Triggered Thoughts

Yesterday, we were moving about some bits and pieces to put things in storage. One of the bits was an awkward shaped piece of plywood. I was helping carry it. I had not finished dressing and did not yet have on my socks and shoes. But I was summoned to help move this piece of wood. So, I stepped into the breach.

It was fine until we got to the hallway, when my grip slipped and the wood came down and scraped about in inch square of skin off the bottom of my shin, just above the ankle. I made my pain and upset unmistakeable and sobbing went up to find the arnica thingies, and tea tree to put on the scrape and a plaster to cover the place so I wouldn’t rub it when it did put on my socks and shoes.

As I was weeping from the pain the only thing beside it that I thought about was Hypatia of Alexandria. She was an amazing woman, a Greek mathematician, astronomer, inventor, and philosopher, who lived in Egypt in late fourth and early fifth century of the Common Era. Caught up in a power struggle between factions in Egypt at the time, she was set upon by a mob of Christians and killed.

I know this story from the TV version of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, where he was walking around a virtual Library of Alexandria, and spoke of Hypatia. I can still hear his voice telling the story. He said that Bishop Cyril set the mob on Hypatia who ambushed her on the way to the Library, which was also destroyed, and flayed her alive. His closing comment, after lamenting all that was lost to the world then and now by her death and the Library’s destruction, spoken in a bitterly ironic tone was: ‘And they made Cyril a saint.’

I thought of this story because of how much having just one inch of my skin torn off hurt and then tried to extrapolate how much more gruesome and agonising it would have been for poor Hypatia, with all of her skin being torn from her body.

It gave me pause to think about many things as well. The way certain animals are skinned, not always dead or stunned, for their fir or hide. How humans torture each other. I wept not only for me but for all of that pain and misery and terror humans inflict on not only our own kind but our other than human kin as well.

It was a sobering twenty minutes or so spent in the tending my hurt shin and subsequent pondering on those things, before I can back down the stairs to finish doing what I had begun before being called way. I continued to consider all those things for the rest of the day.

One never knows what one incident or accident can trigger. The thought and reflection repercussions an event can set in motion.

My ankle is bruised and the skinned bit is healing, but my awareness is in an expanded place that I cannot return from, nor would I want to do so.

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Knowing When

Knowing when it’s time to let go doesn’t make doing it any easier.

Whether it’s a relationship with a person or a project to walk away when it no longer works, is no longer appropriate or viable, is a drain on one’s energetic resources, is terribly difficult and will involve some level of pain, disappointment and even guilt.

The idea, the names, the title, the plot all came at once in 2002. I did research for the parts that I needed to. I wrote the four main characters back stories. I had maps. I had notes and ‘scene’ frames.

I moved from the area where the story came to me. When I returned there was not real opportunity to make progress. It was a work of fiction with an historical grounding. Intermittently I took out the maps and notes and worked on bits of it.

Since then I have moved far from the head, heart and soul space that would have made writing the novel possible. I have lots of other projects that are definitely not receding but actively pushing forward.

The challenge is that the characters were quite real to me. They came with me with their story. But I was not able to tell it for them. Part of me feels as though I let them down. Nevertheless, I know I could no longer do it justice, I may not have been able to do it fifteen years ago, but I was closer to it and close to the place in my life when I was able to engage them in their spiritual frame.

Now, as I am getting a bigger study in the house, the room of my own large enough to use for writing and engaging more fully in my spiritual practice, I am ready to work on projects put on hold whilst my life was in chaos. The result of preparing to re-engage is that I have to put some works aside.

So, it’s time to cut the tie that has linked me to A Wintering of Swans and say farewell to the characters. I am sad not to have done this work, but it was not one I could any longer do justice. On the other hand, I am looking forward with great anticipation to re-entering the worlds and lives of stories that I am able and willing to invest my heart, soul and energy.

On this day, Imbolc, a day of turning and change is the right day to do both things: to release and rededicate.

Music for the Holidays

Very belatedly I’m listening this evening to two of my favourite holiday CDs. Because of the upheaval in the house I’ve not had the chance to do so before now.

The first one is Celtic Christmas II, a collection put out be Windham Hill in 1996, and which I have listened to for the past twenty years now. This music takes me through two turbulent decades of my life beginning with the year I graduated from seminary and my mother died, encompassed my dream job as worship administrator at Trinity Church in Boston, through a marriage and two divorces, eight moves, one emigration, and, finally now, to my settlement in the UK.

I can see all the events that are part of this process without closing my eyes. Music powerfully evocative in this regard. Some of the music of Enya does the same for me, taking me over the same years, though not in the contexts of holidays.

The power of sound to tug the heartstrings, amazes and humbles me. The way melody can harness emotion and then release it in floods of tears or gentle sobbing, leaves me weak. Love. Loss. Pain. Joy. Emptiness. Fear. Hope. Yearning. All these emotions follow the tracks of this CD and the one that I will play after.

The second one is Celtic Solstice by Paul Winter and Friends. It came out in 1999 and was recorded on the longest night at the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City, where I was baptised. It is still available and has some lovely tracks on it. This CD evokes different emotions connected with the place it was recorded, different memories and a longer history encompassing the first 45 years or so of my life and then tucks it into the Pagan context in which I now frame my spiritual practice and path as a Druid, which I have travelled for past 18 years.

Again, the images of my experience dance in front of me and envelop my awareness when I hear this music, so different from the first.

I tend to settle into a deep place of reflection between the Winter Solstice and January first. I review what I have done, and not done, achieved and not quite gotten done or not done to the best of my ability. I give thanks for the gifts I have received. I mourn the losses and rejoice in the births of new experiences. I review and then let go where appropriate. I take the lessons and release that which no longer serves.

This year has seen my second divorce. It has also seen me settled not only in the UK, but with a wonderful new partner and a new life with him. In the Autumn I managed to reconnect with my brother after trying for nine years, after my settlement paperwork came through. We aren’t close really, but at least I know he’s out there. Recently, it has seen as well my reunion and reconciliation with a friend whom I thought was gone forever after seven long and arduous years for both of us. The stories of which are unfolding in emails between us and bringing us tears of joy and sorrow for each other. And because we are separated by an ocean the deep yearning we each have to see each other and hear each other’s voices, and to one more hold each other in the embrace of forgiveness and love, which never parted from either of us as it turns out. The former can be done by technology, the latter will have to await her visit within the next several years.

So, the music I am listening to touches me on many levels and across and through so many layers of my life and my living. I listen and remember. It is an exercise in anamnesis. In unforgetting. In opening my heart to joy and sorrow. Opening my soul to its past. Letting the notes of the instruments wash over me and the words sung take me back gently, so that I can move into the future more whole and with a measure of contentment.

Through a Deep Borne Past

Through a deep borne past
we move through today
into tomorrow,
the future
a phoenix rising
from the ashes
of yesterday’s
victories and failures,
the just sped through
now.

The title words of this reflection shot through my awareness as I was in the shower this morning. Repeating them like a mantra I was able to hold onto them until I made my way dried and dressed to my journal to transcribe them and the words following here. I KNOW in my bones, in the interstices of my very self, what they mean, and for me at least how significant they are for how I actively perceive my life and its text, context and subtexts.

The past we carry – past as in yesterday no less or more than the past of six lifetimes ago.

This does not mean the past is, ought or need be a burden. We carry it lightly, but bear it deep within us.

What does this then say about our present? Where does that fit in?

The present mediates then and yet. Both are managed, as it were, through the prism, the lens of now.

One comes from somewhere and is on a journey to somewhere else, and it is the actual steps of the journey that comprise the now. We can’t go back. We can’t skip ahead. This keeps us on our path, one step and footfall at a time.

We have had, of course, or I believe that I have had as many futures as I have had pasts. Or to put it more forcefully: I believe that I have as many pasts as futures in the larger view of multiple lives across time. More prosaically, even if you do not credit past or future manifestations/incarnations, since every yesterday had, and has, a tomorrow, and every tomorrow has, and will have, a yesterday and we move between one and the other from yesterday and tomorrow through today. Then for all of us there have been as many pasts as there are futures.

This is the reason it is important to honour every day, to honour the everyday. In so doing we don’t just slip along through life. We step with intention. We move with deliberation. We make choices. We acknowledge mistakes and accept their lessons. We take responsibility. We are not passive. We don’t just observe our life; we live it. It’s not riding on our own personal high speed train, where one day blurs into another. It’s putting on our hiking boots and going out to live in all emotional, physical and spiritual weathers.

We may only have a vague idea of what direction we are heading, maybe a crude map, with key markers on it, but that’s good, as it should be. There is not OS map for the soul, not satnav for a life journey. There is no knowing what the topography of tomorrow will be like. We only find out on the ground. There is no one, or should not be someone, telling us to take the third exit in the roundabout of experience. We have to live them to find out. So, we will stumble onto boggy bits and get through them. We will confront rivers swollen with the torrents of pain or distress, and we will ford them. We will trek across barren places and through barren times, but we will get through them to greener places again.

Living with an awareness of one’s deep borne past gives us hints that arise from both our knowledge and our knowing. It is made up of, as we are made from, the large small, the happy and hurtful events of this life, as well as those we have lived before. In all this it is vital to remember that the future is much more vast than next weekend or a score of years from now, for it means who we will be the next time as well.

But now, and not just this present life, but this very instant, is what constitutes and makes the past meaningful; because the moment you read the first part of this sentence or as you read along word for word, the present has become the past.

The now is always, and inescapably, becoming simultaneously both then and yet.

For me it’s part of how I get my head around time, the flow of time, my flow by time through space, the measures and structures of my existence.

Thinking and writing about these things, and reading them, in some inexplicable way becomes part of the then that we have walked together into the mystery of yet.

May the nows of today bring you meaning from the then and courage for the yet.

What do the Trees feel?

Since the weekend there has been a lot of wind blowing over the high bit of Somerset where I live. It is the other side of being blessed with big sky. As I walked into a meeting in the village last evening I saw what the wind had done to the young leaves on the trees along the way I have to walk. As I walked I listened. I opened by senses and my soul and was rocked by what I felt, what I heard.

It was a mixture of sadness, grief and what I can best describe as stoic resignation. There was keening, but also the shrugging sigh. Clearly, from this I have learned that trees not only feel loss, but have their own ways to cope. This is my reflection.

How did you feel,
for I know that you did,
when the wild wind
tore through your branches,
sending young twigs with their leaves
to the gutter and pavement below?

No summer of ripening,
no autumn of splendor,
no food for the small ones,
no delight for the eye.

Key seeds unripened,
never reaching the stage
spinning you into the future
uncertain at best,
pale remnants strewn,
hope unfulfilled
as harsh winds
drove through your boughs.

No summer of ripening,
no autumn of splendor,
no food for the small ones,
no delight for the eye.

Indeed there are still leaves,
yet more twigs and other seeds remain,
indistinct in the green mass
remaining to deepen to shade,
but those at my feet now
discrete and distinguishable,
separated from the your holding
are most easily seen.

No summer of ripening,
no autumn of splendor,
no food for the small ones,
no delight for the eye.

Do they cry out when the wind
shears them off in the gale?
Do you hear them cry but turn
your energy from away
easing their journey below?
Do you feel their pain or only your own?
For now I know that you do
in a tree’s different way.

No summer of ripening,
no autumn of splendor,
no food for the small ones,
no delight for the eye.

Deep was the sadness,
raw was the grief,
resignation articulated,
felt in my soul wrenching my heart,
as you bent with the next gust,
one last time to your lost leaves,
though no bitter farewell,
paying homage to those departed
strewn at my feet.

No summer of ripening,
no autumn of splendor,
no food for the small ones,
no delight for the eye.