Found Mounds: Silbury’s Little Brother…

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‘…One of the stops we did manage to make on the way to our second ‘official sojourn’ in Glastonbury was, Merlin’s Mound.

Now, Merlin’s Mound you might have thought would be a well-known tourist attraction boasting hundreds of thousands of visitors a year just like its Big-Sister Mound of Sil-Bury Hill, so called because late legend has a king called Sil buried there along with his treasure, a golden horse.

Not so.

Quite why this is not the case it is difficult to fathom although one possible reason is that Merlin’s Mound is hidden within the grounds of Marlborough College which is a private school.

Of course, there is nothing actually buried in Silbury Hill because it isn’t a burial mound at all and the Golden Horse is far more likely to refer to the sun which, knowing the folk responsible for its construction, probably set behind the hill when viewed from one of the other sites in the area, or seemingly rose from it, and I did not learn that at any school, private or otherwise…

“Which would make it Sol-Bury Hill, anyway,” says Wen.

…Now, I was lucky enough to come across Merlin’s Mound because I attended a conference in the grounds of the college and I have to say I was astonished to learn of its existence but not half as astonished as I was to learn of its size.

In fact for a long time I was fairly sure that although Silbury Hill was regarded as Merlin’s Bigger Sister, size wise, there was not an awful lot in it.

“Silbury Hill is much bigger,” says Wen.

“I’m not so sure.”

“Much bigger, Merlin’s Mound only looks comparable because it dwarfs the buildings that currently hide it so effectively.”

“I don’t think there’s much in it.”

“What does Silbury Hill have to give it scale?”

“No, there’s not a lot else in the vicinity is there.”

“This is one reason why accurate measurement is so important.”

But anyway, and more importantly than accurate measurement of any kind, work is currently ongoing in the renovation of Merlin’s Mound and we are able to walk two-thirds the way around its newly refurbished spiral path-way and I have to say although it was something of a disappointment not to be able to get all the way to top in other ways it was not such a bad thing after all for just getting two thirds the way up was giving me a rather ‘heady’ feeling.

“I know,” says Wen. “Me too. What’s the line in, ‘A House on the River’ when Aeth’s troop, in all their glory, is approaching the strong-hold of Aillil Silver-Tongue and Sweet-Mouthed Maeve?”

“My head may as well be in a vat full of wine…”

“My head may as well be a vat full of wine,” laughs Wen, and I laugh too.

Although, to be strictly accurate in our comparison, the experience is far, far better than drinking or indeed, being wine…

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Synchronicities…

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It has been our policy for some time now to ask Companions to bring readings for inclusion in our Landscape Weekends…

We first tried this on the Glastonbury Walk-and-Talk weekend and were delighted with the results.

The energies of the earth it seems respond favourably to the human voice, especially when it is utilised to bring forth heartfelt emotion…

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…Our readings to date have ranged far and wide over a spectrum of traditions and forms although it seems that the shorter pieces, generally, have more effect.

On the now distant ‘Circles Beyond Time: Seeking the Seer’ weekend one of our Companions chose to give a rendition, unaccompanied of a Robin Williamson composition, October Song.

Coincidentally, we were due to attend a Robin Williamson concert later that week and so the opportunity to tie these two events together became irresistible…

It is a relatively old song now, if age has any meaning for a song, and it was once described by Bob Dylan as ‘quite good’…

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‘I’ll sing you this October song,
Oh, there is no song before it.
The words and tune are none of my own,
for my joys and sorrows bore it…’

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‘…Beside the sea
The brambly briars, in the still of evening,
Birds fly out behind the sun,
and with them, I’ll be leaving…’

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‘…The fallen leaves that jewel the ground,
They know the art of dying,
And leave with joy their glad gold hearts,
In the scarlet shadows lying…’

‘…When hunger calls my footsteps home,
The morning follows after,
I swim the seas within my mind,
And the pine-trees laugh green laughter…’

‘…I used to search for happiness,
And I used to follow pleasure,
But I found a door behind my mind,
And that’s the greatest treasure…’

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‘…For rulers like to lay down laws,
And rebels like to break them,
And the poor priests like to walk in chains,
And God likes to forsake them…’

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‘…I met a man whose name was Time,
And he said, “I must be going, ”
But just how long ago that was,
I have no way of knowing…’

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‘…Sometimes I want to murder time,
Sometimes when my heart’s aching,
But mostly I just stroll along,
The path that he is taking…’

October Song, Robin Williamson.

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I rather think that the stones of Carl Wark enjoyed our Companion’s rendition of this song, and I’d also like to think that Robin would have been pleased with it too…

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Damaged vessels

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There are good days and bad ones, and some that are just plain odd. Waking this morning in a cosy bed, emerging from dreams of light and beauty, I lay there in the pre-dawn softness feeling that today was going to be good. Images forming in my mind of the painting to be done, the colours already occupying the table downstairs… all ready for an early start. Time to stretch and get moving. And I’ll finally get my car back today, all fixed from the garage.

I open my eyes… well, that was the general idea. Only nothing much happened.

Any lingering visions of beauty from my dreams faded in front of the bathroom mirror as I contemplated a reflection I was none too keen on. Dripping icy water, the eyes opened just enough to show me it wasn’t a good idea to look. Vanity was not happy with the sight. They were swollen shut. And my hands were as bad. Novel, though. I sort of look as if I’ve done ten rounds in a prizefighter and lost.

Cold compresses for the next hour, anti-inflammatories and antihistamines to be on the safe side, and I could just about switch the computer on, if not actually see it much. By eight, the eyes were open a bit and the hands moveable. The head and neck aches made their presence felt and a call to the doctor was in order. So I await yet more results. Why am I surprised….?

So painting has gone out of the window so far today and writing is a bit of a struggle… but I can’t just sit and twiddle my thumbs and the mind doesn’t switch off regardless. So I await two phone calls… one from the doctor and another from the garage where my little car is in for repair.

I was thinking about the current physical hiccups, all more annoying than anything else, much like the car. She drives like a dream and is my pride and joy, elderly and shabby as she is. The repairs are just down to age and wear. I saw the comparison of course and got to wondering what the purpose might be, what I am supposed to learn and take away from this passage. Quite apart, of course, from the simple realisation that I will not get any younger, even if my mind appears to.

One thing, of course, that stands out in sharp relief is the contrast between my body and I. It is not ‘me’. I am full of energy, raring to go, bursting at the seams with ideas and feel younger and more vibrant than I have for a very long time. This past year seems to have vivified me in some indefinable way and I feel alive and full of laughter, a sort of beaming smile of the soul. The body, however, seems more inclined to indulge in a wry and mocking grin. That it is merely the vehicle in which I move through the world seems patently obvious as I look at the discrepancy and wait for the repair guys to fix it.

I remembered a picture I had seen somewhere a while ago, an example of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending broken vessels. The broken pot is fixed together with a lacquer that looks like pure gold, rendering the object even more lovely and precious than before. Almost celebrating the breaking as, it is said, the damage means the vessel has a history and survived to grow in beauty.  Someone cared enough too, to undertake the delicate work.

It is not quite that simple but is analogous, perhaps, to the human condition. In order to grow in beauty through any kind of suffering, we have to pick up the pieces and be prepared to fashion them into something new, taking a little time and care, holding the cracks together with the gold of joy, hope and purpose.

It may be an odd day today, but it is still a good one, even though my plans have changed and I will probably not paint. However, I do need to go and bring my little car home…. And that is a joy in itself.

Lost in translation

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We were talking today about how much is lost in translation. This was being discussed from an abstract, as well as a literal viewpoint.

It started with a conversation about books and moved on to language in general and thence to poetry and song. I mentioned Jacques Brel, a poet, singer and performer of, in my opinion, utter genius, who wrote almost exclusively in French. Many people know the songs for which he was best known, even though they are generally known best in English as cover versions.

To take one of the original songs and translate it into literal but literate English is fine.. it allows access to the meaning, but not the poetry. To take the original and make it into a song that has rhyme and rhythm is wonderful.. but it then loses must of the lyricism and the depth of meaning and emotion created by the choice  and juxtaposition of words that create that unique imagery.

Yet Brel sang with absolute passion and emotion. I would point the curious in the direction of the incredible recording of his concert at l’Olympia, available piecemeal on Youtube. Each song is a showstopping performance and portrayal of human emotion. Even when the lyrics are not understood, one cannot help but be moved by the emotion. Understand the words and it is simply stunning. Look for ‘Ces gens la’, ‘Jef’ and ‘Ne me quittes pas’. I remember well the first time I saw that last recording on TV. I knew the song word for word. My husband, himself a singer/songwriter, sang it frequently. Yet, I sat, mid dusting, mouth open in utter amazement and with tears streaming down my cheeks as I watched and listened.

I have to say that I think Brel understood living with passion.

Of course, the discussion then moved on to how other things are lost in translation. Especially the abstract personal concepts that deal with the evolution of the self.  It is not a secret that that SilentEyeSchool seeks to promote a way of living in vivid colour, a way of moving through life with passionate awareness and on to another level of being.  It is exceptionally difficult, sometimes impossible, to share in words the depth of emotion a spiritual realisation can give. There are expreiences off the normal scale for which there are no common phrases or images. And they are uniquely personal.

Yet, as teachers we have to find the words, the images, the scenario that will illustrate and suggest to the mind of the student something abstract and subjective. We have to describe a spiritual ‘taste’, and if you think about it, even that sense of taste, something we are all very familiar with right from birth, carries impossibility.

How can you describe a taste? You can compare it, say it is similar to or different from.. you can generalise and say it is sweet, acid, savoury… but you cannot describe a taste accurately. Nor, if you think about it can you describe an emotion. It is something you can only learn for yourself through experience. Although you may be able to learn if it will be pleasant or painful in advance, you cannot know how it feels until you feel it. Sometimes the best way to share it is to show it, allow it to be observed and witnessed. Sometimes all you can do is point the way.

The School takes students down tried and tested pathways. We walk them ourselves. It gives a map and a companion, and, if you will, a set of tools to use along the way.Yet ultimately the experience will be as different for each of us as we are from each other, and each will find they take their own unique journey with its own flavour.

Without words

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Good morning. It is sunny today, with the sky a clear cerulean blue. My grandmother always said it was going to be a fine day if there was enough blue in the sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers. Today I could probably kit out the entire navy. If the makers of paint could capture this colour in all its transparency, they’d make a fortune. Not that they don’t already, given the price of artists colours.

There is a heavy frost this morning though and the cold has me by the throat, both literally and metaphorically. The dog has the door standing wide open, the heating has gone on strike again and my son’s prayers have been answered. I will not be singing today. My throat is as swollen as if I’d talked all through the night. I vaguely remember that scenario.

I am lucky at present. I see my son every day and the depth of the conversation we share can be astonishing for stone-cold sober and mid-morning. We can cover ground from the most ridiculous to the deepest philosophical debate, passing via music and neurology, pizza and sturgeon to the nature of God and the soul. But other than Nick the majority of my days are spent in silence, apart from a very dear friend on the phone from afar and my conversations with the dog.

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There are few things I enjoy more than settling down to long, varied and frequently random discussions over a bottle of good wine with a friend. Living in France was a perfect introduction to that, because there is always cheese. If there is cheese left, it is almost obligatory to open a second bottle to accompany it, and if there is bread left, one needs more cheese… it would be wasteful not to… and so it goes on, sometimes all night. Conversations can go very deep at these times.

We don’t talk enough. Or not about things that really matter. We chatter about the simple things, mundane problems, the latest news but we seldom seem to have time to sit and simply listen to each other these days. Or even to listen to the world around us. One of the downsides of electronic conversation is that it is often so short and factual. We cover the necessities and rarely allow heart to speak to heart, sharing the inner depths of who we are and what matters, really matters, to us as a person.

Listening, I think, is one of the greatest gifts we can give. To listen, with ears and heart and mind while someone shares themself with you is a beautiful thing. And you can hear as much in the silence between the words as you can in the words themselves.

Mind you, I have no objections to silence either. It is, after raising a family, a luxury. I have always loved silence and it was a rarity in a household full of growing children. It is an animated silence, my mind seldom quiet, pursuing trains of thought down convoluted alleyways, imagination always online and seeking ways of expression. There is a richness in this type of silent working that can be drowned in the normal noise of everyday life. One can see the value of the contemplative life. Though, as a friend has said on many occasions, I was not cut out to be a nun. I would be constantly doing penance…

There are also, though, moments where the internal dialogue stills into quiet. The dog is usually asleep at these times, the distant road noise hushed and the only sound in the village the song of birds.  At those times the surface mind is silent and something deeper still can speak in the heart. There are no words, just a knowing, yet it is communication. There is something within that reaches inwards and upwards, deeper and wider than the conscious chatter of mind, and it is answered by something deeper still that seems to be waiting with arms open wide. It comes out to meet us like a friend and lover that has been waiting for our presence and listens in the silence of those moments only to the murmuring of the soul.

A Preponderance of Stone: Pentre Ifan…

Images and Text from the Silent Eye Workshop: Whispers in the West…

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HM15 953Angles of Approach…

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HM15 969Concord of Stones…

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HM15 970Step forward Spirit…

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HM15 998Claws of what?…

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HM15 997Pinnacle and Fulcrum…

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HM15 977Aligning the Sky…

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HM15 973Thresholds in Time…

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HM15 961‘Shroom Cap Stoop…

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HM15 990Guarding the Shade…

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HM15 959Seeing through Stone…

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