Wellsprings of the Psyche ~ dreaming of Healing Waters

Wellsprings of the psyche ~ dreaming of healing waters.

Springs of healing waters are something of a personal obsession; I’ve been a seeker of these most of my life and this concept has become central to my core self. A healing spring is at the heart of my novel, Strangers and Pilgrims,

 but the yearning for such places has been a constant in my life long before I wrote that novel.

I dream about them, and as I am trying to work with my dreams, I’d like to share a few of the more recent dreams that concern wellsprings.

Frozen wellspring dream 21st April 13

I am underground. I have been giving a tour, though who for I don’t know. The cave next to the one I am in seems to have a faint light emanating from it so I go through the passage way between the caves.

There is a natural stone structure that I know to have been a wellspring, it rises up to a conical shape. But water does not flow. Ice coats the sides of the rock and the pool below is frozen too. I scramble to the top and I try to break the ice and scoop out great chunks of it. But though I remove the ice the water does not bubble up and flow again.

I leave the cave, but above ground odd things are happening. As I surface to my shock the sky is lit up by what seem to be the Northern Lights, aqua-green and blues, shimmering and flashing.

Analysing the dream it feels as if my source of inspiration is not working because it has frozen solid. Is this because of the long cold winter or is this something deeper?

August 28th dreams.

I had a terrible night, hardly sleeping because of nerve pain, anxiety and hot flushes, but when I did sleep I dreamed. I also managed to continue the themes of the dream after waking and going back to sleep.

1st dream.

I dream I am going down a lot of steps to a basement where a healing spring is located, and when I get down there it is in partial darkness, lit by a few unseen spotlights. The spring is encased in a kind of bath affair, rather like that of the cold plunge bath at Bath, a round pool encased in smooth off-white stone, but with a square exterior walls. There are steps down into the water and I want to bathe my feet, which in waking life have been causing me vast amounts of pain and discomfort due to the hypermobility issues. I stop to take off my shoes and socks but as I am doing so an old woman passes me and goes into the water completely. She is wearing a bathing costume and I see that other old people are in the pool, immersed up to their necks in the water. I put my bare feet in and the water is very cold, and I know I am not going all the way in. I have no bathing costume. The people tell me that this is the Catholic spring and I could become a Catholic. Then someone mentions that might be difficult as my husband is an Anglican priest. The water is very still and calm and there’s a sense that they’re waiting for the water to stir or a tide to rise and fill the bath area much higher but nothing happens.

2nd dream.

I have woken, gone for a drink and to the loo and gone back to bed, expressing a desire to find the spring again but this time go in if I can. I think the same experience of descending stairs takes place but this time I find myself in a very different wellspring. It’s much larger and warmly lit by diffused lighters, that are not visible. The air is warm and I can see steam coming off the water. There are also what look like flaming torches that have appeared and sitting near one, with his feet dangling in the water is a man who is wearing a sort of toga. The whole bath area is like a small indoor swimming pool. The stone is the same creamy sort but because of the warmer lights it looks pinkish red rather than blueish. To my left, there seems to be a sort of corridor or inlet, and I have a sense of anticipation. The man in the toga tells me this is the Quaker spring. As I look around, the sense of anticipation grows and where the inlet corridor is I hear angelic music and see gossamer figures like winged beings, and a surge of water rushes into the pool raising the level of the water and then there are other people who have rushed to get into the water. I touch my feet to the water and find it is warm but I cannot go in, though I don’t know why, beyond feeling I missed the moment.

When I wake from this second dream the word that comes to me in my hazy state is Bethesda. I remember the pool at Bethesda and the angel that stirs the water and the first person into it is healed. I did indeed miss the moment but it did feel as if I were there to observe rather than be healed. I wasn’t sure enough of what I wanted healing to venture into the water.

Now there are several features that all these dreams share. They are all set underground and in each I know without being told that these are springs. In none of the dreams is it visible that these structures house natural springs, and yet I know that this is so. In a linear manner, the first dream has the water so cold it has frozen solid and the water does not flow; in the second dream, the water is liquid, but it’s cold and uninviting and while it is free flowing, there is no movement, no refreshment of the water by an influx or a bubbling. In the last of the three dreams, the water and the generally surroundings are much warmer, much more inviting, and there is motion, a rising of a sort of tide, accompanied by divine or angelic attendants, and on waking, the word Bethesda is given to me. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pool_of_Bethesda .

In the two recent dreams, dreamed the same night when I was in continual distress of both mind and body, there are denominations mentioned. In the first it is suggested that the pool of healing waters belong to the Catholic faith, and in the second to the Quakers. I am an occasional attender at Quaker worship and find that the Meeting for Worship, which is mostly in silence, refreshes me more than any more traditional church services. Yet while I find myself more at home there, I have never taken the step of becoming a member. I am content to visit. I do not feel 100% at home there. But it comes closest to what is my rightful spiritual home than any other I’ve found.

There is a clear progression within these three dreams and a sense of getting closer to a healing moment, a progression too from deep under the ground in caves, to being below ground but in carefully crafted buildings. There’s a progression from the very faintest of lights, to the dim lights of the first of the healing pools to the warm, pinkish light of the final dream. There’s a progression of temperature and movement too.

Perhaps when the angel does stir the healing waters, I may be ready to enter the waters and be healed. Or perhaps I am only here to help others into the water. I do not know. But looking at these three dream accounts, I have a sense of hopeful anticipation.

Oases and Sanctuaries ~ finding peaceful places

Oases and Sanctuaries ~ finding peaceful places

I’ve been struggling with my health recently. I realised a few days ago that what I’d been feeling for months was a sort of numb nothingness that spilled over into unwarranted sadness over the strangest things. My inability to crack on with tasks that are simple and easy was meaning that I was procrastinating about lots of things I ought to have been expediting. I needed to make an appointment to see a rheumatologist, and it took me longer than it ought to pick up the phone and set things in motion. But the blank lack of much real feeling became evident a few days ago when someone asked me, “You must be excited about the new book coming out?” and it came to me that I felt almost nothing. I thought lots of things, but there was a big question mark over how I was feeling.

I’m living a different life to the one I lived a year ago. I’m at home far more. I am still trying to find my feet in a new place, having been unable to get out and explore as much due to the persistently cold, damp and miserable weather. I’m getting to know a new garden, and I’m finding it hard. Every bit of gardening I do causes me to hurt in unprecedented ways. It’s frustrating. I want to garden but I lack the physical strength to do much.

We bought a bench the other week. A nice, slightly ornamental bench that sits now under a natural arbour of a tree I suspect may be a cherry plum, between two trellises of roses and jasmine and honeysuckle. I’ve put up a single line of solar powered fairy lights, and hung out some glass tea light holders so when the nights are pleasant enough we can sit out and enjoy the evenings. I’ve planted seeds for night-scented stocks and other plants who release scents after dark. It looks lovely, and I’ve been sitting there to meditate most days. We bought goldfish for our pond too, and combined with our bees, the garden is beginning to feel like an oasis away from the world beyond the fence. I even dug up an ancient key when I was preparing the vegetable patch, reminding me of The Secret Garden.

When I go places, for work or not, I’ve begun to collect a mental map of peaceful places in each of the locations I visit. Some are well known parks and gardens. Some are cafés and tea rooms with hidden gardens. Yesterday I went to one of my special places in Norwich. At the end of Elm Hill, a medieval cobbled street preserved from destruction by a forward thinking council in the 1920s, there is the Briton’s Arms. It was used as the inn The Slaughtered Prince in the film Stardust (which was filmed partly in Norwich) and is a lovely building, all half timbered and quirky. They also have a secret garden, tucked away at the back. Great pots of ferns and of palms and many tubs and baskets create the feeling of a clearing in a jungle. One wall is composed of ancient gravestones propped up at the far end of the churchyard beyond. (Norwich has the most medieval churches of any city in western Europe; there are, I think 33 within the city walls). It’s a little oasis of peace and tranquility that does wonderful home-made cakes too. I sat and read out there for forty five minutes, enjoying my tea and cake. I read Margaret Coles The Greening, a novel which is set partly in Norwich and explores the story of Julian of Norwich, one of my heroines, as well as the story of two other women who became fascinated by Julian. It’s an enjoyable if slightly flawed novel but it felt perfect to be reading the first half there.

When we released the goldfish into their new pond, I realised I was that tiny bit closer to achieving some long standing dreams of creating a place of great peace, hidden away from the world, private and refreshing. I first began this dream 22 years ago, when we visited Taizé and I spent time at the Chapel of the Wellspring there. On two occasions since then, we have looked at places we might have gone to live that had healing wellsprings, both quite famous in their ways, and we’ve said no to both. Later we have discovered that there had been rifts in those communities concerning the springs and the churches and it has confirmed our instincts that however much we both wanted to be near those springs, it wasn’t right.

I’ve never given up hope that one day I may be guardian to a wellspring but I’ve begun to understand that the definition of what a wellspring is may be subject to quite different forces than those of a dictionary.

Tales of the Wellspring 3 ~ inspirations

Tales of the Wellspring 3 ~ inspirations

for part one visit Tales of the Wellspring 1

for part two visit Tales of the Wellspring 2

Once or twice in my life I have made a decision while under the influence of alcohol. Most of us have, if we’re honest about it and if we’re lucky nothing very untoward has come of it. The most life changing decision I almost made was on the strength of exhaustion, the exhilaration of moving to a new and very rural area, a childhood dream and several pints of Scrumpy Jack cider. Thankfully, I said I would sleep on it and come and view the horse the next day. Good sense kicked in with a mild hangover and though the horse was beautiful as a de-horned unicorn she had not been broken in and on the strength of the fact that I’ve never owned a horse before, let alone broken one in to bit, bridle and saddle, I said no.

I am relieved now that I didn’t go through with the purchase as I suspect it would have led to much heartache later. I’d also learned my lesson from something that had occurred in a pub about six years previously, though in that case it was the result of a pint and a half of Guinness and some persuasive friends.

It was a bit more than that really. My husband had been accepted for ordination training a few months previously, to commence to following autumn, and life was in a kind of free fall. We were gearing up to moving from Middlesbrough to Nottingham, selling our home and renting another and at this time our daughter was about 18 months old. There were so many uncertainties my head spins now to even think about it. We belonged to a Fellowship of Vocation group that supported those considering or entering ministry and it was after such a meeting that we decided to capitalise on having a babysitter and when the core of the group decamped to the pub afterwards, we joined them.

David, the group leader, was a Taizé fanatic and he set himself to convincing us to come that year. Taizé is a religious community in the far south of France famed for its music and its silence. Young people from all over the world visit for a kind of retreat. My objections were simple: we had virtually no money and we had a baby. Money? Ha, as we were at that time under a key age, we were able to pay the bare minimum, David told us. And there were lots of activities for children and so on.

So I said yes.

When the time came, I regretted the decision immensely. We were in the throes of selling our house and I was reluctant to go away at a crucial time. But we’d paid our initial deposit for coaches etc so we went. Let me tell you something: travelling from the North East of England to the South of France on a coach with a hyperactive two year old who doesn’t sleep was possibly one of the most challenging experiences. It took a full 24 hours and the last 12, driving across France was horrific. It got hotter and hotter. By the time we got there, the temperature was in the 80s.

I had had no sleep whatsoever and I don’t like heat anyway. Since I speak French, I sorted out where we were to be billeted and we trudged half a mile up the road to the farmhouse where those infirm or with tiny children were put. We found out later a minibus would have ferried us there but no one  thought to tell us. The old farmhouse was lovely, but in a state of some disrepair and the girl who was there to welcome us was Hungarian and spoke only basic English. She showed us to our room, which turned out to have a stone flagged floor and one single bed. At this point, I sat down on the bed and burst into tears.

We have a problem,” said the girl and left us alone.

Ten minutes later she came back with a very nice nun who spoke good English and found us first a room with two beds, and then a travel cot for the baby.

I didn’t like Taizé; it was full of too many people, and too much noise and bustle and confusion. I felt miserable and confused myself and I wanted to go home, desperately. I liked the Church, with its icons and its flickering candles but I didn’t like the service I went to the first evening. Hypnotic repetitions of simple songs wound my nerves up to breaking point and I could see everyone else falling under the sway of it, becoming entranced and I felt angry and excluded. I tried to get into the spirit of it but couldn’t. Total fail. We also had to share child care because it turned out at just short of 2 years old our daughter was considered too young to be in any of the kid’s activities without one of us being present. So we had to turn and turn about participating in services and study groups.

We’d been there about three days, and I had become resigned to being there and was just keeping my head down and trying to get as much out of it as I could. I felt a massive sense of disappointment; it was just not what I had hoped it would be for me. I blamed myself, because I’ve always been useless at anything with groups. Then my husband said, have you found the Chapel of the Wellspring yet?

Simple answer, no. I’d not even known it was there. I went and looked at it next time it was my turn to be baby-free. It looked…..intriguing. It looked like a cross between a B&Q summer-house and an Orthodox church. A rough wooden roof over decking but an onion dome on the very top. I stood for a moment looking at it. Inside, candles flickered by icons and in the middle was a trough of water. I went in and sat down. There were only benches or prayer stools and it was simply nice to be out of the glare of the sun. The little structure was filled with the fragrance of cedar-wood and of the branches of box that were stapled to the frame (I still don’t know why) and the sweeter smell of candles. The birdsong outside was muted and after a few seconds I could hear only a trickle of water. Below this structure was a real spring and the water was channelled from below into the stone trough at the heart of the little chapel. The heat of the day was so intense that the slow trickle of water from deep in the earth kept the trough filled but it rarely overflowed. After I had sat there for a while, I could smell the water: cool, and fresh, filtered through layers of ancient rock and earth. I went and knelt by the stone basin that held it and touched it. The refreshment went somehow beyond the coolness of water on a hot day; the water felt newborn and ancient at the same time. I did not drink, but I did touch my face with the water.

From that point on this place became my touchstone for getting to grips with whatever was raging inside me. I would come in and sit in silence and after a short while what had bothered me had melted away. There was a power there I cannot describe, and even writing about it now, I feel the silence and hear and smell the water. Before we left to go home, I bought a pendant with a simple representation of the wellspring, two lines of waving blue and it came with a tiny card that has sat on or near my desk in the 20 or so years since then.

It has the same quote from the Book of Proverbs in five languages, reflecting the multi-lingual nature of Taizé:

More than all else keep watch over your heart since here are the wellsprings of life.” Pr.4 v 23 

I’ve wished every day since we left that I had that Chapel of the Wellspring somewhere that I could visit every day; wanted to live in a home where the garden held a spring I could meditate by and be healed constantly of the pain life can bring me. It’s taken me those intervening twenty years to start to understand that in reality, I do.


Tales of the Wellspring part 2 ~ the origins

Tales of the Wellspring part 2 ~ the origins

I’ve always struggled with community, with being among people constantly. It’s always made me feel as if there is something horribly wrong with me that after a couple of days I start to feel irritable, angry and then finally desperate. The first time I began to get to grips with dealing with this and understanding both myself and the feelings was when I was seventeen.

During my teens I belonged to a church youth fellowship group that became quite central to my life. I had a few friends from school but really I didn’t have a social life as such because I hated the usual disco/pop/clothes/boys conversations that dominated most groups of girls my age. The fellowship group tended to delve rather deeper into things that did interest me, though I’ve never been fussed about Bible study!

Easter 1983 meant a week’s trip away as a group, and we headed from the East Anglian town where I grew up all the way across England and into Wales via Snowdonia before finally reaching our destination in the hills of the isle of Anglesey. Two mini bus loads of us, packed with people and provisions arrived at the entrance to a narrow muddy lane that had ditches either side of it and took very careful driving to negotiate to reach the cottage. It was a tiny cottage, with only two bedrooms, one bathroom (without toilet) and an outside loo. There were seventeen of us. Each bedroom had a double bed and a single bed; we also had a trailer tent, another tent and the cottage had a caravan to the side as well. The living room had a double bed that folded away. By the time tents had been put up and people had claimed beds, I discovered there was nowhere for me to sleep.

The only place left was a chaise longue in the central area that acted as hall and dining room. So that’s where I dumped my rucksack and unrolled my sleeping bag. Chaise longues are ridiculously uncomfortable things to try and spend a night on, specially as I ended up with my feet up a wall. It’s also impossible to sleep in a passageway. Kitchen, bathroom, stairs and front door all opened onto this space. I had no privacy whatsoever.

Well, I coped for a few days. Then I started to get grumpy and unhappy. Everyone else seemed to be having a wonderful time; I felt excluded from much of the conversations because people were forming close bonds with those they were sharing their sleeping space with and I was sharing my sleeping space with the hearthrug by this point. Mid week and I was going mad. I hated everyone. I wanted to kill people for being inconsiderate. I hated the fact that even the bathroom had no lock on the door and washing was nerve-racking. With only one outside toilet, you couldn’t even go and hide in there without someone banging on the door and yelling at you to hurry up.

I began plotting escape. Or mass murder. I’m not sure which now. Thankfully for everyone, I ended up breaking down in tears and after some discussion and more support than I’d expected, the girls in the bedroom upstairs shifted their belongings so that I could claim a bit of floor space there so at least I could sleep without feeling as though I was sleeping in a motorway service station. It also meant that during the day, I could find a room where I had a small chance of being alone.

The weather had been wet and muddy till this point too and it suddenly changed and became sunny and mild. We were encouraged each day to take some “quiet time” after the morning session of Bible study, and up to this point, it had been a nightmare to find a place to do so. Now the weather was cooperating I decided to find somewhere outside.

That’s when I found the spring.

It was there all the time. I’d seen it but I hadn’t really seen it. The cottage was supplied by a well that was fed by the spring, but the spring itself was at the bottom of the garden by the beginning of the muddy lane. A rock formation that you had to climb down formed a sort of tiny amphitheatre round a stone bowl where water welled up from the ground and spilled over and was the very source of the stream that then ran all the way down the mountain we were half way up. I’ve never seen anything like it since but at seventeen I never realised just how special it was.

It took many years for that place to be distilled into the Wellspring of Strangers and Pilgrims:

Look,” she said and pointed ahead.

As the mist swirled and twined like steam from a cooking pot around the rocks ahead of them, Gareth heard the chuckle of water cascading over stone, quite different from the sound of the stream in its earth bed. The heavily weathered rocks, probably left by a retreating glacier, formed a series of pools and basins spilling one into another and as he got closer to the waterfall he saw that the source was a pool the size of a small garden pond. The rim was worn and slippery where the water endlessly spilled over into the lower pools and then down into the stream. Beyond it, there was nothing but barren rock, damp with rain and mist but nothing more.

I think we’ve found it,” he said and they walked closer.

From that point on in the Fellowship holiday retreat I spent an hour each morning, sitting by this spring, with my Bible open but unread on my lap as I listened to the water bubbling up and running down the hill and I felt such peace as I’d not felt before. I learned then something vital about myself. I need time and space to be alone, so that I have a chance of maintaining any sort of equilibrium, and moreover I need time in nature too. I am drawn to water, I gravitate towards it but the sound of running water, the feeling of sheer beauty and mystery that a spring provokes in me is numinous and necessary. There is something deeply magical about water emerging from rocks and from the earth and no matter that I know the mechanisms of it, I am always mesmerised by the experience of it. But from that spring on a hillside in Anglesey was born my love for such things and over the years that came next, I have sought such places and found them to bring me peace that nothing else can.

I’ll tell you about some of those another time.

For part one go to: Tales of the Wellspring 1

La Source ~ the wellspring

Springing up….

Or showering down…?

I am fascinated by water in all its manifestations and this exhibit called La Source (The Wellspring) was mesmerising as it changed colour as it flowed….

A new review of Strangers and Pilgrims

I was deeply touched to read the following review by Fibi:  


Thank you so very much!