Since I last wrote, the seasons of the spirit have moved from the new beginnings of spring, through a beautiful sunny summer and now into the mysteries of autumn. As ever there’s also been much change here in my Hunters Moon Micro Monastery, so here is the latest news, now with added headings to enhance your reading experience (I hope!)
Deadly Struggle in the Salad Sanctuary
This year it’s been ‘War and Peace’ in the Living Spirit salad sanctuary. Our palace may in fact be a mid terrace and, as you can see below, the hairstyles and clothes can’t match the recent TV adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic. And yet the life and death struggle taking place outside is no less epic. By day I’ve been fending off my garden tiger, Leo, who ear-marked my beautifully dug patch in spring for his monumental toilet excavations. Surrounding the plants with lots of small bamboo sticks simply attracted the second wave of day time attack, nest building pigeons!
By night however, the SAS of salad destruction are unleashed, as battalions of slugs and snails set off on dedicated marches from several miles away to converge on the salad sanctuary. How is a wild monastic to contend with not only these gastropod ‘passions’ but also the struggle they stir in my own heart? How to stop the little buggers without resulting to murder and spreading (slug pelleted) destruction along the food chain? Compassion and peace for all beings in the salad sanctuary were maintained thanks to sheep, with the wool based ‘Slug Gone’. So surrounded by their home grown bamboo, little woolly defences and regular slug safaris by myself & Tam, the veg has survived largely uneaten (except by us). We’ve also had heavy support from our resident hedgehog. This has been our best organic growing year in Hunters Moon so far, with something to harvest most days including herb teas, salad & toms, our first potatoes, beans & courgettes, unbelievable amounts of soft fruit and now apples. Several lettuces have been liberated and are currently setting seed in the salad sanctuary…
In the Wild Wisdom School this year we’ve been reflecting often on the inner family, which in turn lives within the outer family of all beings. Jan shared these words from The Four Elements by John O’Donoghue:
There is a crowd within each person. If you listen to yourself, you realize the diversity and complexity that actually inhabits you. One of the great temptations in any life is to reduce your inner family to one kind of identity, to one role or to one direction……. Any place (where) an over facile consequence between outerself and inner territories becomes apparent, then some brutalizing reduction has already subtly taken place.
Completing my MA in mindfulness based psychotherapy has taken me much more deeply into welcoming my own inner crowd and especially some of the characters I’ve found difficult, such as fear, judgement and despair, which are part of the legacy of my own healing journey with complex post traumatic stress. Having made more of myself welcome at the inner communion table, it feels more possible to allow this inner family to grow and express its own shape in the world, however unusual this may seem. (Kind of like a cross between the Moomins and the Addams family perhaps?) On a personal creative note, I’m now also finishing my Diploma at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts and am looking forward to starting a PhD in transformative learning in January with Canterbury Christ Church University, based on my work with Wild Church and the Wild Wisdom School.
With such reflections bubbling away within, it’s been fascinating to watch my younger son, Meredith Tam, work through his A levels in english, photography & art, including an exam piece on ‘power’. He chose three mythic figures that express different kinds of power and photographed the three members of our immediate family to embody them. I’ve been deeply moved to see his creativity at play and to be given this incredible gift of another way of looking at our outer family. Tam is now enjoying an Art Foundation.
We often joke of my older son, Zy, having ‘gone over to the dark side’ in going into banking! The Greek and Roman myths, especially in their later aspects in art and in the dominance of the Roman Empire, seem well expressed in more modern forms such as Star Wars, with its Imperial & Rebel Forces and in its story of a young man on his hero’s journey of becoming a warrior, discovering the dark and bright depths of his inner and outer family and finding a way to live and act in the world with courage and compassion. I can’t really do justice here to my swirling thoughts about the complexity of this in relation to patriarchy, capitalism, feminism… but Tam’s casting of his older brother as Zeus and Canary Wharf as Olympus has a symbolic potency for me. I want to celebrate Zy’s journey, which has been one of empowerment, of working within a flawed system with great intelligence and a deep sense of justice and also to acknowledge the ambiguity I feel in relation to the Zeus archetype, where sometimes power is achieved through dominance. At Canary Wharf for the photo shoot, I was struck by the energy gathered there and by the long shadows cast by those towering edifices of shining glass. In those shadows I seemed to glimpse the homeless, environmental destruction, decreasing funding for mental health and the arts and a crowd of others, including my own experiences of war and my own abiding and limiting fear of a certain kind of power.
So I was grateful that Tam cast me in the role of Frigg, the Norse Goddess of foreknowledge, wisdom and the Earth, representing a different kind of power. Wild fantasies about costumes and props (including chariots pulled by cats!) slowly resolved into me being myself, just as Zy had been himself, which in my case meant wearing my gardening clothes, drinking tea and planting potatoes (accompanied by toilet excavating, rather than chariot pulling, cats).
But my favourite photo shoot was Tam’s one of himself representing the elemental powers of Shinto Gods of Wind, Fujin, and Thunder & Lightning, Raijin. I really saw the power of his creativity here as he created masks, set up shots in front of a screen and then worked in photoshop to create these fantastic images which were then printed out at poster size. Now I can look at all these extraordinary images of my sons; one moving within the outer powers of money and politics and one within the inner powers of myth and the imagination, expressed outwardly through art. I feel very inspired by them both and by how they are each finding their own unique way to be powerful young men.
Well, the early morning has passed and it feels like time to actually get out in the garden rather than write about it. This weekend Wild Church starts its new series of monthly events with a fundraising Wild Harvest of creativity, through poetry, storytelling and a talk on spiritual ecology. But if you are reading this and wondering about what your own powers may be then I hope you can be encouraged to consider all the very different ways that life expresses itself. I often struggle with feeling small and scared and disempowered and I judge myself for all the ways in which my life ‘is not good enough’… I should be working in refugee camps or getting a proper job or acting more like a normal person or something. But then I say to myself what I sometimes say to my spiritual counselling clients when they are similarly struggling with some members of their inner family… would you go out into a wild meadow and judge the fact that the plants & creatures there aren’t all the same? Would you say the tall grasses are more beautiful or important than the low, sweet scented flowers? If you came across a small, scared creature in among the roots, wouldn’t you simply want it to be as free to be itself as the buzzard that hung high in the air… and isn’t it actually just as amazing to come close to a small wild thing as to see those wide wings above you? So I’d like to encourage us all, to trust that wild longing in our hearts to love life in our own unique ways within the family of all beings.
And so it’s back to the salad sanctuary…