Lessons From The Heart(h) Remembered

20180304 TALES FROM THE HEARTH REMEMBEREDMy grandmother, always having time to tell a good story, passed on some thirty years ago. Times flies. And yet, the legacy of her stories lives on in my memory and life. She was what many would call a seanchaí [pronounced ‘shawn-(a)-key’, and Gaelic for a story-teller], and she was a good one at that.

Even now there are times, in looking back, I can remember myself sitting by her chair, by the hearth, and as her sweet voice told yet another wonderful story, the fire would ‘roast’ one side of my face, making it red for some time after. I’d move to another position by the hearth, but as a small child, I would always ensure that I could hear every word she spoke.

Each of her stories encapsulated some nugget of wisdom, a lesson to be applied. And each was a lesson for an authentic Celtic lifestyle. Here’s three such lessons.

Un

They were a great times of hearing this consummate story-teller tell her stories of myth and ‘magic’. But they were stories, albeit stories that were so memorable and encompassed such deep truth that they were unforgettable. I can remember my grandmother telling me stories of Brigid. One story she told was of Brigid, the saint, who was also known as ‘Mary of the Gael(s)’, and who flourished around AD500. Brigid, then, turned bathwater into beer. Another story was of Brigid who was an ancient and timeless Celtic godess. And yet another story was of Brigid who was nursemaid to the Christ-child and so lived two-thousand years ago.

On one occassion, when I was a little older, I asked my grandmother, ‘But, which Brigid is the true one?’. Always one to answer a question with a question, she replied, ‘What do you think, little one?’.

‘I don’t know’, I replied after some time of thinking about my reply and getting confused in the process.

‘That,’ she said, ‘was the best reply. There’s an element for doubt. Room what ‘what could be’, and so then all the stories will continue to be told and enjoyed’.

‘When a wise man points at the moon the imbecile examines the finger.’ Confucius

It was many years later that I understood what she meant. If we adopt the twenty-first century approach, the Greek dualist approach, the academic way of ‘squaring the equation’ and wanting a definitive answer, and treating ancient writings and stories as though they were science books, then one story must be true and the other two would eventually be forgotten as untrue, and their wisdom would be lost.

If we accept the non-academic approach, the poetic, and I would say that is the ancient Celtic and Druidic approach (as well as that of many other ancient cultures eg Hebrew), then we can accept all three stories, not be overly concerned that they don’t fit neatly into our modern understanding of time and place, and their ancient wisdom can and will benefit us as they get told and retold, as the stories unfold. Oh, but how we fall into the trap of being ‘so sicentific’ that we lose the meaning, the light and love on the journey to understanding.

Lesson: Look for the deeper meaning, and not sentence construction, academia or historicity as ancient wisdom needs a little effort sometimes to get to, and an open-mind. Look to the ancient writings, to the deep words of others, to those ‘silent teachers’ in nature eg the trees, flowers, animals, elementals, the environment etc.

‘…the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.’ Matthew 13.45-46 The Book

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On other occasion my grandmother would tell me stories that would ‘make my toes curl’. Scary ones, which as a wee child I would actually love to hear. Stories about the Cailleach (pronounced ‘kie-lich’), that ugly hag that wanted a respectful kiss, the Tylwyth Teg (pronounced ‘ter-loo-ith tehg’) a playful but misunderstood fae, or  The Gwrach y Rhibyn (pronounced ‘goo-rach ee ribb-in’) who was always depicted as an old witch, sometimes with thick leathery wings, but wasn’t so bad.

My grandmother’s stories were usually interactive, and she would insert a question or two throughout the story or at the end. She would say something like, ‘Now the Gwrach y Rhibyn is an awful sight to behold, but do you need to be frightened?’ I would shake my head, guessing that was the right thing to do, and say, ‘No’. And she would smile, and say, ‘Quite right, my dear one. The Gwrach y Rhibyn and others are sorely misunderstood and just want a little bit of respect. Just keep your distance, nod and be courteous to them, go on your way and all will be well’.

Lesson: In life, all is not as it seems. Treat everyone and everything with respect and you will prosper. Never be fearful. Always look for the ‘lesson’ in the event, realising that usually the ‘answer’ is in the ‘challenge’ or event. Be inclusive and welcoming to others, to circumstances etc. Welcome strangers, for by so doing some have entertained elementals unawares.

‘Do not judge by appearances; a rich heart may be under a poor coat.’ Scottish Proverb

Tri

One another occasion, and I was a little older by then, I asked a question of my grandmother, and she went silent, looked at me, and quite cheerfully said, ‘I don’t know the answer to that one’. Many years later I reminded her of that event, and she explained: sometimes life will be confusing and answers won’t be forthcoming. Sometimes, in this journey of life, we must accept that saying ‘I don’t know’ is the best answer. I pressed her further, and said, ‘Do you still think that’s true now?. She laughed to herself, looked at me, beamed a gorgeous smile and said out loud, ‘I don’t know!’. And we both laughed hilariously.

Lesson: Sometime in the journey of life, answers won’t always be forthcoming until we finish this journey. Until then, be content to enjoy the journey. It’s the journey and not necessary the destination that’s important. Keep forward-looking and not backward-looking. You’re not going in that direction.

‘The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.’ William Arthur Ward

Conclusion, Or Is It?

Thirty years on, and though my grandmother has passed on, her words of story and wisdom still ring in my ears. They are remembered. ‘Mae mwy’, she would always say.  Welsh, for ‘There is more’. And, there always is. Life is an amazing adventure, and the deep truths of the Source of All cannot be comprehended by knowledge, but only ‘glimpsed’ in metaphor, story, myth, poetry, intuition and music. And it’s enough.

‘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

Mae mwy. There is more. The Great Story, which also incudes you and I, continues. There is always more!

A Storm Is Headed Our Way: Tadhg’s Journal

20171207 Storms And Us

A Storm is heading our way. Storm Caroline is battering Britain, and the ferry services between Oban and the Isle of Mull, and Mull to Iona have been suspended. Radio bulletin

One of the things I like about London is the museums and art galleries, and cafes, and the exhibitions it hosts, and especially the Festival of Mind, Body and Spirit. So many stands, and so many wise and wonderful people, and not a wrinkle in sight (on many of the exhibitors). I have a confession: I avoid those who have ‘answers’ and yet have no wrinkles and scars. It’s just me, perhaps, but I wonder what they have in common with me. I mean, their life is so blessed and worry-free?

When I’m staying in London there are a number of churches (and I’m not anti-church, as they are great institutions) that are nearby. But, I find it difficult to join in with many of them, as they all seem to have problem-free lives, and that bears little resemblance to my life at the moment.

Ah, when I was younger, I used to love reading those Superman comics (and I even had a deal with the local shop: if I bought three comics, read them and returned them in mint condition, then I could have a fourth one, free of charge!). Supeman, then was ‘immune’ to any kind of injury and you always knew he would triumph. And, even at that young age I realised that he had little in common with me.

Here is my confession, yes, another confession in just the space of a moment or two: I am not immune to the ‘storms’ of life. In my relatively short life I have been a single-parent family and am immensely proud of my two sons, have been a cancer patient and subsequent survivor by the grace of God (working through the wonderful NHS in the UK), a thyroid patient, had a year-long dreadful reaction to precscribed medicine and got through it, fell down and cracked two ribs a couple of years ago and healed, and now I’m facing a ‘storm’ over the administration of my late-Dad’s house, when it could have gone so well but for ‘forces’ beyond my control. It is tough going, and there are no easy answers.

I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship. Louisa May Alcott

It’s for that reason that I like stands at the Festival of Mind, Body and Spirit with ‘real’ people on them, people with wrinkles or scars, or a ‘tough’ life-story to tell. I love genuine people. People, who like me, have and are facing life-storms. I like churches where I know the people admit their flaws and still have hope. Authentic people. Wonderful. And I like that story, where the Source of All, who was perfect, took on the shell of humanity and even though perfect died a messy death (and overcame it, demonstrably). Life, seemingly snuffed out, comes back more ‘alive’ than before. Love wins.

And it’s one reason I like those who call themselves Druid. In latter days it used to take forty years to become a Druid, and so feasibly you would never meet a Druid or Druidic leader under the age of about 60. They would have lived life to the full, known a few ‘storm’s and have a few wrinkles on their countenenace. Awesome. Ofcourse, for many groups it doesnt take forty years now, but I ‘warm’ more with older Druids in leadership because of their experiences

‘Storms make the oak grow deeper roots’. George Herbert

It has been said our response to challenges and negativty can go one of two ways: make us better or bitter. In my current stortm – and I cannot tell you how excruciatingly emotional and draining it is – I am choosing to use the painful experience to be better. This ‘storm’ is temporary. It won’t last. It will not bring me down to respond negatvily. I choose to learn from it. And, it is teaching me that I am surrounded by a myriad of supportive family and friends, and that is an amazing comfort.

‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.’ Vivian Greene

Perception is important. I might look at the ‘externals’ only, and I see painful events. But, I know I need to read what I have written here previously, and look deeper. For then, whether I can see it or not, or experience it or not, I know that things are not what they seem, and good is coming out of this. Love prevails.

‘Storm Caroline will last approximately 48 hours and move eastward’. Radio broadcast.

If you’re going through a ‘storm’ now, I wish I could wave a magic wand and rectify things. But, I am with you dear bother/sister for this journey albeit rough right now, and though we might weep now, we will laugh together tomorrow and through eternity. And, we have the Companion with us. Something now, somehow, is being wrought out of the present ‘storm’.

Meanwhile, there are no easy answers. Perhaps, there aren’t meant to be any easy answers, but that we are changed for the better (whether we know it or not) in the process, and there will be a time (perhaps in the next realm) where it will all make sense. Love prevails.

‘And the one sitting on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new!” Revelation 21:5, The Book

 

A Walk In The Woods: Light That Yet To Us Is Dark

20171113 A WALK IN THE WOODS LIGHT THAT YET TO US IS DARK

A continuing reflection on that nocturnal walk in the woods, near Capel Curig in Wales: Last time (see here for that journal entry) I had ambled through the woods to two arched trees that seemed to form a doorway.

As children, I and my friends had called these two trees Drws i fyd arall (pronounced ‘droo zi fid arrah’) which means ‘door to another world. Such was the imagination of us as children, and an indication of the games we used to play. Even as an adult, I still call these two wonderful trees Drws i fyd arall, for that is what they are to me and to those who can see with a childlike spirit.

And so, I’m sitting on a felled log looking at these two remarkable trees. And, I wait. It’s now well after 1 am. I can hardly see. It’s dark. Against my hands and face, the temperature is, oh so cold. I’m alone, except for unknown, nearby animals scurrying around in the undergrowth. Otherwise alone. Or am I?

I’m in awe in this sacred place, at this sacred time. It is liminal. It is, to me, a ‘thin place’. And, I wait. And wait, some more.

An encounter?

Random thoughts vie for superiority. And in seeking to still them, or at least not give them prominence, I wait for an encounter. But, how to recognise an encounter?

There is an ancient story about a man on the run. Hiding, and in fear of his life he seeks an encounter with That Which Is Bigger Than Us, bigger than him. In his rational mind he assumes that the Source of All would come as a mighty wind, a huricane. A storm rages and rocks are shattered into pieces, but it is only a violent storm.

Then a most dreadful earthquake struck and the ground shook, but the Source of All was not encountered in that massive earthquake. And then, a huge fire arose. Whether it was a volcano spewing forth magma or fire from a cleft in between rocks on the ground that opened up, is lost in antiquity. But we do now that the Source of All was not encountered in that great and ferocious fire. The story then goes on to record that the seeker hid in a cave. And it was there that That Which Is Bigger Than Us, bigger than him was encounter. There in that cave, with the fugitive, was the Source of All manifest as an almost silent voice. Ofcourse, that was how this person encountered on that occasion, but isn’t the Source of All present in all things.

The Source: Manifest to us in somethings; present in all things. And that ancient story concludes, neatly, with an encounter of hope, but of one that defied that man’s expectations. Perception is important.

And so I sit in the dark of the night and wait. And it seems that nothing happens.

We travellers, walking to the sun,
can’t see ahead, but looking back the very light
that blinded us shows us the way we came.
Along which blessings now appear, risen
as if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
by blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
that blessed light that yet to us is dark.

(Wendell Berry)

And as I sit here on this felled log, I think long and hard: We come with our preconceived ideas of what an encounter with the Source of All should be like. And yet, isn’t there part of us that knows the Source of All is beyond our reasoning, and all we can do is but catch a glimpse. Not a thundrous word from the Source of All, but a still small voice that suffices. And it happens at times. We know, deep down inside of us, that we cannot force an encounter, but can only put ourselves in the ‘flow’, and know that the Source of All is the one who initiates it. And the Source does initiate. Our intentionality, though, is all important here.

And, how would we recognise an encounter? In one sense that seems to be the most important of questions, and yet it isn’t. If That Which If Is Bigger Than Us determines an encounter is good for us, then the Source of All will ensure that it is comprehensible to us. Not too much to overwhelm us. Not too little so that we will miss it. But enough, to satisfy. And so I wait.

‘…in the light of the ordinary day, we come
to the space between ourselves,
the narrow doorway, and pass through
into the land of the wholly loved’.

(Wendell Berry)

And, after what seems to be an hour, I look at my wristwatch and almost three hours has passed by. [And indication of an encounter, even if not felt or remembered.] In doing so I am ‘pulled’ back into mechanical time – time measured in hours and minutes at the spin of a wheel or the oscilation of a crystal – and I leave sacred time-space, that otherworly experiece that is fleeting and seeemingly fragile.

And I walk back home. Slowly, with the flashlight dancing on the trees and shrubbery, I pick my way back to the path, and the thought comes to me. I’ve encountered. And so have you. When lovers meet there is a time when words mean nothing, when words just get in the way, and their presence, being in each others company, is everything.

Tonight, and perhaps (now) as you read this, we can understand and know that we can encounter wherever we are, if we go beyond rationality as we understand it. This is not to say we should be irrational, but perhaps arational. The latter being outside and above rarionality. How else can we encounter the Divine? Anything else limits us.

So here’s my question to you: Bearing in mind our set or usual patterns of prayers or rituals, or habits, are we too rigid, too limiting in our expectations? How open are we to encounter That Which Is Bigger Than Us (or the Source, or which ever ‘name’ you’re confortable with), not on our terrms, but on the Source’s terms?

‘It’s we who breathe, in, out, in, the sacred’.
(Denise Levertov)

 

The Wind Blows Where It Wishes: Priorities On Iona

20171107 THE WIND BLOWS WHERE IT WISHES PRIORITIES ON IONA

I was recently fortunate enough to spend some time on the Isle of Iona. Here’s one reflection as I look back: I’m on the beach, near the water’s edge, and I’m looking out to sea. Grey clouds hang in the sky, and there’s a gale blowing in. There’s no one about, no one except a few squeaking seagulls flying high above me. And, it’s wonderful.

The sun is hidden by thick clouds so much so, that it is impossible to locate its position. The sea air is salt-filled and damp. The air is cold, crisp, and fresh. Mighty waves  crash loudly against nearby rocks with ferocious and unbridled power. It is nature wild and rugged, and it’s beautiful.

I’m alone. I’m standing on the Machair, (pronounced ‘makker’), the ‘raised beach’ on the westward side of the Isle of Iona – which is part of Scotland’s remote islands of the Inner Hebrides.

Yesterday when I was here my thoughts were calm, my mind quiet. Not so today. Thoughts come and go as I ponder on priorities. Any yet, it seems right to let the thoughts come and go, to let them surface and not to stifle them.

‘We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.’ William James

There are two thousand acres of island behind me, and a population of less than one hundred and fifty souls. In front of me there is nothing but sea. Just open water, wind-swept turbulent ocean. There is nothing for two thousand miles – I expected it to be more – until one encounters Nain, a town on the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, which has a population about 1400 people. Each with different priorities to the small community here, and both Nain and Iona with different priorities to those who live in cities, and different priorities to me and you. Connected, but seprate, and each of our priorities all equally important.

Priorities?

That’s the main thought that runs endlessly around in my mind, as I stand on this isolated beach. What really is important? What actually lasts?

Right now, some of my friends in response to those questions, I think, would say action is important. I do believe, sometimes, that that is so. Others would say prayer or ritual is important, and I do believe there are occasions when that is right. Others would tell me that right doctrine is all important, and that less than that displeases God. Doctrine and what we believe may be important, at times, but right here, right now all of the aforementioned seems relevant to me. Right now the wind blows where it wishes, and another voice, underneath the murmur of the wind, whispers to my spirit albeit with  great clarity.

‘The end of all my labours has come. All that I have written appears to be as much as straw after the things that have been revealed to me.’ Thomas Aquinas

It is a disconcerting fact to know that what I think is important, may not actually be important. That what I think pleases God, elementals or Spirit maybe not actually please God, the elementals or Spirit, and that others may be closer to the Source than me or you. To my embarrassment, in the past, I have put myself in a position of believing I knew the truth as though it was all-important, only to realise that I knew very little. None of us do, in cosmic terms, know that much. And the comforting thing is: we’re not expected to. Knowledge will take us so far; wisdom will take us much further. Bu, there’s more.

The idea that at the end of time we all face an intelligence test, a right doctrine test or some other rest, to ensure that we’ve been on the right track is an error. What then is our priority for now?

What should our priority be? However we interpret it, however we work it out in our daily life, at home, at school, at work etc, whatever we do, there is an underlying priority and ‘force’ that seeks primacy. Yes, we can still work hard, pray, write and recite liturgy and doctrine etc, but what is our priority on the cosmic scale? There’s more!

It’s love!

Whatever we do love should surely be its foundation. Anything less than that, just makes us a hardworker, a liturgist, a ceremonialist, and probably condemnatory others, as though we have the monopoly on what is right and wrong. The wind blows where it wishes, and it is for me to understand that. I am not the door-keeper admitting others that conform to my doctrine; rather the Source, the Wind, Spirit is the one who ‘admits’, and the Source is inclusive and welcoming to all. The Wind blows where it wishes. I do believe the Wind is blowing in your life.

‘The power of Love, a force from above, cleaning my soul…’. Gabrielle Aplin

What is my priority? To keep up with the Wind, or rather the One who rides on the back of the wind. And not to keep up as if to exert myself in some frantic way, but rather to hold out my arms, as I stand on this windswept beach, as though my arms were mighty sails on a boat, and to revel in the knowledge that wherever the Wind blows is where I want to be. Isn’t that the same for you? And the depth of care for each one of us behind the Wind is love. Love.

The wind has picked up on this beach, and the storm comes ever closer.  I might like to think I am in control, but the weather doesn’t obey me, and the Source is not at my behest, either. It is easy to fall into thinking that. The Wind blows where it wishes. And, so far as is practicable (as we all have commitments to honour) what a joy to be known as Windswept – to allow ourselves to be blown about by the Wind, the Spirit and to enjoy the journey, to know Love and extend love to others. How we work that out is for each one of us to work on, as it will be different depending on events that present themselves to us – but when opportunity to be open to the Spirit occurs, to experience Love and to pass love on, we will know.

Suddenly my priorities don’t seem that important. Another voice can be heard under the murmur of the wind, and it calls to me, it calls to you, wherever you are. I am on a windswept beach on Iona, but there is no distance between each one of us – we’re all connected – and no distance of separation for the Wind, for the wind blows where it wishes.

‘The greatest happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather loved in spite of ourselves.’  Victor Hugo

 

 

A Note From A Reluctant Edge-Walker

z 20171023 reluctacnt edgewalker

Having disembarked from the ferry at the port on the windswept Isle of Iona, I left the small village and headed along a path, as instructed. I knew the journey would take about half an hour, and so with light failing and with a flashlight in hand, I set off. All that seems an age away, now.

I’m back, and for various reasons it looks as though I’m going to be in London for a few more weeks.  Behind me, metaphorically, is the pilgrimage to the isles of Iona and Skye, and now I’m’ here. London.

I’m back. It’s a shock. A sort of punch to the solar plexus. Winding.

I had such  great experiences on those islands. Profound. Deep. Ancestor-Connecting, Loving. Source-encountering. God-filled ‘Thin-place’ experiences. I didn’t want to leave, and yet I knew I had to. I had so easily ‘acclimatised’ to that island lifestyle – and do believe one reason for that is something we all share – we all ‘possess’ (or, perhaps it embraces us), an inner, ancient, ‘drum beat’ that continues, wherever we are.

And, that same ‘drum beat’ beating in my chest, seems at odds with the ‘world’ that I now inhabit in London. The pace is faster, it’s shallow, its priorities are different, it’s loud, far too loud, and yet….

This is where I should be for now. I know it.

And so, I’m becoming more of an edge-walker, again. An edge-walker, one who straddles both spheres of spiritual and physical encounter, holding them in balance, in ‘tension’, equally, and joyfully. Yes, that balance is returning. And, once again I’m getting used to that way of living. It’s probably not what I would want – those islands still call – but it is the way it is for now.

Someone once wrote about the desire to be in heaven and to enjoy all that that means, but tempered it with the realisation and desire to stay here for a while to do the work that they had been called to. One destination was far better, but this ‘destination’ was necessary and expedient. For now.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to ‘unpack’ some of my experiences experienced on Iona and Skye – both wonderfully ‘thin-places’. There were some great encounters of the spiritual kind, and perhaps another example of the necessity of us being edge-walkers was my physical journey from the port on Iona to the place where I was to stay.

It was my first hour on the Island, as regards this pilgrimage, and as I was a little wet. A light rain was falling, it was getting darker, and I came to the first of three gated fields that I was to pass through. The field presented no problem, and though these fields gently undulated so you had slopes and dips to encounter, it was a pleasantly green field to behold, although less was being seen by the minute as the light faded.

Not so the second field. It had a sign on its gate: Beware of the bull. I had hoped this was a farmer’s sense of humour running riot, but no. As I moved through the field in a direct line, following the path, there he was. Suddenly, and I know you will be shocked by this, but suddenly the peaceful presence that had embraced me on this island seemed to ‘evaporate’ and the ‘angel of common-sense’ spoke. I looked to the ‘spaces’ either side of this field and they were not navigable, and it was getting darker, and there were some treacherous drops around.

My pulling back into the non-spiritual was competed only when I decided to walk through the field, but on the furthest side of the field, as far away from this lumbering, brown, wonderful-but-wild beast. Once again I was an edge-walker on a spiritual journey but having to deal with physical challenges – and isn’t that like your daily life and mine, usually?

‘It seems to me that we do live in two worlds… there is this physical one, which is coherent, and there is the spiritual one, which to the average man with his flashes of religious experience, is very often incoherent. This experience of having two worlds to live in all the time, or not all the time, is a vital one, and is what living is like.’ William Golding

You will be pleased to know that the bull, having turned his head slowly to look in my direction, slowly turned it away as though thoroughly disinterred in me, for which I was grateful. He had discovered three cows in the neighbouring field and had wandered off in their direction.

And, so I journey on, both physically and spiritually, thus confirming that we are all, indeed, edge-walkers, working our way through life in all its spiritual glories as well as driving along highways, catching trains and buses, and dealing with our taxes. That ancient ‘drum beat’, though, still beats within your chest and mine, too. Pause, and you may here it. Hear it, and you might want to respond, my dear edge-walking brother or sister.

 

Perceiving Anew: Seeing Through A Glass Darkly: 1 To Catch A Tiger…

20170906 PERCEIVING ANEW SEEING THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY 1Every so often there is talk about DNA advances, prehistory and the idea that some scientists have some of using the preserved DNA of the extinct mammoth. The thought goes that, although the mammoth DNA is incomplete it might be possible to use ‘bits’ of current-day elephant DNA to fill in the gaps. In theory, you might then end up with a living-breathing elephant-mammoth hybrid, but it could be the nearest thing to a living mammoth that has not existed for the last five thousand years.

‘The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost; for none now live who remember it. (The voice of Galadriel, The Lord of the Rings (movie))’

For some (few) years there has been a revival in all things Celtic and Druidic, and long may it continue. For through such passionate beliefs of people from all ages and walks of life, will come a greater community spirit, a greater appreciation and protection of nature, and a great appreciation of the things of the soul and spirit, and of spirits, elementals and the like, and a renewal of all that is good, wholesome and holy. and, the world needs it, fast.

But, the world has changed from the heyday of the Druidic society of yesteryear and much has been lost. The Celts, the Druids were a story-telling community and the passing on of traditions and history was done orally. There are gaps.

Some try academia to fill in those gaps – much like using elephant DNA with mammoth DNA, and ofcourse this is right to try (academia, that is). It will take us so far, but it will not take us all the way.

Those that pin all their hopes on academia to fill in the gaps will find huge blanks, still.

Nevertheless, academic study as one tool amongst several is to be encouraged. The ‘challenge’, however, in academic argument is that proponents of it might think it is the only way, and also fall into the ‘trap’ of using Greek and modern-day dualistic thought (eg black and white, right and wrong, left and right, I’m right and you’re wrong etc) to advance their understanding of a non-dualistic culture. It cant be done.

To catch a tiger, you have to think like a tiger.

‘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)

The greater the culture is technologically-advanced, the more likely its people are to ‘see’ through dualistic eyes, and the more likely to miss the point.

It has been suggested that to fill in the gaps in Celtic/Druidic stories, understanding, liturgy and ritual, perhaps memory is needed. The kind of ‘cellular’, ancestor-linked memory that can be ‘tapped’ through meditation (at various places), through ‘thin-place’ encounters, through the Caim, through intuition, or through dreams, prayer or imagination etc. I think there is some (great) mileage in this.

‘Pass it on to your children, and from your children to their children, and from their children to the following generation.’ Joel 1.3, The Book

Then, one places oneself in the path of the ancient-future memory-stream of the ancestors, and those stories of old, knowledge and wisdom are re-kindled in our hearts, and come alive in our daily living and daily practices, to be told and shared.

‘I believe that there is a place where our vanished days secretly gather. The name of that place is Memory.’ (John O’Donohue).

To the purist and the academic this is nonsense, and yet this is the very way it was done by the very culture the purists and academics wish to know more about. To find out more about the Celts and Druids of yesteryear, to rediscover their ways, one need only to enter into Celtic/Druidic culture, ‘philosophy’, beliefs and practices, today, and many are doing just that. And, benefitting.

The wise amongst you will quickly realise that this will mean that I will perceive memories of the ancients differently to you. I may rediscover parts of the gap that are different to the gaps you ‘recover’; and we may even be at odds over some things if we compare (if we were to ‘see’ things from a dualistic, modern approach). But, why resort to current-day perception and understanding when dealing with an ancient culture?

Theirs was a culture where truth was not contained in a science manuals, not catalogued, cross-referenced or even written down, but it flowed, was debated and told as stories around the village camp fire. And, it didn’t matter if their were lose or ragged ends, or various versions of the same story.

We need to be encouraged to see things through ancient eyes.

For instance, take some of the books of the Hebrew Testament. Dualists or academics will scratch their heads as they discover that the books are not in chronological order. To ‘moderns’ they should be! That’s the way they would appear on a modern-day bookshelf, after all. However, to the ancients, the book order was decided by the length of each book – starting with the shortest books first (or, was it the longest book, first), and ‘it worked’ for them. And, when we hear the stories and legends of (Saint) Brigit, sometimes she’s firmly placed at the end of the fifth century, and then in other stories is described as a ‘nanny’ to the baby Jesus, five hundred years earlier! The ancients would have known about this ‘discrepancy’ and not batted an eyelid. The point is, scientific understanding and dualism was not important to the ancients, indeed, it was unknown. To them, the stories and the benefits it wrought to the village and individuals, the moral and deep spiritual meaning, and the comfort it brought was most important, was paramount.

We need to be encouraged to see things through ancient eyes.

‘Celtic spirituality is a kind of somatic archaeology, a study of unearthing the deep resources of spirit within ourselves by accessing the wisdom, power, and inherent knowledge of the body. We have largely been taught to ignore the body and the deep resources of spirit within ourselves’. The Mist-Filled Path, Frank MacEowen

Developing ‘Soft Feet’: A Celtic Lifestyle/Perspective

20170821 DEVELOPING SOFT FEET CELTIC LIFESTYLEA few days ago we looked at a quote from an Anishinabe (First Nations) man from Canada, who 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’.

We also looked at seeing with ‘soft eyes’ when we considered kataphatic ‘day-dreaming’ or meditation – the kind of deep, mental exercise that uses ‘inner’ pictures, visualisation or symbols for growth, maturity, transformation.

And, we looked at apophatic ‘day-dreaming’ or meditation, which encourages the ‘releasing’ of distracting thoughts to arrive at that ‘inner’ place of peace and solitude that some refer to as ‘le point vierge’.

Today, we’re looking at having ‘soft feet’.

What does that mean,  how we can interpret that, and what does it mean to practice it? There are many ways to view that phrase, but I’d like to suggest three.

Firstly, walking on the earth with ‘soft feet’ can be interpreted as ensuring minimal damage to the environment. So, if hiking in the wilderness, the aim would be to leave no trace that we have moved through that way.

‘All the animals and creatures of this earth are our former brothers and sisters but because we believe that we have “dominion” over them, we have become cruel little emperors.’  John O’Donohue,

If we live in a city, it may mean trying to reduce our carbon footprint by buying food as local as we can to where we live, perhaps using energy-saving lightbulbs, or turning the central heating down by a degree or two, or something similar. Small adjustments to reduce energy etc, to be aware of nature, can make huge gains for the environment and its preservation. In this sense, it’s a practical adjustment of removing or minimising negative effects. A good move.

But there’s more!

Secondly, walking on the earth with ‘soft feet’ can be interpreted as doing something ‘in addition’ to ‘repair’ and damage to the natural world. It may be one thing to try to reduce our carbon footprint by buying locally, but maybe there’s something we can do, to ‘add’ to our local environment.

For instance, many have noticed the reduction in bees. Did you know that bees are attracted to crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula, and wild lilac, all of which provide enticing spring blooms. But, they also like echinacea, snapdragons foxglove, and in the summer, and in the autumn they adore zinnias, sedum, asters, witch hazel and goldenrod. And some of these can be grown on balconies, and so we don’t need a large garden. We can all ‘additionally’ plant bee-encouraging plants, perhaps? Or something environmentally similar.

But walking with ‘soft feet’ may also encompass our honouring and respecting others…..to ‘walk softly’ through their lives?

‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’ – Chinese Proverb

But there’s even more!

The abovementioned are all good and wholesome steps (and you’re probably doing much more), but I would suggest there’s a foundational, ‘inner’ and essential step that takes place first.

The foundational step I would suggest is our inner attitude – and kataphatic and apophatic meditation can assist here – that ‘spills over’ and so affects us, others, and the larger environment in a beneficial way

”The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.’ Thich Nhat Hanh

If, inwardly, we are ‘asleep’ or  are ‘sleepwalkers’ or operating out of base motives then our view of ourselves, others, nature and the wider universe will be severely limited. Those who constantly read bad news, for instance, or allow themselves to be bombarded with gloomy news, can, psychologically be said to be suffering from ‘mean world’ syndrome. In that frame of mind everything seems awful, and the good is unintentionally ignored.

Someone said that the light of the body is the eye and if your eye be single, then your whole body shall be full of light. (Matt 6:22 The Book). There is much debate about this odd sentence, and some believe it could mean that if our eyes are working properly, that is if we are fully aware, then we can see deeply what really is, and see beyond just the surface-level, and the result is that we will see deep beauty around us and in very situation; and conversely, if our perception is limited (if we’re asleep’ and so our senses are dulled), then we will miss the deep meaning behind everything and only observe in a shallow manner. We will miss much.

And so, walking with ‘soft feet’ or having a ‘single eye’ could mean something like: being fully aware, observing the good that surrounds us, and being aware of the need to go deeper, and to do so, in love.

And so it could be that when it’s time to prune a tree, we will acknowledge the beauty of that tree and prune away to the best of my knowledge and skill. Now, some may want to ask the dryad and other elemental characters (as their belief requires) beforehand, and others will just cut away, but hopefully do so now in a way that acknowledges the ‘aliveness’ of that tree and give it the respect it deserves. But, walking with ‘soft feet’ surely means….with due consideration, and having a reverence of nature.

And it could be that we will ensure that we draw alongside those who are easy to get along with. Ofcourse. But, what of those who are difficult to get along with? Maybe they’re having a bad day or maybe the way they are has to do with being brought up in a  difficult environment when growing up, or maybe they’re dealing with bad news, or bad health? We don’t know. However, walking with ‘soft feet’ surely mean that, regardless of the way they (mis)treat us, that we will, so far as is practicable, treat them well. Unconditional respect and love for others – and don’t forget to include yourself.

After all, at the depth of their spirit they, like us, are one with the Source of All, and are good. Julian of Norwich, one of my favourite mystics,  believed that. Perhaps deep within them, if we have ‘eyes to see’, we might discern the face of God or the Universe smiling back?

‘As you change your point of view, your views bring about a change in you.’  George Alexiou

And it could be that we’ll take time to make time to appreciate the wonderful creation that we indwell. The art of slowing down is important here. And the latter is one function of ritual. Walking with ‘soft feet’ is also about ritual, for ritual ushers us out of ‘ordinary time’ into sacred-time and sacred-space, and it is there/then that we can catch glimpses or feel impressions beyond the ordinary. Then we get glimpses of what could be, and realise that there is more going on than we were first aware of. So, slow done and joyfully work on anything that enhances your awareness of what really is.

There are many ways to think of what having ‘soft feet’ means, and the abovementioned are but a few – if you think of others please let me know.

‘If you hold to Nature, to the simplicity that is in her, to the small detail that scarcely one man sees, which can so unexpectedly grow into something great and boundless; if you have this love for insignificant things and seek, simply as one who serves, to win the confidence of what seems to be poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more conciliatory, not perhaps in the understanding, which lags wondering behind, but in your innermost consciousness, wakefulness and knowing.’ Rainer Maria Rilke,

 

Enjoying The Journey One Step At A Time: Celtic Thought

20170721 ENJOYING THE JOURNEY ONE STEP AT A TIMESomeone once said that when we point the finger in judgement on others, there are three fingers pointing back. With that is mind, I sat on the covered porch at the back of the house today, having a mid-day snack and listening to the radio. The weather wasn’t too good today: the temperature’s had dropped, it was cloudy and raining. But, this is to be expected. It’s Wales.

Did you know that in this part of Wales it rains for about 330 days each year – albeit light drizzle and sometimes during the night and so it’s not noticeable, but it rains a lot. And I love it. We get our fair share of heat and sunshine, too, but at some point throughout a twenty-four hour period it will rain.

Listening to the radio, and as is common these days, it seemed doom and gloom was everywhere. I know there are many good things happening, and that if we just listen to the mass media our views can be skewed, and we can easily end up with ‘mean world’ syndrome – thinking that everything is horrid.

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

As the radio newscaster talked about public borrowing, the rise in inflation, the rise in crime, and the uncertainties of ‘Brexit’, and the ineptitude of some politicians, my mind wandered as to possible solution. Ofcourse, the answer was for them to ‘sort themselves out’, ‘they’ should be more pro-active, ‘that group’ should desist, if only the government would do ‘this’ or ‘that’, and so my thoughts raced. The fault was them! Not me, ofcourse. At least that was one train of thought.

I came across an interesting story – and you know I love stories – and here’s one by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that I’d like to share with you, and it’s one that made me sit up and think. It goes like this:

A scientist who ‘wrestled’ with some of the world’s toughest problems was resolute in finding the means to reduce them. He would spend so many, many days in his laboratory searching answers for the challenges that he was working on.

One day his seven year old son invaded his sanctuary wanting to help him with his work. The scientist, nervous by the interruption, asked his son to go play somewhere else. But, his son protested, and so his father thought of something that would keep the child busy.

Suddenly, he found just what he needed. A magazine with a map of the world on one of its pages.

With a pair of scissors he cut the map into pieces and together with a roll of tape gave it to his son telling him, “Since you like puzzles, I am going to give you the world all cut up for you to repair without anyone’s help.’

He calculated that it would take his son about 10 days to reconstruct the map.
However, after only a few hours, he heard his son’s voice calling him, “Daddy, Daddy I’ve finished.’

At first his father didn’t believe him. He thought that it would be impossible that at his age he was able to reconstruct a map of the world that he had never seen before. He looked at his son’s handiwork, and the pieces had, indeed, been put back in the right places.

How was that possible? How could a child do this? The father dumbfounded asked his child, “My child you did not see what the map looked like, so how did you do it?’

‘Daddy,’ the child answered,  ‘I didn’t know what the world looked like, but when you took out the map from the magazine to cut it, I saw that on the reverse side there was the figure of a man. So I turned the pieces over and step by step began to reconstruct the man that I had seen and did know. When I was able to reconstruct the man I then turned the page over and saw that I had fixed the world.’

Ofcourse, the ‘blaming others’ train of thought, so easy to do, decreased and another train of thought sprang to mind. If we want to change the world, if we want to ‘fix the world’, then we need to ‘reconstruct the man’ (or woman) – that is, we need to start with ourselves.

This is not to say that we berate ourselves, not to say we have to be tough on ourselves, but that gently, lovingly, progressively, slowly we see ourselves as ‘a work in progress’, and daily make positive changes to grow, mature and be transformed. We don’t need to wait until we’ve made it or are perfect, and so we can start right now (if we haven’t already done so). And, it needn’t be a chore. There is much to do that is a delight, and other things that only you can do. Yes, you have a calling (to do, or to discover), and once we’re on that ‘journey’ of making a change in our lives we’ll also find that we’re making changes in other peoples lives and making a difference in the world.

‘Each of us has a unique part to play in the healing of the world.’
Marianne Williamson

What kind of difference will depend on you and I, and the part of the world we live in. But, I do believe we start with ourselves, and then by what we plan to do a major change will take place in the world, bit by bit, one step at a time. And it doesn’t stop there. I do believe, even without our knowing it, almost by ‘osmosis’ our lifestyle will ‘rub off on others’ and by just living that lifestyle positive changes around us will happen.

Haven’t you even been in someone’s company and they’ve just exuded life and love even without saying a word? By them just being close, a positive effect is wrought. Haven’t you been to a church service, a Druid ritual or listened to a piece of music and been inspired to ‘do’ something or to ‘be’? Or, it could be for us to pause, periodically, or stop, or surrender, perhaps? These are glimpses of energy – ouranic energy – portals to the Other, and the Spirit flows, and opportunities that do a wonderful work in us ripple outward in observed and unobserved ways. But, it starts with us, doesn’t it? All of us!

‘Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ (Revelation 21:5, part. The Book)

So, as I sat on the porch listening to the radio the predominant thought was then, that it has to start with us, and bit by bit, one by one, slowly the world changes for the better. It sounds naïve, but what have we to lose. We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

As the child in that story said: ‘When I was able to reconstruct the man (or woman) I then turned the page over and saw that I had fixed the world.’ A new, transformed world is coming. Indeed, it has already started growing within this one, and it starts with us. But, don’t beat yourself up. We’re a work in progress. Enjoy the journey.

Consider The Oak & Be Wise: Celtic Thoughts On Being Human

20170713 CONSIDER THE OAK AND BE WISEThere are some splendid oak trees at the far end of the garden, here in Capel Curig, and it’s a delight on hot days like today to sit under one of them, with a good book, and a cup of coffee. Bliss.

I love trees, and especially these large, oak, so full-of-other-worldly wisdom. Wonderful and mighty, majestic oak trees.

Some way through my relaxing read I put the book down, and picked up a new, picked off-the-shop shelf, psychology magazine. I like to keep abreast of what’s going. As one would expect, sadly, many of the advertisements were telling me what I was missing and how a four part course would assist me to live life to the full, or how one new book would allow me to become individuated in ten easy steps, or how a trip half way around the world and to a certain mountain would allow a Divine encounter, and so it went on.

‘So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out…’ Matthew 24:26a, The Book

We live in a time when we’re saturated with ‘self-help’ books, and I even saw a course on how to read the Bible. With an inward, wry smile I answered that predicament by thinking one only has to pick up the Bible and read it. But, no! Reducing it to bite-size chunks, even though I could do that myself, was an indispensable and much-need book for your bookshelf, or so the advertisement said. And, they would sell it to you for a handsome price.

With all of this comes, if we’re not careful, a general malaise, a feeling that we’re all  missing out, a feeling that everyone is getting on but we’re not, a feeling that something is missing and someone else has the answer…and it’s wrong. It is an advertisers delight, but an ‘assault’ on the individual.

‘Do not let the roles you play in life make you forget that you are human.’ (Roy T Bennett)

Ofcourse, we mature slowly and others may help, and other resources can assist. We can advance in a particular field, from being ‘new’ and a ‘novice’ to being ‘proficient’ and books and courses may assist, and that’s all good – but, where it counts the most, in your heart, your core, your bring, soul or spirit, you are what you are, and it’s good.

In the shade of that oak my mind ambled wonderfully. We’re already there, was the predominant thought.

What if those alchemists of old weren’t try to change a base metal, like lead, into gold. What if that’s a wrong interpretation, a modern parody that it way off the mark? What if those ancient alchemists were trying to turn it, or even their perception of it, to the essence of what was worth persevering – not something into gold bullion that would be worth a king’s ransom, but lead still, but an appreciation that in its own way lead is lead is lead and it is useful as lead, is of worth, is worthy? In that sense, lead is already ‘gold’ (or as valuable as lead is to lead, as gold is to gold.) Just different.

‘Life is a Long Journey between Human Being and Being Human. Let’s take at least one step each day to cover the distance.’ (Wordions)

Consider the oak tree that I’m sitting under – that was here before I was earth-born, and which will be here long after I go ‘home. It is a magnificent specimen. It doesn’t need a manual to be a tree, or a book on how to be a better tree, or a self-help course of ten steps to be an even better tree. It just is. And it does it well. It is beautiful in its oakiness’.

We may need manuals, books, classes for our work, our specialism or to enhance or increase our knowledge, but as regards our human-ness, you are where you are, you are what you are, and it’s alright.

The One who knows all secrets
is here, nearer
than your jugular vein.

(Rumi)

In the shade of that huge oak tree, I went back to my book and the psychology magazine fell to the ground, only for a few ants to crawl across it, and re-inforce the point: ants are ants are ants (‘Consider the ant and be wise…’, it says in ancient divine text), and that as human beings, humans are humans, and we have a status before the Source Of All that rests on our ‘humanness’ and not our knowledge-ability or intellect, our bank account etc.

Before the Giver Of Life a child stands foursquare and shoulder-to-shoulder alongside an adult, in integrity, worth and wonder. And, it’s enough.

‘You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.’ (Pema Chödrön)

 

Happy Band Of ‘Amphibians’, We: Celtic Thought On Authenticity

20170705 HAPPY BAND OF AMPHIBIANS WEIt’s noon here, and I’m in the garden overlooking the distant hills and mountains of north Wales, and it’s idyllic. I’m munching away on the thickest and most mouth-watering tomato and cheese sandwich you can ever imagine, and there’s the obligatory book and a steaming cup of delicious coffee on the table, too. The weather is wonderfully hot, especially hot for the UK. It’s bliss. I’m in that ‘place’!

I took a telephone call, and that ‘pulled’ me out of the soporific, wonderful, state I was in. It happens. The ‘place’ seemingly ‘evaporated’.

The caller said I needed to make a major legal decision, and I made it. Reluctantly. I would have preferred more time, but that can be a luxury, sometimes. The caller acting on my behalf was pleasant enough, and knowing where I was and what a beautiful part of the country this is, ended their call by wishing that they had such a genteel lifestyle as I had.

And that got me thinking. Always a dangerous thing to do. Do they really know me?

How often, when we get snippets of information do we fill in the ‘gaps’ in a glorious and imaginative fashion, albeit not a very realistic one?

‘The problem is that perception is reality.’ (John Rowland)

Here’s some examples from tv, myth, history, and my life:

I loved those old Robin Hood tv series, and the latter-day ones, but honestly, would Robin Hood really have had all his teeth, would Maid Marion’s dress be so white and her hair so coiffured?

As a student of various ancient spiritual texts, it’s easy to think that Luke the physician ran around Palestine wearing a white coat and with a stethoscope, when probably, he was more akin to an ancient herbalist.

We fill in the gaps, and somehow don’t quite make the leap as regards context and that imaginative inner ‘time travel’ back to those former days to understand what life was really like in only partially complete. Well, unless we really, really, really try!

One of my heroes from English history is Oliver Cromwell. A brave and noble man, many believe, and his statue is outside the Houses Of Parliament in London. But he’s painted with a wart or two on his face, and he wasn’t always noble. To our Irish brethren at that time, and to the Leveller’s of his day he was ruthless, and he killed so many of them.

Be careful when filling in those information gaps!

We see paintings, some of them online, about ancient Druids and Celts, Celtic-Christians and others from yesteryear, and we ‘see’ them depicted through twenty-first century eyes, and in doing so we miss much. Their wisdom surpasses ours, but in many respects their knowledge and (sorry to bring this up) their personal hygiene probably left a lot to be desired. Yes, even Jesus had goat dung between his toes, probably.

We fill in the gaps, and unknowingly factor in modern-day living and thoughts. Authenticity is the goal.

It’s easy to ‘see’ the ancients’ lives though ‘rose-tinted spectacles’. And this goes on even today. Remember that phone call I mentioned earlier, where the person wished for a genteel life such as mine?

What I wanted to say to them was: I want to be honest with you. I’m an ‘amphibian’. And, you are, too! True, I have times of luminous awareness, liminality and can almost ‘feel’ angels at play around me, like you. At other times, I don’t. Then, I have to shop in the supermarket and compare prices, nurse a burnt finger – yes, I burnt my finger on the cooker cooking a nice piece of fish, today – and have to ‘wrestle’ with tax forms, ‘official’ phone calls that demand urgent action, and the world seems to press in so tightly. On those occasions I don’t feel so ‘sagely’ and ‘genteel’. On top of that, in my life, I’ve had cancer (leading to three cycles of chemo, an oesophagetomy and radio-therapy), also had an unrelated thyroidectomy, two broken ribs last year, and now I’ve got a burnt finger.

I’m a work in progress, that’s what I wanted to tell them. And, I know you’re the same as me – the details may change, but we have a share in that ‘common human predicament’.

Those ancients were great people, of that I’m sure, but they had tough lives, and were people of their time. I look around at Church folk and Druids, and Celts and Pagans and others today, and whatever untroubled lifestyle they may ‘exude’ (intentionally or accidentally), I know better. I know that they, like me, you – us – have had (and still have) tough times in our life. Those who are closest to me know my foibles, and I know theirs, and you know what? I love them even more!

But, that’s what makes us all human. That’s what makes us fascinating.  And, that means I can relate to you, bless you, and you can relate to me and bless me.

We’re all journeying together, you and me, today, and those of yesteryear, on one conga-line dance from here to eternity.

‘…know that something softer than us but just as holy planted the pieces of
Himself into our feet that we might one day find our way back to Him. you
are almost home. (Anis Mojgani)

As a sat there, having ended that ‘phone call, and munching on that sandwich – and it was so delicious – the thought that ran through my mind was: authenticity.

The ancient Celts and Druids were a ‘gritty’ people, living in tough times, in touch with nature in all its green and yes, its brown and soggy bits, but they were an authentic ‘breed’, and don’t we love them for that? I want to be authentic, too, and my prayer, wish, energy-sending ‘push’ for you is that you, too, are authentic. Warts and all. For then I can relax in your company, and you can take me as I am, and I will take you as are you are, and we’ll journey onward together toward Caer Wydyr

‘Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.’ (Zen quote).

Being an ‘amphibian’ human is all right. And the journey is a good one.