Within and Without


The Holy Man sat within the protection of the cave looking out. The first of the spring rains drumming on the stones beyond the entrance had drawn his consciousness up out of deep meditation and into physical reality. As he slowly came back into his body the resolve he had formulated in the last days of autumn still burned within him. This spring he would leave the cave and return to the world.

Since time immemorial the cave had been regarded as a place of spiritual retreat for in that culture the last third of life was seen as time of renunciation, retreat and meditation for those seeking spiritual salvation.

At first life in the cave was difficult for the man. The winters were harsh and his meagre supply of food meant he was often cold and hungry. A travelling sage passed by one summer and taught him how to regulate his breathing and enter more fully into meditation. Things became easier after that but the man was still troubled by desires – desires for comfort, for a woman, for a good hot meal, for companionship – the list went on and on. “I must negate all desire,” he told himself. “Only then will I find lasting peace and salvation.”

For years he wrestled with this. Despite his inner turmoil the local villagers decided he was a holy man and thus worthy of their veneration. During the warmer months they took to visiting him. They bought with them offerings of food they had grown and blankets they had woven. In return they expected him to heal the ills that beset them, answer the problems that troubled them and, sometimes even absolve them of their wrong doings. “Why do we suffer so?” they wept and wailed. “Why is life so hard?” Gratefully the man took the food and blankets. Humbly he offered them what he had – a smile, a place to stop the world awhile and recharge. People said just being in his presence bought them peace.

When the winter snows fell on the higher slopes above the cave the Holy Man retreated deep inside himself. Within his mind he would gather up the troubles the people had bought to him and carry them higher and higher until they dissolved into the pure light of spirit.

Over the years the Holy Man’s fame grew. In the summer months people from distant lands began to visit him seeking wisdom. At first these travellers were young and mostly male. Their matted hair and ragged clothing reminded him of his own younger self. The girls with them were as unworldly as temple handmaidens. “Our society is utterly bereft of the spiritual,” they all said. “People are so motivated by desire they are exploiting both the planet and those less fortunate than themselves.”

When the winter snows fell and the tracks to the cave became impassable the Holy Man picked up his drum and let its rhythms carry him deep into trance. Now his meditation took him within the Earth. Deeper and deeper he went feeling the pain of humanity, the pain of the exploited Earth. A deep, dark howl of despair bought him back to the surface of his mind. “We must all negate desire,” he thought. “Only then will all find salvation. Only then will the Earth heal.”

Years passed. More and more people made the pilgrimage to see the Holy Man. The travellers from distant lands were richer and more worldly now. Many came with entourages – film crews, study groups of holistic practitioners, groups of followers and spiritual seekers. Speaking with them the Holy Man came to understand that their affluence was a product of fulfilled desires. Unlike the villagers who desired health and prosperity many of these new seekers already had these things. The questions they asked were different. “How can we save the Earth,” they asked. “How can we help the sick and the poor?”

Meditating alone the Holy Man came to see that it was not desire that caused humanity’s problems. Without desire nothing would happen – no babies would be born, no crops grown, no buildings constructed, no businesses started. Indeed, he realised, desire was the engine that created all activity.

His winter meditations changed. Now he no longer wrestled with desire. Instead he sought to understand it. Up to the light he went then on out to the stars. Spinning across galaxies and dancing on light beams he lost sight of himself and of the Earth below until suddenly the currents swept him through crystalline caves and along the vast underground rivers that flow beneath the Earth’s surface. Journeying deeper still he left the physical realms behind and plunged into the ancestral and collective timelines of humanity. The universe became holographic and he lost of awareness of himself as a man. Indeed it seemed to him that he had lived many lifetimes – sometimes as a man, sometimes as a woman, sometimes rich, sometimes poor.

The following summer the Holy Man sat in the lotus position as folk from across the globe toiled up the mountain slope to be with him. Many were deeply troubled by the political situation in their home countries and by the growing spectre of climate change. “I need to return to the world,” thought the Holy Man. “I will spend one more winter here then I will leave.”

That winter the Holy Man did not journey to the stars and he did not plunge into the deepest recesses of human consciousness. Instead he sat in silence.

When the spring rains fell on the rocks outside the cave the man emerged into full awareness of his surroundings. A deep sense of inner calm flowed through his being. “I am no more holy than those rocks,” he thought. “All life is sacred. I will leave this cave now and return to the world. I have not negated all desire. Instead I have simply shifted my desires. Now I do not seek my own salvation or even the salvation of others. What I seek is to live in harmony with nature and with humanity.”

Descansos and the Lunar Eclipse

Traditionally Descansos are crosses placed along roadsides to honour those who died tragically in accidents.

On her website “While Waiting for Godot” Heather Blakey writes about making descansos to honour our ancestors. She refers to the sense of grief and loss that would have been felt by convicts sent to Australia in the first days of white settlement. https://whilewaitingforgodot.net/2018/11/05/make-descansos-to-honour-ancestors/

While I don’t have convict ancestors some of my ancestors did come here under very difficult circumstances that made returning to the old country most unlikely. I have read a letter written by my great, great grandmother where she talks of how her family had lived in a particular English near London for “time out of mind”. To leave this village and make the long sea voyage to Australia with her young children must have been very traumatic. I made a digital image as a descansos to honour the deep sense of dislocation and loss they must have felt.

I feel deeply traumatic experiences that affected our more recent ancestors are passed down to us through matrilinear DNA. In this way they exert a subtle, subconscious influence on the way we think and live out our lives. Until these ‘stains’ (for want of a better word) are acknowledged and bought into the light of consciousness to be healed they will continue to affect us. There is a part of me that feels deeply disconnected from any kind of ancestral home – that part of me is always restless and always moving on in search of some mythical place that will give me a lasting sense of security. In making the descanos I seek to heal that ancient inherited pain and to release it so that I might finally feel ‘at home’ within myself.

The artist Alexandra Khan creates small paintings that work as descansos that honour the passing of old dreams. She writes “Descansos are small memorials to past unfulfilled dreams and at the same time demonstrations of love for our suffering and our pain. It is time to put these restless spirits in the earth and bury them finally. It is salutary and quite right to work intensively with his grief for a while, but there is the moment you have to sew up the wound and let it go in peace, so that it can heal.” https://www.alexandrakhan.com/content/descansos-i?language=en

Over the past few years I have had to face the reality that certain dreams I cherished for a very long time are not likely to be fulfilled. I made this descansos as a way of mourning their passing.

Of course working with the idea of descansos did bring to the surface my own deep grief over the traumatic deaths of people I have loved deeply. The descansos below was made in their honour.

All this working through my grief – both personal and ancestral, really stirred up a lot of feelings. Today (or tomorrow depending on where on the globe you live) there is a lunar eclipse. Astrologers regard lunar eclipses as times when you can clearly see emotional issues that are causing disharmony. Old emotional baggage is revealed in ways that can either cause us to react or lead us to work on healing and releasing these karmic binds.

The current eclipse the Moon is aligned with Pluto. This really emphasizes the idea that deeply buried emotional pain and trauma is being illuminated. With the intention of releasing and healing these buried hurts I created a small crystal grid – the bones symbolize the ancestors and departed loved ones – the lobster claw symbolizes transformation and the discarding of the carapace of old ideas and emotions that are now limiting and constricting my way forward.

Digital photos

When my laptop was resuscitated from its recent crash all my files had disappeared. Every image I had stored on it was gone. I have many on a USB stick and had copied a lot onto Memory Cards but it feels surprisingly good to have a clean computer.

Rather than downloading my chaotic image files onto it I’m finally doing that big photo sort I’ve been talking about doing for years. It seems strange to think that for most of my life I didn’t take photos of every little thing that grabbed my attention. I mucked around in a darkroom for a while in my 20s until the smell of chemicals drove me out. After that time I rarely took photos or even owned a working camera. Now with digital cameras and mobile phones I have thousands of images stored electronically. I realise this wouldn’t concern many but I am a serial declutterer. I find having less helps me become more focused. Sorting out my photo files is something I really want to achieve.

Some files are easy to sort out, others less so. It’s weird how attached I am to some images that really aren’t all that brilliant. Last night I whittled my photos of beaches down from 240 to 160 and felt like I’d achieved something momentous. This morning I woke up thinking ‘why do I need 160 photos of the beach? I live right near one.” I could think of no particular reason but still can’t bring myself to delete the whole file even though heaps of the photos look virtually identical. I did find this photo of my local beach descending into winter that I haven’t posted before.

When I do allow myself to get rid of inconsequential photos of inconsequential moments it does feel liberating – the process is akin to moving into neutral, non-attached spiritual states. It’s hard to do but the result is greater mental clarity – zen and the art of photo sorting or something.

Some groups of photos lend themselves to becoming digital collages – though this one looks like a really badly done tiling job. I guess it will hit the cutting room floor tonight when I have another go at this Arachne like task.

I do find making digital collages a great way of expressing complex ideas through photography though. I am slowly reading my way through a novel set in Barcelona, “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafron. One of my daughters lent me a copy telling me it was the best book she’d ever read. With that in mind I feel duty bound to at least try to read the book and, hopefully offer some affirmation of it when I eventually finish. It’s far more gothic than the kind of book I usually read. Dare I confess I read novels to relax and often read light hearted rom coms?

The book has inspired me to take a look at my old photos of Barcelona. I made this collage from them earlier in the week. The laptop crash wiped out my copy of Photoshop Elements. I didn’t particularly like the program but was stuck on the idea that I needed a version of Photoshop for digital imaging. It’s been exciting to discover I can use a combination of apps on my Android to make complex collages. For this one I used Snapseed, Pixlr and an app called Photo Editor. It isn’t as seamless as a Photoshop collage but maybe I can work this way after all. Come to think of it there is a free Photoshop app. I tried it once before and found it cumbersome. Maybe I need to persevere with it.

Perhaps I’ll print out the image and give it to my daughter as my critique of the book

The Shift

( an episode in the life of Almurta – the character I write about on my other blog https://almurtasjournal.wordpress.com/

Staring into space Almurta thought over what she had been reading.  https://almurtasjournal.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/almurta-goes-exploring/
She agreed with the idea that the power structures that maintained the status quo across the globe were being rocked to the core.  Everywhere she looked she saw evidence of this.    In her own life too all that she had come to regard as permanent was shifting and changing.   Having the shed she lived in blow down in a storm was physical evidence of this.

Nothing was certain anymore.    Everything, it seemed, was in a state of flux.   Old certainties no longer offered the reassurance they once did. Political, economic and social structures were going through massive changes where outcomes weren’t obvious or predictable. More than that there was the weird way chance events were also hastening the collapse of the established order.   Earlier Almurta had been online and learnt that  the beautiful Cathedral of Notre Dame In Paris was burning.  Even things set in stone were shifting – literally.

Beyond all those cultural shifts Almurta was acutely aware of the environmental changes that threatened the entire planet.  Not only were the oceans warming and rising because of unchecked climate change, they were choking to death on plastic waste.  Climate change was also affecting weather patterns.   Floods, droughts and hurricane force winds were wreaking havoc across the globe.

All these disastrous outer events had the effect of driving Almurta deep inside herself.  Because she felt she could no longer rely on outer structures and conditions to give her life stability she felt an overwhelming need to find a stable place within herself.

Unsettlingly, what she found when she looked within was a mish-mash of ideas and beliefs she’d gathered around herself to explain her position in society.   A lot of these ideas came from childhood – things her parents had told – things her peers at school had said – things her teachers had drummed into her.    When she really looked at these concepts many of them didn’t really fit with her own secret, inner idea of herself.

The more she looked, the more it seemed to her that it was that secret, inner sense of herself that was demanding to be heard now.  Thinking about this she decided to go for a walk in the forest.   It was there she often felt the breath of the sacred – that immutable energy that was greater than any outer structure or concept she’d ever encountered in the world of people.

Rousing herself from her thoughts she looked out the window to check the weather.    It was only then that she realised the noise she’d been subliminally aware of was actually pouring rain.   She’d been so deep in thought she hadn’t really registered that the weather had turned bleak and miserable.   Looking out she saw that the rain was so intense it had created large puddles on the path leading to the forest.  At the same time the wind had picked up and was setting the trees sighing and swaying.   Definitely not a day for a pleasant walk.

Not sure what to do Almurta wandered around her room.    The idea of finding some kind of inner stability pre-occupied her.     “I need to find the sacred within myself,” she thought.  “Not some religious doctrine I was taught by others but some kind of abiding sense of a greater reality – some place where I transcend the limitations of the personal, worldly self.”


Climate change and the quest for new stories

Late last year I wrote about going on a quest to find new stories about climate change and possible future scenarios that might occur because of it.

Somewhere (and I’ve no idea where now) I read that stories that depict dystopian futures turn people off.    Rather than galvanizing people into action they tend to lead to paralyzing depressions and feelings of powerlessness.

When I googled a question about finding new stories I discovered many articles  about our need for new stories – not just about climate change but new stories about politics, economics, new cultural stories,  stories about disability that don’t focus on overcoming disability, stories about sustainable agriculture and industry …   the list goes on and on.

I read an article in the Guardian Newspaper about a group of concerned individuals who have created a collection of new fairy stories that deal with current issues such as climate change and refugees here

The article concludes with the statement –

“Most tales, at some level, present a rite of passage through difficulty to maturity, awareness or resolution. Now, more than ever, it feels like we need new tales to lead us through our troubling times.”

I kept searching online and found a comprehensive article about the power of story and why we need new ones using stories to change systems  The author, Ella Saltmarshe, writes –

“Systems change can involve painting compelling visions of alternative futures. We can use story to create immersive scenarios of the future that engage people on an emotional and intellectual level. This work can make the possible feel more probable, bring new perspectives that challenge the goals and mindsets of a system, and enable the transformation of rules and processes.”

Further searching led to this article about the role of science fiction in envisioning new, positive futures –  https://rethink.earth/can-science-fiction-reimagine-the-future-of-global-development

Reading these and other articles I concluded that the first steps towards creating a better world lie in imagining just what that world would look like.

My quest to find new stories continues but at least now I have defined what I am searching for and why.  IMG_20170913_212524.jpg

prompt:  https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/01/16/rdp-wednesday-quest/