Shells, Stones, Spirals and Symbols
I live my life in ever widening circles,
each superseding all the previous ones.
Perhaps I never shall succeed
in reaching the final circle, but attempt I will. (Rilke)
A flotilla of Nautilus shells sail along a bookshelf in our lounge. On the coffee table, an island of shells rises in the shape of the spiral – in a spiral signed bowl. Here’s a whorl, a 360° revolution or turn in the spiral growth of a mollusc shell.
These shells and a book from a recent holistic fair offer the theme for this
“We can read the geometry of the circle, as a
symbol of the repeating cycle or length of time. A
line that curves around on itself so that its
beginning and its end coincide at the onset of a new
cycle, whether it be a day, a week, a month, year or
lifespan.“ (Aidan Meeham)
I created the Saturday morning weekly story (3 July) about the triskele, one of the oldest Irish Celtic Pagan symbols of three interlocked spirals. It links to the sun, moon, earth, to the triadic gods, to the three domains of land, sea, and sky. The triple spiral also represents the cycles of birth, death, rebirth as well as the Triple Goddess, maiden, mother, and wise woman. For the Celtic Christians, the symbol was used to represent the Holy Trinity. It also represents the three worlds; the celestial, physical, and spiritual.
A Fork in the Road
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. (Robert Frost 1874- 1960)
How is it that some texts date, culturally bound to time and place while
others cycle through seasons and centuries, speaking anew to each
generation? Take Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken for example (1915).
This poem has been quoted, misquoted, referenced and anthologised for more than a century . In many surveys the poem tops the popularity pops. So many of us can quote the mantra of the last three lines. It has even been used (misused?) for a New Zealand ad for Ford (2008). The road is a universal symbol. Is it that we are intrigued by the theme of individual choice and the risk of unknown and unexpected paths?
One of the Big Five
Finding an old photo taken more than a quarter of a century ago brought forth this Letter. If I were to select the big five in my poetry game park, Billy Collins would be one of them – a quirky, depth poet and Laureate of USA: as in Forgetfullness: The name of the author is the first to go Followed obediently by the title, the plot, The heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel Which suddenly becomes one you have never read…
Stop press: ZenPenYen poetry collection
Orders R150 plus postage R40 – e book will be available plus voiced text
Two birds, inseparable friends, take refuge in the same tree. One eats the sweet fig, the other watches without eating. (the Upanishads)
This letter considers how these bird symbols can enrich, ground and nuance our writing and story-telling. Rumi says, ‘there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.’ There are also hundreds of ways to interpret the connection between the two birds.
During a recent Temenos retreat, ‘Hundreds of Ways: Writing your Spiritual Journey’, I asked the ‘pilgrims’ present what this Vedic text meant to them. Here are some responses:
The two hemispheres of the brain… the doer and the being one in us. The silent inner witness to our outer speech… A mother breast feeding her baby… how to live in a world not of either–or, but of both-and… perhaps the two birds interchange roles…
I have just read another Bernhard Schlink (The Reader,1995) novel, The Woman on the Stairs (2018). In a Sydney gallery far from home, an unnamed lawyer stumbles across a nude painting of Irene, a woman with whom he fell in love:
“A woman descends a staircase. The right foot lands on the lower tread, and left grazes the upper…the woman is naked her body pale…the crown of her head gleams with light…against a grey green backdrop of blurred stairs and walls …the woman moves lightly as if floating towards the viewer. Yet her long legs ample hips and full breasts give her a sensual weight.”
The metaphor is perhaps one of man’s most fruitful potentialities. Its efficacy verges on magic, and it seems a tool for creation which God forgot inside one of His creatures when He made him. (Jose Ortega y Gasset)
A shepherd, an owl and a Buddha
Here is a dialogue between the Buddha and a shepherd from Zorba the Greek, (Nikos Kazantzakis):
The Shepherd: My meal is ready, I have milked my ewes. The door of my hut is bolted, my fire is alight. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please.
Buddha: I no longer need food or milk. The winds are my shelter, my fire is out. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please.
The Shepherd: I have oxen, I have cows. I have my father’s meadows and a bull who covers my cows. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please.
Buddha: I have neither oxen, nor cows, I have no meadows. I have nothing. I fear nothing. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please.
The Shepherd: I have a docile and faithful shepherdess. For years she has been my wife; I am happy when I play with her at night. And you, sky, you can rain as much as you please.
Buddha: I have a free and docile soul. For years I have trained it and I have taught it to play with me. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please.
Two Chairs for the New Year
The only true aristocracy is that of consciousness. D.H. Lawrence
Every 1 Jan I create a collage to set intention for the coming year. This letter reflects on the 2022 collage and how the assembly of images culled from magazines, knows more about me than I do. Like a Jungian mandala, the images arise out of the unconscious sea, land on my beach and speak, offering hidden insights and the words that accompany them. This becomes a visual writer’s map. (see 13 Feb opportunity under radar)
“I’ve told my children that when I die, to release balloons in the sky to celebrate that I graduated. For me, death is a graduation.
Imagine a roadside inn in the Middle Ages. People dying here on their journey while the innkeeper plays host. This letter’s focus is on this Hospice journey, this graduation, this crossing over, or as a friend calls it, this translation.
For some 25 years I have connected to Hospices – facilitating storyshops for volunteers who in turn elicit stories from the dying to leave as gifts, presenting Oom Schalk story evenings with Henk Serfontein and his concertina and MC-ing ‘Voices for Hospice’ as fundraisers. I’ve also mentored friend Peter Fox’s book (co-authored). He, a former spiritual director at a Hospice.
Between living and dreaming there is a third thing. Guess it. (Machado)
I refer to writing prompts as lit matches. In this letter are two recent lit matches emerging fresh during a recent retreat. I’ve dubbed them ‘ETHNE’ and ‘Porous Window’. They arrive from a voice hidden somewhere within/without – who knows? I recall two lines from a hymn sung as a child “speak through the earthquake. wind and fire / oh still small voice.” I have learned to respond to that voice. My Brisbane granddaughter, Mia, serves as model and inspiration for the ETHNE I envisage. (she’s a capital girl)
Imagine a young girl. (she arrives as inspiration between living and dreaming – thank you Machado). I ask retreatants to venture into the garden in search of ETHNE. They will find her everywhere – in the
wind and water, in the roots and leaves.
Healing the Family Tree
My grand-niece is researching family history as part of her journey.
She asks me about my parents and grandparents. So the story involves
five generations, with me in the middle like the two-headed Roman god,
Janus, looking both ways. While able to share some of my parent’s
stories, most of my grandparents’ stories have slipped into the mist.
This is a double death – the demise of the person and their story –
Many million year ago. Bones amid stones. Ankle bone of a frog? Tooth of a shrew?. Recently I facilitated a Zen Pen retreat at the West Coast Fossil Park writing in the presence of ancient bones. Pippa Haarhoff, our host, can identify the frog or shrew from the cluster in her hand. As we age perhaps, we begin to place our story in a greater frame, linking us to those who have a gone before and those who are yet to
come. Going back back.
Then en route home visiting the !Khwa ttu San Culture and Education Centre near Yzerfontein where Margaret Courtney-Clarke’s (When Tears don’t matter ) photographic exhibition is current (advise you to visit). Here too are our ancestors, the First People of our African home. A San art work at the Centre.
I believe in the healing power of listening to these ancient tales of origins then telling our story and leaving it as a gift. I also believe that our relationship to our ancestors is bi-directional. They influence us as they are present in our genes, in our DNA. Yet might it be possible that when we heal, resolve a family curse, poor parenting, addictions, our ancestors who could be stuck in some limbo, begin to heal too?