The magic of the moment

dawn

There was no way to tell what kind of a morning it would be… except that it had turned cold. Yesterday’s sunshine had been a feint, designed to instil a false sense of security and the rain had a suspicious solidity as it fell to earth.

Dawn hadn’t yet begun to smudge the horizon, a tawny owl called eerily in the gloom and small things skittered unseen through the undergrowth. The small dog, no more than a patch of darker blackness in the shadows, had found a scent and refused to come back before she had investigated. Puddles crunched beneath my feet as I followed her into the little wood.

The darkness deepened. No frost here in the shelter of the trees, but the mud sucked at my shoes, reluctant to release each footfall. Twigs and stubborn leaves brushed my face, catching in my hair, skeletal fingers and unseen hands; clichéd nightmares moving in the mist.

I laughed, the sound slicing the silence. If this were a horror film, people would be on the edge of their seats and calling me all kinds of idiot for walking into the sombre copse. For some reason, though, the mornings do not hold the same potential for fear as the onset of night. And I have the small dog to look after me, not too far away…

…who yelped. A crash in the bushes. A low growl. My heart stopped… and the silhouette of a deer bounded past into the thicker bushes. A flash of pure magic, as if I had stepped through the Veil into another time and place.

The small dog, hot in pursuit, paused briefly by my side, just long enough for me to catch hold of both her harness and reality… I was already running late.

There was just time for a quick coffee before I had to scrape the ice from the car and leave for work. The first glow was playing on the horizon. A river of white light rushed towards me; behind me the river ran red; future and past illumined by the lights of cars flowing to and from the town.

 

I drove east, feeling myself part of a stream that flowed to the staccato rhythm of the windscreen wipers, wishing I had not had to break the spell of the morning. Wishing myself anywhere but on the verge of another day governed by the mechanical metronome of necessity. Yet, the magic goes with us, even into duty.

As I drove and the silhouettes of the trees began to separate from the blackness, the sun began to colour the sky, drowning the limited light of the cars that illuminate only their own direction. Cocooned within my life and habit, I watched as a portal opened in the clouds. It seemed as if humanity were deep within the shadows of a cavern, scurrying like ants in the penumbra, yet looking out onto a landscape of limitless light.

Perhaps we are.

Rites of Passage: Seeing beyond fear

Rites of Passage: Seeing beyond fear

 A weekend with the Silent Eye

Derbyshire, UK

Friday 13th – Sunday 15th September 2019

We are all afraid of something.

There are the fears of the everyday world, from arachnophobia to a fear of the dark, and the deeper fears of the personality, that play upon the mind and heart.

What purpose might such fears serve, beyond protecting us from potentially harmful situations?

How have our ancestors addressed such fears across the centuries? Can we learn from the past a way to see beyond our fears to a future lit by serenity and hope?

Join us on Friday the thirteenth of September, 2019, in the ancient landscape of Derbyshire as we explore how to lay our personal gremlins to rest.

Based in the landscape around Tideswell, Bakewell and beyond, this weekend will entail some relatively easy walking on moorland paths.

The weekend runs from Friday afternoon to early Sunday afternoon, and costs £50 per person. Meals and accomodation are not included and should be booked separately by all attendees. meals are often taken together at a convenient pub or cafe.

Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

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

Going viral…

Image: Pixabay lenalindell20

When I was small and faced with a plate piled with the over-boiled cabbage I detested, my grandmother always told me to eat it first… get rid of it… so I could enjoy the rest of the meal… and to save my favourite bits till last. Like many of the things she told me, I never forgot that advice. She was right too; doing it that way means there is always something left to look forward to… even when life gives you cabbage.

When there is something we really don’t want to do there are, on the whole, two ways of handling it… other than simply getting on with it! We either dive in head first or put it off as long as we can. I prefer to dive in. It isn’t always pleasant but it has its moments and at least the worst is out of the way.

But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I put things off, whether through distaste for the job in hand or fear of the possible unfolding of a train of events I cannot predict… or through the fear that I can foresee all too well the consequences of initiating action. Yet the consequences of action are seldom half as bad as our imaginings, and even the worst task will eventually be over, leaving, hopefully, a sense of satisfaction as we stand back and regard our handiwork.

The trouble is that procrastination of this kind can be contagious, spreading, once begun, like a virus to other areas of our lives. Speaking for myself I know this happens sometimes. I avoid one action, finding, to begin with, perfectly legitimate reasons why I ‘can’t deal with it right now’. There is a letter I have to write, another job to prioritise… I’ll do it later… tomorrow perhaps… And maybe I will. Or maybe I will find yet another reason for ‘later’, reasons that quickly degenerate into excuses. And that is bad enough, but next I may find that my avoidance of the main task has spilled over into a kind of lethargy that infects the rest of the day, or I may manage to remain hugely busy, or so it seems, and yet still achieve nothing of what I know I need to do. I doubt I am alone in that. I hope not anyway…

When I realise what I am doing, I have to stop and think. I need to know why I am allowing the situation to continue without dealing with it. I may simply be feeling lazy or tired and that is okay. But there are a number of other things that can cause us to avoid a task.

What is it that can make us put things off when we know that getting them done and out of the way will lighten the load and make life easier? The longer we delay these things that worry us, the more they snowball, adding pressure to whatever it is that is making us avoid them in the first place, setting up a vicious circle that eventually harries us into anxiety.

Sometimes there are valid reasons; pain, depression, illness, fatigue to name but a few. But often it is simply our imagination that holds us back. We paint a mental picture of the horrors of the job ahead, whether it is cleaning the oven or making that awkward phone call, and then add to it multiple scenarios of what might go wrong or what the possible consequences might be and then fear comes into play, freezing us like rabbits in its headlights of our own imaginings, even if we choose not to call it by that name.

We can, however, use that same faculty to break the stasis and get moving. By imagining the clean oven, for example, quietly sparkling away while we put our feet up… or the relief of having made that phone call we’ve been worrying about that is no longer hanging over us like the fabled sword of Damocles. By doing so we acknowledge the presence of whatever is holding us back, and quietly take the control from its grasp.

With every step we take in our lives, we have the opportunity for growth and change. Change will happen whether we take conscious control, or are blown like a feather on the breeze. How we embrace those changes is always within our control. These days, I am rather fond of cabbage. I think of my grandmother and smile… I still eat the cabbage first, but only so it won’t go cold…

Walking the line…

“… so fear was originally there to help us survive.”
“Yep… and with not many sabre-tooth tigers roaming the suburbs, we found other things to fear. And fear is intimately linked to how we judge people.”
“How so?”

It was one of those early morning conversations over coffee and from the nature of fear we had progressed to how we unconsciously judge the people that we meet. It is all very well to say that we should not judge…but we do. At least to a certain degree. Sitting in moral judgement upon someone’s actions is a slightly different matter, but we do seem to be programmed to make judgements about the people who arrive in our lives. It comes from the same primitive survival instinct as fear and is part of the same process. If a hunter comes face to face with another spear-wielding man, that snap judgement would be the deciding factor; does he run from a foe, throw his own spear, or welcome a fellow hunter to the chase?

stickman-310590_1280

Our need for such judgements may not be so acute these days, but the instinct remains. We just use it in a more abstract way. A new person arrives on the scene… a new colleague, perhaps… and an immediate reaction determines what we see as our best approach. How we judge them then determines, rightly or wrongly, what we expect of them too.

But how do we make that judgement? Against what measure are we holding them? We only have our own normality, our own world view, with which to work… and that, of necessity, becomes our median line. Some people will quickly climb high in our estimation, others will let us down.  People will either surpass our expectations or fall below them…and hopefully we can rejoice at the one and learn from the other.

The problem here is that if we let the uncontrolled ego have its way, by setting ourselves as the median line, we may also be setting ourselves in a position of unconscious superiority. If that happens, then everyone else starts at a disadvantage… the people we meet will start from a ‘lower’ place than that which the ego sees itself as occupying. This means that before anyone can begin to meet our expectations, they have a steep climb ahead of them before they can hope to meet us on an even playing field.

The higher our ego sets us on that scale, the lower are the chances of people fulfilling or exceeding our expectations. If someone does manage to climb above our median line, the chances are that the owner of a ‘superior’ ego, instead of applauding that success, will feel themselves weighed down by it… and look for ways in which they can bring that person back down to, or below, the median line of ‘normality’…at least in their own mind.

The ‘superior’ ego fears being overshadowed by the success of others and reacts to any inkling of such success with resentment and prejudice. The higher the other person is perceived to climb… and it may be no more than a perception… the more the ‘superior’ ego looks for them to fall. These are such destructive emotions that, while the other person continues with the normal ups and downs of life, embracing both successes and failures, the ‘superior’ ego finds itself on a slippery slope of its own creation.

We cannot abstain from judging altogether…it is an instinctive function of our safety mechanism. We should not have to lower our hopes for people either… for in trusting and hoping for their success we help ensure it. Imposing our expectations, though is a different matter… expectations breed disappointment.

Stickman, Handshake, Gun, Aiming, SmileWhat we can do is remember than our own median line is not a straight path, but meanders with every step we take, and we can fall or climb just as easily, and as often, as anyone else. No matter where we stand in terms of our social position, educational achievements, affiliations, beliefs or ethnicity, we are equal partners in the human family. Our median line should not be drawn by the ego, but from the one thing we all share… our humanity. We are each as fragile, as fallible, and as capable of reaching the heights as each other… and regardless of the judgements passed upon us, we share a gift of possibility that allows us to walk our own path.

Troubled reflections

Have you ever stopped for a minute to consider how much you do because of other people? Not for others, but because of them? There’s a difference, and it is a big one. Doing ‘for’ can have many motivations; love, duty, obligation, care, to name but a few… But what about the ‘because’? And how easy is it to separate the two? The lines between are often blurred and what we grumble that we have to do because of others, we may be doing for them… while things we think we do for others, or even for ourselves are often motivated by more subtle reasons.

I was discussing the question with Ani as I was tidying up today. She is an intelligent listener and a great leveller of ego. My housework always used to be done first thing in the morning… I’d get up early to make sure it was ready for the day before work, then tidy round before bed, plumping cushions and washing cups. These days it gets done… or it doesn’t… whenever I choose. Why should I bother if no-one is here and no-one is coming? Ani doesn’t care if I have polished today… in fact she would probably rather I didn’t because the polish makes her sneeze and as far as cushion plumping is concerned, there is little point as she immediately rearranges them to suit herself anyway.

But why did I do it? Was I always doing it for the family, to make them comfortable, or was it because I wanted it that way? Maybe I was motivated by the expectations or needs of others to live up to an accepted ideal … or maybe I wanted their tacit approval for being a good housewife. Maybe what I really wanted my own approval. Maybe I felt I was never good enough and had to make the outer show reflect and compensate for an inner need?

The same with getting dressed on a morning. If I am going from here, to my son’s and home again, do I need the hair and make-up immaculately done? Or if I am giving a presentation in public… would I turn up in my scruffs and unwashed? And who would really be behind the decision?

They are all such basic things, but serve as an everyday example of the way we are driven, coaxed and coerced by our own inner needs as much as the requirements of living and the needs of others. When we think we are doing things because of others, we may, in reality, have an underlying motive rooted in our own needs, insecurities or desires.

If I am having visitors I will clean, hoover and polish till the cows come home… I will cook and delight in the opportunity… I will dress better and the hair and make-up will be done. I even look different… oh yes, I made a point of checking that. When there is only me and the dog the masks come off, the barriers come down and the face I see in the mirror is not one many others will see. Only the very closest, the most trusted get to see our private face. Not through choice … it is an acquired habit of self-protection, a reaction to our experience of the world. And we are very good at hiding even from ourselves, whether we consciously want to or not. There is a part of us, the deepest part, however, that knows exactly who and what we are.

The public face we wear is seldom about who we really are, even when we are sincerely determined to be ourselves and have no barriers in place… they close in on us unawares and the presence of others makes us unconsciously assume a role; face, voice and demeanour adapt to how we want others to see us, how we think they want to see us… and critically how we want them to reflect our desired image of self back to us…and this is how we define the ‘rules’ of a relationship of any kind with others. We gravitate towards those who hold what we think is the ‘right’ mirror… until we have grown enough to see that sometimes the right one isn’t always comfortable and soothing. It is the one that does not lie to us.

Pretty much all we do is because of others, in some way, but we forget that we ourselves are ‘others’ also. We are multi-layered beings, from the innermost core to the faces we wear as masks to hide the inner child and all its fragile fears. ‘Not good enough’, ‘not worthy’, ‘could do better’, ‘you don’t deserve..’ the litany of fragility goes on in infinite variety, shaped by our individual and well camouflaged fears and this is the ‘other’ that motivates so much of what we do… The mirror of the soul does not lie, but it must cringe when it sees how many fears we succumb to, how many ways we find to barricade ourselves from the acceptance of the true self.

Fear is a paralysing emotion and stops us from doing so many things. Some fears are rooted in the need to avoid genuine dangers but most of the fears by which we live pertain only to a percieved threat to self.. to our image of self… and we guard ourselves in so many inventive ways that we end up being unable to express who we really are, or bring to life the gifts we have to share.

Yet, until we look, until we find the deep seated wound or canker that has shaped so much of how we try and project ourselves into the world how can we begin to heal it? Until we acknowledge what we already know is there on some level we will shy away from anything that may highlight it to consciousness… like a child with a grazed knee pulls away from the antiseptic that stings, avoiding the short, sharp pain that promotes healing.

We would not berate a child for being a child and afraid…we would teach it with love, understanding and patience, we would reassure it that though its fears were very real, the cause of them was not; the dark doesn’t hide vampires, and nothing lives under the bed that will bite its ankles and drag them under… But we still wouldn’t let a child  indulge in destructive or cruel behaviour unchecked, knowing that some constraints are needed for healthy development. If we look for the child within perhaps we can begin to understand ourselves with similar love and compassion… and apply a similar discipline to our reactions and fears, accepting that while we may fail sometimes, the ‘other’ within is worth everything we can give to help it grow.

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.

Rain on the window

The light changed, suffusing the clouds with a soft glow and shadowing the sky that strange half-light that heralds a storm. The rain, it seemed, had settled in, pattering against the window and drawing the eye to focus on the diamond streaks of misery. Yet, beyond the pane there was colour, molten gold flaming in the sky as the day drew to a close.

I picked up the camera, unwilling to get wet by going outside, but determined to capture at least one moment of the crepuscular display. The camera fastened its gaze firmly on the immediacy of the window pane and refused to look farther than its proverbial nose, consigning distant beauty to an indistinct netherworld beyond its focus.

I fiddled with the settings, desperate to circumvent the limitations of the camera, but to no avail. While I was doing so, the constant shifting of light and cloud meant that the opportunity to capture the moment was slipping away.

All I could see through the shortened lens was looming patches of darkness against consuming fire. The rain restricted the perception of the lens, not only erasing detail but transforming it into an uneasy vista of threatening possibilities. Yet it only took a flicker of the eye to look beyond the lens and see a different landscape that sent me outside, regardless of the rain.

It occurred to me that I recognised the pattern all too well. I had to ask myself, “Where do you focus? On the rain on the pane or the vista beyond?” and realised that, all too often, the instinctive reaction is to focus on the pain on the pane.

As soon as a problem comes into our lives, real or perceived, our focus shifts and offers exclusivity to whatever it is that has caught our attention. We get so caught up in that focus that we no longer see what might be waiting beyond our gaze. Instinct is a pessimist and sees only uncomfortable consequences and possible horrors.

We give our attention to the problem and, in our attempts to solve it, waste so much time and energy that we may miss the obvious solution. We may miss the moment too, when the perfect opportunity slides by unseen in the distance… or, even worse, refuse its gifts for fear of what might happen if we pursue it.

There is always a bigger picture beyond our immediate horizon. With every step forward that we take into the ocean of unseen possibilities, we expand that horizon, even though we may well end up getting wet.  We may not be able to see far enough to know whether what lies ahead will be stormy seas or a limpid lake, but unless we make a move, we will never find out and the moment will be forever gone, leaving us behind on the shores of our own trepidation.

Barefoot, I left the window to brave the rain and watch the dying light gild my little corner of the world. Caught in the magic, drops of liquid light fell to earth, caressing my skin and drawing me in, making me feel part of the moment, not merely an isolated observer. Sometimes, it is worth having wet feet.

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.

Continue reading here

The Feathered Seer – Divining meaning

‘In former times the soul was feathered all over’

Plato

The third ritual of the workshop weekend was named Deadshaw Sick after the strip of land that divides the lands of the living from the lands of the dead at Barbrook. On one side of the stream are the hut circles that mark the place of a settlement, on the other, the stone circles and cairns of their dead. It was there that the Seer had come into consciousness, and there too that we had spent a strange afternoon after the previous workshop. The land had seemed alive in an indescribable way, as if we had somehow ‘lost’ centuries and were vouchsafed a glimpse into a distant past and the stone circle ‘showed’ us how it could have been used. On that day, the land itself formed the ritual space of purification and offering and we could see quite clearly how it lent itself to the needs of the Seer…  but that is another story. Seated on the Companion Stone, we had, in a matter of minutes, mapped out the entire workshop in great detail… detail that was almost immediately lost. But the seeds had been planted and ideas sown that would, in the way of such things, germinate in their own time.

Like flowers, ideas respond to the conditions in which they grow and to what elements are brought to bear on their  evolution. Much of the workshop had to wait to be written until thoughts, strewn as unidentified seeds across the landscape of possibility, revealed their inner nature. Some things could not be written until they were understood… others could not be understood until they were written. Others still may not be understood until they are brought into being in our lives. It was a waiting game… elucidation came in its own time and under many guises, impossible to predict where, when or how the ideas might bloom.

One idea we wished to carry into the temple was that of divination. Bratha, whose name, as far as I can discover, comes from an ancient word for ‘knowledge’, was a seer to her people. They lived at a time when technology meant stone… from the tools of everyday living to the cairns and circles of their rites. We had, on that strange day after Leaf and Flame, gathered heather-wood amid the cairns, thinking to carve divination sticks from their twisted forms. Every time I tried to work on them, I seemed to get distracted…until we realised that wood had more to do with the story we had just told than the one we were yet to tell.

If Bratha’s people had used stone for all else…what else would they use for divination?

We gathered crystals instead.

Melding the traditional attributes of the crystals with the characteristics attributed to the higher spheres of operation of the nine stations of the enneagram, we devised a table of meaning and a mode of divination that we played out, within the circle of stones, during the Circles Beyond Time weekend. The questions that were brought to the seer were not voiced to her, as she would have been no more than a conduit. The answers given were taken from the stones… the seer would herself have listened, to stone or to ancestral echoes perhaps, and the querent would find the meaning within the answer…an answer that sought to elicit the truth they already held within them, rather than to impose an external interpretation that might have little relevance and less value.

Signs, dreams, symbols, portents and the many methods of divination, all share a common thread… they speak to us in ways that are uniquely personal if they are to have any value. It is of little use to  learn the ‘rules’ and stick to them; while there seems to be a universal understanding of symbolism at an intuitive level, the cultural, temporal and geographical differences within which we are raised will each add their own shades and colours to the emotive response such things awaken in the individual. Their value resides in what these things may  awaken within us or can open in our hearts and understanding. A stone is neither more, nor less, than a stone, until we give it meaning.

Yet there is something else at work too… an unseen presence that seems to evoke synchronicities that we can neither miss nor ignore, that guides the hand or allows us to notice the flight of a bird across our path. When the seeker seeks, on whatever path he may follow, a portal is opened between the ego and the Self and, for a brief moment, the two may commune in harmony, combining the essence of the human experience with the flight of the soul, each shedding their own light and clarity on the moment. The heightening of awareness allows us to see beyond form and interpretation to glimpse what is true, though how, whether or when we can accept or understand it depends upon where we are on our individual journey. As humans we can be very good at fooling ourselves, convincing ourselves of things that are not. We may even fool others for a time.. We take the fragments of truth that we garner and build for ourselves a version of reality in which we live out our days, calling it ‘ours’. But the feathered wings of the soul carry us towards Truth itself. We cannot fool the essence of our Being… and Truth belongs to no man… only to itself.