The Telling Place At Christmas 2019: Your Personal Invitation

20191214 TELLING PLACE EVENT 2019a

In an age where mystery seems to have retreated, here’s an opportunity to do what the ancestors did: to re-connect at this time of the year when the veil between Here and There is ‘thin’.

This will be an evening to share, to hear, to do, and to be transformed. If you’re in/near London do contact Tadhg by email [email: tadhgtemp@googlemail.com ] to find our more and/or book. You are invited! Limited to 20 people, and pre-booking and an adventurous spirit are essential.

The Telling Place: A Review, An Invite

20191121 THE TELLING PLACE 1 2018 AND 2019

‘What is the one message that only you can give? It’s your story’. J R Rim

It was a cold, dark, December’s evening. The café had shut to the general public an hour ago, and a few changes were made – a few festive lights added, a few unlit candles placed on tables, a few symbolic items, ‘tools’ or conversation pieces were placed on the tables, and food was placed on the corner table – in anticipation for the Telling Place event 2018 (and so, if local, there will be another this year, so do please read on… but please read on anyway as it was a wonderful event).

Ah, the Telling Place event: a place of myth, ‘magic’ and imagination.

‘Every human is an artist. And this is the main art that we have: the creation of our story.’ Don Miguel Ruiz

The clock chimed 6.45pm and the doors were unlocked, and within minutes several people ambled through the door, out of that cold night, and into a café that was warm, bedecked with Christmas lights, albeit rather subdued lighting, and expecting the unexpected. The café can hold about twenty people and it soon filled up with expectant ‘adventurers’

“Welcome. Welcome to the Telling Place”, Tadhg said cheerfully.

The ancients knew the value of story-telling, when they met together at Telling Places. There, fragments of memory were woven together, and ‘bits’ become ‘whole’, and all added to the complete story. Everyone was included. Fragments of memory, separate and ‘isolated’ were re-membered. The opposite of dismembered. ‘Re-joined’. Put back together again. And in community, too.

‘We keep stories alive because to re-member is to put broken pieces back together. We keep learning from stories how to make things whole.’ Mark Nepo

The ancients, those Celts and Druids, ancient Hebrews, Christians, and others, of old, knew of the benefits of stories. They would regularly meet around the village fire, in the evenings and tell stories that were, perhaps sometimes of individuals around the fire, or of ancient heroes and their ancestors, or of stories of cosmic proportions eg creation stories and/or of the tribe’s origin.

But, what about us? In this part of the twenty-first century there is a great need for that kind of event, and this Telling Place fulfilled that requirement wonderfully.

“Tonight, is a time of listening, a time of sharing a story (whether something from your own life-story that is not too personal and which can be shared), or a story that you have heard and which means a lot to you. Stories of dark and light, endings and beginnings, down and up, of people and places. Stories to make you think. Stories and a few activities, yes a few activities that you will be invited to join in, that make you go ‘oh’, or ‘awwww’. Stories of  myth, ‘magic’, and imagination.”

But, there’s more.

“There will be stories about myth – those fictional and some-times factual foundational accounts on which we base part or all of our life. Stories about ‘magic’. Not the conjuring sort of magic, but the kind that some would call a numinous event, a peak experience, a transformational event. Come expecting to be changed. And, there will be stories of the imagination, and here there may be some pleasurable and non-cringe-making activities you will be invited to take part in. More will be explained as the evening goes on.”

“But, for now relax.”. A short time was given over for people to amble and introduce themselves to four other people in fifteen minutes – no mean feat – as they tucked into some delightful food from the smorgasbord and filled their glasses with various chilled fruit juices. Everyone talked enthusiastically. A hub-bub ensued, sounding rather like the friendly drone in a bee hive.

‘The imagination of early childhood has no limits. This is why children are fascinated by stories. A story has permission to go anywhere….The child rarely experiences the story as an observer. The child enters the story, it experiences the drama from within.’ John O’Donohue

Now back at their tables, everyone settled down. Tadhg explained as he went along, and opened the Telling Place officially.

A candle was lit, and in doing this simple ritual, Tadhg explained that it was as though we had been pulled out of physical time, as a group, and  into sacred space-time, and were propelled back in time to engage with the Ancestors in story. Or, was it that they had joined us? Or was it more than just seeming so? Was it happening in actuality? However, we understood it, he explained that this was to be a meaningful time of remembering.

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

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

Juan Ramon Jimenez

“This remembering”, Tadhg continued,  “is called anamnesis: a remembering that makes the original event present to the believer. In a very real sense, ritual negates time and space. The Passover Seder, for instance, starts with the question, ‘How is  this night  different from all other nights?’ Ritual, then, brings the participant, that’s us, into that timeless realm of the sacred in which the time and space that separates us  from the original event, or which separates us from the Other, just disappears.”

“It’s not just remembering. It’s a re-experiencing and a re-connectedness to that former event – in this case story and the Ancestors. Anything less that that, is merely mimesis, an imitation or re-enactment. This is more”

Several people shared stores. Two shared stories from their own life, stories of challenging times and of overcoming. Two other shared stories, fables, that had meant a lot to them and which were well received by all. The evening continued well, with each person giving support and praise to others, as well as receiving it. It was so uplifting. Awesome.

Tadhg lit another candle.

At this point he explained that, at the end of the year it was a good time to review the positive and the not-so-positive events of the year, and to deal with them. He suggested that each person takes two pieces of paper. One would, if that person so wished, would be displayed on the wall later and would contain one or two positive highlights of the year. It would be a form of written gratitude to the Source of All. The other piece of paper, would be private, and would highlight negative points and negative thoughts and actions that had happened during the year. People wrote feverishly. A few minutes later each person put the gratitude sheet on the wall; each person took the sheet of negative thoughts and actions and, at Tadhg’s suggestion,  symbolically dealt with them by placing them into the shredder machine.

Tadhg said a few words…ensuring that that negativity was truly gone! Dealt with. Gone for good!

‘You are the fairy tale told by your ancestors.’ Toba Beta

More stories were shared. Tadhg lit another candle, and talked about remembering those who had gone before us – to remember them with joy. He talked about how our ancestors would have used this time to celebrate the lives of the Ancients, and of Modranicht, called  “the Night of the Mothers” or simply “Mothers’ Night”. Everyone had been asked to bring a copy of a photo of a deceased relative that they wanted to honour, and some also shared stories – many quite witty stories that made many smile, and all uplifting – about loved-ones that had passed-on.

Later, Tadhg lit another candle. This time, as some time had elapsed and the evening was drawing to a close, he asked each person to close their eyes, to meditate, and to use their imagination.

“If you would, imagine that this room is filled with your Higher Self, or an elemental, a goodly spirit, an emissary from the Source of All, from the Universe, an angel or fae perhaps. Don’t worry about what they look like but imagine they have a message for someone in the room – not you – but for someone else, and it’s one word, or two, but no more than three, and it’s uplifting. “

As people thought deeply, used their imaginations and opened themselves up to the Other, the haunting melody of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ by Enya played in the background.

‘The sacred soul delivers the message of life.’ Lailah Gifty Akita

“You can imagine them speaking this to you” , Tadhg said, “or writing it down, or them giving you a book with this word or words as the title. Now, when you have it, open your eyes and write it down on a piece of paper.”

Everyone wrote something, and everyone shared the word, two or three, not knowing who it was for. Although Tadhg said those present may want to share any word spoken that was relevant to themselves, others, he said, might just quietly like to ponder upon a word heard that they felt was relevant to them, quietly in their heart.

The event closed with the extinguishing of the candles, as Tadhg explained that each of us were now moving back into mundane time. He suggested we all stand, and applaud – applaud each other for making the evening such a joy, applaud the Other and The Invisibles present for being present, and applause as a form of ‘grounding’.

One by one, people left. That evening tears were shed, smiles were witnessed, and many were transformed. Each had had an encounter with the Other. In the distance, as car doors opened and closed, the hushed whispers of ,‘See you at next year’s Telling Place’, could be heard.’

‘I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?’ Zhuangzi

[Another Telling Place event is planned for Saturday, 14 December 2019 in Fulham, London (starting at 7pm and finishing at 9pm. And, you are invited. Suggested donation is £10, but no one should be deterred by a lack of funds. Come anyway! If interested or if you require further information, please contact Tadhg by 1 December by email: tadhgtemp@gmail.com ]

‘Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilisation, no society, no future.’ Elie Wiesel

 

Celtic Advent: Even More Cosmic Thoughts At The Magic Cafe

20191114 EVEN MORE COSMIC THOUGHTS AT THE MAGIC CAFE CELTIC ADVENT

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, the Celtic Advent is here.

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

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

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

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

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

Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel Of The Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC Radio 4 Thought For The Day: Here

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

Celtic advent calendar: Here

Contemporary and Ancient Celtic Blessings: Here

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

 

Ritual & The Dream: An Encounter At Twilight

20190129 ritual and the dream

I hear your voice on the wind
And I hear you call out my name
“Listen, my child,” you say to me
“I am the voice of your history
Be not afraid, come follow me
Answer my call, and I’ll set you free”

Brendan Graham, and sung by Celtic Woman (see here)

Even with my eyes closing, I saw her. In a clearing in a forest at twilight, she was there, dressed in a long white flowing robe. It was quite dark but I was able to see more and more as my eyes slowly grew accustomed to the darkness.

There was no one else around, and yet I could sense somethings or some ‘people’ nearby. It was like the heaviness of air pressure due to an approaching storm, but there was no storm. Like the energetic cacophony of a room, ‘noise’ made up of many voices but without being able to distinguish any one voice. It was like the faint echo of something that had been said but was said no more. And yet, a presence or presences, invisibly persisted.

Even with my eyes closed, I saw her in my mind’s eye. She lit a small candle and placed it at her feet.

‘What is the purpose of ritual?,’ a kindly, deep Voice enquired from the forest around the clearing. Without hesitation she answered, ‘It is to wake up the ancient mind within each of us, and to weave the personal and communal in such a way as to relate the local to That Which Is Larger Than Ourselves’. Silence filled the forest once more. As I looked on and listened, it seemed the Voice had been edified.

‘What is the origin of ritual?’, another Voice enquired from the forest, the voice ‘hidden’ amongst the trees. It sounded feminine, evoking beauty, patience and youth, and almost encapsulated a laugh, gaiety as words tripped toward the woman. The woman turned to face the area where the Voice seemed to come from. ‘Rituals arise from the land and its guardians, and enter the imagination of all people, though some are unaware. They reflect the totality of our lives: the terrain, animal and nature in all its glory, the weather, stories and myth, individual and communal wounds, and hope’, she said. Silence filled the forest for some minutes. The Voice seemed content with now knowing that truth.

I moved closer to observe the woman. As she spoke I noticed she moved her hands as if ‘signing’ similar to that used for the hearing impaired, indeed her whole body was in motion when she had spoken. I was intrigued.

‘What is the benefit of ritual?’, yet another Voice asked from another part of the clearing, sounding rather like a child’s Voice this time, and making several attempts to get the sentence out. It seemed that the owners of these Voices were an inquisitive lot, eager to learn and enthusiastic with deep and searching questions. The woman, ‘signing’ and swaying gently, answered and said, ‘In ritual we become transparent and open to That Which Is Larger Than Ourselves. It ensures that the tears of our souls, those deep wounds, sometimes forgotten or buried, and which we all experience are sutured and repaired’. The forest fell silent again.

Sometime past and no Voice spoke. In a somewhat trembling Voice the woman added, ‘And in ritual that which is within us shimmers and shines, and aligns itself with the Source of All’. She smiled in my direction. Then there was silence. I looked around to gauge where the next Voice might come from.

Suddenly a loud, booming Voice, very loud infact, but benevolent, came from behind me, but alarmingly close to me. ‘What does ritual provide?’, it asked. Without hesitation and very confidently the woman turned to face the Voice, looking at me and beyond me, and replied, ‘It helps in our transformation. Fear, grief, rage, shame, or worry, hopelessness, confusion, that borne by the individual, community or nation is transformed with the aid of That Which Is Bigger Than Ourselves’. The forest fell silent once more.

After what seemed like an age, the women bowed to the four quarters, the cardinal compass points, picked up the candle and walked slowly toward me. As an observer I expected to ‘wake up’ at this point, or perhaps for her to pass right through me as if in a dream, but she stopped in front of me. Unnervingly I was aware for the first time that she was aware of me now, and had been all along.

She stopped and through my nervousness I spoke to ‘break the ice’ and to fill that silence with something. ‘You answered the Voices well, and instructed them in the essentials of ritual. You must be pleased?’, I said to her.

She smiled, half laughed and sat on a nearby felled log in the clearing, and invited me to sit, too, and she put the candle the candle on the log between us. ‘You have it all wrong, she said, the Voices are not students but the Teachers.’

‘So, you’re the student and they were testing you?’, I enquired. ‘You’re getting closer to the truth, but you’re not there yet,’ she said, ‘The Voices are indeed the teachers, and if you like I was their assistant, but the student is you and those that read what you write!’.

I thought about it, and drew a breath to ask a question. ‘There is more, but not just yet’, she said. She blew out the candle flame and the forest went totally black. Somehow I knew that she and the other presences, the Voices had left, and I was alone. After what seemed like many minutes, I opened my eyes, with her voice saying ‘There is more’, clearly echoing in my mind. Just a dream?

A few days later, I tuned the radio into a Sunday morning ‘thought for the day’ type of short program. The voice of an elderly gentleman could be heard. ‘And’, he said, ‘there is more… We need to build faith in ourselves as ritually literate people that can dress the wounds of suffering…’.

‘There is always more’, my grandmother used to say but in Welsh (which is: mae mwy). Perhaps those Voices (the bat khol, the Source of All, elementals, angels etc are speaking to us always, in our sleep and in our imagination, through our neighbours and other people, through the man on the radio program, and at other times, too, but, perhaps we seldom listen. Just a thought.

 

I’ll Show You Something To Make You Change Your Mind: Perception

20181211 ILL SHOW YOU SOMETHING TO MAKE YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND PERCEPTION

I’m still in London and it looks as though I’ll be here until after Christmas, when I’ll then journey back to Wales for a while. It’s easy to understand Wales as the land of ‘myth and magic’, for that is was it is, but what of London?

The world exists as you perceive it.
It is not what you see, it is how you see it.
It is not what you hear, but how you hear it.
It is not what you feel, but how you feel it.

Rumi

London is a bustling modern city of more than eight million people, a ‘powerhouse’ of activity and trade and modern buildings that reach to the sky. But, there’s more.

Look deeper, and it too is a place of ‘myth and magic’, and I do believe wherever you are, if you scratch below the surface (metaphorically) there is more there than meets the eye.

Look at it one way, here, and you see a twenty-first century, modern city, perceive it afresh and you also see, almost seemingly superimposed onto it, a place that is altogether otherworldly of which many people only get glimpses that are fleeting and easily ‘drowned out’ by modern life. But, not you.

Let me take you by the hand and
Lead you through the streets of London
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind.

‘Streets of London’, song, 1969, Ralph McTell

‘Myth and magic’ all around us, around me, around you wherever you are? Take for instance, the story of Bran. Bran the Blessed, sometimes called Bendigeidfran or Brân Fendigaidd, which means ‘ Blessed Raven’ in Welsh). He was a giant, a king of renown in Britain as recorded in the Mabinogion.

In one of the many battles mentioned in the Mabinogion, only seven men survived the battle, and they are told by a mortally wounded Bran to cut off his head. The story goes that they did this and (as sometimes happens in these ancient stories) Bran’s head continued to speak for some considerable time. Once silent, and some time later, the seven men take Bran’s head to (what is thought to be Grasshold Island, near Dyded in Wales).

There, they and the head remain for eighty years without perceiving the passage of time. They are later instructed to take Bran’s head to London, to White Hill where it is to be buried. Once there, they buried Bran’s head, and the thought was then, that because of that act the Kingdom would be protected against all foreign invasions and the country would remain and not fall. This is a wonderful story full of great meaning, imagery, ‘myth and magic’.

‘We are not makers of history. We are made by history’. Martin Luther King Jr

But, what of modern London?

Nearby is Subways (food), the Gourmet Burger Kitchen (food), and Wagamama’s (always my favourite food places, but I really don’t always have food on my mind) and there are many offices, tower blocks, businesses; and nestling along the bank of the River Thames on one side, the approach to Tower Bridge, Petty Wales, and the A3211 road and Tower Hill underground station on the other sides is the site of the Tower of London. This is one of my favourite historical sites in London.

That site, surrounded by ancient buildings and with other notable places within such as the Executioner’s Mound, the Torture Room and Traitors Gate, has, at its centre the actual Tower of London complex. The significant building there, built on a small hill (or mound) is the White Tower, built is the early 1080’s.

Could the White Tower be built on White Hill as mentioned in the Mabinogion? I like to think so, that there is a connection.

There is a long superstition, and if you’ve visited the Tower of London then the Yeoman Warders who guard the Tower will also tell you, that the ravens that hop around the grounds are important. Whilst they remain within the grounds of the Tower of London the Kingdom would be protected against all foreign invasions and the country would remain and not fall. Does that sound familiar?

Could the promise of protection for the realm be connected to Bran’s head and that ancient story, and the promise made when it was buried? I like to think so, especially as Bran’s proper name of Bendigeidfran or Brân Fendigaidd, means ‘Blessed Raven’ in Welsh.

There is a connection.

Brans head, I believe is buried there, the promise was given then, and still operates, perhaps conditional on the ravens, a reminder of Bran, remaining in the grounds of the Tower of London. Fortunately, the ravens have never left the Tower of London by their on accord and never will! Thus,  the realm is safe. There is some irony here.

Again, those who have visited the Tower of London and have heard the Yeoman Warders recite the myth will know that the wings of the ravens are ‘clipped’. The birds can hop, but not fly, and because of that the promise of the country’s safety is guaranteed against any foreign invasion.

‘It is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception and compassion and hope’. Ursula. Le Guin

And, so I’m still in London, a place of unbridled myth and magic, a place where another realm seems to operate unknown the many business workers that travel in daily, and I suspect that that is the same wherever you are, if you ‘scratch below the surface’, perceive afresh and suspend that twenty-first materialism that so easily clings to us and blinds us. If we don’t look anew we will only see the same mundane view; but if we look anew, perhaps using our imagination, then a whole new world, a world of both the physical and spiritual opens up, for, there is really more, oh so much more around us than meets the eye.

‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.’ Matthew 7.7, The Book

Look around your locality. What do you see? Now take another look. Use your imagination. Take your time. Pause. Relax. Look deeper, and then deeper still. What do you really see?

 

A Walk In The Woods: Liminality And Its Benefits. Three Stories

20181010 A WALK IN THE WOODS LIMINALITY AND ITS BENEFITS

The imagination of the Ancients taught them wisdom that is lost to many today. Ancient Celts, Druids, Pagans and others knew more than we can guess, and yet many of the practices they observed are open to us today. They were ‘connected’ in a way that is only just being (re-)discovered, and the benefits, especially as regards liminality are enormous.

It was evening and the sun was sinking behind Cadair Idris, that wonderful mountain at the southern end of Snowdonia in Wales, that I frequented a lot as a teenager. Cadair Idris means the ‘Chair of Idris’ and was the giant warrior poet of Welsh renown. But, it was the setting sun that caught my attention.

The air temperature was dropping considerably as I stood on the mountain side, and long shadows ‘overwhelmed’ me, as the setting sun took my breath away. As I gazed in its direction the sun changed colour, diminished in brightness, but it was awe that embraced me, and that was so overpowering.

‘I have a thing for doors. I always think of them as a threshold to something new’. Jada Pinkett Smith

Yes, it was a liminal moment, a threshold event, a peak experience, a door to something or somewhere else as some might describel it.

Many shy away from the word surrender, but witnessing that awesome event, with no real thought prevalent in my mind, I basked in silence, motionless at the experience. I was in awe, connected to the universe and all that is. I had surrendered to the event, the handiwork of the Source of All, and the Source of All was palpable to me in some strange, unexplainable way. And, it was good.

Indeed, a liminal experience. Just then, the thought of capturing the moment occurred and I reached for the camera hanging around my neck, lifted it, took aim and photographed that amazing sunset. At I gazed through the camera’s viewfinder my eyes welled up, as I realised that I had left that liminal moment behind. In trying to preserve that wonderful moment of connectedness, I had lost it. Gone.

It was a group event, a workshop, and the first exercise was for the group to close there eyes, and having mentioned centering, beforehand, each member of the group was asked to imagine a walk in an imaginal forest, a walk in the woods, that started in the corner of the room they were in. The forest had a defined path, it was evening and quite dark, but in the distance there was a light, and each group member was asked to, imaginally, walk towards it. The path led to a clearing, and there each member was encouraged to imagine themselves sitting on a bench in the middle of the clearing and just ‘be’. After ten minutes I asked them to journey back on the path, out of the clearing and back into the room.

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

This was the first exercise of the day and was an essential step to cover the wonderful themes on the days curriculum, but in sharing their imaginal journey, it was clear that this was, indeed, the first step of many. Some shared and described the wonderful forest they were in and related as to how, as they sat in that imaginal forest, it took them back to their childhood. Another, related how a bird’s song sounded like a mobile ‘phone and they they really must ‘phone an old friend. Another, recounted how they felt cold and a small wind was rustling leaves and wondered if the central heating was on at home, and so it went on.

The first exercise of that workshop (as it was meant to) showed how easy it is to fill our minds with thoughts – the monkey mind – when meditating or when on an imaginal journey, as that exercise was, and what could be a liminal event of ‘being’, can so easily turn into a non-liminal event of thinking or ‘doing’. We then ‘step out’ of that liminal time and so miss out, or worse, we fool ourselves into thinking that we have had a liminal event when it was only a liminoid event (a near miss, but not the real thing).

‘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

I was about nine years old, and my grandmother, having finished one of her amazing stories, looked at me and said, ‘It’s time for something a bit deeper, dear one. Time for an encounter’. The grandfather clocked had just chimed 7.30pm. ‘Good,’ she said, ‘No interruptions’.

She asked me to sit up, breathe regularly, close my eyes, and I did. She mentioned a few preparatory things to do, and then talked about a forest in the corner of the room, a walk in the woods, and asked me to imagine it, and to imagine that I was walking along a path. It was fun, and very easy for me to do – my childhood imagination worked ‘overtime’ at the best of times (and, still does!).

With my eyes closed, she asked me to imagine that I was walking towards a clearing, where there was a bench in the middle, upon which I was to sit, and do nothing else. I did as she asked, and in my mind’s eye saw an old stone bench in the middle of a large gap, a clearing in the trees. I approached it, and sat on it, and waited.

‘I looked for someone among them who would…stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land…but I found no one’ Ezekiel 22.30 (part), The Book

A few thoughts arose, and a stirring in the undergrowth at the edge of the clearing caught my attention, but I knew that I wasn’t to hold onto these thoughts, but just let them go. I sat. Little or no grasping thoughts arose, and it seemed to get easier, and I waited patiently.

As I sat there, in that imaginal clearing, even the trees and the edge of the clearing seemed to dissolve and to become unimportant. Was I sitting or standing? No thought arose, as whatever I was, was (just) there. There was silence. There was darkness, or was it light? There was nothing.

Just then, I heard my grandmother’s pleasant and melodic voice call out to me. ‘Tadhg, it’s time to come back’, and she guided me to that path I had taken earlier. In my mind’s eye I was walking along that path and back to the room, and sat down’. You can open your eyes now, but do it slowly, little one’. She also ensured that I was ‘grounded’, and then told me to relax. I did.

She asked about my experience, but all I could say was that, during the few minutes of the exercise, nothing had happened. ‘Aha, then you encountered for sure’, she beamed.

‘Encountered what? And, why did it last only a few minutes?, I pleaded as if I had been short-changed by the experience.

‘The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough’. Rabindranath Tagore

‘Ah, those are good questions. Some believe they encounter elementals or their guardian spirit, others say that they encounter angels in silence and invisibly, and others say they encounter the Source of All. So, you did encounter Tadhg. You did’, she said. She was so pleased.

‘So, it’s like being in the company of a friend that you can’t see, can’t touch, can’t speak to, and can’t hear’, I said somewhat sarcastically, and looking a bit puzzled I think. ‘Exactly’, she replied, and laughed. ‘Exactly, so!’.

‘Then how do I know I encountered?’, I asked.

‘Well, you’ll know, you’ll just know, but usually always after the event’, she said in her lyrical Welsh accent. ‘The One you wanted to encounter is more eager to encounter you, so whether you know it or not, an encounter takes place,’ she continued.

‘What you seek is seeking you’. Rumi

Just then, the grandfather clocked chimed. It was 8pm. My grandmother gave me a knowing look! And smiled. She knew!

Even at that young age I was struck by the fact that that imaginal journey seemed to take less than five minutes, but it had, infact, lasted thirty minutes. I knew I had encountered. I knew I had experienced the liminal. Such thresholds are indescribable, take one’s breath away, affect us at a soul or spiritual level, and skew time, my grandmother later explained.

’But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.’ 2 Peter 3.8, The Book

As I look back, bearing in mind there have been numerous encounters, and I’m a regular traveller of imaginal journeys and meditation even today – I lead individuals in such imaginal journeys; both kataphatic and apophatic, but more of that soon – I often wonder, when time goes by so quickly in those sessions, what is actually happening? And at what level? Physical? Soulish? Spiritual? But, it doesn’t really matter. An encounter is an encounter, and it is beyond reason. It isn’t irrational, but ‘arational’. It is above and beyond, and it is good.

The benefits of such encounters, of which the accounts above are but one type, and there are many, are transformational. I would encourage you to undertake such imaginal journeys to encounter, and to be alone with the Alone.

 

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