This is the first of a series of readings from my new book, “Soul Manifestos and Pieces of Joy” - you can get hold of a copy from my website at: http://www.21soul.co.uk/soul-manifestos/4584901802
In Spring last year, just after we moved into our wonderful Granary, we made a couple of decisions about our ‘garden’, First we planted a small meadow – a small thing in the scheme of things - but which last year delighted us for months with poppies. clover and a myriad of grasses (this year it’s been full of daisies, but now the Cow Parsleys and purple clovers are coming into their own).
The second was to scatter bird and bat boxes around the place, and these two moves have come together in an unexpected and delightful way.
In one of the bird boxes that we put up on the wall of our large barny, sheddy thing, a small hive of bees has made its home. The swallows don’t need it – they seem to have plenty other places to nest – but the bees seem to have been grateful for it!
All day, they emerge from the hive – tracking across the clover meadows, picking up pollen and nectar, and returning, disappearing into the yellow wax network of tunnels they’ve constructed for themselves. It’s been a real sense of joy to stand and just listen to this big, beautiful buzz of life from this simple little box.
A wonderful event in September exploring creative unpsychology, ecologies of mind, wild therapy and joyful futures.
THE GATHERING - This soul-makers’ gathering is being held over the weekend of 26th - 28th September 2014 (from 4pm, Friday until 4 pm, Sunday), at the wonderfully quirky Old School Hostel in the village of Trefin, with the breathtaking Pembrokeshire coast path just a couple of hundred yards from the hostel.
WHAT WE’LL EXPLORE - During the weekend we will explore and develop new integrations of psychology, creativity and therapy for turbulent times. The gathering will be a forum for inquiry and deep conversation to question cultural assumptions about mental health, wellbeing and therapy. It will support you in developing life practices and resources for yourself and others you may live and work with
HOW WE’LL WORK TOGETHER - The course will be led by Steve Thorp - independent therapist, teacher and writer - together with other practitioners who will facilitate and support sessions during the weekend. The group is being kept small (maximum 30) so that everyone who attends has a chance to make contributions throughout the weekend.
As well as the main programme, there will be opportunities to lead a 45-minute fringe session. You may have something to say about unpsychology, ecology, activism, education, mental health or soul- making you’d like to tell people about: a personal story, a project or publication that will contribute to our overall integration.
WE LIVE IN A TIME when the stories don’t work for us any more. Our psychological stories are part of this crisis. We’ll explore how psychological distress is related as much to social inequality and cultural and ecological disconnection as early childhood development or brain chemistry. We’ll tell some new stories and start to do something about it.
WHO ARE SOULMAKERS? - A soul-maker can be any of us! Soulmakers will prepare for new realities, tell new stories and ‘re-mind’ our culture. They’ll help craft responses to social, cultural and ecological crisis that are up to the job.They will re-connect what has been scattered through art, activism and inquiry. They’ll help others by offering healing, clarity, courage, leadership, inspiration and counsel.
THE WEEKEND WILL INCLUDE:
Inquiry sessions: Exploring big questions around social, cultural and ecological contexts of mental illness, wellbeing and therapy.
Toolkit sessions: Exploring practical ways of making soul, developing wellbeing and sustaining activism for ourselves and others.
Workshop sessions: Learning and sharing frameworks and practice from the integral fields of psychology, ecology, art and science.
BOOKING - There are just 30 places and two ways of booking:
First– come as a residential delegate. Stay in a shared room at the hostel. Includes all sessions and meals from dinner on Friday through to lunch on Sunday. 15-20 residential places available, priced at £200.
Second– come as a day delegate. Stay in a B & B or campsite (or home if you’re local!). Package includes all sessions over the three days, lunch on Saturday and Sunday and dinner on Saturday*. Priced at £160.
*Dinner can be added to the non-residential package on Friday evening for an extra £10
The world freezes. The hurtling arrow slows until Adam can see that familiar face, and beyond it a thousand others just like it. Giant, winged creatures, with human faces; some of them almost recognisable to Adam; reminiscent of some vague knowing from way back.
He feels thrust back in his mind into tableaux and scenarios from a life half remembered. In one flashback there is a party with Julia, and a man hovers in the background with the face of the vulture creature, a sly hurt flickering across his face as he holds a drink. In another there is a crowd of boys spitting at him, covering his school blazer with their saliva, as he sinks down in shame.
There are others, but there is one that stops the others in their tracks.
In this, a giant figure, his mother, looms above him, snarling. Her mouth is moving, he can barely understand what she is saying, but the words form: Don’t you ever; she says, don’t you ever take me away from him, again! And then the snarl turns to a smile and she reaches out and picks him up, and all Adam senses at that moment is the warm sweetness of her skin.
The horde of winged creatures speeds up again for the briefest of moments and then there is turmoil, as they are flung aside amidst the roar of fire and fearful screaming. Most plummet to the ground, their bones and entrails smoking. The others wheel in the air and beat their hasty retreat on giant wings; the vulture man at their head amongst them. He looks at Adam and calls out something in a voice colder than ice, a screech of frustration and promised revenge, and then he, and the remains of the host, is gone.
The world turns quiet, and the boy turns to the girl and smiles. But she is not smiling, she is looking over his shoulder at the figure striding towards them. She sees the tall, beautiful figure of the Queen approach, - her hands still glowing with the power she has just expended - and stop before them.
Adam turns, but the Queen looks at the girl. Don’t you ever; she says, don’t you ever take me away from him. And then she looks at Adam with a half smile, and sees in his eyes that he remembers. This battle has been won, and she is back in control, she thinks, and she has saved her son.
Perhaps this world is not so bad after all?
The girl notices something: that whilst the Queen could devastate the host of monsters, she can only whisper threats to Adam and her. She has no real power here. The pendulum swings again.
At the top of the world
Eventually they stop climbing. The boy and the girl with the serious eyes have reached the top of the world. Out in front of them lies an endless plain of meadow and small clumps of normal sized trees that don’t seem lead to other levels of existence. There are no buildings, no tall trees, no human noise – no humans that can be seen in this wide expanse.
There is a light, cool breeze, the sun is warm and there are small clouds in the sky. Adam looks at the girl, and suddenly feels the same age as her. Her feels as if he could walk forever with her, hand in hand, across this world above the world, and never need to reach an ending.
Endings seem, to Adam, to be unnecessary, right now. He is vaguely aware that beginnings are also difficult, but he pushes this thought away and loses himself in the utopia he has created for himself.
The girl, on the other hand, seems agitated. It is the first time he has seen her like this in the hours they have been climbing together. Till now, her self composure has been a reassurance to him; has taken away the need for him to make a decision (beyond the initial climbing of the tree) or to do anything but follow her surefooted climb up into the world above the world.
She sniffs the air. Her dark eyes bulge. Her body is taught. Waiting. She has been here before. The appearance of heaven, she recalls, is always deceptive.
And now Adam is beginning to feel…unsafe. He is certainly not grounded, even though there is grass beneath his feet, for he is aware that thousand of feet separate him from the world he knows to be real. He remembers Julia, wonders where she is, how she is, wants the safety of her holding him. Feels like this is a nightmare.
Now Adam is watching too. Sniffing the air. Looking out onto the empty plain; into the empty sky; testing out the grass and the ground beneath his feet (did it move just then, was that a tremor?).
There is a long pause, as if they both have had their breath stolen from them, and then a scream. The girl is screaming and pointing into the distance, and there is a moving wedge of black, like a skein of geese - but these do not seem to be geese: the perspective is all wrong and there is malevolent purpose in their flight. They are heading out of the sky and diving towards them. Descending gradually like a giant spear arcing towards its target.
Run, she shouts, run. And Adams turns, and just before he turns to run back towards the canopy of the giant tree they have just emerged from, half a mile or so, he sees the face of something he has only ever seen in the dreams he wakes from, screaming. He sees blood on its face, and doesn’t know that it is Julia’s blood; but he runs anyway, runs like he has never run before.
They are watching as the boy walks on through. The queen and the feathered nightmare; the mother and the ghost of the undertaker bird.
He stalked Julia long ago, and later died from wounds inflicted by her indifference. She had held the knife, even as he plunged it into his own wrists, and scored it upwards, gasping through the vodka haze at the sheer terror and pain of it. He did not die until the throbbing agony had reached a point at which death was welcomed as relief as much as for revenge. Poor Julia, she never even knew him. Such is the madness of the love of a carrion bird!
Death was a bonus. He realised that, here, he had access to dreams he could only have dreamed of. When he was alive and mad, he only wished to be the ghost-bird-made-flesh; to rip her face for turning it from him all those times: in the street, and the coffee shop and the parks as he followed her round the city.
He found his way to Adam’s dream, and found the crack of insecurity and longing that was the boy’s weakness: the vulnerability that allowed Julia to love him, and that made his troubled need open to the skies.
From then, the troubled nights that had been habit for Adam since childhood (muffled birth and baby screams; separation and greedy longing) became so much worse. The vulture ripped through the troubled, muffled home in his mind, and there was blood, and pain and, worse, a total lack of comprehension at the sudden fuckup of feather, claw and clamour that his nights had become.
No wonder he held Julia, tight, no wonder he needed her more. He never knew that, in a screwy sort of way, it was her fault that he was having the nightmares in the first place.
The vulture man
The thing that killed Julia swooped down from a surprised winter sky and tore her from the pavement on which she walked. The people who saw it could not believe it – a thing half-man, half bird plummeting into the city, talons the size of knives, a greedy beak ferocious and hateful, wings that spanned the road and darkened the street as they carried the vulture man down to claim his first prey in our world.
Julia had met him before, of course, and this was an act of jealous revenge; she would not have known what for unless she had time to ask, examine and remember, and time was something he did not give her.
First, as he landed, his talons pierced her shoulders, and for a moment those watching had the impression that she was carrying him, her face rent in a silent, final scream. Then he pecked at her head, and tore away her face and the screams of those watching were matched only by his Caw! Caw! as he raised his head and screeched triumphantly into the city air.
He then began methodically to tear Julia apart. She was dead now of course and felt no pain, but the horror was in the watching and the vulture man was aware of this. He wanted to become a legend, a feared myth – to reinstate the deep archetypal terror into this world where it has long been sublimated in the machines of progress and the modern demons of reality, and concrete experience.
He wanted to become fear itself, the embodiment of an emotion that has long lost its potency, and has been lost in a forest of secondary emotions and symptoms – anxiety, stress, frustration, dissatisfaction, loss and longing. Nothing but a traditionalist, he wanted a return to deep fear, despair, hate, revenge and loathing.
Later in that day, in another world, he watched from high up as the boy and the girl walked along wooden pathways through the roof of a forest and thought of how he could make revenge more delicious. He could still taste Julia’s blood and it made him smile and want for more.
We will think differently of him now. He is, after all, Adam’s worst nightmare made flesh and feather.
A question about Julia
Did the Queen make this happen? Does her influence, her magic, reach into our world too? We can hope that she is still only powerful enough to open gateways and talk to her son, but we have our doubts. We think of her already as evil, though all she has done is create a world in which her eldest son can walk. She has a task for him, that is true, but what is that she has she done to warrant our hatred?
Was it she who killed Julia? Did she cause Julia to die? The answer is no.
There is a hint, then, that she is not evil, that she is only doing what she has been called to do – which is to meet his calling in her own. In her land destiny cannot be denied as it can in ours. There, the price of failure is eternal limbo of the kind that our religions calls purgatory.
In our world we can deny our destiny and all that happens is that we die suffering, regretful and screaming against the sudden realisation of what we have lost and could have had within our grasp if only we’d had the courage; but in death the suffering ends and then what is left is the regret of others.
As a little girl, Julia had been precocious and admired. Luck stayed with her all her life and her promise grew as she did. Always true to her character, her daemon had no need to intervene on behalf of Julia’s soul. In this existence, the god in question had chosen an easy and rewarding vessel.
Of course, in the world of the falling stars, life on earth is not judged by its span, rather the quality and integrity of the life that the chosen has lived on earth. Had Julia fulfilled her destiny? Was she all that she, Julia, could be? Had she grown down into the world?
As the answer to this question was, yes, there was no tragedy in the fact that Julia died young; though that was not how those who loved her experienced it at first. The shock of someone in their prime dying - and in such a sudden, senseless way – reminds us that we too might die young, and that for us it might be before our life has been lived. For our destiny is not a predictor of our time on earth, rather the mapping out of what we might become if all things were equal.
In Julia’s case all things were equal, and if she died in awareness she would know this and would not have regretted her passing.
And perhaps she crossed over to somewhere, and was still in the world (a world) in essence? Now there’s an intriguing thought.
On that morning Julia drank tea with the boy she had chosen to live her life with. Adam was beautiful and dark, as she was golden. They were each other’s other side, when they made love they crossed over and became the other. It happens in this world, but is unusual as in most couples at least one of the partners are feeling caged. That is one of the pains of this world, and people like Adam were never prepared to accept it. Perfection, the perfect romance, the perfect life were all within his grasp, he believed, which is why he was with Julia.
But only Julia was complete. Adam was only complete when he was with Julia. That was the difference, and it made all the difference. It was why, on that day in the city, Adam walked across to the other place, helplessly following his mother’s voice, his life-task still unfulfilled, while Julia was able to die.
When she walked to work, she looked up into the blue fresh morning and could feel her love for the city. She had a fresh smile and her hair was how she liked it best, loosely curled and bobbed long to her shoulders. She could still taste the tea faintly; and Adam’s flavour clung to her hair – that beautiful, twisted boy who she alone could make happy.