A Vessel of Ashes

A Vessel of Ashes

I’ve been in a grim place for so long it feels like there’s been no end and no beginning. It feels like this is all there is and all there was and all there ever will be. Needless to say, it feels horrible. I’ve been trying to make sense of it all and failing, and trying again and failing again. The results of the referendum have left me devastated, repeatedly; there seems a massive disconnect and breach between those who voted leave and those who voted remain. One side cannot understand the other and the vitriol hurled has been… caustic and damaging beyond belief. I have given up trying to explain why it is all so hurtful but the consensus of rejoicing Leavers is “Suck it up, suck it up,” and I have left it at that. The utter powerlessness I feel is probably felt by millions and we are told, that’s democracy.

So I have disconnected from the stream of life that flows in front of my eyes, in the form of social media, because I could no longer bear the hurt I see. I’m still around, but I am emotionally distanced. I’ve already lost one old friend from college days because I refused to allow him to pour his opinions all over my Facebook wall; he did not take it gracefully.

I have, however, been dreaming again. Having had a spell where I was unable to either dream or to recall anything of the dreams I did have, to have dreams coming through again is something of a relief.

I’d like to share a few with you now. The first is from a few days ago.

I am at a party I don’t really want to be at. I don’t feel I know anyone, but here I am anyway. I make my way outside into the garden, which is untended and unkempt, and walled by high brick walls. I am shocked to see that our old round table is out there, left out to rot; I look closer and I see that the table is broken, split almost down the middle as if by an mighty axe blow. It’s not quite perfectly in half, but it looks beyond anything but very skilled repairs. The chairs that go with it lie on the rough grass, with tufts of weeds growing through them, left where they fell when pushed back by those who had sat upon them. I feel sad and a little sick, and move to go back inside. As I walk back up the steps, there is a small child there, a little boy of somewhere between one year and three. He speaks to me, and I answer, and though waking I cannot recall what he said, only that it was words and themes so far beyond such a tiny child, I know I reply with complete seriousness and great care. He speaks again and then laughs and it is like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, and I am filled with sudden joy (in waking life, I dislike small children) and I want to hold him up. I put my hands on him to lift him but find he is far too heavy for me to lift, heavier than a full grown man by far. I realise quite suddenly that I am not to do this, not to treat him as a tiny child, and I step away and apologise for overstepping the mark. But he laughs joyfully again and I know I have not offended (for how could I have known?) and then the dream ends.

The next dream is from the small hours of this morning. I’ve spent much of the day pondering on it.

The first part of the dream I am visiting an aquarium belonging to a friend; there are lots of huge tanks filled with marvellous fish and sea creatures and we walk among the tanks (it’s like a Sea Life centre). But she’s packing up intending to leave and the fish know and are upset, even though she says I am to look after the fishes when she is gone. There are commotions in many of the tanks, as the fish become disturbed and frightened; one tank we see that a sea snake has become so upset it looks as if it is trying to swallow one of the bigger fishes, so we intervene. Hauling it out and uncoiling it, I see that it’s not a sea snake but a big Burmese python and it has its own tail in its mouth, as if trying to swallow itself.

The dream moves and shifts, and I find myself outside a sea shore cottage. In the dream, it’s a building I have seen and admired many times but in waking life, it’s not one I recognise. The cottage is built on a ridge very close to the sea, alone and with no other buildings nearby. It belongs to a nun, an anchoress, who invites me in to see the house. The inside is Spartan, and neat in a quirky, somewhat Bohemian style, and there is little furniture. I go to the window to see the view; it’s open and I see that the sea is alarmingly close to the house, and huge waves are crashing on the shore. I try to shut the window as the biggest wave yet hits the shingle, and some spray gets through before I managed to get it shut. I am asked to go and fetch water; the cottage does not have mains water but gets its water from a spring outside. I ask what do I collect the water in, and am shown at first a wide shiny steel serving platter, like a concave mirror, but that seems silly to me as it will not hold more than a few drops, and I rummage around and find a glass vessel, like an amphora, that I carry outside.

The spring itself is a very odd thing; it’s a sort of strange fountain, like it has been grown from volcanic mud or worn out from a termite mound. Water comes intermittently from different spouts, but never much and never with a lot of force. It will take patience to collect water here. I start, only to see that the glass vessel is mostly filled with ashes (I think they are human ashes, as if from a cremation) mixed with small stones, grit and sand. It won’t shake out, so I start adding water to it, to try and rinse it out. The ashes are packed down tight and need a lot of water to loosen them. I wake before the vessel is emptied or cleaned.

11 thoughts on “A Vessel of Ashes

  1. Robert Frost was once asked what he had learned about life. He said: “Three words. It goes on.”

    You have power over the moment in which you live. The last choice is still yours: the choice in how to respond to these troubling times. No one can take that choice from you.

    You are a vessel of ashes only if you see yourself as such. I prefer to see you as a vessel of seeds being poured out onto each new day. Grow where you are. Flower when you can. Endure under the blue skies over which politicians have no power.

    You will be in my thoughts. I have faith in you, Roland


  2. I empathise. I seem to have lost any connection I had with the country I live in, but social media has at least kept me calm in the knowledge that I am not alone in this feeling. I am surprised at some people, but not always for the reasons I would have expected, which is also unsettling. I personally don’t believe we have power over even the moment in which we live – that is a luxury very few of us have in a world where to decide how to respond is often as impossible as solving the world’s problems.


  3. Great dreams. Like you, I was upset, and distanced my emotionally from the Brexit circus, which lacked sincere thoughts to engage with. Trash media made a soap opera of it. But I’m interested in the analysis of the event from a wider perspective. Among others, I found an interview with Jürgen Habermas in ‘Die Zeit Online’ interesting. I managed to see things through a historical wide angel-lense, but have insufficient knowledge about politics, or economics, to evaluate his points.

    Skilled repairs requires people with special talents.
    But I trust we can individually master the patience to collect enough clean water to make it drinkable again.


    • I hope so.
      I ought to say now, to you in particular, that a comment you made on a painting and a dream (Raven and Vulture perform the funeral rites) set me on an interesting path. You said, it looks like nigredo, and once I began looking I saw that it was. My reading since then has been alchemical. While initially I found this dream to be painful, on later reflection I saw it was a mix of calcinato and dissoluto, and that gives me some hope. So thank you for that earlier comment; you became a way-shower for me.


  4. It’s always refreshing to come across such plain honesty, even in dealing with depressing or despairing matters. I think just such plain honesty you display here, Viv, is necessary heart maintenance. One must begin in broken situations by returning to home base in ourselves. When others see one person do it, such as you have, and then they come out and do it themselves, not wallowing but connecting what they feel to something true in themselves, and all the true expressions are collected, home base broadens into a meeting place where those fishes and loaves you mentioned in your great poem are shared.

    This is really wonderful: “Skilled repairs requires people with special talents. But I trust we can individually master the patience to collect enough clean water to make it drinkable again.”


  5. Life does go on. Frost was right. Outside forces can blindside us, things can happen over which we have no control. Hope it improves for you. Focus on what you can change and analyze the situation as if it’s a work problem. It takes some of the emotion out of the equation.


    • I think that my absence of emotion for months and months on end may be an important factor; the flow of emotion (water) is vital here. Thank you for the kindness.


  6. I think a lot of us seem to have reached a critical point of … I don’t know what to call it ‘news fatigue’, ‘compassion fatigue’ (not in the sense that we don’t care anymore but that we feel too anxious about things). A collective panic attack perhaps? Hope you can find a way to resist the downward spiral. Keep on beating that water with your legs – maybe at some it will turn into butter (like the story of the frog who fell in milk).


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