One Evening In November: An Encounter

20191127 ONE EVENING IN NOVEMBER AT HOME WITH TADHG

And so, my two guests arrived for an ‘at home’ at my  place in the centre of London – a small, informal dinner cooked by me for them as they celebrated their first wedding anniversary. I had officiated at the handfasting sometime back so it was good to see them again, this time for a meal.

What follows is a journal entry of an evening of ‘myth and magic’, of touching ‘That Which Is Larger Than Us’, and of our growth, maturity and transformation.

‘What if the task is simply to unfold, to become who you already are in your essential nature—gentle, compassionate, and capable of living fully and passionately present? How would this affect how you feel when you wake up in the morning?

Alistair and Aideen arrived promptly that evening (a few days ago) and over the starters we all talked about our previous week’s workload, life in general and got to know each other more. There were laughs and smiles, and more. ‘Mae mwy’ as they say in Wales, ‘there is more’. There is always, and much more for the open-minded, intentionally adventurous, and the curious.

Yes, liminality descended.

Liminality is that state of ‘inbetween’ or crossing over. Imagine it as a doorstep or a bridge between Here and There, between us and The Other.  It can be those times and events when we see a sunset and it takes our breath away, we witness a baby’s unfocused smile and our soul leaps within us, or it can be times of fellowship with each other when ‘something’ seems to be changed and we are ushered into a different state of being – one that we just accept, as the more we think about it the more we ‘slip’ out of it.

Yes, communitas arose.

Liminality also can bring about a state called ‘communitas’. Communitas according to Victor Turner is a relatively structureless sense of group identity and being (large or small groups) which is based on relations of equality and solidarity.

As we talked and laughed, liminality descended and communitas arose, unplanned by us, but expected and greatly felt. Transformation is constant, but without understanding it, for a short while we all moved into a ‘higher gear’, such is liminality that moves us from chronological time into sacred-space.

As we ate, talked and laughed we shared stories, and I shared some quotes, too, to guide the evening is towards a meditative outcome, slowly.

‘Every day, sometimes when I am doing my meditation practice and sometimes when I am working at my computer… or sharing a meal with friends, I turn my attention to my breath and visualise myself on some inner plane of the imagination turning my face toward That Which Is Larger Than Us – the Great Mystery.’

The main course was still about twenty minutes away, before it was ready and the conversation turned to meditation and The Great Mystery. I mentioned the concept of apophatic mediation. Both Alistair and Aideen expressed an interest, and within a few minutes (as it was an ‘at home’ and not a workshop) I outlined that way of meditating, and suggested the best way forward was to try it for, say fifteen minutes.

Apophatic mediation is a ‘tool’ or a way of mediating, of going deep into The Great Mystery, of touching our ‘inner core’ through the use of no thought, no ‘pictures’, no dialogue (that is the opposite to kataphatic meditation and visualisation techniques).

And so, as we sat still, my guests closed their eyes, breathed slowly. Background music played – Om chanting by monks, at 528Hz. For some, especially those new to this form of meditation it may be best to use ones imagination of walking from where you are into a forest which is ‘next door’, and walk deeply into at as the forest gets darker, and then jettison the ‘picture’ or imaginative ‘forest’ and just rest, just be. Kataphatic meditation can give way to apophatic meditation. Alistair decided to do just that.

Slow, ethereal music or chanting is best for this, as it doesn’t prompt the mind to discover rhythm or words, and 528 Hz or thereabouts is a useful pitch. It has been called the ‘DNA repair’ frequency or the ‘Love’ frequency’, so-called as it is thought to reside at the heart of everything, connecting your heart, your spiritual essence, to the spiralling reality of heaven and earth..

‘When we surrender when we do not fight with life when it calls upon us we are lifted and the strength to do what needs to be done finds us.’

For fifteen minutes we all mediated, silently to: an OM meditation chant [click here].

Afterwards, we chatted about the experience. In many respects they declared that they had been present,  had been in the company of their core, that which some call the virgin point (le point vierge) and experienced That Which Is Larger Than Us, that which some call God. Words failed them, as the experience is experiential (only), to be individually savoured, and is really beyond words!

All three of us heartily tucked into the next course, and laughed and joked. Sometimes serious, sometimes frivolous, as friends do.

Aideen expressed an interest in kataphatic, imaginal visualisation. I spoke by way of an introduction to it – highlighting the fact that one can use it in various ways – as a tool of discovery where outcomes are interpreted, as a way of understanding ourselves at a deeper level (that which we call the good parts and the ‘shadow (a source of strength, nevertheless),  as a form of guided tour of events to meet a need ie to answer a question, to obtain healing, or to ‘interview’ ones higher self and other characters (which many would call pictorial representations of ones psyches, though others would think differently), and in many other ways that may lead to our growth, maturity and transformation.

Aideen wanted a ‘word’ (or words) to guide her for the following day, and Alistair wanted similar for project he was working on at work. For Aideen I suggested a visualisation where, after closing her eyes and relaxing, I spoke words for her to imagine, inwardly, a visit to the Library – a cosmic Library with a friendly Librarian who would point to a relevant book. It took only about ten minutes, but Aideen was very good at using her imaginal powers and, still in the moment, spoke the words written on the spine of the book: ‘Stronger than you think’.

A veritable word of encouragement. Aideen opened her eyes, and recounted how that was just the words she needed to her as an important decision was pending.

‘Within each of us there is the heart of a lion, the courage to simply be who & what we are regardless of others opinions or our own fears. Sometimes this courage has been buried beneath years of shaming that may have been so implicit or insidious that we breathed it in, unaware of how it separated us from knowing our own beauty of being’.

Alistair was also eager to try kataphatic imaginal visualisation. For him, I outlined the process but, once he was in the moment, as agreed, led him (using my voice) into the Great Hall of Cledon. I mentioned that the moment he was in that Hall, a hall full of the noise of the conversations of a myriad of people, one word of phrase would stand out.

The Cledon is a message delivered to you through an unknowing stranger. It could be a word from a song on the radio that gives an answer to a problem you’ve been mulling over, or you may overhear a snippet of a conversation of two people walking past you, and which applies directly to the circumstances in your life.

Alistair, deep in that visualisation, whispered that he was in the great hall and the doors were closing behind him. His hands immediately gripped that table. Still with his eyes closed, and still in that moment, he then gently laughed. He whispered. ‘As soon as the doors closed, all the people faced me, and all the voices spoke the same words. It was as loud as the noise of a jet engine, and knocked me over’.

‘My invitation, my challenge to you here, is to journey into a deeper intimacy with the world and your life without any promise of safety or guarantee of reward beyond the intrinsic value of full participation.’

Once out of that moment, and with his eyes open, Alistair mentioned the words. He said, ‘It’s a mystery what the words mean, but the shout of ‘The donkey and the angel’ was stupendously loud. I mentioned that in many cases, the working out of the words given might take days or weeks, but when it did happen you would know – the memory of it could come back at an appropriate time and it would make sense. However, in this case I did ask Alistair to consider the ancient story of Balaam and his donkey. The latter whose progress was impeded by an angel.

We then tucked into the desert, followed by more laughing, talking and merriment.

The evening progressed, and my guests would soon be leaving. I mentioned the idea of coming back from sacred-space into chronological time – it was a though we had been in a ‘magical, mythical, timeless realm’ (and I actually do believe that is the case, as regards liminality), and were now returning to the mundane (as if anything is really mundane).

One way to do that is through ritual, another way is through action such as eating food (as we had done), and one way I do it (without the need of pomp and ceremony, but with physical action) is to use two fingers from each hand to do a drum-roll on the table for a few seconds. I gave them an example, but need not have done more, as both Alistair and Aideen joined in, and we all laughed heartily. Was that drum-roll just fun? Was it necessary? I believe it was both. Fun because we laughed and it brought us closer together, and to some it may have been silly; necessary as it brought us ‘back to earth’ and effectively ‘grounded us’ – guarded us against the effects of being in that realm whilst operating in this.

May the dreamer and poet and pirate be awake within in us… loving the adventure of looking for the treasure as much as we love finding the inner gold that guides us.’

Alistair and Aideen left, but have booked for another session in December using different aspects, ‘tools’ and scenarios of apophatic and kataphatic mediation.

[I normally change names used is articles, but in this case both Alistair and Aideen were happy for their names to be used, and additionally asked me to state that they really do recommend this form of transformational event. I will include information about future events that you might like to join as a group, couple, individual, soon, both here on this blog and on Facebook]

All indented quotes above are by Oriah Mountain Dreamer.

 

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

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

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

This is how it started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly at Sufficient Grace Ministries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Playing With Dirt: Alternative Perspective On Ash Wednesday

20190301 PLAYING WITH DIRT ASH WEDNESDAY

Even as a Christo-Druid (or Druidic/Celtic-Christian) I admit it sounds bizarre, but letting someone smear ashes on your forehead while telling you that you are dirt is a good experience. And, though it isn’t as obvious, it is also a declaration of stupendous importance and of great news.

‘Technology and industry have distanced people from nature and magic and human values’. Laura Esquivel

There was a time when I would do it religiously. Yes, at school when I was a wee lad, at the time of Ash Wednesday, we would all have to line up, then kneel at the front of the church in groups of about twenty. The priest would walk about in all his robes, dipping his thumb into a plate of ashes and mark a cross on our foreheads. Our only thought was: let me be the third one, please.

That was then.

They were great days at school – although with hindsight it did so very much resemble Hogwarts!. To save time at those Ash Wednesday services and to save ash the priest dipped his thumb into the plate of ashes every third student, but it also meant that the third student would, fortunately for him/her, only get a few ashes, hardly visible on the forehead.

The student who was number one each time the priest’s thumb was dipped into the ashes, unfortunately from his/her viewpoint, would receive a huge dollop of black ash on the forehead, so much so that some of it would usually fall onto the cheek or nose. Wiping it off during the day – even with studies in the afternoon – was frowned upon.

‘There is a comfort in rituals, and rituals provide a framework for stability when you are trying to find answers’. Deborah Norville

Oh, when I left school I dismissed the ‘religious’ stuff as something that meant little to me. And, because of that I had little to do with the ritual behind it. It meant little to many of the teachers at school, too, and that thought ‘rubbed off’ on to me any many students.

That was then; this is now.

Fast-forward a number of years and now having attended a number of Ash Wednesday services, and led them, they mean something more, something much more. I’m never an advocate of blind or shallow ritual. But,…..?

But, what about meaningful ritual? What about ritual that touches the very core of your being? What about ritual that is deeply moving and seemingly opens us up to sacred-time, and ushers us into a ‘thin place’? What about ritual that is physical-metaphor or intentionality that ushers us into the imaginal realm of the Other, a place of peace, power, potential? Yes, now that is altogether very different to what I experienced at school.

What sparked this trip down memory lane?

Well, next Wednesday, 6 March 2019 is Ash Wednesday and many people will be receiving those ashes on their forehead. Ofcourse, some will receive them unthinkingly, some will ensure they don’t take them for a variety of reasons (and I do support those people, too, but would ask them to periodically ‘review’ their position as should we all, myself included); and some will receive those ashes on their forehead and for them it will be a deep and meaningful experience that is a liminal, threshold experience, a glimpse of the Other. And, that is the point of this article.

‘The only way we’ll know where we’re going is to look at the past and to remember who we were through ceremonies and rituals’. Laura Esquivel

And, so next Wednesday, a few of us will be in a busy London city street, and for those  unable to get to a church service, we’re bringing to them the ability to be blessed in the street, to receive ashes on their forehead too, as I, and the few others administering the ashes will also say to them: ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ In this sense it can apply to all, and that street blessing and ash-application wont be exclusively Christian, but will be open and available to all those who want a blessing and experience that ritual (perhaps for the first time).

It sounds like a negative but for those willing stop for a few minutes I would share that is extremely positive: it means we’re here in this form for a limited time and we’re encouraged to make good use of the time; we’ve come from dust, even star dust, we’re part of nature, and to that state of dust we’ll return; we’ve come from somewhere which some call heaven, and we’ll all return ‘home’. I find that immensely life-reassuring and positive, and love the depth of meaning to life that ritual can apply, and which many miss.

‘As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ 1 Corinthians 15,22, The Book

So, taking a few minutes out of our busy lives, and letting someone smear ashes on your forehead while telling you that you are dirt is an experience that I would heartily recommend.

And, no I wont be dipping my thumb into the ash for every third person blessed, but I will take ‘pity’ on them and will wipe the excess off my thumb each time before applying and blessing them. And if you can’t get to participate in such a ritual, then rest assured that evening I will be thinking of you, blessing you (as I do now; be blessed) and will apply ashes to myself vicariously so you benefit.

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden…

Woodstock, Crossby, Stills & Nash

 

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.

 

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.

 

The Tree Called Coeden Niwl: A Different Perspective

2018012 A TREE CALLED COEDEN NIWL A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVEMy grandmother used to love to name things. Usually it was the trees at the far end of the garden or nearby this cottage (near Capel Curig, north Wales). Sometimes it was large rocks, the boundary rivulet, but always things that would last the test of time.

There are some large trees at the end of the garden, here, interspersed with moderately sized trees, but the one that catches your eye, if you were here with me know looking at it, is a majestic one, larger and older than all the others. Its trunk is wide, and gnarled through age, and its many branches reach out and are twisted like a ballerina’s arms when ‘warming up’, and doing exercises to loosen taut muscles. The seem to dart out an odd angles, but are strong and unmoving, unyielding.

Some may see just trees and a larger one, here, standing above all the rest, but I see more. That tree, a huge alder is full of meaning to me, especially but not only when I was a wee lad.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.’ William Blake

This wonderfully large, old, noble tree was called by my grandmother, ‘Coeden niwl’, and to this day, and as I look at it now, that is the name I know it by.

As a wee lad I would play in that garden, and with the far end somewhat wild and where these larger trees grew, I was in a world of my own. Just like now. Frequently, mist would roll down from the mountains, tumble across the field and waft, effortlessly into the garden, or heavy, thick, grey clouds would descend without notice, and I loved it. Then, all but the tallest trees and nearby shrubbery would disappear, sounds would be muted and then I was alone, or was I?

Ah, the trees were here, and they’re alive.  And, the large alder tree, the one called Coeden niwl by my grandmother was here. Never alone. When I was a small boy, should I ever get lost, my grandmother always told me to look for Coeden niwl. Coeden niwl (pronounced ‘koh-ih-dun noo-ul’, meaning ‘mist-tree’ or ‘fog-tree’). Whether my grandmother called it that name because even in the mist and fog that tree is visible and is a good landmark, or whether the tree, itself, ‘invites’ the mist or fog, I don’t know. But, I loved that name for this tree, and still do.

‘Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning.’ Bob Dylan, song.

Why name a tree, why give it a personal name?

In ancient cultures someone’s name marked them out as special, and in very ancient cultures, a name was thought to confer power (or power over someone) and so it was usual for there to be a public name that everyone was to use (and that name might be declared by the baby’s father), and the baby also would have a real and deeply meaningful name (and that name would probably be whispered into the baby’s ear by his or her mother). Names confer meaning, respect and power, and allow relationship. And, this tree deserves it.

’No naming is causally performed in this old country. Names hold power, and memory; names tell stories of people and their relationship with the land.’ Sharon Blackie, The Enchanted Life

I believe my grandmother gave this tree the name Coeden niwl so that it would be remembered, and it has, and to build up a relationship with it. It would be difficult for me to fell the tree, without knowing that it has a name. It is not just a tree, an anonymous lump of wood, or an incumbrance. It is Coeden niwl, and the tree is alive, and I value trees (especially the ones with personal names). And, yes, I admit it….when no one is around I speak to Coeden niwl. How about that for relationship?

It is alive, after all.

’The tree and I are having a conversation. Yes, without words. In fact, I’ve learned that trees don’t use words…The tree, located in a favourite park that is a visiting place of mine, is 300 years old. Now, I have discovered the trees have their own lives, quite separate from ours. Yet the tree and I are mysteriously close friends. We share a lot of feelings. We don’t exactly share a sense of humour, but genuine friendship stirs between us.’ Malcolm Boyd, author, gay elder and civil rights pioneer, Episcopal priest.

Coeden niwl, as an alder tree is sociable. Not just to me. The alder tree (Alnus glutinosa) is noted for its important symbiotic relationship with a nitrogen-fixing bacterium called Frankia alni. This bacterium is found in the root nodules of alder trees, and it absorbs nitrogen from the air and makes it available to the tree. The alder, then, in turn, provides the bacterium with much-needed sugars, which it produces through photosynthesis. Amazing. And, the alder trees catkins provide an early source of nectar and pollen for many under-threat bees. Relationship.

The sap, leaves and bark of the alder were all used to make dyes; green from the leaves, red from the sap and brown from the bark. Wood of the alder is flexible and resistant to the rotting effects of water, and was much used in ancient house building.  Relationship.

But, there’s more about these wonderful trees. In Irish mythology the first human man was made from the alder tree, and it is also considered a tree of the fae (fairies), protected by the water fairy-folk but also representing fire and earth. In various parts of old Ireland it was said to a crime to cut down an alder tree because it would offend the tree spirit.

We’re losing trees at an alarming rate. What better way, well, one way at least, to take more of an interest in trees than by naming one local large tree or more than one? Whether you live in a rural area, or an urban area (with a park nearby) I would encourage you to name a tree, take an interest in it, maybe one that you can sit near or under, perhaps; and build a relationship with it.

Whether or not you believe in elemental spirits inhabiting or frequenting trees, it cannot be denied that that view, in ancient times, meant that ancient Celtcs, Druids and others saved so many trees and they cultivated a greater respect for trees and the natural order  (and which is sorely missing today).

It was reported that In 1999 the upgrading of the National route from Limerick to Galway was delayed, rerouted and eventually opened nearly ten years after it was supposed to have started, because part of their contract stipulated that they had protect the fairy tree, and that ‘access is not permitted within a minimum 5m radius and a protective fence has been erected around it.’. Newspaper report.

And now as I stand in front of Coeden niwl a fine mist is drifting down from the mountains and starting to blanket this and other trees with an other-worldly veil. Slowly, the landscape is drained of its colour, sound is muted, and everything seems to take on a ‘flat’, two-dimensional look. The mist moving slowly, holding water, leaves minute drops of cold water on my hair and skin, and I can feel the fresh wetness bathe me, almost. I can only stand and watch, and be in awe at nature and this tree in particular, as the mist gets thicker and thicker, and the landscape takes on an even more mysterious look.

’But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.’ Genesis 2:6, The Book

Things happen at such times, such liminal times as these, and perhaps Coeden niwl, the fog tree or mist-tree, does actually attract the mist and usher in liminal sacred-space/time events. What happened next is the subject of another article.