Love deeply, and without patience.

This poem is a plea for passion in the slowing down times of life. Like the Dylan Thomas poem which urges not to go gentle in to that good night, this poem calls out for persistent love. Not mistaking steadfastness for doing nothing – that is a powerful meditation for the day.

 

This poem is by Mary Oliver.

 

 

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.

Earth and heaven both are still watching

Though time is draining from the clock,

and your walk, that was confident and quick,

has become slow.

 

So, be slow if you must but let

the heart still play its true part.

Love still as once you loved, deeply,

And without patience. Let god and the world

Know you are grateful. That the gift has been given.

 

Mary Oliver. From Felicity. The Gift.

Ode to Autumn. Keats. Landscapes of imagination.

Beautiful poetry for a beautiful time of year. Thank you to John Keats for his eye which could see this and his vision which led him to write it down.

One of the things I have always loved about this poem is the personification of autumn – it brings the sense of the imaginal world in to focus, as being present. In the same way, when we dream we feel that we are walking through an actual landscape – well we are, but it is a dream landscape. This focus in different ways of understanding ‘landscape’ is very important when trying to understand the ‘inner’ world (what James Hillman called the soul). The inner world is a landscape. It is a landscape as peopled as the landscape we see in the ‘outer’ world, but it is of a different order.

This point about the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ worlds is the essence of depth psychology, and it is where deep, imaginal psychology – the work of beauty and meaning and spirit – differ from the science of a psychology which lives in the mind only. There is nothing wrong with science, obviously (speaking as a researcher who works within a Health and Social Care department of a university I am very comfortable with science and psychology!). But it is limited. The exploration of the ‘inner’ and the ‘outer’ world – the imaginal, the soul…..that is where the poetics of our work can begin.

So here we have the poem – always worth reading at this time of year. I hope you enjoy it.

1.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Close bosom friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit, the vines which round the thatch eves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; and set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees

Until they think warm days will never cease

For summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells.

 

2.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,

Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

Spares the next swath and all its twine’d flowers:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou doest keep

Steady thy laden head across a brook;

Or by a cider press, with patient look

Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

 

3.

Where are the songs of spring? Aye, where are they?

Think not of them. Thou hast thy music too,

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

Among the river sallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

And full grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

Hedge crickets sing; and now with treble soft

The red-breast whistles from a garden croft;

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies. 

 

John Keats. Obviously. Fabulous.

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The Bright Field. A poem for late summer.

In August there can be more time to stop the rush and tumble of our lives, and to bathe in the richness of what is here. Every second taken away from awareness of the eternal present is a second lost. Most of us lose most of our seconds, most of the time. Screwed up in to tight little balls of anxiety, regret, striving, good intention and well laid plans we miss our life as it flows on by – the river of being always on its inexorable way, same river, always different. Finding the discipline to be present changes everything. Or actually it changes nothing, but it opens a window on to the eternal treasure waiting for us to stop by and say hello.

Here is RS Thomas’ poem, ‘The Bright Field’ which says all this with such beauty.

I have seen the sun break through

to illuminate a small field

for a while, and gone my way

and forgotten it. But that was

the pearl of great price, the one field that had

treasure in it. I realise now

that I must give all that I have

to possess it. Life is not hurrying

 

on to a receding future, nor hankering after an

imagined past. It is the turning aside

like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to the brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

 

RS Thomas.

A Blackbird Singing: full throated beauty.

This poem by RS Thomas captures this alchemy of joy and sorrow – the heart opening depth of the evening.

It seems wrong that out of this bird,

Black, bold, a suggestion of dark

Places about it, there yet should come

Such rich music, although the notes’

Ore were changed to rare metal

At one touch of that bright bill.

You have heard it often alone at your desk,

In a green April, your mind drawn

Away from its work by sweet disturbance,

Of the mild evening outside your room.

A slow singer, but loading each phrase

With history’s overtones, love, joy

And grief learned by his dark tribe

In other orchards and passed on

Instinctively as they are now,

But fresh always with new tears.

RS Thomas

A condition of complete simplicity (costing not less than everything)

Non-attachment, sacrifice, surrender, presence. These concepts are at the heart of spiritual development, at least in its more sophisticated forms. What could be more simple? And yet what can possibly be harder? Eventually you have to give your self over to something bigger than yourself. No-one escapes it. We come in to the world naked and with nothing, and we leave through the same door. But taking on this ‘condition of complete simplicity’ while alive – there is the challenge of a deep spiritual life. The condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything.

Psychotherapy and IMG_6746personal development work helps people to grow and to become present and full in their lives. Psychotherapists help ‘self-building’, delineating the ‘me’ from the ‘not-me’, facilitating clarity about boundaries, powerfulness about desires, resourcefulness around creativity, and delight
around embodiment. We strive to be completely here, to find ourselves as bold, passionate, effective beings. This is vital, soul-building work which takes years of demon-battling. The objective is to ‘touch down’ in life, get our feet on to the earth and become people of substance.

 

But then there is another stage. As Eliot says in the section from ‘Little Gidding’ quoted below ‘We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.’ In other words, there can come a point when we awaken, in the middle of our life, to an entirely different way of seeing things, a more spiritual viewpoint. And this is where the energy of non-attachment starts to reveal itself as the path. This is a great mystery, and I really like the way that Eliot expresses it in Little Gidding (a re-read of the Four Quartets from which this is taken, is a therapy in itself). Eventually we have to give up everything. This might be through our death. It might be before. It is not easy. How do we discern when this is a moment to step in to life and fight, and when it is a moment to step back from life and let-be? And when and how do we balance those two? It is in the balance that the magic really happens.IMG_4778

 

 

 

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where were started

And know the place for the first time.

Through the unknown, remembered gate

When the last of earth left to discover

Is that which was the beginning;

At the source of the longest river

The voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for

But heard, half-heard, in the stillness

Between two waves of the sea.

Quick now, here, now, always – 

A condition of complete simplicity

(Costing not less than everything)

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded

Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one. 

 

TS Eliot (from Little Gidding)

Storming out of the darkness

When transformation comes, it is sometimes at the pace of a glimmer, a hint, the tiniest and merest minute sign that something is different. But sometimes that spark catches, like an early May day, and the whole of a person’s life can be transfigured. Boom! Just like that. Did you go to the countryside this weekend? Bluebells, birds, cowparsley, hawthorn blossom….it has all stormed out of the darkness, as Mary Oliver puts it in the poem below. In alchemy, this can relate to what is known as mulitplicatio, a state of heart opening through which creation can flourish, and in which the blessings pile up in a person’s life, running the cup over with goodness. Think the parable of the loaves and the fishes here, the beautiful abundance of enoughness.

 

May.

May, and among the miles of leafing,

blossoms storm out of the darkness – 

wind flowers and moccasin flowers. The bees

dive in to them and I too, to gather

their spiritual honey. Mute and meek, yet theirs

is the deepest certainty that this existence too – 

this sense of wellbeing, the flourishing

of the physical body – rides

near the hub of the miracle that everything

is a part of, is as good

as a poem or a prayer, can also make

luminous any dark place on earth.

Mary Oliver.

Albedo – alchemist’s purity, alchemist’s peril.

By the light of the silvery moon…..albedo is the whitening stage of alchemy. How do we recognise it, how do we work with it, and what are its dangers? Although we are often mightily relieved to move out from the dreadful clutches of nigredo in to the white, imaginative, open, diaphanous, cleansing rising of albedo, it can be a time of seduction. Sometimes linked with anima, the albedo stage needs an attentive consciousness if we are to proceed with our opus…..

It is important in alchemy not to be seduced by the simplistic. Alchemy is rarely clear or straightforward. Why would it be? It is the science of transformation – of transmutation – at a mysterious and subtle level. Accordingly I am loathe to offer simple formulae or even offer too much of a clear signpost. But here is one which might be useful – nigredo tends to be a time of concrete thinking, and albedo can be observed as a time of more imaginative thinking, more ‘as-if’ thinking. So in albedo we can begin to understand things at a metaphorical level, and so life and experience opens up. Even the gravest and darkest traumas, the most difficult aspects of life begin to be translucent, transparent even, available to be thought about, rather than just endured. This is albedo.IMG_6913

A really simple relational example of this can be seen in the shift of expectations in relationships from ‘you should be more loving, giving, and unconditional towards me and I will be angry and upset if you are not’ (the mother transference), to ‘I feel upset when I don’t experience you as unconditionally loving and giving towards me – that is interesting isn’t it’ (being able to think about it, see the symbol). Less prosaically, the ‘feeling’ of something might move from being overwhelming, swamping, impossible, to being a flow within which we are carried (albeit sometimes faster than we are enjoying….).

Albedo is the whitening stage of alchemy, classically said to come after the nigredo has closed (often with the appearance of the many-coloured, many eyed peacock’s tail wherein perception is multiplied and opened), and before the great yellow opening of the arms of the sun – Sol –  in citrinitas. Albedo is whiteness, silveriness, reflective, the time and location of imagination and receptivity. It is not a worldly part of the transformative cycle, but a diaphanous, moonlit time of seemings. It can be a cold time (if you are cold, freezing cold,  you might wonder if you are going through an albedo).

img_8772For a therapist, the work in albedo may be different from the work in nigredo. In nigredo we are seeking the purification of quite base energies, in other words we are working with relatively real, obvious, surface emotions and reactions and struggles. In albedo we work much more with the meanings of things. The therapy can become reflective, more wondering, less intensely focussed on the struggle of the ‘pain quotidian’ and more inward focussed. James Hillman says ‘the doves cure the tongue of its nigredo talk’ and ‘the doves teach trust in the sudden word’.

What is the shadow of the albedo stage? what are its dangers? To become too cold, too rigid, to forget that there are many colours, many shades inherent in the imagination. The popular insult that someone is an ‘Ice Maiden’ is a useful way of thinking about this. The Ice Maiden can not be penetrated by love. She remains a maiden, a virgin, and in terms of alchemy that means that the sun will not get in. No sun, no gold. The urge of the albedo towards an intense and pure clear whiteness must not harden in to rigidity. The fire of the ice – its intense burning longing towards purity must stay flexible, must remain in the heart, and must be able to yield to the sun. In practical terms? Get over yourself. Your insights, your inner eye, your release from the struggle of the day to day as you rise on the white wings of the albedo – all this is a perspective only, and it does not belong to you. It is lent to you. If you try to hold on to it it will become fixed, loose its capacity to fly, turn to glass (the alchemists call this vitrification and you might see the warning signs of images of glass in dreams….), and shatter in to fragments. Alchemy is a high risk game.img_8952

As always, the way to traverse this dangerous stage of the work is to remember that the ‘gold’ that alchemy offers is not personal wealth or status, but something that is placed profoundly in service. If I may draw on the Christian imagery here – the teaching is that we are chosen, we are blessed, we are incarnated, we are broken, and  we are given as spiritual food for others. So for a successful albedo, stay in the heart, stay open, and as the reflective imagery opens itself to your consciousness surrender yourself to be taken by it, offer yourself over to the transformation.

This is the best poem I know about the traps of albedo, depicting what can go wrong with the process, the vitrification I have written of here. It is by Sylvia Plath, who did indeed, in the end, shatter.

The Moon And the Yew Tree

This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.

The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.

The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God

Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility

Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place.

Separated from my house by a row of headstones.

I simply can not see where there is to get to.

 

The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,

White as a knuckle and terribly upset.

It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet

With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.

Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky —

Eight green tongues affirming the Resurrection

At the end, they soberly bong out their names.

 

The yew tree points up, it has a Gothic shape.

The eyes lift after it, and find the moon.

The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.

Her garments unloose small bats and owls.

How I would like to believe in tenderness-

The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,

Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.

 

I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering

Blue and mystical over the face of the stars

Inside the church, the saints will all be blue,

Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,

Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.

The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.

And the message of the yew tree is blackness. Blackness and silence.

 

Sylvia Plath.

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One or two honest words….

It’s possible that while sleeping the hand

that sows the seeds of the stars

started the ancient music going again

-like a  note from a great harp – 

and the frail wave came to our lips

as one or two honest words.

Antonio Machado (translated by Robert Bly)

The Emerald Tablet

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The earth reflects heaven and heaven reflects  earth, and there is no division between these realms.

Everything proceeds from the origin.

This knowing is, and is  engendered by Light and by loving reflection.

It became known through the body and understanding gently emerged there approached with wisdom and love.

It will be constant and it will be transformed:

Mystery will infuse presence and body with mystery itself

And thus shall holiness shine forth in all things, all space and all time.

So the world is created.

That is all.

 

Hermes Trismegistus (reimagined by Katy Baldock 2016)

 

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