Shaping the world

fox 001

Back in the earliest days when mankind had his beginnings, it was the land and our response to it that had shaped us. It has been suggested that it was the long grass that caused us first to stand on two legs… a need to spot potential predators at a distance. As animals our physical defences are minimal. It is our intellect, adaptability and ability to use what comes to hand to serve our needs that allowed us to thrive. It was the land, the environment and climate that offered the raw materials to the responsive hunter, moving with the game and the seasons and which later planted the first seeds of agriculture from which our modern societies have sprung.

We are not very old as a species. It is thought that the earliest homo sapiens dates back a mere 200,000 years. On a planet that is 4.6 billion years old and where cellular life has existed for most of that time, that is a drop in the ocean. Yet from the beginning we have shaped the world to suit our needs, carving our presence on the landscape, altering the ecology with our predation and finally building upon it on a massive scale. No other species has impacted upon the life of the planet as drastically and visibly as we.

Yet on the whole we are still children, building sandcastles on the shore of time; things we see as permanent and solid that will, inevitably, be washed away when the tides change. Civilisations have sprung up, flourished and faded, leaving arcane structures, mysterious traces we can only strive to interpret and never fully understand for we have, inevitably, lost the context of their creation. Even within our own short history we have seen this happen time and again and no doubt it will continue. Yet these mysterious histories have influenced our own; the foundations of an ancient realm may be all we think remains, yet much of what they knew will have been carried outward, casting ripples on the pool of human understanding and knowledge. Our present is built upon their past.

There is a similar process in our own lives where the fragile castles we build around ourselves as a personality, reacting to the landscape of family, society and events is shaped by and shapes the way we see ourselves and the way we project our image into the world. Events experienced through the eyes and mind of the child may leave an arcane trace, a mysterious ruin in the tangled undergrowth of being that we stumble across in wonder, trepidation or confusion. It is upon these very places that we have built the person we see in the mirror and their influence contributes to the shaping of who we become.

Yet beneath the ruined castle or lost pyramid there is a constant. The foundations of all are rooted firmly in the earth. They are shaped from the land and to the land they will eventually return, gently gathered by the creeping tendrils of plants and washed away by rain, becoming once more a part of the landscape rather than apart from it.

There is an analogy there too for those who believe in the soul, that essence of self that is beyond the realm of the of the outer world and it is from this we spring, our foundations rooted within its light and it is to this we return when the edifice of the incarnate personality is washed away.

Does it shape us as the land shaped our forefathers, or do we shape it? Both I think… within it we touch the source of being, and draw its essence into our lives; yet our living teaches and enriches and the sum of experience shapes the next ripple we cast upon the waters of existence.

Looking out across the winter fields of my home today, watching the cloud shadows race across a gilded landscape I wondered how many of our ancestors had sat thus, watching the land and pondering the nature of the soul, seeing in the earth they held sacred an echo of their own inner light.

Fragile strength

butterfly 41

Unfettered beauty

Riding the storms of Chaos

Fragile as a heart

There are few things as strong…or as fragile…as a butterfly. Their delicate wings can withstand both wind and rain, yet the touch of a finger can damage them beyond repair. Their physical strength starts early when, as caterpillars, they munch their way through leaves ten times their size before moving on to the next, decimating the plants upon which their parent laid their eggs.

They have another strength though, not visible to the irate gardener or passionate lepidopterist… they have the strength to yield to the inevitability of their own dissolution. Retiring to their homespun cocoon, metamorphosis occurs; they are dissolved into the component parts of their own being before their final emergence as beauty incarnate.

butterfly2

It makes you wonder about the strength of the impulsion of Nature…and whether the caterpillar is aware of its future. How much awareness does a caterpillar have? Enough to fear its transformation… or just a blind obedience to the urgency of instinct? Either way, the process is inescapable. They cannot hold on to their juvenile form… only let go and allow Nature to do her work and the inevitable transformation to occur.

We face the same fate as we live and grow… that too is an inescapable process. We can cling on to youth or to the past, to our illusions or to people, desperately trying to maintain the life and comfort-zone with which we are familiar and that conforms to our image of self… or we can let them go. Not everything that we release will fly away; sometimes they remain and in that there is great beauty, for what we then have we do not need to hold, for it is a gift freely given, not the product of restraint and a grasping hand.

butterfly

The saddest thing of all must be the butterfly collector. His strength, he imagines, lies in his knowledge and expertise… and in the completeness of his collection. In truth, he is more fragile than the flying petals he seeks to acquire; he imagines himself master, yet can only appreciate what he has squeezed the life from before skewering it with a pin, preserving its perfection by robbing it of life.

There are many who seek to ‘collect’ people, knowledge or a perceived truth in the same way. Seeing beauty flutter by, they seek to capture it in their nets, pinning it down so that it cannot escape them, yet all they are left with, to display to the world in their pride, is an empty and lifeless shell.

butterfly 3

When beauty chooses to land in our lives, it is a privilege. It is not something to try to capture, not something we should attempt to pin down. It is a gift, to be savoured, with gratitude and wonder, for a breathless moment and then let go, to fly free. Beauty, whatever its form, is as strong as the life we allow it… and as fragile as our fear. It will not always stay…it will not always leave… but our recognition of its inner life and freedom may help us find our own wings.

SE Ilkley 2015 saturday (93)