Leading me up the garden path

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukIf I knew something interesting had started with that greeting card (with my painting of Charleston on it) that I found in a shop the day before we travelled – see my last post Making Tracks – then I knew it more when the weather that delivered on the day of our visit to Charleston turned out to be nothing like what I had painted in my head. Heavy rain came rolling in during the morning (where we were at least able to duck and dive into St Michael & All Angels Church, Berwick and under trees in the churchyard) and held off while we were on the guided tour of the inside of Charleston Farmhouse…only to become a heavy deluge of water tipping by the bucket-full from the sky as we came back out to see the gardens. This was not what I had imagined at all; I had only ever seen Charleston in idyllic sunshine and had, of course, pictured the same again for our wedding anniversary re-visit. What had gone wrong with all my wishful thinking?

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukYet, prompted by the reality that there was absolutely nothing we could do about it – we were here now, on this day, and this was what it had delivered – we made the best of it…put on the embarrassing waterproofs and did what we could to create a dry hideaway for our cameras at the front of our coats before setting off into that dripping wet garden with its constant overhang and overgrowth of saturated leaves wanting to brush against everything you had. An obvious benefit was that (rare for August) we had the entire place to ourselves while the teashop filled-up to the brim with gently steaming visitors holding their prized table for the length of many dawdling sips of lukewarm liquid so as not to have to go outside again; we considered that but prefered to be out in the garden….even with jeans so wet they were quickly leaden with water. There was nothing left to do but keep laughing!

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukAnd then, of course, everything glistened; the fruit, especially, glistened as though freshly varnished and the petals hugged droplets of water like glass teardrops perfectly poised. We got to marvel at the way the bees knew how to line up with their backs to the wind and hang upside down beneath the flower heads – one on each bloom – until the rainshower was over. We got that kind of light that is clear and crisp, not washed-out and without subtlety as on a typical summer’s day. The velvet reds “zinged” and the greens looked like freshly squeezed life-zest personified; vibrant and rejuvenating to receive with all the senses. One of the gifts was the unexpected juxtaposition of a dripping-wet female form peeking out through vivid wet leaves and abundantly ripe fruit; her wet face had something to tell me and it was nothing at all about tears. I loved this reinvention of Charleston’s landscape and they have turned out to be the best photos I ever took of the gardens; all of which you can see here.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukOur onwards trip to Brighton saw, at last, the end of the rain but the follow-up of unseasonably high winds which, at least, helped to blow-dry us a little more than the fan in the car had so far managed to do. The golden light on the choppy sea delivered abundant gifts of silhouetted magic where the burnt-out pier might otherwise have been an old eyesore and I will never think again of that beach as a bland seaside destination of deckchairs and icecreams, having now experienced it with far more feist in its tail, whipping and whirling its force into hair-spiralling patterns while seagulls rooted themselves to the beach rather than risk the mayhem of attempting anything on the wing…this was a day for holding on to what kept you most grounded while enjoying the show. Again, our day was nothing but the unexpected, a theme which continued with our long-planned anniversary meal out (which is food for another story); not quite what we expected at all but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukBack to Berwick’s tiny painted church, which is where my day began…though the same church I visited five years ago, an openess to “what’s different, what do you want me to experience here” brought different themes to the fore to those that I most noticed the first time. What spoke to me most, this time, were the painted door panels to the altar, the yin and the yang of the full moon and the high sun reflected into the same gentle pool under a tree. (Having spent the previous evening under a full moon at St Leonard’s beach, where the moonlight led me to the waters edge and then “went out” succumbing me to almost pitch darkness as the seawater pulsed against my legs, the theme of moon and water and qualities of the light particularly spoke to me). I experienced the feminine aspect as being particularly close at hand in this space and the reminder that, where male and female meet, there may well be different qualities playing out but the underlying theme of tree, light and water remain constant was a timely one. I like also that this church interior was a literal collaboration of man and woman: Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, the gender-crossed lovers of a lifetime’s love who whose long-running heartache (was I imagining it…did I feel it this time, weeping out of the walls?) was described to us so amply by the excellent guide at Charleston later. Vanessa was deeply in love with Duncan Grant for the whole of her life https://flic.kr/s/aHskGTceC3from the moment she met him but, since Grant was gay (and though they had a brief affair, resulting in the birth of a daughter, Angelica…who then had her own cross to bear when she finally uncovered all the convoluted secrecy around her parentage), Bell was subjected to many years of watching from the sidelines as he pursued relationships with same-gender lovers who stayed in the house where they all lived together at Charleston. In the union of their art and their friendship, this place (St Michael & All Angels’s church) had drawn a gender criss-cross into its space – much like other churches I have been to where dragon lines cross – exploding vivid colour onto all of its walls through the genius of their paintbrushes. Yet, as a meeting place of yin and yang, I was detecting an imbalance and, perhaps, a feeling of unfinished business in the air; a sadness that left me feeling something was left unresolved by their tangled relationship antics; the church was as lovely as ever but I wanted to be outside where the yew trees stood near an ancient mound and those endless though rain-misted views. If I’m honest, this time around, I was a little put off from my art-appreciation by a bearded male God on his throne…I just kept coming back to that sun and moon, tree and water as own truth captured as their nearest earthly essence.

https://flic.kr/s/aHskGTceC3Perhaps the Bloomsbury set had got very close to realising something in the open-house approach to love and creation that they adopted and yet (was this why I now felt ready to graduate from this culture, to not hold them in high reverence so much as regarding them as a useful stepping stone to my own realisation of something closer to harmonious and without the perpetual sting in its tail) I felt almost like I was here to say goodbye to the place and what it represented this time. While I initially declared myself surprised at this impulse, I suddenly realised I had known this all along, from the very moment I arranged the trip. I couldn’t help wondering if too much immersion in the feminine had been the undoing of them; the place lacked balance in the real, collaborative, meet-in-the middle sense that I am constantly feeling for…the male aspect felt marginalised and, when it forced its way in (as Bell’s estranged husband did when he decided he wanted to live there, claiming all the best rooms in the house for his own use because he had the money to call all the shots) things got ugly. Bell lost her great love to all his other male lovers and, of course, that other great love of her life, her son Julian, to the Spanish Civil war even though he was meant to be safely driving ambulances rather than immersed in the fighting, which is what she persuaded him to do. It feels like she never really made her peace with the masculine aspects of her world; they just seem to come claiming whatever was most important to her and whisking it away and there was something in the very air of the place, this time, that felt left irrevocably saddened by the experience of their bohemian experiement, like an soufflé that had gone flat and had used up more than its quota of eggs in the making. I decided to put the Bloomsbury experience down as an interesting experiment to consider, something to chalk up on the wall…for them and (for the last 30 years) for me.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukBerwick was still the exquisitely lovely church  that I had remembered it as and, like the first time, I loved it a little better for having the blown-out windows (a so-called casualty – I think, improvement – of Word War II) that allowed Nature to come inside and meet with the brickwork and the unadulterated light of day to dance and collaborate with the colours. The tangible presence of the sacred feminine was so obviously there for me this time especially in the corner by the twin pair of clear-glass windows overlooking the rear churchyard view of trees adjacent to the ancient mound of far greater antiquity than the church that I was determined to step upon, even in the rain. I was mindful of the fact that, not far away from here…passed on the road we had taken, the Long Man of Wilmington is carved out of the chalky hillside; a far more meaningful landmark for me, this time, than before as I realised recently that it forms the eastern base corner of a pyramid of sacred landscapes that have been the power-node hotspots of my life, all pivoting on where I now live; a “map” I drew up one day for the fun of it and was astonished by the accuracy of its synchronicities. And those sticks he holds…people speculate what they are all but, to me now, they are so obviously the male and female telluric energy forces that I suspect cross over in that spot just two miles from St Michael’s church door. So, perhaps it is telling me, this church…the people associated with it…are getting very close but are still a little way off from an actual, equal, crossing point of the male and female aspects; a small distortion still evident in their particular skew on things and the distinct feeling I took away with me when we travelled on to Charleston Farmhouse. I was also left wondering whether what Bell and Grant represented in terms of a male and female collaboration “worked” in the sheltered circumstance of a church where pristine ideals are upheld by the very brickwork and tradition of the place but was far more challenging to realise “outside” in the real world where things can get messy; and the kind of balance that I seek for myself is something I expect to be able to take with me wherever I go and through all of life’s situations…but then, I don’t believe you need a church in order to communicate with the source of all you are. At Charleston, they had tried to instigate rules to protect themselves and, like the rules for spirituality that churches like to enforce, these had not proved sufficient to cushion or enlighten them in matters of the heart; and only love that meets equally in the middle can make such rules obsolete.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukThe house tour at Charleston was the best one so far out of three visits (my first taking place in 1989…not long after the house was rescued for posterity after the death of the last of its long-time artistic inhabitants; about whom there is a plethora of information to be found so I won’t bother to go there). Our guide, who was full of interesting anecdotes about the unusual relationships that took place under that roof (to paraphrase the oft-used quote, alluded to in an earlier post , the Bloomsbury group lived in squares [they met in Bloomsbury Square], painted in circles [Vanessa Bell’s trademark] and loved in triangles…) seemed to pick up where my parting feelings at Berwick’s church left off. There was a tangible air of unresolved grief in the walls of this place that I was far less aware of before and which, it occurred to me, I was no longer inclined to gloss over or pretend was a palatable part of this so-called halcyon way of living for art and for friendship just so long as they were all free to do as they pleased. The people who lived here were a fairly messed-up bunch and I was left feeling unamused by some of the anecdotes of how they walked over each other in the name of the friendships that were considered sacrosanct through thick and thin and all manner of shoddy behaviour. It seems to me, a lot of love went out the window in the www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukname of this pursuit of freedom and Angelica Garnett, the daughter of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, alludes to this in the title of her autobiography “Deceived with kindness”. When she tried to live here after the death of Grant in 1978, she found she was able to stomach it for only a very brief period of time before the memories and unhappy feelings that came speaking out at her from the very walls became too much and I can well believe it. This time, I felt it too and I was quite ready to move on to the garden…even in the pouring rain. When those rains came down, it was like a relief actually…like all the emotional debris in those walls could just be washed away in a moment. The art and the history of the place is fascinating; the gardens (as they were to Vanessa Bell) were a healing balm and I lapped up every rainy inch of them for as long as it took to drench myself through to the skin.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukInterestingly, I found some sort of redress to this somewhat skewed energy at Charleston at a garden we visit on the Sunday, which we had intended to stop off at on the way to our accommodation on the Thursday afternoon…but our timings had other plans and we had had to postpone this outing until our return journey. Rather than feel annoyed at this rejig of our schedule, I had opened up to “well, maybe Sissinghurst has something else to show us…and particularly wants to show us this on the way home rather than the way there” and I was right. Even then, we almost didn’t go as our well-meaning host at the bed and breakfast tried to persuade us to stop at a different garden which he (a photographer) prefers…and I did heed his advice enough to at least consider his advice by looking at the other website; but Sissinghurst was calling me far louder than any other temptation could have matched and so that is where, on the now hot and sunny last day of our holiday, we went.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukThis garden had eluded me for decades; an “almost visited” venue of almost thirty years for a variety of reasons, mostly that we would always pass that part of the world with no time to spare or a dog in the boot of the car. When we got there just in time to enjoy a brief introduction from one of the guides, I immediately knew why I had been inadvertently saving this up for myself. It turns out that Vita Sackville West’s lavish garden design of many, contrasting and varied, garden “rooms” with interesting transitions designed by her husband Harold Nicholson, had been “lost’ for many years to the uninspiring and somewhat regimented planting of the National Trust. For just three years now, the Trust had been newly working to reinstate Vita’s original vision for the garden (which I took as one of my evolutionary clues…the feminine impulse reasserting herself) and, being now being well underway, it appeared I arrived in absolute perfect time with the garden at its high-summer best. I had to smile at the infallibility of the “rhyme and reason” to the apparent “accidents” of circumstance that had kept me away until now; as ever, everything was just perfect.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukI read Vita Sackville-West’s biography (part diary entries; the rest written by her son Nigel Nicholson) many years ago, probably the same summer I first visited Charleston in the late 1980s. In her way, I regarded her as being an honourary member of the Bloomsbury group through her connection with Virginia Woolf, with whom she had a love affair. For some reason, she had always stayed with me; the presence of her the very pointer towards Sissinghurst that a garden in deepest Kent might not otherwise have been. She…the very energy of her…was the reason I was here and, I realised, I had kept that train-track of intention running without interruption all the many years since I first read her story.

Both Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicholson had homosexual leanings plus a so-called open marriage and, while this produced its own set of complications and mixed-feelings not to mention the occasional upheaval (as with Vita’s love affair with Violet Trefusis), my sense of this – on finally getting to Sissinghurst, spoken to me through the very landscape of the place that they used as their canvas – was that they achieved together some sort of balance where neither party was the wounded dog to the other one’s greater www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukfulfilment. They were married for 48 years and genuinely loved each other; that is quite apparent. Because they came together under the umbrella of their mutual love, whilst allowing each other to have certain freedoms to pursue what came natural to them, it seems to have worked in a way that it didn’t (in my opinion) for Bell and Grant at Charleston.The working team that they were in visualising the garden that they created together at Sissinghurst, which became their mutual focal point – Vita the artistic touch, Harold the straight lines and numbers on the drawing board – speaks for itself when you walk into that space; you can feel it! I was quite delirious as I skipped around its spaces, especially the White Garden, which felt like my most hallowed space…although the flamboyant colour of its other “rooms” gave the purity of its whiteness its real power through the contrast and surprise to your eyes of something so devoid of broader palette that it could have been the recent scene of an August snow storm. I made a bee-line for that garden, loving the synchronicity with our name and spending the longest time in it but then, looking back, it seems only fitting – if tongue in cheek – that we started our journey through the multiple possibilities of Sissinghurst from the start-point of ourselves.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukLike the surprise of our rainy Friday in Charleston, Sissinghurst offered up a new experience around every corner and – not really a surprise – I had the landscape speaking to me through the accidental juxtapositions of “moments of light” and equally of shade around its endlessly labyrinthine corners which seemed to pick up from the material of my last two or three blog posts and develop them to new, deeper knowing in the most timely way; not least the way the three of us managed our own routes, split up, came back together and even (for a short while) lost each other completely. Like my recent visit to St Catherine’s labyrinth (see my post Walking the Labyrinth), this visit had such a lot to say to us on many levels and, whether or not they knew it at the conscious level, a labyrinth is what Harold and Vita created here and is how it serves to activate you through the maze of its pathways which, unfailingly, take you on a journey of many possible routes towards a centre piece (with a tower) that elevates you. This is in obvious contrast with Charleston where, lovely as it is, the garden is walled in and far more limited in that it only every keeps circling you up and down the same directions and, ultimately, back to that house; offering just one way in and out via that point. To receive the deeper levels of this and all its many other timely gifts felt like another full circle reached and then taken up a notch – to a whole new level – at the end of our visit as we headed for the tower that is the perpetual marker at Sissinghurst though never seen in quite the same way, dressed in the same colours or even appearing quite the same thickness from the ground through the many possible filters and perspectives of each vantage point. This, in itself, had something important to remind me about life seen at ground level.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukAs if to mimic the upward motion in my own metaphysical journey, having left the tower until last, we coiled up the spiral staircase to peer over its edges as a finale and gained a whole new experience of where we had “just been”. We also got to appreciate what Vita and Harold created together; the birdseye view of what they saw in its raw potential and what they went on to carve out of its natural attributes, as a collaboration. It was no small feat and the sense I was left with, without needing to pour over their personal letters or reread her biography (though I have since dipped into that dusty old book dragged down from my shelf) was of a marriage that worked, of a male and female crossing point that then transformed their shared landscape into an explosion of colour, texture and aroma, an outdoor season-directed landscape that speaks volumes about what they were all about…together…in some sort of harmonious union that, for them, was ideal. Not everyone’s version of harmony – I grant you that – but as a blueprint for a love based upon meeting each other in the middle and allowing each character to be and develop and explore and grow all that they are about in this physical form, what they created together is an encouraging sign of what it is possible to create when even people with vastly divergent interests come together and allow all this to take seed and lead where it will.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukIn age-worn letters on the wall of one of the rooms in the tower, the words of Vita’s poem “Sissinghurst” tickled some of my own preoccupations…the ever-present rose, the deep-deep waters discovered as a stagnant moat (as she first found Sissinghurst in its semi-derelict state) and yet something drawn upon, brought back to the surface and allowed to unfold…the relentless, healing power of nature…the spokes of a wheel…”beauty, and use and beauty once again” as the rhythms of a life outside of the dictates of politics, time and obligation; in these familiar themes I found myself as I stood high up on the brim of a tower once connected to a castle, now a viewing point across a garden so sublime I didn’t really want to leave. And those telling, final, words that linked me back to all that relentless rain that came down upon Charleston this visit, bringing glistening fruit to the bower of a goddess wrapped up in verdant green…”I dream; I do not weep”.

In providing the room for each other to do what they are here to do, each pursuing their own interests and passions and then meeting back at their shared point of creation, which became an outward symbol of a deep love and respect that – quite literally, in their case – continues to bloom and bear fruit; in this, I felt something akin to the way forward that I envision for a newly rebalanced humanity being modelled for me to take home as a feeling every time I pause to think, even briefly, about that wonderful garden. If the divine feminine and masculine in close collaboration can be found anywhere so tangible, I felt like I had encountered them here. This is why, I now knew, Sissingurst had rearranged itself to the end of our long-weekend; making me smile at how it had known best as we brought our wedding anniversary weekend to a close, carrying home the essence of our experiences to  our own sacred meeting place, the fruit of our best yet collaboration and the long-running project of our mutual lives together; that place we call home.


“Sissinghurst” poem on the tower wall, click to enlarge



See all of my Charleston, Berwick and Sissinghurst photos on Flickr via these links.


Final thought

The book that I read about Vita Sackville West, all those years ago, was “Portrait of a Marriage” by Nigel Nicholson which consists of a collection of her diary and memoire entries in 1920 (an eventful year, coinciding with her affair and near-elopement with Violet Trefusis) and a biography written by her son. I’d forgotten how wild and racy her life was…and seemed to me when I first read about it at the tender age of about 19 or 20. She would dress up as a man and pass herself off in society quite convincingly as “Julien” when she was with her lover Violet. I dipped into her diaries yesterday and was thoroughly caught up in them for a while.

As I revisit all this in a new light, I am struck by how the more we break down gender barriers and embrace the male and female aspects of ourselves, the more we have been forced to experiment with new ways of conducting our lives and that trial and error has sometimes proved messy (as the Bloomsbury set are clear evidence of)…and yet it is a necessary and inevitable part of evolution, just as we start to soften up the barriers between our different modes of sensory experience (synaesthesia) and the left and right hemispheres of our brain (the stand off between science and spirtuality that is now butting noses as quantum theory forces the consideration that consciousness gives rise to the material world and not the other way around). It was an interesting addendum of this weekend to have spent our Friday in evening in down-town Brighton where it is more than possible to walk the streets with your gay partner and dress or behave as flamboyantly as you like in a way that was quite impossible for people such as Duncan Grant or Vita Sackville West…and the very fact that we now do this (in some places…) is a clear sign of an evolution that is still underway and that these people helped to set in motion. You could say, the present and future generations are still harvesting fruit from the many seeds that they planted and my hope is that this pathway leads to a garden of rich and varied experiences (like Sissinghurst, a garden of many possible rooms…) where many more people get to feel they have the facility to travel wherever they are drawn to and to discover  and explore their true selves within their current lifetime without the fear of causing themselves or others pain along the way.

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Making tracks

Charleston cardIt was the bizarrest thing…to be in a well-known card and stationery shop on the high street seeking a couple of suitable birthday cards for two of my friends, to be scanning the rows and rows of cards then, finally, thinking “ah, this one…”; my arm reaching out to grab it, registering the wave of familiarity washing over me and then realising “oh, its mine”.

It used to be my little daydream, when I first started painting a decade ago, that one day I would walk into a shop and my own art would be staring back at me from beneath the glossy film wrapers of the card rack but I hadn’t given it much thought lately. When it finally happened, it made me chortle so much I felt I had to explain myself to the shop manager who was looking at me like I’d just dropped in from a spacecraft. “This painting is mine” I told her, prodding the image as I paid; “I had no idea it had been licensed for this”. I was a-fizz with girlish excitement about it, so much so that I came under the close scrutiny of a security guard in the next shop, where I reunited with my daughter, for my suspiciously exuberant behaviour as I flapped the small paper bag around in my hand. I just couldn’t get over the chance encounter, especially since I rarely buy cards these days (I’d been intending to make my own but ran out of time).

The painting on the card was quite an early one as far as my garden themes go; the first I ever painted of Charleston (one-time home to the Bloomsbury group; a special place to me) and – how doubly bizarre was this – we were driving down to that part of the world the very next day, specifically to visit Charleston Farmhouse again, for our wedding anniversary. The coincidental timing already had me goosebumping at the synchronicity.

What had happened in that five years? Such a lot, both personally and professionally…and then spiritually, you could most certainly say; a real journey between then and now. Bringing these two time points together felt like an arranged meeting point that finding that card had been the signal of, like a start-whistle going off to announce my eventful weekend had just begun. I was alert to its potential now; it had my full attention.

Suddenly, with both that Charleston card and tomorrow’s trip “in my hand”, I knew I held a full circle of experience in my possession (or, that phrase people use…”closure”) and was about to make a sudden upturn at the closure-point of the ring that it made, to turn the circle into a spriral…an evolution on all the themes I had been “working on” in the time in between the two markers. Our trip back to Charleston had already felt pre-destined, a meant-to-be which I had planted in our diary like a flagpole many months ago and then looked forward to with an unusual intensity (we were making a weekend of it, staying in a marvellous five-star B&B). It was much more than just the outward trimmings of a lovely weekend away; it felt like putting something in place, tying a knot, extracting the pearl…I didn’t really know what it was yet but it felt right on time and chancing upon that card that very afternoon felt like a clue pointing at something bigger than I yet knew anything about. The fact I brought two of these cards home with me (one for each friend) suddenly felt like something to do with our wedding anniversary – we don’t send cards to each other anymore (though there was a time when we would have both descended on that same shop to purchase, yes, a couple of cards…) but, inadvertently, it seemed like we were being taken  through the paces of doing that after all. If this weekend was going to be about relationships then I couldn’t have received more of a clue; as it turned out, our weekend unrolled itself along the thematic pathway of male and female relationships and garden paths from beginning to end and so this twin pair of identical gardens (depicting a pathway through the blooms) couldn’t have been more on target…

Charleston I by Helen White, www.helenwhite.org

It all felt like part of a journey I had been unwittingly travelling, one of my many metaphorical pathways and routes that I talk about endlessly in this space…and then I guffawed outloud as I clocked that, of course, the familiar card publishers name glinting out at me in silver letters on the wrapper of these cards was “Tracks”; I was literally holding two tracks in my grasp…one track (that image leading me back to Charleston) or two tracks (my last experience there since had been divided into many reproductions and I now held two of them in my hand); a meeting point of two strands of the initial current of potential that I sent out into the world when I last visited the garden and painted that view. Like a dragon line…two impulses that travel separately yet occasionally coincide in the same place; like the male and female impulses of this world…everything I have been preoccupied with lately in the most metaphysical layer of my existence…and now I was holding two identical cards (painted by me) of the garden where my husband and I were spending our wedding anniversary that week. How could this message to myself have been delivered to me in any more of an obvious “wrapper” than this? Again, I laughed at the blatantly obvious way that the most astonishing information is always made available to us in the most readily available and simplistic forms; through synchronicities and personal clues and symbols that light up our way with meaning and significance every step of the way, if we allow them to.

Had I written my own story (knowing, at some level, I did), this is exactly how it would have played out. The themes that were just opening around the time of that last visit to Charleston (and there were many extremely potent ones…) have recently been winding down to fresh new conclusions. My trip back there wasn’t about nostalgia – this would be my third visit across a time-span of many years – but a willingness to experience it all through completely new eyes, to be delivered a completely new ending; I was open to having whatever experience was waiting for me there, not demanding a faithful action-replay of all the times before…and the complete surrender to that was, itself, a newness I was eager to try out.

In finding that card, I was being given the thumbs up to all the pieces I had put in place to allow this unfolding to happen without me having to stage-manage every detail so closely that there was no room to maneuver or expand into previously unexplored territory. I was ready to graduate out of this level of the game and, without having any clue what lay before me on the other side, to be taken up to the next one through the metaphysical portal of my weekend. In every way, it all felt potent with promise – sheer potential was coming at me from all sides. I loved my life for delivering this latest piece of my jigsaw with such humour and a child-like fizz of excitement at seeing myself in print; the rather trivial thrill of seeing myself mirrored back from amongst all the anonymous rank and file of cardboard images on the display shelving of a shop. If this is how life delivers its “go-ahead” clues to me these days then I love it, am thrilled and endlessly excited to be part of it and am ready to admit that life never delivers a dull moment (not ever…at least, not when you are paying attention) and was looking forward to my weekend already!

Charleston I (2012) original oil on canvas by Helen White – http://www.helenwhite.org

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Walking the labyrinth

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukFor months it had been on my wish-list to travel the lower part of the Belinus line, another dragon line; perhaps the most significant of all given it forms the “Spine of Albion” (title of the book about it by Gary Bitcliffe & Caroline Hoare), a backbone of dancing yin and yang serpent energy up the central column of the British Isles. Like the Mary and Michael line that I’ve crossed paths with so extensively before, this one weaves and meanders its way through the landscape like a river’s flow, picking up ancient sacred sites, high points and stretches of water like twin strings of beads that occasionally pass through the same pearl only to branch out on their own again; these rhythms influencing the very themes of the landscape where they occur. Picking up this book was an extraordinary moment of revelation for me; my childlike urge to flick ahead through its chapters to trace that route flagging up a lifetime (mine!) spent interacting with some of its most powerful energy nodes at times that made my life what it is today, some of the most potent events of my life ‘story’ having taken place along its route. Seems I’ve been interacting with it for most of my life, along stretches that incorporate key sites from Winchester Catherdral to the Rollright stones and all the way up to the Lake District and Scotland, though never further south than Winchester. Today we planned to address that shortfall; I felt almost like I had been saving it up all these years!

So we headed for its southern-most point…or at least on mainland England given it starts on the Isle of Wight, the female aspect Elen (whose namesake Elen of the Ways I have talked about recently) breathing in through the Nostrils, a pair of caves on the south eastern shore there. That trip was for another day; this time we were heading for Titchfield as a starting point and then heading to Wickham for lunch. We had met the male aspect of the Belinus Line in Wickham on the Mayday weekend, on a trip-out to celebrate my birthday; choosing Wickham because I intuited that the dragon energy of Belinus would follow close to the River Meon there, with its Norman church atop an ancient mount nearby. Turns out I was right but there was something off putting about Wickham… a lovely meal (at the vegan cafe, Offbeet at the old watermill), a good energy in the churchyard (more so than inside the church) but the kind of energy in the town that made me want to hurry through. It left me intrigued enough to want to return; and it was only when the Spine of Albion book arrived afterwards that I discovered the female line also diverts away from Wickham to follow a different course between Titchfield and Twyford. This was why we were starting at Titchfield today.

So we headed straight to Titchfield, notable for having two energy nodes where the male and female lines cross, one at the church and one at the abbey, like twin gateposts as the energy arrives on the mainland. Our plan: to start our day at the abbey cum manor house (now an empty shell) where William Shakespear once practiced his plays in the barn…or at least we tried. Everything on that journey seemed determined to divert us off our most direct route; my GPS kept insisting we needed to travel by motorway, taking us away from the energy line’s route (even though warnings of serious traffic delay on the M3 kept flagging up…) and, in my determination to take the alternate route, we had one or two missed turns or bewildering moments. Direct was not so direct, or so it seemed; the route through villages seemed designed to fox and confuse us at times, with an absence of signage that was sometimes bizarre. Even signs for Titchfield Abbey eluded us as we drew close to the village; as though it was hiding…in fact, the very first one that we saw was as we left the village some time later, by which time we no longer had time to visit. I began to feel there was method in the unexpected way things were turning out today though, at ground level, things were feeling a tadge frustrating.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukBy the time we got to Titchfield itself, I was desperate for the toilet and we now had less time than was ideal before our lunch booking in Wickham. The marketplace of this typical Georgian market town seemed the most likely place to find one…a pub as the hub of all hospitality…but no, a big sign on the door announced “Toilets for guest use only!” J had seen a sign for a WC up by one of the carparks on the way in so we doubled back there…only there was no evidence of the promised loo for all we walked round and around the block twice, asking locals who shook their heads. By now it was urgent and, in desperation, I approached one more person, a silver-haired guy putting walking gear into the boot of his car. He had no more idea than anyone else as to where these elusive toilets were but then, just as we were about to leave, he came rushing up to suggest I follow him to the community centre where he was meeting fellow walkers; that certainly had a loo. In so much gratitude that he hadn’t been prepared to just abandon us to our predicament, as he could so easily have done, I followed him the short drive around the town only to find that the community centre was all locked-up for the weekend. The best this helpful guy could now do was tell us how to get to the abbey in the hope (though it sounded unlikely) that we might find something near there but his description sounded long-winded and I decided to head back into the town, to the very same pub as before. This time I was prepared to go in and insist that they let me use their toilet if necessary; I was on my desperate high-horse and would call on the humanity of anyone who denied me my basic need for access to an essential “facility” in this town that seemed not to have one.

As it happened, I needn’t have got myself so worked-up; a giant rough-diamond of a man, the landlord, came straight over as I stepped into the already crowded lunchtime pub and asked if he could help me. Yes, of course I could use the toilet (he even walked me most chivalrously to the threshold); that rather unwelcoming sign on the door was only there to put off kids who had been trashing the place, he said. In fact he couldn’t have been more welcoming and didn’t even insist I bought a drink in return, as so often happens in these places so I was relieved in more ways than one!

So, it turned out that none of the signs in Titchfield had been all they had seemed on the black-and-white surface of things; the one that announced “WC” in the car park referred to something that had long-ago been demolished as part of a new development whereas the one that said we weren’t welcome was more roar than intention. The gentlest, most helpful and hospitable of all people on this adventure had all shown up in the male form (yes indeed, the male aspect of the Belinus line follows straight down the market place of Titchfield where all of this had unfolded) and all the signs, signals and clues given off by this male aspect were blunt yet lacking in accuracy or diplomacy, though the feeling behind the place was far better intentioned if somewhat misunderstood – maleness to a tee. As my daughter pointed out, our day came back together in front of those oh-so-familiar “male” and “female” symbols outside the toilets in the pub; yin and yang side by side. With a laugh, we felt we were, finally, getting close to our spot!

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukAnd we were right; with our time until lunch now cut very short, we had to give up all thoughts of finding the abbey today (the landlord of the pub said he’s never heard of it!) so we headed directly to St Peter’s Church, that other crossing point of the Belinus and Elen energies. No surprise, this was just around the corner from the pub…in fact, just behind it (as the crow flies, remarkably close to those loos I’d just been to). As soon as I saw the church, I noticed I was almost running to it, my feet quickening as though pulled along by an invisible thread, leaving the others dawdling along behind me. I couldn’t wait to see the Green Man, promised to me by the book, at the threshold but the feeling of anticipation was much more than that; the sight of its short square tower, its mellow stones and something in its energy seemed to be calling me to it; it was even wearing its summer bunting and the light was cascading sparkles around the porch as we got to it. As I wrote about the exceptional church we visited in Stockholm last month, some churches seem heavy with an energy that turns me away at the door; others feel so light I can’t wait to enter them and, just like St Katerina’s, this was one of those.

Yet, as though saving the feeling to luxuriate in a little longer, I chose to walk around the churchyard first, enjoying the roses and the view over open fields, a feeling of absolute tranquility that urged me to slow my pace. There was an enormous yew around the corner that I found myself going straight up to and the feeling of it, the sheer energy I felt coursing through me after I had spent a few moments hugging one of its huge boughs, left me tingling and spinning with light-headedness as I circled the rest of the churchyard back to the front door.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukThat green man at the door was just something else; barefacedly spewing two flows of telluric energy from his mouth, to me his inclusion in the left pillar of the doorway speaks as a clear and deliberate reminder, to anyone open to seeing it, of what flows through this spot. When I entered the church, J was at the top of the aisle, excitedly beckoning me to come and see something and, as he turned and held out his hand, smilingly waiting for me to walk up the aisle to him, I also smiled at the unwitting wedding ceremony we had apparently set-up for ourselves in a place where Elen and Belinus meet. The thing he wanted to show me was the most astonishing marble tomb; very grandiose for a small parish church and there’s a story behind its, notably female, inhabitant. There was also a substantial memorial to a young woman, her father and brother, who had died within three years of each other – the carving of a woman asleep – and it struck me for being such a strong allusion to the sacred feminine (also asleep for the longest time) so my focus went to that more than the grand tomb in the centre. Then, above all of this, the very George and Dragon window I was looking for, from the book…although, while we were there, we www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukjust couldn’t seem to find this window at all, for all we were scrutinising ever pane. Now I have the photos in front of me, I have no idea why…it was patently obvious which window included a dragon, the male triumphantly standing with it coiled around his legs, his sword apparently keeping it in check, and yet it was as though our eyes couldn’t see for looking (how telling is that) while we were there in front of it. Perhaps what threw me so was that the armour-wearing male is partnered equally with a female counterpart, another very typical depiction of the sacred feminine…in this case, bearing a sprig of leaves instead of a sword and getting her way (no doubt) here through the employ of musical instruments, a soft smile, flowing fabrics. Was this a reminder that there are always two ways to tame a serpent; that, when the male and female aspects come together, a full-spectrum of options are available for achieving the energetic outcome we have in mind. Perhaps, this place is reminding us, we get to work with the serpent energies the most effectively of all whenever we bring so-called opposing sides or opposites together in collaboration – male and female, yin and yang, left and right…etc etc.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukSo we headed off  to Wickham, at last passing the sign for Titchfield Abbey on the way as we left for our next destination. Over a lovely vegan lunch at Offbeet, the most notable turn of events was that my dog refused to sit down in the shade by our table because – we eventually worked out – he could sense the fast moving waters of the Meon right beneath the tightly laid wooden slats of the decking we were on and so he stood spread-toed and shaking, a great lion-hunter of a dog (a ridgeback) reduced to a quivering mass by the energetically charged current that he couldn’t see, but could sense, beneath his feet. Yet we later walked down to the water’s natural edge beside the woods and he bathed happily enough in one of the emerald-hued shallows under the trees; it was just that feeling of being stood over the narrow, focused and highly-charged impulse of the millstream (water redirected from its natural course through a narrow space to create a powerful force for industrial purpose…male impulse to a tee) that he really didn’t like. In fact he was so unnerved by it that it made him jumpy as hell…paranoid, actually… which was quite fascinating to behold (if not conducive to a relaxing lunch). Perhaps this was something of what I felt last time I was here…

The next part of our plan was to rejoin the female aspect of the line and trace it back to our ultimate stop, St Catherine’s Hill just outside of Winchester, where the male and female energies cross again to form an incredibly powerful node, perhaps the most powerful in all England based on how significant Winchester is in the energetic power grid. On the way, I was hoping to find one or two other nodes on the Belinus Line, the first being the tiny “old” church (later replaced by a new one in a different location) at Botley, so ancient and presumably pagan in its origins that it is apparently aligned with the summer solstice sunrise. The book was clear that this was well tucked-away down a lane still called Church Lane and behind some farm buildings yet, as slow as we took it along the long single-track route past hoards of wedding guests, walkers and sunbathers, we didn’t manage to spot anything that looked like a sign of the old church and would have had to park up and delve further to find it. Given our timings, we decided to leave that one for another day and continued on to Twyford, where I clearly saw the Victorian splendour of St Mary’s on its high-up spot (this one rebuilt by my old www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukfriend Waterhouse – famous for London’s Natural History Museum – with whom I’ve crossed paths many times, not least by lived in one of his buildings as my university accommodation for two years and then getting married, the first time around, in one of the two local town halls that he designed). Though a Victorian re-build, St Mary’s still has Elen passing through and the wall incorporates an original stone carved with an early cross within a circle. However, St Mary’s (or perhaps Elen…) was teasingly elusive and her spire disappeared off the horizon until we had been swept past her on the main road so, again, given the time we decided to press on. Then the Hospital of St Cross looked spectacular as we drove past and even more so from the top of the hill; this is where Elen is said to meander through the water meadows…lured off her most direct path, the book speculates, by Henry de Bois who established it there; and he is one very intriguing character, someone who certainly had connections with Chartres with it famous labyrinth. However, this only makes St Cross so intriguing that I really want to do it justice so we decided to make it the focus of another trip. By now, I was very eager to get to St Catherine’s Hill, which felt like a late afternoon rendezvous not to be argued with.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukAt St Catherine’s Hill, we just missed the last car park spot as so many people were using it as a base for their walks along the river but this circumstance came bearing gifts a little later. We walked the short distance from where we left the car in the road and set about the steep climb up steps and slopes to the top; and I’m not sure who was struggling most, me or our dog who dislikes hill walking until he gets there and goes mad with the exuberance of reaching a summit. Half way up, a shriek came from my daughter, up ahead, as a sizeable slow worm (she thought, a snake) slithered beneath what would have been her natural footfall had she not swiftly turned her next step into a leap and I smiled at the serpent emissary who thought it necessary to come out in daylight to remind us whose hill this was and that we were here for more than just the splendid view. At the summit, my husband signalled to me to stop talking and tread softly…and there, in the most perfect woodland glade against a high earthwork bank that made the trees into a ‘v’-shaped valley with light pouring in from the far side, we were blessed by the presence of a red deer who stood and locked eyes with us for the longest time; such gentleness of spirit wrapped up in a form built for beauty, grace and agility. I felt so blessed by this encounter and bowed my thanks, knowing with everything in me that I had that just been welcomed in at the “doorway” of the hilltop by Elen.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukAs well as being a double meeting-point of the Elen and Belinus lines this hill, with its expansive views, is known for having a rare turf-cut labyrinth at its summit, its origins and antiquity lost in the mists of time but certainly dowsed by Gary Bitcliffe to indicate that it is a meeting place of the male and female energies at its very centre. It surprised me just how quickly we were upon the labyrinth once we were out of the trees but then, also, how indistinct it had become compared to images I had seen of it online and even on the information point at the base of the hill, being now covered in all its summer vegetation to the point of almost not being there at all. I laughed at the obvious parallel with our morning’s journey; the lack of clear signage that had, at once, put us off yet made the journey feel so much more meaningful when we got there.

I was forced to dredge my mind’s eye for the “map” of it that I had so recently scanned in my book back in the car and then took a punt at where the entry point was, veering to the left (as I seemed to think the layout had suggested…and also mindful that my impression of it was that it corresponds with the left and right hemispheres of the brain on an, I assumed, “opposites” basis…and I felt wanted to “do” the right hemisphere first). The grooves seemed to be the path rather than the raised turf and these were surprisingly hard to follow, taking great concentration not to wedge the foot in so hard that it stuck or twisting your ankle on uneven ground made lumpy by clumps of wild flowers. Its sharp 180 degree turns became mesmerizing as we got into the rhythm of them and yet there was none of the reverent silence that I expected to do this in; all three of us chatted as we followed our path, turning into one of the most powerful metaphorical conversations I can recall us having as a family as we each  noticed the life-parallels of what we were being taken through the experience of by these hypnotically turning and twisting paths.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukSome of the most obvious metaphors that surfaced related to how, though we started off separately and at different paces, we ended up converging as we got closer to source, finishing off as a sort of human train and those at the “back” not so much choosing where to go as following the back of the person in front…as humans are wont to do. Then there came the point where my daughter found me too slow and wanted to be ahead of me but felt, she admitted, really awkward asserting that desire…so I had to reassure her “that’s fine, overtaking me is what you are meant to do at some point…its just the way of things” (with a glance at each other, this was when we knew we had gone a level deeper, in our conversation, than we originally thought). “But what if I end up very far ahead, I’ll feel like I’m all alone; I might look around and you might not be there anymore”. “That’s also meant to happen…but its alright, I’m never very far away”. I also noticed how, at the times we were actually furthest away from each other as measured by the route of the path, we were often very close to each other, almost touching even, in terms of actual proximity…as though parallels, or portals, connecting different stages of the journey had grown stronger than the timeline itself…a truism I have come to know in this life and across the many lives that I experience as touching across these portals. Through it all there was this one constant, drawing you forwards, that you knew you were heading for the centre and that we would all meet up there in the end.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukWe were really touching upon some universal themes as we put one foot in front of another (this is a mere sample from the tip of the iceburg) and, while we were part-joking as we had this dialogue full of double entendres, we also knew we were discussing some of life’s fundamentals and it was an oddly affecting conversation to be having as we walked the mesmerizing route. There was a distinct sense of something altering, that things wouldn’t ever be quite be the same again; I almost felt a little panicked at what this would mean for me and our relationships with each other (the kind of panic-wave that so often proceeds an expansion beyond what we have become accustomed to, which represents safety). Certainly, there was a sense of performing a rite of passage and I feel strongly that this is what the labyrinth was intended for; that the turns and twists of it, as they so-rapidly alternate your direction, are intended to assist you in transcending the hemispherical barriers in the brain, softening the rift between left and right to where the divisiveness dissolves completely, taking you towards an experience – however temporary – beyond duality. I was reminded of a passage in Barbara Hand Clow’s “The Alchemy of Nine Dimensions”:

Often symbols precipitate in the mind’s eye that awaken cellular memory of the geometry that holds our bodies in form. These symbols vibtrate with very complex geometry, and as your body moves along the paths, the geometry also vibrates with sound waves. You can feel the land sing, which melts you into an ethereal knowing.

Certainly, as I approached the centre, my mind felt like it was exponentially expanding and its substance unpeeling like one of those apple spiralisers uncoils the substance of an apple and then, was I tricking myself, as I made the return trip it felt more like it was coming back together again, returning to its human version…if somewhat altered by the experience. We sat down in the centre and regrouped…with each other and ourselves…and there was certainly something about this spot, a sense of a meeting place, or was it now reflecting back something about me? Yet I was also surprised at how briefly I decided to hang around there; at how quickly I desired to be back on the pathway again and this told me something important about the active desire for all the twists and turns of life; to be in the current of it, having the variable experience of the journey.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukMy mind tried to tell me I was now favouring the left hemisphere as I made that return journey and I seemed to find the path more difficult to follow (or was I being more exactling…thinking about it too hard), like when I try to dance, draw or even cycle leading from the left; all clumsiness because I try to make the inherently instinctive into a cerebral thing . Again, circumstances played out as a metaphor of this very thing as a surprise jogger came right across the labyrinth as though it wasn’t there at all (for him, it wasn’t) and my dog started chasing and jumping up at him, all teeth but no bad intention; another male misunderstanding delivered with too much vigour. As I suddenly had to “wake up” out of my reverie to be the responsible dog-owner and call him off, half expecting the jogger to be angry (he wasn’t), I felt all rattled and shaken out of my zone, just as I do when something “happens” in real life to wake me up out of my meditative bliss-zone, to drag me from sleep or my painting or even the gentle way I prefer to live my life. I felt like I had to re-enter my body way too quickly and I didn’t like it at all; I never like it when that happens and always prefer to be more out of my body than in it, if I’m honest (which tells me a lot about my health challenges). When re-entry happens too abruptly, it always feels like I crash land straight into a defensive mode, expecting to have to protect myself, to take up arms (how many lifetimes have conditioned me to be this way?); as though I am Doctor Who landing in a hostile place and having to think on my feet. I knew this was a timely demonstration of something important for me to witness about myself; that I was being given an opportunity to soften my response to landing back into my human focus, to see it is just another version of the same labyrinthine route, only in reverse. I was treading the paths of both Elen and Belinus here  (they both enter and leave the labyrinth from different angles yet both lead to the same central spot) and that they cross over again and again on the Belinus line; I could emulate this in my own life-journey if I could only remember the feeling of it in my cells.

On the return journey, my daughter was no longer waiting for me but streaked ahead (she was getting nimble-footed at this) and, at times, was in a completely different place to me whereas, lightheaded from the first half and having stumbled once or twice, I slowed myself right down to what suited me better…yet this felt like a timely readjustment of our roles. The degree to which I was now having to think about where to place my footing was tell-tale about how I struggle with those aspects of life where I have to engage with a more rational world; its true, I don’t find myself so comfortable there…but by taking it at my own pace, enjoying the experience of it, I got there without any desire to take the shortcut and just walk away from the path. In fact, I found I really wanted the whole journey of it, every twist and twiddle of it to the end, breathing in the memorable experience of it for the ride; which was telling beyond words at this point in my own life-journey and how I feel about all the years up ahead. I had come to realise that this aspect of the journey (you could say, the journey of fully embodied humanness) was now just as important to me as the spiritual journey “back to source” that had so long been a priority to me.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukYes, life is a labyrinth…I know I mentioned that recently in another post. Just like the twists and turns, the unexpected corners of our walks around Copenhagen and Stockholm, I came to realise the true magic and the alchemy taking place in my world happened because of the blind and unexpected corners, the surrender to the unknown instead of demanding that life have a plan. In walking St Catherine’s labyrinth, I saw that, however overgrown and confusing that route had become at ground level, there was always a higher design to everything and, really, no room for accidents or mishaps when taken one step at a time following the clue right in front of you. As in my own life, the more bends and unexpected twists or turns I encountered, the more my overall perspective softened, returning me towards a wholeness that welcomed me in and delivered a reunion with all the fragmented parts of everything, including of myself. Around some of those sharpest of corners, we find all the multidimensional aspects of ourselves come together and stack up one above the other, like stepping on an axis point between our many layers that explodes us into a broader reality that holds the potential to blast us out of the most pervasive cul-de-sacs of our experience as seen at ground level. These heightened moments…the kinds you can never plan to have…shift us through walls that may once have seemed impenetrable and show us a completely new landscape on the other side. This was what St Catherine’s Hill walked us through.

When my daughter’s description of the route we had travelled turned out to be completely different to mine – we literally pointed to the same path and described the route it had taken us in a completely different way – that was fine too; that is just how life is, no two perspectives are meant to be identical. Surrendering the need for everyone to agree, to be on the same page or see things in identical ways is something I gave up long ago and this path seemed to restate it for me; I doubt anyone ever has quite the same experience there as someone else or even nearly!

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukMy labyrinth experience felt complete and we headed for the inner sanctum within trees in the centre of the complex where the male and female lines cross again to form a vesica pisces with the centre of the labyrinth; the classic vulval shape that seems to suggest the rebirth held in potential that is ours for the taking wherever polarities come close enough to reflect each other back and forth, cancelling out as they merge (I suspect the one-time temple on this site might have been somewhere in that vicinity). At least, I found my special spot and held it long enough to enjoy the magical light beneath the trees. The later Norman chapel on this hill was dedicated to St Catherine; was this because this site was once considered to be the centre of a spider’s web or a wheel of energy, sending its energetic spokes out across the land? Seen far down below from the place I next walked to beyond the trees, I could see Winchester where the Belinus route travels through Winchester Castle, with its King Arthur Round Table (another spoked wheel) hung on the wall; a place I recently visited when I met with a treasured old friend that I hadn’t seen for many years and also a place I first went to on the same summer trip that I made the momentous decision to go to a university in the south of England (to a building designed by Waterhouse) all those many years ago. Then, Winchester Cathedral where Elen and Belinus meet once again; a place that has played a key part in some of the most significant and long-reaching (if not always great feeling…at the time) twists of my life. I felt some of my own “spokes” meeting here as all the synchroncities came together across the meaningful landscape of my life and nodded my acknowledgement over the edge of the hill in Elen’s wake before taking one last circumnavigation of the hilltop and sitting down to enjoy the summer view.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukWay way down below, on the opposite side to the labyrinth but where Belinus first joins the hilltop, a thickly coiling snake cutting through chalk hillsides was made up of near-stationary traffic still stuck on the M3 motorway; the multi-coloured cobra that I had refused to allow squeeze the joy out of my journey here that morning. Ninety degrees or so around, from St Cross Hospital below, Elen arrives up here on the western side from the glistening river that resembles a long silver ribbon woven between trees and green pasture; a vision of summer time’s best landscape. From up high, both motorway and river have their serpent-like qualities and, equally, their part to play in our modern world as versions of “pathway” and “life source”; and my vision is for a world where we make ample space for both and neither at the expense of the other.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukThe walk back through the wooded glade on the hill-edge was no less magical than before, although “Elen” didn’t appear this time; she didn’t have to, we wore her inside of us. When we reached the foot of the hill, that river was like the good friend that greeted us with much back-patting and twinkling eyes from all our thirsty exertions; it was looking wonderful and was a replenishing sight. In the golden mellowness tinged with silver lights as the sun started to descend over the watermeadows, we watched a family with giggling children climb into a silver boat and start their wending journey between summertime’s lush banks, so low and slow they could drag their hands in the water and clutch at the reeds. We took a small diversion into that meadow to enjoy the play of sunlight through thick summer foliage and then walked the route along the road to where we had left the car. As we almost reached it, a pair of butterflies came right to us and wouldn’t leave us alone; seemed quite determined to dive bomb our faces and hair, to brush past our cheeks and then circle and www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukcome down to us over and over again. They were clearly playing with us and, I suspect, very newly out of the chrysalis with all that reborn zest for life that comes with discovering you now have wings. We felt a little like that too; felt just so blessed by the whole experience, even by the motorway that, now miraculously clear of its heavy buildup of Sunday traffic, allowed us to take ourselves so swiftly home again.

Recommended reading

  • Spine of Albion – Gary Bitcliffe & Caroline Hoare

This is the book (refered to frequently as “the book” in my post and from which I have taken all information as to where the Elen and Belinus routes are located) that I have used as my guide to this walk and intend to use for many others. It has, more fully, explained some of the reactions I have had to many other points upon the Belinus Line which, it turns out, I had been travelling along and experiencing some of the more bizarre yet often game-changing dramas of my journey, quite unconsciously, for the larger portion of my life. Highly recommended for its detailed maps and descriptions of the entire extent of the line including the six cities that it crosses. Gary Bitcliffe is a researcher and investigator of ancient sites, earth mysteries and lost knowledge who has lectured widely in the UK and led International groups around Britain’s sacred sites as well as writing articles for journals and magazines.

  • The Alchemy of Nine Dimensions – Barbara Hand Clow

This book, which I’m currently reading for the second time, has been a game-changer for me, enabling me to “know” at the intellectual level what I realise I was already experiencing at the super-conscious level yet struggling to make coherent sense of until this fell into my hands. In relation to this post, the chapters that deal with the fifth and sixth dimensions touch upon labyrinths a great deal and help us to understand how these dimensions are bridged into our third dimensional experience in ways that can be acted upon, for instance using a labyrinth to access the higher dimensions, which (as she mentions) has been typically attempted at places where telluric energies are strong. She defines  labyrinths as “advanced topographical knots that we can enter, walk to the centre of, then walk back out, and emerge”; that is, emerge expanded or, perhaps, better connected to our multi-dimensional selves. They are an “ideal pathway through life’s maze” and so, perhaps, they help us to feel our way through our actual day-today maze once we have got the feel of them having “discovered our inner self while rebirthing consciousness”.

  • The Genesis and Geometry of the Labyrinth – Patrick Conty

I confess I haven’t read this one (yet) but this is from the back cover on Amazon: “A groundbreaking look at the phenomenon of the labyrinth, connecting this ancient symbol to modern scientific principles – Illustrated with a multitude of labyrinths throughout human history – Demonstrates why the labyrinth goes beyond the maze and how it is a tool for interpreting ancient myths and religious beliefs – Draws parallels between the labyrinth and quantum physics, showing that through the secrets of the labyrinth we can unlock the mystery of life itself “Patrick Conty’s fascinating study brings us face to face with the enigma of unity and reminds us that its most archaic expression-the labyrinth-begins and ends in ourselves.” The powerful symbol of the labyrinth exists in countless cultures spanning the globe from Africa and ancient Greece to pre-Columbian North and South America. For centuries they have been used for religious meditation and spiritual and physical healing. In the labyrinth humanity finds a model of the quintessential sacred space that depicts the most profound levels of consciousness. For many cultures the center of the labyrinth exists simultaneously in this world and the invisible worlds, providing us with a doorway into other dimensions of reality. Conty explores not only physical labyrinths but also reveals how the same transcendent principles are at work in Celtic knot work, the designs of Pueblo pottery, geometric patterns in Islamic art, and contemporary painting. The author shows how the geometry of the ancient labyrinth corresponds exactly with known geometric principles, illustrating that today’s most recent developments in math and physics parallel the discoveries of ancient civilizations. By looking at how these ancient and modern world views compliment each other, The Genesis and Geometry of the Labyrinth provides an axis for exploring the multidimensional truths of the labyrinth and shows us how the labyrinth is the ultimate map to guide us through the mystical nature of the universe. Patrick Conty is a painter who has been researching labyrinths for more than thirty years. He lives in France”.

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The inspired and bliss-filled freehouse of the mind

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukI used to ask “why is it that, when I paint, thoughts of uncomfortable situations from long ago and old troubled relationships with people I haven’t seen for years sometimes float through my head?” They are no longer loaded at all…I observe that too…yet they still occur to me most at times when I used to expect to have a different set of thoughts floating through the the landscape of my most relaxed and enjoyable activity.

The fact of the matter is, yes, painting is a mediation to me; I put my mind into neutral and free-ride my inspiration without inviting thought in more than I have to, which leaves the screen of my mind wide open for any sub-conscious preoccupations to plug into. Then, these old energies from “my past” are free-agents now, they are no longer suppressed inside of me; I’ve done the big work and fully integrated them into my experience, have come to accept how they have been the building blocks of my life, which has been my big work of the last five years. Yet these experience-nuggets don’t just go away, they will remain in the fabric of me while I remain in this body. The difference is that they are now “unloaded”, floating around like thought-sprites, free as a bird…which is how I, ultimately, liberated myself too. So, yes, when my mind is least cluttered…which is when I meditate, walk in nature and paint…they flutter in and they land on my shoulder from time-to-time. They pay me a visit and I think “oh its you again” and allow them to sit there for a while (though they never stay for long once they realise I’m not going to engage). I don’t have to invest in them, get drawn into any drama around them, wonder “oh no, do I need to address that old thing, contact that person, make amends, feel bad, regret something” etc…all that “work” has already been done at the energetic level; I’m still doing it by allowing free-access to these nooks and crannies of myself. I can just watch these thoughts arise with the bemused yet graceful air of someone presented with an old photo album at a family reunion; smilingly accepting of what once was yet utterly detached from it in the “now”.

What I observe the most is how much better I feel these days for having this uncharged reaction to what floats through; there’s no resistance in me to those thoughts…they just are. They no longer leave me feeling weary, overwhelmed or like I must do something to quash them or make amends. I’m aware of feeling light around them, of being released from the burden of performing the heavy chore that used to engage me every single day of my life before I could even go about the chosen business of my life – like a great pile of dishes I had to wash and put away in cupboards before going out –  though I was quite unaware I was even doing it at the time. Like the very priority of my existence, I once lived my life putting all my subconscious energy into fighting down feelings and memories that the so-called pristine landscape of my “now” relied upon being kept under close lock and key where I couldn’t see them or risk having them spoil my day; how exhausting must that have been!

To quote John Smallman, whose blog I hugely recommend “They are experiences that have hurt you and that you have refused or been unable to address and release because they were so painful.  They remain embedded, seemingly out of sight out of mind, but you use enormous quantities of energy keeping them repressed”.

These days, its a freehouse in my thoughts; things come and go yet nothing leaves sooty bootmarks on my floor for very long. After they have passed through, I sit and watch as any debris blows away on the breeze; all utterly self-cleaning if I am prepared to give it just a few moments of my time. It troubles me not that these visitors make a free-house of me while I paint; I find it interesting, not disturbing, to play host to them and, while they still show up, I know there are still gifts to be delivered via their free access to the patterns of my mind. Its been one of the many gifts of engaging in art as an almost daily practice that I have taught myself how to provide an unconditional open space to whatever happens to pass through my field; access into me and access back out again, the doors flung wide-open. To me, it encapsulates the very quality of “art’ that its activity provides such an open meet-up space for anyone passing though, which is why I always encourage people to try-out a creative pursuit for their own enjoyment and yet the same could be achieved through daily meditation or a walk in nature. What I have found is that, these days, my tranquility is no longer conditional upon a certain kind of thought passing through – whatever I am engaged in –  and, actually, the completely mixed bag of what presents itself more readily neutralises itself into the state of non-thought that delivers my most inspired and joyful moments of all.

Johnsmallman’s Blog (link to source of quote)

Posted in Art, Art purpose, Art transformation tool, Consciousness & evolution, Health & wellbeing, Life choices, Life journey, Meditation, Menu, Personal Development, Spirituality, Walks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Graceful journey: a Scandinavian experience

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukFor a week in July, we stayed in an apartment in Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s “old town” and some say the most ancient settled site in Sweden; and perhaps its antiquity is what drew me when all the other options seemed to be modern suburban apartment blocks. Like a magnet pulling me right to the heart of the matter; the first beating impulse from which this place grew, the Gamla Stan apartment seemed to declare itself non-negotiable as I considered how best to structure our week staying in a base from which we could easily get to all the other sights.

All the best bits

Tucked away on its own island at the point where the inland water of Lake Mälaren greets the Baltic sea, it is an idyllic old-world place of narrow cobbled streets and tall historic buildings painted in blush tones that are oddly reminiscent of a Tuscan hill town. Then, like the Cité of Carcassonne that I have come to know so well, it has the feeling of being a one-time citadel and now a world hidden within a world; walled away, in this case, by water and with a classic labyrinth of shoestring alleyways leading between the town’s main shopping streets, an array of boutiques, cafés and restaurants, towards a central cobbled square that has seen quite a colourful past. In a literal sense, those colourful buildings wouldn’t out of place in Riquewihr, the almost unfeasibly pretty town in Alsace where we spent another memorable holiday and, like that place, there were mentions everywhere of Gamla Stan hosting a Christmas Market, which was so easy to imagine even in hottest July. Even the picturesque cobbled street that where we stayed in Bruges last year came to mind as we approached the narrow cut-through where the smart black sign to our apartment block hung on its scrolling wrought iron arm above a substantial wooden door; we had arrived in our home for the week and I was just a little bit bowled over.

These parallels with other places that I had made such potent memories of before were so strong that I was initially disoriented; had I flown South instead of North?  At the time of planning this holiday, there were images of thick snow carpeting this far northern place and I had come prepared for  ‘fresher’ temperatures, even in July; yet we arrived in southern European heat, with hoards of tourists spilling out into pavement cafés and cobbled side streets so jammed with humanity that we had to zig-zag our suitcase-tugging way three times the distance to weave the steep route around them from the bridge to our apartment. None of this was what I had expected at all and yet it was so beautiful I was hardly going to complain. Perhaps there was purpose in this place reminding us of so many of our other trips; like it represented some sort of amalgam of “all the best bits” custom made into the perfect destination to suit us…and perhaps that was something we could get to know the feeling of and use as a benchmark for choosing what we really want in everyday life.

The potential for transformation

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukLike all those other so-idyllic holiday destinations that scrolled through the flashcard of my ever-comparative mind, it struck me that Gamla Stan’s modern-day tourist appeal is directly in proportion to how harsh its history has been, its “colourful” past feeding directly into all the things that now make it the paintbox-colourful tourist gem of today. Its most photogenic qualities are sured up upon the shoulders of some of the least desirable aspects of its past and, by the 1950s, its slums were considered such an eyesore, an unpleasant reminder of the cramped, unsavoury living conditions of the past, that it came to the very brink of demolition to make way for something modern. It took a pressure group to see its potential and save it for posterity yet its quite bizarre to think that what is now the hub of Stockholm’s tourist industry was once almost wiped from the map; the power of perspective and the ability to realise the  potential for something great out of even the unlikeliest beginnings – this is how transformation is made possible and I liked so much that it had occurred here, in a place I had instinctively chosen to stay.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukThe mixed messages of the place, which I could feel come up at me from the very stones beneath my feet, were traceable to the bullseye heart of Gamla Stan where its square Storgortet (the oldest square in Stockholm, now the scene of the famous Christmas Market) was once the scene of a hideous ‘bloodbath’ when almost 90 local resistors to Danish control of Sweden were gruesomely executed, one after another, in that spot. Even down our beautiful backstreet, Stockholm’s recent underbelly was to be found just a layer or two beneath the surface. A couple of doors down from our apartment block (itself, once a tobacco factory) is the one-time address of the infamous brothel “The virgin cage”, a name evocative enough to stand hair on end yet now, together, this row of buildings are fully transformed into an extremely desirable residence, a location so stunning we could hardly believe our good fortune to be staying here, climbing that broad flagstone staircase overlooking an inner courtyard to our third floor light-flooded haven up above the rooftops of Gamla Stan.

Living in Grace

Our apartment (through no design as I chose purely on its more physical merits) was even called “Grace” and never a more apt a name could there have been. To us, its white and soft grey interior and roomy, uncluttered spaces came to represent a moment of stillness and light, a pause and a pull-back from the business of our holiday and of life in general. The fresh Baltic air danced freely between open windows on either side of the building and outside sounds carried in like wisps on that breeze as church bells played out www.helenwhitephotography.co.uktheir long-ago melodies and seagulls and swifts performed for us at eye level; the latter so daring in their their sharp darting turns that I half expected them to fly right through the apartment. There was an old irony, thus a healing, in the swifts being here: long ago, I rented a couple of rooms above the rooftops in a town where swifts also dash and dart around the skyline at window height in the early hours of the high-summer mornings and their eerie screech become associated with the most painful memory of my life, which had remained locked inside of me for many years until quite recently. Its a sound I hadn’t heard at such close proximity for years and always with a shudder but I had forgotten the delight of watching their aerobatics and knew, pretty quickly, that this was coming up as a healing, an opportunity and an outward sign that I was ready to dispense with outside cues to pain and truly get over this now. Yes, the chance name of the apartment and its graceful features…they were “just” a reflection of my own inner state reflecting back at me and I knew I was here as a way of shoring up the foundations of the far more sustained state of inner grace that I have recently claimed as my own.

So I found myself rising from my bed far earlier than I ever do at home, to sit beneath the arch of the rising sun that came directly into the open-flung window onto my adopted end of the sofa where I read or wrote, sipping tea, diving in and out of alternating conversation and contented silences once “the others” got up. Those mornings were amongst the most idyllic I can recall of any place I have ever been and yet here we were in the very epicentre of a substantial city…and, perhaps, like the eye of a hurricane it was because we were in the very heart of life that the stillness we found felt so exceptional, so graceful…a true state of grace.

Yes, this was more peace and tranquility, more “standing still” and pausing than I had ever expected of a city break; and yet it wasn’t that the place was devoid of noise. Endlessly arriving and departing cruise liners honked in the bay, seagulls cawed, we could hear the background grumble of city traffic and trains, people passing by in waves of clip-clopping feet and chatter, we were under a mile from an ugly transport interchange modelled on the shape of a four-leaved clover (which is so funny, for a reason that will become apparent later) and whilst the Swedes, like the Danes, seem almost litter free, we couldn’t help but notice they love their graffiti. Yet this apartment’s unwavering peace came from a quality of being gently suspended in time and space, a moment to breathe with no hurry or demands placed upon those who took pause there but, rather, an invitation to gracefully “be” in each moment (not racing to the next one or over-analysing the last).

I found myself doing yoga because I really wanted to, once or even twice a day; which then helped me adjust to a different bed and all that walking up and down Stockholm’s hilly streets. I luxuriated in the spacious shower with its broad jet that felt like standing in a summer waterfall and would make an unhurried ritual of self-care each morning after a long and leisurely breakfast. There was never a race to get out of Grace’s door and coming back to it elicited the same kind of whole-body sigh that normally tells me I’m home though I’d been here such a short time. I approached each new morning without pressing agenda; had expected to write reams, even packing an extra notebook which I never got to take out of my suitcase. Though I wrote a few disjointed lines as reminders to string together another day, I mostly read and gave myself to the kind of mental spaciousness that delivered far more than I could capture in words…so I didn’t even try. It was just the holiday I needed; right place, right time and I allowed it to happen to me.

How to let grace in


It struck my ambling thoughts how things that would have been a blot on my landscape or inconvenience at home were taken without complaint, an acceptable part of the holiday “view” here. Television aerials protruded up from grimy chimneys, uninspiring city blocks rose up on the horizon across the water, there was plenty of noise and a perpetual smell of seared meat to offend our vegetarian noses from the restaurant down the street, not to mention other people’s’ music. Mountains of glass were sometimes tipped into a bin very early in the morning before I was really awake and noisy revellers would occasionally stagger home after we had gone to bed but did we mind? Not a jot though, at home, those same irritants would have me gnashing teeth and venting bile at my noisy road where dawn refuse collections, articulated deliveries and 2am drunkards are the ever more frequent melodies over the base boom of perpetual traffic and heavy vehicles that make the house shake. Here, at least, the whole district was pedestrianised and yet “quaint” cobbles make for even more noise as suitcase wheels come and go and the city’s mixed noises rang all around us during the busier times; but then this what we had chosen, wasn’t it – to be in the cultural hub of the place? Nobody made us choose this over a beach or a mountain (a choice that, of itself, I had found fascinating to notice about myself given I always profess to be in search of more tranquility). This was exactly what I had been drawn to and it felt perfect in all its ways; so, what did this tell me about the life I had also apparently chosen back home; were there ways that I could be reappraising that familiar life through the eyes of someone newly arrived and forgiving some of its more aggravating foibles in lieu of its many graces? Was it fair to be more forgiving here than on my home turf and, meanwhile, what was I overlooking at home that could be more deeply appreciated?

And what, if anything, was any different here; why were those very things that had me clawing up the wall back home more than acceptable in this other place? The difference had to be down to how I was spending my time, where I was placing my gaze. Do I get up this early at home, when the world is at its quietest? Earlier than we used to but the urge to rise even earlier has been coming over me lately, making the most of our days, especially since we gave up drinking in the evenings. Would we be sitting in morning sunshine as we sipped our tea? Harder to do in our house as the sunny room is also the noisiest…but we have started following the sun around more and especially using the garden, even to work in as long as its not raining.Would we be alternately reading our books then bursting into animated chit-chat about the most extraordinary things, all kinds of wild and wonderful topics; intuiting when to talk, when not to in a rhythm that is almost telepathic? Oh yes, its one of the things we do so well together…talking about absolutely everything under the sun but also knowing when to be quiet without reading anything into it. Would we gallop out of the door without checking in with ourselves “do we really want to do this, go there” and quite prepared to alter or cancel plans if not? At the weekends, yes, we’re pretty good at inventing our own pace, being flexible, working and not working to natural rhythms rather than a timetable but the ability to do this all the time is work in progress. Is our home as light and airy as we can make it, do we use our spaces as well as they could be used, painted in fresh-light colours and made as uncluttered yet comfortable as the Scandinavians always seem to know how? Lets just say, we are getting there and two more rooms have been utterly transformed since returning home.

Making gentle shapes

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukThe week before, we were in Copenhagen (another haven of phenomenally pleasing interiors) and the journey that we made due north from one place to the other felt significant in a way that I couldn’t quite pinpoint when I initially planned it. Then, brushing against the “history” of the two countries, their perpetual squabbling that was the excuse for what happened in Gamla Stan all those centuries ago, it suddenly struck me as an interesting contrast that by using Copenhagen as a starting point, we had travelled that same route as those one-time invaders on our plane packed with holidaymakers and so many small children it could have been a crèche with wings. Was my tourist itinerary and that of all these people a modern-day invasion of a kind, helping to heal an old wound; trailing new light through heavy old energetic pathways? The square in Stockholm’s Gamla Stan, once the scene of a “bloodbath”, now with its Nobel Museum, is such a magnet for tourists that we tended to dash across it without attempting to stop and look but one very early morning we arrived when it was completely empty except for a couple having wedding photos taken on the cobblestones and, when we walked through half an hour later, they had been replaced by the first bus-load of oriental tourists who looked exactly like they were performing tai chi…arm stretched up and forwards, leg swung behind, back arched, crouching down low, every movement slow and studied…only what they were actually doing was holding out their phones and cameras to get that perfect photo of all the iconic buildings around the square. It made me smile that the graceful movements of tai chi had dressed themselves up as this obsession with conquering a place with photography; like a trojan horse to ensure whole busloads of people move around on some sort of perpetual world tour, performing unwitting tai chi in all of the world’s most historically stuck places and, in the process, accidentally healing gnarly old wounds held rigid by bricks and mortar and the endless retelling of old old history. Without having to know the exact part we play as bearers of light charged-up with the holiday-maker’s intention to have a good time, perhaps our tourist behaviours actually do help to anchor something new, something more light-hearted and trivial, more accepting of other people, in all these places.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukThe idea that modern-day tourism provides the gentle ceremonies that are unwittingly healing the world, a tipping point of happy new memories digitally anchored to these places by all the endless photographs we take, made me smile. With that smile still on my lips, I sent my own blessings out into the square of Gamla Stan, placing my hand under the clear running water of the fountain and silently bowing my acknowledgement of all the hurt these bricks and cobblestones had witnessed while invoking something fresh to fill this space…and all those others across the world where pain and loss have ever been experienced. Places like Paris where we made some of our happiest memories en route to our holiday just three years ago, or Nice where my tiny daughter made sandcastles on the beach adjacent to the very seafront road that so recently made headlines on what was her first holiday abroad (and which is how I still choose to fondly remember it). When we allow memories of horror to stick to a place then…guess what…they stick and they become the sore that is never allowed to heal. Perhaps by keeping ourselves moving, flowing through these places by the smiling tourist busload, we help to heal stuck energies around “wounded” places all the quicker in spite of what anyone else might be doing to paralyse us with the kind of fear which, left to stagnate in a place, becomes as malignant as any unattended hurt held in the body. Keeping movement free and energies circulating helps to prevent such malignancy at the root; and a culture of open tourism certainly does that.

Recognising kin

In the familiar word roots, the place names and even the street plans of Copenhagen and Sweden, I found the one-time invaders of my own English birthplace, a classic riverside settlement with a strategic water route to the North Sea that began its most cohesive development as a town and then a major city with the arrival of the vikings who, in making it one of the five boroughs of Danelaw, created its marketplace and the spider’s web of streets that led to it. That blueprint for a town, whose history and culture I gobbled up as a teenager, seasoned the very “flavour” of a place that influenced everything I came to know during my formative years of growing up in a vibrant city that I could feel like a frequency vibrating up from the very ground under my feet. Whatever that frequency of www.helenwhitephotography.co.uk“Nottingham-ness” was, it never left me and still colours the way that I look upon the world; still arriving in a new place and finding myself drawing comparison with my home city (though I haven’t lived there for decades…) like some sort of benchmark for what a cohesion of people looks like; and there was certainly something in these Scandinavian places that felt akin to what I knew so well.

At some level that I was able to recognise, as I watched them on the metro trains, sat beside them at dinner or chatted in their shops (and their English was unfailingly perfect), these folk were my very close kin…like first cousins where some cultures can feel more like distant relatives several times removed…and yet I see how, in realising this, I was being shown how all people everywhere are my relatives somewhere down the line. It made me realise (again) that however far we travel, landing in places we have never set foot in before, it is still possible to find ourselves “at home” surrounded by qualities and nuances, decencies and kindnesses that we recognise from the soul; travelling very far only to boomerang right back to where we started. It can arrest us when this happens but, really, far more surprising is that we ever expected it to be otherwise; that we could have been deluded for so long into thinking that people in all corners of the world are not our extended family, quite regardless of culture, colour or creed.

When culture fits preference

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukIn some ways, we felt far better assimilated to this culture than our own because, being vegetarians bordering on vegan and as impassionadoes of the organic, ecofriendly, consciously shopping way of life, we so often feel like misfits stranded on an island of people who largely “don’t get it” back home where convenience, cost-cutting, meat-culture, big brand labelling and “who cares about hidden ingredients or processes” still drive the mass consumer mentality. Where we live, there are no vegetarian restaurants for almost forty miles and the nearest big “wholefoods” store selling literally everything we would want to buy under one roof, like the equivalent of going to a mainstream supermarket, is in the centre of London, which makes shopping laborious in the extreme if not quite as difficult as, say, in Italy or France.

As such, its easy to feel, with a certain amount of despondency, that the world is not yet cut out for our way of living. Yet here, staying in the tiny square mileage of historic Gamla Stan, with its typical array of meaty restaurants catering for the masses, we found two truly wonderful vegetarian restaurants: Hermans, with its terraced gardens overlooking the water and colourful hammocks under trees, and The Hermitage – a small family affair delivering an unfailingly high-standard of vegetarian loveliness by the “help-yourself buffet” scoopful…both within a few minutes walking distance of our apartment. Like a bigger version of The Hermitage, Hermans puts on the most incredible buffet every night, including a veggie barbecue in one of the lower gardens and so you just pay for your plate and wander around the place, loading up with food and helping yourself to endless cups of Ayurvedicwww.helenwhitephotography.co.ik tea until the sun sets over the water. We really thought we had landed in food heaven on that first night in Stockholm, listening to brilliant live music from the deck of one of the boats down below watching an amber sunset behind church spires. As a result (and another reason I was able to relax more fully on this holiday than any I can recall), I was able to joyfully ditch my usual “busman’s holiday” resolution to cook all our evening meals in our apartment and eat out every single day; heaven indeed!

High vibe living

Which, actually, was almost a shame given we had far better access to the kind of food we choose to eat in stores here than anywhere we had ever been including home; the first (of several) wholefood stores we got to was big enough to warrant escalators up into the massive top level where, though we were no longer seeking ingredients to cook with, I still managed to find some lovely organic products to bring home to England and could have happily spent another hour browsing its array of toiletries and household products, supplements and herbal remedies, bakery and dry foods, massive counters of ready-to-eat delicatessen dishes, healthy frozen meals, cereals, nuts and seeds to buy by weight, lactose free deserts and ice creams…you name it; all with an additive free, organic and ecologically sound twist. When it came to finding vegetarian cafés for lunch, we managed to discover a possibility of three or four in a square mile and the one we stopped at delivered a delicious gluten-free roll and an array of smoothies, juices and teas to choose from; we felt utterly spoiled compared to what we are used to as even London doesn’t deliver this!

The feeling of swimming upstream that life can seem like, back home, was suddenly eradicated and like when a very loud noise suddenly turns off, I almost didn’t know how to recalibrate to the sudden absence of it. What had been a problem became the way to be amongst all these other people seeking our kind of products; in fact, it felt “cool” (not ridiculous) to be part of the healthy-eating crowd. You can become so weary of having to check the small print on packets, the manufacturing credentials of suppliers, the carbon-footprint of your veg, of asking “is the cheese in this actually vegetarian?” or “do you have anything that’s gluten free that isn’t then over-compensated with sugar, caramel colourings or other chemical additives?” (Scandinavians seemed much more clued-up about healthy alternatives for those with food intolerances than I’ve seen back home where “gluten-free” doesn’t often equate to “healthy option”). These people were, quite literally, speaking “my language” and everything in the shops and restaurants was so thoroughly labelled plus there was always somebody ready to help with any questions. Life was suddenly full of ease….it became easy; this was grace in action.

In Copenhagen too, we were quite spoilt with the variety of vegan and even raw restaurants on offer plus a wonderful organic breakfast buffet in our hotel that included so much fruit, a variety of smoothies, chia seed breakfast bowls, lactose free milk and the most delicious gluten free bread I’ve ever tasted (I tried, and failed, to get hold of the recipe…) that we could easily build an incredibly wholesome breakfast to start our day. It can be such a profoundly moving sensation to find that you are a perfect match with the culture around you…and this had nothing whatever to do with geography, language, colour, politics or religion…certainly nothing to do with where I was born. It felt much more fundamental than all that and yet it was nothing anyone would ever start a war over, www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukI don’t want to pick a fight with people that eat food that I choose not to…but it just felt so great and liberating to feel catered for instead of like the awkward or weird one in the shop or restaurant. The practical business of living became easy, smooth, aligned with my principles, yes graceful.

What I took away with me, which was so encouraging, was that there are clearly enough people in the social mix to make these kinds of business viable, thriving and obviously very successful and, one has to presume, the more these kinds of businesses exist, the more the masses start to reconsider their consumer options and try other things to the mainstream products currently rammed down their throats by the marketing of corporate supermarket chains. People are presented with genuine choices and then they can go with the heart (and their taste buds, not to mention the health benefits). It was bizarre to see just how busy these places were that would be considered “off-beat” back home… the aisle of the wholefoods supermarket as full as any Tescos and the 310-seater vegetarian restaurant teeming with people any night of the week. I started noting brand names of products I really loved (like the gorgeous, totally natural lactose/sugar-free pistachio ice-cream on a stick I enjoyed at one of the cafes we went to) in the hope of buying some of these things back home. Finding I can’t…yet…I realised, with an ironic smile, that this is one gentle invasion I really hope comes to our shores some time very soon; and I’ll be waiting!

Creating through visualisation

www.helenwhitephotorgaphy.co.ukHaving been made this much at home and seen our aspirational way of eating and buying natural products come to life, it felt like I was colouring-in the outlines of dreams I had long-ago sketched out on my mental drawing board; like I had got the coloured pens out and made the flat version seem a little more three-dimensional now and all it needed was a puff of life to get it moving around as an actual reality in my day-to-day world back home. Newly flooded with the first-hand reality of such a world, we could take this feeling back home with us and, like a caterpillar must hold onto the idea of a butterfly until it becomes one, we could envision, with all-new gusto, how our own world would soon catch up with this taster from abroad…which is, I suppose, the mechanism by which great ideas sweep in from other cultures to refresh our own in an endless process of cross-pollination (assuming we don’t barricade our borders). I’ve now witnessed, first hand, the genuine passion of some of these business people running restaurants, cafés, cooperatives and shops, those making alternative foods because there was a gap in the market and their success stories of first making this product at their own kitchen table (like that vegan ice-cream I mentioned; a tiny cottage industry just a year ago…now sold in boxes in that huge wholefood store we went to). The sheer enthusiasm and go-get attitude to be found around the topic of eating healthily and consuming in a way that is in far closer harmony with the well-being of the planet is quite contagious and it “makes you feel good” to be involved in it in ways that are far broader and less easily explained than “just” the positive effects of consuming far healthier products; like your very soul is also receiving a higher-level of  nutrition, a feel-good factor that is traceable all the way back to the source of the product. The products themselves vibrate at a higher level is how I would describe it though its more than that and its quite tangible; it uplifts, enthuses and connects people. It was thrilling to feel this in action and bring it home with me; its already made me work harder at considering how locally I source my organic food, how I can support entrepreneurial businesses that match my ethos and many other ways I can really make this lifestyle happen for us as a family on a day-to-day basis, knowing it’s the way forward to a far healthier lifestyle in every way possible.

Total immersion

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukWe had truly loved Copenhagen, its streets, shops and market, its sculpture, waterfronts, green spaces, eateries and art galleries and enjoying some unforgettably golden moments there and yet there was a sense of not delving quite so deeply into the culture of it, perhaps because we stayed in a hotel rather than an apartment. Hotel culture reinforces the sense of passing through a place and we felt like we were on an island of English-speaking tourists sailing through “foreign” seas, not fully immersed as we were in Stockholm. However, being vegetarian often takes you off piste and we spent our first evening, rather than heading for the glossier centre of town, wandering around the more bohemian, studenty area of what used to be considered the working-class district and we loved its colourful and relaxed pavement vibe of eateries and slightly mad shops; the trip wouldn’t have been the same without that first evening’s walk around Nørrebro.

On our third day there, by which time we had walked countless miles of its streets and parks in the completely rambling way that best suits us, a tour-load of Americans arrived from a cruise ship and sat around in the lobby after breakfast, planning their day ashore. I smiled to overhear how one couple were attempting to “do” everything recommended in the guidebook in their single day ashore and became anxious to the point of falling out with each other about how best to achieve that, which boat tour or museum ticket to buy to get the most out of their day and whether they had worn the right clothes for the so-called unpredictable weather (actually, it was almost consistently warm and sunny all week). They were in quite the bad mood with each other by the time they left because all they had managed to achieve was to argue themselves around in circles. The human urge to “have a plan and stick to it” and to “not risk missing out on anything” can be all consuming but what they had in mind sounded exhausting and would have hardly scraped the surface of whatever they managed to see given they would have been in a race against the clock and looking at only those things the guides point out by rote.

A week later, in Stockholm, I opened the front door of our apartment and was waiting for J to come down….only to find our building was the focal point of a tour that was gathered in a semi-circle around our doorstep. As the guide continued to pour out her rapid-fire words in a language I didn’t understand, her group impassively scrutinised the doorstep and me on it, taking pictures that included me as though I was just part of the holiday scenery, a real-life local caught in the act of emerging from my residence with my everyday hessian shopping bag folded up under my arm ready to go to the eco bakery for my gluten-free loaf; it made me smile. It also made me realise I was at least starting to feel like a “local” rather than a tourist; although, of course, I was only kidding myself…was no less the tourist than they. What, I suppose, made me feel “other” than the majority of tourists, those that would arrive on tour buses or cruise ships and suddenly sweep through the tranquil streets like a tsunami at almost exactly the strike of ten each morning only to retreat en masse at around four, was that I try to tread softly into the cracks of a place, to veer away from those crowds and stay closer to where the locals seem to go, into hidden places, the least obvious corners using intuition as my best guide. I find that, like watching a bird, you get much closer when you step into the space quietly and assimilate to the surroundings; that’s when intimate moments just seem to happen and you witnesses things that will affect you for so much longer than any of the spectacles that are really only put on for outward show. Its then that you realise the potential for there to be many “realities” to be playing out simultaneously in a single geographical location…and that we get to choose which we want to make our own by feeling into the potential that is offered at each and every street corner. Using intuition, its like navigating yourself through a labyrinth that leads to your own personal grace-moment, the access points on some sort of personal map that feels like you have truly arrived somewhere that is so much more than its physical attributes and is meaningful to you in ways that speak to you across multi-dimensions. Such a journey can be suggested to you by outside prompts but can never be forced or dictated by them; its your intuition that leads you there, however much those other signs and symbols may tug and pull at your sleeve.

Making it up as you go along

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukWhere we crossed paths with guided tours or ticketed entries, we more often than not didn’t bother with them at all, not because we had to pay but because any previously unspoken reluctance would then surface as we considered “is this worth it, do we want this” and we found that we took notice of these instincts far more than we did in the past rather than ploughing on with what we had “planned” regardless. The sheer blast of many “ought to”s on holiday can come at you with unremitting force; everywhere you go has its list of priority “must see”s that guidebooks and signposts will try to tell you about, people will even hassle you on the streets offering you boat rides and tours you never even considered. We watched the receptionist at our Copenhagen hotel reel off the same list of “must sees” to every new visitor that asked, marking crosses on a map but then, when more closely questioned by one savvy visitor, admitting she hadn’t been to some of these places lately or even at all; they were, you could say, just for the tourists but then, by choosing them, that’s what you reaffirm yourself to be.

The more interesting conversation I overheard was about the street where she lived; this more savvy traveller was another American looking for his family roots and it turned out the receptionist lived in the very street named after his grandfather. He was overjoyed at the coincidence as you could just tell he so wanted to stand there, where his folks had once stood, and feel into the place. We did that too, wherever we went…feeling into the place, asking if it had anything it wanted to show us… and would turn around at the very threshold if it didn’t feel like a match, regardless of any effort gone to to get there (one day, I walked straight out of a gallery that I had made some real effort to get to as a quick look around the walls told me it wasn’t what I felt drawn to at all). There was no blame, no embarrassment, no apology necessary when we did this – we just listened to each other’s intuition and stopped right there or, on the other hand, if one of us saw something they really wanted to do we considered it and many of these ad-hoc diversions provided some of our very best experiences. You could say, we went on the most up-to-date intelligence received “in the moment” via our instincts, the kind of information that only ever delivers in the moment of acting upon it, which made planning our day a fairly useless occupation.

Trusting instincts

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukOne place we turned right away from (which almost felt like committing some kind of heresy…) was Copenhagen’s beloved Tivoli Gardens, which I had only the vaguest concept of beforehand, expecting (I now realise) a sort of Edwardian version of Hyde Park with a lake, some swans and a couple of carousels and so I planned a gentle afternoon walk there. What I found, instead, was more akin to Disneyland with a ticketed entry point (in fact, Walt Disney drew his original inspiration from a visit there) and the sweet-sickly smell of “food” vendors and the garish, plastic artifice of “fairytale” turrets and multicoloured everything seen beyond the payment booths and thick crowds had me pulling right back to catch my breath and recalibrate.Thankfully, we were all unanimous that it wasn’t for us and so we resumed our spontaneous tour of some of Copenhagen’s more introverted places, the make-it-up-as-you-go-along tour that is always free and full of wonderful surprises.

Very often, we seemed to find ourselves in parks and gardens, along the lakes and in the botanical hot houses, wandering the market stalls and noticing street-corner sculpture, the small details of buildings and the subtle oddities we might otherwise have missed. Even the iconic sight of Nyhavn didn’t hold us for all that long because its cafés and pavements were just so solid-packed with people we could have been in Venice in high season and, like that favourite place, I suspected it would have far more atmosphere when the crowds went home to be replaced by winter’s sea mists. By the end of that week, I was laughing my socks off at how the top half dozen things I had expected to “do” in Copenhagen were the very ones we didn’t do at all…and, in fact, the best adventures of all were entirely spontaneous, unpredictable and made-up on the spot.

Our best memories are made up of synchronistically occurring gems of perfectly timed experience that we could never have know would happen until they did, in fact we would have missed out on all of “the best bits” of our holiday had we stuck religiously to some sort of tourist agenda as they would have made for a completely different Copenhagen experienced through a different lens. There’s something deeply relaxing and graceful about seeing this multi-layered reality unfold in practice, especially in a place where there is such a lot going on (such as a city) as it means life always “arrives” tailor made for our particular preferences and with as much grace as we are prepared to ask for, regardless of how frenetic outside circumstances can seem…like living in our own fully portable, entirely customised reality that meets our best expectations. Realising this level of grace is available to us…no matter what…is perhaps the greatest gift we can receive in physicality and I took my version of it in both hands this holiday, cherishing it like I had never done before because it never once let me down.

Use of space: blending work and play

One of the unexpected gems of this part of our trip was an exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre which I chanced upon on the way to one of Copenhagen’s “must see” places, Christianshavn’s free town (and which we never quite got to as all the subtle and some more blatant clues along the way put us off until we decided to turn around). The harbour of Christianshavn was pretty enough for a visit in its own right and, actually, it felt so much more likely that we were “meant” to have found this exhibition at the Architecture Centre as it could have been tailor-made for my daughter’s interest in architectural design and even for my own range of interests (the exhibit below; a quote stuck to a window juxtaposed with the church seen outside the exhibition centre, captures something of its essence). Its focus on how work and play could be mixed; how exercise and fun could be introduced into those so-called “unavoidable” activities of www.helenwhoitephotography.co.ukmodern life such as working in an office or commuting, allowing adults to break up the mundane with better health and increased enjoyment of life, easier access to nature and positive sensory stimulation. It examined how the rigid concepts that we have of “sport” and “play” have evolved, moulded by so-called necessity since the industrial revolution but now open for reinvention as soon as we stop pigeon-holing them as concepts (“I am doing sport”) but, rather, integrating them into ordinary life and daily activities. It questioned, why do adults feel that playing is something only children do, that they must give up; also, why “doing sport” and “playing” are considered the domain of those meeting certain criteria and not an equal opportunity for all, regardless of age, income or social status. It was a perfect example of an apparently custom-made outcome that we didn’t see coming and yet there it was, one of the best things we went to all holiday, delivered by “accident”.

Letting life come to you

So, of course, we carried the same make-it-up-as-you-go-along mindset to Stockholm and I don’t know when I’ve ever had less of an idea how we were going to spend our time at the beginning of a week’s apartment rental. On Gamla Stan, we were close neighbours to the Royal Palace, one of the biggest in Europe and a mere minute’s walk from our door and yet (somewhat guiltily…) we all admitted on first glance that a visit inside really wasn’t grabbing us; nor was the Nobel Prize museum five minutes away in the square. Admitting this allowed such lightness to flood in to our schedule as we were now free to let this place unfold its deeper layers at its own pace rather than spending our valuable time doing these other time-consuming things that felt like they were shouting us down and yet weren’t our genuine priority. There are no missed opportunities and so I knew that if there were any parts of these things I was ruling out that we were “meant” to be doing, they would present themselves to us one day, making themselves so obvious we would almost trip over them, and I was right. One evening, as the sun was lowering so much that the peachy-coloured buildings were all softened and the cobblestones standing out like rows of glowing orbs, we accidentally tripped upon the changing of the guard in the shaded courtyard of the palace so we stood there in the sunshine watching the display www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukalongside just two or three other couples who also happened to be there. Clearly this was something that was being drawn to my attention and I certainly noticed how many females were amongst those guards, dressed up in full regalia, bearing arms, a sign of the ever changing times or was it? Once the display was over, we stepped into the space and I found myself in front of a statue of Kristina Gyllenstierna, a slightly-built woman known as the “defender of Sweden” for having taken control of the Swedish forces and put up a very good fight against the Danes five centuries ago during a conflict that also saw the second stronghold in the hands of a woman at Kalmar. It was a timely reminder for me that stout hearted women have often more-than played their part in a man’s world and that the goddess takes many forms. That changing of the guards ceremony, by the way, turned out to be one of the guidebook’s “must see” spectacles; usually delivered to a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at midday and so our accidental front-seat view felt like such a gift.

When inanimate objects speak


Taking it easy for the long weekend as we settled in to the apartment, we spent our time wandering around close to home and on nearby Södermalm which, by guidebook standards, is little more than a suburb of Stockholm – a one-time working class slum made better – and yet we immediately liked the feel of its cafés, wholefood shops and eateries, its relaxed square named after Mary Magdalene (whose church was enveloped in scaffolding undergoing a very thorough renovation nearby), chancing upon sculptures in the park that spoke to me far more than anything we could have had planned to see because, like great comedy, the timing of these encounters was all.

In fact, the unexpected sculpture to be found around almost every street corner had been “speaking to me” all the way through this Scandinavian holiday…and we finished off the holiday at the Millesgärden, one time home and spectacular garden of Stockholm’s most famous sculptor Carl Milles (but that’s for another blog). Back here in the Mariatorget Square on Söder, we arrived just as the late afternoon sun happened to come through the trees to the side and light up the figure of a girl, a statue that I now know to be “The Snowdrop” by Per Hasselberg, and in casting violety-green light over her form, seemed to trigger off the same process of transformation in me that I was watching take place before my eyes. Transfixed, I felt deeply involved in the process I was witnessing as her bronze edges softened into pools of light and her chakras lit up one by one, the light hovering and exploding like a rainbow orb over her heart and then hovering for a sustained time as a dazzling turquoise circle over her throat. The message this delivered to me felt personal and powerful, stood in Mary Magdalene’s square close to a memorial to Stockholm’s famous scientist and mystic  Emanuel Swedenborg (who once lived nearby) who “saw things” that other people missed and who took other people’s breath away with his predictions. There was something very potent about this square mile on the north side of Söder and it became one of our favourite places to walk.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukAs though to reiterate what I could almost have passed off as a nothingness the first time a statue burst into light, the next day we happened upon a courtyard in Gamla Stan which caught my eye for being as lit up by sunlight as the street we were on was now surrendered to the grey shadow of late evening. We diverted along the narrow passage into the complete circle of buildings, a public area designed in the 1940s to incorporate several of the criss-crossing alleyways that came from the town’s original medieval design; probably, I suspect, of far more antiquity than that. At its centre, where those ancient pathways presumably intersect, it has an elaborately carved pool with a west-facing figure of a woman held up high at its centre, called “Morning” by Ivar Johnsson, ironically encountered at evening on this occasion though I found the accident personally meaningful because of the way it suggested a union of the two polaritites into one. As if to extrapolate this theme, the sun (which “shouldn’t have been there…it was a reflection from a window; which became one of my themes throughout this holiday) was actually coming from behind the woman’s figure, which should have been a dark silhouette against the light…but in the moment we arrived the sun became perfectly aligned to pour light between her legs and ignite her from the base chakra upwards, contradicting the dark silhouette which provided a blank canvas for all the colours that were now moving around her light-animated figure. As on the day before, our timing couldn’t have been more perfect to witness this extraordinary display and I felt her transformation as though it was mine…and it was.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukThese two extraordinary encounters and many others assured me that the sacred feminine was accompanying me every step of the way on this holiday; her clues were everywhere, in the endless stream of wonderful sculpture we followed like a trail of breadcrumbs (enough material for another post) to the endless theme of swans (actual and symbolic) that we  had encountered everywhere from the smooth golden waters of Copenhagen to the decoration on the front of our hotel to the ones we saw valiantly bobbing along on the choppy saltwater beside our boat out on the Stockholm Archipelago (I had no idea they adapt to swimming in saltwater). Birds and butterflies – as usual –  delivered many of my themes…in “real life”, in art and so often caught behind glass, even a bird I went to some lengths to rescue that was trapped inside a shop shut up for summer (a whole other story). Iconography, as usual, delivered multi-layered meanings to me through signs and clues everywhere; the sacred feminine, especially, revealed herself everywhere I went, wearing many disguises but never far away from my path. Then, George and the Dragon (and other permeations of the serpent-battling theme) followed us quite literally everywhere we went; it was almost funny how many times we came across this one, not least an enormous statue of the same at the end of our street in Gamla Stan. None of this felt at all accidental from the perspective that I choose, which is that all experience is meaningful to us as soon as we open to this possibility.

In fact, since the very beginning of this holiday, I had noticed how I had begun to read the narrative of my journey by means of chance encounters with statues and bits of installation art,  flourishes or details on buildings, signage and even window displays, road signs, the play of light, the accidental juxtaposition of two or more of these things that spoke to me in a coherent way…it all read like the clearest transcript.  The synchronistic flow of this narrative and it’s highly cohesive messages, which felt entirely personal (customised, you could say) to me, were as clear and audible as anything that could have been delivered by more conventional means. These “chance” encounters seemed to give the thumbs-up to all my “accidental” routes, encouraging me to trust in my own “way” like never before. In following the so-called arbitrary routes that my feet seemed to want to lead me; I never felt more on track.

Holding space for the metaphysical

These routes took me on metaphysical journeys as palpable as they could be; but then I was always open to things happening beneath the obvious surface. One day we walked through a modern part of Söderhamn that felt quite different to where we had been a few minutes ago happily eating lunch in the sunshine and, for some reason, I felt deeply uncomfortable and out of sorts in this modern urban place. We read on a board that in this site, which is a dip between the very steep heights and cliff edges of the perimeter of the island, there used to be a naturally-fed lake but it became a “stinking pool” surrounded by slums and was filled in during the nineteenth century to use as a freight train terminus above and, beneath it, one of Sweden’s busiest train lines. In the 1980s, houses were built right on top of all this, with rubberised foundations to tolerate the endless vibrations emanating from below…a so-called masterpiece of modern architecture but, to me, I couldn’t help thinking this was what felt “off”, like a sticking plaster had been slapped onto a sore in the hope it would get better. Wasn’t that stagnant pool, once a natural lake, quite typical of all those other natural water sources that I tend to tune into and have written about before (beneath London especially), where what has been done to hole-in the sacred feminine aspect that is the natural flow of water, and all in the name of progress as determined by a man’s world, is simply asking for some attention to the fact she is still trapped down there, buried and forgotten. As an expression of the feminine, “unhappy water” is simply asking for some acknowledgement of her plight through times that have not been in her favour so that she can begin the process of deep-healing; this was what I was tuning into here and the “healing of it” was simply the transformation that was possible when I “saw” what she had been through on behalf of all unseen hurts doled out to the feminine aspect in our charge towards what we have long-considered to be progress.

At the time, all I knew was that I wanted to move very quickly from this place and, as it happened, the promised big-black rain clouds of the day had just gathered on the horizon and you could just feel the imminent thunder storm crackling in the air. Then, around a corner, we chanced upon Katerina’s church, which offered such a palpable feeling of sanctuary and calm as soon as we stepped into her emerald-green churchyard and made a bee-line for the flight of stairs up to the door. The church’s insides – dashed into just as the rain started pounding – surprised me for being one huge, white-washed space flooded with natural light; its interior had been completely gutted by fire in the 1990s and it was strangely devoid of that feeling of heaviness that so often steeps the inside of a church with as much energetic clutter as it has motes of dust. This one felt recently refreshed; its seats were inwardly arranged towards a huge open area where a small piano was being played with such incredibly emotion and sensitivity by a mop-haired youth that we were stilled into reverently watching him for quite some time. All of a sudden, I had tears welling up as though I was releasing something so I just let it happen. His performance was obviously spontaneous, his backpack and phone dumped haphazardly on one of the pews by the wall and then he almost ran away at the end (perhaps he hadn’t anticipated an audience) but the experience was one I will never forget; the blue-black skies outside those huge open doors, the dazzling white interior with gleaming brass chandeliers, that music against the contrasting melody of a blackbird still singing away outside in spite of the now pouring rain…It was an unspeakably powerful experience and felt something like the very reality I was standing in was a carpet being drawn up through the eye of a needle and rebirthed out of the other side. You could just tell we all felt altered by it, whatever “it” had been; that something more than the storm had just shifted by the time we stepped back down those ornate steps to the outside pavements of Söderhamn. It stands out for me, now, as yet another exceptional moment of grace, a literal eye of the storm…and I have found myself revisiting it many times since that rainy Monday in Stockholm, for all the day made no holiday headlines in terms of where we had been or what we had “done” that day.

Green spaces and many pavements


As in Copenhagen, we seem to naturally gravitate to green spaces, whether the unexpected town squares or our unforgettable jaunt to the botanical gardens on the outskirts of Stockholm bordered on two sides by the Baltic sea. There was the island of Grinda’s green paradise in the Archipelago and then, the highlight of it all for me, the Millesgärden (more on that in another post) with its Italianate terraces, fountains and hidden corners high-up over the water stuffed full of more fantastical sculpture that I have ever seen in one place; quite unforgettable!

Overall, we must have walked for miles after endless miles over the almost two weeks in Scandinavia and yet none of this felt arduous and my health felt bizarrely “in neutral” compared to how unwell I had been in the two weeks prior to our holiday. In fact, I was just a little amazed at how energised I was day after day, always fully rested and ready for more each morning. Usually there comes a point when I feel a little over my expiry date, ready to go home now but this time I was completely reluctant to think about going home and could have taken on at least another week in Stockholm or in another new place, which was very interesting to observe in myself. There was a something very different about it all this year…but I have come to believe that the real difference was truly in me!

Something to bring home

If I had to summarise the great feeling I have brought back with me to my noisy, trafficy road as I wake up in my own bed in England, it’s a feeling of having travelled many such fluid yet highly meaningful pathways that felt predestined or a perfect match in what they delivered up to us as our holiday experiences. I could never have orchestrated our holiday the way it turned out, not even with my keen organiser’s mind; in fact, the more I let go of the urge to plan ahead, the more meaningfully it unfolded and we experienced just so much in a relatively short space of time (this post hardly scratches the surface of everything that happened). It’s a feeling of having bridged many things and also experienced the healing of them; the ironing out of many stand-offs and calcified viewpoints, fixed ideas…all within me but, then, everything important starts to happen within the “experience adventures” of ourselves before spiralling outwards to join with the experience adventures of others forging their own unique paths. This is how we each make a difference in this world, “joining in” with the group effort whether we realise or not, regardless of whether we share our unique experiences, as I do in my writing, or just live out being the newly evolved person that we are, every day, as a result of what we “happen to” have processed for ourselves. Its because of this that our most personal experiences and epiphanies play their own significant part in our mass evolution in ways we hardly understand with the mind.

Being a highly concentrated form of experience compared to “everyday life”, every holiday or trip outside of our comfort zone holds the potential to deliver even more meaningful pathways of experience than does the familiar turf of our “ordinary” life. By both stretching-out and www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukconcentrating our experience (which is what a holiday does), we expand our horizons and our aspirations, our very take on what is possible whilst asserting our own sense of the self that is experiencing all of this and which holds the potential to take all this fresh stimulus back home with us and make new things happen with it, as the very focal point of creation that we each are. We literally chose new neurones to keep and let go of ones that are now obsolete; coming home with a brain that is freshly wired to embark upon a life that is better equipped to evolve for being infinitely more conversant with the broader array of choices laid out on life’s table. By throwing ourselves out into a broader mix of people, we boomerang back to ourselves and gain a better sense of what is is to know who we are as both the collective and as the singular. By being taken out of the familiar, we get to newly appreciate the differences between this exploratory world and our own world back home…but also the many similarities; and the potential for both to be beautiful, without contradiction. In perceiving the collectiveness of experience, spotting the similarities, we help to iron out the creases of the world; all whilst enhancing and speeding our own evolutionary process as we gain the broader view of everything, including a broader perspective of our own “small” world, as though looking in at ourselves from a great height or a pulled-back perspective. At the end of our travels, just like something attached to a long piece of elastic, we ping back into our own life and find that the real gifts arrive in all the days and months ahead as we reconsider all our newly expanded options from within it’s so-called confines. Nothing ever really is the same again; in reappraising ourselves and our options through other people’s’ eyes, we have rediscovered parts of ourselves that we never really knew we were missing and brought them back home with us.

The ultimate grace


Its been years since I wore a watch and the days on this holiday really began to blur until it was suddenly time to consider being back at the airport. Of course, some things – even in Nature – are unavoidably scheduled and the full moon of our week’s stay was something I had been looking forward to, planning to coincide it with a revisit to Herman’s high-up garden terraces overlooking the water for, hopefully, another sunset and the moon rising as we walked our way home from a blast-out meal on our penultimate evening. We had intended to head out into the archipelago (Sweden’s 30,000+ small islands and islets) the day before but the predicted cloud cover and thunderstorm put us off by a day…and then, when our postponed trip out on a boat brought us to the most idyllic green nugget of an island with a perfect bay and a rock sloping down to the water, the sun so hot that, though my feet were dangling in the super-chilled Baltic, my head kept trying to tell me I was on a Greek, not a Swedish, island, I knew this was exactly the right place and right time. Just knowing the full moon was building up overhead completed this feeling; of course I would want to be somewhere near water that day, I couldn’t have “planned” it any better. It was only after I had been lost in deep meditation, my back on that smooth hot stone for quite some time, that I realised that my resting platform was completely encrusted with quartz, its secret stash suddenly revealed as the sun came around and turned on all its lights; and now I really knew why I was there, what I was tuning into…which was simultaneously turning on all the lights in me.

The journey back on the deck of a highly polished old-girl of a boat was also unforgettable, the sea turning to molten platinum with birds lit-up on the wing and even a seal passing close by but it was a later than planned return to Gamla Stan due to our reluctance to leave that perfect green island behind. A quick supper at the more local eatery of the two now felt appropriate; so, no full-moon in a garden restaurant…yet I found that I really didn’t mind this sudden change of plan and might have known another one was just hovering in the wings. The much smaller Hermitage shut at nine o’ clock prompt and, as we stepped back into our apartment rather earlier than we’d imagined and the sky not even dark, the wide vista through our double windows was presenting just the slightest slither of a white crescent above the buildings across the water on Söderhamn, a view that we would have had our backs turned to had we been in Herman’s garden as intended. Riveted to the spot, I was able stand and watch as the sheer immensity of this big white balloon rose up in increments so obvious I could measure its progress against those self-same “interruptions” to our perfect view as earlier (the chimney pots and aerials…), even laugh at its comedy moment as it poised momentarily on the church spire (could that be the spire of Katerina church…?) and then continued to mature its way into that ever deepening sky as the sunset lit up the incredible cloud formations that followed in its wake. Suddenly, that setting sun – not visible from our eastern-facing window – ignited all the windows of the buildings that make up Söder’s panorama and I had both the full moon and more than a dozen suns all at once, a yin and yang dancing party and a front-row seat I really couldn’t have planned for if I’d tried.

www.helenwhitephotography.co.ukIt was only after I returned home to England that I remembered with a stomach flip that the rescheduled day on the island and the evening of sun and moon had been the twenty year anniversary of my mother’s passing, in fact the moon must have poised on that church spire at almost exactly the time that she slipped out of her body. Of course, I had registered the coincidence of our holiday with this anniversary some time before we travelled and yet, a measure of how much I had lost myself to the gentle rhythm and natural currents of our trip, I had completely let this “appointment” with nostalgia go and am so glad that I did. The perfection of how the occasion unfolded is self-evident; it called for no pathos (my mother had no time for that), only celebration and appreciation, perhaps a bit of humour; and my heart was full of all of these watching the spectacle of that moon. Those aspects of my mother that never left this dimension (and there are many…) would have so enjoyed the little joke of flagging up clues for me to piece together much later on, like a quiz to see how well I scored by being attentive to what was literally happening right in front of me. She taught me so many things, most of which I came to learn far better after her passing when, in ways hard to explain, she often felt more real to me than the very big personality that I knew her as in her lifetime. The years after “losing” her were hard…very hard indeed…and I felt desperately lost and lonely, being the tender age of twenty eight when it happened and yet she “talked” her way back into my life through the very skill set she taught me (and which I least took seriously) in her living years, being the ability to notice meaningful patterns almost without trying. In through her I came to notice that by not trying at all, everything that I most needed in this life just came to me, presenting itself before my very eyes with perfect timing and without the constant, wearying need for me to chase it down.

She showed me this in many ways but the most direct was the way that she taught me to use all my senses to chart rhythms and anomalies; the “sameness” and “differences” that form patterns of meaning. She could find a four-leaved clover in a whole field of three leaved ones without even seeming to pause for breath as she stooped to pluck it from the patch…and I never could, however hard I tried (and I did). That is, until four years after her death when, suddenly (because my unfocused eyes were gazing down at the ground from the tree stump I was sat unhappily ruminating on…I was going through tough times) I found one right there by my foot. Of course, it was this jolt of surprise that alerted me to the fact that it was — that day (again) – the anniversary of her passing. After that, it was as though a portal to seeing patterns everywhere, without even trying, opened up for me and, like her, I found four leaved clover everywhere I went from then on; literally hundreds of them that still spew from all the books on my shelves where I brought them home to press. This new skill set was like a bridge leading me towards doing this with far more meaningful things and, once I no longer relied on this sense of being communicated with by the mother I so desperately missed (feeling, after another few years passed, that I could let this reliance upon her melt away) my tendency to find four-leaved clover also disappeared as abruptly as it first visited.

These days (my eyes no longer fixated on the ground), the patterns I encounter are all around me, just as my mother’s presence has become broader, deeper, a www.helenwhitephotography.co.uksense of her being everywhere that I need her to be, not least inside of me. She would have asked nothing more of me on this anniversary than to think of her with a knowing wink and a smile and (eventually…) I did; a point scored to her that it took me two days to make the connection and I gracefully bow to her guile in playing with me so cleverly, just as I bow to the event that broke my heart twenty years ago and now accept that, heartbreaking as it was, it was the making of me. Like all those places we come to associate with the trauma that once happened there, we do this also with the hurts of our heart and, where we mark a sense of loss in our bodies, we only calcify that feeling into a leadenness that becomes the heavy heart-rock of our life long after we can easily recall the original event that thew up the first hard-sharp pebble that wounded us. With this two-decade anniversary now over with (and transmuted into something balanced, celebratory and utterly accepting of the way things turned out), it feels like all the relentless time-counting around even the most auspicious events of my life – birthdays included – can be thrown into the recycling bucket along with all those other markers of time that I have recently dispensed with.

Integration with ‘real life’

The final pattern that came up for dissolution was the ritual by which I usually expect the holiday to, at some point, be over…why? Why not just carry it on into life, continue playing with its threads (or, those that feel most intriguing, leave me wanting more…) as the newer routes into everyday experience, no cut-off point necessary but, rather, a full integration of all the best bits into the world that I newly create every day. In countless ways, I’m already seeing how I’ve injected a breath of fresh air into “ordinary” life and a rejuvenated sense of there being unlimited new possibilities hovering in the wings, I’m revitalising ways of spending time or using our living space, am freshening up rooms and painting walls. I’m bringing fresh perspective into my eating and consuming habits, examining where I shop for my veg, ironing out any remaining compromises to achieving purchasing habits that are fully aligned to my principles, seeking alternative suppliers, supporting smaller initiatives and introducing those elements that we loved the most about our Scandinavian diet, such as the wonderful fresh smoothies (which I now make from local organic fruit and veg, not those “big supermarket organics” that fly in from the other side of the world). I’m reconsidering our degree of spontaneity and the ways that we define and mix-up so-called “work” and “play”, looking at other ways to soften our routines and go with our natural impulses more. There’s been no sign of the typical nosedive into anticlimax and crashing exhaustion, that post-holiday boxing day feeling that can seem like I have all the wrapping paper to clear up and none of the thrill; after all, every day deserves for that feeling of excitement and relish to bubble up through it and for the places where it is absent to raise the question “what could I do differently, where are my stuck points, what better use could I make of my resources”.

Like a city we have never been to before, life can seem quite labyrinthine at the ground level; not all of its areas feel the same, they deliver quite different things and we can’t even see where we are going most of the time so we like to pretend that we do by having a plan or holding a map. The thing about maps and guidebooks is that they can only ever take us where other people have been before, to the routes and sights they have already marked out (and sold tickets for). We can choose that, of course…but then we pretty much know what to expect; it tells us in the guidebook and we only get to see the same things that turn up in everybody else’s photographs; rarely anything exceptional. Our own unique journey may have some twists and turns we hadn’t even thought of and feel utterly daunting, lonely even, if nobody else seems to be going there. It runs the risk of being a non-event, a crashing disappointment if we head away from what is tried and tested and away from the reassurance all the crowds…this is why we all tend to follow where others have gone before.

Yet, when we surrender to those most intuitive moments, regardless of who else is heading that way, that’s when so many stand-out moments of grace start to present themselves; moments that are quite outside of the ordinary…though they are, to all intents and purpose, happening in the very same places as all the other crowd-driven stuff that makes you feel part of something yet, so often, like you don’t really belong or experience very much meaning or joy. Then its surprising how, if you keep walking your own personal route, others will soon “accidentally” cross paths with you and you will find yourself in a crowd of different people, ones with whom you share things in common and with whom you can work to make the world a better-fitting place. This is another version of how grace becomes part of your daily reality.

When grace happens to you, it is like a moment of poise that you just know is exactly where you were destined to be; one you will never forget and will continue to draw upon at times when life drags you back into its slip streams. Like portals between layers of space and time that tell us we are unfailingly on track, can’t even be off-track if we tried, these appointments with our own self-created destiny are powerful nodes of experience that communicate back and forth across time and space and make life feel unimaginably coherent, even in the midst of the most tragic or unexpected things happening around us. Nothing can truly shake us out of this sense of coherence once we plug into this personal journey of the heart. There is true power and strength to be found around so many unlikely street corners on such a journey through life; one which takes us far closer to the true epicentre of our own heart-maze than anything we could experience from following somebody else’s guidance on where we should be going, what we should be doing. Listen to the advice, yes…but then heed your own inner guidance first; and take some of those detours down less trodden streets and be amazed at what shows up in some unexpected places. That’s when we realise that grace is, ultimately, an inside job and entirely portable, wherever we happen to be. From that space, we realise, place is just a matter of perspective; that the inner work is where it all happens and that, through the attitudes we adopt, we really are the true architects of our world, the creators of our own skyline view and (when we allow life to unfold for us) we are always, unfailingly, in the right place at the right time.

More photos?

To see the full collection of photographs from this trip (and I am still adding more daily…) use these links to visit my Copenhagen and Stockholm photo albums on Flickr. All photos are (c) Helen White.

Places we loved

The Avenue Hotel Copenhagen

42 Raw, raw restaurant, Copenhagen

Cafe N, vegan cafe, Copenhagen

Simple Raw, raw café Copenhagen

Gyptoteket, art gallery Copenhagen

Residence Perseus apartments Stockholm

Hermans, vegetarian restaurant Stockholm

The Hermitage, vegetarian restaurant Stockholm

The Old Orangery Café, vegetarian-friendly café, Stockholm Botanical Garden

8T8 vegan cafe and wholefood store, Stockholm

Paradiset wholefood store, Stockholm

Grinda, a small island in the Stockholm Archipelago

The Millesgarden, Stockholm

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At times like these

Its at times like this that the rainbow bridge that is our collective experience becomes most manifest; and that bridge (whatever it happens to look like…it might appear like no other rainbow we have ever seen…) is the fourth dimensional bridge to the fifth dimension and beyond. When it appears, everything seems to fragment, to separate more than we have experienced before, just as light refracts through a prism to reveal its individual colour components. It has to do this, to show its true colours you could say…so that we each get to choose our own way through and across rather than being swept along by the rather muddy paintbrush of where we have been so far or ‘the way things have always been done before’. Its like getting to dip our brush in the water and choose for ourselves from the vast palette of all possibility.

In the third dimension, all our experiences seems so thick and soupy, mixed together into an illusion of ‘all-inclusiveness’ and being ‘all there is’ that we hardly know what is really us, what our options are and what has been superimposed upon us by this apparently fixed and intractable viewpoint of ‘reality’ that is all we have known so far. We feel so immersed in it all that we can hardly sense there is any other way of being or a way out into a more expansive reality; in fact, we often have to chisel our way out using the sharp edges of what seem like personal disasters and our lives collapsing (at the time) just to gain that very first chink of light glinting through to show us the way to start our own personal expansion. We get to do this at both the personal and collective levels and right now, as a collective, we are effecting what feels like disaster and chaos in order to break ourselves out of our wearisome holding space. Having been through my own personal version of breakdown before, this tells me we are on the very brink of an evolution and the birth of a whole new expanded reality.

imageThe rainbow bridge is the route across to the fifth dimension…since only by initially seeming more fragmented does our experience reveal an evolutionary pathway offering the potential to expand our reality beyond our wildest dreams. What initially seems like only ‘more separation’ serves to remind us that the rainbow is made up of every colour we know and infinitely more that we have yet to experience and incorporate. What is so important is to appreciate the beauty of all the parts that make up the whole, however unfamiliar; to remember how the whole relies on many viewpoints, many subtle hues to make the rainbow that leads us across to a new perspective that incorporates everything in a way that has nothing to do with soup (all the individual flavours lost, some of the least wholesome ingredients hidden) and everything to do with LOVE. And as we start to see our infinitely diverse human experience as it really is, laid out to select from as though turning our dial through every posible bandwidth to get to the one we really want to listen to, we also get to notice some of the colours, bandwidths (whatever analogy you want to use…) that feel off to us, which we once protected ourselves from or tried to put fingers in ears/ hands over eyes and pretend weren’t ‘happening’ at all. In this intermediary ‘place’ there is no hiding, no pretence, but there is still the potential for manipulation, for one voice to shout louder than another. We are being asked to step up to the plate, to ‘grow up’ and live our truth as a consciousness by owning what is and standing by our own way in the face of alternate opinions. Inevitably, we are forced to ‘see’ things that trigger our fundamental sense of security, our very desire to be here…and so this can feel like a descent into more chaos and faction, feelings of not belonging or enjoying this world…before things start to feel infinitely better.

What we need to do at this time is remember this and hold onto it: the fourth is just a passing place and we all have to pass through it (individually and collectively) on our way to something far more expansive and heart-driven…and our way through can be made arduous or surprisingly easy and graceful. In this ‘place’ we can no longer pretend that any man is an island, that all of this has nothing to do with us and so it can feel like a crash back to earth to those who would rather pretend that to be a spiritual human is to detatch. Our social media, our TV and news channels live in this place, they ARE of this dimension as the outward manifestation of the collective consciousness that is in the midst of its (re)birthing pains. These aspects, which we at once deride and yet almost universally succumb to, serve to flag up the degree of manipulation and fear that have run amok beneath the surface of the third dimension for so long and which are now being made quite obvious everywhere we turn. This seems chaotic as the grand reveal of everything builds up its head of steam. We sense panic everywhere we look and that panic only seems to fuel more panic so where are we to go, what can we do…everyone seems in such disarray, not knowing which way to turn…but, looked at another way, this also flags up that at least people are now CONSIDERING which way to turn, not just being swept along with the relentless tide!

We are all starting to see the myriad ways that we have been ‘played’…are being played…by the politics, media, marketing and spin of this current reality and, while this makes for the appearance of more chaos, seeing all this nonsense fully for the first time is just part of the way out of where we have been holed-up for so long as though in a very deep sleep, unaware of all our latent potential as consciousness in human form. We are, in effect, walking through a corridor between rooms. So, just like passing through any overcrowded hallway with so many people jostling this way and that, simply keep a cool head and unflustered heart then focus on which doorway you are headed for, don’t get distracted, waylaid or brought down by other peoples’ stuff, just watch with passive interest and stay centred and calm within yourself as the embodiment of grace. With great poise, set out to carry yourself across that space exactly like you would manouver a drink across that same crowded hallway and without spilling so much as a single drop on the floor for all people elbow you and dart across your path…and if you do loose a little drink, accept this with good grace and keep moving forwards whilst remaining present with all you encounter (this is not about remaining separate from other people but about holding your own space). Focus on what you love. Appreciate absolutely everything. Be prepared to meet all people and situations from the heart; no longer walling up this most vital and intuitive part of your navigation kit. And if there was ever a time to realise the immense power of visualisation, now is that time. We birthed ourselves knowingly into this exact point in ‘time’ to be part of this very moment so do what you do best (whatever that thing is) enthusiastically and without a single jot of apology to anyone, including yourself, and radiate all the love that you are into the world; this is your vast contribution to whatever is playing out on the world stage right now.

Together we ARE the rainbow bridge of many colours leading to a fully integrated human realisation of a multi-dimensional reality. Whatever it looks like at ground level, we are getting there all together…essentially, together (no exceptions, whatever part we play)…and, at a level hard to always ‘see’ with our eyes, though we can choose to sense it with our ever expanding higher-sensory skills, all is well. Know this truth as best you can and radiate it in all your choices and you will be serving the whole world, all your loved ones and yourself at the most powerful and transformative level imaginable.

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Now is the time…

896311I loved this novel so much and, like all the best and most timely reads, I chose it almost by accident, feeling my way into the author via a particular root I was following (“root” feels like exactly the right word…) via Maya Angelou, thinking “ah yes, Alice Walker, I haven’t read anything by her since ‘The Color Purple’, a very long time ago…” What I really didn’t want was to go back in time, turn the clock back to old pain, old female or cultural injustices fifty or a hundred or more years ago, which felt done with; I wanted something current, relevant to where I am, to a place poised to write a new ending. “Now is the time” could be my very mantra, these days…informing my every preoccupation away from what feels complete now and asking loudly to be considered healed; signed off as useful but finished.

It turned out, the themes here couldn’t have been in better sync with where I am right now, exploring the divine feminine and the possibility of realising a particular kind of relationship with a man (Yolo and Kate remind me so much of my husband and I, even down to his “bear spirit”…) that allows that to remain intact and to thrive and unfold in them both. Then her calling to journey along rivers and to the jungle to meet with Grandmother (Ayahuasca)…ultimately, to recognise that she IS the embodiment of Grandmother…felt right on-time with my preoccupations and personal epiphanies. This was one of those novels where I itched to underline whole sections; where the timeless truth of the words, delivered like the inside of my own head, jumped out from the page. I recommend it to any woman on a journey of self-discovery, of return and of learning to live in a world where fear is never quite gone but can be befriended, viewed differently; without the separation that has kept us from ourselves. There’s almost too much to share in a short review but I know I will be returning to this, and drawing on it in some of my writing, for a very long time.

See review on Goodreads

Posted in Authorship, Books, Consciousness & evolution, Divine feminine, Entertainment, Fiction, Life choices, Life journey, Personal Development, Spirituality, Symbolic journeys, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bless all the lambs

14th April – From the very first evening in this valley in Wales, we have immersed ourselves in the happy coincidence that it’s lambing season here. Our first relatively short evening walk at sunset, down to the canal and along one of its tow paths bordered by farmer’s fields on both sides of the water, had taken us well over an hour as we stopped three times a minute to take photographs of the lambs playing. As my daughter pointed them out, I would find myself saying “Bless them…” over and over again, as we all so often do when otherwise dumb-struck by the sight of the most staggeringly beautiful living things. They were such a delight to watch, such a treat to start our holiday with; I too felt blessed in witnessing all this.

Lamb study 1Their immense zest for life is the very thing that arrests me; the way these wooly youngsters engage with absolutely everything their idyllic green world has to offer, from the comedic pheasants walking by to the playful breeze that seem to whip them into jumping spirals of the most erratic motion, like leaves lifting off the ground. They race each other in playful gangs and they collaborate with audacious climbing partners, vying to get to the top. They suddenly leap up, bronking and bucking with bizarre spring-loadedness as though the ground has just tickled them. Then, when just as suddenly spent, they gravitate to their ever watchful mother’s side and succumb to warm grassy patches where, alone or in twin pairs, they meditate away all the gentle hours, eyes half closed and, yes, a kind of smile on their faces; apparently transported by an enviable ability to surrender themselves fully to the moment. Then again, suddenly up on those spring-loaded feet, they’re back to scrambling to that water’s edge, conquering the tree stump or forming pyramids on each other’s backs. If you have ever enjoyed the simple pleasure of watching a pack of dogs playing or even (for that matter) human children, these are really no different and their joie de vive is contagious as you watch.

Watch a lamb separated from its parent and you will witness the universal pain of familial separation encapsulated, as we have also seen play-out before our eyes this week. On our drive back from Nant Tawr on Tuesday, we spied a lamb that had somehow squeezed out of the huge enclosure in the shadow of those hills, miles from any visible farm or human helpers. It was in a blind panic running down the otherwise deserted road, its distressed parent bleating deep and relentlessly on the other side and the lamb’s own cries (for all the world, without any hyperbole) sounding exactly like it was shouting “mum, mum, mum…” to the skies. Of course, I pulled over and we carried off a three-way rescue effort where my daughter chased it towards me, my husband kept it shood close to the fence and then I opened the (thankfully unlocked) metal gate and watched it dart back through to its parent.

The scene of reunion, the wave of palpable relief from both mother and child, was enough to make a thousand words obsolete; these sentient creatures know love and attachment, fear and pain just as we do, there is really no doubt in my mind but perhaps we have to see  and feel it, at least once for ourselves, to truly believe that rather than accept the convenient belief system doled out by the advertising machine of our culture that it really isn’t so; that these creatures are just meat on the way to the processing unit. That convenient world we now live in has left far too many people detached from the very creatures whose life force they turn into nutrients and, in that detachment, we have lost the easy ability to join the dots from one thing to another. Whole generations live out their lives miles from any farm and the honesty has been lost that was once the cornerstone of the lives of those who followed the herd and were well acquainted with, and grateful for, the lives they took out of dire need and as needed, not by production line; we no longer have that same dietary requirement nor the respect for what we take yet people’s minds are set in the groove of a habit grown compulsive and dogmatic. So, in spite of having done this rescuing deed, we all drove away from the scene with our happy chatter stunned into muteness, our hearts feeling leaden, knowing that very same scene of loss and separation, the inexplicable wrenching apart and so much inconceivable awfulness awaits all of these sheep in, likely, not all that many days or weeks; we had simply postponed the inevitable trauma that is already theirs.

Lambs studynew2In fact, we had passed an empty double-decker sheep-transporter on the road through the mountains earlier that afternoon, which was almost the only vehicle we had seen all afternoon; its emptiness somehow more ominous than if it had been fully loaded. The very sight of it made me feel sick to my stomach, reminding me that this pastoral idyl we were immersed in for our holiday was no more than a subsidiary of Tescos and a dozen other familiar outlets supplying detached body parts served in convenient wrappers, all part of the production-line “normality” of our world. The irony struck me that though it is the very same words written on that packaging – “spring lamb” – that makes people exclaim “bless them” when confronted with cute images on social media, most choose not to build the mental bridge from one usage to the other and yet its these same creatures…these same tender youngsters brimful with a passion for life…that enable butchery outlets and restaurants to boast the fresh, tender meat on today’s shop-shelf or menu. I watch parents and children run their hands through fluffy new fleece rugs in the farmshop, exclaiming at how much they want one for their bedroom floor yet having already forgotten that they just cooed over the very same thing, worn by the “baby” sheep outside. I hear those children ask the burning question; hear adults deliver platitudes, pretence and vagueness (as though they hardly know, or want to know, the truth themselves) and its this learned and culturally-ingrained state of disconnect that really bothers me the most.

Earlier this week, I was forced to admit that I had been in my own continued state of emotional paralysis since making my own connection, drawing those dots and walking that bridge of no return to a diet of no meat, four years ago; as though I couldn’t quite look these creatures fully in the eye out of guilt that I still wasn’t doing more to help. Yet here I was in Wales, where the first sound to greet my ears through the skylite every morning is the sound of lambs bleating on the hills…I was literally staying in a sheep theme park and so they had made themselves quite unavoidable. What was this telling me, could this be yet another opportunity to heal something, as the rest of my week had already been? The epiphany came through those very words I kept finding myself saying outloud…”bless them, bless them, bless them”!

NappingBack home, I already have the regular practice of blessing all the things I most love, even those I find most troubling about my environment. I “namaste” bow to the trees, the rivers, the views, the birds that arrest me with their song, the flowers on my walks, the places I have spent time in quiet meditation, my food, the roof over my head…I bless all of these things, many times a day. I silently bless the people I meet, the situations I confront, the homeless people, the angry drivers honking out their frustrations, the noisy teenagers that gather in my street, my lonely widowed neighbour who is afraid of them being there, the people and situations across the world that I hear about in my newsfeed, even the politicians (that they may find their way back to their hearts). Like the much-needed oil to the rusty wheels of this world, I bless everything that comes to my attention and, in doing so, I bring the focus of myself to all these things in a way that I have learned…repeatedly…is not the laughable, empty, eccentric or self-important lip-service of a spiritually-deluded person with nothing better to do. The daily practice of all this blessing brings me previously unimaginable solace and communion with other living things; it weaves me into the very fabric of my world and allows me to sense something of my role within all of it.

Study new1It has real power when I do this; I know that for sure without being able to adequately explain it and yet why wouldn’t it –  after all, this is me in my “largest” version, expressing and directing myself outwards as an expanded consciousness, believing myself to be an energy capable of making a difference, living it large as that consciousness embodied (as we all have the choice to do) and feeling out the unlimited territory of all that it is to act from that broadest point of view which allows that there are really no limitations or boundaries and that all things are possible. If you must have science to back this up, there have now been so many demonstrations of how intent, prayer and focus change outcomes and behaviours; its all out there if you’re interested and its already happening, its being studied, data is being collected, books written and people are gathering together to do this stuff en masse…in fact, this is as real as it gets.

It is the tsunami wave of joined-together thoughts, focus and intention that make this planet what it is and I know that what I do in blessing this world makes a difference, in collaboration with that ever-expanding quota of people that are joining me in doing likewise. Yes, so easy to shrug all this off in disbelief and so not to do it or even to kid yourself that you are doing it when, really, you are constantly undermining all your own efforts because of that little part of you that’s still not convinced its really making any difference to the world – and that self-sabotaging person, I now realised, had been me. Akin to so many others, I newly find I have been allowing myself to doubt, to flounder, to succumb to an overwhelming sense of helplessness in the face of situations I really don’t like and which I find so very hard to look at. I had continued to insist to myself that all the answers lay in “doing something” (and yes, do do something…take those action steps that lead to a new outcome…but don’t stop there). In looking away, forgetting to celebrate what was so important to me, I had withdrawn the most powerful thing of all – my focus, my gaze, my energy.

Feeding lambWhile we continue to avert our gaze, to flinch at seeing the bad stuff we wish we hadn’t or to listen to the scaremongering of “the news” and all the nonsense they want us to focus on, immersing ourselves in the very worse this world currently has to offer, we bring our spirit down so low that we feel defeated by it all, thus rendering ourselves next to useless or – worse – now part of the problem in a pessimistic world. We forget how powerful we really are and we overlook the very obvious; that when we take the choice to focus on all the good stuff, the life-affirming, the uplifting and to make all of that stuff the new wallpaper of our world, we help to recreate even more of that as the forthcoming reality of the new world we already have in production – tomorrow’s world –  manufactured by the mass-intentions of all our hearts.

This is the very essence of what came to me via those very simple words “bless them” that kept suggesting themselves to me so spontaneously as I walked those idyllic lanes bordered by sheep…though the reality was really far simpler than that. There was very little thought-process involved in what I came to know through those daily walks of total immersion in sheep but suddenly I was much clearer about all the things that most bothered me about this world.

Then, when I returned to the cottage, I found myself suddenly wanting to snatch up my daughter’s drawing materials and do what I hadn’t done for years and draw these gentle creatures in all their perfect setting on every small scrap of paper I could find since I had none with me. Here, I came to realise as my pencil flew across the page, lay the biggest healing potential of all, the most potent tool at my disposal because in focusing myself through my love of creating, my very deepest meditative practice of all, I was applying all the full might of my most powerful visualisation via the activity that I love to engage in with all my heart. Here was an instrument of love and intentionality directed at depicting the scenes of endlessly uninterrupted days of gentleness and peace that I wished so desperately to bestow upon these gentle creatures as the perpetual reality of their world for all the natural days of their lives. This, my photography, my writing, sharing my love and enthusiasm for these creatures as I am now…all of these creative, positive, life-affirming, celebratory acts….were, I now realised, fully focussed upon the very change I wished to be in this world, fuelled by the very activity that delivers me more joy than anything, my gift. If we could all but come to trust that in applying our own gift to those very things we most care about (rather than pursuing these goals the way that others tell us we should, even when they sometimes feel so hard and leaden that we don’t want to go there or do it that way), we would each uniquely contribute to the creation of the very outcomes that we most long for because we would bring joy to the table of doing this thing and following our joy is the most powerful force of all; its where our genius light switches on and lights us up like a beacon. Understood from this perspective, literally no contribution is too small or ineffectual as the heart-driven force can never be underestimated.

Lamb study 4Just as the sheep carcass at the entrance to the pool by the Lady Falls on my walk yesterday had seemed to block the water’s flow with its foulness and drowning-pathos, I realised I had been allowing my own sadness over the treatment of animals in this world (and a lot more besides) to block my own divine feminine flow and despoil the ‘perfect’ beauty of the world as I preferred to envision it; a world that seemed held at bay. I could now see, all at once, that nothing whatsoever could ever block the flow of myself unless I allowed it to do so; that I was as relentless a force as those waters tumbling down from the rock edge creating sparkling cascades into the river below; I was a powerful force of nature when I followed my own natural course (as we all are). Once I reclaimed my own part in the whole bigger picture of this world, realising that my flow was unstoppable and would always support me and my purpose here the best when I trusted to my most natural course, the routes that felt like they were uniquely mine, then I was able to extract a deeper meaning from the experience of the day before and pluck the gift from it; also realising that this could not ever be taken from me (as the golden orb was stolen by Elidir…) ever again. We are anything but helpless in the face of a world that so often feels heinously out of sync with our hearts; none of us are those helpless, hand-tied individuals we allow ourselves to think we are when we fall into despair and focus on all the bad stuff that brings us down. When we stop playing at being the little children fed whatever other people (with their own agendas) want to feed to us, accepting it all like we have no choice in the matter then we get to live that reality and joy steps back into the process of living…the joy that is the very fuel to our most creative powers!

And so I blessed the sheep…and I blessed them again and I blessed them some more… in what felt like such an apt finale to my week of many healing; and so (having just returned from our final walk amongst the sheep of this valley) I get to take back home with me a new preparedness to open my eyes, fully and without fear, to all the many sights of my familiar world as it turns through all its different seasons, some of them darker than others. When those altering seasons manifest as the appearance of vast numbers of sheep and then new-born lambs in all the fields alongside my daily walks and then, not so mysteriously, their sudden disappearance occurs once again, leaving the fields eery with their absence, I no longer need to look away and drown in the waste. In me, there will be no waste of their short lives…in fact I will keep on looking for the least sullied, most uplifting aspects of what I am seeing and I will focus my gaze there, sharing what I see, as I see it, holding out for a different outcome, knowing this is my true gift.

Since returning to Berkshire, a slight stagger between seasons has played another trick on me (as it did in my earlier post, Pause Rewind Play) in that the lambing has only just got underway here, over a month later. I find that I am reliving the whole experience of watching new born lambs appear along all my daily walks, this time on on my home turf.

Like an important point is being reiterated, this feels like another opportunity to practice using this new perspective that allows me to coexist with the often less-than ideal environment that constitutes “my world” without either feeling defeated by it or in denial, neither of which is ideal, sustainable or empowering.

When we bury our heads in the sand because our hearts “can’t accept” a particular reality, we do nothing to assist the evolution of that reality into something closer to our ideal. In denying the innate power that we all have to make a difference by choosing what we focus upon and give our energy to, we abdicate our part in the creation of that newly evolving world. In fact, we post-traumatically stress ourselves into the kind of paralysis and overwhelm that renders us useless and, often, part of the very problem as we feed the very negativity focussed around issues that then turn into heinous sores hung around with so much contention, conflict, defensiveness, side-taking and unsavouriness that nobody wants to look at them anymore. Nobody wants to be bombarded with horrible images….but when we show the positive ones, the ones that depict the beautiful things and remind us how we get to have more of these if we work together, we start to transform the world.

The next half century will see a vastly altered world take shape; we will probably look back in abject disbelief at some of the so-called “givens” and “normalities” of our current world and be amazed at the fact that we ever perpetuated them. Right now is a time of rapid transition…in fact, if you put your ear to the ground, you can feel the grumble and grind of the world’s stage-set turning on its rusty motor ready for a brand new world to be revealed. This makes us the pivotal generation; the one that gets to hand-pick those things  we want to carry forward with us into this new world and those which, like so much heavy luggage, we would much rather leave behind.

I sincerely hope (and envision…) that the consumption of meat is one of those heavy suitcases that we will choose to leave by the wayside (which is, by the way, entirely possible, desirable and probably quite essential to the survival of the planet but that’s a whole other topic…). I have many other visions for the future of this planet too (hopefully, we all have) and, rather than keep them stored away in the recesses of my mind, I newly realise how important it is that I get these out of their box and look at them, in the most positive light possible, every single day…and share them with others too. With that in mind, here are some of the lambs of my holiday in Wales; I hope that you take the time to experience them a little through my eyes and let that inform whatever peace you choose to make with the world you play such a crucial part in creating.


This is the seventh post in a series written during a week spent in a cottage in Wales in mid-April, all of which are inter-related. Others in this series are:


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Following the unseen river

IMG_2576Back in London again, it all began with an angel and I suppose it was apt that our route took us on the Northern Line where the capital’s deepest underground line necessitated that I pass through many layers of strata to reach the surface of Islington’s pavements on that long-slow escalator ride (the longest on the network with a vertical rise of 27.5m). We were early for our dinner booking and I very much wanted to stop outside Sadlers Wells Theatre where, somewhere inside that brick rectangle (now closed for the afternoon) lay the very well that gave this once pastoral corner of the city its name. It is a typical story…a sacred well, the divine feminine water source famed for its healing properties (particularly of “women’s ails”), taken over first by monks, then by aristocracy…then turned into pleasure gardens…so, next, came the musical entertainments and then the bawdier ones…the district went “down-hill”, then came the modern theatre that stands there and so what was once an open-air venue for healing is now a brick and glass box hemmed in on all sides by urban griminess and endless traffic. I’m sure the theatre is a cultural asset (one I’ve yet to sample) but, as I cast my eye over the minuscule triangle of grass called Spa Green Garden oppose its doors, I would have preferred to be fast-tracked back to those healing waters of times gone by, if only for a moment.

The state of our rivers tells us so much more about the condition of our planet and our part in its current story. Like the River Fleet and its many holy wells now submerged or turned into sewers (explored in my post Layers in the landscape part one), like the River Westbourne now a lake sourced by boreholes in the London park (see my post Walk in the Park), this was yet another of London’s water-source casualties and it struck me as ironic that Islington’s pride-and-joy water is now the New River, a manmade waterway opened in 1613 to supply London with fresh drinking water taken from the River Lea in Hertfordshire, sourced from the Chadwell Spring and Amwell Spring (also dried up by the late 19th century) after its own wells had run dry or been polluted. The two well sites are connected by the legendary tale of a haunted swan (and I will share more about the swan/cygnus as a symbol of the divine feminine in a future post…): “A tale there is deliver’d unto us, from hand to hand, how that a haunted ducky, Diving within this chalk-well head or hole, Was forced underneath the hollow ground, To swimme along by wayes that be unknown, And afterward at Amwell Spring (they say) Was thrown up featherless and bare”. I can’t help feeling that the swan in this predictive tale was the sacred feminine, forced along unnatural routes by the design of an industrialised world and coming out the other end somewhat the worse for wear, as we see her now…

The sacred feminine water source I had come to pay my respects to outside the theatre was on my mind all the time we sat in a favourite vegetarian restaurant (The Gate) just across the road, not least when I went down to the basement bathroom and, pouring water on my hands, mentally called upon something that had been shooed away from this grey city to come rally herself and free-flow up to the surface once again.

Chapel 4Then we went on to The Union Chapel for our concert – the “Shine Your Light” tour with Deva Premal and Miten (our third year of attending this wonderful experience; though our first time in this venue) and this was a wish fulfilled as I had wanted to come here repeatedly to see various artists perform but never quite got the logistics lined up. The queue outside gave me opportunity to appreciate this startling building modelled on the oddly familiar Romanesque tower of the church on Torcello near Venice (harking back to my days of staying on the Venetian lagoon, travelling those daily water buses from which such startling bell towers rose out of the water like the heads of giant water serpents). The beautifully lit “stage” with its monumental Gothic revival pulpit lent itself rather well to the lighting, its solid-carved shapes softened into Indian fretwork under the persuasion of reds, blues and greens that would have had the Victorian congregation reaching for their salts. The rose window above, mostly outlined in a blueish tinge but morphing through a rainbow of other hues as the concert progressed, threw up its angel-inhabitants in a variety of different lights as the daylight from outside gave way to a blackened sky, allowing the ever-altering stage lighting to animate them in new ways, as though giving them breath and wind beneath their wings.

11672762126_44d1db6bce_oI’d had it firmly in my mind’s eye that I would sit on the left but, when we entered the chapel, I wanted nothing more than to be in this particular pew on the right, for all my husband kept checking was this the right place, did I want to move? “Nope”, this was where I was meant to be and, looking up, I knew exactly why. Could it be? It had to be – a female figure in her own stained glass pane to the side of the stage, red robes, reddish hair, clutching a golden jar; this had to be Mary Magdalene, though my challenged long-distance vision blurred the writing above her head. Then, a woman took her seat a few rows in front of us wearing a beautiful floor-length red clinging dress over her pregnancy and I was suddenly jumped back many years to my own dress just like that one, worn to the wedding of some friends of my ex who made no pretence that they disliked me and (him being best man) I was left to roam the miserable wedding party all alone wearing this outfit which he disapproved of and which clearly shocked some of the guests for the fact it hid nothing about my seven month “bump” and clashed with all the soft pastel-shades of the other wedding guests. Had I Chapel 7intended just that, meant to flaunt just how wonderful I felt bare foot and radiantly expectant, refusing to conform or to pull myself in? I was just relating this anecdote to my husband when Deva came onto the stage wearing, yes, that same deep red as a striking floor-length sari; red goddesses were everywhere it seemed. Then, during a mantra dedicated to the sacred feminine, the lighting turned blood red against the wall and it appeared, for all the world, as though Mary’s robes had tumbled from her, high above, to drape the stage in the flow of her essence and I watched one of the women sat in front of me stroke the back of another as she wiped away tears with the back of her hand; and (was I imagining this?) we could all feel it, this grand healing taking place. It was like the feminine was being coaxed back out of hiding; invited to take her place equally on that stage, to wear her red boldly and publicly, her blood no longer denied.

At these concerts, at which everyone is expected to join in with the singing, one thing that resounds above all else is the sense of balance that these two beings bring to the stage; the yin and the yang, like a shared seat for two, a meeting place of divine aspects. Miten invokes the feminine aspect like an awe-stricken lover encourages his love to step into his space, welcoming her with every fibre of his being; he worships and respects, supports and encourages her through every word and deed. In all his humorous preamble (there is nothing religiously solemn or reverential here) he talks softly, engagingly, enthusiastically and humorously about the sacred feminine; about his relationship with Deva, joking at how he does everything he is told to do by her but we all know what he is really saying and that he is redressing a habitual imbalance on behalf of all men as he does what he does. As these extraordinarily “real” people play out their relationship with one another on stage, you can’t help but notice how other couples in the audience seem to take heart from what is being allowed in this space; as they start to lean in towards one another, place heads on each other’s shoulders, touch hands, sit closer without defensiveness or disguise. You can tell those who have been to one of these events before; the older “hands” at it who have already relaxed into it all before they got here (and I will never forget the first time for us – in 2014, in a venue overlooking the River Avon in Bath) where a radiant orb of intensified love light and deeper understanding seemed to come down upon us as a couple that night, staying with us ever since. By modelling what is possible, Deva and Miten enrapture you and invite you in to a sacred space that becomes part of you and you of it; things are never quite the same again after such an activation.

Chapel 8When (as you come to expect after the first time) Miten invites all the men to stand up and sing to the women because women love to feel the strength of men’s voices lifted up in song all around them, you can feel how he moves everyone through an invisible barrier and liberates them too. Allowing the men to express a previously unspeakable aspect of their heart, to unshackle that part of themselves that has been entrained to remain locked up and buried deep beneath layers; by encouraging them to give voice to the tenderest, most open, least forced expression of their vocal cords in the company of other men (no football chanting, this), witnessed by the women in their lives – a broad mixture of wives, mothers and daughters here – he facilitates the melting of eons of brick walls built around their hearts. In response, the women playing witness to this from their standing men, their hearts swelling at being party to such vulnerability, are ready to be invited to stand beside them and join in with a hallelujah chorus of gratitude and harmony (and precisely for the amplification of such hallelujahs was this very chapel built, as you will see below) then, all put together, it feels like the very swell of the water of the lyrics of “so much magnificence, waves are coming in, waves are coming in…” You can feel the tide turning and together, in union, we collectively are the much needed water; healing ourselves.

I noticed how water came into this concert more than I had ever noticed before….a song dedicated to the “inauspicious” river Pegnitz of Deva’s home town (though no tiniest river really is) in which Miten sings of following her flow being the only way to go, then the waves coming in of ‘So much magnificence’ and then a guest musician Jahnavi Harrison invited up from the audience to join in and her album, called “Like a river to the sea”, recommended by Deva. Male and female harmonies continued to swell the space with flowing sanskrit and a spontaneous ad-lib into Amazing Grace, the transition made as seamlessly as grace always seems to arrive. As all this continued to flower, the altering lights and the building sound gave the impression that the space itself was shifting, that we were somehow transporting this octagonal place like a spacecraft around the planet distributing love to everyone in it.

Chapel 6The sense of all these voices being tuned-in and innately guided towards an unrehearsed harmony that perfectly blended all the various pitches, the personal notes into one unified sound was quite palpable and, as it hit the ceiling, this magnified one-sound seemed to rain down on us and feed back into us all as pure energy…something Deva made reference to when she mentioned that Miten and her felt sustained by this very phenomenon whenever they did their long annual live tours (as I can so well imagine). At these concerts, like no others I have ever been to (so many of which you go away from realising you couldn’t even describe the people who were sitting next to you for two hours), you relax into where you are and who you are with fully and the fact you are encouraged to sing to your partner, then to turn around and sing to each of your neighbours, surely helps break down these barriers.

When we all joined in “om”ing into the space, the sound came like waves on a shore, swelling and retreating rhythmically like the breath of a single being (and if you’ve ever heard the track “Shanti (Peace Out)”, it was strongly reminiscent of that). It was interesting to pull back for a moment to notice how the unified sound seemed other than human, somehow beyond human and like it held meaning beyond what human ears can decipher…similar to how whale song sounds (complex, beautiful, meaningful yet way beyond comprehension)…and how it felt uniquely powerful, like a vibration capable of pulsing out its message far beyond this planet or even this galaxy. In the end, the sustained effort of standing doing this for so long floored me, in a good way…my legs were quite jellied and my facial nerves were twitching like I had been stood in an electrical storm and so I had; we all had and it felt unspeakably powerful. It was interesting how we all knew when it was time to stop as one…no gradual slowing, no hesitation, no looking around us for clues… we just came to the end like all of us had become a single being in those remarkable minutes and the sound of silence was allowed to fill up the space again. Still my eye tended to gaze up at Mary in the red; and I knew that she felt it too.

It seemed like I had followed an invisible flow to be here this night; a long flow since finding Deva four years ago (and the three that I had made this my June pilgrimage, a highlight of my year). Then the flow of London’s unseen rivers, her stifled flow and all the accidental journeys that had brought me to those places, helping me see what might otherwise be unseeable, buried deep beneath my feet. Then the journey of following in the footsteps Elen that had amplified my awareness of a goddess energy all dressed in red and gold that had walked softly in all these places long before we bricked them over with intentions that were distorted and dogmatic and then (slowly, surely) a little better now…more open, inclusive, spacious and balanced as we learn to soften the edges, making room for each other in ever more harmony. I had been part of a river of great healing flowing freely that evening and…was it just me (I doubt it)… this thing felt very big, very real, we all took that something home with us as we left, something precious carried like a treasure in our hearts (but then we always do, wherever we go, I find…because that’s what its like when you live in the flow). I felt I had witnessed something incredible, taken part in it, knew for certain something quite wonderful was well underway…. The rivers are certainly making themselves felt once again; they are everywhere I turn and no amount of concrete can keep them down. I smiled my way through that grimy, noisy, often chaotic city that never sleeps as we  just made it to the almost midnight train. Experienced like this, all feels bizarrely right with the world in a way that cuts right through appearances and softens every wall and concrete pavement; for we are the flow beneath it all.

And there’s more…

The Union Chapel had been drawing me for a long time and I felt like the clue was in the word “union” plus the fact I love these kinds of venue where new and inclusive use is being made out of once exclusively religious-based buildings; especially where there is a charitable or community motivation underlying that purpose. The Union is all of these things, working to support the homeless and those in crisis while providing what has been voted London’s “best” live music venue (according to Time Out). On top of hosting music events for an impressive list of well known artists and numerous other musical and other events, it is still an extremely active church, with a woman minister (which caught my eye and made me smile). Of course, I could sense it had an interesting history behind it but didn’t research into that until I had been there, this morning, and I was hardly surprised at what I found as it confirmed all that I had experienced for myself.

What I learned was that it was built by a break-away group of Anglicans from the local church of St Mary’s who first started to worship together two hundred years ago, choosing to depart from the traditional hierarchical structures and language of the established church. Their founding principal was to make Union Chapel a ‘Friend for All’ and the very design of the church (masterminded by James Cubitt, who began his career in my very own Nottingham) was designed for the inclusiveness of all of the congregation. Built “in the round” (an irregular octagon within a rectangle with an elaborate ceiling above), its pews are arranged on a raked floor to ensure everyone can see and hear what is going on and everyone can join in without the need to shout. In fact, music was put at the heart of the chapel’s worship, with the whole congregation expected to sing even the hallelujah choruses and the choir placed within the congregation, not separate from it. Sound seems to pour into that space from the front and then draw more sounds in from the pews, then fold back in on itself from above and grow ever larger like a torus of sound-energy that is palpable to everyone in that space (as I experienced during the “om”s that made my entire nervous system tingle). Its very design feels like the organic human energy within us is self-generating and amplifying its vibration in union with others, not that the building is trying to draw or squeeze goodness out of you forcibly, as it can feel like in so many churches. You could say that “union” is at its very heart as we get to experience ourselves as the self-generators of the very source energy that we are…and even more palpably so when we reunite with others.

This I loved reading about Cubitt’s views on the contemporary church design (following the medieval gothic) of his time; he said when the “columns are thick or moderately thick, it inevitably shuts out a multitude of people from the service … When, on the other hand, its columns are thin, the inconvenience is removed, but the architect­ure is ruined … The type as it remains is but a shadow of its former self-a medieval church in the last stage of starvation”. So, he succeeded in building a church where the bricks themselves were inclusive and where the very architecture seemed to swell to include all who sought to enter…and, in so doing, set an echo in play that manifests, today, as the feeding of so many homeless and all the hungry visitors who pour through its doors to hear a plethora of different music styles being served home-cooked food in the interval (so, as Cubitt intended, there is absolutely no “starvation” here); and all in some great cycle of perpetually regenerating positivity that feeds others just as surely as it feeds its own self-evident success as a popular venue with a heart.

MaryThe mystery of the Mary Magdalene window almost threw me as I could find nothing to confirm it was she and, even when I returned home (yes, I was so eager to find out, I was Googling this from my church pew…) all I could find were references and images to the rose window and no reference whatsoever to Mary Magdalene at the Union Chapel. But then I was finally able to find a close-up photo of the window on Flickr and to see the words “Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her”. I wasn’t familiar with this line but it did nothing to deter me…in her red garb and with reddish hair, clutching what looks like a jar of ointment, this seemed to be be shouting Mary Magdalene at me and, whats more (not for the first time) she reminded me of Elen of the Ways – again red hair, red garb, associated with gold, clearly dwelling in the forest, her robes adorned with leaves (interestingly, Elen is said to have lived in the woods around Old St Pancras Church, close to the Union Chapel). Was the person behind this window having a game here, were they speaking in code?

I have since confirmed that the window is “Mary of Bethany”, sister of Martha in the story where Jesus comes to their house and Mary complains that Martha does none of the housework, leaving Mary to do it all. Martha is said to be busy worrying about many things whereas Mary has “chosen the better part” by quietly sitting at Jesus’ feet paying attention to what he has to say; she does not allow herself to become distracted with outside things (although there is also a story where she wept many more tears than her sister). You could say, she was modelling what the divine feminine has been doing all these years of quietly disappearing underground, patiently and steadily holding her part (and her grief within) without adding to the drama…

Most interestingly, it seems, Mary of Bethany has been conveniently amalgamated with Mary Magdalene in the eyes of Western Christianity since Pope Gregory decided to lump together the stories of several Marys in the bible and treat them all as one; in short, you could say that they were all treated pretty abysmally, represented as sinful, undesirable and rather “scarlet” women. The confusion pivots somewhat around the fact both Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany are said to have anointed Jesus with perfume…you could say, a common theme of honouring, soothing and purifying or “making things better”. In fact, you could debate whether the window in the Union Chapel depicts Mary Magdalene, or not, forever but my point stands that this woman in red presented to me as a very timely symbol of the excluded, suppressed and much maligned divine femininity that has been given such a bad name for so very long. Her very obvious presence above my head all evening felt divinely synchronistic, especially combined with the lighting effects, Deva’s dress,  the music and the flowing theme of the concert. I couldn’t help wondering if others in the audience, if Deva and Miten themselves, were aware that she was up there taking part; certainly, things could not have been stage-managed any better had the window been put in there yesterday rather than over a century ago. But, then, life is just like that all the time these days…”old” threads join with current ones and they all pull together with such synchronicity that it hardly surprises me any more, though it still never fails to fill me with overflowing awe and gratitude.



Again with great synchronicity, I have had more than one “chance” encounter with the kind of collaborative music project that delivers tingles and pricks tears this week; and the theme in common with all I have just shared is pretty obvious. Just noticing how (so many) musical collaborations are playing out the highest possibilities of humanity right now is such an encouragement; it tells me far more about where our culture is heading than anything that “the news” has to say on the subject.

One of these is  a collaboration between Iranian singer and passionate advocate of freedom of expression Mahsa Vahdat and US blues singer Mighty Sam McClain together with Norwegian producer and human rights activist / producer / poet Erik Hillestad to create SCENT OF REUNION: LOVE DUETS ACROSS CIVILIZATIONS. Like a long-running ode to the breaking down of all barriers across the sea of culture, language, political, religious and geographical division, this collection of love songs delivered by such unexpected juxtaposition of language and musical style had me weeping quietly and joyfully from the outset as I played it repeatedly to accompany a painting of white lilies that I am currently working on (painting with eyes misted with tears the whole time, such was the release I was experiencing via this music). The running theme of reunion and of overcoming distances and the inherent suggestion, delivered by such contrasting musical traditions, that no differences are too extreme to be bridged by harmony and love is really quite tangible. You can listen to this album on Spotify via the link and I recommend that you let it unfold slowly as its melding of two very different styles of music can take some adjusting to but holds the potential to transport you to somewhere you may never have been before if you let it.

The second – “LOVE WITHIN  – BEYOND” is a remarkable and unexpected collaboration between four women…rock legend Tina Turner, Swiss sopranist and music therapist Regula Curti, Tibetan mantra singer Dechan Shak-Dagsay and Indian singer Dawani Shende-Sathay. It is a celebration of the Divine Mother and all forms of mother love (including love of self), all the female goddesses and the female essence within all of us (whether male or female), oneness and the power of mantra and prayer….all very on-topic with what I’ve shared above. The commentary that goes with the album is a useful resource in its own right and so inspiring; the principles that underly the project would not have been out of sync with those that inspired the creation of the Union Chapel, if taken somewhat broader than the Christian faith. This album merges prayers and chants from the Buddhist, Christian and Hindu-traditions, drawing on western Gospels and traditional Indian music, incorporating Tibetan bells and soundbowls, Indian drums, sitars, an Aramaic doudouk and a Swiss alpenhorn. It looks for the common themes across all these variables and seeks to find harmonies where there are contrasts. In such a cultural soup we find, as I did during the mantras of last night’s concert, that as a group of beings we only really make one sound and that it is the most beautiful and harmonious version of itself when we open right up to our truth and allow for the blending and incorporation of it all. I firmly believe that the more such cultural collaborations occur, are made available and experienced by ever growing numbers of people, the more we will come to visualise a more harmonious world as the possibility that it is and, so, manifest it as our daily reality. Music, especially, holds the key to demonstrate what is possible as we take its example deep into our cells, recognising and decoding its example without the mind so readily getting in the way. You can listen to this beautiful album on Spotify via the link (in fact, there are three albums in total and all are available on Amazon); I recommend them heartily.


Chadwell Spring – a holy well with a story

Deva Premal & Miten

So much magnificence (waves are coming in)

Jahnavi Harrison – Like a river to the sea (which I highly recommend)

The Union Chapel


Mary window at the Union Chapel – photo courtesy of James Alexander Cameron on Flickr



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Parting of ways

I was driving country lanes very early this Saturday morning and it struck me how many creatures were out on those lanes. Really, every few feet there was something…several pairs of blackbirds pecking on the tarmac, a squirrel dashing across, many tiny hedgerow birds swooping at windscreen height from one side of the road to another, pigeons taking ill-timed dives from high up in trees, rabbits munching on the grass verges, a couple of pheasants debating whether to cross. It was like being in a scene from Snow White…surrounded as I was yet it was like the sea of wild-life effortlessly parted to make way for me as I progressed; these creatures were working with me while it was obvious I was hardly interrupting their morning at the pace I was driving. You could say, all was harmonious and in balance.

Every creature I met seemed tuned in to me somehow, as though it knew precisely when was a good time to make way for my progress through…yet the feeling was also that they were comfortable leaving it to that very last moment, like they trusted me not to hurt them; they knew it was out of the question even more so than I did, fearing a mis-timed acceleration or blurry morning vision would let me down. They felt tuned into some higher-aspect of me and laugh you may but I’ve found this more and more…that animals hold their footing around me much longer than they used to, daring to stay, not go, as I approach on my walks. Deer, rabbits, little birds, butterflies…all hang around for much longer than they used to when my energy was very different; when I was rushed, preoccupied, maybe a little strident, entitled, heavy footed in my ways. These days, I feel like I am allowed into the secret domain at the heart of the natural world…just a little…getting to see something of the way that it is when no humans are around.

By the return journey, twenty minutes later, there was already a bloodied mass of road-kill on that tarmac, bizarrely juxtaposed with a snow-flurry of pinkish white blossom from above, as though recently scattered over the scene by the saddened trees. It didn’t surprise me; I’d hardly seen a car on my journey to and fro but the one car I did meet came so fast and blind over the top of the crest of the hill that it almost took me out and made me hope that my suddenly increased heart rate was beating out a warning that the creatures further up that lane would heed…

photo-1427434991195-f42379e2139dFor me, the rest of Nature’s inhabitants continued to duck and dive around in the most coherent way and I became conscious of how I was making effort to be in sync with them, to keep a super-responsive foot on the pedal to adhere to their rhythms, to glide not force my way along that route, to take my time, no rush. It was as though they could sense this about me…that I meant no harm…and so it was as though they worked to incorporate themselves into my rhythm too, meeting me halfway. More than one bird that came down as low as my windscreen (making me startle, hold breath…) in a way that seemed intentional as they so swiftly recalibrated their angle to fly with me, flanked alongside me or just above my sunroof long after it would have been safe for them to swoop back up into trees. I felt included; part of the scene and so very blessed.

All this would be missed on the typical busy rush-hour drive on the different day of the week that I am used to driving along this route. Already, there would be several patches of bloodied tarmac and all the other creatures keeping their distance, tucked away in hedgerows, burrows and trees, invisible to all but the most perceptive eye. A thought came to me of the imagined super-highways of the future, ever faster, slicker, more direct…where will the animals be then, when will we see them? Is this the parting of ways, the point when we envision such a highly technological world of moving so fast, getting to where we think we want to go that its as though we inhabit completely different worlds, other dimensions to each other? Does it have to be this way and do I want this or is this somebody else’s vision of the future?

Suddenly Elen of the Ways was making her presence felt to me yet again; she who walked with woodland creatures wherever she travelled; this female archetype that has been represented by so many of the goddess personas across immeasurable tracts of time…since way before other preoccupations took over, diverting us away from that world into increasing separation from Nature. If we forgot to incorporate that goddess presence into our future then that is why I feel no balance in anything sci-fi has yet to offer me, why I find myself holding such a future at bay with all my might. My future makes room for all of this, including the gentle pace to follow the wending paths of discovery that Nature would always lead me along (and always has). A world without such is no world for me and would be a parting of ways that is quite inconceivable to everything that I am about…

So topical is that my husband just got home and told me that there are two swans currently on the M4 motorway…with two traffic police officers trying to shepherd them off over the verge to safety and all the traffic nearby being forced to slow right down. Yes there is a full moon later today, always something the animals tend to register more readily than many of us (consciously) do but if, like me, its light-seek energy manifests as the urge to speak out about anything that is out of balance, can we assume that Nature is trying to tell us something this morning? It really feels like it is!


Final note According to a study in New Scientist, birds appear to be aware of speed limits on roads…that is, they don’t respond to the actual speed of cars but seem to become acquainted with the speed limit on a certain section of road, as though they regard roads as predators and come regard some as more dangerous as others. Perhaps this is why the country roads where I live are such a high-kill zone, constantly littered with bird and animal carcasses (including deer, badgers, foxes…), since they vacillate wildly between being very quiet back-routes with low traffic and, at other times (depending on pressure on other highways), turn into cut-throughs from one urban area to another and no one around to notice the killer speeds that are being used by many drivers. This really does feel like something that needs attention from conservationists and road planners so that different types of road can maintain their identity (and speed-limit) for the benefit of all.

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