A Trip to Iona — Wednesday June 11, 2003

Wednesday, June 11, three dreams on the tape recorder:

1) I almost didn’t recognize it as a dream, more like a daydream. At the end we are in a boat, way at the top of a hill. Lying there, feeling the motion of the boat I’d taken to and from Staffa. We – whoever “we” are – came out the back door, and there’s this long, long, long way down to the water.

2) The two ladies from the Iona Community gift shop, in the office by their desks. Suddenly they collapsed downward. That is, they disappeared, as though they had been angels rather than people.

3) There was some kind of building work being done in the church. And there was a man working who was somewhat skillful. I was involved with it at a less skilled level. The man had to quit. He couldn’t do it any more, there was something wrong. The posture hurt his feet, or something. I offered to do the work, or was asked, I forget which. The woman in charge of the thing said I had great [force?] The idea was that I could do the job, and otherwise it couldn’t be done.

I notice during the night that I was reluctant actually to record dreams. I was almost too reluctant to think about them. I didn’t reach for the recorder. It seemed too much trouble. Which is highly suspicious, since that is what I was waiting for, and wanting, since the night before when I had six. But again, this seems to be a case of when you search for something, it flees from you.

After breakfast, on this sunny morning, I climb to the highest point on the island, Dun I pronounced “done ee.” Not very high, a matter of 300 feet, but a nice interesting climb, what with wet heather, uncertain footing, sheep droppings, and periodic steep climbs that sometimes require a bit of thought, whether going up or coming down. After getting to the top, I find a spot sheltered from the unceasing wind, a little to the north of the highest point. I have my field glasses (one of the few times I remember to use them). Sitting there, I can see all the north end of the Island, which looks like an English village something like Tetford, where it’s all fields interrupted by houses, and sheep all over the place. All the east is taken up by the long island of Mull. Staffa is in sight to the north, and to the northwest and west the islands of Tiree and Coll. As I sit, I take a few pictures, and I talk to my tape recorder as thoughts come, and mainly I just exist there with the wind and the clouds, and the sea, and a few birds and many distant sheep. The shadows of the swiftly moving clouds wash over the land like little schools of fish going by. After a while a few tourists go by within sight, but none within talking distance. I have nothing to do, and half a bar of chocolate, and a container of water, and even a package of oatcakes. I could stay all day if I wanted to.

I spend some time writing and thinking. I write: “I’d like to be the one who helped restore the church but it just can’t be within Christianity as they understand it, or within the metaphysical churches as they understand it. There’s got to be a new way. And it may be that the new way won’t be called a church at all. It seems a shame, though, to have all these people in their belief systems cut off from people in other belief systems when at their roots, somewhere back in other lives, they may be united and fighting against each other [internally]. That’s not the only reason it’s a shame, of course.”

At about 10:30 I say, standing there, “Let my ministry begin here, in this place, in this time, and just show me what it’s to be – because I’m 56 years old!”

My friend Richard had given me a mediation to do, to connect with sacred sites, and four years ago I had done it when my friend Charles Sides and I went to Machu Picchu. This time, instead of that, I go to the mental state that Monroe calls Focus 27. Coming down from 27, ready and willing to do soul retrievals, I search for anyone left over from battles between Norsemen and monks, but I don’t find anybody, so I suppose all is well.

“I’m tempted to say `I just don’t see any way to go forward,’ but that’s silly. Instead I say, “here’s where I’m finding out how to go forward.” Whether I want to or not, right?”

About noon, I come down off the hill, go back to the Iona Community gift shop and buy some things for gifts. I stop in at the Spar store and buy a turkey and cranberry sandwich. (My favorite, and I thought I’d invented that sandwich combination!) That’s lunch.

Back at the b&b, I play a Hemi-Sync relaxation CD — though, given how much goofing off I’m doing, you’d hardly think I’d need it! I bring nothing back but the thought that “a lot of what seem like daydreams come up during the long preparatory process, and I suspect that Bob Monroe knew it.” (The significance of that, though, escapes me as I transcribe this 10 days later.)

I begin reading The Cloud of Unknowing, a mystical classic, firmly in the center of Western tradition, written by an anonymous Christian in the 1100s. I feel very much at home with him. I know that my Gateway experiences must resemble his, and I know that love is the way. I understand what he says as he says it. Except – Except – How is it to be reconciled? Original sin? Well, the separation is real, perhaps the perversion of the soul is real. But how are we to reconcile the one central difference? It is true that Jesus is the question that cannot be talked away, though it can be – and is – endlessly talked around. Yet the author of this very clear book says straightway that its techniques should only be used by a committed Christian, lest they lead to mischief. How do we react to that?

The thing is, The Cloud of Unknowing is so clearly written out of experience. (As was my own book, for that matter.) There is no arguing with experience, only with the conclusions drawn from it, or perhaps the interpretation of it, not so different. If he has had these experiences, he speaks from knowledge. How then can we of another age, another understanding of life, reconcile his experience and ours? Truth must always tend to converge. If we cannot find how to reconcile his experience with ours, the fault must be with us; it cannot be with truth.

At suppertime, I ask myself if I am getting bored on Iona. “I don’t think so, but I haven’t much experience in doing nothing. Not that what I do usually amounts to anything, but it does fill the time. Here, I have been letting the time go, as the three hours I spent on the hillside this morning. It is as if I had nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to talk to, no project underway, for the first time in my life. Not true, but as if. I am more distracted by routine customarily than even I knew.

“But my life has somehow passed me by! And what would have filled it better? Family? Perhaps family was not quite the obstacle it seemed – but it certainly seemed obstacle enough. There wasn’t much of intentional me there.”

Later, “This supper will mark the end of two days here. Is it being a success? The evenings have dragged because I have gone to bed too early. I could find a bench by the sea and continue reading The Cloud of Unknowing, as I was doing a while ago this afternoon. Perhaps tomorrow I will take a boat ride around the island. I wouldn’t want to miss seeing so much that I don’t think I would be able to, else. But I didn’t come here for the scenery, did I? Not in that sense. I came to be transformed by it. Is this occurring? Can it? Could it?

“I intend self-transformation. The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing would argue that one is transformed by God, if at all. We on earth can only – only! – add willingness, or refuse it. And he would have warned against pride, and rightly so. It is so clear that he knows what he talks of; that he intends to help his readers, even those unknown. (Could he have dreamed, would he have cared, that he was actively speaking to readers 700 years in his future?) He saw everything strictly within the Christian belief. Is he right that it is everlasting? Or is it true that the passing of the Age of Pisces means eventually the passing of the age of Christianity, and the birth and development of new forms and perhaps new content? I wish I could find a way to reconcile the truths of the different systems of understanding and belief.

“Why me? Well, who else is interested in doing it? Perhaps there are many, as anonymous as I, but if only by virtue of that anonymity, I know of them not. It seems to me I am alone.

“In Robert I saw the man of dreams, who finds God speaking to him; whose life was saved by dreams, by attention to dreams. In Michael I saw the passionate, angry crusader for social justice, the man who projects out of body routinely, the dissenter from all traditional religions. In Findhorn I saw the intentional community seeking to marry social activism with transcendent spirituality, again separate from Christianity. Inverness seemed to me only commercial activity, though of course I could not expect to meet anyone of spirit even if they were there on all sides. At breakfast that day I saw Swedes who were, it seemed, so unaware of alternative forms of Christianity as to describe themselves as Christians rather than Lutherans. And I see here a young minister-to-be, very pleasant, apparently open – yet his church insists on a Saturday Sabbath as an important point, which tells me that for him, for them, it all rests on their interpretation of God’s commands as stated (if only sometimes by implication) in the Bible.

“And then there were those lives of saints: Brendan, Cuthbert, and the one I’ve scarcely started, Wilfred. And Merton, and the Iona Community, and The Cloud of Unknowing, and in the background of my mind the readers of Magical Blend magazine, and Neale Walsch’s readers, and the varied readership of Hampton Roads.

“Perhaps it is as simple as “all paths are good.” Perhaps there is no task here needed to be accomplished. Or perhaps the path to set out for people is The Pathless Path, following their heart; living, or striving to live, in love. But I do not yet know. Perhaps in a couple of days it will come clearer.”

At 8:30 I ask myself why I am going to bed so early here, and decide it is because there is nothing to do but read or go outside; I hope to be contacted by dreams or other experiences, and I am tired from strenuous or anyway active days. So I go to bed. But I’m up again half an hour later to record something I’d forgotten, and then I wind up reading some of Merton, and one thing leads to another. At one point, I play around trying to find a good acronym for the seven deadly sins of pride, anger, lust, envy, covetousness, gluttony and sloth, with no good result unless you count LEG CAPS, rather like kneecaps, but different. (Some people have too much time on their hands, says I!)

It consoles me, though perhaps it shouldn’t, that Merton had so much trouble with his life. If he did, why should I not? But he had done so much, so early, and died at only 53. But I am struck by his incessant reading and pondering. (Sound familiar?) Yet some of his concerns seem so unreal. For instance, what is meant by “the wrath of God?” Does God have a bad temper? Does it mean that he can’t stand what he’s seeing, even though he has restricted himself from interfering? What does it mean? Anger is one of the seven deadly sins, is it not?

The theology Christians take for granted, and build upon, or dispute about, seems so far not only from our stupid materialist society’s superstitions and irrelevancies, but from any honest searching that proceeds independently of churches. Yet if rooted in reality such concerns must have their translation somewhere. Where? The wrath of God – what does it mean, outside Christian thought? And if it means nothing, what does this reflect on? Christian thinking? Non-Christian thinking? Language? Translation? Where is the Perry Miller who will hack a couple of trails into this forest?

3 thoughts on “A Trip to Iona — Wednesday June 11, 2003

  1. Damn you write well, Frank!
    Your musings on this particular day match mine so well that it is slightly unnerving. Perhaps it is the common mystical Latin Catholic background, perhaps it is being nearly the same age, perhaps it is both having been to TMI, perhaps it is just that we are all flailing about. Who knows? But I appreciate.

  2. I’m enjoying the reading of Frank’s Iona journals, as I’ve been there a couple times myself (Aug 2001 and May 2009). It’s a lonely place that sets one to search one’s heart for the meaning of one’s life. And it’s incredibly beautiful in its austerity.

    Something here popped out at me —

    “Perhaps it is as simple as ‘all paths are good.’ Perhaps there is no task here needed to be accomplished. Or perhaps the path to set out for people is The Pathless Path, following their heart; living, or striving to live, in love.”

    It seems to me that Frank have tread the Pathless Path, which is why it may be so difficult at times. There are no maps, no guide posts. Yet he has gathered a community of folks with his books, writings, and blog who also dare to tread the Pathless Path. It is because he is willing to share his joys and his misgivings, his very soul, that we have the courage to continue on.

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