Deep Calls To Deep: Iona Pilgrimage 2017: The Plan

20170913 IONA PILGRIMAGE PLANPeriodically, it is right, I believe to take stock of where we are, where we’ve ‘come from’ and where we’re headed, and where we would like to head to, where we feel called.

It seems an age away, when I last visited the isle of Iona, off the Scottish rugged and wild west coast. Infact it was twenty-eight years ago to the month. Then, in my mid-thirties and with umpteen years of informal study, theological practice and experience under my belt, I stepped out of seminary, after a three year period of formal study. [Tadhg’s Journal: 1989]

Quote: ‘Too often we don’t trust our own deepest truth; it makes us feel too vulnerable or it seems incongruous with the person we think we are or must be.’  Emily Hanlon

And, right now, with various significant things that have happened this year, and a number of major decisions ahead, I need to return to the beginning, to where it all began in earnest for me.

Twenty eight years ago I was on the isle of Iona. Just south-west of the island’s centre is a path that leads westward. It leads to the seashore, but just before you get there, there is a small hill. The hill has two names. Some know it as Sithean, the Fairy Mound, others know it as Cnoc nana Aingeal, the Hill of Angels.

It was in AD563 that columcille, also know as St Columba, sailed from Ireland and settled on Iona, founded the Abbey on eastern part of that island, and from there (officially) set out to evangelise the Pictish tribes (of what is now Sctoland) and the rest of the country.

And so I sat on the top of the hill and pondered. To me, this place is Sithean. It was humbling. Humbling to know that 1426 years ago, that Columcille had sat or stood here, on this very spot – and according to Adomnán, Columcille was seen meeting with angels.

There is a power here.

I know that we don’t need to travel to far off places to encounter, that we can encounter wherever we are, and can even encounter using our imagination, our mind’s eyes or what some call our vision-eye. But, at this time, this place assisted me.

There is a peacefulness about the island, a ruggedness, and yet in the wind one can hear the soul of the island, or is it angels or the fae?

And as I sat there, I lay back, half closed my eyes, and rested. It ‘felt’ as if a ‘thin place’, a liminal-door had opened. In the distance, when the wind changed it sounded like children playing. Then the wind blew from another direction and the sound was lost, and then it was, again, ushered along with the breeze. I could hear the sound of children in the distance, high-pitched laughing and giggling. Playing? I immediately opened my eyes, sat up and looked around. No laughing. No children could be seen. There was just the silence. Silence, apart from the low ‘murmur’ of the continual wind blowing from the sea.

Wherever we are, we are encouraged to expect the unexpected. There is a story from ancient times, of a man sitting at his tent door. In the heat, desert heat, of the day, he looked over at the oak trees of Mamre. Suddenly, he saw three men standing there. He was gracious to them and offered them food. It is said that these three men were infact angels, and some believe that the man had, infact, encountered The Source Of All.

Expect the unexpected.

I lay back, again. Half closed my eyes. Some minutes later the sound of children laughing was back, but this time I remained still. It grew louder. And then suddenly the giggling sound, subdued but distinct, was all around me. I was bathed in innocent laughter. I remained there, not moving a muscle, enjoying the experience – knowing there was nothing I could do to enhance the experience. It was a sacred time, a sacred place. I just enjoyed it. So much so, that after many, many minutes I couldn’t help but fall into a light sleep.

I woke up about half an hour later. The was no sound, except for the howling wind. It had started to rain.

But, this is Scotland and I had come prepared. The rain was fine, but constant. Typical for this area. The Scots call it dreich (pronounced ‘dree-ch’. The ‘ch’ sound is like that in loch. It’s not a ‘k’ sound, but a guttural sound as if you’re clearing you throat).

I walked back to were I was staying, and pondered further my experience at Sithean, the Fairy Mound, or Cnoc nana Aingeal, the Hill of Angels, and that encounter

That evening, I considered the reason I was here.

It is good to draw away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and if that means not going to a remote area like Iona, then perhaps a change of habit and a relocation of a few miles for a couple of days. But, then there’s always the imagination.

I sat there, pondering. As I gazed at the horizon the word reverence sprang to mind. John O’Donohue wrote: ‘Our world seems to have lost all sense of reverence…Ultimately, reverence is respect before mystery…Reverence is also physical – a dignified attention of body showing that [the] sacred is already here.’

Having finished theological studies, it was time to embark on further studies and a ministry centred on Christian Celtic, and then later, Druidic theology, but inclusively. In a way that would draw alongside all people, to share and to learn as iron sharpens iron, and to know them as friends. A fledgling ministry in serving The Way, that would grow, was my Iona prayer, then.

And so it started, twenty-eight years ago. And now with major changes ahead, I plan to go back to Iona, and to Sithean in the next few weeks. It will be a time of return, re-energising, and renewal for me. A time to decide the future of this ministry as vows need to be re-made, tasks finish but new ones approach, and a time to decide whether to write as I do here or write and lead workshops, and more. Good challenges ahead.

In your heart and mind’s eye, your vision-eye, in your imagination, I want to invite you to join me when I embark on my journey to Iona, and will write daily. It will be a time of return, re-energising, and renewal for me. And, hopefully for you, too.

Quote: ‘Life is a journey. When we stop, things don’t go right.’ Pope Francis

However,  articles continue as normal, and your company is always sought now, and even more so on the planned Iona pilgrimage.

Blessings, Tadhg.

 

In The Depth Of My Soul….: Anamnesis

20170913 IN THE DEPTH OF MY SOUL ANAMNESIS REMEMBERINGAs you know I love ritual. Not just for the pomp and ceremony, but I love it because of its power and vitality, for the fact that it connects us to That Which Is Bigger Than Ourselves, intensifies the moment, and can have such a deep meaning that we are transformed, and transported in delight.

I was watching a video recetly which had several recorded events of the hongi. The hongi is the ancient traditional Maori greeting, and is done by a gentle pressing of one’s nose and forehead to another persons nose and forehead. The ‘ha’ (breath of life), also seen as one’s soul, is then exchanged. Then the visitor, the ‘manuhirim’ is no longer a visitor but, wonderfully becomes a ‘tangata whenua’, one of the people of the Land.

As the video progressed, one act of hongi stood out from amongst the others. This person, a westerner, probably nervous and feeling out of place, went a long a line of Maori people, touched nose to nose, but at breakneck speed. The act was performed, but that person had forgotten the true meaning of the hongi, and so missed out on ‘something’. It was, sadly, rather shallow. There was no real meaning, no depth, no transformation, no sharing of the ‘ha’, the breath of life.

Ritual is important, because it slows us down. In ritual we remember. Remembering is so important. And when involved in ritual, and when remembering we go deep(er) and may be transformed, we enter sacred-time and sacred-space and encounter. Things, then are different.

The challenge, today, is that instead of going deep we are encouraged to operate at a shallow level. It seems to be the way of the world.

‘People care much more for how things look than how things are.’  Donna Lynn Hope

I have been to some fine ceremonies. Last Christmas, for instance, I was at an event where we sang wonderful tunes and awesome words, recited meaningful words from a bygone age, listened intently to a transforming story, and then afterwards I sipped coffee with the congregation. I was still in the ‘liminal zone’, but others around me were not. I’m not judging them because on other occasions I’m probably in their shoes, and maybe you have been, too? It happens.

After that ceremony those  near me talked about the weather and their rhumatism, the need to leave early to start cooking the Christmas turkey, they talked about a several-hour car journey to visit a relative, and one remarked that the minister was wearing a rather fetching stole.

‘Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.’ Christopher Reeve

Ritual is important, because it slows us down. In ritual we remember. But, those around me may have misunderstood the nature of the ceremony we had just witnessed, and had forgotten. It is here that ritual and stories come in useful, because through stories we remember.

There is an ancient story, one that we heard at that service, that includes the words, ‘Do this in remembrance of me…’. When I hear those words it’s like warm honey being poured down my spine – they are awesome and have moved me to tears on occasions. In them is power and love, invitation and joy. In them we remember.

In thinking of those words, we can view them merely from an academic point of view. There is nothing wrong with this, but there’s more. Go deeper. We can view them as words said by the One some two thousand years ago, and look back from a historical, ‘legal’ or dogmatic point of view. There is nothing wrong with this, but there’s more. Many in that congregation seemed to stop there – many do, and so miss out. Many stop at a shallow understanding of ritual and ceremony and story, but there is more. Go deeper.

When those words – and it could be other words and events that we ecnounter – are spoken or encountered they are deeper than deep. ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ is so significant because the ‘remembering’ is anamnesis!

Remembering is important. Anamnesis is so important.

In its weakest sense, and common today, anamnesis it is merely remembering an act, and carrying it on in the absence of the originator. It’s a looking back along that distant horizontal time-line. Oh, how the spirit of this age wants us to quickly move on to something else, so we miss the depth.

‘In the depth of my soul there is a wordless song.’ Kahlil Gibran quotes

There’s more for those who want to go deeper, and who really want to benefit.
In its deepest, purist sense, and the one I would encourage you to engage with, anamnesis has a vertical connection. It (ritual, ceremony or story etc) ‘lifts’ us off the normal time-line, and upward to the higher realm. Not just an act, but a participation; not with an absent host but one who is ever-present; not looking back in time, but living in continual ‘nowness” of the event; not earthly, but cosmic.

An example of anamnesis can be read in a previous article entitled, The Telling Place: Ritual And Anamnesis. (See here)

Anamnesis in ritual, in our times of meditation and quiet, in our services and ceremony is a ‘transporting’ back or coming into full partcipation with the event in mind – it is the time-frame you and I are living in, being superimposed over some major event so that the two are happening together.

Synchronous. Participation. Transformation.

My encouragement to you is: Don’t miss out, but to go deeper, and resist the spirit of the age to remain shallow. Go deeper, and revel in anamnesis, true remembering and true participation. True encounter. Liminal, not liminoid.

 

Become The Duet [Revisited]: Poem: Celtic Connectedness

20170912 BECOME THE DUET REVISITEDBeing in london for a while longer, I miss the wilderness of Capel Curig, north Wales. Capel Curig has such a wild-peace about it, and London by contrast is hectic. And, right now, though I miss the solitude, London is where I am. However, it is an amazing city.

The drawback is that it can be overwheleming, and ‘up close and personal’. It can be full of disctractions which pull you in competing directions, and yet for myself, one who loves the countryside and the lights of London, an ‘amphibian’, London is a wonderful, inspiring city.

But, oh the distractions. It’s easy to forget to ask those big questions, easy to forget to pause and ponder, easy to forget why each one of us is here. In London, a crowded city of eight million souls all of that is so, so easy. I am surmising it may be the same where you are (sometimes)?.

We can get so busy ‘doing’, instead of ‘being’.

We can get distracted.

We forget.

Status?

Here’s a poem I write some time ago, revisited.

Poem: Become The Duet

If we were to travel from the wild, ruggedness of Capel Curig,
near the foothills of Yr Wyddfa,
that place of green, of open-space, of dragons, myth and power;
Myrddin’s lair.

If we were to travel to the busy-ness of Old London,
that place of the ancient river of the Celts,
of crowded streets, of neon lights, Druid-energy and oh-so many people,
the Voice can be heard.

If we were to pause,
wherever we are, just for one moment,
to revel in life that is happening around us, to us, in us, through us,
we would hear the Voice.

Distractions come,
and a distancing from all that is natural seems to happen.
But, only seemingly, so.
The Voice that spoke creation into being,
thunders in the wilderness, whispers in built-up places,
but speaks, still.
The Voice can be heard, if….
…if we have ears to hear.

If we would but listen to the music of our life,
our body would sway in time to the primal beat of times of old.
If we would but gaze at beauty around us,
our mind would laugh crazily with delight at the colours seen.
If we would but ponder, and feel deep within our soul
the love-song of the Friend,
then we would know the reason why we are here.

Become the duet.

 

Celtic Practice: Making It Happen Takes Just 000127

20170911 CELTIC PRACTICE MAKING IT HAPPENI love stories, the myth, the magic of stories being told around a fire in the evening, but also those recent true stories of people who, unwittingly, made major discoverers, and here’s one just such story.

There is a story of Edward Lorenz who was a meteorologist who wanted to use computers to predict the weather – this is some time ago, when, like old radio computers had valves.

Working at MIT in the 60’s he came up with twelve mathematical equations to govern the computer program which mimicked the real world regarding temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction etc.

He started the program and out came reams of paper print-outs and predictions. When he inputted the same data he could never make them repeat themselves. The results were, perplexingly, always different. In the latter part of 1961, taking a short cut and wanting only to input one specific part of the data and to save time, he started the program in the middle instead, and typed in a few numbers to get the computer started, and went off in search of a good cup of coffee.

When he got back he found weather predictions so different from anything else that had gone before, that he started checking all the equipment.

Then he realised what was happening. One number the computer was working with was 0.506127 but to save space the computer was working to few decimal places only and ‘saw’ that number as 0.506. Inititially Lorenz hadn’t considered this ’rounding up/down’ as consquential, but now realised he was wrong to dismiss it.

‘The tiniest changes changes in the environment…not only your partner’s hiccup but also something far away as the gravitational pull of an electron at the far edge of the Milky Way’ can make a vast amount of difference.’ Barbara Brown Taylor

Lorenz found that the difference between the initial number inputted and the final rounded up/down number was just 0.000127, and that was all it took to create a major effect in the computer’s prediction.

Now consider: you and I in prayer, or sending energy or light or love, moving energy around or using it, manipulating it (in the nicest sense of the word), or engaging in a ritual or ceremony for someone, some area of the planet or for some particilar good outcoume such as a change of circumstances, healing, forgiveness etc. All it takes it 0.000127. It doesn’t sound much, but thats it – a little intentional action by you and I can have major effects. And don’t worry if you’re working alone – not that one is really ever alone.

It may be seen that greater observable power (maybe from a mature person or more people acting in concert) may have a greater effect, but though it’s good to aim for maturity or to get others involved, one person’s action can have a major effect invisibly and visibly.

‘Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.’ Samuel Johnson

Bigger is not always better, more discernible power doesn’t mean the outcome is quicker, better or ‘brighter’. I don’t think it works like that. That’s the view and philospohy of our modern day materialism, and we’re dealing with fundemental elements of the universe. Altogether different. Altogether stranger. Altogether more powerful.

All it takes it 0.000127. All it takes is that energy from intentional action to effect a change.

‘ There is another way to conceive the universe…not a clockwork universe in which individuals function as discrete springs and gears, but one that looks lore like a luminous web…In this universe…every interaction – between people and people, and people and things, between things and things – changes the face of history.’ (Barbara Brown Taylor).

It means that lightworkers and energy workers, healers, those praying to God, those using the Caim (see here), those engaging in Celtic, Christian or Druidic (or another faiths’) rituals and ceremonies, those advocating peace and love, those working in regular jobs which serve other people in any way, those who are writers or musicians or artists or dancers or actors etc who in some way want to inform others for their benefit or for their entertainment, those doing any kind of positive work in the physical and/or spiritual realm (and there is no real dichotomy between them), yes, everyone, including you and me, can have a positive effect in sending ‘energy’ to another via this luminous, instantaneous, all-connecting web, and then watch for the results.

And, all it takes it 0.000127.

Okay, this is an immeasurably small number to us non-scientists, and like the answer in Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy who marvelled at the answer 42 (but weren’t sure what it meant), it is easy to dismiss it by asking,’ what does that actually mean?’. It essence it means you and I can make a difference when acting in concert with the Universe, The Source, That Which Is Larger Than Us etc. Be encouraged, today

‘Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.’ (Robert Louis Stevenson)

 

Perceiving Anew: Doors To A Close Encounter: Imagination

20170908 PERCEIVING ANEW DOORS TO A CLOSE ENCOUNTER

‘Those who are Awake live in a state of constant amazement…’. (Jack Kornfield)

It was my first real full-time job and the journey across London, taking this bus, and then that train, alighting there and taking that particular escalator down to another platform for another train, and so on, was all new to me. Several years later, I was doing the same journey but without noticing much at all about the journey. And, on some occasions as I walked onto the platform to get my second train I’d stop, pause and think about the last minute or two of my journey, and not really have any memory at all of what had just happened. It was as if it had become so lost in the mundane that I hadn’t noticed anything at all, and my mind had gone blank. I couldn’t remember the advertisements on the wall, or who had passed me in the tunnels that connect one platform to another, and not even the direction signs.

I’m sure that happens to us all at various times.

Our minds not only wander, but they can seemingly ‘shut down’ or filter out much of what is really going on. It’s like reading a page from a book, maybe you’re in a hurry, and you suddenly realise at the end of the page that, although you’ve read it, you haven’t really read it and you no understanding of what the words meant. And, so you re-read it, and then it makes sense.

When perceiving anew, I think we need to ensure that we’re perceiving deeply. I love liturgy, I love poetry, but just reading the words on the page, as if by rote, academically, in a shallow manner only gives a surface-level of understanding. I want that liturgy, those wonderful words, to embrace me like a warm hug, to be like a Mediterranean sea that I can fall into. I want to connect. To be enveloped.

‘Nowness’

To perceive anew, I’d suggest being present in our mind is a first step. Thinking back is good, and planning for the future is good, but being present ‘now’ is even better.

And so he knelt down, closed his eyes, and prepared for a deep encounter. Around him, and invisible to him, hosts of powerful and ancient benevolent beings assembled. Some might call them ‘companions’, others elementals, other might call them the fae, or the Watchers, or angels. But, these Watchers crowded in to see how this person would encounter and interact with the loving-energy of the Source of All. A minute went by.

He could almost feel the distractions of the world being ‘unpeeled’ as he moved, inwardly, to some kind of inner stillness and peace. The wristwatch he was wearing, suddenly bleeped. It distracted him, and as he looked at it he remembered all the things he had to do. Opening his eyes, and getting to his feet, he rushed to the door to catch the 9.05am train. The moment had passed.

We can miss an awful lot by not being present. That ‘slipping back’ into not being present will happen, but perhaps an aim for us might be to work towards more times of ‘nowness’, and specified times of being present. Good habits are good. And, when present to be aware of what might be, what we might not see but can ‘sense’ or intuit, and that we’re surrounded by That Which Is Bigger Than Us. To be aware of the Mystery.

Aim: To be present in our mind, and to give our all to the moment, task, and event. To be fully alive. To realise there is more, and to be expectant.

Meaningful Actions

She now found himself, as usual, at the main service. She loved this service, all the pomp and ceremony, and ofcourse she loved the rich, majestic words that were used. They had the ability, as it were, to whisk her back in time, almost, and connect her to those that had gone before. Continuity. She listened intently.

It was then that she realised that the pace of the words spoken said by the person at the front seemed to be speeding up. Getting noticeably quicker. Instead of those words ‘inviting’ her ‘into’ the service and depth, they seemed to repel her. Could it be that the person saying those wonderful liturgical words was in a hurry, had important things to do? Were they even caring about those in the pews who were listening and willing to be transported into that Place of Encounter? She wondered. But, she had lost the thread of what was going on, and then seemed to just looked on at the liturgical activity as though she was an outsider. Things felt a bit ‘shallow’. She left. The effect of ‘distancing’.

It is easy to go through the actions and miss the meaning. I am sure you, like me, have been part of a ceremony where certain events have to take place in a certain order, or we’re involved in some kind of task at work where we had to process things in a certain order. It’s easy to get blaise. And, then you suddenly realise that someone will be buying the product or will be relying your calculations, or depending on you, and you’re not quite sure if your actions gave the process the due weight it needed. If someone is going to buy that product, we might ask ourselves did I put enough care and effort into making it, wrapping it etc? If leading a ceremony or providing a service we might ask ourselves if we have helped or hindered someone?

It is easy just to go through the motions. In any ceremony, the words and actions are important, but their ‘effectiveness’ stems not from the actions themselves, necessarily, but from the care and attention, the love, intentionality and time we put into them. Depth.

Aim: To take time for meaningful actions, and to enjoy the liturgy and actions, and see them an a conduit to something more.

And, it may be here that many people might stop. But, not you.

Imagination
Le Point Vierge

But there’s more.

Accepting that being present is necessary, and the ‘invitational’ liturgy, actions, words and songs are wonderful, to be used and appreciated, and can usher us closer to the Source of All, there is more

Imagination is all important. Frowned on by some, seen as something relegated to childhood only, and seen as unreal, imagination is seemingly used only by advertisers who know its power, and then proceed to sell us this holiday, or that car, or entice us to spend money in yet another sale.

He got home from work. Feeling tired he slumped onto the sofa, and his eyelids started to become heavy and close. He felt himself drifting off, and it was such a lovely feeling, he just lay there. In his mind’s eye it was as though he was in a busy room. As his mind focussed it became recognisable as a café.

There were about ten tables, and about seven other people drinking coffee. It was a warm and cosy café. Not too light, not too dark. The walls were a magnolia colour, and had prints of paintings on them of the great masters. He looked around at the other people in the café. Others looked at him, momentarily. They looked normal. And yet something within him saw something was not quite as it should be, something was different. He didn’t have the words to describe it but the was more going on than meets the (minds) eye.

He let this dream-like episode play on. With a cup of coffee now in front of him, he sipped it. It tasted heavenly. It was then that he noticed all the other occupants had left, and it was just him and the barista, alone.

He could hear himself talking to the barista. ‘We’re alone, how extraordinary that it should happen just like that’,  he said as he clicked. The barista, a person who looked like she had been doing this work for a long, long time, learned over his table, and with the voice of an angel , said, ‘Honey, you ain’t never alone’.

He woke up. But sat there quietly pondering on the meaning of that encounter.

Using our imagination  as we move through the day and especially when in quiet times of prayer, ritual, ceremony etc – is of paramount important, and is yet another vital step of moving closer to an encounter with the Source of All. Imagination complements our actions, and ‘adds’ to them.

Ofcourse, in one sense we’re always close(r), never alone, and so why use imagination? But, it seems to me we benefit from those times when we know we’re close, and we can use imagination as a conduit to step into that Place of Encounter. Times that usher into that awareness are important.

Aim: To draw near using our imaginations as a ‘tool’ for liminal encounters, both externally and internally.

These inward encounters have been called various names down the ages. Some call them liminal doors, le point vierge, ‘thin places’, peak experiences, or to the Quakers they are known as the Inner Light. But, they exist, and imagination is one way of putting ourselves in the flow of events and times that lead to a deep, meaningful, ‘inner’ encounter with the Beloved. It’s the Meeting Place, and you’re invited.

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing
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.

Rumi

 

Nights Of Fog And Clouds: Liminal-Numinous Encounters

20170905 NIGHT OF FOG AND CLOUDS LIMINAL NUMINOUS ENCOUNTERSYes, I’m still in London. And last night was one of those nights where I woke up, at about 3am, and just couldn’t get back to sleep. They don’t happen that often – but I always think such interruptions might prove fruitful.

Usually in such circumstances I would have gone for a country walk, if in Wales, but I’m in London. And, so I relocated myself to the study, and there I sat, and pondered. And waited for an encounter with sleep. It didn’t arrive.

After about an hour – it could have been longer, or shorter, as time seemed irrelevant, and I had nothing really to measure it by – I half drifted off to sleep. It was as if a fog appeared. The study, still visible was rather opaque, obscured by this fog, but not totally – though it wasn’t the kind of fog that I’ve encountered in or near Capel Curig that moved in repsonse to air currents, and there no was smell to it, and no temperature change.

Room fog!

But, something felt different. I could hear myself breathing gently, hear the gentle ticking of the clock on the desk, but there was no other sound, and it seemed as though I should just remain as I was. Content. Content to let whatever was about to unfold, to unfold.

And, then, seemingly seconds later, I wanted to analyse this feeling, and my eyes became wide open, the fog disappeared and I was wide awake and alert again. I had no memory of what really happened, and I can’t tell you if ‘fog time’ lasted a few seconds or minutes or longer. But, something had happened. And, this got me thinking.

In physical locations or in the spiritscape of the mind, fog or clouds are an indicator that something special is about to happen. A(n) herald.

‘ Clouds and thick darkness surround Him…’. Psalm 97:2a, The Book

Time is skewed as we move into that sacred time-space, the liminal, and we may have no memory of what took place, just a pleasent ‘feeling’ that something significant had taken place as we look back and remember. Liminal encounters are usually experienced in the ‘now’ and ‘unpacked’ later as a memory of what happened. Has that happened to you?

Fog or clouds are an indicator that something special is about to happen or has happened.

On that night I saw a brilliant yellow-green light some 200 feet away from me, through the dense forest. I walked toward it. The air was colder than ever, the fog masked the exact location of the light until I got to within about fifty feet of it. At about forty feet from it – and the light source seemed about eight foot wide – it went out! Was it the Canwyll Corff, the corpse candle myth. Who knows?

Clackitt’s Wood, The Last Word (see here). Tadhg.

The Source of All, the Universe, elementals, That Which Is Bigger Than Ourselves seems to use clouds, fog and the cover of darkness to draw near – whether this is a physical reality, or a just-as-real ‘inner’ visitation in our minds, mind’s eye or vision-eye. It’s as if unbridled power and energy and holiness must be ‘masked’ to ‘come closer’ to us, for our sake.

There is a story told that, in the 6th century, the poet Senchán Torpéist gathered the poets of Ireland together to see if any of them knew the story of the Táin Bó Cúailnge. None of them could give details that gave the whole story. They all only knew parts of it. And this grieved Senchán.

And so Senchán Torpéist sent three of the younger men to seek out a very old man who it was believed could tell them the complete story. They travelled far and eventually came to the grave of an ancient poet called Fergus MacRoich. Two of the young men travelled onward toward the next village for shelter for the night; one of the men stayed, and honoured the memory of Fergus MacRoich with a poem. And then slept by the great poet’s tomb.

Suddenly a mist enveloped the younger man. Now unseen by his two companions, this young man found himself in the presence of Fergus MacRoich. From that awesome encounter, which lasted three days and three nights, he learned many things from Fergus MacRoich. And many of the older stories – some of which were formerly partly lost, others lost completely – were now known to that younger man because of that liminal experience.

From that ancient story we can take heart that: those old stories, knowledge and the wisdom of the ancients, though seemingly lost to us, can be encountered and re-kindled; that there are ways of putting ourselves ‘in the way’ of numinous and liminal happenings using prayer, fasting, ritual, liturgy, meditation and even poetry etc.

Never minimise the effect of prayer, fasting, ritual, liturgy, meditation and even poetry etc. Never play down your status, and the power-from-beyond at your disposal. Never be so caught up in daily living that we miss those liminal events, those ‘Divine nudges’.

‘Thin places’ (see here) may be events and occurrences that cannot be scheduled, but maybe there are ‘thin place’-like experiences that we can encounter in certain ways. Encountering them by the use of music, poetry, liturgy, meditation, the Caim – perhaps because that’s so because we’re making ourselves ‘open’ to the experiences, and the experiences are happening more than we had hitherto had known about. In essence, such experiences happen much more often, but we were/are unaware of them. Until now.

As I sat there, in the study pondering these things I wondered how many times we have almost put ourselves ‘in the way’ of these numinous and liminal events and got distracted and unknowingly ‘pulled away’? How many times the Caim, as a ‘tool’ of ritual and intention might be of (more) use to us – and this started me thinking even more about the Caim (see here).

It was about 4am when I ‘crawled’ back to bed and waited for an encounter with sleep. It was an interesting night, albeit not an uneventful one, though. As I drifted off to sleep my last thought was, and one that I would dearly like to share with you now, is: Look out for fog and clouds in your life. Fog or clouds are an indicator that something special is about to happen to you.

‘The greatest stories are those that resonate our beginnings and intuit our endings, our mysterious origins and our numinous destinies, and dissolve them both into one.’ Ben Okri quotes

 

‘Eucharistic Planet’ : Celtic Thought About Life & Geography

20170824 EUCHARISTIC PLANET CELTIC THOUGHT ABOUT LIFE AND GEOGRAPHYI am back in that place of paradox. Fulham cemetery in central London, so ancient and full of the remains of human bodies and ashes, and yet with the lush trees and foliage that abound here , it is a place teeming with life. To the materialIst, to those steeped in twenty-first century (maybe so, even without knowing it), to those who see only with physical eyes, there is no more.

But, there is more.

We are surrounded by ‘biological’ life: insects, animals, trees and plants etc, but even there, there is more. I’m in a physical location that has pebbles for pathways and a myriad of other stones with etchings on them, but there is more. There are things I cannot see – some would call them spirits or entities associated with this place (and, the Romans called the genii loci), and then there are the ancestors. How materialistic and limiting to presume that because we cannot see something that it does not exist (especially as ‘our science’ informs us that more that 90% of the universe is invisible to us).

There is more.

‘It’s life Jim, but not as we know it…’ Quote/Misquote from Star Trek

There are some who believe that all things – that which we call animate and inanimate – are ensouled. Even the pebbles on the pathway that I’m currently looking at are ensouled. They have a story to tell, are part of the created order, and though many would say that that idea is nonsense their was a time when those who thought the earth was the centre of the solar system would have argued vehemently that they were right and others were wrong.

‘I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’ Luke 19:40, The Book

Having the view that everything has a soul, may sound bizarre to some, but even to sceptics there are benefits. If I gaze lovingly at a tree – and their are two beautiful, old, gnarled and noble trees to my left and right with stories to tell, and I believe they are ensouled and I’m in error, then nothing has been really lost. I slowed down, I might have given the trees some ‘respect’ that some materialists would say I didn’t need to do, but nothing is really lost.

‘Every flower is a soul blossoming in nature.’ Gerard De Nervalok

However, even then there are benefits. I will not be so quick to view these trees, and creation in general, as a commodity to be dug us, used, and causally discarded. Even if the is no ‘ensoulment’ of all things and we act as though there is, it makes for a kinder, cleaner and more nature-based world, and one that is appreciated because it is reverenced. However, currently at the hands of materialist-thinkers the planet is being merely being ‘used’ and poisoned. ‘Ensoulment’-believers are very good for the planet and for future generations, at the very least.

There’s more.

For me everything is ensouled, and using the wisdom of ancient Celts, proto-Christians and Druids etc that ‘theology’ is wonderfully (and logically) life-preserving.

‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ Hamlet, Shakespeare

I’ve now relocated. I needed to stretch my legs and I’ve walked about a mile south-west of the cemetary, and I’m now in the delightful Bishop’s Park (see header photo, above) which nestles against the River Thames .

And what of other entities? We live in such a materialist age that even many of those who frequent churches, mosques and synagogues etc struggle with the concept of angels. Call them Angels, elementals, genii loci, dryads, ancestors; there are things known, and there are things unknown. Perhaps we’re not meant to solve this mystery, but just to admit that this mystery exists, to experience it, and to revel in it.

These other entities, the spirits of the place, they exist. They exist here in this ancient land called by some, myself included, Clas Myrddin (or Merlin’s Enclosure), and they exist where you are. Even if you’re the other side of the globe, and in a ‘new’ country with a modern history of several decades or a just a handful of hundreds of years, the land is more ancient than that and so are those who inhabit it in the unseen realm. If I said this land was more special that would be for my ego to gain the upper-hand, or to give credence to some kind of ‘purist’ or arrogant fantasy. I would say every place on the face of the earth is special, and holy, and inhabited by genii loci. So, make friends with yours, wherever you are.

‘What if the universe is not merely the product of God but also the manifestation of God – a ‘eucharistic planet’ on which we have been invited to live?’. Joseph Campbell quoted by  Barbara Brown Taylor

In Bishop’s Park just a short walk away from that cemetery, the geographical location is different, my view is different, the ‘feeling’ is different, but the spiritscape shares an ancient commonality wherever we go, wherever you are, wherever I am. Different, but the same. Indeed, a ‘eucharistic planet’. Ensouled.

Developing ‘Soft Feet’: A Celtic Lifestyle/Perspective

20170821 DEVELOPING SOFT FEET CELTIC LIFESTYLEA few days ago we looked at a quote from an Anishinabe (First Nations) man from Canada, who wrote:

‘The Four-Leggeds and the Windged Ones live to a different rhythm. Theirs is the rhythm of soft eyes and soft feet. Two-Leggeds have hard eyes and hard feet. When most humans go into the forest they enter with so much of the world on them that any possibility of feeling the sacred is removed. When we go into the forest we must become soft like the animal people and the tree people’.

We also looked at seeing with ‘soft eyes’ when we considered kataphatic ‘day-dreaming’ or meditation – the kind of deep, mental exercise that uses ‘inner’ pictures, visualisation or symbols for growth, maturity, transformation.

And, we looked at apophatic ‘day-dreaming’ or meditation, which encourages the ‘releasing’ of distracting thoughts to arrive at that ‘inner’ place of peace and solitude that some refer to as ‘le point vierge’.

Today, we’re looking at having ‘soft feet’.

What does that mean,  how we can interpret that, and what does it mean to practice it? There are many ways to view that phrase, but I’d like to suggest three.

Firstly, walking on the earth with ‘soft feet’ can be interpreted as ensuring minimal damage to the environment. So, if hiking in the wilderness, the aim would be to leave no trace that we have moved through that way.

‘All the animals and creatures of this earth are our former brothers and sisters but because we believe that we have “dominion” over them, we have become cruel little emperors.’  John O’Donohue,

If we live in a city, it may mean trying to reduce our carbon footprint by buying food as local as we can to where we live, perhaps using energy-saving lightbulbs, or turning the central heating down by a degree or two, or something similar. Small adjustments to reduce energy etc, to be aware of nature, can make huge gains for the environment and its preservation. In this sense, it’s a practical adjustment of removing or minimising negative effects. A good move.

But there’s more!

Secondly, walking on the earth with ‘soft feet’ can be interpreted as doing something ‘in addition’ to ‘repair’ and damage to the natural world. It may be one thing to try to reduce our carbon footprint by buying locally, but maybe there’s something we can do, to ‘add’ to our local environment.

For instance, many have noticed the reduction in bees. Did you know that bees are attracted to crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula, and wild lilac, all of which provide enticing spring blooms. But, they also like echinacea, snapdragons foxglove, and in the summer, and in the autumn they adore zinnias, sedum, asters, witch hazel and goldenrod. And some of these can be grown on balconies, and so we don’t need a large garden. We can all ‘additionally’ plant bee-encouraging plants, perhaps? Or something environmentally similar.

But walking with ‘soft feet’ may also encompass our honouring and respecting others…..to ‘walk softly’ through their lives?

‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’ – Chinese Proverb

But there’s even more!

The abovementioned are all good and wholesome steps (and you’re probably doing much more), but I would suggest there’s a foundational, ‘inner’ and essential step that takes place first.

The foundational step I would suggest is our inner attitude – and kataphatic and apophatic meditation can assist here – that ‘spills over’ and so affects us, others, and the larger environment in a beneficial way

”The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.’ Thich Nhat Hanh

If, inwardly, we are ‘asleep’ or  are ‘sleepwalkers’ or operating out of base motives then our view of ourselves, others, nature and the wider universe will be severely limited. Those who constantly read bad news, for instance, or allow themselves to be bombarded with gloomy news, can, psychologically be said to be suffering from ‘mean world’ syndrome. In that frame of mind everything seems awful, and the good is unintentionally ignored.

Someone said that the light of the body is the eye and if your eye be single, then your whole body shall be full of light. (Matt 6:22 The Book). There is much debate about this odd sentence, and some believe it could mean that if our eyes are working properly, that is if we are fully aware, then we can see deeply what really is, and see beyond just the surface-level, and the result is that we will see deep beauty around us and in very situation; and conversely, if our perception is limited (if we’re asleep’ and so our senses are dulled), then we will miss the deep meaning behind everything and only observe in a shallow manner. We will miss much.

And so, walking with ‘soft feet’ or having a ‘single eye’ could mean something like: being fully aware, observing the good that surrounds us, and being aware of the need to go deeper, and to do so, in love.

And so it could be that when it’s time to prune a tree, we will acknowledge the beauty of that tree and prune away to the best of my knowledge and skill. Now, some may want to ask the dryad and other elemental characters (as their belief requires) beforehand, and others will just cut away, but hopefully do so now in a way that acknowledges the ‘aliveness’ of that tree and give it the respect it deserves. But, walking with ‘soft feet’ surely means….with due consideration, and having a reverence of nature.

And it could be that we will ensure that we draw alongside those who are easy to get along with. Ofcourse. But, what of those who are difficult to get along with? Maybe they’re having a bad day or maybe the way they are has to do with being brought up in a  difficult environment when growing up, or maybe they’re dealing with bad news, or bad health? We don’t know. However, walking with ‘soft feet’ surely mean that, regardless of the way they (mis)treat us, that we will, so far as is practicable, treat them well. Unconditional respect and love for others – and don’t forget to include yourself.

After all, at the depth of their spirit they, like us, are one with the Source of All, and are good. Julian of Norwich, one of my favourite mystics,  believed that. Perhaps deep within them, if we have ‘eyes to see’, we might discern the face of God or the Universe smiling back?

‘As you change your point of view, your views bring about a change in you.’  George Alexiou

And it could be that we’ll take time to make time to appreciate the wonderful creation that we indwell. The art of slowing down is important here. And the latter is one function of ritual. Walking with ‘soft feet’ is also about ritual, for ritual ushers us out of ‘ordinary time’ into sacred-time and sacred-space, and it is there/then that we can catch glimpses or feel impressions beyond the ordinary. Then we get glimpses of what could be, and realise that there is more going on than we were first aware of. So, slow done and joyfully work on anything that enhances your awareness of what really is.

There are many ways to think of what having ‘soft feet’ means, and the abovementioned are but a few – if you think of others please let me know.

‘If you hold to Nature, to the simplicity that is in her, to the small detail that scarcely one man sees, which can so unexpectedly grow into something great and boundless; if you have this love for insignificant things and seek, simply as one who serves, to win the confidence of what seems to be poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more conciliatory, not perhaps in the understanding, which lags wondering behind, but in your innermost consciousness, wakefulness and knowing.’ Rainer Maria Rilke,

 

Developing ‘Soft Eyes’: Apophatic ‘Day-Dreaming’

20170818 DEVELOPING SOFT EYES APOPHATIC DAYDREAMINGYesterday we looked at kataphatic ‘day-dreaming’ as one way of thinking in a visual and imaginative way, that is vital if we are to rekindle that childhood and deep perception of the world around us.

Then, with the ‘soft eyes’ of exploring mystery, rather than only with the use the analytical eyes of modernity we can regain that way of ‘seeing’ the ‘magic’ that exists and appreciate all that is around us. We can look at things more deeply, rather than at surface level.

In that previous article I mentioned an Anishinabe (First Nations) man from Canada wrote:

‘When most humans go into the forest they enter with so much of the world on them that any possibility of feeling the sacred is removed. When we go into the forest we must become soft like the animal people and the tree people’.

Today, I’d like to introduce apophatic ‘day-dreaming’. If kataphatic (see here) ‘day-dreaming’ is the using of mental ‘pictures’ and the imagination to grow, mature and be transformed, then apophatic ‘day-dreaming’ could be viewed as being the opposite.

As I extinguish the candle on the garden table, and losing the small but significant light, I’m plunged into darkness. I can’t see anything for a while, and it’s a wonderful feeling. And then as my eyes get used to the dark, I begin to make out shapes, and realise that I can see a few things, after all. This is very much like apophatic day-dreaming.

Now some may call it apophatic meditation, but for this article I’d like to call it apophatic day-dreaming because we all ‘day-dream’. Some are fearful of exercises which seek to empty the mind of thoughts, but I’d like to suggest that what apophatic day-dreaming really does is encourage us to disregard those annoying and extraneous thoughts that ‘flutter’ into our minds all the time. It’s a ‘down-playing’ of thoughts that get in the way. And, many churches and faith-groups are finding apophatic ‘day-dreaming’ useful, though they may call it centering prayer.

‘Another way to think about Centering Prayer is training the mind to become free from distractions so it can “rest in God.’ Amos Smith

It’s rather like, when I’m at the north Wales coast, and sit on the beach, and gaze at the horizon where the sea seems to meet the sky. I’m sure you’ve done similar. You can gaze away for what seems like a few minutes and yet half an hour or more has gone by. Call it lost in thought, focussed attention, or being ‘mesmerised’, but I’d like to suggest this is apophatic day-dreaming.

And, as you gaze at the horizon, maybe a dog  runs across the beach between you and the water’s edge. You may be mildly aware of the dog but you pay no attention to it. That’s apophatic day-dreaming. However, it you ‘focus’ on the dog, metaphorically, and think about it, then you’ve lost that wonderful ‘horizon-gaze’, and the moment has gone and ‘you’re back’, and you’re out of apophatic ‘day-dreaming’.

Now apophatic day-dreaming has a vast number of uses, and there are many exercises to assist us develop skills to assist us.

For instance, if you wanted to dwell on the Source of All, Nature or God, then what do you think of? I’d suggest that not concentrating on what the Source, Nature or God looks like – to take the apophatic approach – is one good way forward. After all, whatever image we have in our minds about the Source, Nature or God is going to be wrong. By definition, how can the finite mind imagine the infinite? And so, not dwelling on imaginative and extraneous thought can draw us closer. And, before you know it, that Time of Quiet, which you thought lasted only a few minutes, had infact lasted half an hour – a sure sign that you achieved apophatic day-dreaming.

This is in contrast to yesterday’s way of ‘day-dreaming’ and isn’t contrary to it – it’s another useful ‘tool’ for us to use.

With our eyes closed, and distractions abated, apophatic ‘day-dreaming’ brings us ‘closer’ to Source of All, Nature or God. Ofcourse, locationally we’re no closer or further away, but in our awareness we have drawn ‘closer’. This type of day-dreaming isn’t about doing, it’s about ‘being’. It isn’t about visualising anything, but not dwelling on thought(s). It’s not about recieving a ‘picture’, message or guidance, but revelling in that inner silence and stillness, in that inner place that some call le point vierge (the virgin point).

‘It’s very, very simple. You sit, either in a chair or on a prayer stool or mat, and allow your heart to open toward that invisible but always present Origin of all that exists.’ Cynthia Bourgeault

It’s being in a ‘place’ where effort isn’t needed. There is a point in any new human relationship where there is an sharing of views, a time of vocalisation to get to know someone – laughing, joking, teasing etc – and then there comes a point when you know each other sufficiently so that words aren’t need. Your’e madly in love and words just seem cumbersome. They’re now not needed in the courtship, and you’re comfortable with silence and each others company.

Apophatic ‘day-dreaming’ is very much like that. As you enter that area where the Source of All, Nature or God is, as the Beloved draws closer to you all you can do, all you need do is rest, relax, surrender, and bask in each others company. Words are not needed.

Time will fly, and what seemed to be a few minutes might be half an hour or more. Any analytical thinking (such as ‘Am I achieving apophatic day-dreaming, yet?’) will actually ‘pull you out’ of that wonderful liminal space-time. And so it’s usually afterwards as you leave sacred space-time that you realise, in hindsight, that you have had an encounter. Or, maybe you don’t feel that afterwards. Nevertheless, you are more than ‘feelings’ and the fact that you entered that liminal space with the intention of apophatic ‘day-dreaming’ means you have, indeed, encountered.

‘The mystery of seeking God is that God is the One who finds you.’ Kingsley Opuwari Manuel

This is one small aspect of apophatic ‘day-dreaming’, and something we’ll come back to from time to time, perhaps with the addition of local and online workshops soon.

Meanwhile, I would highly recommend that you put yourself in a position to make time for apophatic ‘day-dreaming’. A deep encounter with the Source of All, Nature, God or the Beloved in that place of inner stillness is beneficial. Through such encounters we can grow, mature, and are changed, transformed. Through such practises we can (re)develop ‘soft eyes’ to see beyond seeing and rekindle that childlike trust, innocence of the world around us, and original perception.

 

‘Tis Mystery All: Perception: The Need Of Soft Eyes And Soft Feet

20170815 TIS MYSTERY ALLI’m reminiscing. I’m in London and in my very little garden, and there’s part of me that remembers Capel Curig, in the deep in the wilderness of north Wales, many years ago.

As a child the garden of Ty Gwyn (translated as the ‘white house’, and so called because of its painted external stone work,) and where I live now when in Wales, seemed large and mysterious. It doesn’t seem as large now, though it is a fair size, but it is just as mysterious.

‘Mystery is a resource, like coal or gold, and its preservation is a fine thing.’ Tim Cahill

As I grew older, becoming physically bigger, the garden seemed to reduce in size. And yet, at the far end of the garden the rivulet, that I called Bach ac yn gyflym (meaning ‘small and fast’ in Welsh, because that sums up this rivulet) seemed to mark the boundary between the somwhat mysterious (that was all around me – it’s Wales, after all) and the very mysterious (that which was ahead of me and over the boundary marker of the rivulet).

Beyond Bach ac yn gyflym lay the ‘lightning tree’ and two arched trees, that as children, we called the ‘door to another world’. We played for many a long hour in those places – cautious about what might happen and daring each other to just be there for what might happen. Beyond those areas was ‘even more’ mystery. Beyond that was, to us, the ‘Yr ardal anhysbys’ or the ‘unknown place’.

It wasn’t that we were afraid, as children, to venture further into that unknown area, but there was part of us that wanted to preserve the mystery, to be in awe of it, and to regard it as a reminder of….

A reminder of what?

Sitting here at the garden table in a very small London garden, thoughts form and suggest an answer.

Crane your neck, arch your head heavenward at the night sky, and on a clear night you will see a myriad of twinkling stars. Some close, comparatively, some many hundreds of light years away. But, as you look at the cosmos, scientists tell us that about ninety percent of the universe is invisible, invisible to our our meters and scientific instruments, invisible to us. And, they don’t mean that some things are just too distant to be seen – though that is true – but they mean in essence. If you hold the tip of one hand’s index finger at arms-length, then ninety percent of matter between that finger tip and your nose is invisible. A real mystery.

As an adult I like mystery. It keeps things in proportion, reminding me that I don’t know as much as I thought I did.

As I child I was in awe of mystery, and hope that that’s still the same, now, as an adult. It is…sometimes. And, as a child my friends and I, until we were older, never ventured into ‘Yr ardal anhysbys’ or the ‘unknown place’. We revelled in the mystery. It harkened back to something other-worldly, of an ancient age, of a time-before, of sacred-time, sacred-space, of liminality (or ‘thin places’).

‘Under the guise of emptiness, the invisible keeps its secrets to itself. Yet the invisible remains the great background which invests your every gesture and action with possibility and pathos’. John O’Donohue.

It is easy to miss mystery. This can happen as our knowledge increases, and it can happen when we’re too busy or pre-occupied with modern life. It’s for that reason that I really enjoy and benefit from apophatic meditation (a meditative state focussing on nothng in particular), and kataphatic meditation (such as the Caim, or creative visualtion etc). And, as a child with a more limited vocabulary and without such understanding, we had ‘Yr ardal anhysbys’ or the ‘unknown place’ – a real place of mystery.

Perception matters. If we don’t ‘see’ the mystery or at least catch a glimpse, impression or ‘feeling’ of it, then we will miss it. The harsh light of modernity cannot uncover mystery. Mystery is subtle, it’s illusive and even shy, but it is real for those who revere and honour it, and are patient enough to wait for its emergence.

An Anishinabe (First Nations) man from Canada wrote:

The Four-Leggeds and the Windged Ones live to a different rhythm. Theirs is the rhythm of soft eyes and soft feet. Two-Leggeds have hard eyes and hard feet. When most humans go into the forest they enter with so much of the world on them that any possibility of feeling the sacred is removed. When we go into the forest we must become soft like the animal people and the tree people’.

I believe that ‘softness’ of perception is what children have, innately. And it was that that I was remembering at the garden table in my little London apartment’s garden. It was a reminder of how it used to be – a world of mystery, everywhere. Of having a ‘softer’ perception.

And, as adults we can lose that perception of the reverence of awe and mystery. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Even as adults we can regain soft eyes and soft feet, and ‘see’ the sacred all around us. Such seeing is a skill, and like a muscle, it can be developed and honed with practice.

‘To respect a mystery is to make way for the answer.’ Criss Jami