I've discovered relatively recently that inner peace comes from knowing who I am.
We spend so much of our time getting to know other people, and trying in the process to make a good impression on them, that we forget to allocate time to really get to know ourselves.
And that's a shame because so many of us are really nice people!
Here's the test, if you locked yourself in a room alone, all by yourself, for two days and nights, without so much as a television or a radio (and of course with no mobile phone or similar diversion), how would you get along with yourself? If the thought fills you with terror then its probably high time to examine your reasons for not wanting to spend some quality time with yourself.
As a lonely young man, I found myself in my own company much of the time getting to know the person I was then.
I've written about it in earlier posts, I'd spend days wandering remote hills and coasts in an effort initially to escape - both myself and the scary world around me - and later to get to know myself on some basic level, something I soon began to realise I'd never done. All I had been doing up until that time was reacting to the perception that other people had of me, and allowing that to inform how I saw myself. Anyway, I quickly found that you can't run away from yourself, you just end up taking a whole lot of baggage with you and dumping it down when you arrive wherever you thought you were going.
It was a very unhealthy and destructive way to be living. It took many years for me to get to know - and like - myself for who I am with all my foibles and quirks. As an individual.
I know from bitter experience that if you let others see you as lonely and vulnerable then they will descend like vultures... oh, yes, for example the time I was targeted by Christian missionaries who tried to manipulate and systematically destroy me and my unique identity, disguising their intentions with 'kindness' and clothing their nasty agenda in garments of 'love' and sympathy. Their imitation of love was a world away from the real love that I later found. I was into my third decade on this earth before I began to properly redefine the person I was and embrace him. Until that point I had believed what others presumed me to be - and they were mistaken.
I believe that the time I had spent by myself in my youth had at least provided a foundation of truth, which in later years when I really needed to rediscover my identity, was there, intact. Had I not been able to go back there to that place in my past, then I don't know where I'd be today, quite possibly beholden to those who in the intervening years had tried to claim me in order to bolster their own egos and selfish agendas.
So for those of you who could not spend two days alone in your own company, please, for your own sake, put aside some time to get to know yourself, don't let others decide for you who you are.
Recently I dusted off my old record collection, something I'd been meaning to do for years ever since I had reluctantly consigned my treasured vinyl LPs carefully to boxes in the depths of the loft, my record player having finally succumbed a few years earlier to a worn drive belt and a dodgy needle - and me having succumbed to the dubious lure of CDs and streaming mp3's.
But not long ago I purchased a budget record player of the new generational type, the sort with USB sockets and built-in 'conversion software' which I'll probably never use, and I began to sort through my very heavy boxes of LPs.
I was quite pleased to find that my musical taste has remained remarkably consistent down the years.
I still enjoy listening to Abba and all my cheesy 70s disco compilations, on vinyl they sound crisp and fresh and bring back a whole raft of memories from my younger days. There were some surprises too, I don't remember buying those Nana Mouskouri records and when on earth did I sit down and listen to Mantovani? Ehem.
Then there were some poignant reminders from the past.
One such happy find was a record by the American country singer Sammi Smith.
There is a story about how I came across this much loved singer. Sometimes one goes out looking for new music and on other rare occasions music comes to you, just when you need it and just when it will make a difference. This was one of those occasions. I was in Birkenhead, a small and, some might say, insignificant town that sits on the opposite side of the River Mersey to Liverpool, it's more famous cousin. This is a town with not a whole lot of money and, as is the case with such places, the shops often reflect this. And so Birkenhead had more than its share of charity shops (known in the US as thrift shops), where one can purchase donated goods, clothes, books, this and that, for the lowest prices with the proceeds benefiting a local charity or community venture. These shops are always worth a browse and, back in the day, they usually had a selection of second-hand records.
In the particular charity shop I had ventured into that day, the records had been consigned to the basement, only CDs, which had totally ousted vinyl by now, were given space in the main shop. The place was dimly lit, damp and full of stuff that hadn't made the grade to be displayed in the slightly more refined space upstairs. The records were in boxes on a table at the back of the room. They had mostly seen better days but had obviously once been someone's pride and joy, a lifetime's collection of music that had defined a person's life, someone now long gone but who was echoed in these old boxes of time.
As I rummaged about, one record stood out. Covered in a thick layer of dust and grime, I could nevertheless make out some words and a picture. 'Something Old, Something New, Something Blue' was the title, and the artist, whose photograph graced the front of this 1972 album cover was Sammi Smith. I'll confess that at the time I had only a slight recollection of the name Sammi Smith though it did ring a distant bell for me. More captivating was the photograph of the lady herself, understated and unassuming , it spoke to me. I bought the record of course. And on returning home I very carefully and patiently cleaned first the cover and then the record itself which was coated in mildew from the damp conditions in which this treasure had lain for Lord knows how many years. The vinyl was in good condition however, and after the careful cleaning process was complete, I placed the LP on my turntable and with great trepidation I lowered the stylus on to the first track.
Revelation! Through the miracle of recorded sound, echoing through the years, here was a magical, soulful and tender voice. I realised now why something was drawing me to this record, through some mystical magic I had discovered this wonderful singer, whose interpretation of a song was both heartfelt and heartbreaking at one and the same time. So my journey with Sammi Smith began. Over the next months I tracked down and collected more of Sammi's albums. Here in England they were fairly scarce. Sammi had a huge breakthrough hit on both sides of the Atlantic with the Kris Kristofferson penned 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' (and this, I realised, is why I recognised her name when I first spotted the LP) but she had never quite managed to repeat this initial early success and achieve the mighty heights and accolades which she so richly deserved. Not that she needed to. While Tammy Wynette and others were pursuing the popular route, Sammi took the road less travelled, becoming a country 'outlaw' rather than following the trends, singing her song in her own way and thereby carving her own place in music history with a string of quality albums. Quietly and with honesty. Those in the know revere Sammi as a true artist who did not give in to the whims and follies of the music industry but remained true to her own country roots. And this is what still shines through her music. Listen to Sammi Smith today and you hear an artist of integrity who interprets a song with truth and her own convincing honesty.
Sammi passed away in 2005 but has left a catalogue of music that I and many others return to often.
Her son Waylon Payne carries his Mum's legacy in his heart, super talented in the fields of song-writing and acting, he is also a brilliant and moving singer, telling his tales in song with great feeling and sincerity. Just like his Mum.
Funny how a 'chance' find can lead one on a journey of discovery. For me, the day I found the old Sammi Smith record proved to be very fortuitous and continues to take me on a delightful musical voyage.
Getting a new lawn shouldn't perhaps fill one with sheer delight and cause a great deal of excitement given that, well, it is just grass after all and yet my partner and I felt elated when we arrived home last week to find that we had a green space where for the past two years there had been an expanse of grey, broken concrete, seasonally forested in a thick overgrowth of weeds.When we bought the house, we knew that the garden was a problem. It was completely overgrown and totally infested with Horsetails (also known as Mares-tails), an invasive and robust weed that is notoriously difficult to eradicate.
We were, however, so thrilled with the actual house, a lovely Edwardian merchants villa, that we concentrated on revitalising the interior of our new home and we tended to ignore the garden unless we had to go out there. Even the dog didn't care too much for the space, preferring to stay indoors rather than enter the desolation of the bleak back garden.
We did try to deal with the weeds ourselves on more than one occasion with ever stronger and more terrifying weed-killers but still the Horsetails returned to taunt us.
Horsetails, it should be mentioned, are not unattractive to behold, they look like miniature fir trees and apparently they have been around on this earth for aeons, once having stood like dinosaur trees, tens of feet tall, in vast forests. Now they are tiny in comparison but no less scary if you happen to be fighting them. In fact they are a good source of silica and we did briefly contemplate cultivating them until we realised that we didn't have a clue as to what anyone actually uses silica for...
Underneath this forest of green lay a broken concrete area which once had made up an easily maintained outside space where the earlier residents might have placed large pots of colourful flowers and patio furniture from where they would survey their summery garden. Now all that was left of those heady days was a sorry looking Camellia in a large pot being strangled by Horsetails. We managed to rescue the Camellia and set it aside, nurturing it for a year or so until it recovered. This year it has thanked us with a spectacular display of bright pink blooms.
Anyway, so it was that a few weeks ago I happened to see a truck outside a house in our neighbourhood. It belonged to a gardener whose name, Mike, was emblazoned on the side of his vehicle. Knowing that this year we simply had to address the problem of our garden, I made a mental note of his name and came home. As I was browsing Facebook later that day (as one does instead of tackling the garden, or any other pressing issue), what popped up magically on Facebook but a 'suggestion' from them that I might want to check out Mike and his gardening service. Talk about Big Brother, Facebook seems to have eyes and ears everywhere though I still can't imagine how they knew what was going on in my mind.
Freaked out a little by the mind reading folks at Facebook but following this obvious pointer, I returned to the place where I had seen Mike's truck and there I found Mike himself. Within minutes, he had popped over to our house, assessed the garden situation, offered his advice and we had even agreed a price.
I guess I can actually cut this long story a little short, suffice it to say that the following week, Mike and his gang of hard-working garden chaps had transformed the desolate space at the back of our house into a wonderland of green grass and brightly coloured pebbles, the crumbling wall had been replaced with old railway sleepers which look amazing and I have already seen the first signs of wildlife returning to the garden.... okay well it was only a beetle but it's more than I've seen there in a very long time!
We are looking forward to summer with enthusiasm and a newly found love of the outdoors now as we plan what plants we will be getting and where they will be placed. Even the dog ventured into the garden today to inspect the work and he seemed pleased too.
As Mike disappeared into the distance I looked at my smart phone and thanked Facebook for reading my mind that day. Though I have to say I am very cautious to avoid thinking too much now unless my phone is on charge somewhere safely out of sight - lest Facebook hear that we really need a new kitchen.....
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious..”, so said Albert Einstein and it is a quote I return to often as I seek to discover ever more wonder in the world around me.
Of all the mysterious natural, or more probably supernatural, phenomena that it is possible to experience, it is likely that one of the most unusual and little explained would be that of the Will O' The Wisp.
To happen upon this eerie green flickering light, that can be seen at night hovering above lakes, ponds and slow moving meandering rivers in the deepest countryside, is perhaps one of the most beautiful, elusive and unnerving encounters one can have. Even today in this bustling, modern, scientifically led world, the wonderful sight of something so enigmatic can tap in to our innermost child-like wonderment and send our imagination soaring into the realms of fantasy, both real and imagined.
Will O' The Wisps, also known by an abundance of other magical names such as 'ghost lights', 'hobby lanterns', 'pixie lights' and many many others, are documented in all parts of the world and in every culture. Here in the UK they are said to be most commonly seen in the wilds of Cumbria and Northumberland.
Many of the names for this phenomenon allude to an ancient belief in fairies, pixies and malicious goblins who lure lonely travellers away from their path and into the unknown. And so most often the Will O' The Wisp has gained a reputation for malevolence and is something to view warily and with great suspicion.
Some believe them to be lost souls, drifting in the dark.
In a few parts of the world however the story is different; in several European countries for example it was (and still is in some rural localities) believed that a Will O' The Wisp marks the location of buried faerie treasure.
Attempts to reproduce this strange, elusive and fragile-looking light scientifically have generally failed and it still remains largely unexplained, adding to its mystery and magic.
So whatever it is, please nobody try to enlighten me as to the true nature of this supernatural wonder. Whether it is a goblin lamp, a lost soul or a clue to buried treasure, I'm happy to sit in the depths of the countryside, just to watch and hope for a glimpse of my own Will O' The Wisp.
(I'd welcome comments from any readers with their own experiences of this or any other natural or supernatural phenomenon)
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