Sweyne’s How ~ the tomb of the man who gave Swansea its name

There are many hidden treasures and lost history, dotted amid bracken and heather and in valleys where no one but wild ponies venture. I found this one, supposedly the tomb of the ancient founder of the city of Swansea, lichened and mellow in Welsh sunshine, with the aid of an OS map and a husband with an unerring sense of direction. I rode past it on horseback a few days later and tipped my hat to that long gone warrior, and smiled at the ephemeral nature of fame. Apart from his name, almost nothing is known of Sweyne, and his tomb, once a fine mound, is nothing but a pile of boulders at the end of the Gower peninsula.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Heyokah Blues ~ or the Cost of Being the Clown-Guardians of Society

Heyokah blues

“When everyone thinks something is good, it becomes evil”- Lao Tzu, Chinese sage, fourth century BC

Lest anyone think I am being pretentious quoting Lao Tzu, I should explain I found this quote at the start ofa very enjoyable pulp fiction read, Kingdom by Tom Martin.

I’ve been involved in certain aspects of Native American spirituality now for many years, but not as a plastic Indian, rather as someone seeking to make sense of the now through the eyes and the understanding of another culture. One of the aspects that struck me the most forcibly is the role of the heyokah in NA culture. There isn’t an easy or concise way to explain what the heyokah actually is; you can call them sacred clowns or fools for god, or jokers or tricksters and they are all that. Sometimes they are described as people who do everything backwards, upside down, the wrong way round, inside out. I must say here this is NOT by personal choice. A heyokah is CALLED; sometimes they are called by the Thunderbeings. Those who are struck by lightning and survive often become heyokah. My friend Alice, half Cherokee, half Blackfoot and all medicine woman has a cousin who is heyokah. She tells me he’s a pain in the ass; he eats with his back to everyone at table, laughs when everyone cries, cries when everyone laughs, dresses in light clothes when there’s snow on the ground, and complains of being cold when there’s a heat wave. She also tells me he cannot help this; he would like to stop but cannot. It is how he is and mostly this is tolerated and often even revered. They see him a someone touched by a kind of divine madness and his acts and speech are viewed as messages from God. The interpretation of the messages is often difficult, but in their culture the heyokah is valued and important. I shall leave you to try and understand why for yourself.

My trouble is that in certain senses, I was born Heyokah in a culture where this is not welcome. The heyokah is often apart from the society in certain ways; they are sometimes shamans, often some of the most powerful and feared medicine people. Here, in the West, people like me are not welcome. We’re seen as partypoopers, oddballs, weirdos, mavericks, individualists, lone wolves, wild sheep and above all, a threat. I’m the one that says, “Hey, the Emperor is wearing NO clothes and boy, does he have a tiny todger!” I’m the one who gets the giggles during solemn moments, or laughs out loud at funerals. I’m the one who cries when a small bird dies on the road as I walk to work. I’m the one who won’t dance at parties and then embarasses everyone by dancing under the new moon on the way home from work. I’m the one who you dread meeting when you’re with your new boyfriend because you know there’s a risk I will say or do something that’ll make you cringe.

And I can’t help it. Foot-in-mouth disease? Incurable case here, guys. There’s no hope for this one.

The thing is, I’ve begun to realise that the role of people like me, even where the concept of the heyokah is shunned and reviled, is essential for a society to remain whole and healthy. Lao Tzu doesn’t mean that something everyone believes to be good becomes evil instantaneously; becoming is a long process. If you do not have a few arbiters who retain independent thought and are able to stand clear of popular opinion, then there can be no true freedom. If you let yourself think about the Third Reich and how everyone allowed themselves to believe it was good, then the role of the heyokah becomes clear.

We stand as guardians of something none of us truly understand, but we stand nonetheless, and stand firm even when the personal costs of loneliness and isolation and even hatred from the community seem overwhelming. We stand because that is who we are and we can do no other than what we do.

That’s why I’m blue, I guess.

The Cherry Tree ~ or how God might see things

The Cherry Tree

I see the cherry tree
Bare of leaves,
Twigs a tangle of algae’d wood
And buds tight coppery knots
Tipping each twig with points of light.
I see it covered in bloom
Double pink flowers like candy floss
Dripping confetti onto overgrown grass.
Newly opened leaves gleam bronze
Fluttering in early summer breezes
Or blow dry and yellow in Autumn gales,
Lie rotting and damp
On an icy winter’s day.
For a minute I see the tree
Outside of time,
Floating free of any fixed point;
A seed, a bud
Sapling, prime tree
And fallen timber
Returning to the soil
And I think:
This must be how God sees.

Pearls Before Swine ~or Why You Can Lead A Horse To Water But You Can’t Make It Drink

before Swine ~ or why you can lead a horse to water but you can’t
make it drink!

In my daily job of being a teacher of English as a foreign language, I long
for the summer when we get the hordes of invading students from all
over the world and the chance to really get my metaphorical teeth
into teaching. During much of the year I have a class for a maximum
of five mornings (often only three) and almost always those classes
consist of young teens(often only 12 or 13, maybe 14 years old) who
have come as part of their school trip. Their level of English is
often so low that I find I have serious frustrations offering them
lessons that are fun but challenging because they have insufficient
language skills to understand instructions. I recycle the same five
or six lessons more of less ad nauseam ( that is for me, anyway). By
mid May I am quite sick of it all, and of my own materials and

The summer time is usually different, and I get a chance to do what I
really love doing and it isn’t teaching English. It’s about finding a
chink in a mind, inserting a suitable tool and levering till that
young mind pops open like an oyster being prised apart. One of the
tools is language.

I had a class last summer who I adored. I went in every day really looking
forward to working with them. Of the 15 in the class, I am still in
contact with 11, and some quite frequently. I’m not saying it wasn’t
hard work, because it was. By the age of 14 or so, most people have
begun shutting their minds so fast you can hear slamming doors every
time they blink at you. It’s something I find deeply disturbing; it’s
too easy to find your answers to life’s questions and then preserve
them in amber, to remain undisturbed for ever, or worse, to mummify
them. Those gruesome parodies of living things are brought out and
paraded around like a Day of the Dead procession whenever that
subject is brought up; some of the debates I have had with kids have
been astonishing. It’s scary when people have no inclination to
review their beliefs and opinions and are incapable of listening to
those of others.

But sometimes I find myself surprised and delighted when a student, or
even a whole class, come to a point where they examine something,
often an abstract concept or theory or belief, and a light comes into
their eyes. Aha Moments in the classroom when someone suddenly “gets”
it are breathtakingly wonderful. It’s even more so when it’s
something more profound than the third conditional. I don’t want them
to find an answer though, something they can tick off and put away; I
want them to begin their own lifelong Grail Quest for personal
truths, living evolving things that change and grow as they do. If I
see from someone’s eyes that they have begun to think anew about
something, I have a very special warm glow that makes even the shitty
days feel worthwhile, and believe me, days like that are very common.
Days when I get asked at 9.15am when is it break, or get told they’re
bored, or when students just stare at me with suspicious shut down
eyes: they make me go home and weep.

Because students (in fact anyone) who allow that subtle insertion and prising
open are relatively rare, and I am not yet an expert at understanding
who is ready and who is not. I look for the little chinks of light,
and I do and say stuff to engage interest. One of my lessons involves
heraldry. Yes, I know that sounds strange, but it’s all about
symbolism and self-hood. After exploring the topic each student has
the chance to create their own coat of arms. I send them off to leaf
through my books, my downloads of the language of symbols and to
think about who they are and how they might express this on a shield.
It’s a deceptively gentle lesson involving drawing and colouring and
thoughts deeper than they at first understand. I may do a similar one
with Medicine Shields( Native American) if I get a class I feel is
likely to enjoy it. I am always pleased with the results. While the
artwork is sometimes rather odd, the sense of engagement is always

But there are plenty of students who would then complain they haven’t
done enough grammar. And that makes me sad. Because that means they
have reacted to the exercises by withdrawing and redefining their
expectations. Ho hum.

It’s about being ready. My duty as a teacher(not just as a TEFL teacher,
which actually I suck at, to be frank) is to gauge when someone is
ready to open up and start exploring the mysteries of life on earth,
and sometimes I get it very wrong. Sometimes people are only ready to
go and paddle in that vast ocean and they panic(justifiably) when I
in my excitement, start assembling the deep sea diving gear and start
consulting the areas of the maps that only say Here be Dragons, and
they back away, saying, “I never signed up for this!”

Jesus had a saying that often seems contemptuous to us. Pearls before swine
is a pithy aphorism and yet, harsh but true. If you expect people to
engage in something for which they are not prepared in any sense at
all, they will often turn on you and trample what you offer and on
you. If they don’t “get” it, how on earth can you help them to
“get” it?

Patience is the answer. Like with the horse in the second proverb, you can
lead someone and let them take their own time about drinking. A horse
drinks when it is thirsty, not when you want it to, for your
convenience and comfort. It’s the same with people. People will drink
from the well of wisdom when they are ready to and not before then.
Some may perish before a drop passes their lips but that is their
journey in this life. It’s not for me to force their jaws open and
pour the waters in as they splutter and spit it out.

All I can do is learn to recognise when someone thirsts and hold out a cup
brimming with water and wait for them to take it.

Meditating With Aromatics ~ A Unique Interactive Project That Grows

Meditating with Aromatics ~ a unique interactive project that grows

Over the last year I have published a number of meditations that use fragrance as a starting point and the intention has been to write an entire book of them. After much thought I decided that I would start by making the meditations available during the process of writing the book and publishing it in stages.

There’s a few good reasons for this. The first is that it gives me a greater incentive to write them. The second is subtler. Making a book available during its creation rather than when it is a finished
product would normally be the very last thing I’d ever do but this is

It’s different because I want the readers to be involved in the creation. How often have you read a book and wished to ask the writer to do something different? Ask for instructions to be clearer or more detailed? Or make a personal request? This time you can.

Meditating with Aromatics is a work in progress that you can help shape as it is written. You can request that I write a meditation for a fragrant substance that has special power for you. You can suggest scents I may not have considered. You can try them out and let me know what would work better for you.

I have made the booklet free to download from Lulu, but as they have no stats counter for free downloads, all I ask is that if you do
download it, you let me know that you have done so, and that if you pass the link to others, they let me know if they have. That way I have a good idea of the scale of my readers and their reach. I’d also be delighted if people bought the paper copy. I am actually very proud of how it looks and feels. Each time I update it, a new
revision will be created until the final product is completed but
it’s not going to break the bank at this stage to buy a copy. I am
smugly delighted with my cover design showing a beautiful English
garden in full summer glory.

So buy or download, pass it on to anyone who meditates, and let me know what YOU want. There aren’t many books that are truly written for the reader’s benefit, so take advantage of this and get involved. I’d also be immensely grateful if you would repost, Facebook, blog, tweet and retweet and mention whenever you feel it’s appropriate because reaching the people who might benefit from this project is going to be as interactive as the writing of the book itself. Thank you all in advance.


The Light of the World by Holman Hunt

I’ve always loved the pre-Raphaelite painters with their richness of colour, texture and mythic themes, not to mention that I would have made a perfect model for them.

Holman Hunt’s most famous painting, The Light of the World, is a feast of richness and mystery. The figure is assumed to be Jesus, a very English interpretation, standing at a door and knocking but look closer and notice some interesting things.

The door is already open and yet, it seems little used. Wild plants grow up around the doorway, untrampled and mostly undisturbed. The door is in fact wedged open. It’s also hard to tell whether the door is going out or coming into somewhere. Jesus looks sad. He looks like he is coming to remind someone of something they have forgotten, as if he is knocking to tell people, hey look the door is open, it’s been open for years, why don’t you come through?

He also looks uncertain, as if he doesn’t know how he is going to be welcomed and given that crown of thorns on his head, can you blame him. I imagine he is tapping lightly but without bravado on that door, persistently alerting us to the fact that the door is open, but he is simply standing there. Where does the doorway lead to and where does it lead from?

Who is waiting for who? Is he waiting for us to come to him or is he waiting to be told he can come in?

Is it later than we think?

Guesting elsewhere today ~ the grit at the heart of the pearl

Today I have been given a rather wonderful guest posting at Thea Atkinson’s blog. Go and read. I am rather proud of this one…


Doorways ~ an open and shut case?

This one?

or this one:

“Footfalls echo in the memory, down the passage we did not take towards the door we never opened into the rose garden. My words echo thus in your mind. But to what purpose  disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose leaves I do not know.”

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton (Four Quartets)

Ties that Bind ~ a poem about love

Ties that bind

What are the ties that bind us?
Perhaps for some, like Marley’s chains,
They are forged link by link
Of heavy frozen steel
To weigh down butterfly wings
And hearts that would be away,
As sure as nail through foot
Would anchor us to earth.
The ties that bind should rather be
Ribbony tassels tied to the rag-tree,
Love-knots given as fairings
To a beloved who will treasure
Each and every bright strand
Long after the satin strips
Have all faded and frayed.

A yearning for freedom and a burning desire for fairness ~ a dangerous combination?

yearning for freedom and a burning desire for fairness ~ a dangerous

Many years ago now, a dear friend said to me, “You have a strong desire to  express your freedom,” and I didn’t know what he meant. I’m still not entirely sure now.

In the West we have more personal freedoms than most of us know what to do with or often are even aware of. Many people do not use their vote, citing the fact that it makes no difference who they vote for. It seems pointless to even bother. To me, this insults those people who campaigned and died to get universal suffrage. Women especially seem to take for granted the rights they have now that women didn’t have even when I was growing up in the seventies. In fact, many women are rejecting the advances that have been made. I hear of teenage girls who are deliberately choosing not to work at school, despite intelligence, because the perceived wisdom is that boys do not fancy clever girls. I rarely read women’s magazines (haven’t bought one in twenty years) but when I do, often in desperate boredom at the hospital, I am horrified by the level of even the glossies. No wonder many men despise women if the magazines they read are representative
of today’s women.

When I was at school, I wanted to do either metalwork or woodwork; girls had to do either needlework or cookery. In the end, I did rural science; it was the only gender neutral practical subject available. But girls today have no bars in terms of subjects and yet so many choose things that lock them back into stereotypes. How many boys choose Childcare, I wonder? Not many. I would have given a lot to be allowed to choose a subject that was deemed a boy’s one, and yet, now girls can, they don’t.

In a society where freedom of choice and freedom of expression are supposedly at the heart of it, why then do most people choose the easy option and most people say nothing at all?

The fact is that freedom is not truly free, it costs. It doesn’t always cost US but it costs society. The individual has responsibilities that come with their freedom: you have the vote but you need to use it, for example, to make it worth having.

If you are reading this then you are one of the lucky ones. You are
literate, you have access to a computer, you live in a country where the internet is unrestricted by government.  In all probability you also have enough to eat and other benefits. Billions do not. Does the freedom of the nations that enjoy these things also endow a responsibility to aid those nations who do not? I believe it does. It is not fair that purely by accident of birth one person should have opportunities another does not. When you also consider that the luxury we live in may well have come at a high cost for people we do not personally know, does it make you wonder if your personal freedoms have come at a cost someone else is paying?

There is an old fashioned concept many have forgotten about in our Me! Me! Me! culture. Duty. We have a duty to others, even others we will never meet, because if we are to raise ourselves beyond the purely selfish aims, we must seek to ensure fairness and equality to all. Most people feel some sense of duty towards family members and friends, but why not begin to extend this to mankind as a whole?

  As the Native Americans say, “We are all related.”