When I Was Queen In My Ain Countrie

I woke from a dream, hearing
myself say aloud, “When I was queen
in my ain countrie…” That was all;
nothing more. I later remembered
that someone in this world had said
that I needed a tiara for writing.

“A tiara,” she said, “marks off
the time and space in which you rule
as Creatrix. Some authors do like
to dress up, but I feel that a tiara is enough
to remind one of who one really is —
a tiara and a really good fountain pen.”

So I bought a sparkly tiara for me
and another for my granddaugher,
who was of an age — three, I think —
to really enjoy a tiara. I also bought
a nice pen. But I’m the only one I know
that makes so many typos with a pen.

I much prefer a computer and its quiet hum.
The tiara gave me headaches. It tangled
and pulled my hair. I was going to wind up
with a tiara that had more hair than I did.
So I made a tiara of my own design with
honeysuckle vine, leaves and crystals.

I would quite like a nice silk gown
with feathers and fur and bright gems —
yet the tiara and gown are not meant
for anyone but the cats and me to see.
Other people don’t need to know
who I really am as they pass by.

I have come to believe that there is
no Right Way — only the way that works.
For me, it’s to be a Queen in My Ain Countrie
in disguise, wearing an invisible tiara
and a transparent gown of royal blue silk velvet
with a pure white lace jabot and pristine lace cuffs.

I shall just wear ordinary clothes beneath
my invisible royal vestiments so courtiers passing by
won’t pester me as I create my ain countrie.

© 2018 Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

81 — Birthday Cake Bonfire

I cannot hear the gentle rain any more —
it has to come down hard on the roof
for me to hear it well,
but I can see it bouncing on the leaves
of the honeysuckle and the salal.

My world is quiet.

I’m slow — really slow —
and stumble on the forest paths.
There are bruises and scars
inside and out from mishaps —
sometimes I fall.

So far, I always get back up.

I don’t know if “over the hill
is better than under it.”
How could I know that?
But I do know I’m not finished yet.
I still have work to do.

Joy is in the doing.

Someone asked, would you live forever
if you could? How could I know that?
Eighty isn’t even a fraction of forever.
I’m still learning new things, and
I shall know when it’s time to go

dancing Home.

© 2018 by Jessica Macbeth 2018

The Art of Doing What Matters

The Hindus call it dharma, and according to Depak Chopra, it means to know your purpose in life and to fulfill that purpose. We all share the common purpose of growing and moving toward fulfilling our potential for a creative, constructive, and satisfying presence in the world. However, in order to fulfill our dharma, to practice the art of doing what matters, we need to be doing something that provides a service of some kind to others, and that service must contain within it a space for us to grow. So the art of Doing What Matters contains two equally important concepts: service to others and growth potential for ourselves.

Virtually any work we might choose can meet the requirement for personal and spiritual growth if we are trying to live consciously and to pay attention to the lessons the universe is offering us. So that part is simple (ha!), and we can chose anything that suits us, anything that we feel a calling to, a vocation for. It just needs to provide a useful service for others. Our art might be practiced and fulfilled by being plumbers, painters, phytopathologists, paralegals, paramedics, pedagogues, papyrus makers, potters, priests, paladins, palaeoclimatologists, palmists, peddlers, pharmacists, philologists, porters, philosophers, or pianists — to name only a very few of our very many possibilities.

The idea of service is something we may need to think about. Sometimes alternative and complementary practitioners seem to expect that they ‘should’ be able to do what they want to do, without consideration of whether or not anyone wants to be on the receiving end. The thought seems to run something like: I am a good, spiritual person doing good, spiritual things, and people should support me in this. I have learned to be wary of people who say should (including myself), especially about other people’s actions.

If no one wants it, it isn’t a service. Let’s say you want to be a zibbletherapist. No one knows what a zibbletherapist is or does, so only the severely deranged are likely to phone for an appointment. You have two choices here. You can give up, or you can take steps to educate the public — write articles, give free lectures and demonstrations, hand out leaflets on the street corner — whatever seems appropriate and workable.

Let us further say that zibbletherapy is a form of healing in which the therapist nibbles the client’s fingernails and sings to his or her toes. This is a very specialized form of therapy, and there may not be a big market for it unless you can demonstrate to people that it is really effective.

If you are quite certain that it’s a good thing, it would be worth trying all of the educational public relations activities (especially free demonstrations) that you can. We can’t expect uninformed people to buy something just because we think it would be good for them, but it’s surprising how many alternative and complementary practitioners do seem to expect just that.

If zibbletherapy works, and if you are a good zibbletherapist, you probably can make a career of it. However, if zibbletherapy doesn’t work or if you are a substandard zibbletherapist or if zibbletherapy doesn’t promote your own personal and spiritual growth, you won’t be able to sell it or yourself.

These, then, are the fundamental criteria for the Art of Doing What Matters:

The work you offer has to be a service. It has to provide something worthwhile for people. They must both want and need it. It doesn’t matter whether the need is one of the body (food, housing, etc.) or one of the spirit (art, music, etc.) — but both the need and the desire (willingness to buy) must be there.

The work you do has to enhance your own personal and spiritual growth. If it doesn’t meet the needs of your present stage of growth, a kindly universe will try to encourage you into another line of work — often by refusing to provide clients.

We cannot do our work just for our bosses or our clients, nor can we do it just for ourselves. It has to balance.

The Art of Doing What Matters – A Personal View

When I was three, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was, “A grandmother and a doctor.” The problem was one of vocabulary — I wanted to be a wise woman, who healed in a magical way through touch and presence — like my grandmother. My self-chosen purpose in life, my personal doing of what mattered, was to try to be a healing presence in the world, and I already had a sense of how I wanted to go about this. I suspect that many of us were clear about our path in those very early years, but we simply didn’t have the words to express it. And then we often got distracted by other people’s stories.

Like most of us, I got confused about this. I stuck with the notion of being a doctor until I was old enough to understand what doctors really did. What doctors do is necessary and important, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Then, I thought I might like to be a nurse until I understood what nurses really did. Same problem. Then I thought I might like to be a psychotherapist, but in those days psychotherapy was all behaviorism and rats in mazes and no-consciousness, and that certainly wasn’t what I wanted either.

So I got married, worked as a secretary, became a mother, got involved with designing, building, and crewing on yachts, got divorced, became a house and sign painter, sold antiques, got married again, worked on boats some more, ran an antiquarian book business, got divorced again (slow learner), acquired a BA in psychology (special interests: counseling psychology, studies in consciousness, altered states, biofeedback, and parapsychology) with minors in anthropology (special interest: comparative religions) and philosophy (special interest: what’s it all about anyway?), and finally officially became a minister (of a highly unorthodox [some would say heretical] religious order). And now I’m making yet another shift to put the emphasis on writing and art — but it is still a form of healing.

In the meantime, from about the age of three onward I was practicing healing by laying on of hands, initially learned by watching my grandmother heal. In my thirties, I started teaching healing while I learned more things — meditation, massage, shiatsu, astrology, imagery work and other related and unrelated theories, concepts, and skills. Then one evening in my early forties, I was standing on a hillside, under a full moon, performing a wedding ceremony.

We were using a large stone for an altar, where I had placed a special candle. The bride and the groom had each carried a lit candle up to the alter, and with those they lit the big candle at the beginning of the service. Near the end of the ceremony family and friends came to the altar one by one to wish them well, offer a piece of advice, or say whatever they felt moved to say. As they did this, each one was given a candle, which had been lit from the large one, by the couple. Finally, everyone was standing in silence, holding the burning candles under the moon and the stars, light over light over light, while I held and blessed the wedding rings. I suddenly realized with an electric sense of shock that I was actually, in that moment, doing what I had wanted to do when I was three. And that my work, every aspect of it — healing, teaching, ministering, fit neatly into what I had really intended all those years ago.

I had blundered into my chosen art without noticing where I was going. I was just doing what seemed appropriate for the moment. I suspect that each of us is walking on our path. I suspect that it isn’t possible to get off of it — that everything we do, everything we learn, every experience we have is grist for the mill. But it does help — or at least it is comforting — to know what that purpose is — and that requires conscious examination and awareness of what we are doing.

At this time, I’m noticing that my path is changing, moving into unfamiliar territory — or maybe it’s familiar but in a different guise. I’ve been trundling around, doing more or less the same sorts of things, for a number of years now. Of course, I’ve been learning and growing and expanding what I do, but it has been essentially the same. Now, things are shifting (not because I decided they ought, but simply because they are) and I really wonder: what’s happening? What’s next?

I’ve talked to a couple of good astrologers and to some psychics and the general message seems to be something like, “Wow, this is interesting! Things are really changing for you.” Indeed. Thanks a bunch. So the message from the universe seems to be ‘wait and see’. I’ve been in this position before where I’ve known change is coming, but not what change. I keep saying that, if I knew what the universe wants me to do, I’d get on with doing it. But this is dodging the issue. What the universe “wants me to do” is to consciously and prayerfully work through the process of change.

At this moment, the change seems to be becoming clear, and it is a simple one. My vocation is becoming my avocation, and my avocation is becoming my vocation. Just a change of emphasis.

Process As Art, Art As Process

There are some questions I’ve been asking myself to try to clarify this process, and if you are experiencing the same kind of inner searching, they may help you.

They are:

1. When you were two or three or four, what did you think you wanted to do when you grew up?

2. How does that relate to what you are doing now? That is, how is your present work (paid or unpaid) a manifestation of that original plan? Or does it seem to be another track altogether?

3. What are your dissatisfactions with your present work?

4. How do these dissatisfactions relate to the concept of dharma? That is, how do they fail to meet the criteria listed above of need, service, growth, and balance?

5. What is satisfying about your present work?

6. How do these satisfactions relate to the concept of dharma and the fulfil criteria?

7. Does your present work hold the potential for fulfilling the requirements of dharma and of being personally satisfying, growth enhancing, and profitable?

8. How does this work offer service?

9. What would you need to change in you or in your work in order for this work to offer a better service?

10. How are you using this work to promote your spiritual growth?

11. What would you need to change in you or in your work in order for this work to better facilitate your spiritual growth?

12. Can you change your present work or yourself to create service, spiritual growth, satisfaction, and prosperity within your present framework, or do you need to change directions altogether?

13-?. If the answer to 12 is that you need to change directions, pick a likely direction and hold it up in the light of questions 1-11. This won’t tell you everything, but it might help you to see something useful.

These and related questions may help us to assess our present (or intended) work for doing-what-matters appropriateness. You may need to invent some more questions for yourself here.

People get confused about this. They think that one has to be doing something ‘spiritual’ in order to be growing spiritually through one’s work. Not true. We simply have to be consciously providing a service and being conscious of our intentions, our actions, and their consequences.

We need to be learning from and examining our lives as we live them. Being a priest, conducting ceremony and ritual, preaching and healing is no more ‘spiritual’ than being a plumber or an accountant. Any work can be done sleepwalking or consciously. Consciousness, self-awareness, self-examination, prayer, dedication, devotion, surrender, and awareness of the process are all prerequisites for the spiritual life. As the cliche says, it isn’t so much what you do, but how you do it that matters.

All right, I accept (reluctantly) that I am in the process of change, that this process is in itself part of my work, and that consciousness is required. I quite understand that sometimes we just have to go through the process and not try to find shortcuts, but I am a person who likes to have a plan, and judging by the number of people who ask, ‘But what am I meant to be doing?’ many other people like to have plans, too.

Or perhaps it’s just that we think we should have one. I suspect that sometimes a plan is helpful, and some times it is a hindrance. The trick is in knowing which is which. And in getting on with our work in the meantime, consciously learning, consciously being of service.

I wish you well on your journey!

Copyright © 1995 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.
This essay originally appeared in Otherworld Arts, 1995

Conversations with Cats

A few days ago, I wrote briefly on Facebook about talking with cats. I didn’t come anywhere near covering it all and they complained a bit. So, here is more of a day’s conversations, though even this doesn’t cover it all either.

(Yawn!)
Yes, I was asleep!

::prrrt!::

I know, I know — just a minute! Yes, you’re quite right — it’s time for breakfast. What do you want?

Whatever are you doing with your food?

Yes, yes, you’re the most wonderful cats ever!

You’re the one who pushed your toy under there — you get it back out!

Why are there 57 tiny wads of crumpled paper under the fridge? And 11 milk bottle tops?

No, I don’t need to go to the door — it’s not the doorbell. It’s your brother playing the wind chimes on the porch.

What do you want? Yes, that’s a wicked, sassy squirrel in the window. He knows you can’t reach him on the other side of the glass. No, I’m not going to come and chase him away — I am not the official squirrel chaser! There are four cats living here to chase squirrels and mice away. I have other jobs to do, no matter what you think. Tell Duffy — he’s the king of the house.

I don’t know what you did with your catnip mouse, Robbie — you have other catnip mice, you know! In your toy box.

Yes, your toys are hidden in your toybox.

No, it isn’t time for another treat yet.

Who pushed the spoons off of the counter and into the waterbowl? O, yes, Robbie, you scored a hole in one, didn’t you?

Marzipan, why are you looking so innocent? You’re not going to tell, are you?

Robbie, what are you looking so smug about? O, you caught a HUGE catnip mouse. What a wonderful hunter you are!

Thank you for the feather, Marzipan. It’s just what I wanted. O, you want it back? Okay, there you go.

I know, I know — just a minute! Lunchtime snacks! Please let me walk into the kitchen. Here you are!

Sally, you’ve got Robbie’s mouse, haven’t you? That’s why he’s crying and looking all over the house for it. Why are you hiding it under the covers? You don’t really want it at all, do you? O… of course, you might need it later.

Marzipan, please stop eating the plastic bin liner.

Dingbat!

Marzipan, why are you sticking your nose in my ear and whuffling? It doesn’t make me type faster, you know.

Yes, I do love you too! Yes, I love all of you. I agree — it wasn’t well planned for me to have two hands instead of four. Thank you all for the lovely petting session! Does anyone remember what I was writing before it started?

Please don’t hold down the delete key so you can watch the cursor untype things.

Thank you for washing my nose, Marzipan.

May I type now?

You goof! Whatever are you doing?

Yes, that’s a BIG bird at the window feeder, Duffy! True, he’s not as big as you are — but he looks even bigger when he spreads his wings and flaps them.

No, it’s not yet time for another treat.

Marzipan, please, don’t sit on the keyboard.

Marzipan, please don’t run on the keyboard.

Marzipan, please don’t sit on my hands while I’m typing.

Yes, Marzipan, you have the most gorgeous, irresistible tummy ever.

No, you do not need to look in my mouth — please stop patting my lips and trying to pry them open.

May I please have the paper you’re sitting on? No, I don’t need holes punched in it. But while you’re feeling helpful, could you kindly bring back at least one of my pencils?

Thank you for bringing me the feather duster. Yes, we can play with it. O, you brought a nice string too — how kind of you!

Yes, you’re right — it’s time for dinner. You all have clocks in your stomachs, don’t you?

Truly, it’s all right if I take the empty plates away — you shall have them back in the morning. Yes, they do need to be washed in the sink even though you cleaned them very well.

It’s nice to settle down for a while in the evening, isn’t it? Would it help if I read you to sleep? No? I see — you all need to arrange your own and each others’ fur.

Yes, I would like to be sleeping now.

Duffy, do you have any idea how heavy you are?

Do any of you want under the covers or not? Not? Just you, Sally? All right, but don’t anyone else complain later.

Why are you all running across the bed and up and down the hall? O, it’s 3 AM — the Wild Hour. Yes, I know — All Proper Cats Do It. I’ll just cover my head up until it’s over, shall I? NO, it is NOT time for treats, O Mighty Hunters!

Cù Sìth? The Black Dog

This is the first of a series of small pieces that I’ll tag as “plot twists”. Not long ago, in a writing class, we were asked to write a few paragraphs about an incident that changed our lives — something that changed the way we see and approach the world. My first response was a totally blank mind, but then I realized that there were many such incidents but most of them would seem quite minor to others. There is a thing called “the teachable moment” when we are ready to profoundly get something, even something that seems unimportant to the people around us. Those moments matter forever after. If we think about them later on when we can see the effect they have had and still have on us, we may understand ourselves better. Hopefully, if I tell you a few of mine, it may help you remember and make better use of your own. I call them “plot twist moments” because they alter the course of our personal stories. For example:

About two in the morning, after an argument with my husband, I was too restless and agitated to sleep, so I went out for a walk. This probably wasn’t a wise thing to do in Glasgow, especially on the long, deserted Kelvin Way as it passed the dark, silent Glastow University and then through the even-darker Kelvin Park, empty except for homeless people, perhaps sleeping, perhaps not.

There was a thick hedge between the park and me. I wasn’t really thinking about where I was or the risks of a Glasgow night; I was just hotly simmering and trying to calm down. About halfway along, a tatty black van approached from the other direction — and slowed and stopped about 30 feet in front of me. A brawny, rough-looking man got out.

“Hey, missus! Want a ride?” Hard voice full of innuendo.

“No, thank you.” When in doubt, be polite.

“Och, come on!” He was still approaching, now about halfway to me. This was getting scary.

At that moment, a huge, hulking black dog materialized out of the hedge bordering the park. The dog stepped in front of me, facing the oncoming man and snarling.The man stopped abruptly, holding out both hands as if to push the dog off. The dog took a slow step toward him, and then another. The rumbling growl grew deeper and louder as he continued to slowly pace forward.

“Hold your dog, missus! I’m going!” He fled toward the van, jumped in, and reversed hastily up the street to the nearest corner, disappearing with a squealing of tires.

The dog stood still, but rumbling until the van was out of sight. Then he started to turn toward me and I wondered, “Now what?”

He faced me, the orange glow of the street light reflecting in his eyes, happily wagging his tail, his tongue lolling. He was clearly saying, “Aren’t I a good dog?” I thanked him fervently, and he turned and vanished back into the hedge.

Still somewhat shaken, I went home.

Months later, when I finally told the story to some Scottish friends, one asked hesitantly, “Was that dog real?”

The others all nodded.

There are many legends in Scotland about black dogs who appear when needed to rescue or to harm people. I hadn’t thought of the stories until then and, indeed, the dog had seemed utterly solid, but… I wasn’t certain. I answered, “He was real enough.”

Do I believe the dog was “real” or was it one of the cù sìth, the faery dogs of Scottish legend? I tend to swing both ways. But what I got from this as it settled into me was that I felt protected — and I continued to feel protected. I still do. And the way we feel, the energy we project matters. That alone is a kind of magic.

He was real enough.

What plot twists do you remember way back in your life? And how did they change things for you?

Rainbows

I just saw Wesley True Lee’s cover photo on Facebook. He didn’t explain it, but it reminded me of something I’d forgotten. Once upon a time, long ago (as my own years are counted), I was working in Glasgow, Scotland. I needed a holiday, and hopped on a train, thinking to go to Oban — or somewhere in that direction, wherever my feet wanted to go. As we pulled out of the station, I saw a rainbow in the direction of Oban. My passing thought was that I must be on the right track, headed, as I was, for a wild rainbow.

I settled in to read my book. Every time I looked out of the window (often) the rainbow was still in the direction of Oban, but I was in the habit of travelling with faeries so I knew then that I might wind up anywhere…

This went on until we reached Crainlarich. The train I was on was headed for Inverness, but the rainbow held unwaveringly in the direction of Oban although it was now to the west instead of the northwest. I changed trains there and followed it. At every station, I checked the rainbow — still steady for Oban. When I arrived there and walked out of the station, the rainbow had shifted and was out over one of the Western Isles. I checked the landmarks I could recognize, went back in the station (a Brit would say “on the station” instead of “in” but I don’t climb on their roofs). There I bought a map, and then going outside again, found that my rainbow was over Lismore. I’d always intended to go there someday, and this, apparently, was the right time.

 

The Lismore ferry and a rainbow
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Gordon Browngeograph.org.uk/p/4256095

Back in the station, I bought a ferry ticket for Lismore and went to the tourist desk to book a bed and breakfast room. They also did dinner because they were rather remote from any village. This suited me fine — I just planned on walking idly and gently resting and happily communing with whatever/whoever I found willing, and perhaps writing or sketching.

The promised car from the B&B picked me up, and … the rainbow had moved again and we were travelling straight for it. I said to the driver, “That’s a lovely rainbow.”

He looked at it thoughtfully and said, “Aye, it’s bonny. It’s just about over the house.” So it was — in fact, as we got close enough to see the house, it was right over it. He gave it an odd look and added, “I’ve not seen it just over the house before.” He grinned at me, pleased to have such a gift to offer a stranger. It still held steady, arched over the house, and disappeared just as we pulled into the long driveway.

After a good dinner and a sit by the fire with my book, I went up to my room and slept soundly, the only guest in the house just then. In the morning after breakfast, I set out with a small backpack, holding my sketchbook and pencil, an apple, a sandwich, and a bottle of water. As I walked out the door, I looked all around up at the sky (this is a habit that old sailors have — the first thing you check as you come out of the hatch is to see what weather is coming at you from all directions).

Rainbow.

I took the road that went toward it. North. After a couple of hours of sauntering, I came to an old stone bench, half collapsed but still strong enough to sit on. I sat, leaned back facing the sun, and sighed happily. The air was sparkling with the presence of faery, the way it often does in Scotland. As I sat there, quiet, a feeling that I’d forgotten washed over me — perfect calm, perfect peace beyond measure, timeless.

I sat there every day for a week, and every day that magical feeling swept over me there. It might be ten minutes; it might be hours. Between sittings, I randomly rambled around the island. Never far, just far enough to see whatever I needed to see to delight and teach me.

Somehow, since then, I’ve always known that, however it feels, I’m always in the right place at the right time, especially as long as I follow guidence given instead of trying to lead myself.

Feelings & Reality, Life & Death & the Samhain Gate

There are two parts to this that need each other — the first is science (or opinion) and the other is magic (or science) (or religion). First, the science —

I read something in Second Life (a virtual world) yesterday on someone’s profile page. She (or possibly he) wrote, “The only things that are real in Second Life are feelings.” I suspect she assumes that the feelings are firmly attached to “real” people outside the computers.

So, feelings are real and everything else in Second life is pixels, and pixels ultimately are just excited dots of energy on a computer screen. Ideas are what we manifest there — ideas of objects or people or whatever we fancy. They appear to have three dimensions, but that’s just an illusion on a flat two-dimensional screen. Wait… they also have the dimension of linear time — or appear to do so. If I think too much about this, it may give me a headache.

In our current version of our so-called “real” world, there seems to be a huge muddle about the differences between truth and opinion and reality and belief and experience and fact. I think this may be important — this idea that only feelings are real. I do know this “feeling thing” was only being said about a “virtual world” that only exists inside a computer.

But I’m not so sure about the “reality” of our world where a lot of people seem to feel that only free range opinions matter — certainly more than science or facts, which according to them are only opinions too. In that view, no one’s opinions matter more than another (except mine, of course, and that’s sort of a secret until there is conflict). This seems to soon turn into a sort of “my way or the highway” kind of thinking, where the biggest gun matters the most.

Think about it. Physicists believe that everything is composed of sub-atomic pixels sorry, particles. These are said to be tiny bits of energy in a whole lot of nothing. They even have names in the Standard Model that include: Six “flavors” of quarks: up, down, bottom, top, strange, and charm; and six types of leptons: electron, electron neutrino, muon, muon neutrino, tau, tau neutrino.

(I think perhaps I love physicists more than I knew — anyone who thinks up names like this has to be delightfully whimsical at least some of the time. The same is true of the philosophers who come up with an elaborate notion called the Raven Paradox, which is, in part: The raven paradox, also known as Hempel’s paradox or Hempel’s ravens, is a paradox arising from the question of what constitutes evidence for a statement. Observing objects that are neither black nor ravens may formally increase the likelihood that all ravens are black even though, intuitively, these observations are unrelated.)

This problem was proposed by the logician Carl Gustav Hempel in the 1940s to illustrate a contradiction between inductive logic and intuition.

It goes on from there quite extensively and even dizzyingly. But the whole thing is based on the concept that “all ravens are black.” Any one real, actual white raven (not an albino) brings the whole structure down. And we now know there are actual white ravens</a>. They may not have existed in Hempel’s time. But they do now, and it’s no longer factual to say “all ravens are black” even though it may be an opinion still strongly held by many, who may choose to say that a white raven is a “fake”.

Or, perhaps the physicists and the philosophers who come up with these knackerty knotions are, like the white raven, so rare as to be virtually non-existent. If you find one, perhaps you should record it carefully as proof that whimsical scientists do exist. Or perhaps these bursts of whimsicality happen as rarely as white ravens, promptly dissolving into vapor like brief whistles of steam from an overheated boiler. Forgive me, I get… Ooo! Shiny! Ahem. So…

All of those wee bits of energy/matter would crumple into nearly nothing at all but empty space if their excitement didn’t keep them spinning or whatever they really do. Now that I think about it, this sounds a lot like pixels on a screen. To understand why I say this, you can find more than I wanted to know about pixels here.

Back when I first went into Second Life, I was doing a lot of thinking about Buddha and Buddhism, and I had an interesting experience. Flying along (you can do that in Second Life) I got distracted and fell. My avatar fell ungracefully to the ground and splatted right on my belly. Then, without me doing a thing, she/I scrambled up onto my feet and brushed the (imaginary?) dust off.

I was shocked.

I hadn’t told her to do that!

Then I wondered (also involuntarily, with what felt like the back of my mind looking over my shoulder) if there was someone behind me, watching me as I was watching my avatar, and if I sometimes did things that surprised it, things I hadn’t been told to do. And it felt like this someone was nodding and being amused.

I immediately shut Second Life down, turned the computer right off, and unplugged it, which was not something I usually did. Then, I went outside where I dug holes and planted bulbs until I felt like one simple, ordinary, real person again. But I remembered (and have never forgotten) that feeling of someone (me) sitting behind this me (this one that is typing), almost laughing, certainly amused at the confused typing-me and my surprise and shock — and thoughts. Then I thought how amused the Buddha might have been if he’d seen Second Life. It so beautifully demonstrates so many of his concepts.

This brings me to what I really wanted to talk about here. I’ve always meant to write this down and here in the liminal space-time of Samhain (All Hallows’ Eve) seems like an appropriate time to consider Life and Death and What Comes After, especially just after reading Michael Tomlinson’s story, Two Men and a Dog this morning. I quote a bit from the middle: One of the men spoke of a friend of theirs who had died this year. A rich and robust character of a man, impossible to not like the instant you spotted him. “I heard him today, no shit. It was real. He was right there with me and laughing. I asked him aloud if he’d seen my mom and he just laughed really loudly in that way of his and said, ‘It’s not at all —ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, — nothing at all like you think it is,’ and then he just laughed louder and more happily until I didn’t hear him any more. I’ve been thinking about that all day.”

You know, dear reader, I’ve had very similar messages from a few people. I used to do a lot of counseling and healing with people in hospice or terminally ill, and some of them came back briefly after they’d gone on. It usually happened when I was half-asleep or in deep meditation. In one instance, Vera came back to tell me, “It isn’t anything like I thought it would be.” She paused and laughed. “But it isn’t like you thought it would be either!” And she chuckled again and faded away.

There was always that sense of wonderment and laughter — a kind of mellow, companionable chuckle or delighted laughter — and when there were words, they were always something like that — except…

One time was different from the others. No words were involved — only scents and touches and feelings. Well, there may have been words, but not words I understood. It was about four in the morning, and one of our weeks-old kittens was dying. In my lap, Mamacat Samantha washed and cuddled the baby as it went down and down, weaker every moment. At last it gave a tiny shudder as its soul shook loose from the body.

The space we were in suddenly seemed to be much larger, and in front of us stars and nebula formed an opening — rather like a tunnel made of light, with a brilliant light at the far end. Hidden in that star-filled glory I could hear a mother cat calling a kitten, and a warm, milky scent drifted through to us. Something in my lap (not the little dead body) stood up with a wobble and set off into the light on tiny skaky legs, calling back to the Voice we heard. As Samantha and I watched, the babe grew stronger and faster, scampering toward that Voice. Then it was gone, and Samantha and I were alone in an ordinary bedroom, silent.

Samantha leaned against me as she washed the tiny body one last time, then she pressed her face against my tear-wet face, and we both sighed. Slowly, she went to sit in the window and watch for the dawn. But we both knew.

From this and other experiences, I have hopefully concluded, that when you die, there is someone who loves you there to meet and care for you. But I could be wrong about this — we are not all as adorable and innocent as kittens. When I once spent 10 days sitting at Death’s door, there was no one waiting, no light to guide me, just a wonderfully peaceful and restful place to sit and wait for whatever happened next — and I hadn’t a clue what that might be and knew only that I just didn’t know.

Recently someone asked one of those Facebook questions — if you could live forever, would you want to? I was surprised by the number of people who virtually shouted NO! Several others said “for a while” and no one said “yes” — which says pretty terrible things about the society we have created. My own answer was, “I don’t know how long I would like to live. I still have a lot more that I want to do. BUT I shall know when I’m ready to go.”

At 80, it is nice to be clear about that. And there! I finished this before the witching hour, even if WordPress thinks I didn’t!

I’m So Very Lucky

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Gladhval with Mist on the Water
Early Morning, Scotland, 1969

Lucky. Fortunate. Blest.

I just read a blog by Vivienne Tuffnell on The Loss of Our Youthful Dreams, which was very thought-provoking. It made me try to remember what my own early goals and ambitions were and how they had all worked out. At first, it seemed just jumble of random things happening, of starting and not finishing, with a lot of wandering around doing things that seemed sometimes surprising but often irrelevant to anything important.

The earliest plan I had for my life, at the age of two, was wanting to be “a gran’ma and a doctor.” The reason I remember this is that everyone thought it was such a strange notion — in those days it was expected that little girls all wanted to be a mommy. People liked to remind me of this and laugh all the way into my teens. I’ll come back to this later.

Sometime in primary school, I felt I also wanted to be a poet (who illustrated her own poems) and to have six children and to be a doctor. Sometime in high school, I was clear that I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books — and I wanted to be a doctor, but was beginning to worry about the medical bit. I had realized that what doctors actually did wasn’t really what I wanted to do. So I thought about nursing… and a week in the hospital showed me that this wasn’t it either. Also in high school, I accidentally became convinced that I’d never be a “good enough” artist and that the kind of books I’d liked weren’t really proper children’s books at all. So the children’s books were out too.

By the time I became a freshman in college, it seemed like being a psychologist might be the right thing, so I took classes in the subject. Back then, sixty years ago, psychology was all about behaviorism and Skinner boxes and nothing to do (it seemed to me) with real people. As for consciousness — there was No. Such. Thing.

At the end of my second year in college, I threw it all up in the air, got married, moved onto a boat, got shipwrecked, had a baby, bought a bigger boat with my husband, repaired, painted, and polished it up and sold it, and we went off to Great Britain to buy a sailing boat to go cruising. Around the world, perhaps. We didn’t find the boat we wanted in Wales, England, or Scotland so we boarded a ferry to Norway. In Oslo, we found exactly what we wanted. Almost. The entire first third of it was rotten so we decided to become serious boat builders in the west of Norway for several years. As we headed toward Romsdalen, we grounded our Gladhval in calm water and had our first relatively gentle but alarming taste of being nearly shipwrecked. In Romsdalen, we worked hard doing the heavy labor of boat building for a few years. When we reached a point where the hull was sound and tight, we launched her and headed south to Stavanger. On the way we had another near-shipwreck on Christmas Eve. There are Norwegians who are really kind and helpful. In Stavanger we spent an icy winter and then we sailed to Scotland, with major engine problems on the way, and worked on the boat some more. In Scotland, we were once again we were grounded and almost wrecked, following which we were caught in a hurricane and rescued by the Royal Navy. Scots are kind and helpful too.

This sounds silly, but after several years in Scotland, we realized that we needed to go back to Norway because many of the building materials we still needed were more readily available there. So, we tacked bits canvas over the most open places in the deck, and headed back to Norway in November during the equinoctial storm. Rough trip, but we made it. Arrived inside the skerries to find it so calm in the fjord that every star was reflected in the water. This seemed a good omen. In fact, just arriving at all seemed a very good omen!

We were going north, perhaps back to the original boatyard — I don’t remember now. Nearly got shipwrecked again — this time in very rough, scary waters with big rocks sticking up out of them. So we turned around and headed south toward Bergen. I’m not sure of our exact itinerary throughout these years, but I do remember the various groundings and near shipwrecks very well — along with the bright sparkling wave on sunny days, the astoundingly bright stars on clear nights, and even occasional auroras. We survived and made it back to Bergen, where I decided I really wanted to go back to Scotland (heart’s home). My son, Jon, and I left. Jeff, my ex-husband, still has Gladhval. I missed out on the eventual trip to the Caribbean, but I didn’t really mind that.

Then there were the years in Scotland where I applied my boat-building and painting skills to interior and exterior house painting and decorating. Then another wedding, this time to a “mad Scot” — Neil — and a new career in antiques and antiquarian books. First, we sold them in flea markets, then we exported them to Canada, and then we moved and imported Scottish things to California. All of these years, from the time I left school, may have seemed like a total distraction, but I learned some very useful things:

1) I was a lot stronger than I had thought. I endured. Yes, I even persisted.
2) I could learn to do almost anything if I was patient and willing to study and practice for as long as it took.
3) While I wasn’t particularly paying attention, I was growing up, accumulating a lot of life experience, and becoming myself. I discovered that I could make changes, could learn new things, however unlikely, and could take risks and survive.
4) That when you got in trouble, if you asked for help you often got it. Most people were naturally kind and helpful.
5) I was older and perhaps a bit wiser and certainly a lot more adaptable. People sometimes realized that I knew things.

These were important qualifications for my Real Career, which was not really antiques and old books.

I went back to college part time — psychology, as a study, had radically changed. Jung! Rogers! Real people issues! Um… even a parapsychology class where I met people who taught me tarot (outside of class) and was introduced to many things I could see were important and valid. Exciting! Maybe I could be a counselor or something. Someone took me to a Spiritualist church, and one of the mediums told me I was a healer. I knew that — had known since I was two — but didn’t everyone always do healing? Turned out that they didn’t. How amazing! So, in my kitchen, I showed a couple of neighbors how to do basic hands-on healing. The two became six, the next time around. Teaching teaches us faster. The friend who had taught me to read tarot moved away and sent all her clients to me, so I did readings and teaching in the back of our antique store.

In my early forties, I was standing in field under a full moon performing a wedding ceremony for a hopeful young couple. In the middle of this, I suddenly realized that “a grandmother and a doctor” really meant a “wise woman and a healer” and what I was doing at that moment was exactly a part of that. I thought that was all finally settled, but it wasn’t.

Eileen, a massage therapist and healer from London was travelling through San Diego. In a grocery store, she asked the clerk if she knew of a good psychic reader. The clerk didn’t, but the customer behind Eileen said, “I know just the right person!” and gave her my phone number. After her session, Eileen asked, “Would you be interested in coming to London and Cornwall to teach and do readings?”

Would I?

Eileen went back home and made arrangements. I bought tickets and went for six weeks — time to teach enough to pay for my tickets. And then I went home, having arranged for me to come back in three months. That was the beginning of my tick-tock travels over the Atlantic. People started wanting me to do classes and reading in other places, and finally in Bath on Beltaine, someone asked what it would take to get me to actually move there. I muttered that I was thinking about moving back to Scotland. But they said, “Bath!” and repeated their question. It was about three in the morning after our celebrations and I was heading back to San Diego the next day. I mumbled that I supposed I’d need somewhere to live and somewhere to teach. I was to come back anyway (tick-tock) around Midsummer. They said they would have places waiting for me to live and work. And they did, so I stayed and tock-ticked in the other direction after that. And started travelling once in a while up to Scotland, just because I loved it.

And about that time, a student showed a publisher friend of hers the notes that I gave to the class and told him that he should get me to write a book on meditation. He did, I did — Moon Over Water — and then I did a second on imagery and inner journeys, Sun Over Mountain.

Then I reversed that situation as well, moving back Scotland, traveling to England and Cornwall — and to California. Scotland is my own magical homeland. I thought I was settled forever. I liked traveling and my cats didn’t mind it too much. We even went camping together. Then I got sick.

Nearly died of pneumonia; couldn’t go back to work for months. I began to feel as if I’d never be really well again. Every doctor and every healer I knew told me that staying in the good Scottish rain would kill me the next winter. That was August, and by December I was beginning to see that they were right. On the 12th of December the cats and I traveled — Arrochar to London to Los Angeles to the desert of Borrego Springs.

As it happened, I didn’t do well in the desert — seemed like I was going to dry, crack, and crumble into dust. All those years in rainy, cold countries hadn’t made me ready for this. The cats and I moved up into the mountains, where there was a bit more water in the air. From there, I drove to San Diego once in a while to teach. Unfortunately, even occasional teaching was too much. Couldn’t teach, couldn’t do healing or counseling; made myself sick again every time I tried. Wasn’t getting much better — in fact all of my energy seemed to be needed just to stop getting worse. It felt like my path had gone over a cliff and me with it.

Just about then, on my 60th birthday, Brian Froud asked me to write the book for the Faeries’ Oracle. I could do that — stay home, write some every day, and rest as needed. This was my third book, and it sold much more than I expected. It took a while, but when the “advance” finally came, I moved to Washington State, bought a bit of forest, and my wild son gradually built a home for me on it. I still wasn’t settled, though I had hoped I was. But after some to-ing and fro-ing, I may be settled now in the middle of three acres of forest with a nearby super-neighbor and caregivers, near Port Townsend. Port Townsend is filled with artists and writers, sculptors and photographers, yoga teachers, tarot readers, craftspeople — witches and elves and gnomes commonly walk the streets. At 79 I rather hope to be settled just where I am — it feels like home. And I can write what I most want to — which tonight is this blog.

What else am I writing? Another oracle for starters. And a book (or five) about tufted faery cats and humna — half human, half faery people. I’ve even found a way to do the illustrations — with help.

Is it for children? Well, yes — and for their parents. And teen-agers and grandparents. And people trying to find a way to live together in a world where so many of us have become strangers and refugees. I’ve gotten ambitious, you see. So I may have accidentally (if you believe in accidents) become a wise woman in a forest, a grandmother, and a writer-illustrator-poet for children and others.

It now appears that all of this time I’ve been working back and forth through my ambitions, often without even realizing that they were ambitions instead of happenstance. I may get there yet. I’m also taking classes in writing — you always need to be trying to get better at things or they get boring. And I keep thinking about teaching a class in using the tarot to help write a book or story. You know, plots and character development are a lot like reality — if you believe in reality.

Tonight I just happened onto a video about someone doing his own version of one of the things I used to do in Scotland. I’d love to go make that trip, if it were possible. Who knows what may yet happen or what paths might open? (I was going to link to it here, but lost it. If I find it again, I’ll put it in the comments.

Tell me, please, what did you want to be when you grew up? And where do you think you might be on the path to getting there?

That Does It!

God/dess was quietly sipping Hir chamomile tea and thinking S/He would like to dream another new world, a better world. S/He liked to challenge Hirself to make each world better than the one before. That was what S/He did to comfort Hirself when things got difficult. It had been another rough week. It was, of course, the Earthlings still at it.

It seemed such a shame. They made so many sweet babies (too many really), but things just kept getting worse there. You had to give them credit — wrecking the climate worldwide while simultaneously making global war based purely on bigotry and greed had taken a lot of ingenuity. But you had to deduct all those points and more because they had actually done exactly that.

God/dess knew that poor Earthmother was doing the best she could, but everyone was realizing that something had gone seriously amiss there. Giving them total freedom to develop had seemed like a good idea — after all, it had worked well in so many other worlds. Didn’t they realize that they needed to fix things for themselves? That freedom included responsibility for themselves?

Just then the computer alarm went off — again. Prayers were flooding in at an unprecedented rate. S/He shifted Hir focus of awareness and found the office and courtyard outside full of doves, with an occasional cuckoo scattered among them. S/He held out a finger to the closest bird and it hopped on. Fluttering, it gasped out, “Florida, nightclub, 50 plus shot dead, more inj—” and fainted dead away.

“I’m on it,” S/He whispered grimly. Thousands, possibly millions of birds immediately disappeared, their message delivered. There were still thousands more. Possibly millions. Each one carried a message of unnecessary death and sorrow. S/He took a message from one of the cuckoos. “Please, we need a complete reset. This is just getting worse.” God/dess almost smiled. Trust a pagan to say “please”. They did like to keep up the old traditions — when they remembered them.

S/He wiped a tear from Hir eye.

That was it. No more.

The keyboard clicked >Earth>Humans>…. Hmmm. S/He thought about it for a full millisecond in all dimensions simultaneously, flipping through the possibilities far faster than light could move. DNA? No… it was so flawed — complexity upon complexity. Healers? Too few. Purge guns from the world? That might help temporarily, but not enough. There were so many parts of this, but it boiled down to a fundamental double-sided flaw in so very many humans — believing that they mattered more than other people and thinking that it was their right to do whatever they wanted to others. No empathy; no compassion, no true feeling for the community of all earth.

A few more keys clicked. The big green key went down and stayed there. Throughout the multiverse, the Powers converged on Earth. Within three milliseconds, they had checked all life forms and deleted those lacking empathy or compassion. God/dess was pleased to note that the population problem was immediately eliminated. But there needed to be healing as well. This would require finesse…

As dawn rolled around the planet, people woke and were astonished to find the world so still, rather like that silence that falls with the snow. Only this stillness had a crystalline quality as if everything were waiting to burst into song. And there was a subliminal sound of something — of comfort, of joy, of loving — a subdued and mellow rumble and roar.

Nearly everywhere there were people missing. The U.S. Congress, the various Houses of Parliament all over the world, and many other governing bodies and bureaucracies were decimated. Some were empty but for the tea ladies and floor sweepers. Rulers — kings, dictators, generalissimos — had all vanished. Armed forces were left almost without officers and some of their men had vanished — and those who were left were happily using the bombers to dump explosives into volcanoes and cheering at the fireworks.

Some pulpits were empty. God/dess hesitated a moment here. Grinning, S/He set up a subroutine that would instantly stamp the word LIAR in flashing florescent letters on the forehead of anyone misusing Hir Word out of insanity or for personal power. S/He thought of a certain comb-over and Hir grin grew wider.

The presses of the big newspapers were nearly silent. Among the smaller news distributors, some were buzzing busily and in others the computers and presses had melted into a stinking, smoking heap of slag. In many businesses, some offices were empty, especially the bigger and more luxurious ones on the higher floors. Wall Street and other stock exchanges were less populated than the moon. Banks… well, we don’t want to even think about the bigger banks. No, not at all. It was that way everywhere — the people who cared about others survived, even the ones who needed a lot of improvement and had foolishly followed false “leaders”.

But…

In the place of each and every missing person, there was a small ginger and cream cat. Fluffy. With big eyes and very endearing ways. And the tiny cats purred. Everywhere. Their purr was bigger than they were — that was the rumble heard around the world. And the purr made all hearts beat together — that was the soft roar in everyone’s ears.

infant Marzipan

God/dess watched. And purred. If this didn’t work, they weren’t worth saving.

People just stood around, blissfully smiling at the sky, at the trees, at each other. Smiling. It would be hours before they realized that they wanted breakfast. And they wanted breakfast together.

© Copyright 2016 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

The Three AM Poet

Sometimes when I have had a very busy day, thinking hard and taking things seriously, I can’t sleep. The windmill fronds in my mind are still turning, even with no wind to impel them. Then the faeries take a hand. They think it is very odd that I continue to take things so seriously even when there is nothing left to take. (Truth to tell, they think I take things too seriously, period. They think I should be called Jessica Sirius Macbeth so I could take my black dog with me everywhere — seriously mixed mythical metaphors.) So I sit up, switch the computer on, and write. I do not claim responsibility for what comes out, but I don’t deny it either. Here are some small poems (of sorts) written while the windmill unwinds…

Be Safe

Often in this land I hear
the parting words resound,
“Be safe!”
But what if I don’t want a life
of safety, what if I’d rather have
a life lived somewhere
near the edge —
a life where I can
walk out
take a deep breath
lean out into the incoming air.

What if
being safe is not
what life is about?
What if
there is no safe place, safe path,
safe journey?
What if
we are our own worst hazards
and we are born to danger
like a fish is born to water?
What if
O Universe is only truly happy
when it gets us out there
somewhere
in our underwear
or nothing left at all?

What if…

What if
the Rapture came
in the middle of the night
and in the morning
we rejects went out to find
tinfoil hats
zoot suits
strait jackets
worn red spike-heeled shoes
with one spike broken halfway?
Or a pair of red silk thongs
slung across
tinfoil underpants —
all scattered on the pavements?
Would we realize
from this strange detritus
that we were the crazy ones
and
that what god/dess really wanted,
what she was growing on this world
was the trippers, the daily
roller-coaster riders,
the wild-eyed ones
who wear their clothes backwards,
the oddities, the ones who can’t stop laughing,
the ones who walk through the park, shouting,
“The locusts have stolen my honey!” —
the ones living
on the very edge of glory?

Got It

The other day
I wrote some pagan stuff
and a friend (who sometimes thinks
he is not a pagan) said,
“I didn’t understand what you said —
but I think I got it anyway.”

It has taken me two days to realize
that this is a quintessentially
pagan statement.

I remember one time
the goddess told me
that she wanted me to
give up all of my defenses.
“It’s the only way,” she said,
“To become invulnerable.”

NonoNO, shrieked Logic
YES! O YES! shouted Intuition

It all makes sense
if you turn the kaleidoscope around
and look in its mirrors
upside down
and around the corners.

Corners are
another kind of reality.

Conclusion

Sometimes, when life gets especially absurd,
I look at O Universe and say,
“Hmmm. I see that You are very silly too.”
And I hear,
faint in the distance,
cosmic giggles.

I just wanted you to know that we have a lot of silliness and fun here…

© Copyright 2016 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.
P.S. I guess I should also say that this was written in the middle of the night, but when the windmill finally stopped, there wasn’t even enough silliness left to push “send” and therefore I am pushing it now.