododendrons, the slopes that ran down the hillside into the woodland and the wide expanse of the croquet lawn below the terrace.

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I can still see the garden of the married quarters where we lived in Maidstone until I was three and  where I searched for an absconding tortoise. I could sketch, plant by plant, the gardens of my maternal grandparents and great-grandparents. It was here that I first began to learn the names of plants as a child and had my first lessons in herb-lore. I learned which were poisonous, which could be eaten or used in the kitchen or for medicinal purposes, and best of all, some of the folk traditions that went with the plants.

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When I finally had a garden of my own, I remember standing outside the back door one winter morning and looking at the mess we had acquired. I had no gardening tools other than a trowel, no plants and no money. All I had was a dream of life and colour.

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I took the kitchen shears to the vast meadow that had once been a lawn and to the overgrown privet hedge twice as tall as me. It took me days to cut the stuff back. Then I started on what had once been flower-beds, removing the obvious weeds, softening the hard, squared corners and trying to identify what might be in there that was worth saving. Dead wood was removed from old roses, unidentified shrubs pruned and woody stems that still bore traces of life cleared of bindweed. By the time I had it tidy, the snow was falling… and I was in love.

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My love affair with plants blossomed through the dark winter days as I read every gardening book I could get my hands on, delved deeper into herb-lore and planned impossibly expensive planting schemes in my mind. In reality, our meagre budget would not run to plants, so I set about nurturing cuttings, raising seedlings and collecting spare plants from everyone I knew. Even so, the huge empty beds were going to look bare for a long time to come.

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As winter deepened and turned the corner into spring, I began to learn the most valuable lesson of gardening…patience.

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With the winter rain and snow, Nature watered the mutilated garden well. The threadbare hedge I had hacked put out new leaves, filling the bare patches and becoming a dense, dark backdrop against which my few flowers would glow. As the seasons turned, the lawn became a vivid green starred with daisies and crocus. Self seeded lupins, dug up from the old railway line, were steadily filling out and patches of pretty ‘weeds’ I had encouraged to grow, like yarrow and loosestrife, were showing promise. I planted what I had acquired and waited.

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Spring brought clumps of snowdrops and aconite, followed by daffodils and tulips. They had been hidden, invisible beneath the soil and were a beautiful surprise. I recognised the poisonous but beautiful leaves of monkshood. The scarlet leaves that had prompted me to leave an untidy clump of plants alone in winter revealed themselves as geraniums. ‘Dead’ roses and an ancient hydrangea recovered and bloomed and a drift of lily of the valley filled the air with fragrance and memory. By midsummer, the dismal mud-patch had become a riot of life and colour, buzzing with bees and a paradise for butterflies. It had done most of it itself, in spite of the efforts of the novice gardener. All I had done was the groundwork.

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I learned a lot from that garden and the lessons have stayed with me, rooting themselves and flowering, bearing fruit that I have plucked and tasted in many areas of my life. The perfect visions I had created in my mind were surpassed by the hand of Nature when she was allowed free rein. But, no matter what had been hidden in that garden, it would not have thrived, nor would I have been able to see it, had I not cut back all the dead and dying material, letting in the light.

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I had worried about the empty beds; I did not realise that the seeds of beauty had been sown long ago and were silently waiting to bloom. So often we think we must strive to achieve something, only to find it is already there, dormant within us, waiting only for our care and attention to grow.

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In the movie, Field of Dreams, there is a phrase oft-misquoted as ‘build it, and they will come.’ I have read the sentiment before, if not the exact words, in Dion Fortune’s book, Moon Magic, when ‘Lilith’ speaks of building the temple in order for it to be indwelt by the gods. No sacred space, be it temple, church or our own being, is truly alive until it is a home for something more than its physical form, no matter how beautiful. No gardener creates the beauty of a flower. We can only clear and create a space, enabling the conditions in which it can grow and bloom.

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Where I now live, I have a small space I laughingly call a garden. I have planned the garden I would like to make, right down to the last detail… knowing it will probably never be anything other than a dream. For now, there are only a handful of rescued plants, no flower beds to speak of and a threadbare patch of grass that cannot be called a lawn. I doggedly exercise a gardener’s patience, waiting to see ‘what happens next’, trusting that when the time is right, the seed of purpose will grow and reveal itself.

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Even so, there is beauty. I need not lift a finger to see the seasons turn, the light change hour by hour or the stars illuminate the night. I need not dig and toil to create what is surpassed by every blossoming dawn. I need only watch to see the birds and insects at work, the dew scatter diamonds on the grass or the small dog fill the space with joy. Dreams are wonderful things, but you have to choose to make them happen, and you have to work to bring them into being. And sometimes, we work so hard chasing dreams that we forget to see the beauty of what is already there.

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The Feathered Seer – Part 3 (No. Really. The Feathered Seer!) by Running Elk

Nine Ladies Stone Circle, Stanton Moor
Copyright: Graham Dunn

During the exploration session on Spirit Animals, presented during The Silent Eye (a modern mystery school) “Leaf and Flame: the Foliate Man” weekend in 2016, one of the companions enquired about “Shape-shifting”. Since this was outside the scope of the discussion, the concept was briefly addressed without going into any real detail. It was, therefore, with some surprise, that I found myself agreeing to present an exploration session on the topic during “The Feathered Seer” weekend in 2017.

As April approached, the usual buzz of anticipation built towards the day that the work-book was released, and roles revealed. Most surprised, therefore, when an email arrived indicating the “costume” arrangements for the weekend. Other than the, at this stage, mysterious “Weaver” and “Spinner”, only I would be required to be costumed: in the role of Shaman. This made it easy, as I probably had a few things lying around which would foot the bill.

As it turned out, this was a double blessing, as neither Robe, nor Shell were to be found. Ironically, both would make a reappearance, pretty much where they were always believed to reside, before the weekend was out!

The work-book, when it arrived, proved to be a masterful crafting of ritual movement, wrapped in a touching storyline; at once intimately personal, and, ultimately, Universal. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was fully “ready” to experience the Temple energies that the unfolding of such a story was likely to unleash, particularly when viewed from the perspective of the Shaman of the Raven Clan.

Did I mention synchronicity?

The exploration session I’d outlined focussed on the reasons why shape-shifting appears so difficult. It isn’t that we cannot do it, indeed we do a form of shape-shifting on a daily basis, without ever really thinking about it. It is only when we come to consider shifting into a form other than human that we become stuck: in a variety of fears, ultimately centred on the persistent illusion which we fear most. The weekend, unknown to me, would approach an inspection of the root, and illusory nature, of these very same fears.

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