City rhythm…?

I couldn’t remember the last time I had walked so far on urban pavements. I generally avoid going into town with all the dedication I would show to avoiding, say, a dinner invitation from a ravenous vampire…and for much the same reasons; both leave you limp and lifeless. But, with the car off the road, the cupboards bare and the fish needing medical supplies, I had little choice.

It isn’t that I don’t walk… just that I live in a rural area. A tramp across the fields with the dog is a very different affair to walking on concrete. Quite how different, I had not realised until today. It isn’t just the external stuff like traffic, noise and scenery… walking on concrete changes everything.

The first thing I noticed was how much my pace and posture changed, from the relaxed mooch to a business-like stride. The rhythm of my steps was very different, I covered the ground faster and my back was straighter than usual, shoulders low and head held high.

The next thing I noticed was that the few people I passed all smiled before looking away. This, in itself, is unusual in towns, where most people avoid eye contact at all costs. Then it dawned on me why… I was singing.

I could see why I was getting the covert glances… and smiled to myself as I realised exactly what I was doing.

When I was very young, we did not have a car. My mother didn’t drive, my father was stationed abroad, so it was either the bus or Shanks’s pony. As far back as I can remember… and my memory is pretty good… as we walked, my mother and I, we would sing. It helped pass the time and took my mind off the distance my little legs were covering.

It started with my mother singing to me until I learned the words, which I soon picked up. There used to be a tape of a very small girl singing Gracie Fields’ ‘Sally’. I was so young at the time that my logic was a bit odd by adult standards; I could only sing that song and no other because I had a poorly finger… and the finger was poorly because my mother had made me eat cabbage.

Later, we would sing old music-hall favourites, popular songs, lyrics from musicals and even the odd aria. We could sing the entire score of ‘The Five Pennies’ between Town End and Waterloo Lane, and we knew the scores of any number of films. Sometimes we recited poetry instead, from Spike Milligan to the monologues of Marriot Edgar, via Wordsworth and Keats. And we always practised any numbers I needed for the musical comedy routines of dancing school.

When my own sons were small, we walked everywhere too. I did not drive and, in a city with excellent public transport, did not need to learn. And, as we walked, we recited those same poems and sang many of the same songs.

Perhaps it was the rhythm of my footsteps, but walking into town today, I found myself singing those old songs. And, quite apart from the fact that I should never be allowed to sing in public, for fear of offending passing eardrums, most people don’t do that.

It is one of those things that is simply not done,  though I cannot for the life of me think why that should be so. If I’d had a child by the hand, no-one would have batted an eyelid, but a solitary adult, singing to themselves, draws strange, strained glances followed by a rapid averting of the eyes. Had they been close enough to hear me sing, I could have sympathised.

I did have a child with me, though. She has never left me and will always sing as she walks. We may simply see the inner child as the first psychological blueprint of our growth, or we may see it as the soul-child and a link to something deeper still; the two do not preclude each other. For me, she is more than nostalgia or memory, I carry her within and she is, in many ways, the ‘mother’ of the adult. She exists as a purer state of being, uncontaminated by the failures, frailties and falsities of an  adult existence. It is through her eyes that I see a world filled with wonders. It is through her that I touch excitement, faith and hope and it is she who still reminds me that love is unconditional. And, if she wants to sing, that’s fine by me.

The space under the stairs…

Image: Pixabay

I am not at all certain what it was that sparked the memory, but I had a very clear picture in my mind today of a magical place that has not existed for the past half a century. I could call it my childhood home, though we probably only lived there for about five years, until I was ten. I have a good visual memory and remember even my very first nursery, but this was the house where isolated vignettes of memory became a continuous story… and nowhere was more fascinating to a small child than the space under the stairs.

As you entered the house, the staircase rose to your left, the kitchen door was on the right, and the hallway led straight ahead to the living room. In the dark, triangular space beneath the stairs was a small table upon which sat my mother’s Imperial typewriter… a great black affair with a temperamental red and black ribbon and keys picked out in ivory. It was heavy, already ancient and each key made a satisfying ‘clunk’ when depressed. I spent hours typing on that thing, though I had to use the red inked part of the ribbon, as my mother needed the black for her writing. I must have typed ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ more times than I had hot dinners, disentangling the arms with their raised letters when my fingers worked quicker than they could.

On the back wall was a bookcase that held my mother’s manuscripts, a set of encyclopaedias and a carved wooden bear she had been given in Switzerland for her twenty-first birthday. The tallest wall held another bookcase, guarded by an alligator. Quite why she had this product of the taxidermist’s art in her possession, I never really knew. I did ask, but there appeared to be no reasonable answer. Although I was never entirely happy about stuffing animals and birds, having seen too many of them under their glass domes in my great grandmother’s red velvet sitting room, I did quite like this alligator. He smiled, and, when a guardian of knowledge smiles on you, all is right with the world.

Behind the alligator, there were books, of every description. From fact to fiction, on every conceivable subject… and, in spite of my tender years, I was free to read them all. Victorian moral tales rubbed shoulders with Madam Blavatsky and Spike Milligan. T. Lobsang Rampa shared a shelf with an autographed copy of Longfellow. I curled up with Bullfinch’s Mythology and Edward Lear and was as likely to read myself to sleep with Wilde, Bronte or Wheatley as I was to pick up Enid Blyton or C. S. Lewis. It was, had I but known it at the time, an amazing education. And not just for the books I was able to read.

My mother’s philosophy was simple… if I read something I was too young to understand, it would do me no harm and might encourage me to learn. For words I did not know, there was a dictionary. For things of which I knew nothing, there were the encyclopaedias. For concepts I did not understand, I could ask. And, as long as I could frame the question, there would always be an answer.

The answers might be phrased in a way a child could understand, they were often illustrated by analogies, but they were never ‘dumbed down’ or dismissive. Nor were the answers always cut and dried. While one plus one might equal two, discussions on more obscure subjects, like the nature of the soul, the thorny question of whether we only have ‘three score years and ten’ to learn all a human soul might need to learn and whether or not reincarnation was a reality, were always left open-ended. We explored the ideas, discussed the options and examined a variety of beliefs but the conversation would still end with the same thought… “Only you can find your answer.”

How could that be? If something is true or false, I thought, surely it is always true or false? It took a while to realise that simply being true is not Truth and that although there must be Truth somewhere in the vastness of Creation, we are probably not be big enough to see much of it. Our perspective is that of a grain of sand looking at the enormity of the Universe… and our vision is limited.

Slowly, I learned to ask the question… not just of others, though I learned much from listening to their opinions, thoughts and beliefs, but of something both within and without myself. There is always an answer… though sometimes I am still too ‘young’ to understand it and it only becomes clearer as time and growth open the gates of understanding. Over the years, I found many possible answers, but every so often one comes along that feels ‘right’ in an inexplicable way. It does not necessarily mean that it is true, but it has a rightness about it that answers the need of the moment. Some are discarded as new facets of life open, others become part of who you are and evolve as you grow.

The lessons we learn as children are not always good. We learn behaviours, prejudices, fears and opinions that will shape or scar us for life. What we take on board is not always what we are taught… it can, just as easily, be a reaction against what we are taught, by life, books or people. But sometimes, we are given gifts we do not appreciate until we have lived enough to understand them better.

The alligator is long gone, his stitched seams undone, his sawdust spilled. The carved bear went missing in transit, the typewriter fell silent and the Longfellow was lost in a move. Many of those same books sit on my bookshelves today but, fifty years after we packed the space under the stairs into boxes, I still carry its magic with me.

The gift of memory

One of the things we take away from our weekend workshops are the memories. Faces, places, people, conversations and realisations, all combine to create a kaleidoscope of intangible souvenirs that find their own place in the hierarchy of memory. We may share an adventure, but the memories are unique for each of us and it would only be by combining all of them that a true picture of the weekend would even begin to emerge. We each bring our own perspective to the experience, and what will seem unimportant to one may be awe-inspiring to another. Some of what we experience will seem so mundane that it fades into the background, barely registering its presence in our minds, some moments will make such an impression that they remain fresh and evergreen for the rest of our lives.

Memories are more important than we consciously realise most of the time. They form the foundation of who we are and, in many ways, define who we become. Our loves and dislikes, our dreams and even our most illogical-seeming fears all have a basis in memory and, when it is lost, through illness, age or accident, we lose much of the person we have always felt ourselves to be, as well as the person others knew.

It is not that the memories have been erased… they have simply been filed away and the key to unlocking them lost. This is something I have come to understand in a far more conscious way since my son’s brain injury…  all the details are still there, but he cannot access them unless he is given the right key. That may be something very simple and seemingly unrelated… and yet it can unleash a flood of memory and the chains of association reveal layer upon layer of recollection.

At our Northumberland weekend, I was given a birthday gift that did the same for me. The ceramic art reminded me of the Moorcroft pottery that I love with its colours and textures… which in turn took me back to running my own antiques stall, working with my mother and learning the trade, a day looking in awe at the glorious Moorcroft shop in Windsor with a friend… and the tiny plate I was given months later. It opened up a vast chain of details I had forgotten from my children’s childhood… a vintage fox fur with which two small boys chased each other around grandma’s shop, tea and buttered scones as Mum and I talked and taught the boys to play chess in the storeroom…and then back to my own childhood, playing in the toy shop that my mother managed and being fed sweets by Mrs Brown who owned both toy shop and sweet shop with her husband. The memories flowed…

The subject was bound to take me back… to a time and place when the world was opening its doors to me and I lived in a state of wonder and adventure. Paris… walking the wet pavements after dark, feeling my heart skip a beat every time the dome of the Sacré-Cœur came into view, talking until the small hours with the artists who were my friends in Montmartre… a time when the emotional rollercoaster of youth rode every high and low with untrammelled enthusiasm in a place I loved with all my heart.

There was something else too. The gift had been chosen because it would remind me, and that gesture of thought and friendship conjures its own memories, from first encounter to the birth of the Silent Eye and beyond… with all the faces and places in between… until past meets present and the future begins to reveal its paths at our feet, where yet more memories will be made.

Memory adds depth and richness to our lives and anything that sparks our innate ability to revisit a moment time through its good offices is a gift beyond price. Yet, we cannot and should not live in the past… even if we retrace our footsteps, seeking out places and people we once knew, the present and the past will never be the same, for we ourselves have changed, and hopefully, grown, often because of that moment in time to which thought and memory may carry us. We may never return, but the past lives in us and adds the colour and texture of its story to our own.

The walking dead…

We had been engaged in one of those long existential debates, discussing life, death and the possibilities of what might come before and after. The debate had gone on for some time, discussion had gone deep and we had covered some serious stuff, including the changing perspective of the years, fuelled by my impending birthday and the universal fragility of life.

“You should make a video,” said my son.

For a moment, I was flattered, feeling that perhaps I had acquitted myself so well that he saw my thoughts as worthy of being shared. But that moment was a fleeting one… he took out his phone.

“What, now?”

“Yeah.”

“But I’m a mess…” Vanity is universal when faced with a lens. Or that’s my excuse.

“Well, I’d rather you were sort of natural anyway…” It all clicked into place then. So much for flattery.

“You mean, for when I die?” My health may be a bit unstable at present, but I’m certainly not planning on dying at the moment. He had the decency to look a tad embarrassed.

“Well, yes… but don’t feel obliged to die anytime soon…”

“Thanks…”

“…I haven’t given you permission yet.” This is true. As he is both my son and my employer, such an extended leave of absence requires his approval and he has made his feelings quite clear on the matter.

By this time, the camera is running and I face the immortalising lens with no make-up, haystack hair and wearing my oldest clothes. We continue the debate, though in a far more lighthearted manner. Even so, it feels odd. Bad enough being recorded, which I dislike at the best of times, but to know you are being filmed as a memory for when you are dead is quite a strange feeling.

One of the things we had been discussing was the value of remembering that physical life is finite. It is a concept that must be taken from rather abstract idea we generally live with and transformed into a practical application. It is not a morbid or depressing perspective, as some might think, but is actually liberating as it shifts the focus from the transient to the eternal.

With a conscious awareness of the inevitable ending of this phase of existence, life and every experience in it, good or bad, takes on a new depth and richness. Nothing is to be missed through inattention, every experience is to be savoured and appreciated, because there is an awareness, a backdrop to living, that constantly reminds you that each moment could be the last.

And, as the camera captured our laughter, I was getting a graphic lesson in bringing that concept into reality.

It begs the question of how we want to be remembered when we are no longer in the world. Do we want to leave a mark on society? Be missed? Create immortality through art or a legacy of scientific thought? Maybe our immortality comes through our bloodline… our children and their children? Or perhaps we wish only to be remembered with a smile.

But why should we want to be remembered at all? Perhaps it is the fear of utter annihilation. Or simply the ego, the personality we wear in life, programmed for its own survival, that  seeks to perpetuate itself… and cannot accept that life as we know it can carry on without us? No matter how well-known or well loved we are, unless we do leave some kind of concrete legacy to posterity, in a few generations we will be no more than an entry in a ledger or database somewhere.  And even that will one day disappear.

Whether we believe there is no more than this physical existence, or in the survival of the soul, we cannot escape the cycle or the recycling of life.  One thing is certain, in the physical universe, nothing is ever utterly lost. From plankton to planets, everything that comes into being will evolve and come to an end. Its component parts will be returned to whence they arose and become the building blocks of something new. Personally, I believe that also holds true of the soul. We do not need to seek immortality. We carry eternity within us.

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.

‘Magic Lady’ – a glimpse of beauty

On Friday, we gathered from far and wide to say a final farewell to our friend. Funerals are never happy occasions, but they can hold more beauty than our grief may allow us to see. It would have been impossible to miss the beauty in the tribute paid to Sheila as the chapel filled to overflowing with those who loved her and whose lives she had graced. They are also a time when we may catch a glimpse of those we have loved through other eyes than our own. Heartfelt eulogies and snippets of conversation capture frozen moments of memory, snapshots of a many-faceted life that sparkled in areas and decades we did not see and wish we had shared.

At our friend’s request, Steve spoke at her funeral. Others also mentioned how much the Silent Eye and Sheila’s companions on her own path had meant to her over the years. Afterwards, an elderly gentleman approached our  group and asked after our work. He wanted to share something with us and read us part of a poem he had written for our friend, many years ago.

His name was Paul and he had worked with Sheila years before. That was all he told us, though his poem hinted at stories untold. His eyes shone with the same sparkle as those of our friend and the affection in which he held her was obvious. It shines too in his words, published here with his permission, in tribute to a woman much loved.

Magic Lady

*

Mystic Sheila, Magic Lady – what do you think our future holds?

Do you know its secrets? Can they now be told?

Listen to our questions, the things we want to know,

Read the cards with insight – what secrets do they show?

Will I be happy? Will I be well?

Will I get married? Will it be hell?

Do you think we’ll be rich? And how can you be sure?

For when we’ve paid the Poll Tax, we all will be poor!

*

Tarot cards, silken clad, are there secrets to be had?

Do you hold the key to ancient wisdom, known in days of yore?

Can you really, truly tell us what the future has in store?

Or does empathic Sheila…psychologist and seer…

Kindly tell to every person the things they’d like to hear?

We are all searchers after truth, so keep an open mind,

Life has many mysteries, as all who seek will find.

Mystic Tarot? Magic Sheila? I leave the decision up to you…

I only know that many forecasts have, uncannily, come true!

*

Use your Judgement, dear High Priestess, how will the Wheel of Fortune spin?

Will our Cups be overflowing, will our Coins come rolling in?

Or will the Swords of life be cutting, Batons beat us to the ground?

So we retreat then to a Tower, and like a Hermit, we are found.

Now, though we may be Foolish and Juggling with our fate,

Forget Death and the Devil and the Hangman at the gate!

Life is made for Lovers and will ride life’s Chariot high!

And reach out for the Sun and Moon and Stars up in the sky.

*

Come now, my lovely Sheila, can’t you see the moon is full,

See the dancing moonbeams, feel their mystic pull!

Come now to the wood, to the oak grove deep and shady,

And I will be the Green Man, and you the Wicca Lady!

For Mother Nature’s calling and when the Goddess plays the tune,

We must dance an ancient ritual, sky-clad beneath the moon

And join the group that’s dancing, neath the ancient mistletoe,

For it still retains its magic, as it did so long ago.

The Chistians tried to steal it, for a silly Christmas game,

If they saw the games that we play, it would make them die of shame!

*

Crystal lady, Nature’s healer, soothe away our aches and fears!

There is power in this crystal – in the earth a million years

Absobing magic from the planets mystic power from days of yore,

Forged with Earth and Air and Water, bringing Fire from out earth’s core

Crystal now give forth vibrations, through Sheila’s hands the power will flow,

Retune our body’s shattered patterns – stress and strain and fear must go!

*

Libran lady, tawny Sheila, emerald-eyed with silken skin,

Crimson-lipped, a sensual temptress, rule of Venus, hints of sin!

But settle down men, there’s a balance…a philosopher within.

A sensitive and gentle artist, charming company to be in!

High ideals – can be demanding – but not forgetting, life is fun!

Great at parties, Star attraction! We all love you, every one.

Paul, Christmas 1990

A touch of inspiration

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I knew I should have pulled over and written it down. All the way into work, the words just flowed. It was good stuff and I was learning as I spoke the words out loud, writing the imaginary article with my voice in an attempt to fix it in my mind. So many things just clicked into place, opening my eyes to shreds of understanding that came together in a perfect tapestry of glowing colours… There was no way I was going to forget this.

But. There’s always a but… The cat was waiting behind the glass of the door…and the door wouldn’t open. The keys were still in place on the inside. I couldn’t wiggle my key in far enough… and it was raining….then the cat needed to be fed and let out… and my son shouted through for coffee…. and by the time I had finally managed a moment to pick up a pen, the entire thing had gone, vanished as if it had never been.

Midway through the morning, with my hands full of soapy dishes, it flashed back into consciousness. I dropped the dishes, dried my hands and grabbed the pencil that is kept on the counter… and realised it had gone again. Completely. Not a single thread of thought joined one moment to the next… yet, I know it is still in there, hiding in the dusty corners of consciousness. Memory, even the memory of a thought, doesn’t disappear. It may be placed beyond our reach in the deepest dungeons of the mind, or the retrieval system may itself fail, but the memories remain.

They can be very good at hiding though.

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When inspiration strikes, it is elusive. Unless captured on the instant, it disappears into the depths of memory and may remain forever hidden. Writers are well used to this phenomenon. Most of us waft around with an assortment of pens and pencils, a notebook or three and have been known to scribble such thoughts down in weird and wonderful ways. The trouble is that when inspiration strikes while you are driving through rush hour traffic on a busy road, you cannot stop to scribble at all and it is both inadvisable and illegal to try to fiddle with the mobile phone’s voice recorder.

Fixing  a thought in memory by speaking it aloud often works. Sometimes, so does creating a visual scene for it in imagination and placing the words and concepts within it. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t. Attention that has held the concept firmly in place is dragged away by events and the moment is lost.

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It isn’t just writing inspiration that comes that way though. The spiritual realisations come in a similar manner and are just as elusive. They can be even more difficult to pin down too as they are often so abstract that a single phrase encapsulates a whole world of meaning… and yet the phrase in itself means nothing; it is only a catalyst and a key, a crack in the doorway that lets the formless light of illumination flood in.

And then it is gone…and you feel as if, for a moment, you had been given the greatest of gifts, only to lose it in the mire.

Nothing is ever is wholly lost. Sometimes memories are placed beyond our reach by our own minds, by malfunction, or buried so deep in the archives that without the correct ‘file-path’ we can never find them again. Sometimes they are buried for a reason..perhaps to protect us from what we are not ready yet to remember or to know. But they are always there.

Just as a story may take years to come to fruition after the first seed of imagination emerges, so too, when the time is right and the ground fertile, will the seeds of inspiration thus planted germinate and bloom.

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Filling the cup

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Image: Pixabay PD

Poised to write, I leafed through the notes scrawled on my pad. I remembered the conversation and context… it was worth writing about. Given the sketchy nature of what I had written, it was a minute or two before I recalled that I had already done so. It isn’t the first time that has happened. I was quite excited about the pondskater notes when I found them the other day too, only to remember a few moments later that the piece had been written some time ago. I turned the page, skimming through scribbles meant to be informative reminders, but whose meaning evades me. Which bones at Newbury?

Odd phrases jump off the page. “Atoms on the body of God, unable to see, not noticed when sloughed…” That sounds like a conversation with my son. “Steal standing stone.” That was for But ‘n’ Ben. “Castigated as outlandish and irrelevant in their time, raised to beatitude when dead. Their beliefs can no longer be questioned…”  Each scribbled phrase a reminder of a conversation, condensed into a few words that convey both much and little.

Some I remember better than others. “Systems are two-dimensional, experience is three-dimensional.” By extension, gnosis, that indefinable grace that comes through no logical channel, could be said to be four-dimensional. It had made perfect sense at the time. Any system of teaching, no matter how beautiful, is of itself, flat. No more than transmitted knowledge. It is not until someone works with a system, experiencing it, that it takes on depth and meaning. It comes to life for them, as a seed comes into bloom with all its colour and perfume. Yet without the seed there would be no flower. Knowledge can be shared, but understanding has to grow and it can only do so through experience.

Then “no problem with memory, just retrieval” seemed rather too appropriate. That was another conversation with my son, but if ever I needed an illustration of what we had been talking about, this was it.

The scribbles in the notebook are just snippets of conversations that lasted hours. An odd phrase that stuck in the mind that was written down later… notes on works in progress… isolated ideas that made it to the page. Yet without the context of the conversation, they relay but the tiniest fraction of what was said and often seem to make little sense. For a while, that bothered me.These were conversations that lit up the mind and sent it spinning down unexplored pathways… and I’d lost them!

Or had I?

Without the step by step volley of ideas, it might be difficult to pin down exactly what we had been talking about and how we arrived at those realisations. It might be hard to put them into meaningful words… the details may fade…but the essence of the experience remains.

Somewhere in the vaults of the mind, every moment is neatly filed away. We could not handle so much detail on the surface of memory. Only those things we need to remember remain at the most immediately accessible level, the rest is buried deeper, requiring a trigger to bring it to the forefront of consciousness. Ideas that accumulate like pennies are exchanged for the banknote of understanding. The pennies are not lost, but they look different and take up less space… we do not need to carry their weight.

No experience, no conversation is ever lost or wasted, even if it seems forgotten. The essence of what we can draw from each moment is added to our store of knowledge and understanding. We would not even try to identify each individual drop that makes up a glass of wine… and how could we, when there is neither beginning nor end to any drop that is part of the whole? Experience fills the cup of life, each moment melding with what has gone before, another drop in the Cup. And sometimes, it sparkles.

You can’t take it with you…

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The hottest day of the year so far and what am I doing? Sunbathing? Gardening? No… I’m building bookshelves and unpacking dusty boxes. They say that you can’t take it with you, but that applies to a more distant removal… a mere downsizing means that you can. At least some of it. Especially if it has pages and a spine.

I did re-home or dispose of a good many books when I moved. I really did. To those who pointed out that I have too many books… I must finally admit that they were right, although not in the way they meant it. I do not…in fact, I believe it is impossible to have too many books. The problem arises when what you lack is bookshelves in which to house them. And walls that have space for more shelves.

For the past few days I and my trusty screwdriver have been tackling the MDF forest. I am currently taking a breather from lugging boxes of books…and looking for the buried-somewhere-I-wouldn’t-lose-it tape measure to see if I can squeeze at least one more bookcase in somewhere.

There is, however, a growing pile of empty boxes on my bedroom floor and several rapidly filling bookcases are finally looking lived-in. Or lived through… which is probably closer to the truth. The books are not just books… they are a reference library, a playground, an adventure… they are a spiritual quest and repository of knowledge… and tucked between their pages are memories.

Many of those memories go back a very long way, to the people who first owned the books. My grandparents’ names are inscribed in copperplate within the covers of many of them. My own is inscribed in a childish hand in those I wait to read to my grandchildren, as I read them to my sons. All of the pages hold memories of the emotions and realisations experienced as I lived an adventure of imagination and learning.

And some of them hold other things, more tangible. Like the photo that fell from between the pages of a children’s story that has my very first ‘love letter’ on the back. Okay, we were ten or eleven… but he sent it because we would miss each other while he was on holiday… and signed it, ‘Love, Neil’…. and my heart felt that first feminine flutter of a daughter of Eve.

He will be middle aged… getting old, just like me. Looking at that handsome young face, though, it did not occur to me to wonder where he is now and what he looks like. I remembered only the tenderness and excitement… the silly things like walking past his door and hoping he would see me… and the thrill of that first letter from Ingoldmells. None of that was in the photograph… just a boy on a beach, but the tide of memory came rolling in.

It was then that I realised that you can ‘take it with you’… and we do.

All the books I have ever read have left their mark, just as all the people I have met have done. Every experience, every word, every lesson. Some have passed through my life with the lightest of touches, barely ruffling the surface of memory, leaving neither footprint nor scar. Others have buried themselves deep and secure in the fastness of my heart and soul.

I realised too why the physical books still matter. Their presence is their trigger. Every day as I pass them, the names on the spines, author and title, nudge memory into action and what I have learned from them, the adventures they have taken me on, the joy I have experienced through them is all brought back closer to the surface. They remind me of who I am, who I was and how I hope to grow. I do not need them… I enjoy them. They do not define me… but they have helped to shape me and, as I revisit the memories in their pages, will continue to do so.

Everything we experience leaves a trace in memory. We dismiss the majority of what we see and do as it lacks emotional importance and it is filed away so carelessly that memory will seldom retrieve it. Other things stay in the surface of the mind… the things that mark or matter, the times of intense emotion or revelation. Even those need a trigger before we recall them. Age, illness and injury make the memories appear to fade… I don’t think that they do, it is our access to them that becomes more difficult or even impossible. But what each of these moments and people have truly given us, that stays with us, changing us as we grow , gradually becoming part of who we are. Whether we dismiss something…or someone… as being of no importance, or embrace the gift we are given in full consciousness… nothing is lost or wasted. Least of all Love.