Finding Eternity’s Sunrise again – after many years of not reading it – it still has a power and a resonance. Written when Marion Milner was in her eighties it is a kind of reprise of her thinking about thinking, experiencing creative wonder and understanding and looking at memory. So it is, for me, the perfect reflective reading to be doing at the moment. I ask myself who I am writing this for? Unusually I am sitting at the computer rather than writing by hand at my desk in front of the window. Today there is mist outside so instead of light beginning to lift across the orchard and stripe the sky, the sky is crowding in, it has dropped down from the ridge and is caught here in the valley at the bottom. As MM says our thoughts, our acknowledgement of the creative within, our understanding of things, seem to rise from the mud at the bottom of the river. Now I see that I am trying to combine two ways of understanding – the old American Indian idea of the wise old woman who is able to enter the river and find the river below the river, and then to rise to the surface understanding, cleansed, ready to tell others what they have learned – alongside her finding shape out of the muddy bottom. MM , though, has a more humble understanding. She calls the ‘response’ or the meditation and then the rising of the thought (this is not a good paraphrase, it will have to do for now) an answering activity (AA) – a kind of contact that produces a response, although whether she thinks there is any way this can be called prayer she is dubious about. Rather maybe that this praying activity does ‘free me from the captivity of egocentric preoccupations, from that ego island I once drew a picture of.’ Later she speculates on what starts off the creative process:
‘Is it that the world is remote, has nothing to do with me? Or times when one can find nothing to hold onto, like a looping caterpillar frantically waving its front half in the air looking a twig that isn’t there? Which sounds like a sense of loss that has to be made up for somehow? But could it also be something else too, a drive to find a new way of looking at things, a kind of uneasiness that’s like the feeling of a coat that has grown too tight (oh yes, my Delos snake skin!), an awareness that some current way of seeing the world is getting worn out, has served its usefulness and become a constricting cliché? If so then new bottles have got to be fashioned, certainly for oneself, perhaps even for others.’ p.53
and she goes on to speculate also about when insight and understanding might come. She suggests that they appear, like a porpoise from the waves, but that:
‘these seasons, weather in the souls, not easy to forecast, to know when to lie fallow, when to sow, this only to be found by experiment. To notice, remember, that’s so hard. because the heavenly bodies, whoever they are, don’t seem to move according to a fixed calendar….The central thing is, when the porpoise attention surfaces, which is the only moment when one can do anything with conscious choice, its then comes the battle to find words for the new vistas.’
And then I find myself looking for Blake on the bookshelf, trying to find the Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love poem, astonishing myself when I read the final verse:
‘And all must love the human form/In heathen, turk or jew/Where Mercy, Love and Pity dwell/ There God is dwelling too.’
The truth of George Fox’s, ‘walk cheerfully across the world responding to that of God in everyone’ , which was what I liked most about Quakerism when I first found it and I think of my Bahai friend Mehrdad praying with me as the sun rose over the mountains in Gilgit, for the soul of my mother, who had just died, that she might ‘walk in the garden of the Lord’. So reading MM has drawn together for me a whole panoply of ideas: The river under the river, the way (in the Tao) water always finds the lowest place to flow, perhaps the gap between the wave that holds everything in suspension for a moment allows us to see (experience) the flow of creativity. What I like in these metaphors is the attempt to express moments of understanding – to see where the motivation to find words come from. Without the words to carry forward the understanding half of the impetus is lost. After all why else would one write? I think of Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the comic procession of the circus, the pantomime of life – the festival pressing forward and sometimes dancing on the spot.
So – I have cleaned the house, counted the food in the cupboard, observed the weather (closing in and grey). I have tidied the notice board, made lists of all that I should do. What I am left with is chasing the memories and trying to find words to make sense of them. And this is how it feels. I wrote in my novel – ‘it must be like a writer who is pushing up through the dry earth and trying to break the ground with a word’ – I didn’t actually write it this way but it was what I meant. I am not patient at waiting for the fallow part to cease and for the porpoise to appear out of the waves. I remember Margaret Peters saying she had done as much as she could and now it was ‘over to you Lord’. I don’t know what I am waiting for, what will charge the energy, what will spill out of the earth, what shower of words I will create as I rise up from the river under the river. I just hope that I can catch the shining alphabet when it chooses to come down to earth again.