Celtic Advent: Even More Cosmic Thoughts At The Magic Cafe

20191114 EVEN MORE COSMIC THOUGHTS AT THE MAGIC CAFE CELTIC ADVENT

Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.’ Helen Keller

Ever since the clocks went back an hour there has been an increasing expectation of the event. The nights draw in, the temperature drops, and parts of the UK have even had a dusting of snow.

Anticipation just hangs in the air as autumn gives way to winter, or is my ‘inner child’ even more overactive than usual? As I sit in the Magic Café in Fulham, London I read and drink coffee, and talk to friends that come and go. There’s much talk about politics and the impending election, which way to vote, should one vote tactically, and what of the future. There is a sense that the very soul of the nation is at stake for generations to come.

‘Pause. Listen for the whispers of your Soul. Soul quietly flows through every part of you.’ Nancy Lankston

And yet, without minimising such day to day concerns about politics, for in many cases it is within the mundane that myth, magic and miracles take place, there is more.

Yes, the Celtic Advent is here.

Celtic Advent is always 15 November to 24 December, Christmas Eve, and it was a time of fasting and preparation that mirrored Lent which was celebrated in the lead up to Easter. But, I’d like to suggest something a bit different.

Whether you are a Christian, Celt, Druid or of some other belief, or a blend of two or more, this is a good time to prepare in the lead up to Christmas or the Winter Solstice.

Advent for many, is a time of pondering the cosmic significance of darkness, a turning of the great Circle and the seasons change, a time of personal preparation, a time to go deeper, a time of expectation.

It is at this time of the year that nature seemingly dies. Death is something the ancients didn’t fear, and this time of the year for them would be a time of remembrance and storytelling as regards the ancestors. What about us?

‘Praise to you Keeper of those I love and can no longer see.
I have entrusted to you the care that was mine once to give,
the embrace that was mine once to feel,
the story that was mine once to share.
Praise you for the love that I can never be separated from.
For even with the last fallen leaf and the flowers gone,
those I have loved are not under the earth,
they are here in my heart, they are here.’

Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel Of The Year

And then, the season moves on and culminates in a time of joyful commemoration as Light wonderfully enters the world at the time of the Winter Solstice and/or Christmas.

As the days grow darker, it’s Light that we look forward to.

‘Counsellor of my soul, you quicken my soul’s progress this Winter day by the strength of your example. I look forward to your light to help me discover the track of the day’s question’. Caitlin Matthews, Celtic Devotional.

There are some who will set themselves, at this time, the task of reading more sacred text, or of attending an extra service, of spending a little bit more than usual, of adding an extra home ritual or prayer to their list or prayers – and all of these are wholesome, good and proper for you, if you feel ‘called’ to do one or more of them.

You might like to consider reading a page a day of a book you read some time ago, or use the links below once a day to set your day up with an uplifting word or thought for the Celtic Advent.

In the busyness of life, maybe the last thing we need is to be more ‘busy, busy’. Oh, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype from the tv, the newspapers and radio, but once we’re aware of being ‘pulled along’ by the increasing flow of the pace of life at this time of the year, we’re in with a chance of doing something about it. So, perhaps it maybe best to use this time to slow, reflect and take on board on a thought for the day (see below)?

‘Be aware of the ancestral teachers, the grandparents and elders of the spiritual traditions, whose footsteps have kept the pathways open.’ Caitlin Matthews, Celtic Devotional.

And, so in this cafe, having just packed away the Halloween decorations ten days or so ago, they’re now unpacking boxes of Christmas decorations. And, as I sit here pondering the darkness, as I look through the cafe window onto a cold, dark blue sky’d city street, I look forward, in anticipation and expectation to Light entering the world, and what that means personally for me, for you, and others.

‘These special holidays give rise to various liturgical calendars that suggest we should mark our days not only with the cycles of the moon and seasons, but also with occasions to tell our children the stories of our faith community’s past so that this past will have a future, and so that our ancient way and its practices will be rediscovered and renewed every year.’ Brian McLaren

To paraphrase some, this Celtic Advent was created for you and your benefit, and not the other way around.

My encouragement is for you to celebrate the start of the Celtic Advent with a meal – and yes, some will know that in ancient times it was a time of fasting, and if you’re called to do that, then do it, but also to take the time to ponder upon the themes of darkness and Light. So far as possible, slip beyond the rational (not into irrationality, but towards the arational, beyond rationality) for a while.

As regards, the celebration I’m thinking of an Celtic Advent celebration some time into the season and maybe couple it with a ‘telling place’ experience: a time of imagination and story, perhaps at the Magic Cafe one evening. Time to reflect. Time to go deeper. Time to encounter the imaginal and be transformed. Time for community. You’re invited. Are you free? Details soon.

If you’re interested on taking on one ‘extra’ thing, such as a thought for each day, for this season, here’s some links that you might like to dip into daily during this season:

BBC Radio 4 Thought For The Day: Here

A Forty Day Pilgrimage through the Advent Season with Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Saints: Here

Celtic advent calendar: Here

Contemporary and Ancient Celtic Blessings: Here

Meanwhile, many blessings of the Celtic Advent to you and to those whom you love. Tadhg.

 

The Elements: In Praise Of Fire

20190906 THE ELEMENTS IN PRAISE OF FIRE

Sitting by that hearth as a child I was mesmerised by the ‘ghostly’ flickers of orange, red and yellow as flames danced around the lumps of coal.

Occasionally a plume of blue or purple, ignited coal-gas, would prevail for few seconds and catch my attention. The coal would splutter, and shift, and settle as lumps of coal would disintegrate. The fire would hiss and crackle, and emit heat – so much so that, that, as I usually sat too close to the fire, one side of my face would be red for a while and hot, and the other seemingly cold. But, they were wonderful childhood memories of the hearth and of fire.

It is no wonder that the ancients and some today believe fire to be alive. The mythical and elemental salamander, often depicted as a typical salamander in shape, is elemental fire.

What follows, then, is research and words of liturgy (usually indented, below, that you might like to use and/or adapt) on the fascinating subject of the element of life-giving fire, that I hope with enthral you and inspire.

‘The most tangible of all visible mysteries – fire’. (Leigh Hunt)

Since the beginning of humankind fire has held many in awe, and much myth surrounding its ‘finding’ abound in many cultures. Remember Prometheus in Greek mythology who stole fire from the gods and gives it to humankind? Or the story of dragons, flying serpent-like creatures in many Celtic tales who gifted mankind with fire and with speech.

As regards fire, the rekindling of  fire in ancient times was problematic, and it was probably because of that that Abraham carried live coals with him when offering a sacrifice (Genesis 22.6, The Book). Others, especially travelling tribes would have done the same. In those times, sometimes, children were made to ‘pass through the fire’ as a sign of dedication (and not sacrifice) by some tribes.

In the beginning, some fourteen billion years ago, there was nothing. Then, about 13.8 billion years ago, the universe erupted into being and the temperature of it, for a brief moment,  was an astounding one billion degrees Celsius (though, it you still work in Fahrenheit then it was 1.8 billion degrees). Fortunately, it cooled down, and as we know from science energy is never lost or destroyed, but is changed, transformed, and so that energy is still around to day.

‘Fires from the beginning of time empower you right now – this instant. What you are thinking and feeling…is possible only through the cosmic fire. (‘The Universe Is A Green Dragon’, Brian Swimme)

The energy of the cosmos, from the Big Bang, continues. Not just in each star that we can see and not see, not only within the molten core of our home planet, but it is within each one of us, within everything that exists.

But fire is not always destructive and negative. In some cases, it is used as a purifying process or to signify truth, sometimes it is used to herald a theophany, and sometimes to talk about love and burning desire.

‘To love is to burn, to be on fire.’ (Jane Austen)

And, to ancient and latter-day Chinese people and those who practice Qi Gong, yang is the fire within and also the positive energy that circulates around the body, with its ‘chief’ organ being the heart.

It is no wonder that many cultures revere or hold a special place for fire in their community or home. Indeed, in many Celtic or Druidic ritual, fire is one of the main elements:  many face the southern compass point  in ritual to commemorate not just the season of summer, but also fire.

Blessed be you Light of Life,
Source of the sacred flame within each of us,
Light which the darkness cannot put out.
I rise up with you this day/I rest with you this night.

(The Celtic Wheel Of The Year. Tess Ward

The Carmina Gadelica – a compendium of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, literary-folkloric poems and songs, proverbs etc gathered in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland between 1860 and 1909, and recorded by Alexander Carmichael Gaelic-– speaks of smooring the fire in the hearth.

Many translate smooring as smothering the fire before one goes to bed, but it really means subduing the fire when rekindling the fire was a challenge (but, please, do safely smother any fire you light at the end of each day or as necessary). Smooring in that older sense meant that embers could easily be kept and rekindled the following day, and according to Carmicheal the following prayer would be used when smooring (or maybe used by us as we smother a fire or candle flame after (ritual) usage.

I am smooring the fire
as the Son of Mary would smoor;
Blessed be the house,
blessed be the fire,
blessed be the people all.

(Carmina Gadelica, compiled by Alexander Carmichael)

Or

I will smoor the hearth
as Mary would smoor;
The encompassment  (encircling) of Bride (Bridget) and of Mary,
on the fire and on the floor,
and on the household all.

(Carmina Gadelica, compiled by Alexander Carmichael)

And so, that childhood memory of the hearth returns to me. Happy days. Ofcourse, the circle has turned many time since then. Endless smooring and rekindling has taken place, and those around the hearth in my childhood, then, save one, have ‘gone ahead’ and been transformed. But, the memories and good times, and their words and example remain. The words of our Elders and loved-ones, though they may not be physically present, can positively  burn within our hearts and rekindle kindly action within us, even today.

That ancient and noble fire of love and truth, of light and encouragement continues on, in you and I.

‘Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames’. (Rumi)

 

The Elements: In Praise Of Water

20190816 THE ELEMENTS IN PRAISE OF WATER POEM LITURGY

It’s been warmer than usual in the UK, and yet today and tomorrow the forecasters predict that over that short period we should expect a month’s rainfall, if it were a ‘normal’ month.

We take it for granted, misuse it as though we have too much of it, and yet without water life on this planet would perish. Another sobering thought, as take clean water for granted, is that two billion people are without clean water, and, sadly, each year 320,000 children die because of that.  If ever there was a need to consider giving a small amount of money to water aid charities (if able), then now is the time. But, whatever we do, you might like to consider the following as a poem, a prayer offering, or as part of your liturgy for the environment.

The following was written some time ago by me:

Water.

The vast oceans, which sustains life on Earth,
which move at the behest of the moon,
the rolling tides that contains a myriad of sea-life, from plankton to the behemoth,
that which quenches the world’s need,
and from which all nourishment is assured,
acknowledgement is given.

From clouds you pour out rain upon the Earth, and enrich it.
Mighty lakes appear from which  ancient forests of growing trees are fed,
and daily bread is produced for our table.
An abundance for many,
and a veritable gift from the Great Water-Giver.
Bountiful.

It soothes and it heals.
For when an angel’s wing sweeps
across the surface of the Pool,
then healing takes place, and there is restoration.
Health-giving.

It’s cleansing power, daily, washes the body,
and restores vitality.
A clean start. A refreshing start. A new start.
All is washed away.
And, in it celebration commences,
in appreciation, in sport, in swimming and in children’s’ play.
Joyfulness.

It quenches the soul, it nurtures the spirit;
and from those who are aware,
springs of sanctifying water flow,
and outward pour,
to friends, to enemies,
to those near, and to those far away.
To all.

Water.
Whether we have much, or little,
may the words, “Come, all. Drink. Share”, be on our lips.
Praise to the Great Water-Giver.

 

What Are You Missing? Looking Beyond: Physical Metaphors

20190802 WHAT ARE YOU MISSING LOOKING BEYOND PHYSICAL METAPHORS

Take a look around you. What do you see? What do you really see? What is seen that is actually ‘pointing’ to that which is unseen and beyond? Puzzled? Here is an explanation of facts, from imagination, and from my journal of yesteryear and more recently.

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

We are surrounded by metaphors, physical metaphors, that point to something beyond, above or below. Such metaphors are glimpses that challenge, inspire or instruct if we allow them, but to do that we first need to be aware of them.

There is a mountain not far from Capel Curig, that, like the rest of Wales, is complete with myth and magic, rumour and a whole host of legends that invite the brave, or perhaps repel the timid. Glyder Fawr is just one such place. It is part of several peaks. How many? Well the ‘set’ is called Tryfan (and therein lies the clue, as Tryfan is Welsh for ‘three peaks’). As regards a wonderful and profound climb some time ago – see here.

There are myths in Wales about giants on mountains, dragons in mountains, water-horses in lakes and rivers, and other elementals that live deep in the ground. We all knew they were myths, and many, even in Wales, laugh at such superstitions, but deep in our minds, and I’m thinking of myself and friends of yesteryear, we weren’t so sure that those myths should be disregarded, well at least not totally.

‘I was born with the ability to see in metaphor. This has been my inborn way of relating to the living Oneness of things. From an early age, the world has spoken to me in this way. The analogous relationship of things has called, not in words, but in a silent language that has sow shown me, however briefly, the web of connection [of] everything.’ Mark Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways To Listen

Perhaps, these myths were not to be taken literally, and they were metaphorical, and ‘poetically’ warned passers-by, or perhaps they were to be taken literally? As children we loved the not knowing, and as I and my friends grew older there was always that lurking possibility that maybe there was something ‘behind’ them. Exactly, what physical metaphors purport to ‘show’.

At the base of Glyder Fawr is a rocky crevice – about ten feet wide, thirty feet long, and deep, very deep. As teenagers when would hike and have adventures, this was the place to go. Forever and a day, for as long as I can remember, and certainly as early teenagers, at the base of Glyder Fawr, we called that breach in the ground Uffern.

As young teens we avoided that pit in the ground, but as we grew a little older, a lot braver, more adventurous and somewhat stronger the ‘terror’ of Uffern (which is the Welsh word for hell) grew smaller, until one day a few of us, well-versed in abseiling, and belaying by then, tackled that void.

We climbed down into Uffern, climbed into Hell. With a lot of laughing and some seriousness, we were encountering then, though we didn’t know it at the time, a physical metaphor.

Physical metaphors, which may include outdoor adventure, nature observation, ritual or anything that is challenging and physical (as in tangible, solid, observable) are excellent tools for making change in each of us, and to awaken us to what is beyond.

Physical metaphors can interrupt our habitual patterns of behaviour, place us in an awkward and challenging situation and thereby open us up to new ways of thinking and doing things. In such situations our limitations and objections (of ‘Yes, but….) cease to have any power over us. People discover they must discard old, useless behaviour and replace it with something fresh, empowering and creative. Physical metaphors make us go, ‘wow’ in awe and wonder.

‘Communion is a ceremony based around food and drink…. In the Lord’s Supper, it is as if we are enacting a physical metaphor. The physical act of eating and drinking is very much like the spiritual realities it represents’. Ron Julian, Communion Metaphor, Gutenberg College.

I’m back at Uffern.  I’m older. This time alone, this time as an adult (and a mature, agewise, one at that) and it is probably the hottest day of the year. And I’ve climbed down to the base of the crevice. It’s silent, unusually so, except for the occasional drip of water that hits the small, two inch high pool of water that has collected beneath my feet. I’m alone (or am I?). It’s awesome, its wonderful, it is an amazing place. It’s rocky, damp, deep, cramped and full of jagged rocks, but it is bliss.

I can now ‘unpack’ the meaning of this physical metaphor, which to me ‘speaks’ of overcoming my teenage fears of this pit in the ground, my wariness that it could be a link between ‘our world’ and that of elementals. To be honest, I think it might be a doorway, but I now don’t fear those elementals, but see them as fellow occupants of this wonderful planet. And if I’m wrong and they don’t exist then they will not be present to hear what I’ve just spoken to them, and no one will ever know that I’ve even spoken to them (or tried), except now I’ve confess to you. So, you know. But, I’m amongst friends.

I’ve also discovered that the Earth holds a depth of meaning (no pun intended) that is only discovered if we are bold enough to step out of our comfort zone, to take risks and dare to do. I’ve also found that, perhaps, we are surrounded by a multitude of physical metaphors (in rural places as well as in built-up places) and each of them can be prompts to each one of us from Beyond to encourage to ‘see’ behind the visible.

‘We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.’ Marcel Proust

At the base of Uffern I can relax and reflect on deep spirituality, to look at life that contains physical metaphors which anchor us to the world beyond, just as the gears of a car connect and change our foot actions into chemical-air-petrol formulations of a different order to propel the car. Connectedness.

What we see and do has actions far beyond the physical, and its for that reason I so love and cherish, and encourage liturgy, ritual and prayer and blessings, of observing and doing, of acknowledging that our seemingly small actions may have consequences (of a positive nature) far beyond our reckoning.

At the base of Uffern I have just enough time, before the light fades, to take some photographs of the amazing rocky strata that was formed and dishevelled during the last ice age, knowing that only a few have ventured to the base of Uffern, and so many have missed its beauty, and might otherwise have encountered an elemental. Ofcourse, I can’t tell you that I’ve seen one, by with eyes beyond eyes I believe I have, and from that I know the power of the imagination.

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.’ Albert Einstein

And now it’s time to climb out of Uffern. I have to admit the climb up is a lot more arduous that it looks, it takes a lot longer climbing up than scaling down, and I’m not as young as I used to be, but it was worth it.

Take a look around you. What do you see? What do you really see? A burning bush? The voice of the Source of All? An encounter with an angel, the fae, an elemental in the form of a physical metaphor? Take a look around. What is seen that is actually ‘pointing’ to that which is unseen and beyond?

 

 

Celebrating The First Harvest 2019

20190725 CELEBRATING THE FIRST HARVEST

Harvest? Here are a few words about the first harvest of the year, its background and history, and its importance to you and I, and there are  few suggestions about how we can celebrate it.

I can vividly remember as a wee lad, so this is going back a few years, the time when, each year, there would a ‘buzz’, a hubbub, a huge excitement at primary school like no other. Apart from Easter and Christmas, Harvest was such an important time. At school, many of our lessons, especially art, focussed on a harvest theme. And within a day of two the school hall and classes were festooned with drawings, painting and items all made by pupils  with harvest time in mind. Then, bread, corn dollies and garlands decorated the hall, along with parcels of food for the elderly. Wonderful memories.

We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand… (Hymn by Matthias Claudius, Translated by Jane Montgomery Campbell, and one of my favourite, seasonal, hymns at primary school.)

And guess what? Yes, it’s nearly that time, again.

I can’t wait for the ancient Celtic and Druid festival of Lammas, also called Lammas-Day or the season, Lammastide, or Lughnasadh. In Wales it is known as Gŵyl Awst. It traditionally starts on August 1st, and it is the first harvest in the calendar. It is such an important occasion. So important that many, latter-day and Druids, ancient cultures and others celebrate two (and sometimes three) harvests each year. This harvest is the grain harvest.

Although many churches celebrate (one) harvest, now, one Sunday in September, that type of harvest celebration service is fairly recent: it began in 1843, when Revd. Hawker, then the Vicar of Morwenstow in Cornwall, revived the ‘forgotten’ and ancient service of Lammas, as a once-a-year (new) service. We owe a debt of gratitude to him for that.

However, if we view that September harvest as the second harvest, a harvest of berries, applies, and wine, then… there’s more. It will soon be the first harvest, the grain harvest.

The Celts originally called this time, ‘lughnasadh’ (pronounced ‘loo-nas-sah’) after the ancient Gaelic deity, Lugh. But, it seems that believe ‘travelled’, and many believe the area in London now called Ludgate, is a derivation of Lugh.

‘In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.’ William Blake

But many call this harvest Lammas , after the Anglo-Saxon festival of hlaefmass – loaf mass. And it’s from that word that we get the word Lammas! It was the grain harvest, hence the reference to bread, and the baking of bread to celebrate the season.

So, my late grandmother, a great one for making home-made food would, especially at this time, would bake bara brith – Welsh for ‘speckled bread’. It’s similar to the Irish loaf, barmbrack. Bara brith , is pronounced ‘barrah-bri(d)th.’ And, it’s now available in many of the larger supermarkets in the UK.

Lammas, then, is a time of giving thanks to mother nature for all her grain produce, gratitude to the Source of All, the Lord of the Harvest, and a reaping of what has been sown. In previous years it was a time of fairs, trade and much merriment.

With the reaping ended, the last sheaf of corn would be made into a Corn Dolly, which was meant to embody the ‘spirit of the season’ (in much the same way as we might display holly around the house at Christmas), or to represent the ancient corn goddess. The Corn Dolly could, though not always, be made in the form of a miniature human, but it could also be an intricate spiral pyramid, or a miniature sheaf etc. Other designs could include animals, agriculture tools like scythes and shepherds’ crooks, or objects with a Christian significance such as bells or a cross.

How will you celebrate Llughnasadh or Lammas this year? To celebrate this first harvest you might like to choose a time during the first weekend in August, perhaps a few hours one evening?

Perhaps, you might try you hand at baking a special loaf of bread that you can share with family and friends. Or, if not, buy a granary loaf of some kind to share with them. Coupled with a nice wine or non-alcoholic fruit juice it can be a timely reminder, lasting just a few minutes, of giving gratitude to the Great Giver. A communion?

But, you might like to go for a walk in the country or city park, and pause, and as you sit there gazing, meditate and give thanks, silently for a few minutes.

You might like to recite a formal liturgy that can be said by you and meal guests, or by yourself, in which case the following may be of use (to use as it is, or adapt):

Blessed are you, Fruitful One
giver of abundance and plenty,
giver of resources when stocks are low.
Grow my faith in your providence…

(Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel Of The Year)

And/or,

(Facing north)
Remembering the element of earth,
the land on which I/we tread,
from which all things grow.
May your bounty be ever present on the earth for all.
So shall I/we honour the Great Provider.

(You might like to pause and imagine earth energy from which all things grow within yourself and your connection to it, flowing to you and others)

(Facing west)
Remembering to the element of air,
the energy of the mind and wind,
from which the seed is spread and planted.
May your bounty be ever present on the earth for all.
So shall I/we honour the Great Provider.

(You might like to imagine the energy of the air surrounding you and sustaining all life, breathing deeply and slowly as you so. Air! Breath! Life!)

(Facing south)
Remembering the element of fire,
the spirit of creation, and destruction and new life,
the sun’s life-giving warmth.
May your bounty be ever present on the earth for all.
So shall I/we honour the Great Provider.

(You might like to imagine the fire of the setting sun that fuels all creation and which reflects your spirit)

(Facing west)
Remembering to the element of water,
the energy of emotions,
that grew the crops that nourish me/us.
May your bounty be ever present on the earth for all.
So shall I/we honour the Great Provider.

(You might like to think of swimming in the ocean or a pool, remembering that wonderful cleansing and rejuvenating feeling, and give thanks)

[You can vary any of this, and indeed as you work through the compass points, to start, you might like to start at another cardinal point other than north.]

(Tadhg Jonathan)

And/or,

Generous One of the Harvest,
walk alongside those who have sown in tears,
who have scattered seed without hope,
on land not of their choosing.
Come close to those who weep this day.

(Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel Of The Year)

And/or,

Thou thyself my reaping,
each ridge, and plain, and field,
each sickle curved, shapely hard,
each ear and handful in the sheaf,
each ear and handful in the sheaf.

(Book: Carmina Gadelica)

And so, this Lammastide, as it has been since I was a child, I’ll be baking several bara brith, and sharing one – yes, the breaking of bread with family and friends – in a simple, ‘after meal’ remembrance ‘feast’, remembering all the good things that have happened this year, and giving thanks, in silence and humility, to the Source of All for the harvest, for life itself.

Maybe, next time you’ll join me?

 

Tadhg, On The Road To Norfolk: Land-Healing Ritual And More

20190704 TADHG ON THE ROAD THE NORFOLK 2.

Over the last year or so I have journeyed around the UK and have been involved in a one-person land-healing ritual, and it’s been amazing. I have been to several places – such as, deep in the New Forest and high upon the top of Mam Tor, to fairly crowded places to places devoid of people, remote and wild.

In each case I performed a small ritual, and in each case I buried a small rainbow jasper stone – about the size of a thumbnail. It’s a stone that is said to be a ‘helpful stone to connect Mother Gaia and the energy of the natural world…’, and it can ‘aid you to make stronger connections to the great forests and green areas of the planet’.

And so, yesterday, on a fine, sunny hot day, just outside Walsingham in Norfolk, I stopped,  revelled  in the silence and solitude, ‘centred’ myself and performed yet another earth healing rite.’

’To every people the land is given on condition. Perceived or not, there is a Covenant, beyond the constitution, beyond sovereign guarantee, beyond the nation’s sweetest dreams of itself’. Leonard Cohen

This ritual can be done anywhere on behalf of the earth or a particular locality without the need to visit. Visiting may be useful, but it is not essential. And the type of rock you bury, or perhaps vicariously bless at home, is one that is important and meaningful to you, so it need not be rainbow jasper.

And so, I recited and enacted the ritual. If I have to forgo any other part of the ritual (and the complete ritual can be seen here), the following seems to me to be the crucial part, and so as I buried the rainbow jasper rock, I said:

‘I bury this stone, Rainforest Jasper, for this land: for a deeper connection and harmony with nature and with plants, trees and animals, and with Mother Earth herself. The vibration of happiness and joy for life will flow outwards, throughout all life and carry strong energy for change and positivity to local communities. May all, everything, in this locality, be blessed by That Which Is Bigger Than Us.’

That done, I stayed there for an hour, basking under the shake of a huge oak tree that provided a welcome, cool, and amazingly large shadow. Birds chirped, field mice crawled through the undergrowth, bees buzzed and an assortment of crawling and flying insects abounded. It was the quintessential English countryside at its best. It was bliss. To misquote a much-loved film: Is this heaven? No, It’s Norfolk.

That was yesterday. Today was completely different. I do like solitude, to walk alone (as much as an elemental, angel-believing, animist can) and be a one with nature, but I also believe we are sociable creatures, and we and our beliefs need, thrive upon and mature with  the interaction of others. A time for solitude. But, a time for people-interaction.

And so today, I set out and drove to a place near Great Yarmouth for a delightful encounter. And it happened. Earlier today I met a friend that I had last seen when I was twelve years old, some fifty-two years ago. To say he, and I have changed in that time is an understatement. But, what a wonderful afternoon meeting him after all this time, and meeting his delightful wife. What a wonderful couple.

’The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart’. Elisabeth Foley

I learned at least one thing from that encounter – though we are totally different people, have led totally different lives, and as friends been apart for over five decades, we have so much in common.

He and he wife spoke of the ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ of life, as did I – the kind of life events  we all experience albeit in different ways. I learned that I have just met to wonderful people who are positive, life-loving, welcoming and inclusive, and who are, in their own way,  ‘making their way back home’. It was a joy to spend time with them. Similar occurrences have happened in my life with other people (who shall remain nameless to avoid embarrassing them). It’s like a ‘unnamable, spiritual osmosis’  takes place. That’s not to say such events always have to be overtly spiritual and talk about lofty themes, but that sharing, laughing, catching up on family and friends’ news, drinking coffee together and being there for each other, is what counts.

‘God comes to us disguised as our life’. Richard Rohr

For all the messiness of some people-interactions might cause us,  never shun company as if being a hermit, separate from others is more spiritual – unless, exceptionally you have been ‘called’ to that lifestyle (and even then, it is best to share that with others close to you). In many respects, we need each other.

And so, I’m back at the delightful cottage I’ve rented until tomorrow, and I’m reflecting on the last few days. Days of contrast, days of deep spirituality in the quietness of the countryside as well as in people-encounters.  And, as the sun sinks below a Norfolk horizon – and the landscape is so flat, it is time for gratitude, and the realisation that for you and I the adventure continues.

‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’. Maya Angelou

 

Tadhg On The Road To Norfolk: Awareness & Expectations

20190701 TADHG ON THE ROAD TO NORFOLK 1

I’m deep in the countryside of Norfolk now, having driven here earlier today, and the scenery is magnificent. As the sun slips below the western horizon the sky changes colour in the distance, the air is cooling, and a slight, refreshing breeze – hardly detectable, but it’s there – can be felt upon my face.

Solitude.

Anywhere, away from the hustle and bustle of regular life, can be a place of deep awareness and peace, of solitude, and enable us to go deep, and deeper still. And, Norfolk, where I am now, is just such a place. Of course, even in the city, there are parks and other places of quiet, and even in part of your home, a time and place can be sent aside to centre yourself and go inward on that imaginable journey of solitude. You don’t have to travel to remote places to enjoy it.

But, sometimes, and you will know the occasions, sometimes some extra ‘effort’ is need to do the ‘nothing’ of awareness and solitude by relocating for a while.

The air temperature is dropping now. After a hot, windless day, and a barmy evening, the temperature drop and slight breeze is most welcome, most refreshing. It’s getting dark, and darker still.

‘The best thinking has been done in solitude’. Thomas Edison

I’m alone. And yet, surrounded by the wildness and wilderness, the wild things of Norfolk. A bird, maybe a crow, cries out and flies off into the distance. There is foraging in the nearby under growth, but I can’t see the animal, but can see the trajectory it takes as plants rustle and move as it moves from me.

Solitude. Awareness.What did I expect? There is a school of thought that says that if you don‘t expect anything, and nothing happens, then you won’t be disappointed. Others, might say we should expect for them we’ll look, and in looking we will find. But, it depends on your aim, your purpose at that moment in time, and right now ‘no thing’ apart from solitude is sought.

Here are a few thoughts about the awareness of solitude and experiences, or expectations as I sit here, having finished my meditation. They are:

– solitude, as opposed to being lonely, is about choice and awareness. To be lonely is to feel bereft of support and company. With solitude, one has chosen authentic solitude – but at the back of your mind, and after that act of solitude, you know, just know that you we’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, elementals, some call them angels, or the Companion encouraging you onwards, invisibly, impalpably.

– solitude can bring about deep peace, even joy. Happiness or not may depend on external influences, but joy is very much a decision, lifestyle, a way of being which is firmly in your grasp. As I sit here, all the ‘challenges’ of the day melt away. However, there are other ‘avenues’ that may be open to you as great works of art and music can have the same joyful effect.

’Hildegard viewed music as the key to opening a third state of consciousness, a trance-like strate’ HeathyHildegard.com

– solitude can enable you to gain an insight into your fundamental values, goals, your unique strengths and weaknesses.

– solitude can create a clear perception of what is important in our lives, what to expect, what not to expect and how to deal with events when expectations are thwarted. Remember, there is always tomorrow.

It’s now quite cool, and to any casual observer I have been sitting here for an hour and nothing has seemingly happened. But it has. My aim was solitude, and the purpose was meditation.  Anything else is a bonus.

But, at one fundamental level here, and where you are right now, great movements have taken place, perhaps unaware to all of us.

“I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
And nothing
happens! Nothing…Silence…Waves…

Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?”

(Juan Ramón Jiménez)*

Tomorrow, another day, and I will have different expectations. Tomorrow I perform a land healing ritual in Norfolk and I’m looking forward to that, and the following day I meet up with a dear friend and his wife. Would you believe that I haven’t seen this friend since I was twelve years old – some fifty two years ago. Time flies.

I’m now back in the little cottage I’m staying in, in Norfolk. As I sit here with a hot cup of milky Ovaltine and boyhood memories come flooding back, I realise that great expectations can come to us sometimes disguised as quite small and insignificant occurrences. Treasure those times, and revel in those times when nothing seems to happen – perhaps, then, we really are standing in the new life!

 

* [Apologies for not earlier accrediting the poem to Juan Ramón Jiménez. Now corrected]

 

Inner Journey: Transformation 101: The Map Is Not The Territory

20190629 INNER JOURNEY 101 THE MAP IS NOT THE TERRITORY

As a wee lad I used to love to wander off, with friends or by myself. I really loved maps, and when I was a little older and able to use a map and a compass, I was off on further boyhood adventures, albeit only for a few hours.

On one occasion, given a pencil and paper by my grandmother I was off exploring the immediate local countryside of Capel Curig, making notes and sketches as I trekked over ‘manicured’ lawns, jumped noisily over the rivulet that marked the garden boundary and trekked boldly into fairly dense forest. On that map-making journey of adventure, it became clear that I had to decide on the scale of the map and would have to decide what to include or not. Somethings I included, somethings I excluded. Big things I included, and smaller trees etc I excluded as I didn’t have a big enough sheet of paper, and if I’m honest what was left off was, sometimes, quite arbitrary.

Later that day, I showed the map to my grandmother, and although she was very encouraging, it was clear that, as I explained the map, I had left off an awful lot of detail either by design or because I hadn’t noticed it. The map was only partially useful.

‘To journey without being changed is to be a nomad’

As an adult I am an amateur astronomer with a huge telescope, inspired by my Dad who, when I was a wee lad, bought me my first telescope. To me, then, it was huge, but in comparison to the one I have now it was small. But, to a small boy it was an awesome size and opened up the universe to me. And, it set me off on another child-orientated project, of a stellar kind. Assisted by a planisphere, a star chart, I was commencing yet another journey of adventure.

My first use of the simplified star chart was a lesson in ‘economics’! I could see more stars with the naked eye, and many more through the telescope that night, than were depicted on the star chart. My Dad was encouraging and explained that the start chart was like a ‘road map’ for the stars, and would only assist if bright stars were included and others omitted. Too much detail would render this and any map useless. The map was essentially an ‘outline’.

‘To change without journeying is to be a chameleon’

As an adult I still love maps – global positioning satellite maps for their functionality are wonderful, but oh, give me a paper map that I can fold, feel, smell, and hear as it crunches and bends as the wind catches it.

But, I now use maps differently to when I was a child.

Then I would avidly look at the map and ‘fit’ the world around me into it. I was so intent on looking at the map, hand-drawn by me, purchased Ordnance Survey maps or gifted star charts, that I missed much of what was going on around me, missed much of the wonder of nature.

Now, I gaze at nature, the countryside or the heavens, and then use a map to confirm what I’m looking at, or to pick out some feature on the map and find it in real life and aim for that. The map is now secondary.

I’ve learned that ‘the map is not the territory.’

Odd then, that as grown-ups so many of us use maps of different kinds, such as philosophy books, prayer books, ancient sacred texts, liturgy etc, and then gaze at the world around us. Our primary focus seems to be elsewhere, when our primary focus should be on nature and others, on life itself, with a gaze, then, afterwards, at the philosophy books, prayer books etc. Ofcourse, the latter are important, but too much gazing at them alone may mean we’re missing out on what on going on around us. They are ‘pointers’ to reality or a greater reality.  ‘Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin.’ [Matthew 6:28). Max Lucado rightly says that, ‘Nature is God’s first missionary’.

‘To Journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim’.

(This, and indented quotes above by Mark Nepo, ‘ Seven Thousand Ways To Listen: Staying Close To What Is Sacred)

We can be so busy on the intricacies of the journey, so focussed on the map, that we miss much of the journey of life and transformation itself. For instance, we can be so ‘involved’ in planning and doing (performing) a ritual that we can miss its deep meaning. Ofcourse, planning and doing it well are good, but if perfection ‘distances’ from the deep meaning, the inner journey of transformation, then we’ve missed out.

Our spiritual journey rightly involves outward activities, sacraments, rituals, liturgies, but focus too much on them, and though we might do them perfectly and even have praise heaped upon us by others, one wonders about the corresponding inner journey of transformation.

‘As above, so below’, it has been said. Others speak of an inner/outer congruency. It seems we need both: outer activity and inner transformation. ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ (Romans 12:2a, The Book).

‘Change is inevitable, but transformation is by conscious choice.’ Heather Ash Amara

And, yet, that transformation may be lacking, or delayed, or stalled! You can see that sometimes when someone says one thing but does another, or seems outwardly spiritual in their actions but inwardly is materialistic or immature by what they say. None of us like to admit that, and our ego rebels against such a notion, but if its tries to ignore the challenge (and it will be true for some, and perhaps true for al of us at sometime in our life) then we miss out even more on that inner transformation. Better to name it, and work for change.

‘Transformation isn’t a future event. It’s a present day activity.’ Jillian Michaels

On our spiritual adventure of a lifetime, maps of all kinds may assist, but they are not the territory, or as Alfred Korzybski said, ‘The (spoken) word is not the thing. Perhaps their role is to point out the need for transformation and to give hints about it, but it is up to us to do it – to be transformed (bit by bit. It’s continual).

Mark Nepo mentions something similar to this, and concludes with an exercise – see below:

– Centre yourself and without judgement bring to mind a time that you refused to let your experience change you. [Resistance].Simply feel that time’s presence.

– As you breathe, bring to mind a time that you changed yourself to please or avoid another. [Distancing]. Again, simply feel that time’s presence.

– As you soften, bring to mind a time that you journeyed forth and were changed by the journey. [Surrender]. Feel this time’s presence.

– Without judgment, give thanks [Gratitude] by accepting all of this. Give thanks for being human.

‘The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.’ Albert Einstein

Ofcourse, all this begs the questions: what is transformation, how is started, how is it completed, what are transformational ‘tools’, what are the benefits of transformation to the individual and the world? Yes, there’s more (which will appear here over the next few weeks).

 

Indra, Hafiz & The Magic Café: Interconnectedness & Interbeing

20190514 INDRA HAFIZ AND THE MAGIC CAFE THOUGHTS ON INTERCONNECTEDNESS AND INTERBEING

Today, I was in one of my favourite locations when in London: the Magic Café in Fulham. And, as usual there was a latte not far from my hand on the table, my head was down and my nose was close to a book and I was in my element, reading a deep and intriguing book. I have to admit that I can be so absorbed in a book, so engrossed in it that I do believe that if the four horsemen of the Apocalypse galloped by I wouldn’t notice.

There is a game we should play,
And it goes like this:

Nothing distracts me when I’m transfixed by a book, well, almost nothing. Having been reading for some time, I noticed a slight but distinct temperature drop in the café, and it caused me to look up, momentarily. My grandmother, if she were physically present, would say an angel had entered the room.

It was if the café had suddenly been filled, instantly, with six people sitting at two or three tables. Ofcourse, they had been there for some time, but I had been oblivious to their coming and going.

I do like ‘people watching’, and so changing glasses (I wear varifocal but do like reading-only glasses for serious reading) I sat back in the chair, sipped my coffee, and slowly (but hopefully, not to obviously) looked around.

We hold hands and look into each other’s eyes
And scan each other’s faces.

Trying to be ‘invisible’, I noticed the people around me. Ah, there was the journal woman, so-called (be me) as she is constantly writing in her note pad. Perhaps, she’s  writing about the peculiar man in the corner who always seems to be reading and making notes in his books (and, that would be me). Someone, a younger person, was at the counter, ordering a take-away coffee but indulging in general chit-chat at a rather loud volume. Wearing dusty overalls it was likely he was redecorating or rebuilding one of the large, expensive houses in the area. And, there were two others I had seen on only a few occasions. My mind wondered as to who they were, what their occupation might be, and how they found this delightful café? And two others, older women, seated very close to me, were obviously old friends, reminiscing about the good old days.

And, then I say,
“Now tell me a difference you see between us.”

I picked up the coffee cup again, leaned back even more, and continued to look around. Compared to when I came into the café, I marvelled at the people now here, the differences in age, gender, look, accents, and even languages. Truly I am blessed to be living in a ‘kaleidoscope country’, as John Bercow the Speaker of the House of Commons described it some years ago. So many people, so many differences, and yet paradoxically we have that in common.

And you might respond,
“Hafiz, your nose is ten times bigger than mine”.
Then I would say,
“Yes, my dear, almost ten times”.

So, what is the difference between us? In all the variations of humanity, a small microscopic proportion represented here in this café, what is the difference between us? Do we have the same chemical composition? The same energy? The same aspirations? Oh, yes!

And, what about the coffee cup I’m holding? It, too, is composed of atoms, and at a deeper level quanta material that is similar to out elemental make-up. In one sense little difference there? You would expect me to say that as an animist. Oh, yes!

But let’s keep playing.
Let’s go deeper.
Go deeper still.
For if we do,
Our spirits will embrace
And interweave.

There is a story I was told many years ago, when I was a wee lad, about Indra’s web or Indra’s net. It is a much-loved story, a metaphorical one, about interconnectedness and interbeing all of things.

The story says that in the realm of the god Indra there is a vast net that stretches infinitely in all directions. At each intersection of the net or web (think of a spider’s web) there is a single brilliant, perfect jewel. And, each of these jewels on the web also reflects every other jewel, infinite in number. And, each of the reflected images of the jewels bears the image of all the other jewels — infinity to infinity. Whatever affects one jewel effects them all.

The metaphorical story illustrates the interpenetration of all phenomena. Everything contains everything else. And yet, each individual thing is not hindered by or confused with all the other individual things. Harmonious interconnectedness. A wonderful story.

Our union will be so glorious
That [maybe] even God
Will not be able to tell us apart.

We are more alike to our neighbour than different, more alike to everything around us, than different or separate. We’re connected. In another story-metaphor told by the Christ we’re told that, ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Ah. Connectedness.

Suddenly, respect for others, even those who ‘violently’ disagree with me, seems easier. We’re connected, we’re the same. Appreciation for nature all around me – whether in rural or urban environments – seems altogether more necessary because of that real and energetic connectedness. We’re the same. It was for that reason many years ago that Brother Francis could sing to Brother Sun and Sister Moon.

Connectedness. Interbeing. Something which those ancient cultures of Hebrews, Christians, Pagans, Druids and others of yesteryear took for granted, and from which we can learn.

There is a wonderful game
We should play with everyone
And it goes like this…

And, so having finished the latte there is only one thing to do. To order another coffee, to find my place in that book and resume reading, and, before I do that, to look around at the wonderful people around me and nature that abounds both outside and inside the café, and to wonder. In that respect, won’t you join me in this ancient game?

[The indented paragraphs above come from one of the poems of Hafiz, Persian mystic, AD1315-1390]

 

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