Today, I park at Milyford Bridge and take the path into Holmhill Inclosure, where I have never walked before. The well-maintained, gravelled walkway first paces the meandering Highland Water, before crossing a little wooden bridge and continuing straight on, whilst the stream wanders off into the solitude of the deeper parts of the wood.
The forest is exploding with springtime energy. Lush, green ferns are throwing their fingers wide to hide the ground. The birds holler out their claims to exclusive ownership of their chosen branches, declaring their prowess, as if on Tinder, to vie for a host of favoured mates. All are hungry to breed, to make more of themselves.
As I walk, the silent connection descends upon me once again.
I have been exercised for many days now, and not just during lockdown, as to the question of what I should be doing with the years that remain to me. For I must open my heart in honesty and tell you that the words do not flow, now, as frequently and as lucidly as they did twenty years ago. Back then, it seemed, waterfalls of spirit would cascade down incessantly upon the foundation rocks below, almost as if I were powerless to prevent them. But in these latter days, the words of heaven have grown fewer and the silences longer. There are times, many times, when it seems to me that the power of what comes is not equal to what it has been. So it is in great gratitude that I have used these days of enforced leisure to return to source with the intention of rediscovering my purpose.
Now that the Forest is accessible once more, with that same gratitude, I can again walk among the trees in the cool of the day, when Spirit comes upon me most readily. “What is it I should do now?” my heart asks. “Give me a sign,” I implore, “a sign of what the next step should be.”
I had not expected the answer to come so rapidly or so clearly; not in a flash of light; not in a thunderclap, but in silence that wraps so closely about me. ‘Go placidly amongst the noise and the haste,’ I had been reading in the Desiderata, just a few days before. “But you are more prone,” comes a voice, “to going noisily amongst the placid places.” I acknowledge without argument that it so. My heart is noisy.
A little chastened, I follow the silence, listening only to the birds, feeling only the dryad energy, bowing only to the presence of Spirit. As the truth of the answer builds in my awareness, my eyes begin to brim at the realisation: I do not have to do anything. In fact, for Spirit to flower in me it is essential that I do nothing.
In the realisation, I turn, as Jennifer Wellwood puts it, to face my fears and discover again, the warrior who dwells within. What is the greatest of those fears? Just this: that I will never write well again.
For I must disclose to you that the best of the material I have published in the last few years, was written long ago. Further, the books that I have released have not sold as well as the early ones. As I travel deeper into my own forest, such words as are expressible do not have mass appeal. By and large, I observe, people want heart-warming stories about cute dogs and tales of fiery dragons. They do not see the metaphor that lies behind the words. Even less do they want to turn to face their own fears. And thus they fail to find the warrior who dwells within. As I have explored the less accessible parts of the inner forest, the words that come have held less appeal to the majority, who prefer well-prepared paths that pace the easy water courses.
Even as I write this, I ask myself the question, ‘Why should the reach and appeal of my words concern me?’ And I acknowledge the answer is not to my credit. I have built too much of my human identity in this lifetime upon the sinking sand of authorship. For upon such windswept dunes as these are the foundations of authorial edifices erected. You must give people the words they want to hear if you are to stay atop the mountain of shifting sand. You must tell them of the cute dogs and the fierce dragons, of eternal love affairs and dastardly criminals bested by powerful heroes. And you must also find superficially different ways to tell the same story over and over, in book after book, for it is the repetition that pleases and the monotony that reassures.
Yet here’s the problem, if it can be described as such: if your own soul prefers the unveiling of the covered, the illumination of the pathway forward, there are not many who will share that journey with you. So, I ask myself, is the time of books drawing to a close for me? I observe, now, many voices with many things to say. For those who prefer to hear the superficial, spirit is often drowned out in the cacophony.
Perhaps, therefore, for me, there will be no more books. I acknowledge that I will not think the books important when my course is run. Only the words will matter, the words that have lodged in hearts; only the journeys that have been illuminated.
I can tell you this, though: between now and then, there will be solitude. There will be unaccompanied walking and there will be silent meditation. For upon such rock as this, the waterfalls of Spirit will ever cascade. And such as comes from this source I will continue to speak out. But the deeper I travel into the forest, the fewer will be those who choose to walk beside me.
Thus I walk on, leaving the Inclosure at the far gate and turn right to climb the hill. As I walk, I remember my father telling me, many years ago, that as a small child he would read to me Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘Up-Hill.’ ‘Does the road wind up on all the way?” he would read. And I, with my eighteen-month old vocabulary, would answer with an emphatic “Yes!”
“Yes,’” he would continue, nodding vehemently in agreement, “right to the very end.”
As I look back down the hill I have just climbed, I acknowledge to my eighteen-month old self that it has indeed been so. The road has wound up hill all the way. Its twists and turns have always prevented me from seeing what is ahead. It has also risen to brow after brow, beyond which I cannot see. And all this, you understand, has been precisely as intended. So, once again, I remind myself to stop asking the question, “Where next?” For it is not mine to ask. I already know all I need to know: that I will continue to walk this winding path up the hill all the way right to the very end. Only when I reach that lofty crag will I be able to see clear across the valley of this incarnation and on into the next.
From the top of this particular hill, I return by another, wilder, way and find myself back at a less visible part of Highland Water – a place where fewer come. For a while I walk alongside the stream on an obscure path found only by the diligent and the guided. Here I observe many bridges over these placid waters, bridges laid down not by men, but by God. Once more my eyes turn to wells as I see the metaphor. It is too long since I walked in such beauty and revelation. It is too long since I have gone placidly amongst the placid places until, in the silence, once again the spirits walk by me.
For now, as I proceed in meditation upon this path, there are many who come to walk with me, but none of them incarnate: angels, dryads and others out of body are my fellow travellers here, where it is less easy to tread. I have said in the past that I number such amongst my closest friends. Those that have heard or read the words, have thought it no more than a quip, a clever line thrown out to garner admiration. But these are they that walk beside me now. These will always be my companions as I proceed deeper into the forest. What other friendship, except perhaps a dog, does one man need? Whatever calling, prominent or obscure, can matter more than the one God gives you?