Shamanic September

September already. How soon the seasons pass.
Harvest time, fruits of the earth. Our spirits warm with the russet colours outside. I took the dog for a run over the fields this morning. Wind-frenzied trees could not dislodge raucous crows, shy jays, and their more cocksure magpie cousins. Though these are the early days, there is definitely a sense of being on the cusp of autumn.
Soon we will see the squirrels working overtime among the toadstools and wild flowers, the martins, swallows and other migrants gathering to make the long journey back to African shores.
Much to my wife’s distress, daddy long legs seem to be everywhere. One got in as I went out with the dog (again) last night, as my better half was busy preparing a meal for the next day. I said “Don’t harm it, I will catch it when I get back in”. 
On my return she said, apologetically, “I’m sorry I had to kill it-it was ferocious”.
Lions. Tigers. Sharks. Daddy long legs. Ferocious.
I’ve always been an outdoor person. I’ve always been moved by nature, the landscape, and the elements. Maybe that is what gave me a poetic voice, and an early sense of spirituality. I guess I am just one small step away from being a pagan. The appeal of Celtic and Native American spirituality. Perhaps this is where they can find common ground with Christianity-the idea of the goodness of creation, shot through with spirit. The whole of nature ablaze and alive and sacred.
My favourite place is Orkney. The sky there is vast and all encompassing, the sea wild and hungry and raging on all sides. There is something different there about the light, changing as it does above the ancient ancestors, long entombed in chambered darkness. When I haven’t visited for a while, I begin to get my Orkney Itch.
Some of my earliest memories involve my reaction to the elements and the outdoors. I can recall being very young, in a park in Heywood. My grandfather pushing me in a swing, and around 100 metres away there was a huge tree, swaying from side to creaking side in a gale. I loved it.Today I still love to get outside on windy days. As a postman I once did my round in 100 mph winds. It was fantastic.
Another memory is of my Dad walking me to school as a four year old Reception pupil. Dressed in a fur-lined parka coat and a leather satchel over my shoulder, I was fascinated by the dew that clung to every blade of morning grass as we cut across the fields. The sheen of diamonds and the cut of the fresh air.
Not long into my school life I caught chicken pox, and had to stay off school. As morning phased into afternoon, I remember being knelt on the couch, watching the heavy rain beat against the window, trickles racing each other down to the sill. Soon we moved house, and a new primary school beckoned. Being new, and initially friendless, in the inner mirror of my mind I can still see myself stood on the edge of the playground at playtime, watching a gull glide effortlessly above on a current of air, drifting over our fields of triumph. These are the fields that I now walk with my dog, the school having been demolished, the site now given to wilderness.
Being reclaimed.
I stood recently on that very same spot, thirty years later. Guess what? There was a gull-drifting above me. I watched it for a while. Joining up the dots.
It was as a pupil of this school that I first walked in woodland. The teacher that took us was called Miss Ambler-Ambler the Rambler. Being in deep woods, far from any concrete path or road, in that complete stillness,had an inner effect on me. I felt it in a juvenile, inarticulated way. From that day I have walked coasts and forests and mountains and river ways. I experience it still in an almost shamanic way, without the trance bit. Pretentious though that sounds.
Of all the seasons-and I love them all, my favourite is winter, in all its transformative beauty. The iron earth and starry nights.
And my favourite half of the year begins with autumn.
And autumn begins with September.
The first inward-turning month. As the nights grow longer, and rain hammers against the doors in an attempt to seek entry, it is the perfect time for reading, writing, and pampering our interior selves.
It is the time to quietly withdraw and conserve our energy by lamplight and fireside.
Oh and did I mention-it is also the time that the kids go back to school 🙂

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The Kingdom Of Memory

I first encountered John O’Donohue when I picked up a copy of his book Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World. (Anam Cara is Gaelic for ‘soul friend’.) It is a beautifully written book that I have returned to time and again. Described as a ‘poetic priest with the soul of a pagan,’ O’Donohue died unexpectedly in his sleep, at the age of 52.

Not so long ago I bought a copy of another of his books, Eternal Echoes: Exploring Our Hunger To Belong.  Although I haven’t read it yet, I recently came across an excerpt from it which I have shared below. As we get older, the number of family and friends that we lose increases. It is inevitable, for that is the natural order of things, the price of life. And, for me personally as an avowed creature of nostalgia, my memories are precious and form a connection between the person I was and the person I am. The people who were, and the people who are.

John O’Donohue:

As we journey onwards in life, more and more spaces within us fill with absence. We begin to have more and more friends among the dead. Every person suffers the absence of their past. It is utterly astonishing how the force and fiber of each day unravel into the vacant air of yesterday. You look behind you and you see nothing of your days here. Our vanished days increase our experience of absence. Yet our past does not deconstruct as if it never was. Memory is the place where our vanished days secretly gather. Memory rescues experience from total disappearance. The kingdom of memory is full of the ruins of presence. It is astonishing how faithful experience actually is; how it never vanishes completely. Experience leaves deep traces in us. It is surprising that years after something has happened to you the needle of thought can hit some groove in the mind and the music of a long vanished event can rise in your soul as fresh and vital as the evening it happened.

So, Tonight’s Conversation . . . 

 . . . between my wife and I.

Me:”I’ve just picked up a book about Julian of Norwich.” 

Jen:”Why?” 

Me:”You know who Julian was?” 

Jen:”Of course I do.” 

Me:”Who?”

 Jen:”A bloke from years ago. See-I surprise you don’t I? I might not know what he did, but I know he lived years ago. So there!”

 Me:”Julian of Norwich was a woman.” 

Jen:”Whatever.” 

A Weeping Woman, A Girl And A Three-Legged Dog

I’ve taken lately to spending some mornings upstairs in my local McDonald’s. It’s warmer up there, away from the constantly opening automatic door, and it’s a lot quieter, too. Most of the time I have the room to myself while I drink a coffee and read a book.

Yesterday morning, however, a woman came upstairs, placed her tray down before her on the table and took a seat. As she opened the sachet of milk to pour into her tea, something tore a sob from her. At that very moment she became aware of me, and held up a hand that quite clearly said I’m alright as I am, leave me be.

The gesture allowed no approach, so I simply nodded. She continued with her morning meal, her mind evidently focused on some inner conflict. I continued to read for a while, then finished a final chapter and rose to leave. As I put on my jacket I looked out of the nearby window, down onto my town outside, and saw a child-a young girl, with presumably her mother. Suddenly the girl snatched her hand away from the adult and hurried towards a man with a dog, ignoring the calls to come back.

The dog was one of those Staffordshire bull type dogs, nothing remarkable in that, but one of its front legs was missing. It gave a shuffle-hop as it moved, and the girl, obviously moved by the sight, crouched down and gave it a hug, wrapping her arms around it and holding it close to her chest. The man was speaking, perhaps telling the girl’s mother that the dog was friendly. The dog stood there, rapidly wagging its tail.

When I turned I saw that the woman who had been weeping was also watching this encounter, a thin smile upon her face. On making eye contact with me she quickly turned her attention back to her breakfast. Perhaps that girl’s act had moved her, gave her fresh insight and perspective. Who knows?

I left but kept thinking of that scenario: the woman and then the girl, the weeping and then the embrace.

We are all in the same boat here. Some are broken; some are ready to help others put the pieces back together again. But I think it has to be by consent-we have to be invited in.

I had a conversation once with a local priest.

“I thought there’d be more vegetarians within the church,” I’d said. Apart from myself, I knew of only one other.

“Why?”

“Well, I think that, both morally and spiritually, the strong have a responsibility towards the weak. Be they people or animals. Also, if, as we are told, that we are called to lead a life of compassion, then I don’t know how we can if we are eating the flesh of slaughtered animals.”

I’m no activist. And it is not my place to moralise, and far be it for me to preach to a clergyman! It was just a thought I’d had. He replied that maybe it was a deeper kind of faith that I practised.

But I was thinking beyond religious faith, more as a rule of thumb as we go about life. Of course faith should inform all areas of your life, not something you pick up again when you go through the church doors on a Sunday to set back down again on the way out.

We can attempt to live a compassionate life, but we can’t go around forcing compassion upon others. That woman was quite clear about what she needed and wanted at that time.

And I think she may have got some of it unexpectedly, from watching that little girl and the three-legged dog from a window in the local McDonald’s.