Posts Tagged understanding

Labels

This is my dog, Fen:

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He has an amazing vocabulary. He knows his name, certainly, also ‘dog’, ‘good’, ‘bad’ (plus numerous toy and food words). But he knows that ‘Fen’ = HIM.

He also knows that he’s my dog. And I’m his human. He knows mine and Himself’s names, so he can find us when asked.

As an English graduate, I was taught about words as a linguistic tool. The image above = Dog. Then, perhaps, Border Collie. You wouldn’t know his name until told, so you might ask for that information. But you’ve got enough to communicate about him from the image.

When we see Things, our brain throws up words to denote them, to fit them into our worldview so that we can understand. Different languages may be used. ‘Dog’ in English, other variations for other localities – but all describe a four-legged animal with a waggy tail.

We also use language to find familiarity. You might not look at me and think ‘human’, but your subconscious knows that. I’m female, according to my dress and body type. Initial greetings determine that I’m English (language), from a certain area of Great Britain (accent). Then we move to names and jobs…

Ah.

This is where we can go off the map and into unknown territory. Because my job isn’t ‘usual’, you see. ‘Druid’ is not a traditional working practice.

OK, It might be super-traditional in that it’s been going on for centuries, but in the 21st century, I doubt Druid Vacancies would appear on most job websites and unemployment agencies. It’s not what I put on my tax return.

Because I have to use conventional labels for Government documents. Author, Priest, Chaplain… understanding is achieved quickly by those words. And I am labelling myself, describing what I do for a living in a very simplistic manner. But it’s good enough, serving its purpose.

Labels are a necessary part of language, to aid understanding, to create a picture in your head. ‘Dog’ might not throw up the correct picture of Fen, but you’d be in the right area. You’d associate ‘Dog’ with the canine friend most familiar to you.

I know that some people, when they say ‘Druid’, think of me. This is lovely – but again, I’m perhaps just the Druid they know best. There are so many types, we might have to start using ‘breeds’ (as Fen is a Border Collie)! Wicca already does this, with its lineages. To an everyday person, however, Gardnerian or Alexandrian – what’s the difference? Understanding has been lost, because there’s no frame of reference.

And as with asking about Fen’s name and who he is, we have to enquire, to dig deeper. Some are fine with that, curious and genuinely interested; others less so. Druid might equate to ‘fluffy New-Ager’, for example (as ‘dog’ might equal ‘dangerous’). I’ve no way of knowing. ‘Priest’ can have any number of associations, positive and negative.

I’ve described myself as a ‘Druid’ for many years now. Recently, I’ve started saying that it’s the label that best describes my personal spiritual practice. I’ve been called a Dru-Witch in the past, because I sometimes cross those boundary lines. I’ve worked with Heathen deities. Does this matter?

To me, no. I do what I’m called upon to do. But to others, it can matter very much. Those labels are important, and we must stick to them.

The trouble is, that I personally find that impossible. We are so much more than just one single label. When I was told off for not calling myself a ‘PriestESS’ (I was ‘denying my femininity’, apparently), I had to laugh. Once a month, my womb reminds me how female I am, and my bosom does the same every time I go for a run! And this was a man telling me off…

I’ve seen some Pagans who cry out for Pagan Prisoners to be stripped of their ‘Pagan’ title. Who has the right to take our labels away? I would never claim that, just as I wouldn’t tell someone what label they should or shouldn’t be using. But I understand that some do not want to share a name (or any association) with a ‘criminal’. Because that’s a negative label.

‘Witch’ was a negative label too, for a very long time. ‘Druid’ as well. We can even get into the secular world – ‘homosexual’, for example. And going further back, ‘Christian’. All of these were criminal offences at one time or another.

‘Druid’ is the closest word to define quickly what it is that I do. But it is not the ultimate definition. In researching my next book(s), I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with the limitations of Just One Word. So here’s a few more for me, in spiritual terms:

Pagan – follower of a recognised nature-based spiritual path

Druid – the specific tradition within Paganism, which I narrow down to ‘Priest of my homeland’

Witch – worker of magic to bring about a particular result

Mystic – someone who seeks a very deep connection with their god(s)

Psychometric – someone who gets impressions from the physical touch of particular items (since I was 14 or so). See also Empath

Seer – someone who receives images or visions of future events (again, since my teens)

Didn’t know all of those, did you?

I don’t wave them around, because it all lumps together into ‘me’, into ‘what I do’. Plus I’m still aware of that awful ‘closet’ status (ie it makes me want to run back into Narnia), whereby people challenge my experience because they can’t quite believe it.

I’ve been called a Shaman before. I agree that a lot of the above terms come under Shamanism, but I’m not sure it sits right with me.

I’m an honorary Wiccan (according to a third-generation Gardnerian friend!), but that REALLY p*sses off the traditional folk. So I keep that one quiet, because it requires a little humour.

And thereby comes the issue, really. Which labels are we comfortable using? Are others willing to engage enough to discover that I’m not a dangerous, scary Witch, just as Fen isn’t a dangerous, scary Dog?

Labels can be the gateway to understanding. Or they can be a prison. Let people explain what their words mean for them, before you start telling them what they can and can’t be.

Fen is a Dog. According to Baldrick from the TV show ‘Blackadder’, that means ‘Not a Cat’. But he’s happy sniffing (and being sniffed by) our new kitten. Dogs and cats can get along, and certainly wouldn’t try to tell each other what they can or cannot be. Because they know who they are, and are comfortable with that, while open enough to keep curious (until the claws come out when boundaries are breached!).

Perhaps as explorers of Nature-Based Spirituality, we can learn from Natural Reality as well.

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Outside

When people ask me what Paganism is, I always start with a baseline. Because (let’s face it) Paganism is hard to define in a soundbite. Any spiritual path is, due to inherent complexities of belief, subjective individual perspectives… stuff most people aren’t really interested in.

Interestingly, I was also asked years ago to help explain Christianity to a lovely couple of Muslim co-workers at a temp job. My friendly manager jumped in, and we ended up using a whiteboard to illustrate. The Muslims then did likewise – and it was both fun and pretty enlightening, as you try to explain something that’s by its nature pretty amorphous.

But anyway. Paganism, I tell people, is seeing the sacred in Nature. Baseline, as best I can determine. Do any Pagans not believe this? I haven’t met them yet, if so. And I’m not sure why they would call themselves Pagans, because this kind of is the foundation of the definition.

Then come the differences. What is ‘sacred’, what is ‘natural’, how do we view this, how do we practise… it’s tricky, but it’s also interesting, to me, because this is where we can explore. Why we do what we do, but also why others do it in their own particular manner. Not saying anyone’s wrong, just poking a bit to challenge and understand.

Lately, I’ve been considering the meanings behind words we use to describe spiritual connection (specifically, how they’re often misused – or is that just the word-meaning evolving? A topic for another day). And I realized how so many of our ‘modern’ ideas are almost binary: right/wrong, us/them,  black/white… Science/Nature.

Not to go into too much detail, as it’s all out there if you want to look it up, but the idea of Science VERSUS Nature seems to have come about during the Industrial Revolution. In order to understand the world better, thinkers, scientists and engineers decided to use a mechanical model. This meant that complex forms could be understood by looking at their component parts, with a view to potentially tinkering with those to help or enhance, to find answers to Why Things Are the way they are.

So came the idea of physical versus meta-physical. What is empirically real – provable by Science – as opposed to what is not.

But the answers failed to be found, as each discovery simply posed more questions. Shades of me and my whiteboard and pen, trying to define a religion within finite space and with a language that didn’t quite help.

And again… I don’t think this is a bad thing. But I can see the frustrations when the ideas of the world don’t fit into neat little boxes. We’re reminded we can’t know everything… but we can still connect with it. We have to, in fact, or we die.

We see the sacred in Nature. And not just see. We use every one of our senses – and more besides. We seek that connection… and when we get a taste/touch/glimpse of it, we realize how indefinable, immense and complex it is.

But that is ok. That’s one of the first steps on this journey.

Here’s a task for you today. Pagan or not, it doesn’t matter – if you’ve got this far, I’ll assume you’re still interested.

Step outside. Take a few minutes. Do it. No excuses. If you absolutely can’t (and I’m speaking to my lovely readers who may not be physically able here, not just those who are confined to office cubicles), then get to an open window. Trust me.

Feel the Outside, with every one of those senses. The air on your face, perhaps rain or breeze. Birds singing, people talking, dogs barking, vehicles, phones, music. The ground beneath your feet.

How does it all feel? Close your eyes if it’s safe to do so, and reach out a little. If folk give you funny looks, don’t panic – you won’t see them.

Now. Notice your thoughts. How’s your brain dealing with all of this? Feeling stupid? Looking at the time, at the commitments you have to get back to, worrying about things to do… just catch that internal monologue in the act. Tell it you’re Outside. Remind it that you’re Pagan. You’re Doing a Thing. Shut up. All of that noise can wait.

Then notice the world again. Go deeper. You’ve put aside the mundane concerns, you’re having a spiritual moment within the everyday. This is your own small ritual. Reach down, reach out… connect.

Because that binary reality isn’t an accurate depiction of life, not really. It’s a way that people chose to help them understand, and that’s fine – as a model.Not the Ultimate Truth.

You touch the natural world while hearing and feeling the human-made – concrete underfoot, tiny computer in your pocket, machined clothes, make-up, processed food.

As you stand outside, your brain may want to go back in. This isn’t right, people will think you’re weird, there’s stuff to be getting on with! Or perhaps… as they look, seeing someone who has simply stopped, pausing to breathe… they might be envious? How many have the courage to ask you what you’re up to? How many more would want to join you? Would they be able to let themselves? Just smile.

The difference between Outside and Inside is a closed portal – a door or a window. You have the power to move through it (doesn’t that sound magical, just by thinking in those terms?). Civilization creeps outside, while the natural world effortlessly sits inside: earth, air, water, fire…

If you are Pagan, seeing the sacred all around, you can step outside to better connect. But you then take that with you as you move forward with your day. As your senses have opened, your awareness has been reminded of what is there all the time, just waiting to be seen, acknowledged, appreciated. It’s all combined, part of life. City or country, wild or tame, sacred or profane… we engage through taking the time to witness it, to be part of it. Any time, any place. We should not be afraid to do this. It’s not about ‘finding time’.

And it’s up to us what we do with that, ultimately. I’ve tried to turn a huge and almost indefinable feeling into words here, to convey my thoughts and understanding. We can let it inspire us, channelling through our own personal creativity in whatever way suits us best – prose, poetry, art, music, computer code, pottery or Lego… we use the technology (as I use this laptop right now) to pin down feelings, just for a moment. There’s that model again, something that allows our human brains to come to terms with cosmic reality.

We can’t see air, but it’s there and we use it. We may not understand electricity, but it we know how to harness it. I’ve always known in my heart that flying in a huge, heavy metal box above the clouds is a very particular form of magic that I’ll never comprehend, but I’ve done it.

And so I know that feeling the particular energy of the night-time is not strange. Joy at a sunrise, the primal pleasure of a fire in my hearth… or the warmth of a nourishing drink in my hands, sharing laughter with friends or witnessing someone else’s tale on screen or page. Our ancestors have done every one of these, using whatever technology they had. We reconnect with the world and we reconnect with our selves, our families, friends, stories… the wild and the tamed, intertwined.

As Pagans, we notice. And we are grateful and glad. Marking Nature as sacred in our lives, as they are lived.

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Update

Hello, lovely readers! It’s been a long time… but I’m still here. Just a small update today, as my thoughts want to be set down in words, to get them out of my head!

2016 has been difficult so far, for many of us. I’ve been working as and when I can, but spent a good deal of time signed off, with depression and possibly exhaustion/chronic fatigure. I have good doctors, however, so am doing what I can. I have amazing friends, which is a true blessing upon the healing journey!

While it’s been a frustrating time, I’ve not been idle. Much research has been undertaken, and my next book is now under way. Creativity has happened, and my public talks are evolving to new places – as well as being broadcast by video for the first time! Look me up on YouTube if you’re interested, as I have a channel there for easy access.

But what’s been happening within… I started the year exploring the idea of discernment, something our Christian friends undertake when deciding whether to follow the path of Priesthood. The word rang in my head, and I followed it up, curiosity being no bad thing in this case.

Discernment is listening for that voice from the ‘powers that be’, learning to hear something that you’re meant to hear. Lately, that’s been books that leap out at me (well, that’s kind of always happened to this bookworm!), but also music, stories, phrases in conversation… any number of things.

This will no doubt feature in my future writings, but as I listen, I feel as if my mental map is becoming clear. I’m cutting through the mess of clutter and illness, to see the way forward – that’s been waiting to be found all along.

Dreams have become vivid, with a whole landscape becoming familiar for night-time exploration. Certain books demand to be read, places to be visited, skills to be attempted. I’ve learned to listen for that push, almost like a cosmic bell is being rung, a true note amidst the clamour of emotion that depression surrounds me with sometimes.

I carry notebook and pen, or a handy phone app to record my thoughts as and when they happen. If something seems out of reach, I ask on public social media, and someone will come up with the answer. I feel more connected than ever…

But on the other hand, I’m still fighting the darkness. This week, I’m glad to have survived, let alone accomplished anything (another reason to get these words down, as a reminder and a celebration of achievement!). This is clearly part of my journey, a challenge to overcome, but… the days can be brutal. But if I can find something to focus on amidst the madness, that thing has my total attention – and I learn from it.

Recently, I’ve been given tremendous hope. A friendly medical professional reminding me to stay positive, a book that uses Pandora’s box as a metaphor for a lone speck of brightness within the awful. A wise shaman friend just nodding, and telling me very matter-of-factly that I can do it, and need to get on with my work. A wild and wonderful Heathen gentleman confirming that this work sets us somewhat apart from ‘society’, but that’s necessary to be able to do it.

I’ve been walking between worlds, I think – dark and light, madness and sanity, polite society and what lies behind and beneath. I’m learning to discern what’s important, what I need to see and know, the path I must explore in order to report back in my writing.

When I’m stuck, friends have helped clear the way. When I’m lost, a solution appears. When I need sustenance, I’m supported.

I can never adequately express how grateful I am to be able to do this, and to those who keep me going through the ups and downs. I rejoice in the moments of peace, never taking them for granted; I battle through the storms, focusing and holding on to my internal rudder as best I can.

When I work, I give my all. This can lead to exhaustion, but that’s the price to be paid right now. Life is very different to how it was 10, 20, 30 years ago. But here I am.

I’m still here, and moving forward. And I’m so glad that you’re all here with me.

Much love, my friends x

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Shades of Emotion

This is a Pantone chart:Pantone_Chart-2

It’s a basic version – a true Pantone book has many pages for each individual colour – but this single image shows some of the variations of colour that designers can use when choosing a particular shade of, say, yellow or green. No colour is simple; each subtle grade, each depth of saturation, makes it different… and so hints at a different response in the viewer. From cool blue to hot red, for example.

We rarely think of such things in our day-to-day lives (unless we’re professionally employed to do so – no disrespect to the hard-working artistic folks!). But we do all see those shadings around us constantly. From this:

LeavesTo this:

Sunset

From the yarn in my knitting to the shades of fur on my dogs, we are surrounded by varieties of colour. Even colour-blind people see the world vividly. Everything is shades – even grey. And yes, we are lucky to be able to see them.

This past few weeks, I’ve been increasingly aware of such shadings. It has mostly been in the skies that I love to look at as well as the natural world around, but paralleled in my own emotional state. Storm clouds dissipate into rainbows with the passing of so few breaths.

London Rainbow

It’s been an intense time in my world, rising from high mood to low with such speed that I’ve often been overwhelmed – seeing the world through the flickering images of an emotional zoetrope. The joy of seeing the happiness in the faces of those who’ve come to meet me for the first time after enjoying my work… to the sadness of pain and loss, over which I’m powerless.

It’s easy to feel out of control with one’s own emotions. They seem to come suddenly, in waves or bursts, with a thumping heart or chill in the blood. Physical and mental state are mirrored as both try to work out what’s going on, what is causing this reaction, what has to be done… and so the shadings are felt.

Pain – a sharp stab, perhaps, then fading to a dull throb, before numbness. Anger rising slowly, burning, before forcing itself to be expressed in a scream or hitting out. Happiness – from simple smile to uncontrolled laughter. We all have our emotional gradients.

I’ve read the Buddhist perspective, of simply observing emotions as they rise and fall within us, remaining unaffected. I’ve very rarely been able to achieve such a state, passionate lady that I am (born in the Year of the Dragon, in Sagittarius with Jupiter Rising, if you follow such things). I find myself caught up, forced to ride the waves – which has led me to get to know my own emotional Pantone chart pretty well.

I don’t often get angry, but when I do it’s with a hot rush of energy, which can be focused and directed if I catch it in time – before it flashes out to hurt. I feel tears welling within and know that they must be released… it’s being able to find a safe place first. Sometimes not possible.

We’re all expected to control our emotions to some degree, due to societal expectations (not laughing at an unexpected double entendre in church, for example), or simple politeness. For me, that awareness is another level of the shading – but more like a filter this time, through which others see my emotions. Behind which I still do my best to understand what they are and why I’m reacting in such a way. And, of course, what to do when that evil giggle wells up at an inappropriate moment.

I’m often shocked into gaping silence when others try to tell me how to react, how to ‘deal’. I have no idea how others understand or feel their own emotions, and so wouldn’t try to tell them how to act – at best, I can make a suggestion. But ‘helpful’ comments such as ‘oh, you don’t really feel that way, just calm down’ are guaranteed to have the opposite effect. Thus adding yet another societal filter.

Sometimes emotions just have to be felt. Like the brightness of a sunset, they can burn when focused on too intently, but by looking around, discovering how best to view them by the shades surrounding them, we gain perspective. By taking a deep breath and jumping into the sorrow, we can discover what we’re truly feeling, and where it may come from. Because the source of the emotion may not be what we expected. If we knee-jerk physically to that emotional stab, we may be kicking at the wrong target.

Look back over this post again, at those pictures. Leaves – simple. But what colour are they? Not green, not yellow, not brown. And the skies, full of clouds, so many shades of blue (and that quiet rainbow reaching down over London WC1). What emotions do they inspire in you? Pleasure, peace, annoyance, boredom… to what degree? And why?

We explore our emotions and discover more about ourselves. It might be fun or it might hurt, but it’s part of life, not to be blocked out or bottled up. I honour those mysterious forces inside me, even as I’m frustrated by them, or wish them away, or curse their bad timing. They’re all part of who I am, right now.

We experience, learn and move forward, as life goes on.

(All photos in this blog entry were taken by me – please credit me if used elsewhere)

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Dreams and Stories

An early one today. I’ve not long woken from a very engrossing and interesting dream, in which I became aware enough to properly take note of what was happening. It inspired me enough that I want to share.

In the dream, I was in a place similar to an American-style shopping mall… but it was clearly a little different. I went into a bookstore (naturally), which seemed like Borders. Except that every book was a Horror title. And not just ‘Horror’ in genre, but I could feel the dark energy flowing from the book, with blackness seeping from the pages. These were Horror books where the full origins and consequences of the story were very, very real. The terror was tangible, with that heartfelt (stomach-clenching) truth felt in dreams.

I looked around. The other customers were monsters. And not just simple cutesy monsters, in a nice, manageable sense – proper evil, roaming around me.

They looked at me, the tiny human standing among them. They acknowledged me, like any other person in the regular world while shopping. And they moved on.

Was I in a nightmare? The familiar world of the bookstore, which used to be a haven for me in the bustling corporate nastiness of a shopping centre, transformed into a trap? Should I start running?

I found my way outside and asked someone. He smiled at me.

“Well, it’s you, isn’t it. I mean, look at you!”

I looked at myself. Seemed normal. I explained that I couldn’t see what he saw in me. He smiled again, and showed me.

Slowly, a vision appeared, of myself… clad in smooth black armour, almost like an insectile carapace, flowing around me, holding gracefully around my limbs as I moved. It was as impossible as the rest of the surroundings – but I was fearsome. I felt strong.

The monsters left me alone, because I was prepared.

The lucid nature of the dream leads me to believe that it was rather more of a shamanic experience than I thought, at first. I woke feeling refreshed but also inspired, to investigate what I had learned.

I’ve always loved horror books. Even those that aren’t ostensibly horror, when I first started to explore the library – Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, or the slightly more subversive children’s books (before Young Adult became a genre). Roald Dahl knew that kids like to scare themselves silly. When you’re young, you’re in a world that seems insane, with irrational rules and unknowns around every corner. You learn to survive, a fact reflected in all of those stories of brave young heroes doing their best. Look at the Narnia stories, with each of the four children facing their own challenge (I was also disappointed that poor Susan finally succumbed in the last book, to boring adulthood).

At University, my dissertation thesis was on the American Horror Novel. I haven’t been able to read a Stephen King novel since, but that’s due to overload. I still love seeing where the genre goes, as it reaches out into the fears of a new generation. The exploration of how we can survive.

My knowledge of Horror as a ‘type’ seems to have armoured me – but it wasn’t a preventative, a physical block. My armour flowed with me, so that I could deal with what was to come on my terms. I was the reader; I was prepared (as best I could be). But there was also a certain advantage gained from the knowledge that I deeply, truly love the stories that I’m engaging with.

Those folk who want to ban or censor so-called ‘dangerous’ books have always rather misunderstood what they’re dealing with. If your favourite book is ‘Carrie’, you’re not going to emulate the events of the novel – the book is a catharsis, helping you to deal with bullying, for example, through the extreme conclusion of the story. It’s relatively simple, but still a fairytale (unless any readers have telekinesis, in which case we might be in trouble).

The man who shot John Lennon had been reading ‘Carrie’. What does that mean? Not a great deal, I’d say. Based on sales, he was one among many millions.

Genre fiction is often sneered at. ‘Horror’ is sidelined, never receiving any mainstream awards. As if we’re scared of it? Or we just don’t know what to do with it, in its extreme, fantastic nature? A little like ‘Metal’ music, if you don’t understand its passion, it’s easy to denigrate.

Stephen King knows this. In his wonderful book about horror, ‘Danse Macabre’, he suggests that each of us have our fears, genetically carried through our human/animal line from our ancestors since their cave days (I’ve seen this in psychological books as well, interestingly). That fear is like a gorilla – it can run rampant, sending us into rage or madness as we lash out. Most of us have learned to cage the gorilla, so we can function in society. Some haven’t, and they’re the ones who get locked away.

The danger, King says, is those people whose cage has become rusted shut. They haven’t let the gorilla out to play enough, or even acknowledged it, in a conscious manner. Those people believe that they have conquered their fears. They haven’t. The gorilla is just waiting for the right moment… but the sad thing is that by locking it away, they are missing out on – hiding – a part of themselves.

Whether you deal with your fears by imagination (books, movies, video games) or extreme physical action (rollercoasters, bungee jumping), we have to face our fears sooner or later in life. And chances are, we’ll actually be able to manage. The fear of the fear is usually worse than the fear itself – so many stories tell us that. ‘Alien’ showed that the monster we couldn’t see was scarier than the physical creature that we could. Once the baddie appears in front of us, we can deal with it (somehow). Even if it seems insurmountable, we can do something, once we confront it with eyes open.

The baddies in story are often more interesting than the heroes – because there’s more to explore, more that we want to know. The recent Joker depiction by Heath Ledger was terrifying because his motivation was pretty much nil – that’s not a horror device, that’s sociological. That character could have existed in any genre of tale. The Destructive Force of Nature… who looks like one of us.

Our love of story is a very human trait, almost a need. We carry it from our ancestors, and use it to tell tales that would be familiar to them. The Vampire, the Werewolf, the Thing without a Name – each generation carries these on, finding its own Bards. But also the Hero and the Heroine (not at all in a submissive sense)… and Us. The reader, outside the tale looking in, but also so very much engaged with what’s going on. It’s just a matter of how we relate and understand.

How we tell our own stories. And how prepared we are to deal with the events that are yet to come – not hiding, but engaging, seeking understanding, and taking right action. On our own terms.

Sometimes we do need to hide, like our scared animal ancestors. But sooner or later, we have to stand. It’s good to know your own self, your strengths and your fears, when that time comes.

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Seeing

A while ago, I wrote about the topic of ‘Listening’ (here, if you’d like to read it again). The idea has been growing about a piece on each of our senses and how they help us to interpret the world…

What does your world look like? Glance away from this screen for a moment, gaze about. What do you see?

Now open your eyes again (this will make sense if you know the work of Terry Pratchett). What do you really see?

This isn’t cosmic nonsense. When I look around now, I see the small home office that I’ve made for myself, books everywhere, a futon piled with comfy blankets, a bag full of ritual gear… it’s easy to go down the path of ‘oh Gods, I’ve got to tidy up!’ But that’s not seeing what’s there – that’s catching a glimpse and interpreting it into something, based on my own expectations. My mind is adding what it ‘should’ feel on looking around, based on what I expect to see.

If I stop those runaway thoughts and look deeper, I see a small sanctuary, a place created with a certain intention, each random thing holding its own story: a much-loved book from my childhood. My first piece of knitting. My dirty running shoes. A beautiful painting on the wall, gifted to me as ‘just scribblings’.

And beneath that? The old house that contains it all, with its 200-year history, from guardhouse to home. My time here has barely scratched its surface, but I’m adding my tale to it, as I pass through.

Sherlock Holmes summed it up in one way: ‘You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.’ Holmes was able to take one look at a room and see everything in it, making connections based on logic and deduction (or induction). If something was not there… well, he might have noticed that too. Holmes is remarkable for his skill in observation. He’s certainly not the norm.

As mentioned, Terry Pratchett takes this a little further: ‘First Sight means you can see what really is there, and Second Thoughts mean thinking about what you are thinking.’

Pagan folk often talk about ‘The Sight’ (as in seeing ghosts, spirits or generally apparitions beyond the regular physical world), but how many of us even really use our First Sight correctly? Do we see, or do we assume? Second sight therefore being truly thinking about what we are seeing…?

Sight, like every one of our senses, is most keenly felt when we do not have it. In a totally dark room, or when blindfolded or ill – we suddenly realize its value when it is gone. The trick is to remember to use it well when it would otherwise be taken for granted.

I would have difficulty typing this if I could not see. As it is, I’m using reading glasses to help. But I’m seeing the words in my head before they appear on the screen – writing, composing, then transmitting in a form that satisfies me.

You are reading the words and interpreting them, based on what you’re currently thinking. If your mood is cross, they may seem ridiculous. If you’re interested, they may provoke further thought. I have no way of controlling this as I type, save for doing my best to express myself accurately. And, in this way, I’m speaking to you, encouraging you to see and feel what I am seeing and feeling.

Words connect us. Shared experience connects us. However, two people seeing the same thing may understand it entirely differently – which is why a truly shared experience is so valuable. That ‘click’ moment, perhaps ‘wow’ or other gasp to pause and reflect – is that not Second Sight? The realization that our sense of vision has brought us together – as we see a stunning sunset, for example, or even a simple amusing internet video?

As a song can touch our heart and stir our emotions, so can simply looking, truly seeing. It’s nice to touch, but we don’t have to – we can reach out by observing.

I believe I used the example once before of a long journey or commute. When I travelled to London daily for work, I would be crammed onto a busy train, sitting I was lucky, or standing squeezed in amongst other tired and hot workers. The air would be thick with those frustrations… but I used to try and distract myself by looking around, properly. The trees outside the window, flashing by. Birds racing the train. Even inside, a girl engrossed in her book, a man smiling and nodding in time to his iPod. Tiny stories playing out.

Today, in my part of Derbyshire, England, it’s raining. A lot. After a lovely sunny weekend, people are complaining. Out there on the hill, walking the dogs, I was drenched. And laughing. Seeing the rain cascading down, the clouds scudding across the sky, the incredible greenness of leaves and grass…

A couple of weeks ago, in the same place:

Park with Dogs

A playing field, at the top of a hill. Very normal, with goalposts for the local children’s football team, a pylon in the distance. Hedges keeping everything contained, nicely cut grass.

I walk there every day. The ground has been bursting with dandelions, that turn into puffy clocks to blow away before the farmer returns to cut them down. The hedges contain rabbits; the trees hold ravens, sparrows, pigeons, and even sometimes a family of kites. In the picture above, a rainstorm has just passed – if you look carefully, you’ll see the rainbow.

If we follow the easy, lazy modern encouragement to be cynical, this park could be considered boring, a place for local teenagers to hang out, a waste of space. It could be anywhere.

Or it can (and does) hold so much potential, for exploring, running, playing – being. The dogs know it. I see it through their happy eyes, as well as my own. And the wildness is just a step away, arching down the hill via the untrimmed paths, the scratchy blackthorn bushes… who knows what.

You can impose your own perceptions onto things, declare them true or false, real or imagined, valuable or worthless – or you can just let yourself see whatever is in front of you. It’s amazing what you might catch a glimpse of, if you take yourself out of the way enough to see what’s really there.

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Listening

Yesterday, I was watching one of the nostalgia television shows that seem to be rife at this time of year. A children’s show of the 1990s had a phone-in game, where clues were given and a phrase had to be guessed by the young callers to win a prize. One rule: the phrase had to rhyme.

(Yes, those UK folk who remember such Saturday morning ‘wackiness’ may well know ‘Wonky Donkey’. Even if you weren’t there, does the name give you the idea?)

The presenter admitted that he would often go crazy into the camera lens, yelling at the audience, because each caller seemed not to understand that One. Little. Rule.  Kids called in and then just said anything, with no chance of winning because they just weren’t keeping to that simple statement. Were they not listening?!

It struck me then, just how apt this question is.

How often are we listening, really? We hear soundbites on the news and think we know the whole story. Someone tells an anecdote and we cast our own imprint onto it, subtly changing the tone, so that if we tell it in turn, it’ll be just that little bit different. Chinese Whispers in the everyday.

My partner is regularly frustrated by those who call Emergency Services demanding help, and yet on the basic request for their address, start shouting anything but – including ‘Why aren’t you here yet?’ Because they haven’t given the address, as asked. Such a little thing, subsumed by fear, lack of control, and sheer animal panic.

And yet, we always do know best, don’t we? It’s hard to shake the confidence of some people. You’re told a story that you know isn’t quite true, but when you try to correct the teller, it’s you who’s wrong (even if you were there at the time). The person who wouldn’t give their address may well report that the call-taker was stupid for not knowing (somehow) where he was, or what he wanted… despite this being impossible.

Modern technology doesn’t help. With the constant ‘What is your status?’ demand of social media, our interior monologue is constant, like the film noir voiceover as we narrate our own stories. We are the centre of our worlds, and therefore can’t comprehend data that we don’t understand, fitting it instead somehow into our worldview – even if that makes it very different to the truth. Despite the fact that the world is so complex, understanding any one tiny particle of it is a task in itself. Impossible to sum up in 140 characters.

It sometimes feels to me as if the world shifts with the telling (and mis-telling, and re-telling) of each story. Why does my recollection differ so drastically from what I’m hearing? Why is my knowledge of those ‘facts’ so different? Why does my side of a conversation seem to change in midair, as the response is so unrelated?

Ultimately, one crucial facet of the skill of listening is determining the motivation behind the story, the manner in which it’s told, the goal of the teller. What are they trying to achieve, what feelings do they want to evoke, reactions, emotions? As I said, each person colours their own tale to suit themselves. That’s part of the story. Different words carry different meanings to different people, after all.

We’re told (by Roman historians) that the ancient Bards used amazing mnemonic skills to recall verbatim the ancient sagas, passing on tales, family lineage and history, without tempering it in the slightest with their own personality, not even in the inflections of speech. This is a skill indeed (if true), and one which I think we have largely lost, despite our insistence sometimes on ‘proper’ versions of tales.

But then, I would question the value of such retelling. Is that not the other extreme? From randomly changing a story to not changing it at all? Everything changes, evolves, moves. Our understanding of history is coloured by our modern lives. Is anything we listen to truly neutral? And how valuable would it be if it was?

Part of my original Druid training was to simply listen. The simple part: to go out to a wild place in Nature, and do nothing. Sit and listen. Or walk and listen. Just hear – the birds, the trees, the small creatures, the shouts of children, aeroplanes far overhead. To feel myself in that picture of sound, my place within it, observing while being part of it.

Then the difficult bit: to listen when in the full flow of the everyday world. On train station platforms, in offices, on streets, in marketplaces, at home. The television, the radio, songs. What am I listening to? Why? What does it mean – no, really mean?

A child, screaming in a supermarket. Do you hear his words, what he wants? Or just the noise, as you will him to be quiet?

The simple phrase ‘I’m fine’ from a friend… who clearly isn’t. What are they trying to say, in the tones around the words?

A retelling of a much-loved story – Robin Hood, for example, or King Arthur. Are you hearing the flow of this story, or feeling it shaded by what’s gone before, your own experience of the tale, frustration at perceived errors?

This blog post, like most things I write, is in the hope of inspiring. Not guilt, not at all – we’re all guilty of the above faults, that’s just part of being a human in the world today. But without going back and re-reading, how much did you take in? How much of me did you ‘hear’, over the voice in your own head providing commentary? Were you judging my words, providing your own similar experiences, laughing or disagreeing? The tale is being told, here in black and white as I type. It’s being coloured by you, the reader, as you ‘listen’ to my virtual voice and make it your own.

Listen then, lovely readers, as you go about your life today. Feel the stories going on around you – and your part within that larger flow of time and space. Such a simple thing. Yet such a challenge.

What do you hear – and what do you understand?

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