Athelstan’s wood lies on the Welsh border with Herefordshire, a wild and remote region of the countryside. I was out walking. The track was dry and broad. It was a sunny afternoon in late August. The greenwood had just a hint of Autumn about it and the banks at the side of the path were in full flower.
Suddenly, a voice. It came from a point directly in front of me, a hand’s breadth from my face. It said, ‘A hundred yards down the track on the left hand side there is a fox asleep underneath a tree.’
I was amazed. There was no-one around. I stopped and looked about, leaning heavily on my stick to compensate the sudden feeling of weakness in my legs.
Who had spoken? Where were they? I went over what was said. It had all been so soft, so quiet and yet so utterly matter of fact. The information was clear and undeniable.
I decided to see for myself whether it was true.
As you would..
I mean, if someone said they had a giant caught under a teacup you’d have a peek..
just to see
if you were going mad or not…
So I paced out a hundred yards. To my left a tall, thick bank covered with nettle, beech and old man’s beard. I dug my stick into the hedge, grabbed a branch and hauled myself up, parting the top of it with my free hand and peered over.
There, asleep beneath a pine tree, was a young fox.
I was so astonished. I just stood there, all tangled up in the hedge. Struggling to balance, looking down at the fox who gradually got to his feet and, without taking his eyes off me, slowly walked away.
I can’t say who was more surprised. The fox must have felt his spot was pretty safe and I suppose I had felt that not too much could intrude on my quiet stroll through the woods. We were both sorely mistaken. But what on earth had happened? I was frankly shocked.
I suppose I might have flattered myself with the fantasy that I had had some kind of ‘premonition’ or extra sensory perception of the event except for the fact that it was not my perception at all. The voice was decidedly ‘not me’. And why such a curious piece of information? Why not winning lottery numbers? Or the meaning of life? A really snappy title for my book or the name of my one true love?
‘A hundred yards down the track on the left hand side there is a fox asleep underneath a tree.’ It was all so impossible. I stumbled home in a daze.
In the months that followed I puzzled over the events of that afternoon endlessly. I couldn’t write. I could scarcely string a sentence together. The whole thing was sending shudders through my world.
The more I thought about it the less I knew, the greater seemed the Universe and everything in it. I spent more and more time wandering the hills, wondering and puzzling. I was smart. I could figure it out. But the more I tried the more I failed, the worse I felt, the more puzzled I seemed to become.
Then, one day, I was out walking my now habitual ten or fifteen miles when I passed a tiny country chapel set all alone against the foot of a low hill. It was Sunday. There was the sound of an organ and people’s voices. I was desperate for some human company and went in, sitting near the back. It was not particularly because I felt any spiritual impulse to do so. I just wanted a rest and the sense of other folk.
The pastor was speaking, a dull boring man with a droning voice. He went on and on. I didn’t mind. I was happy just to be sat down in company. Then he said, ‘and now I hand over to so-and-so…’ gesturing to the back of the building.
A great bear of a man stood up immediately behind me. He was so close I could smell him. I didn’t turn to look but I could sense his enormous presence.
I cannot remember a single word that he said. All I can recall is that his voice was a sweet fire, a gentle yet heartfelt outpouring of one who had been in the presence of the Mystery, one who had seen and known.
He was everything the pastor was not. His Being vibrated with energy and passion; yet it was all with a quiet sense of having renounced or surrendered himself to something that now inspired his honeyed song.
The service was over. I slipped out of the chapel without ever seeing his face. I was turned in on my own excitement. I had no more need to understand what had happened that day in Athelstan’s wood. The fact of it, the sheer wonder at it all was enough. The mystery was the message.
In the most playful and mischievous way the voice had said, ‘’I’m not here for you to figure out. Nor am I here to make your life easier. I’m just to be reckoned with or ignored at your peril!’’. I had responded like the pastor, all dried up and boring because I wanted something that I could understand, because I wanted the Unseen to be an object of my inflated consciousness. So I lived with the thin soup of wanting it all worked out which I needed to trade in favour of wonder.
The honey-fire giant showed me that being clever about such things is not just a poor substitute for the real thing. It is actually a form of not wanting to know; not wanting to be truly affected by the experience, keeping it all at the level of having an interesting anecdote rather than a transformative kernel of amazement.
I had to renounce learning for longing, let myself wonder and be comforted by all the things I didn’t understand .
this essay is an excerpt from my new book on the Individuation process which you can order here…http://andywhiteblog.com/2016/06/11/abundant-delicio…ot-off-the-press/