All in the feeling?

It was a beautiful morning. I had watched a barn owl glide across the field as dawn limned the horizon with gold and palest pink. The sky was beginning to turn blue and the drive to work on almost-empty roads was accompanied by birdsong. It was one of those mornings where it felt good to be alive…. even though, I realised with a start, I wasn’t sure I really knew what that meant.

How does it feel to be alive? It is not as if most of us have anything to compare it with. It is an either/or situation and anything in between is actually neither, for consciousness seems to be elsewhere. What we think of as ‘feeling alive’ is really feeling emotion and sensation. It is hard to even separate thoughts, emotions and perceptions from who we are and how it feels to be us, here, now.

How did I feel? When I looked at it from this new perspective, I could not answer. Take away the sensation of sitting in a car… the pressure of seat and wheel, the thrum of the engine, the warmth of the morning rays through the glass, the faint tang of petrol and the sound of birds. Take away the emotions that react to movement, to the start of a day’s work, to spring mornings and the first cherry blossom… and what is left?

Were my body unable to feel, see, hear or otherwise engage the senses, I would still be alive. If heart and mind were so numbed that I was dead to emotion, or if consciousness were lost, I would still be alive. It would be no kind of life from our normal perspective, but it would still be life. How would that feel?

It is odd that we use that word, ‘feeling’, for so many different purposes, from emotion, to touch, from opinion to health…as if we cannot dissociate our idea of being alive from feeling in some form or another.

I slowed to watch a hunting hawk, feeling the discomfort caused by the pressure of foot on pedal, wishing, for a moment, that my body still behaved as it had when I was young. Could I remember what it felt like to be young? Not the thoughts, physical sensations or even the uncertain, unconfident emotions of youth, but what it actually felt like to be young? No, I realised, I could not. Nor could I even say, in those same terms, what it felt like to be older. Yesterday and today are too vague. There is only what I feel like now.

I could catalogue sensation, emotion and reaction, but that is all just a processing of sensory and social input. If the body is the interface between the world and the brain and the brain the interface between body and mind, mind must be the interface between the brain and… what? Consciousness? Being? Spirit? Soul? What was the next link in the chain… Where is the ‘I’ in all of that…and is there even an ‘I’ at all?

Caught in the limbo between home and destination, yesterday and tomorrow, there was only the road and the moment and both were part of a journey, a process in a constant state of change, but not without purpose.

For a moment, there was a glimpse beyond normality to Mystery. For a moment, I almost understood. But such things cannot be grasped, only, for want of a better word, felt. All that remained to put into thought was the consciousness of a road that leads to a somewhere that is everywhere. A somewhere that makes no distinction, no separation, between the road, the traveller and the destination. Only the journey is.

There is an odd sort of serenity in that. The vehicle may break down, the traveller may not know the way and the road may fail, but the journey is always itself, carrying us forward with purpose.

Subject to change…

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The red kites lit the sky with their grace, but the weather did the landscape no favours. I drove away from the damp grey of Buckinghamshire without a qualm on Thursday, heading north for the monthly meeting of the Silent Eye… and a days of freedom from the constraints of necessity. I had plenty of time so planned a leisurely meander up the A5 which, for much of its course, follows the old Roman Iter II, better known by its Anglo-Saxon name of Watling Street. The rain would make travelling on the motorway hazardous with the spray and the inevitable lunatics, and I’d rather take the back roads any day.

I also thought I should probably, and finally, call at Lichfield Cathedral. I will have to at some point, but I am always too early on the way back and on the drive up I am usually too hungry for the hills. So that was decided. I would visit the Norman Cathedral with its odd spires en route. I should have known better than to decide anything. It doesn’t seem to work like that. We long since realised that we go where we are guided when the time is right… and I thought I could make plans?

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It was not to be. Watling Street was closed and barred by a large lorry. I was obliged to reroute and take the motorway, grumbling to myself as I turned the wheel. For the next hour I submitted to poor visibility and lousy conditions. My nice shiny car was now coated in liquid dirt and the habitual muscular tension of modern life had a firm grip on my shoulders.

Even so, my mind was free to roam; the external conditions of fast moving and uncontrollable traffic could not restrain the imagination. It occurred to me how similar that was to the way we move through the world… no matter what the day brings or how our plans are scuppered, we are obliged to adapt to the moment as it unfolds. And regardless of what happens outside or how mud-splattered we may get, our inner being is still our own and affected only by what we choose to allow to write its name upon our minds and emotions.

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The rain was sheeting across the windscreen, with visibility barely see more than a few yards in the terrible weather. The concentration required for safety left little room to notice anything else and the driving was tiring. I left the motorway at the earliest reasonable opportunity, intending to cut across country on a fast road and pick up the lanes I love through the Derbyshire Dales. It was only then, with the motorway mere yards behind, that you realised that the teeming rain was a false impression, churned up by the wheels of others. All the sky really held was a gentle spring shower. The local conditions of the motorway were, in truth, an illusion… but none the less real for all that. They still had to be navigated and addressed while you were caught within them. And that too seemed to mirror the human journey.

I had, unfortunately, left the motorway a junction too early for the road I intended to take. I had to smile at that… yet another accident of the road. I couldn’t check the map while driving so I would, once more, have to rethink. The road took me through Breedon where the church that perches high above the village holds a treasure trove of carved stones. Oddly enough ‘Don’ and ‘Wen’ had used some of them in their ‘correspondence’. I wasn’t calling there again though… that would wait till Stuart was with me one of these days.

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Still, it meant I knew roughly where I was. I followed the road, heading towards town I knew lay in the general direction I needed to be until I saw a sign for Repton. That rang a bell, though I couldn’t remember why… until I followed the winding lane that took me to a signpost pointing to ‘the ancient capital of Mercia’. That was it. I had looked for Repton and failed to find it when I had been to Breedon. So having found it by accident I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I parked near the market cross and headed off to explore the ancient church, grinning to myself at how these things have a life and agenda all of their own.

It was a considerable time later when I finally crossed into ‘my’ patch of Derbyshire, where the lanes are now as familiar as home. I cursed as I saw the huge buzzard perched on the lamppost… there was nowhere for me and the camera to stop just here. But it didn’t really matter… as a guardian of the way and welcoming committee he was a welcome sight.

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A few miles further on I cursed again as the distant snake of stationary traffic warned of roadworks. Drawing closer something caught my eye above the green fields and suddenly the curse became a prayer that the lights would change to red and halt my progress. The prayer was answered and I watched the buzzards for a good five minutes until the traffic moved once more. I even got a picture or two. Which just goes to show that even in apparent setbacks and delays there is room for the gift of joy.

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