Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Waters of Memory, the Sky of Dreams

When I was in my mid 50s, the past, which had never much interested me before, became fascinating. I spent almost a year reading and musing about the ancient Silk Road and the oasis cities that flourished there so briefly before being buried by the sands. Thinking of those lost cities and the civilizations they contained was a kind of doorway that spoke to me piercingly of impermanence, and also led me to aspects of my own psyche that up until then had been buried in the rushing torrents of life.

It's sometimes said that with age, qualities of reflection naturally arise. This has been true for me. Yes, I continue to show up in the outer world. I do the laundry, work, pray, cook good food, enjoy my friends, music, dancing, plunging into nature and the elements just as I’ve done for years. Yet as time passes, I find myself “living in the past” something that has been widely vilified as a sign of elder dottiness, but which I find to be a worthy task. What have I lived through and what is the meaning of the patterns, impulses, events and people that have filled my life? We live as the Christian mystic Jacob Boehme pointed out in two worlds. The material and the immaterial.

And as one grows older, it is possible that one may live more in the immaterial world--In the past, in the imagination, in prayer, meditation, spirit. Though I may be conjuring much consternation perhaps by putting all those things together. It works for me. If it does not work for you, adjust as you will to valences your psyche finds harmonious.

Every stage of life has its peculiar dreams. So during my mid 50s I found myself dreaming of a big white marble room with tall, narrow windows. The room contained a long table with a globe on it, ancient manuscripts their pages edged with gold, and some instruments and substances I associate with alchemy. In that room, I was a woman whose forehead shone with light. I was my own beacon.

In what we think of as the ordinary world, one doesn’t describe oneself this way. That is a bit of a problem with the ordinary world, because all of us have mythic, archetypal, immaterial qualities and when we ignore those, we are diminished.

From the beautiful white marble room, a heavy wooden door opened out to a narrow hallway. I had to take a lantern with me. The hallway curved, its stairs descending deep into the earth. The air was old and dry. I arrived at a doorway covered with heavy, deep red brocade cloth, gently pulled the cloth aside and looked into the small room that appeared before me, which was illuminated by votive candles set on a ledge that ran along its walls. Its ceiling was low, its dark walls were hewn from black rock. Three icons hung on the walls-- one of Jesus, one of the Black Madonna, and one of St. Michael. In the candlelight, their golden halos blazed out from the dark backgrounds of the paintings.

I saw an ornate, jewel-encrusted coffin in which lay an old King, strong and undecayed. His deep red robe was embroidered with flowers sewn of golden threads. His beautiful golden crown was set with rubies and emeralds. His Queen lay beside him like a still flower. She had a perfume, not of death, but of the ineffable.

Was it this dream that led me to begin excavating the archeological layers and the brightly lit memories that comprise the way stations of my life experience? I do not rightly remember if it was. But it was around that time that I started reflecting on and writing about my life in an effort to understand, reconcile and let go.

“I come to the fields and spacious palaces of memory, where are the treasures of innumerable images, brought into it from things of all sorts perceived by the senses,” as St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions. It takes both fierce focus and soft trust to enter the territory of the soul with both eyes wide open, to describe the seasons and stations of the inner journey. It is a task and opportunity that can be taken up in the elder years, if one is drawn to do it.


  1. This is a lovely peice of work. I really like how it all flows into the quote from St. Augustine. I was Catholic and would have been put off by the references in the begining but you offered a choice just in time. I will past your blog to others and thank you I'm left wanting more.

  2. Loving your blog, Gaea. Have seen your words of wisdom often on Elderwoman and, lately, on Time Goes By.

    The Gene Cohen book sounds inspirational and will find out more about that. Thanks for the reference.

  3. Hey this is Stephanie,
    I like your new site and enjoyed reading your piece Waters of Memory...thanks for being the creative voiced as always with dignity and a sense of space, poetry and wry sense of humor; bringing in the taste of earth to go with the expansiveness of sky.