Doors within Doors ~ deciphering the dreaming

Doors within Doors ~ deciphering the dreaming

Last year I found myself taking lots of photographs of doors and doorways, some open, some closed and some even bricked up.

 The best ones (visually anyway) were ones that were taken from the inside looking out. The view is framed by the doorway and the view is enticing.

The real reason I am fascinated by doorways is not merely aesthetic but symbolic. I dream a great deal about doors; often in the dream I try to exit a building only to find that the doorway is somehow far too narrow to squeeze my bulk through. Or I dream that my door to the world will not fully shut and remains stubbornly open and vulnerable to intrusion by the exterior world. Or that I am unable to open a door to escape from a house. Many of my dreams see me exploring, often fearfully in darkened rooms and corridors, a great house, vast in size and packed with rooms full of wonders and terrible things. I go up stairs that never end, trying to find a way off the exhausting ascent. Often stairs are for the trigger for realising I am dreaming and then I can take some control and enjoy “lucid dreaming”.

A common door dream I have at regular intervals is one where I find a secret door in my home, that has been there all along but I have forgotten about, and which leads to a series of rooms that are hidden but somehow familiar. I discover what amounts to a second house, annexed to the main one, and I explore that avidly. I wake feeling disappointed that these extra rooms are not really present. The extra rooms have the feel of having been recently inhabited but I never meet anyone there.

But the dreams that end up haunting me most are the ones where I am trapped within a building and cannot find a door that takes me out into the open air, and into nature. Sometimes I go through doors that seem to take me outside but in fact they turn me back to the inside. I often wake distressed and claustrophobic from these.

About a week or two back I had one of these dreams but it had a rather interesting twist. I was in a caravan and I wanted to go out. The door was there so I opened it. Behind it was another door. I opened that. It went on, opening door after door without ever revealing the way out. A voice, just off camera, said to me, “This is a spirit door, it is there to confuse the spirits.” It made perfect sense and within the dream I seemed to remember some Tibetan practise of putting in fake doors to trap evil spirits. I lost the dream a moment after that but I do recall I may have tried to exit via a window and the dream went elsewhere.

I woke with a sense of having been given a clue.  A door is not always a door; sometimes it is a trap. In the last novel I wrote (not yet named or published) the main character ended up in a catatonic fugue state, as a result of extreme stress and trauma but the final straw was moving through a gateway in his own garden. Now previous to this, he had experienced a deep shamanic trance state where he had met and talked with his dead mother herself stuck in between worlds, and captive by her own choices in a moment frozen in time in that same garden. Their conversation finally freed her from this self-imposed imprisonment and the son acted as a kind of psycho-pomp for the dead by allowing her to pass from the garden into the next world via a seldom-opened gate in the garden wall. His own desire to escape from the travails of his life meant that the next time he passed in reality through this gate, it sent him back into a limbo world like that timeless night-garden and trapped him in a non-responsive state.

I’ve battled with this desire to escape, escape from myself and my life and who I am for a long time. I think this is what fuels these dreams of doors and doorways and why my unconscious plays these tricks on me.

I somehow feel that perhaps within my dreaming I have been so focused on going through doors I have not considered (like the hero in my novel) where they actually lead. Do they lead to the open air, the wide skies and freedom or do they lead like the gateway in my hero’s journey to a limbo land of nothingness and waiting?

I do not know.

Last night though I dreamed a slightly different dream. Without conscious action I moved within a dream from an interior setting to an outside one. I had no awareness of the transition from being at a computer holding an instant messaging conversation with someone who will probably never communicate with me again, to being outside and at the foot of an impossibly steep hill. Others (I don’t know who) were with me and while I thought the hill too steep to ascend, someone showed me that it was only the first six feet that were hard, and suddenly, I was hauling myself up onto a path that was far higher up than I expected to be. It was a hill that seemed to have been a sort of ancient hill fort that had been built upon and used for a long, long time and once I was past a certain point, I was able to stand at the low walls and look out across a vast and brightly lit city below me. I wasn’t at the top, but I was a good halfway and the rest of the climb didn’t look that hard at all.

The following lines are from T.S Eliot’s East Coker, in the Four Quartets

You say I am repeating

Something I have said before. I shall say it again.

Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,

To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,

You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.

In order to arrive at what you do not know

You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.

In order to possess what you do not possess

You must go by the way of dispossession.

In order to arrive at what you are not

You must go through the way in which you are not.

And what you do not know is the only thing you know

And what you own is what you do not own

And where you are is where you are not.

It seems to be about a form of conscious unconsciousness. Maybe like my hero in that novel, I need to go through a form of dispossession of self.

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.

When Do We Get To Do The Hazelnuts? A Review of Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich.


When Do We Get To Do The Hazelnuts? A review of Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich  

The above photo was taken no more than thirty paces from one of the most remarkable sites of pilgrimage in the whole of the British Isles. The Julian Shrine, the site of the cell where Dame Julian of Norwich lived out her life as an anchoress, and wrote Revelations of Divine Love, is situated in an area of Norwich that was formerly known as the red-light district. Due to the advent of mobile phones, the girls no longer wander up and down, but there are plenty of unsavoury characters around, as well as a good deal of graffiti.

And yet, the small church of St Julian and the reconstructed shrine attached to it shine with a light that is not visible to the naked untrained eye. The retreat house where I spent a few days last month is a haven of peace and home-like tranquillity. The church was bombed more or less flat during the last war and the cell itself was destroyed during the Reformation, so that if you want to be pedantic about it, nothing is as it was. But what is? The essence and the atmosphere have remained.

We know little about Julian ( herself, not even her original name, other than that she was born around 1342 and died some time between 1416 and 1430, and at the age of thirty and a half years suffered a life threatening illness. Indeed, her family thought her to be dying and she received the last rites. But during this serious illness, she was shown visions that changed her utterly, and her miraculous recovery led her to chose a life of contemplation and devotion to prayer. She wrote two versions of her visionary experience: the short form, written in the immediate aftermath and a longer, more complete version some twenty years later, having spent those years in prayer and meditation to try and understand what she had been shown.

The resulting books have been considered spiritual classics ever since, studied and loved and returned to by generation after generation of seekers. She was the first woman(that we know of) to write a book in English and since the advent of the printing press her works have never been out of print. The chances are that she never knew in her life time how successful her works would become; she may never have even seen her book except as her own handwritten version. There is some uncertainty to whether she did in fact perform the act of writing it or whether like Margery Kemp(a mystic contemporary to Mother Julian, and whom she met to give counsel to) she dictated to a scribe since Julian claimed to be illiterate. However, scholars believe that by this she means she did not read and write fluently in Latin. The vernacular was not considered worthy of any great works.

The time that Julian lived in were troubled, though I can think of few times in English history that have not been so, and life was hard for most people. Wars raged, and a great deal of uncertainty about the future meant that many worried constantly about how life would be. Not so very different from today, in fact. I could draw parallels with events of the moment but I will not. Suffice it to say that while Julian lived, the world was not so very different from how it is now, technology notwithstanding.

Her words have brought great comfort to many souls who are troubled by life and their place in it:

Because of our good Lord’s tender love to all those who shall be saved, he quickly comforts them, saying, ‘The cause of all this pain is sin. But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ These words were said so kindly and without a hint of blame to me or to any who shall be saved. So how unjust it would be for me to blame God for allowing my sin when he does not blame me for falling into it. In these words I saw the deep, high mystery of God which he will show to us in heaven. Then we shall understand why he allowed sin to be. And in knowing this we shall have endless joy in God.The saints in heaven turn their will away from everything except what God would have them know… And this should be our will, too


I can hear you ask, what about the hazelnuts?

Well, I wish to end with one of the strangest examples of synchronicity I have seen in a long time. On my first morning of retreat, I headed out to find some lunch, and took a short cut down St Julian’s Alley, to come out at the Dragon Hall, a vestige of medieval Norwich that the bombs failed to flatten but before I got more than thirty paces from the church, I saw the graffiti and was so struck by it that I had to take a picture. You see, part of Julian’s vision involved a small thing like a hazelnut:

“In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it
was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and
thought “What may this be?” And it was generally answered thus: “It is all that is
made.” I marvelled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have
sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my
understanding: “It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it.”
— Julian of Norwich


For me, this last piece of coincidence brings great comfort. To find idly scribbled words that unconsciously reflect one of the most treasured books of Christian literature on a half ruined building not many yards away from the source of those original words is to me a sign that we cannot know where our words will go and what they will do. Dame Julian can never have known in her lifetime the power her words would have and how long they would endure: endure beyond her own flesh, the established church of her time, beyond the stones of the cell and those of the church she worshipped at.

This brings me hope that truth and beauty and goodness have the power to endure beyond the troubles of their times and continue to affect people long after their creators have passed away and their names and true identities are lost in the mists of time.


Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves- concerning oracles



Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves

I have taken the title of this post from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins though the content of the poem is actually not relevant to this post. The photo shows the leaves laid out on my dining room table this afternoon, drying so that they can be used during the prayers at church tomorrow, and because my winter tablecloth also sports leaves as its theme, I took some photos and it set in motion some thoughts.

Recently I had occasion to question whether my life might have taken radically different directions at various critical points and it made me ask why I made certain decisions. It’s seldom easy to see which way you should go when you stand at a crossroads; you often have no idea of where you want to go. Those who have had a game plan all along sometimes find themselves stymied when they find themselves at such points, because not one of the possible directions currently revealed resembles where they thought they wanted to go. For those of us(like me) who bumble along and take what comes, it is just as difficult. I don’t believe that we automatically will get where we were meant to go, but I do feel sure that certain things, certain themes or people or places are part of our life itinerary, and at some stage we meet with them. So you might say any direction will take you where you need to go. I’m not convinced. You’ll never know where the journey you didn’t make would have taken you.

There have been plenty of occasions where I have been given choices to make, many of them in effect Hobson’s choices, and I have found that even after long rational thought and study of the options, I still have no awareness of which is the course I should follow. In many cases, there has been insufficient information to make an informed choice. For example, in deciding which hall of residence I wanted to live at during my first year at university, I read through the brochure, was none the wiser and picked Rathbone Hall solely on the basis that a favourite Sherlock Holmes actor was called Basil Rathbone. It was far from an important decision, but others seemed to regard it as such.

But when it comes to deeper choices, my advice is always to follow what your heart tells you. We all have very fine instincts, usually hidden deep within our civilised souls, and often these still small voices of wisdom are drowned out by rational, logical thought, or by prejudice or other things. I have made certain decisions that to others looked insane. I remember the utter horror of an American student I knew at university when I told her I was getting married six weeks after graduating. At that stage, neither my intended nor I had a job or a home or really anything much, but by the time the wedding day came, he had a decent job, we’d got a home to go to and a future to look forward to. That was 23 years ago.

There are times when even the still small voice cannot help us; it is silent and that silence is deafening. You simply don’t know what to do or where to turn. It’s frightening.

This is where the Sibyl’s Leaves come in.

The Sibyl had a collection of leaves each having a single word or letter written upon it; the leaves were thrown into the air and allowed to land and each leaf with a word on the upside was collected and the Sibyl would read a message through whatever words were there. Of course, no one knows what words were written but you may imagine. As oracles go, it’s not as icky as some; reading entrails has always struck me as rather a strange one, possibly only foretelling a chicken dinner for the priest.

How oracles work is another matter, but my belief is that they do indeed work. Some feel they are a way for the gods, or spirits or angels or whatever to speak to us and still more believe that they work by accessing our deep subconscious by means of archetypical symbols and so on. Personally,I’m working on the assumption that any/all of the above are valid until I get evidence to the contrary. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I’ve worked with Tarot for many years, as well as other oracle systems, both regular ones like runes and other ones that are less well known. I could never get the hang of the I-Ching and gave my set away to a friend; my head became fuzzy and baffled by it. None of these things is really about predicting the future, though sometimes it can seem like it. To some degree this is because a skilled reader of an oracle is accessing a very complex set of probabilities that make picking the winner of the Grand National look like child’s play; there are too many factors at play to really hope for accuracy. It’s about(putting it very simplistically) saying if you do X, then Y will happen, but only if you do Z first. It doesn’t take into account the infinite other factors that are at work.

However using an oracle system for yourself is a very good way of accessing and reawakening your own inner voices of wisdom. Tarot in particular is filled with mystical images and archetypes and with a set that suits your character you can find a great deal of hidden knowledge about your own self that can sometimes make deciding between one path in life and another a great deal simpler.

Of course, you might say you might as well just toss a coin, forgetting that throwing a coin is one of the oldest and simplest oracles in the world. There are times when the logical and rational have nothing more to offer, or their advice is somehow counter to what your instincts tell you.

Trust your instincts; they’ve been getting people out of trouble for a lot longer than Google.

Heartbeat of the Earth

It’s a glorious day in England and the late spring is rushing along as fast as it can go. I keep looking up at the sky to see if I can see a great cloud of volcanic ash heading this way but all I see are white clouds scudding along like frisky sheep.

I walk, fast enough to keep warm, because the wind is still cold, blowing in from the north east and bringing the smell of the sea long before I reach it. Sometimes I stop and talk with other dogwalkers; we admire each other’s animals and talk dogtalk. There’s a great camaraderie among dogwalkers and it’s probably a measure of my slightly sick mind that it occurs to me that using the cover of dogwalking might be a great disguise for a serial killer. We greet someone who we don’t know like a long lost relative simply because of their canine companion.

The beach is bracing, the wind whipping the waves into fine spume that makes you wet if you walk too near the shoreline. I feel sand seep into my trainers. Back up and head towards the wood again as I run out of beach. The nudist beach is no more, as much a result of coastal erosion as it was of county council statutes; but few naturists felt the narrow stretch of rough shingle was worth the pains of visiting any more.

   I return via another belt of ancient woodland, taking a short cut across a vast meadow and then back into tree cover again. I love trees. The dog trails behind me, following her nose where it leads and when she does that I stand and wait for her to catch up and feel the sun and the breeze on what little skin I have bared. It feels good. Back into a grove of trees, I remember my days as a warden on a nature reserve, working as education officer and I take a sneaky look around to see if I am watched before pressing my right ear to the nearest tree. A distant hint of moving liquid sounds inside the trunk, faint but distinct. This one is too big. I try a sapling and the sound is thin and thready, like the pulse of a dying bird.

Moving on I reach the final open space of the walk and a parade of trees greets me, spaced out across grass studded with wildflowers making up for lost time. These, like Goldilock’s porridge, are just right. Not too big and not too small. I lean my face against the first, feeling the bristle of lichen like kissing a man unshaven on Sundays. The trunk is warm from the sun and the lichen crackles and shifts as my ear finds the sweet spot. Like a river, the heartbeat of the tree thunders away and the tree seems to lean against me as the wind catches it, like a Shire horse will lean on the farrier as it is being shod. It feels strange, a great affectionate gesture from a loving stranger who has become a friend in the space between one heartbeat and the next. I stand, my cheek against this tree before moving to the next and repeating the experience. Four trees  later and I have moss and lichen in my hair, making me look like a slightly stout dryad, if dryads are allowed to wear combat trousers and National Geographic Buffs.

I cut down the field and back into the first belt of woodland, and stop amid the grove of chesnuts, where the bats inhabit a hole in one trunk and woodpeckers rear a nestfull of chicks every year in the hole below it and here, I stop for a moment and listen to the sound beyond the song of birds and the wind in the trees and further beyond the traffic on the A12 a few dozen yards away now.

So distant that I may well be imagining it, I hear another heartbeat: the earth’s. It might be my own magnified by my melancholy and sensitivity, but it doesn’t matter. Just as the trees leaning into me like horses comforted me, so too does this notion or perception. The earth is herself alive, and sentient and that comforts me beyond anything. Humanity may be doomed but the earth will recover.

    I go home, feeling tired and a little sad but not despairing. That’s as much as you can hope for some days.

Secrets of The Universe (1)

I’ve sometimes got ideas, (often my best ideas) for stories from dreams. The dream world is the door to the unconscious and also to other levels of consciousness too. So since many people including myself  believe that they receive guidance and help from beyond human consciousness through dreams, it’s not surprising that so many breakthroughs and insights come through dreams. Inventions(the sewing machine, the light bulb), discoveries(the double helix nature of the DNA strand) inspirations (poetry, prose, even entire novels, such as Dr Jeykll and Mr Hyde) religious enlightenment and even the location of treasure(the Swaffham peddlar) came through dreams.

Some years ago, the father of an acquaintance of mine started to have very powerful dreams where he felt he was being given important information for humanity. The problem was that as soon as he woke up, he simply couldn’t remember what he had been told in the dreams. Night after night, he dreamed such dreams and in the morning they were gone. He retained nothing beyond the impression that he had been told something of vital importance.

Frustrated and beginning to be distressed about this, he asked for advice and a close family friend told him that he ought to keep a notebook and pen by the bed and try to wake himself up out of these powerful dreams and immediately write down whatever he had understood.

Easier said than done. He sorted out notebook and pen, but waking himself up was so hard. Eventually he hit on the idea of having big glass of water before going to sleep so that the inevitable effects of that would cause his sleep to become lighter and then to wake.


The first night he woke but nothing had been dreamed.

Ditto the second night.

But on the third night, he woke after a marvellous dream, scribbled it down, staggered to the bathroom and back, plunging immediately into sleep again.

The next morning, it was time for the golden revelation. He’d shut the notebook up so he couldn’t glance at it and he brought it down to read out to his wife and son.

Long silence.

“What’s it say then, Dad?” asked the son.

Wordlessly, in fact speechless, the father handed his son the fateful notebook and hid his face in awe as the immortal words were read out:


So now you know.


Many years ago a good friend gave me a set of Chinese Health Balls, which are metal spheres with a sort of bell inside that you roll around in your hand, and sort of gently juggle them, the aim being to avoid clashing them together and also to massage various meridian points on the hands. They come in assorted sizes and designs, some being plain shiny metal balls, some are exquisitely decorated with cloisonne enamel-work.

My set were fairly plain as they go but they had an iridescent finish to them, like very solid soap bubbles.

“I wasn’t sure at first,” my friend said, “which to get you, but then I saw these ones and thought they were perfect. You have an iridescent aura.”

I guess you can gauge the sort of friends I have by that remark.

I didn’t really think anything more of that comment, except when I play with the balls, until the other day when I was waiting at the deli counter of a local supermarket and the assisant’s perfume was wafting over to me and I commented on it.

“Can I smell White Musk?” I asked.

“Ooh yes,” she said. “That’s all I ever wear for perfume.”  

We chatted a bit and I went off to finish the shopping, musing on this and other things. It came to me that I have never been able to settle on a single signature fragrance, and have a “wardrobe” of perfumes, to suit different moods and occasions and I quite simply could not say, this one or that one is my all time favourite. Many women find a fragrance and stick to it, defining themselves by it and even finding conflict if someone else close to them wears the same fragrance. They speak of being “faithful” to Chanel no 5 or some other fragrance, and may never change unless for some reason their favourite ceases to be made.

I recently had to fill in some interview questions and found some of them very diffcult to answer. “What is your favourite colour? What is your favourite thing to eat for breakfast?” It’s never the same and I can’t even pin down one for the sake of brevity.

I think it’s the same for me for so many matters. There is no one answer, now and for all time, for so many questions. I’m in flux, in transit constantly, changing, changing, changing. I suspect this may be why my friend perceived my energy field as being iridescent, that shifting and blending of the colours of the spectrum, moving constantly and never being fixed. If you have ever watched a soap bubble blown by a child, you will see the colours swirl and change and move, right up until a certain point where for one millisecond they become still: and then the bubble pops.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not indecisive at all. But I am changeable in so many ways; my tastes, my choices, my likes and dislikes, my beliefs and my doctrines. I am never truly still and this is a part of my journey. Maybe I will never be still. I don’t know.

Part of the traumatic part of “awakening” is the fact that the journey one begins then has no final end point and for many this becomes too much and they stop searching and looking for more answers. Today, this answer is the right one but will it be tomorrow? Probably not. I find it hard with others who have begun well on their journey and have chosen to reach a point of stasis where they chose to go no further and believe they have reached nirvana(or whatever phrase you chose) and deny that there may be further to go or more to discover. I find it hard not because they have chosen to stop and go no further but rather the condemnation they can so easily show to those who carry on, the condemnation and the distrust and the labelling. It’s quite common among religious faiths to reach a point where you wish to go no further along the road; beyond that point, the dragons are loose and waiting. But instead of accepting that others must go on and seek and even fight those dragons, those who have stopped seek to make demons of those who go on. This is what mystics and visionaries of all faiths have faced for millenia.

I can’t pretend that being the way I am makes me happy. Sometimes it makes me more miserable than anyone who doesn’t know me can imagine. But that said, trying to nail me down and make me stay the same colour, stay in the same place, like the same things, do the same things is about as sensible as trying to trap a bubble floating through the summer air and is likely to have the same effect: