Thursday, 6 August 2015

Which Way to Turn

"Map of the Journey in Progress" by Victoria Safford

Here is where I found my voice and chose to be brave.
Here’s a place where I forgave someone, against my better judgement, and I survived that, and
unexpectedly, amazingly, I became wiser.
Here’s where I was once forgiven, was ready for once in life to receive forgiveness and to be
transformed. And I survived that also. I lived to tell the tale.

This is the place where I said no, more loudly than I’d thought I ever could, and everybody stared, but I said no loudly anyway, because I knew it must be said, and those staring settled
down into harmless, ineffective grumbling, and over me they had no power anymore.
Here’s a time, and here’s another, when I laid down my fear and walked right on into it, right up to my neck in that roiling water.

Here’s where cruelty taught me something. And here’s where I was first astonished by gratuitous compassion and knew it for the miracle it was, the requirement it is. It was a trembling time.

And here, much later, is where I returned the blessing, clumsily. It wasn’t hard, but I was
unaccustomed. It cycled round, and as best I could I sent it back on out, passed the gift along.
This circular motion, around and around, has no apparent end.
Here’s a place, a murky puddle, where I have stumbled more than once and fallen. I don’t know yet what to learn there.

On this site I was outraged and the rage sustains me still; it clarifies my seeing.
And here’s where something caught me a warm breeze in late winter, birdsong in late summer.
Here’s where I was told that something was wrong with my eyes, that I see the world strangely, and here’s what I said, “Yes, I know, I walk in beauty.”
Here is where I began to look with my own eyes and listen with my ears and sing my own song, shaky as it is.

Here is where, if by surgeon’s knife, my heart was opened up and here, and here, and here, and here. These are the landmarks of conversion.

“From Walking Toward Morning, Meditations”

...There are many landmarks in our lives and many times when turn this way or that...

I’ve never had a great sense of direction and or spatial awareness. My mind does not operate in images. Maybe this is why I rarely, if ever, remember my dreams or even recall having them. I’m more of a communicator really and mainly through sound and conversation. We are all different, it is very important to understand this. We truly do not all think alike, although I do like to believe that we can all love alike.

Now while my way of operating has its advantages, there are some disadvantages too. I get lost very easily. Even in the town I live, a place I’ve driven round for five years, I can still quite easily find myself heading almost in the opposite direction to where I’m going. My mind does not seem able to picture exactly where I ought to be going. That said where ever I am and no matter how lost I get I can always find my way back home. 

I have also noticed that I don’t seem to ever get lost when driving round back home, in West Yorkshire. The lay of the land seems much more familiar to me. I think that this is because it is stored in my heart, it is heart memory, while Greater Manchester is still very much brain memory and therefore for some reason I find it less intuitive, hence I get lost and yet my heart still manages to always take me safely back home. This may seem strange to some as I have spent 18 of my 43 years here in Greater Manchester, but it is not truly home. It is not where my heart is.

Since I passed my driving test a little over five years ago I have relied heavily on Sat Nav. Mostly this has proved reliable. The great thing about is if you take a wrong turn, it will quickly adjust and direct you back on track. It’s kind of nice to have the soothing Radio Four type female voice pointing me in the right direction when I veer off course or take a wrong turn. Generally this has worked out well, but I can think of three occasions when it has not. The first was on the way to Great Hucklow when I missed my turning and the voice directed me to take the next right. This was a terrible mistake and I soon realised I was driving up a road fit only for tractors. I got through the ordeal, as did my car and for a couple of years I learnt my lesson. The next occasion was on a journey to Crosby beach to stand with the Gormley statues. Again I missed my turn and was directed through what appeared initially to be a country lane. I passed a farmer in a tractor who looked at me bemused and a little later I realised I’d made another error and found myself virtually in a field. I managed to turn the car around and not get stuck, so it did not turn into a John Cleese moment from Clockwise, thank God. The third time was a few weeks ago when I got stuck in Devon after my nephews wedding, which I wrote about in the last blogspot. So yes while Sat Nav is very good it cannot be relied upon 100%, sometimes the softly yet authoritatively spoken voice can send you down the wrong path, especially if you follow her lead unquestioningly.

Life itself and the spiritual life in particular are often described as a journey. That said it’s not a journey in which we really travel a great distance. As Wendell Berry so beautifully wrote, echoing that great mystic Meister Eckhart, “And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,and learn to be at home.”

On this journey we often come to forks in the road when we must take decisions on which way we ought to turn. Many times we make wrong decisions, I think we have to get it wrong many times, before we get it right. Many times we get lost too. Many times we take advice from others and follow it blindly. Many times this is helpful but other times it really is not. It can lead us down the wrong path, but that’s ok because we can always find our way back home.

Often this journey is described as a path, I have just done so, and I have heard many say that it gets narrower. I am not convinced of this. If I have learnt anything I have learnt that the spiritual journey is not like a path at all and certainly not a narrow one. In my experience it is broad and roomy all inclusive and welcoming, never exclusive or forbidding and open to all. What in 12 Step culture they call “The Broad Highway” and one that allows a great deal of room for error.

I think one of the biggest mistakes we make when we speak of spiritual matters is when we describe them in narrow language. It puts people off, because it sounds too much and beyond them. It should not be like that, there is room for us all and it isn’t so hard to get started, it just requires a slight change in direction.

Let us also remember that the spiritual journey is one of depth and not really distance. Sometimes the biggest mistake we make is that we continue journeying on, head down, not looking all around us, too focused on a perceived goal. This is due I am sure to the fear that if we don’t keep on moving we might get lost or that our troubles might catch up with us. I do not believe that this is healthy. In many ways by just marching on ever forward we can become completely lost, in the sense that we lose who we are at the core of ourselves, that sense of belonging here in life, as we are, wanted, needed and loved.

These thoughts bring to mind the beautiful poem “Lost” by David Wagoner.


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

by David Wagoner

...No one is ever truly lost, we can always find our way back home...

Throughout our journeys’ we pass through many stages of our lives and looking back no doubt we can see these staging posts. This is illustrated in those beautiful words of Victoria Safford's at the beginning of this "blogspot". Here she describes all those moments in our lives that have made us who we are, that have deepened our experiences of life and given us wisdom to pass on to others, if they would care to have it.

Now on our journeys there are not only staging posts, but guide posts and actual guides too, that have helped we pilgrims along the way. Some we have paid heed of, others we have not. Some ancient, some contemporary. Hopefully we have not followed them blindly, but sometimes no doubt we have as we have trusted too implicitly perhaps, like I did with my Sat Nav. We have to learn to trust our senses as well as the sixth sense too, the inner voice, the inner light that speaks to us when we have ears that can hear.

Now of course the ancient stories give many great examples of the different types of journeys, pilgrimages and Odyssey’s that we may undertake. In his meditation “The Spiritual Journey” David O Rankin names several who have walked courageously through theirs. Stating:

“It is Moses leading the Jews through the desert of Sinai, and Jesus enduring the temptation in the wilderness of Israel, and Buddha seeking enlightenment along the dusty roads of India.

It is the glorious voyage of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey, the narrow paths through the circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno, and the confessions of the travellers in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

It is the pilgrims sailing on the Mayflower, the settlers moving westward, being On the Road with Jack Kerouac, and spinning through a black hole in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey”

We are all of us pilgrims on the sacred journey that is life and like so many of the more famous travellers we often believe that we have to go some place else to discover our own Nirvana or to build the New Jerusalem. Just as the pilgrims on the Mayflower did in the seventeenth century. They believed that they had travel a great distance to a new land to create their heaven on earth. Well I have discovered that this is not necessary. You do not have to travel great distances to experience the beautiful journey and you do not need to travel great distances to build the New Jerusalem, it must be here, in our own hearts or nowhere. The “Kin-dom” of Love has to be built here or nowhere.

I suspect it’s the same with finding ourselves once again, when we feel lost. Who or what do we listen to, when this happens? Well I am learning to listen to that inner voice, that light that shines bright within all of us. That spark of the Divine that is within everything. That which awakens the sense of my senses, that which guides me home no matter how lost I am and that which allows me to be at home wherever my feet are planted. That Kin-dom of Love, within me, within each of us and within everything.

Let Love be our navigator it will always lead us home, to the place where we belong.

I'm going to end with this prayer "Prayer for Travellers" by Angela Herrera

“Prayer for Travellers”

This is a prayer for all the travellers. For the ones who start out in beauty, who fall from grace, who step gingerly, looking for the way back. And for those who are born into the margins, who travel from one liminal space to another, crossing boundaries in search of centre.

This is a prayer for the ones whose births are a passing from darkness to darkness, who all their lives are drawn toward the light, and keep moving, and for those whose journeys are a winding road that begins and ends in the same place, though only when the journey is completed do they finally know where they are.

For all the travellers, young and old, aching and joyful, weary and full of life; the ones who are here, and the ones who are not here; the ones like you (and they’re all like you) and the ones who are different (for in some ways, we each travel alone).

This is a prayer for traveling memories, and surefootedness, for clear vision, and bread for your body and spirit, and water, for your safe arrival and for everyone you see along the way.

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