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Where springs not fail” ~ on not losing hope

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

Heaven-Haven Gerard Manley Hopkins

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If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you’ll know that the poems of Hopkins have always spoken to me. I think this was the first poem of his I read as a teenager and I’ve always loved it.

Perhaps the concept of the wellspring began here for me. I do not know. I have written extensively about springs, wellsprings and the metaphysical meanings and implications of both. I’ve used the idea of groundwater seeping deep and then eventually springing back up, purified and revivified, as a metaphor for the creative process. I’ve written an entire novel (Strangers and Pilgrims) about a healing spring, the waters of which will heal broken hearts and spirits.

But I have begun to lose heart and hope. In the wake of the general election, in the face of the continued wall of horror that is the news, and in the constant onslaught of things I can do nothing to mend, I have begun to buckle. I cannot carry the world’s woes; I cannot even manage to carry my own personal woes very well now, and they’re trivial by comparison to what many bear each day.

A few weeks ago, though, I found a wellspring. I didn’t happen upon it; rather my husband had been taken to it as a part of something else entirely and he was so struck by it that a few days later we went back. You would not find it readily; deep in woodland, with no visible paths, you had to know it was there to find it. At one time, this spring and others in the same lands, supplied all the freshwater needs of Ipswich.

Around six feet across, roughly circular, and entirely unexpected, it was filled with water so incredibly clear it was invisible. At the bottom of the pool, perhaps three or four feet deep, the spring itself bubbled up in a constant and quite mesmerising pattern of churning up the sand. Viewed from above, it looked a little like a volcano erupting with ash. Shining specks of mica and quartz gleamed as the spring poured into the pool; pure white shells of ancient molluscs turned over and over before being lost. The pool spilled over into a stream that chuckled and sang and ran on under moss covered branches. It was like another world, and one I’d forgotten existed. The water was icy cold, and sweet to taste and if the day had been warmer I might have bathed in it.

I cannot rationally explain why this place lifted my spirits and the memory of it continues to do so. Nothing in my world is changed materially by it. Logically I know that such springs exist but it is the experience of being close to one that reminds me that there are things that do not fail and fall away when we do. I do not know whether my own creative springs will ever be restored, but I still desire in my heart of hearts to go “where springs not fail.” And that, with faith, has to be enough.

Film of the spring on my Facebook author page:

https://www.facebook.com/vivienne.tuffnell/videos/10153208806181306/

On the right kind of brooding ~ why we shouldn’t fear ruminating

A week or two back, I sneaked out late at night to put down food for the hedgehogs. On the other side of the pond to the patio, I was being watched by beady duck eyes and I saw that Mrs Duck was observing me. She’d spread her wings out, to shelter all her ducklings. Now they’d been getting bigger by the day and would no longer fit under her tummy so she was trying to keep the cold night from her precious little fluffies by using her wings as an umbrella. I apologised for disturbing her and went in, brooding on, well, brooding.

The first thing that came to mind was the poem Peace by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

WHEN will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?
O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

We’re used to the word BROOD being used in a negative manner. It implies fretting, chewing over an issue, worrying. The first use of it for a process of incubating thoughts or feelings in the mind came probably in the late sixteenth century, but the word originates with the way hens and other birds care for their hatchlings.

Observing that mother duck made me think about how reluctant we can be to sit with our thoughts, to nurture and develop them. Many systems of therapy decry what is often referred to as fruitless ruminating, that process of endlessly turning over a troubling topic in the mind, returning time and again to try and tease out answers. The implication is that it’s pointless and we need to step away and stop hashing it over in a bid to find resolution. The term ruminating is used but in a negative manner. To me, to ruminate is to imitate the digestive processes of certain kinds of multi-stomached animals who extract every ounce of goodness and nutrition out of their fodder. It’s a long process, full of gurgling and chewing of the cud. From the outside, an animal (or a person) engaged in ruminating may seem inactive and even lazy. But work is being done at a deep level.

To sit with a problem, to incubate it (both in a bird-brooding way and perhaps also in the manner of the ancients who would sleep and dream at a temple to seek an answer to their question) is something we may have forgotten how to do, in our goal-orientated society that rushes at things. Much modern psychotherapy seems geared towards easing troubled people away from this process rather than enabling them with better tools and techniques. Jung commented that often insoluble problems of the mind would stop being troublesome as the person reached greater maturity of psyche; the problem did not go away but its importance faded as the person continued to do their soul work (“I had always worked with the temperamental conviction that at bottom there were no insoluble problems, and experience justified me in so far as I have seen patients simply outgrow a problem that has destroyed others. This ‘outgrowing’ as I formerly called it proved on further investigation to be a new level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest appeared on the patient’s horizon, and through this broadening of his outlook the insoluble problem lost its urgency”- Commentary on The Secret of the Golden Flower). He also wrote, “When we must deal with problems, we instinctively refuse to try the way that leads through darkness and obscurity. We wish to hear only unequivocal results, and completely forget that these results can only be brought about when we have ventured into and emerged again from the darkness.” (MMSS p97) He also said, “”Go to bed. Think on your problems. See what you dream. Perhaps the 2,000,000 year old man will speak. Only in a cul-de-sac do you hear his voice.” (JS p359)

To really brood on what troubles you is to explore those dark places and find light and treasure and bring it back with you. The process of seeking often brings quite different results to those you thought you were looking for, which may also explain Jung’s observation that an insoluble problem was at times outgrown and ceased itself to have the same importance. I’m in a proper cul-de-sac, unable to move in any direction at present. Perhaps I must just wait and brood and see what emerges from the darkness beneath my wings.

Imagine being kidnapped in the Tardis by Doctor Who ~Involution – An Odyssey reconciling Science to God by Philippa Rees.

Over several weeks, my reading matter was something totally out-of-the-ordinary, and I’d like to share with you the review I wrote for Amazon:

Imagine being kidnapped in the Tardis by Doctor Who. That’s the only comparison I can make for the reading of Involution. It’s a wild ride across Time and Space (inner and outer), and the author accompanies you with the same infectious enthusiasm and love for humanity that the Doctor expresses. You are treated to the same expectation that you can and will keep up with the Doctor’s energy and understanding but also with the acceptance that at times you simply won’t be able to and it doesn’t matter as long as you are enjoying the ride and trust that you’re going in the right direction and experiencing the right things. There is also a LOT of wry, dry and self-deprecating humour as well as the same gentle, loving mockery of the foibles of the human race that the Doctor often expresses.

Yes, Involution is a poem and poetry has become something of an alien experience for many of us. I read almost all of it at the gym, while either on a treadmill or a static cycle because the rhythm of reading poetry is aided by physical movement. My favourite part was Canto Nine, where the great Serpent, personification of DNA, narrates and speaks directly to the reader. It’s a very profound feeling, as if the alien we feared turns out to be the saviour of the world, for most humans fear snakes and even loathe them.

The footnotes are very worth reading, especially if there were many parts of the book that had you thinking, I ought to know that but I don’t. They’re an education and a mind-expanding read in their own right; don’t miss them out as there are plenty of Aha! Moments there.

If you have read the other excellent reviews, you may find yourself feeling a little nervous of tackling a book that is often described as being erudite (and other similar epithets). Don’t be. Yes, the erudition is there, but no one is going to make you do an exam after and part of the point of it being in poetic form is that you absorb the key ideas simply by experiencing the poem. The people who will enjoy Involution most are those who, if the Doctor landed the Tardis in their garden and he came out and said casually, “Fancy a trip?” would say yes (with or without hesitation, it matters not; we’re only human and fears and doubts are part of that humanity) and head out to explore. This is not so much a book as a exciting adventure that only asks that you come along and see what the Universe has to offer.

You can find Involution at Amazon here: INVOLUTION

You can find Philippa here  at Twitter and at her blog 

From the Four Corners of the Earth”~ Jung’s words on avoiding our souls 

As you may know, I’ve been reading my way through the works of Jung that I can afford or obtain. It’s a slow thing, because I do not wish to rush the experience. I take time over each page, and sometimes I stay with it for quite a long while. Things sometimes leap off the page at me and I make a note or put in a little page marker.

The other night, the following struck me from The Earth Has a Soul (a collection of his writings on Nature, technology and modern life)

People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. They will practice Indian yoga and all its exercises, observe a strict regimen of diet, learn theosophy by heart, or mechanically repeat mystic texts from the literature of the whole world – all because they cannot get on with themselves and have not the slightest faith that anything useful could ever come out of their souls. Thus the soul has gradually been turned into a Nazareth from which nothing good can come. Therefore let us fetch it from the four corners of the earth- the more far-fetched and bizarre it is the better!” (Carl Gustav Jung Complete Works 12, para 126)

Now all of the things he describes are excellent things, and beneficial disciplines in and of themselves. But used as a means of evading and avoiding the soul-work we are called to do, they’re little different from losing yourself in drugs, drink or a myriad of other activities people indulge in to keep from the moment when they must face their own soul.

I’d like to share one of my own poems as a coda to this section from Jung’s works. I’ve spent a lot of my life on the edges and even the very fringes of all manner of philosophies and faiths and among the seekers of this western world, there is a powerful emphasis on wisdom coming from somewhere other than home. Like Jesus being treated shabbily in his own home town, most prophets and prophecies are seldom honoured initially in their places of origin.

My kind of wisdom

Just because my kind of wisdom

Doesn’t wear buckskin,

Isn’t hung with feathers,

Isn’t decorated with crystals

And isn’t inscribed with runes and sigils,

It doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Just because my kind of wisdom

Doesn’t require mastering

An arcane language,

Higher mathematics

Or a degree in theology,

It doesn’t mean it isn’t deep.

Just because my kind of wisdom

Doesn’t ask me to stand

On one leg for years,

Beat myself with whips,

And starve myself half to death,

It doesn’t mean it hasn’t cost.

Homespun, home-grown, homemade:

You know, from somewhere far off,

It might look as exotic as yours.

Well, St George is the patron saint of England, even though he probably didn’t slay any dragons (endangered species!) and was certainly not English. However, for some reason he’s our patron saint and I’m very English and so are my books.

So, in light of that, Away With The Fairies (contains no dragons or saints, as such) is on a special countdown offer starting from today and will be 99p (or thereabouts) in the UK for three days before rising to a mere £1.99 for another three days before returning to its original and very reasonable price. It would be vastly appreciated if you pass this on to any friends, family and social media network as the greater the reach, the better the book will do. Thank you.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Away-Fairies-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B005RDS02A/ref=la_B00766135C_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1429773708&sr=1-1

Not London Book Week ~ reflections on the book industry (part one)

I didn’t go to London Book Week.

I didn’t go to the Indie Fringe event, either, though I made half-hearted plans to go and meet friends. I wavered so long I missed the window of opportunity to get cheaper rail tickets that might have made the whole thing a little less harsh on the wallet. Then, on April Fool’s Day (of course) I yawned, stretched and forthwith popped my shoulder out. It popped back in again, leaving me with enough pain to warrant the Big Guns of pain control that mean I don’t dare leave the house for fear of wandering aimlessly into oncoming traffic, or of seeing giant scorpions in alleyways. If I stay home when I take them, I can at least ask family if what I am seeing is real and if it is, I can valiantly sacrifice myself to save them because I can’t run as fast as they can. It took the best part of a fortnight for the pain to recede enough to return to normal levels of baseline pain, and the idea of using sparse energy to trog all the way into the capital to an event that (apart from meeting friends) simply failed to thrill me, was not one that seemed appropriate.

I did however go into an actual book shop during that time and I bought a few actual books. Go me, eh? I was in Lincoln for the day, and having bought a selection of fossils and minerals in a rather wonderful shop, I found the new independent bookshop Lindum and bought two books. I then managed to leave them behind just as the shop closed and for a short time, felt it was perhaps a small sacrifice to atone for my sinful use of Amazon to buy books. You see, while talking to the very nice store owner, I used the taboo A word a couple of times, and we briefly discussed it. That’s to say, she told me how Amazon was basically responsible for destroying book shops, and I (too much of a coward) listened and nodded in an understanding way.

You see, while I love books, I don’t actually love bookshops any more. Even the excellent independent ones like the one in Lincoln or the even more wonderful Book Hive in Norwich. The rot set in really when the supermarkets started selling books. Books heaped up like so many rectangular apples and oranges in pyramids of paper, pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap. Good, I say. The arrival of the paperback was heralded as the end of books, but it actually made books accessible to readers previously unable to buy highly priced tomes. Books are a luxury when you struggle to feed the family. Most books sold this way aren’t ones that will change your life, but they might give you an escape from reality for a few hours or days, depending on the length of book and how fast you read. And some of the time, that’s all anyone wants of a book.

However in response to the perceived threat of online stores like Amazon, many bookshops have gone into what I call “precious mode” where books become something with a mystique, the province of the special something, magical, almost elite, and it feels as if they have forgotten that they, just like Amazon, are purveyors of a PRODUCT. Their piles may not be of common apples and oranges, but of exotic dragon fruit and pomegranates and acai berries and so on. And the prices reflect this too. They remind you that you are here in this temple of Bookishness to partake of superior fare to the cheap and cheerful sold by Amazon and supermarkets. You can’t have it both ways: bookshops of all kinds, real and virtual, are ALL aiming to persuade the punters to purchase something, whether it’s for a penny plus post and packing (I buy a lot of second-hand books that way) or brand new, in a sumptuous dust-cover inscribed in gold ink and promising glories within.

Would you like to know what books did tempt me to open my purse and part with hard earned cash?

There wasn’t anything on offer that I felt I could justify the £15 or more for the rather lovely looking but totally unfamiliar book on bee-keeping, or on the history of herbal medicine or the thousand page novel in hardback, (its name and the author’s name now escape me). I wanted a book to sit and read while I waited for my coach home; I didn’t want to buy into a literary extravaganza that might well have been more smoke and mirrors than substance. So my selection for just over a fiver were two Wordsworth Classic paperbacks: Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Dante’s Inferno.

Frog medicine, Duck medicine

All in a rush, Spring arrived and in our garden it came with enough frogs to almost walk across the pond. For a few weeks, there was a party in the pond, and each evening I went out to put food out for the returned hedgehogs, to hear the contented song of mating amphibians. I’ve always loved frogs; the metamorphosis from spawn to tadpole to froglet to full frog is mind-boggling. Tadpoles apparently can decide when they make the transition. If conditions aren’t right, they can remain a tadpole, getting bigger and bigger, until they mysteriously start to change into frogs. In many animistic traditions, frog is a being of significance too. According to one favourite site (http://www.animalspirits.com/index4.html) this is some of Frog’s attributes:

Singer of songs that celebrate the most ancient watery beginnings, Transformation, Cleansing, Understanding emotions, Rebirth

There’s plenty more information out there, though it does tend to repeat itself. Frog is a water totem, and connects strongly with emotion and cleansing, new starts and transformations.

Frogs

Frogs

On Friday, we had a delightful discovery. For a couple of months the garden has been visited daily by a female mallard duck, sometimes with and sometimes without her drake swain. We wondered whether she was the same duck who came last year with two half grown ducklings; on Friday morning she appeared as if from nowhere with thirteen fluffy little pom-poms. The likelihood is that she had a nest somewhere secluded in our garden and the ducklings were brand new, fresh from the egg. Ducks, too, have their medicine attributes:

Grace on water, Water energy, Seeing clearly through emotions, Spirit helper of mystics and seers

 

http://www.animalspirits.com/index5.html

The alignment of the two symbolic sets of meanings is striking, and with my own mystical aspirations, I cannot help but assign meaning to the apparent coincidence of our garden visitors, and begin to see a slow, but accelerating change in my internal world.

 

Mother Duck and ducklings

Mother Duck and ducklings

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