Tag Archives: spiritual

… our ideas of home …

Cartoon de Salvo

Stay home – the resounding advice to stem a globally spreading virus, made me think of what home actually means, to me, to you, to us. Is it a sheltering porch or a railway bridge providing the roof under which one can curl up and sleep? Is it a room, a flat, a house, a village, a town, a metropolis, a country, a nation? The present urgent injunction to stay home obviously refers to a space surrounded by walls.

Is home an extension of us? Is it a place to get away from habits and rituals, or a place to return to and feel safe? Is it a place that keeps others out, or a place that invites others in? Does home offer solitude? Is it place where we are cared for and care for others, or a place where we feel controlled, as in a prison, an inhibiting place, a crowded place, a dark place, a place of chaos, where we find rejection instead of intimacy? Is it an imagined place in the sky, where wisps of cloud move this way and that way, carried by the flow of air?

We shape places, ideal places, inside or outside, through the imagination.

me aged five or six

Each place I lived in I made into a temporary home, a bit of colour here and there, a few cherished objects. I have no trouble to sensually recall their ambiance … Four homes within the village I grew up in. A tiny student accommodation in Munich, followed by varies flats, rural communities, and a VW van in which I travelled through Europe. Two places in Amsterdam I remember, one horrid and surreal, the other blissful, where my son was conceived. Then a cottage in Somerset, various flats near London, a spiritual home in Surrey, and a small semi I acquired. Memories were anchored in each place.

From stories shared in my therapy practice over the years, I understand impression of our very first home wield a repetitive power throughout our life that’s difficult to shake off. Yet the experiences we share have no walls, instead, imagination has a powerful role in our ideal vision of ‘home,’ even if rarely achieved. Personal and collective memories lend us the styles, the architecture and environment we envision, we sense we had once, or will have again. Many of us are alienated from such ideal, just like the Ugly Duckling, where inner and outer worlds don’t chime. But the call is there. And the call creates a most poignant contradiction, a creative tension resulting in great works of art that link and weave vastly different scales (physically and spiritually) together and inspire new dimension of experience in all of us.

And yet we witness the heartbreak of people uprooted from lands that provided their basic needs, compelled into the unknown by famine or war. Displaced people must persevere as best they can. They carry their only remaining home with them – their body.

The body we inhabit is indeed the only physical home we absolutely own, for better or worse, which only death can take. But how many are at odds with their own bodies. And how many are at odds with nature, and the very planet we live on

Angel of the North – image by Sylvia Selzer

 

And here I’d first like to share the deeply fascinating process of an artist, Antony Gromley.

Don’t miss this documentary by the amazing Alan Yentob, click on the link  and a new page will open:   Antony Gromley – Imagine

He shares his childhood experience, and how he started out by making casts of his own body, to explore what it means to inhabit a body, a human life.

 

 

 

 

 

And then consider Carl Sagan’s tender reflections on the pale blue dot, the Mote of Dust, as in a sunbeam, the home we all have in common, a selfie, seen from afar. “Where everyone’s love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.”

 

“That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.”

 

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Mystical experiences & J. B Priestley’s Dream

Numerous children, if not all, bring along an openness that allows them a peek through the chinks in the veils that cover ordinary reality. Sudden insights, call them special, spiritual, paranormal, transpersonal, mystical, timeless, ecstasy of oneness … dreams … experiences that make no sense to a rational adult and may evoke fear of the unconscious. Sooner or later children may learn that a vivid imagination, as it is often called, brings no rewards and is of no solid use in a world geared to material respectability and control.

To have one’s experience belittled is humiliating. A child may react with rebellion, remain silent, or learn to deal with contradiction. At worst, the door will be shut against random revelations and curiosity about anything unfamiliar. This is a great pity, since a whole range of dimensions remain untranslated. Fortunately there are those who refuse to have their imagination squashed, who find a medium to hold and share encounters that do not fit prevailing assumptions, concepts of reality or theories of time.

They are truth-seekers – artists, writers, musicians, painters, dancers, physicists, biologists, astronomers, mathematicians, inventors, mystics … people with a passion to re-discover realities beyond appearances from multiple perspectives, including deeply personal ones. In short, anyone adventurous enough to explore the jungle of diverse interests, the way inner and outer truths mysteriously mirror each other and spark mystical consciousness. But since the boundaries between light and darkness are porous, one is always well advised to hold one’s balance, like a skilled martial art practitioner.

Having listened over decades to thousands of client stories, I haven’t yet met anyone who hasn’t shared (often for the first time) a near-forgotten mystical experience. Such experiences are the best kept secret nobody dares to talk about. For fear of ridicule, we let the poets speak for us.

‘To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.– William Blake

Take heart, it is possible to find words, like J B Priestley, to convey the indescribable …

Drawing by Douglas Fenton

I dreamt I was standing at the top of a very high tower, alone, looking down upon the myriads of birds flying in one direction; every kind of bird was there, all the birds in the world. It was a noble sight, this vast aerial river of birds.

But now, in some mysterious fashion the gear was changed, and the time speeded up, so that I saw generations of birds, watched them break their shells, flutter into life, mate, weaken, falter and die. Wings grew only to crumble; bodies were sleek and then, in a flash, bled and shrivelled; and death struck everywhere at every second. What was the use of all this blind struggle towards life, this eager trying of wings, this hurried mating, this flight and surge, all this gigantic meaningless biological effort?

As I stared down, seeming to see every creature’s ignoble little history almost at a glance, I felt sick at heart. It would be better if not one of them, if not one of us at all, had been born, if the struggle ceased forever. I stood on my tower, still alone, desperately unhappy.

But now the gear was changed again, and time went faster still, and it was rushing by at such a rate, that the birds could not show any movement, but were like an enormous plain sown with feathers. But, along this plain, flickering through the bodies themselves, there now passed a sort of white flame, trembling, dancing, then hurrying on; as soon as I saw it I knew that this white flame was life itself, the very quintessence of being; and then it came to me, in a rocket-burst of ecstasy, that nothing mattered, nothing could ever matter, because nothing else was real but this quivering and hurrying lambency of beings.

Birds, people or creatures not yet shaped and coloured, all were of no account except so as this flame of life travelled through them. It left nothing to mourn over behind it; what I had thought of as tragedy was mere emptiness or a shadow show; for now all real feeling was caught and purified and danced on ecstatically with the white flame of life. I had never felt before such happiness as I knew at the end of my dream of the tower and the birds, and I have not kept that happiness with me, as an inner atmosphere and a sanctuary for the heart, that is because I am a weak and foolish man who allows this mad world to come in destroying every green shoot of wisdom. Nevertheless, I have not been quite the same man since. A dream had come through a multitude of business. –  J.B. Priestley (Sept 1895 – Aug 1984)

In case you’ve not come across William James, read his ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience.’

And look up a recent sweeping epic that breaks all the rules by Philippa Rees, ‘Involution.’

And, of course, my novel 🙂

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… rose is a rose is a rose …

 

The rose-phrase is the enduring refrain of Gertrude Stein. In her surreal 1939 children book, ‘The World is Round,’ for example, rows of three words appear throughout. A girl called Rose carves her name round a tree in an endless loop to affirm her existence .

Rose is a rose is a rose – rolls from the tongue much like the prayer beads of a rosary roll through nimble fingers.

You want to stay with the rose, let it take root in your psyche, and from there let roses after roses grow.

By comparison – BrexitisBrexitisBrexit – sounds like the rusty hinges of a rotten door, or the croaking of a parrot with a sore throat. I try to resist the word’s grating in my skull, but it’s difficult to avoid its ugly edges from day to day, in bizarre discord with the rousing refrain of Britannia rules the waves.

There’s repetition and repetition. Applied with intention in literature, music, dance and the visual arts, repetition can strip the familiar to its essence. The arts, at best, alert us to nature’s spellbinding repetitive rhythms. Shield your ears and hear the blood-river rushing through your veins – touch your wrist and sense your heart pump the river round and round. Spirit is seduced into this trance-dance, or it would never get trapped in forms. Repetitive behaviour settles us into mollifying routines and gives us a sense of stability, as well as addictive habits. Beneficial as they can be, customary routines also have a tendency to dumb us down.

In this time of rapid changes, words and images topple over each other’s associations. Type ‘apple’ into a search engine and up pop pages listing Apple Inc., the multinational technology company that has seized the apple, bitten off a chunk of knowledge, like Eve, and deployed it as a metaphor for its corporation – brilliant, and disconcerting. It had trouble finding a title for my novel, where ‘mirror’ was not already owned as a label by tabloids or rock bands.

Most young folk today move along the electric cultural highway in fast gear. Facebook’s Zuckerberg famously said ‘Move fast and break things.’ Maybe he’s a speed-hatched modern-day mystic. I’m reminded of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s profound quote regarding the journey of life – ‘The ideal the means, its breaking is the goal.’

I suffer a long view. My first experience of TV was Queen Elisabeth’s coronation. What unnerves me is the speed of spear-heading elites, leaving ordinary people no breath to digest events, especially as history and the arts are being replaced by computer science in education. With automation the rage, the journey happens in a blur, as do thinking processes. Keywords have become mechanical codes, and shareholders bow to the omnipotent algorithms’ patterns of, let’s say, how existential fears relate to consumer behaviour. We hardly notice our choices being manipulated. How to catch snap assumptions that keep consciousness caged, or one’s imagination buried under debris of glib answers? With traditions and ideologies on trial, how to develop a filter of authenticity to stem the flood of information? Reflective minds are turning cynical. I have that tendency.  Doubt is the new lodestar.

Like never before, we perceive phenomena through multiple eyes, tap into the states of other beings – their joy, their ignorance and excess, their poverty, suffering and distress. We may blank out what upsets, but can’t escape the increasing experience of contradiction, the very function of reality. Greater awareness deeply conflicts us, as much as it inspires creativity. There’s hope. Seeing does not require physical eyes. Collective consciousness will expand, be it through chaos. The least we can do is to still our own mind, which is why I return to the rose.

The genus Rosa, according to fossil evidence, is 35 million years old and begun to be cultivated circa 5000 years ago. Due to its tessellated structure, dome-like shape and its delightful perfume, the rose has become a symbol of the heart, of wholeness, love, beauty and perfection the world over, frequently with mystical connotation, and often highly stylised, as in Islamic art.

When held, thought or spoken of, the rose lingers on and generates a mood. It may appear in different stages of opening or beautiful decay, in a particular colour, light. The name alone conjures up memories of scents, places, relationships, delight or melancholy. What ‘rose’ evokes derives from a time-wrought cypher that evokes all roses that were, are and will be.  Rose is a rose is a rose – depicts a rose, no more, and yet, it kindles all the experiences and ideas humans formed around roses.

While fear of loss and abandonment engenders life, it also draws us towards the mystery of infinite consciousness, the one being with countless names. Various practices, derived from spiritual traditions, can calm a turbulent mind enough for a glimpse of harmony beyond divisions. For a while, at least, we sense the larger presence, the effortless zone, the flow – and given patience, come to realise that consciousness is what we are.

I invite you again to This guided rose journey I shared here three years ago, requires only your imagination.

It is a short imagery, easy to memorise. Enter with eyes closed, and it may work for you as a bridge to the recurring presence of rose – a reminder of continuous becoming and expanding consciousness.

 

 

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… memory and place …

I never thought I would live in one place for 23 years, and tend a garden. Its visiting creatures provide inspiration and amusement. I cast tendrils of attachment to secret corners, the changing patches of colours and textures. I observe the cherry and apple blossoms turning into carpets on the lawn, the tulips, blue bells and peonies bursting open in spring, wild strawberries, the abundance of clematis, roses and geraniums during summer, or phlox and fruits in autumn. The space is breathed through by the seasons’ moods and muses. On rare and perfect summer days, when the sun plays through the branches, I love spending time in my hammock, reading and editing, or share the space with friends – bliss.

Yet I can count such days on the fingers of my hands. And not just because of the UK weather.

This paradise is surrounded on four sides by hedgerows, has 5 mature fruit trees and a shed and studio smothered by ivy. Those of you who have gardens with sizable plants will understand the dedication it takes to merely keep annual growth under control.

Is the effort worth it?

Twice a year I need assistance. After the heavy rain and excessive growth we had during spring and summer, my neighbour recently helped transporting two transit vans stuffed full with cuttings to the recycling dump. The excess jungle weighs on my mind each year, but once trimmed and sculpted, the cleared shapes feel like newly decorated living rooms. 

What is it about places we care for? How come we spend so much time and energy looking after them? What we experience through our senses can be fleeting, but where repetition is involves, it becomes fixed and saturated in our imagination. There is nothing as deeply impressive as living in one place through cycles of seasons. We call it home.

In these tumultuous times, a great number of people around the world are forced to leave their homes. Either they have no say in the matter, or they must leave for sheer survival, escaping adverse weather conditions or politics that undermine human dignity. But wherever we land, we inherit the history of a room, a house, a plot, a community, and in turn we leave traces, an influence.

The place survives us. Do we bless it?

Do our personal experiences – including those associated with ambivalent feelings about places and people – survive beyond the brain’s switchboard activity that ties associations into a framework of meaning and memory? My intuition tells me yes, there are spaces in many dimension, floating as in a kind of hologram, which can live on through a strong memory laid down in our imagination, like the next chapter of a story.

In the way of habituation, these subtle forms must remain in some way in the collective psyche, accessible to minds and hearts who tune into their feeling pattern. This could happen via a kind of grid of finer matter (see Eccles: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Carew_Eccles) that interact with the denser neural network of our brains.

There are these unanswered questions: is consciousness an emergent phenomenon of matter, or is matter an emergent phenomenon of some finer, spiritual substance?

Either way, if one were to assume that we create the world hereafter by the repetitive strength of our experience, be it with places, people or the passion for a sport, craft, art, music, science,  it bears us well to find something we can love, care for, and empower with our imagination.

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