Walking through history

We were out before daylight again, the dog and I. In spite f the storms, wind and rain, there are daffodils in flower and everywhere there are signs of spring. While the human half of this pre-dawn duo cowered gratefully in an overlarge coat, the smaller, but more energetic half bounded along joyfully, breathing steam like a miniature dragon. A resilient creature, impervious to the rain in, I realised, a resilient landscape.

Instead of our usual walk through the fields, and because I needed to call at the village shop, we returned to old haunts and walked down the lane towards the hamlet of Wormstone, so tiny it gets a mere one-liner in Wikipedia. Parish records indicate the name is derived from the Old English for Wærmund’s farm, but I have always preferred to wonder if there was an older, more interesting story of dragons and sacred stones behind the name. And why not? Man has always dreamed and wondered.

Still, even the name Wærmund takes the history back well over a thousand years, and I crossed the path of the old Roman road as I walked, taking history back even further, catching a brief glimpse of the site of the Iron Age remains in the fields beyond. Prehistoric flint tools have been found here, and human occupation seems to have been a constant in the area. There is even archaeological evidence of a vineyard under the site of the school, which, on this cold and wintry morning, seems rather bizarre, though gardeners still tended their allotments alongside the site until work began on the new houses that are being constructed.

To the casual observer, there is no evidence of this history. Few of the villagers seem to be aware of the long story of their home and the changes wrought by man are overlooked unless they are obvious… and then we simply accept them as part of the landscape. It does not take very long for life to move history forward or for Nature to colonise and conceal the traces of human habitation, folding a green counterpane around our passing.

The dog does not ruminate on her place in history. Her attention is immediate, especially when the jewel colours of a pheasant stands bright against the green or the red kite calls from the air. I huddle in my fur-lined coat and watch instinct take over as she freezes into the classic setter stance and I  cannot help but smile at the simplicity of her joy in her futile pursuit of winged creatures.

We are, after all, such small creatures. Our individual lives insignificant when compared to the slow life of a stone or the majesty of a mighty oak. There are ancient trees in the landscape here, beneath whose boughs lovers have met for centuries. Streams whose waters have run through the chalk to the rivers and seas, rising to the heavens before falling again to give life to the ground.

Every life matters, every life has its place in the pattern of this rich tapestry. We matter to ourselves and to each other, to those we love and who care for us, to those affected by our actions or our work. We matter in the grand scheme, because without each and every life the design would be incomplete and different. Imperfect.

Insignificant as we seem, every single one of us changes the world every day by the choices we make and the actions we take. We can change it for the better or for the worse, but change it we do. No matter how small the arena in which we feel we live, the effect we have on those around us and our immediate environment is real.

As a race, a species, we have deliberately altered the face of the planet more visibly than any other species, adapting it to our needs. Our actions have wide-ranging consequences for the lives of the other creatures with whom we share this world. Even the least of us can reach out across the globe with the technologies at our fingertips.

As individuals, we are not responsible for humanity’s collective past, but we hold its future in our hands. We are responsible for the mark each of us leaves as a footnote in history, even if our individual stories are neither written nor remembered but fade like the morning mist wraiths in the sun. The mark we leave on the greater landscape of life, no matter how faint,  is indelible.

Light and shade

The road home was flooded by brilliant winter sunlight, criss-crossed with the deep, dark shadows of the trees. The light and shade fell upon me through the glass roof of the car as I drove, setting reality a-flicker like an old movie reel. It seemed appropriate as I looked back on the days and months behind me, taking stock. They too are unreal… they exist only in memory and consequence, yet their weight can crush us if we permit it.

Tomorrow sees the beginning of a new year and a new decade. I am old enough that the thought of seeing in the year twenty-twenty still seems like some impossibly futuristic dream… and young enough to know that seeing in twenty-fifty is not a complete impossibility.

Many of the strange and wonderful technological advances that graced the pages of science fiction books when I was young are now part of our everyday lives. We may not all have a Jetson-esque ‘Rosie’ to do our chores, but our homes are filled with incredible gadgetry. We have adapted to its presence and learned to take it so much for granted that our behaviours as a species are changing… not always for the better. We are amazingly adaptable creatures, though and the void left by what we unlearn or leave behind will be filled with new skills, I have no doubt.

But of all the decades I have lived, this one has been both the worst and the best. And the two are so intimately entwined that it is difficult to separate them, as the one depends on the other.

In 2010, my son was stabbed through the brain and left for dead in a coma… every parent’s worst nightmare. For the past ten years, I have run the gamut of human and maternal emotion as I have watched his journey, through the extremes of fear, hope and grief… and watched him answer them with courage, determination and a sheer, bloody-minded refusal to be beaten. Even by himself.

Ten years on and there are still days of both utter despair and of unbounded optimism. It has not been an easy journey, for any of us… but, in many ways, it has been a beautiful one; in which we have seen the very best of human kindness and character as a direct response to the effects of the worst.

On a personal level, I have played a part in the establishment of the Silent Eye… and that too has been an amazing journey and one that has changed my life in so many ways, allowing me to explore aspects of self that I would not have believed existed. The price has been learning to look myself squarely in the eye and acknowledge a good many uncomfortable things that ego would rather not see, but in doing so, I also found a few positive things too that I would never have expected to find.

Exploring the land with Stuart and with purpose has been a delight. Even though our travels are rarer than it may seem, the adventure is constant as flashes of understanding and glimpses of unknown wonders continually reveal themselves as we work with what we learn. It is a journey that demands dedication, time and energy…but the rewards are boundless.

It is always the way… the scales, in constant motion, seek balance. We seldom live anything that is wholly dark or wholly bright. Shadows are not the absence of light, merely light interrupted… and we do need their darkness in order to notice and appreciate how bright the light can be.

As I drive, winter pretends it is spring. There are buds on the trees, daffodils sending green spears up through sodden earth. The seasons run as they will. Nature does not count the passing years; there is only the continuing cycle of growth, decay and new life nourished by old. And I wonder at our dependence on time to measure the quality of a life. Surely our experience of living should count for more than years?

What will the next year…the next decade…  bring? Who knows? I am just glad there are still adventures ahead and hope, to paraphrase a well-known quote, that I can stand at the end of my days and say I embraced every bit of the life I was given.

Accelerated evolution

Inner Temple-image by Matt Baldwin-Ives
Inner Temple-image by Matt Baldwin-Ives

Spiritual growth is a journey unique to each one of us and taken whether we will or no. It is a natural evolution against which we may fight, actively resisting change or more usually with apathy and inertia. Or we may choose to jump into the flowing stream willingly, seeking the adventure of new destinations, unknown and unfamiliar landscapes seen in the light of increased understanding and awareness.

Some choose to walk their personal path alone, others choose the companionship along the way that a group, faith or school can provide. Within these are found many paths that lead towards a single, lambent Centre that is known by many names and yet transcends them all.

Each path will draw those to whom it speaks, as if both the path and the heart have a voice raised in song, and when the two come together in harmony, something beautiful is born. However, seeking that path that resonates with your own inner song can be a long and painful journey in itself, with many false starts and missed turnings.

One cannot teach spiritual growth. What can be taught, however, is a method, a pathway.

With the Silent Eye we seek to share a path into Consciousness that is an ancient one, not of our devising, but one that has lain hidden beneath an accretion of arcane symbols, correspondences and complex language. It is a natural and simple path, one that we have cleared of the accumulated debris of centuries, the brambles and thorns have been stripped away and it gleams clear and white before us. We have, as Steve once wrote, given it a new life and a new language for the digital age.

To turn one’s face towards this quest for understanding requires both commitment and awareness. There is no quick fix, no instant solution and no magic wand. Results are always dependent upon the dedication of the student. The destination is not reached overnight and the road may be long and rocky. But as with any journey, a well-constructed road, a map and clear direction make it far more certain that the destination will be reached.

The active engagement in this journey has been called accelerated evolution, and that, I feel, is an apt description. The simple act of choosing to actively embrace the changing landscape of the path is, in itself, a powerful thing. The student who joins a Mystery School is guided by those who know the path ahead and can see the pitfalls before them having themselves walked the same way.

Seeds of knowledge are planted in mind and heart, for knowledge can be shared. Understanding grows with the student… and we are all students…and that unfolding is both personal and beautiful.

Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 4 – Life and Death ~ Helen Jones

Helen Jones continues the tale of her weekend with The Silent Eye in Derbyshire…

I recently attended a workshop with The Silent Eye about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part four of my account, parts one, two and three can be found here…

(Apologies for the slight delay between posts – I had a project that needed finishing and another that needed starting, so have been focusing on those for the past few days. However, let’s now head back to Derbyshire and the next stop on my journey…)

Continue reading at Helen Jones’ blog.

Four letter word

stonehenge 003

“Who do you love best?”

I overheard a conversation between mother and her small child and remembered my own sons asking me this question when they were very small. I imagine it is one many children throw at their parents and we reassure them, almost automatically, that we love them the same. It isn’t true, though is it? We may love them equally… in fact, I think by the very word love we are assuring them that we do, but we don’t love them ‘the same’.

Have you ever stopped to think about it? Such a small word for such a range of human emotions! The love we have for parent, sibling, friend, child or lover is always different. The colour of love may change, but it is impossible to quantify and all its colours, like those of the spectrum, blend and merge to make a love that encompasses all. There is no loving more or less… it simply is. There are no two loves alike, just as there are no two people identical, not even twins. Everyone is unique and so are our relationships with them.

We can like someone more than another, we can relate to them better, we can feel that odd attraction/repulsion that can be so strong… we can apply all sorts of other emotional overlays, both negative and positive, to the relationship; respect, sympathy, compassion… and all the rest. We can prefer the company of one, know light-hearted laughter with one friend, share an interest in books or butterflies with another, feel tenderness towards a child or a lover, fall hopelessly… or hopefully… in love, or burn with the flame of passion. We can be dutiful as children, loyal as friends… We can even find that miracle that seems to complete us. Or we can love in the hope that love will be returned. So many aspects to something both so simple yet so very complex it seems, yet it is the foundation of every human relationship by its presence… or absence. And it is such a small word.

The Greeks did it better… Four words instead of four letters, each with its own distinct meaning. Storgē is the love that accepts, and the love for what is. Philía is affection, friendship… the love for family, something to be shared. Éros, usually understood as the sensual and physical passion, falling in love through attraction and without thought, the desire of the senses. Yet Plato saw it as more than that… through the perfection of the physical form and its attraction he saw a pathway for the soul to remember beauty and through it find Truth. Agápe, the unconditional, selfless love that seeks nothing… only to be; the spiritual love for the Divine, or the purity of love for the child.

While we use that four-letter word so often, we seldom think about what it actually means and when we are asked ‘who we love best’ we give the answer that reassures. We do not stop to ask ourselves if we love our ‘best’ or could love ‘better’. Not in terms of quantity for I do not believe love can be measured, but in how we love and what we give… or seek.

Looking at the meanings behind the Greek words is revealing. In them, we can see a pathway to something more. In learning to accept what is, to love life without judgement, recognising both the good and the bad for what they are, what they might be or what they can teach, we could learn how to move through the world creating change. Through sharing… being able to give and receive what is given in friendship and affection… we can open ourselves to life and become part of a wider family, learning to understand the nature of love as we did as children, in innocence and trust. In seeking the beauty that sings to us, that embraces our whole being body, heart and mind, as deeply as we would a lover, we find a place of beauty within that simply wants to give love. It is enough. And when love ceases to seek anything in return it comes close to the Divine.

It is such a big thing, this little word, and we may all mean something different when we use it. It has become an everyday word used lightly… or it can be the deepest gift we have to give. It challenges us, holds up a mirror, breaks our barriers and sometimes our hearts. It can leave us wide open to hurt, yet to live it is to know the greatest joy.

Morning glory…

gardens 107459

It is 4am and I haven’t slept a wink. I’m not entirely happy about that. It is not as if I haven’t tried. My mind whirrs quietly, emotions heightened by a frustrated fatigue. Ani is draped across the sofa snoring softly. For all I would, at this point, much rather be asleep, I love this time of day.

The sun has lit the touchpaper of the horizon and the east is edged in palest gold, the fire of dawn spreading silently over a sleeping land. The first bird just started to sing, Another has joined and the morning chorus has begun. There is a rainwashed freshness in the air and the colour, still absent from the ground, now gilds the sky, shifting the focus upwards.

It is as if the divine Hand has opened a window allowing us a brief glimpse of glory, lifting the eyes away from the earth towards a realm higher and clearer than the one in which we move. That small shift in focus alters perception completely and the world becomes a wider place, filled with a magical possibility as I watch the sun crest the horizon and see its pale eye with my own.

It seems as if the light steals in over the landscape, illuminating each leaf and branch, so softly it cannot be measured, yet bringing them to a life of living colour moment by moment. As it does so, the focus shifts again, back to earth and the glory of the morning sky is forgotten as attention is drawn to the detail of living, familiar green.

Yet it is still there. The sky is still full of light, the sun still rides the heavens all through the day, so bright it cannot be perceived directly but only by looking at the world it holds in light.

I see the analogy in this. A daily, unregarded reminder of the way in which our attention is glued to the details of everyday life, while the essence of the soul need only shift the focus to see whence it comes and in what it has its being.

Most mornings I miss the summer dawn, dreaming of other realms while my own awakens unseen around me as I sleep. Missing too this moment of the daily reminder of the beauty of light as it performs its revelation of reality while slumber holds my eyes closed and my mind absent.

It is a brief miracle every day. In the minutes lost to writing, the sun has risen, the world is flooded with light and had I just awoken, I would look at the earth and not the sky, mesmerised by the colours of leaf and flower. To share a moment with the dawn is a gift.

A question of joy…

“You know, the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions.
Their answers determined whether they were able to enter or not.
‘Have you found joy in your life?’ ‘Has your life brought joy to others?’”

The Bucket List (2007)

Not bad questions are they? Together they might sum up the whole of the deeper truth of human aspiration. There is no mention of what car you managed to acquire, nor the level of material success you achieved in your life. Not pleasure, not even happiness… Just joy.

Like any word pertaining to our perception of emotion, the definition of joy is a difficult one. The dictionary attempts to define it by using superlatives of other emotions, yet those feelings are personal and their experience both subjective and subject to causative events in our lives.

Joy is something different somehow, transcending reactive emotion and welling up from a deep place, flooding the being from without and within like a clear, sparkling stream of bubbling, laughing Light. Yet though we seek the words, there are none that encompass it. Those who feel it will know it, those who have yet to feel its touch have joy to come.

It is a strange emotion, if emotion it truly is. Its touch comes in a single, blazing moment, yet the light it sheds seems to linger a lifetime, untarnished by sorrow or pain, undiluted by the cares of everyday. Once there it takes up home in the heart and whilst the surface of the mind and emotions may feel the storms and be battered by our very human lives, the kernel of joy seems to become an eternal flame, a sanctuary light at the very core of being. It is always there, underlying the ripples and tumult of emotion, no matter how terrible life and events may appear. Its presence is not dimmed by them. For this reason perhaps we might hesitate to call joy an emotion… and see it instead as a grace.

Joy comes when we are open to the full experience of life. It may touch you when you stand in a summer meadow and see the sky arcing over the hills, when you hold a newborn child, when you stand drenched and laugh at the rain clouds or when your heart feels the touch of the divine… for each of us it is different, unique in its beauty. Once felt, it never leaves, though we may choose to shut it out, turn our backs and walk away.

The second question is curious, ‘Has your life brought joy to others?’ It is not something we can give to others through choice, no matter how hard we try. It cannot be bought, gift wrapped or engendered no matter how desperately we might like to think it possible. We can, perhaps, consciously create the circumstances in which joy might be found through our actions, through our empathy, kindness and love for each other, yet we cannot be the sole cause of joy. It is akin to alchemy where the presence of certain elements can cause profound change, bringing something into being through our own being, through who we are, that may enable a response in joy from another. Perhaps it can be likened to music… where a simply melody can be picked out on a single instrument, but the full glory of the symphony can only be heard when the orchestra plays in harmony. Then the music lifts you and carries you beyond yourself to beauty.

What would you answer to those two guardians of the otherworld should they ask those questions? ‘Have you found joy in your life?’ ‘Has your life brought joy to others?’

The ultimate robbery?

sheffield chesterfield hare 590It was going to be one of those conversations…

“… So what do you think happens then?”

“Nothing… non-existence.”

“So what is there to fear in that?”

“Well, I’ll stop existing!” he said, as if that should explain it.

“But if you don’t exist… you won’t exist to know about it. So why be afraid?” I watched the wheels turn, yet even in acceptance of the logic, there was a kickback of ‘yeah, but’. Myself, I am convinced of the survival of the spark of being… not necessarily the ‘me’ I know… perhaps more of ‘me’ than I know, yet not the ‘me’ who walks through life daily and looks out through brown eyes. Not the personality.

I have the best of both worlds, so to speak. If I am right, then there cannot be a reason to fear. If I am wrong, ‘I’ won’t exist to know about it… so there can be no reason to fear.

Dying, that’s a different kettle of fish altogether. Like most people, I worry about the manner in which the Reaper comes calling, even though, when he does, whatever means he imposes will,by definition, be finite.

In an ideal world I would die like my great-grandmother… in her own bed, surrounded by her family and fully aware of what was happening and how. But the world seldom delivers ideal situations and like most people the manner of transit sort of matters. Death itself, though, holds no terror…. no more than birth and just as inevitable, once the process of life incarnate has begun.

“It is dissolution you are afraid of?”

“Yep.” Now, you see, for me there is a subsuming into something greater than our individuality, a loss of the personal self, perhaps, but that personality is only a fragmentary reflection of what we are.

“Ego death.” My interlocutor bristled at that… the connotation of the word ‘ego’ raises spectres of selfishness, yet it should only raise the idea of self centred being. No, he wasn’t going to like that either. Let’s say, ‘a being who looks out at the world from its own central point of focus’ then.

He growled a disclaimer. Dissolution. The loss of who we see ourselves as being now… the only aspect of self we really feel we know. This is what most of us fear when we think of death rather than dying… and probably why we avoid the issue so much in our modern, egocentric society. We view death almost as the ultimate robbery, a violation of who we are.

It wasn’t always thus; once the dead were honoured and their transition seen as just another rite of passage. The bones of the ancestors were kept and venerated, the presence of their spirit welcomed at the hearth; their wisdom, gleaned over a lifetime and beyond, revered.

It is hard to get our heads around the concept of our own ‘not being’; the dissolution of our personality is quite literally unthinkable… how to imagine a state where thought, emotion… we…are not? There are many who attribute the belief in some kind of survival after death as simply a fear-reaction to that unimaginable oblivion. Yet for many of us there is a simple, inner certainty that there is more to it than that.

Yet does it truly matter? Whatever we believe… unless we believe in all the tortures of the various hells… there should be no need to fear. And regardless of what lies beyond the gates of life, we still have to live each day in the world as best we can. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what we will meet then, so much as it matters whether we have lived our lives as if they matter… because every single life does; in our uniqueness we shape the face of the world with every breath and we owe it to ourselves and to each other to make each breath count.

To have and to hold

From behind the curtain I am watching the birds in the garden. I am waiting for the hawthorns to grow tall and become a haven for feathered things. They are, for the moment, little more than bushes, but even so, every morning, sparrows and blackbirds, bluetits and doves visit my little patch. Ravens and jackdaws fly in most days, while Ani lies by the open door and watches, or bounds out to scatter them when she sees that I am watching. Every day, overhead, the great red kites soar majestically. Yesterday one landed on the roof behind my home and I watched, not daring to move for the camera, as the huge beauty surveyed its domain.

It was a rare privilege. Though I would give the proverbial eye-teeth to take a really good photograph of these birds in the wild there are some things you can only experience, not seek to catch. Had I moved for the camera I would have missed the moment; had I sought to capture it, I would have lost something precious. Some things are simply a gift from the Earth, just for you in that moment, to be enjoyed, cherished only in the heart… not to capture.

There are things, moments, that are so beautiful, yet so ephemeral and fragile that they cannot be held or possessed, only accepted. Like a sunbeam that cannot be caught, but only felt as it plays across your skin, or seen as it lights the rainbows in a diamond… or like a butterfly whose fragile wings are crushed by a child’s grasp at beauty. The ancients knew and told the story of Eros and Psyche… Love and the Soul…. Psyche could be with Eros only as long as she did not seek to look upon him and when she did, he disappeared.

By seeking to hold we can often lose the very thing that moves us. Yet it seems we are programmed very early on to want to ‘have’ what touches us, instead of being able to simply love something that is free to be itself.

Even language seeks to impose a degree of ownership on all we do, and particularly in regard to human interaction. Language conditions us and the careful choice of words can have devastating effect, for good or ill. While we may be aware of the effects caused by the deliberate usage of words in terms of propaganda, we unconsciously do the same all the time, not realising, perhaps, the insidious implications a single word can have.

Even the simplest statement… “I have two sons…” implies a degree of possession. We do not intend it that way, we may simply be using the easiest words… we may be indicating affection rather than ownership, if we think about it at all… yet the verb ‘to have’ implies ownership at some level.

Yet, when we possess something it ceases to be itself and becomes little more than an extension of ourselves… it loses more than freedom and autonomy, as its own identity becomes subsumed in our projection of our own. Even deeper than that, we often become, even in our own eyes, defined by what we think we possess… yet in truth, we come into the world naked and leave it the same way, so we possess nothing. We may think we hold things for a while, but the only thing we truly ‘own’ is our self. And even that is debateable.

As I watched the birds I was thinking about that. Would I want to cage a sparrow? No… I delight in their antics in the garden. I love them for their freedom. Would I want a red kite on a perch, just to say it was ‘mine’? No, I want only to see them ride the wind… though a little closer to the lens would be nice, I admit!

We all delight in the unexpected glimpses of wildlife. And, by their very nature, they are free… wild… unowned…untamed. Over the years a good many baby birds or injured ones have passed through my hands. While it is a delight to have that close contact for a while there is never any other goal, and no greater joy, than to see them fly free as soon as they are able. You are left with nothing but memories… perhaps a photo…with empty hands but a full heart. Maybe that is the only place we can truly hold anything.