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.

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.