Monthly Archives: June 2015

‘the still, sad music of humanity’….Some thoughts and feelings during an awful week for our world…

Something I have learned – the hard way – is that some of us are more porous to the experiences of others at an intuitive, non-rational level, than others. This hyper-sensitivity is a gift in some contexts: it can ensure an appropriate, compassionate response to one’s fellow beings, thereby enriching one’s own life, as well as being useful to one’s fellows. Having worked all my life in contexts where sensitivity is essential to being an effective teacher and helper, I can personally affirm the value of such a gift.

Prisoners of Conscience window, Salisbury Cathedral

Prisoners of Conscience window, Salisbury Cathedral

photo: Anne Whitaker

But the gift has a dark shadow. It means difficulty in creating the boundaries that are at times necessary to protect oneself from being invaded by others’ pain, others’ woundedness, others’ unconsciously destructive energies…and the pain of the world…

I have been feeling really low since yesterday when the dreadful news of the Tunisian beach massacre burst on us all, following on other horrors this last week. In this, of course, I am not alone.

I feel as though the dark pain at the core of my own being, old long-accepted pain which most of the time just lies there, like rotting old leaves at the bottom of a deep pond, has risen to meet and join with the world’s pain. Normally I keep those feelings to myself, sharing them only with one or two trusted loved ones. But today, I thought I would write about it, and share a personal experience from a long time ago which  also evoked for me  ‘the still, sad music of humanity’, in poet William Wordsworth’s poignant words.

Calais, France, Summer 1990

Twenty five years ago whilst fulfilling our mother’s wish for her seventieth birthday that my brother and I  should take her to visit her older brother’s war grave in Calais, I had a shattering experience of being plugged into the world’s pain which I have never forgotten.

 Le Touret

Le Touret

Le Touret Memorial (Le Touret Military Cemetery)

A radio officer aboard HMS “Achieve”, her brother’s ship was sunk in May 1945, off the French coast, shortly before the end of the Second World War. His was the only body from the “Achieve” ever found. Having managed to swim ashore, he died of hypothermia on the beach before anyone could rescue him.

My husband Ian’s diary for Friday 5th May 1990 records ‘Annie a bit nervous about trip to France tomorrow’. Had I known just how fraught it would be, I’d have been hysterical…

The overnight return trip from Glasgow to Calais turned out to be pretty harrowing, owing to our time miscalculation based on erroneous information concerning distances provided by the travel agent, whose cheery “it’s just a hop, skip and a jump from Paris to Calais !” turned out to be two and a half hours longer than he had told us. We finally managed to get to the cemetery, stressed and exhausted from our 6 am start, just as a churlish and unfriendly French attendant was slowly pushing the gates shut for the night.

My choosing to burst into tears to evoke his sympathy rather than punch him, accompanied by my miraculous recall of French, probably saved us from being denied entry on what turned out to be our only opportunity. For the cemetery – bizarrely and unexpectedly – was closed on the following morning, a Sunday, only during the weekend of our visit.

But my mother did find her brother’s grave, and we were all shattered by the experience. I will never forget my brother  and I standing at a respectful distance to give her privacy, keeping an eye on the burly, scowling attendant, as she hung the silver celtic cross she had brought with her over the right hand corner of a small, plain gravestone. Head bowed, she wept quietly to herself. She had loved her brother dearly and deeply. 

Fortunately, suspecting we would need privacy, my brother and I had booked us a room each. On retiring to bed after dinner, I began to weep, and simply could not stop until exhaustion eventually brought sleep. It was no ordinary grief: I was aware once again of my personal sorrow becoming a channel  for ‘the still, sad music of humanity’….in Wordsworth’s  poignant phrase: this time, it was for the heartbreak and waste of that terrible war…

It is seventy years since the end of the Second World war, and humanity’s track record on applying restraint to the reptilian part of our brain in order to diminish the impulse to torture, maim and murder those whose values, beliefs, race and gender differ from our own has not appreciably improved as the twenty-first century unfolds. We are unimaginably ingenious, brilliant, when it comes to applying our intelligence for example to the quest  to decode the human genome:  been there, done that! – or to find the Higgs Boson – ditto.

When, oh when, are we going to find a way to stop slaughtering one another?

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800 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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The miracle of the living soul: Inspiration from Jung

All my life’s work has been with people: as an adult education teacher in many settings, as a psychiatric social worker, as a private counsellor, trainer and supervisor of counsellors, and writer.

At the core of this apparent vocational diversity has been, I now understand, the same drive. It is that urge to find meaningful contexts for my own tiny, ephemeral spark of life, whilst offering some affirmation to others that their tiny flame matters too: it is worth struggling to get our light to burn with a purer and brighter radiance.

Something ineffable and charged can on occasions arise in deep communication between one person and another – those in the helping professions and their clients are by no means the sole partakers of this context. There is a moment in which the feeling of safety, intimacy, trust, empathy and openness of exchange becomes so intense that the level on which two people are interacting shifts from ‘ordinary’ to numinous.

The Diamond Soul

The Diamond Soul
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In that moment, (to my subjective recollection) both souls are held, in a state of grace, in the palm of some vast invisible benevolent Hand. Both sparks of life are suspended in a sense of the sacred….Such a state can never be evoked. It can only be bestowed – fleeting, memorable, perhaps life changing.

Coming across the following quotes recently thus struck a profound chord:

first, from Carl Gustav Jung –

“ That is why I say to any beginner: learn your theories as well as you can, but put them aside when you touch the miracle of the living soul. Not theories but your creative individuality alone must decide.”

Carl Jung from “Contributions to Analytical Psychology” (quoted in Self and Society Vol 27 No 1 March 1999, p 22.)

second, from ‘Gilead’ by Marilynne Robinson, p 51 –

“ When people come to speak to me, whatever they say, I am struck by a kind of incandescence in them, the ‘I’ whose predicate can be ‘love’ or ‘fear’ or ‘want’, and whose object can be ‘someone’ or ‘nothing’ and it won’t really matter, because the loveliness is just in that presence, shaped around ‘I’ like a flame on a wick, emanating itself in grief and guilt and joy and whatever else …. To see this aspect of life is a privilege of the ministry which is seldom mentioned.”

(‘Gilead’, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is a wonderful novel in which, towards the end of Rev John Ames’ life in 1956, he begins a letter to his young son, setting down all that he wishes to communicate which impending death will otherwise render impossible.)

I urge you to read it for its humanity and its wisdom.

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500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

For love of wild landscapes – returning to the North…

Rolling stones do eventually run out of restlessness, if they are lucky. I came to rest in Glasgow, Scotland, UK, by an accident of fate – by putting a wrong number on a university application form. ( long story – some other time…) it was a fortuitous twist of fate, since I have been happy here, and have no desire to move again, ever.

Standing Stones in Winter

Standing Stones in Winter

But every so often, I need a ‘fix’ of the land where I was born and raised. The land, sea and skyscapes of the North-West of Scotland inspired me from my earliest days. I can still recall lying tucked up in bed listening to wild January gales tearing the world apart outside, wondering what Power drove all that mighty energy. The Northern Lights transfixed me with their beauty. The unpolluted  night skies revealed magical star patterns to my youthful imagination, inspiring my writing from a very young age. I still need scenic wildness, scenic beauty regardless of weather or season.

So – here we are, for a few days’ vacation. I thought I’d share a few of my photos. The bottom one is me, spaced out on horizons and fresh air…What is the landscape which calls you Readers to return? I’d love to hear!

IMG_2007IMG_2048IMG_2061 IMG_2073

200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page