A matter of time…

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I watched the sun go down tonight from the roadside. For once, the camera had not come with me… I was just driving to the shop and didn’t pick it up. Even so, I cursed myself for leaving the camera as I saw the huge, golden orb shot with crimson reflected in the rearview mirror. Too late to turn and go back, the sun would have gone by then but maybe, just maybe, I would be home in time…

No. Halfway home it was evident I wouldn’t make it, so, camera or not, I pulled over to watch the setting glory of an autumn day.

It took only a couple of minutes for the last of the blue to fade through a rainbow of colour to a molten sky, aflame against the silhouetted trees. Almost as if the sky was clothed in the colours of the School…I couldn’t help but smile.

It was the speed of those final moments, though, that struck me. In the space of just a few heartbeats, dusk became sunset and night swallowed the earth. The change came with incredible swiftness and was complete.

It made me think how fast our little planet is spinning, unnoticed by we who live and breathe her air. Hurtling through space around the sun at around seventy thousand miles an hour, rotating on its own axis at around a thousand miles an hour at the equator… and we are so habituated to that movement we never notice. Yet, we get motion sickness in a vehicle.

Our eyes and brains process light that hits a speed of six hundred and seventy million miles per hour…and we don’t bat an eyelid at that constant miracle. Our field of vision seems infinite. Even I, short-sighted as I am, think nothing of glancing up to say hello to Orion,  capturing in my gaze light which left the nebula nearly one thousand, three hundred and fifty years and nine trillion miles ago, to meet my eyes tonight. Some of the stars I see no longer even exist. Yet I have trouble getting to grips with things when I speak friends from ‘the future’ in timezones across the world. Odd, isn’t it?

We live our lives against the backdrop of the enormity of time, yet it often seems that all we know can change in a heartbeat. A single moment, a scintilla of time, and life can be transformed, becoming unrecognisable, both for better or for worse. It can be a small thing that changes a mood, moving a day from sadness to joy, or it can be the bigger events that upheave a lifetime.

Just like the movement of the earth, we often don’t even notice how these changes begin. Or even at all. Sometimes we think we can trace them back to a particular and pivotal event, if we look but it is hard, if not impossible, to untangle the skein of a lifetime. The further you try and trace an event’s beginning back to its roots, the more apparent it becomes that you cannot do so, for each event is dependent in some way upon the ones that preceded it and brought you to that point in time.

We cannot alter past events and the future is unscripted… which leaves us with now, this moment, this scintilla of time, in which to change our worlds. And we do so. All the time. And don’t even notice.

I deliberately took time to watch that sunset. It is something that happens every day, something that has happened over my head nearly twenty-two and a half thousand times since I was born and which I seldom consciously take time to watch. I have to ask myself how many of those days of my life I have missed, simply by taking them for granted and not drinking in each moment in full awareness of the possibilities they hold, not living with a passion.

Tonight the sky was a rainbow veil that turned to a sea of molten gold. And I never want to take that for granted again.

A spiritual ostrich

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The ‘selfie’ that… isn’t

There was an idea that has had me playing around with a digital painting programme. It also got me thinking. So, last night I toyed with an image from the last annual workshop that shows me in the ritual role of Isis. I ran it through on an ‘oil painting’ setting, then added a soft filtered bronze lighting effect over it.

Of course, the resulting image isn’t ‘me’. Not by any stretch of the imagination!

I don’t, more’s the pity, get to wander around in gorgeous robes and high headdresses every day… I’m more a leggings and comfort woman. Nor do I wear heavy Egyptian make-up as a rule. The clothes and draperies change the shape of the face, the state of mind changes the expression and the make-up brush can do strange and wondrous things. Add to that the painting effect that smoothes things out a bit, including…apparently…the nose, a soft focus through which the world seldom sees me and a bit of dramatic coloured lighting … And the results?

Well… if that’s me then I’m an ostrich!

Diana and co north 075Yet, although the image is no more than an illusion, it began as a captured reality… it began with a photo of me; a quick picture taken long before dawn one Sunday morning last April, when the day was almost unborn and hours had been spent in solitary meditation preparing for the day. Even the original snap didn’t look like ‘me’ and yet the woman in the image wore my features, looked out through my eyes… eyes my own hands had gilded and painted with kohl just moments before.

It seems rather strange that in an odd sort of way I have come full circle with this image.

The aim of the ritual workshops that we run is to create an illusion and make it reality, not the other way round like the picture, yet in both cases the results can hold a beauty that was not present before.

The rituals we craft for those who attend our workshops take a spiritual idea and weave it into a story. This tale is then played out within the reality of a sacred space. In many respects it is a bit of ‘sympathetic magic’. In just the same way that the shamans of old painted animals upon the walls of deep caverns to ensure the presence of game on the plains, so we ritualise the human experience and play it out from a spiritual perspective in terms the psyche can understand. The aim is to reach for the emotional and spiritual connection to this deep level of understanding… to seed awareness into consciousness… allowing the surface barriers of logic to be breached.

Diana and co north 028It isn’t mere playacting because the intent is focussed on the spiritual journey shared by the companions. The resulting learning experience can be very powerful and such ritual weekends evoke deeply emotional responses from those who attend… and it is here that the real magic happens. Within each of us; for the ritualised experience shared in the temple space must be taken out into the world and applied to life; it must be lived.

It is not enough to merely attend any spiritual event and think that by our presence we have done enough, any more than it is enough to take up the attitude of prayer before an altar while mentally going over the shopping list. The opening of the self within the temple, where the experience is emotive and touches the roots of being is only part of the story. It is little more than a seed planted in the life of earth.

No matter how deeply we feel those moments, no matter how vivid the experience, it serves no purpose if it is discarded with the robes or left in the dark closet of memory with the script. It is never enough to pay lip service to a spiritual ideal, nor, by simply playing them out in ritual form can they ever change our lives. What is born in the sacred spaces has to be taken out into the world. The inner reality of what we learn there has to be allowed to put out shoots into our own lives, growing up through our own characters and flowering as a personal understanding that changes the way we can be in the world. And that is where the beauty lies.

Otherwise here too we risk being ostriches… or peacocks whose glorious feathers hide little more than a chicken beneath them.

So in some ways perhaps it is fitting that the photo holds more beauty than I will ever see in the mirror of my days; a reminder that when the seeds sown by Working with the School take root, they may, if tended, flower into a beauty unseen by the eye, but known by the heart.

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Details of Leaf and Flame, the Silent Eye Workshop

in April 2016 can be found here.

Click image for details

The predator within

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“Don’t worry…”  “It’s probably nothing…” “I’m probably just being daft but…”  How often do we hear words like these, keeping a bright smile firmly glued to immobile faces as fear strides in and starts clawing at our entrails? We recognise fear at those moments, we know its name. It is uncompromising, blatant, uncaring of our fragile mask of polite pretence. We want to act, do something… yet nine times out of ten we are shackled by circumstance, powerless to do anything at all except sit and wait, hoping, praying that the fear is groundless.

There are the fears we call worry that stalk us, like feline predators, silent and sure footed, circling ever closer while we are frozen, eyes locked on those of the beast, waiting for attrition to render us helpless, prey to our own imaginings and anticipation.

Sometimes it feels like we are being slowly gnawed, nibbled away from the ground up while we are chained in a dungeon of other fears… all our attention on the teeth that bite, not seeing that the chains we believe hold us are illusions, wisps of smoke born of unnamed terrors we refuse to look at.

Fear, in all its guises, is a dreadful thing to feel.

Of course, it has its uses. Fear was a very early part of our evolution and served to keep us alive in a hostile world. It still does… though we may not be running from a sabre-toothed tiger, we are beset by physical dangers we barely even notice, being so conditioned to care by our fears at an early age. We don’t consciously fear crossing a quiet, village road… but we still check for the truck that could squash us.

We are very conscious of the ‘big’ fears… and are acutely aware of those which are ‘lesser’, though they may not feel that way when they have you in their grip. They do not have to be reasonable to be painful and punishing. Anyone who saw Jaws when it first came out will probably have thought twice about sea bathing regardless of the fact that the chances of being a victim of a shark attack are one in 11.5 million, whereas one in ten thousand will die of flu, which we regard as a misery rather than a danger.

Fear can be useful in keeping us alive. It is, after all, what evolution designed it to do…protect us from danger. With our complicated lives, however, those primal fears have mutated and gone underground, taking us by stealth like an assassin in the darkness of our minds and emotions; silent, deadly and with little warning or chance of escape. We are conditioned by our own inner ninja.

These fears are more insidious, very difficult to pin down and understand; elusive shape-shifters that are so good at changing their outward appearance that they can be as difficult to see as the wind… we see them only by their effects, when they ruffle our branches or slam our doors. They clothe themselves in other guises, pretending to be things they are not… a fear of flying that is more likely the fear of crashing, a fear of dentists that may be the dread of pain, helpless at the hands of another… and they are just the simple ones.

What of the fear of death? Do we fear death itself… or what might come after? Is it the fear of hellfire, or the loss of our own identity… the ‘who will I be if I am not I’? The fear of commitment that may be the fear of losing control… or of being left alone again. The loss of status, things acquired that show who and what we are… yet mask the true fear that we are not. The layers of fear are so intertwined with our individual experience that they may be impossible for another to unravel completely, triggered as they are by unique combinations of events and experiences. Rather like making a cake. The same basic ingredients, varied infinitely by proportion, skill and the inclusion of flavourings.

It is said there are only five basic fears: extinction, loss of autonomy, separation, mutilation and ego-death… and that all can be attributed to one or the other, or a combination of these. When you think about it, in spite of our seeming multitude of fears, they all fit within these frames. The thing is, we seldom do really think about our fears, we react to them, allowing them to lead us blindly, often preferring to accept the apparent fear than to look beyond to the true root cause. In their purely physical terms they are easily understood, justifiable in the evolutionary attempt to secure survival. Yet they are far more insidious at the emotional levels.

Extinction… worse than just dying; ceasing to be. It is, from the level of our consciousness, unthinkable. Autonomy… powerlessness… to be restricted, subject to the will of a force beyond our control. Separation… utter aloneness, abandonment, exclusion… no longer a person. Mutilation… the loss of self-image through physical, emotional or social damage. Ego death… shame, dissolution of the image we build for  and of ourselves… leaving us unfit, unworthy, unloved. These fears, unrecognised, unseen, affect almost every corner of our lives, shaping our actions and interactions.

When you look at them from this angle, all the emotional fears lead back to one thing… the way we see ourselves. Yet, just as the fear that makes us run from a predator can save our lives, or pain alert us to a potential problem that needs to be addressed, so can these quiet, insidious fears be used to show a way forward. Our fears may stop us falling off a cliff top, but they may also hold us back when adventure beckons. Every good sword has two edges.

Our fears give us something to learn from. They are signposts that we can read, following their trail and finding their lair. As with many things the fear itself may be far more intimidating than the cause, bigger in appearance than in actuality. A mouse wearing giant boots and leaving a false trail.  Finding the mouse can be the beginning of an adventure, a voyage of discovery. Unravelling the tangled web we may face our fears, one by one, measuring ourselves against mouse or monster, and finally learning to see who we really are… and who we might become.

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