12th April – While I somehow knew I would return to this place in the Black Mountains, to seek out something that eluded us the last time, I hadn’t known for sure that it would be on this trip to Wales or even on this day until I was back behind the wheel again. The opportunity to “try again” was there, I knew…but I was open to being led there, or not, this time rather than scheduling or forcing it.
Last time, we failed to get even close to what we were were looking for, with just an inkling of where we went wrong after hours of walking in the hot July sunshine (though the search turned into a memorable afternoon trek that I wrote about in the post In search of waterfalls). Yet there was something in the spirit of this particular holiday, where I was planning less and following intuition far more, that made it feel somehow “meant to be” that I was suddenly driving my car back towards the Usk reservoir and and along a stretch of road through the national park that was now familiar to me (from last time and more than a handful of dreams) knowing exactly where I was going to park and what we were going to be doing when we got there.
At least I had a better idea of where these two stone circles were located than when we set out on our very haphazard adventure of the last time; was pretty sure “where we had gone wrong” and that the site lay much closer to the shadowy sides of Fan Foel (along a route with a stile that our dog wasn’t able to get over…a hitch I had no solution for but hopefully one would turn up). I concentrated on getting back to the start point and taking it one step at a time.
As we ate our lunch near the car, the landscape in front of us looked like an unbroken expanse of passive, lemon-yellow meadow stretched out in the sunshine to the foot of those distinctively pyramid-like hills up ahead…but in reality (approached directly, the “off-track” way) it was crisscrossed with fast flowing water, the beginnings of the River Usk and the Nant Tawr woven around each other in what almost feels like a figure-of eight formation when you are at ground level meaning. Which ever way we went, we came up against the obstacle of ever more water (and being never quite sure we were heading in the right direction, there was always the possibility we were making all this considerable effort in vain).
Silvery ribbons of the clearest water revealing pebbly river bed were everywhere across this landscape, sometimes shored in by steep banks and then an endless yellow landscape – so beautiful to look at but I don’t think I had to regard water as such an obstacle to exactly where I most wanted to go before. Water was teasing or even goading us, it seemed, or were these streams just playing, having fun. Yet as I kept bumping into this virgin stretch of the Usk (the same river we had walked, driven along and crossed the broader stretches of many times this holiday) I was also conscious that she was leading us back to her source…getting very close now…knew, also, that if only that source would materialise soon (and her return to it!) then the very obstacle of her would be gone in a flash, a “problem” dissolved before our very eyes but then she would no longer be a vibrant, living thing weaving her animated route across the landscape…can’t have one without the other…and there is such a truism at the heart of all this. Anyway, there seemed to be no sign whatsoever of that happening or her often chattery, spirited conveyor belt of water slowing down as we faced the endless dilemma of which way to go to get around her.
So, we “went for it”, heading roughly in the direction we believed the stone circles would be and approaching the challenge of it like physical conundrum, splitting off into different directions in the fake-competitiveness of asserting “this way is best”; “no, this way”. My husband was all too often to be found sitting cross-legged on a prominence across the other side long before we got there, smiling sagely as my daughter and I still sought the best way to get across surprising deep and tricky water (for all it was relatively narrow) and my most competitive self joke-growled at him in annoyance as I reapplied myself to the task. I’ll admit, I’m not all that great at rocks as slippery as a buttered bowling ball combined with a river bed made up of unexpected, ankle-twisting dips and pebbles as sharp as shards of glass to my now bare feet plus freezing water fast enough to tug your footing from under you if you lost your balance. In the end, there was no other way across but to throw boots and socks to the other side and take the plunge wherever instinct told me was the “best” place to get across, gritting teeth at those vicious shards and the shock of an icy coldness sufficient to turn my feet deathly blue; all this while trying to keep my balance, my camera dry and some sort of dignity. Actually dignity was the first thing I discarded, being a dead weight I found I couldn’t be bothered to carry any longer. This made room for the kind of self-effacing humour you tend to adopt when you realise you are being encouraged and pep-talked along by someone a fraction of your age in one of those role reversals that make parents feel like they are suddenly being parented by their own offspring; the stuff of very mixed feelings.
Yes, part of me was as irritable as hell at the endless challenge of it all; like a metaphor for my life, I noticed that, no sooner had one challenge been put behind me, another was very quick to take its place and that all my hard-earned confidence, my very adulthood and the accumulated poise of years, was being turned into the stuff of high-comedy as if none of that had ever really mattered and could be rug-pulled from under me in a moment. As each triggered trait of me rose up to say hello, I calmly watched what presented in my emotion spectrum with as much self-loving, non-judgemental perspective as I could muster and told myself (as I might once have told my daughter…) that this was a character-building experience; that feeling out of my comfort zone was only evidence that there was always still opportunity to grow, to extend and to surprise yourself…
Yet, another part of me was fully conversant with the deliberate metaphor in all of this and of the “perfection” of how I had set up this return trip (for “return” it was, I had no doubt), not just as a return to the site of last summer’s “failed” attempt to find this place but a return to somewhere I had been (and known) so very well before, in other lifetimes and across all the time in between because the memory of returning to this “place” was so deep within my cells that I experienced it like a homecoming. I quickly knew I was returning to somewhere I had, in a sense, never actually left and the very challenge of it was like a play on how, really, it is all just so very easy to get back to…we only make it hard for ourselves because of the attitudes we bring to it (including thinking we ever left). All I had to do was recognise the obstacles for the comedic trivia that they really were, to open up to being guided by my own intuition, to dare to take the plunge and then to realise I had never really left in the first place; to allow that I was already in all the places I strove so hard to get to as soon as I stopped making a muchness of all the so-called obstacles in the way but, rather, enjoying and accepting them as part of the fun of the journey.
Like the double helix twists, turns and crossing points of my very own life experience across multi-lifetimes, I was both “already there” and “heading back there” in every moment of this scramble across rivers and steep banks…getting nearer and then further away…choosing it, aiming straight, losing sight of it again, finding it precarious, hard, painful even…then getting back on track, dumping any unhelpful baggage I realised I had accumulated, knowing when to laugh along with myself, remembering this “place” once again like a heart-song calling me, sighing with the exhilaration of being back there and the joy of realising I knew the feeling of it like an old friend as soon as I got even close. These experiences were looping and relooping around me like the very water I was crossing until I got the rhythm of how it happened, keeps happening, had been happening since the very beginning of human “time”, like a familiar series of intricate dance steps (yes, I was being shown my very own dance moves by these audacious strips of water). I was being taken through all the old manoeuvres, humiliations, lost-confidence hiccoughs and sticking points of my life until I got to recognise them for what they were and was, instead, able to concentrate on that other feeling of reunion and return…of being up there on the other bank in the sunshine, high and dry…over and above that old feeling of separation from what I wanted, scratching my head at so many seeming-obstacles spread out all before me. By the time I had crossed my final hurdle, with a broad grin on my face, numb feet and slightly soggy trousers, I was really getting it…because that something that was drawing me closer was so palpable to me that the exhilaration of the experience was everything and was carrying me forwards across endless golden meadow.
That feeling of knowing where I was heading became such an undeniable impulse in me that it seemed to grow stronger with every step, like the very heart beat drum of me as I scrambled yet another bank and surveyed the horizon for a clue as to where we were meant to be heading next…and yet still no sign of standing stones. When we found the tumbledown remains of a sizeable cairn and as we stopped to pay our respects to those ancient stones, I almost felt it as a tap on the shoulder and, turning around, there they were…our two stone circles, so low to the ground they could almost have been taken for nature’s most randomly strewn boulders. Yet, a quick blink in the heat-haze of afternoon sun and, we could suddenly see what we were looking at, like the combined stature of these stones reasserted itself, their shapes swelling to what they once were in another time in a transfigured landscape full of people, meaning and alchemy; a stopping point, a destination and a focal point for rituals that made their very world spin round.
The time we spent in this sacred place defies all adequate description, all I know is that we were there for well over an hour of which time I spent a very long portion laying down inside the second, larger, circle listening to the mesmerising, almost unbroken melody of many skylarks and with the sun’s dazzle raining down onto my eyelids, feeling exactly as though it was pouring overspilling quantities of white light directly into my cells. Though I was full aware of my surroundings, I was also in the deepest trance-like mediation in which I was both suspended above it at about the level of those tiny dots of song-on-the-wing yet, through the focal point of dampness drawing my back into the boggy earth, was also aware that I was grounding myself more deeply into that earth than I could ever recall before, as though the very light in my cells was dispersing into that yellow earth through my root, drawn irresistibly into it as though by a thirsty sponge. And yes, there was such a feeling of homecoming to it, a sense of deeply knowing this place and declaring “I’m back now” at what felt like a predestined time. All awareness of flowing water was quite gone from the scene as there was no wetness except for the residual dampness to the earth; as though river and hillside had become wedded into one form made up of two. From where we sat on this raised plateau of yellow scrub, there was no sign whatsoever of any river in that unbroken landscape, as though those playfully watery threads that had met us like emissaries on the threshold of a dream, having led us safely (if flirtfully, teasingly) here, had now quietly withdrawn to the sidelines while we enjoyed our moment of utter peace in a place fringed by both water and mountain but, of itself, void of either; a point of neutrality in the midst of everything else going on.
The alignment of the circles with the sunrise and sunset…we speculated about those and wondered if the very pointed dip between two hills, where we could see the peak of Pen Y Fan to the slightly south east, marked where the first rays of sunrise could be witnessed from the first of the circles (if so, I could only imagine how the sunrise would potentially set the slopes of that distant mountain ablaze with fiery-red sides against the sky…) The other more westerly circle, we felt, was possibly sunset aligned and, as though a marker for this, we noticed a large fallen stone some distance away, one of a trio with two smaller ones by its side. Of course, this was all pointless speculation and it seemed more appropriate to feel into this place rather than try and reason with it so we each did our own thing, entering into our own dialogue with the stones without uttering a word, as we always tend to do in these places; respecting each other’s space. As I lay there on the ground, in a time-suspension marked only by the repeat birdsong of skylarks, I felt my own understanding of this place tickling within me like the unravelling of energy codes that unpacked themselves in all in my cells…and which are unpacking still, long afterwards.
When the moment felt right we, of course, shook ourselves down, paid our respects and had the same challenging walk back across many rivers to get back to the car yet it didn’t seem so hard, so long or so daunting at all. Besides, I had come to appreciate these obstacles for making the experience all that it had been and for holding at bay all but the least hesitant visitors from this remote site; no busloads or teashops here, no T-shirts, crystals or postcards to be bought. Like yet another homecoming, there was a self-recognised flavour of self-preservation to this place’s absolute detachment from the footfall of the world and its trait of keeping to the sidelines of everything; I could identify with such an impulse, it having been my very own for as long as I remember. Easily mistaken for being stand-offish or aloof, such a place is simply saying “if you want me, meet me where I am; you know I’m always here for you when you’re ready to do that…I’m just here, holding my space, being what I am, doing what I do”. Sunny-demeanored in spring and summertime, a whole other story in the winter months…yes, there’s much I can identify with about this place and I find I can make peace with that, having newly experienced its perfection.
In testing out my own willingness to “go there” this place had challenged me to step up to where I now am…a point of reaching the fullest alignment with embodied self that I have ever known. Then, in a year that has taken me on quite the merry dance of the divine feminine and masculine elements played out in the very landscape of my travels, drawing me to so many of the natural meeting places of the two, its location between distinctively substantial hills thrusting strength and protection to the skies and the many-stranded ribbons of water that had teased and encouraged us all the way to its very threshold is all I would have expected from such a place; a marriage of apparently discrepant impulses working in total harmony to create a union marked out as a void of all potential on the landscape where their impulses cross over and, for a suspended moment in time and location, cancel each other out.
As we join in with the unique energy of such a space we get to, all the more clearly, witness all the contrary impulses of our world and to see how harmonious they really are; how they really work together…all of them…and how it is actually all so perfectly imperfect “out there” in the world (just think how useful it would be to have such places you could stop off to be reminded of this…and appreciate how well the ancients knew this that they built such places into their crossing points, along all of their travel routes). I had witnessed the divine feminine and masculine aspects of the landscape create a perfect tableau for me to step into, made up of both thrust and flow, high points and oh-so deep ones. Then, having reached the meeting place of these two impulses within the physical landscape of this place, it felt like I had also met and embraced these aspects, in equal proportion, within myself; we all had…both in ourselves and in our relationships with each another…in ways that left us feeling deeply affected, and more than a little altered, afterwards.
The part played by the water, in at once leading the way and yet also challenging my intentions, my very determination, had met me exactly where I am in my life and mirrored to me just what I needed to hear at this juncture. (Perhaps here’s something about why particular locations were chosen for these sacred sites) I had been invited to demonstrate – as, no doubt, were all contemporary visitors to this site – just how much effort I was prepared to invest in getting to where I was headed; and, at the same time, shown the experience of it was mine to be claimed just as soon as I lightened up about any of the so-called obstacles in my way. The natural landscape had been incorporated into the sacred ritual of the place; made part of the epic journey to it and the reappraised journey away from it…enabling you to carry away with you a refreshed understanding of the particular life journey you were on and newly poised to incorporate the most powerful aspects of what you had been reminded of into your “ordinary”, often challenging, everyday life. There was no doubt this was how I felt as I retraced my steps to the car.
For my own part, I drove away From Nant Tawr with such a sense of having completed some sort of initiation process that I had set up for myself at a level beyond the ordinary; of having “woman-ed up” to something that I most fundamentally am, claiming it for myself… finally. The feeling of the day is now crystallised and held somewhere that I know I will always have access to it; a radiant memory that feels like a cellular reset has occurred, which is what these initiations through my symbolic interaction with the landscape always seem to deliver to me, in one way or another. This is a way of working with the landscape that, I am quite sure, our ancestors knew all about and which they were prepared to utilise fully since they understood its potentially transformative effect upon how we interpret our deepest understanding of who we are and what we are here to do. They understood (and here’s the paradox) that the implications of what they played out, through their ceremonies involving the sun, the stars, their stones and all the various natural features of their environment, reached far beyond the physical markers of space and time that they were playing with like giant chess-pieces upon the landscape. In shifting human consciousness, they were impacting whole worlds.
The beauty is, we all have access to this most intuitive of skill sets and an ability to work with our own, most personal “landscape” in exactly this way once we are prepared to open to what it has to tell us in the broadest sense and on the assumption that the environment of our world is so much more than just a flimsy stage-set fashioned by chance and quite detached from our deepest experiences of selfhood. Rather, taken at the symbolic level, everything that presents to us has something to tell us that is useful, personal and very likely to transform our own world and beyond when we are prepared to act upon it.
Since my visit to Nant Tawr, the feeling of the place has never really left and feels like something that was there all along has come back into much clearer focus within me, lit up in all my cells. I find I often “return there” during times of meditation and in healing sessions when the ability to transport myself “there” at will feels incredibly useful and transformative.
On my solar return this May 1st, something woke me unusually early and, without really knowing why, I found myself in my bathroom just as the morning sunrise was angling the brightest jet of sunlight into the side of a window that seldom gets any direct sunlight (facing north against a brick wall as it does). Everything in the path of this shot of light was blanked out into a dazzling void a few inches wide and I stood there transfixed at seeing so much intensity in a room I expect to experience in far more muted shades. This laser-like shot of light was coming from the v-shape between the two intersecting rooflines of the two houses opposite…the narrowest possible gap of opportunity for the rising sun to make its way through trees and houses from the farmers fields behind to get to me. Another minute either way and I would have missed the show entirely; in fact, I strongly suspected this alignment was precise enough to be a once a year event. What made me wake up when I did? I couldn’t help feeling that it was meant to be (yes, I had been born very early morning on this particular day), like a celebration of achieving that feeling of alignment I talked about above; that’s what solar returns are meant to be all about, after all.
Later that day, a deeper feeling of familiarity around that morning’s occurrence shook to the surface another memory and I was suddenly back at Nant Tawr. Like my rooflines, had that pointed dip in the hills where the sun, very likely, rose in alignment with the most easterly of the two circles been an alignment with the May Day sunrise; had the same shot of light appeared through the gap in those hills as I stood half-asleep in my bathroom that morning? It wouldn’t surprise me if Beltane had been marked at the site since it was often used as an alignment point; for instance, in the Beltany stone circle in Ireland, the only decorated stone in that circle aligns with the May Day sunrise (since writing this, I have found a website listing numerous ancient sites thought to be aligned with Beltane / Lammas and Nant Tawr is amongst them).
Inevitably, this turned my thoughts to the Michael and Mary line, which is also aligned to the May Day sunrise, and all the many of my most significant life experiences (subject of some of my previous posts) that had “accidentally” lined up with key points along that particular route; the personal message of which had felt like “however much you zig-zag, you can never wander all that far from the path of true selfhood”. Had my unplanned trip to Nant Tawr played out as part of a ceremony of solar return, a poised moment of perfect alignment just as I step into a whole new level of alignment with self, which is where I feel I am at right now.
Another thing that leapt out at me relative to all this and gave me such butterflies of deep stomach-felt affirmation as I read it last night, came out of my exploration of Elen of the Ways via Caroline Wise (for more on the context of that, go to my last post Journey with Elen: finding my way). I find that Elen was closely associated with the sun, shining bright and sitting on a bright-red throne as she charged up the wells and springs of the Isles and Albion (paraphrased from ‘The Spine of Albion’ – Gary Biltcliffe & Caroline Hoare). How else would the slopes of Pen Y Fan looked from Nant Tawr’s smaller circle if not like a bright red throne to the rising sun as it held its poised moment on the peak of that distant mountain to mark the start of summer, charging up the fertile plains of Nant Tawr fed by all those laughing springs (important to put this into the context that the location is known to have been cultivated at the time). I realised that my mental visual, when I read this about Elen, was exactly what I had imagined happening during a sunrise seen from Nant Tawr…the very word “throne” felt like one I had considered before or knew from first hand experience…so vivid in my mind’s eye that, was I imagining it or, had I seen this for myself. The familiarity of whatever this has triggered in me is startlingly tangible and feels like another homecoming as my namesake, my birth date and this place join forces in their current meaningfulness.
These journeys through ancient landscapes and the way they unfold never feel like accidents to me and tell me so much more about my current journey than I could ever adequately convey in words, though I know I am far from the only one experiencing symbolic journeys through their own personal interactions with these ancient way markers. I would love for more people to at least entertain the possibility that they are staring in their own symbolic journey every most-mundane day of their so-called ordinary life and that the everyday props of our “little” lives serve as our very own standing stones and reminders of when we are most in and out of alignment with ourselves, just as soon as we start noticing this.
What I really love to share with others is the potential for the landscape – that is, all of the landscape of our world, without exception – to speak to us all in this direct and intimate way, one which informs the conscious journey that we are travelling in ways that are as beautiful as they are endlessly surprising, deeply significant and personal relevant for those who are attentive to them; connecting us deeply to the earth in such a synergistic way that we are left in no doubt that we are loved, cared for and worked with by the very environment of our human existence. Experienced in this way, the ordinary landscape of our lives serves as the messenger of the most amplified messages of our soul; delivered in such a way that life becomes vivid, playful, stimulating, provocative, vibrant, helpful, supportive, progressive (rather than challenging, malevolent, obstructive, frustrating, pointless…as has become the modern mindset). Imagine what transformation is possible when life is always regarded in this way, whatever happens to be playing out; something which I already know the benefit of for myself because it is the very “ordinary” landscape of my existence.
This is the fifth post of a week-long series written (by hand, in a notebook…quite a novel and refreshing experience for techno-minded me) during a week spent in a cottage in Wales. The immediacy of those experiences has been minimally edited into this posts I share here. Others in this (closely interrelated) series are:
- Pause – Rewind – Play
- Letting go of the need for things to be perfect
- Taking back the wheel
- Journey with Elen: Finding my way