Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Winding Path

The winding paths of labyrinths fascinate us, and seem to pull us into their mysterious patterns. Following their paths carries us to their heart, whether those paths can be traced with a moving finger (as with the engraved labyrinth on a column in San Martino cathedral) or are large enough to be walked around (as with the famous labyrinth set into the floor of Chartres cathedral). But what was the original significance of these patterns?

The labyrinth is an archetype. It is a tangible metaphor for one’s own spiritual journey through the winding pathway of one’s life. The point of building a labyrinth, as emphasized in myths and dances, was always about a process of initiation. When you walk a labyrinth, you follow a single circuitous path winding inwards and out again in one direction. The way to the centre of the labyrinth leads to the experience of the turning point. Without this turning point it is impossible to leave the labyrinth.

In Ancient Greek Asklepieions - sanatoria founded on the healing principles of Hippocrates - the labyrinth had an essential function as part of the healing process. Then as now the philosophy was that the true essence of initiation into the hidden knowledge is knowledge of the Self. In order to achieve this knowledge, one first has to meet one's lesser self, one's personality. And so, after the patient had gone through the first three phases of treatment in the Asklepieion, he was brought into trance by way of a dance of progression through the labyrinth. The parts of his being - his physical, etheric and astral bodies - had already been  'loosened up' during the first three phases. Now his spiritual core - his 'I' or self - became the crux of the therapeutic process.

And while the person snaked on to the sounds of solemn music, approaching the centre of the labyrinth in a meditative follow-up of steps, the dancers saw specific images appear before their mind's eye. Then they would become aware that they saw, not just the labyrinth of their surroundings, but the labyrinth of their own life-walk. The catharsis comes with the discovery that they did not lose themselves in the labyrinth, but instead found their own inner selves. In the labyrinth we do not meet the Minotaur - we meet ourselves. Only through the purifying effectiveness of the catharsis do the inner transformations become possible, which, according to Jung, is always considered a profound religious experience. 

When we walk the labyrinth, we are engaging not just our senses, but our whole bodies, our physical selves. And so walking the labyrinth becomes a form of prayer which is prayed, not just with the mind, but with the whole being. It is this physical involvement which the labyrinth demands of us that becomes a form of ‘body prayer’, allowing the process of the turning point to become a real and vivid experience.

But even a physical labyrinth need not be necessary  to achieve the experience which a labyrinth has to offer. For life itself is a labyrinth, a winding path which all of  us tread, and ultimately it is up to us all individually to what extend we choose to make that experience a conscious one.

Desire change. Be enthusiastic for that flame
in which a thing escapes your grasp
while it makes a glorious display of transformation.
That designing Spirit, the master mind of all things on earth
loves nothing so much in the sweeping movement of the dance
as the turning point.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Sunday, October 28, 2012

With the Wild Winds

On her recent visit my five year-old granddaughter told me that she had learned a song which she would like to sing to me. Full of confidence, she launched herself into this little song, both simple in the truth of its message, and charming in the directness of its words. Translated it goes like this:

Now I'm going my own way
fearlessly and far away
I might come back, but it won't be soon
I'll see where the pathway winds

Over valley, over hill 
wandering always, wandering still 
under the sun and under the moon
with the wild winds 

And in Dutch:

Nu ga ik mijn eigen gang

ik ga ver weg ik ben niet bang
ik zie wel waar ik heen zal gaan
ik zal de weg wel vinden

Over bergen over dalen

moet ik lopen moet ik dwalen
onder de zon en onder de maan
met de wilde winden

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A River has Many Voices

A river has many voices. Swiftly bubbling along and skipping over the stones in its early course, then growing more sonorous and contemplative along the more mature meanders of the plain. But these different voices are the same river. And in time those waters which reach the sea will evaporate, and in this transformed state will make a further sky journey to be returned to the source once more. 

It is a slow exhaling and inhaling of creative breath, as with the source of creative motherly Wisdom. Out of her longing for unity this motherly Wisdom stands at the source of every creation. But to achieve unity once more, creation must necessarily first pass through a condition of duality, and from duality to multiplicity. The One, in contemplating herself, becomes Two, and from Two all the multiple forms of creation flow forth. Wisdom initiates movement – and yet Wisdom herself remains still. The true act of creation is in harmony with nature, but more than this, it is nature, it is as organic as the flowing of the many-voiced river, as the flames dancing in forest darkness, as the changing clouds, or as the wind blowing streamers of sand over the crests of desert dunes.

All these forms have their own voices – even when to our ears they are silent.  But little by little, if only we open ourselves to the many voices of the river, we will hear the murmurings from its source.    

Monday, October 22, 2012

Like the Sun and the Moon

"One ought not to know", he said, "but one ought to be".
I was pondering about this for a while. Suddenly a certainty rose inside me: 'If one can be, then it cannot be overlooked that we will discover that at some stage."
"That is true", he said, 'but this is a different kind of knowing than the knowing that you are so fond of lately. There is a lot of knowing that one can obtain independently of the fact of how one simply is - that is... if the brains are working okay! That kind of knowing can be crammed together in the container of the brains and give us plenty of useful information and pleasure. But there is also a kind of knowing that comes into existence because our 'being' permeates into our consciousness. In this kind of knowing lies a great clarity, which is of a different nature to the intellect. This clarity does not resolve intellectual riddles, nor will the clarity of intellect ever have an answer to the unsayable and the inescapable - what the people mean by the 'eternal questions'. There is no struggle between these two clarities. They are like the sun and the moon. Yes, that's how it is, for even if the moon is at her brightest, she would dim if the sun were not there. No, there never can be a conflict between the clarity of thought and the inner clarity that follows from Being."
"Inner clarity", I said, "sometimes I think that I knew it once - long ago."

Drawn from: Olsen's Foolishness, by Johannes Anker Larsen (1874-1957), Danish author and mystic.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Water Mother

I breath the waves;
my age is measured 
in their rise and fall.
But old as I am 
there was a time before even I existed.

In that time, 
in that world of cracked raw rock, 
there was no water
and no life,
for life could not begin without me.
For a time that seemed forever
all remained dry.
But when the rains began, they fell 
for a time that seemed forever,
and in their falling 
was my beginning.

O Mare Creatrix!
Beloved daughter of my heart’s mysteries
whom I have enfolded in my depths forever,
this pain that you bear is a passing thing;
the sign of a soul overwhelmed by wonder.

Soon you will understand everything.
You will number without effort
the times that my waves rise and fall
in a thousand years.
You will describe perfectly
the traceries of my changing currents,
both as they are now
and as they will become
in an undreamed future.

Part of you has always longed for this.
Part of you has always known 
all that you are about to learn:
a memory recovered in the silence
between two waves,
in the silence
between two lives.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. 

T. S. Eliot - from his “Four quartets”


This will be my most personal post, and my timing for posting it is motivated by this month being not only breast cancer awareness month, but also the month traditionally associated with harvest time. But why link these two apparently unrelated events?

Recently I celebrated my 65th birthday, which for me personally happens to be quite an achievement. Twice in the short period of just six years my body fought a battle with breast cancer. People who know this about me tend to say to me: "You are a survivor". But I never know how to react to such a self-evident truth other than with a silent nod of the head.
How can one react, when there are all kinds of dying?
My body might successfully have resisted the insidious attacks upon it, but the soul has its own natural rhythms of healing. It was my spirit, and my inner space – the one of which mystics speak - which became wounded and frozen. This is something which manifests itself on an inner field of battle: a field of dull half-light and raw uncertainty. Even God and the angels seemed to withdraw themselves, leaving me to wander through this darkest twilight and waste land, apparently alone.

In my groping in the dark, every faint light on the way turned out to be a false guide, and I was like a bird that flew against a window time and time again. My piano which normally would console me fell silent, and the deep and giving well from which I drew the inspiration for my stories turned dry. I was grieving for them both, my creative companions. At the same time I felt abandoned by them. First God, then my music and my writing?

I blamed the chemotherapies. The icy-coldness of the toxic orange fluid which had been pumped into my veins, must have reached my spirit. I felt frozen, both inside and out. In that frozen state I surrendered to what my soul so clearly was going through. So I kept walking through this barren land. For almost eight long years.

I heard a voice: "you have to die deeper still", and another: "you have to trust deeper still".

But something else was asking for attention too.  It knocked politely at my door, pleading to be allowed in. What was it? I did not recognize the visitor. In a most gentle way this presence spoke to me through the words of a dear friend: "you must  pour compassion into yourself and console yourself. If you bring that kind of light to your soul and to its wounded places, you can affect incredible inner healing. In doing so you actually start to sense that the one who is giving consolation and compassion is much deeper than the entity you are consoling."

Compassion was the sustenance for the soul to take the final steps through the barren land.

Every living soul on this earth, whether in physical or in spiritual despair or distress, is walking this road at some stage in his or her life. And it is up to each and every one of us to break through that hidden isolation and take that one step nearer to the Truth.

When at last I was able to ‘unfreeze’, I began, gently and cautiously, to draw in the threads of life around me once more. Step by faltering step the process went, and setbacks there were aplenty. But this time there were helping hands, nearby and from far across the oceans, which encouraged me to ground myself in the circle of life once more. Gradually I acquired new vigor, and I could feel the love of my loved ones and friends revitalizing my being.

Now I anchor myself in this silent, unknowable mystery called life, with the deep and reverent sense which comes when one feels oneself drawing ever closer to the mystery. And the link with harvest time? I am beginning the harvest years of my life, not just in terms of my age, but in the accumulated experience of all that has gone before, and the awareness that while we cannot hope to understand all the things which happen to us, we nevertheless can give them a place, knowing that the most precious harvest is that of Compassion for the soul's silent yearning.  

Top painting: Elvira Amrhein

Saturday, October 13, 2012



she celebrates the secret of letting go
First she gives away her green,
now her orange, 
her yellow, 
and then her red,
until the fire fades
at the last, to lose her dying embers.
All, all is given away, to her very last leaf
There she stands, empty and silent,
Leaning naked against the Autumn air
she begins her watch of trust.

Painting Autumn by David Bergen

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What is Love?

Don't unstring your bow.
I am your four-feathered arrow
that has not been used yet.

I am a strong knifeblade word,
not some if or maybe, dissolving in air.
I am sunlight slicing the dark.

Who made this night?
A forge deep in the earth-mud.

What is the body?

What is love?

What is hidden in our chests?

What else?

Don't ask what love can make or do.
Look at the colors of the world.
The riverwater moving in all rivers at once.



Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tree of Dreams

I am the tree of dreams
crows in my hair
children in my branches
lovers' names scratched in my bark.
In timeless times
and endless winds
my rustling leaves
are weary of singing
songs of times when I
was young myself.
Only the dreamers can
change the dream
so I am here till the end of times
to keep the dream alive.