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.

Shine…

Have you ever thought how fragmented we are most of the time? Bits of our attention are given or called here and there, certain of our skills and talents required but seldom more than that. If I am asked to hang a picture, for example, it has no relevance that I can bake a fabulous chocolate cake or speak decent French, and (unless they have an urgent desire for cake with a little je ne sais quoi while I hang the frame) the person who asks me will have no interest in those talents at that moment in time.

How seldom is it that we are asked to give ourselves whole to any task or area of our lives? Even rarer, perhaps, are the occasions when we choose to do so, simply because we can, plunging head first into the moment at hand as if it is all there is in the whole of eternity?

I wonder if anyone is ever really known, except in a fragmentary way, through the facet of the self in action in a particular arena or relationship? Even our nearest and dearest have things they do not share with us, facets of themselves we may never see… and that is as it should be… we too have faces we may not show or share with everyone.

Even we seldom consciously know and accept our entire selves. We readily admit our flaws to ourselves, once we have become aware of them. Yet, while we may admit, nay boast, even, of the glories of our respective chocolate gateaux, few of us will admit to those personality traits which are seen as ‘good’.

We may admit to the socially acceptable ones… the type we put on job application forms… flexible, adaptable, good with people… but the really good ones, we seldom admit to seeing in ourselves. Possibly in part because those who voice that recognition of their own better qualities rarely seem to actually have them. ‘I see myself as compassionate/empathetic/generous’ … the vast majority of the time, these things are said by those who aren’t and we have all known those who voice them and yet wouldn’t know true humility or compassion if it hit them in the face with the proverbial wet fish.

But voicing it is different from feeling it. To speak of compassion and to feel it working through the layers of your being, reaching out, that is a different thing. Compassion is not pity… pity looks with a sad smile from on high… compassion reaches out in empathy from the level ground of a shared humanity.

Perhaps we need to take that scintilla of time to simply recognise the good within us as we feel it, in exactly the same way as we recognise the darker facets of ourselves in action… the ones that make us cringe and squirm occasionally. We all have those. Because unless we are prepared to admit who we are to ourselves… the good equally with the less good, accepting our wholeness in all its balanced beauty, how can anyone else ever see that in us too?

Don’t we all wish to be loved and accepted for who we are in our entirety? Yet we hide the good, even from ourselves, behind a socially acceptable modesty while brandishing our flaws and frailties as if they alone define who we are. They do not. We define who we are. As much by how we choose to see ourselves as by anything else. If we see ourselves whole, perhaps others may too. They cannot until we do, as we project outward only a fragment of who we are. The saying ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ comes to mind. Maybe if we love our whole selves we can love others wholly too.

We are told that the very physical fabric of everything we know, including our own bodies, is made of the matter from which the stars were formed. Our physical forms exist because somewhere, aeons ago, a star died. If that is so, why should we not simply shine?

The caring game…

Image: Pixabay

“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

“Bebop died. I stayed with him. Said thank you.” He choked again. “Said goodbye. It was really emotional.” The voice managed to sound both surprised and a tad embarrassed, even through the evident emotion, and well he might. “…and then Arthur died too…”. There was a silent pause. I am fairly certain I heard a sniff. Bebop was his horse… not a flesh-and-blood horse, mind you, but part of a computer game my son had been playing for some time. Arthur was the character as which he had been playing. Oddly, I didn’t laugh. I could quite understand why he was feeling that way, even though, on the surface, it should have been funny. I have cried my way through too many books and films to laugh for such a reason.

The game, one of the latest generation, is graphically gorgeous. The wide landscape it portrays is beautifully done and very realistic. You can wander it at will, exploring the Wild West in its heyday as well as following the story through the game. He had shown me the scenery and I was impressed, not only with the artwork and animation, but with the attention to detail. Birds and butterflies randomly rise from flowers, day turns into night, grass bows in the wind as the seasons cycle and there is wildlife in abundance.

What had impressed me more, though, was that in spite of it being a western in which you play as an outlaw…and the inevitable gun-slinging that goes with it… the game does require you to make moral choices. Your character can choose the be helpful, compassionate and honourable… though that doesn’t always work out too well for him… or to simply be a violent, mindless outlaw, taking what he chooses at gunpoint. There are consequences to violence, and you will be hunted and imprisoned, or worse, should you choose that path, though doubtless many do, as violence and gore seems to be part of the gaming culture. My son had chosen to follow the honourable path instead, and that choice determined how the game unfolded.

‘His’ character takes care of others in his camp, and helps them with their problems. If he hunts, he must do so with respect. The animal must be killed cleanly, the flesh used for food without delay and the skin must be used too. No wasted deaths. His horse must be fed, groomed, watered and encouraged. It cannot be overridden and needs enough attention to bond with its rider. It needs to be protected… and the character needs sleep, food and shelter too.

But no matter how honourably you choose to ‘live’ as your character, both you and your horse will ‘die’. It is part of the story. How you die depends on how you have ‘lived’… My son had invested time, attention and care the virtual horse.  He had identified with the character in the same way you do when you watch a film or read a book. And his choices in the game had given the character the gentlest of the programmed passings, against a beautiful sunset and he had found it moving.

For a game, it is engrossing and, after many hours of playing, I could quite understand the emotional attachment my son had formed for both the horse and character. Even though it was just a game, he had put the welfare of horse and friends before his own and had lavished attention on his horse, even going so far as to name it, and naming things has always been a big part of the bonding process. It illustrated very clearly that you learn to care about what you choose to care for.

It reminded me of the Rose in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book, The Little Prince. The Rose is not a particularly nice character, but the Little Prince loves her and when he finds a whole host of roses, he explains why:

“You’re beautiful, but you’re empty…One couldn’t die for you. Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass, since she’s the one I sheltered behind the screen. Since she’s the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three butterflies). Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she’s my rose.”

The emotions that grow when you make a choice to care are almost inevitable. It is not the same as shouldering a duty or a chore when it is a chosen course and the reward comes quietly, as an opening of the heart; it becomes an act of love. If we care for person, we grow close to them, if we chose to care for… looked after… our planet, the way the Little Prince cared for his Rose, we would care about it too.  The two go hand in hand.

It doesn’t really matter whether the thing you care for is what you feel it to be. It could be a cantankerous rose, or a virtual horse… the reality and the beauty is within the love and the care that is given, it is not always obvious in what we choose to care for. “But eyes are blind,” says the Little Prince. “You have to look with the heart.”

The little fish who swam

There has been a sick fish in my son’s pond for months now. At one point, there were two of them, floating belly up, side by side, and sporting ugly ulcers. They were so ill that we had even been obliged to discuss the possibility of euthanasia, although that goes against all we have learned about the nature of hope over the past few years.

We even went as far as buying clove oil with which to anaesthetise the fish if their suffering seemed too much for them to bear….and the day we did so, they rallied. It seemed at the time as if, having accepted that responsibility, the need for action was removed.

We named the fish for their characteristics during their illness, to distinguish between them for the daily reports on their progress or lack of it. Once, grossly swollen and looking for all the world as if he would die of dropsy, a virtually incurable problem, we called Fat Fish. The other is now on his third name.

After a few weeks, Fat Fish made a truly remarkable recovery, against all odds and predictions. The other fish was not so lucky. At first, all he could do was flap feebly. Then we had a period where his recovery looked impossible… and the next day he would be swimming. We named him Trooper for his gallantry.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.

Trooper hid himself under the plants and no longer swam. He was not eating and became translucent, thin and weak. Every day, I twitched his blanket of plants when I arrived at my son’s home…at first, expecting the worst, then as the days went by, hoping for his release and knowing that by all logic, he should already be dead.

We were back to the big question again… how long could we leave him in this state? We had tried every medication and intervention by now and nothing was working. It was heartbreaking to watch.

Nick, however, was convinced the little fish would rally again. “He’ll be fine,” he said, over and over again and with utter conviction, every time I broached the subject. “He can do it.”

I had to wonder if my son’s unrealistic belief in the fish were a reflection of his own impossible recovery, rather than a hope based in reality. Nevertheless, we continued to watch and wait…and I continued with my own unreasonable hopes, and every day I expected to be preparing a grave.

Then, one morning, Trooper was gone. He was no longer beneath the plants… my heart sank. He had given up the ghost and I would have to remove his body if I could find it in the depths of the pond. I looked everywhere…the water is clear and yet I could not see him.  Until I caught sight of a fish with the distinctive black marks on his back that identified him as Trooper, swimming with the rest.

I held my breath, expecting the emaciated fish to float back under his plant. He didn’t. He sped around the pond, chasing his friends and doing laps. We had seen him rally briefly so many times, though, that I was not convinced. He hadn’t eaten for weeks, was so thin and pale you could almost see through him and his side had still not healed.

Told you he’d recover,” said my son. I was still expecting a relapse, but a week later, and the little fish is still swimming. His back, unless he chooses to submerge, doesn’t quite make it underwater. He is a little lopsided… but his side has now healed. He’s eating… and he is out-swimming every fish in the pond in terms of speed and energy. My son renamed him Super Trooper.

I cannot help wondering how much my son’s adamant belief in the little fish helped his recovery. I had enough knowledge to realise that my own hopes that the fish would pull through were not at all realistic. My son, with less knowledge, simply had faith in him and refused to believe there could be any other outcome.

That is a magical thing. The little fish’s recovery, given how ill he was, seems a minor miracle.  I have seen a good many troubled teenagers who just needed someone to have faith in them, trust them… believe they were worth something… and it changed their lives from a slippery slope to a steady climb. I held my son’s unconscious hand, willing him to health, despite the prognosis… surrounded by his friends and family who also believed he could shatter the predictions. And he did. Those who have believed in me when I could not do so drew me out of the shadows of my own life and into a place where I can believe in myself.

To believe, to trust… to have faith in someone… that is an expression of Love. It can move metaphorical mountains… it can change lives, and bring healing, both to the one who believes and the one in whom they have faith. I wonder how often we underestimate the power of such a simple act… and what we could achieve if we could bring our whole hearts to Love, hope and trust?

You’ve got mail…

I thought it was too easy.

A week of long, fraught hours, early starts and late finishes, coupled with some bug or other to sap my remaining energy, ended with technical glitches… and, just for good measure, the internet went down too. By the time I got all that sorted, I was about ready to call it a day, grab a hot water bottle and retire, but I still had all the catching up to do…

Except, somehow, it didn’t seem to take long.  An hour later and I was left only with the photo -prompt entries to read.  That was a result!

It was also weird. My inboxes do not get away lightly as a rule, but they have been very quiet the past few days. Suspiciously so. Then I noticed the number of unread emails in my spam folder and groaned… for some reason, hundreds of the things had been automatically routed there, and I was going to have to go through the lot.

Cursing and grumbling, I went through the sender and subject of every darned email, returning each one to the appropriate folder. It took a while. I have not had much energy left at the end of the day, so for the past few days, I have not emptied my spam and delete folders before bed as I usually do. And apparently, this problem has been going on for several days.

I double-checked what was left, making sure that any personal, important or school-related stuff had been safely sequestered, and hit delete on the rest, trying not to feel guilty.

I thought, as I did so, how instant communication has changed our lives. We can speak to people across the world in real time… even face to face with free video calling if we choose… and couldn’t help thinking about how our emotional response to communication has changed too.

I used to love getting letters, because… unless they were bills… they were always full of news and details about friends, family and loved ones. Some I would read and re-read… savouring them… and some have been kept for decades as tangible pieces of personal history, love and friendship. I actually got a letter today… with a proper, handwritten envelope and an intriguing postmark… and felt the once-familiar quiver of excitement. It was such an unusual occurrence that I left it on the desk for a while unopened to prolong the sensation. I could not imagine who it might be from, and when I did open it, was thrilled with the unexpected contents.

You seldom get that feeling from an email. In fact, the two most prevalent sensations, for me at least, seem to be a feeling of obligation to respond immediately and guilt if I don’t.  And then I feel guilty that I am feeling guilty, because I know that any pressure is coming from me rather than from the sender’s expectations… and I should know better.

On the other hand, I love being able to stay in touch so easily, with no waiting on tenterhooks for replies that took weeks by snail mail. I would hate to lose the ease of communication we have today… even a few hours with an enforced lack of access feels strange and frustrating. Yet, most email communication is pretty terse and to the point, including mine. Most of us use a different ‘voice’ with electronic communication than we would use in writing a letter. There is less of ourselves on the screen than there is on the page. Perhaps it is a hangover from many of us having first used email for business purposes.

I always found a personal letter to be a very different thing from an email, and emotions are often easier to express in writing than they are in person. Face to face, many of us find our words constrained, out tongues tied, and our feelings difficult to express… even with those to whom we would say the most if we could only find the words.

And yet, (apart from the dratted bills, which I am convinced are sent by demons with a warped sense of humour and execrable timing) behind every communication, in no matter what form it arrives, is another human being. ‘To communicate’… it is a verb, a ‘doing’ word, and comes from the Latin for ‘sharing’ and that should say it all really. Communication is always a sharing… there may be as much being shared in the space between the words as in the words themselves, and even a delayed response may tell its own story.

We may not pour our hearts onto the screen in the same way as we might once have poured them into our letters, but there is always a heart behind the fingers that type. Each heart has its own story, and while some may be closed or hardened, others stand wide open, waiting to share all they hold. Whether we communicate with laughter or with silence, in clipped phrases or in flowery periods, we are always speaking heart to heart, even if we do not realise it at the time.

Looking in the Looking Glass

As I schedule a post or two in advance to cover my absence for the Silent Eye’s workshop weekend, there are few things I can predict with any certainty. You never know what is going to happen or how things are going to work out. One thing I do know, though, is that barring unforeseeable disaster, I will get to spend some time with the friends and people I love. And we will talk… a lot… and when we start talking, we can cover a lot of ground, from the ridiculous to the sublime, the mundane to the mystical.

Walrus_and_Carpenter by Tenniel“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”

I often think of Lewis Carroll’s poem, “The Walrus and the Carpenter” when these conversations get going. Though to be fair, the subjects of our discussions are generally weirder and further reaching than that of the oyster-eating conversationalists thus described. And “Through the Looking Glass” would be an equally good title for the friendship we share.

But, like them, we speak of many things; along with talk of snowballs and poetry, statistics and magic, parenting and the nature of a bishop’s smile, we will speak of love. It is, in fact, the common, if invisible, thread that binds most of our exchanges together and can be felt, weaving its way through the apparent disparities as we talk our way from the gutter to the very gates of heaven.

Friendship itself is one manifestation of love. Some begin with one of those instant moments of recognition, when something, somewhere clicks into place and into purpose. Others grow slowly, unfolding their petals and taking time to reveal their inner hearts. We all share parallels within our lives’ journeys, and we slide down the latter half of life, some with great elegance, others with a less graceful, yet gleeful, abandon, towards a not dissimilar conclusion and in a shared inner joy.

Most of the people I will meet again over the weekend have spent very little time together eye to eye, yet heart to heart we have shared so much and we hold up a mirror to each other in which we are reflected as One. It is the kind of fraternity of the soul that we are seldom blessed with and is to be treasured as a rare and precious thing.

Yet were you to take a peek into our conversations, you would be as likely to find us talking of steam railways and the seedier side of humanity, laughing over risqué puns and gently poking fun at the cussed stubbornness of northerners, as you would be to find us speaking of the deeper questions of Life, the Universe and Everything. For they too are all one and a common thread of meaning is woven through them.

Amongst the cabbages and kings, we have spoken of love and how our relationship with it changes as we grow. We have spoken of the differences and misunderstandings between detachment and non-attachment. Most religious and spiritual traditions, as well as the Mystery schools, teach the need for non-attachment in some form or another, particularly with regard to the ego, and it can be a frightening thing to even contemplate letting go of the self to that extent. There is an underlying fear of ‘who will I be, if I am not I? If I cannot feel, think, love as myself then who will I become?’

No matter how painful loving can be, no matter how joyful or tender, how heart-aching or blissful, it is love in some form or another that fuels all our relationships from our parents to our friends, from our children to our partners. It is behind all the richest experiences of our lives… why would we want to become ‘detached’ from that?

It became clear to me at some point, that it is the ego that, through its own fear of dissolution, misunderstands. We do not need to detach ourselves from love, but from its dependencies. When we can lay those dependencies, those needs, on the altar with a clear heart, Love opens up to us in a way that we have not understood before.

When we can see a person clearly, ‘warts and all’ as the saying goes, and love them because of who they are, when we can love without needing them to love us back, without agonising over how they feel about us, and shedding useless tears when they do not give what we would like… When we can allow them to be themselves wholly and freely and simply love them anyway, without expectation or trying to mould them to our desire… Or when we can look into the mirror of the soul and see our own Self reflected in that greater Love, then perhaps we begin to know what non-attachment means. It does not take love away from us, it gives us the freedom to Love with a whole soul.

And, this weekend, I will be with people I love.

Easter

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In England today there are chocolate eggs and rabbits. In France the church bells are silent as the bells of St Peter’s fly to the children, tied with ribbons and flowers. Across the world images that combine the Christian and the older pagan festivals of spring and rebirth abound, hijacked by a consumerism that somehow forgets the sacredness of both. Yet today, for once, the shops are closed.

For those who follow a pagan path this season is one of the renewal of life after the darkness of winter, a time for the rebirth of the sun, the exuberance of spring. In the fields young lambs gambol and play; birds are busy with nest building… even the kites are flying over with their beaks full. A grey and cloudy day cannot dull the blaze of green and gold that is an English spring. For those who follow the path of Nature, confirmation of their belief is all around. You can feel it in the woods and on the hills, in field and valley… everything is bursting into life.

For those who follow the Christ, this is the holiest season, the time when Jesus, crucified and entombed, rose again. It is on this event that the Christian faith is based. That in purely literal and physical terms this is not possible makes it a miracle, something beyond the understanding of logic and science, and it is this that forms the foundation of faith; that knowing of the soul that goes beyond reason. There is no confirmation in the world around us, there is no objective proof, no comfortable reassurance. You simply accept the teachings of the Church or you do not… or you feel Truth in your heart and that is enough, regardless of logic, teaching or dogma.

Faith… not religion… is a very personal thing, an intimate thing, and none among us has the right to judge the faith of another, to discount or degrade it, to ridicule or dismiss. It sings to heart and soul. It is the personal relationship between the innermost being and the Highest, however we choose to name or conceive of It. There is a purity in true faith that shines and radiates, no matter what religion, path or denomination shapes the outer form. Faith is always a thing of the inner world, regardless of the way it manifests in the outer realm in which we live.

There are many who were raised within a nominally Christian society who accept its teachings without question in childhood, when the impossible is perfectly feasible, and it is no more challenging to believe in Resurrection than it is to believe in fairies or dragons. There is beauty and comfort in a faith that shows a way to live that is based on love and which has love at its ultimate blessing. There is comfort too in the knowledge that there is no loss of self after death… only believe and follow the tenets of that faith and you will be with the Father in Heaven.

There are those too who come to their faith through living, growing into it gently, or through pain, or with the lightning flash of personal revelation, finding within it the answers to the questions of the soul.

Yet there are many who do not find faith in that way, who look at the anomalies of the biblical stories and find them impossible to reconcile. They question and find no answers within the Church and yet feel that within the heart of the story there is something. Perhaps they begin to read the stories with a detached discernment that allows them to question the disparity between the political ramifications of a powerful Church that has constructed a body of teaching to suit its needs over the past two thousand years. Perhaps they see the stories as a symbolic journey of the soul… an initiatory experience echoing even older tales. Perhaps they simply look beyond the letter of the words to the spirit of them.

A blind acceptance seldom addresses the questions of the heart. Many people are raised within a religion and yet pay only lip service to its outer form, feeling a gnawing void where the kernel of faith should reside. There are many too who, having questioned and found the literal tales wanting, have searched behind them and come by unorthodox routes to a deep faith. The exoteric Church may not suffice, but there is a Light behind it, behind all religions, that draws the seeker, often by strange pathways towards a single centre of Truth that is greater than the sum of the pathways we walk.

In the Christian story of Easter it is the Son of Man who is crucified, sacrificing himself for our redemption. Yet it is the Christ who rises, different, unknown to those closest to Him… a Mystery. For those who find faith that Mystery may take many forms and names, or none, remaining Nameless and formless as the One. I wonder if anyone can redeem another, or are we simply shown the way for the sacrifice of Self to something greater and deeper than we now know. Perhaps in walking that path we can come to understanding, to a knowing of the heart that surpasses knowledge and transcends doubt; to a place that knows neither fact nor fiction… to the awakening touch of the inner Christ that is the Light within.

May the Light shine always upon and within you.