Lost In Wonder: Two Tales And An Exercise In Awareness

20191020 LOST IN WONDER TWO TALES AND AN EXERCISE IN AWARENESS

As you know, I love visiting far-flung corners of the UK, and there is nothing I like better than immersing myself in an ancient forest and getting lost – not necessarily geographical lost (though that happens occasionally), but lost in thought and awe, lost in imagination and the labyrinthine depths of the mind, and yes, lost in wonder, love, and praise.

And, yet we all seem to move too fast, and it seems the pace is quickening.

Travelling as I do, usually by car, I enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Therein lies a challenge. When I’m driving, and I promise I don’t ‘dawdle’, but being unfamiliar with the twists and turns of country roads I might drive a little slower. And I assure you it is only a little slower than the regulars who use that stretch of road. But, then I’m in ‘tourist mode’ and I like to imbibe the countryside, the changing colours of the leaves, and see herds of sheep all facing the same direction (and, why do that do that?), or just gaze and the undulating scenery (whilst being attentive to traffic conditions, of course). All this means that I might just travel a tad slower than the regulars who seem intake on tailgating me.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Yes, we  all (or many people, at least) seem to move too fast, and it seems the pace is quickening.

It was a cold, dark, grey, cloudy evening, with the wind howling around the chimney stack and making a ghoul-like noise. In north Wales the winds can be particularly strong and even more so in the valleys, as the mountain sides seem to act like a conduit funnelling strong winds into ‘smaller space’s and making for even stronger winds. But, I’m inside the Cottage, Ty Gwin, and now safe, comfortable and warm, and aged about seven years – and so this happened some time ago.

Earlier that afternoon my grandmother, wrapping herself up in many layers, gave me a wink which meant so me to do similar and join her on a ramble. I liked the mystery of not knowing of where we would be going, and so asking the purpose of the ramble just didn’t occur to me. And had I asked, I think, knowing my grandmother well, the answer would have been alluringly vague or cryptic.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

My grandmother was, then, very mobile, but getting on in years, and that on particular afternoon we seemed to walk and talk for about twenty minutes and then stop, and in silence just sit on a log. That happened several times over the course of the afternoon’s ramble, and then we circled back to the cottage early evening, where I could hear the wind picking up and making those ghoulish noises outside.

‘So, what did you notice on our jaunt this afternoon, little one?, she asked – always with a friendly, somewhat mystical, assuring, twinkle in her eye.

‘Well, when we stopped the first time, I noticed the horses in the nearby farmer’s field, and I heard some tractor noises in the distance, and I saw a bird fly out from a hedge, so it might have been a wren’, I replied.

‘Very good, and more…?, she said.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

‘Well, the second time we stopped, I noticed more mud on my boots so the ground was a bit marshy, and there was a bad smell of fox pooh, so there must have been foxes around somewhere’, I replied.

And without waiting, and being somewhat eager to please,  I went on and added, ‘And the third time we stopped, although I couldn’t see it I heard the sound of a Great tit’.

‘How do you know that’, she asked.

‘Ah’, I promptly replied,’ I remember you telling me that that bird sounded as though it was saying ‘Teacher, teacher’.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

She smiled, winked, and said, ‘Well done. Exactly right. And what did you notice when we were walking?’.

‘I thought about it for a few minutes, and I  said, ‘Not that much. I was trying to keep up with you, not stumble, not get mud in my boots and on my socks, and had to duck several times under branches’.

She smiled an even broader smile, let out a small laugh and said, ‘That’s fine, little one. It’s usually when we stop racing around that we’re more observant, anyway’.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

That was many years ago, but more recently I heard this (anonymous) story: It is said that a man ventured into the most remote part of Africa, and was only accompanied by paid porters. They each carried a machete as  they made their way through the thick undergrowth. Their aim was to keep going at any cost. If a river appeared and several did, they would cross them in the shortest time possible. If there was a hill and there were many, they quickened their pace so as not to waste a minute. But suddenly, and without warning, the porters stopped. The explorer was nonplussed, and very surprised. They had only been walking for a few hours. So he asked them: ‘Why have you stopped? Are you already tired after just a few hours walking?’ Then one of the porters looked at him and explained: ‘No sir, we’re not tired. It’s just that we have been moving so quickly that we have left our soul behind. Now, we have to wait for it to catch up with us again.’

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

We do all seem to move too fast, and it seems the pace is quickening, don’t you think? If you can, my encouragement to you this week, is to ‘gouge out’ some regular time when you can slow down, or even stop and rest even for a short time. I know it’s not easy, but working around work, and busy schedules and other commitments my encouragement to you (and me) it to take (more) time to stop and stare, and to really appreciate our local (rural or city) environment, and truly appreciate the life around us and within, and the opportunities we have to be in awe of nature and the Source of All.

 

(All indented phrases above are from the poem ‘Leisure’ by the Welsh poet W H Davies. The ‘Guardian of the Forest’ sculpture, in the header photograph, is one of about ten sculptures situated in Thetford Forest UK from October 2019 for the next few months).

 

‘Tis Mystery All’. Living With The Unknown In An Age Of ‘Must Know’

20180804 TIS MYSTERY ALL LIVING WITH THE UNKOWN IN AN AGE OF MUST KNOW

I’m in London and it’s still hot – heatwave weather. Earlier I took myself off to the local park and that’s where I am now. In the bustle of a busy city, I’m sitting in the shade of a mighty oak tree, with a coffee nearby, a good book, and eyes that are half closing in the heat of the day, as my mind begin to wander. I wonder…

‘Hamlet: And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ William Shakespeare

It is on hot, balmy days that much musing takes place. Have you noticed how, in ancient text, in those hot lands of old that Divine contact usually took place near or under trees, where men and women were resting from the day’s heat and perhaps were more ‘open’ to the numinous.

‘Then God appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre in the heat of the day, while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent. And Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw three men standing nearby…’ Genesis 18:1-2a, The Book

It was many years ago, and I suppose I was six or seven years old at that time, that my grandmother told a story to me one evening. We were at the far end of her garden, sitting in the shade of an old, mature, gnarled oak tree, an oak tree unlike the many others in her garden. Quite similar to this oak tree in this city park. It, too, was a hot August evening. My eyes were half-closed, then, and my imagination ran riot.

She told the story of ‘the lights’ in the wood, which she described like fire-flies, but as she would say, ‘there’s more to it than that’, or just ‘there’s more’. She said that several years ago she had been walking in the nearby woods once evening and out the corner of her eyes she spied several lights in the distance, gaily dancing. Luminous green orbs they were. She said she wasn’t afraid as she seemed enveloped in an almost palpable peace. As she drew near, she said, the lights just disappeared. I was enthralled. Even at that young age it got me wondering.

She went on to say that they might have been the spirits of the place, or tree spirits, and as she said that she winked at me. Was that a ‘knowing wink’ meaning that I should take what she had said to heart? Or was it a ‘make your own mind up’, kind of wink?

‘One day you might find out…but then you might not’, she said enigmatically. ‘It’s the journey that counts…’. Perhaps, nature or the One behind it all gives us a periodic ‘wake up’ call?

’Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ Hebrews 1:1, The Book

That was then.

Now, I know that the ancient Celts, Druids and Romans did have a belief in the spirits of the place, protectives spirit, the genii loci as they called them. They had a deep and abiding belief in such a spirit in each location with its own perspective and mannerism. Today, we might laugh at such a notion, but admit that, at times, we do ‘feel’ at home in certain places, but then dismiss it as nothing more than an emotional feeling. A shallow view of the genii loci when compared to our ancestors.

But suppose the Celts, Druids, Romans, and not forgetting my grandmother, suppose they were right, and our disbelief is nothing more than twenty-first century ‘distancing’ and scepticism?

I also remembered, at that time, her saying that the lights might, indeed, be the Will-O-The-Wisp. And as I look back now I wonder if that was what I saw, once.

’Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.’ Neil Armstrong

About eighteen months ago I wrote that a few years ago I went for a night stroll in the local woods. I can’t remember now if it was a problem getting to sleep or being woken up in the early hours and unable to get back to sleep. But I went for a walk. Then I wrote: My thoughts were then interrupted by a brilliant bright yellow-green light, visible some 200 feet away through dense forest. The mysterious light had piqued my interest, and once again my heart rate quickened. I sat there watching it. It made no noise. It never seemed to move. After about fifteen minutes of sitting there, wondering what it could be and not drawing any logical conclusion, I got to my feet and slowly moved towards the direction of the light.

Then, 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! No sound! No light. I stopped. After a few minutes I carried on walking, gauging my steps so that I’d have a rough idea of walking some forty feet. After forty feet, I stopped. I must have been right on top of the light source, and for the next few minutes looked around for evidence of what had caused the bright light – but I could see nothing untoward. A mystery.

So, now I’m wondering: Will-O-The-Wisp or dryads?

’It is the dim haze of mystery that adds enchantment to pursuit.’ Antoine Rivarol

Years ago, under that oak tree, my grandmother pondered if it could have been the Will-O-The-Wisp or a dryad, that is, a tree spirit, or the spirit of the place. Who knows?

Perhaps somethings are just too mysterious. Interestingly (as I was then sitting under an oak tree, as I am now), there is much to say that trees, and especially Oak trees have a spirit associated with them. When you think oak, think dryad or a similar term, drys. And, as regards the oak tree, think Druid. Drys signifies ‘oak’ in Greek, and dryads are specifically the spirits of oak trees, whilst the dryads of ash trees were called the Meliae.

’There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.’ Aldous Huxley

So, as I open my eyes fully on this still-oh-so-hot London day I am now no nearer solving the challenge: Did I witness a dryad, the Will-O-The-Wisp, the Canwyll Corff [pronounced can-noo-will-korf] that is, the ‘corpse candle’ (see here), or something else? Was it in this physical realm or in the imaginal? Did it have a specific meaning or was it a ‘nudge’ just to prompt me into a state of awareness?

Maybe, the ‘message for me and perhaps you, is that we might need to wonder (more)?  To have a beginner mind as Buddhists say, to be born again and again and again, to see through the eyes of a child maybe needed? It’s the journey that is important, and as we journey onward it is perception, wonder, mystery and awe that, perhaps, we can open ourselves to, and profit from (more).

‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.’ William Blake

My grandmother, always ready to listen (as well as tell stories), would often conclude her stories by saying to me, ‘Now, what do you think, dear one?’