Monthly Archives: December 2013

Winter Nights – a Christmas meditation

The beautiful solstice poem by Susan Cooper which I shared in my last post, and which proved a very popular read,  has got me reflecting on winter, this Christmas Eve. It is wet and windy in Glasgow tonight, neither very cold nor very seasonal. But the daffs and snowdrops’ green shoots are peeping though. They know that spring isn’t far away!

But in the meantime, we need winter. We need the dark. Within the year’s natural cycle, the diurnal alternation of light and dark brings restful silence at night and the restorative power of sleep, without which all creatures including us would burn out and die before their time.

We are in danger of forgetting this – at our peril – as an increasingly technology-driven culture sweeps the world, creating the illusion that we can live sustainably and healthily in defiance of the ancient rhythms set by the great cycles of nature.

On the Scottish island where I grew up, however, nature was omnipresent. One snowy winter’s dusk, I failed to return home from primary school. A snowstorm was blowing up with a fierce gale. Worried, my mother sent out a search party who found me in a state of some distress, almost white with snow, pinned against a fence. A slight child, I had been blown and held there by the wind.

Where I grew up, we didn’t need to read books to understand the fierce destructive power of nature as well as its unearthly beauty. Followers of this blog will know from its new header, how much I love the Northern Lights which I used to see each winter, magic dancers in the night sky  above the island of my birth.

From those childhood experiences on, I have walked the well trodden path underlying all faiths which seeks ways of affirming connection with that vast Power which runs nature, the Universe and everything, reconciling dark and light, going way beyond time.

Whilst reflecting on the profoundly mysterious and paradoxical relationship between light and dark, with which we humans have always wrestled in one form or another, the phrase ‘dazzling darkness’ came to mind. It persisted for days, until eventually I located the source.

It occurs in a fascinating article, which I had first read in 2002, titled “A RELUCTANT MYSTIC: God-Consciousness not Guru Worship” by John Wren-Lewis. ( from Self & Society Vol 29 Number 6 Feb-March 2002 (pp 22-24)

The author describes how, at the age of nearly sixty, retired and with a distinguished career as a scientist behind him,  he had spiritual consciousness “thrust upon me….without working for it, desiring it, or even believing in it.”

It was 1983. Wren-Lewis was in Thailand, in a hospital bed, hovering between life and death, having eaten a poisoned sweet given to him by a would-be thief. What happened next, a ‘near death experience’(NDE), he describes as follows:

“I simply entered – or rather, was – a timeless, spaceless void which in some indescribable way was total aliveness – an almost palpable blackness that was yet somehow radiant. Trying to find words for it afterwards, I recalled the mysterious line of Henry Vaughan’s poem The Night:  ‘There is in God, some say, a deep and dazzling darkness’….”

His return to life, as the medical staff gradually won their battle to save him, was not in any way accompanied by the typical NDE’s classic sense of regret or loss at having to go back to the world of the everyday. It was, in fact, “nothing like a return….more like an act of creation whereby the timeless, spaceless Dark budded out into manifestation”. Furthermore, the experience was “indescribably wonderful.”

In Wren-Lewis’ own words “I now know exactly why the Book of Genesis says that God looked upon all that He had made – not just beautiful sunsets, but dreary hospital rooms and traumatised sixty-year old bodies – and saw that it was very good.”

Moreover, this heightened awareness did not leave him. A permanent shift, without any effort at all, into what he calls “God-consciousness” caused him to do further reading and research beyond accounts of NDEs into the “once-despised world of mystical literature and spiritual movements”.

But he rejects the notion held by experts in many religious traditions that the path to God-consciousness, or Enlightenment, or Nirvana requires years or even lifetimes of intensive spiritual effort. After all, he’d been handed “the pearl of great price on a plate” without ever seeking it, and found God-consciousness to be quintessentially ordinary and obvious – a feature emphasised by many mystics.

I was so intrigued by Wren-Lewis’ startling account  that I re-read the great Victorian psychologist William James’ classic book “The Varieties of Religious Experience” for the first time in nearly thirty years. This confirmed what I had already known but forgotten: a great many people who have profound religious or mystical experiences have them in nature.

I felt grateful then for my powerful and threatening experience that winter’s night in early childhood. The awesome power of nature, had circumstances been a little different, could have taken my life from me then before it had even begun. And for those brilliant encounters with the Northern Lights, so long ago but still clearly remembered. They affirmed my need for ‘God consciousness’ – long before I could ever articulate it coherently for myself.

We need awe: it points our vision towards the sacred. So, readers, embrace the darkness if you can, this winter’s Christmas Eve – you never can tell what wonders may reveal themselves ….

River Kelvin Dec 2010

River Kelvin Dec 2010

FESTIVE GREETINGS EVERYONE! THANKS FOR YOUR CONTINUING SUPPORT VIA VISITS, COMMENTS AND EMAILS – AND MAY 2014 BE A FULFILLING YEAR.

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950 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Winter Solstice: an evocative poem

Tonight we will  flick drops of malt whisky onto our fully lit and decorated tree on the night of the Winter Solstice. Midwinter magic has returned!We do this every year – and every year I remind family members present for the ritual that this tree has a very ancient pedigree. Looking for a poem which captures both the feeling and the history, I found this one to share with you, wherever you are this night:

Ancient Akkadians honouring their Tree of Life

Ancient Akkadians honouring their Tree of Life

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

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200 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Susan Cooper 2013

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Where is this place called ‘elsewhere’?

‘The human comedy doesn’t attract me enough. I am not entirely of this world….I am from elsewhere. And it is worth finding this elsewhere beyond the walls. But where is it?’

The pull of elsewhere has dominated my life. As a child, lying tucked up cosy and warm in bed, listening to the wind beyond our walls tearing the world apart, I used to luxuriate in the contrast between in here and out there – and wonder where the Power came from to cause the winds to rage, and the sea to beat endlessly against the coastline of my native island.

The Big 'Why?'

The Big ‘Why?

It would take me a long time beyond childhood to understand and accept that my obsession with the big “Why?”, from the moment I opened my eyes to the world,  is not the norm for most of humanity. Sensibly, they just want a quiet uncomplicated life.

Apart from my maternal grandfather, a loving and very broad-minded Christian  ‘remember, child: whatever our race, colour or creed we are all God’s children’ – nobody knew what went on in my head and heart throughout my entire childhood.

There is no such thing as one biography of a life.

 Your perspective changes with the passage of time and the way life’s inevitable challenges are dealt with. You rewrite your own history in your head all the time, mostly without realising it. For example, I never understood the full extent of elsewhere’s pull until my mid-life descent into and return from the Underworld, a period which lasted seven years – undoubtedly the most difficult and the richest time of my whole life. I feel in better relation now to that mysterious elsewhere than ever before.

To me, elsewhere is the vast wave of which everything – universe, cosmos, galaxies, planets, Earth, all life forms – is a droplet. We arise from elsewhereand that is where we return. Call it the quantum vacuum, the Zero Point Field, God, Buddha, Krishna, the Ground of our being, the Source, the One: the name we give it does not matter.

 I have also learned that elsewhere is not somewhere else. It is here, present, now, everywhere – always.

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(headline quote is from Eugene Ionesco:quoted in Philip Yancey’s “Reaching for the Invisible God” p25)

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400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Advent Quote: “This being human” by Rumi

I thought it would be appropriate to offer a reflective piece of poetry as this especially tempestuous year ends: we need all the wisdom we can receive, especially in relation to the dark thoughts, the shame and the malice from which no person is immune – could we but take responsibility for those shadow qualities in ourselves as individuals and nations, refraining from projecting them onto others, the world would probably be less fractured than it is….

“This being human” is by far the most popular and most often read of all the quotes I have posted on my blog in the last few years. Here it is once more. It holds so much wisdom.

” This being human “

The poet Rumi

The poet Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all
even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.

Still treat each guest honourably,
he may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

from the Persian poet Rumi

(1207-1273)

Rumbold Raven’s Magic Menagerie : lost – and found!

Rumbold Raven’s Magic Menagerie” is a series of eighteen short children’s poems featuring an eccentric, colourful assortment of animal characters: Dorelia the extinct Dodo, Feeble Fred the dozy frog, delightfully dreamy Salome Seahorse, and wellyboot-wearing Tiger Tigbaloo to name but a few – all eighteen drawn together by scary but charismatic Rumbold Raven himself.

Rumbold Raven

Rumbold Raven

The book has an interesting story, since it was written by me and illustrated by my artist friend Albert Ennemoser thirty five years ago. At that time, publishers loved the book but rejected it because of the prohibitive cost of producing Albert’s wonderfully detailed and lavishly coloured illustrations.

Albert returned to his native Austria and the book, which he had given to me, gathered dust in my study for decades. It was well and truly lost – under the spare bed in my husband’s study, to be precise.

By the New Year of 2013 Lola, our delightful granddaughter, was nearly two and already a book lover like me. After a visit with her mum Susie and dad Ben in January 2013, whilst hunting under the spare bed for something else, I came across the dusty manuscript of “Rumbold Raven….” and looked through the poems again.

They leapt off the pages, lively and quirky as ever. “Mmmm”, I said to my husband Ian, Lola’s granddad. “Lola would love this book, wouldn’t she?” So, with the able help of local web designers co-occurrence, it has at last been born. Enjoy!

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“There are very few children’s books that manage to combine great writing with great illustrations. “Rumbold Raven’s Magic Menagerie” has managed to do both. This book is a treasure of beautiful illustrations and engaging words. Each story and picture is unique and will have children’s imaginations captured. The fact that they are both beautiful to look at and interesting to read makes them unusual. I am hoping to frame a couple for my child’s room. Well done Anne for persevering and bringing these treasures to us now after all these years.”

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Emily Cutts, independent psychology researcher and community activist with Glasgow, UK’s “The Children’s Wood” campaign.

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You can download a free two page sample from Rumbold Raven’s Magic Menagerie as a PDF (480KB) and if you like it, why not buy the entire book of eighteen characters for $8.00? Just press the Paypal button below and I will send you the PDF by email.

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400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Nelson Mandela 1918-2013