Wednesday, August 16, 2006

As Wild As They Come

As Wild As They Come

“He never entered a room. He exploded into it," says Trish, and she is right. Some complain about Old Dick, the former deputy headmaster, because he always managed to bring chaos to whatever class he entered. Others delighted in the sheer wildness of the man, his unpredictability, his larger-than-life qualities, his sense of life as being something to be grabbed by the throat. However, Trish is not complaining. She belongs to that class of people who are content with observing life in a fairly objective manner. A rare and good breed is Trish, unlike the rest of us who fall into either of the two main categories of either liking or hating Dick. I decidedly belong to the former, those who liked the irreverence of the man, his boisterous, passionate and unbridled nature. He said directly whatever was on his mind without a care as to whom he hurt or amused or bemused.

"Jesus," said Joe Quinn, "if that man was still working today he'd be sued or sacked for sexual harassment. He's still the adolescent he was when he was at school." Be that as it may, Old Dick was a character, ruddy faced, bald, short and tubby. He always appeared as if he had just walked straight in from the bog. There was a wildness about him which some of us felt sure was shared with the wild asses of the West of Ireland. "That man has taken so many punches in so many pubs that he'd shame a world class boxer," said Tom McDermott. Old Dick was a traditional Culchie. He was brought up the hard way; he walked to school in his bare feet in the summer months of his childhood and cycled miles upon miles of bohreens to get an education at the not-so-local schools. If there was no toilet on the train after a hurling or football final it didn't cost him a thought to pee out the windows of the low doors. To listen to the language that simply rolled off his tongue was to be entertained by a first-class performer. This Culchie had words at will, a writer's sense of their proper and correct use and a comedian's sense of their effect on his audience. Old Dick was made to entertain, to be centre of the company, to hold forth with gusto and unleash his tongue like a strong wind in a stuffy room. It's such a pity he's retired and gone. Still, that's life.

Cultivate the sense of the wild in your heart. That's what the lecturer had said, the professor of literature who was also a creative writer. I remember a philosopher once telling me that, too, a long time ago. There is a lot of truth in it. Once when I was working in Galway helping in this drop in centre for the marginalised, that is those who had in some way fallen out with society, I met many a wild person. I vividly recall Mad Mick, a tall black haired itinerant, who used to come into our centre every night. Mick was at least six foot tall and wore a shock of black hair which was long and very fuzzy, but never unkempt. Wherever Mad Mick had lain the night before never seemed to have destroyed his wild curls. It was as if the very wind was whistling through them, bringing them to life. He spoke nineteen to the dozen recounting his exploits as a farm hand all over Ireland. The whole house was captivated by his stories and his songs. One thing I remember especially well about Mad Mick is that words never got in the way of a good story or song. It didn't matter if he couldn't pronounce them correctly. Neither did it matter if he hadn't quite got the correct word because Mick could always make up a new one. There was freedom in the wildness of his sun-scorched face. He always reminded me of someone who had just walked out of a bush.

Free spirits, yes that's another name for the wild ones, are those who are in touch with their instincts, with the gut. Never expect a free spirit to conform, I remember an old teacher once telling us. What a marvellous term “free spirit”, not tied down to routine or driven mad by the rules and ties and tyrannies that society places on the rest of us. I wish I could be one of their number. They love risk; in fact it would seem that they court it. They seem to be able to quit jobs so readily because they either hem them in or suffocate their creativity. I remember a vivid image offered at a group meeting: the silhouette of a man, or woman, with coat slung loosely over the shoulder heading up a mountain. Yes, there is freedom in that image alright.

I remember a former pupil of mine, Tom Delahunty, who is a real free spirit. He always reminds me of a friendly dog. I don't say this in any derogatory or pejorative sense. Rather I allude to those animal instincts which Tom keys into so easily. Everything comes so naturally to him. Falling in love is second nature to him and going to bed not merely a matter of getting some sleep, if you follow my meaning.  Like all free spirits, he lives for the moment, he seizes the day. No opportunity to make love will escape him. I wonder who the new girl in his life is now.

I suppose dancing has to be one of the most particular and peculiar characteristics of this freedom of spirit or wildness. As I type this page my friend Todd is on his way to a night club where he'll dance the night away. Dancing must be one of the most primitive and ancient of human passions, tapping into the rhythms of the great unconscious, into those basic instincts.  In a novel I read recently, which I have already discussed at some length in these posts, Eneas McNulty’s mother dances when she can find absolutely no meaning in life. (see The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty) What's unleashed is certainly greater than the hormones, though I love George Bernard Shaw's contention that dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire! In many a sweaty and smoke-laden room, lit with all kinds of psychedelic lighting, arms and legs and hips describe curves unknown to the complicated mathematics of modern computers. It's rather hard to reduce the instincts to binary numbers. When fingers explore the continents of desire we're dealing with more than imaginary numbers! We're dealing with raw passion and consummation and release. Yeats's old line comes to mind: "How can you tell the dancer from the dance?" Indeed, sometimes the dance takes over and becomes something greater. Oh Christ, leave the metaphysics out of this! Get on with the job of exploration. The free spirit always scores and metaphysicians never really make love. They're too busy trying to work out the meaning of the whole thing. In the meantime the woman has got tired and gone home.

But the wildness of the dance lingers on in us from our ancient ancestors, and sometimes the dance of the living becomes a dance of death. There have always been victory dances which glory in the death and destruction of the enemy. Did not William Golding get it so right in Lord of the Flies where he has the boy Simon ceremonially and savagely done to death by a gang of rival boys in a grotesque dance macabre? There is such a thin line between the dance of excess and drunkenness and the dance of destruction and death. Recall the ancient Roman god Bacchus, the Latin equivalent of the Greek Dionysus, the god of wine and excess. There is wildness and creativity for sure in the Bacchanalian or Dionysian element, but if left totally untempered by the rational and logical element, traditionally called the Apollonian element, after Apollo - the god of intelligence and of understanding, as well as healing, music and poetry - all forms of chaos will burst forth. Be that as it may, it seems to me that traditionally all societies, which of their nature are highly organized entities or systems, suffer from a surfeit of the rational and the ordered. A healthy society must allow the safety valve for that native wildness that belongs to us all. Otherwise we end up with a very frustrated and angst-ridden, if not violent society, because that native and natural wildness is suppressed and repressed.

This native and natural wildness finds an expression where we have humankind at play - homo ludens as some scholar rightly called this aspect of human nature. I suppose that's what the modern psychologists mean when they speak about rediscovering the child within us. At play we discover a very basic and elemental identity at our heart's core. We tap into this when we ride a rollercoaster at high speed up and down and around great curves of track, plunging and plummeting into real or imagined abysses or when we career down slides of all shapes and twists and heights into pools of water. Today there are so many young and not so young kids addicted to computer games and play stations. There is no limit to our ability to distract ourselves when we want to. In short, we love to play. Even if it's only playing a game of patience on one's own. Without a doubt playing can become serious, too. Witness the violence on football fields of all codes. Play, when taken too earnestly, can lead to cheating, violence and enmity.

We play when we use our humour, too. A sense of humour is one of the most humanising qualities we can possess. It can save the day literally. A word in jest can often defuse an angry exchange and prevent its being blown out of all proportion. A self-deprecating sense of humour can also be a useful skill in interpersonal relationships. To take oneself too seriously is surely one of the worst sins. It leads to all sorts of problems, ulcers not the least of them. In hospital humour can bring perspective and healing, and often the most seriously sick possess it in abundance.

Wild, yes that is a lovely word really. My friend Tom's little six year old boy is wild, but Tom says he wants to discipline him, not break his spirit. Young Mark is a free spirit. He needs to be tamed, not broken. To rediscover the wild streak in oneself is to rediscover the child in oneself, and this is essentially a healing activity. It brings many images to mind: running through the fields and hills as a youngster, carefree and happy; scoring your first goal; learning to ride a bicycle; diving into a fresh pool of water; singing songs; reciting poetry; playing your first tune on the piano or whatever. The list is endless. Maybe, too, it's less about doing things than about an attitude of mind, a very personal, unique, particular and peculiar outlook on life which is singularly one's own. Being wild or childlike is more to do with being happy to be oneself, to be happy in being different and unique.

It is my belief that J.M. Synge managed to capture the magnificent sense of the wildness of the Irish or Gaelic character.  His characters did not speak with what was later pejoratively termed “stage Irish” accents.  Rather they spoke with the rhythms of the Gaelic tongue transferred and transformed into their spoken English, and with the power and rhythms of nature itself.  In fact they are at their best when describing the elements of nature in all their wildness and pristine beauty.  In The Playboy of the Western World Synge eulogises the wildness of the imagination and life of the quintessential wild boy – Christy Mahon.

It's all about being at home in your own body, accepting your limitations, cherishing and developing your gifts - it's also about helping others to discover and develop theirs, encouraging both yourself and others in that endeavour we call life. Old Dick, Mad Mick and Christy Mahon and all the other real free spirits I've been lucky enough to meet were irrepressibly themselves and that, my friend, is no bad thing. Let's drink and sing to their health!


N.B.  The names of characters in the above piece are entirely fictitious – they are rather composites of people whom I’ve met over the years.   The above picture is one I took at Cefalu, Silicy, April 2006. The Wild Waves Crash - Le onde furibonde di Cefalu

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Writing Bug Again and Again!

The Desire to Write It's strange, so it is, the desire to write. Here I am beginning to write and yet not a clear idea in my head as to what I should put down on paper. Somewhere at the back of my mind there exists some sort of idea, yet I'm only barely glimpsing it, as if through a fog. I suppose that's the way it is with all writing. We write to clarify, to penetrate the fog, to glimpse, then to see more clearly and perhaps finally to view an overall vista, even if it is only the construct of our minds. Why do I write? I suppose I write to come to grips with life, with all the disparate experiences life throws up for me. I write to express how I feel on any particular occasion. I write because I enjoy the experience of seeing something, some story, some poem take shape before my eyes, some form of words that never existed before. This is probably the same for any creative artist, be he or she poet, novelist, artist, musician, composer or architect. As humans we need to give shape and form to our experiences, simply because we cannot live with sheer chaos. It is the very heart of the human condition that it should seek to give shape and form - in short, some kind of meaning - to the world as we experience it. Even those like Sartre and Camus et al, who sought to express what they considered as the meaninglessness of the whole human enterprise, put shape, form, and, in consequence, some meaning, on all the disparate experiences life confronted them with. Perhaps the question they should have faced was their own desire for meaning, shape and form in this so called 'meaningless universe'. Where did that desire come from? Was it just wishful thinking? Or was it more? I am not writing with the aim of constructing some metaphysical world of meaning here at all. Such a philosophical discourse belongs to more learned works proper. I write about the very basic human drive to create and construct, to map and to shape, to form and to fashion, to mould and to forge. From primitive prehistoric humankind to its modern counterpart this quest for meaning lives on. I suppose there is nowhere so crucial for this quest for form and meaning than at the extreme experiences of human endurance. Witness all the creative works that have grown from such experiences: books upon books recounting the horrific experiences in the concentration camps of the Second World War; films upon films tracing similar experiences in celluloid form; whole symphonies and shorter pieces attempting to come to grips with these depths of misery in some musical form. I have just finished reading Return of the Brute by Liam O'Flaherty and have been quite moved. This writer surely penned this classic little novel as a way of exorcising the demons of war that must have haunted him since he fought in the terrible trenches of the First World War. O'Flahery here gives shape to his feelings, his own experiences, and in so doing recreates for us, some eighty years after the event, a second-hand experience of the terror of it all. After reading such a well-shaped novel, how I wish I could write an equally good one. Then the style alone is superb, how just the right words are chosen. There are no redundant sentences or words. The style is succinct and to the point. As S.T. Coleridge said on many an occasion: "Style is the right words in the right places." And so we write to communicate something, to set down something, to give structure and meaning to our experiences. As I sit and type these words I delight in the sentences taking shape on the screen or the page. They were never there before. It's an exercise in making words behave as Anthony Burgess says. Have you a story to tell? Have you experiences you would like to share with others? They say there is at least one novel in everybody. There surely must be hundreds of poems in every single person on this planet. Of course the problem is having the skills to give your experiences shape and form, and having done that to do it in a novel and new way, with a different slant that, perhaps, has never been tried before. I am constantly searching for new ideas, yet I always seem to come up against a blank wall, a blank page. Somehow everything seems to have been tried before. As Qoheleth says, 'there is nothing new under the sun.' But as every author knows and they certainly would reprimand this Biblical author and retort: 'that maybe so, Qoheleth, but there are so many different and unique ways to say it, and that's what it is all about.' The portrait above is that of S.T.Coleridge, the great poet and philosopher of the English Romantic literary Movement. Coleridge has been a hero of mine for years!

A Buddhist Interlude in an Irish Rural Fashion

Field of Vision

I remember my father talking of his grandfather, how at a great age he went up the fields and died there. He had sensed, I imagine, life drawing to a close and had wanted to go up and look upon his favourite field. Everything is there, in a field that is, all of life from beginning to end. There you have the rich brown clay, the very soil of life from which growth springs, the young grasses, the clovers, the dandelions, the thistles, the buttercups, the daisies, the hedgerows of hazel, the cattle grazing, the odd gap that must be fenced and kept in check. There you can witness the cycle of the seasons from growth to harvest to decay, from ploughing to harrowing to planting, from life to death and from death to life.

The depths of the personality are also something akin to a field, I sometimes imagine. All of life is there too: from the murkier, oftentimes unacknowledged corners of the psyche, what Jung called our shadow, those demons that haunt us in our dreams and nightmares. Turn a rock or a stone and myriads of little creatures run about: life in the rich darkness, even though it might send shivers down our spine. Then the cow dung, the manure, rich in its growth promoting qualities, but heavy with the smell of decay. The worms and maggots that crawl and aerate the clay can sometimes live in the gut, or a least some of their cousins can, both physically and metaphorically. Then we have the various levels of light that bend over the field, from the strong sun of a summer's day to the cold dark shadows of a winter's night which our imaginations people with demons and ghosts. They are all there, all kinds of life and half-life, decay and death, the clean, the fresh, the dirty, the stale. Somehow everything is part of a greater picture, a greater whole encompassing everything, both life and death...

I remember many years ago our Leaving Cert. English teacher telling us that, like Hamlet, we were all capable of committing murder should such awful circumstances befall us. That shocked me at the time. It does not do so now. “All Africa and her prodigies” live in us; all the stages of our evolution dwell within our genes; we are made of the very stuff of the universe; we cannot shake off our origins no matter how hard we try.  I am paraphrasing the Irish mystic and philosopher John here.  Put it another way, I love the very wise saying that has been handed down over the years: “There, but for the grace of God, go you or I.” I remember a rather strong and capable colleague saying this at a most appropriate moment when other staff members were complaining about how much work they had to do due to an illness of a fellow worker, which was perceived as malingering. He was right in his assertion, given the right circumstances any of us might be in a similar position.

And so everything is within, deep down in the great dark ocean of the unconscious, or to continue with the present metaphor in every unexplored corner, under every unturned stone, in every unacknowledged gap, deep in the centre of a cow pat, in the prickliness of the thistles as well as in the finer points of young spring grasses, the bounty of the harvest and in the line of the hazels seeking to keep the boundaries in order on our field of life.

Why are we horrified and why do we run scared when subjects such as sex abuse, incest, perversions of all kinds, gratuitous violence and illnesses of all sorts, especially mental illness, raise their ugly heads? Why do we project our worst fears and hatreds, our presuppositions and prejudices on others? We run scared because we have not faced our own internal demons, our own shadow side. Each side of any conflict demonises the other because it has not faced its own demons.

Every society needs healing, especially one where there are two opposing and conflicting traditions. But this also must be said, that every society needs healing precisely because it is made up of imperfect human beings, of broken and fragmented ones searching for meaning and support. A society which cares for the growth of its citizens in all aspects of their lives, physical, mental and spiritual is one that promotes its own well-being. In so doing such a society will unmask its own demons only to find that they were in fact angels of a different kind.

The real problem is to believe that perfection exists in some pure state. It does not. Just let us take this fact on board, and ponder it deeply for some time. There is no Utopia. There is no perfect field with lush grasses or crops always in bloom. Our field is neither a totally perfect nor imperfect one. It is somehow different, neither one nor the other, nor even both at the same time. It is a wholeness all of its own. It is always beyond perfection and imperfection. It just is, and that is all that matters. As we walk down that field to face our own death, like my great-grandfather did all those years ago, let us be blessed with an awareness of the wonder and mystery of it all.
Unfortunately I do not have any photographs of either my greatgrandfather or grandfather on my father's side, so the photo I have appended above is of my grandfather on my mother's side, also a real countryman or "peasant."
Being and Doing Philosophers have always loved categories. Two such categories that remain in my mind are those of doing and being. It's great to “do”, to be involved, to be active, to be responsible, and to work, that is if one is so lucky as to have a job. Being so involved brings self-confidence, self-respect and a feeling of positive self-worth - all qualities greatly to be desired. It's also rewarding to “be”, to enjoy the very experience of living, to sit in the sun or the shade as is one's wont, to choose what one will do, to refuse to be bullied by the forces of society and its myriad expectations - in short the freedom to be oneself. This is the freedom to live each day as it comes, to live in the present or the “now” as both Eastern and Western spiritual writers put it. To be or to do? Or is it a question of either/or? Or is it both? Anyhow, to be an extremist in either direction certainly can lead to undesirable consequences. Firstly, those who are addicts to doing can and often do end up with stress, illnesses of various sorts, burn-out and possible break-down. Secondly, those who belong to the “being” camp, can become drifters, indifferentists of all hues, drop-outs, mavericks, eccentrics, odd-balls or even extreme hedonists whose catch-cry is “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Like everything else, there is a middle ground. There is balance. There is equilibrium. There is moderation. How to find that middle ground that is the question. It takes years of practice. I suppose finding it has something to do with all the great religions of the world and with the universal quest for meaning. It certainly has something to do with what the Easterns call “awareness”, living in the “now”. Call it meditation or contemplation or whatever you like. Gurdyieff calls it “observation”. Richard Gendlin, the psychiatrist, calls it “focussing”. That's it really. They are all calling us to get in touch with our bodies, with our real selves, with the unconscious, with our souls. I am always reminded of the Snoopy cartoon I saw many years ago, the caption of which ran: “Sometimes I sits and I thinks. Sometimes I just sits.” Yes indeed, Snoopy was right, it is important just to sit and observe your own body; the tensions in it and try to allow them go, to get really in touch with the muscles, the nerves, the very guts of life. In that way we can learn to slow down, to go with the flow, to quieten down and just be. One important result of the constant practice to get in touch with body, self and soul is the development of what they call openness - openness to life with all its possibilities. With such openness things begin to happen. You begin to be able to resonate with all of life, animal, human, vegetable and inanimate. Everything takes on a new meaning, a transformed significance - somehow everything is interrelated and especially related to you. Things begin to happen, and nothing happens without purpose - coincidences cease to exist. Jung calls such occurrences synchronicity. Being open to life brings with it the overwhelming realisation that this is the way things were meant to be. Now that does not mean that fatalism should rule over our lives, that we should be passive before all the “slings and arrows” that life throws our way. On the contrary, openness requires courage, risk-taking, decision-making, striving for goals, but with one exception, one very big exception, this time you are striving in harmony with the real self and things begin to fall into place. It is here that we are very much in touch with what the Jungian psychologist, James Hillman calls the “daemon” or guardian angel, our essential genius, who is guiding us to our chosen vocation or path in life. Then there is the gift of freedom that ensues. It is empowering to meet human beings with the gift or grace of freedom. Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Bishop Tutu of Cape Town, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi, Frere Roger of Taizé‚ Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader and, of course, the founder of the L'Arche movement, the French Canadian, Jean Vanier are or were possessed of this great quality. We are empowered just by being in their company. They are so filled with the power of their own soul which flows through them that we in turn are brought to a new depth, at least momentarily. Even to witness them at a third or fourth remove on the radio or television is to enter a very sacred space, to be in touch with a new ground of being. Getting in touch with the body, the self, the soul, with the deeper sacred space inside allows you to carry yourself with more freedom, with a lightness of being, with a great sense of humour. You realise that it is such a tremendous gift or grace simply to be alive, to be able to be conscious of “the greatness and littleness of man”; the microcosm and the macrocosm of life; the infinitesimally small spaces of the atom and the infinitely large ones of the ever-expanding universe; the tragedy, the comedy, the tragi-comedy of life (as Patrick Kavanagh would have it); in short the sheer mystery of life and one's capacity to marvel at it. Call this spirituality, religion or God. The word does not matter. What matters is the awareness of something so wonderfully greater than your own being, of which we are just a small sentient part. Why this gift of awareness? Why were we blessed with such a great awe-inspiring gift, and to what end, to what purpose? Let's not try to answer. Let's live with the wonder, unnamed, because naming it can kill it. To learn to be, to get in touch with one's own “being” gives us energy “to do.” Hence there need be no dichotomy between “being” and “doing”. With constant practice, one becomes a great “be-er” and a great “do-er”, because one's doing is empowered by one's being. In short there is a flow of life, a vital power, an enlivening energy. There are, then, less blocks in us to the power of the spirit or the soul, which of its nature desires to live in us, until it consumes us in our death. Above I have placed a photograph of a wonderful cloud which I took over San Gimignano about two weeks back while I was touring Tuscany. Could any geographer or meteorologist inform me what kind of cloud it is?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

At Home in the World

At Home in the World At last some rest, time to relax and unwind. Too many people demanding attention during the last week have drained my resources. Back to the centre now to restore energy, find my centre of gravity, some point from which I will be able to engage in battle again at a later date. This is the trough after the peak of the week, and indeed life is a cycle. It is time now to sit down and do a little writing, watch words form and shape themselves on paper before me. It is my on-going miracle, the one thing I never cease to marvel at. Now read about the intricacies of science from Darwin to Dawkins. 'Natural Selection' or evolution - a marvellous, wonderful and wondrous hypothesis, never disproved and one which probably never will be. It amazes and astounds me. It is another miracle, in-built in the very universe itself, encoded in our very genes. Today all falls under the ambit of evolution - the universe, the earth, our bodies, our behaviour and even our morals. In other words all the great questions of life are now being subsumed under its remit. I love the names from Darwin and his first great champion T.H. Huxley to Dawkins and Dennett. All are evangelists for their creed, a solid belief in the centrality of 'the selfish gene'. They are as surely convinced of their opinions and beliefs as are the Creationists who believe that God created the world from nothing, 'creatio ex nihilo', as it is put in the classic theological texts. All the protagonists in the modern debate have long since done with talk of nature's purpose and design. These debates were exhausted in the late nineteenth century. While practically all modern writers on the subject are evolutionary rationalists there is at least one of their number, Stephen Jay Gould (also a rationalist), who questions the all-sufficiency of natural selection and decries this new 'uncompromising ideology'. He questions the all-pervasiveness of selection. He sees life as messy and make-do and loves exceptions and puzzles. He is enchanted with the whole of nature, culture and history, and especially with the richness of Darwin's thought. It is always nice to come across an author who poses and raises new questions, does not quite swallow everything. Still, I love the clarity of Dawkins's writing, the play of his words, the sharpness and clarity of his mind, his ability to explain and popularize. The only thing in his work that I find off-putting is his evangelizing tone. Not alone he is striving to convince us of his view-point, but at times I feel he is trying to convince us of our wrongs, disabuse our minds of our mistaken ideas. But perhaps, that's what all strong believers in anything do? Or is it? I'm not really totally convinced. I hate fundamentalism from whatever science, natural or otherwise. I always like those authors who leave room for questioning their own presuppositions, who leave room for questions to push deeper and deeper. A true humility must be the main trait of any scientist or scholar. Arrogance is out because it destroys the innocence of the question which is able to push the frontiers of knowledge further out. Most people of any culture would not accept the absolutism of T.H. Huxley's famous dictum which demanded science's 'domination over the whole realm of the intellect' or indeed the absolutism of any other branch of knowledge. Indeed theology as a reflection on religious experience is a legitimate area of exploration, though there are those who would dismiss it as playing with unrealities. Yet, religion has persisted for as long as mankind has lived in communities. Today, above all, there has been a huge turn to alternative beliefs, to alternative therapies of all sorts, to spirituality, to meditation, to philosophies of the East, to holistic treatments of physical and psychological illnesses, to the New Age Movement. In short, there is a new openness to things of the spirit, a new acceptance of anything that can possibly help us as we journey through life. This openness is refreshing and encouraging. It is the very opposite of arrogance. It is an admission that we don't know everything. Of course, any sham, superstitious or questionable practice must be dismissed. The whole area of alternative medicine and New Age is a very uneven territory with many good things and equally many bad among its offerings, but to dismiss it all is to be cavalier and arrogant in the extreme. I seem to dwell in a rather cloudy land where the sun occasionally shines. It is a land that knows little clarity, though it is full of colours, shapes and designs. It is full of bright and dark mysteries with a host of others of varying hues in between. This landscape has moulded me into a being who abhors certainties of any hue. There are too many variables in the climate where I live. In any one day I can be assailed by all four seasons, the sun can be clouded in an instance, colours can disappear, swamped by another one or obliterated by the dark. Like Heraclitus said of his experience of life, 'all is flux and change' in my world. However, I do know that there is solid ground under my feet - I am no flat-earthist. I am a grain of sand on a rock in the sea on a greater spherical rock which in turn is just a grain of sand in an infinite expanding space. I marvel at the mystery of these great infinite spaces and the littleness of this speck who types these words which write from some centre seeking meaning. I rejoice in the Darwins, Dawkinses and Goulds of this world who push the frontiers forward. I delight in the Joyces, Yeatses and Banvilles of this world who forge words like ancient blacksmiths. They too expand the frontiers of our knowledge. I celebrate the Nietzsches, Freuds and Jungs of this world. They have plumbed the depths of the personality. I praise the mystics, the Eckharts, the Susoes and the Blakes of this world. They have deepened the mysteries. Poets, philosophers, scientists, theologians, artists, architects, engineers, doctors, writers, singers, musicians and all who play with the wonders of this life, all co-operate in the furtherance of knowledge, in promoting concern for the whole of life as we know it from this small blue orb spinning in the middle of nowhere. This is our home, our resting place, the ground from which we grow. It is at this spring that we refresh our spirits and revitalize our energies. It is truly good to be at home on this earth, to be an intimate part of its very clay.