Step by step…

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The path winds around the embankment of an ancient hillfort… a fairy fort, they are sometimes called, gateways to the Otherworld of myth and legend. There is silence save for the rustle of leaves, the ever present birdsong and the high keen of a red kite overhead. The sounds of the modern world do not intrude here.

The ground is soft beneath my feet, pliant and yielding with a thick carpet of last year’s leaves as I walk through the green tunnel that feels like a track left by some great serpent. The old ones knew of the great beasts; they saw the dragons that slept in the curve of the landscape and they carved their coils into their sacred hills. Hills such as this.

There is a liminal feeling to this place, a ring of earth high above the valley, guarding still the sacred space within, a gold topped tower now at its heart; a younger expression of an ancient power half glimpsed through symbols.

Through the green a portal of light… a window perhaps that shows a glimpse of that Otherworld, a door to another dimension? What will I see if I walk into that light… or will it blind the eyes, leaving other senses to find a way and a meaning? And what is that world… which is the reality, here or there… and can I pass through?

The landscape itself seems to mirror my mood with its path that moves in circles until I see the point at which I can break the endless round and move to a different level. A path that circles a sacred space within, older than years, but as old as being.

The walls of earth enclose, wrapping me in a silent isolation from a greater reality I cannot see with eyes, yet I know it is there, I feel its presence. The landscape beyond is veiled from view by trees that seem to be the ribcage of a serpent through whose belly I must pass, as in the myths of the old ones, day after day, perpetually swallowed and excreted until I can reach that place where the light comes in, that chink in the scales that leads to a place beyond.

And I can find it, that shaft of light. But only if I walk this path, and only from the dimness of the shadows of this place could I see the brightness of where I must be. If I walked within that light, could I see it? Would I recognise it? Could it lead me so clearly onward? A guiding beam must be brighter than the shadows it chases and the shade serves to make visible its path of light.

I walk once more around the wooded hillfort, marvelling at the beauty of this liminal place. A simple walk has become meditation, awe and prayer. Words fail as understanding opens. Words no longer carry meaning. To be here and now allows a glimpse across the threshold of worlds… my own and a greater, the worlds of legend and dream, of faith and aspiration… of Knowing and Being. A glimpse from shadow into the light and the reassurance that even in the deepest shade, because of that deepest shade, there is a bright path waiting to be found to take the traveller’s feet beyond the circled coils.

Heart to heart

“I don’t get it,” said my son. “We’re an island… how can we be short of water?” I had been telling him about the shocking state of the Derwent Valley reservoirs. I have seen them very low before, but never this low. The water is no more than a trickle in the lake bed and the villages drowned at their creation are once more feeling the sun on their stones. We discussed desalination, technology and our acceptance of water-on-tap in developed countries. From there, we went on to other countries, where the populace is not so lucky and water may have to be drawn from a dirty well several hours walk from home. My son continued, “I mean, if seventy per cent of the earth’s surface is covered with water, and, if it all comes from the sea to begin with and goes back into the water cycle, how come anyone is short of water?”

“Money.” I thought back to a job I once had, selling water coolers to offices. The company supported a water charity that dug clean wells and brought water to arid villages. I loved being on the road as a salesperson, but I could never reconcile the difference between the luxury of cooled, filtered spring water and children carrying water jars for miles.

It always tickled me too, that the elegant secretaries who convinced their bosses to buy the spring water would, for the most part, have been horrified if I had asked them to drink from a stream… the same streams that supply the now-industrialised springs. But they would happily drink chlorine-laden tap water, because that is clean and safe… even though it may also contain other things they wouldn’t even like to think about.

It is not that I think we should deny ourselves, or feel guilty about, enjoying the benefits of progress or earned luxuries… but we should not forget that we are privileged to be able to do so.

At least the company was putting money into the pot with every sale… but it is a poor set-up when charity is dependant upon profit. I agreed with my son, no one should be without access to clean water in this day and age. Globally, we have the money, the technology and the resources… if we chose to use them.

I was on my soap box. From water, it moved to access to adequate food, housing, education and healthcare… all basic human needs that should also be rights. I have worked in the charity sector and acknowledge both the incredible effort of the staff and volunteers, as well as the impact of the work they do. But why should we need to rely on charity for such basic human needs in a world where corporations and individuals have billions in the bank? It makes no sense to me.

Leaving aside ideas about the distribution of wealth, even the defence budget of a small nation would probably be enough to supply water to a continent… and don’t get me started on the misnomer of ‘defence’…

“But,” interjected my son, attempting to stop me in full flow, “why bother talking about it? What good will it do?” The question was obviously rhetorical, but, with the bit between my teeth, I was going to answer anyway…

Actions spring from ideas, and ideas are born when people talk about things… not when they sweep them under the carpet and can comfortably and conveniently forget that they are there.

Money may have the reputation as being the root of all evil, but I wonder if that is true. Is it not what choices people make that is at the heart of the problem? And how can we make informed choices unless we communicate?

I thought a lot about that on the way home. In this day and age when the internet connects us worldwide, it should be easier to talk… and we do, often about things that may seem quite unimportant… just the small doings of everyday…but by doing so, we keep the lines of communication open, and every so often, something really important filters through. The weight of public opinion can work miracles, changing the face of society…or making one life worth living.

Misunderstandings thrive when people do not talk. Relationships deteriorate when resentments cannot be aired and are allowed to fester. Loneliness and depression deepen when there is no-one to talk with. And whole worlds of possibility open up when we do.

 

It is the same on a personal level too, as we are talking to ourselves internally all the time. For most of us, there is a commentary on the surface of the mind and yet, we are conscious of other levels of thought running beside it, observing it, sometimes in agreement with our thoughts and actions, at other time raising metaphorical eyebrows.

But, although we are aware of these other levels of thought, observation and information, we seldom take the time to engage them in conversation. Meditation and contemplation are ways of doing so, and those who give some time to these methods reap rich rewards. Both conscience and consciousness reside within, and unless the surface mind is prepared to converse with them, we may be missing out on a large percentage of who we are and who we might become.

I wonder if ‘the root of all evil’, rather than simply blaming inanimate money, stems from the barriers we, and the way we live, erect around the core of our being? Barriers that seek to protect us by preventing us from really hearing what those around us and those inner voices may have to say?

When we let the barriers down and talk to someone openly and without subterfuge, we call it a ‘heart to heart’. Perhaps that is what we are missing… and maybe what we are afraid of in this modern world? The ability and the openness to speak and to listen, allowing our true selves to flow from the heart.

Points of Light

It is the start of the festive season again. The dark nights of winter allow the fairy lights and decorations to sparkle in every town and village and through the windows of homes up and down this little island. People, even those who already look harassed by the work, expense and extra busyness of December, smile at each other for no reason and offer greetings. It seems as if we somehow respond to the colour and light in the darkness in a way that transcends the everyday stresses of modern life… as if the inner child sees the wonder of the sparkling lights and understands their significance.

Midwinter celebrations have always been with us… long before Christianity came on the scene, mankind paused in the dark time of the year, looking to the rebirth of the light. The stories vary with time, place and faith; the Child of Light can wear many names, even the abstract name of enlightenment. But the story is always the same too… in the darkest of times, a light will shine.

Beyond the fairy lights, there is fear and uncertainty abroad in the world. Many feel powerless against the looming presence of darkness.  We worry for the future, for our children and grandchildren. Alone, we face a shadow that often seems too overwhelming for one small human being. Yet we should not need to stand alone; we are members of a single human family. Like any other family, we have our problems and they are often thrown into sharp relief at times when we should be coming together to celebrate. Sadly, just like any other family, some of those problems seem irreconcilable. All we can do in the face of such a problem is take responsibility for our own lives, do our best to be who we are and can be, and carry the light within.

Today, a small group of us will visit an ancient site where the movements of the sun were once observed as it sank into darkness. The site is bleak and exposed, looking out over a winter landscape, a perfect symbol for where many now feel that we stand. We, who come from different backgrounds, who hold differing beliefs and follow different paths, will come together there in a quiet visualisation.

Creative visualisation is taught by psychologists, self help groups and esoteric schools as a valuable tool for change. The subconscious mind sees no difference between the real and the imagined, only the conscious mind draws such distinctions. Nothing is created without it first being brought into being within the imagination and it is in the imagination that any change is born. Add the focus of conscious intent to that visualisation and it becomes a powerful creative act.

It is against the blackness of a midwinter midnight that the stars shine their brightest. As we stand on the hilltop, our little group will visualise ourselves as single points of light…part of a vast web of light that extends across the world. Each point of light shines from the heart of another living being, another soul. It is born of the love we give, it grows from compassion and empathy. We may not be able to change the world, but we can add our own light to the greater flame of hope and healing and allow it to change us, little by little, one by one.

We ask you to join us.

On being a wet blanket…

For some unknown reason, I was weepy. It had not been a sad day, but a busy one. There was no cause on which I could lay the blame. Granted I had prodded the scars on some old memories, but they are long past and well healed. The dog, if I let her near the keyboard, would tell you that we had been having fun… a ‘mad half hour’ that extended throughout the early evening and ended in a laughing heap of fur and limbs collapsed panting on the floor… both hers and mine… and with a triumphant hound licking my face. The triumph being because she knows she is not supposed to and, as she was sat on me, she had the advantage.

I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself for any reason. I can’t even blame fluctuating hormones as they have come neatly packaged in regular daily doses for years. I had slept longer than usual. There was no reason for it. It was simply something that washed over me out of the blue and didn’t bother warning me or telling me why.

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Pretty much everything I read from that point onward reduced me to tears, from beauty to empathy. I decided to watch a film instead. I chose a nice, safe adventure… one I have watched more times than I can remember. I know the book pretty much by heart too and it isn’t particularly sad … yet it had me dripping. Ani, by this time, was getting a bit concerned especially as even her cuddles set me off!

I gave up and went to bed a soggy mess.

The easy response is that there is, as we say in my home county, ‘nowt queerer than folk’ and it is true, we are an odd lot. Emotions can overtake us for many reasons or…apparently… none. But easy answers don’t cut it when you are lying in bed going back over the day.

In that meditative state there is no room for anything but honesty. There is no-one to see, no-one to hear, judge or impugn. Your thoughts are your own and there is nowhere to hide from yourself. So what had set me off? There was obviously something lurking there that needed to be disinterred and examined and, given the path I have chosen with the School, there could be no shying away from that.

The only thing I could think of were the memories I had been retelling. In addition to the instances from my own life upon which I had mused, I serve as a memory for my son for the missing period of his life and those memories are of a traumatic time. Had I touched some unknown sore spot there? I didn’t think so… not particularly… nothing we haven’t discussed before. The fact we can discuss them, given the original prognosis, means that there has been a miraculous resolution that puts past hurt into a completely different perspective that is rooted in thankful joy.

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I was no wiser. Then I wondered about the cumulative effect of remembered emotion. There had been a number of instances recalled, moments of pain and loss that had cut deep at the time. You call up a memory and, to remember it in detail, watch it play out vividly on the screen of the mind. With that almost cinematic effect come the emotions you had felt. Maybe that was it, just an overdose of memory? There was something in that, but there had to be more to it.

I dug deeper and finally got there in the end. The memories themselves weren’t the problem, nor their attendant emotions. Unacknowledged fears were at the root of it, and yet, once seen, once examined, they were found to be groundless; laughably empty and without substance. No more than a reaction learned from a flawed understanding by a younger, more fragile self… one who believed that to love something you had to keep it close in case you lost it. And under that cold, damp blanket of false fear, I found what I was looking for.

It wasn’t pain or sadness that had set me off in the first place… it was joy; gratitude for all the wonder and beauty I have known over the past few years. It was the obverse of pain which is why I couldn’t find any; it was the lights at the end of the tunnels, the laughter after tears, the sunny days that follow the dark ones. These are not things you ‘have’ so they cannot be ‘lost’. They are not possessions, but gifts of the moment and all you can do is be open to them when they come… and it is enough that they do. They come into even the darkest times, as fragile and delicately beautiful as butterflies. To try and hold them would be the same as pinning a butterfly to a board. There is no need. They simply light up a life with their presence.

I fell asleep laughing at myself. There are worse ways…

 

Feeding the imagination

“We were not Gods, but were of God, the strands of our existence
not yet teased apart by Becoming, our function not yet defined.”

So much for a Saturday evening… the night of the week most folk sit relaxing by the hearth or meet with friends. Me? I was taking dictation from a Goddess…or that was what it felt like as I wrote.

I had done plenty of research, burying myself under a small mountain of respectable tomes to remind me of the details of the great story I was working with as I wrote The Osiriad. The names on the spines… Budge, Spence and Frazer, Iamblichus and Herodotus… suggested that ancient Egypt had something to do with the whole process, as would the printed papyri that littered the table. I had been feeding my imagination on tales of Egypt for years.

“There was a time we did not walk the earth.
A time when our nascent essence flowed, undifferentiated, in the Source of Being.”

But research isn’t everything. There are scholarly accounts in abundance out there with an academic weight I could never match. Nor did I intend to try. I hoped to speak to the emotions and imagination instead, so it was enough to get a broad overview of the subject. Having immersed myself in the  scholarly works, I set them aside to write, hoping to weave the disjointed myths of Egypt into a single story. Which is where it began to feel as if I was taking dictation… and I wrote non-stop until the book was done.

“We wore flesh like a garment, clothing our immanence…”

It is a curious process when, with the first keystrokes, the tenor of language changes and takes on a flavour all of its own. Even stranger when the character who is speaking in the narrative comes to life under your fingers and starts to ‘dictate’ aand you find yourself typing concepts you were not consciously aware of before writing them down. I think I speak for many who write with this. It is a well-known phenomenon that our heroes and heroines begin to act independently in the imagination and the writer becomes little more than an observer and reporter of events over which, it almost feels, they have no control.

I found as I wrote that tale that I was tapping into areas of understanding that had lain unexplored in mind and memory, shrouded in the cobwebs of neglect. There is far more stored away in our minds than we notice. We tap into it through practices like meditation and the creative process. The two, I think, are more closely aligned than we generally realise. Many who paint  slip into another state of mind, very similar to that experienced in meditation. Many who write will go back and find things they barely remember having written, things beyond their usual scope that they hardly recognise as their own. Things that surprise them with their depth or intensity.

Imagination is such a powerful thing. It is at the root of so many aspects of our lives yet we often dismiss it or fail to notice it. We even train our children away from its magic by telling them not to daydream or imagine things, pulling them back to reality. Yet every design, every concept, begins the process of its manifestation within the imagination of its creator. Every object we use began with a ‘what if’, every story was once just the germ of an idea.

It is imagination that fuels our emotions. What would we fear without that mental picture that haunts us? Would we strive to attain a goal without the image of success imprinted upon our mind? Yet it is a two-way process, for imagination feeds on memory and emotion too and they paint a vivid picture for it to work with. Think of the possibilities for change we could have by consciously harnessing these natural gifts we all have in abundance. It is this power of the imagination that is drawn upon by all the methods of positive thinking, and though many of the concepts they present may be flawed by the desire for profit and worldly success, the basic premise, that we can shape our own vision of reality through imagination, is sound.

Mystery Schools, including the Silent Eye, have always taught the power of the controlled imagination. Very often, though, in my experience, the power of the heart is neglected by the student, overlooked in their concentration on study, with the result that the focus becomes purely intellectual and loses the true meaning of such a path, which is to take understanding out into the life of the world and live it. It is by engaging the emotions in full awareness, in conjunction with the imagination, that the inner vision opens to allow exploration of the hidden corners of the mind and the realisations that come in this way can be truly astounding.

The Feathered Seer – Part 3 (No. Really. The Feathered Seer!) by Running Elk

Nine Ladies Stone Circle, Stanton Moor
Copyright: Graham Dunn

During the exploration session on Spirit Animals, presented during The Silent Eye (a modern mystery school) “Leaf and Flame: the Foliate Man” weekend in 2016, one of the companions enquired about “Shape-shifting”. Since this was outside the scope of the discussion, the concept was briefly addressed without going into any real detail. It was, therefore, with some surprise, that I found myself agreeing to present an exploration session on the topic during “The Feathered Seer” weekend in 2017.

As April approached, the usual buzz of anticipation built towards the day that the work-book was released, and roles revealed. Most surprised, therefore, when an email arrived indicating the “costume” arrangements for the weekend. Other than the, at this stage, mysterious “Weaver” and “Spinner”, only I would be required to be costumed: in the role of Shaman. This made it easy, as I probably had a few things lying around which would foot the bill.

As it turned out, this was a double blessing, as neither Robe, nor Shell were to be found. Ironically, both would make a reappearance, pretty much where they were always believed to reside, before the weekend was out!

The work-book, when it arrived, proved to be a masterful crafting of ritual movement, wrapped in a touching storyline; at once intimately personal, and, ultimately, Universal. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was fully “ready” to experience the Temple energies that the unfolding of such a story was likely to unleash, particularly when viewed from the perspective of the Shaman of the Raven Clan.

Did I mention synchronicity?

The exploration session I’d outlined focussed on the reasons why shape-shifting appears so difficult. It isn’t that we cannot do it, indeed we do a form of shape-shifting on a daily basis, without ever really thinking about it. It is only when we come to consider shifting into a form other than human that we become stuck: in a variety of fears, ultimately centred on the persistent illusion which we fear most. The weekend, unknown to me, would approach an inspection of the root, and illusory nature, of these very same fears.

Continue reading here

Circles Beyond Time – On Edge

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We’d cancelled sunrise. Not literally, you understand, but what with our company, for once, being lodged across a swathe of miles and the weather being singularly uncooperative, it seemed unfair to drag everyone from their beds at some ungodly hour just to get wet and see nothing. It was, therefore, a rested and well-breakfasted company that gathered for the short trip to our next ancient site.

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Only two of us had visited the site before. We had found it quite by accident whilst on the track of the infamous wandering stone which, although it remains stubbornly lost, has a habit of revealing wonderful places as you follow its trail. We had come back in winter with author Graeme Cumming and his partner… and more recently to check the site before the workshop when we had been thoroughly drenched by unseasonal rain that had filled my boots until I squelched with every step. Even so, with each visit, the magic of the place had caught us unawares…. but we were hoping for better weather this time, in spite of the pall of grey cloud that hung low over the moors.

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A short walk across the moor takes you to a fence and a gate. It is as soon as you walk through the gate that the land seems to change. Regardless of the weather, it is quieter here … as if the place has withdrawn from the world somehow and waits at a temporal tangent for those who come seeking its mysteries. A few yards to the right of the path and the land falls away steeply from the edge of the cliff. In between is a green lawn strewn with boulders and silver-barked birch. It feels as if you have slipped into the realms of the Fae and the guardians of the place watch as you pass.

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For a little way the path slopes gently uphill. After a while you begin to notice that the boulders look odd, as if placed rather than strewn by ancient glaciers, then the land opens out into a boulder field of monumental proportions, very similar to the top of Carl Wark in appearance, though here the stones are enormous and the cliffs sheer. But whereas the atmosphere of the hillfort is one of peace and serenity, here there is something else; it ‘feels’ odd and uncomfortable.

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It it always difficult to tease apart the threads of impression. Most people are sensitive to atmospheres and will react predictably to the serenity of a quiet chapel or an eerie, moonlit ruin. With the open landscape it is impossible to say what it is one picks up, but places have their own particular ‘feel’. Most of the time we are visiting sites of which little can be known, given their antiquity and the mind inevitably tries to make sense of the landscape in modern terms first. When it cannot, the natural reaction is to seek a story the mind can accept, but these sites are older than our knowing and alive in a way difficult to express. Images arise and are dismissed as imagination… until others, too, begin to recount the same feelings and you have to take note. At this particular part of the site…and only here… the impression is that the rock-strewn cliff was once used as part of the ancestral funerary rites… and was then desecrated and despoiled by invaders, as if to take the heart from its people. The atmosphere affects everyone differently, so saying little except that there would be a chance to look around on the way back, we hurried our companions through the stones to the second gate.

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Once through the gate, the land changes immediately. Delicate mosses carpet the undulating earth in emerald, scattered with diamond drops of mist and festooned with jewelled webs. Even the sound changes as the slender trunks of the silver birches cluster closer. It is a quiet place… a child’s fairyland… and at its heart, a standing stone…

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Circles Beyond Time – Living stone

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I smiled, knowing what was still to come… and knowing that our companion had picked up on something not yet visible when she had said that the place reminded her of the stone blocks of the old South American cultures. I knew what she meant, but while the precision of the masonry at Cusco still defies understanding over a thousand years old since its building, the place to which we were walking was older. Far older.

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Following the path that climbs through the bracken, you can see the changing forms of the stones. Peering from the top of the plateau, they seem to shapeshift in the fading, afternoon light, taking first one form and then another as you approach the steps that lead into the enclosure. It is a strange place. To some it is just another hill to climb. To others, ‘just’ another ancient hillfort. Cinema buffs may recognise one of the locations from The Princess Bride and geologists would have a field day. To archaeologists, though, Carl Wark is pretty much an enigma and unique in this part of the world.

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As soon as you reach the plateau you begin to see how important the site must have been. No direct dating evidence has been found so far, but comparisons have been drawn between the construction of the enclosure at Carl Wark and one we would visit next day at Gardom’s Edge…and that has been dated to around 1300BC. The general consensus seems to be that although some of the more visible features date back only to the Iron Age, the site and features of the surrounding landscape, have been in use since the Bronze Age. The trouble with such dates, however, is that they can only work with what they can see, dig up and measure. If a place becomes important in the life of a people, how long does its legend take to build before the walls are begun? How long before it becomes so entrenched in the life of the clan that its safety becomes a priority?

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A natural outcrop rising around eighty feet from the valley floor, the hillfort sits much lower in the landscape than nearby Higger Tor. Even to a layman’s eyes, the Tor makes a far more defensible position, having much wider views of the surrounding landscape and being visible from a far greater distance than its smaller neighbour. Not only that, but the enclosure of the hillfort is completely covered by huge boulders, making any kind of settlement there impossible to establish and no evidence of such has been found. If it was a fortress in the sense that we understand it, what were they protecting? There is nothing there but the stones.

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It was stone that greeted us as we reached the plateau… a great wall of boulders, carefully placed and buttressed from behind by an earthen embankment. The wall, so the archaeologists believe, dates back only to the Iron Age, which in Britain began almost three thousand years ago. The site has been in use longer than that. Only one section of this rampart remains, 130 ft long, 26 ft wide at its base and nearly ten feet high. Each stone is huge and the construction quite unexpected in the middle of the moors.

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Beyond the wall you enter a magical landscape of frozen forms and movement captured in stone. Perhaps the eyes of the heart can come closer to understanding what the old ones were protecting than the eyes of science. Almost every boulder reveals a face, shape or limb that to the human eye and imagination, suggests life. Some stones, like one of the ‘rocking stones’ perched precariously on the edge, seem to have been encouraged into their position and carefully chocked with small boulders. Some seem to shift, from bear, to cat, to hawk depending on where you stand… as if Nature has shaped a cathedral to honour the totems of the ancient tribes.

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We left our companions to explore for a while and headed over to the southern end of the hillfort. Here there was a stone we had planned to use, carved by Man or Nature into a perfect chair for storytelling or teaching, but the wind had increased, the clouds had come down and the rain had begun… nothing major, but not exactly conducive to sitting around on the grass. We sought out a more sheltered spot and gathered everyone together, showing them the great blocks of millstone grit that had been added to the natural revetments of the cliff to fortify the place.

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Taking our places in a shelter between towering boulders, we shared a meditation where we each sought a thread within the web of light, tracing it back, through our own ancestry and beyond; back to the beginnings of our own civilisation to a time and place where were no religious doctrines, or dogma wars… just the many-faceted One that each could see moving across the face of the earth in the shapes of the life that they knew. That web of life is not a thing of the past, but the matrix of life.

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As the echoes were erased by the wind, I thought of a passage from Dion Fortune’s Sea Priestess that seemed to sum up both something that has gone wrong with our society and something of what we were attempting over the weekend. “…sinking back into the primordial sleep, returning to forgotten things before time was: and the soul is renewed, touching the Great Mother. Whoso cannot return to the primordial, hath no roots in life, but withereth as the grass. These are the living dead, they who are orphaned of the Great Mother.”

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We were far from being the living dead that day… We shared our thoughts and some readings. One of our companions shared a poem he had come across and which had seemed appropriate to the moment. We all smiled in recognition at the first lines of Tolkien’s ‘The road goes ever on and on…’. I smiled twice, loving the poem and remembering that, quite coincidentally, I had been reciting it just below where we were sheltering at dawn that very day. Another of our companions gave us music, singing October Song a cappella. Written by Robin Williamson, it had been a hit in the 60s for the Incredible String Band. We smiled; we were going to see Williamson play that week. Such small synchronicities seem to offer a reassurance that you are getting things right.

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Which is more than we could say for the weather. We had allowed plenty of time to explore the hilltop and its mysteries knowing how much there was to see, then had planned on sharing the sunset there before returning for dinner. The wind, damp and chill were too much to linger… and the sunset would be hidden by clouds. There would be other days. We gathered in the lee of the ancient wall and, with the sound reverberating from the stone, joined in chanting the close of day, bringing sound to the stones in a spirit of reverence for Life. Somehow, it felt exactly right.

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Pause for thought

14 sept 599

For a good many years, my days have begun very early and ended very late. For most of that time, I have been working, whether it has been on the nine-to-five treadmill (which very seldom was just nine-to-five), doing housework and gardening, cooking or writing…or the myriad other jobs that come with adulthood, parenthood and the age of responsibility. Weekends and the misnamed ‘holidays’ simply exchanged one task for another, fitting the things I wanted to do in between those I had to. Even meditation periods become part of the routine, slotting in between other necessities. It doesn’t really matter whether you love what you are doing or not…and I do… it is the constant motion of the wheel of doing that gets hold of us. Escaping the hamster wheel is a dream many share, but for most of us, a dream is all it may ever be.

The trouble is that we get caught up by what we do… and the more we do, the more it holds us. We start to believe that if we don’t do it, no-one else will… or that we do it best/quickest/most efficiently. Even worse, for many of us, especially in the domestic arena, that is probably true…simply because we have been doing it for so long that we have grown efficient through long habit. Even when the need is no longer there, we still carry on with the old ways, sticking to the same routines because we do them on autopilot. When something forces us to stop for a while, it feels odd, things nag at us somewhere below the surface and we find it hard to switch off.

There is a constant pressure of routine that creates an unconscious level of chronic stress that has been shown to have adverse effects on health, weight, sleep and emotional wellbeing. It is insidious and we don’t even notice it, so deeply ingrained does it become.

It took me a while after the boys had all left home and I was living alone with the dog, to realise that actually, I wouldn’t be burned at the stake if I didn’t dust and polish every morning. The sky would not fall if I didn’t do the laundry every day and I would neither starve to death nor be ostracised by society if I chose not to cook. In fact, if it wasn’t for the dog, her toys and her fur, I would actually have very little around the house that had to be done every day. Okay, I would keep the place nice for me… and for any unexpected visitors… but it was no longer an imperative.

I let it be and relaxed.

Twiddled my thumbs for a bit.

Then found I had filled all the spare time I had released with other ‘jobs’.

Downsizing was next… one almighty burst of activity and I’d be in a small flat that would take much less upkeep! Except it doesn’t. I’m still only using the same area as before, but the dog, her toys and her coat can  access all areas… so the hamster wheel kept turning. Until the first virus hit. For a few days, I couldn’t have cared less where I was. For the next few days, I didn’t care about anything except much and spent the time cuddled on the sofa with the dog. We slept through a number of mindless DVDs and a couple of excellent ones too. I managed to stay awake for much of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and it was watching that film that woke me up.

Dame Judi Dench plays a woman in her seventies who, although relatively recently widowed, has fallen in love, but is afraid of the new relationship. “I just need more time,” says her character to another woman. “How much time do you have?” she replies. Which got me thinking.

I am nowhere near my seventies… not yet. But how much time do any of us have? It is an unknown factor. We stay in the hamster wheel of duty and necessity, looking towards a ‘one day’ that may never, for a multitude of possible reasons, happen. And for most of us, getting off that wheel entirely, simply through choice, is an impossibility. We seem to be programmed to be doing.

But we can slow it down, making space in each day for doing … nothing. For simply sitting in the sun. Meditating. Watching the stars. It doesn’t matter… it just has to be time. Time to actively, deliberately engage with doing nothing, giving it as much attention as all the rest of the doing and according it the same importance. Time to just be you.

It is not a new concept, but an ancient one. It is a simple thing. An hour a day… half an hour… just time to leave everything, let it wait and just be.

Like all the habitual things we do in a day, doing nothing seems to make space for itself…time you did not think you had…and you come back from it refreshed.

Give it a try.