The Messenger

Readers of this blog will know that I occasionally post poems by Steve Taylor, from his regular newsletter. Steve has a knack of getting to the heart of things, such as in the following poem, essentially about learning to trust our intuition, which is very consonant with James Hillman’s ‘acorn theory’ of the daimon (see this post).

The Messenger

It’s not for you to decide
the direction of your life.

It’s not for you to determine
whether your life has meaning.

It’s not for you to deliberate
over whether you’re following the right path.

It’s not for you to doubt
whether your efforts are worthwhile
then grow despondent and give up.

It’s when you deliberate and doubt
that you overrule your intuition
and confuse your inner compass
and lose touch with your purpose.

You have to step aside
and trust the wisdom that is guiding you
even if you can’t comprehend it.

You have to step aside
and let your purpose flow through you
even if you can’t see where it’s heading.

You have to step aside
and leave your channel empty and open
so that your message is clear and unbroken.

Then you have to remain open
through indifference and admiration
through failure and success
until the whole of your message is delivered.

Then your message will make sense
and your meaning will be manifest.  
 

Never Enough

Here’s another of Steve Taylor‘s poems, expressing aptly the accumulative tendency of the ego. The rich man never has enough money, always tries to make more; he wants the biggest yacht, or to get to Mars, or to control another company. The tyrant at the centre of Empire always wants more land, more people under his personal control. The espoused lover of freedom wants no obligation, no attachment to others, no rules, no common good. You know who you are, and who they are. But it will never be enough…

Steve’s poem expresses it so well.

Never Enough

All the possessions that you collect
and all the wealth that you accumulate 
will never be enough. 

All the success that you achieve
and all the attention that you attract
will never be enough. 

No matter how far your empire stretches 
no matter how absolute your power grows
it will never be enough.

Desires never sleep for long. 
Once they’re satisfied, they rise again, like waves,
faster and stronger than before. 

Every new desire is more difficult to meet
and brings more shallow, more short-lived fulfilment 
until eventually we become numb to happiness
and feel nothing but a raging frustration 
that consumes us inside and makes us hate the world. 

It will never be enough
until you give up the outer search for happiness 
and turn inside yourself. 

Beneath the restless surface of your mind
there is a natural harmony –
the radiance of pure consciousness 
softly vibrating, glowing with warm vitality 
like the freshness of a forest in spring. 

The harmony of your deep being 
never fades or slips out of reach. 
The more you attune to it, the more intense it grows.
The more you touch into it, the closer it moves. 

It can’t be exhausted because it’s immaterial
as intangible as air or light.
It can’t be exhausted because it’s eternal
and endlessly renews and refreshes itself.

Be still, and rest inside yourself.
Let your mind settle, and your thoughts slow down
until desires and fears dissolve away.

Then you’ll enter the deep space of being
and harmony will immerse you –
always present, and always enough.

V2

A fascist dictator is losing the war that he initiated. With one last throw of the dice, a brand new and unstoppable weapon, he aims to turn the tide, but it turns out to be one last defiant gesture.

November 1944, the Nazi armies are in retreat as the Allies advance across Europe. But the Germans under Werner von Braun have developed a rocket that can send bombs across the channel, but without accurate aim. A launch programme aims to terrorise the population of London.

In his book V2, Robert Harris tells the story of the ‘successes’ and failures, particularly from the point of view of an English woman trying to track down the launch sites, and a German man somewhat half-heartedly engaged in the launch processes. Their two stories are effectively interweaved in a compelling narrative – Harris is a great storyteller.

At the end of the war, the engineers under von Braun were of course transmitted to the USA, and became the core of the subsequent space programme, leading to the first Moon landing in 1969. They were always more interested in creating rockets to fly into space than they were in warfare.

The consequences of war are many and unpredictable.

Featured image is of a V2 rocket awaiting launch.

The Deep Self 

Many today seem to have ‘forgotten’ the essential truth that, within us, behind the surface world of the ego, there is a deeper self that is connected to the whole – the essential spiritual approach to life, the source of our morality and creativity. Steve Taylor‘s recent poem expresses this beautifully.

The Deep Self

There is another self inside you –
not the restless self that always ruminates 
about the future and the past 
not the fragile self that craves for attention 
and is wounded so easily by disrespect
not the anxious self that can’t live inside itself 
and is always reaching outside for distractions. 

There is another self inside you 
that doesn’t consist of concepts 
that isn’t sustained by thought 
that isn’t enclosed inside your body 
and doesn’t feel separate to the world.

There is a deeper self that rests 
quietly, almost imperceptibly
behind the tumult of your thoughts 
like the still blue sky behind dense, swift-moving clouds. 

And your deep self is always ready to emerge 
whenever you release your attention from thoughts 
and let your awareness spread gently around you
opening your senses to the world. 

Then your surface self grows softer, more porous.
Spaces appear between thoughts 
and the deep self slowly seeps through
like sunlight through dissipating clouds.

As you become your deep self
you sense a shift of perspective 
as if dust is falling from your eyes 
and a landscape is becoming more distinct –
brighter, more spacious, less dangerous.

You feel relieved, as if you’ve woken from an anxious dream. 
The problems of your surface self
and the dramas of your surface life 
seem trivial, almost comical. 

Now you feel connected to the world –
not an observer, but a participant
as if your being is fluid and permeable
flowing back and forth between you and the world 
sharing the essence of everything you see. 

You’re no longer restless and anxious
now that natural harmony flows through you. 
You’re no longer fragile and incomplete
now that the wholeness of the world includes you. 

And you feel the joy of self-recognition 
of becoming who you always were  
since your deep self is not another self –
it is simply you.

Fleeing Ukrainians – why does it never stop?

Jane Fritz gives insight into the history behind Ukraine’s current suffering, with some superb Chagall paintings included.

Robby Robin's Journey

When we think of paintings by the famous French painter Mark Chagall (actually Russian-French), we typically think of his dreamlike themes and brilliant use of colour.  Always imaginative.  Often free-floating.

But he also painted powerful paintings that didn’t dance and weren’t dreamlike.  Powerful, yes, but free-floating, no.  One such powerful painting has been posted many times on social media recently, and appropriately so.  It’s entitled La Famille Ukrainienne.  The Ukrainian Family.

UkrainianFamily

Only, of course, Chagall didn’t paint this work of art in the past 6 weeks, since the Russians invaded Ukraine and started unleashing such devastation, brutality, and death.  He painted it sometime between 1940 and 1943, when Ukrainians were fleeing the war and destruction brought about by another Russian, Stalin’s “Great Terror”.  It is uncanny – and heartbreaking – to realize that this scene could just as easily be depicting what is going on right now, 80 years…

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All is well

Those of us who reflect on the affairs of humanity can sometimes get the feeling that things are not going well at all, which can get a bit depressing. So here’s reminder from Steve Taylor (again) that here, in the present, the only place we can be, all is well.

All is well

You have to remember that all is well
even if you feel overwhelmed by the chaos of the world
and menacing dark thoughts swirl through your mind.  

You have to remember that all is well 
even if you feel encircled by enemies 
and your life seems a futile struggle.

You have to remember that all is well 
beneath the turbulence and confusion
like the deep stillness of the ocean
beneath roaring, surging waves. 

You have to remember that all is well.
Then your faith will sustain you. 
Your confidence will strengthen you.
    
Then the radiant stillness of your soul 
will calm the turmoil of your mind
and guide you through the darkness, like a compass. 

And soon the chaos and stress will subside.
You’ll return to natural harmony
with the deep inner knowing that all is well. 

Featured image is a sunset at Barmouth.

Follow them

Wondering whether to jump in,
or await the tide at flood,
the inviting vista of the new horizon.
Ahead are the pioneers,
already well on the way,
towards the depths and that new horizon.
The new world beckons.

Figures at Antony Gormley’s Another Place, Crosby beach, Sefton – the gift that keeps on giving.

The man

The men comprising Antony Gormley’s Another Place on Crosby beach are ever-evocative, depending on tides and weather.

Here man stands alone,
having taken tentative steps through the shallows,
faced by turbid depths of watery emotion,
his own and others,
with storm clouds on the horizon.

Yet beyond calls the light,
reflected in current surroundings.
He knows that all is well.

At the National Memorial Arboretum

A sunny day was forecast, so we decided to visit the National Memorial Arboretum, near Lichfield, Staffordshire. The arboretum is part of the Royal British Legion, dedicated to passing on the baton of remembrance of those who served and suffered in Britain’s wars. We did not have any great expectations, other than for a pleasant day out in the sun at a memorial that is but 20 years old.

What a revelation, we were blown away by the rural setting, the trees and natural areas, and particularly the art works that have been created as part of some of the memorials, evocative of many of the less considered victims of war. Most are connected by tarmac paths. And the dog could go most places.

Here’s a small selection showing favourite images from our walk.

Particularly sobering was the large memorial (top left), containing the (around 16,000) names of all those who have died since 1945, in the many wars that the UK has engaged in over my lifetime. Was this all really necessary?

Yes, the experience does bring home the reality and the futility of war.

We will go again.

Featured image is a detail of the police memorial (bottom left), rotated 90deg.
Looks pretty ordinary until you catch the sunlight at the right angle!

The gathering

They came together
to keep alive
the Lady One Point Five.

Predetermined positions,
little room for manoeuvre,
they did what they could.

Who called the shots –
the men at home,
for they were mostly men.

Left brain, logical arguments,
a final text, the lady betrayed
behind weasel words.

It was not time, they said.
Not an emergency.
God make us chaste, but not yet.

Back home, in the dark,
unwitnessed, they ravaged her
and her secret places.

She was there on a catafalque when
the waves washed over the island
one last time, it was no more.

She was there on a bier when
the fire destroyed a major city
and many inhabitants, it was no more.

She tended the wounded as
the Global Resource Wars raged,
a billion refugees cried in vain.

She was there and wept when
the Great Plague swept away
half the world’s population.

She flew with the last Monarch
on its long migration,
and expired with the last Orang.

And that was before
they gathered again, to keep alive
The Lady Two Point Five.

In memory of COP26, Glasgow 2021.

Featured image is a mid-19C reconstruction of Alexander the Great’s catafalque, via Wikimedia Commons.

The fate of man

When the tide is out,
for long man and his companions
stand proud together,
facing the western horizon,
full of promise.

Inevitably the tide turns,
heads back towards the shore.
Wave after wave comes closer,
at first harmless,
but soon a sea of troubles.

The forward phalanx slowly disappear from view,
then ever more of his companions.
Soon the waves lap at his feet,
up his legs, to his torso.

He is alone.
The occasional wave splashes right over his head,
yet recedes. He endures,
again and again submerged.

Unbowed, he is the survivor.
The primitive force of earth and moon spent,
the waves slacken, begin to recede,
new hope kindled.

Soon the heads of companions appear
in the lull of a wave.
New life, new companionship,
the promise of idyllic times again…

The cycle of earth, of life,
of man.

* * * * *

Inspired by a high tide at Antony Gormley’s Another Place on Crosby Beach, where 100 cast iron figures face towards the sea at varying distances from the land. In my mind this presents a metaphor of the wave of troubles now besetting us human beings, with the effects of global warming, the floods and wildfires, the species extinctions, the pullution, the failing societies, shortages of resources, the covid pandemic, the rise of nationalism and inequality, and on and on. Nature tells us there will be a way through, but many of us may not like it…

Other posts inspired by Another Place:
Another favourite place,
Another Place,

Another Place, Another Time.

Your Restless Mind

Steve Taylor writes very simple poems with a powerful message, reminding us of what is important. This recent one is about what others have called monkey mind.

Your Restless Mind

All is well
until your restless mind
wakes up and starts to wonder
whether all is well.  

Nothing is wrong 
until your restless mind 
stirs to life and starts to suspect 
that something might be wrong.

Like an overpaid manager trying to justify his role
your mind finds problems that never existed before 
and persuades you to make changes 
even though your life is running smoothly.

Like a detective who always suspects foul play 
your mind keeps questioning reality 
going over the evidence and the sequence of events 
until situations turn into crimes.

Like a soldier patrolling the streets at night
your mind is always in a state of vigilance 
scanning the darkness and silence 
for signs of unrest and danger.

But you can reassure your restless mind 
that life is only hard if you struggle against it 
that the world is only an enemy if you fight against it 
and that the natural state of life is peace.

Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell is on my mind, having just finished reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, the last of her award-winning trilogy on his life.

Born around 1485, of humble origins in London, Cromwell rose to become an MP, then in 1524 an advisor to Chancellor Thomas Wolsey, right hand man of King Henry VIII. Somehow Cromwell survived the fall of Wolsey in 1529, when King Henry blamed Wolsey for the failure to get the pope to agree with annulling his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon, who had not produced a son and heir.

In 1530 the King appointed Cromwell to the Privy Council and over the following years gave him many other titles, including Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Privy Seal and Great Chamberlain. Thomas Cromwell became the second most powerful man in England, second to King Henry of course, but always resented by the traditional aristocracy. He always had jealous enemies.

In 1532 the supremacy of the king over the church in England was confirmed, the Lord Chancellor and anti-protestant Sir Thomas More resigned and was subsequently executed. The marriage to Catherine was annulled at Dunstable Priory, delegitimising her daughter Mary as heir. Henry married Anne Boleyn in 1533. All was orchestrated by Cromwell. In 1534 he was formally confirmed as first minister (compare today’s prime minister).

In 1536 came the act for the suppression of the lesser monasteries, Cromwell’s scheme to seize the wealth and lands of the monasteries, which provoked rebellion in the north of England with first the Lincolnshire Rising and followed by the Pilgrimage of Grace. These rebellions were seen off by Henry and those loyal. Those responsible were first persuaded to delay and later pursued and executed.

Anne Boleyn had not agreed with the religious changes, there were rumours of affairs, and she had also not produced a male heir. Cromwell was instrumental in her trial, fall and execution and the annulment of this marriage, delegitimising her daughter Elizabeth as heir. Henry married Jane Seymour.

Queen Jane died in 1537, after the birth of her son Edward, the longed-for male heir.

In 1538 the religious reform extended to the larger monasteries, which were invited to surrender, a process completed by 1540. Those that resisted, such as Richard Whiting at Glastonbury, were executed. The wealth and lands went to the King and his favoured lords. But the king resisted further religious reform.

Also in 1540 Cromwell had succeeded in arranging a ‘political’ marriage of Henry with Anne of Cleves, which was never consummated as neither party seemed to regard the other with any favour. But political winds were changing on the continent and it is believed that Henry blamed Cromwell for this alliance and the failure to extricate him from the marriage. Conservative forces briefed against Cromwell and the king allowed him to be arrested, tried and executed by July. At the same time, Anne agreed to annulment of the marriage and Henry married Catherine Howard.

Ten years was all it took for the once-humble Thomas Cromwell to dissolve the great monasteries of England and be instrumental in the king undertaking his second, third and fourth marriages, and for others to follow through with the fifth. Whatever we think of his dissolution of the monasteries, he seems not to have deserved the fate of beheading eloquently described by Hilary Mantel.

In fact Mantel’s books tell the whole story of Cromwell’s period in power, from the imagined perspective of the man himself. The whole trilogy is a tour de force, requiring great stamina for a complete reading, but very rewarding.

At the end of the day, Thomas Cromwell was a mere pawn on the European chessboard, in the game being played out by the English, French and Holy Roman kings/emperor, the Protestants and the popes of the Roman Catholic Church. He was dispensable when no longer convenient for his master.

King Henry VIII was a monster ego, who manipulated all to his own perceived personal advantage. We have not a jot of sympathy for him. Just beware today’s monster egos that seek similar over-arching power.

Featured image: Thomas Cromwell, by Hans Holbein

Hilary Mantel trilogy: Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, The Mirror and the Light

Saint Richard Whiting

On entering Glastonbury Abbey, one of the first buildings you come to is the charming little St. Patrick’s Chapel. Here is a mural which recalls the last days of the Abbey in 1539.

At the time of the Dissolution programme which began in 1534, Richard Whiting was the gentle and respected bishop of Glastonbury Abbey, the second richest religious institution in England, with around 100 monks. The story is well told by Wikipedia here.

In essence, Whiting was conned in the early years that the programme would only affect smaller institutions. By 1539 Glastonbury was the only remaining abbey in Somerset. On being told to surrender the Abbey, Whiting refused, acting legally correctly. Naturally, the Glastonbury leaders took steps to keep the abbey’s treasures safe. This was then turned round by the church commissioners, and ultimately Thomas Cromwell acting on behalf of King Henry VIII, as evidence of treason. His defiance was simply not acceptable to the all-powerful king. There was no due process. Whiting was convicted in secret, and executed on Glastonbury Tor with two of his team.

The mural shows three gibbets on Glastonbury Tor, where the 3 men were hanged, drawn and quartered. These were savage times, and of course Whiting was not the first religious leader to be so treated.

Whiting is considered a martyr by the Catholic Church which beatified him over 300 years later.

None of this is now

Another great poem from Steve Taylor this week, reminding us that all the fears, guilt, imaginations, projections, bitterness… are inventions of our minds; when only what is happening here and now is of importance.

None of this is now

None of this is now:
your fears about the future
your guilt and bitterness about the past.

None of this is now: 
the obstacles that seem to lie ahead 
and the failures that seem to stretch behind.

Only this is now:
your moment-to-moment experience
of the world and of your being in the world
and of the other beings who share your world.

And only the now is real. 
An unreal past can’t hurt you 
as a shadow can’t burn the ground. 
An unreal future can’t hurt you 
as a reflection can’t break the still surface of a lake.

Only your mind can hurt you
when it wanders away from now
and loses itself in restless thoughts
of unreal times and places. 

It Felt Love

I was recently browsing through some poems by the 14C Persian poet Hafiz, and reminded just how evocative his poetry can be. How about this piece?

It Felt Love

How
Did the rose
Ever open its heart

And give to this world
All its
Beauty?

It felt the encouragement of light
Against its
Being,

Otherwise,
We all remain

Too
Frightened.

To know more about Shams-ud-din Muhammad Hafiz, see this excellent BBC article on Hafiz and his significance by Daniel Ladinsky.

The Argument for Free Speech & Against Censorship

This well-argued post by Eric Wayne puts the case for free speech and against censorship. The logic is impeccable. Censorship is a slippery slope to all kinds of ills.

Yet, is this not a polarity ‘free speech-censorship’? Can any society sit right at the free speech end of this polarity? I think not. Are there not acts and images that are just too heinous to entertain in a civilised society, particularly when exposed to impressionable minds? Does society not need to protect itself against such things? I think it does, but always with suitable checks and balances.

Anyway, read on. I like his passion!

Art & Crit by Eric Wayne

[This is a re-post of an article I wrote 3 years ago, and which sadly has become increasingly relevant, so much so that one can’t even articulate why it is relevant today without risking being censored for doing so. Censorship is no longer the bad word it used to be, or something liberals oppose on principle. Au contraire! Today, censorship is embraced as an uncontroversial tool benevolent institutions wield in order to protect the rest of us from the influence of darker forces. In the last several days, for example, major social media platforms blithely announced plans to implement sweeping censorship campaigns in the name of the righteous good. But If the presumed good includes plans to silence content that contradicts its own stances, some might question just how wholesome that goodness really is.

There’s that thing where our ends justify our means when fighting the evil opposition, hence the…

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Making the Human Race Whole

Steve Taylor writes some wonderful poems that really strike a chord. This one is from his latest newsletter, and his latest book The Clear Light. It brings the universal down to the personal.

Making the Human Race Whole

Make as many connections as you can 
so that this broken world can become whole again.  

It’s your responsibility 
to radiate benevolence to everyone you meet
to be reckless with your friendliness
and surprise strangers with your openness 
on behalf of the whole human race.  

It’s your responsibility 
to turn suspicion to trust, hostility to sympathy 
to expose the absurdity of prejudice
to return hatred with implacable good will
until your enemies have no choice but to love you
on behalf of the whole human race.  

It’s your responsibility 
to free yourself from bitterness
and harness the healing power of forgiveness
to repair connections and re-establish bonds 
that were broken by resentment years ago
on behalf of the whole human race.  

It’s your responsibility 
to make as many connections as you can
to open up channels of empathy 
through which compassion can flow 
until there are so many connections
across so many different networks
that finally, like the cells of a body, 
billions of human beings will fuse together, 
sensing their common sources 
and their common core.  

Then a new identity will emerge, an overriding oneness,
a human race that is truly whole, at last.

Another favourite place

Antony Gormley’s installation ‘Another Place’ on Crosby Beach, Merseyside, continues to be a favourite place to visit. Identical statues of Gormley himself are placed across the beach and into the sea.

Some of the statues have become very weather worn; others are in relatively good condition – and they’re quite an attraction for visiting dogs.

Always, the statues look out to sea – the perennial search for what lies beyond…

Featured image shows the view from the beach
towards Birkenhead on the other side of the River Mersey.