20 Missions 6: Elemental Activity

Mission 6: Elemental Activity

Mission 6 interfaces you with the elements. This week I invite you to go to places where the intensity of each single element is at its strongest, for example:

Earth: you might find a cave, an under-earth lake, you could visit an ancient Celtic Fogou, or delve into the depths of a quarry. You could even dig a hole in your garden and get into it. The ideas is to connect with earth in its purest form. To connect with the earth inside yourself.

Air: you could visit the top of a mountain or parachute from a plane. You might stand on a bridge in the airflow or ride a bicycle down a hill. What access do you have to the air? Preferably clean and fresh air. Find out what you can do to give yourself a pure-air experience and relate to the part of yourself that is air.

Fire: spending an evening by a good, open fire will suffice, feeding a fire, tending a fire, becoming one with the fire you have created. Prepare carefully so that you do not need to leave the fire to collect wood. Stare into the fire, feel it on your face, enjoy it, play with it, experiment with different types of fire. In some cultures, jumping over the fire is used as a form of cleansing ritual or a way to welcome a new start like the beginning of a year.

Water: go swimming in the sea or somewhere wild. Even paddling in a river somewhere away from people where you can hear the voice of nature. Even a relaxing bath can help with this, although it is better with water that ‘connects’ to all water. Feel into the part of yourself that is liquid. Up to 60% of the human adult body is water. The brain and heart are 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are 31% watery. Experience water and feel the flow. Get some really pure water and drink it icy cold so you can feel it going down.

Spirit: Go somewhere for this that feels spiritual for you. You can enjoy the quiet mystery of a church without being religious. Maybe it’s a woodland or a high place on a moorland that does it for you, or an ocean or a secluded spot? Maybe you already have a special, spiritual place where you live or work?

It might be a time as much as a place – those few seconds at sunrise when you can stare into the sun – a nice hot bath when there is nobody to disturb you – light some candles and make it special. Go there and meditate on the essence of spirit, think about what it means to you. Make the time to access that part of yourself.

One of the aspects of the work I do includes being conscious in the moment. It means making every moment possible into a meditation in which one is fully present to what is going on, with no thinking about the past or worrying about the future. As such a day spent like this for me is a holy day, the basis of the idea of ‘holiday’.

Our culture sometimes seems obsessed with ‘being busy’ as a measure of self-worth. This is part of a conditioned slave mentality and it is perfectly fine to spend the day ‘being busy’ with such things as: taking deeper breaths, quieting irrational thoughts, calming an excitable heart or telling yourself you are fine and everything is OK.

For your mission this week I invite you to create a ritual using all of the above elements: earth, air, fire, water and spirit.

EXAMPLE: a personal ritual for the death of my mother.

Quite recently my Mum died in what I have to describe as awful circumstances. To cut a long story short, I decided to have my own, private funeral ritual and did not attend her public funeral. I wanted a ceremony that would involve the elements and be more based in my personal faith and feelings. My ritual for the passing of my mother follows this construction using the elements:

  • A time of water: cry, cleanse, flow, let go
  • A time of fire: burn, tame, adapt, ignite
  • A time of air: observe, breathe, focus, decide
  • A time of Earth: ground, give, build, heal
  • A time of Spirit: meditate, accept, be love

So I was to spend a holy day with my departed Mother on 20 March, the first day of spring. Of course this will also involve some reminiscing about her, about my past with her, and the archetype of ‘the Mother’.

A time of water: cry, cleanse, flow, let go

My first self-appointed task was to have a morning shower experiencing the water as a blessing from the universe. Once, my mother Sue was my whole universe. I was completely dependent upon her for my life, my warmth, my safety, my food, my love.

I had recently been exploring this area because I had come to question the relationship between my expectations of the universe and the messages I received from my mother and this culture of Western materialism into which she brought me and to which she expected me to conform.

One of the reasons I no longer consider myself a Christian is because of its dependence on these patriarchal values and their hierarchies. The old religions and many still existent have the female as the essential deity. My own values make me more comfortable with this. To me personally at the time of writing, the connection with Universe and Mother makes more sense.

After my ‘universe shower’ I dried off in front of a fan heater holding a silk scarf I had taken from mother’s room when we sorted her clothes out for the ‘traditional cremation ceremony’ that my brothers would be organising, and I would not be attending.

The scarf was alive with the smell of her, the smell of my mother. The tears came quickly and I wiped them away with the scarf. After a while I dressed. I had been wearing black for several days but now put a layer of ‘my mother’s colours’ (a mixture of purples) underneath my outer garments (it was still cold outside and I needed to layer up).

mum's scarf in a jar
Susan’s scarf in water

I dressed for the ceremony in colourful trousers and a woollen Guatemalan poncho, with hat. I had put the scented scarf in a gallon demijohn of water and after giving it a good whisk, took it outside to stand in the winter sunlight.

Later on my partner Sarah, Freya the spaniel and myself walked down to the river. I took a sip of the water from the demijohn on the bridge over the River Gam and was surprised how strongly it tasted of the ‘essence of mother’ from her scarf.

I thought about how my tears and this essence of my mother would enter the river and merge with the water cleansed, to finally merge with the ocean. As I poured the gallon of water from the bridge into the river I sent her my love for her final journey in this incarnation.

A time of fire: burn, tame, adapt, ignite

Making and tending a fire is such a clean and natural thing to do. It’s elemental, primal in its simplicity and directness. Here we are on the first day of spring when the sun, fire in its truest form, enters Aries, the ruler of fire and my own sign. I love fire and can play with it for hours.

Fire is like a baby in some ways; it needs tending and attention it needs the right fuel and air for its type, feeding at the right intervals and if you turn your back on it at the wrong moment it can invite disaster.

Like a mother with a child keeping the flame of life alive, stoking the fire building the fire of life with loving attention. Woman in the form of a mother is the source of all life and that is the thing that our paternalistic culture hides the most and has most fear of. The denial of the simple fact that women create the children influences our culture at a profound level. I remembered the many times my mother had cared for me and thanked her.

I built a fire in my yurt. Once it got going I sawed up more wood (to get warm some more). I had some river-worn granite rocks to put on the top of the ‘back-burner’ drum to heat them up. While the fire burnt I sat and enjoyed its company. Fire burns with passion. The love I have for my mother will always be alight.

wood burner with granite rocks on secondary heat chamber

A time of air: observe, breathe, focus, decide

This section overlaps with that of fire as I had a blow-back of smoke into the yurt. I had only just installed the wood burner and it needed some attention to get going. It seemed appropriate to this section to use a hair dryer to get it going so that the chimney warmed up properly. (Later on I installed a fan in the chimney).

Mum once made a guilty confession to me. She said that when I was really young, 1 or 2 years old maybe, I cried so long and so much that she put me under an eiderdown and left me there as she did not know what to do with me. For many years I had recurring nightmares about being abandoned, bereft and blind at the bottom of a deep dark pit, crying out to be found. I suspect that this experience may be what started them. They often ended with me being lifted, lifted like an epiphany into the hands of a deity, blessed beyond reward. I also suspect that this was mother lifting me up after my trauma and holding me in her arms. I forgave her totally for this lack of air and we laughed about it.

Childhood seems such a short time now. When I was age 15 and she was helping me revise for my ‘Greek Literature in Translation’ ‘O’ Level. Her comment on ‘The Frogs’ by Aristophanes was:

Simon my darling – I really don’t think I can help you any more.” And just like that, it seemed just a moment before I had left home. I crossed the equator heading south on a round-the-world voyage, two days before my 18th birthday as a ‘catering boy’ on the ss Canberra. This was the start of my own voyage – one that would lead me to a very different set of values to those of my family.

The yurt is so hot now that I have to take off all my clothes. It is 32° of Cuban-feeling heat, that lovely warmth you can only get from a real fire, or the sun in certain parts of the world. With my nakedness the tears come once more to be sopped up by mother’s now dried silk scarf. The water from my earlier ritual has by now taken its essence downriver to Padstow, into the Bristol Channel, the Irish Sea, the Atlantic Ocean. A memory of my mother spreads through the oceans.

I exit the yurt for a while, wearing only my wellies to enjoy the cold air on my heat-flushed skin. Like a newborn baby emerging from the womb. It is cold and late afternoon, the shadow of the land creeps up the other side of the valley. The fields there are still snow-rimed, covered in white like the crust of sugar on the glass of a well-made Mohito. I don’t last long experiencing my baby skin in the cold air.

outside my yurt

Back inside the yurt, the granite rocks are untouchable with heat. I chose one for her and in my mind made a spell that ‘heat is love’ and that this rock is now full of both. The heat will go but the love will remain. I ask the rock to protect the enduring spirit of my mother from all harm and further abuse for as long as it may last.

The Mother is dead. Long live the Mother. The universe is now my mother.

A time of Earth: ground, give, build, heal

I feel privileged that I was the last person, apart from the nurses, to see Mum alive, away from the ‘noise’ of my family. I am happy and sad that this task fell to me. I put her to bed for the last time. I cleaned her spectacles, brushed her thin hair, knocking out her hearing aid in the process. I filed her nail where it was snagging.

To see what she was left with after the ravages of mini-strokes, the weeks of starvation from not being able to eat because of her undiagnosed stomach cancers was challenging for me. Her anxiety in the moment was intense. She didn’t know where she was, she worried about who was going to pay for the tiny licks of celery soup and ice-cream she managed to wet her tongue with. She thought we were in a pub. Sue lifted out a few times as we played ‘What can you remember?’ The phone number at our old house in Moultrie Road, her own mother, Connie, her best friend Jilly, the ‘holiday in Corfu’ where she was at her most resplendent. She knew her time was up. “Life is so short,” she said. Indeed.

The rocks bleed heat on the stove. Crystalline granite from the moors, some of the oldest rocks on the Earth around 500 million years old. Compared to this the span of a human life is nothing. If you take Mum’s life at 85 years, it is 1/6250000th of the time this rock has already existed. Nothing. It saddens me to think how people feel that they ‘own’ properties made of such things and will do all sorts of harm to maintain that fiction.

The sun goes down on the other side of the valley, just twilight now as I put on my six-volt, cross-fading disco lights and some joyous music. I enjoy them for a while and then go indoors to make dinner.

The next day

I take the fire-cleansed, now-cooled, but full-of-love rock outside and cradling it in my hands, I hold it up talk to it.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, if for as long as you exist, to protect the eternal spirit of my mother, Susan Mary Mitchell from any harm and abuse.”

The rock seemed to like this, it’s not often they are singled-out for a task. I took it into the back field and chucked it down an un-used rabbit hole to merge back with the earth, a spell hidden away until the end of time. Walking back to the house I hum the theme tune from Mission Impossible.

The 11 white willow trees (Salix alba) I ordered as Mum’s memorial have arrived. I will plant them around the garden over time and weave them together into hedges. The memorial plaque I ordered also arrived and I screwed it onto the sawn-off limb of a tree:


A time of spirit

A tree says… ‘A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal Mother took with me is unique, unique to the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.’

My beautiful Mother has moved-on, and I move on. Many hours of meditation show me that time, space and distance are meaningless constructs we invent in order to explain a universe we are not equipped to comprehend.

The link of a Mother to her child is eternal and she has not gone, just changed her form. What she shows me is that it is my eternal self that I should seek to know, to grow, to feed, to love and nurture, to fire, to water, to breathe.

Nothing else matters except maybe being kind to each other while we are here.

May the stars carry away my sadness

May the flowers fill my heart with beauty

May hope forever wipe away my tears

And above all may the silence make me strong.