Monday, 27 August 2007

Saturday dawned bright and sunny....

I woke up before my alarm on Saturday morning and had a couple of those 'where am I moments. Then I remembered. My attitude also seemed to have changed. All the irritation I had the evening before had gone. I understood everything to be a battle between the personality and the soul which everyone is going through. Those late-comers and irritating people are in the same battle with their personality and their soul as I am. The personality does not want this conference, the soul does. For some the soul is more dominant which is why they will be there on time, for others the personality is more dominant and takes the form of 'I won't be told what to do and it rebels, by coming late if at all'. I saw a lot of this over the weekend and as a result I had deep compassion for the human condition. It truly is a battle.

I got dressed and made my way to the early morning meditation which was being held in the lecture theatre before breakast. This is the first point where the personality rebells. For me it took the form of a thought, 'why do you want to go into a dark lecture room and meditate when you can walk out in the misty morning sunshine' This is a first test of discipline. Essential to the spiritual path is discipline. To notice what it is the mind wants and to say 'no, this is the programme and I will do it'. So it was with a heavy heart because it truly was a beautiful misty morning. The quallity of mist was such that I had never seen before and I knew that what I would experience in terms of depth of feeling and closeness if I remained walking around the lakes would be powerful. Yet the discipline was to say 'no' and go to the group meditation in the lecture theatre.

I arrived and sat down. All was quiet. I stole a quick look around and noticed that not very many of the what seemed to be over 100 delegates attending the conference were there. I noticed the irrtation in my mind and the berating of myself for leaving outside to come in. I sat there, accepting all this, not easy at times. I willed for the meditation to begin because then maybe my mind might give me some rest. I didn't have long to wait. The person who was leading it got up and lit a candle and then explained that he was going to play some music, then there would be silence and he would end with a reading. The music began to play and I immediately noticed a shift in the mind, gone were the berating thoughts, there was a real connection with the music and with this came a contentment and peace. Then the music stopped and the meditation began. I tried one technique and then another but nothing seemed to work. I felt pain in my back, an itchy nose, all mind things trying to stop me from meditating. In the middle of it someone came in late dragging his shoes along the ground and immediately there was irritation but then compassion as I realised that it was probably his personlity which was being dragged there under duress like mine was earlier. I spent the rest of the meditation thinking about this inherent conflict of the human condition that of the ego-personality and the soul.

After meditation was breakfast. I lined up and took my tray of a lovely fried egg, beans, quorn sausage and hash brown outside into the warm sunshine. I can't remember if anybody joined me for breakfast or not. I was aware of feeling quite separate and I wondered if that had anything to do with me earning my living from working in a left brained world - to do with figures and many there doing work which I consider right brained like healing, psychotherapy. I was aware that many of them were therapists and 'what do you do' is always the first question which seeemed to come up and I hated it. I found myself getting all flustered and embarassed as I tried to fit standards and standards development with pschology and wholisic therapies. What I was amazed at was how many seemed to have their own practice which got me thinking...but more of that anon.

The first lecture was on the paths of mystical activism. The speaker who was American gathered together quotes from some great women mystics most notably St Catherine of Genoa. She also spoke about another mystic called Etty Hllisum who I had never heard of. The lecturer explained how Etty had kept a diary of her spiritual development which has documented all of her crises and conflicts. I know that I am definitely going to read it. Here's the link for what Wikipedia has to say on her It is strange that I haven't come across her because I've read extensively about the lives of mystics and saints. This is the beauty of a conference like this in that it's a great opportunity to learn something new and to have insights and intuitions confirmed.

Afterwards there was coffee. I walked into the room and immediately saw Dr Andrew Powell standing by the water machine on his own. Dr Powell was founder chair of the spirituality and psychiatry special interest group in the Royal College of Psychiatrists. I had written to him before and he had responded. I thought that it would be a good chance to re-open the conversation about the connection between the eye and the brain. I wandered over to him. He caught my eye and I said 'Hello Dr Powell, I wrote to you some time ago'. He looked keenly at my name badge and said 'did I reply to you, I usually do' I said 'to be honest I don't honestly remember, I think you did but I think that seeing someeone face to face is better and there is something I want to discuss with you' He poured himself some water and asked me if I wanted some. I said 'yes' and he poured me some. We made our way outside to where there were two vacant chairs and sat down. He looked at me and said 'what is it you want to speak about'. Taking a huge plunge 'I launched into the story of my experience on the meditation retreat in 1999 and its links with the right brain and finally my request to have an MRI scan. When I finished, he was silent. Then he said 'I have two thoughts on what you have just told me firstly, I don't think that you would get any answers from having an MRI scan. It is a hugely complicated procedure and the results would probably be inconclusive. Second is the issue of your uncorrected lazy right eye and even what you say about Gordon Brown having a glass eye in his left eye. It could be that the loss of his eye spurred him on to work even harder to achieve what he has today and has nothing to do with the glass eye in his left eye' I had to concede this because I do not know.

He then shared something personal about himself and whether or not it has anything to do with expeirences he had. By the end of the conversation I was feeling much more reassured and the drive to do more digging to prove a link had gone. He advised me just to be me and to use the energy which the experience has given to me to serve others in whatever capacity that might be. He then said 'goodbye and good luck Margaret' and left me sitting alone. How did I feel?....grateful to have had the conversation with him. He told me that I wouldn't be able to have an MRI on clincial grounds (this was reassuring because it told me that he he didn't think I was mad!) I resolved after speaking with Andrew not to speak about this experience to anybody else but this wasn't to be.....

The second speaker was Dr Andrew Newberg. His presentation was called Neuroscience and the Mystical Mind; why do we believe what we believe' Andrew had a series of powerpoint slides showing the areas of the brain that light up when monks and nuns were meditating. What was interesting to me was how one nun took the news that it was areas in the brain that were lighting up when they were meditating. She said 'thank you so much for showing me how God is working in my brain'. This resonated with me. According to occult literature there is a Rod of Initiation which comes down from a higher power at the moment of spiritual awakening. This may correspond to that point at which the areas of the brain light up. The neuoscientist cannot determine this and so just seeing certain areas of the brain light up when meditating does not tell the entire story. I think it was seeing this at the conference that convinced me that I don't need to search for an explanation anymore. It was interesting that having waited so long for this presentation that I found it quite staid and boring. I realised that I would much rather have the mystery and see how far it takes me in insights and intuitions which I can share with others. I saw then why I had to come to this conference. To be honest in a search and to realize its utter futility.

After lunch Bishop Kallistos of Diokleaia gave a lecture Entering the Heart: Contemplation in the Orthodox Church. His voice was quite droning and I had eaten too much for lunch so found myself nodding off. This is really bad but I can't remember anything much of what he said. I know that he spoke about three kinds of contemplation - Inner contemplation, Contemplation of Nature, Contemplation of God. He explained that inner contemplation is about contemplating our desire nature, wants, all things of the personality. Contemplation of nature is about seeing the Divine in everything, the smallest blade of grass. Contemplation of God is all about contemplating the transcendence which he admitted was difficult. He recommended that a good route into the spiriutal is contemplation on nature. I liked this simple way of explaining the place of contemplation.

After the lecture I went to to the bar to buy a bottle of water to wake me up and who walked in only the Bishop. He bought a glass of wine and began counting out the £2.50 from change which he produced from deeep within his robes. I thought about buying it for him out of some misplaced respect for clergy (a throw back from my catholic respect for clergy days) but then thought 'no'. I was going to speak to him and I didn't want him to feel under obligation in his answers because I had bought him a drink. I asked him in all of his experiences if he had ever come across a phenomenon of energy rising from the base of the spain. Not looking at me he said 'no I have had not come across such a thing in the orthodox religion' There was silence then he said 'but, I have come across something similar in eastern religions'. All I said was 'right'.

Then he said 'let's walk outside, it is warm here'. I thought 'no wonder you're warm, being a pleasantly plump man and covered by heavy black robes and bejewelled by a heavy gold chain but I obviously said none of this!. We made our way to a vacant seat. He pulled a chair over so that he was sitting beside me not looking at me. It reminded me of confession where I would speak to the side of the priest. I felt a twinge of discomfort at this memory but pushed it down and waited for him to say something. He said 'you have had something like this, in his deep droning voice. I replied 'yes' and told him all about the experience in Devon in 1999. Once or twice he gave me a searching look and then he looked away. He then said to me 'this has never happened to you again' and I said 'no'. He then said 'what has happened to you is powerful. I know it is not your imagination because if it was you would have had it a number of times'. I asked him 'what am I do with it' and he said 'be yourself' There was something about that answer and the acceptance of what had happened as something special which brought tears to my eyes and I found it difficult to speak. Then he too said goodybe and walked away.

The next event on the programme was a violin recital in a local church by one of the delegates. I had mixed feelings about this event. I have a tendancy never to pack the right clothes or shoes for conferences. This one was no exception. I had packed totally unsuitable shoes and the church was a 10 minute trek cross-country on a dirt track. There were some cars going but I couldn't put my name down along with those over 60's -something about it wasn't right! My second reservation is that I am not overly keen on the violin. My brother played it when he was little and even though he ended up being a good violinist the memory of the days of scraping screeching notes stayed with me.

Anyway, as a lesson in disicpline I set off with the some others walking to the country church. It was such a beautiful afternoon and I extricated myself from the others to walk alone. Words just don't do justice to the depth of contentment it is possible to feel by connecting with nature. In spite of having sore feet. To look at the trees and leaves without anything being in the mind, a space of emptiness, to be empty yet so full. I was filled with the deepest gratitude to the universe for allowing me to have this experience. I believe in being grateful because gratitude is the quickest way of opening the heart. When we're grateful it causes a softening which is necessary for spiritual development. And it's not about being grateful for big things but to be grateful for the little things and then the big things will come.

I arrived at the church and found a seat and looked around. It was a typical quaint old English church. Everyone piled in and the rector gave a history of the church. I'm afraid history is not my strong point so I don't remember much. Then the violinist was introduced and he put a context around the music he was going to play which was a piece from Bach. Then he started to play. It was beautiful, the strains of the violin resonated and the yearning of the piece was really moving. I noticed though that my mind kept trying to figure out how many pages were left to play in the script. I was horrified at this and tried to put thoughts of this kind out of my mind and focus on what was a moving performance. I don't attend classical concerts when I'm at home so it was a new experience for me. When I forgot about the number of pages left to play and closed my eyes and entered into it I found that I got lost. The mind shut up and the soul took over and I allowed myself to be moved by the experience. You can always tell when you are moved by something if it is difficult to come back into everyday life. If things are a bit slower than they were before then you know you have been moved.

This brought us up to dinner. On the walk back to the university I was speaking with yet another therapist and she said how much she was looking foward to the next lecture which was going to be an interview with Sir John Tavener. I had never heard of this musical composer. He composed the music which was played at Princess Diana's funeral. I had also missed this. At the recital I had seen a tall figure all dressed in white listening intently to the music and so I assumed that this must be him.

For dinner I sat outside and the lady that I had met the first evening came and joined me which I was delighted about. We were sitting comfortably chatting when I saw this man making a bee-line for our table. I had an uneasy feeling which I couldn't explain. He asked if he could join us and what could we say but 'yes'. He immediately launched into asking 'where we lived and what work we did' and I could feel irritation rise up within me. When I said what I did he got all excited and started to talk about products he was developing and how to get some financial assistance. He turned out to be a free-lance consultant. I was angry that he would use a conference like this to tout for business. I explained that I wasn't the right person for him to speak to and tried to steer the conversation back to the topic under discussion for the weekend. To be fair he did talk about other conferences he had gone to but I got the feeling that his main aim was to look for business which left a nasty taste in my mouth. To make matters worse my companion just took her tray and left leaving me alone with him. Luckily it was soon time for the next lecture which was the interveiw with Sir John.

This lecture turned out for me to be the most moving one. He spoke about the creative process and how close he feels to God when he is composing and how separate and in hell he is when he is not composing. He was refreshing in his honesty about his own journey. The years he spent being wedded to following traditional musical methods and how he came to move on to try different things. He spoke about the support he had from a grandfather who used to applaud him when he was banging out the sound of the rain and the wind on the piano when he was a young boy. The essence of what he said has stayed with me long after the man and his physical presence has gone. It seems to be true that great talent comes with great torment. He explained the background to the music he composed for Diana's funeral, it was based on the death of a young girl and he adapted it for Diana. Some more of his music was played and once again my soul responded and the mind was quiet. The soul was at needed nothing else.

I decided to be socialable as it was Saturday night and went into the bar to get a drink. I got chatting to a man who was in front about the interview. He offered to buy me a drink and immediately my mind got into 'if I allow this, how am I going to buy one back, there won't be time so I said 'no, it's OK' but he insisted so I said OK. We had a lager each and went to a table. We had a pleasant discussion about the interview and creativity in general. Another lady joined us which was great. I tried to finish my lager quickly so I could buy the next round but when I asked he didn't want any, the woman had left some moments earlier. I thought 'at least I tried'. We finished up our lagers and said goodnight and I set off for Hungerford in the dark. As I said before I have no sense of direction. It was dark, I had no map, there didn't seem to be anyone around. Feeling a little light-headed from the lager I tried to identify familiar landmarks. I thought it was around a blue box like thing but when I walked around the blue-box like thing there was no Hungerford. Beginning to panic a bit and aware that my not suitable shoes were beginning to blister my toes I looked around and saw a couple of the delegates coming. With relief I asked them if they knew where Hungerford was. They looked blank but then produced a map which is bloody useless to me because I can't read it. I don't think he can either because he turned it this way and that, walked over to a lamp to see and then waved an arm in the general direction of upwards. I thanked him and set off only to arrive back at the lecture theatre where some of the delegates were still drinking outside.

Setting off again I ended up back where I started. Now I was really beginning to panic. I had been in orbit for almost 20 minutes and seen every bloody accommodaton block except Hungerford. Then I spotted a group of people and I said in this tiny frantic voice. I don't suppose any of you are in Hungerford. To my absolute delight one woman said 'yes, that's where I'm staying, come on'. I gave such thanks to the universe and trotted up quite happily beside her bewildering her with the tales of my orbit around the university campus. I got into my room tired but very grateful. The irony is that all the time I was walking I was never far from it. If I had trusted my intuition which was taking me there and not pannicked I would have been OK. It is times like this that show me just how easy it if for me to slip back into mind and lose my trust in my soul and intuition. But this awareness and insight is not to beat myself up with but to learn from. The universe is kindness and benevolence and once there is this awareness and repentance of having slipped from the path the guidance and support is always there.

This completes all of the events of Saturday. I am sorry if there is not enough about the content of the lectures. It is quite ego dominated to remember only in great detail what concerned me and that primarily was my search. That is over now which may improve my recollection of what others said. Although in hindsight one of my observations of the content of the speakers of the conference with the exception of Sir John was that much was an extraction and rehash of everything that has gone before there was very little original material. Just my humble opinion. The conference was run by the Scientific and Medical Network and so if there was a particular presentation you would like to have a CD of then you could join and order the CD.

Now I will write about events on Sunday, apologies for the long entry for this blog....

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