Loss of an Old Soul

The photos here are of an enormous oak tree that I discovered in a field near to Quarr Abbey in the north of the Island.  This wonderful old tree – truly the biggest oak I have ever seen, it’s branches as big as any large tree trunk – is sadly no more, falling victim to some ferocious winter south westerlies.

I felt a tug of anguish in my tummy seeing it felled, its lower trunk and roots still secure in the ground, its massive girth snapping around a vulnerable slit in its side; a hole that was once big enough for a small adult to slip inside is now cruelly exposed to the sky and elements, a shattered splinter being the only remains still standing.

This wonderful tree has been a focus for many of my meditations and so, in some small way, will live on in my inner life. But I am struck by what an enormous, gaping hole the loss of a tree makes when it is suddenly gone.  

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Learning to Read the Signs

I Was Passionate

I was passionate,
filled with longing,
I searched
far and wide.

But the day
that the Truthful One
found me,
I was at home.

 

Lalla 

From: Women in Praise of the Sacred  – Translated by Jane Hirshfield

Agnus Castus – The Return of Me

My herbalist Wendy gave me Agnus Castus capsules to take along with my usual herbs this month. Agnus Castus is a herb that works on the pituitary gland to regulate hormones, specifically to help with natural progesterone production in the body. It is often used in treating the symptoms of PMT and the hormonal upheavals of the peri-menopausal and menopausal period in a woman’s life.

Agnus Castus is turning out to be a miracle herb for me. For the first time in ages I am feeling truly well; the awful exhaustion that would not respond to rest has gone, my energy rising by the day. The dreadful moods swings are no more; I feel level and nothing seems to phase me at present; the nigglesome worries of day to day life that recently have had me feeling like I couldn’t cope, now appear insignificant. To say I feel like a new woman is an understatement.

The herbs Wendy has prescribed have been helping my actual periods and – apart from a tricky couple of months of tweaking the prescription – this continues to be so. I have just finished my shortest period in decades and, despite a couple of heavy, painful days, my well-being throughout was a new and pleasing development. The difference in how I feel, both mentally and physically, is so profoundly changed that I feel the urge to shout it from my roof top!

Our hormones are incredibly powerful and impact upon us in ways we barely know or understand. There are current theories that we are all – men and women alike – suffering from an over-exposure to oestrogen. Many substances that we each come into contact with in modern life, get into our systems and mimic natural oestrogen, tipping the body’s natural balance out of whack. For women, this can have devastating effects, the most serious being an increased risk of breast cancer. It can also leave women feeling like emotional wreckage, their own natural progesterone swamped and struggling to do its job. This means that the second half of the monthly cycle is dogged by intense moods swings, exhaustion, breast tenderness (touch at your peril!), depression, heavy and painful periods.

I have found that the ‘me’ that I call myself could very easily be distorted or lost in the symptoms of this imbalance. We are fools if we think our emotional well-being is separate from our bodily health. With all the willpower in the world, when our bodies are out of balance – particularly our hormonal selves – we can suffer greatly, the symptoms upending our lives and even destroying our sense of self  in serious cases. Sadly, conventional medicine chooses to treat these conditions with synthetic hormones and, in many cases, this only seems to aggravate an already unbalanced system. I think it certainly did with me. It feels so much better to take something that aids the body’s own natural production and balance of hormones. If what I am experiencing is a rebalancing, then, at present, I am living proof that this is the sanest way to go.

Being a Yoga nut, I am fascinated by the chakra system, by the link it implies between body and mind health but also the focus it places on the Endocrine system. Our glands play a vital role in keeping us well and balanced hormonally. I believe that we need to take good care of our Endocrine systems, particularly when we are unwell, doing all we can to help them help us to stay healthy.

I suspect that the extreme stress of recent years did a lot to knock my system off balance. Sadly, it can become an unstoppable cycle: the stress unbalancing our bodies; our imbalanced bodies impacting upon our minds and causing more stress. Hopefully, with the help of Wendy, I can now break that cycle. Welcome home M!

Into the Silence

I read somewhere once, that when the Universe/Divine wants you to acknowledge something it will illustrate that something to you three times, within a short period. It is clear then that the Universe/Divine wants me to engage with the ‘Silence’.

I have written here a great deal about how my recent health problems have caused a crisis in my spiritual life. As I have begun to gradually reclaim my physical equilibrium, I have been left with a sense of disconnection from all those practices that used to feed and nourish me. In many ways this has been far worse an ordeal than feeling ill; up until the last few months, when major events have been moving through my life, my spiritual beliefs and practices have been an enormous support. The change has rather thrown me but this week has seen the first real turn around since the beginning of the year, when the fitting of the Implanon implant began a downward spiral in my physical and emotional well-being.

The first gentle prod from the Universe/Divine came in the form of a DVD that a friend had recorded and which I unexpectedly received a copy of. It was a short guided meditation and talk. At one point in the meditation, my friend guides the listener to open to the ‘Source, deep within’, to ‘rest in this awareness of being’ feeling ‘at one with the source of all life’. This part of the meditation triggered a little jolt of recognition inside my head. In my desperate attempt to regain the connection to the Divine that I felt I had lost since being poorly, I suddenly realised that I had been trying to achieve this reconnection in a rather left brain way. I had been frantically trying to define my beliefs in an effort to reclaim them. All the faces that I had cloaked the Divine with – which had given me such inspiration for so long – had become distant and unfamiliar to me and on trying to reconnect with the ‘faces’, I had forgotten to open to and listen to that Source.

Amidst the joy of discovering the Divine in the material, I have drifted away from that transcendent Source. As a Pagan, for me the Divine is perceived as immanent in the Universe; I love this notion and still feel its truth and power when I gaze around me at life. However, it has struck me this week that in championing this perception of the Divine, I have shied away from engaging with the purely transcendent. I think this stems a great deal from my negative experiences as a Christian, the transcendent becoming associated with the religion I had left behind. Engaging so full-heartedly with immanence was incredibly healing for me and yet now I realise that I have deprived myself of a fuller experience of the Divine by embracing one and rejecting the other.

In listening to my friend’s DVD, hearing him speak of us connecting and honouring both the beauty and spiritual power of the material world and that of transcendent Source, made me realise that I had ignored the possibility that the Divine can be reached via both. This might seem obvious to others but somehow I have denied one in favour of the other and the imbalance has shown itself at this point because I have been struggling so with my own  body.

The DVD triggered one of those eureka moments; I instantly knew that what I needed to do for myself at this moment in my spiritual journey was connect and open to the transcendent Source; to not try to shape it, or personify it, or define it, merely to open to it, go into the peace and silence and simply listen. I am a very visual person and my meditating experiences tend to reflect this but I knew suddenly that the visual was not what my soul was craving at the moment; it was seeking a silent, peaceful ‘nothingness’ or ‘beingness’. This realisation brought with it an excited ‘yes!’ feeling, as if something in me had been patiently waiting for me to make this discovery and was now very happy that I had. And so, I made plans to spend a few minutes every day in the ‘Silence’.

As if I needed reminding, I came home on Friday to catch Laurie most of the way through watching a programme on the BBC called ‘The Big Silence’. He rewound it on the freeview box and told me to watch it while he cooked dinner. It was the last part in a small series where a group of people were taken on a Christian retreat and challenged to bring an engagement with the ‘Silence’ into their everyday lives! Only a couple were Christians but most found the experience extremely inspiring. It struck me that entering the silence and listening, regardless of what faith or beliefs we hold, even if we hold none at all, can link us all beyond dogma, beyond our theological differences. And yes, here was my second prod from the Universe!

The third came at my Monday Yoga class where our final relaxation meditation – which usually is a guided visualisation – this week focused on moving into the peace and stillness. Alright, alright, I hear you, I hear you!!!

Honouring the physical – including the more challenging stuff such as illness, loss, pain and death – as sacred, is such an important part of my spiritual understanding. But in finding myself feeling so unwell, I felt challenged on how I might continue to stay present and happy in those difficult moments. It seems to me that it requires a balance between accepting and experiencing where we are in the cycle of our lives; living it and honouring it whilst also being able to stand outside it in the peace and stillness, to know that although we might be ill, we are not the illness. Our wholeness, our deeper self, is beyond the cycle and yet experiences it, enfolds it within its being, enriches itself with the experiences. I am again drawn back to the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes quoted here recently:

…the indestructibly soul-spirit. We know the soul-spirit can be injured, even maimed, but it is very nearly impossible to kill. You can dent the soul and bend it. You can hurt it and scar it. You can leave the marks of illness upon it and the scorch marks of fear. But it does not die…

This week I have felt that sense of eternal ‘beingness/nothingness’ when I have entered the silence and opened to its peace. At those moments all appears absolutely as it should be.

I feel a shift and sense that this simple daily practice is exactly what I need at present. As the week has passed, I have felt my sense of well-being improve; I feel more connected to that Source and don’t feel any need to define it or myself for now. As my hormones are being worked on and balanced by the herbs I am taking, I also feel that a deeper imbalance is now being corrected in my spiritual life too. Both of these things are giving me the opportunity to embrace a greater wholeness in my being. And so I honour the paradox that as I surrender to the silence, I move back into life.

Passfield’s Folly

Passfield’s Folly

She thinks of his tags and pins, his study, the strange

mustiness that is neither life

or decay. Tray upon mounted

tray of insects, their centres speared,

surrendering wings lassoed

with Latin.

The sun draws moisture from beneath her corset. The stain

surfaces and evaporates.

He is circling the base of Passfield’s tower,

scrawling notes, cut flowers sinking into his satchel.

When we name something, we comprehend its being”  he had said.

Name by name,

he is building a great granite pillar

to pin down the earth,

stop the sky from falling.

The heat tightens her cheek

and sharp salt, flown in on the wings of gulls,

breaks over her.

Named anew on their wedding day,

she had woven corn camomile into her hair.

Climbing down from the carriage, she had stepped on her hem,

Pinning it back as the yew bark bled in the rain,

and the lace trim coated with mud.

In the shadow of her parasol,

she hears the grass snake through the soil,

the tidal hiss that stone must yield to.

A dead butterfly is fastened between his tweezers.

He holds it up for her to see.

Its red wings, a small stain upon the light:

it is the pin pricked finger,

the shock of drips of blood on white cotton; his black bag

the bulging hull of a slave ship.

MEW

The Place of Being

Last weekend we saw the Red Deer herd out beyond Chale Green. Watching them from behind the hedge, one by one the hinds and their young raised their heads from grazing to look back at us. It is always a wonderful moment, finding yourself in a silent exchange with deer. There is a heightened stillness combined with a buzzing energy about these moments, all concerned held by an acute awareness and focus that makes time irrelevant; we become utterly mindful and present. The deer were silhouetted against the sea and it took a while for me to notice the large stag stood a little lower on the horizon. These creatures touch something deep and wordless in me.

The journey home brought several kestrel and buzzard sightings and before us, for the entire trip back, we were treated to the rising of the full moon, eerily vast as it surfaced from the summit of St Catherine’s Down, its softness sharpening to a hard white glow that stretched across the bay as we reached Luccombe.

The trees this autumn are the most extraordinary colours. They seem more intense than ever but perhaps this is because the memory of their intensity could never do justice to the reality and so each year seems more impressive than the last. Even my tiny little garden appears to be burning, the Acer and the Virginia Creeper so vibrant that I catch myself staring out the window countless times, instinctively drawing in the energy of those reds and oranges – my eyes eager for the lift it gives me.

Saturday, early evening, we ate at The Met, a tapas bar in Ventnor. It has the most amazing views of the sea, right on the esplanade, feet away from the ocean. It is a favourite place to watch the sea on windy days, the massive rollers powering in, so close at high tide. The skies over the sea are often dramatic and changeable and cormorants fly back and forth across the bay, skimming low across the surface, or sitting on the breakers, their wings stretched in worship. Another great plus is that coffee comes with a chocolate flake! What more could any girl want? – Lovely food, good coffee, chocolate, and the ocean!

After our meal, we stood in the dark watching the waves thundering in. The street lamps from the esplanade caught the white foam, giving the crests a luminous glow in the darkness, and the ocean looked vast and black and beautiful. In the sky above the harbour was Venus. Her brightness – just as the deer sighting from the previous weekend – cracked something open in me. Such a tiny but intense light in the darkness speaks simply and clearly to us all because, of course, it is such an obvious symbol of hope. Stars guide us; they keep us on course when navigation gets tricky. By their light we position ourselves and move forward, even when the terrain is too dark, vast and unknown to easily negotiate.

I have been feeling lost this year but feeling lost is not the same as being lost. In those moments with nature – when it touches upon that wordless place inside me – I know none of us are ever truly off course; we might be temporarily blinded or disorientated but this condition is so often a matter of perception, not of place or being. Philip Carr-Gomm, in his wonderful book The Druid Way, writes so beautifully and wisely about the paradoxical nature of journeying, of setting out upon a path and coming to find that the sense of movement (or lack of) we might feel is in many ways an illusion; wherever we find ourselves, lost or found, deep down, we are in the truest sense always home:

But death, like life, is full of paradoxes and although in one sense, on experiencing death of the body we begin a new stage of our journey, becoming a traveller in a wider brighter world, in another sense we may well discover that there is no journey – only a continuing revelation of the still centre – God/dess – the heart of Being. We uncover a great truth when we realise we are on a Journey through life. We uncover a great truth when we realise that there is no Journey.

The sight of Venus over a vast black ocean, spoke to me of that still centre, that place of Being. The fire of autumn reflects the intensity of love that life inspires, even at those moments when we shed all that we know, when we let ourselves fall and lay ourselves down that we might be worked in amongst the layers of our past; a past that can only feed and nourish us if we have the courage to let it go, let it become the foundation for something new.

No matter how chaotic and painful that transition might be for any one of us, if we can connect to that heart-knowing, that still centre – even if only for a second – we will be ok. I have had a kind of grit in my spiritual eye of late; feeling ill has been a challenge that has made staying connected to that still centre much tougher than at any other point in my life so far. However, I know that it is still there, I feel it in the gaze of deer and the light of stars, the dark, seething ocean and the leaves of autumn.