THE GOLDEN APPLES OF FOREST ROW

I enjoyed a wonderful couple of days at Emerson College in Forest Row (East Sussex) this past weekend, taking part in a workshop on storytelling with the Greek myths.

One of the exercises that we were encouraged to try involved ‘walking with a story’–telling a story to a partner while wandering round the beautiful grounds at Emerson.

My story followed the adventures of Atalanta and how the Olympic Games came to be. The storytelling can involve several visual pieces, including Aphrodite’s “picking” of three golden apples from a tree, which later play a part in keeping Atalanta from winning a race.

I hadn’t paid any attention to where I was roaming, but was delighted to see an apple tree with no more than a handful of apples growing on it just as I reached this point in the story. A straight path then led away in front of me, providing a perfect image for describing the race-track that then features in the story.

This sort of thing happens a lot. Of course, a cynic might say that this is mere “coincidence”. Perhaps. But I prefer to believe that Nature gets involved when we begin to tune in to her subtle presence. Things really can come together if we’ve the belief to allow them to.

I’m still a novice in the field of such believing, but thought that it might be fitting that magical things happen at a place that’s dedicated to Rudolf Steiner–a master teacher in the realms of the astral and the ethereal.

THE POWER OF SOUND

Last weekend I attended a sound healing workshop, which was led by a kundalini yoga teacher and hosted by my dear interfaith friend Heather. The event took the form of opening the chakras using various yoga positions and meditations, followed by an extensive ‘gong bath’–a wonderful journey of sound involving a large gong and various singing bells. As the gong sounded its different notes, lying still, my fellow workshop friends and I were encouraged to just be open to connecting with its vibrations.

I had never experienced this practice before, but it seemed to take me to a very deep place of relaxation and detachment from the world outside. I think that the intention of the bath is to find resonance with your own inner vibration, your own sound. If all we are is energy, and it’s waves of energy that connect us (actually outside of concepts of time and place that we usually imagine), it makes sense to me that it should be possible to tune in and resonate at the same frequency as the gong.

To find inner vibration is perhaps one intention of deep meditation. Certainly, a mantra isn’t just a word or clever phrase. The essence that forms the mantra comes from some deep place in the body, not the voice box or brain. It’s very subtle and usually crowded out by busy thoughts and strong feelings. In fact, it’s what I understand as the very origin of being–in the beginning was ‘the Word’.

Gongs, Tibetan bells and the like are often used to mark the ending or another point in a meditation. They immediately draw attention, albeit sometimes quite disturbingly. At Plum Village, the Buddhist community founded by the Vietnamese Zen Monk Thich Nhat Hanh, a gong is often rung at odd times, seemingly randomly. The intention is to bring everyone back to a mindful state, lest they’ve been distracted by wandering thoughts or unhelpful diversions. The sound of a gong is difficult to ignore, so I suspect that this practice usually achieves its intended aim. However, perhaps what wakes up any wandering hearts and minds isn’t just a loud sound that carries with it a reminder and an association, but a connection with its vibration–a stream of energy that unites and resonates at the very base of every being.

I will be certainly taking a gong bath again when I have the opportunity, but in the meantime, my beautiful experience of connection served to remind me how important it is to continue with a daily meditation or other spiritual practice.

MIXING GENDERS

I allowed my feminine alter ego to come to the fore yesterday. Anya, the ‘working title’ for this persona (Anya=”Another Person”) is an expression of my unconscious self, the part of us males that Carl Jung termed the anima. Most people discover their usually very repressed anima (or, in the case of women, their mascultine animus) in the eyes of another person. Me being me, I have learned that I can explore this aspect of my psyche when it’s brought to the surface. But I rarely given give space for this–just as I’m very poor at indulging my inner child.

My exploration yesterday involved a trip to a cinema in south London, followed by a quick stop at ‘Frankie & Benny’s’ for a pizza and a milk shake. I was helped to prepare and accompanied by the supportive Cindy, a professional in the art of styling guys as girls. Opening my eyes to take in Cindy’s handiwork in the tall mirror in front of me, I was gripped with a sense of intrigue–there’s something quite magical and exciting about crossing a gender boundary.

Going out and acting out in the opposite gender should arouse deep fear for me. I am very sensitive to rejection and potential ridicule, and prefer to avoid attracting potential threats. But I felt strangely quite at ease (choosing a quiet time of day to venture out, with a cinema that was virtually empty, helped). As far as I’m aware, I attracted very few stares and I didn’t hear any jeers or wild laughter. Incredibly, others seemed not to notice, or perhaps not to care.

in truth–like many–I believe that gender is an imagined construct. I see myself as being on some sort of gender spectrum, at which (say) Barbie-loving, tutu-wearing pretty folks might be found at one end, while hypo-macho, naturally aggressive, red-blooded males may strut their stuff at the other. On this spectrum, I probably usually hover at about 70% on the masculine side, but can (as they say) swing either way, if not ever getting anywhere near either extreme. I certainly recognise a mix of energies within me which might variously be labelled masculine or feminine, and these need to be given expression from time to time. Not that there’s much of a bull in me (although being prone to blundering into things, I do need to be careful when wandering round china shops).

But there’s more to entertaining Anya than mere external expression. When the energies within start to flow, something inside gets unlocked. Strange things can start to happen. The day before my adventure with Anya, I was attracted to a pair of shoes in the window of a shop that I passed by. This has never happened before – I have very little interest in shoes, and generally regard shopping for clothes and the like with disdain. But here I was, feeling a strong desire for those shoes…

I don’t fully know what to do with this great bag of unknowns that’s within me. It does seem that giving occasional expression to what I know is there, just as with my inner child, is important. Perhaps if I can do this more by degrees, I might achieve better balance and wholeness–becoming–and, I hope, a better human being, whatever gender (or none) I may or may not be.

SUPPORTING OLD LEGS

It’s quite obvious when you come to think about it, but everything that we have is ultimately provided by the earth in which we live – our food and fuel, of course, as well as all the materials we use to build our homes, cars, gadgets and everything that supports us in our daily lives.

Recently I reflected that Mother Nature’s provision continues even in the eventide stage of our lives. A lady with a crutch that had been crafted from a sturdy fallen branch illustrated this provision perfectly. Perhaps it’s often only when we realise our dependency on what the Earth provides that we find ourselves expressing gratitude for the riches that are all around us.

GOING MY OWN WAY

Today I found myself disconnecting from the group at the gathering that I’m attending on the island of Brač in Croatia. For starters, when our small group that was tasked with considering how we listen to Gaia decided to break into smaller groups to explore the area, I decided to go alone.

I found a place on a hill, where I meditated for an hour or so. Here, I was introduced to some amazing things – branches that approximated the infinity sign (the reminder of the continuing cycle of Nature), rocks bearing marks that looked like eyes that were just about to open, and underneath some rocks, a bluish orange thing (which I later assumed to be a stone) that appeared to me to be like a dragon that was emerging from its hiding place.

I realised that the landscape didn’t want to be disturbed, but was busy in her work of creating and rejuvenating. Later, the main group wanted to go and carry out what they called healing on some part of the island. I chose not to join them.

In the evening too, I chose to support the local economy and go to a local café, rather than venturing inland to the camp where supper would be served for the wider group.

I feel that it is good to follow your heart, whatever the rest of a group may consider to be the right way forward. I could not associate with the healing, although I do not know exactly what that involved. Even so, it felt right for me to follow the path that was made clear for me today, and I feel content.