Perceiving Anew: Doors To A Close Encounter: Imagination

20170908 PERCEIVING ANEW DOORS TO A CLOSE ENCOUNTER

‘Those who are Awake live in a state of constant amazement…’. (Jack Kornfield)

It was my first real full-time job and the journey across London, taking this bus, and then that train, alighting there and taking that particular escalator down to another platform for another train, and so on, was all new to me. Several years later, I was doing the same journey but without noticing much at all about the journey. And, on some occasions as I walked onto the platform to get my second train I’d stop, pause and think about the last minute or two of my journey, and not really have any memory at all of what had just happened. It was as if it had become so lost in the mundane that I hadn’t noticed anything at all, and my mind had gone blank. I couldn’t remember the advertisements on the wall, or who had passed me in the tunnels that connect one platform to another, and not even the direction signs.

I’m sure that happens to us all at various times.

Our minds not only wander, but they can seemingly ‘shut down’ or filter out much of what is really going on. It’s like reading a page from a book, maybe you’re in a hurry, and you suddenly realise at the end of the page that, although you’ve read it, you haven’t really read it and you no understanding of what the words meant. And, so you re-read it, and then it makes sense.

When perceiving anew, I think we need to ensure that we’re perceiving deeply. I love liturgy, I love poetry, but just reading the words on the page, as if by rote, academically, in a shallow manner only gives a surface-level of understanding. I want that liturgy, those wonderful words, to embrace me like a warm hug, to be like a Mediterranean sea that I can fall into. I want to connect. To be enveloped.

‘Nowness’

To perceive anew, I’d suggest being present in our mind is a first step. Thinking back is good, and planning for the future is good, but being present ‘now’ is even better.

And so he knelt down, closed his eyes, and prepared for a deep encounter. Around him, and invisible to him, hosts of powerful and ancient benevolent beings assembled. Some might call them ‘companions’, others elementals, other might call them the fae, or the Watchers, or angels. But, these Watchers crowded in to see how this person would encounter and interact with the loving-energy of the Source of All. A minute went by.

He could almost feel the distractions of the world being ‘unpeeled’ as he moved, inwardly, to some kind of inner stillness and peace. The wristwatch he was wearing, suddenly bleeped. It distracted him, and as he looked at it he remembered all the things he had to do. Opening his eyes, and getting to his feet, he rushed to the door to catch the 9.05am train. The moment had passed.

We can miss an awful lot by not being present. That ‘slipping back’ into not being present will happen, but perhaps an aim for us might be to work towards more times of ‘nowness’, and specified times of being present. Good habits are good. And, when present to be aware of what might be, what we might not see but can ‘sense’ or intuit, and that we’re surrounded by That Which Is Bigger Than Us. To be aware of the Mystery.

Aim: To be present in our mind, and to give our all to the moment, task, and event. To be fully alive. To realise there is more, and to be expectant.

Meaningful Actions

She now found himself, as usual, at the main service. She loved this service, all the pomp and ceremony, and ofcourse she loved the rich, majestic words that were used. They had the ability, as it were, to whisk her back in time, almost, and connect her to those that had gone before. Continuity. She listened intently.

It was then that she realised that the pace of the words spoken said by the person at the front seemed to be speeding up. Getting noticeably quicker. Instead of those words ‘inviting’ her ‘into’ the service and depth, they seemed to repel her. Could it be that the person saying those wonderful liturgical words was in a hurry, had important things to do? Were they even caring about those in the pews who were listening and willing to be transported into that Place of Encounter? She wondered. But, she had lost the thread of what was going on, and then seemed to just looked on at the liturgical activity as though she was an outsider. Things felt a bit ‘shallow’. She left. The effect of ‘distancing’.

It is easy to go through the actions and miss the meaning. I am sure you, like me, have been part of a ceremony where certain events have to take place in a certain order, or we’re involved in some kind of task at work where we had to process things in a certain order. It’s easy to get blaise. And, then you suddenly realise that someone will be buying the product or will be relying your calculations, or depending on you, and you’re not quite sure if your actions gave the process the due weight it needed. If someone is going to buy that product, we might ask ourselves did I put enough care and effort into making it, wrapping it etc? If leading a ceremony or providing a service we might ask ourselves if we have helped or hindered someone?

It is easy just to go through the motions. In any ceremony, the words and actions are important, but their ‘effectiveness’ stems not from the actions themselves, necessarily, but from the care and attention, the love, intentionality and time we put into them. Depth.

Aim: To take time for meaningful actions, and to enjoy the liturgy and actions, and see them an a conduit to something more.

And, it may be here that many people might stop. But, not you.

Imagination
Le Point Vierge

But there’s more.

Accepting that being present is necessary, and the ‘invitational’ liturgy, actions, words and songs are wonderful, to be used and appreciated, and can usher us closer to the Source of All, there is more

Imagination is all important. Frowned on by some, seen as something relegated to childhood only, and seen as unreal, imagination is seemingly used only by advertisers who know its power, and then proceed to sell us this holiday, or that car, or entice us to spend money in yet another sale.

He got home from work. Feeling tired he slumped onto the sofa, and his eyelids started to become heavy and close. He felt himself drifting off, and it was such a lovely feeling, he just lay there. In his mind’s eye it was as though he was in a busy room. As his mind focussed it became recognisable as a café.

There were about ten tables, and about seven other people drinking coffee. It was a warm and cosy café. Not too light, not too dark. The walls were a magnolia colour, and had prints of paintings on them of the great masters. He looked around at the other people in the café. Others looked at him, momentarily. They looked normal. And yet something within him saw something was not quite as it should be, something was different. He didn’t have the words to describe it but the was more going on than meets the (minds) eye.

He let this dream-like episode play on. With a cup of coffee now in front of him, he sipped it. It tasted heavenly. It was then that he noticed all the other occupants had left, and it was just him and the barista, alone.

He could hear himself talking to the barista. ‘We’re alone, how extraordinary that it should happen just like that’,  he said as he clicked. The barista, a person who looked like she had been doing this work for a long, long time, learned over his table, and with the voice of an angel , said, ‘Honey, you ain’t never alone’.

He woke up. But sat there quietly pondering on the meaning of that encounter.

Using our imagination  as we move through the day and especially when in quiet times of prayer, ritual, ceremony etc – is of paramount important, and is yet another vital step of moving closer to an encounter with the Source of All. Imagination complements our actions, and ‘adds’ to them.

Ofcourse, in one sense we’re always close(r), never alone, and so why use imagination? But, it seems to me we benefit from those times when we know we’re close, and we can use imagination as a conduit to step into that Place of Encounter. Times that usher into that awareness are important.

Aim: To draw near using our imaginations as a ‘tool’ for liminal encounters, both externally and internally.

These inward encounters have been called various names down the ages. Some call them liminal doors, le point vierge, ‘thin places’, peak experiences, or to the Quakers they are known as the Inner Light. But, they exist, and imagination is one way of putting ourselves in the flow of events and times that lead to a deep, meaningful, ‘inner’ encounter with the Beloved. It’s the Meeting Place, and you’re invited.

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing
and right-doing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.

Rumi

 

Developing ‘Soft Eyes’: Kataphatic ‘Day-Dreaming’

20170817 DEVELOPING SOFT EYES KATAPHATICRecently I mentioned about my childhood adventures with friends in north Wales, and how our imaginations ran riot. Oh, how we loved mystery. Then, albeit an adventurous and daring group of boys and girls, like most children, there was a limit. And beyond our physical comfort-zone, our immediate locale, lay the ‘even more’ mysterious area that we, as children, called ‘Yr ardal anhysbys’ or the ‘unknown place’ (see here).

And then, we all – you and I – grew and matured, and we generally lost that ability of childlike perception and love of mystery. Busyness or disinterest set in, or we became so mature that we might have believed all previous ideas were naive, or perhaps we became fearful. And, bit by bit we forgot to use our imaginations as a child does.

In that previous article I mentioned an Anishinabe (First Nations) man from Canada wrote:

‘The Four-Leggeds and the Windged Ones live to a different rhythm. Theirs is the rhythm of soft eyes and soft feet. Two-Leggeds have hard eyes and hard feet. When most humans go into the forest they enter with so much of the world on them that any possibility of feeling the sacred is removed. When we go into the forest we must become soft like the animal people and the tree people’.

As adults I would suggest that we can recover our childhood ‘soft eyes’, and rekindle that ‘focus’ on the mystery that is around us, and ‘see beyond’, with the use of kataphatic and apophatic ‘day-dreaming’.

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

Yes, I’m sitting in my little garden in my London apartment, and there’s one candle lit on the garden table. I’m in a restful mood, and my eyes keep half-closing. It’s not tiredness. it’s just that I am quite relaxed and very comfortable. And as I look at the candle, my mind thinks about its light, its warmth, how small but significant it is, and then my mind wanders to consider the light that a lighthouse emits and how useful to mariners they are. Somewhat of giant leap from candle to lighthouse, I know, but such is the imagination and its strength.

And, that is an example of kataphatic thinking.  It’s about thinking on an object or theme, and mulling it over deeply to an end.

This way of thinking is vital if we are to rekindle that childhood perception and to view the world around us with the ‘soft eyes’ of exploring mystery, rather than only use the analytical eyes of modernity.

Now some might call it kataphatic meditation or contemplation and that may upset some or make others fearful, and so, in this instance I’d like to call it kataphatic day-dreaming, because we all day-dream at times. And, usually we’re quite comfortable with the idea of day-dreaming and are familiar with it.

This kind of thinking around a theme or dwelling on object, in my case a candle, has many uses and there are so many exercises that are of benefit to develop that skill. It is much-beloved by advertisers, who months ago on tv and in magazines will have ‘seeded’ your imagination with thoughts of sun-drenched beaches, a new car or the latest fashion, even without you knowing it sometimes.

Did you know, for instance, that August Kekulé, a German organic chemist (1829-1896) said that he discovered the ring-shape of the benzene molecule after having a day-dream of a snake seizing its own tail (this is an ancient symbol known as the ouroboros)?

We might use this kind of kataphatic day-dreaming to imagine a story – maybe ‘putting ourself into the story’. It is one thing to objectively read a portion of sacred text or part of the chronicle of a latter-day hero who may have fought with dragons and to consider it analytically, but it is entirely another thing to ‘enter’ the story using our imagination. Then, we can ‘picture’ ourself as a bystander or having a significant role in the account, and imagining our interactions as well as the sights, sounds and smells etc that we might encounter. We might ask ourselves what we would have done? Isn’t that a function of those ancient parables and koans eg ‘Consider this….’. Isn’t this very much like some of the St Ignatian programs and imaginative exercises that many churches and faith groups use and are finding so useful? We can learn so much more this way.

‘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, ofcourse, for those wanting to be a good footballer, who hasn’t had an imaginary conversation with their footballer-hero of yesteryear and asked for hints on how to improve their game, or who, as a writer, hasn’t imagined going back in time to interview Shakespeare and ask him for writing hints or tips, or imagined Sherlock Holmes peering over their shoulder to assist with a knotty plot problem? You havent? You should try it.

And if you do try one of those examples above, or perhaps you might like to try kataphatic day-dreaming in a forest, your local park or your garden to be at one with nature, then allow yourself to be fully immersed in the moment and let thoughts come and go, and ‘play’ with your imagination. Make copious notes at the end of that time, rather than as you go along, as that will ‘draw you out of the moment’, and dispel the ‘magic’ of your newly kindled imagination. Enjoy it.

‘Set your imagination free and do your best to keep up with it.’  A R Fagundes

Developing ‘soft eyes’ to appreciate nature and the mystery around us, to gain wisdom and nature-peace, healing, guidance, energy, the awareness of Presence and more, with the use of the imagination is a good start. Try it!

This is one small aspect of kataphatic day-dreaming’, and something we’ll come back to over the next few weeks (perhaps with the addition of local and online workshops etc).

This is a brief outline of kataphatic ‘day-dreaming’. There’s so much more. And, tomorrow, we’ll look at Apophatic day-dreaming.

 

Things That Go Bump In The Night: Random Thoughts & One View On Meditation

20170712 THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT 1You could be forgiven, especially after my (likely) encounter with the Gwrach y Rhibyn early yesterday morning, for thinking that a night in the woods would be out of the question. Oh, but you don’t know me.

In north Wales I live in a rural and relatively remote area, and I love it. It is a complete contrast to city life and my time spent in London. Here, near Capel Curig, I can relax, breathe easily and walk lightly upon the earth. It’s a great place – even when peering out of the living room window at lush, grey-green mountains in the distance – to let thoughts meander. And, tonight (the evening of 11 July, 2017) thoughts, for no seeming reason, were rife.

There was only one thing for it – a hike (albeit a short one this time) and a night under the stars. I have my favourite nearby places and haunts to camp, usually about an hour’s trek away from where I live, but last night a walk into the forest lasting about ten minutes would put me in thick forest, and would suffice. And, ‘awalking’ I went.

‘The sky grew darker, painted blue on blue, one stroke at a time, into deeper and deeper shades of night.’ Haruki Murakami,

And, after erecting the tent under a deep blue-black, clear sky and a ‘starry, starry sky’, sometime shortly before midnight, those rampant thoughts raced even more.

Alone.

Firstly, the Gwrach y Rhibyn – the witch, that hag of the mist and portent of death! Fearful of the Gwrach y Rhibyn? No, when told numerous stories of that hag I was always taught to have a healthy respect for such beings, or if you’re not too sure whether such beings exist then insert the word ‘stories’ for ‘beings’. And, so I was taught to have a healthy respect, but no fear. However, as I sat there, outside the tent I can assure you that my eyes were wide open and I was alert. One cannot be complacent. I’m reminded of those people that rear lions from cubs and then invite a fully grown male lion into their house. I like reading about such events, but to me that’s one step too far.

Healthy respect.

If I encountered the Gwrach y Rhibyn out there, in the open, that’s okay…but to invite her into my house, where she could ‘turn’ and then I would have the problem of removing her, is quite something else. But, I’m not a fearful sort of person. Not silly, or ‘over brave’, but not fearful. I told you my thoughts were racing that evening. So, a healthy respect for the hag of the mist is good. But, all is well. She’s not here.

Other thoughts continued to flow like boats on an ocean. And, so it was an opportunity to meditate. There are different ways that word ‘meditate’ is used, and different forms of meditation, and for some of my friends the word and process is anathema, and it confuses me why they should think that.

Open mindedness.

The ancient and latter-day Celts and Druids are an imaginative lot. If you read some stories of old you get the impression of a myriad of shape-shifters and ‘magical’ things happening. Why, even dear St Patrick was said, at one time, to have shape-shifted into a deer to escape danger. And there’s at least one reference in the Book to a talking donkey. And, don’t even get me started on selkies and kelpies. Did these actually happen or where did they occur in the imagination of someone’s thoughts? And, does that really matter? They happened!

Joan of Arc at her trial: I hear voices telling me what to do. They come from God.
Robert: They come from your imagination?
Joan: Of course. That is how the messages of God come to us. (Scene I)

Those inner workings of the mind are important, and meditation is all-important. Bearing in mind different forms of meditation and interpretations of the word, here’s one definition: meditation is the ability to objectively hold a thought at arms-length, metaphorically’, and analyse it. It’s the one I was using last night in the forest, as I held each thought at arms-length and inspected it.

Analysis.

Meditation isn’t about letting your mind go blank (and so you don’t need to worry if anything will ‘crawl’ in that vacant slot (even if such negative things exist)). Right then, last evening, there was no probability of my mind going blank. As I sat there, quietly, a large number of thoughts moved through my mind, like boats endlessly sailing across the ocean.

Thoughts such as: What would those Christian friends (who don’t know if my Druidic tendencies) think of me if they knew? What would my Druid friends (who don’t know of my (Christian) theological degree and ordination) think of me if they knew? What should I do now about the possibility of moving house after Christmas? Should I re-paint the outside of my house? Should I take up Ben’s challenge (after I ‘thrashed’ him at chess) of a wrestling match? Actually, that one is easy to answer. Self-preservation kicked in.

‘Each flying thought, a flying thought pursues.’ C B Langston

But, other thoughts, for no real reason, raced though my mind, like speedboats on the ocean. Infact, very much like ocean-liners on the ocean. Meditation, in the form I was practicing that night, was very much like peacefully gazing out to sea and looking, intently, only on the distant area where the sea ‘touches’ the sky. Focussing on that area, you’re then aware of vessels passing in the nearer field of view but you pay them no attention. I’m sure you’ve done that, in reality, when on the beach. And, that for me, was last tonight’s meditation. Not focussing on all distracting thoughts, except for the one that I wanted to analyse.

Objectivity.

Each thought – about the Gwrach y Rhibyn, what some of my Christian friends might think of me, what my Druid friends might think of me, and Ben’s challenge – was analysed. This is not to say they worried me, nor that  I had to work through them, frantically. Quite the opposite. This form of meditation is all about focussing on one thought, holding it at arms-length, and objectively analysing it from all possible angles. ‘Well, I didn’t know I had so much emotional baggage attached to that thought’, and ‘Why do you, dear thought, keep returning, and you seem bigger than before?’. And, ‘This is a powerful thought…only If I grant it that power’, or ‘That’s an interesting thought, but I’ll come back to you later, dear one’, and so on.

We, each, have that power to hold thoughts in an objective way, and as with any muscle, the more we do it, the more it grows. The more we say to ourselves we cannot do it, it’s too hard or give up, so the faculty reduces. You are not your thoughts. You are more!

‘You are more than your thoughts, your body, or your feelings. You are a swirling vortex of limitless potential who is here to shake things up and create something new that the universe has never seen.’ Richard Bartlett

And so, as I sat there, and it was gone 2am before I turned out the torch’s light, I had systematically worked though a number of thoughts – many which you will never know about.  And, that may be a good thing. After all, What would those Christian friends (who don’t know if my Druidic tendencies) think of me if they knew? What would my Druid friends (who don’t know of my (Christian) theological degree and ordination) think of me if they knew? You can see the irony here, I’m sure: those few detailed admissions here, that genie is now out of the bag, for all to see. But, I’m that kind of guy. And, I trust you, anyway!

Between friends!

As, I laid there, and with sleep descending quite fast, I heard a rustle in the undergrowth nearby. That thought was nipped in the bud quite quickly, analysed within seconds and dismissed. If that was the Gwrach y Rhibyn, she had better not come between me and my sleep! Oh no! Needless to say, after what seemed only a few minutes I opened my eyes to the most glorious yellow and bright sunrise, and assumed, after all, that it wasn’t the hag of the mist. But, it makes you think! And, there I go again!

Encountering Silent Teachers: That Ancient Oak Tree / Coeden Dderw Hynafol

20170517 ENCOUNTERING SILENT TEACHERS

Go out, go out I beg you
and taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
with all the wonder of a child.
{Edna Jaques]

Near the perimeter of my garden in north Wales, before you reach the rivulet which is the unannounced boundary of my garden, just 20 yards/meters short of it is a wonderful, old, somewhat gnarled oak tree, standing slightly apart from other trees. Of all the trees in the garden, it is the oldest and most majestic, commanding respect from all.

My grandmother called it ‘coeden dderw hynafol’ (pronounced ‘goh-dun dare-ooh hin-af-foll’, which is Welsh for ‘ancient oak tree’, and that’s what I’ve always called it.

Interestingly, the word Druid, also comes from that Welsh word, dder, pronounced ‘dare-ooh’, for oak, and shows the high esteem that that tree was, and still is, held by them.

Oh, coeden dderw hynafol is a sight to behold. Even when ‘speaking’ to it in English, I’ve always addressed it, as though by a title, by its name in Welsh. I want to be respectful, after all.

Whether one believes that it has a dryad, an associated elemental, a spirit (or a spirit in the metaphorical or romantic sense), or wishes to personify or anthropomorphise this splendid tree, that is beside the point in many respects. It (still) has a presence, a nobility about it, and as it creaks and ‘moans’ in the wind it seems to ‘smile’ and declare to me and others that it was here long before we were born, and…and, yes, it will be here long after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.

It is a tree that evokes awe and humility in equal measure.

And so, there I was…nothing on tv….slowly walking, barefoot, toward coeden dderw hynafol at some time shortly after 11.30pm. There was hardly any light, the air was damp and cold – such is springtime in north Wales at this time of night – and the faint outline of  coeden dderw hynafol was etched, flat, without three dimensions apparent, against the dark, cloud-filled sky. The clouds seeming somewhat low and moving briskly, caught by an easterly wind.

I sat on the log just under the outstretched arms of the coeden dderw hynafol, and waited. The wind picked up and it started to rain, and the desire to run back indoors and avoid the rain was almost overpowering. Almost.

‘Only when we stop…do the stones begin to speak’. Mark Nepo

I love the rain, and though there was part of me that didn’t relish the thought of getting drenched, the ‘dominant’ inner voice was content just to let nature take its course. Any, why not? And so I sat on that log, gazing at coeden dderw hynafol and got drenched. Fortunately, there was no one around, and neighbours live some distance away,  so no one noticed my apparent foolishness.

Coeden dderw hynafol creaked, and groaned as it swayed in the wind, ‘moaned’ as the wind caught the top of its branches, and it provided only momentary shelter from the rain – its leaves now conveying downward all the rain it had ‘collected’. But, I will let you into a secret: it felt wonderful.

As I sat there with rain running down my forehead, onto my nose and running off the end of it, this ancient oak tree taught me: that regardless of what forces impact upon it, it stands. When buffeted it moves just a little, is pliable, and doesn’t stand so rigid that it breaks. Oh no. It ‘gives’ just a little. The noise it made wasn’t a cry of pain, but a delight that it was ‘dancing’ to the tune of the wind. And the rain it collected and which fell down on me was like the effect of a shaggy dog shaking itself to get dry and soaking everyone else in the process – something which ‘includes’ me, rather than excludes me, and which can bring on a wry smile. It was as though there was some giant, invisible aspergillum ‘flicking’ holy water on me, and blessing me. And it was comforting.

‘For a true contemplative, a green tree works just as well as a golden tabernacle’. Richard Rohr.

Now drenched, I realised that whatever life sends us, we are in control of our reactions and have the ability to come through the storm. As I sat there I could have been angry at being drenched, and angry that that oak had not provided sufficient cover to keep me dry. However, positive thoughts flooded my mind like warm honey. Coeden dderw hynafol had, in its own way ‘instructed’ me that I (and you, so ‘we’) have the resources to face adversity, and though we might ‘bend’ a little and feel the wounds, we will prevail. Coeden dderw hynafol also blessed me with the rain it had collected and which was now falling on me at quite a pace. It was a though this ancient friend was blessing me with holy water and including me. To be befriended by an oak tree is an amazing thing.

‘We inter-breath with the rain forests, we drink from the oceans. They are part of our own body.’ Thich Nhat Hanh

Soggy, cold, drenched but feeling blessed, I headed back to the house. I hadn’t gone too far when I stopped. It seemed wrong just to walk away. And so I stopped, and as mud oozed between my toes, I turned, and for just half a minute gave my silent thanks to coeden dderw hynafol, nodded and acknowledged my indebtedness to the lessons it had taught me that night.

Ofcourse, some might say it was crazy and puerile to regard that tree in such a way. A tree is just a tree, they might say. But, it didn’t (and doesn’t) feel like just a tree, in its presence. Ofcourse, if people regard it as just a tree, I would add that something deep still stirred within me, and I learned invaluable lessons.

However, I’d like to add that it is more than just a tree to me. There is more. Mae mwy, as they say in these parts, there is more. Coeden dderw hynafol is a silent teacher, and if you and I give ourselves time to draw aside and be still (wherever we are), each day we can learn something from these (and it may not be an oak tree) silent teachers that cross our life-paths.

‘And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet, and the winds long to play with your hair’. Kahlil Gibran