The Alchemist’s Dream

Blue bowl

I’m sad that I don’t know the name of the potter who created this beautiful blue-glazed terracotta bowl, and I was even sadder when I accidentally broke it.  But now it’s a reminder of a spiritual insight: that our brokenness can become a source of beauty… 

This song is for anyone who’s going through a difficult time.  I’ve been struggling with all sorts of things recently – professional and religious identity, second-hand racism, homophobia, the practicalities of day-to-day life as a freelancer and single parent, and more besides.  Being an empath doesn’t help, because unless I’m very conscious and careful I find myself taking on everyone else’s pain and trauma, along with my own!

For those who aren’t familiar with alchemy, it’s an ancient science that sought to turn base metals – everyday metals like iron and lead – into gold.  The alchemist’s quest is a metaphor for life itself: the discovery of the magical Elixir that transforms the mundane into something beautiful.   This Elixir is no more and no less than the Deep Mystery that the members of the Magdalene Fellowship, in my book The Nineteen Songs of Remembering, refer to as ‘The Love beyond all names’.

So ‘The Alchemist’s Dream’ is a way of trying to see challenges and struggles in a different light.   It’s sometimes hard not to feel envious of those people who seem to ‘have it all’ – the ones who look as though they’re just breezing through life, with good health, a thriving business or a well-paid job, a loving family, and a comfortable home.  But what  if life was never meant to be easy?  What if it’s through the brokenness that we learn to shine, and through accepting pain that we realise our deepest potential?

The Alchemist’s Dream: song lyrics

Break us again, O Beloved!

For whenever you break us,

You gather us up with such infinite tenderness

That in some distant corner of some distant vision,

Our souls hear your innermost song in the silence,

And your hands will remake us

With a Love that we cannot express…

 

Yes, there are those who survive this lifetime intact,

Yes, there are those who hold firm and refuse to surrender…

But where is the magic and where is the rapture in that?

For we only become our true selves in the hands of the Mender.

 

Break us again, O Beloved!

For whenever you break us,

The heat of your flame sparks a melody in our veins,

And the songs that we sing start to echo your mystery,

Till some of the listeners find their own echoes…

And the places they take us

Are the places where power remains.

 

Yes, there are those who survive this lifetime intact…

 

Break us again, O Beloved!

For whenever you break us,

You mend every crack with the purest of molten gold;

Then the others who carry the scars of your mending

Can recognise us as their trusted companions,

And they’ll gather to wake us…

And a new story starts to unfold.

 

Yes, there are those who survive this lifetime intact…

 

Break us again, O Beloved!

For whenever you break us,

And mend us with gold, there’s a trace of your Love revealed;

Transformation is wrought by the cruellest of breaking,

And the deepest surrender, and the sweetest remaking…

Till they start to mistake us

For the Alchemist’s vision fulfilled…

 

Nothing remains of the people we were,

Nothing remains of the life we once knew;

Though our substance is clay, yet we shimmer with gold,

And we look at each other, and see only You…

So at last, in this lifetime, the Alchemist’s dream is fulfilled!

 

© Gemma Burford, 2017

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Skin colour does not equal ‘values’

Vivitar

We have to speak up and speak out about racism.  The only thing that’s required for the triumph of racism, fascism and neo-Nazism is for all those who believe in unity, diversity and the power of love to be terrorised into silence.

That’s what’s going on.  But we will not be silenced.   We will not be terrorised.  And I am not, repeat NOT going to sit back and let racists use my story – MY story – to justify their pathetic arguments.  This is a real comment that was made about The Video, which I have not edited, only copied and pasted:

“And yet they call me racist here in America because I won’t date a black man. I’m a realist and sociology student at University. I understand that the difference in values and culture between people can severely affect how they work together even just as co-workers much less as a romantic couple which in the end is a crap ton of work. And if you’re not starting from the same expectation and desire and values then you’re going to fail.”

 And my response, also unedited:

 

 

You ARE racist if you’re saying you ‘won’t date a black man’. Period.

 

Racism is judging people on the colour of their skin, which is exactly what you are doing. You can’t say anything about a person’s values or culture on the basis of their skin colour. NOTHING AT ALL.

 

Guess what? It wasn’t lions or second wives or my failure to adapt to obscure Maasai customs that drove us apart, it happened because I was still committed to grassroots activism and Lesikar got passionate about mainstream, Western-style, divisive party politics and so we ended up going in different directions. So please don’t make assumptions about a relationship that you know nothing about.

We actually WERE starting from the same expectation and desire and values. We wanted to preserve the Maasai culture (because I’m passionate about connection to nature, creativity and community, I always have been and I always will be) and help people to get an education without losing that sense of self.

 

Lesikar changed his values; I didn’t.

 

I resent the suggestion that we, or our marriage, ‘failed’ in some way because it didn’t last forever. 

We had seven years together, we learned a huge amount, we created amazing projects (including a school that has now been running for 10 years and educated over 350 young people, many free of charge, and a project to save teenage girls from FGM) and we now have two beautiful daughters.

 

I wish I could tell you all about them. 

I wish you could meet them.

Mixed heritage is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

They are incredible people.

 

Yes, mixed marriages take work.  But guess what, so do ALL marriages.  You can’t assume that you know something about a person’s values by looking at the colour of their skin.  You can’t assume that their values are different from yours if their skin is a different colour, any more than you can assume you have common values if it’s the same.

 

I’m finishing up my PhD by published work in Education for Sustainability, which is all about values, so this is a topic that I DO know something about.

 

We, as a human species, can do better than racism and fascism.

 

Cattle and goats don’t discriminate against against each other because some are brown, some are white, and some are black with white spots.

 

As for those who are calling themselves `Christians’ while carrying out vile acts of racism… Sorry, no.  Jesus would NOT go there.  Never.  He’d be standing up for the oppressed, not perpetuating oppression.

 

Finding our place in Nature

wilderness

If you dig down deep enough, fear is at the root at a lot of different issues.

Maybe you haven’t learnt to drive a car yet because you’re afraid of causing an accident.

Maybe you haven’t quit your dismal job and started your own business because you’re scared of failing, looking like a fool, losing all your money, and/or ending up homeless.

Maybe you haven’t got out of your toxic relationship because you’re scared of being alone, or of the consequences of leaving.  Or maybe you haven’t got into a relationship in the first place, for fear of getting hurt.

As I’ve discovered, the groundwork for understanding the true nature of fear and learning to work through it is, quite literally, to ground yourself in a natural environment.

When we re-ground ourselves and reconnect with the Earth, we find our way back to Love with a capital L – a Love that isn’t dependent on a particular person continuing to support us, be there for us, or make our dreams come true.

The ‘Love beyond all names’, as the Song of the Healer puts it.

This process is at the root of ecopsychology and ecotherapy, although the exercises that I teach aren’t ‘therapy’ in the conventional sense – they can be used by anyone, with or without mental health difficulties.

That doesn’t mean it’s an easy or comfortable process.   The nettles and thorns are just the beginning, and even the potential for disease-ridden ticks or venomous snakes isn’t the end of the story.  When we’re out wandering in the wilderness, we’re alone with ourselves.  We’re unprotected: away from all the distractions that keep us numbed and dumbed, like TV, overwork, overeating and social media obsession.

So the very soulwork that helps us to face our fears is, in itself, fundamentally scary for a lot of people.   Taking that first step is hard to do, without help.

My new e-course, Doing the Groundwork: Getting Ready for Major Life Changes, starts with a small, manageable step that most people probably wouldn’t expect…

Finding your place in nature.  

As before, I’m talking both literally and metaphorically.  You’ll find an actual place in nature that you can go to.  Preferably not the wilderness, in the first instance.  A tree in your garden is ideal; or if you don’t have a garden, maybe a hidden corner of your local park, or the bit of waste ground behind your office.

If necessary, you’ll take a deep breath; tell a friend where you’re going; and take your mobile phone (in case you get stalked by a creepy pervert), your water bottle, your emergency first aid kit, and a pen to poke in the eye of said pervert while kneeing him in the groin so you can make your escape.  And then you’ll turn the phone off, and start to realise that the Sacred Land has its own song:

Bring me your troubled soul, and I will make you whole,

For as you walk the ancient tracks you will attain your goal…

 

The cart opens for Doing the Groundwork on Monday 4th September.  In the US, it’s Labor Day.  In the UK, it’s the first day of the autumn term.  Summer’s over, holidays are done.  It’s time to get back to business.

So give yourself a chance, remind yourself that the Warrior Maiden is still there within you, and take that one small step.  Click this link to pre-register for the course today, and receive a notification e-mail as soon as registration opens…

Do it for love, or not at all!

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It’s frighteningly easy to say ‘yes’ to things because we think someone expects us to, and then discover at the end of the day that we’ve taken on too much and can’t finish it all.  Not only do we end up disappointing the very people we were hoping to impress, but worse still, we let ourselves down because we STILL haven’t made time for that one special thing that we’re yearning to do.

We end up breaking promises, running up debts and backing out of commitments, and are left feeling frustrated, martyred, and resentful of the people who asked us to do the stuff in the first place.   Either that, or we keep up the fiction that we can ‘do it all’, and carry on trying to juggle seven plates and a flaming torch…until we drop ALL the plates and burn ourselves out completely, because a physical or mental health crisis comes along and we have to stop absolutely everything.

I hadn’t realised how deeply I was stuck in that particular behaviour pattern, until someone did it to me – and then proceeded to explain, in a beautifully clear and well-thought-out way, exactly why she’d changed her mind about the commitment that she’d made to me.   At first I was upset about it, but after sleeping on it, I had a new breakthrough.

What I realised is that through living in Tanzania, I became a world expert in putting other people’s needs ahead of my own – because other people’s needs were usually urgent and sometimes life-threatening.  I didn’t care if I had to sleep on a bed made of sticks with a couple of animal skins thrown over the top, and get bitten to death by fleas, as long as I was ‘making a difference’.  It didn’t matter to me if I had to live on boiled maize and soya beans for three days, as long as The Work got done.   As for savings – forget it.  Pah, who am I to worry about a savings account when the mother of the plumber that I’ve hired to fix the shower (yes, this is a real-life example…) has cerebral malaria, and her life depends on medicine that costs $10, and I’m the only person in the plumber’s immediate orbit with a ‘spare’ $10?

There was always a `plumber’s mother’, or some other such walk-on character in my drama, who seemingly had a greater need for my time and my money than I did.

Yet after coming back to the UK, I started carrying that same sense of obligation into other things, which weren’t matters of life and death.  The kids want to go to Tanzania and visit their family?  Of course they must – even if I have to put it on a credit card, and don’t have a plan for paying it off.  The teacher at the village nursery school wants me to take over paying his salary, because his funders have pulled out?  Well, I wouldn’t want the nursery school to be forced to close – even if I’m behind with my bills.  Someone wants me to do this, buy that, go there?  Has to be done, I suppose – even if I can’t really afford it.

So this morning, I woke up with the lyrics to a new song in my head – “For Love, Or Not At All”.  I think this could be a helpful song for me, because it’s pushing me to examine my own motivations every time I’m on the point of saying ‘yes’ to a substantial commitment of time or money.  That doesn’t mean I’ll never offer to help anyone again, but it means I’ll try to be more realistic with the promises that I make, and ask myself questions like these:

Am I doing this because I really, truly care about it?  (Or is it because I’m afraid that you’ll think badly of me if I say no?) 

If yes: Have I got the time, energy and resources to do this properly, without hurting myself or anyone else?  (Or would it be at the expense of my true soulwork, if I agreed to do it?)

If yes: Am I the right person to do it?  (Or would it actually be more helpful, in the long run, if I just directed you to someone who already has this skill set?)

If yes: Is this the right time for me to do it?  (Or would it be more appropriate to wait until later?)

 

This song still makes me squirm and feel selfish.  But I’m going to keep singing it until I’m comfortable with it, because like Ani DiFranco in ‘Circle of Light’, “I ain’t got time for half-way, I ain’t got time for half-assed’.  I’m tired of wearing myself out with half-hearted commitments, and doing things ‘just for the sake of the money’.  Money is essential to life, of course, but money loves to flow wherever Love is – and when I’ve tried to do things `just for the money’ in the past, they haven’t tended to work out well.   As I sing in Limitless Flow, “Money is sacred energy made tangible.”

My aim is to reach a point where if someone asks me to do something, I can either do it for Love, or delegate it to someone who really will love it…

 

For Love, Or Not At All

I will do it just because it sets my heart on fire,

I will do it just because it’s my spirit’s deep desire,

I will do it just because I have heard that inner call:

I will do it for Love, or not at all!

 

Not because of habit, not because I feel I should,

Not because, if I don’t, you’ll say that I’m no good;

Not because I’m under pressure, not because I want the fame,

Not because I need the money, or fans to shout my name,

Not because everyone else is doing it, not just because I can,

Not because I think I have to prove to you who I am…

 

I will link it to the songs my heart still yearns to sing,

I will link it to the joy my soul’s true work can bring,

I will link it to the dream that is always burning bright,

I will do it because it feels so right!

 

Not because of habit, not because I feel I should…

 

I will do it now because Love won’t let me refuse,

For my hands are just the tools that Spirit wants to use,

I will do it so that through me, the light of Love will shine,

I will do it because this work is mine!

 

Not because of habit, not because I feel I should…

 

I will do it just because I have heard that inner call:

I will do it for Love, or not at all!

 

‘Who We Are’ – song lyrics

spark at centre

This song is dedicated to everyone who’s going to be involved in ‘Reconnecting Education’, our global movement for education that focuses on igniting Deep Love in people’s hearts by helping them reconnect with nature, creativity, community and their authentic emotions.

Reconnecting Education will be launching on March 20th, Spring Equinox, with a dedication ceremony shortly after 12 noon at the beautiful Chalice Well Gardens in Glastonbury, England.  On the same day, our Patreon platform will go live!  I’ll be posting more information in the next few days to let you know how you can get involved, but meanwhile please feel free to e-mail me if you’d like a sneak preview.

Enjoy these lyrics while I am still getting up the courage to post the audio. I’m aiming to do that before launch day.  One step at a time…

WHO WE ARE

There’s no dream too big for us, and in our souls we always knew it:

We’ve waved goodbye to doubts and fears, and now we’re certain we can do it…

We’ve seen the way that things can be, now it’s our time, the world is waiting…

With shining eyes we spread the word about the vision we’re creating.

Now the spark at the centre of our spiral is alight, and we’re on fire,

And the energy of love flows through us, bringing all that we desire…

Now we’re spinning in space like a cosmic superstar,

Now we’ve woken up and remembered who we are.

Touch a heart, transform a life: for us it only takes a minute.

And if we don’t know where we’re going, let’s just trust, and then begin it…

Let’s make some miracles today, we are the source of hope and healing:

We’ll sing it all from soul to soul, there is no language for this feeling!

 

 

Now the spark at the centre of our spiral is alight, and we’re on fire,

And the energy of love flows through us, bringing all that we desire…

Now we’re spinning in space like a cosmic superstar,

Now we’ve woken up and remembered who we are.

 

 

Who you are is who I am, and who we are is the beginning,

We are the light, we are the love that keeps the stars and planets spinning,

We stand united and we know the time has come to reconnect now,

And we’ll create an education built on justice and respect now!

 

 

When the spark at the centre of your spiral’s set alight, you’ll be on fire,

Let the energy of love flow through you, bringing all that you desire…

Join us spinning in space like a cosmic superstar,

For you’ve woken up and remembered who you are.

 

By Gemma Burford, 2017.  Shared under Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA).  This licence grants you permission to share freely and make derivative versions, translations, etc., provided that you cite Gemma Burford as the original author and require all future users to do the same.