A Trip to Iona — Monday June 9, 2003

Monday, June 9
At 2:45 a.m. I note a dream, saying “active dreaming. May it continue.” The only thing I remember from this rather entertaining dream is giving my old college friend Dennis a boot in the tail because he got me in trouble with (the congressman I am working for?). I tell him that when I’m 83, I’ll still be circling round him to avoid the return kick.

At 7:15 I am up, packed, waiting for breakfast and the start of the day. I pull out my journal.

“So – friend David – we were interrupted in a very interesting conversation some while ago – when the plane landed in Aberdeen.” And we are off on a discussion of the relationship within us between other lives. David says, “You have within you connection to every other lifetime you are primarily connected with. Which ones you are connected with is in itself a measure of you as an individual. This may not be obvious.

“Well – so those you are closest to will most closely influence you. This is how it will seem to you. And if you are compounded of primary influences that hate each other’s values, you will find yourself a battlefield, and maybe one side or the other will be overwhelmed, or maybe they will fight over every little thing, or maybe your life can be a means of reconciling them. But in whatever case, you are primary because you are at the point of application, the present from your view of reality. For each of the influences in motion, each of them is the one in the point of application, and you are the influence from afar. So it is continual flux and war of movement, you see.”

“I am sitting here in the front room of the b&b waiting for breakfast to begin in a few minutes, wishing I were the man I saw in the mirror after we visited Pluscarden.”

“And maybe he has reason to wish you could make the trade.”

Breakfast proves interesting. There are two couples from Sweden, on a driving holiday, having come over on a 24-hour ferry. They aren’t quite sure they’d ever heard of Swedenborg, though part of that may be my pronunciation. (I told them I’d had the same trouble in England.) When I ask them what their religion is (they not having heard of Swedenborg) they look puzzled and say “Christian.” I say, “Catholic,” and they are a bit shocked and say no. Then I remember and say, “Lutheran” and they agree. “Christian”: The reply bespeaks a uniformity of culture we don’t have and I wouldn’t want.

A short cab ride downtown and in a while I am on the bus to Fort William, which leaves at about 9:30. I say to myself, “what a luxury, to be traveling alone,” and I hear the words and wonder why I am so often tempted to again join my life to someone else’s rather than giving it to all and none.

On the bus, I interrupt my reading of Bede’s “Life of Cuthbert” to mull over something David had said. “Well, it is curious, but I have felt those unconscious or semi-conscious urges, or curiosities, yet even as I have felt them, I have felt that they were somehow not me and not mine. If they well up from not the so-called subconscious but from our connections to other lives of ours, this would make sense.” But it is too hard to write on the bus, so I return to reading, and finish Bede on Cuthbert. I understand Cuthbert, and I rather think I understand Bede, which is something I suspect the educated of our day may find impossible to do. I have a nice lonely trip to Fort William, which we reach at 11:30.

We immediately transfer to another bus that will take us to Oban, but this trip is not solitary. I am chatted up by a Scot who had lived in Mull 10 years and in Canada for three. He was born in 1937 – just nine years before me – and is retired from a career as an engineer (among other things). He remembers the Yanks being all over Glasgow, in a part of town the Germans had bombed, which had then been cleared for the American cantonments. He remembered them maneuvering all over, driving their four-bys, and then suddenly disappearing and never coming back. After D-Day, of course.

We reach Oban at 1:15, and I buy a ticket for the Caledonian MacBrayne car and passenger ferry to Craignure, on the Isle of Mull. (CalMac runs all the ferries to the western islands.) I sit with my journal on the jetty, catching up. At about 4 the ferry leaves. For some reason, all that goes through my mind, the whole trip over, is Auld Lang Syne, playing non-stop. What’s that all about?

I watch the wake of the boat organize itself into more or less parallel lines, which quickly dissolve and form new arrangements and non-arrangements. Within the pattern are patches of whitish-green alternating with the deep green that is around them, and is outside the wedge of wake. And atop the green and the whitish green is white foam in intricate patterns like lace. It could be part of a lovely painting.

It’s about a 40-minute trip, and I enjoy it greatly. The ferry boat is big enough, and broad enough, and the waters protected enough, that it is a very smooth ride. Three decks to the ferry, with a restaurant, a snack bar, a gift shop, you name it. There is even a small arcade with video games for the teenagers. You can stay inside on padded upholstery or can go up to the outer deck at the stern and sit on benches and participate in the day. A majority of the people choose to be outside. I find it chilly, but I’d have to be carrying my coat in any case (nowhere to pack it) so it isn’t a problem. Of course, while I’m in a coat and none too warm, others are in shirtsleeves and seem quite comfortable.

At the very end of the trip, as we are organizing ourselves to debark, a 30-year-old kid strikes up a conversation with me. He had been listening to my conversation with the man on the bus, and was also going to Iona. We sit on a bench in front of the little tourist center, having an hour to wait for the bus that will take us across the southern end of Mull to Fionnphort and one last ferry ride to Iona. He had just graduated seminary, was engaged to be married, and was taking his last summer of freedom to travel around Europe. Our conversation is not entirely comfortable; too many theological areas that we have to step around. After a while an elderly Scot and his wife sit down next to me, and he and I get talking about the war, D-Day, Churchill, etc. He had worked for Union Carbide, and in the 1950s or ’60s had visited their plant in West Virginia.

Then comes the bus, about an hour and a half ride, and book and journal.

“So, David, how do I deal with this boy, besides being friendly and open?”

“Nothing more needed than that. Don’t be afraid to say what you believe – as you have been doing. It will be all right, and it will help you, too, to speak your truth. Good practice – or how do you expect to deal with the bus?”

[Later I look at this entry and wonder what word was meant, that I wrote as “bus.” Or maybe it meant, people in general, such as were represented by the other passengers.]

Fionnphort, a little place I never do get to see – any more than Craignure, Oban or so much that I pass through – and a five-minute ferry ride and I am walking up the concrete pier onto the Island of Iona.

My first view of the island, from the ferry, is disconcerting. The first impression is of an English (or American, for that matter) countryside: a series of ordinary houses strung along the coast, each surrounded by neat fenced fields. It looks so domestic, especially after Mull’s deserted look. So what did I expect? Something wilder, certainly.

Within minutes I am at the Finlay Ross b&b, then across the way for an expensive but good supper. As I eat, I recapitulate the trip so far. It has been wonderful – mostly because of seeing Robert and Michael. I sit and watch the sea through fogged windows. I have been too long away from the sea. I take a short walk, but it is really too cold for the clothes I am wearing. I worry about having trouble with asthma, so I retreat indoors for the night.

Tuesday, June 10
At 2 a.m., my first morning on Iona, I get up to record a dream.

“Tagging along with [the congressman I worked for when I was in my twenties] who says he was enjoying watching me on television, as part of my job working for him. I said `uh-‘ [because this caught me off guard] and wanted to know how it looked on TV, as I had not seen it, and everything would depend on how it was cut.

“Then he’s talking to Mary [his assistant], who seemed like [a difficult employee we had had at Hampton Roads]. She said she would be trotting around to talk about a raise later, and they referred to something they weren’t going to buy for her successors. This while I waited to continue a conversation because I had an idea for him acquiring staff from someone I knew who was retiring. Tangled now, and I only remembered to record this at all because I had to get up to go to the bathroom. I must get back into the habit of recording dreams.”

After that first dream, I give up on trying to write them in my journal at the time. It’s too hard. Too much movement, plus the act of turning on the light floods the brain with beta waves, which of course change one’s mental state, making it very hard to bring back or hold onto dreams, which seem to be very state-specific. Instead, I begin using my hand-held tape recorder, and bring back several more as they occur.

1) John Lennon had retired and was living in a flimsy house by the side of this shallow water – or maybe it was an ocean. His friend who visited there realized that although Lennon was filling his time with things, he wasn’t really doing anything. He had a litigious friend who spent time writing and re-writing his letter to the editor about some controversy (they never publish it), without ever getting any fresh data. And the narrator of the dream wondered, “why doesn’t he ever go out and get fresh data, go back to the swamp that he’s writing about, and get more date about it?” But the guy doesn’t. And John Lennon is living in this house that’s quite flammable – it’s made of reeds or something – and he lives quite casually with fire. And the guy can’t figure out why he hasn’t burned the place down. I as narrator am going out to the beach early in the morning and coming to this place where there’s a spigot in a shelter. I’m trying to wash the sand off my hands, and realize that sand has nearly covered the spigot, so I dig it out a little bit for people, and a kid with a dog comes by and wants to know where I’m sleeping – the idea being am I sleeping on the beach. I say, “No, I’m not sleeping on the beach,” but I don’t tell him where I am; I tell him where I’m not.

[Thinking about it. John Lennon is dead. He was a very creative artist, dead. Fooling around: not working. The question would be, what kind of work? The answer would be that Lennon was a creative individual and anything he set his creativity to would have been valid work.]

2) The mantle of authority on Columba was always very, very heavy, like a very heavy cape, and I have proceeded with that kind of mantle on me, and people have always responded to it as very inappropriate, because there was no external reason for it. I agree with that, but that’s what I’ve always seen. A sense of mounting a bus, like a town bus, where before an image of him walking in that heavy cloak. Lying in bed on my stomach, I have a sense of that heavy cloak pressing down on me, whereas once before, lying on my stomach, I had a sense of a bird lying and relying on the wind, on the spirit. Perhaps the two are connected.

3) I’m walking. Someone says from a high platform, walking the other way, “Hi, Fronk” [pronounced in a Scot accent, as Michael would say it]. I’ve actually had this happen before, but I’ve never noticed it. He is to my left, and behind me. I am walking in the road.

4) Those documents that Columba was involved with have something to do with the number 532. At first I thought it was 522, but it wasn’t. By virtue of something or other, Columba had access to all the prime numbers.

5) My old friend Dennis was visiting my house, and had a whole bunch of photos to show me. I was so upset with my wife being in another world entirely, I went outside to mow the lawn, and was pushing the lawnmower up and down, before I realized that it wasn’t even turned on. [It was my mother’s mother’s house’s lawn.] I put down the mower and went back inside. Dennis said, “why did you take them off, I thought they looked good.” He was talking about sunglasses that I had forgotten about.He has a whole package of photographs he’s going to show me, and he says, “up or down?” meaning on the floor or on a chair. We got down on the floor, and the very first photo- [led to the next dream]

6) It’s some kind of day school. An autistic boy is lying on a bookshelf with the meal he’s supposed to be eating. There’s an interruption of some kind and when it’s over I encourage him to start again. He has a fish stick with tomato sauce on it, and he sort of hits his head with it accidentally instead of his mouth. I smile. I go over to this other guy and say, “it’s so touching to see these autistic children taking care of themselves.”

Busy night. I suspect we get series of dreams like this frequently – every night, for all I know – but lose all memory of most of them. I look forward to discussing these with Robert, for although I think I see some of the meaning of some of them, clearly I can read this language only haltingly. The fourth dream, for instance. It has something to do with Columba’s access to information unavailable to common consciousness, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.

At 7 or so I am up and about. I walk as far as the ruins of the old nunnery – not very far. The iron gate is open, and no one else is around. I look around, and of course it begins to rain. The only hat I have brought is my baseball cap with The Monroe Institute logo on it. It functions to keep rain off, but only barely. I stay for a while within the one enclosed area with a roof, absorbing the vibes, so to speak. Then I walk back to the b&b for breakfast. I sit opposite my fellow American, whose name it turns out is Matthew, and I wind up talking to him about dreams and the use of dreams, citing Michael’s dream and how it affected his life.

After breakfast I go walking to the south, following one road, then another, dead-ending a couple of times until I wind up on the western side of the island, passing through a gate to a common grazing area that is open to the sea. Rocks, sea, sky (and lots of opportunities for wet feet, maneuvering through the heather or whatever it is, and often enough finding water instead of ground underfoot). Open space and no one around.

After a couple of hours I make my way back to the b&b, arrange for my laundry to be done, buy a couple of chocolate chip shortbread cookies, and go walking again. Just as I get to the pier I see that it is nearly noon, the time when the boat leaves for Staffa, a small uninhabited island a few miles north of Iona, well within sight of it. I had told Michael I’d see Fingall’s Cave, so why not today while the weather is good? Who knows what the rest of the week will be like?

While waiting, I chat with an Aussie, born in 1939. He remembers that VE Day in Australia did bring some celebration, because it meant the men they’d sent to Europe would be coming home. But on VJ Day, they went wild.

So I take the little boat to Mull (I am the only Iona passenger), where we pick up a boatful of others, and then to Staffa. A fun ride. Part of me is apprehensive about going on the sea, and another part revels in it, adjusting to it like riding a horse, and enjoys the whole trip first to last. Maybe someone who died at sea is less prominent than he used to be when on the water.

Staffa from the south looks like a ship heading west, one of those low-lying cargo ships you see sometimes, where the bulk of it is in the stern and the front is just a prow cutting the water. We get off, clamber around for an hour, and get back on for the return trip. Interesting, but I haven’t had any mystical experiences in Fingall’s Cave. Just used people’s cameras to take pictures of them, and took some of my own, and was fortunate enough to wind up in the cave alone for a while. We return not to Mull but to Iona: Those from Mull are getting two or three hours to see Iona before their return trip. Hah! Tourists! I live here, for the moment. (-:

I ask for a quiet place to read or write (my room has no convenient table) and am given the keys to the lounge at another building. So I ask my friend –

“David, before I go looking for shops and maybe supper, any thoughts on today? For today has seemed a bit touristy.”

“There’s no harm that will do you. If you fear shallowing out – do a Monroe tape if nothing else. Meanwhile enjoy your time here. You are not required to take orders in any sense of the word, just only be here at this time.”

I go out, and walk toward the 12th century abbey that is the main religious structure on the island. I go to the Iona Community shop across the road, thinking to do some shopping for certain people, but I succeed only in buying books for myself: a volume of Thomas Merton’s Journals, and Iona: God’s Energy: The Spirituality and Vision of the Iona Community, by the current leader of the community.

In the community shop, an interaction that will lead to important consequences. A woman who is sitting in a window seat by the book section of the gift shop complains to someone of being tired, and when she is alone I go up to her and say that where I’m from, we know how to give people energy, and I’ll be glad to do so if she wishes. She asks if I’m talking about Reiki, and I say those are just words, it’s all the same energy. She sort of humors me, saying I can try but people have tried to do this before and it never works on her. Now, interestingly, as I work, I do not feel any sense that she is rejecting the energy, nor do I pick up the kind of know-it-all-ism you get from some people that ensures it won’t work so they won’t have to adjust their belief system. In fact, I can feel the flow – but she claims nothing happened, and that she’s just tired because she’s tired, etc. A mechanistic understanding of it. So we left it at that, and although I notice that she goes back to work and seems less tired, I say nothing about it. I buy my books and leave, wondering how open to reaching out this community is.

Then into the restored church itself. As I start walking the first side of the cloisters, something emerges from within, and I am in tears. But then my automatic clamp clamps, and that is all I know about it.

I make a supper of some oatcakes and a tin of herring fillets. Last night’s supper was too expensive by far, I decide, and so this makes up for it. It isn’t yet six. I could still go out, as there are hours of daylight left, but I have walked my feet off. Instead I begin to read Iona: God’s Energy, and after a while I pull out my journal and ask what relevance it has for me. Where’s my potential contribution? The author’s description of spirituality makes me ask why a church – even a seemingly ecumenical church – must be so rejecting of those who have so much to offer. The need is there on both sides, and often the willingness, and occasionally the understanding. Where is the common path?

“I had begun to fantasize some connection – perhaps based on my little interaction with the woman at the center’s store – but it is like Findhorn in a different way. Not my community.

“But damn it, there’s a far deeper issue than merely me. The question is, how is society to be regenerated? Not by a closed sectarianism, not by a spirituality so personal as to omit the community. But – mostly – not by any attempt to require belief in certain “givens.” Not by reliance on someone’s interpretation of scripture as the final word.

“This fellow Matthew belongs to a church that celebrates the Sabbath on Saturday. It is an important thing to them. Why? Who cares? They would say, “God cares,” and scarcely anyone would agree both that 1) God cares, and 2) God agrees with their interpretation. So they condemn themselves to isolation from the other churches. And those others do the same thing, insisting on doctrinal points of no significance unless one can accept that God laid down in scriptures rules for conduct, rules for precise application, tests of obedience. And this is precisely what churches do think, and there’s the source of their irrelevance. They prevent the emergence of a common accepted path. So if they will not, others will – or won’t.

“What is the significance in all this for me? When I read that the Iona community is mostly spread out, I thought, “perhaps we can create a Monroe community, an extended, geographically diverse community, dedicated to mutual support of certain values, that our exploration may be supported by society and may produce results in that society. But so far, at least, I cannot see how this can be. Perhaps I shall receive a dream showing me the way.”

Ha! Little do I know! The way forward is going to be indicated not by a dream but by something in waking life, rooted in my initial gift of love that was my offer of energy to the tired woman.

I go to bed early, but I lie in bed, twitching, unable to sleep. Too much coffee or, more likely, chocolate. Maybe I need to cut back on caffeine a bit. I notice an undercurrent as I think about the day: a week from now I will be getting ready to return. I tell myself I must make this trip come to something. How?

“I see in the intro to Dancing in the Water of Life – volume five of Merton’s journals, purchased today – that Merton saw a private and a public function to keeping a journal; hence, to writing; hence, to the spiritual search, though this is not expressly said. One gets oneself honestly situated, then one passes whatever one knows to the public.

“Perhaps from genuine humility (of which I have more than many suspect), perhaps from diffidence or even false modesty (no shortages there either) I have tended not to contribute to the public dialogue. Partly from lack of knowledge of how things work, partly from the fact that my life is realer to me than the lives around me. But perhaps it is time, and past time. Or perhaps it is not, and perhaps it never will be!”

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