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The Pike Tower, Rivington

The year has blown itself out. It’s exhausted, its dreams have turned to ash, its spirits are damp with endless rain. Whenever the phone rings, it’s to let us know someone has died. Covid Omicron is circling with bat wings and horns, and the NHS Website is glowing red with demand for boosters. The temptation is to pull up the drawbridge, and write dark poetry. But then the Met office gifts us a brief chink of sunlight, so we fill the flask, grab the camera, and head up the Pike!

Rivington Pike is beloved of millions, a distinctive pimple of a hill atop the moor, and visible for miles. It was a natural choice for one of the network of early warning beacons for the threatened invasion of 1588. Since the late seventeen hundreds, it’s been crowned with this little stone tower. Originally a hunting lodge, the structure was almost demolished by Victorian vandalism, then fortified to its present impregnable status. Its walls bear centuries of graffiti, now eaten by acid rain into deep engravings. One of my lot added their name to it in 1881.

So anyway, it’s a midweek morning, and the causeway between the Rivington and Anglezarke reservoirs is rammed to a single lane. The Rivington Barn eatery is doing a brisk trade, and the Hall avenue is solid from top to bottom with parked cars. I spent a long time working towards retirement, only to find the whole world made it ahead of me, and got the last parking space. Well, not quite – I exaggerate for effect. I got the last one.

A December sun is a peculiar thing; virtually no heat, but incredibly bright. Capturing the dynamic range of a landscape on a digital sensor is a challenge at this time of year. Anything lit by the sun tends to burn out, so I’m experimenting. Then, I post-process at home.

I’m enjoying photography more than writing fiction at the moment, seeing more in what I can bring out of images than I do in words. My characters refuse to live, as if wearied by what they’re trying to say. Thus, the work in progress languishes, limps along a little, then collapses into a heap of uncertainty. It seems at times remote and stupid, like I’m losing my mind, at other times like I’m preaching, at other times like I don’t care, and I’ll say it anyway. But it will not take on a life of its own, as it once used to do.

I used to escape into fiction as a distraction from the day-job, which, like all jobs, involves wearing a face that is to some degree invented, while keeping what I felt to be my truer self incognito. But I also write as active imagination, which is a journey to unravel further aspects of the hidden self. I think I know the nature of that journey’s end now, which is to reveal one’s original face, as they say in Zen. The stories have pointed to the gate, and all that remains is to walk through it. But I’m not sure writing stories is part of that journey any more.

I’m feeling a little strange this morning. I dreamed of a fish – well, two fishes, actually – one large, one small, living in a puddle. I drop them some food, and the little fish pushes the big one right out of the puddle, then eats the food. The big one lies there, remote, sidelined, forgotten, expiring for want of oxygen. Fishes in dreams are thoughts, or at least they seem so in mine. And if they are so, then the big ideas are getting sidelined by the trivia, which is consuming all the energy. Or you could look at it the other way and say the old and the listless is being displaced by the fresh and the new. So which is it? The dream wasn’t explicit. They never are. It just asked me to think about it.

We start our walk with a meandering ascent through the terraced gardens, gradually working up to the summit of the Pike. You can get three or four miles out of it, and seven hundred feet of ascent. It’s not a long walk then, but a fairly stiff one, if you go for the Pike.

The seven arched bridge, Leverhulme’s terraced gardens, Rivington.

The first point of interest along the way is the so-called seven arch bridge. Like everything else here, it was built in the early nineteen hundreds, purely for fancy. It’s part of the then Viscount Leverhulme’s “palace in the clouds”, a collection of now mostly grade two listed historic structures. Picks, shovels, an army of men, and horses gave shape to it, and years in the making. It was the brainchild of prolific garden designer Thomas Mawson.

Once a year, Leverhulme would throw open his garden to the hoi polloi. They’d dress in their finest, and come wander. Times change, as do fashions. Now, it’s mountain gear, like we’re ascending Everest, instead of cloth caps and gaberdine. A fuss over trifles. But at least we can come and wander whenever we please.

The Great Lawn Summer House. Rivington Terraced Gardens.

I save my soup for one of the beautifully restored summer houses. Here, also sunning himself, I recognise a man I knew vaguely from the day job, and who retired some years before me. I cannot remember his name, though. Likewise, I can tell by his expression, he thinks he should know me, but cannot remember my name either. We avoid unintentional offence by the peculiar social dance of pretending not to know one another at all or, knowing each other so well, we need no introduction beyond “owdo”. Thus girded, we pass the time of day, and in hope of the connection making itself known, but it does not. So, we comment on the brightness of the sun, and the lack of warmth when out of it, on the wetness, and the windiness of previous weeks, and what a good job the heritage trust have made of restoring the gardens. We part with a nod and a “sithi'”, still trying to remember each other’s names.

So, on to the Pike, now, always a good indication of how fell-fit one is, by the amount of puff left when you hit the final flight of steps. As usual, I’m middling, but we’ll do, and of course it does you no harm to get out of puff now and then. A mountain biker, a girl with her phone, and an elderly couple, are my companions for the moment, here, all socially distanced of course. The elderly lady wears a surgical mask. She’s taking no chances with this bat-winged, horned monster that is Omicron, and judging from the reported “R” value, I don’t blame her. I wait for them to depart before I get the camera out. The girl lingers, dreamily, lost in her phone.

The Pigeon Tower, Levelhulmes terraced gardens, Rivington.

There’s much to see from the Pike: Manchester, the Peak District, North Wales, Liverpool, the coast as far as Blackpool, the Lakes beyond that. Sometimes you’ll see the Isle of Man, but that’s very much dependent on the atmospheric conditions, and has rather the appearance of a mirage when it appears. Speaking metaphorically, it’s a pity we can’t see further out, say two years from now. But given recent events, would we really want to?

It’s a beautiful afternoon. I take the long way back: Pigeon tower, Italian lake, cross the top of the seven arched bridge, then meander down to the car. It gets late early at this time of year, and the light is turning golden, now, the sun already flirting with dusk. The phone pings a notification from the BBC, an earth-shattering announcement to be made at tea time.

It’s fine. Just some more dead catting. I’ll wait for the bullet points in the morning.

We’ll pick up wine and cheese on the way home. Celebrate the midweek, why not? There’s nothing quite like a hill for straightening you out. Dark poetry be gone.

Thanks for listening.

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Mazda MalhamThe small blue car and I slipped out today, for pleasure! We were going to find a quiet little spot up on the Western Pennines, and I was going to take a hike. This is legal now, but it turns out it’s still not advisable. Tuesday afternoon, midweek isn’t known for being a busy time up here, but it was busy today. Very busy.

I couldn’t park the car. I cruised around for a couple of miles but every pull in, lay-by and car-park was jam-packed. There were people everywhere, hordes of them, at times ambling four abreast down the middle of the roads. They blinked, cow-like, at me as I squeezed by. Worse, the waysides were trashed with several month’s worth of Macmeal leavings. It was a disappointment and a disgrace.

So I came home without stopping. I hesitate to say it’s time everyone went back to work. Those of us still working weird shifts want to enjoy our time off! And aren’t all you lot supposed to be working from home anyway? And that means – you know – being at home, not all enjoying the same couple of square miles of green. I know, it sounds selfish of me. Bad Karma and all that.

There was one tight little spot I could have squeezed into, then took my place in line on the trails. But where would the pleasure have been in that? Risky too, with so many sticky palms on the kissing gates, and on the stiles. The moral is to stay local for a while longer. No matter what the rules say, don’t use the car for anything yet except commuting and supplies.

There was a package on the step when I arrived home. I’ve been waiting for my garden twinkle lights for months now. You know how it goes? You make sure you pick the UK supplier on eBay, but it turns out it’s a front, and the stuff gets shipped on that slow boat from China anyway? All right, so it’s a non-essential item, but such things weren’t an issue when I placed the order.

Anyway, great, I thought. We’ll get those up, and sit out tonight in the peace and quiet and with the bats a fluttering, with a glass of something nice. I’d ordered warm-white lights, 2000 of them. Awesome!

I switched them on. They were pink.

Send them back to China? Nah! Give them time, I thought.

They may grow on me.

 

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Sigmund_Freud_1926_(cropped)I had a feeling in my water the government was going to issue a strict “stay at home” order last Friday. So, after work I swung through Rivington in the West Pennines – my local beauty spot. I was thinking to get a little open air social distancing, before the clamp-down. I was not the only one.

The Great House Barn at Rivington is a popular watering hole and a favourite of mine. But the advice was to avoid cafés, for risk of infection, so I drove by in search of a quiet pull-in, further up on the moors. I was amazed to see the Barn was packed out, the car-park full and spilling over onto the roadside. There were people, kids, dogs everywhere. Indeed, it reminded me of a Bank Holiday weekend, a time when Rivington is better avoided because of the crush.

Social distancing they were not, and I wondered why. The advice has been clear enough. It’s to save your life, or save you enduring a distressing bout of illness. Is it that we no longer believe a word we see or hear any more? Are the post-election utterings of politicians taken as the same vacuous nothingness? Are the hysterical headlines of the press all meaningless noise? (I mean who can blame us on either score) but what else explains the fact so few people are taking this seriously?

I found my quiet pull-in, managed a brief walk in the sun. It all looked spring-like, but there was a chill wind taking the sweetness out of it. Plus, the trails were thick with weekenders, and they walk so damned slow it’s like they’re barely alive. Their dogs were also loose and bounding up to sniff your balls. So much for social distancing.

“Aw, don’t worry, he’ll not hurt you, mate.”

It was not an enjoyable yomp, more like a turgid commute up the M6. I returned home frustrated, feeling unclean. It was as if the panic buyers were now hogging the countryside, greedy for the very air we breathe, hanging their bags of fido-turds as they went. Social distancing from now on means going no further than my garden gate.

The clampdown came that same night. But it was not as severe as I’d expected, more a polite request for the pubs, clubs and café’s to shut. So then my local shop was at once cleared out of beer and wine. I suppose now the pleasure seekers are holding their gatherings indoors. In every country this plague has visited, the health services have collapsed, and medical staff have died saving the lives of others. Our lack of caution is blind, irrational and selfish. It puzzles me.

Since Friday, I’ve been thinking hard about this social distancing thing. We’re advised it’s fine to go out for some exercise, that fresh air and the countryside is good for you. But there is also a danger here, that there will be tens of thousands of people every weekend making a rush for the same open spaces. Then there will be the exodus of the caravanners, and the holiday-homers, off to the remoter places to hole up and wait the plague out. The risk there is resentment of the locals, on whom we descend as we overwhelm their modest health provision.

So we need to stay at home, walk round the block – at midnight if need be, to avoid each other, provided there is no curfew. 2020 is cancelled – well except for my garden, which will be very tidy indeed this year. And I will use the time to deepen my practice of Tai Chi.

Freudian psychoanalysts have a very pessimistic view of human beings. They tell us we are slaves to a thing called the id. This is an unconscious, primitive drive that craves simplistic gratification in whatever form it can get, a thing at odds with logic and reason. Then there’s the super-ego. This is unconscious too, but contains the balancing forces of guilt, shame and morality, preventing the id from destroying us in wild orgies. And then there’s the ego. This is the conscious bit which tries to reconcile the forces of the id, the super-ego and the demands of society. But generally speaking we’re a lost cause unless we can sublimate the resulting tension into some form of creative endeavour. Or we go mad trying, or more likely we succumb to the id, to its selfish and unthinking drive for pleasure. And we behave like idiots, like sheep in its siren pursuit.

I’ve never been a fan of Freud because he doesn’t offer us a way out, and that’s always frightened me. His work shines a light on our stupidity, our gullibility, on our neuroses and the reasons for them. But most of us, he says, are lost causes. We are irrational, unreasoning automatons. We are slaves to desire, and blind to the consequences of our actions. He saw right through us, shook his head.

And I see now, he was right.

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italian lake

Leverhulme’s Italian Lake

If you wander up the side of Rivington moor, towards the Pike, you’ll come across what looks like the remains of a lost citadel. Is this the ruin of some ancient Lancastrian civilisation? No. It’s the remains of a summer palace, created by Thomas Mawson in the early part of the last century for the pleasure of the industrialist, William Hesketh Lever (Lord Leverhulme). Known as the Terraced Gardens, photographs from the period suggest a stunning arrangement of architectural and botanical wonders, crowned by Leverhulme’s residence, “The Bungalow” which played host to glittering parties for the region’s well-to-do. Leverhulme died in 1925 and – sobering thought this – almost at once, the place fell into ruin.

There have been various attempts since to stabilise the remains and preserve them as some sort of amenity, the most recent being a Heritage Lottery funded project which is making perhaps the biggest effort I can remember, and which I believe has been largely successful, rolling back nature a little and revealing much more of the structures we had thought lost for ever. Not entirely ruinous, there are various summerhouses, the Italian and the Japanese lake (with waterfalls), the stupendous seven arched bridge, and the iconic Pigeon tower, to say nothing of winding terraced pavements, are all intact and accessible for free, to be explored at will.

terraced garden steps

As we wander among these romantic ruins today, it’s hard not to slip into contemplative mode, thus you discover me sitting a while by the newly renovated “Italian Lake” thinking, among other things, about that scourge of modern times (forgive me): BREXIT! The other things, we’ll get to in a moment, but for now whether you’re a Remainer or a Brexiteer, the one thing we can agree on is the disruptive influence it has had on the nation’s psyche these past few years. Internet, TV, radio – the first thing you hear is BREXIT. And everyone is angry about it and with each other, about it.

For myself I’m viewing it all somewhat darkly, though with a grim resignation now, watching as politicians manoeuvre themselves, and seemingly in such a way as to guarantee the coming hammer-blow inflicts the most damage on those who can defend against it the least. If a foreign power had set out to undermine, and collapse the United Kingdom, politically, socially and economically, they could have done no better job than we seem to be doing ourselves. But is it reasonable I should feel this way? I mean is it rational? Not that I am mistaken, but more that I should care at all?

World events are what they are, and while they do seem parlous at the moment, and on many fronts, there is nothing I can do about any of them, and this has always been so for the individual down the generations, and for all time. The world is like Leverhulme’s garden, for ever in need of repair. Take your eye off it for a minute and the stones are coming out, the tiles are slipping, the water is getting in and spoiling the carpet. In short there is no Arcadia, only at best a continual effort to maintain the good, and the progressive, in the direction of least harm.

twin arches

But then there are times when I wonder if it isn’t the other way around, that I am creating the mess myself in my head, and faithfully manifesting what I feel through the decay of the world. So is the solution to the macrocosm’s disintegration, not also to be found in working towards the restoration of the microcosm of my own self? It’s a silly way of thinking perhaps, but such are the run of my thoughts this afternoon, and if you’ll forgive me, I’d like to follow them wherever they take me.

I’ve been reading competing theories of human development – one of them essentially spiritual and inactive, letting be what will be, and the other active, secular and psychological, addressing the flaws of the self which, in me, seem no less abundant than they were decades ago, the same neuroses flaring up at the slightest provocation, the same doubts, the same ignorance.

It’s Ken Wilbur who talks about vectors, though he may not call them that. When a solution to our ills seems to rush off with a certain energy and in a particular direction, and then another solution, seeming just as convincing, rushes off in another direction, it’s likely neither solution is correct but it’s reasonable to assume the greatest gain might be found somewhere in-between the two, so we sum the vectors and see where they lead us. But what if the vectors are diametrically opposed and of equal energy? Then they cancel out and leave us right back where we started, only with one hell of an internal tension – or there would be if, this afternoon, I wasn’t simply watching raindrops fall on the Italian Lake.

He would swim in this lake – Leverhulme I mean. I see him now, coming down the steps from the bungalow, maybe even a cool, wet day like this. A butler follows him at a respectful distance with towel and umbrella. He lowers himself into the water, (Leverhulme, not the butler) and pushes off. The water is peaty and scummy this afternoon, and full of tadpoles, so I’m thinking he must have had a serf in waders skim it regularly. And now, a century later, here I am, thinking about him, wondering what it is he means to me, and most likely it’s nothing other than a convenient lever against the fulcrum of thought, trying to move something otherwise immovable into the realms of a murky understanding.

A week ago, I was up by Angle Tarn in the far eastern fells, remote from the world, my thoughts moving much more freely than now. Now I’m back in the thick of it, and wondering about the pointlessness of so much of the suffering we see, day to day. It’s the default position, I suppose, when we stop believing in God, empirical reason alone just circles the plughole of its own bath-water, leaving us with nothing by way of a sense of meaning, only this gnawing feeling we’ve missed a trick somewhere.

terraced garden trail

True, it has to be said the evidence isn’t overwhelmingly in favour of a benign, interventionist deity either. But I’ve noticed life does go better when we err on the side of caution, and allow room for some form of mystical thinking, if only because it enables us to transcend the noise of our Twitter feed, pull our snouts from the trough for a moment and glimpse the bigger picture.

And the bigger picture is that for long periods of our history we have lived with the expectation that every day will be just like the last, generally peaceful and prosperous, and that such a happy state might last for ever and be passed on to our children. But every now and then events arise that deny us the comfort of familiar times. And while it’s at such times there is the greatest potential for personal and national tragedy, there is also the greatest opportunity for self knowledge and understanding.

It’s hard to say what it is that’s coming exactly, and what kind of harm it will inflict, but whatever it is we’d each be wise to look more closely at the mending of ourselves, for it’s only through such self-healing we discover we are better able to understand and take care of one another. From what I see at present though, and in increasingly vivid colours since the cloud of BREXIT burst over our heads and washed all manner of demons from the sewers, looking after one another seems the least of our priorities. Instead we withdraw to the boundaries, or rather to the fissures, of our respective clan identities, project evil onto the rest and then, for want of a simple bit of maintenance, the whole damned lot comes crashing down.

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I keep my garden tidy as best I can, and I try to brighten bits of it up by growing flowers. The latter is very much a hit and miss affair, because, alas, I’m not much of a gardener, still making the same mistakes I made thirty years ago. Having said all that, I do love my garden.

From a purely practical perspective, gardening is futile – you pull the weeds, you run a hoe through the borders, and within a week, fresh weeds are settling in once more. You can work all you like, the whole year through, but turn your back on it for a moment – say while you go away on holiday – and sure enough, on your return, the weeds are knee high, obliterating any tidiness you’ve created. You’d be better covering it in concrete – except there’s nothing like a bit of green for losing yourself in, nothing quite like running your fingers through the tangles of nature’s locks and seeing her shine.

I spent the whole of Sunday weeding, knowing full well that what I was doing would be overwhelmed in no time by nature’s relentless passion for a more uniformly shaggy look, and I wondered what trace would be left of where I’d been, say in a month? And what of another ten years? Another twenty? Maybe by then I would have sold the house to someone else, who might indeed cover the garden in concrete or excavate it for a swimming pool. Try as you might, suburban gardening is no way to make a lasting mark upon the earth. They say there’s nothing like a garden for teaching you about the cycle of the seasons, and that’s true, but there’s also nothing like a garden for bringing home to you the impermanence of things.

My weeds were knee-high in places, and those that weren’t were thickly knotted in a clay-soil, still black and heavy after rains. I worked methodically, forking out the weeds and tossing them into the trug. Then I lugged the trug to the green waste bin, and returned to where I’d left off. I kept this up all day – nurturing a sense of satisfaction at the progress I was making. Yes, it’s a pointless exercise, but I know of nothing else that can leave you feeling quite so mellow at the end of the day.

It’s an idealisation of nature, this gardening business, this “tidying up” – the weeding, the manicured lawn, the nicely painted fence and shed, the floral displays; it’s an attempt to harmonise our dwelling within its little patch of mother earth. There’s no vanity in this, provided our point is not to outshine our neighbours of course, but more simply to submit ourselves to the experience and spend time with our fingers in the earth. If we can do this we will eventually arrive at a state where we do not mind the ephemeral nature of the impact we think we’re having.

We do not mind the futility of it.

We do not mind that we are nobody in the face of nature, and that when we finally hang up our trowel and shuffle off to that great garden in the sky, there’ll be no lasting trace of us left on mother earth at all.

And that’s the way it should be.

I don’t know if I’m there yet, at this sublime level of acceptance, but it’s where I seem to be heading.

The weeds will return, just like the moss will re-infest my lawn until it’s like walking over a sphagnum bog, and the slugs will eat my hostas and my strawberries, as soon as they work out where I’ve put them. There really is no labourless solution to these things and we should not chase them. Like life itself, gardening is a process of continual application; we turn up, we get stuck in where we can, and we try to make a difference,… but also like life, when we’re weary of it, it can leave us wondering about the point of things.

One of the biggest psychological challenges we face, whether we’re on some kind of mystical path or not, is reconciling our apparently infinitesimal smallness with the feeling we are each of us of infinite worth, that what we do somehow matters, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. I believe we do matter, as individuals, but I also believe that in order to attain our greatest potential, we have to undergo the trial of making ourselves very small indeed, of sacrificing our ego, our imaginary sense of self worth. It’s not easy, for in losing our ego, there’s a fear we are also losing the most vital part of our selves. But it seems this is not the case.

Being nobody, going nowhere. It’s a phrase I’ve borrowed from Buddhism because it encapsulates much of the angst we’re haunted by: that we’re nobody, going nowhere. It’s unthinkable. I mean,… if that’s really what life is like, then what’s the point? We instinctively resist it, because whether we’re rich or poor, there is always the urge to be more than we are, to feel ourselves going places, getting promotion, moving on, moving up the ladder – for how else are we to demonstrate our worth in the world, both to others, and to our own selves?

I’m fortunate in this sense, having recognised early on I simply didn’t have the nerve for it – this “getting on” business. I’ve not done too badly, as an engineering drone, embedded in the collective of a big company – and 35 years of continuous employment is a blessing in these uncertain times – but I’m careful to mind my craft and leave the managing of it to others. I’ve only to spend a few days in the company of the managerial classes to find myself in desperate need of solitude and Tai Chi. How you cope with the soul denying stresses at an executive level, or the Punch and Judy of politics, I just don’t know. It seems an unnatural way to live, at least for me, and I can only surmise they’re a more resilient breed – and thank God for it because the world would be a materially poorer place if everyone was such a timid little field-mouse as I am.

But in our pursuit of material success, it’s easy to forget the real challenge of our lives is to discover the secret of a true and lasting happiness, also to feel the suffering of our fellow beings and to adopt an attitude of compassion, regardless of the social sphere we find ourselves inhabiting, regardless too of our personal nature, and our abilities. It’s a road with many a twist and turn, and one of the earliest insights is that material goods, wealth, and material success don’t make us happy for very long.

We will always want more.

We all know this.

If we think back to the moments when we were happiest, we realise our happiness had its roots in other things – things like the love of others, or the awe we’ve felt at glimpsing an underlying, mystical quality to the natural world. Such things loosen us up, they have us smiling to ourselves and feeling good, even though these days the  material world seems to be in freefall, because true happiness is always non-material by nature. Do you think two devoted lovers coming together right now, for the first time, care much about the parlous state of the Eurozone? Economists can wring their hands all they like, parade their funereal expressions on the TV news, and, grave though things appear to be, these pundits will always look ridiculous if you can only see the world from a transcendent perspective. And what is more transcendent than love for someone else, or to feel oneself loved, or to feel a genuine compassion for someone else’s pain?

One of the most significant mileposts along life’s mystical path is this acceptance of our anonymity in the great scheme of the material world, an acceptance that really, in life at least, we are nobody and we are going nowhere, that we will leave no lasting trace of our presence, other than perhaps a vague smattering in the gene-pool. It sounds like a miserable recognition of the bare facts of one’s nameless, fleeting life, but it needn’t be so if, in accepting our anonymity, we also seek a personal relationship with whomever, or whatever we think might be in charge of the non-material underpinnings of the universe. It’s like one of those infuriating little paradoxes quoted at you by Zen Masters: to truly realise your self-importance, you must first let go of it.

My garden’s been overwhelmed in recent years by a particularly invasive crocosoma. I planted it for its beautiful flame like flowers. It blooms gloriously for a few weeks in July, but the rest of the time great bunches of drab leaves droop all over the lawn, killing off the grass. It also multiplies with impressive vigour, so I’ve been thinning it out, digging up the bulbs – and discovering other bulbs among them: forgotten daffodils, and the tiny white pickled onion-like bulbs of the bluebells.

Curious thing, a bulb. Slice one open and it looks pretty much like any other. I remember in biology classes, how we drew the cross section of a bulb and carefully labelled all its bits and pieces. And I thought to myself, that’s all well and good, but where’s the part that determines the coming into being of say a crocosoma? And how does it differ from a bluebell, or a daffodil, or an onion for that matter, when, materially at least, they look like pretty much the same thing?

It’s still a mystery. Even biology professors cannot spark life from a handful of materials, no matter how cunningly they’re arranged. We cannot manufacture DNA, we must always borrow it from nature. There is more to the universe than matter. To get anywhere near an understanding of it we have to abandon our materialist orthodoxy. We have to dare to speculate that somewhere underlying the material world, there might be an invisible matrix wherein resides the information for the unfolding of the whole of creation. The changes, the development and the evolution of species takes place first in this so-called morphogenetic field. So the difference between a crocosoma and a daffodil lies at a deeper level, more subtle than the one we can easily see.

And like the crocosoma, so the human being unfolds to a pattern written at the same subtle level. But it’s not a static pattern, no more than nature is a static phenomenon. It can be changed, influenced by feedback from the material world, by what works, what doesn’t, but also by our thoughts and feelings.

As I turned out to work this morning, the lawn sparkled under a veneer of dewdrops, like fairy dust, and seemed all greener and more beautiful for being highlighted by the worked soil of the weed-free borders. It pleased me to see it. I caught a glimpse of something in it.

I’m sure we each make a difference, and we each mean something, if only by virtue of our unique perspective, our unique way of looking at the world, so the world can see itself through our eyes in a myriad different ways. Where we do not make a difference is by shouting the odds, nor by standing on the necks of others to get what we want. Proper stewardship of the material world is very important of course. There are so many of us alive now, and dependent on mother earth, we need managers and executives and politicians with extraordinary qualities of insight, leadership and selflessness, or the world’s suffering in the years to come will be immense, and the staggering gulf between those who have and those who have not, will widen even further. Some might say that judging by past and current performance we’ve not much to look forward to. But I remain optimistic.

What are we to do then? We who are too timid, or feeling ourselves too small and helpless in the face of the overwhelming power others seem to have over us – the shouters, the stampers, the “look-at-me’s”, and those who look with cockeyed grins and raised eyebrows at our non-materialist, transcendentalist aspirations? Well, accepting we are nobody, and going nowhere isn’t about reconciling ourselves to a lowly position in the foodchain, while others enjoy lifestyles of outrageous excess – though that may often be the way things work out for us anyway. It’s more about grasping the crucial insight of the shallowness of those materialistic values. It’s about the sense of knowing, that if you can look at the world and see beauty in it, anywhere, and if through that beauty you can manifest a profound happiness, or an uncanny sense of the otherness of things, no matter how fleeting or seemingly trivial, then becoming nobody, going nowhere, you also become one with God, and in that moment you too acquire the power to change the world.

Use it wisely, we must.

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July. High summer. Already the solstice is a memory and the year is rushing headlong, glossing over details I really wanted to linger on for fear of missing something important. The garden’s looking shaggy after weeks of wet, and I really need to mow except I can’t seem to find a period when it’s dry enough and I’ve stopped working for long enough to get around to it. As for other matters, Old Grumpy needs new tyres, but I can’t seem to find the time to get to the garage, and I’ve just had the renewal notice on the motor insurance – gone up 50% this year, so I’m going to have to shop around again, because the differences in premiums are huge at the moment. Everyone wants a piece of you and they’re hoping you’re just too overwhelmed with the nagging details of your life, or that you’ve been pummelled into such a state of fatalistic apathy you won’t bother to challenge them and you’ll just pay up because you’ve been conditioned into accepting that things can’t be anything other than really, really bad right now. Right? Wrong,…  It’s a pain of course, and it’s with a sort of reluctant determination I add this item to my list of things to do.

We’re all the same of course, trying to keep pace with that endless list of chores, a list that occasionally gains on us so fast we feel in danger of finally having to accept our total inadequacy, our complete unfitness to live in the modern world, that what the world need us to be is a kind of machine in order to match its own machine-like demands.

But we are not automatons, s0 when you start to feel overwhelmed this way you should take it as a signal that you need to hold things at bay for a while. Take a breath. Push that list of chores into the periphery because its self- important triviality is beginning to hide the deeper truth of who and what you are. This truth is a vision of the world that needs time to cultivate and an inner eye to see.  And the eye sees nothing in the wearing of old Grumpy’s tyres, nor in the saving of a hundred pounds on your car insurance. These are material things, and as such a form of madness, as much as they are maddening to have to deal with. They are the faintly disgusting froth caught in the eddying currents of  a silty brown river, a river rendered thick and sluggish for want of the clarifying charm of any sense of a higher purpose – a charm visible only to the human part of you, because its nature is divine and you were made to know it when you saw it.

<At this point the spontaneous flow of my words is interrupted by my laptop suddenly switching itself off. So I reboot, and contemplate in disbelief the blank Wordpad page, wondering if what I had to say was that important anyway – or at least important enough to warrant the effort of reconstructing it piece by piece from a memory rendered sluggish by too many late nights. We decide it is, and continue>

Where were we? Higher purpose?

What I’m building up to is that I saw it briefly yesterday, in an unsuspecting corner of my garden – one I neglect because it seems to be able to take care of itself – and I’m not aiming for a manicured look or anything. It’s impossible to describe this thing, but it comes as a glimpse of something “inner”, a thing hinted at by the way the light falls upon it and in the mysterious pattern of things. It contains a warmth and a certainty of purpose one cannot put into words. It is a quality, the ghost of something divine drifting through and you only know it by the way it feels. It is a moment of pure Zen.

And all right, on a certain level is was only my gardening gloves and my clippers, but foolishly, I ran inside for my camera, thinking I would take a picture of it – this miraculous thing. The batteries were flat. I found fresh ones. There was no memory card in the camera – it was in my other camera, whose batteries were also flat. So I recovered the card, slotted it in place and returned to that little unkempt corner of my garden. Miraculously, the light was the same, the pattern of things the same, so I took my picture, but of course the quality had gone and it was after all of that just a picture of my gardening gloves and my clippers. I would have been better lingering a while longer in its company than rushing off, thinking I could capture it for all time – when I know such things are transient, fleeting, unpredictable,… and invisible to anything but the inner eye.

Never mind. At least it seems I’m still capable of seeing things in a human way – possibly also slightly mad. Never mind. Let’s have a coffee.  We’ll sort that car insurance out tomorrow.

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