Heart

When I was quite small, about two years old, Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy and their stories by Johnny Gruelle were among my favorites. My mom made me both of the dolls, and I was extremely happy with them until I found out — shock, horror — that Raggedy Ann had no heart!

In the stories, you must know, she had a candy heart. Back then (almost 80 years ago now) there were small sugary heart-shaped candies called “conversation hearts” that had messages like “I love you” or “Be mine” or similar sayings. Courting couples, among others, had a lot of fun with them. Raggedy Ann was supposed to have such a heart sewn inside her. It was what made her so good and loving — and different from her brother, who was much more mischievious and didn’t have such a heart himself. The heart was mentioned often in the stories.

So, of course, I felt her body expecting to find the small heart inside of her. Not being able to find it, I asked my mom to show me. “It would be too messy,” mom said. “It would melt when we have to wash her and she’d get all sticky.”

I knew that this was wrong thinking. She had to have a heart. I asked my Gran’pa for one of the candy hearts — he was that kind of a grandfather. He got me the candies, helpfully showing me which ones said “I love you” and read to me what the others said. I kept one of the I-love-yous and ate the rest, which made Gran’pa happy too.

At the first chance I had to get hold of the scissors, I poked a hole in her chest and pushed the little candy heart as deeply into her stuffing as I could. (I knew I wasn’t supposed to play with the scissors, but I wasn’t playing — I was working!) Unfortunately, after that Raggedy Ann started leaking stuffing. I kept tucking it back in, but I knew this was trouble. She had to be fixed. When I got a hole, I leaked too, and someone always put iodine and a bandage on me. (Living on a farm, there are a lot of opportunites for getting holes in yourself, even when you are little and there are five adults trying to keep track of you.)

I took Raggedy Ann to my mother, showed her the problem, and requested a bandage. She explained that she’d have to sew up the hole, and asked if I knew how it happened. I told her about the scissors and the candy heart. She already knew that even at two I had my own views about things and that I could be surprisingly stubborn. She explained again about the candy getting wet and messy and making Raggedy Ann sticky. She was poking around with her fingers, trying to get the heart back out.

I still remember taking the doll out of her hands and clutching her tightly to me, explaining that Raggedy Ann wanted to love people and she needed her heart to do it. She had to have her heart or she’d always be unhappy. When I remember of one of these ancient experiences, sometimes I’m surprised at how little I’ve changed. I suspect that all of us are born knowing a lot of wise stuff and it’s important that we get to have opportunites when we are young to affirm and reinforce it.

This is one of the rare things I remember from when we lived on the farm, but for some reason, I dreamed about it today and woke up sad and teary and angry with the world. I don’t remember if I had tears in my eyes way back then, but I had them this morning, and I have them again now. And I think of the children at the border being taken from the people who love them and having their hearts broken. I think of all of the children who get harmed in this society we humans have made.

I also think of something I realized in my years of practicing spiritual healing — right at their very core everyone needs and wants to love and be loving. It’s what we really are, no matter how hidden that core may be by experiences and hurts and betrayals. It’s always there. This is something mystics and some healers absolutely know, even more certainly than we know the sun will rise tomorrow. I suspect that ultimately, it’s the only part of us that is eternal.

Nature & True Nature

 

Years and years ago, when the Faeries’ Oracle first came out, I went to San Diego to show a small group of people how to krow* with the Oracle. Nice people! We had fun with the cards, and they found that they could be really helpful. As the last thing in the class, I asked each person to draw a card to tell them what the faeries wanted from them in the future — not a question we often think to ask. I don’t remember what anyone else drew mine was Unity because I was so blown away by the message I heard in my head as I looked at the Unity card.

We need you to save the world. Right now, humanity is standing on the edge of tipping into collective insanity. It could go either way, but the thing you must do to prevent this is to bring people back to nature. They must connect with Earthmother, with the trees, the stones, with all creatures, even each other, as well as all of the nature spirits and MamaNature herself. Most of all, they must remember to be their own True Nature.”

I was totally flummoxed and speechless. How could I possibly do that? Everyone? Humanity? All of it? I doubtfully told the voice, “I can’t do that! It’s far too big a job for any one person no matter how wise or capable that person is, and I’m certainly not anyone special at all!”

Don’t worry about that you’ve been working on it for years, but now it’s time for you to know the true purpose of the work you’ve been doing. Knowing how important this is will help you to stay in focus. You need to be conscious! You need to be Awake and Aware! Many other people are working toward the same purpose in their own way. You are far from alone. And of course, we’ll help if you invite us!”

That skittered around inside my head the rest of the evening, but I didn’t say anything about it to anyone. It sounded so… grandiose… as well as overwhelming. Who did they think I was anyway? Whoever they thought I might be, I knew I wasn’t.

I didn’t sleep soundly that night. My mind kept going in circles as well it might. And besides, I was flying home the next morning and had things to do before I went. I got up quite early and began packing, but it wasn’t long before my hosts knocked on my door, saying we needed to watch the television.

Have I mentioned the date? September 11, 2001. Yes, that morning.

Needless to say, I didn’t get on a plane that morning. In fact, it took a whole week for me to get home. As I watched the way that people behaved, how they responded to that event, how they (in many cases) cherished each other, were so kind and helpful to strangers, and then watched how we gradually fell apart again “going back to normal” I understood what the fae had been talking about.

Getting back to nature. Nature. MamaNature, Earthmother. Nature Spirits. Our Own True Nature. That.

There is, of course, the nature of blood, tooth, and claw, but there is also the choice of spirituality, blessing, and compassion.

I’ve only mentioned this to a very few people up to now, so why am I telling you today?

9-11… and then 11-9-2016 and that election. Yes. Which way did the scale tilt then? Toward MamaNature? Against her? And which way is it tilting now and how are we influencing it ourselves? Each one of us?

Some people might consider this to be a war. I do not! Greed, selfishness, and all of that is what causes war. And war begats war. Those are precisely the things that got us into the mess we’re in now. Taking things from others and even from EarthMother just so we can have more-more-more, so we can go faster and farther and have more stuff, much more stuff to sit in our closets and cupboards, to throw away, to create unbelievable piles of trash.

For all of us, our purpose in being in the world now, our mission, the thing we are meant to do is to make a simple choice. Either we choose to come to our own true nature, which is compassionate, or we choose to succumb to the fear that births greed and anger. This is the choice each of us has to make. No decision is irrevocable yet.

One more thing no choice is too small to count in one direction or another. Everything we do makes a difference one way or the other.

If we are going to opt for healing ourselves and the world, we must do it with joy and and kindness and gentleness, not anger nor greed nor fear.

Kindness.

Gentleness;

Generosity.

Compassion.

*Krow “work” playfully spelled backwords. A faery knackerty knotion about recognizing that the only difference between work and play is attitude. We forget that when we start to school before that, it is something we instinctively know. This too is something we need to know on our mission to save our world, each other, and ourselves.

Resolutions

This afternoon a friend asked me what resolutions I planned to make tonight for New Year’s Eve. I hadn’t even thought about that at all. I used to do quite elaborate things with lists and cards and runes and sewajus and write everything in notebooks — and probably never looked at them again. And this time, for the first time I could remember, I seemed not to be doing anything at all. How odd.

Without thinking, I said, “I’ve decided not to do any resolutions at all.”

“So, you’ve resolved not to make any resolutions, have you?”

“Right!”

“I remember you decided not to make any last year — and the year before.”

“Yes, but later I changed my mind and made them anyway. Then I forgot about them and when I remembered, I scolded myself for forgetting. So this time I really won’t do it at all.”

Later on in the evening, my phone rang. It was a pre-arranged call from my friend, Nancy, so we could do New Year’s Eve readings for each other as we usually do on the turning points of the year. I promptly forgot the whole resolution thing as we looked at where we each were now, what we wanted to leave behind us, and what we wanted to bring into our lives. (There may have been some sort of hints at resolutions there, but if there were, the word was never mentioned.)

At the end of the process, I drew a final card: What did O Universe want to tell us? Ilbe the Retriever turned up to say that he was keeping our old lost dreams and desires safe, and the time was coming very soon (like now!) when we would do well to bring them back into our lives to enjoy.

We talked about what those lost, forgotten dreams might be — Nancy’s had to do with music, mine with faery arts.

While we were discussing that, I remembered that another friend, John Logan, used to say that anything you learned after the age of 56 would become an inborn talent in your next life. We laughed about this, since the forgotten dreams were things we’d already planned to do well in our next lives.

Not resolutions — not at all. It’s the difference between “You must … !” and “Wouldn’t it be lovely to … ?”

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!