A glyph for 2015

Over the last couple of years, my way of processing life and pondering the world around me has increasingly been mediated through symbols. Writing systems, pictograms, allegories and icons are the currency of my imagination. With symbols I can do more than words allow. I have a developed a personal pictography, a kind of shorthand, drawing from many sources and referenced to particular meanings.

I’m well past making new year’s resolutions but I’ve always taken time to focus on taking stock of the passing year and feeling out the themes of the coming year round this time. In prayer and contemplation for 2015, it seemed three things and a fourth were being emphasised.

Having worked out glyphs for these emphases, I noticed that each of them had a common element – a cross – enabling me to combine them into a single form.

So here is the glyph I mark upon the doorposts of 2015.

2015
2015

It’s component parts are thus:

Finishing
Finishing

Finishing

This is the symbol for Saturn. In esoteric systems, Saturn has a very complex variety of correspondences. But, to keep it simple Saturn was the Greek god of agriculture and the symbol contains two elements: a cross (or sword) and a sickle. It can be taken to represent the harvest: things must die and come to an end but in that moment seeds are gathered for sowing in the next cycle.

Of course, to be saturnine is to be gloomy, but, to borrow from the Christian imagery of the cross, the words of the Son of God are appropriate.

I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop.” (John 12:24 HCSB)

I’ve noted that the last few years have been characterised by a lack of finishing. I enter 2015 with so many projects begun and not completed. An unfulfilled intention, a work half done, can become rotten. I need to put the sickle in and finish many things so that new life can come. 2015 is to be a year of finishing.

Truth
Truth

Truth

Encapsulated here in one of the many alchemical symbols for gold is something I need to bring back to the centre. Truth, like gold can be tested by fire, bears no combination with other elements and stays unchanged.

I’m a people pleaser. This means I all too easily try to give others the answer I think they want to hear. That’s not always realistic. I’ve a creeping habit of white lies: “Of course, it’s no problem.” “I’ll be there at six.” “It will be fine.” “I’ll be thinking of you.”

These are not loving, respectful interjections unless they are true. Even if it arises from the best will in the world, I need to curb my optimism at times and let my ‘yes’ actually mean ‘yes’.

Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.” (Leo Tolstoy)

Praxis
Praxis

Praxis

This is a symbol I’ve invented to use for the concept of praxis – an antidote to inwardness. It depicts a sword, internally rooted but driving outwards to act externally. For me, Praxis doesn’t oppose contemplation but means something like a ‘contemplation by doing’ and it’s closely allied to the philosopher’s ‘techne’ – practical craft.

I owe this new emphasis to the lessons I’ve been studying in alchemy over recent months. The alchemist performs processes – burning, boiling, distilling – all the while observing diligently the transformation of substances without missing the correspondences with his own soul-work.

I’ve written before in this blog on the experimental approach to life, and this seems to be back in focus for this year.

It’s surprising I never really took to science at school. I don’t think I ever made the connection between what we did in the classroom and the fact that my den in the garage hosted a fossil collection and pendulums that hung from the ceiling to study gravity and waves. I had exercise books full of notes and measurements of such things as the landing positions of sticks thrown at random. I tried to replicate the experiments of Mendel in my flower bed. I was just a little Issac Newton, but schooling cast me as an ‘arts person’.

I don’t think our education system encourages the formation of a renaissance mind, and more is the pity.

In 2015 the world and my self will be my laboratory. I want to do real stuff in the real world and watch it closely and learn all I can from it instead of from books.

And the fourth thing

Although not depicted, this underpins all of them. It’s ‘momentum‘.

I’m poor at keeping momentum. If things are going well, I cruise or put my attention elsewhere, so they grind to a halt. This goes for creative projects, relationships, work and home life. Things are not finished. Wishful thinking swallows up reality. Praxis collapses back into theoria.

It’s easier in the long run to keep the wheels turning with tactical doses of effort than to be repeatedly frustrated by inertia.

Review: The Right to Write by Julia Cameron

The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing LifeThe Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is well on its way to being a classic and an essential rite of passage for anyone who wants to write for pleasure or professionally.

Julia Cameron has set herself the mission of debunking the myth of “writers” being some special class of human being who must starve in a garret for the sake of their craft and uses her words to gently liberate and nurture the essential writer that she believes lies in every person.

The accumulated wisdom of her years as a working writer and a creative writing teacher is presented in a series of short essays (each just a few pages long) that finish with a practical “initiation tool” to bring the reader to the page with pen in hand.

This book can be approached either as a “writing course” to be worked through over a couple of months, but I suspect it will be of more value as something to dip into as an “unblocking tool” or when inspiration is flagging. If read from cover to cover, like a normal book, the author’s tendency to repeat the same themes tends to lessen their impact and there is no detectable unfolding of a journey that links the chapters; they stand alone. So, it is best considered a collection of essays that meditate upon Julia’s core convictions that the act of writing is for everyone to enjoy and it doesn’t need to be a chore.

Some of the essays really clicked with me, others didn’t seem to meet a felt need directly but may well do for another season. On this reading, I particularly enjoyed Julia’s affirmation of the writer as an observer of things that seem to enter the imagination from another source: the Divine, the Universe, something beyond ourselves. This certainly describes a dimension of my own experience.

Julia’s style is richly evocative of the senses. She always describes where she is as she is writing. She then seems to weave her message from her current experience or whatever is turning over in her mind at the time. Some of her lines have the potential to become proverbs and I found myself copying out numerous quotes into my journal. I did not attempt all of her initiation tools in any sort of disciplined way but used several over the last year and will return to them repeatedly.

The Right to Write has been a good companion over the last year and will bear returning to again, especially on those days when I feel that perhaps I should give up and get a proper job.

View all my reviews

The Wisdom of Things Found

Jetsam - Terschelling Beach.
Jetsam

Blame three things for this post and all that follow it in a similar vein.

Firstly, I have been following a series of posts on this | liminality where Barbara has been meditating on 26 seashells given to her by a friend and posting on each of them in turn; weaving something of her present state of mind and sense of place with the thoughts suggested to her by each seashell. The idea behind this project has not only intrigued but haunted me in an unexpected way. The sense that objects can prompt insights and fire the imagination resonates with my own quest to find the supernatural dimension in the everyday and commonplace.

The ability to anchor our inner self to the outer world through the power of symbolism is a huge part of what it means to be human.

Secondly, several months ago I went to a local bead shop to purchase an array of beads for our youth group to use in making their own “prayer bracelets”. I wanted them to explore the things they had learned on a weekend away, to find beads to symbolise those things and literally bind them on their wrists. When I told the sales-person of this she became very interested and very helpful in choosing beads. But, she also showed me a bracelet that she was wearing that was made purely from items that she had found. It is amazing what gets left lying around. Every component of the bracelet, therefore, had a mysterious history and was also associated with a time and a place and a moment in her life.

It was not long after this that I developed my own string of beads as a visual reminder of my values and priorities.

Thirdly and finally, David from “My Seed of Truth” contacted me recently about writing a piece of short fiction to string together some of the themes from his life that have lead to the “My Seed of Truth” project. It was while turning over a few ideas for a story last night that I hit upon an idea for another sequence of blog posts … the wisdom of Things Found.

I’m not alone in being a hoarder of Objets Trouves, from curiously shaped or coloured pebbles and bits of glass to twigs and pine cones and broken jewelry. My plan is to bring some of these found things to light and to see what they might have to say. Sometimes God speaks unexpectedly through the things we see, sometimes they prove to be the key that unlocks an insight that has waited for the right moment … who knows what might be discovered through the Wisdom of Things Found?

Links:

Verbatim – a blog of found poetry

this | liminality – Seashells, poetry and other good stuff

My Seed of Truth

Postcards Home

This afternoon I got a postcard … from myself.

About seven weeks ago, I was embarking on the four days of heady alternative reality that was Greenbelt 2011. The good folk of the Feig community based at Gloucester Cathedral held a Communion service in the midst of a lavish feast for what looked like about 200 of the contributors on the Thursday night prior to the start of the festival.

It was special… for me, there was a strange circularity about being in Gloucester Cathedral for the second time in my life. The first time I was there was nearly 20 years ago as part of a primary school residential trip, many miles away from my home in the Thames Valley – probably the first time I had been away from my parentals for more than a couple of nights. I saw the shadow of my thirteen year-old self admiring the cloisters, innocently unaware that life would bring me back there two decades later as a very much more grown person who was wondering (as I often do) what happened to the little boy in me.

These were the things turning over in my mind as I broke bread with many others I had never met before, that night. As part of the service, we were encouraged to choose one from the hundreds of postcards scattered about the interior of the Cathedral where the hard pews had been stripped away to restore it to its original medieval awe-spaciousness. We then wrote on the cards and addressed them to ourselves and “posted” them. I was delighted to come across a fragment of a favourite artist: Breughel.

Wedding Feast (detail) from P. Breughel the Younger (1564-1638)

Of course, for me, it is a picture of heaven/home – a place that has very much been on my mind as since a recent post from This | Liminality stirred my thoughts again on the matter and meaning of “Home”. But here is what I wrote to myself:

Hey, Seymour, I just want to say two things. Firstly, take some time to really look at this picture and notice the detail. Those guys are using a door to carry food! And check out the dog! I think you’ll like this – you should be the guy with the spoon in his hat – he’s giving it away but he’s ready to enjoy some of it himself, too. Secondly, that openess and laughter you had inside you this morning … I just want to remind you that where that came from was real. Don’t lose that 🙂

Yes, my eye was drawn to the chap with a spoon in his hat. He reminded me of a couple of lines from Mevlana:

“The people here want to put me in charge. They want me to be judge, magistrate, and interpreter of all the texts. The knowing I have doesn’t want that.  It wants to enjoy itself. I am a plantation of sugarcane, and at the same time I’m eating the sweetness.” (Tr. Coleman Barks)

Scientists demonstrate that when a string of certain length is sounded in the vicinity of other strings of differing lengths, all those strings that are the same length or other specific mathematical variations in length will begin to vibrate in harmony. This is a picture that plays a very full chord for me as I look at it afresh today. The people who, in my experience, give the most life to others are those who really know how to enjoy its sweetness themselves.

From the nobleman on the right to the cardinal on the left, the dog under the table, the cook, the bride, everyone is welcome. Let’s tear the doors off, bake bread and stir lentils until we are truly home!

To anyone at Feig who reads this: “thank you”, from the bottom of my heart.

To myself: send yourself a postcard every once in a while …

To everyone else: Which of these revellers are you?

50 Happinesses

‘Self-portrait at an early age’.
Rembrandt (Self Portrait at an Early Age)

Inspired by Barb Lane at THIS | LIMINALITY who in turn was provoked by Julia Cameron‘s Daily Pages in “The Right to Write” I have tried this little exercise to think of 50 things that make me happy. It shouldn’t be a surprise that they are all very simple things that generally cost nothing, and this itself is food for thought. I found the exercise got harder after about 20 items. Doing 50 means you really have to dig a bit deeper – but I recommend it as an excellent way of cultivating an awareness of the simple pleasures. I think it would be quite easy now to do another 50 as I am more aware. Give it a go.

Here are mine:

  1. My dog’s ears, nose and paws
  2. Second Hand Bookstores
  3. Being on the deck of a ship
  4. Wild swimming
  5. Lentil dahl
  6. Espresso
  7. The dog greeting me on my return home
  8. Clear frosty mornings
  9. Getting “retweeted”
  10. Discovering a new favourite author
  11. Looking at Rembrandt’s paintings in situ
  12. Baking bread
  13. Mown grass
  14. Corduroy
  15. Laughing hard
  16. Baths with bubbles
  17. My spouse sleeping peacefully
  18. Loading a fresh roll of film
  19. Forgotten items in jacket pockets
  20. A cup of coffee that someone else has made for me
  21. Autumn
  22. Ragtime
  23. Familiar Hymns
  24. The smell of wood-smoke
  25. Bach
  26. Rainbows
  27. A pint of Guinness
  28. The static at the beginning of a record
  29. Receiving an handwritten letter
  30. Small medieval churches
  31. Bumblebees
  32. Writing in the dead of night
  33. Walled gardens
  34. Lombardy poplars
  35. When underdogs win
  36. Backgammon and wine
  37. Finishing something
  38. Treehouses
  39. Taking off and landing in a plane
  40. Aftrnoon naps
  41. Flat on back, lights out, head between the speakers
  42. A sauna and cold plunge
  43. Live music
  44. Soap
  45. Aubergines
  46. Pillow talk
  47. Sandalwood
  48. Art Deco buildings and objects
  49. New notebooks
  50. Crabs and lobsters (not on my plate, though)

Sweet!Makes me happy just to think on them.

What would be your 50 happinesses?