“Religion is a matter of diet. You must choose what suits your spiritual digestion, I suppose.”
Naomi Jacob, ‘Four Generations’.
“Religion is a matter of diet. You must choose what suits your spiritual digestion, I suppose.”
Naomi Jacob, ‘Four Generations’.
I couldn’t sleep. I’d gone to bed sleepy, read until I could read no more, then snuggled down expecting the inner lights to go out within minutes. An hour later I was still waiting… and wide awake. It might have had something to do with the discomfort in my hand. Nothing to do with typing too much of course… not possible. I gave in and got up, heading for hot milk and more of the damnable painkillers. I wasn’t best pleased about the whole affair as I need to be up by six at the latest, Sunday or not, and it had been after midnight when I had finally gone to bed in the first place.
The previous night it had been the wind howling outside. It is odd, I have no qualms about being high on a hilltop in the wind, buffeted by gusts and struggling to stay upright. That I enjoy. But I don’t like the noises the house makes in a gale. I hadn’t particularly cared for the creaks and groans of the trees either when Ani and I had been out for our walk. But I had slept as soon as the rain began to batter the windows. That I find soothing.
It is strange the associations we make with sensory impressions and how deeply they are ingrained and affect behaviour. The smell of candlewax I find both comfortable and uplifting. The sound of rain on an umbrella is happy… and on canvas the memories of camping trips and laughter come back. The list is endless…
I was thinking about it when I was cuddling my granddaughter. The small sounds of a sleepy child seem to trigger the competence of motherhood again. The body knows what to do…how to lift and hold, how to rock and calm. Probably with far more confidence now than when the skills were first learned. The smell of paint reminds fingers what to do to create an image. The touch of flour tells them how to make pastry. The sound of a waltz reminds the feet how to dance.
I wondered how much our memory is rooted in the physical. All of it in some ways, as we can only experience through the senses. We know there is muscle memory, a pattern known to the body that it can repeat with increasing ease and accuracy as we learn new skills. Then we add the overlay of emotion, of course… a context that frames and defines each memory and colours our perception each time they are triggered. It is all part of the constant programming that builds up the layers of individuality that make us who we are.
Our experiences of the world are pretty limited really… limited by the portals of the senses themselves as to how we can perceive. Yet even if we experience the same event, emotion will make our perception of it different for each of us. A lifetime of such differences makes each of us a unique combination… individuals.
It shouldn’t be a surprise really, that pattern of infinite possibility born of limitation is all around us. Nine numbers can go on indefinitely producing other numbers that are unique unto themselves. Twenty-six letters of the alphabet combine to make over a million words in English alone… three primary colours combine with light and shadow to produce millions of tints, hues and shades… seven notes create every song ever sung, every symphony played…
It is within this limitation itself that harmony is established. Paradoxically, their very restriction creates the relationship between them that permits harmony, dissonance and growth and gives their distance both meaning and beauty as they spiral outwards towards infinity, allowing us to trace their patterns and begin to know them.
Within ourselves the five senses allow us to ‘harmonise’ too, understanding each other through the empathy of common experience. Seven billion humans alive today, have common ground through five shared senses. Untold numbers of other creatures share those senses too, and by their presence or absence, their experience is defined. Yet every single one of us is unique, perhaps solely because of the thoughts and emotions with which we respond to those experiences. The jury is out on which of those two come first… whether emotion gives rise to thought or vice versa. I’m not sure they are separable or separate, regardless of precedence. Perhaps they are the manifestation of the same process on a different arc of the spiral.
Looking out of the door, open to the night at the insistence of the dog, I look up at the stars; visible traces of our own spiral galaxy, and wonder of what it too may be a part… what its relationships may be to other galaxies… what harmonies might be brought into being out there in the blackness… Billions of point of light. From here they all look pretty much the same and yet I can discern the patterns of the constellations; remember their stories and mythology… know that man is already out there exploring…
My senses have taken me from pain to infinity; my thoughts have travelled the universe, through both the inner uniqueness of man and the vast wonderment of space. My emotions have spiralled from annoyance to awe… all in the time it took to recognise a pattern in the night.
I watched the sun go down tonight from the roadside. For once, the camera had not come with me… I was just driving to the shop and didn’t pick it up. Even so, I cursed myself for leaving the camera as I saw the huge, golden orb shot with crimson reflected in the rearview mirror. Too late to turn and go back, the sun would have gone by then but maybe, just maybe, I would be home in time…
No. Halfway home it was evident I wouldn’t make it, so, camera or not, I pulled over to watch the setting glory of an autumn day.
It took only a couple of minutes for the last of the blue to fade through a rainbow of colour to a molten sky, aflame against the silhouetted trees. Almost as if the sky was clothed in the colours of the School…I couldn’t help but smile.
It was the speed of those final moments, though, that struck me. In the space of just a few heartbeats, dusk became sunset and night swallowed the earth. The change came with incredible swiftness and was complete.
It made me think how fast our little planet is spinning, unnoticed by we who live and breathe her air. Hurtling through space around the sun at around seventy thousand miles an hour, rotating on its own axis at around a thousand miles an hour at the equator… and we are so habituated to that movement we never notice. Yet, we get motion sickness in a vehicle.
Our eyes and brains process light that hits a speed of six hundred and seventy million miles per hour…and we don’t bat an eyelid at that constant miracle. Our field of vision seems infinite. Even I, short-sighted as I am, think nothing of glancing up to say hello to Orion, capturing in my gaze light which left the nebula nearly one thousand, three hundred and fifty years and nine trillion miles ago, to meet my eyes tonight. Some of the stars I see no longer even exist. Yet I have trouble getting to grips with things when I speak friends from ‘the future’ in timezones across the world. Odd, isn’t it?
We live our lives against the backdrop of the enormity of time, yet it often seems that all we know can change in a heartbeat. A single moment, a scintilla of time, and life can be transformed, becoming unrecognisable, both for better or for worse. It can be a small thing that changes a mood, moving a day from sadness to joy, or it can be the bigger events that upheave a lifetime.
Just like the movement of the earth, we often don’t even notice how these changes begin. Or even at all. Sometimes we think we can trace them back to a particular and pivotal event, if we look but it is hard, if not impossible, to untangle the skein of a lifetime. The further you try and trace an event’s beginning back to its roots, the more apparent it becomes that you cannot do so, for each event is dependent in some way upon the ones that preceded it and brought you to that point in time.
We cannot alter past events and the future is unscripted… which leaves us with now, this moment, this scintilla of time, in which to change our worlds. And we do so. All the time. And don’t even notice.
I deliberately took time to watch that sunset. It is something that happens every day, something that has happened over my head nearly twenty-two and a half thousand times since I was born and which I seldom consciously take time to watch. I have to ask myself how many of those days of my life I have missed, simply by taking them for granted and not drinking in each moment in full awareness of the possibilities they hold, not living with a passion.
Tonight the sky was a rainbow veil that turned to a sea of molten gold. And I never want to take that for granted again.
You know how it is… you have an idea, then try and find a way to put it into practice. What at first seems obvious suddenly throws up all kinds of complications and what had appeared so simple becomes a real headache. You wish you’d never thought of it, but it is too late to change your mind and go back… but going forwards feels as if you will be wading through treacle for the foreseeable future. You start worrying or fretting and that sets up a vicious circle that clouds vision even further.
We had been feeling a little like that with some of the details planned for the upcoming workshop in April. It all worked beautifully on paper, but between the vision and creating a concrete form for those details lay a gulf the imagination struggled to cross.
So, you step back and take another look. Instead of thinking literally and in linear fashion, your mind kind of squints out of the corner of its eye, takes a tangential view and realises the complexity was not in the idea but your concept of how to make it happen. Instead of the literal, the symbolic seems to work much better… convey the idea in a far cleaner manner…. and is simplicity itself to bring into being.
That shift in perspective starts a whole chain of action, a domino effect where moving just one piece seems to align the rest; the complex chain of events that would have, could have been, has the space to settle to where it should be and everything falls into place.
We have found this so often when working on the ideas for the workshops. What seems to be a spectacular idea proves to be a nightmare…until you take the ‘spectacle’ out and move towards the simplicity of a symbolic portrayal. The spectacle would, in fact, be detrimental… those observing see only the ‘show’, and seeing an idea so graphically portrayed, find it dictates understanding… whereas a symbolic depiction leaves space for both understanding and imagination. Those looking on may learn more from the ’empty’ spaces of symbolism than one could ever teach through a didactic and literal imposition of ideas.
The odd thing is, that once you start down that particular path, forgoing the visual feast of spectacle in favour of simplicity, other things too begin to fall into their proper places and decisions that have been put off because none have felt quite ‘right’, seem to present themselves, their potential problems already solved… or else solutions seem to manifest from nowhere.
All it takes is a slight change of perspective… and in keeping it simple you find that you are allowing space for the possible to happen.
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Rumi
Near the fence there are some huge chunks of wood… slices salvaged from the old horse chestnut tree that used to hold my home and garden within its embrace. I loved that tree and watched the seasons change in its leaves; watched the squirrels play and the birds nest there… even writing about it. I felt the life in it, felt its character and history and so I was heartbroken when it had to be taken down.
Leaf mining moths had infested the bole and the sick tree was inspected and found to be rotting away from the inside. It was dying and was no longer deemed safe to hang its limbs over my home. When the massacre by chainsaw was complete we brought three pieces of wood back into the garden to make a little seat.
The seat was dismantled by scaffolders a little while ago and I have yet to reassemble it, but the girth of the branches and the three foot long slice of trunk remain close to the door. I noticed the beauty of the frosted mosses and fungi growing on them when I took the camera out this morning. The frost was heavy and the world wrapped in fog; everything white and the sky invisible until the sun broke through. The camera was a vain attempt to capture the mood and the beauty of the ice crystals that dusted the tousled remains of autumn.
There had been little sun in the garden, of course, when the tree was there. The ground had been hard and dry and it was difficult to get anything to grow beneath the spreading branches. Between the sticky sheaths of the new bud covering absolutely everything, to the petals that fell like snow… followed by the bombardment of spiny conkers and tons of leaves, the tree had definitely made its presence felt. Not always in a positive manner, looking back. In fact, when the roots began to disrupt the ground we were facing the possibility of major structural problems.
None of that mattered though, not to me. I simply loved the thing and wept when its demise left a great empty hole in my skyline…
… through which I now watch the stars and the dawn, for of course, the light streamed in. Rain softened the earth and my garden blossomed, bursting with exuberant colour that drew butterflies, birds and bees and all manner of small creatures. From the salvaged wood, new life sprang and insects made their home in the bark. In the corner of the garden… and in several places in the wood down the lane where I transplanted them… new horse chestnuts are growing from the conkers that fell and buried their roots in the earth. The life of the tree continues.
The foundations of my home are now safe too.
I still miss those first signs of spring in its buds. As summer draws near I miss the masses of blossom that carried me back to the boulevards of Paris. I miss the shade of its canopy and the stark black and white of its winter nakedness. I have conveniently forgotten, it seems, all the negatives and can look back solely on the joys.
This tree was always a metaphor for life and today it continues to serve thus. We often cling to things that are familiar and which may indeed hold elements of beauty or affection for us, yet which we know, deep down, are potentially or actually harmful. We hold them dear in their familiarity, because they are known, because they form part of the very structure of the life within which we have defined ourselves. Their roots may go so deep that we fear their loss and the ensuing changes to our personal landscape. Even when we can clearly see the potential benefits of their removal from the garden of our lives.
Making that hole in the skyline can be a big step, yet it is only by clearing away the dead wood that we can let the light in, and with it the elements of new growth that may germinate and flower, even in the scraps that remain. What we choose to cut out of our lives in such a way may have held good as well as bad; the good is never lost, but is the seed that will bear fruit… and it is already part of us.