The Healing Power of Metaphorical Mud

 

The Healing Power of Metaphorical Mud

I took the train yesterday across the frozen land between my small coastal port town and our nearest big city, Norwich. Traces of snow still showed here and there like dirty cream at the sides of roads, and the trees were all coated with a fine fur of hoar frost. Standing water was grey with sheet ice, and water birds huddled in stoical groups waiting for the thaw; slow-running water was sealed with a layer of rotten ice, broken and untrustworthy for anything larger than a mouse. Rivers were flowing under filmy remains of ice, but the landscape held little comfort for humans. The immense skies for which this area is famous were layered with clouds and colours ranging from palest apricot to brilliant turquoise, but I preferred to enjoy the scenery from the warmth of the train. Stepping out into the city, I wished I had brought gloves and headed first for a hot coffee before beginning my shopping.

As I walked around the city, I reflected on how the unusually cold weather my land was enduring might seem mild to those who live through the fierce winters of Canada and parts of Europe where once winter has begun, it holds the earth hard in its grip until the spring thaw. In Britain winter bites and releases many times until spring, but the milder times are a time of terrible mess. Once the land thaws, the water imprisoned in snow and ice flows freely, often causing localised flooding, and when the floods recede, mud and filth coat everything.

Snow was once referred to as poor man’s manure, because it brings with it minerals that feed the land, and mud, however foul it smells, feeds the often impoverished farmlands. Egypt relied on its annual floods to keep the farmland fertile.

Water as an element is often equated to emotions and feelings and the state of being frozen emotionally is often one that can become a state of normality for some people. To feel nothing is sometimes a blessing but it can’t carry on for long. Like winter, it won’t last forever, and that’s when the mess comes.

Mud and tears.

After the snow: the rain.

After the rain: the flood.

After the flood: the mud.

Snow imprisons me

And I dread the thaw:

Tears, anger and the mud.

What a mess!

But the black Nile silt

Laid thick across the plain

Made Egypt once

An Empire’s breadbasket.

Let then the ice melt:

Welcome the dancing torrents

And await the healing mud.

Of course, the state of transition between emotional states is deeply disturbing. It feels as though chaos and ruin reign. Nothing feels as it ought. There is mess everywhere; we cannot control our feelings, our reactions. We become coated in mud.

But mud, whether literal or metaphorical, contains nutrients that feed the land, or the ground of our being. And a garden that is well nourished brings forth flowers and fruit in their season.

Watching your garden emerge from the dark dank seasons of mud and muck and ice is a beautiful thing. Seeds from who knows where have been washed in, too. Some may germinate and surprise you by the beauty of what they bring; some may be no more than weeds. But mud brings growth and change.

Don’t be too hasty to wash it all off. You never know what strange and wonderful things it may have brought to you.

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Sacre Coeur, Paris

This is the view looking up from the base of the Butte, before we tackled the 220 steps to the top.

The building stays this blinding white despite the pollution because every time it rains there is a chemical reaction with the rainwater and the stone secretes calcite and this naturally bleaches the outside.

You can see quite how high we are here; this is the highest natural point in Paris, some 130m up. The Butte is a natural hill and it seems strange that Sacre Coeur was the first major building to be eretced on the very top, though in all probability it was not. There is strong evidence that the Romans had a temple to Mars up here, though the exact location is unknown. For those who can’t face the steps, there is a funicular railway that takes the strain, though it has to be the shortest journey you can take on a Metro ticket.

I wasn’t able to take any photos inside Sacre Coeur so if you ever go, do go inside. The interior is as lovely as the exterior.

Next: the artists’ square at Montmartre and the man who I saved from being run over…..

Becalmed

I’ve been working very hard the last few weeks, teaching and touring with my students and I’d forgotten  quite how exhausting I find it and how much it takes out of me. While I haven’t taught all day every day, I usually come home and the first thing I have to do is prepare the lesson for the next day. It’s hand-to-mouth stuff, responding to both the requests of a class and to what I have observed they may need. There’s not a lot of me left over many evenings, and that tends to be taken up with dealing with family needs of one sort of another. I’m not exactly a workaholic but to be honest, if I do something I like to do it properly and no stint at it, so I undoubtedly do more than I am paid for at work, for the sake of both professional pride in a job well done and for the students. Today I said goodbye to the class I have taught for the last 3 or so weeks. I cried a tiny bit too. They got cookies and brownies, though.

I’m finding it hardest at this time of year to find that delicate balance between allowing my creative self to flourish and putting her into a state of suspended animation until the summer is over. Some evenings, if I have been home by lunchtime, I have been able to write for a few hours. The trouble with this is that like any delightful experience, I don’t want it to end and then am unable to get to sleep at a sensible time to allow for a 6am start the next day.

Now the sheer tiredness is starting to take over. I went to give blood last week and discovered that while not fully anaemic, I was close enough for them to send me away without taking any blood. I have had a few other health niggles and now, I have one of those annoying colds that is just hovering there, making me sneeze and giving me sore sinuses.

Creatively, I am stuck too. There are ideas there but they are too nebulous to really focus on and I suspect a self-protection mechanism is stopping me. The number of visitors here has dropped to a low number and I feel like a sea- going vessel that relies on the wind, when the wind suddenly drops and the sails go slack and empty.

Becalmed. 

I’m sitting in a silent sea, with nothing but seagulls for company and no wind in my sails.

What to do? Well, blowing into the sails is a rather futile gesture and weather magic is unpredictable, so this is what I propose to do:

I shall sink anchor, see to some housekeeping aboard my boat and hunt out my fishing rod. I’m going to just slump on deck in the sunshine, see what bites and just wait. I may even go swimming.

You can’t fight the weather any more than you can fight the internal  doldrums. Maybe it’s time to enjoy some down time. God knows I am about as flat at the ray below!

Paris scams and cons

Like any big city, Paris has its fair share of beggars and con artists. I find it obscene that any city in the prosperous West can allow such extreme poverty as I have seen. Paris is no worse than any but I shall never forget walking along the glittering Champs Elysee a few years ago, passing Louis Vuitton at the same time as a barefoot beggar, walking along oblivious of both the glamorous surroundings and his own rags. His feet were splashed with filth and his hair could have hidden a nest of rats. Shaming for any civilisation but the setting couldn’t have been more contrasting.

Paris swarms with beggars, most of them illegal immigrants desperate to stay alive and out of the courts. Some of the souvenir sellers are potentially violent and aggressive and the police do little to move them on. The trick is never to make eye contact and never engage in conversation or you will be pestered half to death.

A common scam is someone who comes up to you and asks if you speak English. If you agree you do, a letter and a photo of some wide-eyed children is put into your hand. The letter is a sob-story about escaping from Bosnia and leaving children behind. The beggar is almost always a young woman, sometimes pregnant or with a baby in arms. Walk away. It broke my heart. While you are talking, someone else may well be lifting your wallet.

A clever scam that I’d heard of took place here, just outside the Louvre:

You can just see the scam artist sitting on the wall waiting for a victim. She made a mistake trying me. The scam goes like this; a heavy gold men’s wedding ring is dropped in your path and as you approach, someone(in this case a woman) comes forward at a split second moment and picks it up and asks if it is yours. The idea is then someone rewards them for their “honesty” (haha) and gives them a substantial sum just to gain possession of what they think is a valuable gold ring. It isn’t; it’s made of brass and is worthless. The principle is that you can’t cheat an honest man. I said, “Not mine,” and walked on. Had I been alone, I might have suggested we take it to the Palais de Justice, not far away and hand it in. I’d probably have had abuse hurled at me if I were lucky…

Another scam for the unwary is the souvenir seller who ties on a friendship bracelet and then demands money. It’s usually tied so tightly it’s impossible to remove easily. Yet another is trying to kiss the hand of a lady, under pretext of gallantry and while doing so, removing her rings. This happened to my boss, but her rings were too tight to slide off. I never wear anything of any real monetary value when I travel, for this reason. Costume jewellery is easily replaced and has the added bonus of pissing off the thieves later!

The beggars who stand on the bridges and just simply hold out a hand are hard to avoid, and upsetting because these are usually the old and frail. I’d give money but it’s almost certainly never theirs to keep. There are gangs who “run” beggars and who take all but a tiny pittance of their earnings.

I seldom see such barefaced begging in London, because the police and the soical services make a big effort to deal with it, but I have seen rough sleepers in the mornings.

Poverty in the west is often linked to crime, organised crime at that. It saddens me that it happens but what can I do?

Paris- the dead centre of France

 

Paris- the dead centre of France

 

When I went to Paris last week I confidently expected that I might die there. The heat was due to be quite extreme and indeed it was; hotter than predicted, the day time temperatures reached 39 degrees C(that’s 102, F) and because Paris is not only a city but a city built largely of white/beige limestone, the heat reflected back on itself like a series of energy mirrors and made the streets unendurably hot.

 

However, there was one cool place to be and that was underneath the city. Unregarded by most, there are hundreds of miles of tunnels beneath the city formed by the quarrying of limestone. Leaving aside those used for sewers and water, there are also the catacombs. I read up before I went, but I don’t think anything really prepared me for the experience. It blew my mind and that of many of the kids I took with me.

The background is this. In 1786, it became clear that the city was running out of land and especially that of the cemeteries. As a fairly ancient city, the scale of the problem was immense and not knowing quite what else to do, the order was given to exhume the remains in the many cemeteries and re-inter them in the tunnels beneath the city. This was done with steady speed and over some years the bones were dug up and transferred to the tunnels, paying no regard to keeping skeletons intact. Piles of bones six feet high were set up in alcoves in the tunnels and then mortared in place to keep them there.

Many were placed in macabre patterns and carved plaques of quotes in Latin and French were added to some to make various moral and philosophical points. The lighting down here is low and flash photography is forbidden, hence the poor quality of my pictures. Our bags were searched as we left to ensure we had stolen no gruesome souvenir. While the remains of between 5 and 6 million individuals are stored here, it wouldn’t be long before the bones started to become less if people were allowed to take them away.

Stepping out into the heat again, I was struck by the contrast between the silent cool beneath and the seething, noisy infernal city above and it stayed with me all day. Our bones are what our bodies leave behind but what do our souls, our spirits leave when our bodies are no more?

 

Next- my impressions of The Impressionists

Summer came quickly

 

Summer came quickly

Summer came quickly this year,

Scarce a breath between

Daffodils and blooming may;

Blackthorn and whitethorn

Overlapped in flowering bliss.

Leaf buds unfurled so fast

I could not map their progress,

Leaping from tight knots

To silken green in moments.

The general rumble of rooks

Minding their business in treetops

Passed to the chaotic conversation

Of growing families in days.

The scent of new-mown grass

Hangs on the evening air

Like celestial incense burned

To honour the return of the Sun.

Summer came so quickly

Now I must mourn the Spring.

 

Was I God’s photographer?

My reflections on THAT  photograph.

It’s been a little over a  week since I saw the image for the first time and a week since I posted the picture here and I have had a lot of time to think. I’ve thought about the responses of all those who have seen it and commented on it(either here, in private by email or in person) and I’ve thought about my own reactions, both to the picture and to the comments.

 A number of you perceived it as a feminine presence, but many more saw it as either the face of God or an image of Jesus Christ himself. Many have also seen it as being a sign of something special to come.

In seeking clarity I approached a number of people who have experience in these matters.

My own spiritual teacher told me that it was indeed the face of Jesus and that it was a great blessing for me.

Julian Drewett, general secretary of the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies  commented that due to the chanting and the overall prayerful atmosphere, “the veil was thin”, that unseen barrier between the world we see and the world that resides both beyond it and embedded within in and my camera was able to capture an image of the beings who surround us at all times though we know it not. He also commented that it isn’t unusual for these things to be seen but it is unusual to have them captured like this.

 Neil Broadbent of the Sozein Trust  suggested that the image was in fact a thought form created by the monks at prayer, a suggestion that actually raises far more questions and implications than it solves. And for me it entirely negates my personal role in taking the photo; any blessing or sense of being somehow special at being the person who took the photo is taken away. In his view the focus is entirely on the monks who are mysteriously creating this image with smoke and sunlight and not on the witness who captured it and is now asking the questions. His response was to play down the sheer wonder of this image and make it commonplace and focused entirely on the spiritual elite.

 One of the tests of a vision is what has it produced and in the week since I first saw this image, I think I have spent more time in prayer and contemplation than I have for a long time. I have also been deeply moved by the responses of people who have seen it. People who have seldom if ever had anything to do with religion of any sort have come away with goosebumps and with wonder in their eyes and have begun to ask all sorts of questions. For me, it has been a ride of epic proportions because while I have seen and experienced things before, they have all been effectively subjective. Never before have I had objective evidence of an experience. Gazing at the image I am struck by the pose of the figure. He stands with his arms raised slightly, comfortable, as if waiting to greet with a hug whoever steps forward. He does not stand as if still crucified and he does not raise an arm as a warning or a blessing; he stands as one of us, beside us.

If you blow the image larger you may see other images inside it. I have had comments about paraeidolia  and I am content to say, yes, we do indeed see images and patterns and faces in random things. But what a coincidence that a camera should capture such an appropriate image in a church during a service… I am struck also by the coincidence of my thoughts and feelings during the service with the apparition(if that is the right word) and how it also coincides with Jesus’s own words,”When two or three are gathered together, there am I also.” The other images in the picture to me simply reinforce the impression given by Julian that we are surrounded by beings(whether we call them angels or not) who care for us. I will be quite honest: it’s a rare month that goes by without me giving thought at least once to suicide. But to remember that I am surrounded even at times like those by bright spirits is something that gives great comfort.

 If the image has moved you, pass it on to others you think may find comfort or inspiration in it. If you have any thoughts to share, I would be very grateful to hear them, either here or privately via email.

You can find my email address on the Contact me page.

 Thank you everyone.