The little girl was shouting his name from the far bank of the river. She was waving something at him; her excited voice carried across the water. “Look, Grandad, I’ve got your book… the one you wrote…the one you read me the stories from!”
His world was unravelling. Memories came crashing back; real memories, not confusion… not the fog. Sunday stared across the river at Vicky, his grandaughter, who was no running and waving their shared copy of Inspector Sunday and the Cheng Mysteries, his first and only novel.
“We don’t live here any more, Dad,” The voice was soft and came from behind him. Emotions flooded his soul as he turned to see the redhead: his daughter, Jessica. Her hand was held out to him. She wore the yellow jacket with the marigold-patterned belt – the image of her that he always carried.
Sunday realised what he had done… saw the concern in Jessica’s eyes. “I… I went into the house…the old house.” he said. “I had to see it one more time…” He heard the age in his voice, the bravado gone. “I’m hungry,” he whispered.
Jessica said, softly, “It’s okay, Dad. The nice people who bought it said that someone had been in… They had been away for the weekend… but we explained that you may have kept a key…”
She was crying now, the redhead – his daughter. ‘They were only concerned that we found you.” She came a step closer.” He could hear the relief in her voice. He took her hand. She swept him into a hug. They held each other, uncertain but together.
“She knew… Vicky knew you’d be here.”
The tears were wet on his shoulder. “I can’t make it better, Dad, but we can surround you with love…”
Vicky had been running across the old wooden bridge. She arrived, breathless, and took his free hand, clutching the first two fingers, tightly. She looked up as he looked down.
“You can keep your cat, Grandad. Mummy says so…”
End of Inspector Sunday
Dementia affects many people and families. Within the shrinking prison of the condition, people are very much alive – and still as they were before they lost their ability to remember and handle complex things.
Nearly a million people have dementia in the UK. My mother is one of them. Kindness and consideration go a long way to making them feel they still have a place in life…
Though now the winds that buffeted the bed-and-breakfast farmhouse have abated. I look at my watch. We have two hours to go before we need to leave to drive across Anglesey to meet a young woman named Juliette, who holds the key to this entire story. She will be waiting, at noon, by the red tower in the centre of Bangor – the nearest town on the other side of the beautiful but deadly Menai Straits.
We have time, we decide. Time to visit the isolated and mysterious St Patrick’s Church on the rugged cliffs to the east of Cemaes Bay. Prior to this trip, we hadn’t heard of it. Now, after hearing local accounts of its history, we can’t wait to visit…
After a couple of false starts, we correctly interpret the hand-drawn map, donated at breakfast, and make our way from the main Holyhead road along the mile of narrow and twisting country lane to find the archway to the church ahead of us.
Not far away, but long ago, he is standing a little way ahead; looking down at the crashing waves and bringing his gaze from the dark rock of Middle Mouse island towards the cliffs beneath his feet.
It is 1864 and he has used his wealth to fund the restoration of the little church behind him.
He gazes down at the waves… How long had Bishop Patrick clung to the inhospitable granite of the tiny island of Middle Mouse, as the wreckage of his ship washed past him? Did he wait till first light, before tying what was left of his heavy and saturated woollen robe across his back and entering the sea, again, to swim the half kilometer to the cave he could now see; a cave that would offer a fresh-water spring and let him tend his wounds, a cave that would become his home until the miracle of his survival became known to the local people, who would build him a church on the headland – the first Christian church in these parts.
Adbul Rahman looks down one last time at the savagery of the waves breaking below. He shakes his head at what early religious pioneers of all faiths had to go through. His own sacrifice is small by comparison; and carried out under the cloak of wealth. But, in his own way, he has sought out worthy causes, to show that his heart is still within Britain, though his faith has changed. Now a devout muslim, and the first such in the British House of Lords, Adbul Rahman, formerly Henry Edward John Stanley, Third Baron of Alderley, has just overseen the full restoration of St Patrick’s first church in Wales.
The feeling is a good one. He, Adbul Rahman, has made a contribution to the sincere worship of God, paying respect, as is the custom in his new faith of Islam, to those of other faiths. The completion of the church at Llanbadrig has been timely; his sister has just given birth. The infant’s name is Bertrand Russell. It sounds like a good name -a portent, perhaps of the child’s future…
Entering the tiny church, he is greeted by the ancient cross, the one bearing the two-overlapped fishes – said to be the original Christian cross design. Beneath the cross is a crude carving, chiseled, with patience and dedication, on the ancient granite pillar whose origin or possible previous use is unknown. It is a palm tree. No one knows what it means, or why it is juxtaposed with the crossed fishes…
On the far eastern wall, behind the simple, but beautiful altar, the wall tiles are of an Islamic pattern, though fired in England. It has been his one overt imposition on the design of the restored site, though several more are hidden – for those who have knowledge of eastern symbolism – in the design of the church.
It is 1919. Stephen Duffy fingers the document in his pocket for the umpteenth time, realising that his constant fretting with it is wearing the paper away. He pulls his fingers from his jacket’s inside pocket, glancing, nervously across at his youngest sister, Elizabeth, who knows him so well that she has spotted his fretful behaviour. From the look in her eyes, she senses that something dreadful is going to happen, despite the smiles of her beloved brother and his new French wife.
A soldier in the Royal Engineers, he has come through the first World War unharmed – a miracle in itself. But his wife, Adrienne, cannot settle in the working class darkness of post-war Bolton, and needs to return to her home town of Calais, where her relatives have created a new job in the family’s bakery business. Stephen is a baker by trade and will be very welcome in the family’s boulangerie, The couple’s newborn first child, Madeleine is assured of a warm, family welcome. Three more children will follow, including Etienne, Juliette’s grandfather. Etienne is French for Stephen.
Stephen Duffy, of Bolton, Lancashire, and his wife Adrienne are leaving for France. The document in the breast pocket is the ticket for the ferry. Elizabeth Duffy, my paternal grandmother, looks at him across the table where Sunday lunch has been, and senses, correctly, that despite his surviving the horrors of the war, she will never see her elder brother, again.
Juliette Duffy is twenty years old. She is combing her hair and looking at her reflection in the small room’s mirror. She knows she looks like her devoted grandmother Mado. Mado – the preferred short-form from her given name of Madelaine – has been a detailed researcher of the family tree – particularly the lost English connection, for decades. Juliette knows that there is a mystery back there, back then, as to why the two families lost contact… but fate has cast her, an Erasmus Scholar of languages, studying at Bangor University, in an unlikely role.
Seven years ago, Mado placed a request on the Ancestry website asking for help from anyone who could help reunite the two sides of the family by giving details of its lost English connection. Two weeks ago, that notice was finally seen by a woman in England who knew of the Duffys; indeed had married the grandson of one…
Juliette puts on her coat and leaves the student block. She will be early. She will have a coffee and think what she might say to these two middle-aged relatives on behalf of her grandmother, who is frantic with anticipation across the channel in Calais…
In part one, we examined Krishnamurti’s view that the individual could, with considerable effort, ‘unclip’ themselves from their society (though not broadcast it) and begin to separate out the pieces of their world in order to contemplate violence in a new way…
This would begin the process of giving the objective world (what IS) some initial power over the egoic self, which had grown to assume a role as something it was not capable of, being entirely subjective and without true centre.
We may think that anything that purports to address violence would begin by considering aggression. But Krishnamurti took a different route: he said that it must begin with a new way of seeing.
We might reasonably think that having reached adulthood and tested our vision in both physical and intellectual tussles, we were perfectly capable of seeing without further guidance.
Not so, said the teacher..though he suggested we must be our own teacher in this as in so many real things.
Seeing as we knew, it, he maintained, was the result of our personal history. Not history as we generally know it, but an accretion of ‘stuff’ that clouded every attempt to see out of this fog of confusion we called the self. We are, he said, not a single entity. We have a self that arises in family and with loved ones; a self that arises when we face up to the confrontational challenges in our workplace; a self that reacts as it does not want to when we are forced to do something – the imperatives of survival dictating that we preserve this ‘self’ at all costs. There were many more.
To approach violence and fear, we had to come to know a new type of seeing, one that belonged to a new self, a self that examined the flow of itself without judgment in order to place a watcher on she/he who claimed to watch…
What does this second watcher do?
In order for this entity to exist, it must, in a sense, step backwards from a world that is painted on our eyeballs; a world that triggers us to react with every breath, never having the time nor the energy to truly ‘see what to do’ without thought.
And, arriving at that point, Krishnamurti said, we began to glimpse that our history, reaction, time and fear were all secretly knitted into a fabric dominated by the chief villain of the piece… thought.
Many people are in a state of shock following a series of electoral surprises that have rocked the political ‘liberal establishment’ on both sides of the Atlantic. Racist attacks are on the increase and long-respected ‘experts’ are frequently mocked. We are in danger of throwing away many of the principles of established civilisation. It’s easy to feel that these uncertain times contain the seeds of extreme violence.
Politics works on the basis that large populations are capable of collective and constructive behaviour. But, there are other perspectives that speak, philosophically, of the effect that a relatively small group of people may have on an era, outside of politics, entirely.
Two figures in this latter mould are G. I. Gurdjieff and Jiddu Krishnamurti. In this series of posts, we look at the radical approach that Krishnamurti took to human freedom, which he said belonged only to the individual who was capable of observing himself/herself to such a level that a process of self-change could be initiated at the levels of mind, emotion and instinct.
Part of this process was to be prepared to completely cast off the conventional ways of thinking about things. Leaving behind beliefs, temperament and conditioning is no simple matter. This was particularly true of the subject of violence, which Krishnamurti viewed as the scourge of modern society, and endemic in our capacity for self-destruction.
Krishnamurti saw violence everywhere around us: outwardly and in our relationships with each other. He saw it in both politics and religion, and may well, had he lived, have seen it in the modern use of technology. All of this, he wrote, produces sorrow, which saps the creativity and coherence of life in society.
How are we to react to violence, which, in this era is even more threatening than in Krishnamurti’s time? Can we look to the experts, the politicians, the priests? His view was that all such respected ‘authorities’ have failed, leaving the individual to find their own answers.
Krishnamurti argued that we are, as human citizens, as fragmented as the societies in which we live, and that there was an unseen and potent relationship in this. He maintained that we were not, individually, in a position to affect society in a religious or political sense, but we did have great potential to turn ourselves into a true individual, in which case there would occur a binding between the actions we subsequently undertook and our effect on the violence we previously abhorred.
In part two, we will look at how the individual may approach violence in themselves, taking apart the pieces so that they can be held up to the inner light of objective consciousness.
Some subjects are just so profound that they have the capacity to change your life, even if only a glimpse of their depth and profundity is gained. One of these is the subject of now, or, as I’ve titled it here, ‘The Ancient Now.’
How can a ‘now’ be ancient? Surely the very notion of now means that it is a slice of time that occupies the present so precisely that we can rightly call it the now, as opposed to a frozen past or the potential future… but you can sense the quicksand straight away – that sinking feeling that we could never find a sliver of time so small that it would meet that definition.
And would that be enough, anyway? When we look into the deeper and increasingly common use of the spiritual ‘now’ we find other dimensions. The now is used, often, to point to an immediacy of experience in which we come to have a different relationship with the contents of our experience–and experience can only be in the now.
When I take away the distractions of ordinary consciousness, the desk in front of me assumes a sense of stillness, as though a noise–which did not exist objectively–has suddenly been switched off in my head.
In many ways, it has…
Focus of this kind has long been taught by spiritual schools; but the very words ‘spiritual schools’ can put people off. People assume, sometimes correctly, that a whole load of other things would need to be adopted or endorsed before such keys were passed over the threshold. We try to avoid that…
We don’t need to talk about God to talk about the now. All we need is an observer and something to observe. The observer is easy, that would be each of us, though we can never truly know another’s experience, so we’re only ever going to be able to talk about ‘me’. The simplicity of the observed can sometimes be confusing. We are used to the idea that, that in order to make meditative progress, we need to narrow it down to the often-quoted orange on a desktop, like I have in front of me, here. But the Mac behind it, or the white paint of the room, or the rows of books that line my study would do just as well. When I look at them they are all equally of my experience and therefore in the now.
In fact, the problem is that the observed is the whole of our external experience, and we only narrow it down to the orange so that our ever-intrusive minds can have just one thing to distract us with.
What interferes with the nowness of that experience is the habitual chattering of the mind – names, opinions, likes, dislikes and frustrations, all of these and hundreds more want to narrate our internal experience for us. But all we really need is to wordlessly be with that experience in order to change what happens when we truly observe.
The real study of now implies a completely different relationship to what is observed-our experience. The ancients told us about this a long time ago, so there’s nothing new, here. At school we are taught that the picture physics paints of a linear series of seamless moments is the correct way to view time. This implies that the intelligence is with the moments, that march past us in perfect drill. We are just passive bystanders, watching the parade which will continue to be a parade whether we watch it or not…
Some dare to consider something far more radical. They hint at a new relationship with the now, one beyond the marching band of habitual viewing. They speak of dirty lenses with which we view things in time… and everything else with which we have a relationship involving the ‘self’. They speak of subjective ways to discover that what is truly ‘out there’ is not only the real now, but breathtaking beautiful, too.
Beyond the marching band then, there may be only a single soldier, coming forward in an infinity of guises, in moments of arising whose purpose and sequence means that each one is eternally new. We may never capture this soldier, nor even photograph him–for, like the now, itself, he can never be anything but changing. But, having glimpsed him, we will be inspired to seek him out, always.
This is the first in a series of postings related to topical issues in mysticism. They will all carry the hashtag #Silenti. Please feel free to reply or join in, using this hashtag.
After the group’s successful ascent of Carningli (panorama shot above), the second day of the Silent Eye’s Whispers in the West weekend continued, with a short, further car journey to one of the historic highlights of the trip – Pentre Ifan.
Pentre Ifan is the best known, and because of its height, the most impressive megalithic monuments in Wales. It is believed to be the remains of a chambered tomb for the communal burial of the dead, which would have been used, continuously, for some period before being finally sealed for good. The tomb was erected in the Neolithic age, perhaps as early as 3.500 B.C.
The burial chamber itself was once partially covered by a great cairn (see schematic, below), extending well to the rear, but the stones have long since been removed; so it now lacks its original covering.
(Schematic taken from a partial photograph of the CADW information board at the site)
Pentre Ifan is classified as of the Portal Dolmen type, with the front of the chamber composed of three large uprights set in an ‘H’ formation – though here it is placed, unusually, at the centre of a curving facade of slabs, in line with the design shown in the schematic.
The enormous capstone, nearly 17 feet long, weighs over sixteen tons and is supported on just three stones, as can be seen in the above photograph. It is believed that the juxtaposition of supporting and non-supporting stones was part of the design of the dolmen.
The weather continued to be wonderful, as you can see from the photographs. Beyond this, though, and the fact that it was now late afternoon, there was a very peaceful atmosphere about Pentre Ifan. It is a very beautiful and spiritual place. No-one in our party wanted to depart…
In leaving, we took one final look beyond the perimeter hedge, to see the now-familiar shape of Carningli, mountain of the angels, from which we had just come. Seen from this angle, you can see how high it is, and how it dominates the land around.
And then it was back in the cars for a short journey into a very beautiful valley to the north of Pentre Ifan to see St Brynach’s church in the lovely village of Nevern.
The church is most famous for one of its many yew trees, near to the gate, which is called the “Bleeding Yew”. The yew tree is about 700 years old, which is extraordinary in itself.
It has a red sap running out of it which has the consistency of blood – though it dries pink rather than brown. Trees are known to ‘bleed’ when their internal flow structures are exposed, but, according to local legend, St Brynach’s bleeding yew has been in that state for hundreds of years.
There are many myths about why the Nevern yew tree bleeds: some say that as Jesus was crucified on a cross it is bleeding in sympathy. One myth says that a monk was hanged on this tree for a crime of which he was innocent and the tree is still protesting the injustice. There are many other stories, but the church and its surroundings have much more to offer than just the Bleeding Yew.
Further up the main path to the church is a large and dominant Celtic Cross, carved with the familiar Celtic knot-work pattens seen elsewhere in western Europe.
The cross is one of the most perfect examples of ancient Celtic stone carving in all Wales. The total height is thirteen feet and the cross is two feet in diameter at its thickest point.
Experts date the cross as late 10th or early 11th century.The four sides of the cross are carved with geometric interlacing patterns.
The West and East faces have inscriptions. One is Ans, meaning Dominus, latin for Master. The other is not as certain, and could be the word for Hellelujah.
Language is major feature of the inside of St Brynach’s church, which unashamedly celebrates the Celtic history of the land around it. The famous Nevern Ogham Stone, which has inscriptions in both ‘Celtic – Ogham’ and Latin, has been laid as the lintel of one of the windows in the south side of the transept.
The photo shows the Ogham lines cut into the corners of the stone to form words. There is even a notice showing you how to use the stone to write your name in Ogham – assuming there are sufficient letters.
And with that, our time in Nevern had come to an end. It had been a long and wonderful day of discovery and we were due to have an early dinner at the Sloop pub in Porthgain, on the twenty mile return journey to St David’s.
Lizzy had arranged things so that we would just have time for a slight detour on the way there to have a very special glass of Welsh cider at a place called (locally) Bessie’s pub in Cwm Gwaun. The valley which houses Bessie’s is well hidden and I would not have liked to find it on my own! Having said that, the village was delightful and full of friendly local people, sitting on their doorsteps in the early evening sun, who smiled at our band of weary travellers and waved us towards Bessie’s – the only pub in the valley.
And the cider? Well, if you get chance, have a pint of Black Dragon if you’re passing through these parts. ‘Nectar of the Gods’ springs to mind…
The final part of this series of posts will conclude, next week, with our Sunday morning walk to St David’s Cathedral, via the coastal footpath and St Non’s clifftop church and shrine. St Non was the mother of St David.
The Silent Eye runs four such weekends per year; in April, June, September, and the start of December. Apart from the main April workshop, which combines mystical drama with teachings, they are very informal occasions, but a good way to meet some of the names and faces from the Silent Eye School of Consciousness. Everyone is welcome – we simply wander in a landscape and get to know each other.
The formal teaching programme of the Silent Eye School is a three-year correspondence course, studied at home and in the individual’s daily world, with personal supervision via email, and workshops. The teaching programme is based on a guided journey through the spiritual layers of a nine-pointed figure called the Enneagram (below). The Silent Eye is a not-for-profit organisation and charges as little as possible for its work.
You can find details of the forthcoming events for the year on our website.