Riding the rapids

 

I feel like a limp rag at the moment. It has been a hectic few weeks… just an accumulation of small things. Most of it has just been busy, some of it, behind the scenes, has not been so good and it is that side of things that has me feeling as if I had been squashed by a small but determined behemoth.

Not that it matters. There is  always Stuff to be done, regardless…  and a dog who seems to think it is fun to bound through the deep and muddy puddles in the fields every day, leaving me with floors to scrub, just for good measure. She also seems to think it is her bounden duty to keep the door between my shivering carcass and the frozen world wide open by parking her backside in it. However, it is a backside I love and her lunacy keeps me smiling even in the worst moments. She reads me so well I am sure she chooses to be more idiotic than usual when she knows I need to smile.

And we all have them, don’t we … those ‘worst moments’? Life seldom follows our hopes and dreams, nor does it always flow gently. There are rapids and currents, white water and hidden rocks and while some seem to have found a current of smooth silver that sparkles in the sunlight, it is impossible for the casual observer to see what lies beneath the beautiful reflections and shimmering ripples.

But,  it is not the course of the river that defines who we are… no matter how battered we may seem by the rocks and eddies of the stream. We define ourselves by our own actions, by our thoughts and choices and it is neither feasible nor possible to expect others to know or understand the myriad combinations that have led any one of us to a particular fork in the river. We cannot know over which pebbles a drop has flowed or where the mud has clouded the water. We see only the part of the stream we have shared and have to do our best to understand each other with that limited knowledge.

Yet there is another way. If we cannot know the whole story of another, we can know our own. We cannot always know what has guided the path of others, but we can, with inner honesty, know ourselves. It is not an easy thing to look within and see ourselves as we truly are, though ‘Know Thyself’ is possibly the most oft-quoted phrase in the world of spiritual seeking. More often than not we look only at the reflection of self that we see in the stream… a reflection we have created and projected onto the moving waters of our personal world. It may not be pretty, it may not be what we would like it to be. Ripples will distort it, clouds and foam will shadow it… but it is ours and familiar… comfortable.

Yet the reflection is not the stream. Nor is it the reality it mirrors.

 

That reflection is our focus, and others looking on may find their gaze drawn there also, into the flowing waters of the stream of life… yet what is reflected there is real. It stands above the water, separate. It stands in quiet stillness upon the bank and is not pulled by currents or battered by rapids, seeing a wider view of the landscape… looking back to whence the stream has come and forward to where it flows. It may see the waterfall ahead and understand the currents, or the tumbling wash over jagged rocks that explain the roiling pools. It sees too those calm places where the reflection is perfect and gazes back with clear and knowing eyes.

If we can live in the awareness of that true self and not in the rippled reflection, knowing ourselves for who and what we truly are there is a deeper peace and a greater understanding of the tides which move us, each one of us. In learning to see ourselves, our actions and choices in a clear and ever present light we glimpse that wider landscape and see that no matter what the stream is doing or how it churns the reflection, we remain. We can drink from the waters of life and find them clean and pure and as we stoop to drink our image comes closer to meet us… and as we drink they kiss and become One.

Seeding thoughts

dawn 019

I woke early and, instead of crawling grudgingly out of the warm bed as usual, I lay in thought for a few minutes. I had not moved anything except my eyelids; Ani couldn’t possibly know I was awake yet… could she? Well, on past showing yes, but honestly, it wasn’t even daylight. I have long since lost the habit of lounging in bed on a morning. Children and dogs require attention and years of getting up bleary eyed to deal with them build a habit it would be nice to break.

On the other hand, I get the dawns, so I can’t complain.

I was musing over something I had read before sleep from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “Matter is spirit moving slowly enough to be seen.” Scientifically, go ahead and shoot me down in flames, but the idea caught my attention as it accords with how I have always seen the world.

I like de Chardin. He was a French Jesuit priest with a passion for palaeontology and geology. A scientist with faith. On the one hand his feet firmly planted in earth, on the other a soul that soared. I may not share his particular facet of faith, nor all his views, but it is through difference that we explore and learn. I can see, though, a man who believed with his heart, used his mind to seek understanding and lived his personal faith as best he could and that, regardless of the detail, always holds something special.

I agree with him on this, though. Regardless of scientific arguments for or against, when we take that simple image of ‘slow-moving spirit’ and use it as a lens through which we look at the world, the natural order takes on a new depth. If we see all as spirit moving at different speeds… long and slow for the rocks and mountains, faster for our little human lives, faster still, perhaps, for air … then we begin to see a universal fraternity, a kinship with all the manifestations of life and, for me, that leads to a single stream of Being that runs through everything that we know.

We could even look at ourselves in that light, seeing the dense, physical matter of the body as the slowest-moving manifestation of spirit, our emotions, perhaps, as rather faster, picking up speed to mind and thought. And that is without exploring the subtler realms of the soul which, in terms of that image, must be faster still and thus closer to the source.

It makes me think of the centrifuge that separates a homogenous fluid into its component weights except that the fluidity in this case is that of the spirit.

It is just this kind of seed that grows in the imagination; a small phrase, an image, a word… that if allowed to put down roots and work its way through the fertile ground of the mind can engender the flowers of realisation. It doesn’t take much. It doesn’t even have to be provably or objectively true if it leads to a deeper understanding on a personal level.

Thinking about it led me straight back to what is, perhaps, the most widely known quote from de Chardin, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” That small shift in emphasis makes life seem a completely different thing. And from there to another, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” You don’t have to share de Chardin’s faith to get the idea; there is a joy that comes when the universal unity of Being is recognised and we see ourselves as part of an expanding perfection. The presence of the divine, however we conceive It, cannot help but illuminate the moment with joy. It is in those moments we feel One with the unfolding of a beauty in which we are enfolded; where words cease to be enough and only the moment holds meaning, yet it is a moment that spans eternity.

Full Circle: Sunset

After our recent workshop in Cumbria, we took the last of our companions back to Castlerigg for the sunset. It would be our third visit of the day…and three is a magical number. The three gentlemen who had been there that morning, and who had joined us then as we greeted the dawn, had also returned at dusk. They stood silent as the three of us joined hands and sang the sunset and then we introduced ourselves.

Six people, from thousands of miles apart, joined in a moment of unity, sharing the magic of place and time. Our backgrounds vary, the beliefs in which we were raised are different, the paths we have chosen are diverse… and yet, in that moment, we shared peace. Nothing mattered beyond the bond created by the Light within.

Image courtesy of Wayne

We shared an impromptu ceremony, and one of the gentlemen, who follows a shamanic path, spoke the words of a native American blessing.  It was perfect for the moment, and, later, seeking the words of the prayer online, I came across a Lakota prayer that I found beautiful in its all-embracing simplicity.

Great Mystery,

teach me how to trust

my heart,

my mind,

my intuition,

my inner knowing,

the senses of my body,

the blessings of my spirit.

Teach me to trust these things

so that I may enter my Sacred Space

and love beyond my fear,

and thus Walk in Balance

with the passing of each glorious Sun.

The prayer begins with trust… something we seem afraid to do far too often these days. We do not trust ourselves, let alone those around us. We seek the reassurance of approbation, rather than trusting heart, mind, body and spirit. But one line stood out for me more than the rest: To love beyond my fear…

For Christians, this season celebrates the birth of Jesus, who loved beyond fear and who taught “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The Solstice celebrates the moment when the year turns from dark to light… as we would if we could ‘love beyond fear’.  It matters little what beliefs we hold, there is something in these words worth considering.

If we trust, and love beyond our fears, we may end up disappointed. If we choose to live in fear and distrust, we start from that position, leaving no place for light and hope.

As the sun set over Castlerigg, the casual observer, had there been any, might have seen half a dozen hippy-types holding hands and doing ‘weird stuff’ in a stone circle. Within the circle, strangers came together, in a moment of grace, offering and receiving blessings, in love, trust and acceptance… and it was beautiful.

Full Circle: The final curtain…

On most of our workshop weekends, we offer a ‘greeting of the dawn’ at one of the ancient sites. The winter workshops are perfect for this as the sun rises so much later, but as we are at the mercy of the season, the weather and the time local hotels serve breakfast, these are always optional. Usually we choose a place we would not otherwise get to visit, but this time, really, there was only one place to choose… Castlerigg. The stone circle nestles within a circle of hills and there can be few more spectacular settings for an ancient and sacred site.

Not everyone relishes such an early start, and we had made it clear that this would be a brief visit, just for the dawn… we would be gathering there later to end the official part of the weekend. Nevertheless, almost everyone chose to come and greet the birth of morning.

It was still almost dark when the first of us arrived, getting the circle briefly to ourselves. Others arrived shortly afterwards, both from our own party and fellow travellers. It soon became obvious that although we would be there for the dawn, we would not be able to stay for the sunrise. The mountains of the Lake District that ring the circle would not reveal the sun’s face for some time, as it climbed behind the bulk of Helvellyn.

As we gathered to sing a chant to the sun, marking its still-invisible rising, Steve invited three gentlemen who were obviously of our own mind in these matters to join us. We frequently share these sites with others, but we have yet to meet anyone unsympathetic or disrespectful of what we do… and you can usually tell those who will join with us for a moment. Seeds of possibility are planted when you follow such promptings… and these seeds we would see come to fruition later that day.

After we had greeted the sun, we all headed back to our hotels for breakfast and for most to check out. It was typical that our road led us to a gap in the hills where we did see the sun rise in splendour. It would take another hour in the circle, but at least we were able to stop and experience a moment’s glory.

Later, we gathered once more at Castlerigg. This time, we explored the stones, speaking a little of the five thousand year history of the site, its solar alignments and the curious effect where the shapes of the stones shadow the contours of the hills.

We spoke too of resonance… that curious phenomenon where the vibrations in one object will set off a similar vibration in another. We attempted to demonstrate with tuning forks, but the wind…and our lightweight tuning forks… made it almost impossible to hear the sympathetic vibrations. We had used sound at the sacred sites over the weekend in a very simple form. We have used it at other locations in various forms too and each time felt we were brushing the edges of something. How important was sound  and resonance in these circles where the greater reality was recreated in microcosmic form? It was something to ponder.

The theme of our weekend had been ‘finding the way home’. Could the world of our ancestors be considered ‘home’… that staring point of any journey? What did they see as ‘home’? Were these circles designed, at least in part, to allow our ancestors to access the Otherworld… the realm of the stars or the hollow hills…and were these seen as aspects of the same state of being? These are questions to which each must find their own answers, perhaps, but it may be that in asking such questions, we find something we did not know we had lost.

In the shelter of the tallest stone, there was a final meditation, placing ourselves as points of light within the Web of Light, where the heavens and the earth meet, shaped by the energies of star realm and our physical home, one with Creation. There was a simple sharing of the symbolic elements of life… and then it was time to leave. The wind was bitter now that the sun had risen, and a coach full of tourists had just arrived.

We drove to Keswick in search of warmth and coffee, after which life began to call the party back from wherever we had been, somewhere outside of time for a little while. Some took their leave and went off to explore, others shared lunch and wandered down to the lake.

Steve lives in the area and knows Keswick well. We walked along the edge of the park to where he could show us his favourite view. The rise of the land hid the town as he stood with the hills at his back, while before us, the afternoon sun sparkled on Derwentwater, reminding us how short the winter day would be. Walking back to the cars, we took our leave of each other. Most were returning home, but we still had a place or two left to visit… but that is another story.

(Click the highlighted links in the text for more on Castlerigg and its history and a demonstration of sympathetic resonance on Youtube)

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The Silent Eye runs three informal workshops in the landscape each year as well as a residential workshop every April. If you are interested in coming along, further details can be found on our Events page.

Hearing Beyond Fear…

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We do not take these things lightly.

We try to approach them as informally as possible.

We want to share their magic and inspiration with others.

We want people to enjoy them as we do, in respect and reverence.

We ask people to give as they receive.

We never ask anyone to do anything we are not also prepared to do.

We never insist they take part in any of the exercises or meditations.

We meet always as a community to share our experiences and to learn.

We leave in peace and harmony.

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Being Beyond Seeing…

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One of the ‘hardy perennials’ on many of our workshops is the thorny problem of intent.

Thorny because much of what we now see may not have been originally intended by the erstwhile perpetrator or perpetrators, yet some of what remains most definitely was!

On our recent sojourn around Cornwall, having been cruelly divested of our guide book, we still managed to find one particular unsought spot ‘blind’, as it were, and this is pretty much the task we had now set our Companions…

The telluric current we were ‘following’ passed through the remains of Penrith Castle and on through the site of the Old Church.

The legends that attach themselves to these sites in many cases assume the outward appearance of unbelievable ‘gibberish’ and most certainly do not follow the reasonably delineated form of history, official or otherwise…

And yet, the wry smile which they inievitably engender, the moments reflection which they sometimes inspire, if held onto, and wondered about, and returned to, and nurtured, may well turn into a personal revelation carrying more truth than any spuriously contrived history.

Did Arthur’s Knights ever fight Dragons was the unspoken question gnawing away at the fringes of consciousness? There were none which immediately sprang to mind. And if not, then why not? Given their raison d’etre it would, at first sight, be an obvious way for them to spend their time.

The telluric current we were ‘following’ specifically passed through the body of Penrith Parish Church and was marked on either side by a Sun Dial and a conglomeration of stones which now goes by the moniker of the Giant’s Grave.

The plinth on which the Sun Dial now stands is undeniably late, but has it recently replaced a much earlier one? The conglomeration of stones are much, much, earlier but how long have they been associated with a Giant?

Perhaps, at least as long as the story of Yvain and his friendly lion…

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Feeling Beyond Form…

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We certainly hadn’t intended to talk about Arthur, let alone Merlin when we pencilled in Penrith as the starting point for our weekend workshop.

But the land has a way of communicating it’s own ‘sweet terror’ and when we came across a Welsh Triad referencing Penrith or ‘Pen Rhionydd’ as one of the ‘Seats’ of the legendary British King the ‘cogs’ had inevitably started to turn…

Our June workshop in Dorset had thrown up some poignant ideas with regard to how the ‘ancients’ might be regarding their kinship with Mother Earth…

The constellation we now know as Orion, with its mid-summer rising over the Cerne Abbas hill figure may well have gone under a different name in former times and we still have Arthur’s Wain or ‘Waggon’ illuminating a course across the night sky, better known today as The Plough…

Since our research for the very first literary outing we penned together we had been aware of a plethora of local legends that predated our national Dragon Slayer, George, himself a late medieval replacement for Edmund, as Patron Saint of our Blessed Isles and all relating a similiar tale of sinuous earth energies ‘brought to book’.

The Lambton Wyrm, The Wantley Wurm, and The Laidley Worm, which also featured in our September workshop, to name but a few that we had, only recently, encountered.

Could the notions of authentic, living-land directed, leadership and ‘snake charming’ be linked in some esoteric way we had singularly failed to spot?

Our thoughts came home to Penrith with a jolt of recognition.

The ‘Spirit of Place’ had certainly been operative all those years ago when first it had impinged upon our consciousness and insisted we cross the busy main road to say, ‘Hello’…

And was that any different from being dragged to Dragon Hill at Uffington, or being repeatedly accosted by Glastonbury Tor, not to mention our Ambush by Stone at Long Meg? etc.

What were these sites trying to say?

There was really only one way to find out…

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