general madness

Is being a Fachidiot a Good Thing?

Fachidioten is a German word which basically means fact idiots and is a diminutive form of address for a nerd. I use it because I like it (and it fits!)

Aspies, by their very nature can be fachidioten, fact idiots in that they can have very specialized knowledge about certain things, and can regurgitate information, but the social laws around knowing how to use information can often be absent.

Fact idiocy allowed me to retain vast storehouses of knowledge on various very specialized subjects, and has given me some of my place in the world by a sense of ‘knowing’. I found myself fascinated by the symbol sets human beings use to describe their meaning, their sense of place and purpose in the world, and in many ways this led to my fascination with Western Esotericism. Western esotericism is a field of experiential knowledge through practices that touch upon the mythical. It can also be a great playground of endless ideas and mental masturbation. In some realms it is deeply analytical and self reflective, while in others it is so much about the ‘feeling’ that it is a breeding ground for superstition. I have always loved the space for reflection, and information, and schematics about the universe and how it may work. I have also tempered any drive towards superstition with the reflection “Isn’t it wonderful the meaning maps that human beings weave as a narrative to live by”. But with that dissecting coldness is a deliberate distance – Isn’t it fascinating, but it neglects a more important question – is it useful? How will this enhance my life?

I definitely encounter people whose lives have been enriched by thoughts and ideas put into practice, but they are also the people who have the kind of heart first belief that calls me to caution because it is superstitious or over zealous – basically it is not of the head (and I am very much of the head). I need my coldness and distance. Having specialised knowledge like this has offered me a home of sorts in a community where knowledge and information is often co-modified or at least respected – that person has a degree of respect through their knowledge and experience. However it is often those with a more simple approach to life and to people who are happier, more human and who have compassion for some of what I carry within my intellectual ivory tower. Ironicly it is often those not like me who get me because they have a well developed capacity for empathy.

As a fachidiot I am often respected for what I know, but when I stop and self reflect I wish I was a simpler person (ie less complicated, not to imply less clever), with simpler things in my head, and as a result a happier person because that coldness of thought has also led me to be disconnected from people, disconnected from the social sense of the situation and a duck out of water. Though I belong to a community of mutual interest, and it has given me a kind of social context, beyond the information the number of genuinely meaningful social encounters I can have is limited to a very small group of people indeed, and as I reflect, I can see my social shortcomings in otherwise social contexts. Of course I am social, and can get through a few of the pleasantries, but beyond the veneer I struggle to create a space for social flow. I have come to terms with the fact that I am not personable (or at least not in a traditional sense) and don’t pretend to be. I can of course try, but the more I try the less personable I am because it lacks genuineness and has bucket loads of that social awkwardness that fills the void of that gen ne se quoi of social function. Some people get me, some people really don’t, and some people think its personal.

Over the past 18 years of my life I have also been visited by the black dog of depression, again and again and in the last few years it has felt heavier. While for a long time I have considered this to just be ‘constitutional’, there is something beneath that – my sense of disconnection from other people. While fachtidioten trade in ideas, these intellectual ivory towers can be profoundly lonely. Fachidioten lack context of where to put their knowledge, and so while respected in highly specialised fields, outside of these fields their strengths are definite weaknesses. One of the long term consequences of the black dog is the shiny obsessive interest in things becomes more dull, and my capacity to retain information is less and less. My memory is definitely failing me in the last few years, and I have MASSIVE trouble systematically retaining new information. I recently experienced my shortcomings in this area and that both upset me and panicked me a bit, because I have used these qualities as social crutches and as a comodified currency for a long time, so long that I’ve fundamentally identified with what I know, and the social position this lends me.

All of these ideas come to the fore for a number of reasons. The loss of capacity to remember is a sharp reminder of how much I have comodified and built relationships on knowledge, on the words, or the stuff that fill the interaction and not on the more subtle and intangible thing that lives in the space between. I have also been faced with this in the form of my aspie understudy who similarly codifies the world into knowledge. He is 13, the child of friends, and is constituted in a very similar way to me. At the moment he is TOTALLY obsessed with the topic of sex (what 13 year old isn’t?), but it is the technicalities, the data, the terminology that fascinates him. The aspect of relationship is not the point of interest. Luckily I can pawn him off on his mother (I am SO not answering that!) or tell him there’s lots of time to find out about the world, and he doesn’t need to know EVERYTHING all at once. This fascination is a typical mirror to my own literalism and constitution and it makes me reflect. As a grown up I try to convey to him the importance of friendship, empathy, interaction because these are the things I have struggled with, that I know he struggles with, and that I try to better exemplify. Sometimes being right isn’t the important thing – the facts are not as important as the context. What makes up human beings, friendships, relationships and all that messy humanness is a subtle, intangible thing that I only slightly grasp in my better moments.

I have also spoken with his mother about what faces him, her fears, my experiences and realities in having a similar constitution – otherness, bullying,  my own struggle with empathy (and the long road to getting somewhere close to it), the sadness that  can come from ivory towers, and the genuine wish to connect (without quite knowing how). I reflected on the fact that these specialised pockets of knowledge can also give you a tribe of mutual interest and garner respect, though its never quite the same.

As I get older I want to be better at being me, humanly. I am a fachidiot but I want to be more than that. My fascination with esotericism is a search to understand what it means to be human, to grasp at what for me is ethereal (while for others it may be accessible), to touch upon the ideas of kindness, empathy, humanity in its fullest sense, so that it might come to live in me, that it might topple me from my ivory tower and place me comfortably amongst and between people. I am who I am, but, perhaps like everyone, I want to be more. I can’t change my fact idiocy (believe me i’ve tried) but there is more to being human than just data, there is context, and that is the work ahead for me.

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general madness

Poetry Collection: Atu 22

After completing a cycle of tarot poems, I have edited, formatted cover1.jpgand added woodblock prints of the Marseilles tarot, and an introductory essay to give the poems a paperback form.

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In this collection of poetry, writer, mythologist and weaver of meaning Brian Breathnach presents a cycle of 22 tarot inspired poems, arising from an intensive work with the thoth tarot.

Including 22 blockprint plates of the Marseilles tarot and an introductory essay asking, why the tarot?, this anthology of poems is the first from Brian.

Buy it Now!

general madness · Stories

Singing My Soul Back Home

I’m an odd little man. Fact. And that means being way too passionate about some things (affectionately referred to as ‘Geeking Out’), social awkwardness, and something a little more unique – I sing. People who know me have heard me sing to myself, sing walking down the street, while working, while cooking, while happy, while sad, even when I really shouldn’t sing. It whelms up from inside me and is out before I consciously catch it. There is a song that unites them and it is the song of my soul. I get that people don’t sing as comprehensively as I do – it is strange, but it is also fundamentally me. In essence I like who I am, how I am and how I live in the world.

I’ve had a tough year, and my song got less, and less and less until it disappeared on me. I also agreed to take magic pills to help heal my soul (ie happy pills) but they make me dull, without diamonds and sparkle and definitely without song. I hit the point where I lost my song for a really long time, easily 6 months, six months of living vulnerably, and apologetically (sorry I am as I am), and disconnected, and that was beginning to become my reality.

But then something extraordinary happened.

I went to see a family I know and stayed for a few days. They have a son who is constitutionally very like me – strange and aspie-esque and wonderful exactly as he is. He is a perfect mirror to the bits of me that got lost and despondent. He has somehow become very attached to me (even though I think I am not very personable, particularly when it comes to children and young people) and would have these wonderful conversations with me, taught me to play chess (I don’t know how I went so long without learning before now), and through how he relates to the world, sang a ‘song’ that I recognised. In his search for words, and facts, and the enjoyment of the search for and acquisition of knowledge I met myself, and as days past I became ever more myself.

After a few days I was more me again, and a strange thing happened, as it always used to – I began to sing. It wasn’t something that came consciously, but it welled up from deep inside of me and came out. What most surprised me was the song that my soul sang. It was an old, but strangely apt Spiritual:

This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Over this time I also had thoughts and conversations about who this young man was constitutionally, and what challenges would meet him. Reflecting, I realised there was all that potential for otherness, exclusion, bullying and people trying to push down those bits that sparkle and shine and are enthused. It happens to all of us, but especially for those of us who sparkle a different colour. Having been reminded of my souls song, and having had my soul sung back home (though there is still much to do) I hope that if he, or others who like me drum to a different beat, lose their song, that I can some day sing that song for someone else.

Though too young to explain quite what that has meant to me, and not wanting to hang a label on how we are, what I could tell him was this: “I appreciate our friendship and I like you EXACTLY as you are”. The song of the soul is the love song the soul sings to itself, it says yes, and that song also sings between people as beautiful harmonies and resonant notes. Viva la musica!

Ecology & Community · general madness

Labels Are For Soup Cans

The term ‘labels are for soup cans’ is an expression from those most easily labeled to say “I am not a label”. Having worked for a decade in Camphill Communities I have encountered many diverse people, including the people we support and have seen labels used both positively and negatively to describe people with intellectual disabilities and other ‘special needs’. About two years ago I wrote the following piece of the same title as a meditation on labels, their use and their shortcomings. Some updates and additions have been necessitated, as well as a more personal and candid approach.

When I first came to live in Camphill Communities over a decade ago, I quickly adopted a sense of ethos, and even a vocabulary which embedded me in my sense of place and social mission. This was comfortable in some ways but I also felt I was getting some mixed messages which mixed deficit models, diagnostics, and depictions of the person in need of special understanding as having a unique and important social mission. Over ten years I lived with the question and intention of some of the leading images I have had shared withma-19261-WEB.jpg me.

One of the earliest images that I had shared with me, with the best intentions in the world, was of a piano player in a slightly run down public house. If we walk into this pub we find someone sitting at a piano, dusty, and to the listener it sounds badly out of tune, perhaps even with some keys missing or completely broken. And in between, in spite of missed notes, and some slightly bum notes, we can hear the intention and tune of Beethovens Moonlight Sonata.

On the surface it was a nice analogy – we are all human and there are certain tunes we share and express – our commonality if you will, but while with some individuals I could perceive the expression of this universal element in imperfect form, I rarely experienced a broken ‘instrument’. I liked the analogy in so far as the piano player, the core Self, the direction was whole, and the experience of disturbance and imperfection existed in the windows out into the world, the expressive element. Still, for me, this analogy did not do justice to many of the people I was encountering.

We also had an introduction or foundation course, where we would encounter diagnostic images of certain ‘types’ of people – the autistic person, the downs syndrome person, the epileptic and so on. This was interesting, and threw up a lot of questions for me, especially as I progressed on my path. I often encountered some of the diagnostic images as crude and caricatured ways of looking at people, with many people using a diagnostic label as a descriptor of how a person lived in the world. Some of these were gross oversimplifications, though they echoed a certain truth that began to also give indications of the soul gesture and social mission some people seemed to carry. There was something behind a diagnostic image, a certain aspect of Truth, but it always fell short for me.

Still the entire prospect of diagnostics trouble me for a number of reasons. A few years ago I was in a Camphill Community as a visitor working in their pottery (throwing, training and generally supporting) and I had a young boy of 11 coming in and working in clay. He was a wonderful, enthused, bouncy child with a real grasp and an interest in how things are made, and in the material, and really had a ‘feel’ for the craft. I have a real sense of awe for people in their wonderful diversity, and I shared my knowledge of pottery with this boy. I also shared my enthusiasm for this young man and his accomplishments when people asked me how them pottery was going, and had him described back to me by two different people as ‘the autistic boy’. This statement told me nothing about the person I met, their abilities, their potentials, their challenges or anything else. It was used as a placating label in place of understanding.

Diagnosis comes from the Latin dia gnosis – through knowing. This knowing has often been replaced with labels that enable us to feel comfortable in our rather superficial knowing. I believe human interest should be the foundation of a human life because we are social creatures, and I believe it is possible in the main street as much as in a Camphill, but do we really take the opportunity to meet the other person?

I can honestly say I haven’t always done so. In passing by a person begging on the street am I interested in the person? Sometimes I am busy, or distracted, or disconnected from my own experience. Quite unconsciously I can create an image in myself of who that person is – I have not created a warmness of soul or emphatic interest in the other person. I have made a judgement or categorisation that allows me the comfort of walking by and saying ‘I know’. In my ‘knowing’ I have not seen the person, and if I was stopped 30 seconds later and asked about this person I may not even be able to tell you the age of the person, the colour of their skin, whether or not they had a beard, perhaps not even their gender. I certainly don’t know their story or anything resembling their individuality. I ‘know’ and so I can walk by, but the image I have in no way resembles the individual. What I ‘know’ soon becomes a doppelganger or double, a demonic caricature of truth. It is often also the truth with the way we use diagnostic labels allows us to forfeit genuine interest and knowing in favour of arranging people into comforting Aristotelian boxes. What does this label tell me about the person, or their individuality?

I myself live in the world in a very special way – I am not ‘usual’ and this offers me the potential to look at the world with different eyes. For years I have struggled with this, always avoiding a label but I have come to the point where I can live with my story. When I was 14 I began to really struggle and became clinically depressed. It was the icing on the cake of having lived with being innately different from my peers for a number of years, something which led to me being bullied, socially ostracized, and struggling to make human connections. I was odd. I read a LOT. I retained information in an uncanny way and was a bit of a Fachidiot. My otherness became oppressive when it strongly excluded me from my sense of belonging to the world of human encounter. At this time I also first encountered Camphill, through school work experience. Here I found a certain sense of belonging, in terms of the innate empathy towards diversity there, and also an immense openness in the people with special needs who were referred to as ‘villagers’. These people did not scan you for your social convention or reject you from the human tribe for that otherness. I continued to return and contribute to this place where I ‘belonged’.

The spiritual and psychological crisis abated but never really left me, and I went on with school, entering the workforce after. After the complete lack of coping I returned to my GPs office and saw a doctor who I hadn’t seen before. I described my depression, my lack of coping and overwhelming alienation. On taking out my paper file she looked at my history and looked especially long at one page before looking up and telling me “It says here you have aspergers. Do you think this might be why…”. I had no conscious ownership of this word, nor do remember ever being told that label before this point, but here it was being used to explain away my struggles, to label and placate, by putting me in my box.

I did not like this label. I knew that Aspergers was a form of autism and autism scared me because when I went to school we had to get annual sponsorship for an autism charity. The stark black and red sponsorship card showed a solitary, sullen child, while the card described autism as a lack of capacity for relationship with others, an inability to communicate, an inability to ever be ‘normal’. I was not that. During my adolescence I knew someone in secondary school who was known as a person with Aspergers and they were both bullied and ostracised and that was not what I wanted for myself.

At the time I didn’t know any autistic people. Though actually I did. I met many people at Camphill who, unbeknownst to me, had this label but they were all good, and open and warm, and communicative and it never dawned on me to label them. I also know I lived in blissful ignorance of the labels of autism, Downs syndrome etc because no one deigned to label people. People were people with all of their wonderful idiosyncrasies, they had names, they were not labels. And I did not want to wear my Scarlet Letter on my chest, so I buried it, denied that I was ‘other’ and got on with being human.

My challenges have always reared their head, and I have not always found myself in supportive environments, or personally willing to accept support, but again and again I have been made aware of my otherness, and from this my loneliness.

After a couple of years working in a factory I needed to change, so I went to Camphill as a volunteer to live with extraordinary people, find a sense of home, and by being a carer in an unorthodox setting, I lived in a place where human weakness and vulnerability was no bad thing and caring was something that was not given or received, but where caring was a reciprocity of human warmth that flowed between people.

Now I am happy to live with the fact that I am different and live in the world in a different way. What living in the world in a different way has meant for me is complex. I have my challenges in terms of socially assimilating, and being ‘usual’ – I certainly don’t always ‘get’ people, but in so many ways I have learned to live in the world in my own unique way. I have great gifts of perception, memory retention, and a hunger to approach the world and whatever I do in it in a way which allows me to know anything I put my mind to in the minutia. To think if my me-ness was a little more odd I might be described as the ‘autistic man’, like this autistic boy. This would tell you nothing really about how I live in the world, but this description or label would have the potential to effect how others relate to me, and perhaps how I relate to myself.

I deal in people, not labels – each one is uniquely constituted, and I can approach people as people. I encountered a bouncy child, labelled as if known, magnificent in his own unique expression, and with qualities that were familiar to me as exadurated characteristics I could recognise in myself, tempered with years and hard experience. It didn’t dawn on me to use a diagnostic label for what I met. The question I encountered in this meeting was ‘what are your gifts?’. ‘What do you have to offer?’ ‘What are you wanting to become?’ – the essence of our being is in our unfolding, and a much more interesting question than deficit models (the broken piano) is the potential for individuals to offer their own unique gifts.

This question is alive in Camphill in the work and identification with the historical figure Kasper Hauser. Here we are faced with a uniquely constituted individual and we are left with an enigma, which arises out of a meeting with this uniqueness – what is your destiny? What, while being you, and living in the world as you do, is seeking to find expression? What is your gift? Within the enigma of Kasper Hauser is a question fundamental to human encounter and the developing capacity for true empathy – Who are you? This same sense of mystery, awe and potential is innate to all human encounter.

The image of man as described by Rudolf Steiner allows us to live with the question, and to seek understanding without necessarily trying to reach a label or conclusion. Living with complex images created out of layers and perspectives from many angles is fundamental to the process of the College Meeting traditionally used in the school communities of Camphill. This is a true through-knowing, building up a series of images that describe a person from various angles without competing for a true or definitive image. From this arises an after-image of that which is seeking expression and the road ahead in supporting the child in their unique social mission.

Rudolf Steiner speaks of those in need of special care of the soul, while Camphill pioneers such as Karl Konig and Thomas Weihs speak of those in need of special understanding. This special care and special understanding arise out of a perception of the person, and the recognition of the potential which is innate in them.

As far as I’m concerned a medical diagnosis is useful only insofar as it allows medical professionals to do their work in giving the child greater possibilities in life, and adds one perspective on a complex of layered images which offer insight into an individual, but I have no time for labels for labels sake, or the use of medical diagnoses as a placating explanation of who a person is.

I am also cautious with medical labelling during childhood, as many of the developmental delays and ‘disabilities’ of youth are outgrown or upskilled with age. With developmental delays there is the potential to give additional support to ‘catch up’.

Many people diagnosed on the autistic spectrum at younger ages wear this label for their life, but its diagnosis is purely phenomenological, based on certain behaviours at the time of diagnosis. With proper support, and the carefully considered nurturing of lifeskills this same individual may test outside the parameters of the socially diagnosed criteria for aspergers. If we look at some of the biographies of the children of the Curative Education course (a therapuetic consultation in which Rudolf Steiner offered indications for helping individual children to be the best them they can be), after therapeutic interventions, we meet several individuals who have lived fruitful and fulfilling lives which would have been unimaginable if one were to only look at a deficit model and what they initially couldn’t do. Yet the nature of ‘disability’ is it is a lifelong label which has the potential to curb the expectations and aspirations of those who are thus labelled, it can lead to those around the individual to expect less, encourage less and mitigate their responsibility to nurture the potential of becoming because of a label.

While there are developmental potentials and upskilling I am also very wary of ‘normalising’. Working with the insights of Rudolf Steiners Anthroposophy I am brought to the question of destiny – perhaps people live in the world in a special way because they have a special destiny – they are meant to bring certain qualities and impulses. While I am all for increasing the skillset and possibilities of a person, I draw the line at normalising or assimilating as an ultimate goal. I am sometimes asked if I really believe in the ideas of Anthroposophy, and I always answer that they are a working hypothesis. This hypothesis has two aspects. The first is the literal understanding of the cosmology of Steiner and the posits of spiritual science around karma, reincarnation and destiny. These are for each individual to research and come to their own conclusions and I am walking a path of engaging with this hypothesis. The second aspect is a more philosophical or social aspect of this hypothesis – if we were to live in a world where Steiners teachings around empathy, human interest, individual destinies and support and engagement from fortifying spiritual impulses were engaged with AS IF true, what kind of world would we live in? I see the possibility of greater respect for difference, social inclusion of people vastly different from ourselves, genuine human interest and a sense of optimism and support arising from a knowledge of the spiritual world. I cannot definitively prove the reality of such things, but the ideas of anthroposophy as a social and philosophical movement has brought impulses such as Camphill, the Waldorf schools and biodynamics into the world and, at least within their own sphere of influence, have created a better, more inclusive world to live in.

The use of labels and the unique configuration with which they are spoken also throws up some interesting questions for me. When people have illnesses they describe themselves as, say, ‘having cancer’. Illness is something which happens to us, but is not something that one identifies with in a complete way. Equally in describing many longer term ailments or disabilities, people are described as being people ‘with X’. There is a sense for the wholeness of the individuality or I.

But I am brought to wonder how the question of biography plays into labels and how we wear them. Many adults with aspergers self identify as ‘aspies’. Many people with epilepsy will say ‘I am epileptic’. At what point do we move away from disability as something that has happened to us, and move towards a biographical model of disability. If we work with an understanding of people having special destinies, can the self-identification with a so-called disability describe a way of working in the world and a special destiny? I see this much more as saying yes to a fundamental part of who we are and our task as we live in the world. I do not advocate ‘disability’ labels, but I have seen people positively own their own constitution and to do something with it. On the other hand I have seen some people with a rather fatalistic approach, negating personal responsibility (I can’t do anything as I’m disabled), but where social conscience is there, new labels and identifications can be formed. The identification with what one does and how one contributes, as an artist, or a farmer etc can sometimes be a helpful and can also have a biographical element which is self chosen rather than inherited.

Perhaps I should clarify my definition of a biographical model. When children in need of special care are nurtured we are taking up their destiny, and shaping their future potential. Some children can be nurtured in such a way they make huge strides in development and a wider world of potential opens to them, but at a certain point, the nurture element of a teacher or a parent needs to offer the space for the individual to engage more fully with their own streams of destiny and potential. This usually happens at the cusp of adulthood, and while the work of nurture in childhood is almost carrying the other persons potential for them, when adulthood arises we need to give space for the sense of responsibility to arise. There is the biographical question. What do I do? What do I have to offer? What arises out of who I am? At a certain point the need to live in the world as an adult means encountering our potential, abilities and inabilities as things that define us and are us. At some point disability is not something that happens to a person, but through meeting and working with our own unique configuration, all aspects of our nature become part of who we are, and what defines our lifes course. Arising and working with biography is universally human. We live in a society where a rights agenda holds sway – people have rights, but a humanising and developmental path asks what are my responsibilities? What do I now do with my lot in life?

How we use labels in Camphill communities is interesting and at times also personally difficult. The work with children is in many ways easy – they are children, students, but what do we call the adults in Camphill communities? I have met many creative ways to address this question, some which I find useful or bearable, while other terms being assimilated into our centres trouble me deeply and jar with my sense of mission and ethos.

When I came to Camphill initially the term ‘villager’ was in prevalent use, and still is in some places, to describe adults ‘in care’. Their supporters were and usually are called ‘co-workers’. The term villager arises from the first adult communities of the Camphill movement being called village communities. Villagers were thus people who lived in the village. The language of adult communities is deliberately ambiguous – those who live in a village community are all villagers (including the co-workers) and in a community working together all people who create that community are co-workers. The title coworker for the supporters or volunteers is equally ambiguous as we all work together to build community, and our adults are just as entitled to the title coworker. Thus there is a certain ambiguity in the language of Camphill villages which serves equality and the spaces for mutuality and human support running in all directions.

At some point not all adult communities held the model of the village, with increasing diversification into urban settings. Some places began to call the people who were previously ‘villagers’ adults. The term adult also came into use through the description of ‘vulnerable adults’ in adult protection. And indeed we need to remember adults are adults and need to be treated as such.

Again and again I have also heard the language of conventional care providers sneak into Camphill language through training, in a way that radically shifts what we are actually saying, Terms like ‘clients’ and ‘service users’ move the onus from life sharing and shared responsibility for life, work and community building, towards a language of passivity, in which our adults become recipients of a service. How words are used sculpt how we see ourselves and see each other. I did not see myself or Camphill as a service provider (though on some levels this may indeed be true). In spite of increasing regulation and alignment with the standards of a care industry, we were so much more than that.

We could, for much of my time in Camphill still lifeshare, and build community together, and be conscious of our power to be either providers of a service from above, or the innovators of a still important and bold social experiment, hand in hand with the people we choose to live with. This has shifted in recent years and the social dynamic and living quality of the organism of community has suffered as a result. Though I have moved on from Camphill I believed, and believe in the model of genuine lifesharing, but with increasing regulation that does not leave space for people or have understanding for these values this model is nearly impossible to successfully implement anymore. In another lifesharing community, L’Arche, they have decided to refer to the adults as ‘core members’ because it is around them that the community has come about and continues out of a listening to their own needs, and our own needs and motivations as supporters in being there and creating community with people.

I still know the ‘autistic’ boy I mentioned. He is like me, very like me and this awakens a deep empathy in me for the struggles he will encounter, but I also see the potential that was in me in this boy and believe in his potential to shine. Most importantly perhaps, it is through him that I learn to love myself exactly as I am. This is, I think, why I stayed in community for ten years – because in spite of bureaucracy I have been better for knowing all of the people I have met, some ‘disabled’, some not, all exceeding all labels in their unique configuration. The people I have encountered, who have encountered me with an open heart, have stirred and developed a love of people in me. This love has grown to the point where I no longer feel ‘alone’ or ‘other’ but human, and that humanity lives in the space between people. I have finally put on my scarlet letter publicly because I believe in a humanity that has space for me, and this ‘autistic boy’ and the many others who are marginalised by labels and their social implications and I want to share my story so that others know they are not alone…

I have shared these few rambling thoughts because I appreciate the question that arises in me again and again – what does it mean to be human? And in living with this riddle, I also appreciate that easy labels are not nearly as enlightening as an open heart and a sense of awe for humanity in all of its infinite diversity.

I began this thought with a leading image that was shared of me – of the piano player on the broken piano. I would like to conclude with the leidbilder I have developed out of these seed thoughts, a story behind the story. While we have walked into this bar and seemingly heard, between everything, the Moonlight Sonata, something else entirely was going on behind the scenes. A musical prodigy has a special mission and vision for the future of music, and so he has spent hours and hours tuning his instrument so it can perfectly play what is seeking expression in his soul. And he has composed a very special piece. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is his unique contribution to music. Afterwards some simple soul, knowing nothing of his intention or lifes work, or the hours he spent tuning the piano ‘just right’, strolls up and says “yea. I thought I recognised that. The piano is totally out of tune, but wasn’t that Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata?” What could the prodigy do but smile? A truly visionary artist is never recognised in his own time.

This my friends is why I say labels are for soup cans.

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general madness · Stories

Telling Stories (oral storytelling)

At a recent social gathering I found myself offering a few poems and a story in the course of the evenings entertainment. When I tell a story it proceeds from a love of it, and it comes out, each time a little different, but each time equally true. I often tell stories in the Irish mythological tradition, and they are back and forths with the audience including questions, magic words and songs so that we cocreate a story. Each time is a little different in the detail depending on the audience, myself, and how that story resonates with me. That which is factual is dry, but that which is true, touched by the inspiration of universal truth, lives among us.

 On the point of oral story telling I wanted to share the following documentary on the subject which really gives a sense of the wonder and beauty of telling stories. There are also a few familiar faces in here.

Watch. Enjoy. Share (I didn’t have anything to do with it, I just think it’s really REALLY good!) and if you want more things like this be sure to FOLLOW this site.

general madness · Strangeness

The Candle of Vision: A Catch Up

So you may (or maybe may not) have noticed that I haven’t been here so much recently. I aspire to add something new to the world every day, and most days I succeed, especially when I stack posts in the scheduler and then have some breathing space. Of late however I have been otherwise occupied with other things including editing, contributing to and publishing a book and an anthology journal. The book is AEs The Candle of Vision. While I did not write this, I put it together, formatted it and added a foreword specific to the time of its release and its cultural significance. As with many of my projects I did not do this ‘for the money’ but as a cultural deed (and inadvertent fundraiser) for the Irish Order of Thelema.

My other editing project was Doorways of Perception, the seventh issue of Fortified Island, the journal of the Irish Order of Thelema. As well as editing, I offer a special piece on inner pilgrimage in the Irish magical tradition, building an inner grove and an operative relationship with the forfeda of the ogham. While I contribute to its continuation and curate its contents, it has been made possible by the many eloquent and generous contributors over the years.

A call out is now in process for number eight with a theme of Irish traditions, focusing on the Irish magical tradition and its contemporary implementation.

While we are talking about curation, I have been taking a foray into a different kind of curation of late in the form of the Candle of Vision exhibition. Organised to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of author, artist and mystic George William Russell, the exhibition featured work from artists working with esote
posterric themes. We had work from the four corners of Ireland, both literally and figuratively as we had representation from every province. Running nine days (until the 9th of April) the exhibition was a decided success with many visitors from both near and far. Creating spaces for community to happen is important for me, and I hope to pioneer similar projects in the future.

Finally on the 8th of April I helped to organise and see realized a day of talks, workshops, readings and performances to mark both the AE anniversary, and the annual event of the Three Days of the Writing of the Book of The Law, an important day for some esotericists.

All in all I’ve been busy, and much of this seemed unlikely after a period of declining health, but with some great supports, enthusiastic people, and personal conviction that I am more than my self indulgent sufferings great things happened. We did great things. And I am so thankful for all who have positively contributed in this last time.  Though in the last year my life has changed significantly, leaving my vocation in Camphill, descending into often severe and overwhelming illness and through losing many of the things that define my illusory sense of self, often questioning my self worth in the process, it is in people, in community and in my surprising moments of bounce-backability that I find my hope. For all those that have made this recent whirlwind of activity possible I am infinitely thankful!

What’s next? I don’t know, but the adventure calls me forth and asks me to be more tomorrow than I am today and that voice of potential and adventure, alongside the steady supports of friendship call me to more and better each day. A new adventure is surely waiting and I look onwards…

For a return to more regularly scheduled blogging FOLLOW me

Ecology & Community · general madness

Beating the Bounds

The landscape is filled with places where spirit is present. Every time we experience it, this presence encourages us to make an imaginative act that personifies the place to us. Then we perceive its qualities personally. This is the anima loci, the place-soul. When this is acknowledged and honoured, ensouled sacred places come into being.

Sacred places come into being when humans recognize and acknowledge them. They are ensouled locations where we can experience elevated consciousness, receive religious inspiration and accept healing

Celtic Sacred Landscapes; Nigel Pennick

In Camphill communities Palm Sunday is marked with a Boundary Walk. I was asked to explain the significance of this. This was my response:

The boundary walk seems to be a British custom with the beating of the bounds being a common agricultural practice.

Other than this it is an act of land stewardship when we turn our attention to the land in our custody. In holding a place in our consciousness we hold the fullness of its possibility. At the start of spring we hold the entire image of the coming years growth from budding and unfurling to flowering, fruit and the losing of the leaves. When we hold a consciousness of the land we hold an image of its wholeness – the whole of the land and the wholeness of its cycles. In biodynamics we speak about the farm or estate as a ‘land entity’ a coherent organism or identity. We create this coherency by extending our consciousness to the land, knowing its boundaries which contain it, and in so doing create an affinity with what is at the centre of those bounds.

On Palm Sunday the gateway is a significant place because Jesus entered Jerusalem on an ass. The theme of entering into, traversing the space of inside and outside is much more than just here and there. It is a consciousness that defines inside as as the core which is filled. When we enter an empty house it is a house, but when we occupy and mindfully fill it, it becomes a home. Our land is brought to life by identifying with it as a wholeness. The bounds define its limits, but it is us, as a community that fill that land with love, and bring it to life. This quality of life can be found in many places which are ensouled through our engagement, from grottos, to farms to ancient places that are visited and worked with. Over time the place takes on a kind of individuality, called the geni loci or spirit of place.

The farmer made his way slowly around the whole of his land beating the bounds with a handful of freshly cut birch twigs performing the rite his father had taught him and his father before him on this very land. Finishing his round at the main gate he left some bread, made by his wife that morning, and cheese from their cows on one of the posts and poured a shot of whiskey on the other. He nodded at the invisible outdwellers and continued on his way up the hill to the threshold where field met hedge. His wife waited for him there with a luncheon of food and drink from their land and hard labour. The farmer took a knife out of the sheath on his belt and cut a large square of turf full of grass roots and set it upon the earth beneath the trees of the hedge. Together they ate their meal off of the turf; eating the beef they had raised, the bread baked from their grain, wild greens and berries harvested from the hedges, and drinking water pulled from the well. They ate in silence smiling at each other in contentment. After placing the remnants of their small feast in the hole the earth clod was cut from, they poured out a portion each of milk from the cows, honey from the hives, and water from the well, and put the clod of earth back from whence it was cut. Farmer and wife looked into each other’s eyes knowingly; the rite was complete with the land bound to them for another year.

Sarah Anne Lawless, Land Guardianship