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.

 

An Encounter At Maen Llia

20180910 ENCOUNTER AT MEAN LLIA

Having inputted the details into the mobile phone’s navigational program – you have to love ‘Waze’ – and put the mobile phone into the car’s dashboard cradle I set off for Maen Llia – an ancient and mysterious standing stone. 

Where would we be without SatNav?

Typically the weather was inclement, but I’m in the car, and on the backseat is my trusty old waterproof jacket, plastic over-trousers, boots and a backpack with assorted food for the day. You can never be too careful.

‘The things you own end up owning you…’ Chuck Palahniuk,

Ah, modern hiking conveniences! What would we do without ‘thinsulate’?

Leaving Hay-On-Wye, the twenty-six mile journey should take about forty minutes. It look me a little bit longer. Driving along the B4350 wasn’t problematic, but joining the A438 and then the A470 was. It seemed the world and his wife was out today. Their were umpteen cars, coaches, even more cars, cement lorries and more, all  travelling at a fast pace. The kind of ‘get me to work fast’ pace, or ‘get me home quick’ speed. I could understand their need for speed, but I was in ‘tourist mode’. I was in ‘Oh, look there’s a cow, let me slow down’ speed.

Ah, modern motoring. Where would I be without my Renault Clio?

And so, not wishing to upset the drivers behind me and not wishing to gather speed and miss the moment – and I promise I wasn’t dawdling – I made plenty of space between me and the huge cement lorry in front so that the dozen motorists behind me could overtake. And they did.

’ I have two speeds. Nothing and full pelt’. André Rieu

And then I turned off onto a minor road running north from Ystradfellte, towards Heol Senni, at a much more leisurely pace. It was as if time itself had slowed. Bliss.

Certainly, the pace had to be slower, as the road was now only ten feet wide, wading, and with only the occasional ‘passing point’ should another car be coming in the opposite direction. And a few did. And, what great manners they had. Each taking time so that they and I could pass, inviting gestures, some ‘thumbs-up’ thankyous and with some reversing, but it was so civilised. Ballet de automobile!

Ah, the rule of the county road? Where would we be without the Highway Code?

And, then I spied it. Pulling over, I got out of the car and walked briskly up a small, grassy, rain-soaked incline toward Maen Llia,  an ancient standing stone. Alone in a rather bleak area. No one was where, except for me.. The people who pulled that hefty rock here – it’s about twelve feet high, nine feet wide, and two feet thick – are unknown, as is the reason for it being here. But, my not knowing, doesn’t detract from the splendour and majesty of this object that has stood here for thousands of years.

Maen Llia is timeless. It is a world away from SatNav, ‘Thinsulate’, motor cars, and the Highway Code. And, as I stood in front of it I couldn’t but bow my head a little, momentarily. This standing stone, indeed the area, is spiritual and alive with energy.

As I thought about the people who erected this standing stone, I couldn’t also but be ‘hit’ by the thought of how much we are all beholden to the modern world. Mechanical time, work routines, shopping trips to the supermarket, servicing cars and more – maybe ‘necessary evils’, but all alien to those who first gazed upon Maen Llia and experienced time differently.

‘Sometimes I think there are only two instructions we need to follow to develop and deepen our spiritual life: slow down and let go.’ Oriah Mountain Dreamer

And yet, here I had an opportunity to take time out. Or, to be out of time. Ofcourse, that can happen anywhere, but it seems that humankind usually needs a prompt – isn’t that what ritual, anniversaries and statues do? They act as a focus, pointing to That Which Is Bigger Than Us.

And, as I stood in front on Maen Llia, now getting wet from the light rain caught by wind and blowing into me horizontally, it seemed that perhaps Maen Llia was that unknown people’s focal point. Some think that the standing stone could have been a boundary marker, but it could easily be something incredibly spiritual – a spiritual focal point for those ancients, especially as it looks like a finger pointing heavenward. And to me, that is exactly what it was. An incredibly isolated and spiritual place. A standing stone focal point to cause wonderment. The energy and ritual of the ancestors still reverberates in that place. You can’t see it with physical eyes, nor feel it one your skin, but it is palpable in a way beyond words. Ancestors, elementals, angels?

Interestingly, some paper guides say that Maen Llia is thirty yards/metres from the road, others say it’s sixty yards/metres. How can the two be reconciled? The answer could lay in the myth that when no one is looking the standing stone moves. Some say it occasionally wanders off, to the river, the Afon Llia to drink. Others say it does this one Midsummer’s Eve. 

Where would we be without myth and imagination?

With the rain now pouring, I said a few words and buried the Rainforest Jasper stone as a ritual action for Earth Healing, and then after a few minutes I headed back to the car, energised, and entered the modern world of mechanical time once again.

‘Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.’ Mother Theresa

 

 

 

A Walk In The Rain & More: Deep Thoughts…

201800514 A WALK IN THE RAIN AND MOREThe weather has been unusual of late. Very hot for days and the quite cool, dry for a time and then raining all day. Today started off sunny and then clouds tumbled from the mountains to the valley floor. And yet each valley, here in north Wales (and elsewhere) has its own micro-climate, and it is truly amazing. Unpredictable many times, but amazing.

‘For we know in part and we prophesy in part…For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.’ 1 Corinthians 13.9-13.12 Part, The Book

Balance? For thousands of years before the imprint of humankind was found in these valleys, there was a balance in the weather – slate-grey mountains ‘carpeted’ with lush grass, lichen and a myriad of insect life because of rain.

I weed and steward the small patch of earth called my garden, but nature does a far better, far richer, and far grander job of tending the ‘gardens’ that form vast undulating, majestic valleys, here.

’I’m stunned at how the choreography of fate is exquisitely disguised as chance.’ Mark Nepo

It rained recently, and I got caught out in it. Clearly, even being a native, I only know ‘in part’ what the weather will do, though I do pride myself on ‘reading’ the signs (and usually that is sufficient to predict something of what the weather is about to do).

Who am I to grumble? The Clerk of the Weather knows best, and watered that valley. I’m a cheery soul, but that on that particular occasion, far from home and sopping wet, it didn’t make me chuckle. Was it chance? An Intelligence? Fate? However, as I walked home, now seemingly a few pounds heavier wearing rain-sodden clothes and feeling colder, it reminded me of some awesome words of St Francis of Assisi.

Misreading (of the weather and its purpose)? Perhaps it wasn’t that I’d upset God (as if the Source of All works in that arbitrary way) or annoyed the genii loci or the fae as some here might have told me, that opened the skies; perhaps it was ‘just right’ and in that valley, out walking, I was ‘in the way’.

‘In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.’ John Muir

Nevertheless, the rain was a ‘quiet teacher’ to me on that occasion and I learned that it didn’t really matter who caused it, the result was the same, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Traversing the copse that leads to my garden and house, I couldn’t but help notice how much ‘brighter’ things looked, leaves glistened as if polished, the air seemed lighter, sounds clearer, and there was that lovely smell of rain on otherwise dried earth – petrichor. St Francis’ words continued to echo in the labyrinths of my mind, and a lightness from somewhere in my being bubbled up – but only very gently. Hardly noticeable.

And then my feet were firmly striding the rustic-style paving stones that stretched the length of my lawn, and I had to admit the rain was just what the lawn needed. It was a vivid green, looking great, ‘washed’ and baptised from above, and even those weeds seemed glad – ofcourse they were.

‘A weed is but an unloved flower. Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Perspective? And then into the house, through the kitchen door at the side (as very few use the front door here; and you can tell a friend because they, too use the side door that, here, leads into a small boot room and then into the kitchen. Peeling off my sopping wet clothes, and sitting in the kitchen to finally dry off, that earlier gentle bubbling from deep within became a full laugh. And I laughed heartily.

So I got caught in a downpour, a rain storm. Many people are far worse off than me, and in many parts of the world lots would be extremely grateful for several hours-worth of rain for washing (and now I was feeling washed and great), for drinking and cooking with, and for their fields and crops. In that simple rain shower there was more going on – visibly and invisibly, at the macro level and at the micro, cellular level; and perhaps in other realms unknown to us the rain was having a beneficial effect (even if I (or you) were (or are) unaware of it). I laughed even more. Nature is wonderful. Status? I suddenly felt humbled.

Awareness. And then, St Francis’ words tumbled fully to the front of my mind.

Such love does,
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,
I have to wring out the light
when I get
home.

(St Francis of Assisi)

And, as I sat there, drying off, it came to me: that Which Is Bigger Than Us is present in the world, and in nature such power and wisdom is known and the mystery celebrated; that there is pain and suffering, and much inconvenience (in rain showers etc) and that mystery is usually (and eventually) accepted; and that come what may, in some way the Source of All makes all things, ultimately, beautiful and new, and there is much that is beyond our understanding.

‘Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.’ Roger Miller

And then, having dried off and put on a new set of clothes, as happens in the valleys, the sun started to shine and there was not a cloud in the sky. Nature is absolutely wonderful (and has a sense of humour, methinks).

 

The Web Of Time And You: Eyes Wide Open

20180504 THE WEB OF TIME AND YOU EYES WIDE OPENI’m back home in north Wales, and the weather at this time of day…is fresh!

Throughout my life a lot has happened, and still sometimes happens, at Drws i fyd arall (pronounced ‘droo zi fid arrah’), a rather  special and mystical part of a nearby forest. As children, I and my friends had called two arched trees in that forest, a short distance from our homes, Drws i fyd arall which means ‘door to another world’.

Such was the imagination of us as children, and an indication of the games we used to play and the effect of children’s tv sci-fi at the time. We would spend hours in play having walked between those two arched trees imagining we were somewhere else, and probably as many hours just sitting on felled logs gazing at the two trees pondering and talking with each other about what we would find if we went between them. We all had vivid imaginations as children, and we loved that area.

And, here I am, now, years later, some would say only a little bit more mature (yes, my inner-child, is alive and well), sitting on a felled log in the very early morning mist, looking at, somewhat larger versions of, Drws i fyd arall. Time flies.

In a previous article we looked at the interconnectedness of space, and that invisible, luminous web which binds us all, indeed binds everything, together, recently. The benefits of that, is that we are never alone– see here.

And now it’s the turn of time.

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.
Albert Einstein

If the invisible, luminous web connects everything spatially , then what of time?

Some, and it is a modern thought, believe that time is linear, a straight line. In that scenario, the past might be seen as behind us, and the future in front of us. The present is, ofcourse, where we stand.

But, here’s a thought: suppose time is circular.

We know the seasons are governed by the movement of the Earth around the sun (a huge circle) and by the regular tilt of the turning planet on its axis. All regular, all circular, all periodic. And, the moon, too, moves around the Earth in a circle. Animals and insects procreate, live and die in cycles, circles. Trees too, as governed by the cycle of the seasons. Wherever we look, in the physical realm, circles seem to predominate. And in the spiritual, too.

The appearance of the wheels and their workmanship was like sparkling beryl, and all four of them had the same form, their appearance and workmanship being as if one wheel were within another. Ezekiel 1.16, The Book

And, personal experience seems to infer time moves in a circle as we navigate it. I can think of instances where, months or years later, events seem to have repeated themselves. Is that the same for you? Why, then time would be a great circle that we move around, rather than a straight line. I like the idea of time as a circle.

But, maybe time is a complex circle. Things seem to repeat themselves in my life, but there is always a slight twist, a slight difference, something has changed. Not quite the same, but similar. Is that the same for you?

‘Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever-spinning reel’.

Dusty Springfield, The Windmills Of Your Mind

Then, maybe time is circular but there is some ‘movement’ or progression that allows the difference, so that time more resembles that toy, the coil spring-like toy that ‘walks’ down stairs – a slinky – see the banner photo. And, then that too is only a simplification. Perhaps time more resembles a three (or four) dimensional web (or slinky) that ‘shoots out’ in all directions of time and eternity, and we’re at one point or node now, and tomorrow we’ll be at a different juncture.

As I sit on his log in with the early morning mist billowing around me, I quite like the idea of time as a multi-dimensional web, because it declares time to be interconnected and purposeful, connected with us, indeed with everything, and that there is a Divine Plan.

If today, it is a tough day for you, then tomorrow as time ‘moves on’ around that circle and there’s a ‘forward progression’ in some direction, then things may be different for you. Everything changes from our viewpoint of time. Everything is as it is from that time-web point of view, and it’s good.

Also, if that time-web reaches out in all directions, then maybe our energy, well-wishes, prayers and good-thoughts can ‘travel’ that time-web in all directions? Why, from our perspective in time – where we believe the past is unchangeable and the future unwritten (or written but not knowable yet) – perhaps we can affect not only the present, but the past and future, too. Could it be that your energy, well-wishes, prayers and good-thoughts can ‘travel’ back in time from our perspective?

Time does not change us. It just unfolds us.
Max Frisch

If you are sending energy etc or praying for someone’s health today and they call on their mobile, for example, to say that they started feeling better yesterday, who is to say that your current sent-energy or prayer didn’t have a retrospective effect. I cannot but believe that the Source of All, who is both ‘in’ time and ‘outside’ time, cannot effect a change  borne on the intentionality,  energy and prayer that you, say, ‘sent’ the day (or some time) after. And, perhaps past thoughts and energy can travel from the past into the present. What about the obtaining and understanding of mythic stories?

Never underestimate the effectiveness of intentionality, energy, light and love, prayers for others, in time.

‘For the present is the point at which time touches eternity.’
C.S. Lewis

This is quite a thought and some will dismiss that idea, and I am prepared to ponder upon the idea that maybe the ‘magic’ and mystery at Drws i fyd arall is affecting me, or perhaps it’s an ‘echo’ of some kind from childhood that has been re-ignited in this place, or perhaps it is the whisper to you and I from an angel, an elemental or a genii loci, but if so, does it make it any less true?

‘We have to stop and be humble enough to understand that there is something called mystery.’ Paulo Coelho