Finding the way

I stared at the page, knowing what I wanted to say, but unable to find a story, the right words, or some way to give form to the nebulous idea. I had written a few sentences and deleted them just as quickly. They weren’t right somehow. Eventually, I took the hint, closed the page and watched, once again, the video of my first waltz in decades. If I couldn’t write, at least I could smile.

Eventually, I decided to write about pigeons instead of what I’d had in mind. Not as odd an idea as it may seem. Stuart and I had been talking about them a while ago as he had not realised just what amazing creatures they are. I had held my first pigeon when I was very small. Great uncle Wilfred had a pigeon loft at the bottom of the garden and had let me hold a handful of squabs while he cleaned out their nest-box… baby birds with closed eyes and a few yellow tufts of down. I never forgot the feel of their skin, the dark smudges of their closed eyes and the smiling, open beaks waiting blindly for food.

Day-old squabs. Image: Krishnaraj Barvathaya at Wikipedia (CCS4.0)

Years later, my father kept racing pigeons and Waterloo Lofts had something of a reputation for breeding winners in the pigeon-racing world. The birds would be trained by taking them, say, thirty miles away in a basket before releasing them to find their way home. Apart from the odd bird who fell foul of guns, wires and poisoned grain on the way, they always came back.

Their homing instinct is not well understood, but it is thought that they use the sun’s position for mapping and the lines of the earth’s magnetic field as a compass. From thirty miles away and from the vantage point of flight, that doesn’t seem so difficult. But, once a week during the racing season, each fancier would pack up a basket of their birds with water for the trip. They would be loaded into a lorry and sent over the Channel to France before being released.

They were transported overnight, as one basket amongst hundreds stacked in a curtained lorry, with no chance of tracking their position relative to the sun. Yet, within hours of their release, every pigeon-fancier would be out at the loft, waiting to clock in the bids with their special racing rings. It is a passionate business. Racing pigeons have an average speed of around sixty miles per hour over a distance of six hundred miles, though they can fly at up to a hundred miles an hour. The most successful birds can later be sold for breeding for enormous sums, even topping the million mark. But that only explains why racing pigeons is such an absorbing pursuit… not how the birds find their way home.

The ‘map and compass’ theory did not go down well as we discussed it, although the idea of a specialised centre in the brain that can read the earth’s currents was a little more acceptable. Sight and smell probably play their part too, especially helping to locate their own tiny loft roof in a big city. Even so, there is still a mystery that science has yet to satisfactorily explain about their invisible guidance system. To Stuart, though, it was simple; they know what home feels like.

As I watched the video of the waltz and thought about pigeons, I realised that I was seeing the same thing in action with the dance, though at a different level; one partner leads, the guidance so subtle that it remains unseen. The pressure of a hand, the turn of a shoulder… and a good dancer can lead his partner around the floor as together they create a pattern of movement in harmony.

The invisible guidance that allows the pigeon to find its way home or two strangers to dance as one is perfectly natural, even if it is not fully understood. Both logic and science will find ways to describe it… even though such descriptions are not always or wholly right.

I had wanted to write about the inner guidance that is there for us in the silent recesses of the mind and heart, where science is less confident and logic takes us only to knowledge, not understanding. It occurred to me that I had, unwittingly, done so with both pigeons and dance. Unconscious chains of association had joined dots my conscious mind had failed to see; even a scientist would be happy with that explanation.

But there are things still far beyond our understanding and those mysteries add depth and colour to the tapestry of life. When we feel called to a particular place or path, when we find comfort or joy within, when we are sure of the innate rightness of the choices we make, not because of our moral code or upbringing but because we can feel ourselves aligned with a purpose beyond our own, we may seek to understand what it is that calls us. Perhaps there is, like the dancer, an unseen hand that guides. Or maybe, with the pigeons, we are just remembering what Home feels like.

Hunters and gatherers?

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“That’s women’s’ work…” I threw the wet sponge in his direction. Had he not been laughing as he said it, I might have been tempted to throw something more substantial. There was a time, not so very long ago, when the roles of men and women were thus rigidly defined, and women continue to suffer the fallout from centuries of patriarchy, even today. But, I wondered, as I scrubbed the bathroom, where did the whole idea of gender roles come from, and what, in reality, might that mean?

Define your terms, I reminded myself. What was I looking at here? Okay, ‘gender role’ was a bit of a generalisation. There have always been those who crossed the divide, adopting and excelling in areas usually considered the preserve of either male or female.  For anyone with an interest in the Mysteries, that divide is not a physical thing anyway, but speaks more of the energetic nature of the individual, so already the lines become blurred.

We tend to think in terms of male and female in general terms. In the Mysteries we see these as two poles of a single force, rather like a battery, with both poles and an alternating current being required in order for either to function to its full potential. That applies just as much within the individual as within a society. ‘Masculine’ and ‘feminine’ then equate to positive and negative… or dynamic and receptive… with the physical vehicle expressing itself in terms of whichever trait is dominant, and that shifts depending upon both the circumstances in which it finds itself and the level upon which it is functioning.

Then there is the nature of reality itself… which level is real? Is it the level that we experience through the physical senses, the realm of the mind which makes sense of what we experience, or a subtler realm that makes use of both the experience and the understanding we gain from it? Is it possible to say for certain?  Or is it, as esoteric thought teaches, that all manifestations of reality are equally real on their own plane?

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On the physical level, it is probably logical and fair to say that, in the earliest times, roles were defined by function. If the male of the species is generally larger, stronger and fuelled by testosterone, it makes more sense for him to be the warrior and hunter, while the female gives birth, nurtures the young and protects the ‘nest’, tending the hearthfire and such tasks as must be done beside it.

Fair enough. Take it one step up and, on the surface at least, men do seem, on the whole, to be the more dynamic and potentially aggressive side of the equation… though it is also true that the lion is peaceable compared to the lioness when the cubs are threatened.

According to the archaeologists, we were originally a hunter/gatherer species. The temptation might be to think that the men did the hunting while the women gathered the berries and tended the fire, though I am not sure we can generalise here either…and even berries must be hunted first. Maybe we are just a hunting species? Or maybe gathering is a type of hunting that just requires a different approach?

I realised that it was toward this that my thoughts had been meandering. There had been a scintilla of realisation, logged but uncaptured… one of those ‘aha!’ moments that are gone before they arrive, leaving behind them some vague comprehension of we know not what. Such light-bulb moments, however fleeting, are always worth pursuing. Although most of them are lost to the conscious mind, what surfaced momentarily is still in there somewhere. The trick is to let the associations lead you to it…and this type of contemplative meditation that can be exceedingly useful.

All the waffling in my mind led back to a single, simple thought. We are hunters… and while the dynamic hunt on the outer, the receptivity of the tender of the flame hunts on the inner. It need have nothing to do with whether we are men or women, that really is a generalisation although our bodies may reflect aspects of how we work, but only to do with how we function in the world.

The dynamic hunter seeks, finds, acquires… and provides. In physical terms, these are the spear-wielders who bring home the proverbial bacon, actively climb the ladder of success, and wear the mantle of authority and protection.

The receptive hunter looks within, growing and nurturing, as one would a child, teasing out understanding like carding wool and revealing the kernel of wisdom as one would the flour within the grain.

Many societies still frown upon any deviation from the accepted ideal where gender is concerned. ‘Real’ men don’t cry… a woman’s place is in the home… many of our customs, definitions and socially acceptable behaviours still insidiously mirror and encourage this outmoded way of thinking.

Neither society nor individuals can function fully without a balance between the two modes of being, any more than a battery with a single pole will work. By allowing ourselves, and each other, to embrace both sides of who we are… dynamic and receptive, we embrace a richer experience.

Taxi from Hope: A Journey into the Heart of the “Jewel in the Claw” by Jan Malique

Reblogged from Jan Malique at Strange Goings On in the Shed. Jan shares her account of the workshop weekend:

“The two halves of my spirit met and engaged in a dance almost forgotten,
a dance traced in the dust and dirt of ancient places.”

The Scene is Set

My journey from North Wales ended at a station called Hope in Derbyshire. How apt! This priest to be (me) was responding to an invitation to participate in a drama within a drama, Great Hucklow being the destination for this year’s Silent Eye workshop, entitled “The Jewel in the Claw.” The theme of the workshop was a fictitious Elizabethan play set in the year of 1590. This play was the last work of William Shakespeare (of course no such work exists but this is a melding of reality and fantasy).

The dying playwright offered a glimpse into events that shaped the history of a nation on the brink of immense transformation. It involved Elizabeth I gathering a special group of people in the palace of Nonsuch in Surrey for a specific purpose. To prepare the nation and her people for an expansion of knowledge and emergence of a new era. Magic and politics melded to prepare the Group Soul and Mind for the coming age of enlightenment. Friend and foe met within a very special space, one might call them chess pieces moving across a giant chessboard. The black and white of the board representing many things on an esoteric level, duality of human nature, dark and light, polarity, balance.

Continue reading at strangegoingsonintheshed