Friday, 1 January 2016

Iceland: A Very Personal Experience

          I suppose I first became aware of this liminal experience, some years ago whilst walking on a beach in the northern island of New Zealand. Whilst photographs of the region show clear demarcations between beach, sand dunes, ocean and distant hills, my abiding memory is very different. It is one in which there is no clear distinction between the various parts of the scene; there was no clear form. It was as if the world were in a process of manifestation, a world neither one thing nor the other. It was a world in process.
          As we approached the coast of Iceland in our most recent journeyings, I was struck by the liminal surreality of what I was experiencing. Below me was what appeared to be a snowy ice cap, delineated by a sharp, black line - the shore. I felt I was moving into a new, unknown realm. As our stay extended, day by day, I realised that this was not a new, unknown realm, but one which I have been experiencing ever more clearly as the years and months and, most certainly, the recent weeks have passed. I will try to explain.
          At this time of the year, Iceland is a land of low light levels, a country sitting barely south of the Arctic Circle. It sits in a borderland. To the south is all that which sees change occurring twice daily, whilst to the north is that which which changes twice annually. One area sees the midday sun, the other the midnight sun. Somewhere between the two sits Iceland. In the cold depths of the Atlantic Ocean there lies a split between two great tectonic plates. From the heated interior of the Earth boils lava into the cold, wild and heavy ocean. And in the borderlands between the two there is life....Life! On top of the great ridge sits a mountain that seems forever to be splitting apart......Iceland.
          From the cold depths of space flows the solar wind originating from truly titanic outbursts from the sun. At some point in its journey, that solar wind interacts with the Earth's protective shield. Stupendous outpourings of energy. And it is close. Beautiful, yes! And also dangerous. That night, standing under the Northern Lights, at the bottom of a vast tunnel reaching up into the heavens, is one I will never forget. It was (thank you Natalie) a night of amazement. So small, so powerless, was I, yet.......
          I could go on and on offering examples of my awareness of living in these borderlands, of walking on the liminal edge. But there is something more important yet. As humans, we are adept at, or highly predisposed towards, projecting our inner worlds onto the outer, material world. And the distinction between the two worlds is not as clearly defined as one might expect or, I suspect, as clearly defined as one would like. The great 'out there' can only be experienced through our brain/mind complex. In that sense, everything is 'in here.' It almost seems that if there were any kind of guidance operating at all, I was in Iceland to understand a great truth, a truth that required my inner eyes to be wide open.
          There is another land with indistinct borders, the land of the mind. It is our way to chop the mind up into bits so that we can better understand it. Yet, in reality - and because it is all part of a process of becoming (or so I think) - the borders we construct are artificial. Consciousness is different from unconsciousness, but the inbetween place is blurry and indistinct; it is without form as if the unconscious is trying to become manifest. My consciousness exists in the lowering light which shows a little more awarefully the darkness of my unconsciousness. It is said that there lives - and life abounds at all levels - a place where all our repressed and suppressed memories live on, memories and traumas that have great power. Yet hardly too distinct from that is another place of great power, and one in which exists, what I would like to call, impresenced awareness.
          Between the world of consciousness and that of unconsciousness, there runs a path, a narrow and strait path. It runs between the mountain heights and the great Abyss. It is a path which I am obliged to travel whether I choose or not. This is living. It is a path that separates false security from the frightful powers of the depths of reality. For although the Way may be filled with excitement, joy, happiness and the peace of letting go, it is also a place of great fear. Consciousness does not make the choice as to when we are subjected to the one or the other.
          That path or Way travels through the veils of indistinction that hang between the lower or ego-self on the one hand, and the higher or true self on the other. The ego-self seeks knowledge and safety, the higher self seeks "knowing" and the risk of awareness of reality. It is a path, I realise now, I have walked for years without understanding, without feeling, without knowing. This is what I needed to see. I have found what I needed to find, what was there all the time.
          The inner journey continues. Why it must be like this I don't know. Yet this is how it has to be. I sense a surging upwards in my being which is my Being. I no longer work to my own agenda, but to the agenda of that which seems to live its life through me. How truly amazing life is.
          In the darkened dawn of Keflavik, with the snow ploughs out clearing the ground, an aeroplane took off and flew us south. There is always, or so it seems, a need to return; and I was returning to my physical home, as also I must now return to the silence of my inner "home." What I have taken with me from Iceland I have tried to share. In the end the real experience, my experience of reality, is ineffable. Yet we are all in this together, knowingly or not. Of that I am certain.

26 comments:

  1. Thank you for this, Tom, and all your Iceland posts.

    And, thanks for the hug.

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    1. Dear Martha; You're more than welcome.

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  2. Borderlands. Between two worlds. Ja, I think I understand a bit of what you are sharing with us here. Prost, Tom! I will read this again and ponder on demarcation, delineation, and liminal edges. Fascinating indeed.

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    1. Hullo RW; I'll await your findings.

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  3. Fascinating, powerful and mystical! Amazing what Iceland has effected, yet not surprising at all.

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    1. Hullo Marja-leena; I think that the key words that described the visit to Iceland were joy, happiness, amazement. Once there, surprise disappeared. In a sense my feelings had to emerge in the way they did. There could have been no other.

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  4. Hi Tom -A highly evocative post and I find the same blurring of form arises in my mind arises effortlessly when I listen to music – particularly that of the distinctive colour and style of Ralph Vaughn Williams. The first time I heard an extract from sea symphony the earth and sea took on an entirely different perspective. Another person I found of great interest was Stephen Wolfram and his ideas on a new kind of science, which I think gives a mathematical perspective to your idea of a “work in process” through his experiments using cellular automata. Those experiments showed ongoing complexity arise effortlessly into infinity with ever changing patterns from just a few basic formulae. Maybe we get an inkling at times we live in boundless ever changing universe. Best wishes

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    1. Hi Lindsay; I recall something I read recently which in effect said, it doesn't matter in which way we are moved, there are no right or wrong ways. What works for you is fine. It comes as with a great sense of relief that experiences such as those I had in Iceland can come when other channels have been close, by loss of hearing for example.

      I agree that at times we do get new perspectives on the universe. My recent experiences highlighted for me the power, both physical and mystical, that abounds in the universe. It felt so much like playing in a giants' playground.

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  5. Dear Tom, all I can say is "yes." No other place has taught me as much or affected me as much, and I'm glad to know that you felt this too. For me, Iceland is all about the "endless becoming" of which we are one small part, and the awe, wonder, and joy I feel there never entirely leave me when I too return to "reality."

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    1. Hullo Beth; Thank you for this comment with which I totally concur. As I am sure you can imagine, I have simply run out of words. To say any more would only be icing on a very lovely cake.

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  6. Tom: this is, for me, perhaps the most moving post you've written. The vivid and stirring way you describe the real, geological/geographic characteristics of the region blends seamlessly (without borders!) into "what lies beneath": your inner world, the geology of your thoughts as you experienced this other-worldly-but-in-this world Iceland. Thank you so much. Illuminated by your, Lucy's and Beth's marvellous descriptions of the Icelandic Journey, I feel like getting on a plane to Keflavik right now!

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    1. Hullo Natalie; I have reviewed what I said, not without a little self-consciousness. But it was all so.....real! And Beth's descriptions of her experiences was a wonderful base on which to build.

      On a more mundane note, don't go to Iceland in February. Apparently it gets really, and I mean REALLY, cold then. :)

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    2. Tom, there's no way I would go in February or any time in the foreseeable future, unless my budget improved radically, and if it did, I'd have to think carefully about how best to use it. I was just being unrealistic but never mind, your descriptions are as good as the real thing...or almost!

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    3. Of course, there's always Brittany, and it's nearer and cheaper. We'd always love to see you. And it isn't anything like as cold as Iceland. :)

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  7. thank you, tom. perhaps the places that affect or touch us the most are those that best reflect our inner landscape? or perhaps those that fill the need that we have... i would guess that in my case it's the latter - i feel so much at home in the desert, as though it makes up for the constant busyness of whirring thoughts inside my head, and soothes me into peace. food for thought, as all your posts are wont to be.

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    1. Hullo Again, (just responded to your comment on the previous post). I think you are right in what you say about places that affect us the most. What I wrote was really, in itself, the tip of the iceberg. So much has flooded in since then, with overtones of, "Yes of course! Now I understand!" And of course, in its own way, the places we might walk in the desert are also narrow, strait paths between extremes. And there is also something cathartic, cleansing even, about conceptions of the desert. Even Iceland felt desert-ed, admittedly in a cold way.

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  8. In T.S. Eliot's 'Ash Wednesay' , we watch the poet painfully climbing a spiral staircase. This image is reflected in the twisting sentences of the verse, which often revolves upon itself, repeating the same words and phrases, apparently making little headway, but pushing steadily forward nevertheless.

    I've meant to mention to you before Karen Armstrong's amazing book 'The Spiral Staircase'. I know you have enough books already yet this is one of my favourites.

    Best wishes on your journey, Tom.

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    1. Thank you for everything Susan. I will seriously consider getting 'The Spiral Staircase,' (which means I'll probably get it).

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  9. I can not imagine how I would experience Iceland at this stage of my life.
    Entertaining 'right' thoughts in the past prepared you to experience this event in the way you did.
    I know your Joy will last, dear Tom.

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    1. Hullo Ellena; Thank you very much for this comment. May I also wish you a year of improving health.

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  10. Tom, I've visited this post several times and conclude the unconscious communicates through metaphor, dreams, through poetry, art, reverie, mystery and Iceland. I'll doubtless visit this post again.

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    1. Hullo Geo; I like this comment, and I think you are correct about the way the wonderful unconscious communicates. The experience was profound, and one which has left me feeling dry, a quite normal state, and one to be usefully used.

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  11. A beautiful post whose observations weave together science, poetry, metaphysics & a soul’s yearning.

    Yes, “the borders we construct are artificial”, in that all perception & thought is constructed in the brain.

    So, amongst the borders (i.e. distinctions) that you mention, it is possible to say “The ego-self seeks knowledge and safety, the higher self seeks ‘knowing’ and the risk of awareness of reality.”

    Which of those two selves makes this statement, do you think? Are the two selves each able to speak on behalf of the other?

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    1. Hullo Vincent; Thank you for this. I am still mulling over the question of the two (possibly apparent) selves. I will write about my experiences as soon as possible in the hope of shedding a little light into the darkness, even if no resolutions are obtained.

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