Feb

25

Therapists, in my view, are born not made, preferably within the toxic shambles of ancestral cock-ups, gloom and tragedy, glued together by betrayals and abandonments under a carapace of despair.

For as the poet WH Auden put it: ’The so-called traumatic experience is not an accident, but the opportunity for which the child has been patiently waiting – had it not occurred, it would have found another, equally trivial – in order to find a necessity and direction for its existence, in order that its life may become a serious matter.’

In our healing journey, many of us seek recognition of our false self in the world, but that is akin to living on the scaffolding and ignoring the house. Real recognition and thus satisfaction comes, in both my own experience and as a therapist, when the soul is seen and met.

It is as if we therapists are destined to fly out far from the earth (I will describe specifically how that happened to me) and then have both the capacity and the duty to heal what lies within the bounds of that circumference.

Never trust a therapist whose arc is shorter than your own. And if that is not a golden rule it ought to be.

For what is most needed to help people understand themselves is a companion living an archetypal life. For as Thomas Mann said, ‘Whereas in the life of mankind the mythical represents an early and primitive stage, in the life of an individual it represents a late and mature one.’

But all of the above is by way of pre-amble, for I was asked about my own journey as a man, and my delay serves to both set the stage and allow me to ponder the complexity of my story.

The first inkling I had of destiny came on my third birthday, when in hospital fighting to survive pneumonia, I was molested by an older boy and shot out of my body as if fired from a cannon.

Suddenly, I was in a far-flung corner of a blackened universe, attached to nothing, floating in the void. It is said that a mystic swims in what a psychotic drowns in. I returned awake yet wet, full to the brim of wondrous gifts and terrible fears.

It was my first shamanic experience. But it belongs in context.

My father was an Irish catholic, born in secret in a Dublin workhouse, my mother a Protestant missionary’s daughter from India. They shared a birthday, September 8, with one another and with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And there was no question that I was treated like the divine child, although by this time, as in all mythological tales, the kingdom once abundant was now in ruins. My father, in a proxy attempt to find the mother who had given him up for adoption, had run off with another woman and was in exile.

One Irish catholic against a family of serious English Protestants has poor odds and, after a number of visits, he was never seen again.

My fall from grace was up and running and would be prolonged. By the time my stepfather came along, my father was all but erased from history, and it was made clear that this was year Zero.

Now that I have grown-up children of my own, it is hard to conceive how two young boys would have to lie about their provenance at school, conceal the family secrets and save their family from further shame.

But this was the end of the sixties and things were different. Even in our ‘Christian’ family, judgment not mercy prevailed and there is no question that shame was to be feared rather than confronted.

What didn’t help me was that I was nice looking and rather too adored. One day, when I was about ten, my stepfather pulled me into the pantry and hit me hard, with his fist, in the stomach.

Like abusers before him, I was instructed never to tell anyone and I never did. It was around the time, my mother had an affair. As always, I was her confidante, and when she was discovered, I was blamed for not telling and, like my father before me, found myself the family scapegoat.

I write about these things now because enough time and work has gone by for me to be able to do so. There has been much said about sexual abuse in recent years, but there remains less understanding of emotional abuse in families.

What was most shocking of all was the realisation that although I had stood by her through her affair, my mother was going to close her heart, maintain the status quo and would put enormous pressure on me to achieve, so all that would now be unlived through her, would be channelled through me.

It was a pressure that all but destroyed me and although initially I won plaudits and prizes, it was not long before I gave up and surrendered myself to many years of self destruction.

There were many things that happened, but as in all mythological tales, this one held within it the seeds of redemption and although I had travelled the via negativa, experiencing the divine in its seeming absence, from the age of 22 I began to have awakenings that would return me to an experience of my essence, that which both existed outside of time and space and held them within it.

At 26 I gave up alcohol, which I had been consuming in quantity since the age of 14, and was scooped up by an elderly Buddhist, a former tea planter who knew the pain of alienation and could begin to guide me home; at 28, I became a father for the first time; at 33 I was living in a retreat centre and stumbled across the burgeoning UK men’s movement and with it a depth and breadth of understanding and fellowship that spoke to my soul.

In 1999, on a vision quest for men in Snowdonia, I was guided to perform a simple ritual in which I reclaimed my father’s surname, an act later confirmed in a court of law. In that moment, I heard a deep inner voice saying I would hear news of my father when I got home. I had already learned that in ritual space, whole universes are re-arranged.

When I returned, his death certificate was on the mat. My father had died in Leicester in November 1987; in August I had moved to Leicester to work on the local paper. Our souls had called to each other, moved close yet never met.

Through the men’s work, a long grief ritual with the African chief Malidoma Some, different trainings as a therapist, studying astrology, involvement in family constellations, rebirthing and meditation, I found my way. On a visit to the Babaji ashram in India – the same district from which my family fled when Gandhi was killed – I laid the ghost of my ancestors.

Six years ago, I was initiated into an ancient meditation pathway of light and sound and discovered with TS Eliot that at the end of all our explorings we shall return to our beginnings and know the place for the first time.

At 53, I am part of the Chiron in Pisces generation. Our wound is the wound of separation, and yet in returning to the root of the root of the Self, we find something miraculous: in our true heart, at the deepest level of our being, we are unscathed – lover, beloved and finally Love itself.

What emerged from my experience were gifts I would not be without, gifts to be shared and passed on to those who know such depth of pain as I have, those who need an awareness that we are visitors here yet can also find home.

At 40, I found out I had been adopted in order that my father could have no connection with me and he had been told we were headed for a new life in Australia.

In being a father to my own children, at least some of what was emptied has been filled. I have learned something of love and forgiveness and those who work with me know I come to them with heartfelt compassion and deep sensitivity.

What I see now is that we do indeed have to become like children again, for as Andrew Harvey writes, only the child will go into hell for the divine. I have known that hell.

The Sufis acknowledge that although we want union, He wants separation. We are meant to be here. I am, you are. We are all special.

How do we discover, or uncover, that which we already are? Rumi described ‘the one thing’, that one essential task, as the return to the root of the root of one’s own self.

In coming here, we descend into the world head first and it takes a long time to find our feet. For Earth is a mirror of Heaven, and in a mirror are we not looking at both ourselves and life backwards?

The soul is both ancient and new-born, again and again over many lifetimes, with life the ultimate paradox, pressing us to find that which is sovereign yet long forgotten, often within families, which mythologist Michael Meade wincingly describes as ‘a storehouse of poison or fixed positions’.

How many of us are born with a sense of nobility yet consigned to a life that is anything but noble, amid circumstances seemingly designed to thwart any sense of royal birth?

And although we suffer and often bemoan the lot spun by the Fates specifically for us, something of great import and necessity is going on.

I like to help others remember that.

Copyright simon heathcote

 

 

 

 

 

Feb

25

‘How could you possibly have such a purity in a clay creature? A clay creature is always a mixture of light and darkness.’ John O’Donohue

In the beginning, in St Jean, France, a sign swinging in the morning breeze above L’auberge du pèlerin depicts a pilgrim in ochre. He has a jaunty look, a stick with a knapsack slung over his shoulder and big, bare feet, more hobbit than man. He seemed insignificant at the time.

He is Everyman, the Fool in the tarot, wide-eyed – less acquainted with innocence than naivety – and willing to step off the precipice, perhaps with some damn fool notion of discovering new life. I knew how he felt. At 51, I didn’t really know what was to come either and, fortunately, I didn’t really care.

But looking back, something about those feet was giving me a warning….

On the plane from Stansted, I squeezed into a middle seat, and began talking to the passenger on my left. His name was Rafael and – the first of many synchronicities – he was living in the town in which I had spent 27 years.

This particular auberge was his idea. He had walked part of El Camino de Santiago before and was back, this time to attempt the full 500 miles. I wondered, for the briefest of moments, if he was mad and quickly realised if he was then so was I.

The difference was I was desperately unfit, overweight and accompanied to my right by Meg, my 20-year-old daughter, who soon told me she would rather check out a number of hostels than stay in one some guy she had never met had put forward. I felt the blood rising in my throat.

Whereas I had spent years practising the often painful art of surrender and interpreted my synchronous connection with Rafael as a sign, she was firmly rooted in a personality intent on making its own decisions. It would be the first of several singular moments of conflict that would, at times, see us shouting at each other like a couple of fishwives.

Youthful forthrightness came as a dubious addition to her easier charms. In the airport, she had made her position clear: “You are the most unreliable person I know,” she told me without a moment’s hesitation. “You are not a source of stability in my life.”

I had not known what to say and she had looked at me with an alarming measure of disgust and returned to her book on another ‘free radical’, Summerhill School.

Already reeling from a row with my son the day before we left, who was doing a remarkable impression of a 15-year-old boozer, I felt the life force that was already attenuating rapidly, slipping further out of reach, just at the time when I needed it most.

I had mountains to climb, damn it, and miles and miles to go.

In Biarritz, despite Meg’s protestations, we hooked up with a Dutchman and Didier, the taxi driver, who lied about the price of rail fares and wooed us into his cab.

“The first thing I am going to do is buy a knife,” said the Dutchman. “Have you heard about the hybrid wolf-dogs in the mountains?” I had not, but I had reread Shirley MacLaine’s book, The Camino, and was already sufficiently wound up about the dogs of Foncebadon, who prowled in packs savaging pilgrims.

Didier dropped us in what passed for a square, and we ditched the rather dull Dutchman, and made our way up La Rue de la Citadelle to the pilgrim office and queued for the requisite paraphernalia delivered, perplexingly, by a smiling elderly woman with not a word of English.

John Brierley’s guidebook, A Pilgrim’s Guide To The Camino de Santiago, had recommended weeks of Spanish language training, but I came equipped with only the distant memory of schoolboy French, a beautiful daughter brimming with strong opinion, and a rucksack with two pairs of everything.

I hadn’t intended to take Meg to Spain. It was my journey. But when she told me she had dropped out of university and was at a loose end, I said come, casually, and with consequences.

What lay behind us was history, separation, and the pain of love’s longing; in front the deconstructing of story, myth and misunderstanding, and miles and miles of track, footpath and road.

And so we followed Charlemagne and Napoleon over the high pass into Spain, my feet already raw and bleeding, my blisters sewn up with iodine thread at night by kindly strangers.

In a hotel room in Pamplona – a treat bought for me by a couple grateful that I had helped their daughter up the mountain on day one – Meg, exhausted and hurting, shouted at me for depriving her of the road’s austerities.

I had left when Meg was two and Jess was six, was battling my heart and my karma and, like many fathers, fighting a system designed to defeat.

I was wounded by the scalpel of experience and a benighted ancestry and, after losing joint custody of my girls, cooled in the shadows, waiting patiently for better days. Suddenly, more than a decade on, here we were, the years tumbling down toward this moment.

In Pamplona, I felt ill-equipped and overwhelmed by Meg’s resentment yet observed with pride the delight she brought to everyone she met. I watched her with a full heart the whole trip.

Then, a few days later I met Ute. We had bumped, fatefully, into one another at Najera, in a municipal albergue loaded with ninety bunkbeds.

Their heated, sweaty occupation had made me sick so I took a rest day and caught the bus to Santo Domingo de Calzada where, to my surprise, Meg arrived with Ute.

In Belorado, the next day, sitting in the stalls in the bathroom, whistling happily, I hear a woman’s voice. ‘She must be in the wrong bathroom’.

And with that thought I enter car crash slow motion, as I realise that perhaps, just perhaps, it is me.

Outside the window, the bunting – made up of all the national flags of Camino walkers – catches my eye, its presence in the breeze shifting my consciousness, gently, soon forcibly. The sound of the cicadas slows me further and my mind meanders a mystic river of possibility.

I emerge from the stalls like a reluctant, last-minute Grand National entry and there, brushing her teeth, is Ute.

She is naked from the waist down and frothing at the mouth.

‘All right?’ I say, sliding past her as she continues brushing. Matey is the only tone that feels near the mark, but still wildly off.

Although I had not expected to see her bottom quite so soon, the inevitability of our liaison was clear from day one. We were soon ‘bunking’ our way across Spain, quietly, noisily, in dorms, hostels, hotel rooms.

Navigating the road to Santiago de Compostela was one thing. Negotiating the dread weave between road romance and filial duty and propriety was another.

Ute, however, was refreshingly continental and had me choking on my Englishness on more than one occasion. We collided at the right time. She had breezed out of a dead marriage in Germany and into the over-heated hostel. She was 42, a masseuse and singer of light opera.

While I was mourning a hopeless love affair and fighting a depression which had tipped me into action, she was throwing off the bonds of marriage and monogamy. She and Meg became firm friends.

Free love was here and although I appreciated her hand in my daughter’s blossoming, the thought of me stumbling across them both frolicking naked together by a stream to take in the sun (they either did it or were going to do it) was perplexing. I imagined being matey again, but my synapses were hurting.

Meanwhile, the road passed through us with its cast of characters from around the globe. High on the meseta, tales passed from ear to ear on the wind.

Had I heard about the doctor carrying his wife? No, I hadn’t. Next, he was towing her, then making amends. The story grew longer than Pinocchio’s nose.

Astonishingly, it was true. I saw the picture: a whale of a woman, perhaps 20 stone, pulled by a wiry pensioner in braces in a red and white striped cart. It looked like she had eaten all the ice-cream and bankrupted the pair of them.

He had pulled her from Germany, ten kilometres for every other women he had slept with. The Camino’s not long enough ran the gag.

In Leon, in another hotel room, Meg produced her phone and together we lay down, listened to the Disney songs she cherished from a life long ago, held one another, talked and wept. My failings, my flaws took shape within my humanness.

What I came to understand was that her judgment and criticism of me, which has been almost constant, came from her love for me, and that all these years, she had felt my pain and separation from family: my first family as a young boy, the family ruled by my stepfather and then the family I made with her mother.

We both felt it deeply and recalled the good times before things went badly wrong. The next day, we separated, our differing time schedules slowly moving us apart, meeting intermittently.

We walked on with more peace, our work done for the moment, crossing paths occasionally, her moving ahead for an early flight for a holiday in Barcelona.

I lost sight of Ute too until Foncebadon, near the highest point on the trail. Tender, loving, detached and inevitably finite, we shared an ease and freedom.

The night before, a young Korean woman gave me her low bunk and we shared a dinner with a wild American cyclist, a cowboy on two wheels.

I was curious about the Koreans and amused myself with memories of newspaper headlines of them eating dogs. Up the mountain, lying in wait perhaps, were a whole pack of dogs. Dogs Eat Koreanseemed plausibly circular.

Walking alone through the mist, it seemed clear the town was abandoned. Were the dogs still there and, if so, had they taken over? And where were the other Koreans?

Even a café was closed which was implausible, perhaps unheard of, mid-morning. I was quiet, not wanting to draw attention to myself. There was no-one in sight, neither a voice nor a bark.

I approached the door of another café-bar, opened it to discover, miraculously, a bustling oasis, ate oranges and milky porridge and drank coffee by the fire.

If I hadn’t sat longer than intended, I may never have seen her again. But the door flew open and in walked Ute. We trekked to Cruz de Ferro, the highest point on The Camino, and left prayers and offerings with thousands of others.

After three days, as was our way, we parted once more.

´´You are like the sun and an invitation, ¨ she said to me rather flatteringly. ¨I can lean on you. You are the first person for a long time I can do that with.¨

It had been one of the great privileges of the trip to meet a woman who exudes love, who feels life fully, is honest and brave and follows the truth in her body not the voices in her head.

¨I will spend the day walking and crying, ¨ she told me. But I knew they were not pain-filled tears but gratitude for a real meeting.

The last week I walked alone, the magnitude of my journey present. I was overwhelmed with tears as I reached the old city of Santiago, nearly six weeks after I left France.

As I queued for my Compostela amid a throng of pilgrims, I recognised a familiar face. Meg was already in Barcelona, but Ute was here and had acquired a flat by the cathedral……

The next day we sat in one of the many cafes in this unique city. I had been hurled back into life, one so different to that which I had been living.

I watched the world rush by – charity workers veiled in yellow vests and youthful charm, men with muzzled dogs, beggars, women in T-shirts that read, bizarrely, ‘Camino Bunny’, waiters delivering croquettes and coffee.

Each person marching, strolling, walking, a jungle of humanity of which I was a part and I knew I was infinitely loved. 

I felt once again an incredible love for life and an inseparable sadness that this would all end, and I knew that as it says on a memorial for the victims of the twin towers in New York:

‘Grief is the price we pay for love’.

© Simon Heathcote




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feb

25

‘Our story…is much older than its years, its datedness is not to be measured in days, nor the burden of age weighing upon it to be counted by orbits around the sun, it does not actually owe its pastness to time.’  Thomas Mann

 

Years ago, if time exists, I found myself roaming the streets of a dismal, faded Willesden, looking for an Irishman.

He seemed to have declared a republic, his small flat a minor citadel, its gated entry a bulwark against whatever lay in wait outside. Perhaps we started with small talk about a recent spate of burglaries. I had come from a verdurous Kew and was, I recall, feeling spoilt.

I sat in a recliner and he threw a blanket over me. He then clipped a small microphone to his shirt and we began. He was mesmerising, but he was supposed to be and, in short order, I found myself under, straddling worlds as the hypnotism took hold.

It is hard to remember exactly what brought me to his door; I was already a therapist myself working in addiction, had scratched the addict to reveal the co-dependent, had scratched the co-dependent to reveal the trauma victim, but what next?

What I noticed were recidivists. Every rehab has them. They appear regularly, often tragically, presenting the sort of conundrum that any institution would rather disappear.

I was no stranger to pain myself and felt myself pulled by an invisible thread into Pluto’s realm, the dark domain of the unconscious, seeking answers that could only be found at the bottom of the well.

This was my first regression and soon, in an alternate reality, I was staring at my buckled feet, following that same thread into 17thcentury England.

My rational mind balked for a while, employed my inner cynic to dismiss what I was seeing but, encouraged to trust myself, I let go and allowed the unconscious to lead me.

Isaw myself as a monk seconded to the local squire’s house to teach his children, but managed to fall in love with his wife. Having no money nor anything worldly to offer, she refused to come away with me. Ireturned to the monastery bitterly dejected, was told Ihad to leave, wandered some sparse common land, finally attempting to end it all in a lake, when the squire’s men arrived and dragged me back to the manor’s keep.

Then something remarkable happened. As that life came to its premature close with a quivering hypothermia, I felt a great wave shudder through my body, while sitting in my chair, which felt like an enormous healing light. It was utterly unexpected and totally blissful. I knew immediately that death could be a wonder.

But before that, something else had happened. My collaborator asked me a simple question: ‘What’s the name of the woman?’ I answered without hesitation, ‘Lady Alicia’.

It is important to say at this point I am not a proselytiser for the veracity of past lives, have no concern if people dismiss my account or possess scientific theories that can explain away such arcane phenomena. I do not waste time on conversion, which is an affront to individual dignity, neither am I interested in debate.

Dr Roger Woolger, the founder of Deep Memory Process, which works with past lives, wrote this on the back cover of his book, Other Lives, Other Selves: ‘It doesn’t matter whether you believe in reincarnation or not. The unconscious mind will almost always produce a past life story when invited in the right way. Even if the conscious mind is highly sceptical, the unconscious is a true believer!’

I can only tell my story, and it is this: I had never heard of a Lady Alicia from the 17thcentury, nor any other era for that matter, yet after investigation found myself sitting in The Eclipse Inn in Winchester.

The old pub was the site of the final days of Lady Alicia Lisle who, it is said, walked out of her upstairs bedroom window on to the scaffold specially prepared for her execution, where she died by axe on September 2, 1685.

Her crime had been to shelter two state rebels defeated and on the run after the Battle of Sedgemoor at her home, Moyles Court near Ringwood in Hampshire. Dame Alice soon found herself before Judge Jeffries at the Bloody Assizes who condemned her for treason and sentenced her to be burned. There was no clemency shown, but due to her social stature, King James 11 commuted her sentence and she died with dignity.

She is the last woman to have been executed by a judicial sentence of beheading in England. The judgment against her was later rescinded.

Shortly after my session, I told a friend about it. We were both silenced when she told me that she had been at a conference in Winchester on the anniversary of Lady Alice’s death and had experienced a powerful burning sensation on her lips and face.

It was an arresting development, an easy distraction, but would have been a cul-de-sac; my interest was in the healing power of working with the deep unconscious.

Healing is a word that seems to bamboozle people, is often confused with cure, and is often subtle and hard to quantify. Like meditation, it works on inner planes of consciousness, bringing results not always immediately apparent. What is noticed, often by others first, are changes in demeanour, more contentment, feelings of happiness and life improving.

I had first come across Dr Woolger in the 90s while living at a retreat centre in rural Dorset, was curious about his course and, years later, decided to sign up.

A brilliant academic and free thinker, with a PhD in comparative religion, Roger later trained at the Jung Institute in Zurich as an analyst and followed his own thread after seeming to hear fragments of memory from other lifetimes from his analysands. Finally, he tied all the threads together, in one powerful synthesis that included bodywork, spirit release, psychodrama and more into a powerful cocktail easing trauma release.

Although I met him because of his training, we became closer when I wrote a magazine piece about his work he wanted to use in the reprint of his book.

His method does not involve hypnosis rather the embodying of the past life character which, as I soon discovered, is not always easy to achieve.

It was spring, bluebells blanketed an expanse of ground nearby, dog roses climbed, prettily, around a large yew, but we were in the hut, in pairs. The atmosphere was anything but spring-like.

Working with art, I had found myself aware of another lifetime yet, lying on the ground eyes closed, with my partner taking her turn facilitating, I was aware of being stuck in my head. Embodying means just that but I was – rather than being in my body – out of it, something not uncommon for those who have experienced trauma.

There was a palpable stuckness as any progress ground to a standstill; my partner had slowed to a depressive silence and did not know how to move me forward.

Suddenly, I received an almighty slap round the face which instantaneously shot me into my body, and there I was at The Somme, a teenager collapsing while confronting the unspeakable horrors of war. All around mewere dead, all of myfriends, the carnage was unbelievable, worse still was the terrible aloneness amplified by loss. Iwas there and it was impossible to stop sobbing.

Roger’s slap was both unconventional and courageous and Icontinued to release a deep pain. Often in past life work, one looks for connections to this time and for those souls who may be here again, companions who may play different roles over many lifetimes. The revolving nature of the Self as victim-perpetrator-rescuer was noticed by Carl Jung who termed it enantiodromia.

As a young boy at a time of heightened anguish, I had been sent to a penfriend in France, near Le Mans, and had spent a week in bed, distraught and sobbing.  Yet although life then was tough, I had never quite understood why I had been in quite so much pain. Suddenly, the cosmic dice came tumbling down. At last, it made sense. I took a breath. It can be hard to describe the bodily experiencing of certitude but this was it.

Often, when we are able to re-contextualise our trauma, we experience deep relief as the veils between worlds are lifted. Returning to my recidivists, it struck me that it is perhaps impossible for people to heal while looking in the wrong place. Both belief and experience tell me that childhood is a time when all that lies hidden from us, in our deeper self, is hinted at and carries echoes of our earlier experience. There is then no tabla rasa, we come in pre-loaded with our karma which obliges us by unfolding over time.

What I have found again and again is that I attract clients of two basic types: those, like myself, who experienced severe intra-uterine or childhood trauma and cannot seem to find a way out of their suffering through conventional therapy; and those who cannot find reason or explanation for their symptoms in anything that has happened in this life. Both groups, I believe, are suffering from wounds to the soul that have happened in other lifetimes: research would indicate the clients who experience trauma in early life are in a sense starting where they left off in another life and quickly find themselves entangled once more in the same old drama. The second group are more unconscious and have fewer clues to help them from the life they are actually in.

Both feel stuck, desperate and hopeless, unaware the problems lie deep within the soul’s long experience and that they are endlessly incarnating into lives where their particular complex (samskaras to use the Hindu term) will intensify until they find resolution. Clients can be helped whether they believe in past lives or not. The unconscious and physical body stores the memory of trauma, which moves from lifetime to lifetime within the etheric body. Just like in conventional therapy the process of remembering, recollection and reunion has to happen for a complete healing to occur.

 

Sadly, Roger died before I completed my training and I decided not to continue, although my belief in the efficacy of working with the deep soul continued and I pursued an interest in a soul-based astrology.

What I am certain of is resolution and the relief of unhealed physical ailments are remarkable when people choose to work in their own depths. Unfertile, hopeless women become pregnant, physical symptoms disappear, guilt evaporates when understood and success descends on a life after years of abject failure unhelped by conventional means. It is one of the great ironies that psychotherapy, which originally meant study of the soul, does not attend any more to the part of us that it names as needing healing. The soul is missing from modern therapy, which is why I despair when I hear about the perpetuation and popularity of the CBTs etc. We continue looking in the wrong place with a limited view and we fail through a lack of vision that is not our own but a culture’s that has ditched meaning for meaninglessness, replacing soul with sound bites.

Who knows, perhaps that understanding is the parting gift from a woman I once loved, a lady who died on a scaffold in a life long ago.

 

© simon heathcote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feb

25

 

‘Creation and destruction, I am dancing for them both.’Rumi

 

Sometimes a man can live his life on the borders and in the margins, camp out in purgatory, know the territory of thresholds and sing his song among strangenesses.Sometimes, living feels like dying and dying feels like living.

Occasionally, one becomes the other.But more of that later.

For now, it is 1996, and I am standing on the back lawn of a red-brick pile in Dorset next to a pre-Oscar, pre-Spielberg Mark Rylance and poet-activist and Iron Johnauthor Robert Bly. There are perhaps six of us and Rylance, whose first men’s retreat this is, has written and delivered a devastating poem. There is the first flutter of autumn leaves.

(Yesterday, watching him as The BFGwith my son, I realize it would be legitimate to call Rylance the biggest star in the world.)

He will soon be one of Bly’s more famous sons, yet we are legion. Haydn Reiss, whose film Robert Bly: A Thousand Years of Joypremieres in Notting Hill on Sunday told me from California: “I am one of his many sons. I went up to him and said many of us look up to you as a father and he said, ‘That’s ok’.”

For Bly, often grizzled and grumpy in his need to carve out some space for himself after finding success in his 60s with his insights into the old Grimm’s fairy story Iron John, is both father and grandfather to a movement and knows it. He is also, Reiss reminded me, fallible and human.

One needs reminding, for Bly with his wild shocked white hair, colourful waistcoats and odd cravats, cuts quite a figure: at first glance a floral bear, then one who soon shapeshifts into an American eagle with ferocious talons. If you want to avoid their pinch, don’t call him Bob. (If you want to hear about that get to a Q & A and ask Mark Rylance.)

On the dais at his first men’s gathering in Dorset, he was, I wrote recently in a poem, Uranus distilled, shooting bolts of seismic thought, which his floating hands, reached up and gathered from the heavens like twin birds, returning to caress one ear then slap another. He left you stunned, felled by the koans he delivered like darts, foxed by a mind that knew what you did not.Father and friend to so many, he built sheds in the garden of thought, pinpointed and pulled out what we needed yet never wanted to hear.

 

He could also be infuriating and was horrendously late for one event, apparently held up by a lengthy lunch – or so the rumour went. I recall, more fondly, his many kindnesses. At one gathering, I had not felt part of the group, and slipped to the side in isolation. Bly, ever watchful, came over, simply putting an avuncular arm over my shoulders and asking if I was okay.

 

In the new film – which like Bly’s poems yields more with each sitting – we are taken into the heart and soul of the man who crashed his tractor into a ditch while reading Omar Khayyamas a Minnesota farm boy; who readily quoted Hardy, Lawrence and Yeats; then later wooed the great Pablo Neruda. Of course, he also organised resistance against both Vietnam and Iraq wars for American writers. He challenged many of the poets of his day he saw as ‘old-fashioned’, refusing to accept the division of spiritual reverence from sacred activism in their work, seeing them both as the poet’s sacred duty.

 

His love of Omar Khayyamforeshadowed his later love affair with the Sufis for, as one commentator says, Bly is an ecstatic, widely read (he researched both Freud and Jung), and has a knack for sniffing out exactly what his soul needs next.

 

There are a number of poignant moments: Bly, an alcoholic’s son, weeping, chest heaving, as he explains the benefits of apologizing to your children; and early scenes when, after going to Harvard and distinguishing himself among a group of noted young poets, courageously, drops out and hangs out in Minnesota, eschewing ambition and success in favour of watering his soul.

 

It would have cost him dear by the usual standards, but he remained true, refusing to surrender his complexity for a false peace. Like Rumi, who was at the height of both worldly and egoic powers when he met his mentor, he sacrificed everything the world values for a finer wine, treading the mystic’s path.

 

That helped me clarify why I feel such love and admiration for Bly. For just before meeting him, I had – to everyone’s shock and horror – given up my job as a newspaper editor as my young marriage crashed to a halt and was soon working as a commis chef in the kitchen of Gaunts House, the retreat centre where he pitched up, for board and lodgings.

 

I was 33 and had responded, without knowing it, to a call from my soul to vital questions put by Martin Shaw, perhaps Bly’s natural heir, in his wonderful bookA Branch From The Lightning Tree: ‘Where is the mystery in going straight from school to college to job to mortgage? What wider perspective, what beauty cuts through that ghastly procession and makes you howl with the joy of being alive.’

 

Or as another poet, Mary Oliver, said:’Tell me, what is it youplan to dowith your one wild and precious life?’

 

I was howling with both grief and joy and Bly understood, in detail and with a precision that no-one else did and probably few people could.

 

Ask Rylance (who introduces the film on YouTube), Devon-based storyteller Shaw, stage director and mythodrama pioneer Richard Olivier, Rumi translator Coleman Barks, for their most significant influence and they will likely come up with a variant on Reiss: ‘All roads lead back to Bly.’

If you have never heard of Robert Elwood Bly, now 89, the former should tell you something about his significance, the reach of his intellectual arm, and his ability to weave threads that rivet the attention.

The new film, which Reiss rushed into a theatre near Bly last summer so the old man could see it before crossing the threshold between Saturn and Neptune, the two worlds he has straddled so ably, begins on home turf in Minnesota.

Bly, gruff and staccato when I met him now says almost nothing, but the viewing, apparently, went well: ‘I could tell the film really fed him,’ his wife Ruth confided to the director, who came across his first men’s meeting while working on Oliver Stone’s JFK, and moved out of Hollywood and into documentaries.

Reiss had worked with Bly for a piece with fellow writer William Stafford, whose work is often read on men’s retreats. He later realized there was more to tell and was aided by interest from British actor-director Harry Burton, who swapped a documentary of his own on Pinter.

Harry is another veteran of what is called the mytho-poetic men’s movement and one of the film’s producers.

Late in June, he brought me via Facebook two distinct yet connected pieces of news, almost exactly one week apart.

The first, which came late at night, simply read: ‘Awful news today that Robert Moore has killed his wife and himself in Chicago.’

Moore, theologian, professor, Jungian analyst in private practice in Chicago and much-respected mentor to many seems, for whatever reason, to have been devoured by the Great Self he spoke so much about.

It was shocking news, its shadow silent in the air. When I looked for IronJohnon Amazon, Moore’s book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine was offered as a companion piece. Both were bibles, both published in 1990.

While the reverberations and reasons for Moore’s act will pose questions and inflict wounds for some time to come, men’s work, despite the noble efforts and great work of many men – not least in the UK – is no longer in vogue, says Reiss. Simply put, the zeitgeist moved on.

Harry’s second message was happier, with a clip of Rylance’s introduction and an invitation to the West Country screening planned for Dartington, Totnes, three days after London.

The gifts inherent in ritual and myth – something that never happened yet always is – remain: ‘These ritual forms are the secret history of the world: they are medicine. To face the world without them is to walk naked into a blizzard, to enter a desert without water,’ writes Shaw.

When Bly and Olivier, mythologist Michael Meade, Dagara tribal chief Malidoma Somé, shaman Martín Prechtel and the English poet William Ayot, entered the centre’s kitchen they came bearing myths. I put down my knife and followed.

For I had discovered through my own experience – and horror at the career in newspaper management laid out before me – that Flatlands almost always mean Badlands. If I could not cross the line into a wild adulthood, then I would sooner stay an adolescent.

I needed a life rich in meaning, purpose and passion, populated by people I could admire. My own fatherless existence and the longing that poured from my wounds caught the mood of the moment.

And so we listened to the old stories, greeted impossible dilemmas, wept and made friends, rediscovered our inner rhythms through drumming, turned and faced our grief. It was some of the best work I ever encountered. For it lent context to exile, something I knew well, and suggested staying true to one’s depths whatever others thought and, as importantly, for however long.

‘Fairy stories are the fundamental gifts we have received from the preliterate ancient world. The images of the stories given are meant to be taken slowly into the body,’ Bly tells us. A myth, adds Jung, is the collective dream of the culture. Slowness and patience are qualities long abandoned in industrialized nations.

Wild Dance Events, the organization set up by Richard Olivier with the encouragement of Bly, brought some of the power and energy experienced in America to Britain, drew on the wisdom of other cultures, included women at many gatherings and, to use Shaw’s words, amplified things we didn’t know were available any more.

There was a deep, cloying sadness when both that time and organization came to a close and although I was initiated by The Mankind Project in 2003 and attended some wonderful groups, I did not connect with it in the same way. In short, I had been spoilt.

Bly popped into my mind later through a number of channels. I wrote a piece on Steinbeck for The Independent in 2001; we had cross-referenced Steinbeck’s interest in mythology years earlier. It was the heart of my article.

A few years after that I made friends with the late actor Bruce Boa, who told me he had given up drinking for 17 years when he found himself sawing through his basement gas pipe in an attempt to kill himself.

As we drank tea in his Kew Gardens home, he told me he was the brother of Bly collaborator, Jungian analyst Marion Woodman. I had known him, like many, as the angry American in the Waldorf Saladepisode of Fawlty Towers.

All addictions, if seen with an eye for initiation could be argued as a failure of transformation, specifically the failure to complete what is a three-stage journey and be welcomed home. I wondered about Moore once more as well as the differing paths taken by Bruce and his sister.

It seems there is a hair width’s divide between sanity and madness, life and death, this world and the Other world.

‘The descent,’ says Woodman, ‘is a mythological term for the period during and after a powerful event in which the ego has been overwhelmed by a wave from the unconscious. Energy that is normally available to consciousness falls into the unconscious. This is known as journeying to the underworld, a state in which creative energies are going through transformations that the unaware ego may know nothing about.’

Shaw, rightly, emphasizes the importance of Return, moving back from the Threshold, coming home from the vision quest. There are always some who don’t make it.

After watching The BFG, Mark Rylance appeared once more in my mind. I tried to recall the poem he had written all those years before. The word diamond kept coming to me.

Then I read the transcript of his interview for the Bly film. He recalls that early poetry workshop and the central idea that the father cannot praise the diamond in you, something Bly knew only too well:

’Um, and this idea of the diamond in each of us, of a unique kind of gift um, gift that – that is there from birth…but it really takes a different elder man to say, “hey, I see something there that’s you – that’s in you.’”

Such seeing is a blessing and with the fires of conflagration everywhere, hawks and policemen bullying America, the fallout from Brexit oozing like stagnant water from a broken river bank, and a shredded political landscape here, there was never a more urgent time for the appearance of mystics, visionaries and men and women prepared to stand for something finer, telling truths that challenge the consensus.

There is no question that hindsight will elevate Bly, but adopt him now as inspiration and example. As Reiss and I agreed, such men only pass this way once in a thousand years.

© simon heathcote

 

 

 

Feb

25

‘A time comes in a person’s life, in a particular incarnation, when he begins to lose interest in the affairs of the world, knowingly or unknowingly. He may feel that he does not belong to the world, and the objects of the world no longer give him satisfaction. Though not clearly perceived, somehow he intuitively senses that the objects of sense gratification which he has sought over and over again, perhaps in several incarnations, have brought him nowhere. A faint idea begins to haunt his thoughts that he belongs to some other order of existence and that his home is somewhere else. This is the beginning of the search for that permanent element we now call “soul”.’ Ravindra Kumar

 

Somewhere in the Kumaon Hills, where gods circle mortals like vultures, a blue troupe of uniformed children accost me on their way home.

We are far from the klaxons and smells of Delhi, way north, climbing first by train, then Jeep, then foot, finally criss-crossing the Ganges, spiritual soldier ants in search of God knows what.

I had stood in my room shaking for weeks before boarding the plane. Don’t ask me why; the body has its own lexicon. But let me throw down some bones.

Sixty years earlier, when Gandhi was murdered, throwing the sub-continent into another tailspin, my family had packed their bags and headed – hastily – up The Suez Canal.

Although my mother and grandparents had been born there, little evidence of India made its way to the new world as I recall. My grandfather had broken ranks with his family to become a priest, missionary and – it was rumoured – tiger hunter.

Working with clients now for more than 20 years, I see the imprints of inter-generational shock and trauma, the legacy of diaspora, everywhere. And, of course, it found its way into me.

What happens to us is only one part of the piece; how it is handled, processed, another. There is a strong case for the importance of de-compressing, unfolding, allowing and spaciousness.

I was the first person in the family other than my young son (on a trip to Goa with his mother) to visit, as if the continent lay buried in the family vault, creaking with complexity.

So I shook with a desperate fear which left without notice as soon as I stepped foot on the plane. I felt carried by angels the whole trip, and wandered freely.

In Delhi, I went happily along with a nice little con (the money I passed on was nothing to me and everything to them, making the con itself something of a farce).

Like all egos, I was a seeker and my seeking had reached a kind of fever pitch. A number of years earlier, fate intervened with the arrival of new neighbours who were devotees of an Indian guru.

This wasn’t just any Indian guru, but the supreme avatar, Babaji. Those of you who have read Autobiography Of A Yogiwill know that Babaji is said to appear at key times in history to lend a helping hand.

More than that, his last incarnation lived in the same small district as my family was from. If you prefer coincidence to synchronicity then perhaps move on.

I was 29, hungry but green, desperately frustrated by my life in newspapers and, although I probably wasn’t aware of it, a natural devotee.

As I joined in the rituals and seasonal celebrations, I was graced with the blissful experience of union I sought. I didn’t go to India for it, but I felt I had to go. It took me another 14 years to get there.

In looking at astrological charts for people these past ten years, I have learned many things. Whenever I see Venus conjunct Neptune in a chart, I know that person’s task is to find soul union.

When romantic love converges with spiritual love the seeker will not stop until he finds an ideal union, firstly with a lover and then – usually after repeated disappointments – within the Self.

The thirst is tangible, dissatisfaction with the world palpable. Many get lost in the physical world, in addictions. A gnawing sense of emptiness, meaningless, accompanies the seeker.

Those who don’t understand what they are seeing will often provide judgment and condemnation, instead of seeing the paradox: the closer we are to the light, the more the darkness comes for us.

Many are those who are bewildered as to why they are not interested in what the world offers, blaming themselves and struggling to find their place in the world.

The writer Eckhart Tolle calls them frequency holders and recognises that although the material world no longer values the contemplative man or woman, in times to come their currency will change.

As my consciousness re-aligned itself with my Indian heritage, in the final throes of my twenties, I went with a group of Babaji devotees to Battersea to see the hugging saint, Amma.

At around the same time, I would escape the drudgery of work on the evening paper in Gloucester, to steal a few pages of Andrew Harvey’s book Hidden Journey in the book shop over lunch.

Harvey is both scholar and mystic, his tome on his time in India compelling, quenching, and satisfying.

In Battersea, I attended a lunch party for devotees, desperately self-conscious and shy. A small Indian woman answered the door and we filed in. She stopped me by raising a hand. ‘Here we have a very old soul,’ she said.

It was hard to tell if it was my heart or my ego that leapt, but it was clear I would get to India.

And so, in the mountains, I found myself walking a dusty track with a companion in search of the fabled Jesus Tree.

It was here, the story goes, that Jesus sat and was taught by the great avatar, during his missing years when it is widely said, he walked The Silk Road, studying with the masters of his day.

I had been given the money for the trip by my then lover, although our separation caused us both considerable angst and I found myself sitting astride the thorny fence that can separate romantic and spiritual love.

I was in the ashram for the spring Navaratrifestival and vacillated wildly as my heart both opened and closed. This was a place of huge intensity, strong emotion, no more so than in festival season when numbers swell.

At the height of proceedings, making an offering of food in a long line to the resident guru, Muniraj, Babaji’s successor, I managed to drop some grapes in his lap. He looked at me fiercely: ‘What do you want?’

‘I don’t know,’ was all I could manage and we stared at one another wildly. It was a stare that lasted the whole trip and I could not wait to get out and back on the road.

When the day came, a small band of us were driven back to the village where we would meet taxis at the local pharmacy. Just as I thought I had been delivered from my embarrassment, Muniraj, who doubled as the local pharmacist, appeared with his ever-present cohort of black-clad Italian devotees.

It was a small shop with only two chairs. I was on one; he placed himself on the other and resumed his stare. Again, we were locked in together.

‘Leaving?’ he asked.

It was a question working at many levels. He knew it and so did I.

‘Yes,’ I affirmed, knowing that what I was doing was both wrong and perfect.

My solo taxi ride took all day and although heading for Rishikesh, had no plan, surrendered to fate and found myself on a yoga retreat a mile or so out of town.

The river, the one I would bathe in at 4am each day, seemed to have followed me and I would sit on its banks watching white-water rafters as we practised pranayama (breathing exercises) – a small group of westerners watching their bellies move in and out.

The country’s premier practitioners could be seen daily on television sucking in their stomachs, promoting good health and spirituality as if it was diet coke.

The bizarre and sublime nature of India was astonishing and yet I knew that like many people, nothing in this world would satisfy me.

Often people castigate themselves as selfish orungrateful  at such a point in their evolution, without any cultural reference for their experience it is easy to think in such terms, but that is most often an error.

What is being presented is a doorway, one that is a threshold that leads out of a world of a reflected light into one much purer that lies within.

Sometimes, we need the grace of suffering to enter it. Once there, we have to face the repressed pain that acts like a Biblical angel with flaming sword, barring the gates to Paradise.

In Sufism, this turning point of the soul is called tauba, and marks the start of our return journey to a place we cannot remember yet once called home.

© simon heathcote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feb

25

‘The man, who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers him refuge and comfort and encourages his old self to survive. Rather, he will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help him to risk himself, so that he may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it. Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within him. In this lies the dignity of daring.’


Karlfried Graf von Durkheim



It is interesting how when we start our journey we have completely the wrong idea – that somehow by magic we will wind up in some blissful nirvana. Instead we find the path narrows, gets more painful as well as more joyful, and there are fewer and fewer true companions.

Opening the heart is devastating as we feel everything more acutely. It seems there is no anaesthetic if you want to become one with life, only a singular commitment to being all of it, to incorporating more and more until the conscious life reflects the wholeness of the Self.

In moving into a loving relationship recently, I am being tested to the core of my being and everything that is not love is crawling (and sometimes shooting) to the surface of my consciousness. Loving is hard, painstaking work. No wonder many of us renege on it before we get more than a few steps down its dusty road.

The Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee recites a meeting with an aspirant who when asked if she was prepared to spend the next few years peering into her own shadowy darkness said a flat ‘no!’

Bully for her for at least she possessed the honesty of foresight and a degree of self awareness that seems to completely bypass many New Agers bent on their next manifestation, which will presumably acquit them of the sludge of self discovery.

This mistaken awareness that suddenly we should be feeling good all the time once we are ‘awake’ can lead to a very rude awakening of an entirely different sort. After all, true peace is freedom from the need to feel good all the time. That is simply the tyranny of the ego which, as ever, wants life its own way.

Certainty is a curious thing. How often do we give our power to those who appear sure of themselves and seem to offer the safety of certainty and with it direction? Yet power almost always lies in the hands of the ‘wrong’ people because those who are power driven are most often at the beginning of an evolutionary cycle where the developmental task is to build a strong ego.

At that early stage there is only a tiny amount of light in the soul and it is this inability to see the full spectrum of life in all its varying shades which lends the power of certainty. Tyrants and despots everywhere do their worst under such limited insight.

In ‘spiritual’ circles we can observe the same phenomenon: the need for egoic power masquerading as ‘love and light’. Give me teachers of human frailty, compassion and self doubt any day; someone who is willing to be vulnerable and say ‘I don’t know’ when necessary and someone who has seen enough of life to know their own failings. That involves moving around the wheel of life, experiencing many different facets of one’s humanity, making mistakes, and being authentic rather than perfect.

In reality, whoever we are, sometimes the floor keeps opening and we just keep on falling through it to yet another rock bottom. Along the way, we pass through those feelings we spent a lifetime or more avoiding, until we reach the core of the conditioned mind – worthlessness and self hatred – only to finally discover that within us lies an invincible summer.

Courage is required not to circumvent this process, and faith. If you just want ‘love and light’ in your life don’t even begin, keep holding on to what makes the ego feel safe. But it seems to me, that for all of us, there comes a point when the only thing we can do is to let go and live our own peculiar passage through time until we land in eternity.

And it is precisely that journey that has called me in recent months and some days I have zero confidence in my ability to make it and withstand its searing test. Yet in truth I know the hero’s journey is the only game in town and, however I may complain, it is a burning of the heart that I want.

We so often think love is soft and warm, but it takes time and maturity to learn that love has a hard, cold edge too that is ruthless about Truth or Reality and exists only in Freedom. Love is a laser beam that cuts through to the heart of things, discarding all that fails to serve its interests.

The Sufis say that love’s apparent absence experienced as emptiness and longing is just as important as the heat of its sun. If we really love another, it seems we also have to be prepared to let them go if being with us is not in their own best interests.

Love’s agenda is different to the self-serving needs we impose upon it and sloughs us off like some bucking bronco when we try to bend it to our will. The conditioning of our co-dependent culture can make it hard to be clear in the mind yet that is what we owe one another. We must never compromise our complexity for a false peace.

Give me someone who can talk about their in between places, not their successes, achievements and ambitions. Someone who has done the work of traversing the wild current of their own innards, their dark history; someone who has travelled and understood what appears to be the most insignificant cul-de-sac of their deepest being.

I am not interested in those who can bang a drum, perform a ritual and look good. I am interested in the person who will tell it how it is, talk straight, disappoint me to support themselves, understand the simple value of kindness over spiritual trickery, clear with me by making an amend when wrong while looking me in the eye and speaking from the heart.

Those people are few and far between in my experience yet I would take one of those, the person whose heart is true, over any number of do-gooders, shamanic pretenders or weekend warriors. It is interesting how deep psychotherapy has gone out of vogue, the slow pain-staking work of true self enquiry in favour of quick fixes and sudden shifts.

I want you slow cooked or not at all, I wrote a while back. For it seems to me that unlike the day world or ego, the soul likes to meander and take its time and seeks to root out even our smallest transgression or quirk, all that we had long forgotten and never  wanted to see again. How many are truly up for the underworld journey?

Some people like to think they will be immune from pain the more they mature in consciousness. But that is simply a ploy by a mind still burdened by the fantasy of its own power. The more conscious we become, it seems the more sensitive we are, not less. Shams, the poet Rumi’s master, moved away, in pain, from those whose unconsciousness assaulted his depth of awareness and Love. Isolation is, ultimately, preferable to a long bath in idiocy.

It is a great unwisdom to always be trying to escape our vulnerability, be positive at every moment, always to be on the up and on the make. For as the poet David Whyte points out, there is no escape from it, we are our vulnerability. So the question is more about how we become one with it without letting it consume us, rather than trying to outrun it, control it, and allow pride to throw a veil over our humanness.

The current idea that we must heal or fix everything is based, I believe, on a flawed concept of what it is to be a human being. Rather than always thinking of being better, we could simply keep opening to those pockets of unconsciousness we all carry, allowing their gifts to come forth. We are not static entities, but life unfolding, awareness awakening slowly, over time so we can integrate at all levels. There is no rush. We will all end on a breath.

As for relationship, I know that infatuation is a potent impostor, an ersatz love, a sugar-hit for the soul, that simulates the real thing, a near miss that is a million light years away. It is the mind’s version of what love looks like when it has had a failed, often devastating, experience of the real thing. It is so beset by desire, fear and projection it has little hope of peering out of the fog of its imaginings to see clearly.

And yet somewhere, hidden in its dark and desperate recesses is the grain of something finer. There is no wanting in love and to arrive at this place, where the only desire is for the beloved’s happiness, will excoriate the ego.

To transform infatuation into love is one of life’s true rarities, yet holds the seeds of greatest potential for true love and freedom. Yet it means a complete transformation in outlook and attitude with the ego no longer dominated by consciousness but sinking roots deep into the unconscious where all its repressed memory of failed love lives.

And so my love, I am still here, stretching toward you as you stretch toward me and I am reminded of the words on love from the first spiritual book I read, Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled: ‘Love is the willingness to extend oneself for your own or another’s spiritual growth.’

Amen to that.

 

 

 

 

Apr

3

Light 

I laugh when you call in the light
For you don’t know what you’re asking
You wanted warm and fuzzy
Instead you got a huntress on a horse
Chasing you down, a white-hot beam
Shining right on your most painful places
A hand grenade that is about to
Go off in your gut, and an excavation
Into all you had forgotten and never
Wanted to see again

Oh fool, did no one warn you
This light you long for would first
Dredge the darkness curled up
In an aching corner of your soul
And sear you so badly that only
The bravest of you would come 
Through its flame of fiery scrutiny
With the nobility that is your birthright?

© simon heathcote

 

Mortal – a poem

 

 

 

This portal you see in me

 

Is in fact a gateway to You

 

I wonder, when two people

 

Are caught in Neptune’s

 

Watery glare, under Aphrodite’s

 

Spell, within reach of Eros, her son’s

 

Aim, what chance they have to

 

Recall they are also mortal

 

And bound by law and code?

 

For in our flight into the heavens

 

Held captive by those gods

 

Who long for us and envy our

 

Exquisite, ecstatic possibility,

 

We so easily forget we need

 

Saturn’s earthy limitations

 

And are held in this dimension

 

For reasons profound, mysterious

 

Mundane, and mortal

 

I love taking flight yet find peace

 

And fulfilment when I can

 

Straddle both Heaven and Earth

 

While accepting the cross I chose

 

In a pastness lost to time

 

 

 

© simon heathcote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tao Days – a poem

Be done with becoming 
And rest in being
Cease betterment and
Ideas of healing
Relinquish struggle

Relegate the mind
To its own recesses
And step, joyously
From its prison on to
The Floor of all possibility

Only this one action
Does not come from you
Instead, it opens like a flower
And is both fruit and finality 
Of all other possibilities

 

For Jessica

Let me walk back to you

Down the years of your life

Erasing your hurt, carefully, tenderly

Every nuance and hint heard

Robbing you of all dismissals

Taking back my failures

So you slowly turn back toward life,

The life that you are, the girl that you were

Let me pass through the pain and pour honey

Into the recesses of your heart

If I could do it all again, I would never leave your side

I wonder if you heard my silent night-time words

In those years away from you my child,

In my lonely bed at night, calling you

Trying to hold on, to walk the tightrope

That lay, taut, over the crevasse of our life

We were cast in this play by unremembered ghosts

And the Fates who spun our lots

Yet the events that fell upon us only appear to distort

Our love, each to each

For I am your father and I live in you and love you

Soul to closest soul

 Let me walk back to you

 

 

See me, see me now

‘Each man’s soul demands that he be, and that he live, every great archetypal role in the collective unconscious: the betrayer and the betrayed, the lover and the beloved, the oppressor and the victim, the noble and the ignoble, the conqueror and the conquered, the warrior and the priest, the man of sorrows and the self reborn.’ Robert A Johnson

I like this fraudulent arc that runs through my soul with its cast of characters that appear to evolve and devolve life after life. They are projections on a screen in a brightly lit cinema that makes these days happenings of glorious wonder; the blue vein under the skin of my life.

And yet there is only light, and when I see only your shadow I know I have work to do, mining my interior for the cruelty, calamity and chaos that crawls through time, casting clouds of doubt between us.

I am reminded that when I stray into unbelief in your essential goodness to look again through the eye of my troubled heart and cleanse the lens that has obscured my view. Perhaps then I can see both you and I, once more with a timeless eye that looks beneath, beyond and behind both shadow and dust.

It seems to me now, that beauty and the beast are one, one without the other, and each needs something the other has to circle back and complete itself. Can I, will I, see the love hiding in your pain? Will you see mine?

I can only hope and have faith in your vision and keen eye, and a heart whose purity is still traceable despite the rude interruptions of your biography. Will you do the same for me? For we have spent lifetimes together and apart and something in us needs the other.

See me, see me now.

 

Feb

23

 

To become human is to become visible while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.’ David Whyte

The woman before me is 64, awash with grief, holding on to a husband she has wanted to leave for 30 years. She stayed for her son, laid herself upon the altar of his becoming and watched him disappear down the tunnel of the life she had hoped for him.

She sits revving up courage like a teenager on her first motorbike and, of course, she keeps stalling. First gear seems a canyon away, and she draws back, tears welling, down the years that disappeared, scarcely daring to look as if even in looking she will fall into the dead dark void that should have been her life.

Shame and years of persecution stop her seeing the depth of her love, her kindness, her loyalty and I realise that platitudes about loving herself, putting herself first now the boy is a man, grown and gone, would infer her sacrifice meaningless when, in this life, it was her one true offering.

Sometimes, when a person has been deeply wounded, encouraging initiatory leaps is both dishonouring and dangerous. At others, it is what a person needs the most, and occasionally, it is just hard to know. But the hidden dilemma for every person, it seems, is the same: what I both long for and fear most is the dissolution of ‘me’.

Synthesis cannot happen without conflict. What is true in a relationship or a culture is equally true for the individual. Struggle and stuckness are always the prelude to new life, even a leap to the next level of consciousness. And so when she came for a second visit and told me she had found a friend to stay with, I smiled, knowing she was on her way.

We all come at initiation differently. My own tendency has been to build up a head of steam and leap into the flames. It seems I got burned so badly so young this has just been the way I do it. For some of us, the longing for union, to be fully who we are, is a primordial force that will lay waste to all barriers:

‘I lost my world, my fame, my mind. The Sun appeared and all the shadows ran. I ran after them, but vanished as I ran. Light ran after me and hunted me down.’ Rumi

Pragmatism also plays its part. Once you know the light is hunting you, once you know your dissolution is inevitable, once you click the joy you seek has eluded you in the world precisely because it only lives in one place (and then you discover it lives in every place), then why not rush to meet it like the long-lost lover it is?

Like all of us at the outset, my American friend had no living mystical experience to call her forward. The Fool stands at the edge of his longing, naïve, not knowing the road, but willing to face what is unknown, unseen and, until this point, asleep in the soul. He has answered the call.

However we do it, the call is always to embrace the unity of selves, unify the masculine and feminine aspects of the psyche at the throne of consciousness, having raised more and more of the unconscious above ground until the wholeness of the Self reflects our God-like nature. Once joy is known within what more need is there to look without?

As I realised in the worst dark night of my life only recently, it is our very emergence from the Self in the first place that caused all the misery there is! As it says in A Course In Miracles, we chose the one tiny mad idea of separation and uncovered universes of unwanted consequences. Our fall is the spiritual equivalent of not wearing a condom!

The soul, however, has other plans, different to the ones we make, painfully pulling us back into line and purpose. My tearful friend didn’t know any of this, but she was being called out into a new life:

‘The human being has to be born twice, once from his or her mother, and then out of his or her own body and of his own existence. This body is like an egg, the essence of man must become in this egg a bird, thanks to the heat of love. And then he will escape this body, into the eternal world of the soul, beyond space.’

That was Rumi’s son, who had either undergone the experience himself or had seen his father’s utter devastation amid the birth pains that would release a poetry of incomparable fragrance into the world. Attar, another Sufi mystic, said there are only three roads on the path to Love: tears, blood, and fire.

It is little wonder that we resist, dancing back and forth over our decision to step out, envisaging nightmares of ruin: financial, relational, emotional. But when all is said and done, when all steps danced, Samsara is destined and designed to break you. But it’s the you that can never be found, the you that does not exist, the one that lives in the mind and is as changeable as a winter wind.

Once upon a time, transformative rituals were planned and purposeful. For most of us now, they are sudden and incomprehensible. There is no tribe or community to hold most of us, no understanding of the sacredness of person making, yet the soul will have its way with us, ready or not.

I understood my friend’s dilemma. I had lived it and although impelled by trauma rather than choice, I knew the value of being a fool and stepping into the unknown. The disasters of life are the genius of the unconscious. They invoke longing and longing carries us home.

If we refuse to take the journey, if we refuse to face our brokenness or allow ourselves to be broken up so the butterfly of consciousness can be freed, it is perilous to think we will get away with it for we never do.

Life always exacts a tribute and the stakes can be high, fatal even. I once had to tell a client that if we keep circling the same issue refusing to budge, on occasion the soul just gives up and leaves the body. His transformation was fairly rapid there on in!

Yet initially the tribute demanded is more mundane: inertia turning to depression, obsession turning towards addiction, lethargy, hopelessness. What we think of now as standard human fare, and we put up with it. Yes, if we are obsessed with anything, that is life exacting a tribute and telling us we need to look closely within.

Disease and illness then enters the picture. Those who are really walled off at the core, those people who are so fragile and defended they have become personality disordered, will most likely not make the required leap further into life, into their essence, as they are too busy defending against it.

Penetration of the shell around the heart is what is needed and sadly, for some, such a thing seems impossible.

What is required is a true sense of sovereignty, a knowing in the soul and by the soul that you are worth it; not only worth it but both royal and noble, knowing with certainty that a secret self lies hidden in the heart. As the great mythologist Michael Meade says, ‘The people who are destined to become royal are at first hidden or abandoned.’

The divine awakens our heart with the memory of union (our royalty). We then, must make this conscious, embody it, and take it to others struggling in the chrysalis of their lives with the story of our own battle and victory over the forces that wish to keep us small, ignoble and forever impoverished at heart.

We are all pilgrims in this life and I look forward to walking the road to Santiago de Compostella with my daughter in May, for there is always more, and some days I am not yet home.

 

 

Dec

2

We cannot avoid divine messengers. They fly in like that trickster Hermes across the landscape of the soul heralding the next chapter or cycle of life.

If we are wise, we will pay attention or at least climb aboard the lens of hindsight in our quest for a soul-centric life – one that with both eye and ear for initiation seeks to take our life not further into the world but deeper into the Self. What Rumi called ‘the root of the root of your own self’.

I didn’t know it at the time, but a divine messenger came to me on my 18th birthday. Her name was Sian, and she was sitting A-levels with me. She was quiet, slight and ephemeral; I did not know her well. We didn’t mix in the same crowd. Whereas I was wild and untamed, already a drinker and fighter of some repute, she exuded a subtle soulfulness. We had never really noticed each other, or so I thought.

She stopped me in the corridor and gave me a present, a copy of John Fowles’ book The Magus. It was a pivotal moment in my life and started me on a journey back to the no-thingness I longed for. But her greater gift was in seeing me. I mean really seeing me, the soul that resided beneath all the hurt and pain I carried.

Within a year or so she had died from a rapacious cancer, which made our meeting all the more poignant, but not before she had delivered her gifts.

After I devoured what was a mesmerising novel about the de-thawing of the anti-hero’s shutdown soul into a real humanness, I returned to the quotation from Little Gidding by TS Eliot that started it:

‘We shall never 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. ‘ We come from oneness, are born into twoness, and return to oneness at death or, if we are very blessed before, if the divine wills it.

Of course, our own dissolution both stalks and terrifies us. It is coming for us and cannot be escaped – a shadowy grim reaper opening a door filled with light. And yet we hold on to what we know, a small character trying to be big in the endless drama of the soul played out on a stage filled with what indigenous people call the ten thousand things.

Yesterday, discussing these things with a friend, it occurred to me I had started a website supporting the soul’s descent because as a natural underdog and outsider, I like to champion those at the fag end of things.

And it seems that soul currently languishes as spirit’s poor cousin at a time when those who have no roots into their unconscious, no true wholeness, want only love and light and banish the blackness that soils all of us further into the dingy recess where they have it tightly locked up.

As Carl Jung said, it is not in the shadow but in the denial of the shadow that evil finds fertile ground. It seems then that we have to embrace our twoness if we want it to morph into oneness, to love it rather than hate it, to declare it rather than to defame it.

In emptying ourself of ourself we have to face what we don’t want to look at, the taboos, the disavowed and disallowed. The hateful, violent, rageful Medusa within. That means facing some pain knowing we have divine backing.

The Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee put it this way: ‘The divine awakens our heart with the memory of union and our job is to make this conscious.’ He goes on to point out the emptiness we fear, the nothingness that will consume us, loves us with an intimacy, tenderness and mercy beyond imaginings.

When the mind bows to the heart and takes its proper place as a bridge between the conscious and unconscious life, the veils that obscure our experience of oneness are lifted. For those of us who are not gifted with sudden and permanent spiritual awakenings, such an experience is, as Alcoholics Anonymous says, of the ‘educational variety’.

The story of Majnun and Layla in the Sufi tradition illustrates why: when Majnun saw his beloved Layla and caught a glimpse of her ankle he passed out. See, said God, if that makes you faint, don’t come running to me! Walk and you may just have a chance of surviving.

Don’t we need both soul and spirit, masculine and feminine, up and down? And don’t we need to slowly cook and synthesize the pairings as the animals aboard Noah’s Ark had to give birth to the world?

We can see this merger of the human and divine everywhere. Sometimes it goes wrong. The giant Nephilim, said to be the result of the lovemaking of fallen angels and humans may be a case in point. In the story of Eros and Psyche, the youthful god, son of a jealous Aphrodite, is sent to kill the mortal but – as is his wont – seeks instead to merge.

Although we relate solely to this asteroid’s erotic longings, he represents the life force that drives us all, and seeks to penetrate and impregnate us, getting past our defences so we can experience the bliss of the conjoining of our divine and human selves. He sits up in the heavens, in our astrological charts, waiting for the opportunity that so often brings devastation.

Psyche, the adored mortal, lost him by disobeying a divine directive, and had to go through many trials set by the envious Aphrodite before she could win him back. This is our own story, the story of the soul, and the story of our journey to merge with the one we love.

Those we love the most, are bound to trigger our most labyrinthine defences and so often we separate without working for the rewards of healing and togetherness.

We are also a bridge in this generation; a bridge between divine and human realms. We wrestle and struggle, oscillating between oneness and twoness and this is as it should be. In years to come, those who come after will have a different experience no doubt. But we are the transition team. It is both our burden and our blessing to be so.

Perhaps it is time to stop being ashamed of our humanness, our ‘mistakes’, our rage and pain, and realise we are brave pioneers, going where no man or woman has gone before.

As Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun says, it is human to prefer Samsara or Nirvana, but there is something about embracing both to realise they are in fact one.

Someone else whose work I admire reminds me that liberation is not liberation without acceptance of that which appears to be non-liberation.

Amen to that.

 

 

Dec

6

‘The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!’

William Wordsworth

 

A friend recently told me of her dealings with a major publisher of self-help books. Originally with the group’s self-publishing arm, she received the exciting news they thought her book important enough to become one of their main titles.

There was the verbal carrot of a movie, a makeover, worldwide talks and the remoulding of her as a brand. It was a marketing man’s dream, and a human being’s nightmare. Not a human doing perhaps, which most of us seem to have become, but a human being.

She felt nauseous, tense, bullied and invaded by the agent at the end of the phone. Fortunately, a gifted and psychic person she saw into the future. It felt, she said, materially rich but numb. Wise and unusual, she was smart enough to see the devil’s bargain and refuse it.

Such a move is unthinkable to the modern mind, for the mind is seduced by the world and falls further into it, and rashly blinds itself to the price of success. The truth is the more we are tempted to do, the more we submit to the world’s demands to be someone, the more likely it is we will keep moving away from what we truly want.

For is it not the need to give and receive love, to live in that river of loving the great mystic poets talked of, that is the hidden and underlying motivation and desire of us all? And yet so often we take the long road home, spending lifetimes lost down worldly cul-de-sacs, drawn into the illusion again and again in our confusion.

And just like my friend’s offer it seemed sensible, desirable and plausible. It is always that way when the devil’s on your back. Her body, however, was informing her of the truth, that this was not her way; hers was the road less travelled. If her book sells, it will happen because the divine wills it, and it will feel right.

Luckily, I have always had a similar bodily response to the world’s enticements. There is just an inbuilt awareness that in this life there is another way. Recent events affirmed that for me after it was suggested in the summer I join a group and a project to help me promote my work.

I had misgivings but thought I would give it a go. It has been an interesting, beneficial experience – although not for any business gained as there is none, but for the experience of again seeing what happens to good human beings who get caught up in the world.

And, as you can see, on this page and others, I started down that road. Yet I witnessed people I care about overworked, stressed, angry, lapsing into dishonesty and justification, my own reactive anger and then acceptance and compassion. I was reminded of one of my favourite pieces on the addictive personality:

‘What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?’

I saw this acted out in front of me and am aware enough of such self-centredness in myself also to circumvent thoughts of retaliation. It is simply not the way. What I was being shown was that my own path does not lie in the world and that any ‘success’ I may or may not have comes only through keeping my motives pure.

Yesterday, as things would have it, I received the monthly newsletter from my spiritual teachers. It came in the middle of the time I had given myself to ponder my experience of marketing and those involved, during a bout of ill health. It confirmed what I already knew:

‘The Lord of this creation wants us to believe that it’s by our blood, sweat and tears that we will make our way through this world. That’s the world. God says, ‘I’m Loving. You’re Loving. Be Loving.

‘If you are listening to the world, you will answer the world’s call of working hard, of believing that it is supposed to be hard and difficult, but if you’re listening to God, it’s enjoy, learn, experience, have fun, create, love – it’s just a very different approach.

‘So, if you have the other pushing on you, look at that and say, ‘I’m going to let go of that. I’m not going to do the way of the world anymore.’

The divine is radical. We forget that. The devil’s bargain on the other hand, despite, or perhaps because of, the temptations, leaves people tired, dull and numb. I saw it in my colleagues who are no better or worse than I and who were caught, as many are now, in straddling two worlds.

We see it everywhere on Facebook and I have been caught in the same confusion myself: spiritual beings dealing in the world, using the world’s ways to sell something nobler. But is it really possible? Perhaps it is, and yet I wonder what happens to those spiritual teachers in the deepest sense who become products.

Our suffering is so unconscious we accept it is the price we have to pay. And we remain oblivious to the devil and his bargain, not aware of how we have been duped. Even the tiredness, irritability, anger etc does not alert us to the fact something is wrong – we are just so used to it.

In these sophisticated times we tend to dismiss talk of the devil and Satan as the province of fundamentalists. That’s a dangerous misunderstanding and indeed part of the plan that seduces us.

If you watch the redoubtable Bill Hicks on YouTube talking about marketing, the point is made with a satirist’s savage humour: ‘By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing…kill yourself….There’s no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan’s little helpers.’

Robert A Johnson, one of the great Jungians, brings Satan into his argument about the dangers of dealing with the world in his tale of a hard-working miller who is told by the devil: ‘For a fee (every satanic offer begins in this way) I will show you how to grind your grain with much less effort and much faster.’

The miller, intrigued of course as we all are, agrees to a bargain, in his eagerness not noticing the price he will later pay. But the price, it turns out, are the hands of his daughter, which the devil chops off and carries away.

What is shown here is how the feminine, the tender feeling part of ourselves, is violated by the mechanical masculine drive to success and how modern people make this deadly bargain all the time.

‘It is so deeply ingrained in our mentality,’ says Johnson, ‘that we fail to see it is a devil’s bargain in its modern form. This delusion is so common in our modern mentality that grocery shops are full of its language: two for the price of one, or a second one for only one cent, or one third more for the same price, or this is marked down from $7.99 to $4.99.’

As he says, this is not necessarily dangerous in the market place and we see it everywhere now, not least in the sort of internet marketing that I and others embarked upon. Yet, however unpalatable it is to think of ourselves in this way, Bill Hicks is right. Marketing is manipulation.

As Johnson says, the real danger comes when we trade an inner feeling, our honesty or integrity, for example, for an outer advantage. That is the devil’s bargain: we give away our true self, our values for something in the world.

It is particularly dangerous for those selling spirituality because it is more easily hidden and justified. We are all encouraged to give away free products, work on that sales funnel and so on, for the great god success. It can be hard to see the truth in such circumstances, which is why, like my friend at the beginning of this piece, I choose to listen to my feelings and how I see this mentality affecting those around me.

I recently saw this quote from The Dalai Lama:

The planet does not need more ‘successful’ people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds. It needs people to live well in their places. It needs people with moral courage willing to join the struggle to make the world habitable and humane and these qualities have little to do with ‘success’ as our culture is set.

Those of us who find ourselves wrestling with how best to get our message out there need to consider the issues carefully and be aware of the risks of losing both hands and hearts in the process.

For there is nothing particularly spiritual about that.