A Trip to Iona (1)

The first of several descriptions of a trip to Scotland and England that was in some ways a restless spiritual pilgrimage, more so than my trip to Glastonbury and other places last year.


On Monday April 12, 2003, I realize that I want to go to Iona. I look for people to come with me, but no one can. I decide to go anyway, and within days I have the trip planned. I will fly to Glasgow, spend a day and a half with Robert Clarke in England, fly to Aberdeen to spend a couple of days with Michael Ross, then go to Iona for four days and five nights, then visit Ronald and Jill Russell for a couple of days. It seems a lot of moving around, but manageable.

On Friday, May 23rd, I write in my journal: “Dion Fortune read a passage referring to the Brotherhood, and her whole being responded. For ten days she could think of nothing else but her desire to serve. Then came a vision, and her whole life was changed. May I not strive for something like that on Iona? May I not earnestly pray to be of service? Have I anything else in life I desire? I have not.” 

The following Friday, the 30th, I pick up a few hundred English pounds from my bank, borrow a backpack, and that night I pack everything except for last-minute things. (What’s the weather going to be like? Should I bring a winter coat? Surely not, in June, even in Scotland! I settle for packing in layers. Besides my short coat, a sweater and sweatshirt, a warm woolen jacket-like thing, a flannel shirt and two dress shirts, a pair of blue jeans, a pair of good pants and – in an unwarranted burst of optimism – a pair of shorts.) I spend the weekend wondering if four days on Iona will bore me. For reading material, I choose, after some hesitation, The Lives of the Saints (Brendan, Cuthbert and Wilfred), and The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counseling. Both books are small, lightweight, and likely to match my mood. 

Wednesday morning, June 4, a Greyhound bus to Dulles airport. I begin snoozing as soon as the bus starts at 9 a.m., figuring it will be long hours before I get to sleep in a bed again.

And then I am at Dulles airport at 11:20 a.m., with my flight to Newark scheduled to leave at 5 p.m. (Greyhound only has one bus to Dulles from C’ville.) I have a piece of pizza and go up to the check-in desk. The woman there advises me to get onto their 1 p.m. to Newark, saying that they are experiencing weather delays all up and down the east coast, and it would be better for me to be in Newark waiting than in Dulles.  

Good thinking. As it is, the 1 p.m. doesn’t get off the runway until 2 p.m.. Then up out of the grey clouds into the bright blue sky, and 35 minutes later back down into the same grey overcast we’d left, one short hop closer to my scheduled 8:35 departure for Scotland.

I check the bookstores and the food places, but cursorily. I am hoping to curb my appetite for food mental and physical. Since my ticket promises a meal and a snack, I settle for a cup of coffee. 

Six hours is a long time to wait in an airport, although it does give one time to memorize the “security” announcements threatening to seize and destroy one’s unguarded luggage at the first opportunity. Also the no smoking announcements. They come every fifteen minutes. Six hours is a long time to wait in an airport. 

The night before, my friend Rita Warren had asked if she was picking up a bit of depression. I said she was, and had attributed it to the kind of apprehension I had had before I did my Gateway at The Monroe Institute in 1992. At the time my friend Kelly had re-assured me, saying that it is normal before a transformative experience for parts of the psyche to be apprehensive. Well, here I am at the airport with nothing terribly pressing to do. Why not ask?

For some years now, and increasingly in recent months, I have been in contact with what most would call past lives of mine. I don’t think of things quite that way anymore, but suffice it to say I have become aware of other lifetimes that are closely connected to mine. Being located outside time and space, these other lives are as “present tense” as mine. (We are all living in the eternal present, after all.) Of these other lives, the one who has shaped me most actively is a Welsh-born journalist, traveler, psychic investigator named David Poynter who lived from the 1870s to the 1930s. I am in contact with his spirit and he with mine, let’s put it that way. Since I learned the knack, I can contact him at will. In fact, in a TMI program in March, he came through on a tape recorder for the first time, which added a new dimension to our interaction. So here, sitting in Newark Airport (which, if you didn’t know it, is a smoke-free facility which promises to seize, damage or destroy your unattended luggage) I haul out my journal and ask him why the tension/depression/anxiety connected with the trip. “Why can’t I just do the trip as best I can and see what happens?”

“You are doing just that. Don’t be hard on yourself in an overbalancing way. But the other elements are there, too, we recognize. How to explain? 

“Anxiety – lest plans not come through due to circumstances beyond your control.

“Depression – because you ask yourself `why am I doing this? I am not prepared, I am not even sure what I am doing, let alone why.’ You worry that you will go, return, and in between miss all your opportunities. 

“Tension – because a good part of you knows better, a large part disagrees and both parts are waiting to see.”

Pretty good analysis, I’d say. Sitting unobtrusively on a bench against the wall in the waiting room, I play a TMI CD called “Catnapper” that lets you get a full sleep cycle in 30 minutes. It’s one of my favorites, and it works this time as always. I awaken refreshed. The terminal building is cold. I am glad to be able to pull out a sweater from my backpack. Time passes, and the lounge very gradually fills. I spend some hours reading about the voyages of St. Brendan in The Lives of The Saints. At nearly 7 p.m., I pull out my journal to ponder. 

“Well, what am I to make of the voyages of St. Brendan? An otter who not only brings a fish, but firewood to cook it with! So much of it seems just Irish tall tales – and yet there is something at the root of it. That “something” is the character of St. Brendan himself. The tall tales mixed with the true tales – around him. So who was he really? His utter reliance on God shines through everything. But all their beliefs, their rituals, their world, really – it’s incomprehensible what it once must have meant. It doesn’t mean to us what it did to them. It can’t. And I was raised Catholic! I’m one of the few people left – or rather, my generation is – who can still remember even that shadow of the theology. But it wasn’t to us what it must have been to the people who wrote and read things like the life of St. Brendan. It’s almost inconceivable, now, that people could read that as non-fiction. I suspect there must have been a different sound to them – perhaps the difference between thinking humorous exaggeration straight fact. Yet there was more. They lived in a magical world, a world not shaped – cursed, I am tempted to say – by science as arbiter.”

Finally we board, we taxi, we fly. New England, Nova Scotia, Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, and then the British mainland pass beneath us while we eat, we snooze, and we eat again, working our way eastward through five time zones. 

Thursday, June 5.

Through much of the flight, as previously through much of the waiting time in the terminal, I am in a no-thought space, not sleeping, not waking. A weird feeling, to be moved from this quiet near-sleep state to a waking state by the small jolt of the wheels touching down. We land at 8:30 a.m. local time, a little behind schedule. But by 9:30 I am through passport control, have retrieved my luggage and gone through customs (no one there) and am waiting in a British Midlands line to get my boarding pass for the 9:45 to Manchester, England. The temperature is about 50, so I figure my packing was about right. No need for the overcoat!

During the flight, I sit next to a retired American who is returning home via Manchester. His wife has been over here working with Youth With A Mission, a fundamentalist Christian group. He too appears pretty conservative. But when I find out that he has knee problems, I tell him about Knox gelatin joint compound and he does listen. 

Manchester airport has a rail spur, so I don’t have to go looking for a cab to bring me to the train station. Very convenient. I get the train to Crewe, and a cab from Crewe to Burslam, in Stoke-on-Trent, where Robert Clarke lives. The itinerary I printed up includes the phone numbers of the friends I’m going to visit. I borrow the cabby’s cell phone and call Robert to tell him I am on my way. I say “Robert…” and he bursts out laughing; says he knows from the accent who’s speaking. Accent? Me? I heard his clipped North of England accent, of course, but it’s funny to hear how broadly we come across to them.

Robert and I have not met before. My friend Colin Wilson had sent me an account of Robert’s work and manuscript on dreams and the meaning of our lives, and I had said I’d look at it. He and I spent some months exchanging emails, and I sent him my book Muddy Tracks, which he understood. Hampton Roads published his manuscript as The Four Gold Keys.  

Sometimes people just click. It had became clear in our email correspondence that Robert and I saw things much the same way. But as soon as we sat down to talk in his front room, it was as if we’d been friends for many years. Dreams have told him that his last two lifetimes were in America, and David’s, of course, was British. We find a natural harmony between us, very nice.

I had pencilled in this side-trip to England specifically because I knew that Robert was having health problems and I non-rationally knew that I could help him. And in fact, as soon as we sit down in the front room and his brother Ken fixes me an excellent cup of coffee, this is the first thing Robert and I set out to do. Because it could help each of you who are reading this, I will spell out the technique a bit. It is something The Guys Upstairs gave Rita and me in a series of meditations, and it is very powerful and cannot do harm. Of how many techniques may that be fairly said? 

Get into a comfortable sitting position and close your eyes. Take a few slow deep breaths, briefly holding your breath after you breathe in, and again after you breathe out. Relax. Envision yourself in a waterfall, with the river of life and health flowing through you as well as around you. Those waters – our invisible support from the other side – flow through us day and night, or we could not live, but mostly we live unaware of this silent unfailing support. As the waters flow through you, from your head to your toes, become aware of obstructions in the flow. Pains, chronic or transient. Illnesses, serious or trivial. Anything that obstructs the free flow of the waters – see the waters quietly but effectively dissolving the obstructions. Do this whenever you happen to think of it. You’ll be surprised how many things come up and then go away. I have taken to using it for emotional reactions to situations, as well, visualizing the waters dissolving the quirk within me that causes unwanted emotions such as envy, nervousness, etc.

How does it work? Who cares? One theory is that by concentrating our attention on the waters, and the obstructions, we focus our subconscious mind on it – and it is the subconscious that does the moment-to-moment work of maintaining the body. My theory is that our physical body is laid down on an energy-body template, and once we adjust the energy body, the physical body readjusts itself to match that corrected template. But this is only theory, and as I said, who cares? What matters is that it works. Certainly it works for Robert this day. Whether it will continue to work day by day is up to how diligently he uses it, of course. 

After we do the little bit of healing, Robert and I walk around his town, and have fish and chips together with his elder brother Ken, who is a talented painter whose work (which seems Persian somehow, though neither of the brothers had seen this influence) makes a deep impression on me. And all the while, for four hours, Robert and I talk, not about trivialities, but about Carl Jung, and the spirit, and religion, and the plight of modern man. Then Robert walks me a couple of miles to the Sneyd Hotel Inn, where he’d made reservations for me at my request. I go to bed at about 4:30 p.m. their time, about 26 hours after I’d started my day in America. I awaken at 11 or so, make a couple of journal notes, and go back to sleep. A good start to the trip. A good day.

Friday, June 6. D-Day, 59 years later.

I awaken feeling – lonely? Lost? No, not quite. Intimidated, a bit. But these people speak the same language, and they’re friendly enough. Is it being a stranger? Having no place of my own? Closer to that. Take heed, peregrine! 

I eat but little breakfast: scrambled eggs, served with (to my taste) underdone white bread, and coffee not to my taste either. Nothing like Ken’s, which was excellent. Besides, I don’t want to eat a lot. I eat too much and I am looking forward to losing weight if possible this fortnight, walking and moving about.

I call Robert after breakfast, to tell him I’m on my way. He walks up and meets me. We walk around a little lake, and here and there, talking. After a bit he takes me into town and I meet his friend Jim. Then back to Robert’s house and we talk yet more, and do some more energy work. I see clearly Robert’s belief system about health. I work to subvert it, to convince him that illness follows obstructions in the energy system, and, the obstructions removed, the physical system repairs itself. This frees us of many illnesses and annoyances that we have come to regard as unavoidable.  

At one point I ask to take a little nap, and he is going to do the same. I nod off sitting in the chair in his sitting room, and when I wake up, less than an hour later, I remember the last part of a dream. I had a bow and arrow and was aiming it at the sky, quite pleased, because things would be all right. When Robert rejoined me he came out of a brief sleep to remember dreaming of a rainbow, which, he said when I told him about the bow and arrow, was more or less the same symbolism.

In the evening we go to a pub. A real pub, not a tourist pub, and I enjoy it. (I find myself unable to order a “haff” pint of Guinness, and instead ask for a “hof” pint. It sounds a little phony to my ears, but to say it the American way would have sounded jarringly different.) At one point Robert gets a funny look on his face. I ask if he is in pain, and he says he is. I point to him across the table and send energy – but more important, I think, is the fact that I am talking to him, telling him what I am doing. To his surprise the pain goes away and stays away. We were expecting to be met by Robert’s friend Jim, but I suspect that he will not show up, and he does not. Instead, Robert’s godson Steve comes in and joins us, and I know why Jim was not meant to show up. Had Jim been there, the conversation would have been vastly different. But Steve is used to talking to “Uncle Robert” about dreams and spiritual things. He instinctively understands them. This 26-year-old with great alive eyes does not belong in this depressed midlands town.  

After a while I demonstrate to Steve, and then to Robert, that they have an energy body, using the nearness of my own hand to help them feel their own aura. Steve, as soon as he feels it, jerks his hand away, startled. He is astonished – and now he knows, he doesn’t have to believe. I tell Steve that he ought to get out of the area, as the pressure of the environment holds him down. He and Robert agree. And I say – out of what knowing, I know not – that he might study to become an energy healer.

Robert says my book changed his thinking. He is quite complimentary about it, and embarrassed about it. I take a couple of pictures of Ken and him, my first photos of the trip. By then it’s nearly midnight. We say goodbye, feeling great affection for each other. I take a cab to the hotel, thinking the evening is over. 

Not quite. There is a message to call my daughter at work if I get in before 11 p.m. (5 p.m. eastern time, of course). Well, it’s after that, so I call her at home. For a good time at midnight in a foreign country, try to make a transatlantic phone call from a pay phone whose ways you don’t understand. I’m thinking something has happened with my mother’s health. It turns out to be a simple problem at work. They had paged me at Dulles, but I had left on an earlier flight. (I think they assumed I just didn’t want to get involved.) So, finally, to bed.

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