Having walked through this much-loved, familiar, dense forest in wild and rugged north Wales, at about midnight, I sat on a felled log in a small clearing, in front of Y goeden mellt, the lightning tree. And waited. Random thoughts ‘bubbled up’ from the sea of unconsciousness within me, like spiritual flotsam and jetsam.
The air was cooling, the sky was pitch black, and animals of unknown species and quantity scurried around in the undergrowth nearby or in the tree branches above me, oblivious to my presence, or maybe aware but unconcerned about it.
And, random thoughts just flowed all the more.
Mundane thoughts arose, about what’s in the freezer, what to buy at the shop the next day, and questions such as, ‘Did I turn the tap off before leaving the cottage?’ vied for prime place. Not the kind of thoughts that would be of interest to anyone, really. Except, that every now and then a thought would arise from some unknown place and stay around, and would be of a different order.
‘You cannot keep birds from flying over your head
but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.’
Thoughts come and go, and some unwelcome thoughts are best allowed to return to the place of their origin.
But, some of these random thoughts caught my attention, peaked my interest, and in the relative silence of this place – in front of Y goeden mellt, the lightning tree – this place of mystery, and to me a sacred place, I had time to let them ruminate. I wanted to let them grow and mature to ‘see’ what these half-thoughts would be when ‘fully grown’.
John Bunyan, a sincere and noble man was thrown, unjustly, into Bedford gaol in England, at least twice in his life for his religious beliefs in the 1670’s, even though he was careful with his major work, to try to create some ‘safe’, artistic space by prefacing his book with the words: ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress, in the similitude of a dream.’
‘As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I came upon a certain place where there was a den; and I lay down in that place to sleep; and as I slept I dreamed a dream…’ John Bunyan
There I was sitting on that felled log, in the forest clearing at midnight, alone, and it was as if I had fallen asleep, and random thoughts ‘visited’ me from afar. [Thank you, John Bunyan for that ‘safe’ space of creativity, and way of writing].
So, I dreamed a dream. In my mind’s eye, in this dream, it was if all those who had gone before me, my dear and departed family and friends were assembling before me, and around me, as though I was in the middle of some fantastic, other-worldly party.
‘After your death, you will be what you were before your birth.’ Arthur Schopenhauer
I could make out my two grandmothers, and saw my dear mother (not with a body so worn by the world, but looking so young, so lovely, and so full of life) laughing as she chatted to two unknown men – who, though I had never seen them before, I knew then that they were my grandfathers who had died before I was born. Indeed, all those at this party seemed some young, so alive, so peaceful. They exuded peace. A peace that I could ‘feel’. And, still more of them entered the clearing.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and right doing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.
I thought of my Christian friends from whom I had learned so much, and wished they were here to experience this, but deep down wondered if they would accept this, or shun me as being ‘unorthodox’ or worse, as a heretic?
I thought of my co-Druid friends and their respect and love for nature, and of honouring the ancestors – I truly admire them for that – and how good it would be if only they were here with me to observe this assembly.
I thought of other friends and family, and wondered. What would they think?
There were now somewhere in the region of forty ‘gone ahead’ people around me – interacting with each other as though I wasn’t there.
Though I hadn’t seen many of these people in ‘real life’, I could point out my Aunt Sarah who died as a result of injuries sustained by a ‘Doodlebug’ in the London bombings of the Second World War when she was about 22 years old, and others, such as my great-grandfathers…and, still more entered the clearing.
It was quite uplifting to see them all. All so young-looking. All, so vibrant. All, so alive. All, so joyful. And then, others arrived to join in the party and interact, but not with me – I was seemingly quite invisible to them. Just an observer. A mystified, intrigued, observer.
Now, this is where this strange party becomes an even-stranger party: I could see my dad talking with my mother, and my brother too, and I could see recent friends talking to unknown people who were family and friends of theirs, and yet my dad and brother and these recent friends were very much alive and yet there! And, much to my amazement, and to add to my confusion, there I was in that party, talking to my long-deceased Aunt Sarah. As I sat on that log, I was looking at myself! The observer observed?
The party began to fade, and the colour of the dream seemed to drain away all too quickly; changing from vivid to pastel shades; the colours ‘melting’ into the forest background, and party noise fading.
‘Memory is the place where our vanished days secretly gather. … The past seems to be gone and absent. Yet the grooves in the mind hold the traces and vestiges of everything that has ever happened to us. Nothing is ever lost or forgotten.’ John O’Donohue
As I looked on, questions arose in my mind. How can, what is obviously a glimpse of Bliss, contain those that had gone before me and contain family and friends that were still very much alive to me?
Still oblivious to them, a couple near me spoke to each other and as if speaking to me, said, ‘In this place of ‘no-time’, all who have gone before meet those yet to ‘depart’ the world of time. Leaving at different times in the world of time, we all arrive here in this place of ‘no-time’, together. It’s a ‘side-ways step’ out of time, into ‘no time’. Assured. It seemed to make sense. We always were there! We never left! We just thought we did, perhaps? I laughed to myself.
‘We all have an old knot in the heart we wish to untie.’ Michael Ondaatje
Oh, if only I had done things a bit differently, had spoken more to that person when they were alive, I thought. The things I wanted to do for another party-goer ‘gone ahead’ person that I had just spied, was a matter of much regret from me, of what could have been.
And yet, as if to answer that deep sadness that resided at the pit of my soul, a couple moved nearer to me. It was me-in-Bliss and that person in question, talking together, and they were laughing and joking, and I knew that prior deficiencies and regrets were all ‘solved’ in this place of ‘no-time’. Cancelled out. As a calmness ‘cocooned’ me, I realised, too, that I should stop being so concerned about what might have been between me and that person, and live life to the full. For in that place of ‘no-time’, there were no regrets, nor memories of regrets. Just the communion of all. ‘All things are made new in this place’, a voice from somewhere said. Comforted, I wept for joy and relief as the crust of many years of sadness dissipated.
How do I tell my friends this?
A voice behind me spoke. ‘Then I said, Don’t’. Tell those who will understand it, and don’t tell those who wont, is what I said’, a person said in talking to another person, and not me.
I remembered John Bunyan’s preface. And, I remembered reading the words of St Paul, ‘I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know. God knows’. (2 Corinthians 12:2). I could empathise with these men and their concern at how their accounts would be received. Inspired by them, I would call my account, a dream. I smiled. No one will know.
I stood, and paused for a moment, as if to assimilate all that had just occurred, before starting to walk back to the cottage. The air was now quite cold. I started to shiver. Walking away from that clearing I looked back, and just for one second, out of the corner of my eye I thought I could see these other-worldly loved-ones trailing away. But, for a moment one of them stopped, smiled, and waved. And, was gone.
‘Remember tonight…for it is the beginning of always’. Dante Alighieri.