Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

As the Sun enters Capricorn: a meditation for the Winter Solstice

Tomorrow night, at 22.24 GMT, the Sun moves into Capricorn … we have arrived at the Winter Solstice. This has triggered memories and meditative thoughts – I’m sure you will have your own. Feel free to share them!

A core memory from my Hebridean childhood is located in winter’s depths.Whilst dashing out to play after our evening meal, running up the garden path, breath frosty on the clear cold air, a glance at the pitch dark sky stopped me dead. A magical swirling dance of colour was washing the Northern sky with translucent radiance. I held my breath, friends forgotten,  gazing for a long time at the wonderful display. Gradually, inevitably, it faded and vanished.

This first experience of awe has remained etched on memory. It imprinted on my soul, at a very young age, a deep intuitive sense that there is a sublime mystery at the core of the interplay between light and dark.

Subsequent adult reading provided a scientific explanation for the phenomenon of the aurora borealis. But science cannot explain the sense of wonder and awe which the Northern Lights has evoked in countless numbers of us since our remote ancestors scanned the skies, seeing the Divine in natural beauty, and eventually in its predictable rhythms.

Knowing that the Moon, for example, had its pattern of waxing and waning enabled our ancestors to plan the best times for planting, travelling, and timing their religious rituals. But the Moon’s guiding light could only be accessed in the dark of night.

We need winter. We may not like it much, especially in the frequently wet, grey dreariness of the West of Scotland at this time of year! But we need it, and the darkness that goes with it. A long rest refreshes the earth, revitalises it; new life quietly germinates in the dark, bursting forth in the miraculous renewal of spring.

We need the dark. Within the year’s natural cycle, the diurnal alternation of light and dark brings restful silence at night and the restorative power of sleep, without which all creatures including us would burn out and die before their time. We are in danger of forgetting this – at our peril – as an increasingly technology-driven culture sweeps the world, creating the illusion that we can live sustainably and healthily in defiance of the ancient rhythms set by the great cycles of nature.

One snowy winter’s dusk, I failed to return home from primary school. A snowstorm was blowing up with a fierce gale. Worried, my mother sent out a search party. I was found, in a state of some distress, almost white with snow, pinned against a fence. A slight child, I had been blown and held there by the wind. Where I grew up, we didn’t need to read books to understand the fierce destructive power of nature as well as its unearthly beauty.

Capricorn Midwinter Solstice

Capricorn Midwinter Solstice

From those childhood experiences on, I have walked the well trodden path underlying all faiths which seeks ways of affirming connection with that vast Power which runs nature, the Universe and everything, reconciling dark and light, going way beyond time.

Whilst reflecting on the profoundly mysterious and paradoxical relationship between light and dark, with which we humans have always wrestled in one form or another, the phrase ‘dazzling darkness’ came to mind. It persisted for days, until eventually I located the source.

It occurs in a fascinating article, which I had first read in 2002, titled

“A RELUCTANT MYSTIC: God-Consciousness not Guru Worship” by John Wren-Lewis. (1)

The author describes how, at the age of nearly sixty, retired and with a distinguished career as a scientist behind him,  he had spiritual consciousness “thrust upon me….without working for it, desiring it, or even believing in it.”

It was 1983. Wren-Lewis was in Thailand, in a hospital bed, hovering between life and death, having eaten a poisoned sweet given to him by a would-be thief. What happened next, a ‘near death experience’(NDE), he describes as follows:

“I simply entered – or rather, was – a timeless, spaceless void which in some indescribable way was total aliveness – an almost palpable blackness that was yet somehow radiant. Trying to find words for it afterwards, I recalled the mysterious line of Henry Vaughan’s poem The Night:

‘There is in God (some say) a deep, but dazzling darkness’

His return to life, as the medical staff gradually won their battle to save him, was not in any way accompanied by the typical NDE’s classic sense of regret or loss at having to go back to the world of the everyday. It was, in fact, “nothing like a return….more like an act of creation whereby the timeless, spaceless Dark budded out into manifestation”. Furthermore, the experience was “indescribably wonderful.”

In Wren-Lewis’ own words “I now know exactly why the Book of Genesis says that God looked upon all that He had made – not just beautiful sunsets, but dreary hospital rooms and traumatised sixty-year old bodies – and saw that it was very good.”

Moreover, this heightened awareness did not leave him. A permanent shift, without any effort at all, into what he calls “God-consciousness” caused him to do further reading and research beyond accounts of NDEs into the “once-despised world of mystical literature and spiritual movements”. But he rejects the notion held by experts in many religious traditions that the path to God-consciousness, or Enlightenment, or Nirvana requires years or even lifetimes of intensive spiritual effort. After all, he’d been handed “the pearl of great price on a plate” without ever seeking it, and found God-consciousness to be quintessentially ordinary and obvious – a feature emphasised by many mystics.

I was so intrigued by Wren-Lewis’ startling account  that I re-read the great Victorian psychologist William James’ classic book “The Varieties of Religious Experience” for the first time in nearly thirty years. This confirmed what I had already known but forgotten: a great many people who have profound religious or mystical experiences have them in nature.

I felt grateful then for that brilliant encounter with the Northern Lights, so long ago but still clearly remembered, which affirmed my need for ‘God consciousness’ before I could ever articulate it.

We need awe: it points our vision towards the sacred. So, readers, embrace the darkness if you can, these winter nights – you never can tell what wonders may reveal themselves ….

Endnotes

(1) from Self & Society Vol 29 Number 6 Feb-March 2002 (pp 22-24)

Aurora Borealis North West Scotland

Aurora Borealis North West Scotland

1100 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2018

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page of Writing from the Twelfth House

As Jupiter moves through Scorpio: life, death and planet Janet

Jupiter is now more than half way through his voyage in the deep, dark waters of Scorpio. In just over four weeks’ time, he will turn direct, speed up, and enter fiery, exuberant Sagittarius in early November this year.

Whilst trawling through the archives of my “Writing from the Twelfth House” blog, I came across some articles about facing mortality, and thought I’d share one of them here – death and dying are such fundamentally Scorpionic topics. As a culture, we are very poor at facing those harsh realities. 

Here are some of my thoughts, concluding with a short discussion on the subject between me and my dear, older friend Peggy. We share a very black sense of humour…

Baby Boomers are the first generation in human history to be able to rely on medical advances to prolong their lives considerably. They have, in effect, added on average more than a decade to the traditional, biblical ‘three score years and ten’ as a result of medical advances enabled by technology  – accelerating in particular since the start of the twenty-first century.

However, in the universe we inhabit, light and dark co-exist: one does not come without the other.

The shadow side of this striking gain in longevity is that death can now be put off for a considerable time, often resulting in – on average – eighteen years of deteriorating health with its attendant misery for the individuals involved, their families and friends. The economic realities of this are becoming more and more pressing. Western countries, on average, are dealing with a population as a whole who consume more in health care resources in their final six weeks than in the whole of their preceding lives.

Most of us can now quote several cases from personal experience or from hearsay, of individuals whose lives were painfully prolonged: by those individuals not having made their end of life wishes clear; by families’ general inability to communicate with one another regarding the painful and threatening question of the inevitability of death; and by the medical profession’s increasing focus on the technicalities of technology-expedited care, rather than the humanity, compassion and tough-minded realism required to enable people to have, as well as a good life,  a good death when the time comes that life has no quality left and there is only distress and suffering.

On the latter topic, I highly recommend surgeon  Atul Gawande’s wonderful book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End”. Here, the author  tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but  needs also to address the hard problem of how to assist the process of its inevitable ending: with greater humanity, care and wisdom than is all-too-often practised at the moment.

In the UK, as the assisted dying debate rages on, with around 75% of the population in favour of some form of assisted dying being legalised, increasing numbers of people are choosing to take matters into their own hands. For example taking themselves off to end their lives legally at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland –if they can afford to do so.

My husband and I have completed Advance Directives, stating clearly in writing what our wishes are – and are not– regarding medical care at the end of our lives. To this we have added Power of Attorney documents which give added weight to our Advance Directives. The latter at present have legal force in England but not in Scotland.

I also persuaded our GP to obtain Do Not Resuscitate forms, normally kept in hospitals, which we have included, signed by him. Copies of all these are now with us, our GP and geographically closest next of kin.

All this, of course, may not be enough if either of us is painfully and terminally ill. Palliative care should be fully available to everyone.  However,  anecdotal evidence –sadly – is building to show where such measures have failed or are inadequate. What would one, other, or both of us do then?

 I have to admit that, at present, I do not know the answer to that….I’ve also lived long enough to know that, often, you really can not know what you would do in a very tough situation until you are actually there….

A few years ago, before my husband and I had sorted out what we would do in terms of advance wishes, I had a discussion on the topic of what one does at the end of life with my dear friend Peggy. In her late eighties, she is still amazingly active, enjoys life, and continues to be a wonderful support to other people as well as a shining example to those of us coming behind her regarding how we should grow older. Peggy, of course refuses to be complimented – “Away with you!!’ is her usual retort.

I recorded our conversation, which is quite short, and have Peggy’s permission to share it. It has the usual mix of Peggy’s and my conversations: a rich mix of grave seriousness, black humour, and sheer irreverence.

I would be interested in any comments you have on this, the most challenging of topics… 

Anne and Peggy

Anne and Peggy on Life, Death and Planet Janet

Zodiac

900 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2018

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page of Writing from the Twelfth House

 

As the Capricorn New Moon dawns: honouring the old moon’s 12th House phase…

Having been born in Moondark just before a Leo New Moon, I have long been aware of the 2-3 days before any New Moon as a special time – a 12th House time: of retreat, contemplation, a time when I have felt more fragile, more sensitive than usual, a time when peace and silence calls. Life being what it is, however, peace and silence may not be possible when one needs it! 

So, in honour of the waning Sagittarian moon’s 12th House phase, this year occurring in that liminal time after the 2016 Festive Season but before the New Year of 2017, here are some of my thoughts on the core of the 12th House, ie our connectedness with the Sacred, the numinous, that which lies beyond the ordinary compass of the everyday.

For me, when I was younger, the Sea, that other Great Universal, brought me a sense of the sacred, a sense of peace. Going to the sea was my equivalent of going to church.

photo: Anne Whitaker

I was born by the sea. The stripped-down Presbyterianism of my native Hebridean island certainly spoke eloquently to many, but did not speak to my Romantic temperament: it was a form of worship too spare and verbal for a soul whose longing for the Divine needs the engagement of all the senses.

The remote beaches of the Hebrides are perfect for communing. In some places no mark of human hand can be seen anywhere. You could be in any epoch.

The endless ebb and flow which soothes your spirit is millions of years old. With the cries of wild birds, and the sound of the wind ( no shortage of that !) the sea weaves music which carries you beyond time. The rich smell of ozone, salt and bladder-wrack is overlaid with a delicate scent of wild flowers. Sea splashes leave salt tastes on your skin. Sunlight on the sea’s surface creates diamond sparks. God/dess is right here.

Natural beauty calls to us, confirming that the Holy Spirit which we sense in nature includes us all. Sand, sea, sun and solitude evoke a sense of our infinite smallness in relation to the vastness before us. Yet there could be no sea without each drop of water, no beach without each grain of sand.

Church on the face of it is very different, being a contained space. But it is a space charged up with collective worship, where the cadences of liturgy and participatory ritual also evoke a feeling of Divinity’s vast presence in relation to our precious smallness.

The mind-calming, meditative facets of sea, and centuries-old church ritual, can lull us into peace, calming the heart and uplifting the spirit. Both sea and church in their differing ways can restore a sense of the balance and interweaving of matter and spirit – “spirit is a lighter form of matter, matter is a denser form of spirit” –  and provide a reminder that the small, limited, mundane world which we inhabit is set to the compass of Eternity.

Zodiac

Zodiac

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500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2016
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

What are the major planetary events of 2016? Question answered here!

Just when I was thinking of putting together a list of 2016’s major astrological events I’ve found the list of those very events on Leah Whitehorse’s excellent site, Lua Astrology. Many thanks, Leah, for compiling this key for us. I will certainly be printing it off and keeping it beside me for reference for the rest of the year.

Here is the link:

And ” What does it all mean?” is sure to be the next question. Well, astrology students out there, go and work it out for yourselves! If you want some help in doing so, there are many excellent astrology sites who will be reflecting from varying perspectives, on what the complex planetary picture for 2016 is likely to symbolise for us at both a collective and a personal level.

Here are a few for starters:

StarIQ

The Mountain Astrologer Magazine and The Mountain Astrologer Blog

Astrology News Service

The Horoscopic Astrology Blog

Enjoy your research! – and do leave any useful information pointers on this topic which you may wish to add, in the comments section. Thanks and all good wishes for Aries New Moon Year 2016 to everyone!

Zodiac

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200 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Leah Whitehorse 2016

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

Are you feeling the pull of Neptune Retrograde?

I’m feeling extremely Neptunian today, as Neptune settles into its retrograde phase. Very spacy – not like my usual fairly grounded self. It’s a good day for creative writing, and I have a new project into which to sink: the metaphor would have to be watery, wouldn’t it?!

The mystical planet Neptune turned retrograde at 7.5 degrees of its own sign of Pisces yesterday, 9th June at 14.00 GMT, not turning direct again until mid-November. This is a subtle, deep time for all inner, reflective, imaginative, spiritual work. Take up meditation, writing poetry, listening to music: pay more attention than you normally would, to the hidden currents of your inner world, and see what comes to you as the months pass.

In the meantime, here is a beautiful evening image of the sea, Neptune’s realm…

Honouring Neptune

Honouring Neptune

…if you have any feedback to leave, concerning how Neptune’s retrograde turning this week is affecting you or yours, I’d love to hear from you. I’ve just been inspired – once the piece of work this week stimulated by Neptune is done – to go back through my diary for the last three years to research whether  I had as strong a reaction on previous occasions.

Watch this space! I’ll be reporting back.

Zodiac

Zodiac

200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

What are the major planetary events of 2016? Question answered here!

Just when I was thinking of putting together a list of 2016’s major astrological events I’ve found the list of those very events on Leah Whitehorse’s excellent site, Lua Astrology. Many thanks, Leah, for compiling this key for us. I will certainly be printing it off and keeping it beside me for reference for the rest of the year.

Here is the link:

And ” What does it all mean?” is sure to be the next question. Well, astrology students out there, go and work it out for yourselves! If you want some help in doing so, there are many excellent astrology sites who will be reflecting from varying perspectives, on what the complex planetary picture for 2016 is likely to symbolise for us at both a collective and a personal level.

Here are a few for starters:

StarIQ

The Mountain Astrologer Magazine and The Mountain Astrologer Blog

Astrology News Service

The Horoscopic Astrology Blog

Enjoy your research! – and do leave any useful information pointers on this topic in the comments section. Thanks and all good wishes for Aries New Moon Year 2016 to everyone!

Zodiac

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200 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Leah Whitehorse 2016

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

The Astrology News Service: a wonderful resource for exploring contemporary astrology

This site is a wonderful resource for everyone, from astrologers to open-minded members of the general public, with an interest in astrology – beyond the Sun Signs! Check it out….

Solar System

Solar System

.http://astrologynewsservice.com/