Monthly Archives: July 2012

… Goats are Goats … part 3

What I saw across the road, through the watery gauze of the side window, sent an electrifying jolt through me. Magnified, blazing eyes lanced through mine, saying – you’ll find what you want. For a brief moment he was there, an intense presence, a man dressed in emerald green at the corner of a white-washed house, holding a staff capped with a skull exquisitely carved from ivory. For a brief moment we were one, intimately united in clarity of being, which was how I perceived the finest detail of the staff’s handle across the distance of twenty feet. When I looked again, the figure was gone.

Trust unfurled in fast motion, unlike the everyday subtle intuitions I weighed with reason as counterbalance. My attitude towards the unexplained was respectful but wary. Ellie’s entities were real to her, and felt by those around her. Not that I doubted the forces pushing through envelops of time, only that the deeply personal significance of a supernatural event could be misread and misapplied. Since every cell of my body had grown wings, I was convinced by the message I received, with no need to solve or snub the mystery.

‘The sky’s clearing.’ Ellie said. Brilliant light broke through the clouds. A breeze swept remnants of rain like sparkling trinkets from trees. Dowsed in afternoon light, the village roofs glistened like buffed silver under a giant rainbow. ‘I’m starving,’ Ellie added, at the sight of a grocery shop.

The woman behind the counter smiled at seeing us. ‘You brought the sun!’ She cut us wedges of freshly baked bread and topped them with local cheese. Rarely had bread tasted so delicious. ‘I’ve goats’ milk in the fridge, would you like some?’ Ellie burst into hysterical laughter, which shocked the dear woman.

I grinned, ‘We’d love some.’

‘I fancy it myself,’ the woman said, and filled two glasses to the rim with cool, silky milk. We savoured every sip and wanted more. The sweet, nutty taste so absorbed my attention, I forgot to ask her about goats, which is why I felt my heart wobble when she said, ‘Sadly the source will dry up. My friend, Marte, is getting too frail to milk her doe and I don’t have the space to keep goats.’

This is what goats get up to.

Marte lived in the next village. She had been forewarned and waved at us, stoically forcing her arthritic knees towards the gate. Her goat, Fleck, was white with random patches of brown and gracefully curved horns. ‘A gentle creature,’ Marte said, ‘unless you annoy her.’ She giggled, as if she shared a pun with an inner companion. I had an ear for this kind of banter, having companions of my own. ‘She needs a good home,’ she said. ‘I gladly give her to you, if you take her weaned kid as well.’

Fleck was used to cars from trips to pastures in the hills. She calmly walked the plank into the hatch of my estate. Her adorable kid followed. The goats ogled Marte as she raised her hand in salute with a tear in her eye. Equipped with sacks of grain, lore and advice, we drove home with two new passengers comfortably bedded in straw. Their curiosity was engaging. I fell in love with the pair. And even Ellie, contented after her anxious day, was too protected by bliss to predict the trouble ahead.

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. A wise man does not need advice and a goat won’t take it.      Anon

The End 

@ Ashen Venema July 2012

Don’t miss this wonderful drawing, created especially for this story by Natasha Tonkin, my son’s partner. If the link doesn’t work  you can find the post in the archive under August 2012

https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/the-english-goat/

 

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… Goats are Goats … part 2

Drenched, we stepped into a steaming kitchen. A sizeable family was gathered for a meal. Men had spread their wet jumpers on chairs near the central cooker. In a nook above the table hung a plain crucifix. The matriarch served food. When she saw our bedraggled state, she dropped her ladle to fetch towels. We must have looked like scarecrows.

‘Sit down, have a bite.’ Her husband heaped roast lamb and spuds on large plates for us. A young girl gawked at our exotic outfit.  We were wedged into benches, flanked by men who, while bashful, beamed at the welcome distraction. As to goats – no luck:  ‘Ja Geissen, di hamma ghabt, aber jetzt nimmer. Dass tut mir Leid.’ The woman was genuinely disappointed for us.

Goats, we learned, were not bred anymore in the area. ‘The effort outweighed the reward,’ said an elder, though unlike the farmer earlier in the day, he did not make me feel a fool for wanting a goat. The brothers were curious and showered us with questions about the outside world, we were a novelty. Ellie kept quiet, struggling with her roast leg of lamb, out of politeness. She was undecided about eating meat. Playing the martyr, I thought. A good hour passed with stories in local dialect. I caught the gist and laughed along, while Ellie occasionally managed the ghost of a grin. When the deluge reversed to plain rain, I grasped the moment to thank our hosts.

‘You could ask the cobbler in the village. He’s privy to gossip from round here.’ The elder chuckled. ‘You’ll find him in the village, next to the church.’

Guided by the baroque spire, I found the church and parked the car in the square. Two crows cawed, debating in a spindly tree. ‘A bad omen,’ Ellie said. 

I was gripped by a compulsion to let her hitchhike home. Her foolish superstition annoyed me. ‘All depends what you project onto crows,’ I countered.’

A lean and nifty man, the cobbler stashed not only shoes but secrets, likely for profit. There was punch behind his words, ‘Your best bet is the slaughterhouse,’ he said, ‘they might have an old goat.’

‘I don’t want to go there.’ Ellie wailed. Her moral conflict over eating meat at the farmer’s table left her feeling woozy. And the crows had put fear in her. Wet through once more, we lingered in the car and gazed at the waters dancing on the tarmac. ‘Maybe you should get a sheep,’ Ellie said.

I suffered the humiliation of defeat, while the slaughterhouse loomed as a last resort. My want for a goat prevailed. ‘I’ll enquire, you can stay put,’ I said, and firmly started the engine, heading in the direction the cobbler had indicated. Another black cloud sailed in. The torrent drummed so hard on the windshield, its wipers slowed under duress. Single drops hit the tarmac like missiles, forming a milky mist.

‘Everything’s against us,’ Ellie said. Here we go again, I thought. Yet I had to admit the dead-end. We would have to return down the mountain. The trouble was, when Ellie slipped into a low mood the air surrounding her became heavy. If I stretched my imagination I could see her succumb to a host of dark entities, hear their whispers. I regretted my decision to take Ellie along. We turned a corner, and, without warning, were faced by a stark scene. In the frame of an open industrial unit animal corpses dangled from hooks like pendulums. That instant a cow’s belly was sliced open. Blood and inner organs poured out and splashed into the drains below. Ellie shrieked and paled. Queasy myself, a vivid taste of iron in my mouth, I turned the car and stopped on the main road.

Numbed, we avoided each other’s eyes, the shocking event lingered. Part of life’s food chain, I told myself, and promptly pictured the cling-filmed bloodless meat in supermarkets.

Ellie heaved a breath. Her hands stopped trembling. She shook her head, ‘Nevermore,’ she said. The gravity in her voice, the burning determination in her eyes, hinted at a deep rage, way beyond her revulsion to meat. It seemed to me her nevermore applied to the shadowy entities that plagued her, and a no-meat pledge served to conquer her passivity.

I liked the taste of meat, but would I eat it if I had to kill the animal myself? A challenge! I reasoned with my conscience and came up with a compromise. ‘From now on, I’ll remember to honour a sacrificed life with a thank you,’ I said.

‘That’s a start.’ The sharp tone behind Ellie’s new credo brought an icy draught on the air. To escape the depressing spot, I made snail-speed through the village. The day’s span had narrowed. Overcome by failure, I gazed into the haze for answers.

… a link to part three, the last instalment is at the top of this page …

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. A wise man does not need advice and a goat won’t take it.   Anon

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The illustrations are by Arthur Rackham and Gustave Doré

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… Goats are Goats … part 1

Recently, Jane Alexander, another spiritual warrior, had a blog-post sparking a dialogue that brought up the theme of goats, in the widest sense 🙂 and it reminded me of an episode with goats. So I dug up my notes and wrote a Short Story. Here the first part, one or two more to come … enjoy.

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Friends warned me – goats are trouble, they’re stubborn, they gobble up everything in reach and reach everything, fences are useless – to no avail, my brain cells were committed. The image of a she-goat had acquired deep saturation in my heart and was fixed. At the time, none of our group who had rented the old house was keen on gardening. We were surrounded by weed-smothered acres. I envisaged the jungle cleared and converted into snow-white milk and cheese. A deeper image chimed, of the orphan Heidi sent to live with her grandfather in an alpine hut where she met Peter and his goats. The story had left an indelible impression; especially how the healing of Heidi, Peter and the wholesome milk of his goats worked on Clara, a paralysed girl. Sediments of memory that push up times’ layers and seep into new situations often justify my otherwise irrational actions.

The local farmer told me of a place where they kept goats. ‘A rarity these days,’ he said. I got up at dawn, bemoaning the grey sky. Ellie was awake, eager to join me, a curious act of will for someone who tended to apathy. I had not planned on company, but could hardly refuse since she had already prepared coffee in a Thermos, good strong coffee. We raided the fridge for provisions and folded into my old estate. The destination was a smallholding in a Bavarian hamlet, an hour’s drive away. Ellie was silent. She liked to daydream. When she talked, it was about what she noticed in her immediate vicinity. ‘See the pretty flower box up on that window?  It’s tilting and might fall on someone’s head.’ Or, commenting on a woman who offered directions, ‘She squeaks like a mouse in a trap.’  Her observations tended to ripple the air with uncanny prognostic qualities that made me shiver.

The overgrown dwelling nestled like the green-speckled cap of a giant mushroom in the slope of a hill. Across the black earth in the yard waddled flocks of white geese. I parked the car, which made a couple of birds chase their goslings under the branches of an elm that served as roof for a medley of neglected farming tools and scrap wood. An enchanted world in which a silver-haired woman stood motionless among her goose sentinels. ‘Is she aware of us?’ I wondered.

‘She wouldn’t miss a worm stirring in her yard,’ Ellie said.  Her impression mirrored mine, of the ageless crone being rooted to her environment as through fungal filaments. Stepping from the car was like agitating the boundary to another universe. There was a bout of nervous honking, and a gander hissed as I walked up to the woman. Her kind eyes twinkled, animating a leathery face inscribed with immeasurable knowledge of the elements. She told the tale of her last goat, in slow detail, giving it shape with her bony hands, as if I was a neighbour passing by who deserved the latest instalment.

Back in the car, I took a last glance and wished I had my camera. The woman stood as before, on the same spot. Ellie was humming.

‘What’re you humming?’ I asked.

‘Some tune, can’t recall – this place, you know, could be spirited away any moment.’

‘Good luck then that she gave me another lead,’ I said, ‘a place not far from here.’

The farmer ten miles down the road looked us up and down. Not an inch of ironed cloth on us, my mirror-embroidered vest, the charms dangling from Ellie’s neck – hippies – I heard him judge. ‘Goats, gosh, they’re a luxury. I sell you sheep, less hassle.’

‘Sheep are sheep,’ I said, bluntly. He carefully gauged my sanity and shook his head. The thoughts of a simple soul can be read in capital letters, not flattering, but always enlightening. I made small talk to navigate through our discord.

Eventually he offered a hint. ‘There’s a farm I used to do business with, in the mountains, near the Austrian border.’

This search was going to be a longer than anticipated. We stopped at a river for a picnic. ‘It’s not going to be straightforward, is it?’ Ellie said. ‘I hope we don’t get lost … exciting really’, she added, as if to undo her fretfulness. I never tried to persuade her of anything.

She was a strange one, Ellie, a cautious spectator, longing for others to take charge, which got her into trouble when someone she considered a friend laced her birthday cake with psychedelics. She lost coherence and was sectioned. When our small community heard about her plight, we got her released from the institution and took her in. The trauma had shaken Ellie, but opened her mind, though she swayed from moments of brightness to moments of despair.

‘We can sleep in the car,’ I said. ‘There’re blankets in the hatch.’ Determined, I drove on – into the unknown. Another 30 miles, and my Estate laboured up the steep serpentines of a gorge. The sky drew dark curtains and it began to rain.

Close to our next destination, flashes of lighting zigzagged among the cliffs. The narrow road became a roaring stream. Ellie clasped the crystals she wore for protection round her neck. I could smell her fear and tried to be brave for both of us. ‘I’ll stop at the next layby.’ To my relief, a cluster of farm buildings came into view. Sheep huddled for shelter under a copse.

‘No goats!’ Ellie said. She had a habit of stating the obvious.

‘Goats hate rain,’ I assured her. ‘They’ll be under cover on a day like this.’ Once we reached the farmhouse it poured rivers. I parked and turned off the engine. The mass of water pressing against the windshield was impenetrable, and it didn’t look as if the downpour was about to stop. ‘Let’s run for the porch,’ I said.

…   a link to part two is at the top of this page …

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of men of old; seek goats.  Basho

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The illustration, Goat and Vine, is by A. Rackham

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… imagination …

From its fountain, the psyche pours compositions of light and darkness, images shaping the natural elements that engender our sensual experiences. Countless composite images trickle through our mind. Do we pause to ponder which to let pass, like dry leaves floating down the river, and which to absorb deeply into our heart – and give life to?  

The images we energise are re-envisioned and re-told through our perception. Nature spirits, archetypes, monsters and fairies, heroes and villains, deities, gods, devils and angels, the dark unknown – mankind’s entire mythical landscapes are encapsulated by the imagination and affect our everyday life.

Through this phenomenological process we discovered language, numbers and geometry, tools that potentially enable us to re-create nature. Some scientists maintain that matter constitutes the real and all phenomena derived from nature’s building blocks is not real. But deep inside we know … our search for the world we intimately desire attracts to us enlightened scripts. Through trial and error we learn to apply these scripts, and, for better or worse, we make our worlds real. Worlds within worlds are born from the imagination.

The young in heart have a natural curiosity to play and explore what lies beyond the horizon, literally and metaphorically, with a keen drive to discover facets of their soul reflected in all matter, experiencing matter not as dead, but as vibrantly alive and animated.

Consider the present demand for SF or its playful sister, fantasy, or magic realism. These genres overlap, they deal with the human condition, the desire for a home, in the widest sense – be it for another planet, an island, a heaven, a yesterday, a tomorrow, or the grail of now. To achieve the latent desire for the ineffable, a writer, any artist, becomes a deep-sea-diver of the psyche, and, on coming up for air, re-arranges the booty found there. Some of my favourite writers are R Heinlein, C S Lewis, R Bradbury, I Asimov, M Atwood, Garcia Marquez. Jorge Luis Borges, Doris Lessing and Ursula Le Guin …

It’s time to re-discover the bridge between the two hemispheres of our brains and balance the outlook of our material societies, value reverie, art and fresh perspectives, engage in play, song, dance and storytelling.

Time to embrace unstructured activities, which sidestep reason’s often pre-conceived observations, the epistemological obstacle, as Gaston Bachelard calls it, the grid of unconscious mental patterns that block seeing through our deeply personal and grounded experience, through the heart.

I’ll never forget the visit during the 70s, instigated through a Sufi friend, to a small Trappist community in the vicinity of Washington DC. The handful of monks rotated duties in house and gardens, interspersed with reading time in their fabulous library. Each one of them also enjoyed an annual 40-days-silent-retreat in one of the huts sprinkled over the many-hectare-estate. My then partner and I were privileged to listen to some of the monks sharing their vastly different cosmologies, psychologies and spiritualities. What struck me was that each monk had a vastly different idea about God, including one admitting that he thought God was man-made and no less real for that. What a stimulating place to be, where you are respected for the envisioning of your world.

 ‘The imagination is not a state; it is human existence itself.’ – William Blake

‘In our most private and most subjective lives we are not only the passive witnesses of our age, and its sufferers, but also its makers. We make our own epoch.’  – C G  Jung, 1934 

‘If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses.’ – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Relevant links:

Re: CS Lewis  http://users.etown.edu/d/DOWNINDC/dungeon.htm

Gaston Bachelard  http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Gaston_Bachelard

The World Within, C G Jung video  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6MHRHKd4Ps&feature=related

See also https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/pattern-which-connects/

For those with a metaphysical interest in the imagination, here is an article of mine: https://courseofmirrors.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/science-of-the-heart.pdf

Excerpt … The mystic aims to raise sensory data to a higher level. This happens via the visionary imagination, the ‘presence of the heart’, and it happens precisely in that intermediate world where material beings take form and where material beings dissolve again to become subtle bodies. This intermediate world exists not at the other end of the universe, but right here with us, between each of our breaths. This is how the presence of the heart affects, how ideals, in whatever way we conceive of our Ideal, become realised. What we give being to in this intermediate sphere inevitably appears and becomes endowed with an outward reality. This is so, even when it is visible only to the inner eye, the eye of the heart, just beyond what can be perceived by the senses.

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The rose image: detail of ‘The virgin of the unfading rose,’ eighteen century.

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… the recycling of unease …

Merciless downpours – I occasionally dash between strings of rain to trim the green jungle in my garden and pick a handful of wild strawberries. Tonight, looking east, the sky is grey. And not a leaf stirs, due to the full moon. In the next room a brilliant sunset reflects in a glass-framed painting. And as I look east again, a high cloud is blushed in rose-colour. More rain announced. It is the wettest summer in my many lifetimes, of late a tumultuous time. I was indirectly affected by a trauma, not mine, not my story to tell, though I’m proud of two dear young people who dealt admirably with the fallout of having their flat in London broken in. Several flats in the same block were crashed into with crowbars within the span of two hours and in bright daylight. Picture the scenario: you leave your home for a short while and return to find your front door broken and all means of communication, including the creative tools needed for your livelihood – gone. The logistics of solving the problem are, to put it mildly, overwhelming.

I bemoan the motherly welfare state and the infantile moral consciousness it feeds. I observe signs in my relatively crime-free little town. As an illustration, the other day in a car park I observed a woman tossing an empty plastic bottle from her car- window before she drove off. Her children in the backseat looked on. What motivates careless behaviour? What jumped to my mind – probably a negative mother (state) dependency, a resentment of mother’s permissiveness, having being patronised and cheated out of meaningful relationships and been entranced by the material world.

Next day I visited a car boot sale in search of world-objects for my sand tray therapy work. A young girl spilled coins from her purse over the stall while paying for a trinket. A few coins fell to the grass. A boy behind her casually covered one of the coins with his foot. He didn’t even smile at his clever trick. His face was blank. This chilled me. Without parents to model self-respect, how will children become psychologically independent individuals?

We all experience the acceleration of change. The changes in my lifetime eroded structures of meaning that carried values I held dear. Change is however the only constant. Navigating change without straining our nervous system and by implication the nervous system of our planet is a challenge that requires an attitude of self-respect and tolerance: the ability to bear contradiction and confusion.

While collisions of mythologies storm all around us, we have the elation about the Higgs particle, indicator of a Higgs field. The single-minded work of a scientific community including 20 member states is remarkable, I’d be proud to be part of it. But wait, many more billions will now be spent on search for super symmetry (SUSY).  Imagine what could be achieved if even a tiny portion of this budget would go towards exploring the autonomous postulates spouting from our collective unconscious, in other words, exploring the underlying structure of the human psyche, of which the visible particles populate our dysfunctional societies.

Light is both particle and wave, and though we can only observe one at a time it is one light.

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What In The World IS A Higgs Boson?

http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/04/what-in-the-world-is-a-higgs-boson/?src=un&feedurl=http%3A%2F%2Fjson8.nytimes.com%2Fpages%2Fscience%2Findex.jsonp

An interview with Dr Lisa Randall, from last year but more informative

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/12/science/physicists-anxiously-await-news-of-the-god-particle.html

Sandplay therapy

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GD6PPwUlgGM&feature=related    Not me

http://sandplayvideos.com/sandplay-therapy-training

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