Into the edges

Liminal Space. Image from BlackDog1966 on Pixabay.

My words woke up this week. It’s been months of silence, something brewing beneath the surface of the soul. I could feel it there, a lump in the belly, an itch in the brain, but it wouldn’t come out.

It’s awake now.

Change comes suddenly. I went back into employment two weeks ago. I want to say I went back to work, but that isn’t true because I have worked consistently on a self-employed basis for the past three yeras. I went back to work in school.

It’s a necessity for us right now to provide for our household, it’s also good for my mental wellbeing to interact with other humans.

That shift has brought unexpected outcomes. There is obviously less time available for other things in the week, I don’t know why this surprised me but it did. Being out in a workplace for three days is time consuming, who knew?

Then there’s the shift in energy. Interacting with others all day and moving around a large campus is tiring, especially when you haven’t done that for years. Again this has been surprising (maybe because I was ten years younger last time I did it?)

But there’s something else too. The long silence is broken. I am awake on an inner level that has been missing, as though the edges of a working day have reflected something back to me which defies everyday language without such borders.

It has led me to see that my own spiritual self has shifted into a new space, something sensed but not seen previously. That the myths I had been living by are no longer for me. I am ready to step out again into an exploratory space. For the past six years I have been following a consciously pagan path, beginning with new age practices, travelling through eclectic witchcraft and druidry with a detour to visit with Buddhism for a while.

Now I find that there is something else at the forefront. No gods or goddesses, they have waved me off into the wild, liminal lands. I don’t yet know what to call this. There is some animism there, and ancestor connection. It feels very old, like the space inside a longbarrow, or a cave, deep and dark, rooted.

The oddest thing is that it is a place with few requirements. There is no need for complex ritual, daily practices, rules or creeds. It simply is. The world is. Nature is and within that I am. Nothing to prove, climb, achieve, explain, it is just here. Now.

This feels risky. I am so used to sprituality which requires fulfilment; the conformity of church or the occult knowledge and practices of esoteric traditions. What will it be like to simply live, connected to life’s web, one of her children.

What will it be like to abandon the modern individualistic teaching of uniqueness and accept my microscopic place in the vastness of creation. To allow myself to be unexceptional, the gift of the ordinary?

Can I even manage or it, or, like an addict, will I jump back into patterns and routines which shore up my ego and need for conformity, losing my soul self in the need for validation?

I guess we’ll see.

July 1st

The world is tired.

I look out of the window onto a blowy, sun-soaked afternoon.

Nine days ago I was astonished by the rich, lush, vibrant, freshness of midsummer.

Now it’s finished. The grass is bleached yellow, exhausted, leaves beginning to crisp at the edges. While berries are blistering from spent flowers, a green shining of promise.

Sweet chesnut flowers finger their way into the sunlight while leaves are already littering the pavement, scorched by the too-much sun.

In the street students are packing their cars, boxes and carrier bags stuffed with desk lamps and scatter cushions. Outside the tenanted houses piles of rubbish abandoned next to overflowing wheelie bins.

They are onto their next adventure, no looking back.

Meanwhile I find myself thinking often of the past. How twenty one years ago I moved with a husband and two small boys back to Kent, though I had been very happy in our home away from home. How that relationship waxed and waned and tore apart. How the intervening years have brought new life, adventures, love and deep connections. How I have healed and found a self long lost.

Time flows like a river in flood.

Yesterday I met a friend, we haven’t seen each other for a few years, life and family filling the gap. We were totally at ease and spent a happy few hours catching up, sharing our stories, our learnings, as we ease into midlife. Today I realised I have known her for twenty five years. This seems ridiculous. That is a quarter century. Yet we met when my eldest son was three months old and he was twenty five in January so it must be so.

Twenty five years.

Over the past year I have come increasingly to sense this passing of time. Before I would spend hours musing on what I would do in the future, where I would live, the career I might have. Or day-dreaming new projects and plans. These seemed essential, I was driven to achieve them, believing they would bring that elusive sense of arrival which I felt I lacked. The sense of being where I was “supposed” to be, perhaps, of fulfilling some pre-ordained task, a life’s purpose.

That desire has vanished now. These days I do not have grand plans or wild day dreams. I long for the ordinary, quiet routines. I thirst for time in the natural world, for the sense of connection which comes from listening to the trees, or watching a squirrel at work. For the first time I read Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day , and hear her final question differently.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Once I felt this was a challenge to great aspirations. To solving global dilemmas, conquering mountains, climbing the career ladder, achieving peak experiences by the fistful.

Now I feel that it asks, well what else is there to do? Other than to soak in the beauty of this wild, precious world? To share stories with loved ones? To follow a bee through the meadow? To stand barefoot in the freezing sea?

To stare, mute, at the orange moon as she rises?

Baby I was born this way

I talk with my fingers. It is much easier for me to express myself often through a keyboard than through speech. Somehow it bypasses the bit of my brain that wants to censor myself. Over the past six years since I started writing on The Moonlit Path Blog it has been a haven and a joy, I have rediscovered my voice after years of keeping it hidden.

In the past two weeks I’ve been recovering from a flare up of RSI. This, it seems, is part of a larger physical capacity issue that I’ve been attempting to dodge for the past fourteen years. I have retrained four times in that period, attempting to find a way to work which brings in some income while allowing me to live as healthily as possible.

I can’t dodge it any longer.

I am (temporarily I hope!) silenced, as I avoid my keyboard. I find that without it the words don’t come, before I sat down here there were no words, yet as I type they float to the surface, eager to wriggle into the light and onto the screen.

I am giving up my muggle business in order to be able to keep some capacity for writing and the simple tasks of daily life with a wonky body. I have to rest much more than I would like to be able to function. I am not particularly tired or unwell, my body simply won’t do what I would like it to or work in a way that was formerly “normal”.

I wonder what a life without a “proper” job will look like, apart from the shifts in practical consideration (adapting to financial circumstances etc) what will the days look like? I like to be “useful”, purposeful. What will I “do” when I can’t use my limbs reliably? Perhaps everyone who lives with disability faces this, I know my mother did. How to find your place in the world when your capacity is “other”.

It will also be, I expect, given time, great gift. While I feel that I should be enthusiastically heading off with a fistful of plans it feels like a quiet time. I have crossed my Rubicon. Acceptance comes slowly, my biggest challenge is to overcome expectations I hold of myself and my output in the world.

My writer’s block and limited capacity has led to a silence. A pause to say goodbye to one way of life, as I spend these weeks wrapping up my business and a whole way of working. A moment to breathe after pushing myself further than I ought to, to own my body and her needs as she is.

Baby, I was born this way.

Life, Death and After Life

Once upon a time I went to church. I tried to be a good Christian. From somewhere I had learned that God was like Santa, seeing me when I was waking or sleeping and knowing even my most secret thoughts.

I worked hard to police my mind, attempted to have the right beliefs which would, eventually, mean that I would pass the entrance test and be accepted into heaven.

I was always uncomfortable with the idea of hell. It didn’t feel right, somehow, it felt too human. I didn’t want to believe in a God who would punish people for eternity. That didn’t seem very god-like, or merciful, or forgiving. I struggled to believe in this God who you could piss off potentially without knowing why; it felt two-faced, like mean girls in the classroom, one minute your friend and the next giving you the cold shoulder.

Aged thirty-five my health took a turn for the worse and I was told I’d had a stroke. The realisation of mortality hit me, a reality hangover. I am mortal. I had always been one to look ahead, to make plans. That tendency seemed foolish now. My brain was tricksy and false, it could, at any moment, decide to suffocate itself, and that would be that.

The immediacy of living day by day came into sharp focus.

It was around this time that I finally gave up on hell. Later I would learn that hell is a Platonic idea, growing out of the Hellenic world of first century Christianity. It seemed odd that I had believed a borrowed idea for so long.

Life wound on, I continued to believe in the idea of an independent existence of the consciousness after death. I had been brought up to believe this, and it brought a degree of comfort.

In my early forties another major life shift came with a further health breakdown and the news of my mum’s terminal illness. I felt my death again, whispering of endings, sitting gothically in the corner holding an hour glass, or tapping its watch meaningfully. I was up against it! Time to get on with life dammit! Life is for living, decide, right this instant what you want to do and get on with it, create something meaningful, achieve something spectacular, this instant, no time to waste!

I stopped going to church and began working with earth-based spiritual practices. I learned about the Summerland and ideas of reincarnation, that the soul lives on, existing in a new form after physical death. I wanted to believe in these ideas, I knew many people who did, many I respected and whose teachings I valued. I tried to bend my mind the right way, and then gave up and tried to have the kind of faith which simply “knew” a teaching to be true. I felt confused, so many options, I felt that I was moving towards some form of end-of-life test, that I had to work out which option I believed in, immortality multiple choice, before I got there. That I was facing an after-life entrance exam and had no way to know what the topics would be. As mum’s life drew to a close I felt cut adrift, floating in a void, none of my former beliefs remaining to anchor me, none of my newer ways of working providing answers.

In the moments after my mum’s death I had a vision of her on a sandy beach in a tropical climate. She was young again, perhaps in her twenties, and waving at me. I had a strong sense that she was safe and happy. I don’t know what this experience was, whether some kind of wishful thinking or a channelled message from an ethereal beyond. In any case it brought me comfort.

In the year since her death I have pondered often on loss and longing. I can no longer see her physically but I feel that our relationship continues, not as some kind of ghostly presence, but in the person she taught me to be, in her legacy; the best way to roast potatoes, how to organise a kitchen cupboard, putting on a bit of perfume or a favourite pair of earrings to cheer yourself up, coping with low moods but setting yourself small tasks, caring for plants, loving cats, looking after family.

This week the buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn passed away. Thay taught that although the physical body ends, the departed one “continues”. He wrote that although one day he would die, he would continue; in his books, his disciples, his teachings. That despite the end of one form of being the energy which had been his living form would transform and continue.

I find this teaching helpful. At this point in my life I do not believe that my individual consciousness will continue after physical death. But the essence of me will continue. The atoms which form this body will be transformed and become part of the universe, dancing in the air, wriggling in the earth. Each interaction I have shared with another being will remain, whether consciously recalled or not, each word spoken, each thought exchanged. I will live on in my children, and maybe one day in their children. I will live on in each person I have ever taught. In words I have written. In seeds planted.

This gives me focus for my life now. What legacy do I want to create? Do I want to leave harsh words behind or the energy of friendship and kindness? Do I want to build up a large bank account or spend time helping in my community? It isn’t always a plain cut choice, I am no saint, but this beautiful thought of continuation gives me a sense of peace and possibility.

I never wanted to die, I love the earth too much to leave. I always felt that it would be a great sadness to be taken from this beautiful home to some heavenly temple where (according to one church I attended) I would have to sing hymns all day (I didn’t like singing hymns!).

Now I know that I won’t need to. I believe in a very concrete sense the earth is my mother. I am made from the same elements which make up the earth, I am one step in a long line of creatures living on this planet, evolving and adapting generation by generation. The earth is my first and final home. I will remain here, returning to the mother’s embrace, and become reborn by her craft, woven anew into the fabric of space and time. Eternal life is now. Continuing. Timeless.

I remember

I met the buyers today. In two weeks (gods and solicitors permitting) they will live in my dad’s house.

The house will open to welcome them, their story will, for a time, become its story.

Life goes on.

I wanted to tell them the stories I remember, I wanted to show them everything that has happened here, to weave it for them, a glorious tapestry of life shared over forty years.

Stories vanish if they are not told, memories wither if we don’t walk them.

This is what I remember.

I remember visiting for the first time, and the Polls, who sold us the house in 1982, giving us tea. I remember the brick-cladding in the front room on either side of the fireplace and thinking how amazing it was to have a downstairs loo.

I remember the livid green and yellow flowers (bigger than my head) on my bedroom wall.

I remember riding our bikes around the cul-de-sac and playing with Nick, Joanna, Christopher, Richard and Paul in our back garden.

I remember creating adventures for the Star Wars and Action Force figures up beneath the cypress trees.

I remember the laburnam flowering; rich, golden, pendant bunches of blooms, and imagining they would taste like honeyed grapes (my mother warning me they were poisonous increased the fascination).

I remember my grandad digging in the garden in his shirt-sleeves.

I remember barbecues under the pergola and my dad’s potent home brewed cider which sent us all squiffy and led to an afternoon of laughter.

I remember the party I had when I was sixteen where one guest stole a bottle of sherry and another dropped brie in the pond, and that everyone left early and I felt awkward and out of step. I would find my people later.

I remember Meike from Germany who came to visit her Nana at number 8. We went to the beach together one afternoon and I met my first boyfriend (I was thirteen, it lasted a month). Later I heard he was in prison.

I remember Mrs Walters from number 14. She was very old and whiskery and often cross. She had lived in her house since it was built in 1933. I remember her telling me about the time during World War 2 when a Messerschmidt flew over and strafed the houses, how it hit our house, leaving bullet marks above the landing window. The bullets burst the water tank and the water had flooded down the stairs. The marks used to be clear, but time has blurred them.

I remember the plum tree at the end of the garden, and the joy of picking its sweet purple fruits, or rescuing windfalls before the wasps found them.

I remember dressing up with my school friend Jonathan, in wigs and heels and seventies jumpsuits, garlanded with beads. Later he becomes a drag queen and I remembered how glamourous we were.

I remember cycling to school each day, and puffing back up the hill on the homeward journey, and the day in the sixth form I was setting off and realised I was still wearing my slippers.

I remember the day, aged twenty, I married the boys’ dad. We had a marquee in the back garden, garlanded with ivy, and I wore a crown of flowers in my hair.

I remember sitting in the paddling pool eight months pregnant in August 1998 and trying to cool off, beached whale woman.

I remember Jonathan, setting off down the garden in his dungarees and red wellies, and vanishing for ages to talk to the bugs and plants, aged eighteen months.

I remember sitting on the swing seat with Mum on her fiftieth birthday and how happy she was.

I remember finding her on her knees scrubbing the paths clean of moss, and meticulous organisation in the tool shed and greenhouse, everything in its place.

I remember the first year I decided to grow veg and planted fifty brussel sprout seeds which all came up, I created a brussel sprout forest in the veg patch!

I remember sacred circles around the fire in the part of the garden that no-one else can see, gathering to share ritual, conversation, mead, magic.

I remember sitting on the bench with Mum in her final autumn. How she always felt the cold and we wrapped up in coats and blankets so that she looked like a mini-Michelin man. How the sun bathed us with fire and she was enraptured (all over again) by the “golden afternoon”, the garden her sanctuary and always happy place.

I remember taking coffee up to the patio in the middle garden each day in lockdown, sitting with Simon in the warmth of March, April and May and staring at the deep, blue of a trail-free sky.

I remember the one, brief moment when I dared to stand naked under a June full moon.

I remember the stories…the grass snake in the pond, the poorly cat who took refuge in the greenhouse, the kitten attempting to hop across lily pads, Midge chasing the fox up the garden.

Memory is a wonky mirror. When we return to the places we have known they are changed, as are we.

Yet for all that the stories abide, the tears of early heartbreaks, the magic of shared celebrations.

The house was our home, “home”because of those who shared it. Home travels with us as we wander onwards.

In quiet moments I can hear the whisper of new stories, waiting in the wings, potent with possibility and promise.

Old she is, and wise

Old she is and wise

White hair spiralling into a galaxy of stars.

Time was when she was young and lithe

Burning with the fire of a million suns

Exploding out from the darkness

All flame and burning passion.

She spun the moonlight from her silver hair

Kissed the earth into being

Moulded from mud and her spit

The creatures, trees, mountains.

Dug great pits for oceans and filled them

With tears of laughter

In the pure joy of creation.

Aeons passed.

She grew old in her watching, in her waiting,

Grew strong on the prayers of her

children, dolphin song, volcano shout,

The pure clear voice of the wolf by moonlight.

Her fingers stretch out to caress each one,

Her breath whispers in dreams,

Her footsteps in each heartbeat.

She gathers the lost children, the old ones dying,

She heals and wholes in the kindness of strangers,

The hope of a sunrise.

She waits in the ink-black darkness for us to awake,

And know her again.

I have been trying for an age to work out “who” I am speaking to now when I offer devotion. Christianity is pretty clear about its God and the pagan world (for a newbie) is a bright and magical place, a bazaar of deities, like entering a crowded party and trying to get acquainted with the whole room.

Six years later I know who my goddess is. I know, too, how she is and where I will find her. I know some of her names; Cerridwen, Hecate, Hel.

She is grandmother and moon priestess, witch and wise one, she hides in plain sight among the unwanted, in shadowy places. She dances in the clear light of a frost kissed morning. This poem is an attempt at a “creed”, for today at least.

Fiona x

Selling Up

I stop-start through Friday hometime,

nose to tail across town.

The car park is emptying at the store,

I grab bunches of flowers, a small potted plant.

Arriving, the sign is fixed to the gate post.

For Sale.

Reality check.

Inside a sense of order,

Best foot forward,

An elderly maiden aunt decked in finery

For a public occasion.

Scrubbed, tidied and weeded,

Decked with blooms,

She looks beautiful, hopeful.

I imagine those who will come to view,

wanting to show them everything

She means.

How she was when we came here,

How she has grown, expanded,

Through thirty-nine summers.

The memories, birthdays, weddings;

Funerals.

The Christmases and celebrations.

Seeing them again, superimposed,

Layered, ghosts of memory.

We cannot keep her,

She is too big, and empty now,

leaving us heartsore, her keeper gone.

A family home needs a family,

And we are grown and flown.

Flowers and instructions left

I reverse from the drive.

Heading homewards

The sun melts its glorious golden death

In the rearview mirror.

What I have learned about grief (so far)

I thought it would be noisy.

In the preceding years I feared it, the maelstrom malevolence, jaws awaiting me, to swallow up identity and reason. I watched it approaching, week by week as my mother’s health waned. The diagnosis gave us the end point, though not a timescale.

After two months living in the front room beside her hospital bed and going through the gut-wrenching vigil of watching her make her final journey the initial forty-eight hours after her death were heady. There was a sense of great sadness but also so much relief, she was, after all, free of the pain and challenges which had been limiting her for years. I imagined her smiling, on a sunlit beach in foreign lands in the sixties, like those in her photographs of pre-marriage travels, waving to us with glee, mischievous, fun-filled grin in place.

There is much to do after a death, organising is a great refuge from the chasm of loss.

I am rational, like Elinor Dashwood my default it to “think”, to reason around life’s challenges, to grab a book or Wiki page and learn. In the beginning I reasoned that to keep active was a good way to start. I also reckoned that to deal with the milestones in the journey of being “without” her would also be helpful way to manage the sense of loss. We took charge of planning and leading the funeral, sending out death certificates, notifying authorities, I am a natural administrator so this is a comfortable place for me.

Weeks passed, things took much longer than seemed “normal” in lockdown and it was four months before we were finally able to bury Mum’s ashes. We stood together in the garden of rest, parakeets chirping and wing-whirring among the yews, and I was washed by a wave of emotion, until this point I had cried very little. I am not great at crying, I do not enjoy or allow myself strong emotion readily and fear that should I let it in it will wash me away entirely. People used to talk about children this way when I was younger “give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile”, I am the same with emotion. You shall not pass.

I had begun writing a book I had been planning. I work well with deadlines and the busy-ness of the project (and associated terror of the creative, fearing censure, or success) filled me up. In the aftermath of the publication I began to unravel.

Nothing “felt” right. I was uncomfortable, emotionally dissonant. We had lived with my parents throughout the final three years of Mum’s life and in a bizarre accident of timing – and over three months later than expected – completed on our flat in the week of her death. We moved house, became “empty nesters” and lost my Mother within, in the end, a space of forty-eight hours. The structures which had kept my identity throughout my life, the roles which defined me – daughter, mother, carer – vanished.

I retreated into my head, it is my safe space. I could not allow myself to feel because there was too much.

I began to unpick creations, long worked-at and hoped for, I made changes to the things I could control. I came up with plans one day and took them apart the next. Physical symptoms began to emerge, chronic pain, blood pressure issues, as though my body was working out my emotions when my mind and emotions wouldn’t. I observed, as though an interested observer, that my diagnosis of insanely high blood pressure, showed that my heart was not happy. No shit Sherlock.

Yet still no storm, no tirade, no Ophelia wanderings in the local park, scaring off the school kids and causing ructions on Nextdoor.

Summer passed in a blur of unseasonal dampness and grey days. I had blogged about life and musings throughout Mum’s final five years, but this experience took me into silence. I could not explain it and each time I tried to fit it to words it was as though mental shutters came down, officious and grumpy. I was on one side of a glass wall, the world wandering by, lion in the zoo, watching dull-eyed.

I felt trapped. I knew other people experienced grief. I knew many had faced loss, more so during life in the time of Covid. I tried to tell myself that these experiences were “normal”. They didn’t feel normal, what seemed most strange was the lack of feeling. Surely there should be something? I was moderately depressed, disinterested, but the expected drama failed to materialise. After eight months it felt too late to Mrs Bennett my way into my bed and stay there demanding smelling salts. Life inched forwards.

In the end I arrived in the reality of my sadness in a counselling session. I hadn’t been able to admit that I missed her. It seemed selfish, and pointless, to do so, when it was much better for her to be free from the pain and challenge which had marked her final years. I had felt that to say I missed her was in some way to wish her back, to hold her responsible, somehow, for leaving us. I went to church for the first time in five years and cried into my mask, unable to sing the words of familiar hymns because they reminded me of Sunday evenings in our childhood home eating home-baked scones and watching Songs of Praise.

I do miss her. But the missing will not change the fact that she has gone.

Death is the strangest thing.

What I have learned about grief is that you can read articles, listen to talks, engage with therapy, exercise, act practically, eat sensibly, try to sleep and it will still happen, keeping you company like a too-chatty stranger on a train.

It took me much of a year to realise that this is not an experience I will ever “get over”. Maybe I will learn to live with it. Maybe life will begin to coalesce into new patterns and pathways. Death is not a stone in the water; one disturbance, ripples and then stillness, as if it had never been.

We are unmade by it. Entirely. And in their leaving our loved ones gift us a final gift. A new life. Stumbling in an unfamiliar world, all the stranger for its external sameness we walk slowly, feeling our way forward, dazed and dazzled by the bustle and normalcy.

There is no going back.

I come to the church door

I have been wandering in the wild, green, woods.

I come to the church door, my hair tangled, threaded with bindweed and bramble. My hands earth-grimed. Pockets stuffed with acorns, berries, a small, nesting bird.

I am become a witness for the wild earth’s beauty, a listener of dawn breezes and owl music.

Lifting the latch silence swallows me. Ancient stones enclosing mystery.

I approach slowly, feet cooled and soothed on time-worn floors.

He stretches his arms wide to welcome, eager to see what I have discovered.

Taking the bird in its cocoon of grasses he places it high on a ledge, by an open stained-glass window.

I can see now the flowers which climb spirals upwards on stone columns, the diamond stars winking through roof timbers.

I am come again to this place and know it “for the first time.”

Standing between the worlds.

Faery Wilding

We have a wilding project taking place in woodland near our home. Bison, iron age pigs and Exmoor ponies will be moving in to help with forest management.

It led me to a flight of fancy (or fantasy) thinking about what the faery folk might need to help rejuvenate their numbers, to bring magic back into the wild spaces of Britain.

I imagined wide, wildflower margins at the side of crop fields, ostensibly left there for bees and butterflies, but much loved by the little folk. I imagined grandmother fae telling stories to the young ones about a time when there were no mechanical harvesters and they had the freedom of the fields in all seasons. Horror stories of pesticides and their effects on long, lost loved ones.

I began to imagine what I might do if I believed there were fae folk in the scrap of woodland behind my house, how I would go to collect the litter more often, or leave gifts for them by the sweet chesnut trees. I began to imagine what I could do when I am out and about in my town to help them out, picking up rubbish, dropping a few seeds here and there for birds.

I realised that much of what I would do would help the bees, butterflies and others creatures too.

I have been taught that the fae are wild things, to be treated with respect and reverence. I imagine that they have a fierce loyalty to the land and to all green and growing things. That they ride on the backs of dragonflies or finches. That when housing estates crawl, an ugly welt of scaffolding poles and concrete, over the green spaces they are enraged.

What would a faery wilding project look like where you are? What could you do in your window boxes, garden, in your street or city park to help them? What could you do in the home?

When I start to look with these eyes of imagination I see a different world, it is more hopeful, there is less red tape, and more magic. It lightens my heart and reminds me of the magic of intention and purpose. If there are small, green eyes watching me now as I type from the chesnut branches outside the window I know I would want to help their world. Which is also mine.

They are older than us, and they have longer memories. They know that now it is already late, although not yet too late.

I will begin. And begin again.