“Look, look up at the stars!”

Look, look up at the stars!”

Every night, we have a routine at bedtime. Cats are fed, litter changed, one cat gets medication. The guinea pigs are all given a cuddle and a brief inspection to make sure they are in perfect fettle, then they’re given their supper. We usually stand and watch them hurtling round, pop-corning with the excitement of fresh hay and cucumber, before they settle in and get busy eating. Then I go out into the garden to put out food for any errant hedgehogs. This winter has been so mild I suspect some haven’t hibernated much. Most nights, the two bowls (one of meal-worms and the other of cat biscuits) has been emptied, though I cannot say by whom precisely as during the day I do see blackbirds going into the shelter to feed on whatever is there.

Some nights I am already in pyjamas and dressing gown and I’m deeply grateful that our garden is both private and sheltered, because despite the fences and hedges, sometimes the wind catches me and makes me gasp with its face-slapping chill. But I almost always take a moment to look up at the sky.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut. I read science fiction, mostly totally unsuited to my age at the time because the niche YOUNG ADULT didn’t really exist when I could be considered its target demographic. Those who grew up in the sixties and seventies and liked science fiction might also have encountered British author Hugh Walters, and his series of science fiction novels about a group of astronauts. The series was written primarily for children, though looking back he was probably one of the first authors to target older kids and what are now considered young adults. Back in the day before the internet, I’m afraid I took as fact a lot of what turned out to be complete fiction. My country didn’t have a space programme and by the time I got to secondary school I realised that never in my lifetime would it have a proper programme of manned space flights. A dream died, a dream that probably had its roots in my father getting us up at silly o’clock to watch on television the moon landing in 1969. I will never be an astronaut.

But I am an explorer nonetheless. Though I will never set foot on another planet, I do explore other worlds. I do this through words, through inner vision and through the understanding, sometimes dimmed by time and pain and doubt, that this existence with its matter and its heavy gravity, is not the only one. Looking up at the stars last thing each night reminds me of this, for the stars are vast distances away and may not be reached in a human lifetime, though as a species we may reach them yet. A dream died, a dream that was something born of a child’s wonder at the vastness of the universe and at our first faltering steps to explore it. A new dream slowly unfolded over the restless lifetime that followed, one that has urged me to explore not outer space, but the inner worlds of the unseen, often unheeded and reviled as navel-gazing and self-indulgence. I believe that these worlds may truly exist, but not in a physical way we can comprehend or bring back moon rocks from.

So when I gaze up at the night sky, intoning the constellations and greeting (when the night is clear enough) both Venus and the moon in whatever phase she has reached, I am touching base with an old dream that holds hands with the new one.

http://www.bartleby.com/122/8.html

A Thinking Place

A Thinking Place

Do you have a place you find yourself drawn to when you need to have a good old think? I suspect most of us do. Over the years there have been many, some close to hand and others a good distance away from home.

When we lived in Nottingham in the early 90s I had a thinking place almost on my doorstep, which is just as well as I had a toddler at home at the time. The house was the first we’d had which had a proper garden and it was quite a decent size for us; room for a swing and plenty of space to run around but also nice for us adults. My thinking place was half way up the garden path, where the garden sloped upwards and there were a few steps. I’d sit there, summer or winter, with a mug of coffee, and think.

In the years that followed there were many more. When we lived in north Yorkshire, there was a place up in the forest above where we lived, about a half hour’s brisk walk. The mountain stream that meandered down from the moors passed close to the path and down a cascade of waterfalls over rock formations left behind after the last ice age. There were four stages to the waterfall, and the sound of running water and bird song was intensely calming and conducive to deep contemplation. I’d walk up here with the dog, sit down for twenty minutes and let it all sink in, and the knots in my head slowly untangled.

In Norfolk, there were several close enough to my home that a walk often took a couple of hours as I spent time in each. One was a huge tree trunk that had been dragged off the path and left. Here I would sit, among the woodland, and listen to nightingales and watch for wildlife and the fae. Further on, deeper in the woodland, was a vast black poplar, larger than any I’ve ever seen before or since. It was clearly the queen of the wood, twin- trunked and massive. In the gap between the two huge trunks I would stand and think; I remember being there with my friend Claire, singing native American chants together, in tune with the spirit of the forest. There was a small clearing further along, on the edge of the common, where I could sit unseen and be at one with the trees.

In the Midlands, I had several areas along the river Soar where I would stop for a while and watch the river, one close to the lock gates, another further along the tow path. When we lived in Suffolk (until about 3 years back) I had a few along the beach, sitting on a particular groyne, or among woodland clearings. Here I have one or two, by the giant old oak or on the bridge over the stream in Starston.

Despite the changes in landscape, all these thinking places had a lot in common. Each was a place where wildlife came, even in the city, though there was nothing visible that would obviously attract birds or animals. My waterfall place was the first and only place I’ve seen a merlin (the smallest of our raptors). It had not come to drink or really to hunt; it just appeared on the other side of the stream, watched me for a while and flew off. My thinking spot on the Soar brought me into contact with a weasel I lifted from the river; for example, and the further one brought me face to face with a mink. My thinking spot on the bridge brings me close contact with kingfishers, dippers, waterbirds, rodents, owls, egrets and many others. The fallen tree and the black poplar was also places where the usually invisible beings of the countryside allowed themselves to be seen. At night time, the wood was alive with the fae.

The characteristics of my own thinking spots mark them as places a shaman would call power spots, a seer would call them nexus points where earth energies peak. You can dowse for them, even, or just sense how a place feels. Often your body just knows (just as it can know when a place is somewhere you need to steer clear of!) It’s this convergence of power that seems to call wild things close, and which keeps them there when a human is present (when all their instincts are to high-tail it out of there). I’ve had a young seal virtually sitting on my lap, on a winter beach, unafraid and almost affectionate; deer, and hares, and many other creatures have come absurdly, marvellously close to me, looking me in the eye and coming so close I could have touched them.

Places like this are truly magical and to be treasured.

Depression: Tightrope walking with a friend

A very welcome review and shout out for the latest book.

Head Above Water

January: Bleurgh, endless white skies and here, rain, news, it appears, of death upon death, for those suffering from SAD or other depressive tendencies in the Northern Hemisphere, January is perhaps the last slog on a upward climb that hopefully will open up to a plateau of hope when Spring begins. But depression is not weather dependent, it can hit at any time, come from trauma or trial or seemingly from nowhere at all. It may be chemically based, genetically predisposed. It is a combination of temperament and circumstance and how society is set up. There seems to be, at this current time of technological change, dissipating boundaries, an individualistic culture, separation from nature, social media and always on personas, ways in which the vulnerable can be knocked into self-doubt, anxiety, paralysis. There appears to be a surge in the number of young people experiencing mental health difficulties and there…

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The blind dancer is broken

The blind dancer is broken

The blind dancer is broken ~ a dream

Sometimes dreams give us clues about our inner world in ways that are both revealing and concealing. The last week or two I have been finding it very difficult to navigate my way through the world, and feel I have lost connection with things that have been important to me and my life force feels depleted and I feel direction-less. I’m working my way through a book on Jungian dream interpretation and after I started reading it, for the first time in a while a dream occurred that feels significant in understanding what is going on. I’m going to share it here; if you have any insights on this they would be welcome as I am hoping to clarify my own thoughts and often my friends here have been excellent at doing just that.

The first part of the dream is confused. I am trying to find my way through a city that feels hostile, as if either a riot has been happening or is close to happening, or one that has been at war. The streets are narrow and steep but more or less deserted. It’s dark, night time and a few places have lights on. I go into one place, on the side of a square, from which a narrow lane goes down steeply enough to need steps. It feels a little like the Mont Martre area of Paris. The place is a restaurant, but looks wrecked and no one is eating there. A waiter comes over, but he doesn’t want to take an order. He’s trying to find his daughter, to connect to her on Facebook but though I try to explain to him how to find her, my communications don’t seem to work. I give up trying to explain as we seem to have not so much a problem of language but of intelligence.

The dream shifts and I am in my study. I have walked in to see that the smaller of my two desks, the one used solely for writing by hand and for drawing has been messed up. Items are scattered over it and I notice that the statue I treasure has been knocked over; the head seems to be missing, there’s water close to it as if spilled, and there is a flex like that of a lamp attached to it (the real statue is one I bought in 2003, shortly after moving to the Midlands but before I began writing again. It’s an interpretation of the Oracle at Delphi, about 18 inches or so high, of fired clay, glazed in several colours and textures, and shows a seated, veiled woman, eyes downcast looking into a bowl she is holding on her lap. The bowl can hold a candle. I bought the statue as a symbol of listening to my inner consciousness and trying to heed what might come from dreams and visions. It’s never been a public ornament downstairs and has always been either in my study or my bedroom. It was quite expensive (for me) and is one of a kind as though the range is still on sale, each item was unique and this one is no longer made) I am crestfallen and upset that this precious thing might be broken or damaged, and rush forward to look more closely. As I get closer I see that this is a different statue entirely. It depicts a dancer, in a pose, one arm outstretched, standing on one leg (this probably has a term but I don’t know it). The statue is in the same coloured glazes and washes as mine (dark green, light green, yellow, and pure gold) but it’s very different and not one that in real life would ever appeal to me at all as it has a fragile appearance and depicts a style of feminine grace I’ve never aspired to or valued). I look closer for damage and see that there is a chip off the chin; there are fragments of porcelain around and I wonder if it can be fixed back. Then I see that a whole strip of glaze has been knocked from the face, right across the eyes so that the dancer is now blind. I am searching for the broken fragments to mend the statue when I wake.

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Maze

Maze

Enter

Turn left

Turn right

Go straight on

Turn right

Then left.

Follow the path

Dead end.

Dead end.

Dead end.

Press the lever

Eat the treat.

Door opens.

Enter

Turn left

Turn right

Go straight on

Turn right

Then left.

Follow the path

Dead end.

Dead end.

Dead end.

Press the lever

Eat the treat.

Door opens.

Enter

Turn left

Turn right

Go straight on

Turn right

Then left.

Dead end

Dead end

Dead end

End dead.

The Bet on Countdown

No, not the afternoon quiz show.

It’s six months since I last did a special offer for The Bet.

Here’s the blurb:

“Jenny likes a challenge and Antony is the biggest challenge of her life…

“Boys like you get preyed upon,” Antony’s father tells him in a rare moment of honesty and openness, but Richard can have no idea just how vulnerable his eighteen-year-old son truly is. From a family where nothing is quite as it seems and where secrecy is the norm, Antony seems fair game to the predatory Jenny. Her relentless pursuit of him originates in a mean-spirited bet made with her colleague Judy, Antony’s former history teacher, who has challenged Jenny to track him down and seduce him. Jenny is totally unprepared for Antony’s refusal to sleep with her or to have any sort of relationship other than friendship. She’s never met anyone quite like him before and her obsession deepens the more he rejects her. She’s no idea what he’s already been through and as far as she’s concerned it’s irrelevant.

Pretty soon, for both of them it becomes a much more serious matter than a mere bet and the consequences are unimaginable for either of them.”

The book will be a mere 99p for three days, before the price rises to £1.99 for three days, and then reverts to the original price of £2.90 (which I think is very reasonable anyway)

This is as close to free as I go. Have a read of the reviews because there are a good few where the reviewer says they didn’t think they’d like this book but as soon as they started they found themselves staying up too late just to read another chapter. I’ve had folks says they missed bus stops, were late for work, stayed up all night, reading it.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bet-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B009ISHLYI/ref=la_B00766135C_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1452585867&sr=1-2

 

(A small plea from me: please, please, please share this post widely if you can, wherever you feel it’s worth sharing, on FB, in FB groups, Twitter and other social media, or direct to friends you think will enjoy the book. I have no budget for advertising and any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you.)

 

Synchronicity and going off the map.

Synchronicity and going off the map.

Synchronicity and going off the map.

Life as a journey is a bit of a cliché, really. I said once, “If life is a journey, then any short-cut is a death trap,” and I stand by it. My own journey has been an odd one. A long time ago, I looked at the metaphysical map and I saw that at the margins, around the edges, away from the established paths and well-known routes, there were areas marked “Here be dragons,” and I thought, I’d like see dragons. Ever since then, I’ve made forays into those areas of the maps that the map-makers couldn’t fill in properly because too few people had been out and explored them and come back with useful information. Most came back babbling about strange things they didn’t quite have the language for, and travellers’ tales that defy belief and rational understanding.

About ten years ago, I really set off in earnest, leaving behind any adherence to defined paths. You cannot step off a path without stepping off it, if you know what I mean. Real adventures do not come with a guarantee of ever coming home, or of safety or security. It’s hard to explain why I did it; I imagine that you’ll either understand or you won’t. I could talk about calling, vocation, daemon, destiny until the cows come home. Initially there were constant signs and hints and hunches and intuitions. I’ve long had an affinity for the phenomenon known as synchronicity. A week or so ago I finished a book on it, which irritated me. Synchronicity by Chris Mackie was heavily hyped as being a guide to synchronous living, but the author had become bogged down by a fascination with the phenomenon itself (despite being warned in no uncertain terms in a synchronous meeting with someone who really understood the matter) and lost his grip on the purpose of synchronicity for him. It’s absurdly easy to become fixated on the method of delivery rather than on the message itself, because it’s one of the things that can be mind-blowing when you first encounter it. There’s a saying that when a wise man points at the moon, a fool looks at the finger.

As my exploration took me further and further from known landmarks, I have been obliged to rely on my own inner compass. I have a decent sense of direction, not infallible, but solid enough for most things. But like any explorer, you need to get your bearings, take soundings and check from time to time that you’re not going the wrong way. Once you leave the beaten path, finding signposts is unlikely. You have to start relying on other senses, and other knowings. Sometimes you see traces of someone who’s gone ahead of you, a bent twig, Indian-fashion, a note left in a tree-hollow, cairns of stones carried up mountains by other pilgrims who’ve gone this way. On occasion, you see the bones of those who have died en route.

The further you go, the fewer the signs are until you can find, as I did, you are in a wilderness, a barren, mountainous land and there is no evidence that anyone else has ever come this way. There’s no obvious way to proceed, and when you stop to rest, you lose all sense of direction.

This is what happened to me. It began about five years ago, this nagging sense of unease and of disquiet. The questions began, and so did the doubts and then the fears. It’s reached desperation point, painful and unpleasant. What if I’ve gone the wrong way? What if all I have been exploring is a waste of time and energy? What if all my cherished beliefs and principles are all moonshine and bullshit? Should I go back? Should I give up and die, here, amid the empty lands, the wastelands?

Round and round the questions fly, never letting up, never letting me just move on. I read last year of Jung’s descent into his own personal hell, of a breakdown that became his breakthrough, and his insight that he had to do something and it didn’t matter what. His explorations using active imaginations started from mundane things, and no matter how humble the starting point, each led him deeper into the matters of true importance. I did a fair bit of active imagination work last year and yet, I have still found myself asking, am I doing the right thing, am I going the right way?

The problem is there is no one to ask, who is able to give me a clear subjective answer from a point of understanding, of having been to the same places I’ve been. Jung recommended working closely with someone who has been through the same sort of journey, and while I have good friends in the same line of exploration, they’re all folks who live half a world away, and whose kindness I could not presume upon, except as an occasional event.

So I am alone in the wasteland, unable to proceed because of fear that I am going the wrong way (which then brings with it the whole host of agonising extras, like has my entire life been a waste, and other such delights). I’ve recorded and worked with dreams, journaled, painted, drawn, meditated, played, sat in nature, done everything from the mundane to the ridiculous and yet, I am so bogged down by doubts and fears that I cannot move.

Then yesterday I went somewhere. It’s a place I’ve never been to, despite growing up not far away, and driving through the dank winter fields of Cambridgeshire, with the vast skies and the tiny winding roads hemmed in by hedges, past tiny stone built churches that date back eight hundred years and more, amid villages that have dwindled to almost nothing.

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There was a pair of buzzards calling when we got out of the car, and bird song that held the first notes of spring, though it was still early January. The ground was wet as an old bath sponge, rich with moss and algae, and the unprepossessing facade of the church did not hold much promise.

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Inside, it felt more like a college chapel, with pews face to face rather than facing the altar. I walked round, feeling the stillness, the moment of time that seems held like a drop of amber that holds millennia within its shining core. I took photos, I read the embroidered banners. There is a small room just off the sanctuary, a vestry originally but now a sort of inner room. I went in and looked up in shock at the window. Vivid stained glass, quite old, but simple and striking. One side held a quartered circle, a cross made of ears of wheat, in coloured glass; the other side, in another roundel of glass, some words:

It is the right, good old way you are in. Keep in it.”

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Gidding