Saturday 25 May 2013

A Walk in the Hills

..........And I must have walked for miles until at last I reached those lofty hills.  Passing over their rim I saw that they enclosed a great forest of deciduous trees, tall and wonderfully healthy. I stopped awhile to rest, the sun warm on my back.  As I gazed down upon the forest I saw a gurgling, busy stream cascading between the trees before rushing headlong into a large pool below me.  There it quietened as if suddenly and self-consciously aware of its majestic surroundings.  I made my way, barefoot, down the hillside until I stood on the warm grass beside the pool.
          The trees seemed to have moved during my descent so that they completely surrounded the pool except for a broad, grassy strip leading back up to the tops of the hills behind me. The murmuring of a gentle breeze, the soft rustling of the forest canopy, filled the valley with joy.
          There descended an utter and reverential silence.  On the far side of the pool a tall, white-haired figure in white raiment appeared.  He walked slowly back and forth apparently deep in thought, or accustomed to long waiting.  Finally, he turned and faced me across the water. Peace, such overwhelming peace, washed through me, dissolving me.  And I had sunk, head bowed, to the ground surrounded by such Presence..........
                                                             (Images from a meditations journal.)

I have never sought that which I might have understood God to be, in the sense of actively seeking that which I knew and understood.  I have sought meaning and understanding, certainly, and continue to do so but never it would seem with a great deal of success.  The knowledge, understanding and wisdom, the sense of ultimate "knowing", for which I seek lies beyond the realms of the intellect and emotions.  Yet I choose not to stop reaching out to make that conscious contact, to satisfy this deep longing I have.

It is my ego that cries out for redemption, not that other realm that lies so much closer to the ultimate source of my life.  It would seem to be a great wrong if I did not use my intellect and emotions, and not forgetting my senses, for it is entirely possible that the ultimate source of life needs those experiences that only my ego can supply.  Maybe for that reason, if for no other I, and that inner sense of presence which lies beyond my ego, are inextricably intertwined.  Yet for all that sense of immanence I always seem to stumble on God as if by accident.  When that happens, the experience-that-is-God is enticingly clear, only to slip out of sight again when hopefully I turn to focus my gaze in that direction.

Professor Jacob Needleman once wrote:-

"To think about God is to the human soul what breathing is to the human body.  I say to think about God, not necessarily to believe in God - that may or may not come later.  I say: to think about God."

Sometimes during moments spent in that particular activity, I wander around the doorway to my mind, but no-one appears.  There should be a word, a key to that inner door;  yes, a new word to replace that baggage-laden God-word.  It would need to be a very big word, filled with majestic syllables of such grandeur, a word such that when I begin to say it I do not reach the final syllable until the end of my life.    

Friday 24 May 2013

Marja-Leena's Goslings

I will not allow a host of  */<>@#~+=&* 's to interfere with communication between friends.  So I'm putting up a mini-post as a comment on Marja-Leena's latest post.

Your picture of Canadian geese and young is lovely.  Yes, I'm a sucker for geese!  I remember, many years ago, visiting the Wildfowl Sanctuary set up by Peter Scott in Gloucestershire, England.  On that particular occasion they had had a vast flock of Hawaiian geese fly in for a stopover at the Slimbridge trust.  There were hundreds of them, all making that unforgettable, soft mewing sort of noise.

Well I had with me lots of bread and other assorted bird feed, and they ate it directly from my hands.  I do so love direct communication between me and wildlife.  Anyway, at some point in the middle of this mass feed, (and I was crouching down on my knees at the time), I felt a gentle tap on my left shoulder, an action accompanied by a gentle "asking for attention" noise.  When I looked round there was, waiting at my shoulder, a huge swan.  For a few seconds we looked into each others eyes, then I began to feed the guest.  That was a moment - a wonderful moment - that I will never forget.

Saturday 18 May 2013

Where Lies God?

I would not wish to imply that this is a subject that I can cover with one post, or even a larger but finite number of posts.  It is my purpose here to try a slightly different approach to the problem of  the God word, to try to step into the darkness in the hope that that act of faith is answered by the gaining of something of practical value.  As in science, an hypothesis that does not tally with practical experience is of no real and lasting value.

Of course the first problem that arises is, "What is God?"  It is a similar, if not the same, question as, "What is Truth, the Self, Consciousness,  Life Force," and so on.  However, it occurs to me that such questions as these do not necessarily need to be answered before progress can be made along our chosen path.  To develop this argument further I would like to use an approach which has already proved to be eminently successful in the lives of many men and women.

There are many people around the world engaged in spiritual recovery, using Twelve Step Programmes.  From the first programme developed in the 1930's which was to lead to the establishment of Alcoholics Anonymous, an organisation which benefited from some vital, spiritual input by C. G. Jung, further programmes were developed by other self-help groups with great success.  So much then for history.

I would like to quote the first part of Step 11 of that programme, the latter part not being relevant to the point I wish to make.  The quote is as follows:-

"Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him................."

Now how may an atheist alcoholic or an atheist narcotics addict approach this Step? Particularly with the latter, this can be a matter of life or death.  Does she/he simply say that without a belief in God this Step, and hence the whole programme, is not for them?  If that line is followed, the consequences can be dire.  They may on the other hand say that, whilst not believing in God, he/she will follow the Step anyway.  Unlike most of us, addicts do not have the luxury of debating the existence or otherwise of God, as if dealing with a theological or ideological debating point with little or no practical significance.  For them the programme must offer a practical solution to their most urgent problem.  The programme must work;  this 11th. Step of the programme must work.

Let it be supposed that our atheist friends have chosen the path of survival.  Referring to the quote given above, the first point that this Step implies is that there is something, namely God, towards which one can move but about which, or about whose identity, we are free to remain in doubt.  The second point to be noted is that this bringing down of the hidden into consciousness can be brought about by prayer and meditation, and I would also add contemplation.  That is the chosen method for working this Step.

There will come a time, and more than just one time, when certain psycho-spiritual realisations emerge from the underground of the mind.  Some of these realisations may not be anything to write home about, but a start will have been made;  a sound practice will be developing.  Sometimes, however, the realisations may be greatly uplifting, exciting, may even be shocking or frightening, but of such a nature that life will never again be seen in quite the same way.  What may be concluded from this experience?

One conclusion might be that one has experienced God, albeit not a divinity that one might have expected to meet, simply because this Step implies the existence of God.  In short, it might be concluded that one had effectively been hoodwinked by a particular form of words. On the other hand it might be concluded that a door has been opened into a higher, perhaps more spiritual, existence of which one had previously been unaware.  In other words, something profound and useful will have been encountered without a prior requirement to believe in God.  The spiritual realisations experienced, might just indicate that life is not all it appears to be, and that there are rewarding paths to be travelled, even though the ultimate goal may lie in darkness and uncertainty.  Now of course we are not dealing with the laws of hard sciences here. The implicit element of choice may possibly lower the probabilities of success, if the word success has any meaning in this context.  But the probability will nevertheless be statistically significant.  For what more can one ask?

At some stage in this process, I would begin to ask questions about the origin of these spiritual experiences. (Is life worth the having without questions and doubts?)  I might query the nature of these experiences, and what are their origins.  I might, with some wonder, notice the changes that have occurred within my being, not brought about by my little consciousness. A door begins to open onto a new, fresh experience.  It may well be that God is experiential, that there may come a time when I might say, "So that's what God is!"  Spirituality is about an awakening and about presence.  It is essentially a personal and practical experience.  What a stunning experience to have.

Freed from dogma, whether it be religious, political, scientific (and oh yes, science too has its dogmas and its high priests) or any other form of straitjacket of the mind and soul, I can come alive to new possibilities, new paradigms even, a continuing opening to the wonder of the "inner" as well as the "outer" universe, and my small part in it.  It seems to me that it is only by refusing to adopt the role of a spiritual sheep before the shepherd in the pulpit, or enculturated zombie before the sleeping ideologue, that I can progress.  Only out of my acceptance of real, personal responsibility and a genuine growth into spiritual adulthood, can I become an inheritor of a wonder and truth beyond imagination.  It begins now, and now, and forever now.

Saturday 11 May 2013

Endings and Beginnings

Had Charles Dickens been writing about my father in "A Christmas Carol", instead of Marley, he might well have said,

"Father was dead, to begin with.  There is no doubt whatever about that.  The register of his burial was signed...........Father was as dead as a door-nail...........This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.........He had been dead these seven eleven years."

In every ending there is a beginning;  in every beginning there is an ending.  However, the apparent ending and beginning may not be coincident with the real event, which may lay hidden deep in the underground of the mind.  Although my father was dead, the effects of his parenting, as well as my mother's of course, were to linger on for many a long year.  The perceived damage to both my childhood and later adult life was, and has always remained, my responsibility to deal with.  First, however, had to come consciousness and the removal of denial.

There sometimes come moments in life when one feels urged to give out a 'statement of intent'.  I must do this, become that, or deal with....whatever.  In effect, a new beginning is initiated.  Of course that new beginning may simply be an old beginning which has surfaced in a different guise.  Another and related event may be a 'statement of what is'.  Those two statements may be so inextricably intertwined that it is difficult if not impossible to distinguish between them.  Now whereas the former statement clearly heralds an intended beginning, the latter appears to be a yet-to-be-realised state, the presence of which may only be inferred by the sense of something powerful bubbling up from the underground of the mind like a refreshing stream of life-giving water.  The end-point, that 'statement of what is', may take many years, to reach the light of full consciousness.  It seems to me that I have spent large parts of my life in that state of catching up, of bringing into realisation statements of 'what is'.

In my late twenties I decided to reject God utterly.  That was my 'statement of intent'.  It was never part of that particular scenario to 'choose not to believe in' the existence of God.  Such a choice would have seemed eminently nonsensical, as indeed it would today.  Surely, unbelief comes of its own volition;  one realises it is there only after it has arrived.  It doesn't come from a choosing.  So, I never became an atheist but could see that atheism was as valid a creed as any creed advanced by religion.  It seems to me that in many ways, atheism and religion are simply the two opposite sides of the same coin.  The plane of separation lies in the unattainable definition of God.  Neither philosophy has any lasting value if they are not allowed to develop.  They need to be part of a process of becoming, on the way to somewhere else that is ever closer to Truth.

The real wonder of my tale (as Dickens might have said) lay not in the intended rejection of the God of my childhood, for as it transpired that was bound to happen anyway.  Rather it was that within my original 'statement of intent', and far beneath the surface of my mind, lay an acknowledgement or warning of the existence of another, but false, God.  It was that other god that needed to be rejected.  That other god so clever, so obsessionally intent on its own survival, and operating with all the subtlety of the biblical serpent, is a master of disguise and denial.  Because it had so effectively diverted my conscious attention onto the fictitious God of my childhood, I did not see until long afterwards, until that 'statement of what is' began at last to be revealed, what the nature of that false god was, that virtual image with which I had chosen to identify myself.

In seeking to rid myself of what I assumed was the dominating influence in my life, the God of my childhood, I seemed to have attacked the false god also, a kind of psychic/spiritual lateral damage.  Nothing could have prepared me for the shock of great loss, of the feeling of desolation and loneliness, and the unremitting, inner darkness and sense of annihilation.  It was a terrifying revelation that the death of my father had never shown me.  It was almost as if my relationship with God, even after all that time, was closer to and more important than my relationships with my biological parents.  What was that false god that had the power to wreak such desolation and despair?

It was my own ego, built up over a lifetime and having its roots far back in my early childhood. That entity had been fed and fostered by a religious system and its adherents that acknowledged no God except humanity's ego writ large across the cosmos.  But my ego didn't die way back then.  It returned  stronger than ever, and would continue to do so until it was correctly identified.

As for the Christ, that sadly misunderstood figure to whom so many claim allegiance, he has had no chance, no chance at all.  However, that is yet another tale to tell.

"Father was dead to begin with.  There is no doubt whatever about that...........He had been dead these seven eleven years."  Or had he?


A View of the Garden - 11.5.2013

Saturday 4 May 2013

A Miscellany

It has been one of those weeks;  we've all had them.  It has seemed as if the week has taken on the mien of a concertina, expanding to absorb the week's subjective experience, then contracting to squeeze the objective happenings into a fixed time-frame.  I had been struggling with a post, rewriting, eventually binning it whilst visiting various other ideas.  I like to have an unpolished post ready before sending a finished post, so that I have some structure in mind, some idea of where I am headed.  Then came the sad news of Heather's death.

I only met her once, about two years ago, although she always sent her love when Lucy visited her.  That meeting was something I will long remember and cherish.  Physically she was a rather diminutive figure, with gnarled, arthritic hands.  But what a personality!  We talked for a little while;  really talked.  I cannot remember the subject of our conversation, and maybe that was not the important point.  What was certainly important was the spell she seemed to weave.  It was like passing through a time portal into another state of awareness, like being transported into a past perhaps that had never really existed, yet a place that was familiar and much-loved.  There was such richness and elegance in that experience, glimpses not quite in focus, a world within a world.  In its own way, the experience was not unlike that of the Abbaye de Boquen (Post 3, 27.4.2013), not so focused perhaps, but then we were talking with each other.  It was one meeting only, but such a precious one.

This week, and for as long as it takes, I find myself in an especially privileged position.  Heather was much more Lucy's friend than mine, of course, and her passing will not be easy to absorb.  There may be times when a piece of sticking tape may need to be applied, an opening seam that will need to be caulked, or perhaps a spray of WD40 on some moving parts to keep the mechanics of living in trim.  My job!
Now that all the commitments relating to Heather's funeral have been met, we will be celebrating another event.  Once again, it's that special time of the year when one might feel moved to say,

"Has it been that number of years we've been together?  How the time has flown."

Compared with some it may be judged that we are relative newcomers.  But I find it worth remembering that we have been together one year longer, and married only one year less, than the nineteen years my parents had.  Anyway, enough of all that;  on to something different.
I love painting in oils.  There is something about the feel of moving oil paint around a support that is pure delight.  And oil is such a forgiving medium.  Unfortunately, the production of an oil painting takes me too much time.  Thus it is that I choose to struggle with watercolours.  Watercolours do have the advantage that they do not take long to paint.  The time I take is even shorter, as I often bin them before completion.  So what I am showing you here is an oil painting I did some time ago after meditating on Meister Eckhart's 'ground' of the soul.

"The Eye of God"

I don't know from whence came that title;  it simply sprang, fully formed, like Athene from the head of Zeus.  Strictly speaking, the eye of God (I must deal with that word some time) is the galactic symbol above the middle of the broken fence.  One of the very real difficulties that arises with this kind of subject is the seeming incompatibility between imagery that is so clear in the mind, yet so impossible to paint in practice.  And in order to be faithful to the imagery, which speaks a language of its own and cannot therefore be altered (it would be like incorrect reporting), certain compositional rules sometimes need to be broken.

Well that's all for now.  Stay safe.