Ship of Fools – a Sonnet for the Playwright

“What’s that?” The gentleman standing beside me eyed the scroll in my hand.  We had just completed the final ritual of Jewel in the Claw, the five-act workshop written by Steve and set in Elizabethan England. Steve had played Shakespeare… as well as nobly fulfilling the role of Cecil when one of our Companions had been unavoidably unable to join us.

As is customary, we were gathering on the staircase. Being amongst the first to leave the Temple, I was in prime position at the head of the stairs and could command attention when all were assembled. Steve would be amongst the last to leave and, therefore, there would be no escape…

Drawing myself grandly to my full height, which still left me a foot or so shorter than my companion, I brandished the sealed and beribboned scroll…

“I have written a sonnet for the Bard…”

Ship of Fools

*

The tale is over, and to playwright’s pen

Must we, in fairness, offer recompense,

To he who wrote this tale of maids and men

(And into five acts neatly did condense).

That, travelling through time and inner space

Where wonders wait, and wondering we play

With human nature writ upon our face

Upon a temple floor of night and day.

Within this Ship of Fools we caught the tide

And, floundering, revealed the sailor’s star

That shines within each heart and does not hide

Unless perception dims it from afar.

So, though the play is done, we will not grieve,

In joyous knowledge now we take our leave…

*

For Steve

Odd socks and the mummification of rats…

bald tailed squirrel 037

I couldn’t put it off any longer, bad back or not…  the sheets needed changing and the mattress was overdue to be turned. My son, for reasons best known to himself, chose to furnish himself with one of those huge beds of the mega-super-king variety that are the size of a small playing field. The kind that is so heavy, it is impossible to move without a crane and which has a solid-seeming base that extends between mattress and floor.  He is also furnished with one very small mother. Changing the bed is a job I dread as, given my vertically challenged status, I could use the duvet cover for a bivouac and still have room in there to party.

The very idea of turning the mattress makes me break out in a cold sweat. It is not a job I can easily do alone at the best of times. This time, however, the bad back was going to come in handy. There is always a silver lining somewhere, if you look hard enough. My son would have to help.

This is not as simple as it might seem, considering that standing and balancing are things he cannot do well, especially while trying to do something else. But I saw no reason why that should get in the way.

Stripping the bed was easy. It was when we came to turn the mattress that things took a turn for the worse. Halfway round, the edge of the mattress caught the slats on the bed base and pulled them out of place, unclipping them from the centre of the bed. The only thing for it was to balance the mattress as best we could, while I tiptoed between the remaining slats to put things right. All well and good… until I lifted one offending slat from the floor.

There, before my poised toe, and right beneath where my son lays his head, was a rat. Not just any rat either. Both it and its population of insect casings were mummified. I may have squealed. When I gingerly picked it up by its tail, it was a stiff as a board and the mummification process left a rat-shaped stain on the carpet.

bald tailed squirrel 024

Many things made sense. My son has a well-stocked bird table that attracts a lot of wildlife… including the creature he had watched, fascinated by its agility, before calling me to ask if there were any such thing as ‘a bald-tailed squirrel’. Boots, the first cat my son had taken pity on a couple of winters ago, is a huntress and, for the first few months of her residency, had regularly brought ‘gifts’ to his bedroom door. Usually birds, occasionally a mouse and once a full-grown rat. Or, as we now knew, twice.

After one particularly bloody episode, Boots had finally understood that her gifts were not appreciated and had given up, much to the relief of the cleaning lady… I hated seeing those poor creatures torn to shreds, though the rats she had killed and left intact.

cat2

That spring, while my son was away, I had taken the opportunity to deep clean his home and garden… everywhere except under that mountain of a mattress, which had been declared out of bounds. I did the bedroom first, shut the door to keep the cat out and started on the rest. A week or so later, I had arrived to feed his fish and found his bedroom window swarming with huge black flies. I had looked everywhere for the source of the problem… except under the bed. I let the flies out, but the same thing happened for several mornings thereafter… then nothing. Not one. I cleaned the windows again and thought no more about it. Flies nest in window frames sometimes. I’d had that happen at my own home one year.

Tim

Oddly enough, Tim, the tomcat who has also adopted my son, and who is also known as Frank and Nigel to the neighbours where he deigns to dine, has been trying to get under the bed for a while. This morning, we had found out why.

I disposed of the mummy, cleaned under the bed, fixed the slats and together we remade the bed, finding, in the process, a lost favourite sock that had lodged itself in the corner of the duvet. Bonus!

It was odd that the poor rat had lain hidden for so long, slowly decomposing while my son was away and thus not plagued by the smell. The timing of the burial beneath the bed had allowed it to pass unnoticed… until I began to see the flies. Even then, the source of the problem lay hidden until we finally found the corpse and disposed of it once and for all, cleaning the mess left behind.

I wondered how often the same thing applies to the hurt, guilt and fears we bury in the shadows of the mind and heart? We may not even know they are there… or, if we suspect their presence, choose not to look too closely, knowing that it will be unpleasant. Although we may be unaware, there is something about such things that may draw others to us, for all the wrong reasons.  Such things fester and rot, eating away at the soul, leaving behind immovable stains and providing a breeding ground for darkness and pain that can cast a cloud across our own lives and those of the people we love.

No matter how unpleasant the task, it is better to delve into the dark places, tackle the mess, and decently dispose of the copses. We never know what we might uncover, or how much we will ache as we essay the task. There may well be uncomfortable surprises, but as we allow light into forgotten corners, there may also be a gift just waiting to be uncovered… even if it is something as simple as a favourite sock.

bald tailed squirrel 001

The walking dead…

We had been engaged in one of those long existential debates, discussing life, death and the possibilities of what might come before and after. The debate had gone on for some time, discussion had gone deep and we had covered some serious stuff, including the changing perspective of the years, fuelled by my impending birthday and the universal fragility of life.

“You should make a video,” said my son.

For a moment, I was flattered, feeling that perhaps I had acquitted myself so well that he saw my thoughts as worthy of being shared. But that moment was a fleeting one… he took out his phone.

“What, now?”

“Yeah.”

“But I’m a mess…” Vanity is universal when faced with a lens. Or that’s my excuse.

“Well, I’d rather you were sort of natural anyway…” It all clicked into place then. So much for flattery.

“You mean, for when I die?” My health may be a bit unstable at present, but I’m certainly not planning on dying at the moment. He had the decency to look a tad embarrassed.

“Well, yes… but don’t feel obliged to die anytime soon…”

“Thanks…”

“…I haven’t given you permission yet.” This is true. As he is both my son and my employer, such an extended leave of absence requires his approval and he has made his feelings quite clear on the matter.

By this time, the camera is running and I face the immortalising lens with no make-up, haystack hair and wearing my oldest clothes. We continue the debate, though in a far more lighthearted manner. Even so, it feels odd. Bad enough being recorded, which I dislike at the best of times, but to know you are being filmed as a memory for when you are dead is quite a strange feeling.

One of the things we had been discussing was the value of remembering that physical life is finite. It is a concept that must be taken from rather abstract idea we generally live with and transformed into a practical application. It is not a morbid or depressing perspective, as some might think, but is actually liberating as it shifts the focus from the transient to the eternal.

With a conscious awareness of the inevitable ending of this phase of existence, life and every experience in it, good or bad, takes on a new depth and richness. Nothing is to be missed through inattention, every experience is to be savoured and appreciated, because there is an awareness, a backdrop to living, that constantly reminds you that each moment could be the last.

And, as the camera captured our laughter, I was getting a graphic lesson in bringing that concept into reality.

It begs the question of how we want to be remembered when we are no longer in the world. Do we want to leave a mark on society? Be missed? Create immortality through art or a legacy of scientific thought? Maybe our immortality comes through our bloodline… our children and their children? Or perhaps we wish only to be remembered with a smile.

But why should we want to be remembered at all? Perhaps it is the fear of utter annihilation. Or simply the ego, the personality we wear in life, programmed for its own survival, that  seeks to perpetuate itself… and cannot accept that life as we know it can carry on without us? No matter how well-known or well loved we are, unless we do leave some kind of concrete legacy to posterity, in a few generations we will be no more than an entry in a ledger or database somewhere.  And even that will one day disappear.

Whether we believe there is no more than this physical existence, or in the survival of the soul, we cannot escape the cycle or the recycling of life.  One thing is certain, in the physical universe, nothing is ever utterly lost. From plankton to planets, everything that comes into being will evolve and come to an end. Its component parts will be returned to whence they arose and become the building blocks of something new. Personally, I believe that also holds true of the soul. We do not need to seek immortality. We carry eternity within us.

Mister Fox and the Green Man

In previous years, the Silent Eye has released a workbook after the annual April workshop. In Song of the Troubadour and Land of the Exiles, we published the script of the five-act psycho-drama that forms the basis of these events with contributions from some of our companions who shared their personal impressions and stories.

The aim was to show exactly what happens on a ritual workshop weekend for those with no experience of such events and to give some insight into the Silent Eye.

Rather than continue publishing scripts in their pure format, we have sought innovative ways of presenting the inner ideas behind the stories we have woven as the central theme of a spiritual teaching workshop. Last year, the script for River of the Sun was turned into a serialised, fictional adventure and shared on Steve’s personal blog. It will eventually be released as a standalone novel that contains, within a  mysterious story of Ancient Egypt, the essence of the workshop.

This year, with Leaf and Flame, we decided to try something different

green man montage small

“Foxes, Welch!” When Special Agent Tommy Welch is called into Tee’s office, he has little idea of the perils of his latest assignment. Accompanied by the sensuous Miss Hunnyfludd, Welch believes he is to investigate an outbreak of mysterious Foxes. Instead Tommy finds himself flung far back in time, to the court of King Arthur, where a Green Knight is about to extend a deadly challenge…

Within the humorous spoof that frames the story, the reader is transported to Camelot to witness the confrontation of Gawain and the Green Knight. Based upon the story that lies deep at the heart of Arthurian lore, the threefold nature of the ancient myth unfolds…

Available now on Amazon worldwide in Paperback and for Kindle.

 

Inbetween times

DALI049
The Three Ages, Salvador Dali

Well, that was a nice surprise… I’m younger than I thought. In years, at least. For some reason I’d been wandering around thinking myself a year older than I actually am. Quite when that started, I am not sure, though the whole question of age goes back a long way.

As a very small child I can remember proudly announcing my age to anyone who asked. There was never any question about covering it up or shifting the numbers. A three-year old is quite happy to be ’free’… Even though we generally mispronounce it, we don’t misquote our age.

There comes a crossover point, though, when the first time you are told that you look older than your years is a red letter day. The world has finally seen that you are no longer a child. It recognises what you have known for some time… you are an adult; a presence in the world. Of course you are! You are twelve, after all…

By sixteen you hope that you look eighteen… except when you need to pay full fare… and no-one is looking… when you might try admitting that you are almost sixteen… And by eighteen you are convinced that you know everything there is to know about growing up. You smile indulgently on ‘youngsters’ a couple of years younger than yourself and pity those who cannot pass the age-controlled doors of adulthood.

By your mid to late twenties you have begun to realise that perhaps you had still some learning to do. You look back at your younger self with the fond indulgence of a parent and shake your head at its adolescent folly and the arrogance of extreme youth.

By some point in your thirties, you know for a fact that you know very little. You realise that you never did. You might, if you are lucky, see that the preceding decades have been the necessary tilling of the ground, that seeds have been planted which, if nurtured, will grow, especially considering all the manure life has probably lavished on them by this point. By your forties, the first time someone tells you that you look younger than your age is a red letter day…

Then you hit your fifties. This is where the whole age thing gets really complicated. By the time you get halfway through this decade, your actual age can vary, becoming anywhere inbetween, “I’m only just over fifty” to ‘”I’m nearly sixty,” depending on the situation. You will hear yourself saying it in exactly the same tone of voice as the old lady who couldn’t possibly because, “I’m over seventy, you know…” or your great grandmother, who once said proudly, “I’m nearly ninety-nine.”

You have, no doubt, realised that by this point you are almost certainly past the halfway mark. And regardless of how healthy you are at this point, there is an increasing likelihood that this situation will steadily deteriorate. You might well be one of the lucky ones in this respect, but it is almost guaranteed that gravity will finally start winning the tug of war with your flesh, your eyes and hearing will become less acute and your memory a little more relaxed… less performance driven and more quality oriented.

The expected deterioration of the memory and senses does have its uses though… particularly before it has actually set in. Ageing vision allows a more relaxed attitude to housework. Dodgy joints can let the grass grow a bit longer and selective hearing is a godsend occasionally.

On the downside, the years speed by much quicker and you find yourself starting thoughts and phrases with “I remember when…” far more often than you used to. Tolerance levels become fickle and things that would once not affected you with leave you grumpy, whilst you actively encourage grandchildren to do things their parents would have been in trouble for… especially where finger-paints and drum sets are concerned. But, with every year you are made aware that there is probably more life behind you than there is in front. It is all downhill from here.

Of course, just how you choose to go downhill is up to you. You can cling to the illusion of youth, or embrace the changes, accepting the natural slowing of the pace of life as a well-earned perk. It might seem a slippery slope that has you careening into old age before you are ready, or you may choose to see it as a kind of extreme sport where you pick up speed as you go and enjoy the ride. It is all a question of perception and desire. It has, you realise, always been so and your admissible age has matched your desire to see yourself, or be perceived, in a certain way.

For many this is a time when worldly responsibilities may ease and leave time for hobbies and new ventures that fall under the heading of ‘”I always wanted to…” or even ‘bucket list’. For many too there is a turning within, as we evaluate life so far and begin to seek out the fruits of those well manured seeds planted so long ago. For some of these, a turning towards a spiritual path leads them to seek a new and inward direction that is really an outward expansion. This is another thing that comes with the years… a realisation that the inner and outer worlds reflect each other in ways hitherto unnoticed. This may be related to the concept of ‘middle-aged spread’… an inner reality mirrored around the waistline of the physical.

Be that as it may, with a month before another year turns for me, I realised I had been getting ahead of myself. I had fallen prey to the idea of “I am nearly…” instead of remembering that “I am only…” So it was a nice surprise when I was asked my age today and, after double checking on my fingers, even checking online just to be on the safe side….I realised that I was a year younger than I had been thinking. On the other hand, that year has almost run out and I missed being “only” and really am “nearly”.

Gutted!

Taking the biscuit

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I am inspired.

By a biscuit.

A Rich Tea biscuit of renowned lineage to be exact. For those who have not encountered this denizen of the biscuit tin, it is a plain, thin and eminently dunkable thing, not to be tackled by the unwary or uninitiated. It requires the touch of experience to achieve that perfect melding of beverage and biscuit, the transmutation, that alchemical marriage of liquid and solid, fixed and mutable into the perfection born of precision.

This particular pack of biscuits was a gift from a son to an ailing mother. It matters not that they arrived slightly battered, nor that he ate half the packet with his coffee upon arrival. Half a pack remained as proof of his thoughtful care, the empty half a witness to filial devotion and his concern for my waistline.

I seldom eat biscuits, but when I do, I dunk.

Do you dunk? Are you blatant and unashamed in your pursuit of the joyfulness of a well dunked biscuit or perhaps a closet dunker? Do you dunk in private and shy away from the possible horrors of any public dunking? Who, of the dunkers amongst us, has not encountered that particular moment when the sogginess goes one step too far, the biscuit curls ominously and lands with a self-satisfied plop back in the beverage of choice, as if desperate to be reunited with the steaming liquid that brought it to life? That momentary fear as we await the inevitable, wondering whether the poised imminence will slide gracefully into the cup or will splash loudly, leaving its trace upon the pristine surface of the table?

What do you do about it? Pretend it has not happened, leaving the now soggy mess to sink into the obscurity of the dregs, leaving enough in the cup to cover the traces of your transgression? Attempt to drink the lot and hope no-one notices? Or fish around nonchalantly with the spoon in the hopes of discretely catching the disintegrating mass? If successful, do you discard the mess upon the saucer, or glance furtively around before rapidly hiding the evidence in the fastness of your mouth?

Or… do you go boldly in with yet another biscuit, with swift precision, to capture the floating remnants upon its crisp surface, knowing full well that one slip will result in inescapable disaster and inevitable splashes, knowing too that the slim chance of the success of this forlorn hope, this bravado, this daring will result in the satisfaction of perfection, thus covering the momentary failure in glory?

Dunking, of course, is an art, an exercise in the precision of attention and awareness. An art, rather than a skill, as skills can be learned and adhere to formulae. An art requires that you interpret, give of yourself, engaging with its form in the most intimate manner. Although it is a precise art, it is variable. No two biscuits are the same. The time factor varies between, say, a rich tea and a ginger nut. The first requires swiftness and a steady hand, the second is more forgiving of the novice dunker but optimal saturation is more difficult to gauge. Perfection is only achieved when the correct ratio of time, volume, surface area and temperature is attained.

Too long an immersion in the steaming depths leads to mere sogginess or disaster, too little and the saturation is incomplete, negating the purpose of the dunking, leaving one unsatisfied and disconsolate, crunching the unsoftened inner heart of the biscuit.

But of course, personal taste makes this artform even more unique. There are those who prefer an incomplete saturation, relishing the inner crunchiness hidden beneath the melting surface, or simply willing to accept a lesser melding for the sake of safety and less risk. Some prefer a mere veneer of sogginess, tenaciously clinging to the security of known crispiness, while for others only the abandon of total immersion will do.

Who can judge who is right? Optimal saturation varies biscuit to biscuit, dunker to dunker. Every dunk of the biscuit is different and serves a different purpose in differing circumstances. There are those who simply have no desire to dunk. Some would, but choose not to… indeed, there are those who eschew the biscuit altogether. Many would dunk if they dared, desire held in check by fear. What may be acceptable in the privacy of one’s home, may be seen as too great a risk in public, viewed as a social solecism, or a negative reflection on our place on the class ladder. Within the arcane art of the dunker many things may be observed, from the zest for life, to fear and the social pressures we impose upon ourselves, from the embracing of risk to the need for security. Yet bold or tentative, success or failure cannot be measured by the observer, only by the dunker, as only the dunker can know what satisfies their inner need.

Next time you pick up a biscuit, take a moment to think about what your relationship with it tells you about yourself. It is a revealing process.

June 2013

Eating Dinosaurs

"The name is Pond, James Pond.."
“The name is Pond, James Pond..”

“Well it has your dinosaurs in.”

“What?” My son lounged on the bed looking perplexed. We were talking about yoghurts.

“Acidophilus.”

“Oh yeah. Well what’s yours then?”

“Bifidus.”

“Not the same beastie then.”

We had established some time ago that his particular strain of yoghurt based bacteria sounded like a dinosaur, whereas the stuff I have been eating thrice daily on my doctor’s recommendation has a less interesting name. Still, I was not about to refuse home-made mango yoghurt. Even if he was bribing me with it in exchange for socks.

“Still, ‘eating dinosaurs’… not a bad title for a blog. I could illustrate it with a random duck.”

A pond girl?
Pond girl?

“Everything is a good title for a blog these days! Why a duck?”

“Why not? Birds are the closest thing to dinosaurs we have. I have to at least try and get a respectable post out here!”

None of your posts are respectable!”  The bare toe, hovering somewhere in the region of my hand as I lounge across the foot of his bed, is squeezed firmly in retaliation thus putting an end to his mirth. “ Ouch! So, a duck in disguise then.”

“Cheek! I manage to get some serious stuff in my posts!”

“What? And I’ve been reading them and not noticed?” He withdraws the foot from my reach hastily.

“There is usually some spiritual aspect to them, even if it is only suggested.”

“What! You’ve been feeding me undercover nerkism without me even knowing?”

“Sort of in disguise. Like the duck.”

“Closet nerkism! A 007 duck!”

Camouflage duck
Camouflage duck

“More of a 00-777.” He looks blank. “666…  everyone seems to know it as the number of the Beast from Revelations. “

“I knew that.”

“777  in some systems stands for perfection, the Trinity or the Christ.”

“Hmm….”

Trainee agents
Trainee agents

It is, I have to say, a good thing that no-one overhears these random conversations between my son and I. From bacteria to dinosaurs, yoghurt to spirituality in a few short phrases. Via undercover ducks. Were they ever to go public we would undoubtedly be looked upon askance and our sanity questioned. As it is, we are perfectly safe in the knowledge that no-one will ever know.

Which is just as well, as director of an esoteric school who might, conceivably, be expected to behave sedately and write from a lofty viewpoint.

Personally, I don’t buy that.

Spiritual consciousness is not something different from ordinary life. It is ordinary life.. or it should be. One of my favourite quotes is from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “Nous ne sommes pas des êtres humains vivant une expérience spirituelle, nous sommes des êtres spirituels vivant une expérience humaine.“ This is generally rendered as we are not human beings living a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings living a human experience.

Agent XXX
Agent XXX

This phrase puts a lot of things in perspective for me, for if we can accept that we are spiritual beings then it renders all aspects of life sacred. Including the laughter and gentle, random lunacy shared with friends… or between mother and son.

It means we do not have to strive towards some nebulous distant perfection, we have only to see what lies within each other and in ourselves, to recognise and embrace it and bring it out of the inner shadows and into the world.

We don’t have to duck being human. It is what we are meant to Be.