I realise suddenly that I never wrote the second part of Layers in the Landscape, a post from over a year ago about a trip to Bruges and Amsterdam (via a very interesting day in London). Just as suddenly, I realise that…actually…I painted what I had to say instead; which I will share below via my art blog Light on Art.
Briefly, the metaphysical journey that I had so obviously embarked upon in London and Bruges continued to some sort of finale when we took up residence in a canal-side apartment on Amsterdam’s Prinsengracht. We had started our journey in London where the suppressed waters of the river Fleet – an aspect of the sacred feminine – had managed to capture my attention. Then there was Bruges, picturesque town of many canals – the masculine element of deliberate, man-made waterways – but with a very different “feel” and layout to Amsterdam where the canals are an accessible part of the townscape whereas, in Bruges, the waterfronts are the almost exclusive domain of private properties and best seen from the water.
Immediately, I felt right at home in Amsterdam in a way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on but later – honestly – felt had something to do with its latitudinal proximity to the place where I grew up which made the light and energy of the place feel deeply familiar though I had never been there before. Perhaps I had also been here on another timeline…the feeling was very strong. Really, I loved it and “knew” it in ways I can’t explain logically but there it is; I long to go back there to explore the feeling some more.
While we were there, we had all sorts of experiences that stay with me even now; far too many to share here but some of the most abiding and sharable, perhaps because they were so visual, formed a series of encounters I had through window panes and under glass. Of course, Amsterdam is stuffed full of shop windows and galleries, not to mention beautiful canal-side apartment blocks but was I noticing their windows more than usual because of a particular quality of light near the water and against those slate skies, or was it the way the interiors of these places “worked” with the reflections on the glass in a way that became a multi-dimensional focal point for me and my camera? In particular, I noticed so many butterflies (you know, the collectors items pinned inside frames beneath glass), including in shop windows where the double-glass effect added more layers of multidimensional consideration for me to play with…and this wasn’t me trying really hard to make something of these encounters, this was synchronicity telling me something through them that added meaning to whatever else was happening at the time. Butterflies have long served as some of my most potent symbols along the awaking path and, this time, it was like they were there to get me to sit up and pay attention to other things that were happening all around me…
I also noticed something else very distinct about Amsterdam and that was how the layout of its main canals, in a layered horse-shoe shape, divided by roads and intersecting canals that fanned it out like a turkey-tail, reminded me of an inverted tree of life or, perhaps because I have been writing about them so much lately, a tree of life labyrinth. I have talked about my labyrinthine experiences walking around the streets of various towns many times before, not least on my recent trip to Copenhagen and Stockholm (my post Graceful Journey); also about the turf labyrinth I walked a few weeks ago on St Catherine’s Hill (see Walking the Labyrinth). The labyrinth can be an extremely powerful way of encountering portals at the points where energies intersect and seems to invite multi-faceted experience into your awareness through these portals; which serve as an axis-point between other dimensions (you could think of such a portal as the truck of a tree connecting dimensional “branches”). So, in effect, you can find yourself standing in an ordinary physical “place” when suddenly your three-dimensional “reality” (which starts to take on symbolic significance in ways you didn’t notice before, forming “clues” that invite you to sit up and take notice) seems to intersect more fluidly than ever with other dimensions that you can now perceive.These power nodes train you in multi-dimensional awareness and so you familiarise yourself with its potential in ways that you get to take with you through other walks of life. When you encounter these power-portals, you feel riveted to the spot as coincidences of circumstance “speak” to you in a multitude of ways, offering new layers of deeper meaning and understanding to what you ordinarily encounter with your five senses.
At the time that I was in Amsterdam, my knowledge about labyrinths was minimal yet I was encountering these streets (I now realise) as though I was in one. In particular, the two “halves” of the town layout, divided as though the horseshoe shape was folded in half to form a symmetrical shape (like one of those butterflies we made out of folded paper and paint when we were children…) started to present to me – quite viscerally – as the two hemispheres of the brain. I noticed entirely different kinds of experience were playing out in these two halves of the town as we walked it every day; they felt quite different in very archetypal ways. Of course, I noticed we had chosen our apartment within the “right hermispheric” portion…and I truly loved our apartment, it felt sublime to go back there every night and sit at the open window overlooking the canal…even though I had originally tried very hard to book somewhere on the other side of town, which various websites implied was the “happening” place to be.
There were things on that other side of town that left me cold…like Anne Frank’s house next to the Westerkerk with its massively snaking queue to “get in” and see where, ironically, she herself was trapped wanting so desperately to get out for so long. Everything about this so-called attraction made my skin fizz with all the clues that I wanted no part of it, knowing that she couldn’t be found there and had long-ago flown. I prefered to stay amongst the colourful flowers on the boats, at the vibrant street-level where there was always something going on; the same canalside world that kept her spirits up during her confinement. It wasn’t that I disliked anything about Amsterdam…but the experiences I was having went considerably deeper in some places than others, then felt more resonant in one half of the town than the other…so what was this telling me about myself and how much more I felt naturally at home in my right-hemisphere, felt the kind of resistance about the left that almost had me stepping out under the wheels of a fast-moving bicycle in direct view of the Westerkerk because I was in a blur of too much going on. When this thing happened, I experienced an adrenalin rush that felt like an abrasive reminder of those aspects of human existence that I most recoil from because they leave me feeling unsafe at my root; and well I know that it is this fear-based disengagement from life’s quick-footed spontaneity and unexpected thrills that represents a separation from near half of my human experience…a lop-sided flight-attempt that keeps me grounded. Back and forth we walked, over the course of our week; and so the zig-zag routes that we took, which curled around the guiding paths of the canals and bridged – endlessly bridged – these two hemispheres, felt like a walking-meditation and a healing meant just for me in order to get me to break out from a separation mindset that was holding me down in this life as though held down by a glass ceiling that prevented me from spreading my wings…
Above all, I had two most-memorable encounters with “butterflies” out of probably a dozen such encounters. One turned out to be a moth – a spectacular Madagascan Sunset Moth – inside a glass frame in the window of a shop that was closed, overlooking a busy road near the impressive Rijksmuseum, which we could actually see from our apartment. The shop was in total darkness, the road was grey, there were refuse collectors in orange jackets crashing bins around in the street – by far the brightest thing on the horizon – and yet this pinned creature with its iridescent wings seemed to be its own light-source, transcending it all. More, the refection of a tree growing between pavement slabs on the street was playing with the glass of its frame making it appear as though the moth was dematerialising…escaping?..or was it actually materialsing before my very eyes. It turned out, I had much to process through this winged partner in awareness; which I did with my paintbrushes, over several months, as described in my post “Reflection on life“.
The other indelible memory was provided by a visit to the Botanical Gardens on our final afternoon in Amsterdam, also on the “right” side of town, with the deliberate thought of visiting the butterfly house. Those butterflies fluttering all around our heads and landing within inches of our mesmerised gazes were quite stunning; one even had wings like glass, which I hadn’t seen before. However, what remained with me long afterwards was a dissonance at having seen them held prisoner in such a small space with its glass walls, glass ceilings yet, ironically, with gardens all around them, if only they knew (and maybe they did).
I could try to explain the potent layers of awareness of self that have continued to uncoil from these two experiences ever since…but I suspect I delayed writing this post for so long to avoid such intellectualisation of what wanted to unfold in a more abstract way. Instead, I realise I have poured some of this into a painting of the Madagascan Sunset Moth which took exactly a year to complete and which played with some of these themes as they materialised for me across all those months. My attached post, below, on Light on Art explains this more throughly and you can see some of the photography relating to these posts in my Glass Butterfly and Amsterdam using these links.
Read more on this theme in my original post “Reflection Upon Life” on Light on Art
“When I brought the canvas back out into the light and started to play with it again, it was under the influence of a far less rigid stance (newly arisen out of many month’s personal ev…
Source: Reflection upon life