For Training Purposes Only

English: Training Français : Formation

Well it must have been.  I mean, why else would I have had a day like that?

The only way I can make sense of Tuesday is to assume it was some kind of check-up prepared by the aspect of my greater self that likes to drop banana skins on to my path and then watch to see whether I slip.  I don’t bear this part of my identity any grudge.  After all, how else is it to check whether or not a particular life-lesson has been fully learned?

The great thing is – I think I passed.  A series of situations that would have caused steam to issue from my ears and the air around me to turn a vivid shade of blue just a few years ago, had a very different effect that day.   I think it has to do with my determination to enjoy life, or at the very least to work out why particular challenges are appearing and to find ways of overcoming them without taking it personally.

So, The Day:

I’d had a very enjoyable long-weekend in a lovely corner of Wales.  Tuesday was my travelling home day.  I’d not planned anything else and was in no particular rush.

Arriving early at my departure station, I noticed the blissful smell of bacon emerging from an attractive little station café.  I hardly ever eat a cooked breakfast, but it was gone 10 am.  Brunch would just about be in order, and I had a long journey ahead of me…  I was consequently rather pleased when the station manager explained that the 10:36 train to Newport had metamorphosed into a rail replacement bus which would take me as far as Shrewsbury, and it wouldn’t leave until 10:52.

English: River Dee. The river Dee near Llandderfel

Brunch was delicious.  I finished in good time and sauntered out to discover that my ‘bus’ was in fact a luxury coach, with only three passengers.  Taking the front seat and adjusting my personal air con, I settled back to enjoy a scenic tour of the Welsh borders with panoramic views.

True, it was gone midday before we reached Shrewsbury station, but I had seen some spectacular valleys and even caught a glimpse of Charles Darwin’s birthplace.

Shrewsbury Charm

Forty-five minutes to kill before a connecting train to Newport was due, but I’d never been to Shrewsbury before, so I had a short amble about, admiring the castle and other interesting buildings.

When it arrived, the train was already full.  I was very lucky to find a seat, even if it was one of those flip-down ones, next to an automatic door and right outside the toilet.  True, I had to stand up and juggle my bags whenever the drink trolley passed through, but at least I wasn’t having to stand all the way.

I settled down to read a book and off we went.

We hadn’t reached the next station when the train came to a halt.  There was some static on the PA system, then the train manager’s voice telling us that a freight train in front had failed and we’d be stuck there for a while.

Twenty minutes passed.  Then the voice again.  The freight train, it transpired, had ‘failed completely’.  A new engine would have to be sent to move it.  This would take about an hour.

Southern trains toilet UI conundrum

Shrugs and wry smiles were exchanged around the little vestibule where six of us were clustered.  We took turns to explain to passengers from the carriages how to operate the complex series of buttons on the toilet door.  The snack trolley came along, distributing free chocolate or dry roasted nuts.  There were no drinks left, but people shared what remained of their water with thirsty fellow travellers.

The hour passed, as did another, and finally we were on our way.  The strange thing was that although the freight train had failed completely, we hadn’t.  Everyone remained cheerful and calm.  I texted humorous updates to a friend who happens to be a train fanatic.  He texted back instructions on how to claim a ticket refund, which I shared with others.

The train manager had called ahead and arranged to have enough Welsh spring water available at the next station for everyone on board to be given a free bottle.

At every station more people piled on and our vestibule was shared with a bicycle, a pushchair and more people than I could count.  I tried to give my seat to a heavily pregnant young girl, but she smiled and declined, squatting on the floor and entertaining her small siblings to keep them quiet.

English: Newport railway station in Wales.

Finally we reached Newport.  I collected the necessary form to claim my refund and enquired after the next train to Bristol.  Ah, they told me, terribly sorry, but it had been cancelled.  There would be another in about half an hour.

I just laughed and wandered off to stand in a sunny spot on Platform 4.

So it was that exactly four hours later than I should have done, I boarded a train to take me back to Bristol.  Only an hour and twenty minutes on the bus, and I’d be home!

I was completely happy and strangely proud, knowing that once, in a similar situation, I would have been focusing on what should have happened, how inconvenient it was, how annoyed I felt.  The day could have been spent in a sea of frustration, anger and indignation.  Instead, I’d stayed in the moment, found positives to focus on and accepted the whole experience as an opportunity to show myself how successfully I’d mastered this life-lesson.  The training had been successful!

Better Answer Needed

Case O' Guns

“I know how to get hold of a gun,” crowed the 14-year-old at my side.
He looked at me quickly – part jubilant, part watchful, and waiting to see how I would react.

We live in England, where such things are strictly illegal, but I believed him.  There are always ways, if you have enough money and can find the right contacts.  This boy certainly knew where such contacts could be found.

“And why might you want to do that?” I asked, as levelly as I could.

He was the sweetest, gentlest, kindest of kids.  He still regularly came to visit me (his old primary school teacher) and usually chatted about our mutual interests.  Today, though, I was being shown a different side to him.

“If I had a gun – a really big gun – people would have to listen to me!   They’d have to take notice.  I’d be a big man.”

I watched him as he spoke.  He was half serious, half parodying himself, knowing as he said the words how stupid and clichéd they sounded.  Yet he badly wanted to believe them.  He wanted to believe there was some magical way to transform himself from a timid, socially anxious teenager into someone who would be held in awe by his classmates.

“And that’s the best solution you can come up with?” I asked.

He began to bluster then, to talk about an ever-increasing arsenal of weapons, of the penalties he’d exact on anyone who wouldn’t listen to him, of how revered he would be.

“They’d respect the gun,” I agreed, when he finally paused for breath, with a big soppy grin on his face.  “Do you think they’d have any respect for the guy holding it, though?”

The bravado continued.  “It wouldn’t matter.  They’d just have to do as I said.”

“It matters to you,” I persisted.  “You’re not looking to be surrounded by a bunch of dead bodies, you’re looking to feel empowered, to have a voice and to be looked up to by the others at school.  You’d like their respect and you’d like them to hear the thoughts and ideas that are burning away there in your head but never spoken because you’re scared the rest of them will laugh you down.  That’s what this is really about, isn’t it?  You want to feel brave.”

He thrust his hands into his pocket and lumbered off ahead.  I caught him up.

“We covered all this when you were in primary school,” I reminded him.  “The coward who wants power will bully weaker, smaller people or he’ll surround himself with a few mindless thugs to be his henchmen – or, I suppose, he’ll get a weapon to threaten others with.  None of those things will remove his fear, though.  He’ll still be terrified all the time.”

“SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER, THEN?” he yelled in my face.

What indeed?  What could I say?

I could offer him a whole bunch of truisms:  ‘There’s nothing to fear but fear itself’; ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’; ‘There is no fear until we make it up’ and so on and on…

adolescence

adolescence (Photo credit: dongdawei)

He was fourteen, in the midst of that agonising transformation from child to man.  He was a chess player amongst a throng of football fans, a quiet, gently spoken kid in a rough school where the mouth, the fist and occasionally the knife ruled supreme.

I had no magical words of comfort, no panacea for the whole, sorry business.

“Just don’t try to take them on,” I told him finally.  “Try to keep your head down and stay out of their way whenever possible.  Stay in safer, central areas and hold tight to your knowledge that you are a great person with a brilliant mind and your time will come.  School seems endless now, but in a few short years you’ll be free of it.  University or the workplace will be far less threatening and you’ll find people who give you respect for who you are.  You’ll also find that the fear gradually fades as you get older.  That’s the best I can offer.”

Was it enough?  It’s a long way from the perfect answer.  I’m still searching for that.

Believing is seeing?

For much of human history, the fantastical beings from myth and legend were as much a part of people’s lives as the sheep, blackbirds and spiders which also shared their world.

Around 2,000 years ago, a Roman writer called Pliny the Elder, who seems to have been the David Attenborough of his day, wrote a long book describing all the creatures of the Earth.  Some he had seen with his own eyes; others he found out about by reading what earlier writers had said.  It didn’t matter to him whether he’d actually seen them or not.  This was long before the time of the empirical scientists, remember, so observation wasn’t nearly as important as imagination.  He believed totally in all of the creatures he heard of and wrote about.

The Hereford Mappa Mundi, about 1300, Hereford...

The Hereford Mappa Mundi, about 1300, Hereford Cathedral, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over a thousand years later, scribes were still faithfully recording and referring to the creatures and beings Pliny had described.  If you ever get the chance to visit the city of Hereford, near the border between England and Wales, pop into the cathedral to take a look at the Mappa Mundi.  It’s the medieval equivalent of Wikipedia and gives a brilliant insight into the way people’s creation worked in those days.  It’s drawn on to a single piece of calfskin, but manages to include a very graphic pictorial account of the day of judgement; a map of the world; a guide to all the main abbeys and cathedrals of the time (it was drawn by a monk, naturally); a short history of the world, and drawings and descriptions of the races and creatures who inhabited it.  These things jumble together in a glorious mix of what we would now call fact and fiction.  The author of the map, though, makes no such distinction.  For him and the people who lived at that time, all these things were aspects of reality.  Time exists all at once on the map and even space is only hinted at.

Hereford Mappa Mundi detail Britainedit

Hereford Mappa Mundi detail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you stay close to where he has drawn the Mediterranean, the creatures are mostly familiar.  Stray out towards the edges of the map, though, and you’ll discover the Blemyes – headless beings with faces on their chests.  Rubbing shoulders with a rhinoceros are a centaur and a unicorn.  In the desert there is the Race with Protruding Lip, this lip being used as a handy sunshade to protect them from the relentless heat.  There are dragons to the south and Dog-Headed Men in the Arctic.  Many of these beings are taken directly from Pliny’s descriptions – no questions asked; none needed.

We might ask why belief in these wacky creatures kept going for well over a thousand years.  These days, we tend not to believe in dragons or mermaids, let alone the grotesque human mutations shown on the Mappa Mundi.  The ‘Enlightenment’, with all its scientific methods and observation saw to that.  We have grown up believing only in what we see with our own eyes.  Before science held sway, though, there was no need to think that way.  The Hereford map shows us a world where all beliefs and all earthly places and times snuggle up together quite comfortably.  Admittedly it’s rather squashed, but it’s all there.

We think of our ancestors as being rather daft and gullible for believing in those monsters, don’t we?  You wouldn’t catch us putting off a holiday in Scandinavia for fear of running into those dog-headed men – unless we’d seen footage of them on a scientific documentary, of course.

And yet…

Now here’s a thought:  What if those people did see such things?  What if their belief system allowed them to see all manner of wonders?  Maybe being so caught up with finding objective evidence stops us from being able to access a whole range of amazing phenomena.  Just think back to the Indians of the Caribbean who couldn’t see Columbus’ ships.  Wasn’t it because the huge vessels lay outside of their belief system?   I am outside my garden ant’s concept of what is ‘real’, and I’m therefore mostly invisible to it.  Crop circles can only ever be hoaxes to people who don’t believe in them, no matter how quickly they appear or how incredibly complex their designs have become.

Reality has suddenly got even more bendy, hasn’t it?

This is an edited extract from my book Life: A Player’s Guide by Jan Stone.
Available to order from bookshops or as a Kindle or paperback edition on Amazon.

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

Fire and Knives

I once taught a lovely young girl who was in foster care.  After several years with the same family, she was told she was being transferred to a new placement.  It involved moving to a different town and changing schools.  

This is the story I wrote to help her with this huge transition.

Fire and Knives 

Shi'ah's Sorrow

“How do I stop myself from having any pain?” asked Marnie.

“Pain?” said the Old One.  “What sort of pain?”

“Any sort,” replied Marnie, kicking at the dusty ground.  “Pain like… being burned and cut – just pain.”

The Old One shrugged.  “That’s easy; you stay away from fire and knives and things that can hurt you.”

Marnie scowled.  That was not the right reply.  “Suppose the pain comes after me, though, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t get away from it.  Then what do I do?”

“Ahh!” said the Old One, slowly.  “That sort of pain.”

 

The Old One wandered over to his rocking chair and sat down gently.

“Come and sit with me, Marnie,” he said.

“Don’t want to sit,” scowled Marnie.

“Fine,” smiled the Old One.  “Just you stay standing, then.”

“Don’t want to stand either,” Marnie grumbled.  “Just answer the question, why don’t you?”

“Well it’s an interesting question, you see, Marnie, and one that deserves a good answer.”

“SO GIVE ME THE ANSWER, THEN!” screamed Marnie, kicking furiously at the side of the house.

“Well, let me see.  I’m thinking this sort of pain wouldn’t be from flames and knives at all.  I’m wondering if this would be more like the sort of pain you get when you have to say goodbye to people and places you’ve known a long time, and you’ve got used to them and fond of them and it feels bad inside in every way.  Would that be the sort of pain we’re talking about?”

 

Marnie had stopped kicking at the house and was scuffing the ground quietly.  “Maybe.”

The Old One nodded thoughtfully.  “Yes, that’s a tricky sort of pain to avoid,” he agreed.

Marnie blinked hard several times and swallowed.  “So how would I avoid pain like that?”

 

“How would you avoid it?  Ah, that’s easy,” smiled the Old One.   “You’d start by saying to yourself, ‘I must be as nasty and grumpy as I can to the grown ups around here, then they’ll be glad when I go and they won’t miss me, so they won’t be upset.’  Then you’d think on and say, ‘I’ll be extra quarrelsome to my friends, and ignore the little kids around here, so that they don’t cry or make any fuss and they’ll be glad to see the back of me and then they won’t be upset, either.’”

 

Marnie was staring, open mouthed, at the Old One, but he smiled gently and kept talking softly.

“Then, of course, there would be your own pain.  You’d push it down deep, well out of the way and tell yourself how glad you were to be moving.  With any luck, if you kept it buried for long enough, it might not hurt any more after a while.  Simple, isn’t it, Marnie?”

 

Marnie was still staring.  “Is that the right way to do it?  Is that what you’d do?”

“What I’d do?  Good gracious, no!  Why would I even think of doing anything that stupid?”

“But you said…” spluttered Marnie.

“I said,” interrupted the Old One, “that’s what you’d do!”

 

Marnie went rather pink and started kicking again.  “So what’s wrong with that, anyway?”

“Well, Marnie, there’s a whole load wrong with it.  Let’s take the way you treat the adults.  They know it’s not your fault you’re leaving.  They’ve loved you for a long time and watched you growing up.  They’ve felt proud of the good ideas and help they’ve given you and they’d be proud to see you moving on as such a fine young person.  They’d like to have good memories of you.  But you’re taking all that from them.  You’re making them feel sad and disappointed.  You’re making them feel hurt and neglected.  That gives them lots of pain.”

 

Marnie slowly turned and wandered across to sit next to the Old One.  He carried on, as if he hadn’t noticed, although, of course, he had.

“Now what about those little kids?  Remember the bigger kids who played with you, when you were small?  Remember how kind they were to you, when they helped you make toys or played games with you?”

Marnie nodded.

“What are those memories like?  Good or bad?”

“Oh, good!” exclaimed Marnie, starting to smile at the thought of them.  “There was this one big kid, called Asher, who always played ball with me.  It made me feel really important and grown up.”

“That’s right,” smiled the Old One.  “I remember Asher playing with you when you were a real little tot.  Then one day Asher just started ignoring you, didn’t he?  Just treated you like you didn’t exist.”

“He did NOT!” exclaimed Marnie, angrily.  “Asher would never have done that.  He was really kind and friendly!”

“Oh yes, my mistake,” agreed the Old One, mildly.  “I must have been confusing him with someone else I knew.”

 

Marnie looked at him carefully.  She opened her mouth to ask a question, but then changed her mind.

“Go on,” she said.

“Where was I?  Oh yes – your friends.  They’ve been there for you when you’ve been grumpy and miserable and bossy and mischievous and they’ve kept you company and given you such a great bucket-load of happy memories to take with you on your journey.  Do they deserve to have their memories of you spoilt?  Do you deserve to have your memories ruined too?”

“Probably,” whispered Marnie, miserably.

“Can’t see much purpose in that,” shrugged the Old One.  “And finally there is your pain.  You got any painful memories at the moment?”

Marnie scowled.  “None of your business!”

“Ah,” he smiled.  “Keeping them buried, are you?  I’m guessing some of them go way back – back to when you were just a very little person.  And have they faded away?”

“Stop it!  Stop it!  STOP IT!” shouted Marnie, trying to block out his voice.

 

The Old One waited for a moment, until Marnie was still.  “I know it hurts,” he said gently.  “When pain goes deep, it hurts all the more.  You don’t start to feel better until you let it out.”

 

Then the Old One stood up and walked to the garden fence.  He looked across at the mountains in the distance.  They looked beautiful with the sun setting on them.

“Ah, Marnie,” he sighed.  “Just look at that view!  Drink it in and remember it!  Those mountains are worn into beautiful shapes, like carvings.  Wouldn’t they be dull and dreary if they were just smooth and round?”

Marnie looked at the mountains and shrugged.  “I suppose.”

“They’ve been attacked by fierce winds and sandstorms, lightning and torrents of rain, over the years, to get that way.  They’ve suffered too.  It’s the pain in our lives that makes us wise and strong and beautiful.”

 

He turned to face Marnie.  “There is another way – a better way.  Accept the pain, and the tears if they come, because they gradually wash the pain away.  Smile through the tears at those you are leaving behind.  Leave them the greatest gift you have – memories of the wonderful person you are.  They will give you wonderful memories back.  You’ll have no need to feel guilt or shame or bitterness.  Just know that life is an amazing journey, and take the best from every part of it.”

 

Marnie hugged him and the tears flowed and the pain that had been digging inside like a knife, or like burning, began to melt away.

Sunset over mountains

 

 

Seeing Beyond the Horizon

Horizon

Horizon (Photo credit: buck82)

Imagine how the people standing on the shore must have felt, watching ships disappearing over the horizon, when they believed the earth was flat.

Maybe some of the sailors were pretty nervous, too.

In those days there were only two ways to see beyond the horizon – to keep moving towards it or to climb up higher (a tall tower or the rigging of your ship, perhaps).   There was always still a horizon, but at least you could extend it a little.

At the weekend I heard an excellent talk by Dr Manjir Samanta-Laughton, a visionary scientist who shared many ideas that were quite new to me.  She spoke about horizons, too.

You see, we know that although we can’t see past the horizon, there is certainly something there.  So did those visionary early navigators, as they sailed off to discover new lands.

Dr Samanta-Laughton suggested that in terms of science, the speed of light has become our horizon.  Like those doubtful quayside spectators, many scientists remain sure there is nothing beyond it.  She labels it the ‘Perception Horizon’.

We can observe whatever travels up to the speed of light, but that is the cut-off point.  We see nothing beyond it.  Then it got exciting.  What if, she argued, some things can travel faster than the speed of light, but by doing so, they move beyond our ‘perception horizon’?

Hmm.

There are all sorts of scientific laws telling us of the dire things that would happen if we approached the speed of light.  Mind you, I think plenty of warnings were around when the early explorers set sail towards the horizon.  In fact, only a little over a hundred years ago, many believed there would be terrible consequences for the human body if we travelled at speeds of 60mph in cars or trains.

Not being a scientist, I couldn’t say how easy or otherwise it would be to extend the perception horizon by moving towards it.  That leaves the second method…

As Dr Samanta-Laughton pointed out, there are those amongst us who can glimpse what lies beyond  – where the known laws of science no longer hold sway.  They are the mystics, visionaries, psychically gifted people who have used that second method.  They have ‘climbed higher’ – raising their vibration to the point where they can see beyond the ‘perception horizon’ into higher dimensions.

My visionary ‘Version 2.0’* friend Will told me several years ago – when he was still in his teens – that in these dimensions, “time becomes fractal and there is no distinction between the past, present and future … as if time is the same at somebody’s destination as their origin, the move between the two points is instantaneous.”

Time no more.

 

*For information on Version 2.0 participants in the ‘Game of Life’, see my book Life: A Player’s Guide.