Not my own title, I must quickly admit. Rather lifted with respect from Karen Armstrong’s second book, which memoirs her journey from seeking God via the Catholic church (which broke her as a novitiate nun) to writing her way back to health, a belief in God and the freely unstructured rewards of an active spiritual life. These in turn became the underpinnings of her career.
I first read The Spiral Staircase in Japan. Thinking my copy had got lost in the move to Scotland, I was surprised and delighted to be handed it back by a new friend made here in 2014, to whom I had apparently lent it. Liz had subsequently become ill and disappeared from my life until this month, when she resurfaced, much better, and with a pile of books and DVDs to be returned with thanks.
She had found this title especially very moving, the symbolism of T.S. Elliot’s poem, Ash Wednesday, published as a foreword, offering great comfort. So I have taken a second look at Karen Armstrong’s memoir, and found an interesting connection. A message, if you like.
The concluding paragraph of my last blog (www.angelajeffs.co.uk) reads as follows: Basically, I’m ready to go… but not necessarily eastwards, rather onward and upwards. Or even sideways, preferably putting one word in front of another towards completion. Then – my latest manuscript having been drafted in 2012 – I can really move on.
But could I? How? And then I made the connection. Or rather a connection that seemed helpful.
Eliot’s poem is both clever and moving, spiralling upwards from one state of mind (depressed, stuck) to another (purposeful, hopeful). But he had stairs. He was climbing a spiral staircase: a symbolic spiral staircase that enables the reader, without really realising it, to move around and around ever upwards into the light of recovery mode.
In my last home in Japan I had stairs with sharp turns, up and down. They kept me fit and lively, helped sharpen my mind, kept me on my toes. Here I have none. The croft is single storey, which I thought a good thing initially, but now I am wondering…
I have the labyrinth – that’s a spiral like no other – but being described in turf, it’s on the flat.
Now I know why having to negotiate stairs in the outside world – shops, restaurants, anywhere with flights of stairs to negotiate – I am so troubled. My new knee especially does not like them; it’s unpractised.
So yes, I need to do something about this, on both a physical and creative level. And quickly. With another birthday looming, there’s no time to waste.
I have become unpractised in my spiritual journey. I read articles written for Jacinta’s website (www.embracetransition.com) between 2011 and 2016, and am astonished at the speed at which I was travelling, not only going forwards, but upwards -spiralling skywards – and downwards, ever deeper. What happened? Why did I stop?
I think the health of my physical body suddenly took precedence. As mobility decreased, my focus shifted. My concerns were more mundane and everyday: at the most basic level, getting from point A to B without falling over. But however careful I tried to be, I still found balance immensely challenging.
I fell three weeks before surgery in December last year. Then I fell again six weeks after. My confidence fell to an all time low: I was less my Self than I had been in many years.
Time then to reclaim my Self, which has been relegated to misery and fear. Time to stand up for my Self, dust it down and give it a good polish, so that I can see clearly again.
Needing some tools (other than a good clean cloth and some muscle power) I messaged John Black, who facilitates Celtic medicine, makes Celtae drums and manages a Sacred Stone retreat in Portugal. With John’s work is nature based, could he, would he suggest any shamanic rituals I could practise towards making apology.
My feet had become bad towards the end of April, making walking very painful, excruciating even. Having been making such great progress with my knee, this really brought me down again. Was I never even going to get back to normal, normal meaning being able to work in the garden, walk down the road to see neighbours, complete my exercise programme, etc.
What it raised from the past was memories of my mother’s own problems with her feet. I remembered pushing her hard in Japan to walk ever farther because I so wanted her to see everything, while knowing at the time that she was in agony. She tried to please me, but I gave little to nothing back. Some 80th birthday present! Where was my sympathy, let alone empathy?
It was the same with my sister. How did I respond to her severe disability, her life severely challenged from the age of 16 by rheumatoid arthritis, and wheelchair-bound for years at a time? I was irritated. Why could I not have had a normal sister? The childishness, even nastiness of this does not escape me. Simply makes me feel terrible, sad, and very very sorry indeed.
Celtic John replied: In making any apology, it is always our own feelings of guilt and shame we are dealing with. No-one is perfect; nobody can always say and do the right thing. Also, karmically speaking, maybe what we have said and done is actually the right thing, enabling the situation to move on. What I find best is to sit
next to water – water is the cleanser. Bless your Self with natural water, allow your feelings to express themselves. Take sage with you. Breathe this in too, allowing whatever words that come from the depths of your being to rise to your lips… Feel the forgiveness for your Self, and send it to whoever it is, or whatever the situation is that you are apologising to. The best ritual arises from within; it’s not fixed but flows free from the heart. Hope this helps.
Leila, who is a herbalist in Kirkmichael and studying to be a shaman, also offered advice in the form of two useful online links (I have no problem in asking for help): http://www.shamanic.net/on-forgiveness/
If you feel that you need a guiding hand then you may be interested to contact Brian Anderson in Methven: http://www.oakenleaf.co.uk/
I feel blessed to once again have so much wisdom made available, and now sense many kindly hands leading me forward. I shall start this weekend. Limp down to the burn. And sit on the bridge that Akii built. (Not bad for a Tokyo city boy who with woodworking skills limited to what he learned in school over 50 years ago, has never made anything practical in his life.) Then with a bunch of freshly picked sage in hand, I shall dangle my feet in the cooling water and wait for whatever bubbles up.