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.

On the doorstep…

Cerne Abbas (11)

Have you ever laid in the dew damp grass of morning and watched the petals of a daisy unfold, purest white, lifting its heart to the sun? Or seen a newborn creature take its first breath, opening its eyes on a new world? That was the gift I was given as a young man and I sat on a doorstep in the sunshine, talking of those questions that are hidden in each of us.

It would have been impossible to say who was the teacher and who the student as the spring sunlight poured down, honey gold and warm on one of those moments outside time where all that matters is opening the heart. The roles were continually reversing, as ideas flowed backwards and forwards between us.

Like the walrus and the carpenter, we spoke of many things, not sealing wax and cabbages, but equally disparate, yet somehow all with a similar theme. As if we were piecing together a puzzle. We spoke of jigsaws with pieces missing where, even though there is a gap in the design you can still discern what should be there. Even though it remains unseen and your vision may not be exact, the design gives you clues to what remains invisible and that may be enough for the mind to complete the unfinished image. We spoke too of pictures seen through the myopia of involvement and attachment, that become clear as you rise into the free air above them, seeing a wider view with a cleaner perspective.

Inspiration and intuition were discussed, learning to listen to those synchronous occurrences and odd ‘coincidences’ as we to listen to that inner voice… the gut feeling or the whisperings of the heart that often knows more than the mind can frame.

We talked about how our perceptions can only be our own. Even though we may nominally adhere to a particular code or creed that dictates rigid parameters within which we are supposed to understand…  our personal interpretation of all we perceive can be no-one else’s. It is unique to each of us. It can be manipulated, or encouraged into a particular pattern, yet there is a limit to how much that can be done, just as there is a limit to how much we can truly communicate or share with each other. Our perceptions are coloured by our own very personal cocktail of experience, action, reaction and understanding. Yet so often we see only what we expect to see, accepting the surface we are shown, rather than deepening our understanding through actively engaging with anything.

 

This led us to speak of the mechanical nature of much of our lives… the routine, the habit that keeps us moving blindly through the daily round and how different the world seems when we wake to ourselves and start living in awareness.

We spoke of the laws of physics and looked at them in a metaphysical light: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every trial, every painful experience there is an equal and opposite joy… a lesson available to be learned through opportunity. It may not make the lesson any easier, it will not make evil good… but within the darkness light can be found, if we are prepared to take those lessons when they are offered and carry them forward. This led us to speak of trust and how we learn to trust the design of the scales. And in that knowledge of trust and balance there is peace.

On the subject of balance we spoke of faith and the personal relationship with whatever we conceive of as divinity; for each of us has to find that for and within ourselves. We are poised, like the waist of an hourglass, between two modes of being… human and divine… and we embody both at that point of balance. The hourglass can be turned… sometimes we are fully human and the sands of experience flow through us from the physical world in which we move. Sometimes we are filled with something higher and that too flows through us. The point of perfection for us, whilst in this life, stands between the two; open to receive the sands from both, feet squarely in earth, arms raised to the heavens. For we are the hourglass… the vessel… through which light and life flow.

We spoke too of other vessels; how, without wine, a cup is merely an empty shell. Yet the cup is not the wine; it is something to give it form and shape. It is a container into which the wine is poured, and in which it is held, so that it might be lifted to the lips of others and shared in joy and blessing.

And we arrived at a conclusion of sorts…one which opens the way to many other questions to which we may seek answers…or not, simply accepting what is and what might be. That we are all vessels into which the light pours. We hold it within us, shaping it, expressing it through our words and actions, bringing it into the world that others might drink. Through any one of us, at any moment, the clear light of inspiration can become the wine of life.

Pancakes, sophistry and sacrifice…

It is Shrove Tuesday and in England that means pancakes. Not, you will understand, those heart-warming American delights, nor the elegance of French crepes, but ‘proper’ pancakes. For my sons, following in the tradition of the family that has spanned generations… several of which made pancakes for me as a child… it involves Mum armed with a hot frying pan, presiding over a conveyor belt effect of ‘next one’s ready’ and ‘how many more can you eat?’.

In the typical Pancake Day scenario, in our family at least, Mum makes up a huge batch of batter to feed the family. She spends the next hour cooking and deftly tossing pancakes for everyone else, ending up with usually too little batter left for herself. And having cooked so many for so long, really, the desire has all but gone. Just to add to it, she then usually eats alone in the kitchen before washing the dishes.

My eldest son and I have pancakes on the menu for lunch. It was a convoluted journey to achieve that goal, as he watches his diet closely and eats more healthily than anyone I know. Pancakes, oozing sugar, cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be counted as healthy. But he managed it with a little judicious sophistry and in a spirit of true self-sacrifice, deciding that it was the only way he could guarantee I would have pancakes myself and, indeed, actually eat today.

Pancakes and sacrifice go hand in hand. I wonder these days if the majority of youngsters, rolling them up and licking the lemon and sugar as it drips, know about the origins of the tradition… using up the rich foods like eggs and butter on the day before the beginning of Lent. In the Christian tradition, it was a day to confess one’s sins and be shriven… hence the name of the day… and prepare for the time of sacrifice to come.

I have often thought how the role of the cook on Pancake Day echoes the tradition behind it. Yet there is a deeper level to sacrifice, however, than merely giving up the odd luxury or a little time and effort. We see it in action all the time, though it often goes unnoticed or unrecognised, because the very nature of true sacrifice is that it is done quietly with no thought of gain or praise. When we genuinely put the good or well-being of someone or something before our own there is no thought of self. Yet in doing so, we gain something far more precious than that which we give up.

Sophistry can come up quite a lot where sacrifice is concerned. We can be very good at it where our own desires and wishes get in the way of loving sacrifice, reasoning and arguing with ourselves against the prompting of the heart. And it is often these inner whispers that are behind our moments of greatest beauty. There are opportunities in every life where we have a chance to do something simply and cease to think of anything other than the moment.

History and theology are peopled with those who have given their lives or their lifetimes to a belief, or an ideal. These are the ones we see as saints, or the movers and shakers of humanity… the ones whose passion made a difference on a global scale. Yet in every street, every day, small sacrifices are made. I call them ‘small’ only in comparison to those that visibly affect the whole of humanity. To each of those benefiting from them, they can make a world of difference, and the ‘cost’ to those making them is the same. They are giving something of themselves. And they are doing it with love.

Whether these sacrifices are inspired by their love for an individual, an ideal or their God, love is the common thread that binds them. And I have a feeling that these seemingly small, quiet sacrifices do affect humanity on a global scale, radiating unseen, but not unfelt, through our lives and perhaps the evolution of our race as a whole.

It is an odd thing, but a beautiful one, that true sacrifice, as with love given freely from which, I think, it stems, demands nothing in return. Not acknowledgement, nor praise, nor the return of what is offered. Yet it breaks all the rules of supply and demand, for the more we give away, the more we have to give.

Riding the rapids

 

I feel like a limp rag at the moment. It has been a hectic few weeks… just an accumulation of small things. Most of it has just been busy, some of it, behind the scenes, has not been so good and it is that side of things that has me feeling as if I had been squashed by a small but determined behemoth.

Not that it matters. There is  always Stuff to be done, regardless…  and a dog who seems to think it is fun to bound through the deep and muddy puddles in the fields every day, leaving me with floors to scrub, just for good measure. She also seems to think it is her bounden duty to keep the door between my shivering carcass and the frozen world wide open by parking her backside in it. However, it is a backside I love and her lunacy keeps me smiling even in the worst moments. She reads me so well I am sure she chooses to be more idiotic than usual when she knows I need to smile.

And we all have them, don’t we … those ‘worst moments’? Life seldom follows our hopes and dreams, nor does it always flow gently. There are rapids and currents, white water and hidden rocks and while some seem to have found a current of smooth silver that sparkles in the sunlight, it is impossible for the casual observer to see what lies beneath the beautiful reflections and shimmering ripples.

But,  it is not the course of the river that defines who we are… no matter how battered we may seem by the rocks and eddies of the stream. We define ourselves by our own actions, by our thoughts and choices and it is neither feasible nor possible to expect others to know or understand the myriad combinations that have led any one of us to a particular fork in the river. We cannot know over which pebbles a drop has flowed or where the mud has clouded the water. We see only the part of the stream we have shared and have to do our best to understand each other with that limited knowledge.

Yet there is another way. If we cannot know the whole story of another, we can know our own. We cannot always know what has guided the path of others, but we can, with inner honesty, know ourselves. It is not an easy thing to look within and see ourselves as we truly are, though ‘Know Thyself’ is possibly the most oft-quoted phrase in the world of spiritual seeking. More often than not we look only at the reflection of self that we see in the stream… a reflection we have created and projected onto the moving waters of our personal world. It may not be pretty, it may not be what we would like it to be. Ripples will distort it, clouds and foam will shadow it… but it is ours and familiar… comfortable.

Yet the reflection is not the stream. Nor is it the reality it mirrors.

 

That reflection is our focus, and others looking on may find their gaze drawn there also, into the flowing waters of the stream of life… yet what is reflected there is real. It stands above the water, separate. It stands in quiet stillness upon the bank and is not pulled by currents or battered by rapids, seeing a wider view of the landscape… looking back to whence the stream has come and forward to where it flows. It may see the waterfall ahead and understand the currents, or the tumbling wash over jagged rocks that explain the roiling pools. It sees too those calm places where the reflection is perfect and gazes back with clear and knowing eyes.

If we can live in the awareness of that true self and not in the rippled reflection, knowing ourselves for who and what we truly are there is a deeper peace and a greater understanding of the tides which move us, each one of us. In learning to see ourselves, our actions and choices in a clear and ever present light we glimpse that wider landscape and see that no matter what the stream is doing or how it churns the reflection, we remain. We can drink from the waters of life and find them clean and pure and as we stoop to drink our image comes closer to meet us… and as we drink they kiss and become One.

A link in the chain

sunset over the hills

“… and one of these days you will know a world in which I no longer exist.”
“I don’t know that I can imagine that.”
“Possibly not. I have always been part of your world. Before you were born, you could say that I was your world… all your physical experience, at least, came through me…”
“Hmm. Hadn’t thought of it quite that way before…”
“…so a world without me is not within your experience, and might be as hard for you to imagine as a world without you. No point of reference.”

The subject of mortality had been brought to our attention by the passing of a neighbour and friend, a woman whose kindness and wisdom had brought something special to the world. The simple Quaker funeral of a shared silence had been both beautiful and moving, as we each turned our thoughts to how her presence had changed our lives, making the moment one of gratitude and recognition instead of an occasion given solely to grief. Her actions had been the small ones of every day, her life outwardly unremarkable… and yet she had made a huge difference to the lives of her family, friends and neighbours. From her funeral to a deeper conversation was not a big step.

It was an interesting discussion. Because most of us live what we consider to be rather ordinary lives, we do not realise how big an impact we might make. We seldom think about how different things might be for others had we not been around. What might, or might not have happened had we never been.

For a start, how do you imagine not being? You might imagine your own demise… and, in melodramatic moments, there may even be a vague satisfaction or discontent when you consider the aftermath of that event within your intimate circle. A sort of ‘you’ll be sorry when I’m gone’ scenario… even though you will not be there to know about it.  You may be able to picture a future from which you are missing… but when you do so, you are looking at it through your own eyes and therefore it is a false image… you will not be there to see it. The ‘you’ you are now will no longer exist.

Even less can we conceive of a world in which we have never been. Any attempt to subtract ourselves from the reality we know, will have so many ramifications that such a world truly is impossible to imagine.  The thousands of lives we have affected or will affect, directly or indirectly, from the moment of our conception, down the generations, to the furthest ends of time, would each of them be changed had we never come into being. Many of those lives might never exist, were we never to have been. Subtract just one person from existence… not by death, which is a natural part of life, but by erasing them from the annals of time altogether… and the whole course of human history would inevitably change.

It is difficult to accept that any one of us could be that important. We are conditioned to think otherwise… we are, most of us, too small on the stage of history to play much of a part, or so we believe… and yet every one of us is a necessary link in the chain of human being as we know it. The smallest action of least of us can create a domino effect through countless lives and generations, and we have no way of knowing where the chain reaction might end or what it might ultimately inspire.

Does it serve any practical purpose to know that one of our descendants, generations into some unknown future, might find a cure for cancer or invent the device that will damn the world? Perhaps not… we cannot control the future to that extent. We can only help shape the possibilities that come within our reach. And that we can do.

We are not only essential links in the chain of existence, but we are, inevitably, each of us teachers too. The way we live our lives sets an unconscious example that may inspire others, or against which they will react and rebel. The way in which others react is out of our control… only our own choices and attitudes are within it, and most of those are our own reactions to or against the actions of others. It is a complicated web of interaction, and we are responsible for our own thread within it.

We may never know how our actions affect the lives of others. A simple smile may light up an otherwise dark day for a stranger in the street, a small kindness may alter a mood, every word we speak and every action we take may be an example for someone else. We do not need to know what effect our lives may have in the greater story of humanity, but we owe it to ourselves to walk in awareness of the infinite possibilities that surround us every day.

At the end of the funeral, everyone present had reached out to shake the hand of their neighbours, a simple human touch. Faces were solemn as we paid our final respects, but it was remarkable how many eyes smiled at each other, as each of us remembered our friend. It had been a silent celebration of a life well lived… one small thread in the story… but one which touched the heart and set an example of empathy and care that many will carry forward into our own lives.  “She shone, you know. There was just something about her…” said my son. Just by being herself, our friend changed the world. So can you.

Cutting deep…

Image: Pixabay

I watched with a curious fascination as the wicked scalpel was drawn across the skin, blood following in its wake. Somehow both detached and yet deeply, intimately engaged. It was an oddly disturbing feeling. It was, after all, my own flesh that was being deliberately and slowly sliced with great precision.

It had been my own fault. And a mental note was made, along with a swiftly administered metaphorical kick to be more careful with oyster knives in future. Just a small slip, but that is all it takes to cut a tendon. So there I was, under local anaesthetic, watching two surgeons repair it, and feeling oddly like a puppet as they retrieved the severed ends of the tendon and twitched my fingers without my voluntary participation. And I could not understand at all why they hadn’t just put me to sleep.

This happened a long time ago now, but I remember that it was quite fascinating to watch, in spite of my normal aversion to seeing sharp and shiny things pierce skin. The actual piercing of flesh has always been a dodgy area for me; I’m fine with anything else, not in the least bit squeamish, which is just as well given two sons who managed to get damaged in the most creative ways as they grew up. I wouldn’t say they were accident prone as much as adventure prone. The combination of, say, a hill, a bare back and a skateboard, for instance, or a mountain bike pointed down a steep slope… And don’t get me started on screwdrivers!

Any claims that it might be hereditary are neither here nor there. However, I digress.

I have spent the past couple of weeks having various areas of my anatomy threatened with more surgery. I am not happy with the prospect and shall resist until all other options have been exhausted. I may have to give in at some point, though not yet, I hope. I have no desire to go under the knife yet again.

Blades cut both ways… They expose and remove the unwanted, damaged or dangerous. They can  reshape, and rework where there is need. And we are not just talking about surgery here. A sculptor’s knife creates, subtracting from the unformed mass to reveal and define form and beauty. A sword can take life or cut the bonds of a prisoner and a blade separates mother and child at birth.

With life too, sometimes there are moments when we feel the sword poised above us, or the sharp bite of the blade. There is no escape from the pain when these events occur. Only time heals, as with any wound. Yet there may be grace within the blade that is not at first obvious.

Qabalists speak of Geburah, and that sphere has been named the cosmic surgeon, its function to cut away all that is effete, outmoded and no longer serves evolution. For us, mere mortals, that blade may cut deep, clearing from our lives that which holds us back. It may allow us to measure ourselves against who we are and who we can become, testing our courage and endurance to the limits. Yet these moments can carry possibilities of freedom we may not see while grief has us in its grasp.

Sometimes, from surprising sources, great beauty is brought into being. I think it was Picasso who said that there is no act of creation that was not, first of all, an act of destruction. Sometimes our greatest opportunities for growth and change are born from the darkest events of our lives and the hand that wields the blade, though it does so with sure strength, may be surprisingly tender and moves only with love.