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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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.

Forget-me-not

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Image Source

As I pulled the book from the shelf and opened it, a flower fell from between its pages. Its colour gone, its petals so fragile they cracked and crumbled as I caught the little thing. Still there was enough left for me to recognise what it was… a little sprig of forget-me-nots. My face remembered before conscious memory kicked in, the smile and the tear meeting halfway across my cheek. It was a long time ago, but for a second, imagination painted two hands where there was now one and the soft blue of the flower glowed ghostly blue. At its centre, the golden eye of a distant sun looked back at me. A very long time ago.

How much my life has changed in twenty years! How much the world itself has changed. Children who have grown into parents, people who have moved through my life, taken centre stage then exited quietly, to other lives or beyond life. Technology has moved at a pace that makes my daily life barely recognisable, opening a world of knowledge and communication whilst closing the doors on many more human moments of contact. Twenty years to see the sharpness of youth fade to softer tones. The hand that gave me that flower would barely recognise so much of my life today.

Yet, so much has not changed. People are still people, with the same hearts and hurts, the same dreams, the same problems. The places are all filled, as generation after generation play an eternal game of musical chairs, each taking the place of those who went before. The sky is still blue, the earth still as green and a babe in arms still has that soft, milky smell as every babe ever born. Forget-me-nots still bloom, and seem to tell a story similar to our own.

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Tiny leaflets pierce the soil, barely distinguishable from any other plant, except to the gardener who knows them well. They grow, and buds small and pale, emerge baby-pink and fragile from the protective cocoon of sepals. As the petals begin to unfurl, their colour changes and deepens as they mature and become what they were always destined to be, opening wide to mirror the sun with a golden heart… then, slowly, they fade through the pastel shades of age, setting seeds that cling to everything with which they come into contact. They are carried far and wide and will spread, perpetuating their delicate beauty long after they are gone.

For a moment time stops as I look at the crumbling flower. I am there and then, yet here and now too and the two are not separate but occupy the same time and space within me as, for a scintilla, I am conscious of being outside of the constraints of perceived time. The moments that unfurl like petals in memory have never left; they are not ‘gone’ or ‘lost’ but remain as part of the garden of my own life and from the memories, as much as the moment when the flower was fresh, seeds are continually sown and grow.

I return the papery fragments to the earth and the flower has gone full circle… my hands are empty, yet the smile and the memory remain and will bloom every time I see a forget-me-not. They always do. No experience is ever lost, it only slips from consciousness to take root in mind or heart.