I wonder sometimes if I am simply dreaming this life, or whether I am being dreamed, instead.
In the past weeks, England has been heavily in my mind. At unexpected moments throughout the day—washing and cutting vegetables, walking the dogs, taking a shower—I suddenly see myself there, mostly back in places familiar to me. A feeling and affect suddenly washes over, sometimes a scent as well. The oddest bit is that sometimes I see myself in places there that I don’t yet know, though it is clear from the landscape that these too are Britain; the look, feel, and sense of them is unmistakable for one who has lived in the United Kingdom. It’s difficult to explain, really. I’ve even wondered whether I am seeing the future, or if some parallel reality is somehow converging with the one I normally inhabit during my waking hours.
For a long time, I’ve been something of a reluctant mystic. I’ve been a “sensitive” since childhood, though in recent years some of these modes of heightened awareness seem to be increasing. They are gifts that have supported my healing work with others, and such experiences as these recent episodes are not altogether unusual for me. Yet mostly such “impressions” arise when I am in a quiet, meditative, and receptive state, as with working with clients or immersed in wild nature, and I find it curious that Britain is suddenly so prevalent in my everyday consciousness—as if it’s somehow being broadcast into me.
In the past, I’ve wrestled with how much I want to reveal of these gifts. I have resisted talking or writing about them, because they tend to be misunderstood by others and easily attract projection. Personally, I believe that we ALL have the ability to perceive in such a heightened manner; it’s simply that, for most people, the sensory gating channels are habitually narrowed to a very small range, and the necessary circuitry isn’t activated. Despite an innate aptitude, over the last twenty years I have learned to be this way—or perhaps better to say I’ve more fully opened these channels and begun to trust what comes through (which is actually the most difficult). Coming from somewhere beyond, this non-ordinary way of knowing arises mostly from the heart; it’s entirely non-rational and deeply somatic, and thus at odds with the linear, deductive, mental mode so prized in our society.
Clairvoyance. Clairsentience. Clairaudience. People often imagine that such abilities would be a great boon. I assure you that this type of knowing also comes heavily loaded with challenges, not the least of which is that when you live with channels wide open, the modern world often feels utterly overwhelming. Unlivable, even. Hence my deep need for the solace and healing I find in wild places, where the soft touch of a million invisible strands support and cradle as they wordlessly remind me what is true.
Yet in censoring my writing about experiences that others may not understand or find challenging to accept and believe, I withhold part of my essence from the larger story. None of us serve the world by choosing to remain small or safe—especially because safety is mostly an illusion.
I wrote a few weeks ago in “The Shaman of Stars,” dare to tell the truth, even if others won’t understand. So be it. Here on the central California coast, I’ve been slipping in and out of an ongoing feeling and image stream of being in Europe, nearly as if I am in two places at once.
Tucked into the fog pocket of this peninsula, the past four months have passed with perhaps ten days of sunshine in total. Gloomy would be an understatement. It was a few days ago that I felt the first, early touch of autumn approaching: a slight shift in the air and its taste/scent, accompanied by a barely perceptible weakening of the light. Driving over the hill to Whole Foods Market in Monterey, I noted the first trees gilded with gold, and I thought, oh my, autumn is on the doorstep and we never even had summer.
Yet not long afterwards, as I stood outside on the deck, gazing up at the Grandmother Monterey cypress, watching her hundreds of lacy green hands wave delicately in the coastal breeze, feeling the faint brush of autumn upon my skin, my despair over the endless summer gloom suddenly vanished. It was as if a small golden key turned in its lock with a soft, audible click and a gate swung open, inviting me across the threshold into a hidden garden that I know and love.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, as the harvest moon wanes from its partial eclipse, the autumnal equinox (Mabon in neopagan traditions) looms just days away, and we will officially drift into Fall, as Americans call it. My favourite season.
An unabashed sensualist, I celebrate each cycle of the year for what it brings, yet the painted melancholy of autumn never fails to strum harmonic chords in my soul. Appetite and cooking both change, spiraling back towards warming stews and something simmering fragrantly at the rear of the stove—au coin du feu, the French would say, a certain nostalgic expression—filling the house with a sense of gustatory delight. As if on cue, I find myself ready to bake fresh apple tarts with shatteringly crisp, buttery pastry, and craving my seven-day duck confit, a labour of love (and good taste) that always catapults me back to my school year in France.
The other afternoon, in a familiar ritual, I found myself reaching for The Kitchen Diaries II on the bookshelf, one of several works by Nigel Slater, arguably Britain’s best food writer, and reading through September’s recipes, with a brewed “cuppa” from the Tea Palace (my favourite tea shop in London) beside me. Later, as I stood by the window and gazed out at a low grey sky, I felt the soft tug at my heart—the yearning for a long walk through misty woods and fields as I used to in West Sussex, a charcoal cashmere scarf wrapped around my neck, threading along footpaths strewn with burnished leaves, occasionally kicking the green, spiky hulls of horse chestnuts (conkers, the Brits call them) with my boots. And I recalled the goodness of returning to our cottage after such a countryside ramble, there to curl up with a warm mug of spiced apple cider, its steam heady with notes of cinnamon and clove.
I cannot adequately explain this strange presence of England I’ve been feeling, seeing, and sensing; neither how it arrives nor why. It is decidedly different than daydreaming, recalling, or merely imagining. The curious flashes and images continue unabated; indeed, they seem to be intensifying as autumn approaches, and as I roll along with a sense of nostalgia, I can only wonder what it all means.
Possibly, it has simply to do with the fact that this is the first year since coming back to America in 2011 that we have not returned to Europe for a visit, and I am simply missing the Old World. Yet I think perhaps something deeper and more mysterious is afoot, related to the expansive, healing shift I’ve been going through these past months. Something mystic. Shamanic, even.
Visions aside, what I do know is that most evenings this week have found me wanting something very French to eat—such as a perfectly roasted, organic chicken swaddled in a rich sauce of white wine, cream, and shallots. Mushrooms, perhaps. Admittedly, as much as I dearly miss the UK, or appreciate Nigel Slater’s food writing, my culinary preferences dwell elsewhere. You can take the cook out of France, but not the other way around. In years past, this seasonal juncture would mark the time that I shift from favourite summer white and rosé wines to Pinot Noir (Oregon or Old World, thank you) but, as part of my healing path, I haven’t had a glass since March six months ago. Even more strangely, I don’t miss it. (Well, perhaps Champagne… just a bit.)
Each season brings treasures and trials, rolling away into mists of memory just before we tire of it. In an endless cycle of birth, maturing, and passing away, the wheel rolls on and something new arrives. Autumn approaches (while spring is waking up for those Down Under), bringing a timely shift and the endless offering of goodness that we too easily take for granted. Already I am dreaming of crisp, rosy-skinned apples, squat pumpkins and hearty winter squash, glistening chestnuts, milky sweet walnuts, and the earthy allure of wild mushrooms.
Friend, a liminal time descends upon us, a bountiful harvest amid the painted, graceful dying to what came before. A perfume of woodsmoke lingers in the cool air. It is naturally a season for memories and nostalgia, of slow turning inwards. The time comes to let things go, mirrored so eloquently for us by the noble trees and our gardens.
As summer bows out and autumn sweeps onstage, open the doors of perception. Cast them wide as you unlock the heart, and welcome whatever comes through. Surrender to shifting nuances of light, scent and feeling. Memory, perhaps, or a future sense. And through those unbridled senses, may you feel the soft but indelible touch of the world, reminding you to pause and appreciate its endless wonders, great and small. For despite all the chaos, madness, and troubles that clamour too loudly in harsh, angry tones, we are simultaneously immersed in a natural world and larger story that is achingly beautiful. Mysterious and magical, too.
I wonder, are we dreaming or awake? Perhaps if the heart is unshuttered and ajar, they are nearly the same.