The Art of
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Well, it’s not like most of you won’t have seen this poem before. But originality isn’t my aim. The first line of this verse is constantly in my head, right now. It haunts me. Because it so perfectly reflects what I am feeling about this latest challenge in my life: this new journey through illness after so many decades blessed with fitness and good health. I feel fortunate that this has happened to me when I’m older. When I recognise, so very much more than I would have done had I been younger, that all such ‘guests’ really ARE just the teachers we need, and arrive at our door at just the time when we need them.
Lymphomaniacs. That’s my dear husband’s name for this little old sheepdog, Nell, and me. Four years ago, she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Well, it turns out that I have exactly the same kind of lymphoma, happily caught early and confined to exactly the same lymph nodes. I’ve heard of people growing to look like their dogs, but this is maybe a little excessive. The good news is that, at almost 12 years old, she is fully recovered and running around like a pup, full of wags and wellbeing, lording it over another fine flock of sheep. I’m counting on that being a good sign too; I’m told the prognosis is good and the cure rate, these days, high.
I invite you, in the year ahead, to focus in on finding your way back into the heart of the Mystery. I’d like to offer you some suggestions not just for gently reflecting on your intentions, but for focusing in on cultivating your mythic imagination, in the months ahead.
These new hills and valleys I’ve landed in are rich with memories of water, because the geology here is founded on sandstone and mudstone – rocks created in a long gone, ancient inland sea. And at last, I can make my way out into them. Walking (though just a little more slowly and carefully than before) against the Severn’s flow.
So it’s time for each one of us to evaluate how we can step forward now, and step up to the challenges of the times. Those of us who have been more comfortable, or who have felt safer, hiding in the shadows. Those of us who have hogged the light for all the wrong reasons. Those of us who have been lost and haven’t known which way to go. All the exiles, the edge-dwellers, the non-belongers. The world needs us now; it’s why we chose to be here.
In this sense, love is a way of listening to what the world has to say to us. Love is a necessary quality that we must bring to our connections with other beings in the world around us, which allows them to offer themselves up to us as they really are. Love, then, is more than just an attitude, it’s a spiritual stance: a way for us to know things as they truly are; a way to have the world open itself to us, just as love in turn opens us to the world.
And isn’t that the beauty of it: the land never fails. Never fails to show up, if you show up in turn. Never fails to engage, if you approach it in a spirit of genuine relationship. With your pockets full of offerings (nothing less than everything you are will suffice) and a determination to humbly apprentice yourself to whatever it has to offer you in return. Because we’re always the students here. The land always knows best. But it’s not something you can dip in and out of. The land demands your devotion, every day of your life. And devoting myself to the land is my personal practice. Has been, for more years than I can remember. Every single day.
And look, the spring is flowing fast again and singing by the back door and it’s time to listen, if not to the Voices of the Wells, then to the Voices of the Springs for a little while. It’s time to be quiet, now. It’s time to stop saying, and start listening again. It’s time to put some more fuel in the old boiler stove and by mid-afternoon perhaps the water will be hot enough for a bath. It’s time to fall, slowly but irrevocably, head-over-heels in love with the simplicity of an old stone house in the mountains.
So many of us are looking for answers to the ever-more urgent question of how we should live now. And we’re finding those answers in the wisdom which all the old stories tell us can be found on the fringes, in the forest, in the wild thickets of the ancient hedge. In our own native wisdom traditions – that rich and deep ancestral lineage which so few are aware that we possess. It’s time to reclaim those traditions, and weave them into an authentic, grounded practice for very different times.
Let’s not panic, or despair, or run away. Let’s remember that sometimes, there really is no place like home. And entertain the possibility that, although we might think we don’t need it, home might actually need us.
I’ve had a dream for a long time. About working with a community of fellow myth-makers, all of us together, weaving ourselves and the world back into a shining web of relationship. About building a tribe of those I call the ‘mythical misfits’ – those of you who’ve fallen out of the prevailing, destructive cultural myth, who are in that place in between stories, and who are looking to uncover new (or maybe, sometimes, old) myths to live by.
Essentially, your personal myth is the story you are living, the story you are inside of. That story affects your sense of identity, your relationships, your sense of purpose, your sense of your own place in the world.
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