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).

 

The Peace Of Wild Things: An Encounter In Thetford Forest

20191013 THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS AN ENCOUNTER THETFORD FOREST

I’m in the depths of Thetford Forest. Some distance behind me is the hustle and bustle of a myriad of people near the visitors centre, using the café, experiencing zip lining or bbq’ing. But for those willing to venture away from the ‘near wild’, the voices in the forest call out.

 ’Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth… they preach… the ancient law of life’

As I pick my way through the damp forest – yes, although the rain is light it has been, and still is relentless – I am surrounded by wonderfully tall, sky-hugging lowland pine trees, some less than two feet apart from its neighbours. The sun is still high in the sky, but it’s shrouded by the trees, and so I’m walking in a twilight state, and so am being careful with face-high branches and twigs as I weave left and right.

The going isn’t that easy. The mud sucks ones boots down and makes walking laborious, and moss, like a green carpet, underfoot and dead, wet leaves give an alternative challenge, that of accelerated locomotion just when you didn’t expect it. Sometimes, my ambling though dense forest alternates between ‘clod-hopping’ and sliding all over the place. Not a pretty sight, but I wouldn’t swap it for the world.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought. I am life from eternal life’

The forest is alive. Even in mid-October animals scurry this way and that in the undergrowth, birds fly overhead, and there’s that wonderful pine, tree, somewhat dank undergrowth smell that is fascinating, distinctive and refreshing. I can’t resist but to frequently, look around, inhale deeply, and find some excuse to sit on a fallen tree. Yes, I know it’s wet, but I’m ‘armed’ and wearing a waterproof kagoule and waterproof trousers. It’s bliss. There is no such thing as bad weather: just inappropriate clothing.

And there, standing in the distance, obscured by undergrowth until I move closer, is Venus. The artist will tell you that this is a human-height sculpture placed in the forest to show off the skills of human ingenuity. The ecologist would encourage you to note the sculptures  ‘skin’ of forest colours, to denote life, and in this case to promote the idea of nature-appreciation, reforestation and more. But there’s more.

The forest is alive. And just as a bird might make a nest, a beaver make a dam, and a Fox make a lair, and  we would call it natural, so too, these sculptures evoke a deep spirituality that is, perhaps, natural for humankind. And so, it is fantastic to see the first sculpture of about ten.

It is almost as if the forest is pressing in to get a closer look at what humankind has done here, and it is a acceptable. Surrounded by elementals, dryads, some would say forest angels, there is a presence here, in the forest. And this sculpture ‘fits in’ perfectly.

 ‘A longing to wander tears  my heart when I hears trees rustling in the wind…’

And so I move on, exploring the forest. Something like a bright orange light, just for a split-second catches my attention to the right. I turn my head in that direction,  look intently, but… nothing. Nothing but dense trees and fern. A trick of the light? A reflection on the side of my glasses? Or the beckoning of a Guardian of the Forest? Whatever it was, it has got my interest and I move in that direction.

Ten minutes later I’m still walking and there in front of me are two more sculptures: David and Daphne.

‘When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me…Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent’

The two magnificent sculpture: David (as in, David and Goliath), and Daphne (who, and those who remember their Greek mythology will know, was turned into a Laurel tree, but Apollo made the tree into an evergreen tree thus conferring immortality upon her.

I sit here,  mesmerised at the two sculptures. Two thoughts  in my mind: David faced his monster and prevailed. Daphne succumbed and gave her life, and yet even then became immortal. Who says the forest cannot teach us anything? I may not have heard an audible voice as I sat on a wet log, but I do believe an elemental, a dryad, a fay, or an angel whispered into my  ears words too deep to hear as sound, but penetrating deep within the labyrinthine ‘corridors’ of the brain, where mind, body and spirit meld. Of course, you would expect me to say that: I’m an animist.

I spent another couple of hours moving through the dense undergrowth and tall trees, and encountered all the sculptures carefully placed throughout the forest, some ‘hidden’ so that only the most adventurous would find them, and reap the reward of encountering these Guardians of the Forest. As above, so below.

And then I headed back to the visitors centre, still with the hustle and bustle of many people enjoying the fruits and pleasures of ‘near wild’. I’m now sitting at a picnic table and am gazing back the way I had walked. Two hundred feet away from me, the ‘manicured’ grass gives way to the dense trees and I look on longingly, and yet I’m completely happy and satisfied. Green joy unbounded. It was a wonderful experience – to forest-bathe, to amble in dense woodland, and to encounter sculptures that evoke the deep spiritual centres within, and to meet…. well, to have met forest entities, known and unknown.

’Whoever has learned to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness’.

 

(All indented quotes above are by Herman Hesse, and from his book Baume: Betrachtungen Und Gedichte)

The Elements: In Praise Of Earth

20191002 THE ELEMENTS IN PRAISE OF EARTH

As the days shorten and nights becomes longer, we’re moving towards winter. Already in the UK mornings, evening and nights are becoming much, much colder, and the midday sun sits ever lower in the sky.

Winter is that time of nature’s rest, even death, and plants and insects die; and even then there is a paradox that life is ‘home’ and active deep in the ground, and some of it is dormant and ‘sleeping’ deep in the womb of the earth, the soil that we tread so blithely .

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.

(In the bleak midwinter: Christmas carol)

As winter approaches, here’s a few words of a seasonal introduction; the primacy of story, memory and ritual at this time; a new song; and something for those of an inquisitive nature and interested in a simple but profound scientific experiment centred on nature at this time of the year.

STORY, MEMORY AND RITUAL

With naked trees and animals saving warmth and energy, and many species dying off for the winter (until a new generation emerges) there is a silence that descends at this time – a primordial silence.

Human voices can predominate as animal noises momentarily reduce, and it is no wonder in nature’s silence that our ancestors warmed themselves around tribal fires and recited stories of old.

‘The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.’

(Wendell Berry)

Many of those stories might have been tribal histories, and who hasn’t on a winter’s night, especially at Christmas and the New Year reminisced about relatives that have moved abroad or who have ‘gone ahead’ to that heavenly realm? It is a time of story and of memories.

The landscape, cold and bare, also shares its memories if we ‘look’ deeply. We might see a tree taller than it was, a plant thicker, and the ‘scars’ on tree barks, that still tell their story to those that stop and look. Nature has a memory.

Story, memory and ritual come to the fore at this time.

The following can be incorporated into your Samhain celebration. Samhain starts the evening of Thursday, 31 October and runs for twenty for hours (but there is nothing to stop you celebrating it over the weekend).

The following can be used at (or about) the time of the Winter solstice in December, too, or indeed at any time during the season of winter. Use the following, adapt it, enjoy it.

This is a time to reminisce, tell stories, to remember that death is part of the cycle and new birth is ‘on its way’, and it’s a time of celebration (and yes, even mirth).

Here, then, are some wonderful words that can be incorporated into your seasonal ritual/liturgy:

‘If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence, we could rise up like rooted, like trees’. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

And,

‘We come from the earth and return to it, and so we live in agriculture as we live in flesh. While we live our bodies are moving particles in the earth, joined inextricably both to the soil and to the bodies of other living creatures’. (Wendell Berry)

And

‘The vines that are tended by the Divine Gardener’. (Catherine of Siena)

And

Spirit of the Abundant Earth,
allow me to live in the knowledge that
I am of the earth, from the earth, and returning to the earth.
Blessings of the earth be upon me.

(Christine Valters Paintner, Book: Water, Wind, Earth & Fire, part)

SONG: THE DAYS ARE COLD (A WINTER’S SONG)

The following song can be sung to the old, traditional Scottish tune, ‘The Water is wide”, and hails from the 1600’s. If you want an idea of the tune, do check here. (The tune for each of the three verses below is a repetition of the first forty-seven seconds of the link’s tune).

The days are cold
And night comes soon.
The circle turns
As in days of old.
Nature does sleep
And the winds do howl.
And my eyes do weep
Through the cold air now

The snow falls harsh
Upon the land.
There is a light
Within and without.
We raise our hands
To the Source of all.
And nature responds
with elementals call.

The days of change
Are here again.
Our voices raise
To the loud refrain.
We wish you peace,
We wish you well.
All nature sings
Winter’s farewell.

Tune: “The Water Is Wide”
Words: Tadhg Jonathan

THE QUADRAT
FOR THOSE OF A SCIENTIFIC OR INQUISITIVE NATURE

If you want to get an overall view of what wildlife is present in your garden, local park or nearby wild area eg forest etc even at this time of year, either because of your concern about the biosphere, sheer interest in the local environment, or out of general curiosity and personal interest, then you (and any children) may be interested in making and using a quadrat.

’It is apparent that no lifetime is long enough in which to explore the resources of a few square yards of ground.’ (Alice M Coats)

A quadrat is a merely a hand-made frame, maybe made out of thin cane or similar, and is generally one metre square (three feet by three feet in size approximately), with the four canes tied at the intersections to form a simple square.

Once made, it is a great way to sample a large area by concentrating on a small area. On suggestion is that, once in an area of wilderness, you randomly throw the quadrat (safely and gentlt), and see where it lands. If you want more information about quadrats, please see here.

Then, depending on your time, you can have endless hours of fun surveying plants, wildlife and insect life within the randomly selected area of that frame.

The idea is to explore and catalogue so do be careful not to destroy anything, nor cause too much of an upheaval to that area as you gently brush aside grass and plants or dig a little (and if you, inadvertently disturb anything,  do ensure you return it to its former state as much as possible, so that no one would ever know you had been there).

You might like to take a pen and paper to record results, and/or a camera, too, to take a photograph of anything interesting. With that in mind you might also like to record the scale of something found so you might like to take along a rule(r) or a coin  for comparison sake and lay the specimen alongside it  or it alongside the plant etc – a two (UK) penny coin is 25.9 mm wide (so close to one inch you can call it an inch) as you photograph specimens.

Don’t forget this is an adventure, and experiment, and it is also fun and respectful of nature – so record only, and so, no take-away specimens, please.

’Our world is a web of interdependencies woven so tightly it sometimes becomes love.’ (Tim Flannery)

If you want to email me a copy of your notes and findings (with the date, time and rough location of the one square metre quadrat, I will most certainly be pleased to look at them.

For the mathematically-inclined, if you know the total area of the garden, park or wilderness area in square metres, you can, roughly, multiply your findings by that total amount to gain a rough idea of the numbers and variations of wildlife in that total area.

But, I find just checking and recording what is alive in that one square metre to be fascinating and profound! Have fun!

‘The land is a mother that never dies.’ (Maori Proverb).

 

The Soul’s Cry Or A Zen-like Experience At Sainsbury

20190926 THE SOULS CRY OR A ZEN LIKE EXPERIENCE AT SAINSBURY FULHAM

The last twenty-four hours has been a helter-skelter ride of events, and emotions, and confusion. And yet, the day has been an enormous learning-curve for me, and an encouragement to action. Isn’t that life? Living?

This is how it started.

In the early hours, and I know it was 2.22am for that was the time on the digital clock display, I woke up from an odd dream. I had dreamed that I was attending some kind of spiritual ceremony and had fallen asleep. Is it possible to dream of falling asleep within a dream? It seems so. The really bizarre thing is that as I fell asleep in that dream I woke up in reality. Having woken up for about half a minute, I then fell back to sleep and the dream commence where I had left it. Had I actually woken up? It is all so confusing.

‘Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night.’ Charles Fisher

But, it seems I had another dream just before waking up as the alarm sounded.

In that dream I was kneeling in front of someone. They were seated and I was kneeling, and blessing them by anointing their feet with oil. As I looked up, and looked over their shoulder, behind them, it was as if their life played out like an old home cine projection on the wall or as a series of black and white or sepia photographs – many showing tragic events in their life. The words ‘grief-bearer’ – someone who draws alongside those in great need, in times of grief and tragedy – sounded in my mind.

‘Am I a grief-bearer?’, I asked myself. It seemed like a deafening, ‘No’ resounded in my head, and it was clear that the person seated in front of me was the grief-bearer, and was in need of ‘shedding’ some of the grief that that person had absorbed from others.

‘… you are the Grief Bearer. You take some of the pain onto yourself when you enter in with a family. You take their grief. Some of it goes with you.’

‘I stopped for a moment. It is exactly like that. Some of the pain from each heart enters mine, and we carry it together. Every life I’ve had the privilege of honouring goes with me…both the gifts, and the heaviness. It is a rare gift to be seen and understood by another. And, I will be honest. Few people see me these days…few grasp the heart of what I do, and the consuming craziness of this calling.’

Kelly at Sufficient Grace Ministries.

I have no idea who this ‘grief-bearer’ really is, and recount the dream here and now only because it may be you? [Should you wish to reply to that question, please contact me one-to-one].

Later that day, just before lunch I did some shopping at a large, local supermarket.

Having gone to the check-out counter with the least number of people, I prided myself at being as fast at packing the items I bought as the check-out person was at scanning them. Witty banter ensued. I went to ‘drop’ my card on the card ‘reader’ as instructed, but it wanted me to ‘swipe’ the card. A feeling of dread made me almost shudder.

And, yes, for the fifth time in almost as many weeks, it bleeped, and up came the word ‘signature required’. I have to admit I was not best pleased. A line of people were now behind me and it was asking for my card, a signature and verification by the shop’s staffmember. I tutted (which is what we Brits do when we’re annoyed).

‘You know’, I said to the pleasant check-out person with whom I had exchanged a joke just seconds before, ‘All these people will think I have insufficient funds, and that’s not the case’, I said emphatically as I frowned. With a smile, she uttered words that I had said countless times to others, and which caught me by surprise. She said, ‘Does it matter what others think?’ Ofcourse not, I thought, smiled and suddenly felt buoyed up by her zen-like wisdom and warm smile.

‘When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.’ Maya Angelou

Still later, having gone home, unpacked the food, and hotfooted it to my favourite café I met some very good friends, and very soon we were talking about history and politics.

As usual, we didn’t see eye to eye, but we’re good friends. One person adamantly enforced their views, and rather like friendly ‘sword fencing’ I did the same as regards my view. They ‘sword fenced’ more so, and so did I. And so it went on.

I felt as though I was about to win an academic point, when it was as though I could look upon their soul. I looked into their eyes and  it was as if a mist cleared just for a moment, and I could see the ‘real’ them. I glimpsed their immortal diamond of a soul. And their soul was crying out.

Initially, I thought my responsive ‘sword fencing’ was the cause. But, it ‘felt’ deep down, that their ‘sword fencing’ was their soul’s cry for help and I had merely retaliated in kind, rather than respond deeply to meet their hitherto invisible and unmet need.

I felt a huge amount of anger. Not with them, but with me. How could I be so foolish as to engage in a friendly-but-deepening-verbal-argument when it was their soul calling out to mine all along? How blind could I be?

‘I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.’ Jana Stanfield

I now know that sometimes some people’s barbed comments, which may provoke us, may be (and usually is) their soul’s cry. My course of action to draw closer to them, lovingly, and to support them was affirmed.

And, that was part of my day – hectic at times, confusing at times, but wonderfully and humbly enlightening at other times.

The last twenty-four hours has been a helter-skelter ride of events, and emotions, and confusion. And, this is how it ended: in silent, deep meditation with the feeling that something had be ‘discovered’, and a work set before me. It seems to me that the more aware we are, the more we will notice these liminal openings, but in equal measure may become complacent about them and miss them at other times. And so, so great is the need for each other, for living in the world, for times of meditation, liturgy, poetry, story-telling, music, celebrating the seasons, and ritual, and a whole myriad of other ‘tools’ that encourage us to be still and go within, and so become more aware.

‘The timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness. And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.’  Khalil Gibran

 

The Elements: In Praise Of Air

20190919 THE ELEMENTS IN PRAISE OF AIR

Air, I should explain, becomes wind when it is agitated. (Lucretius, On the Nature of Things)

Breath

There is a school of thought that says we each have a limited, unknown, number of breaths that we will take before we expire. And, by slowing down ones breathing, maybe with focused breathing, slowing exercises or meditation we can increase our lifespan.

Breathing.

Air.

It’s important to life and our longevity.

There is another school of thought that says by regulating our breathing we can place ourselves ‘in the way’ of the Divine, The Universe, the Source of All. Breathing has a natural rhythm of its own, and something we take for granted, but in hatha yoga this pause in breathing is called kumbhaka.

Kumbhaka, then, is the pause between inhalation and exhalation when the lungs are full, or between exhalation and inhalation when the lungs are empty – I prefer the latter. Then, in that pause there is no breathing. All things being well, the pause should only last for a few seconds – it’s not a competition to hold ones breath until one metaphorically bursts, but it is a gentle cessation of breathing for a short while, and then a return in inhalation/exhalation, ready for the next pause. In that way we ‘jump out’ of ordinary time for a split second and move closer. An ever-so important exercise that we can use in our own time ritual or group ritual.

Breathing.

Pausing.

Air.

It’s important to deep meditation and encountering.

Exhaling air we can speaks words of wisdom, and words of encouragement, and yet the same breath can be used destructively. I went on a march to Parliament – yes, I must be one of the oldest protesters around, but I felt so strongly about the case. A group of ten thousand of us chanted, ‘Save our democracy, stop the coup’, outside a prorogued (‘suspended’) Parliament. A positive, heartfelt response to a dire situation. At one point, heavily surrounded by police, a small opposition group of about forty fascists marched by. The jeered, they snarled, they pointed their fingers accusingly. It was as though a dark cloud of hate and confusion had closed in, almost. They chanted, ‘We’ve got a lamppost just for you’. Our words have consequences.

Breathing.

Air.

Giving our voice the power of positivity, and sadly, we have the option to be negative.

Also, lets not forget (though I’m a not-so-good clarinet-player and flautist), that with our breath, with air, woodwind musicians can make delightful tunes that can move us deeply within ourselves, and move us closer to the Divine.

The Druids, the Ancients, and other tribes (and ‘tribes’) knew of the importance of air to their lives, of breathing, and celebrated it in song, liturgy and ritual.

All praise be Yours, my God, through Brothers Wind and Air.
And fair and stormy, all the weather’s moods,
By which You cherish all that You have made. (Francis of Assisi)

Air, in Welsh is awyr (pronounced ah-weir, and preferably ‘rolling’ that ‘r’), can also mean sky, and was important to those Ancients, and to discerning and fellow ‘deep’ followers of today who revel in nature and the Spirit.

In ritual, many would turn to the east to celebrate or think deeply of air. To some it represents the intellect, is understood by the colour yellow, and others associate it with several constellations. To others it represents spring and life, new life. It is the only natural element that is invisible.

The letters of the Name of God in Hebrew are Yod, Hay, Vav, and Hay. They are frequently mispronounced as “Yahveh.” But in truth they are unutterable. Not because of the holiness they evoke, but because they are all vowels and you cannot pronounce all the vowels at once without risking respiratory injury.

This word is the sound of breathing. The holiest Name in the world, the Name of the Creator, is the sound of your own breathing.

(Rabbi Lawrence Kushner: Eyes Remade for Wonder)

Don’t you find that so profound and so comforting? That the name of the Source of All is the sound of breathing, and is on our lips constantly.

Ritual / Air

And, so there we were a few of us, Druids and Christo-Druids (or Druidic-Christians) deep in the forest at sunset, a liminal time. Part of the ceremony had us facing the four cardinal compass points in turn.

As we all face east, hands were raised in the orans position (ie  the position one would adopt, say, if someone was pointing a guy at you and said, ‘hands up’. Your hands would be about eight inches from each ear and at ear level, and that’s the orans position, and was used in antiquity in prayer, praise and blessing).

I recited a blessing:

Deep peace of the flowing air (be) to you,
which fans your face on a sultry day,
the air which you breathe deeply rhythmically,
which imparts to you energy, consciousness, life.
Deep peace of the flowing air (be) to you.

Everyone responded with the word ‘amen’ or Awen’. Interestingly, I find that when I talk about the Awen to others, the Welsh word and notion for inspiration, the Spirit, I use a two-syllable sound, ie ah-wen. Here, in this ritual they and I, and for formal liturgy we used the more correct three-syllable sound ‘ah-woo-un’ to invoke the Spirit.

Later on, in unison, the group exhaled slowly, five times, and each time used the word Awen, this time ‘aaahhhhhhh-wooooooooo-uuuuuuunnnn. It was a wonderful and powerful expression of deep spirituality resonating though the ether.

At one point, one person was to be ‘commissioned’ into a certain role. Words were spoken, promises made and I reached out to touch that persons shoulder in mutual blessing and others did the same.

As I was leading this, I was in front of the person and gently got them to lower their head, and breathed on the crown of their head. It felt the natural and seemly thing to do, a good ritual of blessing, conferment and consecration.

Interestingly, shamans would do similar when healing others. But, it is something that many ancients did, and though it might seem odd to us, it wouldn’t appear so to them. ‘And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”‘ (John 20.22, the Book).

Shortly after, we all went home.

But, air is not just our breath, important though it is. It is around us and is witnessed as wind. Invisible wind, and yet we see and feel its effect.

Close your eyes and turn your face into the wind.
Feel it sweep along your skin in an invisible ocean of exultation.
Suddenly, you know you are alive.

(Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration)

Experience

A few years ago, I spoke about experience the blustery wind on that wonderful and remote island of Iona on the west coast of Scotland. The wind picked up on that Iona beach, and a storm comes ever closer.  I might like to think I am in control, but the weather doesn’t obey me, and the Source is not at my behest, either. It is easy to fall into thinking that, but the wind blows where it wishes. To read more of that encounter on Iona, see this link.

 

Harvest Home: Alban Elfed / Autumn Equinox

20190911 HARVEST HOME CELEBRATING ALBAN ELFED AUTUMN EQUINOX

It seems as soon as September had arrived, the weather began to change, at least in the UK. Aside from a warm spell predicted in the next day or two, the temperature is dropping. As soon as September arrived so the morning and evening temperatures dropped. There was, and is a distinct chill in the air early in the mornings and late evenings.

Introduction

Autumn equinox is soon. Ancient Celts and Druids, ancient tribes, and ‘aware’ people today will be celebrating.

’Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple.’ (J K Rowling)

What follows is an outline of that festival, the time of the second harvest, and some ideas about how to cherish the season, and ideas and liturgy to celebrate it as a group, with your family, or by yourself.photo of chocolate cupcake with berry toppings on white ceramic plate

Autumn equinox this year is on Monday, 23rd September.

Although it is on a Monday, in common with the ancients who started their day the evening before (us), many, I suspect many will be celebrating the event on the evening of Sunday, 22nd September (though there is nothing wrong in celebrating it on the Saturday or any other nearby date).

The days are becoming shorter and the days longer, and at autumn equinox (or Alban Elfed, the light of the water, as it is known in Wales) approaches. The nights and days are equal length, in perfect balance, but night will ‘win’ and increase as winter approaches. Darkness will prevail, at least for a time.

This is a time to celebrate the bounty of Mother Nature.

The arable crops like wheat, barley etc have all been collected, and now, as the circle bowl of fruitsturns, it is time to harvest the fruits of the vine – blackberries, apples, and grapes etc.  It’s a time of transition, a time of thankfulness to the Great Provider, the Source Of All, the One Behind It All.

‘Autumn is the season to find contentment at home by paying attention to what we already have.’ (Anon)

So, how might you practically, celebrate the event?

Ideas

Cherish the changing season of nature: Why not escape to the countryside if you can, or visit the local park or check those nature programs on tv to appreciate the changing colours of nature, to allow time to reflect and to give thanks. Why not take a flask of soup, a sandwich, and just gaze at the awesomeness of nature, something that we take for granted.

Hold your own Eisteddfod: In the Welsh tradition an Eisteddfod is a time to celebrate the three red cherriesbardic arts: poetry, music, song, dance, and so on.  Here’s an opportunity to appreciate those cooler evenings  before the winter sets in. Why not get some friends together, have people share their own stories of life or stories they have appreciated, stories and songs, and open the wine (or fruit juice) and serve up pizza. Just an idea. Or, if for one reason you’ll be alone at this season’s event, read some apt poetry to yourself, and have a special meal to celebrate the time. It’s time to celebrate, rejoice and reflect.

’Autumn… the year’s last, loveliest smile.’ (William Cullen Bryant)

Adopt an abandoned site: Why not consider adopting a site that has been neglected or that nobody else cares about. Restoring (or ‘wilding) such spaces abandoned and damaged is one of the things we can do as a spiritual and sustainable practice of work.  You could consider working alongside a local environmental group or maybe plant a tree by subscribing to one of those ‘plant a tree’ organisations, or something less grand but as profound, starting a window box?

Liturgy

Here’s an opportunity to have your own ritual to celebrate the festival. You might like toblueberries on white ceramic plate add the following to what you have planned, or use the following as you have a meal (ie between courses), perhaps accompanied with autumnal poetry.

Blessed be you, Balance-Holder,
unafraid of the dark from which all newness must begin,
giver of light that draws us on and out into fullness.

Help me/us to balance my/our need for outgoing and restoring this day

(or)

With thankfulness me my/our going out, restore to me/us my/our rest this night.

(The Celtic Wheel Of The Year, Tess Ward. Adapted)

And,

In the fading of the summer sun,
the shortening of days, cooling breeze,
swallows’ flight and moonlight rays

Response: We see the Creator’s hand.

 In the browning of leaves once green,
morning mists, autumn chill,
fruit that falls frost’s first kiss

Response: We see the Creator’s hand.

(Faithandworship.com)

And,

At the autumn equinox
may we recognise and give thanks for
the blessings of the summer harvest
and the fruits of our gardens.

As we mark the equinox in either the northern or southern hemisphere
let us wonder at the Mystery that is Life
and open ourselves to the blessings
of both dark and light.

(Brigidine Sisters)

And, the (series of) Haiku, below, can be used in liturgy for that time or as poetry for the season.

Nature’s circle turns,
and night and day are balanced.
Time for heartfelt thanks.

Water, that gives life,
often taken for granted,
appreciated.

The earth’s provision
at this bless-ed harvest-time,
for all people, stored.

Easterly winds blow,
renew our spirit’s within.
Congruous lifestyle.

Warming sun of all,
now, in this season balanced.
Sun of righteousness.

Nature’s circle turns,
and with gratitude given.
Source of All be praised.

Wishing you and all those whom you love the bright blessings of Alban Elfed and the One Who Is Greater Than Us.

 

20190911 HARVEST HOME CELEBRATING ALBAN ELFED AUTUMN EQUINOX

Where Are You Going? My Spiritual Path And Yours

20190826 WHERE ARE YOU GOING MY SPIRITUAL PATH AND YOURS

I’m in the cafe. ‘Shhhhh, if you’re quiet, you might hear it’.

Mark Nepo calls this the ‘Original Presence that keeps calling to us’. It never stops, and yet is so gentle it can be forgotten, ‘drowned out’ or explained-away by others. But it’s there, calling us  to our own, unique and adventurous spiritual path.

So, where are you going?

‘Where are you going?’, is a typical question you may be asked occasionally? To live a healthy daily life you may answer that you’re going to the store, to the gym, to work, or to see family or friends.

But, ‘where are you going?’.

There is a spiritual content to our lives. Our uniqueness not only rests in whether you are right-handed and I’m left-handed, you have brown eyes and I have blue, or you like baseball and I like cricket, or you’re a musician and I’m more of a storyteller – these are great to ascertain some of our uniqueness and get to know each other, but there’s more.

We, are each on a spiritual path, and if you’re reading this then, at this juncture in time and space, our paths have crossed, and that pleases me.

What follows is an answer to that question: ‘where are you going?’ Your answers will be different, your life and circumstances are different, your aspirations may not be the same as mine, and your overall spiritual path may be different, and yet in our diversity we share a deeply spiritual, unique, bonded commonality.

Do you ever have that unlocated inner zeal, a ‘fire within’ to do something?

Some would call it a ‘calling’, others the ‘whisper of the cosmos’, or the bat kol (literally ‘the daughter’s voice) that is the voice of God, its like the wind calling your name, and some  say it is a communication with our higher self. Do you ever get that? It’s within and yet something just ‘tells’ us that the message and desire originated from far beyond us.

Simon Peter asked him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.’ (John 13.36, The Book)

In the middle of a busy, over-scheduled lifestyle it is easy for that inner prompting to get drowned out. And yet, it continues. It must be so important.

There is a temptation not to tell friends or family of that inner prompting, and to live the life of a ‘solitary’. Life is then easier, but it seems muted. But if we respond to that ‘calling’ without letting those around you know, they will know sooner or later. Oh yes. Something in what you say or do will be noticed – perhaps something offensive to them, or odd or just unexpected. When you dance to a different drumbeat bystanders will know your ‘moves’ are different to theirs.

But, do not stop your ‘dance’, whatever they think.

To divulge fully that inner prompting may be too much for them – it may ‘scare’ them or make life difficult for you. Perhaps there is a middle route? To share something, bit by bit, as much as they can handle and as much as you are comfortable with – whilst preserving something for later, and in any case each one of us on our individual spiritual path will grow, change and be transformed along the way and so we also need time to adapt.

Where are you going?
Where are you going?
Can you take me with you?
For my hand is cold
And needs warmth

There have been times when I have erred on the side of being too reluctant to share. Even, then others notice.

Others mean well, usually (and it has to be admitted that sometimes some people don’t mean well).

And so, there I was in my favourite haunt, ‘The Magic Café’ sharing that I would be walking ‘the Camino’ from the edge of France, across northern Spain to Santiago. ‘That’s weird’, someone said. ‘You’re not that fit’, another said. ‘But, it’ll take forever’, someone else replied. To each of these my thoughts replied silently. I thought: but I go to the gym three times a week and so I’m reasonably fit, but that person who spoke up doesn’t know that; it’s not that weird as people have been doing that 500 mile/800 kilometre pilgrimage for centuries, and it will only take four to five weeks!

Where are you going?
Far beyond where the horizon lies
Where the horizon lies
And the land sinks into mellow blueness
Oh please, take me with you

Some things I shared, some I didn’t. Why did I want to do it, was what I couldn’t share with them?

There are several reasons that people walk the Camino, and one of them is to honour a loved-one that has passed on. I aim to do it to honour my two late-parents, to honour the memory of them, and yes, to honour them. I like to honour the ancestors. Typical Druid you might say, but I’d point you also to All Souls Day in the church calendar.

This is the balance that one undertakes, and sometimes it is impossible to do. To be honest and open, to give as much information as others can handle, and still stay true to oneself and survive any misunderstanding.

Still in the Magic Cafe I could tell that perhaps I had said too much. The other person was shifting their weight from one side to the other, uncomfortably, as I replied. Their eyes seemed to glaze over and I knew I had ‘lost’ them.  Do you think that perhaps some others don’t want to know or actually can’t comprehend? It’s just a thought when explaining our spiritual path to others.

Many of you will know that I’m a Christo-Druid or is it a Druidic-Christian. I have no problem with that, it is my ‘calling’, and it works for me. The challenge is when a  Christian calls my faith into question. ‘You can ride two horses’, they say.  And, yet some Christians have no awareness of them following their faith and materialism, or of living a faith that has more in common with Silicon Valley than Jerusalem!

Oh, did I mention panentheism? Shhh, we’ll come back to that at another time.

And it’s not only some Christians that can be so blunt! A Druid friend said a similar thing to me  but from the opposite angle. This isn’t a rant or gripe, just an acknowledgement that even when you steer a clear path, others will be offended, or upset or confused. But, be true to yourself. It is your journey, a path to which you have been called, not them.

Ofcourse, in admitting the abovementioned I might now alienate some Christians who didn’t know of the ‘druidicness’ of my belief system, and then I might offend some Druids who might think I cannot be a good Druid with Christian beliefs. All I can say is: it works for me, I love you just the same whatever you think, I’ll support you on your spiritual walk come what may, and I’m the same old Tadhg that stumbles and picks himself up, and laughs a lot.

Let me skip the road with you
I can dare myself
I can dare myself
I’ll put a pebble in my shoe
And watch me walk (watch me walk)
I can walk
I can walk!

So, where are you going?

My hope is that you, like me, are headed into uncharted waters, beyond the boundary of the circle which is the horizon, and which is way beyond our comfort zone. It’s there, that spiritual growth, maturity and transformation happens. It’s when we do something different, encourage ourselves (which may or may not mean putting an actual pebble in your shoe), and change our walk (no pun intended), that things happen – maybe imperceptibly at first. To do this, we will need others of a like-mind in some way.

I shall call the pebble Dare
I shall call the pebble Dare
We will walk, we will talk together
We will talk

And so, I call my ‘calling’ that path of the Christo-Druid or Druidic-Christian. What does that actually mean? It’s difficult to say, but, here goes. In essence, my credo is: One God of love who is invisible and yet perceptible in many forms and who is ubiquitous; and we are called to honour each other and those who have gone before; and to care for all of nature… because we are all connected. Oh, did I mention animism, or is that too much information?

Ofcourse, there’s more…I do this through story, through ritual and liturgy (and actually enjoy it), and meditate and contemplate, and visit places of significance, and interact with people, and live life to the full. And, yes, I love coffee and books, and meeting people in cafes where deep and meaningful conversations (and encouragements) can take place. And, don’t get me started on theosis! I love theosis.

And so, we’re walking together, you and I. Different, but accepting. Different paths but the same destination. Separate from each other and yet connected. Isn’t life wonderful and full of awe?

And when we both have had enough
I will take him from my shoe, singing
“Meet your new road!”

What we do, how we live out our spiritual life, whether for you it is a practical-spirituality or a ritual/liturgical spirituality, ‘high’ or ‘low’ (whatever that means) or an amalgam of all, we can walk together as you encourage me and I encourage you. Please be encouraged! Never let time, our fast-paced society or others discourage you.

Then I’ll take your hand
Finally glad.

And then we’re walking hand in hand. That may mean others around you accept you – but you’ll probably meet new people at home or at work and the challenge starts again. Ofcourse, one suggestion is to also contact those who think similarly to you. Be encouraged by others who are on a similar path.

Ofcourse, it will not always be like this. Finally, or finally-finally there will be a time when we ‘rest’, at the culmination of our spiritual path, whether it’s in Annwyn, Heaven, Jannah or  Sto’Vo’Kor etc, and then, in that Land of Eternal Youth (or the Great Cafe in the sky, as I sometimes call it)  the challenges of this life will pale into smallness, and perhaps it is there (and then) that life really starts.

Ofcourse, how to live a life worthy of that calling is another issue, and one that Mark Nepo and others mention, and one that we’ll come back to soon. But, for now, as I sit in The Magic Cafe I’m online and  researching and planning for that Camino walk, maybe next spring. What do you think?

 

All unattributed indented references above come from the song ‘By my side’, from Godspell

Looking Afresh At What We Take For Granted: Awareness & Tea-Drinking

20190821 LOOKING AFRESH AT WHAT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED AWARENESS AND TEA DRINKING

We recently looked afresh at what we take for granted: at clouds and their beauty here and here, and then we looked afresh at deers and gnats and more in wild places and considered elements where we can be more aware of animals’ manoeuvres and there meanings, and learn from them, here.

And, now perhaps, it’s time to consider something that many will consider (at least the example) mundane (but hopefully, not enough to stop reading, as there is more, and I believe the following to be beneficial. Awareness and the mundane (as if anything can ever be considered mundane).

Time for the ancients, early Christians, ancient tribes, druids, celts and pagans of yesteryear was experienced differently to us. Now, if I use a mobile phone app to check  when the next bus arrives I calculate in minutes, to the minute, and on most occasions to app is accurate and usually never lets me down. Thank you London Transport and especially the bus drivers of Route 424.

Time-wise, we might want to hark back to those former days in totality, but that may not be possible – we have work to do, busses and trains to catch, places to go and most of us, therefore, work to the minute. But all is not lost. There are many occasions when we, like those ancients, can slow down, take a few minutes out of our busy schedules, pause and enjoy the moment.

My suggestion is, at least for each of us to consider a slowed-down event, call it a ritual, each day to enjoy slowing, deep thinking and appreciating life in all its fullness.

Perhaps, as I’m British, a cup of tea could be the physical metaphor or physical ritual to do this. Why not? If you’re not quite sure what to use to ‘slow time down’ and to ‘go deep’, perhaps a cup of tea is just what you need – doubly so if tea-drinking is not part of your normal day or custom. It’s not that tea is ‘magical’, its how we ‘receive’ it and appreciate it that matters. Slow! Deep! Meaningfully! With deep(er) awareness.

Just a cup of tea. Just another opportunity for healing.

And, so I make the tea. A tea bag in the cup or teapot? And if you use a tea pot, do you put one teabag in it and then one for the pot? When about, when putting the tea into a cup, do you put the milk in the cup first? It used to be said the milk would go in first to avoid the heat cracking the fine china cup. I’m using a mug. But you decide. They may be important decisions, to contemplate slowly, but once you’ve decided, do it slowly, with intentionality, with pleasure, with feeling and deep thinking. This, now, for me is more than just a cup of tea to slake my thirst.

Just this moment in newness. Just the hand touching the cup. Just the arm retracting.

Is it just a cup of tea? No, it’s definitely  more!

In this simple act there is deep meaning. It is part of my life and yours (if you choose to make it so). It takes time – time that we will never get back, time that will never be repeated. It is a unique act for this time, and so, it is full of meaning. The meaning we give it. Ofcourse, we might gulp the tea down quickly, quench our thirst and there may be times when that is necessary, but not now.

Slowly do I reach out. Observing with my eyes the milk patterns swirling around on the surface. For some reasons I feel led to half close my eyes, and do so. Pehaps there are less distractions this way. Perhaps I am ‘seeing’ without seeing?

I note the cup’s temperature, the smell of the tea, and more. In reaching out I notice the cool handle of the mug, but it’s getting warmer. Even as I ponder, there is change. Heat is ‘creeping’ to the cup’s handle. The cold, smooth pottery is now quite warm to my touch. Everything changes? But, I’m in no rush. I’m enjoying the experience.

Just this moment in newness. Just the hand touching the cup. Just the arm retracting.

And then, I lift the cup, bring my arm closer to my body. The weight of the tea means the cup slips, just a little in my grip, and so I tighten my grip.

Is it just a cup of tea? It could be – but to me, right now it is so much more. I could think about where the tea comes from, its processing, how vital water is in general, but right now I was to be ‘in the moment’. Deep thinking, perhaps beyond rational thought, and moving into that area of quietness is what I’m seeking. When people are first in love there is that period of chatter ie ‘whispering sweet nothings’ as they get to know each other, talk and laugh. But, there comes a point where, sometimes, chatter ceases and just being local to each other, in each other’s company is enough. Silence is then the order of the day, as it is now.

The fragrance increasing as the cup nears the lips.  So present.

I can smell the tea’s fragrance. It’s Assam tea- full bodied and strong, and it smells so rich. I am aware of the details, but I want to me even more aware. The awareness that is beyond words. The awareness of no-thought (or perhaps, the being present between thoughts. That gap of silence, where possibility dwells).

Noticing the bottom lip receiving heat from the cup, the top lip arched to receive the fluid within. Noticing the first taste of tea before the tea even touches the lips.

And then I raise the cup to my lips. It’s tea, but the thought of wine in a goblet runs though my mind. Careful not to burn my lips I blow a small stream of air across the tea’s surface. I know, I’m a big child at heart and this is not something that I would do if invited to the Savoy Hotel, but no one is looking and no one knows I’m doing it – no one except you, and I’m amongst friends.

I sip slowly. The strong and rich taste of the tea, even just a few drops ‘hit’ my tongue and my taste-buds go into action. From no-taste to a rich taste of Indian tea, the taste pervades my mouth. So different. So refreshing. Do delightful. Almost overpowering, taste-wise. So different.

The fragrance and the heat rising into the mouth. The first noticing of flavour. The touch of warm tea on willing tongue.

And, now I can taste not only the splendid flavour, but the tea’s heat on my tongue, inner cheeks and the back of my throat. my mouth is warming up, but. fortunately, it’s not too hot. It’s comfortable.

The tongue moving the tea about in the mouth.
The intention to swallow.

I want to swallow, but I don’t. Well, not immediately. To swallow immediately would be to do this by rote, unconsciously and without thinking. I want to go slow, to pause, to dwell in that moment. And, one of the best ways to do that is to linger here and not do what one would usually do. And so, like some tea-taster at the Twinings factory I ‘swill’ the tea around my mouth (and that’s probably another reason why I wouldn’t be invited to tea at the Savoy hotel), but the flavour of this tea is wonderful and I want to extract every last molecule of flavor.

The tea seems less hot and the flavour less flavoursome now, but this could be that my senses are ‘acclimatising’ to the temperature and the flavour. I so want to swallow, but pausing is beneficial.

I want to swallow the tea, but chose not too. Interestingly, I consider (now) which part of me was responsible for those two opposing thoughts? Did they occur in the same part of my brain, or from two different areas: the brain and the mind (after all there is a difference between those two. And oh, this thought occurred as I  drank tea. Imagine what you might discover doing this or something else, slowly?).

And so, I swallow that tea. Just one small gulp. It’s enough.

The warmth that extends down into the stomach.

I can feel the heat run down my oesophagus (well, actually it runs down a few inches of what is left of my oesophagus, down a modified stomach that resembles now an oesophagus and into what is left of my stomach – but you may not have wanted that information). But, I can feel the heat flow down and permeate my body in its very depths. It’s a heart-warming process – no pun intended.  And it’s an unusual experience when slowing down and focusing on the experience as if for the first time. Perhaps this newness is what the Buddhists mean by having a ‘beginners mind’ and seeing things afresh as if for the first time, over and over again; or what being born again (and again and again), means?

What a wonderful cup of tea.
The tea of peace, of satisfaction.
Drinking a cup of tea, I stop the war.

It was a refreshing cup of tea. But, so much more. There was the act of slowing, pausing, appreciating the moment and experience, being aware and ‘in the moment’, which may be thought of as all acts of gratitude to the Source of All. Why not?

It was time wells-spent, a time when I ‘stepped out’ of ordinary time and into sacred time, and would invite you to do the same. There was a peace there, deep peace. A deep satisfaction. A veritable communion is a tea cup. What a wonderful physical metaphor, a physical ‘parable’, what a deep and meaningful way to ‘step out’ of the busy-ness of our daily life.

It’s was an opportunity to ‘go deep’ and know more about life, the universe and everything, or could it just be regarded  as just cup of tea with no cosmic importance? You get to decide. But, you would probably need to try it, or something similar, first to come to a conclusion, and there is my encouragement to do it, and to seek deep(er) awareness.

For me, it was (and when I do it, it is) a profound experience – but sometimes it does seem odd, peculiar, a waste of time, but that is to be expected. Our ego is ‘disturbed’ when we do something different, step out of our twenty-first century comfort zone, but it’s worth it if we are serious about reclaiming our ancient rights and practices, and thereby mature, grow and are transformed.

 

[All indented quotes above come from ‘Healing Into Life And Death’ by Stephen Levine]

Ancestral Thoughts At Llynau Mymbyr: Alternative Perception

20190808 ANCETRAL THOUGHTS AT LLYNNAU MYMBYR ALTERNATIVE PERCEPTION

Not far from Capel Curig in north Wales is the twin lakes of Llynnau Mymbyr (see this article’s header photo). It is a delightful area, full of myth and magic, legend and the feel of a ‘thin place’ about it. It exudes an energy that is both comforting and unnerving, it is an area where you can believe almost anything can happen. That expectancy flows though the very air like the ozone that one senses as a storm approaches.

As a child I used to frequent this area often – wonderful lakes, surrounded by tantalising (lake) beaches (albeit on the small side, but with intriguing rock pools, odd-shaped rocks and small pebbles of curious colours and shapes). And, I’m in that place again. It’s a sunny day, and a few clouds are sprinkled high above me.

Now, as I sit on a log with the water almost lapping at my feet, the view is a wonderful blend of grey-green, of slate rocks and mountains, and fern and lichen. In the very distance (in the photograph’s centre) is Yr Wyddfa, Snowdon, again, full of myth and magic, and though distant it dominates this area by is sheer presence.

The sun and clouds are reflected in the lake’s water, too,  and my thoughts drift. In what ways would those who went before us, our ancestors, think of this place: the pebbles on the lake’s beach, the few high clouds drifting by that I can see, and the sun shining down on me?

We often take if for granted that we know what they thought, and though we might get glimpses, I wonder if we can make that mental adjustment to ‘go back’ a thousand or two years and move about ‘in their shoes’. As a wee lad I used to love the Robin Hood tv series. Robin’s outfit was always clean and well pressed, and maid Marion’s hair was never out of place. I loved the series then, but in looking back now, ofcourse I know Robin Hood’s tunic would be muddy, smelly and probably patched. Maid Marion’s hair would have been devoid of conditioner (that hadn’t been ‘invented’), and if she lived in the forest she might have been missing a few teeth, and so not worry about ragged, dry, dishevelled hair. Apologies for being so graphic.

But we do get glimpses.

Our early ancestors may have had less knowledge of the way the world worked, but they had a greater and deeper appreciation of nature, and earthy wisdom.

With a notebook and pen in hand to take notes in wilderness areas – I don’t use computers in the field – my thoughts are drifting about: How would our ancestors have seen this environment or the world differently to us?

I do believe they would have had a deep(er) understanding of connectedness. As I look around my environment at Llyn Mymbyr I know that I am connected – but is it only a ‘cerebral’ understanding rather than a holistic one? How do I immerse myself in that belief? Or is it a case that understanding it then means I need only ‘surrender’ to that thought to imbibe its wisdom? Wise words about connectedness flow though my mind, words that I read some time ago:

‘Interbeing: If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are. [And,] If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow….”. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Yes, we are all connected, ‘inter-are’, but not just with each other now; and in opening up ourselves to less limited thinking, we come to know that we are connected in deeper ways through space and time, and not only to humankind but to the rest of creation. Even the cloud above, we know now,  has an effect far more reaching than we might have realised than when this article began.

I’m still sitting on that log, and gaze at a pebble, just under the water, that has caught my eye. Did you know that this whole area is part of what is known as the Capel Curig Volcanic Formation? If you read the science books it will explain this means that the area comprises some 1400 yards thickness of compacted ash that erupted some four million years ago. This resulted in rhyolites (and igneous, volcanic rock which  rich in silica and sometimes have a glassy texture and appearance). I’m gazing at such a pebble. What an ‘ancestry’ for a small pebble about the size of a kidney bean.

I can’t resist it. I admit it – I’m a ‘feely-feely’ person. If I see an interesting tree, I not only want to look at it, but want to run my fingers over its bark. If there’s a market medieval cross in an ancient English village or a standing-stone in the middle of an expanse, I not only want to take a photograph but also want to touch it. Who knows what that tree has ‘seen’? Who else might have touched that ancient market cross or standing-stone and thought of future generations, like me, who might touch it. There’s connectedness right there!

And, so I pick up the pebble, and another thought flows through my mind, of something that I had read about some time ago. And it’s this:

‘A man, walking on a beach, reaches down and picks up a pebble. Looking at the small stone in his hand, he feels  very powerful and thinks of how with one stroke he has taken control of the stone. ‘How many years have you been here, and now I place you in my hand”. The pebble speaks to him, ‘Though to you, I am only a grain of sand in your hand, you, to me, are but a passing breeze [in comparison]’. Martin Lowenthal and Lar Short, Opening In The Heart of Compassion’.

This small pebble had also ‘spoken’ to me. We are each connected; the same, yet different; but we all ‘inter-are’. But, the story makes us think. We do get glimpses of a different and deeper perception of nature, the universe and our place in it, but there is always more. I placed the pebble back from where I had removed it. And sat there, and wondered.

In thinking of this article, I thought: what about where you are right now? What might someone have done and thought in your location a thousand years ago, what was their view of the universe, and in what way are you connected to them? Some would say that you are separated from them by time and space, but are you? I don’t believe so. We are all connected, but we think we’re not. And the latter is, in my humble opinion, error. We are far more connected than we release – just like paper and the cloud. There is always more to discover.

And, as I stood up, ‘dusted’ myself down, slowly strode back towards the car, another thought came to me:

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40b, The Book

I laughed out loud. Fortunately, no one was about – well no visible entities, at least. In thinking of connectedness and seeing things differently, and with that verse from ancient text flowing through my mind, a word formed deep within me: theosis. But, that awesome theme is for a future article.

 

[The article’s header photograph, cropped and overlaid with text is copyrighted by David Gill, and is used with permission: see here.]

Looking Afresh At What We Take For Granted: Wild Places: Deer, Gnats & More

20190720 LOOKING AFRESH AT WHAT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED WILD PLACES EVERYWHERE DEERS GNATS

Ah nature! It is true the ancients were far more ‘in tune’ with nature than modern humankind, but all is not lost.

It is possible to rekindle that which in us is muted and appreciate nature (in a rural setting as well as in an urban setting). There are benefits. Awareness of nature around us can give us new insights, not only about the universe, but ourselves; not only in preserving the planet and therefore preserving humankind; not only enlarging our wisdom about the physical world but also about that that inner world we also inhabit in our innocence and essence.

It’s a warm morning.

The temperature is rising and the current humidity level heralds an even hotter, balmy and sweltering afternoon ahead, and I’m in London. But, having travelled just a short distance, several miles west of London, I am quite comfortable sitting in the shade of a huge, ancient, gnarled and majestic oak tree. And it’s bliss.

This particular old and ancient oak tree is in Richmond Park in west London, a huge open area consisting of over 2,500 acres of unspoiled space, and which has protected status as an important habitat for wildlife. And, that’s where I am. I’m in a wild place.

‘All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child. Marie Curie

There are six species of deer that inhabit the park, regal, wild and yet surprisingly tolerant of humankind. Red deer and roe deer are indigenous. Fallow deer were introduced after the Norman conquest, almost a thousand years ago. Other species arrived later.

And as I sit under this tree, wildlife, because of my earlier ambling has ‘retreated’, vanished, gone. And yet, within minutes, almost oblivious to me it returns. In many senses of the word, by being quiet and still I am becoming ‘invisible’.

It seems to me, that nature, once it has been disturbed, ‘returns’ seemingly in order of height, or weight or complexity. I’m aware of the insects returning first: butterflies, bees, assorted flies, and those black flies or gnats – the ones that seem to swarm and fly above your head regardless of which way you turn, or does that just happen to me?

I’m told the reason gnats fly around your head is because they are attracted to the carbon dioxide flume that you and I emit when we breathe out.

Most gnat  repellents rely upon us spraying ourselves with large amounts of chemicals or sweet smelling perfumes to help prevent gnats from landing and biting, but the trick, however, may be not to prevent the gnat from biting you, but rather to prevent them from finding you in the first place. If you wear a hat, allegedly, sprinkling it with Geranium or peppermint essential oil (properly mixed and properly applied) or anything that is peppery this will keep them at bay. You too, will become invisible to them.

I’m wearing a hat, yes, but no spray, and they’re back. So far, they seem to be leaving me alone, but they are there. Just a nuisance? Apparently not!

‘One should pay attention to even the smallest crawling creature, for these too may have a valuable lesson to teach us, and… may wish to communicate with…[us]’. Black Elk

Gnats are small flies of the suborder Nematocera, so I’m told, which also includes midges, craneflies and mosquitoes. And, whether we like them or not, they, even as small as they are, and sometimes as irritating as they can be, they do serve a purpose in nature. They are an important food source for birds, bats and larger insects, and they also pollinate flowers.

Should I move to avoid them? There is no point as they seem to follow me (and you), and hover over our heads! Nature is wonderful.

As I continue to sit quietly, bigger creatures seem to ‘return’ next. The tops of some long grasses ‘flick’ monetarily as grasshoppers spring off them, and maybe a mouse scuttles nearby, then a squirrel somewhat timidly draws closer. After many minutes, a small herd of deers come close – not too close, but close enough so that I can make out individual markings, and hear their grunts and sighs, and that distinctive ‘bark’ as the communicate with each other. Nature is awesome.

‘Every creature is full of God and is a book about God’. Meister Eckhart

Still some way off, but close enough to relate to them, eye contact to eye contact is made, and it feels like a secret communion has taken place. Soul to soul? Shy, vulnerable and gentle as they are they approach even closer. A few of them, particularly those nearest to me in this small herd, are ‘side on’ to me. It’s a defensive strategy. They know I’m here, pose no threat, and yet they are wary of me, and rightly cautious.

The closest deer licks its nose. This wets its nose with saliva and the moisture on its nose improves its sense of smell, and then its ears twitch. It is checking me out.

Having researched me, those deers nearest to me, join the others is foraging, lowering their necks below the ‘browse line’ of the tall grass, with only a periodic lifting of their heads as if to double-check on me. They’re acknowledging that I’m no threat.

I remain still, watching them for about twenty minutes, and as cramp sets in in my ‘nether regions’ I have to shift my weight as I sit under this tree, and a few small twigs crack. It is enough. Immediately, a few deer’s heads arch upward quickly, gazing over the ‘browse line’ of the long grass and look in my direction, their ears twitch, and the deers let out a muted, but distinctive ‘bark’ – an alarm call to the others. Nature is so balanced – we can learn a lot from it.

‘Only animals were not expelled from Paradise.’ Milan Kundera

I watch, now, as they run away from me, in a zig-zag motion. Some do a typical ‘bounce’ upward before the turn and scatter, others who were ‘side on’ to me only have to do a quarter-turn to flee (which is probably why they were not ‘face on’ to me as one would expect, because then they would have to do an about turn, a half turn to flee. That would take more time and energy. ‘Side on’ to me is more efficient, quicker and safer for them).

Even, there departure is beautiful to watch. They all run for about two hundred feet, and then stop, regroup after a few minutes, and start lowering their heads to feed, with the occasionally lifting of their heads above the long grass. And so it goes on.

‘The truly wise person kneels at the feet of all creatures’. Mechtild of Magdeburg

Over the millennia deer have been admired, revered and even worshipped. They have been the subject of children’s stories, fables and myth. In English folklore, Herne the Hunter is said by some to be a ghost associated with Windsor Forest and the Great Park in the English county of Berkshire. He is said to naturally have deer-like antlers upon his head, ride a horse, torment cattle, and rattle chains.

It has been suggested that the concept and name ‘Herne’ is derived from an ancient source, citing that ‘Herne’ may be a cognate of the name of ancient deity Cernunnos in the same way that the English ‘horn’ is a cognate of the Latin ‘cornu’. It makes you wonder, yes? Cernunnos being the conventional name given to depictions of the ‘horned god’ of Celtic polytheism. Cernunnos was/is a Celtic god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and the underworld. Ofcourse, the aforementioned is a brief outline only, and others will know more and have varied beliefs on this theme. This is an outline only, and an attempt to show how marvellously nature ‘speaks’ to us even through story and myth.

Indeed, Some see the qualities of Cernunnos are thought to have been subsumed into the life of the fifth century Saint Ciarán of Saighir, who is acknowledged as one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. When he was building his first tiny cell, as his ‘sacred journal’ tells, his first disciple and monk was a boar, followed by a fox, a badger, a wolf and a stag.

It’s time to go.

And so, I’m  walking back to the car, and within half an hour I will be home. Whenever you can escape to wild places, and even if you can’t, my encouragement is to pause and look at the wild things around you. Nature abounds in all its wildness even in the city, even in London (or wherever you are) for those who are aware. And though our ancestors may have had a head start on us in relating deeply to nature, it is a ‘skill’ that we can develop, especially as in essence we too are part of the web of nature and not apart from it; and that awareness can be awakened and grow.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.

Edna Jaques