Category Archives: 05 – New Posts: October 2011 onwards

Sophie Agrell: a bright new talent

One of the pleasures and privileges of being an older person is that of having the time to notice talent in younger people and the patience to foster it. Sophie Agrell and I have had a running joke for a couple of years that she is Mouse, hiding away in her writer’s mousehole, and I am Cheese, enticing her out.

When she first very tentatively showed me one of her poems in 2010 I recognised her talent, thereafter nudging her, gently but persistently, into sending her work out into the wider world, first of all in the form of allowing me to publish her on my blogs.

She was successful in her first submission, to a UK national poetry competition. “Touching Ephemera: Rome, April 2009″ made the “Highly Commended” slot in the Poetry Anthology 2011 published by United Press Ltd. This was soon followed by United Press Ltd including that same poem in their “Uplifting Moments” anthology, published early in 2012.

Not long after that, the Editors at United Press Ltd asked her to submit a number of her poems for an anthology called Ten of the Best. As a result, twelve of Sophie’s poems now feature in this ‘Showcase of Poetry’, published in May 2012, offering through the work of ten new poets “….certain proof that poetry has the potential to cut straight to the heart of life.

Do check out the book.

In the meantime, here are two of her poems from that anthology,  very contrasting in theme, mood and tone, showing Sophie’s range as a poet. Enjoy!

In Sri Lankan national dress

In Sri Lankan national dress

Sophie, photo by Anne Whitaker

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My paradise island

Let me tell you about my country,

My paradise island, my Serendip,

Where every memory is filled with laughter,

With spices and sunlight, the mango sweetness of happiness,

Where tropical beauty splashes in technicolour

In every hedge, on every street,

Where elephants stroll through chaos –

Traffic, trishaws, wandering bullocks

And traffic policemen despairingly waving their pristine gloves –

Where gentle, ever-smiling people offer lotus flowers

To serene, impassive Buddhas.

 

Let me tell you about my country,

My paradise island, my Serendip,

Where thousands live bewildered behind wire

With loss beyond losing everything.

Where white vans steal young men at night,

Where in dusty streets war-maimed beggars sit,

Where questions are answered with bullets, with threats,

Where no one knows whom to trust,

What is safe to say and where,

And smiling murderers offer lotus flowers

To serene, impassive Buddhas.

 

O let me tell you about my country,

My paradise island, my Serendip.

SIA 16 iii 2010

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How do I explain it?

How do I explain it,

This peace that lures me

Into sleep

To dream of gentle dragons,

That fills my heart with stillness

So words vanish,

And I lie, tranquil,

Listening to your breath

Beneath my ear,

The clattering rustle of turning pages,

In entire contentment?

How do I account

For this absence of all restlessness,

All considering,

All planning,

All looking beyond this moment?

 

I only know

There is only now,

This breath,

This breadth of time,

And you and I and love

Within it.

SIA 14 xi 2011

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photo by Anne Whitaker

(sophie_agrell@hotmail.com)

Sophie grew up in Kent, UK,  in a family whose connections spread from Sri Lanka, Sweden and Scotland throughout the world. She read Ancient and Modern History at Oxford, eventually settling in Scotland where she works as a proof reader. She lives with her two dogs in a North Lanarkshire village. Sophie describes herself as “…. an escaped medievalist who watches the world, delights in its beauty, and grows roses…..”

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600 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Sophie Agrell 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Where would we be without silence ?

We have just returned from a hectic and enjoyable family wedding celebration in London, which took place during an interesting hiatus: just after the great collective affirmation of Queen Elizabeth the Second‘s Diamond Jubilee, and just before the Olympic Games, shortly to be held in the UK’s vibrant capital city. Although I loved our visit, the recluse in me is now craving that drug without which I cannot function effectively: silence.
As I sit quietly this evening, savouring solitude, silence, gazing out at a light summer’s evening, listening to the river’s flow, I reflect on the equinox and solstice points which have always brought major shifts to my life’s path, and realise that we are a mere ten days from Midsummer, the summer solstice.
From then, we have the slow diminishing of light and warmth, taking us to autumn and winter. We may not like aspects of this descent. But we need it. For where would we be if we never had the nourishment of darkness, and silence? We could not have the verdant fecundity of spring, or the warmth (in theory, at least, here in the cold wet West of Scotland!) and vibrancy of summer.

World culture abounds with myths telling of this archetypal Descent and Return: most familiar to us, the Greek myth of Persephone’s forced descent into Hades, abducted by the dark god Pluto, and the bargain he struck with her mother Demeter for her return to the upper world.

Then there is the ancient Sumerian myth telling of the descent of the goddess Inanna to visit her brutal sister Ereshkegal in the depths of the Underworld, and the drama of her escape and return.

The ‘dark night of the soul’ written about so eloquently in the Christian tradition by St John of the Cross, has inspired and guided many a spiritual seeker.

These and many other archetypal tales – which have provided us over millenia with guidance on how to face the deepest facets of human experience – are in essence journeys into silence, into the deep core that holds the ‘dazzling darkness’ wherein we may encounter that profound light and energy which charges up the spark of immortality we all possess.  It is to be found Somewhere. It is often hard to access. For some people, it is only through profound suffering that the door opens. Some people call that energy “God”.

The monks of  Worth Abbey have no hesitation in doing so.

They and their then Abbot Christopher Jamison came to national attention in the UK a couple of years ago via a BBC programme “The Monastery”, in which they

“……invited five participants to live alongside the monastic community and discover for themselves the wisdom of St Benedict……”

This series of programmes attracted a great deal of attention. It touched a deep chord amongst many people in our noisy, 24/7 society where silence and peace are hard to find. Clearly, there is a great deal of spiritual hunger in our materially over-fed culture……Worth Abbey was inundated with requests for retreats and for spiritual direction following the screening of those programmes.

Again presented by Christopher Jamison, in the follow on programme ‘The Big Silence’, five new participants  were “……invited to take the wisdom of silence found in the monastery……” and carry it back into their everyday lives.

Five volunteers went on this journey into silence, led by Father Christopher Jamison. His starting point is simple: “Many of the world’s religions believe there is one simple path that leads us towards God. It’s called silence.”

"The Big Silence" Participants

“The Big Silence” Participants

http://www.worthabbey.net/bbc/thebigsilenceindex.htm

Father Jamison is convinced that everyone – atheist, agnostic, lapsed, uncertain, seeking – can benefit from sustained, regular periods of silence. “When we enter into periods of silence, we start to see things with greater clarity. We come to know ourselves, and come in touch with that deepest part of ourselves. That is our soul.”

I watched the three BBC programmes following the difficult, absorbing and moving experiences of the five participants, all of whose lives were challenged and changed by being in silence. Watching this process, and the careful way they were guided through by Abbot Jamison, the monks and the spiritual directors assigned to each participant, was a profound experience for me at the time.

Tonight, I’ve decided that my personal Midsummer retreat this year will involve revisiting those programmes and watching them again. Join me, and let me know what you think!

Light, darkness, silence....

Light, darkness, silence….

The whole BBC series can be found on YouTube at “The Big Silence”.

AND

UPDATE from Worth Abbey, June 2012

http://www.worthabbey.net/cloister/weekend.htm#fsilence

….weekend retreats for those who have seen the TV series and who would like to experience something of monastic silence.

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800 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Telepathy – who needs an advert?!

As readers of recent posts will know, I resumed my astrology consultancy and teaching practice on 1st May 2012 after a long sabbatical. Taking on my first one-to one student, and preparing to start mentoring her at the end of June, has triggered off memories of  interesting highlights from my previous teaching life. Here is a story which I still find intriguing. (to read more in this vein, check out Wisps from the Dazzling Darkness

After sixteen years of building up work experience in the public sector as a higher education teacher, then social worker, I became self-employed in 1985 and spent the next sixteen years running a private counselling and supervision practice, also working as an astrologer and astrology teacher.

During this latter period, it often used to happen that I would think about a client or a student from whom I hadn’t heard for a while, and they would contact me that or the next day. This happened intermittently, several times a year. I arrived at the point where someone would float into my mind, and I’d think “Ah yes, they’ll be contacting me shortly.” They usually did.

The most vivid example of this type occurred just before the start of one of my BeginnersAstrology classes, in the autumn of 1999.

Ecliptic - the Sun's path as viewed from Earth

Ecliptic – the Sun’s path as viewed from Earth

Astrology’s reference point

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zodiac)

On the morning that the class was due to start, I went to photocopy the handouts for that night.There were eight students. However, I was so convinced that someone was going to call at the last minute and ask to join the class, that I did an extra set.

The class was due to start at 4.30 pm. Just after noon, I had a call from a young American woman whose husband was in Scotland doing some studying. She was looking for astrology classes, having seen my details in a magazine. Was I running any?
Yes, the first one starts today at 4.30 pm.”
“I’ll be there!” she replied.

In this way I acquired my ninth student.

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Definition of telepathy: “the supposed communication of thoughts or ideas otherwise than by the known senses.” (p 1482, The Oxford English Reference Dictionary, Oxford University Press 1996)

As Stuart Holroyd observes in concluding his entry on telepathy,   “….research….has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that telepathic communication or interaction is a reality. What kind of reality it is, how it relates to other realities, what it implies in the context of  our understanding of nature and human nature, and what it implies for science, which on the whole continues to reject it as an unaccountable anomaly, remain contentious questions.” (‘The Arkana Dictionary of New Perspectives’ published by Arkana (Penguin Books Ltd) 1989, p 172)

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500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

After the Night Sea Journey….

“One does not discover new land

without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time”

Andre Gide

Going through my 2001-8  “night sea journey”, to use Jung‘s terminology, took seven long years:  a nightmare experience of very slow recovery from total burnout triggered by a year-long family crisis. At several points I very nearly drowned, in darkness without any apparent navigation points. But the steadfast love of those closest held my head just above the cold dark sea, and I called for aid to that level which I have learned to trust. Every time, my call was answered, one way or another.

Every time, the deepest message was  Hold on. Try not to be afraid. Be patient. This is necessary – but it will pass. You will be all right.’

And I am all right, all right and deeply enriched.

Night Sea Journey

Night Sea Journey

http://www.flickr.com/photos/magnusvk/166233536

Perspective on a prolonged ordeal which removed me from the world shifted and changed as the journey went on. I reached the heart of my own darkness, understood it, accepted how my life had been both blighted and enriched by conditions in place from the beginning. Quite quickly after that act of acceptance, I returned to being well again.

I recognise now that a lengthy retreat from the world was requisite for the kind of person I am – it is not necessary for most people to go through a mid-life summing up of such drastic dimensions, thank goodness! Having practised as an astrologer for nearly twenty years by the time of my collapse, I could see from my horoscope, when I was well enough and brave enough to reflect on it again, that periodic bouts of retreat seem to be part of my necessity. One of the great advantages to being an older person is that one has several decades to look back on, in attempting to make sense of one’s own patterns.

Gradually regaining the strength, energy and inclination to lead a “normal” life again, along with a profound sense of gratitude that good health has returned, I am left awestruck at the sheer power, depth and mystery of the human psyche. The sense I already had of being woven into a meaningful cosmos – tiny thread though I am – has been amplified and deepened by many of the experiences I had whilst on my ‘night sea journey’. These experiences certainly challenged my rational, sceptical self. They are all recorded. The added perspective gained by wide reading in spirituality, religion, mysticism, science and cosmology enables me to sum up what I now believe in one sentence:

We live in a meaningful, multi-dimensional cosmos where anything is possible.

The last couple of years of the retreat were spent in a state which I recognised from before, which one might call liminal: not quite having emerged from one life phase, not quite having entered another. This felt uncomfortable and frustrating at one level. But at another, it offered an opportunity to practise the art of trusting to the unfolding process of life, or Spirit’s call, to put it another way; knowing that, in due course, the shape of the next phase would become more clearly defined, the time to take action become evident. As indeed it has.

Having spent four years on the Web runningWriting from the Twelfth House”, then a year as a part-time university student  – something I will continue for the sheer pleasure of learning  –  I have now just completed a two-month process of re-contextualising my former professional life. I’m happy being a writer, a teacher, an astrologer and a counsellor/mentor.  It feels good to be reaching into a lifetime of experience, to offer what modest help I can to fellow pilgrims along the road.

So – I feel full, happy,  grateful, sitting writing this post tonight in my adopted home town of Glasgow in Scotland. After months and months of interminable cold and rain, summer has at last arrived. It is a clear, balmy summer’s eve with just  a hint of a cooling breeze. We live high up, overlooking the Botanic Gardens and the river below. Leaves are rustling faintly; I can just hear the river’s flow. Luminous against the darkening blue sky, the delicate sickle of a Gemini new moon beguiles me.  I will keep on writing, of course….

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750 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Where is ‘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 I have ever been !

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 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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On toads, work – and writing….

The poet Philip Larkin memorably asked : “Why should I let the toad work Squat on my life?”

That toad –WRITING – has squatted on my life more or less since I was born. The golden thread of consistent attachment to writing, or writing’s consistent attachment to ME, has run through the whole of my life. I have always been true to it, in my fashion, during the promiscuous twists and turns of my vocational quest.

Anne and Friend compose the latest blog post....

Anne and Friend compose the latest blog post….

At school, whilst other kids seemed to dread their composition ink exercises, I looked forward to mine. It was an opportunity to channel into focused black and white the swirling imaginative colours which whirled round my young brain, fed by my six library books a week habit. I read anything and everything.

This voracity had its downside. Victorian novelist H Rider Haggard’s myth-steeped descriptions of his characters’ adventures in Africa last century fascinated me. But da Silva, the Dutch explorer whose frozen body was found centuries after his death in a cave high up Mt. Kilimanjaro, transferred himself from King Solomon’s Mines to the wardrobe in my bedroom, on and off, for a couple of years. Getting to sleep was no mean feat with an imagination like mine!

My ‘real’ life – eating, sleeping, going to school – was incidental to my inner life which was full of the really interesting questions:

“Why are we alive, where do we go after death, do we live on several planes of existence at once, what is happening in other galaxies, if there are x million Catholics and even more Buddhists and Hindus, how come they are all Wrong and Damned and a few thousand members of the Free Church of Scotland are Right and Saved?

What would happen if you unwrapped an Egyptian mummy? I wonder if I could make a shrunken head like the Jivaro people? Why did people paint pictures on cave walls thousands of years ago? “

These issues, fed by reading, preoccupied me for years. I must have written about them, and my essays were often commended. However, attempts on leaving school to obtain my childhood exercise books were met with a bureaucratic “No”  .

During my twenties, spent in further education teaching, I  had a ‘Personally Speaking’ column in a well-known provincial Scottish island newspaper, a copy of which I was reliably informed went to the British Embassy in Peking in China every week.

I also wrote for the local paper in a small industrial town in West Lothian, Scotland, where I had my first English lecturing job in the local technical college. ‘How I was left on the shelf – and found true happiness’ was my contribution to the West Lothian Couriers Spring Brides Feature one year. “Couldn’t you have been a bit more romantic ?” was the Editor’s only comment.

Harrowed in my mid twenties by the realisation that time was speeding on apace without my having yet written an autobiography, I then began the first of what were to be many bouts of journal-keeping…….and so the writing went – on, and on, in a dazzling variety of contexts for the next several decades…..

Any writers out there with amusing writing anecdotes? Do leave them in a comment!

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550 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


How astrology works: you, me and the Bigger Picture

One of the many fascinations of astrology is how it shows the ever-changing patterns of the planets symbolically reflecting different kinds of energies in our collective life. If you as an individual are strongly plugged into collective patterns – which you can assess through comparing the natal horoscope with prevailing planetary positions in the here-and-now – it seems as if you are given a tiny chip of the current pattern to work with in your individual life.

Here is a specific example. From the end of 1992 until the beginning of 1995 there was a particularly difficult combination of planets, which when it shows up tends to symbolise warring, destructive energies at work in our world. I’m talking about the Saturn/Pluto combination.

Every time these planets have connected in the Twentieth century the collective context has been war – they were linked at the start of World War 1, then at the end of the Second World War when we were confronted with the horrors of the two holocausts, Nazi and nuclear.

This combination formed a key part of the planetary backdrop to the Arab/Israeli war (the State of Israel was born under the Saturn/Pluto conjunction of  1947/48) in the Sixties; the Falklands war in the Eighties; and 1992 saw the upsurge of the Balkan War. Over the following two years we saw in Europe a fierce and brutal period of terrible carnage – as well as genocide in Ruanda and various other horrors at different locations.

(AND: the atrocity of 9/11 took place during the subsequent major Saturn/Pluto combination in the autumn of 2001)

From 1992 to early 1995, I observed individuals, whose horoscopes showed them to be strongly plugged into this pattern, going through deeper and darker traumas in their personal lives, much of it involving family fate issues, than I had ever seen before. Because my own horoscope involved this pattern, I had to go through some very painful and difficult times regarding my own family of origin. It seems to me that I drew to me, as a practitioner, clients plugged into the same overall pattern as myself.

On a much lighter note, there was a dynamic, exciting, challenging and disruptive planetary combination during 1997/8, repeating again during 2010/11, with which I became so obsessed that I wrote a book about the first one (published 2009, eventually….) and later wrote a whole blog, involving the experiences of 10 volunteers ‘plugged in’ to the second one, for the entire 2010/11 period, called “Tales from the Wild Ride”. Intrigued? Then click HERE.

I love that old Shakespearean quote – ‘there is a tide in the affairs of men’…..if you practice astrology often enough, and for long enough, you can see the tides of history, the changing patterns of the times, running through the lives of individuals whose charts you read. It’s fascinating…and awesome….and, it would appear, addictive!

As a friend observed to me recently : “You can take the girl out of astrology – but can you take astrology out of the girl?” The answer to that would appear to be “No”….as I prepare to return to the practice of astrology after a long sabbatical. Never say never, indeed!

Astrologer at Work - Mediaeval Style!

Astrologer at Work - Mediaeval Style!

Readers’ comments on this post or this series of my reflections on returning to the practice of astrology are welcome. Any rude or offensive comments, however, will be binned!

600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page