Its a funny old world isn’t it. Since I was a child I have had the ability to step back and just look at the overall picture. The consequences of human actions are horribly predictable, and cyclic. And the human world is in a tumultuous state at the moment.
So I was just meditating and ruminating on life the other day and began to laugh out loud at the way we live our lives. I bet most of us have plans for what we will do this weekend. We have kind of thought about what we will have to eat this evening and how we plan to buy that new…whatever we next ‘want’ in our lives, car, house, holiday, new camera, computer…stuff, the stuff that seems to pervade our lives.
In less affluent and privileged places of the world than the tiny Western mindset reality, people are thinking how and where they can sleep tonight safely, how they can get water and food today, how they can make that illegal crossing to Europe risking all, including their life to chase their desire for a better life. We all do it. We all plan, scheme, worry, mull over and are busy actively designing our lives one way or another wherever we live and whatever culture we find ourselves inhabiting.
But then I got to the reality of life. We are not really in control of anything material or physical. Zilch. We are not even in control of whether we take our very next breath. We behave and live as though we were Masters of the Universe and ourselves. We sign contracts, take out huge or small mortgages/loans and kid ourselves that we can stretch time and be in control of life for a number of months or years, we plan infinitum, and make plans to do this that and the other.
When something occurs that disrupts our carefully scheduled plans we are almost indignant at the interruption. A volcanic eruption means we cant fly? Too much snow means the trains cant run? A hurricane has wrecked our home? The local store has run out of x,y,z? How dare they? We control nothing of the material and physical. We cannot extend our life even by a single breath. We have no control over the Sun or the planet. They abide in their own ever present moment. It would serve us to remember that.
And so, I have come to a conclusion. There is only one thing we can take charge of and call our own. The ever present moment and how much Love we both extend and accept in it. Thats it. But its enough to enjoy every moment we have. That ever present moment if well lived, with grace and mindfulness, will enable a well lived lifespan however long or short that may be. None of us know.
Some of you will know that one of my absolute favourite inspiring monks is Thomas Merton. I recently bought A Book of Hours, inspired and brought forth by Kathleen Deignan, which gathers together some of the most beautiful and insightful passages from his writings, which she has gathered together and arranged as prayers to be offered at the dawn, midday, dusk and night hours of each day. It certainly works for me, and with a combination of Lectio Divina, and quiet contemplation, forms the round of my daily practise.
For me personally, Merton speaks my language and offers surrender in the beauty and repose of silence. His invitation to join him in listening to God in silence is overwhelmingly attractive; and he offers the reassurance that God waits patiently for all our inner noise to exhaust itself, and when we find ourselves impoverished and spent with its exhausting results…we begin to hear God uttering us and all things into being… quietly and eternally. Because Merton has surrendered so absolutely to this silence, when he does speak his voice and God’s voice merge into a polyphony of grace and glory that lifts our own hearts into stirring and awakening. This is the depth and breadth of Merton that offers far more than a simple reading. I find within his expression, layers after layers of depth that continue to strengthen and illuminate, no matter how many times I may have read the words before. Like Rumi, like Eckhart, we dive deeper and deeper to find darkness, the sublime light of God that is so bright, it is as darkness to us.
This piece which I read this morning, hit home to me about hope and my own experience.
Keep your eyes clean and your ears quiet and your mind serene. Breathe God’s air. Work if you can, under His skies.
But if you have to live in a city and work among machines and ride in the subways and eat in a place where the radio makes you deaf with spurious news and where the food destroys your life and the sentiments of those around you poison your heart with boredom…do not be impatient, but accept it as the love of God and as a seed of solitude planted in your soul.
If you are appalled by these things, you will keep your appetite for the healing silence of recollection. But meanwhile-keep your sense of compassion for the men who have forgotten the very concept of solitude.
You at least, know that it exists, and that it is the source of peace and joy. You can still hope for such joy. They do not even hope for it anymore. Merton.
Many of my long-term readers will also know how much living here in this place, the Highlands of Scotland, surrounded by beauty everywhere I look means to me, and how it resonates with me, supports me, nourishes me and fills me with sheer joy, love and laughter. It matches me. I am in a place where everything is in harmony with my Soul. But what you don’t know is that back in 1992 I had my first attempt at living in Scotland, over on the West Coast. I loved that too, and much of my early writings were achieved there. I was happy and content to have finally ‘made it’ to where I wanted to be. I finally got to meet my friend Eileen Caddy. I sank into blissful contentment. All was well in my world.
I had lived there for 2 years, just long enough to really ground and let go of all I had to get rid of in terms of emotional baggage. And then God threw the joker. I was to return to where I had come from and finally ‘escaped’ from…and I have never known such all-encompassing pain at such a prospect! Every nerve and fibre of my being rebelled and knew utter desperation at having to leave this place. The day before I was due to leave, and head to London -a quick detour on my way back to my birthplace [aiming to gain a wee bit more time before the ultimate return!!] I lay on a rock jutting out over the Clyde, in brilliant sunshine in temperatures of around 90 degrees. The ferry slowly made its way back and forth over the Clyde and seals played in the water around me. Tears streamed down my face as I tried so hard to come to terms with the fact that I was going to be leaving my beloved Scotland. The hills were blue, and I honestly felt as though my heart had been wrenched out of my body whilst still alive…
So I found myself in London…one extreme to another. Pollution, traffic, endless noise, crowds of people cramming the pavements, I could hardly breathe, I could barely endure to live. Drug barons touted their wares from black Mercedes on every corner of the housing estates, homelessness and poverty assaulted my senses, alongside unimaginable wealth and excess and uniformed chauffeurs escorting the sons and daughters of the Middle Eastern or Chinese wealthy, each in their own separate Rolls Royce. The seeds of solitude planted in my Soul held good and I tried to see beauty in all I set my eyes upon. I found the West Indian fish markets, the women haggling over the prices, in their beautiful colourful dresses. It was the constant ear-splitting noise that killed me more than anything, of traffic, of constantly landing or taking off of aircraft overhead and the total lack of decent air to breathe. Everywhere and everything smelled awful compared to the purity of air I was used to! I felt dirty, my clothes and skin clogged with pollution and dirt and fumes and fumes of mixed type and variety. Billboard posters and neon lights flashed and screamed at my senses everywhere advertising sheer consumerism, must have this, must have that…the dog eat dog mentality, the rush, the frenzy, the lack of space…the lack of grace, people crammed in metal tubes like lambs going to their daily slaughter, of work, with blank expressions and dead eyes. The lack of life, the lack of peace, the lack of solitude…and yet, and yet…I held my own. I carried with and within me the peace and serenity of the crystal clear blue waters, the quiet breeze of the rowan rustling in it’s autumn scarlet dresses on the hills, the serenity of eyes that see solitude and peace on every horizon as far as any eye can see…and I carried it right through that beating heart of London, smiling innocently like the seals at play to ‘strangers’ who scowled in response or simply failed to respond. And I held my own, and I held my solitude…despite the outrageous odds!
It was to be another 6 years before I was allowed to return, guided by God’s loving Will, this time for good and this time with my new husband [that I had to go back to meet] and to the Highlands on the East Coast rather than the West. When I left, I did not know whether I would be able to return, whether God would allow and enable my location to match my Soul again. I wonder now at that lack of faith on my behalf…how could it fail to be really! But those seeds of solitude were planted firmly and gathered strength as they grew. They survived the drought and famine and grew steadily, firmly with their eyes firmly fixed on the sun. And my hope and desire for the joy that Merton speaks of, bore fruit.
So the above piece as you can see resonates with my own experience. Often life makes no sense to us, we cannot see the twists and turns, the developments within as we are tested and put through the fires of furnaces that refine us and turn us into the philosopher’s stone. And it is in faith that we can bear the storms, and trust that Gods love and grace wills to carry us through and across to the other side. All is well. Of that we can be sure.
The photos below are where I used to live and the Cal Mac Ferry…
Today we have in the Western World lost much of the rich beauty that infused our ancestors living in a state of constant prayer. The richness of the Celtic tradition is felt strongly still in pockets of the remote Highlands of Scotland where I live. It is a tradition that encompasses all life and excludes nothing from the shelter of belonging.
Celtic tradition emphasises the connectedness of all. All life is seen as sacred aspects of a woven whole and nothing, be it animal or mineral is seen as more important than any other aspect. Respect for the sacredness of all life including one’s own gives meaning and purpose, it offers one a place to inhabit which is meaningful and respectful. Few people now stop and give thanks to a landscape, a river, a wild and exciting sea for enriching their life experience. Our lives have been dislocated from this rich earth we inhabit that provides for us, and dislocated from our own spiritual being that is our true validity and essence. We have become isolated from each other and ourselves, we no longer remember who we are or why we are here.
Blessings to accompany all activities were of utmost importance and serve to remind us of the attention we should pay to all our thoughts, words and deeds during the daily round of hours, no matter how insignificant they may seem. This in turn nudges us into being fully present in our lives and to thus inhabit the richest of experiences in all that we do.
In this post I would like to try to express what the Mystical Vision feels like. This piece I wrote many years ago describing the moment when you are “caught up” also expresses how difficult it is to relate. To describe the indescribable in a way that even begins to make sense or gives you a flavour of its intensity is quite frankly impossible, but I take heart that many of you who are reading this will know what I mean by that and will forgive my feeble attempts at it. I include it in its whole and unedited. At that time I was living in the city of Norwich, mourning living in the Highlands with every breath I took, [and struggling to obey the Lords choice of my location too!].
“I feel like I am going completely mad, like a prisoner who can only gaze at the night stars through the bars of her cell. The sense of un-belonging overwhelms me, sucking me into its abyss of despair. The energy levels of a city are all wrong and I guess I am aware of that some times more than others. A physical, mental and emotional pain, I walk outside and feel physically sick with the concrete and cars, the noise attacks my ears, the grey attacks my vision. My solar plexus feels as if it will explode with rage and sorrow that I pick up from all around me, other hapless prisoners of the city; like a coiled spring about to burst out.
The Earth cries out to me and hearing her I bend my head in helpless impotence. Her rape and plunder goes unheeded and I am the poorer for it. I cannot stop and gaze at her beauty and offer worship here; for she is clothed indignant and quietly weeping in a place I cannot find her. Only her body remains and like a rape victim-her spirit has long since flown. Her shame is mine and her liquid darkness where I too wish to hide.
The problem is not just this city, but all cities, all countries that hold an ethos of entrapment, with iron grip of those who cry out the freedom of the Divine. Centuries of enclosure, oppression and negativity have created a mantle so dense; I choke and gasp as I drown in its noxious fumes, seeking pure air. Own, acquire, and possess-the order of the day. I don’t seem to fit, I feel like the odd shape of a jigsaw puzzle, out of time, out of fashion, the crone sitting quietly in the middle of the beautiful people.
Creation is painful; each thought is wrenched from the womb like bleeding entrails still attached to their owner, independent yet strangely belonging. In this world, reality and illusion merge, circling crazily as fairground rides, ever faster until all disappears into a foggy morass of senses. The pain should put one off yet the mistress is demanding and one would willingly die for just one second of clarity in expression of the vision. Temptress, sorceress, playing the lute of seduction, whose melodic tones become the flow of blood itself. No longer without-but within, what was once a foreign landscape is now the body one temporarily inhabits.
The muse is a parasite sucking all rationality, character and identity out, leaving only vacuous spaces to be filled with swirling thoughts, fine as sea mist, transparent as air-Universal Breath sweetly blown as a kiss from on high. Ever onward and upward she leads me, tripping in her wake as a pied pipers child, transfixed and hypnotised by the sounds and colours of Creation.
I sit as John, at the feet of the thrones of Revelation, wretched, humbled, humiliated, vomiting the density of humanity out, unworthy of my divinity. I am in a nowhere place of being-neither belonging to one world nor another, desire-only another word for weakness in the face of true Power. In my insignificance I am shown our glory and I, too weak to acknowledge it lie defeated; dying. Weak as a kitten, with no will of my own to claim that which is ours, finally I just AM. Thus it passes over: bestowed, regardless of any individual, and I watch with Terror at its Holy Magnificence.
Descent is harder than ascent I have come to appreciate-for it requires the loss of the individuality of self, the final barrier. Darkness when it comes is the final surrender, the acknowledgement of matter and form. The sweet darkness of the Earth, sticky and cloying envelops us closer than the air of ascent. We return to the womb from whence we came and are promised renewal. Like Demeter we are forced to face ourselves on our return journey home. Death is life and life is death. Living in a mirror image world, we believed it true and became the illusion. Sophia-Wisdom, our Great Mother teaches us again.
And as the vision passed, I knew this:
My Being is the only safety within a jungle of confusion and illusion.
Within my Being is the Cosmic Christ, the destination of the journey
The refreshment of the parched, the food offered to the starving.
Christed One, be One with me, hold me tight and keep me from harm’s way, for I am lost, lonely in this world and have great need of your Light. My will is Thy Will and Thy Will is mine. My desert shall be watered from the sweetness of my desire for Thee Beloved, and mine enemies shall be scattered in the winds that sweep the plains and the hills. Blessed be my Soul, in grace and Love. My Lord, My Beloved, answers my cry And I am no longer alone. He walks with me all the days of my life.
I have no other purpose in life other than to be, and in my being the highest vision of myself that I can, I am a vessel through which the Christ Consciousness can reach down through the multi-layered levels of my being, down to the very Earth itself. My body and my life is a holy vessel that can be filled to overflowing with Divine Presence, as servant to creation. My highest vision of who I AM is beauty, joy, compassion, light, Love, truth, wisdom, forgiveness and creation. The greatest of these is Love. By embodying these, I may be a light myself and thus share light with the world. Blessed Be.