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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Omnipollent nature – beauty in the ordinary

Just in case you wanted another miracle (and the The upward pointing icicle and other miracles was always a popular post on this blog) here we have a bee with blue knees. The pollen she is collecting comes from one of these lace cap hydrangeas. But the whole blue suede knees thing is to be encouraged I think.

Gathering the beautiful and extraordinary in the ordinary is a life enhancing practice. As a psychotherapist I spend a lot of my working life wondering what it is that makes some people able to feel content, delighted in life, peaceful and fulfilled, and what makes others frazzled and despairing. Obviously there is circumstance – some situations militate against joy and peace. But often it is about our attitude, and noticing the extraordinary in the ordinary is one easy and reliable way to up your quotient of satisfaction. So I am offering this bee image today.

Bees gather pollen to take back to the hive as a protein food. Their carbs come from the honey they make (obviously enough), and they also gather water (for cooling the hive and for the manufacture of honey), and propolis (tree resin) which they use as glue and wood filler, and for mummifying dead mice in the hive in the winter (yes……really…..don’t dwell on it, it is gross). But pollen is the other thing which they gather and store for later use. Sometimes when you open a beehive you can see all kinds of different pollens which have been gathered. This blue one is this year’s favourite  and has been announced ‘seasonal miracle’ here at Alchemical Towers.

 

One for the money

Two for the show

Three to get ready and

Go, cat go! But don’t you step on my blue suede [knees]!

You can do anything but lay off of my blue suede [knees]!

 

(are you dancing yet?)

 

 

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)

At Blackwater Pond. Mary Oliver.

And so here where I live the weather has just suddenly turned from hot, heavy, laden summer days to  cool, clean freshness in a drenching season change. Last night the rain came, in buckets, streaking lightening, soaking the flowerbeds, keeping us awake to storm-watch (and deeply breathe!) through open windows. What a constant delight the world can be, when I just let it touch me. When I look up from my desk and my work and my worries and just let the world and its moment include me, all of me, fully and completely. The shock and joy of utter presence, always 100% available. Amazing.

 

At Blackwater pond the tossed waters have

settled

after a night of rain.

I dip my cupped hands. I drink

a long time. It tastes

like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold

in to my body, waking the bones. I hear them

deep inside me, whispering

oh what is that beautiful thing

that just happened?

 

Mary Oliver.

 

Fuelling hallelujahs – a parable about an apple tree.

‘And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song, with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.‘  (L. Cohen)

There is an apple tree in my garden, a lovely old  rambling Bramley. It is gnarled and distinguished, and for a number of years had been having diminishing returns on the apple front.  It clearly had not had a good prune in a while, since long before the garden came to me to steward, so I called in someone who purported to know what he was doing with apple tree pruning and set him to work. He did a drastic job. I cried when I saw how far he had taken the tree back. It looked so empty, naked, so wounded. I had committed a tree crime. The old, loved, beautiful, noble tree was devastatingly reduced.

The worst thing was that there had been a long limb growing over my neighbour’s garden and the pruner had taken it off completely, so my neighbour could no longer share the (sadly jeopardised) apple harvest.

I felt sad, ashamed, negligent, regretful, and full of remorse and recrimination.2011-09-01 08.59.08

That was a couple of years ago years ago and the tree has recovered, somewhat. In the year of the great pruning, it weakly managed enough leaf growth to photosynthesise. It was touch and go whether it would survive, but it did.  The next year there was a tiny amount of blossom and a couple of (precious) apples. This year there was more blossom and I can see more apples coming. But the tree doesn’t sprawl luxuriantly as it used to.  It stands chastened.  And I see my neighbours have planted an apple tree of their own, ensuring their self sufficiency of apples in the future. They are not trusting the generosity of the harvest from my garden any more.

But in spite of how  incredibly, achingly regretful I feel about the whole Bramley pruning experience, I can see that it has revealed more than one vein of gold I may not have struck without it.  I learned how much I love this tree, really love it, and how its life and my life are connected through that heart link. This is an incredible thing to become aware of.  I did not know that until my negligence and hubris nearly destroyed this incredible being with whom I share my space.  I am learning respect, and care.

Furthermore, I learned not to delegate so readily to people I do not know and with whom I have not had a lot of conversation about what matters to me, and to them. The values we live by may be different, and I have learned that I need to explore that with people. I have also learned that I want more connection with my neighbours. And now we have another apple tree in the vicinity, and I like that! Finally, I learned that apple wood fires are warm and slow and fragrant and forgiving.

Above all, and the message I want to offer here, is that the world can speak to us – wisdom can speak to us – through all events, not just the events we feel ok about. The world is alive with speech. The tree is not just a symbol, it is alive with communication.  Leonard Cohen, as he so often does, puts it beautifully….

 

‘There’s a blaze of light in every word

it doesn’t matter which you heard

the holy or the broken,

             – Hallelujah.

 

And  even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song

with nothing on my tongue but

            –  Hallelujah.’

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(and here is the tree this year, and yes, that is a swarm of bees in the foreground….that is a whole other story…..!)

Version 3

Tolerating the narcissism of teasels…..

My teasels have sprung in to action, taking a huge amount of space in the borders. They are massive, clear, and very present – “Look at meeeee!!” “Here I am!!!!” “Get out of my way, lesser herbaceous cousin-plant…..it is ME!!!! Make room!!!!”  arms aloft, dainty waists, slightly weirdly alienesque eyes. I love them. They have a certain brash coarseness to them. They take up far too much room in the beds (that is their strategy) – narcissistic, spiky, but unquestionably self-celebratory. Part of the community of plants, but you wouldn’t want too many of them…..

And is it self-aggrandisement or is it pure and simple praise? The famous Marianne  Williamson poem springs to mind ‘It is our light not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves – who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?. Actually who are you not to be………’

When we are being ourselves we are reflecting that small part of the cosmos of potential that has our name on it. Teasels, for a brief June season, teach this. No problem there being brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous.  They stand straight, like a gymnast who has just finished a wonderful awe-inspiring mega-vault, and they say ‘Ta-Da!!! And for my next trick I shall grow my own hairbrush out of the top of my head!’. Because that is what teasels do. Lets be more teasel.  Do what we do. Love who we are.  Brilliant. Gorgeous. Talented. Fabulous.

 

 

 

‘Not in entire forgetfulness….’

The forget-me-nots take over the garden in early spring, and even though they threaten to squash out some of the burgeoning young plants trying to push their way up, I don’t have the heart to weed them out. They are so profuse, so hopeful, so intricately simple, and so faithfully reliable. They are glorious. I was remembering the often quoted part of Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality today as I was looking at them ‘…..not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come….’

 

This sense of being clothed in glory is incredibly evocative, when set alongside the simplicity of a forget-me-not. The concept of glory often brings with it golden chariots, trumpets, all the bright lights of arch-angelic and magisterial heaven. I quite like that kind of glory too, and no doubt it won’t be long before I am reaching for the splendour of grandeur once again. But the glory of simplicity, of the innocent, the uncomplicated, the straightforward, joyful, carpet of a multitude of calls to remembrance.

 

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

Has elsewhere had its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfulness

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

 

(from Ode – Intimations of Immortality, William Wordsworth)IMG_2982

Alchemical Gold is….what?

I was entranced by this slightly set honey I found in a piece of loose comb from the beehive this week. Continue reading “Alchemical Gold is….what?”

Vulnerability and Love

Version 3The word vulnerable means to be capable of being wounded. Being human is to live in that capability – we have vulnerable bodies, we are open to being hurt physically and in our hearts (as we reach out for love, attention, affection) all the time. Imagine being on a battlefield without armour, you would be very woundable, very vulnerable. So in life we build armour, we build defences. The psychological defences (keeping closed, staying away from people, being loud, pushy, arrogant, shy….what ever those defences are for you) are ways of trying to reduce that vulnerability. Then our defences make us sad and miserable. There comes a point when we start to risk standing there on the battle field of life without our armour. The exquisiteness of that moment, of that vulnerability, is what connects us to one another and I would suggest is what makes true love possible. That is my valentines weekend post – the  exquisiteness of the nakedness of vulnerability. Trembling like a rose in the moment of time between yourself and the one you love.

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