Tag Archives: secrets

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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… musings re: photography, art, secret hoards …

When I take a photograph I stop time, from where I stand, from where I walk, from where I look. The image becomes inner, a pregnant, eternal moment. Artists who engage with the intimate reality mirrored in their surroundings might admit, or not, the erotic dynamics at play in this search for a glimpse of the beloved, an essence shining through the cracks from beneath fleeting surfaces. It’s not only artists who frame flashes of significance, everyone selects, does the stop-motion of perceiving, it’s how stories are made.

A self-portrait of Vivian Maier

A self-portrait of Vivian Maier

In 2007 a photographic archive was auctioned off to recover debts for storage rent. Most of her life Vivian Maier (1926 – 2009) worked as a nanny. In her free time she recorded what caught her eye, predominantly in the streets of New York and Chicago. She captured poignant moments, like soul mirrors, in brief encounters. Read the tale of how her archive was discovered and the puzzle of her life was assembled HERE

During my stay in Amsterdam I visited a retrospective of her work from 1950s to 1980s at Foam Gallery

It is my guess that, while she was without means to have innumerable film rolls printed, Vivian Maier distinctly memorised each unpredictable encounter she captured. What makes me think so?

Photo by Vivian Maier

Photo by Vivian Maier

The memory of defining and framing something on the move is powerful, with or without camera, though a creative record helps structuring and symbolising our perceptions. During the 70s, when I worked as photo-journalist, using analogue cameras, a Rolleiflex, like Vivian, but also Nikons, and a Hasselblad, I never wasted film. Each image was taken by choice.

Certain frames live on in my memory as iconic elements, and I recall the exact instant when I pressed the shutter, encapsulating something of essence.

A number of years ago I lost three 35 mm film-rolls on a plane from Berlin to London. I thought they were secure in my make-up bag, but the bag slipped unnoticed down the seat and I never recovered it. I mourned. It was the first time I re-visited Berlin, my mother’s city, since I was 7 years old.  Yet the images I took in Berlin and of the friends I travelled with are still crystal clear in my mind.

I recall the massive amount of negatives and prints I burned at an earlier point in my life, not to be burdened with storage, not to sit on my laurels, and for other reasons – profound stupitity, I know,  a self-destructive streak haunted me at the time. The vanished portfolio is now a secret hoard lingering in my memory. It is also a scene in my mythic poetic novel, still awaiting publication.

The story of the discovery of Vivian Maier’s secret archive grips the imagination. Why? Maybe because we all yearn to evidence our existence. Even if only one person holds up a mirror of approval, can GROG us, we are affirmed.

With the cornucopia of individual creativity unleashed through the new technologies of recent decades, the chance of public recognition is fickle, sponsors look for novelty, notoriety, eccentricity, looks, hard elbows …  A good deal depends on timing, and luck.

Yet no individual perspective is alike. The passions we pursue in communion with what we encounter inside, outside, our search, our uniqueness, is forever in need of expression. We want to be witnessed for the coherence and ingenuity of our individual world, our deeply felt values, skills and insights. And yet – I heard it said – if Einstein’s equation of relativity had never been published, it would still have influenced and shifted the collective consciousness.

I deduct that since we all benefit from the inspirations and inventions of individuals who may never have received credit for their genius, their life’s work, and since nothing is ever truly lost (I believe,) there can be solace in our giving, be it acknowledged or not, while we keep on the lookout and ready ourselve for a glimpse of the beloved’s curl.

And of course, nothing prevents me, or you, from expecting miracles 🙂

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