Tadhg, On The Road To The New Forest: Imbolc, Land-Healing & More 2

20190201 TADHG ON THE ROAD TO THE NEW FOREST 2

I’m in the New Forest in the south of England. The new Forest is a charmingly deceptive name, though. It is an ancient woodland delineated on the man-made map a thousand years ago and at that time declared ‘new’, and formed after the retreat of the last ice age some thirty thousand years ago. It is an old forest, indeed, and it’s bliss.

In a forest such as this, there is a wonderful feeling of catharsis, a peace in the midst of wild things. The Japanese knew of this and coined a phrase in the 1980’s prompting the health benefits of people spending time in forest.

Many call this ‘tree bathe-ing’, the Japanese call it ‘shirin-yoku’ (meaning ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’) and its benefits are felt just by being in a forest. It is said it helps to reduce blood pressure, stress, improves mood, accelerates ailment recovery, increases energy levels and intuition, increases happiness etc. Truly, there is something here, something beyond what just can be seen. 

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 Wendell Berry

I’m in this ancient forest, suitably attired for my hike, or perhaps a saunter is a better word for it, in waterproofs with layers underneath and well-worn hiking boots on my feet. I am in my preferred environment. I’ve been walking for two hours now, and it’s raining, it’s wet and it’s muddy underfoot, and cold. I love it. I haven’t seen another soul in two hours. I’m alone.

Alone? That’s not entirely true. Sporadically a bird flies overhead in this dark, dense woodland. Most of the trees a bare, leafless except for the pine trees. Occasionally, an animal scurries away in the nearby undergrowth. Adders are very common in this area and care should be taken. I’m careful. The trees are far from lifeless. They’re sleeping. Deep roots are dreaming. And new shoots push up through the semi-decomposed duff layer here and there. Spring is returning. 

Alone? No. There is animal life here, tree and plant life, microbial  life and much more. Some talk of life as consisting of animal life, plant (and tree) life, fungi, protist life (that is, any multi-called organism not included in the previous three), archaea life (single-called organisms) and bacteria. These all form what is known as the Five Kingdoms of life. How can I be alone with all that going on around me? But there’s more.

‘If we opened our minds to enjoyment, we might find tranquil pleasures spread about us on every side. We might live with the angels that visit us on every sunbeam, and sit with the fairies who wait on every flower.’ Samuel Smiles

Alone? No. These are ancient woods and you can feel something more here. A presence or presences can be felt. Benevolent. Yes.

Perhaps it is Dryads (tree spirits); Salamanders (fire-beings seen in flames eg candle flame, and, some would say in everything that has the potential to burn); the Fae or pixies (nature’s carers); or Water nymphs, energetic beings, found in and by lakes (but why not in a wet and damp forest like the one I’m in, or present in your faucet.) Yes, maybe water nymphs are closer to you, in your home, than you imagined at first. 

Maybe there are Sylphs here. Yes, there are. Sylphs are said to be seen in light clouds or low-level mist, and indeed some would say they are the light clouds and low-level mist that we sometimes see. Here, in this forest the occasional wisp of mist can be seen moving between trees as a light breeze directs them.

Dryads, Salamanders, the Fae, Water nymphs, and Sylphs are here, and all these, sometimes collectively known as Elementals, are known by some as the Five Magical Realms.

Alone? No. I am in an ancient forest teeming with life, visible and invisible, ‘mundane’ and ‘spiritual’, known and unknown, silent and loud, jere and yet of the Other.  And maybe, there are angels here; maybe the ancestors, too.

‘…since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…’ Hebrews 12.1b, The Book

And then, I stop. And in this ancient forest, surrounded by Life itself, there at the base of a tree stump I ‘plant’ a small rainforest jasper stone (as I have done in two other location through the U.K.) and say a few words of peace over it; peace for the land, peace for all life, peace for this country’s government of people as it ‘doth err’. Remaining in silence I am aware of the presences around me. Presences? oh yes, and the Presence is here, known as the Friend, the Companion, the Happy One, the Wild Holy One.

We are never alone. Never alone, for we ‘swim’ through Life itself and Life pervades our very Being in an eternal dance of mutuality.

And, then I move. It’s still raining, it’s still wet and it’s still muddy underfoot, and it is still cold. Oh yes, and I still love it, but it’s time to walk back on my two hour journey to leave this wonderful place. But, what is here ‘travels’ with me, and oh yes, it “travels’  with you, too, for we are never alone.

‘Listen. Are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?’ Mary Oliver

The Teacher And The Question About Dawn: Tales From The Hearth

20181227 THE TEACHER AND THE DAWN TALES FROM THE HEARTH

There was a time when it used to snow heavily at Christmastime in north Wales, and there was a time when I would spend hours and hours playing with friends in the snow: tobogganing on an old tea tray (when really small), making and throwing snowballs, making a snowman, even making an igloo using old ice cream tubs as containers to form ‘snow bricks’.

Ofcourse, that was many years ago when I was a wee lad, and seeing on tv, recently, some scenes of the Sami people in the northern parts of snow-laden Finland, wonderful boyhood memories came flooding back.

On one occasion, as a wee lad, I had been playing outside for some hours, and though it was snowing and so wonderful for me, I was just a little bored on that occasion as all my friends weren’t allowed out to play. Nevertheless, I tried to keep myself occupied, loved the snow and the way on those oh-so-snowy days in north Wales the scenery would be bright white with snow, and the clouds would be a gloomy, dark, brooding grey – the ground was brighter than the sky and I loved it.

But, eventually, being alone, I got bored.

‘Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work’. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

Going through the boot-room of my grandparent’s cottage (a small room for depositing of earth or snow-covered boots) I entered into a wonderfully warm and baking-fragranced kitchen, and ambled on into the living room, and settled by a roaring fire in the hearth, and beside my grandmother’s rocking chair.

Thawing out, the cup of hot chocolate my grandad had made and given me went down a treat. My grandmother asked about my time outside and I let off a series of complaints, centring on the fact that life wasn’t fair, that I had wanted to play with friends but they weren’t allowed out, that they were probably having a better time than me, and… and… and, so it went on. I really did feel sorry for myself as though I was the only person in the whole world that had a reason to be upset.

’The wound is the place where the light enters you’. Rumi

My grandmother was a patient woman, listened intently to me as she rocked in the rocking chair. Occasionally she would stoke the fire in the hearth. She waited for me to stop complaining. I did eventually stopped, and then she spoke.

Lovingly, and with the most splendid of valley accents she quietly said, ‘You know, Tadgh, when you think you’re alone, you’re actually surrounded by lots of things, if you only give yourself time to look and listen. And, when you think your friends are so different. It’s then that you, and it applies to all us, need to know that we have a lot in common, that were very much alike, and more. And, once we realise that, we’re never really alone.’

’If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude’. Maya Angelou

Curled up, beside her rocking chair, I remember her saying, ‘Let me tell you a story’. With that, my attention was captivated as my grandmother told the most wonderful, ‘treasure-laden’ storyteller, who told stories that both entertained and enlightened.

‘A teacher once asked his pupils, ‘How do you know when the first moment of dawn has arrived?’. After a long silence, one of the pupils said, ‘When you can tell the difference between a dog and a sheep’. The teacher shook his head, tutted, and walked about the classroom hoping that another pupil would try to answer the question.

Another pupil chimed in, and said, ‘ When you can tell the difference between an olive tree and a fig tree’. Again the teacher shook his head, tutted, and walked about the classroom hoping that yet another pupil would try to answer the question. There were no more answers.

At this point my grandmother asked, ‘And what would you have said, dear Tadhg?. Open-mouthed and wide-eyed, engrossed in the story, as a wee lad, I could only but shake my head. An unvoiced unknowing was ‘loudly’ expressed!

She continued. ‘Well’, she said, ‘the teacher waited for a minute or two and then said, ‘You know the first moment when dawn has arrived when you look into the eyes of another human being and see yourself!’.

At this point my grandmother quickly chuckled to herself, ruffled my hair as I had a nonplussed expression on my face, and quietly rocked in her rock chair giving no further explanation.

I had a little understanding of the meaning of the story, but it wasn’t until many years later that the true import of the story made sense.

We are not really that different at all. On one level we all have the same needs and aspirations, all respond similarly to hurt and pain, and on a deep and very real level we can never be alone, because we really are one!

‘You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.’ Rumi

We are one. That was the ‘treasure’ contained deep within my grandmother’s story and which ‘dawns’ on those who are aware (which, like good, old, wisdom stories was ‘borrowed’ by her and others, and had been told to countless generations around the world in one form or another).

We are never truly alone. We are one. Indeed, everything is connected into one cosmic web.

‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these…you did for me’. Matthew 25:40, The Book