Tag Archives: William Blake

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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… hands …

Allow one hand to caress the other, feel the fine sensations through the skin of your fingertips, their manual perfection, capacity to reach out, touch and sense the rough and smooth, warmth and cold. The power of hands to hold, give, heal, remember, receive, express feelings and ideas, inner states – hands that trace shapes and yield to shapes, strong hands that build and destroy, and skilful hands that wield the tool, the brush and pen …

Käthe Kollwitz,  'Zertretene' 1900

Käthe Kollwitz, ‘Zertretene’ 1900

Käthe Kollwitz - Mütter, Krieg, 1919

Käthe Kollwitz – Mütter, Krieg, 1919

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two drawings by Käthe Kollwitz (July 1867 – April 1945) show the incredibly gentle hands that protect – from a collection of her work in a ‘Die Blauen Bücher’ series, discovered by a friend in a second-hand bookshop in St Just, Cornwall. She posted the book to me this week. I was reminded of the plight of mothers in situations where disease and violence are, once again, out of control. And – how so often, dogmatic politics, religious or otherwise, have programmed generations to de-value the body – its wisdom, beauty and need for expression.

And there remains the question, what is being taken out of our hands? Here a wonderful video I found at the National Film Board Canada site: Faces of the Hand

And the lines from two poets whose tool of passion was the pen.

From ‘Leaves of Grass’ by Walt Whitman

… I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,
The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into new tongue ….

From ‘The Marriage between Heaven and Hell’ by William Blake

… The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom …

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… inner time – writing – rant …

Beyond my window, robins, wrens, blue tits and blackbirds are nest-building, with bursts of passion. Dipping in and out of view, they settle shortly on a deck chair, branch or flowerpot, balancing lavish bouquets of fluff, moss, twigs and leaves, before darting off towards the next promising material. The birds winging through my garden make me happy.

Yesh

My thoughts wing in similar fashion dedicated to another passion, no less preparing for a new round of birth – in my case the writing of the next chapter of a novel. I anticipate with joy each few hours of unstructured time that allows me to visit my garden of recollections, a space where myths re-weave themselves from the fluff, moss, twigs and leaves of memories. Like the visions I brought into this world, ambivalent responses to my existence, altered states, affinity with elements, genetic markers, epigenetic quirks … my bundle of life that fell into a mould and was conditioned by socially convenient patterns of time.

Dividing reality into past, present and future time, measured by clocks and dated events, called facts, is a fairly modern idea that made Science the grail of knowledge. The best of science deepens our understanding of the cosmos and improves the quality of our lives, but its method is limited, not suited to go to court on another reality dimension, inner time, infinite, immeasurable, where our experiences assume meaning. We may walk through life like snapshots of ourselves, collecting capture after capture of evidence for our existence, while longing for a dimension within, the bridge to a spiritual presence hidden between each breath, a truth impossible to evaluate? Some religions banked divine capital in heaven. Science too, in its present phase, projects a kind of heavenly capital, hijacked by corporates selling us the future, a Promised Land of artificial intelligences catering to our every need, uncannily resembling the Matrix or Plato’s cave.

My rhythm of life changed when I dropped out – the second time in my life – taking the financial risk to work from home and make time to write, which I had failed to combine with careers, family and social obligations. The experiences were vital, up to a point. Now I relax about clocks and tend to my inner worlds. I crave unstructured time. Not everyone does.

Recently a friend reflected humorously on her frustration at finding herself with one hour to spare, having miscalculated her travel time. She would have been happy had she brought a book to read. Instead, she endured a dragging hour of unplanned, wasted time. Intrigued, we reflected on this sense of loss when there is unexpectedly nothing in particular to attend to.

Is there merit in unstructured time … what do you think? Is it only for children, is it a luxury, a waste, or an opportunity to shift perspectives, discover your passion, break the mould and loosen up your ideas of reality? I don’t see unstructured time being much encouraged, or its lovely randomness being valued. I was burdened by the message that my imagination is fanciful, a kind of debility. It took me decades to claim the time for my passion, writing …

Little Prince

This seems the place to share a personal rant, blaming no one in particular, since, from where I look the rift between head and heart that is tearing apart the fabric of western societies may yet need to become wider before the peril is addressed. If the media is anything to go by, meaningful purpose, visions, let alone joie de vivre, are overshadowed by collective gloom. Feel free to disagree with my take on this. Straining under the pressure to change, I see our systems are attempting to cement a shaky launch pad towards a logarithmic future, with good intentions, though the consequences are dire. Every aspect of our lives is in danger of becoming: over-calculated, over-regulated, over-efficient, over-specialised, over-mechanised, over-prescriptive, over-secured, over-insured, over-compartmentalised, over-conglomerated, and over-economised.

On a more cheerful note, young people in their 30s, at least the ones I know, are asking sharp questions, and are finding ingenious ways to play with, while not getting sucked mindlessly into programmes that abuse data, spoon feed illusions, appeal to personal anxieties, invade privacy, and insult the intelligence of creative individuals.

Back to the birds winging through my garden …

*     *     *

To see a world in a grain of sand

And Heaven in a wild flower

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour … W. Blake, from Auguries of Innocence

 

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… the wonderful visit …

I loathe most talk of angels since they became best-selling brands, but the synchronicity of Annie Lennox wearing wings and singing to an angel at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the discovery of a rare book among my shelves, brought angels up close.

H G Wells (1866-1946) has been referred to as the Father of Science Fiction. A neglected story, The Wonderful Visit, published shortly after The Time Machine, was regarded as a mocking reflection on attitudes, beliefs and the social structure of a typical English village in Victorian times. I read the social commentary as ornamentation, the comical human attempt to stay the same, round a more essential theme, the conflict that can accompany awakening.

The edition below is from 1922 and has an illustration by Conrad Heighton Leigh. The line under it is from chapter 5 – ‘He fired out of pure surprise and habit.’

A strange bird was sighted.

Ornithology being a passion of the Vicar of Siddermorton, Rev. K. Hilyer, he was going to outdo his rivals and hunt the strange bird. So it came to be that on the 4th of August 1895 he shot down an angel.

… He saw what it was, his heart was in his mouth, and he fired out of pure surprise and habit. There was a scream of superhuman agony, the wings beat the air twice, and the victim came slanting swiftly downward and struck the ground – a struggling heap of writhing body, broken wing and flying blood-stained plumes … the Vicar stood aghast, with his smoking gun in his hand. It was no bird at all, but a youth with an extremely beautiful face, clad in a robe of saffron and with iridescent wings … never had the Vicar seen such gorgeous floods of colour …

‘A man,’ said the Angel, clasping his forehead … ‘then I was not deceived, I am indeed in the Land of Dreams.’ The vicar tells him that men are real and angels are myth … ‘It almost makes one think that in some odd way there must be two worlds as it were …’

‘At least two,’ said the Vicar, and goes on ponderinghe loved geometrical speculations, ‘there may be any number of three dimensional universes packed side by side, and all dimly aware of each other.’

They met half way, where reality is loosely defined, and truth has no hold. And they shared the nature of their worlds. Eat, pain, and die were among the new terms the strange visitor had to come to grips with.

‘Pain is the warp and the waft of this life,’ said the Vicar. Riddled with remorse over having maimed the Angel’s wing he decides to looks after him. But to adjust to the Vicar’s world, the Angel must eat and accept pain, and learn all manner of things very fast indeed … Starting to read, during a phase of now legendary sunshine, I settled in my garden with a glass of red, and consequently spilled the wine on my wild strawberry blossoms due to sudden bursts of laughter.

‘What a strange life!’ said the Angel.

‘Yes,’ said the Vicar. ‘What a strange life! But the thing that makes it strange to me is new. I had taken it as a matter of course until you came into my life.’

Mr Angel is nothing like the pure and white angel of popular belief, more like the angel of Italian art, polychromatic, a musical genius with the violin. Listening … the Vicar lost all sense of duration, all sense of necessity … The reactions of the villagers oscillate across a hair-thin-divide between comedy and tragedy, while the bone of the story is psychological, and spiritual. Indirectly, the Vicar encounters his anima (his inner female) through the Angel’s love for Delia, the maid servant of the house. There is no escape. Things get intense. The Angel, over the span of a short week, is tainted by the wickedness of the world, and it crushes him. And the Vicar’s awakening from his narrow prison brings him into tragic conflict with his community.

*    *    *

Not much has changed. The world is crowded with wounded angels seeking compassion, and since our daily vocabulary offers little more than clichés for other realities, awakening rarely convinces, unless it is embodied and conveyed through atmosphere. Look out for the artist… the musician, painter, writer, animator, filmmaker … and the children.

‘If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.’
― William BlakeThe Marriage of Heaven and Hell

The painting heading this post is by the Finnish symbolist painter Hugo Simberg.

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