Paused at the Edge of the River Flowing

On 2nd December 1982, I wrote a sequence of poems to mark the successful completion of a course of counselling to get over writer’s block. I had worked with a wonderful counselor who taught me to journey, though I’m not sure it was called that, and begin to engage my inner landscape/mindscape/soulscape. I can still go to the places I discovered with his guidance, still see and feel them in my being when I choose to do so.

The sequence of poems became a book I published two years ago: Paused at the Edge of the River, Waiting. Only since last week has that book gained a much fuller, deeper context for me. I have a new relationship with the words I wrote so many years ago. Words written by a me of several lifetimes ago, or so it feels. I used imagery that I really understand now.

And here is how I know this is the so . . .

Last week I spent a day in Langport, on the Somerset Levels, to engage the River Parrett. It is a river I’ve known since the Autumn of 2000. I have visited it and walked its banks in the company of another who has stepped out of my life, leaving pain and sorrow in his wake. At some point over this past Summer, however, I knew that the Parrett was my Muse. It is possible to reach a bit of it by walking out of the village where I live, but it is not a familiar part, and I really am not sure of the footpaths. Not yet.

Somehow, I knew that for my first real engagement with the Parrett it would have to be in and outside of Langport and on the way to Muchelney, parts of the Parrett I know. Well, last week I felt the time was right so I took two buses and spent £14.40 I didn’t really have to make the journey – the pilgrimage to meet my the River as my Muse for the first time.

The day was perfect, not too hot or chilly, sunny with clouds and a day there weren’t many people on the River. When I got there first, I walked out onto one of the little platforms standing over the River to look down into it.
Lgpt walk on
Then I ate the lunch I had packed sitting on one of the benches near the riverbank gazing into its flow.
River runs deep

After eating I walked out of Langport towards Muchelney. Being in no hurry I took my time, camera in hand as well as my notebook. I juggled recording visual and impressionary images to return to and ponder later. I walked with and through and past Willows that were alive with the calls of Willow Warblers and Long Tailed Tits. There was a Moorhen on the water skirting the edges of the bank. And Dragonflies, the whole path seemed to have become a dancing ground for them, their handsome red bodies shining in the Autumn sun.
Dragonfly

One had gotten too close to the water’s surface and was unable to get out and I had no way to rescue him. I could feel his terror and fear, flailing his wings trying to escape the River’s grasp. I sensed him getting tired and finally his resignation to his fate, a fish would come along at some point and take him. I sent my thoughts for a crossing to his Ancestral Dancing Ground that would mean he’d celebrate soon with his Dragoncestors, including the giant prehistoric ones.

I walked on and saw a Kingfisher hovering like a Kestrel and plonking into the River, again and again. When I looked at the not too well focused photo at home it turned out there were two of them on the far embankment.
Kingfishers

Just beyond the Kingfishers I paused at a place that held deep memories of time spent with the man who had stepped out of my life. Memories of sublime joy and affirmation, as well as ones of shard sharp sorrow. I paused and allowed the hurtful memories to be released, but there seemed no point banishing those that taught me about the joy my body could experience.
Puddle 1
The Willows who witnessed my joy also stood witness to this act of letting go. So, the hurt is gone, dropped into a puddle that will dry away and take the memories of pain with it. The memories of joy join the flow of the River, the Awen and Life. These are available now in the vast reservoir of experience to tap into when creation requires it.
Puddle 2

I walked farther on but did not get all the way to Muchelney, as I didn’t want to walk with the beasts in the fields. I got to where I got a clear look at the church there and that was fine for this visit.
Muchelney
So, turning around I ambled back.

Deep and magical encounters with River continued,
Reeds and flow
and those with the Willows followed.
Three Willows
I love Willows and have done for as long as I can remember, long before I knew they were my birth tree.

Then there was the Apple Tree. She is an old tree, or at least I sensed her thus. She is not whole, but bears a hole in a part of her that is broken off.
Apple 3Apple 2 Apple 4
Lichen covered she is wise. Still bearing fruit, she gave me an apple and told me that I must come and take some of her Mistletoe for Yule. I felt comfort in her presence and a connection of spirits, hers to mine and mine to hers.

I encountered a corvid who companions me. Corvid 1
As well as signs of the Mole People who guard my steps when I request their presence.
Mole hills

Taking a slightly different path, off the main track, for the last bit of the way into the village, I came upon, under more Willows, a swathe of tiny mushrooms.
Peedie mushrooms
I took a photo with my pen to show the scale. Peedie mushrooms.2 JPG
They were a wonder, though I didn’t know how much so until I pulled the close-up I took onto my computer.
IMG_4073
There were also some scary grey-black ones. A wonder, too, though in a different way. scary mushrooms

Back where I started I felt refreshed and renewed. Where it began

I had engaged the River Parrett as my River, my Muse. I claimed the space as sacred for and to me, in my life going forward. It is no longer shackled to memories that hurt my heart or stab my soul. I am free to know the Parrett as a manifestation, a riverfestation of the Awen.

I am building new memories. I am enjoying new experiences. I continue to learn about myself, my place and my purpose.

No longer am I paused at the edge of the river, waiting. Not even am I paused at the river flowing. There isn’t any more an edge at which to pause. I am part of the River. Part of the Flow. Part of the Awen that connects me to my Muse. Connects me to everything of wonder and mystery. life and being, creation and creativity.

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Remnants of My Love

From paranoia to delusion,
to ill made choices
life changes made from a place
of psychological disintegration.

What now remains?

Face like thunder,
a storm waiting to break
the inertia of self-indulgence,
denial held and truth avoided.

Heart like flint,
sharp knapped edges,
shards piercing ever deeper
poised to destroy the essential self.

Soul like ash,
encased in ice unmelting,
frozen solid unable to blow free
for the phoenix of the self to be reborn.

Only these and my compassion,
and the remnants of my love.

A Personal Revolution and Advolution

Okay, I never thought I would be doing this again.

Changing my diet was not in the plan. It’s not about dieting, it’s about diet. It’s about how I choose to eat. About what I choose to eat when I am in charge of what I eat. Not about how I eat when I go to someone’s home and they prepare a meal with St Hidegard’s most important ingredient – Love – and serve it to me. Not necessarily how I eat when I go out to eat, which admittedly is not very often; but how I choose to nourish my body when in my kitchen and cooking for me. Not even what I might cook when I have friends over who do not eat as I eat – I would cook for them, to present food they would enjoy.

So, what is the big change. Well, it’s partly a revolution and partly advolution: A revolution (turning back) because I was once a vegetarian: and an advolution (turning toward), because it’s nearly vegan, which is a new thing. That I could not have dreamed of a month ago, actually not even the vegetarian part either.

The whole what to eat thing has been a real issue for many years, off and on, now and then, over and over. I have learned a lot in the past year reading various blogs and other sources of information about the state of the normative western diet, which is becoming more the global norm or aspiration: Lots of meat. Meat from beasts that are fed inappropriate feed, antibiotics and on land that was once rainforest or other sensitive land. I have thought about this state of affairs and think that it is not a sustainable way of being in the world. I have thought this. I have not been pressured to think about it, and in fact have resisted for a long time because it seems to be a badge of some sort indicating spiritual superiority by some pagans. It, like paganism, can be a way or rebelling against the mainstream, and it is likely that a few folk do this, even if they might not be aware of their core motivation.

I was a vegetarian for several years in San Diego. It’s sort of something one did out there. It was partly a revulsion at the meat packing industry and partly an act of rebellion. It was the most radical thing I did as a twenty-two year old, besides stopping going to church that I did for quite a bit longer. At that time there was not enough money to make it work, but I stuck to my guns until it became untenable.

This is different. It’s part of a more general awakening for me. It’s part of a newly heightened awareness. It’s part of a deeper sensing of the life and lives around me. It isn’t necessarily a practical decision. It’s not done to show I’m a better pagan than I was three weeks ago. It’s a decision, a path I have been led to and know it’s right to follow. As all this revealed itself, I did not think about whether I was going to be a long term vegetarian. Now I know.

And it’s not going to be straightforward, which is where the vegan aspect comes in. I have turned up in the past nine months as being dairy challenged – it gives me a stomach ache when I use it, in tea sometimes it does and sometimes not, but it is not a comfortable feeling. At the local coffee morning they are now used to me asking for hot water. At friends’ I have lemon and ginger tea, which one uses and another has on hand for both of us now. At home I mostly drink hot water now, sometimes lemon and ginger or mint tea once a day. I also don’t eat wheat, but do eat spelt, rye and barley. I’m not celiac, but I do have issues with wheat. Potatoes aren’t good for me or maize, so I wouldn’t use those substitutes at home, but will eat goodies made from them (main ingredients in gluten free flour) by gluten challenged friends. Eggs are also off the menu at home.

Now the way so many animals are handled in the food chain isn’t healthy for them or us. Large operations. Much indoor living. Automated milking. How and over what distances they are transported to slaughter. As an aside it’s interesting that slaughterhouse isn’t used but abattoir, which sounds vaguely exotic for English speakers but means the same thing, though not so in your face. It has made these creatures into a commodity and I find that unacceptable. I don’t see the point of feeding cattle people food, maize to fatten them and a grain based diet, any more than making fuel out of people food. It makes no sense to me.

Do I think what I’ve chosen to do will change the world? Certainly not.

Do I want to go on campaign to make all my friends vegetarians? Of course not.

Will it change my relationship and responses to my environment and those with whom I share it? Most assuredly.

I do this because it feels right for me. And I know how right when I came home with two vegan cookery books yesterday to figure out how to get around not using eggs and dairy, and went through all the recipes I’d been saving, and never used, throwing out all the newly inappropriate ones. I still have cookery books though, which are easier to use and maybe in time I can learn to work around the new way I’ll be eating with them. They are ways to get ideas. When I might cook for non-vegetarian friends I will do so from my heart, though not necessarily a recipe.

It’s funny, odd that as I’ve been shifting to this diet over the past several weeks, using up food in my freezer, that when I cooked beef or chicken it had no taste for me. It was empty, null, void of flavour. It wasn’t really repulsive, but it was like eating nothing. I was still hungry after I ate it. With my renewed diet, I am full and satisfied. My tastes have shifted and that shifting was part of what marked the way for this change.

Preparing meals will require thought and forethought now. It will demand my attention more fully and that I take more time in planning meals and eating them. This is a good thing. It will mean learning how to make recipe for four to six servings work for only two, one for me immediately and one for the next day, if appropriate, or if not then just for one serving. It will involve maths – aaaagghhh! I’ve not had to cook with a calculator for a long time, nor with scales (except for baking).

It isn’t a path that is necessarily easier. For me though it will be better. Even if I had to rearrange my kitchen cupboards to accommodate the bags and tins that replace the food plonked in the freezer.

I consider this an adventure, a coming toward something, a way of being that feels right to and for me, not because I have felt marginalised because I was a meat eating pagan, not because it is a political statement. The something I am coming toward in the advolution, this turning toward and moving toward, is a more authentic expression of who I am in relation to the gods, the ancestors, and spirits of the land who uphold me.

Mystery Bowl Contemplation – One

It has been ages, or at lease feels like it, since I introduced this new mode for me to engage in deep contemplation of the elements as I was led to use one for each day of the week. Like everything else over the summer this ground to a halt, but as I have reclaimed myself and my journey this aspect has reasserted itself in its proper place in my spiritual practice. Today is the first day I have claimed back the time and set aside the body/mind/soul space to enter what I knew, as it unfolded for me, would have a profound impact on how I comprehended everything.

0921 hours

The cats are fed, their litter trays sorted, and we’ve had a good old bash of chase the stick and attack the red spot.

Being a Sunday, today’s contemplation is Mystery for which I hold one of my small Iona bowls. It now has an inexpensive white metal spiral in the bottom that surfaced as I was hunting for something in my trim and notion drawer.

Immediately, I am taken to visions of Spirals of all types and sizes: to the swirl of galaxies; the double helix of my DNA; the eddies of water in streams and rivers; whirlpools; hurricanes; tornadoes; spiralling circles in folk dances; whirling dervishes; the unfolding of grape hyacinths and hibiscus flowers; spinning prayer wheels; cats and dogs chasing their tales; the winding steps to the tops of towers; fern fronds and pea tendrils. Each of these images emerged in rapid succession. Everywhere spirals, as everywhere mystery.

It matches the expanse and extent of the pervasiveness of mystery as I contemplate it this morning. Mystery. My-story. Mist–story. All word plays. Mystery, that which is hidden in plain sight before me, around all of us. There is mist/fog/low cloud, call it what you will, settled over the Maize Mothers gathered across the road. There is an ambient and chilly dampness pervading the air and seeping into the bones.

More Spirals. We speak of inflationary spirals in economics. Some know all too well the spiralling descent into depression. When events, behaviours or things go terribly wrong we say they have spiralled out of control. We live our lives on the arm of a spiral galaxy. Our art from earliest times and across divergent cultures use the spiral.

So, the mystery at the heart of today’s contemplation unfolds in me, before me, as I gaze into the bowl cradled in palms of my hands, cupped holding this container of wonder.

The mystery here, for me at least is best stated: How did this come to be? How did this image take such a hold on our collective imagination that is it used in describing so many areas in life?

After all, we use it to describe the pattern of our deepest most intimate reality, that which is at the depth of our very making. The swirling, twirling, spinning we share with so much of the life about us.

Again images emerge. The potters at the wheel, spin and draw up clay to form a pot or wind ropes of clay to do the same. The basket weavers do the same in a different medium. Squirrels chase each other over tree trunks in spirals. Some birds construct nests in a sort of spiral pattern. Yarn is spun twirling fleece or cotton or silk into long, long spiralled strands.

Mystery and spirals merge and part as I continue my contemplation.

Mystery is part of my-story. Wonder. Yes, we know we can explain how certain phenomena occur in nature. But that doesn’t rob from me the elegance of mystery, the mist-shrouded sense of something deeper than what empirical evidenced base science can prove. Intellectually, I can understand much of the language the sciences of meteorology, astrophysics and biology use to describe the mechanisms at work in the certain kinds of spirals; but the spiral that made me and the one I ride on through space/time remain wondrous and awe-filling.

To fall back on Mystery to explain something of faith or what is truly impenetrable is not a copout. I do not feel it is a fudge. For me it is an acknowledgement that there are things, experiences, events and even realities that are cloaked and that Knowing in these instances is a matter of trust, and have nothing to do with empirical knowledge. Mystery is what lies at the heart of wonder; it exists at the limits of human hubris; it is the soft fringe of spirituality and the hard edge of religion.

Now as I ease back from the depth and breadth of this contemplation, and feel the slight weight of the Iona Mystery Bowl in my hands becoming aware I am here, I am aware of how appropriate it is that this bowl is the one for my Sunday Mystery Contemplations. I recall all the journeys I have made to Iona, most at this time of year. Those journeys changed me because the experiences and encounters I had on beguiling, thin and dangerous Iona altered my life, my-story, irrevocably and forever.

How? How did the patterns shape as they did? Why? Why were choices made regarding certain encounters? Why were particular events so charged with significance?

Why? It’s a Mystery.