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.

Returning from a Pilgrimage

 

And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.”- TS Eliot, Little Gidding

It hits like an earthquake or a flash flood, or thunder in a clear sky, this sudden understanding, this making plain of what was obscure. It’s like being hit on the head, the violence and the unexpectedness of the realisation that now, now  you understand.

And yet, in the moment also comes a realisation that the chances are you will never be able to explain what you know now and how you come to know it. Everything becomes a metaphor, a finger pointing at the moon.

The first time this earthquake really shook my brain I was nineteen and I’d just had a professor of astrophysics explain the Theory of Relativity to me, quite cordially over a cup of coffee in a senior common room I really wasn’t meant to be in. It had taken about fifteen minutes and when he paused and looked at me to see if I “got” it, the ‘quake hit and I did. I had the sense of my own intelligence being too small, too puny to retain it and relay it back to another person, but for a few seconds I “got” it and it made sense. Then the synapses involved seemed to implode and the fragile connections were lost. But for a short while I understood.

Perhaps I might have understood for longer had my field been physics or even mathematics, but my subjects were English and Latin and I was a sneaky interloper in this world of mad professors and bad coffee.

These last weeks have been full of goodbyes, some permanent and some apparently temporary. I’ve been discovering that I am homeless, in a very real sense, but not the literal one. On Sunday I attended Quaker meeting as I occasionally do. For those who are unfamiliar with it, Quaker worship consists of sitting in silence for an hour and listening to…well, inner thoughts, God, the collective thoughts of all. I don’t know. For me, it’s always been an oasis of peace and time to be, for a short time at least, a part of a greater community. This Sunday, I felt an outsider again. Nobody’s fault; I suspect it’s always been the case. I am unable to commit to being anything other than an occasional attender and on Sunday I realised that while it may be still of benefit, it’s never going to be Home for me.

Yesterday we made an impromptu pilgrimage to Walsingham.

It was unplanned in the sense that we didn’t spend days or weeks deciding we would go, but we went on the spur of the moment. It’s maybe an hour and a half’s drive away, when the traffic is good and it’s been some three years since I last went, I think. Walsingham has been the centre of pilgrimage since 1061, with a break during the Reformation until about seventy years ago when the Well was rediscovered. I’ve always liked the quirky little town in the middle of nowhere near the North Norfolk coast and enjoyed the Anglo-Catholic pomp and ritual, with a small smile of amusement, and I have had great respect for the well itself. The Shrine church is a masterpiece of bad taste and worse art and yet, amid the many flickering candles I used to sense the spirit of the place and of God.

But yesterday, while I enjoyed the visit, it had ceased to be special and meaningful for me. My purpose in visiting had been to touch base with my spirituality and yet, when I was there, nothing. I attended the sprinkling of the waters, drank the waters and was grateful and yet, beyond that, nothing.

When I got home, I remembered the words that had been in my head before we went:

You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.” TS Eliot, Little Gidding

That was true enough. I had indeed gone to pray and yet, my purpose in being there was indeed “beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.”- I had come for something and yet, not knowing what it was, truly, even then I had found it was not what I had come for.

I had come for something else. I had come to find something I had believed I would find here and yet, I did not find it. I don’t even know if I can get further than this with my explaining.

There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives—unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle.” TS Eliot, Little Gidding

Something has changed in me. I am between two lives.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.” TS Eliot, Little Gidding

I am the explorer, waiting for my new journey to begin.