Many will know that I love to return to the wilderness, and especially to the wilds of north Wales periodically.
What is it that calls out to me?
One can only be in awe of the grandeur of the Welsh landscape, the rugged environment, the grey-green of the slate-grass, the heaven-ascending mountains, fresh valley streams, and wet, ragged sheep ambling this way and that, near Capel Curig. The call of the ancients still echoes on the mountains and in the valleys, here, and I must respond.
We are all on a journey , a heroes journey, and sometimes to advance on that twisting, unpredictable adventure of life we need to retrace our steps. We need to revisit those places of the past, and perhaps see them anew for the first time. Like a pole vaulter preparing for the high jump, he or she needs to pace backwards before starting the fast run to propel them over the bar.
‘The mountains are calling and I must go.’ John Muir
I’m back. I’m back at Drws i fyd arall (pronounced ‘droo zi fid arrah’), two trees in a forest clearing named by my friends and I when we were wee lads and lasses, and we imagined the two arched-together silver birch trees was a doorway to another place. And, those Welsh words aptly mean ‘door to another world’.
Such is the imagination of children.
Back in this place it seems to me that there is a circularity to each of our lives. As I look at those two leaning-together trees, forming an arched ‘door’, there is a remembrance that is unchanging, and yet something has changed. We can return to the beginning and learn, partly because our circumstances may have changed, partly because the world has changed, and partly because we have changed. Same places, new discoveries awaiting. As I look at those two trees, they seem much, much smaller. It’s me. I’ve grown physically bigger.
‘The stuff of our lives doesn’t change. It’s we who change in relation to it.’ Molly Vass
Physically bigger and stronger than I was when I first encountered these trees as a child, there is deep down an ‘electric’ energy that seems to speak inwardly, now. Inaudibly I hear the words, ‘Wait, for there is now more for you to know’. Doesn’t that apply to all of us? I believe so. There is more, and if we pause in our busy schedules knowledge and wisdom will be revealed. Even in the mundane, places that we visit infrequently, places that we visit on a daily basis, in rural areas and in cities, the Voice speaks constantly, and if we still ourselves we will hear the Bat Kohl (the Daughter’s voice), the voice of the Source of All.
If, as a young lad, I believed that these two trees was a door to another realm, at least in my imagination, I don’t think I was far wrong. Now I have a greater understanding and more words to describe it. Now, I can comprehend deeper things, and yet know we all stand on the horizon of expectation and greater wisdom, and are moving forward.
There are ‘doors’ set before each one of us – doors of opportunity that we might walk through easily, say, at work; doors of relationship and commitment that might take some work; doors of adventure, always. And, other ‘doors’ that present themselves in a myriad of forms, and at odd, awkward or unexpected times that are of a different. Drws i fyd arall is such a door. They are ‘doors’ which enter our daily life and take our breath away or speak deeply to us of that which is Beyond. Each encounter, each liminal or threshold experience is different, but you will recognise it as something deep and spiritual when it happens. The Causer of Deep Things will ensure you notice the encounter.
‘What you seek is seeking you.’ Rumi
It might require some effort to put ourselves in the way of such adventures, if we feel the need. But, if the Source of All wants an encounter, then it will happen. The event’s production and occurrence isn’t up to us, thankfully. However, I do believe it is important to draw to one side, and that may mean pausing, or meditation in a forest or our even in living room, to pray in a group or singly, to recite some liturgy or perform a ritual so that we are attentive and accepting of them when they occur. Such activities are not for the benefit of the Source of All, nor to appease the Source (and why ever would we feel the need to do that?). No, pausing, meditation, prayer, liturgy and ritual are for our benefit.
Those two trees, Drws I fyd arall are in front of me, and as I sit on a felled log, I half-close my eyes and listen, inwardly. The forest sounds seem to ‘retract’ into the distance, and even though I can still feel the damp air on my skin it means less to me that it did. And, I wait. And listen. And wait.
’Every particle of creation sings its own song of what is and what is not. Hearing what is can make you wise; hearing what is not can drive you mad.’ Ghalib
I can feel damp, dead leaves under my feet. The life of trees is circular. Leaves grow to catch sunlight for photosynthesis, and are discarded when the sun is low in the sky and the temperature drops. Leaves then become an incumbrance to the tree. But, in shedding them, much needed nutrients are released by them into the soil as they rot, and are collected by the tree’s roots, and the tree benefits in other ways. And, the following spring, trees adorn themselves with leaves once more. The perfect economy of nature.
Behind me, I can hear the soporific sound of a babbling brook. I’d stepped across it an hour ago – and at this point in the forest it is less than one foot deep and not more than three feet wide. It’s quite fast for it’s size, and it meanders through the forest without a care in the world – except to be a babbling brook, to flow, and to do what a babbling brook does. And, it moves exquisitely along its course.
’How can you follow the course of your life if you do not let it flow?’ Lao Tzu
And, as I relaxed and bask in the forest around me, high above I could hear birdsong. Sitting in the trees, I could pick our several birds by their unique birdsong. It was beautiful.
Resting high above me, they sang songs of joy. ‘Our hearts are just small birds waiting’, wrote mark Nepo.
An hour later, I was back home. But, I just had to sit quietly and ‘unpack’ the encounter. Some encounters can take your breath away, metaphorically or physically knock you off your feet. Others are more subdued in effect, but nonetheless real. Do not let ego, or other people’s ego inform you that the subdued kind of encounter is of a lesser quality than theirs or of any other kind. An encounter, is an encounter, is an encounter.
What was the commonality between those three experiences of damp leaves, a babbling brook, and birds and birdsong? It may vary from person to person, and it may be that you have your own ideas. And, ofcourse, it could be that you are experiencing an encounter now in reading this, in which case do meditate deeply on the ‘message’ from Beyond, for you! Who is to say that in reading this you are not encountering?
For me, the ‘message’ was that trees do what trees do and there is a (circular) purpose to it; brooks do what brooks do and enjoy their meandering course through the forest, almost oblivious to everything else; and the birds in those ancient trees burst into joyful birdsong and are scattered, they fly away, when something ‘big’ takes place – a noise, a nearby predator etc. They wait until an opportune time.
Everything has its place. Everything, including you and I have our place in the great cosmic dance of life, which is unending – it changes in many ways (just as we grow in stature etc), it is transformed, it moves (in unexpected ways), and it flows, and it is unending.
And now for the application. It is necessary to earth such experiences. A good, in-depth and internal experience, however meaningful, will stay there unless it is earthed, grounded, and worked out in our daily life.
How do I apply that encounter and the ‘message’ to my daily life? Major decisions lay ahead for me. It might sound too easy to say I will emulate the tree and shed what is unnecessary – but isn’t that the lesson here for me?. I believe so. We do need a periodic ‘spring clean’ to offload what is holding us back. What was good and beneficial then, might be a ‘boulder on our back’ slowing us down, now. Decisions need to be made – tough choices. And, doubts will creep in. That’s part of what it means to be human. We have the ability to reflect and be objective. And the greater the decision, perhaps, the greater the doubts. And, the greater the reward. Do not lose heart.
But, don’t be perturbed as if you are being singled out – and it probably will feel like it – but it’s common to all humanity especially when we face major challenges ahead. But, I need to offload some things and travel lighter. The brook meanders this way and that way effortlessly. Perhaps, there are times when no resistance is needed. The concept of wu wei wu (Chinese words, pronounced ‘woo way woo’) is ‘action-no-action’, a free -flowing spontaneity, that is, that sometimes the best way forward is acceptance.
‘…The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going’. John 3.8b, The Book.
I need to accept more of what is coming (but that’s not to say we cannot and shouldn’t make course corrections along the way – that too is part of our humanity). And, those chirping birds that rest in high and ancient trees, and then fly. I need, having rested, to trust in flight (more), and be borne on the high winds, to have faith, to travel to diverse encounters, adventures and happenings.
Don’t be afraid to be weak.
Don’t be too proud to be strong.
Just look into your heart my friend.
That will be the return to yourself.
The return to innocence.
(Song by Enigma)
And now, to action! ‘Allons-y’, as the French say. ‘Let’s go!’.