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Notes from the Red Book ~ part two ( for part one, see here: http://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/notes-from-jungs-the-red-book-part-one/

A few mornings ago I woke from a vivid dream that felt significant and puzzling because it was about someone who died a full five years before I was even born: Carl Gustav Jung. In the dream I was asked to do daily visits to the man himself, to give him reflexology (I used to work as a reflexologist) during what was to be his last illness. The place where he was living was a big, old school that was no longer in use as a school for children and the sign at the entrance to the drive had been obscured by the growth of climbers so I didn’t see the name of the place. The sign was a heavy duty block of ornately carved stone but the plants had scrambled all over it, obscuring the lettering. I went into the study where he was sitting waiting for me and I wanted to refresh my memory of what I’d discovered on my first visit (I think this was my second visit) I’d been making lots of notes but when I looked at them, they were all written in the old high German script that was almost dying out when I was a teenager visiting Germany (the old folks still used it but otherwise it was gone from normal life) and the notebook also had some wonderful visionary paintings in it, all done in miniature. I realised I had written and drawn it all but could not make out much of my notes. I have some German but am far from fluent and reading it even in normal modern script is something I struggle with. The odd word popped out because it was in English, like *meridian*. I sat down and I could hear Jung speaking to me, but though it was in English, I didn’t seem to be able to understand, but even so, I gathered that day he didn’t want me to work on his feet but just to sit there and listen. He had such a kind, gentle but passionate voice that I became very still as I tried to understand what was being told to me. He was dressed in the kind of tweed suit that I’d more associate with Tolkien, but it had an unEnglish quality to it that is hard to explain.
I shared the gist of the dream on Facebook and I had some exceptionally perceptive feedback from wise friends, and I did some thinking. Last year I was given my copy of the readers’ edition of the Red Book and after reading a certain way into the text, I stopped. This was around the time when my concentration was becoming compromised and my memory and cognition had become very fuzzy.
So, given that the text and the pictures in the dream clearly were reminders of The Red Book (and also of my own little Grail diary that I have been writing and painting in) I decided to start reading again. My copy bristles with stick in post it notes, and I made notes as I went along. In the Liber Secundus (Second Book) I came across Jung’s conversation with a figure he calls The Red One (who may or may not be the devil) and was struck by Jung’s comment at the end of this passage:

“This I learned in the Mysterium: to take seriously every unknown wanderer who personally inhabits the inner world, since they are real because they are effectual.”

I read on through the passage entitled The Castle in the Forest, where a strange storybook encounter takes place and where Jung debates the nature of fairy-tales and the relationship between outer adventures and inner adventures.
I’d like to transcribe some of the final section after the adventure of the castle has been recounted, because it resonated with me:

“If you remain within arbitrarily and artificially created boundaries, you will walk as between two high walls: you do not see the immensity of the world. But if you break down the walls that confine your view, and if the immensity and its endless uncertainty inspire you with fear, then the ancient sleeper awakens in you, whose messenger is the white bird (the soul). Then you need the message of the old tamer of chaos. There in the whirl of chaos dwells eternal wonder. Your world begins to become wonderful. Man belongs not to an ordered world, he also belongs in the wonder world of his soul. Consequently you must make your ordered world horrible, so that you are put off by being too much outside yourself.
Your soul is in great need, because drought weights in its world. If you look outside yourselves, you see the far-off forests and mountains, and above them your vision climbs to the realms of the stars. And if you look into yourselves, you will see on the other hand the nearby as far-off and infinite, since the world of the inner is as infinite as the world of the outer. Just as you become a part of the manifold essence of the inner world through your soul. The inner world is truly infinite, in no way poorer than the outer one. Man lives in two worlds. A fool lives here or there, but never here and there.”

In the last few months, I have seen a restoration of my inner world that had felt stripped bare and left flat and empty of all life. Dreams have begun to flow, hesitantly at times but Jung’s words remind me that figures who appear to me in dreams and in waking dreams of imagination are real and that they do not appear by simple chance. The continued and unsolved issues of health that have left me still in significant pain and weakness have curtailed my exploration of the exterior world; trips I had hoped to make have again been put on hold until the source of the weakness and pain has been located. Yet to be reminded that if my body becomes frail, I can still access the infinite and very real worlds of the inner, of what Jung calls the Mysterium, is a huge boost. I spent years exploring ways of accessing this realm for myself and the demands of the outer life meant that I used those methods less and less. But that knowledge and experience remain, a little dusty maybe, but still valid and still vital.
I’ll end with some more words that have popped off the page for me. My feeling of stagnation, of no progress have irked me and caused me much pain and frustration so reading these words may help you as they are helping me:

To be that which you are is the bath of rebirth. In the depths, being is not an unconditional persistence but an endlessly slow growth. You think you are standing still like swamp water, but slowly you flow into the sea that covers the earth’s greatest deeps, and is so vast that firm land seems only an island imbedded (sic) in the womb of an immeasurable sea.
As a drop in the ocean you take part in the current, ebb and flow. You swell slowly on the land and slowly sink back again in interminably slow breaths. You wander vast distances in blurred currents and wash up on strange shores, not knowing how you got there. You mount the billows of huge storms and are swept back into the depths. And you do not know how this happens to you. You had thought that your movement came from you and that it needed your decisions and efforts, so that you could get going and make progress. But with every conceivable effort you would never have achieved that movement and reached those areas to which the sea and the great wind of the world brought you.”

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The Picture Left Behind ~ on serendipity & happen-stance

I’ve moved house more times than many in my life, though I’ve rarely had much (if any choice) of where I have lived. On the one occasion when I did get to choose what house I was to live in, the process of house-hunting had to be fitted into ONE day, where seven possible properties were scheduled. It’s a long story why we had to do it all in such a short time but we settled on the second house; awareness of budget and other factors made it clear enough that there was no point in looking further.
It’s never bothered me (much) that when it’s come to housing, the default is pretty much Hobson’s Choice (this, or nothing). I’ve never thought there was a perfect home for me somewhere if I just kept looking; and since our residence also comes as part of the package of my husband’s job, I’ve learned to see that every home has draw-backs and advantages. My favourite house so far (in terms of practicality, looks, comfort and location) also happened to be on the flight path for East Midland’s airport, so every two or three minutes a plane would roar across the sky, alarmingly low, and drown out the birdsong.
When we moved into our house on the east coast, it had the advantage of being a half hour walk from the sea-shore, but moving in was part of a traumatic change of life-style and the first six months were cramped and confusing. I kept walking into walls, believing in a sleep-befuddled state that there ought to be a door into another room. Like any house move, we found small items left behind by the previous owners. Mostly junk and the usual detritus of bits of paper, the odd rug, oven tray and so on, there was one item I saved. Every move we have made we have usually found that previous occupants have abandoned or deliberately left behind furniture and other possessions; we once acquired a huge box of interesting old books, several (useful) beds and a wardrobe. I’m not fussy about where my belongings come from, and if they suit out uses, they are welcome (indeed, I have the three piece cottage suite donated by an aunt the year before we got married; it was over twenty years old even then). But the east coast move the single item I saved was a picture. It stayed stacked in a corner with other of our own pictures that I never got round to hanging on the walls of that house. Only after our most recent move did I look at it properly again.
Initially, you’d maybe not see why I didn’t bin it when I found it in the last house. It’s a print, framed many years ago by Boots (the Chemists) who used to do quite a range of things other than cotton wool, aspirin and toiletries, in a dark wood frame. There’s no intrinsic value and yet something made me keep it to one side and not throw it away. The signature of the artist is not legible (or I’d perhaps have tried to find the history of it). It’s a night time or twilight scene, somewhere exotic, probably Arabic or Persian, of a caravan of camels leaving a walled city or caravanserai by lamplight. The camels are being led through a high arched opening in the shadowy walls; moonlight seems to catch the tips of the long spears carried by turbaned figures. The lead camel is carrying a sort of covered palanquin, the colours of which are reminiscent of a Persian carpet, and inside sits a serene-faced man, dressed in rich robes quite unlike that of the camel drivers walking beside the animals. There’s a feeling of expectancy, a journey being embarked upon in hope and some trepidation.
In my mind is conjures words like Istafan, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isfahan and a sense of the deserts beyond, the Silk Road and other such evocative things. And even though it’s an old, slightly faded and probably cheap print, it’s filled for me with mystery and stories waiting to be told.
And yet, when I found it, I had no story that would ever touch upon the images and the atmosphere this picture holds.
But now I do. Whether the memory of the picture has worked within my unconscious or whether the story has created the need to incorporate the feelings and the images and the connections from this picture, I do not know. Whatever the process involved, the picture now hangs on the wall of my study, near the door. I see it many times a day and it works upon my imagination.
Sometimes life throws us gifts we don’t realise the value of, when they arrive, because they don’t appear to fit our needs or wants at the time. But something can make our instincts prick up, and if we listen, we might see that this thing, this person, this occurrence is a way-marker or a guide or some kind of clue or prompt that has greater meaning that we at first can see.

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Life feels better when you have a plan” ~ on plans and oracles

I’ve got a difficult couple of weeks coming up. On Saturday, I am in for surgery to remove a tumour in my throat, caused by hyperparathyroidism. It’s a benign tumour in so much as it isn’t cancerous, but it’s been causing serious physical and mental health problems for heaven knows how long. The surgery is predicted to last about an hour, longer than I’ve ever been under anaesthesia before, and will leave a scar a couple of inches long in the hollow of my throat.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared, because I am. Terrified, in fact. But it needs doing and that’s that. I’ve put a lot of things on hold that I’d intended to crack on with: final edits for Square Peg, working on several novels, garden stuff. You get the picture. What scares me almost as much as the surgery itself is the possibility that this won’t bring me significant relief. I’ve not been able to make any plans for some time. Even things like going away on holiday have been put to one side; many of the things we enjoy doing when off on holiday I’ve been too poorly to contemplate.

There’s an ad on British TV at present from insurance company Scottish Widows and it’s haunted me. The images and the music and the voice over have got under my skin.

Life feels better when you have a plan.” Note it says, ‘feels’, and doesn’t say ‘is’. People get hung up on plans, especially things like business plans, five year plans and life plans. Plans don’t work out the way you think they will but they give a sense of purpose and structure to what might otherwise be a meandering, spiral or even circular wandering through life. Plans are the coalescing of hopes, dreams, ambitions, giving you something to aim at.

I’m a sucker for oracles, as regular readers might know. Oracles like tarot don’t foretell the future, or even predict it; used skilfully, they can show you potential futures based on past experiences and choices. There’s nothing like understanding where you’ve already been for helping you understand where you’re going. On my birthday last week I bought Colette Baron-Reid’s The Map, a book and card set to help map out your life so far and see where it’s leading; I’m enjoying exploring the book (though it’s quite superficial and a little too whimsical for me) and finding the cards helpful too but one of the reasons I bought them was to do with something I started writing three years ago.

If you’ve been with me that long, you might recall I did a weekly serial called Lost. I posted ten episodes as I wrote them, and at a certain point, I stopped. I began the project after events in real life left me feeling worse than Lost; every time I got into a state about it, I worked through things and came to write a new instalment, in a state of trance. I didn’t plan or think or even care much; I let the words of the story draw me to a point where I could stop. I came back to it a year ago and began working the same way, though the excruciating emotional pain was gone. I realised it was a deep project, exploring my inner landscape and have been working on it slowly since then. I have no idea where it will go or when it will be finished, or even if once finished will I publish it.

Here’s a segment of it to illustrate my point:

I walk round, my feet leaving a silvery trail in the dew laden grass and select a tree I think I may be able to climb and find a massive oak, its bark green with lichen and moss and scramble up into the lower branches without much problem. Up and up I climb, awkward and inept and trembling at times when I look down.

It’s one of the tallest trees and when I reach the canopy, and have to stop to catch my breath, I make the mistake of looking down. A tangle of branches weave in and out like a mandala below me and my mind becomes confused by the pattern. I shut my eyes and try to focus.

I open them and steady myself, gripping the wood tightly and shift a little so I can turn left and right without risking slipping. Over the sea of greens, the sun is rising, a great red ball that becomes golden as I watch the mists spiralling up out of the forest. For as far as my eyes can see, there is only trees, mile upon mile of forest. I can see no roads or significant clearings beyond some that seem to be where the more ancient of trees have fallen to their deaths. I see no buildings or signs of people. In the extreme distance, I can see the faintest glimmer of a mountain range, a thin blue line of hummocks at the furthest horizon.

The forest is waking as I stand gazing over the canopy and I can hear birds and other creatures greeting the new day and I can also hear my stomach rumbling.

Slowly I realise that having got up this high, I have now to get down again and after fixing the direction of those mountains in my mind, I begin my shaky descent.

As I climb nervously down, all I can think about is that sea of green and the miles of endless forest ahead of me.

There are no paths. All around me, endless shades of green, with some brown and red and orange as counterpoint, and no opening, no indication that anyone has ever come this way before. I sag against the trunk of the tree I have just climbed, the memory of those distant mountains burned into my retina like the after-burn of lightning flashes, and for a few long minutes, I want to curl into a ball, and bury myself in the moist leaf-litter and return to the earth.

But somehow I square my shoulders and take a long deep breath. I gaze around carefully and I spot it: not a path as such, just a thread through the greenery. It’s probably a deer path but it seems to be going in the right direction at least, so I begin.

The way is not easy; I cannot walk, but rather have to weave myself in and out of fallen branches, over rocks and heavy rotting trunks. Sometimes, in the soft earth I see the footprints of the deer who use this trail and sometimes droppings, but they are old, and I feel sure the deer do not come this way often.

I merge with the forest, my mind slipping into its rhythms as the sun climbs higher and higher. I sip water from a tiny rivulet that crosses the path, scooping water into my mouth; it tastes earthy, a tang of smoky peat teases my taste buds, making me remember something I cannot quite put my finger on. It’s not unpleasant, just odd. I eat leaves, to stave off the hunger, and the occasional berry. In the back of my mind, I wonder how I know whether something is safe to eat or not, and worry that perhaps I do not.

By late afternoon, as the sun has begun its decline to evening, I have covered perhaps a mile in a straight line and am exhausted and filthy. I’ve crossed and recrossed the same ground, and it was only seeing my own footprints in the moist ground my a stream that told me I had doubled back. I never once thought they might belong to someone else. Throughout this great wide forest that seemed from the treetops to go on to the edges of the earth, I cannot sense another human soul. Only birdsong and insects disturb the peace here.

I can sense the sunset even though I cannot see it and I know I must find shelter for the night. I’ve nothing to keep me warm and I am dimly aware that the food I have eaten would be sufficient for a family of field-mice to live on. Every limb aches with exertion and my heart sinks because I know that those mountains are still as far away as ever.

As I climb into a tree and try to snuggle as close to the trunk as I can, feeling the living force of the sap slowing inside, I ask myself, why am I heading for the mountains?

But I sleep before I can even start to answer that question.”

Why am I heading for the mountains?”

An excellent question. But all I can say for this story and for my life is this:

Life feels better when you have a plan.”

 (you can watch the ad here. It’s rather moving)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuPrnomv1OM

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Wellsprings of the psyche ~ dreaming of healing waters.

Springs of healing waters are something of a personal obsession; I’ve been a seeker of these most of my life and this concept has become central to my core self. A healing spring is at the heart of my novel, Strangers and Pilgrims,

 but the yearning for such places has been a constant in my life long before I wrote that novel.

I dream about them, and as I am trying to work with my dreams, I’d like to share a few of the more recent dreams that concern wellsprings.

Frozen wellspring dream 21st April 13

I am underground. I have been giving a tour, though who for I don’t know. The cave next to the one I am in seems to have a faint light emanating from it so I go through the passage way between the caves.

There is a natural stone structure that I know to have been a wellspring, it rises up to a conical shape. But water does not flow. Ice coats the sides of the rock and the pool below is frozen too. I scramble to the top and I try to break the ice and scoop out great chunks of it. But though I remove the ice the water does not bubble up and flow again.

I leave the cave, but above ground odd things are happening. As I surface to my shock the sky is lit up by what seem to be the Northern Lights, aqua-green and blues, shimmering and flashing.

Analysing the dream it feels as if my source of inspiration is not working because it has frozen solid. Is this because of the long cold winter or is this something deeper?

August 28th dreams.

I had a terrible night, hardly sleeping because of nerve pain, anxiety and hot flushes, but when I did sleep I dreamed. I also managed to continue the themes of the dream after waking and going back to sleep.

1st dream.

I dream I am going down a lot of steps to a basement where a healing spring is located, and when I get down there it is in partial darkness, lit by a few unseen spotlights. The spring is encased in a kind of bath affair, rather like that of the cold plunge bath at Bath, a round pool encased in smooth off-white stone, but with a square exterior walls. There are steps down into the water and I want to bathe my feet, which in waking life have been causing me vast amounts of pain and discomfort due to the hypermobility issues. I stop to take off my shoes and socks but as I am doing so an old woman passes me and goes into the water completely. She is wearing a bathing costume and I see that other old people are in the pool, immersed up to their necks in the water. I put my bare feet in and the water is very cold, and I know I am not going all the way in. I have no bathing costume. The people tell me that this is the Catholic spring and I could become a Catholic. Then someone mentions that might be difficult as my husband is an Anglican priest. The water is very still and calm and there’s a sense that they’re waiting for the water to stir or a tide to rise and fill the bath area much higher but nothing happens.

2nd dream.

I have woken, gone for a drink and to the loo and gone back to bed, expressing a desire to find the spring again but this time go in if I can. I think the same experience of descending stairs takes place but this time I find myself in a very different wellspring. It’s much larger and warmly lit by diffused lighters, that are not visible. The air is warm and I can see steam coming off the water. There are also what look like flaming torches that have appeared and sitting near one, with his feet dangling in the water is a man who is wearing a sort of toga. The whole bath area is like a small indoor swimming pool. The stone is the same creamy sort but because of the warmer lights it looks pinkish red rather than blueish. To my left, there seems to be a sort of corridor or inlet, and I have a sense of anticipation. The man in the toga tells me this is the Quaker spring. As I look around, the sense of anticipation grows and where the inlet corridor is I hear angelic music and see gossamer figures like winged beings, and a surge of water rushes into the pool raising the level of the water and then there are other people who have rushed to get into the water. I touch my feet to the water and find it is warm but I cannot go in, though I don’t know why, beyond feeling I missed the moment.

When I wake from this second dream the word that comes to me in my hazy state is Bethesda. I remember the pool at Bethesda and the angel that stirs the water and the first person into it is healed. I did indeed miss the moment but it did feel as if I were there to observe rather than be healed. I wasn’t sure enough of what I wanted healing to venture into the water.

Now there are several features that all these dreams share. They are all set underground and in each I know without being told that these are springs. In none of the dreams is it visible that these structures house natural springs, and yet I know that this is so. In a linear manner, the first dream has the water so cold it has frozen solid and the water does not flow; in the second dream, the water is liquid, but it’s cold and uninviting and while it is free flowing, there is no movement, no refreshment of the water by an influx or a bubbling. In the last of the three dreams, the water and the generally surroundings are much warmer, much more inviting, and there is motion, a rising of a sort of tide, accompanied by divine or angelic attendants, and on waking, the word Bethesda is given to me. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pool_of_Bethesda .

In the two recent dreams, dreamed the same night when I was in continual distress of both mind and body, there are denominations mentioned. In the first it is suggested that the pool of healing waters belong to the Catholic faith, and in the second to the Quakers. I am an occasional attender at Quaker worship and find that the Meeting for Worship, which is mostly in silence, refreshes me more than any more traditional church services. Yet while I find myself more at home there, I have never taken the step of becoming a member. I am content to visit. I do not feel 100% at home there. But it comes closest to what is my rightful spiritual home than any other I’ve found.

There is a clear progression within these three dreams and a sense of getting closer to a healing moment, a progression too from deep under the ground in caves, to being below ground but in carefully crafted buildings. There’s a progression from the very faintest of lights, to the dim lights of the first of the healing pools to the warm, pinkish light of the final dream. There’s a progression of temperature and movement too.

Perhaps when the angel does stir the healing waters, I may be ready to enter the waters and be healed. Or perhaps I am only here to help others into the water. I do not know. But looking at these three dream accounts, I have a sense of hopeful anticipation.

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I am on a quest…” ~ dreams of the Grail

Jung referred to dreams as being “the royal road to the unconscious,” and any seeker of their inner truth does well to pay attention to their dreams. My good friend Jean Raffa has written extensively in all three of her books (all highly recommended here) of the value of dreams and dream analysis. I keep an intermittent dream journal and have done for many years, though I sabotage myself quite often by choosing not to record dreams because I sometimes let myself believe the view held by many that dreams are just valueless doodlings the mind does when left to run idly by, and that they have no deep inner message. This is completely at variance to my core belief and experience that in dreaming we come closer at times to the true nature of reality than we do when awake. I’ve had precognitive dreams galore that make me certain that time is not linear; I’ve had powerful lucid dreams that help me believe that consciousness is not random or purposeless. Yet still I tend to think, “No, that’s just silly. How can dreams be THAT important?” Every time I read someone commenting that dreams are only of interest to the dreamer and suggesting that the sharing of dreams is foolish, this only goes to back up this internal struggle I have with the value of my own dreaming.

The other problem with dreams is that you need to be able to sleep to have them and here, due to several issues having a catastrophic effect on my sleep patterns, I’m fighting to sleep more than two consecutive hours. I probably tot up six or so hours but all broken up and it’s been relatively rare for me to have anything more than fragmentary, jumbled dreams that come in evanescent snatches.

The other morning I slept in a few extra hours after morning wakening and I dreamed. Yet when I woke, I was at first too dismissive of the dream to want to write it all down. I felt both the content and the imagery was embarrassingly childish and immature. Yet after a few minutes I realised that that was probably a clue in itself to its value. Often the deepest messages are couched in terms and language that hark back to early childhood.

The dream had a long preamble, which I’m not going to share here, because while it has a message, it’s not essential to the whole thing. Within the dream-scape scenario I was at once seeking something and being pursued at the same time. I descended a wide, modern spiral stair case that was littered with debris like old clothes and cardboard boxes that were empty and battered, as if I were going to a basement. I was looking for a way out and I felt as if I should not be there; I would be in serious trouble if found. There was another person with me but I was unable to see who he was, but I knew it was a he. We found a door, that led into the exterior world but when we looked out, it led into a graveyard, overgrown and seemingly abandoned to weeds and tall grasses. It was also guarded at the perimeter wall by a witch with a broomstick. This was not our way out, so we crept back inside. We were now in a corridor which seemed to be mostly filled with stored items in boxes and in piles. My companion wanted us to hide under blankets so we would not be seen, and we did so. But as this occurred, a group of people came up behind us in the corridor.

Now the witch with the broomstick was the first player in this dream that had me recoiling as being childish, but the new arrivals were even more so. Straight out of a fairy tale picture book, wearing old fashioned clothes, these ladies resembled Flora, Fauna and Merryweather of the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty. I had the impression there were ten of them, all wearing similar clothes completed with fine white aprons and bonnets, and for all their comical appearance, they carried an air of power, because I could not hide from them and stood up.

I was interrogated, kindly but firmly, by these beings. They seemed ridiculous and yet I was in awe of them and unable to just dismiss them and walk away.

What was I doing there, they asked.

I thought, frantically, to find an explanation that might satisfy them, and one that would somehow raise me to being their equal in power.

I am a royal princess and I am seeking to escape,” I said.

The one closest to me, who seemed their leader, shook her head.

Oh no dear,” she said. “That won’t do at all. You seem like a commoner to us.”

I thought again and realised that I had to tell the truth, though I did not know till I spoke what it was.

I am on a quest,” I said. “I am seeking to become royal.”

Then we CAN help you,” said the leader, beaming at me, and before the dream faded I had a dim impression that they all carried gift boxes of some sort.

Now, I woke feeling initially that this carried messages of great power for me, yet within moments I was keen to dismiss it as being silly. Though I wanted to avoid writing it down, I resisted that and wrote up a brief account of it before it faded entirely. Bits and pieces came back to me later too. And the last few days I have spent considering the dream and what it might mean.

Those of you who have read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code will know that he used the words San Graal (Holy Grail) and put them together to make Sangraal,(royal blood) and the concept of the quest for the Holy Grail became that for the blood line of Christ. I’ve long said that I am on a quest, a Grail quest, and yet I do not know what I am really looking for. Not a cup, nor yet a descendent of the bloodline of Christ, but rather certain eternal truths that these things can stand as metaphors for.

I wanted to reject this dream for its childish components and yet I can see that this has its origins in my earliest consciousness, and my seeking after this “grail” is almost as old as I am. 

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Delirium, pit ponies and the potential of wild, unfettered minds.

I’ve been ill.

Nothing glamorous or dangerous. Just a funny virus that has had me laid out most of the week. I have called it ‘flu but that conjures images of a nasty, oozy sort of cold and as I haven’t coughed or sneezed (or even oozed) it seems that’s the wrong word. Bone aches, sickness, muscle pains and cramps, fever, exhaustion, total lack of appetite. I even stopped drinking coffee; the very thought made me nauseous. I struggled to keep water down the first day. Tea came straight back up.

So I’ve laid down, dosed with pain killers and slept. I could have slept for England, were it an Olympic sport. Given my problems with insomnia, you can tell how poorly I’ve been by the hours that slipped by with me being mostly insensible of them. We have a chiming clock that chimes not only the hour but the quarters too and I remember being puzzled about how it had chimed half past two and then it chimed five o’clock five minutes later.

I’ve also not been quite in my right mind. I’ve been a little delirious which these days is quite entertaining. First time I was delirious it was when I was thirteen and had a bad case of chicken pox and it scared me. This time it didn’t. I watched the room shrink and grow and thought only of Alice and her Eat Me and Drink Me treats. I saw my plain white walls become transformed with swathes of pink roses rather like the ones in my childhood bedroom, but which moved as if blown by a summer breeze. I saw tiny crystalline fairies dance on the pillow next to me. When I slept I dreamed horrific vivid dreams, full-on with all the senses and woke shaking and drenched with sweat. If dreams are prophetic then one of these has me as the next Patriarch of Jerusalem, going by what I was wearing. I make light of the nightmares because it’s easier that way, and taking them seriously as more than perhaps fodder for novels is a bit beyond my strength right now.

But what I noticed between bouts of hallucinations and sleeping was how my mind was working while it idled. It didn’t feel like MY mind at all. It hopped and skipped around, jumping from thought to thought like a grasshopper. I didn’t recognise the patterns of thinking, the images, the ideas of my own. It was like going to sleep with the radio on and having the alien outside narrative intrude and take over your dreams. Odd, and rather disturbing, yet strangely exhilarating at the same time.

As a kid I recall seeing black and white footage of the last pit ponies being brought up from underground for their annual holidays. They’d stand for a moment, looking at the wide expanse of green grass, then they would go wild, hurtling into the field, kicking their heels up. They’d run and roll, gallop and gambol, flinging themselves around in sheer unfettered delight. That’s what my thoughts had been doing.

Normally I have a train of consciousness that is going on quite modestly, commenting on what I see, formulating ideas and images and I’m in control. I can stop the thoughts (usually) and change direction, but most of all I recognise them as my own. This time, I found it a struggle to see the ideas and images as having any connection to me at all. At times, along with the dreams, it felt as if another dimension, another reality, was pushing into my own and in many ways it felt quite welcome. It was like eavesdropping on another life.

Hemingway once said, “Write drunk; edit sober,” and I think I understand the concept a little better now. Due to my unusual condition my body resists things like anaesthesia and pain killers so my experience of things like morphine(and other medicines) has been disappointing compared to accounts of what others felt. Yet the loosening of mental control from illness seems to have been extraordinarily liberating. To have been cut free from certain constrictions of what I experience has been a bit of a holiday, as has a long spell where I’ve been unable to do much physically.

I don’t really do enough of the “standing and staring” and letting my mind idle that I think it desperately needs to be able to access the kind of creativity that many take for granted. I may be seeing a silver lining where there is none but this spell of illness has given me a glimpse of gold beyond the horizon. 

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In the night garden ~ musings by starlight

The grass has cooled now and feels pleasantly moist against the soles of my feet. During the heat of the day I could not walk here, barefoot or otherwise, for fear of treading on the many bees that buzz among the thousands of clover flowers. The texture of the grass is scratchy, reminding me how dry it has become. The flower heads are soft white, and even they are beginning to wither.

There are flowers that have become magically altered by the darkness; blue and white Canterbury Bells seem luminous, the blue ones almost fluorescing in the limited light. The sky has still streaks of pink and gold at the far horizon, but otherwise is deepening to indigo very fast. The last of the swifts flew over some time ago and I am watching now for the arrival of the first bats, as the night shift takes over.

The pond is now dark, the golden globes of the water soldier flowers shut tight, and the hum of bees collecting water is silenced. If I stand here a while, a goldfish will surface for a moment, then disappear into the depths again. The first water lily flower is still closed, screwed up like a puzzle, but it will perhaps open tomorrow.

The sky is now deep blue, and has a clarity about its darkness that is surprising. The first of the stars glimmers and then twinkles; within a few moments there are more visible than I can count, diamond white against the velvet backdrop like gemstones being shown off by a jeweller.

A soft breeze shakes the leaves of the trees, still warm from a hot day, and with it comes an intoxicating scent. It’s the fragrance of the summer nights I remember from twenty years ago in our first garden, crushed grass, roses and night-scented stocks that I sowed in every gap amid perennials and between paving slabs. Rich, but ethereal, the perfume transports me back to another hot night, when I was still young and full of hope and life seemed a little simpler than it does now. I was not happier then but I had poured much of my energy into creating a garden that held magic.

At the end of the garden I have put a bench, beneath the sheltering canopy of leave of a cherry plum tree. There’s a trellis near on each side, up which grow well established old roses. One is named Alchemist and this pleases me. The scent is comforting, and mixes with that of the jasmine and honeysuckles we have planted to complement the roses. The border near my seat has other scented plants too that give up their aroma at night. Night-phlox, which my brother grows for me each year, has starry white flowers touched with deep blood-red maroon markings, and its scent is powerful. It smells like a mixture of Refresher sweets from childhood and expensive French perfume.

I sit on the bench, feeling a few dried leaves crunch beneath me and I look up. I have a line of plain fairy-lights, solar powered, that like tiny globes of white fire, like stars strung out on a line like beads, and these are trailed through the lower branches. The sounds of the town go on around me but I don’t hear them much. I feel insulated from it all, I feel a million miles from here.

Somewhere close by, the hedgehog is beginning her nightly rounds, and will stop at our garden for a supper of dog food and a drink of water from the birdbath. I wait, feeling the first bite of a mosquito, and wishing I had brought citronella oil out with me to fend them off.

There is a moment where everything is held in perfect expectation, a breath away from realisation; the transformation of a mundane suburban garden into a world where beings from beyond this reality might step blithely into this world and I into theirs and where it’s eminently possible that a unicorn might begin cropping the starlit clover.

A cloud passes over the stars and the moment is lost, and I get up to go inside. At the back door I pause and the scent of the night garden washes over me and with it, the hopes and the dreams I once had flicker like fireflies around me. The past and its memories are here, too; they’ve never gone away, but have been waiting, like dormant seeds buried deep, for the right conditions and the right time to start to sprout.

What will these forgotten seeds grow into?

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The Hidden Room

The other week I had an old friend come to visit. Apart from a chance meeting at St Pancras station about three years ago, we’d not seen each other for over four years so there was a lot of catching up to do. I also managed to arrange for some other old friends to come over for a few drinks on one of our amazing local pubs. Happy faces all round, and talking at a hundred miles an hour as we packed years’ worth of chat into a few hours; there’s been a lot of changes in the companies I’ve worked for (one I do still work for but has changed hands since I began) and not all of them have been good. The building where the companies were both based when I began working for both has now been sold; it was a listed building just off the old historic high street in the small port town where I used to live. I spent very little time there but it was the sort of building with funny little winding stairs, steps up or down in odd places, and after dark a somewhat uneasy feel to it. I never went upstairs, much to the surprise of the others, but when I mentioned that, a secret about the building emerged.

There was a hidden, inaccessible room.

On the very top storey there was a large room that ran half the length of the whole structure, for which there was no door. Given the cramped nature of the various offices at the time, this is baffling. My friend who now owns the company(which is based elsewhere now) wanted to knock through and find out what was there but the boss emphatically told her to leave it alone. In the past, a ladder had been put up to peer through that high window; the room was very dark and contained lots of what might be classed loosely as lumber and rubbish but there was no visible sign of why the room had been bricked up and made inaccessible.

While I was growing up, there had been a large house on my way to school. One of the rooms there had been bricked up: a bedroom where at some point probably in the 1960s a schoolboy of seventeen had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a shotgun. I know little more about this story but when the family of someone I knew from confirmation classes moved into the house, I finally entered the house. I’d know the previous inhabitants very slightly, enough to say good morning to on my way to school but never to ask impertinent questions about this tragedy. The house was elegant and well cared for when I visited with my friend, but her mother (who still chats with my mum) told me a bit about that hidden room. The previous occupants, an elderly couple of military background had had the room unbricked but it had never been used as anything other than a storage room, apparently avoiding it even though they had chosen to open it up again. My friend’s mother told me the room had had an atmosphere that was very dark and sad-feeling; no one wanted to stay in the room for long, whether or not they knew the story. “I wasn’t having that,” she said. “I could sense the boy’s spirit still there, somehow, so shortly after we moved, I waited till the family were out. Then I went in there and I prayed that the poor boy would find peace and be released.” She spoke some more about this time of prayer and what she felt and experienced, but that’s not relevant, other than that the atmosphere of doom and misery lifted and as far as I know, has never returned.

So why had a sizeable room in a building that was pressed for useable space been blocked off and lost?

We speculated, sometimes wildly, as we talked of it. Had it been my property, I would have had it opened for sure. Yet the potential for menace and unwelcome discoveries had put off my former employer. The place has been sold now and I have no idea whether the new owners have even spotted they have a significant extra space they can’t currently get to.

I have a dream that recurs on a fairly frequent basis. I dream that I have found a hidden door, one that has always been there yet I have never seen or noticed. When I open it, I find either an extra room or more often an entire suite of rooms beyond it, fully furnished and ready to inhabit. Often there are signs that someone does live there already; furniture and décor is present that I vaguely recognise as mine, though when I recall details later they’re not anything I can assign to any home or period of my life. It’s not an uncommon dream, as I have heard of a number of people who have it. During our time on the coast, when we’d moved from a larger house to a smaller one, I dreamed it quite often. The sense of needing more room perhaps influenced it.

While the story from my teens might well have been involved in the creation of this dream, it has persisted for many years. I wander through hidden chambers, exploring sometimes fearfully what lies there. The interpretation might be to do with how we all have unrealised potential, or possibly hidden and lost memories that we only acknowledge during our nightly wanderings through the landscape of our dreaming psyches.

Yet just as that original hidden room in my home town was walled off due to such tragedy and trauma that the family was unable to ever set foot in that room again, I wonder if the hidden room in my dreams also houses events and memories that my psyche has chosen to build walls against, yet lets me through from time to time, to see if I am ready to remember and deal with whatever truths or tragedies I’ve shut myself off from?

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The wise mice

The wise mice hold words

between tender paws

and twining tails

Guardians of quiet wisdom

Sentinels of gentle encouragement

and whisperers of hope.wise mice

I’m prone to whimsy. I’m prone to an incorrigible belief in synchronicity and the tools of the oracle. I’m prone to a need for distraction, for heading off the dark paths my mind will wander down, seeing a distant twinkling light that lures me away from the black pit I’m heading towards.

I collect oracle sets of one sort and another, from traditional tarot to angel cards. They’re just printed card, and yet they each show me a door I may try. Beautiful art work, or finely crafted words provoking thought and raising spirits.

The wise mice sit upon one such set, and their furry faces reassure me that they guard nothing that will lead me deeper into despair. Some oracle sets I will never touch when I’m low, knowing that the challenging concepts some cards illustrate are ones I don’t have the strength to face that day. But the ones the wise mice guard may lead me to brighter thoughts, and so they are the ones I will reach for in dark times.

Lightness card

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Embodiment ~ muscle memory, belief and the complexities of the human soul

Ever heard of embodied cognition?

No, me neither till the other day when an article in Church Times caught my eye. Don’t underestimate this paper because of the title. While some of it is inevitably the dull warblings you might expect, they have some very intelligent columnists who turn out some excellent articles. Here’s some snippets from the one I read by Mark Vernon:

But what if faith is not primarily about facts and theories? They may come, but only after time spent exploring a way of life, committing to practise. …[redacted] But surely most people are likely to find faith because one day, perhaps by mistake they walked into a holy place or were helped by a Good Samaritan or were caught by a visceral experience of love or loss. Thinking about what it means is vital, but belief rests on, and stays alive because of the embodied experience.

A new area in science suggests these intuitions are right. It is known as ‘embodied cognition’ which roughly translates as: what we think, feel and do depends not only on the brain but also the body. We are not brains in vats. ‘It is not the brain alone that gives rise to consciousness. Consciousness is grounded or contextualised in the body,’ says psychologist Canon Fraser Watts.”

I’d love to reproduce the article in full but there are copyright issues at stake. However, the ideas had chimed with things I’ve been pondering.

As many of my readers may know I have very long hair. It’s long enough to sit on, and I started growing it when I was in my mid teens. For the first year or two while it grew long enough to play with and try out myriad different styles, I used to use a dressing table with winged mirrors that meant I could see the back of my head. Not to style my hair (because that’s incredibly confusing in mirrors) but to view the results. It’s probably thirty years since I did this now. I get asked by folks whether it’s hard to style your own hair and the answer is no, not really, once you have done it a number of times you can see with your fingers. Recently I watched a video http://earthsky.org/human-world/video-re-creating-the-hairstyles-of-the-early-roman-vestal-virgins of how a very ancient hairstyle was probably done. A comment thread developed on Facebook and most people were dubious that the style could be done by the woman herself. It looks incredibly complicated (and it is, fairly) but actually, I feel sure that those Vestal Virgins may well have done it themselves, with perhaps a friend to hold an end from time to time. I know this because when I was about twenty, I recreated a style very similar, to try and imitate the style Roman brides wore (which is pretty much that of the Vestals). I’d intended to perhaps have it for my wedding. But the results were not pleasing and I didn’t go ahead. After many years of French plaiting and other apparently fiddly styles, my hands and my fingers and my senses could perform tasks without being able to see visually what they were doing.

We do not have the five senses we are accustomed to thinking; there are over twenty senses accepted by science, and others less well accepted such as the sense of being stared at (also a book by Rupert Sheldrake, http://www.sheldrake.org/homepage.html whom I met last year http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sense-Being-Stared-At-Extended/dp/0099441535/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1359889760&sr=1-1 )

It would appear that belief is not merely an intellectual thing, but something that becomes viscerally real. Like memory, which it is becoming increasingly clear is not stored exclusively in the spongy matter of the physical brain but also within the muscles and even the guts, belief is lodged deep within the physical matter and the experiential layers of the human being.

If you came this way,

Taking any route, starting from anywhere,

At any time or at any season,

It would always be the same: you would have to put off

Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,

Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity

Or carry report. You are here to kneel

Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more

Than an order of words, the conscious occupation

Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.

And what the dead had no speech for, when living,

They can tell you, being dead: the communication

Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.

Here, the intersection of the timeless moment

Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

This excerpt from T.S Eliot’s Little Gidding (from The Four Quartets) illustrates this well. The act of kneeling in a sacred space creates or recalls embodied experience, links to things deeper and more ancient often than we realise.

Even words, those things were throw around so carelessly, carry this embodied cognition in a way. Check out this article. Brains viewed under MRI scanners have been shown to light up in the same areas when certain words are spoken as light up when the actions those words represent are performed. Thinking the word SMILE, for example creates the same effects in the brain as actually smiling.

I’ve been pondering about the concept of therapeutic literature. That’s to say books or poetry that have a measurably beneficial effect on the reader. I’m not talking about books that are all sweetness and light and which steer clear of dark topics, but rather ones with an indefinable something that triggers a change in the reader. It might be infinitesimally small but cumulative. I’ve always found poetry(not all poetry but some) to do that for me, where the sound of the words is like a balm on sore skin, and some novels have been an authentically beneficial experience. Do you have any books that do this for you? I’d love to find more. I want to explore the experience of letting words take me places but without the imposition of heavy handed directive narrative because embodied cognition is something that takes place in the body, not in the bright, shallow, brittle thought processes. I can talk myself out of benefits of ideas but not out of the feeling of them, and it’s the feeling that speaks longest and loudest when the darkness draws in and intellect falters. 

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