Seeing

The more my substance thins to fill the world

The more the world fills me.

 

Sun shining, moon rising,

Stars in their savagery,

The meaningless gaze of the fox

Dead on the road, the broken bird

The bloodied fur, wind-feathered wing

Sing in me

 

Oh my beauty,

Oh my broken beauty.

 

meaningless

Should you, because you can?

I often start off thinking no, I couldn’t possibly write that…

Next thing I know, I’ve written it.

This post may be one of those.

Sometimes I have moments of enlightenment. It’s probably a myth, you know, that enlightenment happens all at once, a blinding flash in the dark, sunlight on the road to Damascus. It’s more a tantalising chink before the door creaks shut again, sometimes for millennia.

Last night it occurred to me, not for the first time, but every time I forget – which is another way in which the door creaks shut – that I may not even be here to write. Or rather, just because I can write doesn’t mean I should, or that I absolutely have to. Maybe I’m not meant to be doing it at all at this point.

I don’t mean this sort of writing – this blogging pastime – which to me is more like chatting on the telephone, or writing a longish letter to a friend.  I mean the sort that requires the participation of your entire being, that drains every drop from the glass, that scrapes the last baked-bean from the saucepan, that… well, you know.

It just reminded me. When I was younger I had a friend. He was more than a friend, in fact (and then considerably less, but that’s another story).  My friend had a guru, except that, being a Christian he referred to him as something else – my Mentor, my Guide – can’t exactly remember now. This Guide was revered among Christians of a certain hue – those who drawn to the paranormal, out-of-body and near-death-experiences. He wrote a whole series of books; I read one or two of them but found them a bit chewy. Perhaps I should have another go at them now.

We visited him together, just once. His house was quite a long way away, and so bare. I never saw a house so devoid of everything except its occupant. It was as if stuff no longer had any meaning for him. There was a piano, but it was locked. There was a big old table but no cloth, no books, nothing on it. Ladies brought him food – home-made cakes and such, my friend said, and he lived mostly on what people brought him. Food didn’t matter.

I can’t remember much more about that meeting, except that he looked at us both, very carefully, and for an uncomfortably long time, and told us we were old souls. I think I knew this already, as did my friend: I had known him since the earth was molten metal, since we were blades of grass side by side in some prehistoric meadow, since… but then people in love tend to reckon in geological time. How can there ever have been a time when we were not together? How can there ever come a time when we will be apart? And maybe they are right. Maybe we’re the deluded ones.

And I couldn’t help thinking, well, what else would you expect a guru to say? Just as you’d expect a fortune-teller to tell you that you would cross water and meet a tall, dark gentleman. A gypsy fortune-teller at a church fête once told me I’d have four children. That didn’t come to pass, in fact no children came to pass. But then she was the vicar’s wife in boot-polish and a fancy shawl. What would she know?

I asked about the locked piano. My friend told me that his Guide once played the piano. He had so loved to listen to a certain piece music that he could close his eyes and be transported by it onto another spiritual plane. But music had to be given up in order that he could become what he needed to become. It was the price he had had to pay. There is always a price to pay. It seemed very shabby to me then – all of it – the house with the empty table, the donated cakes, the locked piano, the absent gramophone, the being alone in the dark most of time, the occasional cup of tea, a visitor.

spider4.jpg

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I had a dream. I was on an upper level of a railway station, looking down at the scurrying figures in the concourse beneath. Between them and me was a plate-glass window so wide and so thick that there was no way they could ever hear me, even if I thumped on the glass. And they would never look up. They were fixed on their destinations, whereas I had no destination – or at least none that I knew of.

Writing was always a kind of thumping on the glass or – a later analogy – the weaving of an elaborate web. I couldn’t get into their world but maybe, just maybe, I could entice them into mine. With the benefit of hindsight and old (well, medium) age, I see this would never have worked. Had the spider’s web been encrusted with precious gems and its strands laced with the finest of nectars – had they crawled in in their little wingèd millions to worship me, the Great Writing Spider – it wouldn’t have worked. They would have been deceived, bewitched, enticed. They wouldn’t have come otherwise, wouldn’t have entered willingly. And that great windy nothingness at the centre of everything would still be there.

So what’s an old soul to do, apart from a bit of blogging now and again?

I think maybe nothing. I think just Be.

I think open a channel.

I think wait.

The Phoenix Fire Mystery

Reincarnation: do you believe in it?

I used to haunt my local library, and I found this enormous hardback book called Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery (Cranston & Head, 1977).  I booked it out so many times in succession that I might as well have kept it. When eventually they decided to “modernise” the library, the book – along with a good third of the books in the library, it seemed – disappeared, during one of the days I had foolishly let it out of my keeping, to be replaced by a whole lot of tacky music cassettes. I was cross about that. All the times I’d thought about stealing ‘my’ beloved old friend Reincarnation, and never did because my conscience wouldn’t let me – and then they throw it out to make room for – not-books, for dross. It was at that point I gave up on public libraries altogether, and thankfully soon after it became possible to order books online.

Which is where I got the equally enormous paperback copy that sits on the desk beside me now.

Sometime after we divorced, my husband told a mutual friend that I had Got Religion around this time – one reason he was glad to see the back of me. There were many reasons he could have cited for being glad to see the back of me – looking back, even I’d even have been glad to see the back of me – but he was wrong about that one. I didn’t Get Religion then, and I still haven’t. I started thinking for myself around then, and searching for answers. The search goes on.

I remember one summer’s afternoon, sitting on the back step of our house. He was down the garden in his workshop constructing something intricate and splendid involving lathes and drills, and I was just… sitting on the step, thinking about reincarnation… and something suddenly clicked. It was… you know like if you mesh your two hands together in front of your face…?  Something fitted together, precisely. Something felt absolutely right, at last. And that was reincarnation. I just knew it was right, not through any intellectual process but as if retrieving an ancient memory. It fitted with that feeling I had since a child, that the past is not something irretrievably gone, but all around us still. I felt my ancestors, and strangers, and scenery long vanished – beside me. I knew time was an illusion, but I didn’t know how.

Over the years I have read more, in different fields – testing it – trying to find something that would be an antidote to that unreasonable, unscientific certainty – but only seem to have stumbled across more and more things that fit with it. It now seems to me that the traditional Eastern idea of reincarnation is a simplified version of an unimaginably complex reality. I think there is more to it than amassing good karma and bad karma, and the possibility of coming back as a worm/slug/dung-beetle if we misbehave, or working one’s way up to some kind of disembodied semi-angelic status if we’re really, really good.

My sense is that when we die, we leave our used-up physical bodies behind, obviously, but then maybe rest between lives. And during that between-lives period we design, assemble or are irresistibly drawn back into, another life, depending on what we next need to learn; the ‘life after life’ pattern being an extended learning or growing process. I think we are ‘sent out’ – or maybe even fling ourselves joyfully out – from our source – like flares from the sun – and we ‘return’ – or maybe sink gratefully back – to our source; and that in returning we bring with us what we have learned – so that the source is enriched and in a small way modified by everything we have seen, experienced and suffered.

I don’t see ‘That’ as anything that can be named; or as in any way static, but rather as  a something continually and violently in motion – boiling, like the sun – always rearranging, realigning and reconfiguring. I see human creativity – that surge of joy that happens when a poem line comes to you, or you when you paint a picture just right, or capture the photo – as a fizzy foretaste, a pale, just-bearable echo of what it is to be That – the violence, the frightening creativity, the rage, the restless urge for change, the passion to bring into existence Something from Nothing.

Getting Religion, I suspect, would have been the easier option!

Though all dies, and even the gods die, yet all death is but a phoenix fire death, and new birth into the Greater and Better.

Thomas Carlyle

What’s Going On, Mrs Robinson?

You know that scene in The Graduate where bewildered Ben (Dustin Hoffman) finds himself high up in a chapel behind a glass window, desperately trying to interrupt that dull little Elaine’s wedding before it’s too late? He’s hammering and hammering on the glass but no one seems to hear him. Soon after my own wedding I had a dream similar to that. My window dream was this: I was standing high up in a giant, modernistic airport or railway station, looking down at crowds of people walking fast and mostly, it seemed, in one direction, on the level beneath. Suddenly I saw my husband, walking with them, but I knew he would never be able to hear me through the glass. I watched helplessly as he walked on and disappeared and I was left with a sense of panic and sadness.

So, you are saying – that’s pretty obvious – her Unconscious knew she was making a mistake even as she made it. Unconscious was trying to tell her that she and this man were destined to be isolated from one another, always, walking on two different levels and never able to overcome the communication barrier between them. I refer you to a poem I wrote some years later when Conscious, belatedly, had got the message.

I believe Jung put forward the idea that one’s Unconscious is likely to be oppositely-gendered to one’s conscious self. Certainly, mine is male. Jung’s “Philemon” was enviably classical and elaborate. He seemed as much a psychoanalytical colleague as a Guide to the Underworld and – puzzlingly – was a ‘he’, as was Jung:

Philemon was a pagan and brought with him an Egypto-Hellenic atmosphere with a Gnostic colouration. His figure first occurred to me in the following dream.

There was a blue sky, like the sea, covered not by clouds but by flat brown clods of earth… Suddenly there appeared from the right a winged being sailing across the sky. I saw that it was an old man with the horns of a bull. He held a bunch of four keys, one of which he clutched as if he were about to open a lock. He had the wings of a kingfisher with its characteristic colours…

They held interesting discussions together:

In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought. For I observed clearly that it was he who spoke, not I. He said I treated thoughts as if I generated them myself, but in his view thoughts were like animals in the forest, or people in a room, or birds in the air.

Jung: Memories, Dreams, Reflections: Confrontation with the Unconscious

I can also ‘see’ – or at any rate dream of – my own Unconscious sometimes. He tends to be wearing a long, black coat like Sherlock Holmes. Sometimes we walk together on a beach under a black sky. Somewhere in the distance is a power station (haven’t yet worked out why). A dark sea laps against a pebbly shore and an alternative ‘me’ seems to be rising up out of the water, like Venus on the half-shell (only plainer). Sometimes he is walking up ahead a way. Sometimes he is in a cottage in the middle of a forest. It is night, as usual.  He is putting logs on the fire and peering into the flames. I never see his face. He never looks directly at me and yet I am not afraid of him. I feel I must address him with courtesy and not expect too much; I request, knowing that he may choose not to comply; I question, knowing that there may be only silence. We are like nations, hitherto at war. We need each other, if we are to go forward. At the moment we are engaged in negotiating an exchange of prisoners across a mist-shrouded border.

He uses pictures rather than words, the man in the black overcoat. I struggle – though less so as time goes on – to ‘catch’ his images as they flicker across my consciousness – and to interpret them. For instance – I’d been mulling over that sense of existing ‘on the borders’ between one world and another, as described (with some difficulty) in Strange stars appear in our skies. As I fell asleep I think I had been asking him for help, for more clarity about his side of the border.

I woke up suddenly with an image of stars – weird, huge stars, a bit like stars on top of a Christmas tree. Then it occurred to me that they were the stars from Van Gough’s painting The Starry Night which I had chosen to illustrate Strange stars. It was like he was saying “Beginning…” It was almost like the start of one of the legal dictation tapes I used to have to type up: We’re talking about… As if he was defining the subject. 

I pictured Starry Night once more, with a kind of question mark. Beginning? And with something like impatience the weird, huge stars flashed back twice in quick succession – “Yes, beginning!”

To be clear, I am not describing seeing things or hearing voices. (I hope not, anyway: if you hear no more from me on La Tour Abolie it may be that the Men in White Coats have arrived and carted me off in the van with the barred windows.) At no time did I see anything with my physical eyes or hear anything with my physical ears: rather, an image appeared in my mind and a meaning – after a second or two’s delay – swam up and attached itself to the image. The meaning – you seem to get to it by lateral thinking. You need to let your mind slide sideways or dance around it. It seems to me like an alternative, more sophisticated language: more comprehensive; more economical – and you’re hearing it with something other than your brain.

Sometimes I even get micro-flashes of what feel like past – or otherlives. I say other, because I suspect all lives are simultaneous. It’s almost like freeze frame. I know they’re past lives but I don’t know how I know, except that in at least one of them I have an aerial view – I’ll be swooping down a green valley, for example, and there’s a battle going on. Yet I’ve never seen such a battle, or such a valley, and I’ve never been able to fly. As far as I know….

The other thing about Subconscious is he seems to want to ‘send’ in waves. There may be months… years, sometimes… when I forget all about him and then suddenly it’s like someone battering on your mind’s door as he tries really hard to get through, or possibly reconfigure ‘updates’ silently downloaded in advance, so that they start to make sense. It’s almost like when subconscious ‘data’ arrives it’s randomised, or encoded and has to be incorporated into an overall pattern.

We’re like people from different countries, my Unconscious and I. We’re marooned on a desert island together without a dictionary. Of necessity we’re having to start from scratch by pointing at stuff and repeating – palm tree in your language, palm tree in my language, leaf in my language, leaf in your language. Cocoanut, sand, sea…

I frequently ask myself why I keep on with the writing. None of the earlier motives or explanations seem relevant now. I am never going be loved and appreciated and interviewed on intellectual TV programmes about my latest, wonderful, literary achievement. I am never going to write a best-selling novel, or any novel – and I probably never was going to because (as I now know) I don’t possess the ability to sustain that level of focus on a single project for months or years, especially when there’s no guarantee, or even likelihood, of success. As I’ve grown older I’ve sensed the skill-level increasing even as the ability – or even the desire – to grind nobly on with some literary Lost Cause or Herculean Labour, has been decreasing. I now realise I was always a butterfly, a synthesist – a finder of patterns and joiner-together of seemingly disparate things. Writing has remained the Special Interest but simply refuses to narrow itself down any further. That is the category: everything.

No point at all in continuing to write, and yet I do. And I think I do because of him – the man in the black overcoat – the one by the beach, whose face I never get to see. It’s because writing is, at the moment, still the best way for him to get through. I’m still an infant at the direct, picture-sending method of communication, but indirectly, through the writing, much more gets through, and sticks.

I have often agonised – why ever did I choose – or was I given – this writing obsession? It’s never done me any good – so what was I supposed to use it for? And the answer seems to be – it’s not for you to use it, it’s for it to use you.

venus2

 

 

 

 

 

Strange stars appear in our skies

In Reason to Believe, Bruce Springsteen sings, “At the end of every hard-earned day / people find some reason to believe.” What’s your reason to believe?

I went back to the song itself, to digest the images he has conjured up for us:

  • A man stands on out Highway 31, poking at a dead dog with a stick, as if hoping it will get up and run.
  • A woman loves a man. One day he leaves her. She waits every day at the end of a dirt road, for him to come back.
  • A baby is baptised in the river, and his sin is washed away.
  • An old man dies in a shack, and his body is prayed over in a churchyard.
  • A groom waits by a river for his bride but she doesn’t arrive. The congregation leaves, the sun sets and the groom continues to wait, watching the river rushing by.

So this is about how we are transfixed by love, and continue to love when there is no reason to hope. This is about our sense, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that there is more than there appears to be; that the obvious and the logical need not apply. We assume the baby comes from another place, bringing with it a burden of some kind – whether of sin or ‘clouds of glory’. We assume that the old man has gone to another place, become something else, and therefore it is worth praying for him. The groom senses that in another place – another reality – his bride did arrive – and in yet another reality, might still. The man, puzzled by the dead dog and his inability to will (or poke) it back to life, has been ‘blurred’, momentarily, by a version of reality in which dead dogs do run and death has a different meaning.

And all this comes down to all things being possible, and the sensing of this by some people, even though it makes no sense. It seems to me that reality is a straightjacket; something we have to sew ourselves into, to be able to cope. Most people never feel the straightjacket, but some do – maybe those with a fractionally higher tolerance for uncertainty.

Suffering – because reality, when you do begin to sense it, hurts. It hurts so much. Jung wrote something about the process of individuation which struck a chord with me:

The words “many are called, but few are chosen” are singularly appropriate here, for the development of personality from the germ-state to full consciousness is at once a charisma and a curse, because its first fruit is the conscious and unavoidable segregation of the single individual from the undifferentiated and unconscious herd. This means isolation, and there is no more comforting word for it. Neither family nor society nor position can save him from this fate, nor yet the most successful adaptation to his environment, however smoothly he fits in. The development of personality is a favour that must be paid for dearly. But the people who talk most loudly about developing their personalities are the very ones who are least mindful of the results, which are such to frighten away all weaker spirits.”

I read something in a stranger’s blog yesterday about people who live in two worlds at once. I considered that carefully: it seemed almost right, but too simple, not quite fuzzy enough round the edges. As a child, and then a teenager, I knew that there was another world. It wasn’t a long way away, it wasn’t Up In Heaven – it was here, just not accessible. It was next door. My feeling was of standing next to a threshold: I only had to take one step to the left and I would have crossed the border. I needed to take that step, but I couldn’t work out how. I missed that world – felt a kind of homesickness for it.

I even wrote a poem, all those years ago. Reading that lady’s blog recalled it to me, but I assumed it was lost. I was wondering if I might be able to ‘reconstitute’ it from the few lines I could remember. But no need – here it is. I found it:

WE LIVE ON THE BORDERS

We live on the borders, some of us, / Between the other world and this. / Further out than all of you, / Still we can only peer at distant hills, / Catching whispers in the wind sometimes, / Channelling darkness drifting through, / Weaving the two. Strange stars appear in our skies.

We’d give our breath to breathe that other air, / And sanity to hear the singing truly – / For it is joy and madness both, to be so close / To all that’s dark and dreaming, and yet to have / No hope of homecoming.

Reading back over all the airy-fairy, grasping-at-thistledown stuff in this post I’m not sure it’s going to make sense to anybody. When you attempt to cross, or even approach, the boundary between This and Other, words bleach out; they lose their relevancy. But words are our shield against that Silence, and for the moment we do need that shield. I can only say – that’s what keeps me going. It’s not so much a reason to believe as a sense that I need to keep to my own internal faith however much it costs me. I must keep the channel open so that the music – and the darkness – can drift through.

Her mind is Tiffany twisted, she got the Mercedes bends

Well, this is going to be a post about Heaven – or at least my idea of Heaven – and I was going – rather obviously, in hindsight – to use that line from The Eagles’ Hotel California This could be heaven or it could be hell. Then I came across this other line and couldn’t resist it. How could anybody think up a line that brilliant? It’s got everything. I am lost in admiration.

What set this weird and wonderful post off? Well, I was lying on the sofa, as is my wont (what is a wont I wonder?) watching TV and half asleep. There was a cat wedged under my chin, making it impossible to turn my head – so technically I was listening to TV – another cat on what would have been my lap had I been sitting up, and third cat half on, half off of the sofa arm, reclining heavily against my bare foot. And I was thinking – it wouldn’t be Heaven without cats.

How many cats? I wondered. I concluded it would have to be every cat in the world, plus all the cats that ever had been. Heaven would not be Heaven with a single kitten or manky old stray excluded.

You would be wading through cats, I told myself.

No, myself replied. Heaven – if there is such a place – must be infinitely vast. Heaven, if cats are involved, must also have trees, and shelves, and cardboard boxes. It must have an infinite number of hidey-holes and secret places. A cat is not happy without a perching place and a hidey-hole. That would make Heaven the classic house with many mansions – a rambling, Victorian, wood-panelled, bookshelved, mouse-holed, secret-passagewayed sort of set up. It would need to be full of dusty, half-open carpet bags, broken luggage trunks with interesting, pattable metal clasps, spiderswebs to get caught in, spiders to pursue and, eventually, chew.

It would need dirty window panes through which could be glimpsed acres of rolling countryside. It would need coaches coming and going, and gardener’s boys, and at night, foxes on the lawn. It would need moss-covered statues for butterflies to alight on. It would need a moon, and starlight.

It would be a kind of indoor place with an outdoors to watch.

It would need owls, and bats. That would be for me and the multitude of cats.

It would need books and paper, and pencils, and pencil-sharpeners. That would be for me. The books would need to be old. Musty, their pages uncut for centuries. Hidden knowledge. Sleeping stories.

It would need a park, because maybe I could go outdoors sometimes. In that case it would need to be a park emptied of people. A park with broken benches and flower beds full of pansies, daisies or daffodils, according to season. There would need to be chestnut trees, and sparrows, and blackbirds, and worms for the blackbirds to tug at.

And there would need to be the sea, somewhere or other in this particular Heaven. A warm sea and an empty beach. And fishes in the sea, all colours of the rainbow. Fishes with stickle-fins and iridescent scales. Maybe a mermaid or two. Mermaids wouldn’t bother me as long as they kept their distance, as they probably would because mermaids are not very sociable.

And it would be possible to fly, of course. Who wants to be earthbound in Heaven? Maybe the cats could fly with me.

I suppose that’s it, though. That would be my Heaven. But supposing I was a cat-hater or a dog-lover? Supposing I was by nature a sociable type, the life and soul of the party? How could it be Heaven, to that person, without parties to go to, champagne to quaff, the tinkling pianos and the dancing girls? Ergo, there would need to be a separate Heaven for each of us, a self-created paradise – and maybe that is the case.

My own feeling is that we move from lifetime from lifetime in a continuous process of learning and growing. My sense is that we are God Becoming, or God Conscious. We move from lifetime to lifetime, perfecting ourselves and enhancing or enriching That of which we are fragments. Except that linear time is an illusion, so whatever it seems like, all is happening now – is happening, has happened, will happened –in a single moment. We are, in a way, angels dancing on the head of a pin.

After each life we are able to rest for a while. Then we begin to design or to be attracted back into, the next life. And maybe at some point we come to some kind of transition or translation, where rebirth becomes voluntary rather than obligatory, and we can rest for ever if we want to. We experience what we set ourselves to experience; when in life we suffer and are enraptured and all stages in between, daily, hourly, from one micro-second to the next, moving between a multitude of levels and states of being.

Which could be Heaven, or which could be Hell.

What do you think?