Tag Archives: experience

Mystical experiences & J. B Priestley’s Dream

Numerous children, if not all, bring along an openness that allows them a peek through the chinks in the veils that cover ordinary reality. Sudden insights, call them special, spiritual, paranormal, transpersonal, mystical, timeless, ecstasy of oneness … dreams … experiences that make no sense to a rational adult and may evoke fear of the unconscious. Sooner or later children may learn that a vivid imagination, as it is often called, brings no rewards and is of no solid use in a world geared to material respectability and control.

To have one’s experience belittled is humiliating. A child may react with rebellion, remain silent, or learn to deal with contradiction. At worst, the door will be shut against random revelations and curiosity about anything unfamiliar. This is a great pity, since a whole range of dimensions remain untranslated. Fortunately there are those who refuse to have their imagination squashed, who find a medium to hold and share encounters that do not fit prevailing assumptions, concepts of reality or theories of time.

They are truth-seekers – artists, writers, musicians, painters, dancers, physicists, biologists, astronomers, mathematicians, inventors, mystics … people with a passion to re-discover realities beyond appearances from multiple perspectives, including deeply personal ones. In short, anyone adventurous enough to explore the jungle of diverse interests, the way inner and outer truths mysteriously mirror each other and spark mystical consciousness. But since the boundaries between light and darkness are porous, one is always well advised to hold one’s balance, like a skilled martial art practitioner.

Having listened over decades to thousands of client stories, I haven’t yet met anyone who hasn’t shared (often for the first time) a near-forgotten mystical experience. Such experiences are the best kept secret nobody dares to talk about. For fear of ridicule, we let the poets speak for us.

‘To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.– William Blake

Take heart, it is possible to find words, like J B Priestley, to convey the indescribable …

Drawing by Douglas Fenton

I dreamt I was standing at the top of a very high tower, alone, looking down upon the myriads of birds flying in one direction; every kind of bird was there, all the birds in the world. It was a noble sight, this vast aerial river of birds.

But now, in some mysterious fashion the gear was changed, and the time speeded up, so that I saw generations of birds, watched them break their shells, flutter into life, mate, weaken, falter and die. Wings grew only to crumble; bodies were sleek and then, in a flash, bled and shrivelled; and death struck everywhere at every second. What was the use of all this blind struggle towards life, this eager trying of wings, this hurried mating, this flight and surge, all this gigantic meaningless biological effort?

As I stared down, seeming to see every creature’s ignoble little history almost at a glance, I felt sick at heart. It would be better if not one of them, if not one of us at all, had been born, if the struggle ceased forever. I stood on my tower, still alone, desperately unhappy.

But now the gear was changed again, and time went faster still, and it was rushing by at such a rate, that the birds could not show any movement, but were like an enormous plain sown with feathers. But, along this plain, flickering through the bodies themselves, there now passed a sort of white flame, trembling, dancing, then hurrying on; as soon as I saw it I knew that this white flame was life itself, the very quintessence of being; and then it came to me, in a rocket-burst of ecstasy, that nothing mattered, nothing could ever matter, because nothing else was real but this quivering and hurrying lambency of beings.

Birds, people or creatures not yet shaped and coloured, all were of no account except so as this flame of life travelled through them. It left nothing to mourn over behind it; what I had thought of as tragedy was mere emptiness or a shadow show; for now all real feeling was caught and purified and danced on ecstatically with the white flame of life. I had never felt before such happiness as I knew at the end of my dream of the tower and the birds, and I have not kept that happiness with me, as an inner atmosphere and a sanctuary for the heart, that is because I am a weak and foolish man who allows this mad world to come in destroying every green shoot of wisdom. Nevertheless, I have not been quite the same man since. A dream had come through a multitude of business. –  J.B. Priestley (Sept 1895 – Aug 1984)

In case you’ve not come across William James, read his ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience.’

And look up a recent sweeping epic that breaks all the rules by Philippa Rees, ‘Involution.’

And, of course, my novel 🙂

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… story – art – quest for the cypher – symbol …

As painters or sculptors do, I frequently step back from my writing projects, searching for the core, a half imagined essence to shine through and re-animate the creative flow. Skills alone don’t do it, techniques alone don’t do it, nor style. As long as the essence of what I try to express floats in the unconscious, my efforts will baffle and tease me.

Having listened to thousand and one stories during my 30 years of working as a transpersonal psychotherapist, I conclude that when we tell our story to ourselves, or others who watch and listen, we trace a rhythm, a sound, the distant bubbling of a spring – a theme. While sourcing and shaping words we ideally become aware of how we translate experiences, string up memories and weave a pattern that gives meaning, purpose and direction to our story. We may re-weave the past and change how we perceive life. Even a single image, too evanescent to fit ordinary reality, can assume significance. An ideal may sharpen – and with it a vision of what not yet exists, revealed by the imagination.

Sensual impression, dreams, primary images and the love/hate of relationships, present a puzzle we try to arrange in some kind of order, waiting for a theme to become intelligible, and therefore transmittable. Finding a structure to express our experiences through words, images, movements, sounds, music, or numbers is insufficient. We must play with the fragments – take out bits, or add bits, until a satisfying narrative suggests itself.

World objects from my sand tray

Fairy tales, heroes and villains of myth, historical figures, cartoon characters or pop stars may do the magic by evoking a psychic resonance and providing a metaphor, or a precious symbol to ease the pressure of the archetypal demand lurking in the unconscious.

Not only those we call artists, but all creative people respond to what holds sensual and cognitive fascination for them. I include trades, crafts, makers, men and women with affinities to certain elements, who explore the quality and beauty of materials, like weavers, potters, wood workers, printers, plumbers, electricians … I include technicians, engineers, inventors, scientists and mystics. Curiosity and passion for a subject deepen knowledge and intuition as to how things connect outside, and, vitally, how they connect inside us.

Ashen – directing a film in the woods.

My fascination with creating stories was revived while doing a film degree (as career brake) during the late 1990s. I’m curious about consciousness, relative perception of time, and the interplay of characters for which I invent pasts and futures, where ideals are the means to a goal, while as soon as the goal is reached, a new ideal looms over the horizon. If this were not so, evolution, our whole story would stop. Ursula Le Guin once wrote –

‘In eternity there is nothing novel, and there are no novels.’

My ongoing writing project, a trilogy of stories, involves three soul sisters, Ana, Cara and Mesa. The first (already published) book of the trilogy, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ (see book page) narrates the quest of Ana, which is really the myth of the story teller, Cara, whose theme is seeking a balance for the enigma of clashing feminine and masculine principles. The sequel, ‘Shapers,’ (not yet published) introduces Cara in the twentieth century as she follows the characters of Ana’s myth into a far future society where emotional expressions are outlawed until the experiment breaks down under its duplicity.

In a third book, ‘Mesa,’ a work in progress, same characters move to a realm where time has slowed down to such extend that ‘novelty’ has to be rescued for life to continue. This story calls for a deep dive into the heart of my imagination.

I’m once more held in the cocoon stage. Given the ideological power games around the globe, I feel foolish about these musings, since I’ve been sharing the ups and downs of my quest here for the last seven years.

Do you, my reader, recognise the pressure to bring something into existence? How do you search for the cypher (the wild uniqueness in the soul) that informs your creative process?

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A definition of Symbol … from ‘The Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi’ by Henry Corbin, transl. by Ralph Manheim, Bollingen Series XCI, Princeton University

The symbol announces a plane of consciousness distinct from that of rational evidence; it is a ‘cipher’ of a mystery, the only means of expressing something that cannot be apprehended in any other way; a symbol is never ‘explained’ once and for all, but must be deciphered over and over again, just as a musical score is never deciphered once and for all, but calls for ever new execution.

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 … harvest moon dreaming …

p108047616/17th September 2016 was a strange night of wild dreams – one of a big old mansion of which I occupy a part (I actually live in a semi,) while the other part is lived in by an aging famous actor, Jeremy Irons. In the dream he collects antique furniture, art objects and frames. Some large pieces, including a massive empty frame, he fixes onto a wall in the courtyard. We mainly meet in the wide inner hall of the mansion. He seems a little absentminded but quite amicable and kind. He likes that I talk to him.

I don’t generally dream of actors, and I’m not the fan-kind, but I looked up a recent Guardian article on J. I. and found he used to trade in antiques. He also believes inanimate objects have spirit, saying, ‘… energy never dies, just travels, so the older an object is, the more it has absorbed. A quote in the article chimes with his persona in my dream: “I think all of society should be a thinktank where you throw ideas about. I had hoped the internet would help. Actually, what it has done is make everybody go schtum. They’re attacked for saying anything. So they say nothing.”

This reminded of a quote I used once in a dissertation, regarding the forced silence of the masses: … refusal of meaning and refusal of speech; or of the hyperconformist simulation of the very mechanism of the system, which is another form of refusal by overacceptance. It is the actual strategy of the masses … it is the winning one today … most adapted to the present phase of the system.’   – Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, 1992

I seem to have a lot in common with the J. I. He even smokes roll-ups 🙂

Back to my dream: … Gradually all the rooms in the house get crowded with people who bring books and antiques, and potter around. I ask one woman if it’s her house.  She doesn’t answer, busying herself with re-organising books. I hand her two yellowed pamphlets. She thanks me and adds them to a shelf. After a while I think maybe I asked the wrong question and say, ‘Did you grow up in this house?’

‘Yes, that’s right,’ she says. ‘I grew up here,’ as if she just remembered. More people arrive, moving furniture around, finding seats, making themselves comfortable, chatting. And yet more visitors come through the open gate into the courtyard, like they’re relatives.

Feeling crowded in, I say, ‘I want you all out of here. Now!’

*     *     *

The feeling on waking was one of confusion and a need for clarity and direction. Presently I endure a transitional phase, and am almost immobilised as to how best to frame my first novel (including a sequel and a third book in planning,) Every time I nudged my small publisher during the last months  (well, actually three years) I got another excuse, usually re: family matters. I’ve lost faith. The contract expired. With plans to submit Course of Mirrors to a big publisher, I’m attempting to whittle down a 4500 word synopsis to 3000 words, finding it impossible.

And I ponder – to express our core wavelength through a public medium requires good timing.

I tend to assume that every element in a dream expresses an aspect of my self – the inner crowd. So I’ll be giving voices to the mansion, the books, the furniture, the empty frames, the generous courtyard with its wide open gate, the characters …

I thought about the paradoxes I guess many of my readers here are familiar with: The accumulation of things is a burden to me, but I like the comfort of stability and the stories objects hold. I need my own space to absorb and reflect on experiences, but also like the stimulating gift of company. I’m drawn to slightly eccentric people, and may appear as such to others, but I also value people with clear intentions who get things done.

Everything seems upside down and inside out … My conscious mind is unconsciously magical, while my unconscious mind is irrationally pragmatic.

Another thought occurred:  Only inches away from each other we live in vastly different worlds that require constant translation to convey meaning and navigate relationships. The expressed or unexpressed thoughts and feelings moving through us occasionally chime with people in our vicinity, yet what most significantly affirms our core wavelength are the non-local resonances with souls across distances of space, and time.

I’m a little wary of advice, but am in need of it at the moment, so please share your thoughts on my dream and my general predicament.

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… the vagaries of days …

My dream sinks to a timeless world the instant I open my eyes and take in the first impressions of the day – a shimmering spider web clings to the corner of the skylight, defined in the early sunbeam – a mosquito hovers drunkenly above my laptop. I recall a similar tiny vampire savouring the taste of my blood during my last day in Darwin; did it converse with this one across the oceans by morphic resonance? P1060804 - lower

Almost two weeks have passed since my return. I miss the Aussie company, and mornings at the pool under the palm roof.

Time is fitting hesitantly into habitual chunks. My body tweaks itself into smaller spaces, and tasks resume their orderly sequence. Breakfast oats don’t land in the coffee filter, and my head no longer collides with the chiming bells hanging next to the kitchen sink. Still, having inhaled another kind of dust for a while, an aura of mystery pervades my familiar environment, and routines are shifting, like I scoff at lists, allowing unimportant stuff to be just that, unimportant.

As the sun pours into the house through the garden door, I step outside. A bright orange hot air balloon almost shaves the branches of the high beech. Another follows, with noisy lettering, not as cheerful as the Virgin one with its clear brand. There being no boundaries to the sky, I’ve the visceral sensation of wanting to shrink and become invisible, musing how privacy and solitude are becoming an issue – there’s only in-back and no out-back left in England.

P1060820 - lower A poem stirs, wants out, but mail demands attention. I share my disorientation with friends. Ideas chatter and juggle into new frames, a changed perception of ‘home.’ What’s home other than moving with the experiences that carry us onwards?

I glance at the patch of Phlox waving from the lush green beyond the window and then distract myself from the screen by trimming a miniature Japonica tree into shape. My blackbird friend comes close enough for us to have a conversation.

I make time for a two hour stint of editing ‘Shapers,’ the sequel to my first novel. Moments of laughter – relishing my writing is surely a good sign, until the next stab of doubt – will anyone be interested in my scribbles? The solution is to keep writing, and trust readers will be pulled into my opus and enjoy the adventure.

Another shot of coffee before today’s therapy sessions begin – undivided attention to process, listening to stories. When silences linger in the devoted space, spirits assemble – we are a crowd of presences meditating on meaning, or the lack of it.

P1060831 - lower Though it was not exactly my birthday, I hosted a small garden party last Saturday, celebrating togetherness with friend. I managed to outwit Sunday’s Hurricane Bertha, which, in my corner, merely brought blustery wind and rain. Clouds parted in time to reveal the brilliant super moon.

Preparing for reading in bed, I catch a tiny movement – a huge spider. Totally irrational, but there’s a wrong time and place for spiders in my house … at night, next to my bed, and it’s a matter of scale. The scenario of a huge spider crawling over my skin plays havoc with my imagination. No time to get a glass and chuck the creature out. I’ve light in my maisonette, but take a torch for good measure, and wait. In a while the monster comes for me from its hiding place among books – full attack! While it baffles me that the sure crunch of a spider’s demise can in such instant bring me satisfaction, it’s also sobering to realise how discordant timing is neither good nor bad, it just is.

P1060834 - smallerGiven the vagaries of experiences each day brings, the only control given to us seems to be pliancy. As I write this, a rainbow flows across a cloud.

‘The same wind that uproots trees
makes the grass shine.
The lordly wind loves the weakness
and the lowness of grasses.
Never brag of being strong.
The axe doesn’t worry how thick the branches are.
It cuts them to pieces. But not the leaves.
It leaves the leaves alone.’
Rumi, The Essential Rumi

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… framing our impressions …

Last week a friend visited, and I took her to a local Sculpture Park set within ten acres of heath and woodland, a place where meandering pathways lead you into a deep dream-scape of rare plants, springs, streams and ponds, and where artworks face you at every turn.

The evening before, over a meal in my garden, we shared stories – about ageing and loosing people, about war-damaged fathers, about writing workshops in prisons. Our discussions often home in on the suppressed feminine in both men and women. So it’s not surprising that while we wandered through the park our two pairs of eyes were resting longer on artworks expressing aspects of the feminine, and our observations mingled.

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I thought I share a few photos of sculptures that caught our attention.

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This bronze figure of an earth mother and warrior combined in one impressed. Her solid stance, yet also her surrender to something other. I took a picture and looked again, moved to touch her rough coat. There were her feet, standing firmly on the ground, a tool or weapon hanging from her belt, the little fists, speaking of determination, and there was her smooth, yielding face turned upwards in ecstasy towards a transcending spirit.

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The endearing foursome forming a protective square made us linger.

My friend reached out to add her hand to the interlocking hands.

P1060117 lowresAnd we loved the little feet …

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I felt a natural affinity with this bird woman, again taking a closer frame, to highlight her relationship to the bird.

It’s talons rest gently in her outstretched hand, bringing a greeting, and maybe a message.

The woman keeps a respectful space between her and the bird, a space filled with wonder, in which to savour the special meeting with her core nature.

 

A most haunting sculpture was this shell of a person. My friend reached into the dark emptiness. I called ‘Hello’ into the hollow and the sound was swallowed up without returning an affirming resonance.

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Later, with the help of Photoshop, I turned the image into a negative, and there you have it – the essence of what we are, light, often hidden.

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Day in day out we absorb a continuous hyper stream of phenomena. What makes us stop and observe more closely and choose a meaningful frame to digest our experience?

Is it an emotion, a sound, a movement, a desire to touch, an association, a memory, a pattern recognition, an inner seeing, the intuition of an essence, a context that resonates with our lives, an interesting angle, a certain light …?

For creatively inclined minds, these processes fuse and culminate in an urge to compose and share the impression of an experience by placing a frame round an image … a story.

A symbolic understanding arrives and signals once more  into the unknown, framed anew.

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LINKS:  http://thesculpturepark.com/

https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/sculpture-park/ post from a former visit

https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/the-inner-silence-of-henri-cartier-bresson/  master framer

https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/what-makes-a-photograph-arresting/ a knack for composition

https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/inspiration/ young people observing and being creative

 

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