Category Archives: Experiences of Oneness / the Source (article archive)

Samhain: what will we find in the dark this Winter?

It’s 6.30 am here in dark, rainy, leaf-strewn post-Hallowe’en Glasgow, Scotland – and I have been catching up on one of my favourite blogs: Linda Leinen’s “The Task at Hand: a writer’s ongoing search for just the right word”.  Her latest post is The Sandburg Season, a meditation on the American poet Sandburg’s prescient commentary on the state of America in the 1920s, Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind”. She, like the poet, contemplates the state of the nation in the aftermath of the ravages of the latest devastating hurricane to hit the USA – at this time in USA’s history a grim prelude to the upcoming election on 6th November, a mere six days away.

Samhain Blessings!

Samhain Blessings!

magickalgraphics.com

Reading this deep, rich post and the wonderful range of replies has put me in a meditative mood. It’s now 1st November – Samhain – Samhain has been celebrated in Britain for centuries and has its origin in Pagan Celtic traditions. It was the time of year when the veils between this world and the Otherworld were believed to be at their thinnest: when the spirits of the dead could most readily mingle with the living once again. It is a contemplative time; a time for honouring the renewing power of darkness, and for facing the humbling fact that everything passes, including us….

Later, when the festival was adopted by Christians, they celebrated it as All Hallows’ Eve, followed by All Saints Day, though it still retained elements of remembering and honouring the dead.

The core sentiments of the Sandburg poem recalled for me Shelley’s “Ozymandias”. (So out of tune was I with my early secondary education that, having been sent home from school to learn Wordsworth‘s “Daffodils” by heart, instead I learned “Ozymandias” …..I should have realised then that I was in for a complicated life!) Both poets comment on the vanity of human endeavour in the face of the irresistible forces of Nature and of Time. So I was very struck by Shelley’s great poem appearing via one of Linda Leinem’s commentators, Steve Schwartzman. I sense a community of reflection out there, as we descend into the dark: ready for our symbolic death into Winter, knowing the rebirth into Spring will also come.

We need the dark, as this festival of Samhain reminds us. 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. The Great Round of  conception, birth, maturation, decline, death and rebirth applies to everything, from gnats to galaxies. Human endeavour is not exempt.

Perhaps our whole culture/civilisation is in its Winter phase – the signs of descent are everywhere, should we care to look…….and in the meantime, I am with Linda Leinen: “Most of the time, I just try to do what I can.” Renewal, whether we live to see it or not, is always round the corner….

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What are YOUR thoughts and feelings regarding the Descent into winter? It would be interesting to have them!

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

“Silence in the City” – from tomorrow!

Have you ever been to St Mary’s Cathedral, 300 Great Western Road, Glasgow G4?

Led by Provost Kelvin Holdsworth, the community at St Mary’s – open, inclusive, welcoming to people of all faiths and all spiritual seekers – is   offering a programme of times for reflection – silence in the city – during this autumn 2012. The programme is free, and open to anyone needing some time of peace and silence.

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The Open Silence operates to a rhythm of two one-hour slots per month, lunchtime and evening, available on the following dates:

Sunday August 19th from 8-9 pm, then Thursday August 23rd from 12.30-1.30pm

Sunday September 16th from 8-9 pm, then Thursday September 20th from 12.30-1.30pm

Sunday October 21st from 8-9 pm, then Thursday October 25th from 12.30-1.30pm

Sunday November 18th from  8-9 pm, then Thursday November 22nd from 12.30-1.30pm

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These drop-in hours are free, although any donations to St Mary’s Cathedral funds are always welcome! Anyone can come along, for as long as feels comfortable – you don’t have to stay for the whole hour, but please do leave quietly. You can sit anywhere you wish in the Cathedral during your visit. Gentle music and a brief introduction from Vice-Provost Cedric Blakey begins the hour, music again draws the hour to a close. Candles are lit throughout to help you to connect to your time of peace.

Silence, prayer, peace....

Silence, prayer, peace….

Could any readers who would like to promote this valuable local event be kind enough to pass on the link to this post to anyone on their networks who might be interested? Thanks!!

NOTE

A major inspiration for setting up St Mary’s Cathedral’s The Open Silence was provided by the series of programmes presented by Christopher Jamison, Abbot of Worth Abbey, in 2010,  ‘The Big Silence’, in which five participants  were “……invited to take the wisdom of silence found in the monastery……” and carry it back into their everyday lives.

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.”

If  readers are interested in reading more about this project, which I – and many others I spoke to – found moving, challenging and inspiring – click HERE.

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500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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I know I said I was taking a break until September. But on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed section tonight I found this brilliant post, featuring a totallly awe-inspiring clip of the Hubble Deep Field. Watch – and marvel……

The Faustian Apprentice

Image

With all the pollution, haze from chemtrails, and reflected light from our cities, we often fail to recognize the real significance of the SIZE of our VISIBLE universe (it is well possible that there is more out there, and that light has not yet reached us, 13.7 Billion Light Years away!).  Instead, we are left, often with barely a handful of stars and planets that are visible in the night sky.

Seeing only these, it becomes very easy to imagine ourselves the chosen creation of whatever god you wish to call upon.  It becomes easy to think ourselves unique and somehow important, relative to all we see around us.  We say to ourselves, “Behold my divine heritage!  I am to have dominion over all things of the earth!”  And as we run rampant, harvesting, extracting, and destroying, we content ourselves in the thought that somehow, all this will be magically…

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Action in the Meadow/Silence in the City

We don’t need astrologers to tell us we are living in a period of remarkable turbulence and change. The evidence is all around us: from our teetering and corrupt banking systems, to the declining health of Planet Earth whose dominant species, humans, at current rates of consumption require the resources of three and a half planet earths to sustain us. Amongst many problems greatly on the increase against this backdrop are obesity, social inequality, the social and economic burdens of an ageing population – and fast rising anxiety and depression rates.

Apparently the overall index of increased happiness as material prosperity grew, peaked in the mid-seventies, then declined. The rot, it seems, set in in 1976….

However, humans have always been incredibly adaptable creatures and there is plenty of room for optimism in the midst of the current gloom. We are poised collectively on an interesting cusp, which many people see as the pivotal point of recognition that the materialist project which has so dominated all life since the rise of Age of Reason in the 18th Century is crumbling, and a new world order or paradigm is emerging. Materialism has brought us incredible advances, but is bringing our planet and the systems governing our collective lives, to a dangerous edge.

The new paradigm emerging, in essence, invites us to respect and work with the ecological balance of our home planet. It also invites us to recognise that there are many levels to “Reality” – the material level is just one of these. It is not suggesting that we should attempt to put the genie of progress back in the bottle and recreate a “Golden Age” which never existed.

It invites us to go forward into the future bearing the best that scientific and material progress has to offer, but also the best of what human civilisation has distilled over its six thousand years of social evolution which offers proven nourishment of both a physical and spiritual nature to all life on Planet Earth.

We can see evidence of this new paradigm’s emergence all over the planet in large and small ways. To give just one example, the principles of the “Slow Food” movement which began in Italy over two decades ago have taken root and flourished all over the world.

All of us, at a collective, local, and personal level have a part we can play in this paradigm shift. 

What’s happening where you are?

Do let me know! In the meantime, let’s go local to look at interesting developments promoting creative change in my home city of Glasgow, Scotland, UK. I have chosen to highlight the activities of two local communities with which I am personally involved.

They are both making small but significant contributions to reversing the upward trend towards increased unhappiness which excessive preoccupation with material goals has produced over the last thirty years. The first seeks to promote spiritually nurturing links between adults, children and Nature. The second, the spiritually nurturing cultivation of inner peace via silent contemplation…..

At this very moment my friend and colleague, psychologist, researcher, blogger and independent thinker, wife, mother of two and local activist Emily Cutts is busy mobilising us locally through her Enough’s Enough, Ditch the Stuff movement which seeks to get parents and children outdoors, away from computers and expensive gadgets and towards shared experiences in nature. We have a wonderful woodland and meadow right on our doorstep here in G20 and Emily’s efforts plus great support and enthusiasm from local volunteers, have got around a thousand parents and children out there having a terrific time in recent weeks.

A big Ditch the Stuff event is happening in North Kelvin Meadow, G20, on Sunday 15th July 2012 1-4pm. Try to be there!

 Meadow in the City

Meadow in the City

photo: Anne Whitaker

Have you ever been to St Mary’s Cathedral, 300 Great Western Road, Glasgow G4?

Led by Provost Kelvin Holdsworth, the community at St Mary’s – open, inclusive, welcoming to people of all faiths and all spiritual seekers – is also doing its bit at a local level to promote the values and practices of the new paradigm I have been describing, especially in relation to helping those who need to find some inner peace in the increasing outer noise and freneticism of our collective life.

St Mary’s offers a programme of times for reflection – silence in the city – during this autumn 2012. It operates on a drop-in basis, open to anyone needing a time of peace and silence. The Open Silence operates to a rhythm of two one-hour slots per month, lunchtime and evening, available on the following dates:

Sunday August 19th from 8-9 pm, then Thursday August 23rd from 12.30-1.30pm

Sunday September 16th from 8-9 pm, then Thursday September 20th from 12.30-1.30pm

Sunday October 21st from 8-9 pm, then Thursday October 25th from 12.30-1.30pm

Sunday November 18th from  8-9 pm, then Thursday November 22nd from 12.30-1.30pm

These drop-in hours are free, although any donations to St Mary’s Cathedral funds are always welcome! Anyone can come along, for as long as feels comfortable – you don’t have to stay for the whole hour, but please do leave quietly. You can sit anywhere you wish in the Cathedral during your visit. Gentle music and a brief introduction from Vice-Provost Cedric Blakey begins the hour, music again draws the hour to a close. Candles are lit throughout to help you to connect to your time of peace.

Silence, prayer, peace....

Silence, prayer, peace….

Could any readers who would like to promote these valuable local events be kind enough to pass on the link to this post to anyone on their networks who might be interested? Thanks!!

NOTE

A major inspiration for setting up St Mary’s Cathedral’s The Open Silence was provided by the series of programmes presented by Christopher Jamison, Abbot of Worth Abbey, in 2010,  ‘The Big Silence’, in which five participants  were “……invited to take the wisdom of silence found in the monastery……” and carry it back into their everyday lives.

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.”

If  readers are interested in reading more about this project, which I – and many others I spoke to – found moving, challenging and inspiring – click HERE.

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1100 words copyright Anne Whitaker 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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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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Evoking the Twelfth House

A tiny frog, barely half an inch long, flopped, dead, on the tip of a teaspoon as I gently lowered it toward the plug hole of the kitchen sink. Soon, I’d turn on the tap and its fragile little body, already liquefying, would be washed down the drain.

Just holding on....

Just holding on....

http://www.sarasites.com/css_images/frog.jpg

Yesterday, it had been leaping around, full of life, inside the  plastic refrigerator box in which I had created a little aquarium with water, moss and stones. The tadpoles which I had brought home a few weeks previously had all survived. Satisfaction and pleasure at having achieved this, however, was tempered with the growing knowledge that these delightful new pets would soon have to be returned to their original habitat.

But this little fellow would never go home.

This small incident, which occurred well over thirty years ago, offered such a poignant illustration of the transient fragility of life that it has never left my memory.

There are times when something apparently tiny and fleeting can illustrate much larger truths.

The constant dance between order and chaos, form and formlessness, being and non-being, seems to occur in all epochs and at all levels. Humans have created a range of paradigms and metaphors, from ancient myths through the world’s great religions to modern cosmology, within which to explore this dialectic.

Cosmologist Brian Swimme in his inspirational invocation of ‘The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos’ speaks of “each instant protons and anti protons…… flashing out of, and …… absorbed back into, all-nourishing abyss……” The abyss is his term for “a power that gives birth and that absorbs existence at a thing’s annihilation.”

Astrology has its own name for this inchoate territory where everything, tiny or vast, which has ever had form dissolves back into the primal waters of the Source. It is called the Twelfth House.

In my horoscope the Sun, Moon,Venus, Saturn, Pluto, and Mercury the planet of communication and writing are all to be found in the Twelfth House. I have been preoccupied with the mystery of whence we arise and where we return since I opened my eyes to the world. Thus it doesn’t require much of a leap of imagination to work out why this blog is called ‘Writing from the Twelfth House’……

400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2011
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

My Really Big “Why?”

In my view, we all need to be humble in measuring what little we actually know against the vastness of what we contemplate. We need all the help we can get in our attempts to make sense of a vastness which a great and respected scientist has not long ago admitted may be beyond our comprehension. (He could be wrong, of course!) We need to co-operate with one another, as we all go about honing and sharpening the particular lenses through which we look out at mystery.

We need the perspectives of rationalist, reductionist science. But we also need the perspectives of those non-rational dimensions of the ceaseless human journey towards understanding where we came from, why we are here, and what, if anything, it all means. The great myths, the great religions, the arts – all these also give us a partial glimpse of  The Big Why.

So my Really Big Why is this:

WHY can we not learn to respect each other’s different lenses/disciplines, instead of – as so often happens – descending irrationally to the primitive level of the tribal carnivores from which we have slowly evolved over the last 100,000 years, and taking up fundamentalist, tribal positions – in which the futile attempt to declare only one lens right and all others wrong, is doomed forever to utter failure?

An example of a body of knowledge which seems to attract such fundamentalist irrationality is the great and ancient art and science of astrology.

It has combined those realms of logos (reason) and mythos (imagination, story-telling, creating of metaphors which help us to live with our deep flaws as humans, as well as celebrating our wonderful creativity) for at least six thousand years, since, in Arthur Koestler’s vivid words from The Sleepwalkers”:

“Six thousand years ago, when the human mind  was still half asleep, Chaldean priests were standing on their watchtowers, scanning the stars.”

So I found it most refreshing, as a life-long appreciator of the wonders of science, to have read Lord Rees’ admission that we may never be able to decode the universe. But let’s pool all our knowledge, shall we, on both sides of the current mythos/logos divide, to enable us to  concentrate on what unites us – rather than what divides us.

Reaching for the Moon....


Please note: comments on this post are welcome, but abuse and ranting have no place on this site and any such comments will be deleted.

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400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2011
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Winter Nights – embracing the darkness

A core memory from my Hebridean childhood is located in winter’s depths. Whilst dashing out to play after our evening meal, running up the garden path, breath frosty on the clear cold air, a glance at the pitch dark sky stopped me dead. A magical swirling dance of colour was washing the Northern sky with translucent radiance. I held my breath, friends forgotten,  gazing for a long time at the wonderful display. Gradually, inevitably, it faded and vanished.

This first experience of awe has remained etched on memory. It imprinted on my soul, at a very young age, a deep intuitive sense that there is a sublime mystery at the core of the interplay between light and dark.

The Northern Lights

The Northern Lights

Subsequent adult reading provided a scientific explanation for the phenomenon of the aurora borealis. But science cannot explain the sense of wonder and awe which the Northern Lights has evoked in countless numbers of us since our remote ancestors scanned the skies, seeing the Divine in natural beauty, and eventually in its predictable rhythms. Knowing that the Moon, for example, had its pattern of waxing and waning enabled our ancestors to plan the best times for planting, travelling, and timing their religious rituals. But the Moon’s guiding light could only be accessed in the dark of night.

We need winter. We may not like it much, especially in the frequently wet, grey dreariness of the West of Scotland at this time of year! But we need it, and the darkness that goes with it. A long rest refreshes the earth, revitalises it; new life quietly germinates in the dark, bursting forth in the miraculous renewal of spring.

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.

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. I was found, 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.

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. (1)

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, but 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 that brilliant encounter with the Northern Lights, so long ago but still clearly remembered, which affirmed my need for ‘God consciousness’ before I could ever articulate it.

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

(1) from Self & Society Vol 29 Number 6 Feb-March 2002 (pp 22-24)

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(published in ‘Magnificat’ magazine (UK) winter/spring 2007 )

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1000 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008 and 2011
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Cheer up, it’ll soon(-ish) be Spring!

In the last year I have intermittently been reading my way through the work of  that well-known writer, broadcaster and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway. Whilst leafing through a slim collection of  poems sent to us supporters of the charity ZANE at the end of last year, I came across the following quotation from his work.

In my current January mood, as I sit here in my life, grumpy, with a metaphorical blanket pulled over my head, these words speak powerfully to me: I offer them to my fellow January-ites out there, with the thought that it really, truly, will soon be Spring….

St Magnus Cathedral Window, Orkney

St Magnus Cathedral Window, Orkney

photo: Anne Whitaker

“This is my dilemma. I am dust and ashes, frail and wayward, a set of predetermined behavioural responses, … riddled with fear, beset with needs…the quintessence of dust and unto dust I shall return…. But there is something else in me…. Dust I may be, but troubled dust, dust that dreams, dust that that has strong premonitions of transfiguration, of a glory in store, a destiny prepared, an inheritance that will one day be my own…so my life is spread out in a painful dialectic between ashes and glory, between weakness and transfiguration. I am a riddle to myself, an exasperating enigma…this strange duality of dust and glory.”

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(NOTE: Having googled this quotation, I discovered that it has got around, and some of the wording varies slightly depending on who is quoting! So I hope Richard Holloway will forgive me any minor errors which may appear in this version, whilst I track down the exact quote, in the precise book in which it appears….)

Richard F. Holloway (born 26 November 1933) is a Scottish writer and broadcaster and was formerly Bishop of Edinburgh in the Scottish Episcopal Church. To read more about him and his writing, click HERE

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300 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Richard Holloway 2011
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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