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.

… a thousand words?

Johannes Gumpp, painting his self-portrait

I was reading an article that tells how much a picture can attract our attention. The inclusion of a single image can increase the likelihood of someone stopping to read an article, sharing it or, indeed, making it go viral. It isn’t difficult to understand why… an image needs no words to convey a message. It has no language barrier…. And, in this day when we all read onscreen, skimming most of the content, according to all the research, rather than carefully reading each word, images appeal to our need for speed. Interesting enough on its own, but as usual, it got me thinking. In itself the words called up images in my own mind that sparked of a whole other train of thought.

In one of those random moments, I realised that if I were but an image of myself, I would hate to live in a photo frame, no more than a two-dimensional representation, bounded by straight edges and right angles of rigidity. I’d rather be a movie. Even that lacks the extraordinary depth of life. Yet it is through images that we learn about our world… visual representations registered by our own eyes, non-visual ‘images’ formed by our other senses, or even those scenes painted by imagination on the screen of the mind..

I take a lot of pictures… I am not alone in that. The digital age has made photography accessible to all. We take them for many reasons… perhaps to capture a magical memory, document a trip, or to share the wonder we feel in this beautiful world. Sometimes we film videos… sweeping panoramas, or the antics of a small dog, maybe… yet neither photograph nor film can ever truly catch the essence of a moment. They lack the depth, the dimensions brought to an instant by emotion. They do not catch the scent of a rose or the subliminal buzzing of life in a meadow. They cannot capture the taste of salt spray on your lips or the wind in your hair… or the warmth of a baby’s fingers clutching yours.

Professionals, and those gifted amateurs who have a real feel for photography, can capture something that conveys the idea of those feelings, often so sublimely that they evoke a deep response. A smile for the cute kitten whose fur looks so soft… a yearning for a much-loved place… the tenderness known only by the heart. They evoke, beautifully, poignantly, but they can only be an impression of experience.

Some of those images though can change the world. Few who recall the BBC images from Biafra in the 60s will ever forget them. They brought home to us, quite literally as we sat down to dinner with the TV in the corner, the plight of children starved to little more than skin and bone. It changed the way we thought. It changed the way we chose to believe in the world.

Adverts… Shots of movie stars that change fashions. The Earthrise picture taken from the moon… Mother Theresa, Churchill, Picasso… iconic figures and defining moments, both good and tragic, that delight, shock or move the world to action. Images of beauty and destruction have altered our view and our stance on ecology, far faster than a mere governmental report or two could do.

Images can unite us. Princess Diana, Kennedy, 9/11… when the world stood still and watched… People and governments have been galvanised to respond to tragedy worldwide. Images change things.

In the same way, our governments have always used imagery to change public opinion, a legal technique of mass manipulation…propaganda or censorship, often imposed ‘for our own protection’. I think of the images of the bombing of Hiroshima. My mother had an old film projector and footage of the Enola Gay and the mushroom cloud. I remember watching it when I was young and being told of the destruction. Yet, for a quarter of a century the full picture was hidden and we were only permitted to see the material devastation, not the human horror of atomic warfare. Why? Because it was too horrific… and besides, they were still making atomic weapons… Such footage could change our minds. Yet the Allied governments felt able to show newsreel footage of the atrocities perpetrated by our enemies in that same war. The history we were shown was the truth, perhaps… but not the whole truth. But images ensured we felt the way we ‘should’.

At the other end of the scale there are the less warlike pursuits. Meditation techniques, like those we use in the Silent Eye, that draw images in the mind, bringing an understanding that is experiential, even though it is lived only in the mind. The symbolism of our varied faiths sustains us on a personal level.. from the dove to the star; the statue of Buddha, the pentagram or an icon of the Madonna… Not in themselves objects of worship, but images of something too great to constrain in physical form, but which we can understand when imagination speaks to the heart. Such things use imagery to bring peace to the individual…and yet can be misappropriated to inflame a nation to war.

Artists of all kinds… writers, photographers and filmmakers, poets, sculptors and musicians…all create images, just as you and I do, all day and every day, within our minds. Such images are born of observation and imagination. That word itself says it all. We have the power to shape reality for those who find our work or are touched by our vision of the world. There is a responsibility that goes with that. Whatever world we shape speaks to the imagination of others. We may seek only to record. Or to entertain and amuse. Perhaps we teach, question or educe. It doesn’t matter. Whatever we create carries something from the deepest levels of our own being out into the world. We cannot take responsibility for what the minds of others do with our work… once it has been set free, our creation responds only to those who look, read or listen. The responsibility we have lies in our own intent and from which part of ourselves we create… and why.

Locked in

Image: Golden Cage by Der Cooky

Image: Golden Cage by Der Cooky

I had not been to the cinema in decades really, until Peter Jackson came along with Lord of the Rings. The TV remote was, for a long time, in hands other than mine. Consequently I have missed a lot. My cinematic education has been sadly lacking and lately I have been catching up a little with a few of the films I have missed over the years. I had no idea where to begin, to be fair. There are, however, a few actors who seldom disappoint, so when I saw Good Will Hunting going for the price of a loaf of bread… which is, after all, not good for me… I thought I would give it a whirl. Robin Williams is usually worth watching.

I had watched him as Dr Sayer in Awakenings the night before. The film is based on a true story by Oliver Sacks. One edition of the book is dedicated to W. H. Auden, and bears an extract from his poem The Art of Healing, which seems entirely appropriate:

‘Healing’,
Papa would tell me,
‘is not a science,
but the intuitive art
of wooing Nature.’

Ani was concerned… I am not, in her opinion, supposed to sit for half an hour with tears streaming, but I can’t watch that one without the floodgates opening. Briefly it tells the story of a neurologist who administers L-Dopa to catatonic patients producing a short-lived but complete awakening in which the patients have to adjust to the missing decades of their lives. De Niro gave an incredible performance as Leonard Lowe, the patient who shows the doctor the joy of living.

I remembered my own fear for my son, when he lay in the coma, fearing that he would come back to an awareness that was locked in an unresponsive body. This was, perhaps, my worst fear for him. Yet there are more ways than one of being locked in.

In Good Will Hunting, Williams is once again playing a doctor; this time the psychologist helping the angry young genius who has been in and out of trouble with the law. His past is a story of abandonment, bullying and abuse. There is a moment of breakthrough when the psychologist repeats one simple phrase, over and over, with utter conviction. “It’s not your fault…” Each time the young man answers, “I know.” Yet the layers of that ‘knowing’ are challenged by the repetition, from the mechanical response of self-defence which simply says what is expected, to a final understanding. It was not his fault.

I was, as no doubt the director intended, in tears by this point. But not because of the story. Because the child in me recognised… empathised… and wished all of a sudden that someone had said that to me, with as much conviction and as much truth as was needed to break through the barriers and allow me to forgive myself. “It’s not your fault…” And I wondered just how many would watch that scene and feel the same.

Many branches of psychology these days see the small child as self-focussed to an extent that whatever negative events happen to or around them, they may see as ‘their fault’. While such events play their part in shaping all our personalities, for children who are the victim of the harsher aspects of childhood… abuse, neglect, bullying, violence… the reaction can be deeper and more destructive. An extension to that belief that It was ‘their fault’ later comes in that believe they ‘deserve’ what happened because they are ‘worthless’ or ‘not good enough’. They feel they cannot be loved. Are not worthy of love.

Several things may happen as such a child then grows into adulthood. Along with a host of other possible problems from depression to flashbacks, they may seek to ‘buy’ affection in some way, going to extremes to prove their worthiness, or they flee from affection in case it is again taken from them. The outward face may not show to others the inner turmoil, the fear of trusting… even the fear of happiness, for that too can be taken away. It cannot be relied upon and may therefore be turned away from, in fear or apparent coldness. They are afraid to let anyone too close in case they are hurt again, yet paradoxically they yearn for that closeness.

To the casual observer, none of this may show. These broken children may seem supremely confident as adults, happy and satisfied with their lives. That too is a defence mechanism. It keeps people from looking too closely. The search for healing, that wooing of Nature, may last for decades. For many it lasts a lifetime.

These two films seemed to go together somehow. There is an added pathos with the tragedy of Williams’ own life too. I wondered what his feelings had been reading the scripts. I recalled a quote I had seen from another of his films I haven’t seen, Patch Adams. “You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.”

The simple joys of being alive are denied to those who are locked in, not just by catatonia, but by grief, fear, self-loathing and self-blame. Most will learn and reason, understanding where the damage arose and realising that the child they were was not responsible. “It’s not your fault…” But from knowing intellectually to actually feeling it, that is a longer and different journey. It can be a small thing that finally releases a victim from the grip of these paralysing emotions. For me it was a children’s game. It is only when forgiveness is possible that healing can truly begin and it has to begin with ourselves.

Jan 2015