It had been forty years since I last crossed the Menai Strait to the Isle of Anglesey and beyond, to the Holy Isle. I had fallen in love with the place back then and my memory has painted the island in the colours of summer, garlanded with wildflowers and encircled by a turquoise sea. But this time it is December… and memory always paints beauty in Technicolor. The mountains on the mainland are crowned with snow and recent temperatures have dropped to well below freezing. Probably not the best time of year to visit… or at least, not if I am to preserve that memory. The ‘new’ road crosses the island in a straight line, restricting the view. It is not until we leave it that I have my first real look at the place I remember with such fondness.
The island, beneath the pale winter sun, still wears the…
We left early and took a route that avoided all cities and motorways. It allowed the inevitable squeaks of delight from the driver’s seat to start early as we crossed the Pennines with the peak of Wildboarclough in the distance, heading towards the Silent Eye’s winter walk and talk weekend.
The official story of the weekend will, as always, be posted on the Silent Eye‘s website with extracts reblogged here. Steve and Stuart have already begun to post their interpretation of the weekend’s events but this part was purely personal, although the music of Madness was to punctuate the days at what seemed…to two of us at least… appropriate moments.
We made good time and arrived early on Holy Island, out beyond the Isle of Anglesey, and just off the coast of Wales. It was too early to check in at the hotel, so once we had found it…
Four hundred steps… six hundred million years… It’s a lot, especially when they descend one of the steepest cliffs in Britain.
But it’s worth it. To travel through the known geological history of the Earth in the few minutes it takes to hum ‘Morning has broken’ is a soul-warming experience; and nor is the song out of place when you’re experiencing one of the brightest and most beautiful December mornings ever…
With the exception of Friday night’s walk around the moonlit crescent of Trearddur Bay, on the farthest western peninsula of the ancient island of Anglesey, this, the Saturday morning, was the start of the Silent Eye’s ‘notorious’ winter weekend – notorious for its dubious seasonal placing within the pre-solstice, December weather.
Last year’s December workshop had ended, prematurely, amidst the worst UK floods in living memory, as we battled the elements to climb the rain-soaked west-Pennines in the search for the meaning of the lost landscape of Viscount Leverhulme.
Thankfully, we had all enjoyed the Saturday, including a splendid Christmas lunch at a local pub, enough to abandon the Sunday…
No such woes, now. At the bottom of South-Stack’s vertical cliffs – an RSPB nature reserve in its own right – we were treated to light, dappled clouds and frequent winter sun. Bright and just cold enough to feel distinctly festive as we all looked up at the light sky, and wondered if it would hold…
We needn’t have worried. For the entire weekend, we were increasingly bathed in gold, blue and, as the days ended, a very rare and crystal-clear obsidian black, which was to play a great part in a spiritually- uplifting two days.
Looking up the cliffs at the rock-written history of our beautiful planet, we asked the Companions of the weekend to visualise how many times the Earth had curved on its seemingly never-ending orbit of the Sun, spiralling through the backdrop of galactic space of which we have little conception. Back through our Western history to its roots; and prior to that, to the pre-history of Britain, in which the Celtic and Druid tribes had their origin and their zenith.
In the case of the Druids, that zenith came to a brutal end on the Isle of Anglesey, their last refuge from the ruthless Roman army, in two massacres – A.D. 60 and later in A.D. 77.
What does it feel like to know that your civilisation and everything you love and treasure is coming to an end? There are obvious parallels with the uncertainties of the present chaos in the world’s politics, but our focus was not on doom, but on how to face dark uncertainty with hope and a heart filled with the seeds of the possible–the real future.
Hardship, and its extreme characteristic, destruction, is a necessary, though little-considered part of evolution. The ancient Hindus understood this well. Their primary ‘Trinity’, though a single threesome, contains the Gods of existence, preservation and, at the end of useful life of structure, destruction.
We have no idea whether the Druid priests and priestesses communed with their own gods and goddesses of destruction as they stood on the beaches of the Menai Straits, gazing across the deadly waters, as they considered the end of their world. Perhaps they invoked The Morrigan, that three-fold goddess: shape-shifter, crone and warrior in one entity…perhaps a more native Welsh god was invoked. We may never know, and nor is it of great importance for this exercise.
For the Druids, forest groves and bodies of water were of special significance. Lakes, in particular, held the power of the ‘liminal’ – a nether world between two others: neither one thing nor the other, such as life and beyond life; a place where offerings could be made, and communication with higher perspectives could be achieved.
Such places, often embedded, now, in modern urban landscapes, may still have a very special energy, as we were to discover at the end of this most special day, at Llyn Carrig Bach.
In the day and a half before us, we meant to use the spirit of the approaching winter solstice to explore the liminal edge of the end of the Druids…
To be continued in Part Two
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Imagine two men: one a lone traveller in a desert, the other a city dweller, a successful man, rising through the ranks of business, destined for greatness.
The first man has only a light backpack, resting on shoulders that would be sunburnt but for the reflective, white muslin shirt that both protects the skin and allows his sweat to evaporate from its hot surface. The backpack contains only what he needs in order to reach the far horizon, a place he aligns with, via the sun, each time he looks up into the hot wind from the east which is blowing at him, as though testing his resolve.
He stops to rest, still beneath the blazing sun, for there is no shade here. He stops because he is hungry. He has no idea what time it is, only that he is hungry. The backpack contains a light meal and some water. He eats and drinks with total concentration, his attention following the food and liquid as it enters his grateful body.
The second man kisses his children at the doorstep, thinking how much smarter they look than the neighbour’s. He climbs into his new car, enjoying the purr of its V8 engine as he accelerates out of the neighbourhood in air-conditioned luxury. Soon the expressway and not the urban roads carry him, in assertive majesty, into the city. Arriving at the office he takes the elevator to the executive floor where his secretary tells him that Jack’s secretary has just buzzed to ask if he would also like some doughnuts before they begin the weekly sales meeting.
He is not hungry. His wife cooked him a fine breakfast before he left home; before he kissed the children of golden image; before he rode his near-perfect iron horse along the busy road to the city, psychologically crushing all in his way, smiling the whole time at the direction his life was taking…
He smiles at his secretary and says he would love to join the senior V.P. in this extended breakfast.
To be an individual, Krishnamurti says, is to be ‘not fragmented’ within ourselves – a real measure of wholeness. It does not mean to be separated from others in splendid isolation. It’s a concept that takes a little re-reading. It’s a concept that is becoming alien to western civilisation.
Our journey towards a rose for fear involves, as we said, a new way of Seeing. When we examine something ‘out there’, our learning immediately assumes a position in front of our seeing. In letting this happen, we shut off the relationship we might have had between that undivided self and what we are seeing.
To overcome mere words or even mere thoughts about how we approach fear, we need to feel, once again (as we did as infants), the power of having a relationship with what we observe. This does not mean we abandon our ‘adulthood’ – quite the contrary, we simply ask it to grow up a bit more…
To do this requires us to forget who we are, thus denying the power to the habitual bits of us, which seek to colour our vision and blur our lenses of self as the brain, with its power of thought, tries to extend this power over this upstart that wants to see, as if for the first time…
By the time we had found the little lane that would lead to the place we were staying for the night, the light had almost gone. Not quite… for which I was thankful, because, yet again, we found ourselves looking for an inn lost in the middle of nowhere. For once, though, it was easily found and we settled in for the night.
This time, the ‘middle of nowhere’ was Mungrisdale, tucked away in a corner of the fells below Blencathra. There are just a few houses and the 17th century coaching inn, but, with the setting and the landscape, that is more than enough. The Glendermakin river flows around the inn and the ‘mountain views’ that were promised in the advert were real… the hills rise just yards from the inn and to wake to their beauty was wonderful.
We spent most of the evening by the fire, accompanied…
The last vestiges of autumn’s glory still clings to the trees, pale gold and copper against the damp-blackened bark and vivid green of the English countryside. The stone-built cottages, many of them still roofed with ancient slabs of sandstone, or the dark grey slate that echoes November skies, look warm and cosy with their lights casting an orange glow to soften the shadows.
There is something reassuring solid about these homes that have seen so many people pass through their doorways over the centuries. Their chimneypots vary from the purely prosaic to the fanciful, creating a landscape all of their own high above the village streets. Even the ruined castle on the hillside has a permanency about it, though after nearly a thousand years it is a mere shell of its former self.
It is no wonder that so many people come here on holiday in the summer, when even…