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 Enchantment Of Snow: Tadhg’s Journal

20171211 The Enchantment Of Snow Lessons From Frozen PrecipitationComing down the stairs, with my eyes looking at my feet so as not to trip, I blended in with a myriad of other people beside me, in front of me, and behind me, all intent on leaving the underground station as quickly as possible. It was dark, it was damp, and dreadfully cold. It was Sunday evening, 10 December, and it was snowing in London – the first snowfall locally for the winter (apart from a five minute ‘snow storm’ last week). It had been rumoured that even the fountains at Trafalgar Square had frozen, so I heard.

Now at ground level, and at the exit barriers, for a moment, I was lined up with half a dozen other people who looked as though they were just about to run several furlongs in the 2.40 at Haydock Park. And then we were off. Through the barrier and homeward bound.

‘Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood.’ Andy Goldsworthy

The street was busy. So many people.  Traffic noise blared. Traffic lights seemingly overly bright, glared; and the snow-laden wind howled and caught us all by surprise as we turned the corner. Gasps could be heard as a bitter and raw wind hit the face of an unsuspecting people. In the distance the Salvation Army, in their favourite annual spot, just outside the pub, could be heard singing Carols to a moving sea of people who seemed not to notice them.

The snow underfoot had become ice and my pace slowed, not wishing to fall and crack a rib as I had done this time last year.

I know, for many, snow can be a nuisance, but for me, right here, right now, it was amazing. I love it, and admit to having let my inner-child run loose. But, please: don’t stop me know. Nature in all it’s glory had bathed the city in a white dress as only nature knows, and it was pretty, it was awesome, and inviting. But, an invitation to what?

In the middle of the park, I stopped. And yet, as I remained motionless, I had the perception of moving.

The falling snow, caught in the yellow street lamps that were in a line at the path’s edge, looked like twinkling, falling stars. And, in a horizontal wind, the snow passed my face to the left and to the right, and it felt as though I was moving and tit was stationary.

Without moving it seemed as though I had stumbled into unfamiliar and alien territory. I felt like a stranger, lost, and unable to recognise any familiar landmarks around me.

Silence descended. The traffic noise seemed a million miles away, and the neon traffic lights’ glare seemed like lights shining below the horizon, and the hustle and bustle of people rushing to get home was now a distant memory. All was still.

‘The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?’ J B Priestley

Mechanical time had given way to another perception of time that seemed to flow and yet not flow. A still point. It was nature’s dance and I was included. ‘Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and (yet) there is only the dance’.

Could I, indeed, be moving through an unchartered part of space, a field of stars? Should my intention be to ‘bodily go’, or was that happening anyway?

Had I entered some kind of liminal access point, a ‘thin place’, a portal to another realm, unknowingly?

Had I stepped back in time? Certainly childhood memories of playing in the snow flooded my thoughts. Wonderful memories!

Had I stepped out of our world, into some altogether much more expansive , connected and mysterious?

‘A snow day literally and figuratively falls from the sky -unbidden – and seems like a thing of wonder.’ Susan Orlean

Was my imagination running riot – that faculty that children wonderfully indwell and many adults rarely visit. Was this the key to this odd out-of-time event?

I wanted to analyse, research, detail what was happening, but knew that had I done so I would have been catapulted back into mechanical time, and so I just revelled in this fleeting experience and enjoyed it. Have you encountered this? Have you encountered?

‘Snowflakes are kisses from heaven.’ Anonymous

And then, without any apparent reason, I was back. Back from where?

People seemed to appear as if from nowhere, traffic noise seemed louder now, lights brighter, and I saw where I was:  in the middle of snow-laden Parson’s Green on a cold, dark, dismal, snowy December evening.

I started to walk, albeit slowly, but roughly keeping apace with other people around me, thinking of what I would cook for dinner that evening, what presents I would buy, and who I had to telephone. Yes, I was back in the realm of mechanical time. And yet, in the back of my mind was the memory of that encounter, that place, that still point ‘of the turning of the world’.

We are all ‘edge-walkers’, straddling two realms (and possibly more). Someone once said, ‘Seek and you will find’, and that is so. Don’t look at the world except with physical eyes and ‘physicality’ is all you will see. Seek and delve a bit deeper, and the world opens up to us all, into an altogether mysterious and more wonderful place, and at this time of the year, ‘thin places’  and ‘magic’ abounds…if we seek them.

 

In The Depth Of My Soul….: Anamnesis

20170913 IN THE DEPTH OF MY SOUL ANAMNESIS REMEMBERINGAs you know I love ritual. Not just for the pomp and ceremony, but I love it because of its power and vitality, for the fact that it connects us to That Which Is Bigger Than Ourselves, intensifies the moment, and can have such a deep meaning that we are transformed, and transported in delight.

I was watching a video recetly which had several recorded events of the hongi. The hongi is the ancient traditional Maori greeting, and is done by a gentle pressing of one’s nose and forehead to another persons nose and forehead. The ‘ha’ (breath of life), also seen as one’s soul, is then exchanged. Then the visitor, the ‘manuhirim’ is no longer a visitor but, wonderfully becomes a ‘tangata whenua’, one of the people of the Land.

As the video progressed, one act of hongi stood out from amongst the others. This person, a westerner, probably nervous and feeling out of place, went a long a line of Maori people, touched nose to nose, but at breakneck speed. The act was performed, but that person had forgotten the true meaning of the hongi, and so missed out on ‘something’. It was, sadly, rather shallow. There was no real meaning, no depth, no transformation, no sharing of the ‘ha’, the breath of life.

Ritual is important, because it slows us down. In ritual we remember. Remembering is so important. And when involved in ritual, and when remembering we go deep(er) and may be transformed, we enter sacred-time and sacred-space and encounter. Things, then are different.

The challenge, today, is that instead of going deep we are encouraged to operate at a shallow level. It seems to be the way of the world.

‘People care much more for how things look than how things are.’  Donna Lynn Hope

I have been to some fine ceremonies. Last Christmas, for instance, I was at an event where we sang wonderful tunes and awesome words, recited meaningful words from a bygone age, listened intently to a transforming story, and then afterwards I sipped coffee with the congregation. I was still in the ‘liminal zone’, but others around me were not. I’m not judging them because on other occasions I’m probably in their shoes, and maybe you have been, too? It happens.

After that ceremony those  near me talked about the weather and their rhumatism, the need to leave early to start cooking the Christmas turkey, they talked about a several-hour car journey to visit a relative, and one remarked that the minister was wearing a rather fetching stole.

‘Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.’ Christopher Reeve

Ritual is important, because it slows us down. In ritual we remember. But, those around me may have misunderstood the nature of the ceremony we had just witnessed, and had forgotten. It is here that ritual and stories come in useful, because through stories we remember.

There is an ancient story, one that we heard at that service, that includes the words, ‘Do this in remembrance of me…’. When I hear those words it’s like warm honey being poured down my spine – they are awesome and have moved me to tears on occasions. In them is power and love, invitation and joy. In them we remember.

In thinking of those words, we can view them merely from an academic point of view. There is nothing wrong with this, but there’s more. Go deeper. We can view them as words said by the One some two thousand years ago, and look back from a historical, ‘legal’ or dogmatic point of view. There is nothing wrong with this, but there’s more. Many in that congregation seemed to stop there – many do, and so miss out. Many stop at a shallow understanding of ritual and ceremony and story, but there is more. Go deeper.

When those words – and it could be other words and events that we ecnounter – are spoken or encountered they are deeper than deep. ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ is so significant because the ‘remembering’ is anamnesis!

Remembering is important. Anamnesis is so important.

In its weakest sense, and common today, anamnesis it is merely remembering an act, and carrying it on in the absence of the originator. It’s a looking back along that distant horizontal time-line. Oh, how the spirit of this age wants us to quickly move on to something else, so we miss the depth.

‘In the depth of my soul there is a wordless song.’ Kahlil Gibran quotes

There’s more for those who want to go deeper, and who really want to benefit.
In its deepest, purist sense, and the one I would encourage you to engage with, anamnesis has a vertical connection. It (ritual, ceremony or story etc) ‘lifts’ us off the normal time-line, and upward to the higher realm. Not just an act, but a participation; not with an absent host but one who is ever-present; not looking back in time, but living in continual ‘nowness” of the event; not earthly, but cosmic.

An example of anamnesis can be read in a previous article entitled, The Telling Place: Ritual And Anamnesis. (See here)

Anamnesis in ritual, in our times of meditation and quiet, in our services and ceremony is a ‘transporting’ back or coming into full partcipation with the event in mind – it is the time-frame you and I are living in, being superimposed over some major event so that the two are happening together.

Synchronous. Participation. Transformation.

My encouragement to you is: Don’t miss out, but to go deeper, and resist the spirit of the age to remain shallow. Go deeper, and revel in anamnesis, true remembering and true participation. True encounter. Liminal, not liminoid.

 

‘Tis Mystery All: Perception: The Need Of Soft Eyes And Soft Feet

20170815 TIS MYSTERY ALLI’m reminiscing. I’m in London and in my very little garden, and there’s part of me that remembers Capel Curig, in the deep in the wilderness of north Wales, many years ago.

As a child the garden of Ty Gwyn (translated as the ‘white house’, and so called because of its painted external stone work,) and where I live now when in Wales, seemed large and mysterious. It doesn’t seem as large now, though it is a fair size, but it is just as mysterious.

‘Mystery is a resource, like coal or gold, and its preservation is a fine thing.’ Tim Cahill

As I grew older, becoming physically bigger, the garden seemed to reduce in size. And yet, at the far end of the garden the rivulet, that I called Bach ac yn gyflym (meaning ‘small and fast’ in Welsh, because that sums up this rivulet) seemed to mark the boundary between the somwhat mysterious (that was all around me – it’s Wales, after all) and the very mysterious (that which was ahead of me and over the boundary marker of the rivulet).

Beyond Bach ac yn gyflym lay the ‘lightning tree’ and two arched trees, that as children, we called the ‘door to another world’. We played for many a long hour in those places – cautious about what might happen and daring each other to just be there for what might happen. Beyond those areas was ‘even more’ mystery. Beyond that was, to us, the ‘Yr ardal anhysbys’ or the ‘unknown place’.

It wasn’t that we were afraid, as children, to venture further into that unknown area, but there was part of us that wanted to preserve the mystery, to be in awe of it, and to regard it as a reminder of….

A reminder of what?

Sitting here at the garden table in a very small London garden, thoughts form and suggest an answer.

Crane your neck, arch your head heavenward at the night sky, and on a clear night you will see a myriad of twinkling stars. Some close, comparatively, some many hundreds of light years away. But, as you look at the cosmos, scientists tell us that about ninety percent of the universe is invisible, invisible to our our meters and scientific instruments, invisible to us. And, they don’t mean that some things are just too distant to be seen – though that is true – but they mean in essence. If you hold the tip of one hand’s index finger at arms-length, then ninety percent of matter between that finger tip and your nose is invisible. A real mystery.

As an adult I like mystery. It keeps things in proportion, reminding me that I don’t know as much as I thought I did.

As I child I was in awe of mystery, and hope that that’s still the same, now, as an adult. It is…sometimes. And, as a child my friends and I, until we were older, never ventured into ‘Yr ardal anhysbys’ or the ‘unknown place’. We revelled in the mystery. It harkened back to something other-worldly, of an ancient age, of a time-before, of sacred-time, sacred-space, of liminality (or ‘thin places’).

‘Under the guise of emptiness, the invisible keeps its secrets to itself. Yet the invisible remains the great background which invests your every gesture and action with possibility and pathos’. John O’Donohue.

It is easy to miss mystery. This can happen as our knowledge increases, and it can happen when we’re too busy or pre-occupied with modern life. It’s for that reason that I really enjoy and benefit from apophatic meditation (a meditative state focussing on nothng in particular), and kataphatic meditation (such as the Caim, or creative visualtion etc). And, as a child with a more limited vocabulary and without such understanding, we had ‘Yr ardal anhysbys’ or the ‘unknown place’ – a real place of mystery.

Perception matters. If we don’t ‘see’ the mystery or at least catch a glimpse, impression or ‘feeling’ of it, then we will miss it. The harsh light of modernity cannot uncover mystery. Mystery is subtle, it’s illusive and even shy, but it is real for those who revere and honour it, and are patient enough to wait for its emergence.

An Anishinabe (First Nations) man from Canada wrote:

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

I believe that ‘softness’ of perception is what children have, innately. And it was that that I was remembering at the garden table in my little London apartment’s garden. It was a reminder of how it used to be – a world of mystery, everywhere. Of having a ‘softer’ perception.

And, as adults we can lose that perception of the reverence of awe and mystery. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Even as adults we can regain soft eyes and soft feet, and ‘see’ the sacred all around us. Such seeing is a skill, and like a muscle, it can be developed and honed with practice.

‘To respect a mystery is to make way for the answer.’ Criss Jami

 

The Art Of [Experiencing] The Presence: Celtic Thought

20290616 THE ART OF PRESENCEThere’s an ancient story of a man wandering in the desert, and though he had done this for many years, on this specific occasion he noticed something strange, something out of the ordinary, something that caught his attention like it had never done before. He saw a bush in the distance that was on fire, and yet it wasn’t being destroyed by that fire. He drew closer to look.

From that ancient story it looked as though an angel was responsible for that burning bush, but when the man went to investigate it seems, from the one who then spoke, that the angel deferred to a higher power, the Presence. One wonders for how long that angel had been trying to catch his attention – days, weeks, years? Nevertheless, the man went to investigate.

This old, old story goes on to tell us that the burning bush spoke to the man by name, and told him to remove his shoes because the ground he was standing on was, indeed, holy ground. He did so. He drew aside, and in silence and in the desert, and experienced the Presence.

There is another story, more recent about a woman called Catherine Doherty. Arriving in Canada as a Russian refugee and living in the poorest parts of Toronto, she spent almost all of her life seeking to encounter the Presence, the Source of All, God, in the desert. She wrote in her book, ‘Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence…’, that deserts (and the Russian name for desert is Poustinia, hence the title of her book), those times of silence and solitude are ‘not necessarily places but states of mind and heart’.

These deserts can be found in busy cities, in sparsely populated area, as well as in places where we live each day of our lives.  These deserts of encounter, where the Presence can be experience, can be ‘tiny pools of silence’. They can be anywhere.

But how do we achieve this silence?

How do we experience the Presence? She says, ‘By standing still!’. Catherine Doherty

However we define the Presence, that Mystery, That Which Is Bigger Than Us, that which some call God (and that’s a word that is much overused hence my search and usage of other words), the Elements or Elementals, the Spirit, that Presence is much needed. Not to experience the Presence is not to experience Life in all its fullness.

If perception is looking at something and understanding it from some way off, then encountering the Presence is all about experience, communion, one-ness with and the acceptance of a relationship with the Presence, initiated by the Presence, and which is always beneficial.

And, yet we can ‘distance’ ourselves from the Presence, from that Great Flow, The Spirit, call ‘it’ what you will.

We can ‘distance’ or remove ourselves from the experience of the Presence by being too busy – we all live such busy lives, after all, and some seemingly quantify their worth by a ‘crowded’ diary; by being too precise  – we can so want our words of liturgy and ritual to be word-perfect that we focus on the words rather than the encounter; by being analytical – to use our minds to objectively observe what is going on with the Presence at the time of the encounter  immediately puts us at some distance and we step outside of the basking of sacred-time, and step back into ordinary time; by ‘crowding out’ the Presence by an excess of words, especially if we have limited time and a shopping-list of prayers to recite; by ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’.

Ofcourse, in one very real sense removing or distancing ourselves from the Presence is impossible – because the Presence is ubiquitous and is always close at hand – but we can remove ourselves from the knowledge and experience of the Presence by focussing on what really isn’t important at all.

Why do we do that?

We might fear the Presence and so don’t want to draw close, or we might not fully understand the loving and invitational presence of the Presence, we might be too busy (and if so, please find time to slow and stop occasionally), we might not realise the importance of ritual and prayer (that puts us in a position of being receptive), or (and this is true of some ‘old hands’, mature and ‘holy people’) some may not really want to draw close to the Presence because their lives may be changed (and even if for the better, it can be worrying for some to have Someone Else in the ‘driving seat’). And so, some may prefer an ‘arms length’ approach, to be in control of the ‘on-off’ button, and in such cases may actually be angry and upset with those that point to a closer communion.

Yes, it’s good to encourage greater communion in others, but if you do, be aware that there will some well-meaning people (even using Bible verses) to counter your good works and declare you to be a heretic. But, I can sense that you’re a principled, determined and passionate-for-the-truth sort of person, and that that wouldn’t stop you.

‘All I did was light candles.
Did God find me or did I find God?
Hush!
The time for words is past’.

(Barbara Brown Taylor)

So, how do we encounter the Presence?

Well, liturgy, prayer and ritual are some ways to put us in a position of being receptive to the always-there Presence, but they are ‘doorways’ to step through and enter that ‘inner sanctum’ of sacred-space. They are ‘tools’ to usher us into an awareness of the ‘Divine Ubiquitousness’.

There are many other ways to encounter the Presence (eg music, art, works of service, a numinous event, a tragic event, a loving event, a huge surprise etc) But the encounter of Presence always leads to silence, perhaps perceived in (inner) darkness (‘luminous darkness’), and without analytical thought. It is experience that takes place in time-out-of-time, without words, is a state or mind and being, and it is only after the experience, as we look back analytically, that we ‘remember’ being in the presence of the Presence. This is one of the purposes and uses of the Caim.

‘Your hand opens and closes,
opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralysed.
Your deepest presence
is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birds’ wings.’

(Rumi)

 

The Art Of Encountering: Celtic Thought

20170614 THE ART OF ENCOUNTERINGAnd so there I was last evening, sitting in my little inner-city garden – some would call it a yard, but this is Fulham – with a lit candle on the garden table. The sun was now below the horizon, the sky was cloudless and a most wonderful deep, deep blue. Even a few swallows could be seen darting overhead, near the bridge.

All was fairly quiet. Peaceful. Lovely.

With my eyes closed, I said some silent prayers to send light, energy, well-well-wishes for family, friends, and, yes, for those who will be reading this, like you. And, then I stopped. Quite abruptly.

‘During each encounter, ask yourself: How does this incident bring greater awareness into my life?’ Azim Jamal & Brian Tracy

As I sat there, at that garden table, now with thoughts racing, I wondered at how easy it is to engage with people when they look like us, speak like us, have the same views as us or come form the same tribe as us. That’s encountering, I guess some would say. But, it shouldn’t stop there, I’m saying to myself, too. There’s more. Mae mwy.

What about the ones who don’t look like us, don’t sound like us, and who are marginalised and sometimes dehumanised? What about them? Ofcourse, they must be included. Yes? Isn’t that the meaning of philoxia? [Philo, an ancient Greek word for love, xenai meaning stranger].

Sometimes, it’s not until we’re the excluded ones, not until we are the strangers that the penny drops, and we realise how awful such distancing can be.

‘You shall love the stranger first of all because you know what it is to be a stranger yourself. Second of all, you shall love the stranger because the stranger shows you God [the Source of All, The Great Spirit]’, Barbara Brown Taylor

When travelling I sometimes like to visit churches on a Sunday, and though I’m a mature person, not easily ‘thrown’ and very inclusive and chatty, it is often the case, sadly, that I’ll worship alone even when the building has dozens of worshippers in it, and afterward drink coffee alone, surrounded by others who are obviously of the ‘in’ tribe. Not always the case, but it is sometimes the case. To them, I’m guessing it felt like I was an ‘it’. They were persons (an ‘I’) and it felt like I was regarded by them as less than a person. An ‘it’.

Being in an I-It relationship is no real relationship at all. A jug of water is an ‘it’. Apple peel is an ‘it’. A paving stone is an ‘it’. And, ‘it’ can be ignored and discarded.

However, just to even things up, I did have to laugh, inwardly, when at one particular church service some time ago, a person came up close and sat next to me, explained everything, absolutely everything that was going on and in great detail (although I knew the Anglican form of service very well), found the hymn for me each time (yes, I know the hymn book is arranged numerically for ease of use and the numbers are up there on the board), and then found the Bible passage for me (even though I’ve been a Christian for over forty years), but I felt welcomed, at that’s the point. To that person I was a person. Not an ‘it’, but a ‘thou’ (a ‘you’, a person approachable in some kind of relationship). They were an ‘I’ and I was a ‘thou’ from there viewpoint. From mine I was the ‘I’ and they were the ‘Thou’, and there was the relationship, the bonding,  and it worked.

Another reason I stopped praying as I sat in my little inner-city garden was that my prayer had turned into a mere shopping-list of wants, albeit for other people, but in some way I wasn’t encountering them, even spiritually. I had turned these good people into ‘its’.

‘I am not a number, I am a free man!’, ironically said #6 in the old tv series ‘The Prisoner’.

How many times have we sat in a glade or a church building and communed with the elements, elementals, angels, or God, participated in a ritual without meaning it deeply, and unknowingly distanced ourselves by doing things by rote, and regarding one or all of the aforementioned as an ‘it’, instead of focussing on the relationship between us and them, and so forging an ‘I’ to ‘thou’ (I to another ‘person’) bond? How many times have we prayed a shopping-list of prayers or conducted a ritual and speedily worked through it, only to feel a little ‘hollow’ at the end and have to acknowledge that we had been a bit glib and superficial. That we had accepted the ‘liminoid’ rather than the liminal. Sometimes that happens, doesn’t it?

Still sitting at my garden table, with rampant thoughts now subsiding, I encouraged myself to move into the ‘le point vierge’ (the virgin point), liminal space, sacred-space, that area deep within each one of us where, in silence, we can come closer to others (in an I-Thou) relationship, and indeed into such a relationship with the Other. Isn’t that what the Caim is about?

Martin Buber wrote that we may address existence in two ways: (1) The attitude of the “I” towards an “It”, towards an object that is separate in itself, which we either use or experience. Or (2), The attitude of the “I” towards “Thou”, in a relationship in which the other is not separated by discrete bounds.

Ofcourse, if the other person is a ‘person’ then I should imagine none of us would have a problem in being able to relate.  If the other is the Source of All, that which some call God, an angel or elemental etc then, even then,  if we have the right mind-set and are ‘open’ then we can encounter deeply.

But, what about an animal? A tree? An insect? A star? Ofcourse, that is up to you to work through, depending on your theology. I must profess to finding it easier to forming an ‘I-Thou’ relationship with another person or God, than, say a tree. But, I can’t end this here. Nevertheless, in some profound way the tree, and all of creation is still more than an ‘it’. So much, much more! And so I do try to regard them, too, as part on an ‘I-Thou’ relationship. After all, I am a panentheist (like most Christians are (or were), and some Druids and others. Please note that I’m not a pantheist (but some of my best friends are pantheists), but am proud to declare that I am a panentheist).

‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’. Acts 17:28, The Book.

Still, in my garden, it is now late evening. A cup of hot chocolate sits on the table – a ‘reward’ to myself and a great way to end the evening. I have now finished sending well-wishes, light, prayers, energy and positivity to others, and feel power has, indeed, gone out. And it feels good. It took some time to move into an ‘I-Thou’ relationship tonight, to move into that ‘inner sanctum’, to encounter, especially but not only when people are some geographical distance away, but that exquisite task, nay privilege, was accomplished, and it is so worth it. This is my encouragement to you, to encounter.

Relationship. Bonded. Oneness. Sameness. Achieved. Deep, deep satisfaction.

Encountering, then, is a soul-to-soul connectedness, a oneing, a relationship, rather than just proximity or geographical location, and it embraces the whole of creation.

Celtic Thought: Deep Calls To Deep In An Age Of Shallow

20170418 DEEP CALLS TO DEEP CELTIC THOUGHTIs it just me, or has the world moved into the ‘shallow end’ of the swimming pool, metaphorically? And, if it’s always been this way, perhaps more so nowadays? I’m used to politicians alarmingly giving glib and shallow answers (and doubly alarming when the public or journalists swallow wholesale what they say without question), but it seems to me that in other  spheres of life there’s been a movement to quick and shallow, rather than slow and deep.

I hear your voice on the wind
And I hear you call out my name.

Could it be that, though the mass media, we’re conditioned to accept the quick answer, the frivolous and not wait and ponder? In many cases we’re so caught up in the moment, the noise, the neon glare of the city, that we miss that still, small voice. Richard Rohr quotes a psychological phenomenon that states if we don’t ‘anchor’ a new experience and encounter as something unique, then within fifteen seconds it will be stored in the brain as a run-of-the-mill event and hardly remembered. Dwell with mystery.

Be not afraid, come follow me
Answer my call, and I’ll set you free”

Why is it that we so easily pleased? To ‘dive deep’ demands that we slow down, really allow information and experience to ‘sink in’, but that way of working is alien to the world we live in. And yet, for those who do take time, the rewards are out of this world.

Why are we so content to swim in the shallows? For some, it’s fear. Many shun solitude and quietness, run from experiential knowledge or body wisdom, because they feel they will be out of their depth. Actually, that’s true. But, it’s when we’re out of our depth that we experience the guiding on the Unseen One, who is more than capable to buoy us up.

Why are we so busy? Many have the mistaken notion that ‘a full diary, makes for a happy life’. True, many people have jobs that demand that we’re time-conscious, but sometimes, maybe many times, that way of working spills over into our recreation time. Remember: you don’t have to answer your mobile phone immediately it rings.

And then, often, we miss out on dolce far niente – my favourite Italian phrase which means ‘sweetly, doing nothing’. Try it!

I am the voice of the future, bring me your peace
Bring me your peace, and my wounds, they will heal

Why are we so fearful? Our society encourages us to be in control at all times. Why would anyone dive into the deep end, and risk being caught up in currents that take one to unknown places? And, yet if we don’t we well miss out. Surrender.

To put ourselves in the way of the Source, to encounter the Source by slowing down and listening intently, and responding deeply is a risk, but it’s worth it.

It’s like diving or swimming in the ocean. Immense. Frightening. Powerful. And yet, amazingly refreshing, beautiful and rewarding. Then, deep calls to deep. In that liminal space,  answers don’t come easily, and pain is exposed rather than covered over, but it is where healing and transformation takes place. It is dealing with the real wound, rather than just applying a zeitgeist ‘band-aid’.

We live in a time where it is easy to avoid those tough questions, to ignore our own foibles, to fill our days with busy-ness and sometimes meaningless activity, to turn on the tv etc. But, deep calls to deep, and yet often we resist and we long to stay at the shallow end.

I am the voice that always is calling you
I am the voice

Take for example, ritual. Any ritual can be done glibly. The words can be recited, actions done automatically and quickly, and before we know it we’re saying ‘amen’, ‘so be it’, ‘so mote it be’, or awen, or similar.

But, the take time, to slow it down, to ponder upon each phrase and to use intuition and imagination to take ourselves into that ‘magical’ and powerful place of liminality, and we can encounter the Source, The Voice, The Friend. Deep calls to deep, and we benefit when we respond in kind. It is one of the reasons that I (as a latter-day Celt, Druidic Christian etc) cherish, love, and waste no time in finding ways to celebrate events and the seasons in liturgy and ritual. Ritual opens the door to another place of power, purpose and potential, it ushers us into a ‘thin place’, and we benefit in so many different ways. Have you experienced a ‘thin place’, liminality?

Ne’er do I sleep throughout all the cold winter long
I am the force that in springtime will grow

Right now, the voice of the Source continues to speak deeply to each one of us. I do believe the Source never stops providing us with opportunities to encounter, and ritual is one way in which the Source reminds us to draw near, or dive deep, to ‘lose ourselves’ in that Great Ocean of Encounter.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing more about how we can grow and be transformed, can move into that liminal realm of encounter, and benefit – infact, some have asked for day workshops on this very theme, and so, it’s very much as case of ‘watch this space’.

Meanwhile, my encouragement to myself and to you is to go deeper in the things that make for Encounter. Deep really does call to deep. Respond in kind.

Blessings, Tadhg.

 

Quotes above from the song, ‘The Voice’, by Celtic Woman