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.

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

Starting with full storehouses ~ harvest and new year blessings

Starting with full storehouses ~ harvest and new year blessings

If I said to you today Happy New Year, you’d think me mad, perhaps. But at rise of the new moon today, a new year begins: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosh_Hashanah and I can’t help thinking that starting a new year at harvest time with full storehouses makes much better sense that doing as our calender does, and starting it in the bleakest of deep mid winter when the worst of the weather is still to come and the joys of Christmas are past and forgotten as you pack away the tinsel, and in the not-too-distant-past people would worry whether the stores would last them out till the following year. Starting at harvest time means starting with optimism and a sense of achievement.

Autumn is a beautiful season in this country, filled with colour and changing scenes as the various harvests are brought home. Wheat and barley are gathered in, and the many other crops are either in or on their way. Wild harvests of nuts and berries will go in as the days shorten, and the apples on our trees are ripe and ready to bring in. There aren’t as many this year as the trees got a much-needed pruning and a lot of manure was spread about their roots. But I’m thinking now of other sorts of harvest, the kind you don’t stack in stooks or boil to make jam.

I have terrible tendency to think little of my achievements. I often forget that with less-than-perfect health, I’ve got a lot done in the nine months that have already gone by of this year. There’s not a lot to show for it, though, because most is unfinished works-in-progress. I’ve done around 30k words since April, long-hand, of a sequel to Square Peg, and I’ve added lots of words to other books. I’ve written some poetry, and I’ve done a LOT of journal work. I’ve also been working with dreams, so my dream journal and my active imagination journal have been busy. I’ve done a fair bit of painting for my Jungian exploration. I’ve put out the new book. And so it goes on. I must fight with myself to accept these things as powerful, valuable matter to go into my personal metaphysical harvest, as achievements to build upon during the coming winter, the coming year and onwards. Just as my apple trees need feeding and pruning, so too does my inner life if it is to see continuing harvests in the future.

My blessings to you on this special day.

apples and chalice

apples and chalice

Grey Heron as Night Falls in Paris

Grey Heron as Night Falls in Paris

The leaping of a fish makes a soft splash that would be inaudible amid the hubbub of the area around the Eiffel Tower, but for its incongruity. It’s that which makes me turn, that surprising sound of a creature entering the water, the caress of murky water on scales. Voices, sirens, footsteps, music and the general loud hum of a huge city do not drown out this silken sound, and I gaze to where ripples in the dark water radiate outwards. This is confirmation enough of the event; a second fish leaps, after insects I must assume, and the falling twilight catches for one millisecond on the slick skin. My tired mind registers the size of the leaping fish, does a swift search for a possible candidate: carp, for sure. These ponds must be receptacles for all kinds of rubbish, and carp are the most resilient of watery beings.

I turn, to focus on what I am meant to be doing, turning my back to the water. Yet as I do, out of the corner of my eye, I see her, perfectly poised and unconcerned by the tumult around:

A grey heron, feathers shades of grey and white, long beak sharp and angled ready to strike.

She watches the water, seeking her meal amid the coffee coloured murk of the city pond. I sense that she is aware of us, but is unconcerned and finds us of no relevance, and she does not turn from her fishing.

I watch for a few moments; it occurs to me that should we all vanish, the herons and the other birds and beasts, would soon take back territories that were once theirs alone.

In a city that is pushing to 11 million people, I cannot help feeling that the flora and fauna we marginalise still have more claim to the land than we do, and they live more lightly than we.

Time Travel and Necromancy: the easy way.

Time Travel and Necromancy: the easy way.

No, I haven’t gone over to the Dark Side with Dr Who. Chance would be a fine thing. I’ve been following my nose as a part of a project that is as much intuitive as it is nebulous, and I’m hoping to share a snippet of some of my discoveries. After all, one of the items on my bio on Twitter and elsewhere is Explorer and while I think most people reading this blog don’t expect me to disappear into jungles wearing a pith helmet and a goofy smile and not reappear for months or years, I do the Explorer thing in a very different way. I explore inner worlds.

When I say, following my nose, I do mean literally. I’ve been exploring the world of the sense of smell. I’ve hung round department stores, come home often with a dozen little smelling strips (which make delightful book marks, by the way), visited perfume shops, and bought blind on line. I can honestly say I have no real clear idea of what I’m doing. Or really, why. But there’s been some extraordinary results.

First one I’d like to share concerns a perfume from The Library of Fragrance. http://thelibraryoffragrance.com/collections/all?page=1 They have created a sort of physical data base of all sorts of extraordinary scents: everything from almond or apple blossom to wet garden or whisky tobacco. I’ve been given some and have bought a few others; they’re relatively inexpensive and light cologne type fragrances. Singly, some are a little thin, or depth-less, but the beauty is you can mix and match and create something quite different by using two or more at a time. Now, I’ve managed to recreate a now-unavailable perfume Amber from L’Occitane by mixing Amber with Thunderstorm; it’s as close as makes no difference when the original is gone from sale. The Library was having a sale a few weeks ago and my daughter and I pooled our resources and bought one each. I bought Iris http://thelibraryoffragrance.com/products/iris but when mine arrived I got a shock because it brought a ghost with it.

A kindly ghost, I must add. The scent is quite hard to describe, but it conjured someone I admired hugely as a child and who I wished I had known better as an adult. Until I sprayed Iris on me, I hadn’t know that somehow, it had been her scent. I imagine it was a mixture of things, but it immediately brought to mind my headmistress from my infants’ school, who I stayed in touch with by letter until I was 23, when she passed away unexpectedly. Looking back, I know she had had a difficult life that it’s hard for a 21st century young woman to understand; not only had she lived through WW2, she would have also lived through the radical changes before that, and the changing world that meant that when she began her teaching career, it was accepted that a female teacher would quit if she married (it was once enforced as were dozens of other things we now look at with horror). So Iris was as if she had just walked through the room; it gave me great comfort and encouragement. It’s a perfume of quiet elegance and self-deprecating strength; not exactly floral either, but with a 1920’s feel to it that’s unlike anything else. 

The next perfume was one of sheer time travel. When I was 14, I went to France on an exchange programme. On one afternoon, we were let loose in the centre of Angers, and I found myself in the market. One of the stalls was selling joss sticks and perfumes and I haggled for several items. I came away with a hair clip, a joss stick holder and a tiny bottle of deep, dark resinous looking perfume that later I was not allowed to wear at home because my mum loathed it. I loved it, and though it was very different to the kind of scent you’d imagine an English school girl wearing, it was something that had drawn me. Of course, once it was gone (lost or finished, I do not recall) I had no name for it and could never find anything like it again. Then, part of my foraging on Amazon brought this to my nets: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00V37SSF8?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00 Opening it was like stepping back forty or so years. I imagine my mother will still hate it.

Not all exploring is nice. I have had one experience recently with the scents I have been trying and it continues to haunt and upset me, because I cannot get the scent out of my mind and it’s a horrible one, truly horrible. http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00UD2NKKW?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o06_s00 I had been trying to find a version of amber I also remember from my teens. But this was not it. It brought to mind a person who isn’t dead but might as well be; not a complete scent but a note created by all sorts of things, and like with Iris, it was as if someone gone from my life had walked through my room. Needless to say, I had to use other scents to exorcise this memory.

I am hoping that this form of exploration will be a way of examining both memories and imagination in a manner that is quite different. It might not suit everyone but it’s been an interesting experience so far.

(For other posts of fragrance please click here  here  here or here

“Where springs not fail” ~ on not losing hope

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/

Frog medicine, Duck medicine

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