Riding the rollercoaster

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The day did not start well, either for me or the little fish I had to remove from the tank. It was no surprise that it was dead this morning… it had been looking a little off-colour the night before, though nothing too serious, until one of the larger fish took advantage of its incapacitated state and started using it like a water basketball, swimming around with it in its mouth, chased by its friends. I had put a stop to that ‘game’ and would have removed the ailing minnow to a makeshift hospital tank, had it not hidden itself in the roots of a plant.

I couldn’t blame the fish… they were just following their instincts. Even though such a ‘game’ looked cruel from my perspective, small fish can easily be frightened to death and Nature’s often brutal euthanasia may have been a better option than a long, drawn-out illness. I will never know.

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The day got a lot better at my son’s though, when he sent me out into the garden. Trooper, one of the two ‘miracle-fish’ currently residing in my son’s pond, is still with us. He and another golden orfe had both fallen ill with dreadful ulcers some time ago…we had no hope of their survival when we saw them floating, belly-up, side by side. One of the fish, though, made a dramatic recovery and is back to swimming happily with his shoal. Trooper has not been so lucky, but each time we think he must be at his last gasp, he rallies and proves he can still swim with the best of them, albeit a little lopsided… so the daily checking on Trooper is always a bit of a rollercoaster, as we worry not only about his recovery, but about whether he can escape any local predators… like the heron and the cats.

The heron flies over most days, but the cats…the ones who moved in en masse to my son’s home over the winter… seem to have disappeared. The food in the automatic feeder still disappears daily too, but I haven’t seen any of them in weeks now. Their fickleness is a little sad, but then…that’s why I prefer dogs.

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On a nicer note, mother magpie brought her babies into the garden today. We had worried about them too when the crows had mobbed the nest at the top of the tree. We’ve been worrying about the birds for a while, as the neighbours chose to cut down an awful lot of the trees that they called home, and for a while, the garden fell silent. The little birds were soon back, though, and it was good to watch the young magpies establishing their familial pecking order over the bird bath, while the wren sang on the fence and the tits and finches raided the bird table.

Apart from checking on Trooper, though, my mission had been to photograph the bees on the globe thistle…and that was a definite delight, apart from the sadness of the bee caught in the spider’s web. It was still and lifeless, too late for any help… there was nothing I could have done… and after the fish, I would have hesitated to interfere with the natural process.

Life is constantly being recycled, from the decay of fallen fruit and leaves that feeds the earth, to the recycling we, with our emotional view on life and death, find distressing or distasteful. There is a great dance of energy in motion, flowing through first one lifeform then another as each completes its allotted span and purpose, returning the components of its life to the greater life of earth.

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Even so, it was sad to see the little lifeless creature, paralysed and caught in the web below the flower that is drawing more bees than any other at the moment. I love their soft, furry bodies of the bumblebees, covered in pollen that seems to refract a rainbow of colour and I spent a pleasant half hour watching them.

The next plunge of the rollercoaster came after I had brought my son over for him to use my bathroom… his being out of commission for the next month or so. Much to the dog’s delight, he is coming over every day for a shower and she is loving the extra captive ball-thrower. Sadly, though, as Nick is a bit unsteadier than usual today, he had a fall as we were going back out through the front door this afternoon. He was fine… he fell on me… and rather than doing the decent thing and checking to see if we were both okay, the dog did her best Houdini impression, bounded over our tangled legs and ran.

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I live in a quiet cul de sac… but the roads through the village are dangerous, the cars drive fast…and there are cows, horses and sheep to contend with if Ani takes to the fields. I was convinced she would go that way, as that is where we walk, so headed off in pursuit on foot, while Nick manned the doorstep in case she wandered home. There was no sign of her. I scoured the fields, checked the farm, fishing lake and stables, ran down to the allotments, all the way through the village to the shop across the main road… I walked miles without a sight of her and, as rush hour approached, grew more and more afraid.

It was only as I passed the village veterinary practice that I thought to check with them, to see if they had heard of a stray dog. The receptionist smiled… Ani is microchipped and while I searched, they had emailed me to let me know she had just been brought in. Fear gave way to relief as they brought her out to me… wagging her tail furiously and obviously expecting me to be proud of her adventures… We had words about that on the way home. But she still got chicken for dinner.

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I ended the day on a good note too, with a copy of a Derbyshire village magazine in my inbox and a hard copy in the post. They had seen my article of their little church… the one that smiled…and asked if they could reproduce it. I was glad to agree, pleased that the editors approved of how I had described their church.

But the day really had been an emotional rollercoaster, and in between the various domestic dramas,  and just for good measure, Nick had asked about the time he spent in the coma. So I revisited and relived some of the emotions I had experienced while he was unconscious and, we were told, about to die. We talked about the various levels of consciousness, from blind reaction to the dispassionate observer within, that watches without judgement or attachment as you move through the moment, good, bad or just the space between.

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Nick quoted the Buddha’s reference to the Self as witness to inner truth, while we discussed whether or not your reactions are really ‘you’… or whether they are a consequence of who you really are…and it had been a day of reactions for both of us. It occurred to me that we are very like the bees I had been watching… scurrying through life, collecting grains of experience like pollen that cling to us, like it or not, from every moment of our lives. These grains of experience are the raw materials of reaction, forming the basis of how we both protect and propel ourselves through our days. Some of what we collect is bitter, some sweet as honey… but all of it adds to our store of knowledge. We can wall ourselves in behind what we learn, allow ourselves to be ruled and perhaps paralysed by fear…or we can let it open us to life and lead us, eventually, towards wisdom.

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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.

The Feathered Seer – Patterns of enchantment

 

 

‘The hidden world has its clouds and rain, but of a different kind. Its sky and sunshine are of a different kind. This is made apparent to those not deceived by the seeming completeness of the ordinary world.’

Jalaluddin Rumi

For the final ritual, the setting we chose was Arbor Low, the great stone circle within a henge. Its is unusual as it contains a central cove beneath which ancient human remains were found and the stones lay flat as if gazing at the pattern of the heavens; there seems little evidence that they were ever standing. Our own experiences at the stones were to provide the basis for the ritual… but as the essence of the workshop evolved, so did its final form of re-enchanting the land.

It is odd how things work out sometimes. One aspect of the five rituals had been put in place before we had even considered the Feathered Seer as a workshop. We had planned to incorporate the idea the year before during Leaf and Flame and were all set to do so, right up until the moment came. Then, without really knowing why, we felt it had to be put to one side. It was part of one of the unscripted sequences, so only two of us realised that we had skipped a portion of what was planned.

We work with the symbolism of the enneagram, a nine pointed schematic that we use to represent the journey of the human personality, the soul and the universal process of Becoming. Part of this journey is represented by a pattern of movement around the stations. We had planned to ‘move’ each of the Companions to a station representing what could be called a higher aspect of themselves. It was only afterwards that we realised how wrong that would have been. What happens within these rital dramas is symbolic of a wider reality…and in this case, a very personal one. We could not move them… it is something each of us must do for ourselves, journeying through life until we reach where we need to be. Thus it was that, this year, each of the Companions symbolically walked the Paths of Being and Becoming for themselves in a dance that married process to progress.

The simple movement was a beautiful sight, with each Companion walking the pattern from their own unique place and perspective, carrying with them the light of consciousness. For those who watched, it was a glimpse of something very special.

There is a tendency to separate the sacred from the mundane, the physical from the spiritual… to see the two as somehow different, even though they are two sides of the same coin. Movement is an expression of life and life an expression of spirit. As the flame was passed around the circle of Companions, we saw spirit in motion; creating a pattern, warp and weft of the soul.

There were other patterns woven, less obvious but no less potent, triangles within and without… keepers of lore and wisdom and those who bring those qualities into the everyday world, joined at a place where the inner and outer worlds touch. It was from here that we built another pattern. In meditation, a web of light as woven that would be seeded with stones, symbols of inner peace, all around the world.

Quite how the idea had arisen would be impossible to say, but it too had grown, weaving itself through the work of the weekend. In yet another of those odd synchronicities, we learned during the course of the workshop that two of our Companions were already initiating an almost identical idea within their own groups. Yet again, there was the touch of something beyond ourselves at work.

“Warp and weft,” said the Lore Keepers. The warp is the vertical matrix through which the weft is woven. We are neither the warp nor the designer of the fabric of life. We are threads of the weft, but each of us has a place on the loom and without just one of us, the pattern would be incomplete.

“Man’s life is laid in the loom of time, to a pattern he does not see…” but sometimes, just sometimes, we are graced with a glimpse.

The Feathered Seer – The bitter drop

‘If you have not lived through something it is not true’

Kabir

The fourth ritual took us to a place of fear. Within the local landscape there is a high place that had, for a long time, remained hidden from notice, even though we had passed it many times over the years. It was never hidden from sight… there are no trees to give seasonal camouflage, no houses or obstructions…it was only, somehow, hidden from awareness. Even though we must have seen it, the mound had never impinged upon consciousness. And it is really too big, too imposing, to miss.

It was inevitable that, once noticed, we would visit the site. The story that was born of that first encounter has been told elsewhere. The encounter itself was unlike any other, beginning an unease that grew with each successive visit and leaving me an emotional wreck. The tale that the hills whispered would furnish the inspiration for the fourth ritual.

Prior to that, however, Morgana was to speak to the group of soul-lineage and the work of the psychopomp. It was one of the many striking synchronicities of the weekend. We had issued the invitation but had no idea what subject she would choose, what she would say or how she would present it. The subject could not have fitted more perfectly had it been pre-planned and scripted… and the symbols beside her as we walked in, black  and white, would exactly mirror what we had planned for another unscripted sequence in the very next ritual and about which only two of us knew. In such seemingly impossible ‘coincidences’ there is a reassurance that we are doing something right.

Fear was addressed on many levels throughout the weekend, from the fragilities of the ego that affect our day-to-day lives and the way we perceive the world, through to the deeper, often unspoken fears that hide in the shadows. Morgana spoke of death and dying and, for many those are the ultimate fears.

To those for whom death itself holds no fear, the manner of dying is one of some concern. We seldom have a choice in the manner of our passing and for most, if not all of us, there is the conscious hope of a gentle ending for ourselves and those we love. Death itself may be feared because we do not know what lies beyond… it is unknown territory and even our certainties cannot be proven before we pass beyond that veil. Death may also be feared because we cannot imagine a place or state of being when we are not. The ego is designed for life; it clings to its familiar state of being and, for existence to continue without its presence in some form or another, is an unencompassable idea to many.

The initiatory theme of the ritual took us to a place of fear… and moved beyond it. The word ‘initiate’ means ‘to begin’  or to ‘set in motion’ and, as there can be no beginning without the ending of a previous state, the symbolism of death and birth into a new state of being, of the fear and its facing, is an apt analogy. In the Tarot, the Death card symbolises not only physical death, but also endings and change… and a change is a new beginning.

Our society has, in many ways, become inured to death. It’s horrors are so often in our homes through the news and media, both in reality and as ‘entertainment’, that we no longer recoil from many of the images with which we are confronted. Yet both the fear and the mystery of death remain.

Before the workshop, I spoke with someone about the value of life and, in particular, about the role of its limits. Would we achieve anything much if we were immortal, beyond the ability to perfect the art of procrastination? With unlimited time, would we seek a cure for cancer or a path to peace? Our limitations may give our lives meaning. By being aware of and accepting our mortality, we create a virtual time machine for ourselves. We are all aware of how time itself seems to slow or speed up depending on our levels of boredom or engagement with the moment. By acknowledging the finite nature of our lives, time takes on a new level of meaning and we live each moment with greater intensity. Kahlil Gibran said, “It is life in quest of life in bodies that fear the grave.” The sadness is that our very fear of death is caused by our consciousness of life and, in turning away from its inevitability, perhaps we are also failing to embrace life as fully as we could.

Flying high

There was a heron in the garden when I arrived at my son’s home a little before eight o’clock. It stood on the deck, almost as tall as me, and looked me in the eye. For a moment there was a feeling of wordless communication… a kind of mute yet mutual acknowledgement of presence… then, not releasing my gaze, it spread the great wings and took to the air.

The pond is fairly heron-proof. They come in occasionally and perch on the handrails that surround the water some five feet above its surface. The accessible area is just too narrow to be a comfortable landing space for anything with a wingspan so vast and there are few places to stand, even if a heron should gain ingress. The water is deep and the fish alert to danger. The only resident at risk is little bent-tail fish.

Bent-tail has caused us much concern over the past two years. Every visitor is likely to stop at the pond on the way to the front door and almost all comment that we have a dead or sick fish in there. Bent-tail’s position of choice is a shallow corner, on the surface. Whatever caused the bending of the tail also affected his ability to remain submerged for long and he spent the winter at the surface. We didn’t expect him to survive and had several heart-wrenching days where he was upside down for most of the time.

Resilient as always, bent-tail recovered and you could see him take pleasure in the slight warming of the waters as the spring sunlight brought its comfort to the shallows. He still managed to zip around the pond and play with the other fish. My first job, every morning, has been to check on his well being.

My son has felt a sense of kinship with the little orfe. Both he and the fish have overcome seemingly insurmountable problems and defied predictions. I too am fond of the valiant little creature. So my first thought was for bent-tail when the heron flew off.

There was not a fish in sight. Not one of the forty or so in the pond. They had all retreated to the depths… which suggested that the heron had somehow been able to land and give them a scare. There was no sign of bent-tail… but as all the fish were missing, no more than gilded shadows deep below the water, I was not unduly concerned.

It took a while for the fish to regain their confidence and come to the surface for breakfast. There was no sign of bent-tail, but it is a big pond with many places to hide and not all the fish were calm yet.

An hour later and all the fish are playing in the sun. Except bent-tail.

Another hour of constant checking and there was still no sign. My son called me to the gym where he was playing music and working out. Whether the little fish had slipped away quietly in the night and thus been an easy meal, or whether the heron had come in the guise of the Reaper, we would have to accept it, bent-tail was gone.

“It’s sort of alright, you know, he died a natural death.” said my son. “His wasn’t a meaningless life.” Bent-tail was different… a small creature with a good deal to teach. According to the fish forums and advice pages, we should have euthanized him long ago. But as he seemed perfectly happy apart from that episode over the winter, and seeing the parallels with my son’s own situation, we couldn’t have done so. The little fish had a resilient gallantry that kept him swimming and playing, regardless of his problems. We learned a lot from little bent-tail and his valiant determination… and love can take any form.

“Some things just come into your life when they are needed,” said my son. “He served a purpose other than his own.” It seems odd that, at the very moment when my son’s own attitude has taken a very positive stance and he has turned a personal corner, bent-tail should depart. Just when the lessons he has taught have been learned, the little fish is allowed to re-join the cycle of nature, feeding beauty with his life, instead of dying a long, debilitating and increasingly painful death from whatever illness had bent his golden body.

The mysteries of life and death are playing a large part in our lives at the moment; not surprising, perhaps, when we are exploring just those themes for the upcoming workshop. The little fish was raised to the great Fish Pond in the Sky by a gloriously beautiful winged being. It seemed appropriate somehow. Life began in the waters before it crawled onto land and grew wings, just as our own lives begin in the waters before we walk the earth or soar with the stars; a symbolic evolution for our small angel with scales.

My son’s ‘hardcore’ music seemed an incongruous accompaniment for such thoughts, until one phrase of the lyrics was repeated over and over…

“Flying high, flying up to the sky…”

Fly well, little fish. And thank you.