Equine power

We were staying with family in Houston when the coronavirus pandemic started to kick off big time, but it wasn’t yet worrying enough for us to cut short our visit and head for home while we could. That panic came a bit later, and we were able to enjoy a brief period of respite from the mounting anxiety in this earlier part of our stay.  We went along with granddaughter to her Saturday riding lessons at a ranch in the country, a short drive away.

We’d heard a lot about the horses she rides at the ranch – they are Athena and Tarzan. Tarzan (shown here, rear view with her riding) is a big horse – 16.5 hands high – and whereas I’d be treating him with all due respect, granddaughter shows no fear at all and loves her equine interactions and all the hands on grooming before and after her ride.

What was so soothing and calming was to visit the stables and meet some of the other horses there. Cloud, the all-white horse, listened patiently while I talked to him and photographed him. I felt quite an affinity with him.

There are several mini horses at the stables, and the beautiful tan and cream one, whose name I can’t remember, had recently given birth. Her foal, a boy, was with her and at just three weeks old was a joy to behold.

In the midst of the current crisis, the worry, the anxiety and the reality of the unsettled and unsettling world we now inhabit fell away. It was a blessing to be able to get alongside these powerful and beautiful animals, and share some of their simple “being-ness”.

Life in lockdown

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How come I seem to be even busier in these days of lockdown than I was before, when I was following a fairly normal, daily routine…….ah, of course, there’s the answer. Routine. Structure. Doing things at a sort of allocated, usual, habitual time. But now, with our daily framework gone all wobbly, we have to dig a bit deeper and find ways to focus, get through what needs to be done (like washing, ironing, deciding what to use from our food stocks then cooking it, and so on).

Yesterday I felt like the proverbial blue-assed fly, flitting from one distraction to the next like a headless chicken (excuse the mixed metaphors). Having successfully joined FaceBook in order to be able to easily message granddaughter in the US and take part in the Rock Choir daily Keep Britain Singing at 3 pm (I’m a member of Rock Choir and need a singing fix to keep me going), I found I was suddenly thrust into more techno-connections than I’d ever been.

Suddenly people I know were appearing on FaceBook wanting to be my “friend”. With extended French family (our daughter-in-law is French), the combination of choir members I know and French family I know got just a bit challenging at one point when I received a message – in French – from my daughter-in-law’s godmother. I had a bash at responding in rusty French and was part way through when I noticed there was a translate button. So I was able to translate her message into English, and if I wrote in English, she’d be able to translate it into French. Phew. I switched from rusty Francais to English promptly.

So that leaves the daily Rock Choir 20 minute sing to schedule for 3pm, and the Great British Home Chorus being led by Gareth Malone for 30 minutes every day at 5.30pm. That’s before I’ve even got near the on-line PE, yoga and keep fit classes.

Then there’s the WhatsApps arriving from friends and family, the face to face calls, the  phone calls, the chats with neighbours over the garden fence – all at a safe distance of more than 2 metres – the emails and the one daily walk to schedule for us and the dog, who, it seems has cracked this lockdown lark rather well.

He’s even decided to watch the daily sing, but he doesn’t join in…..

The Four Freedoms

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Freedom of Speech by Norman Rockwell

Last week – ahead of starting to seriously social distance ourselves – we went to the Norman Rockwell exhibition at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Because of fast-moving global events around coronavirus it turns out that this will be the only “treat” outing we’ll have while we’re here, visiting family.

The dominant theme of Rockwell’s paintings is Franklin D. Rooseveldt’s Four Freedoms which are extremely appropriate to the state of the globalised world and what’s happening all over it right now. Rockwell painted them during WW2, when they  were reproduced in The Saturday Evening Post for over four consecutive weeks in 1943, alongside essays by prominent thinkers of the day.

The Four Freedoms are as significant now as they were back in 1943:

Freedom of speech – Freedom of worship – Freedom from want – Freedom from fear

Rockwell illustrated each freedom differently; each is powerful in its own way. The jacket worn by the model in the painting shown is on display at the exhibition, and the occasion itself was based on a real event where a man spoke out on a controversial topic at a community meeting, where he was respected and heard out.

But the final freedom – Freedom from fear – at this moment has the greatest charge for me. Fear is rampaging through our world because of coronavirus. I realised today that I’m now more alarmed at what is happening all over the world because of the virus (lockdowns, curfews, panic buying, borders closing etc.) than I now am about catching the virus itself.

Fear is a powerful weapon. It was FDR himself who, in his 1933 inaugural speech said, “We have nothing to fear except fear itself”. Fear is power. If we have fear we’re not fully in charge of our own liberties, we’re reined in, restrained in some way,  not connected to what is essentially good within us.

Two other mentions of fear also come to mind: the book entitled “Feel the fear and do it anyway” by Susan Jeffers. It’s a personal growth book which I read many years ago and found helpful. The other book – a big one! – which touches, amongst many other things, on coping with fear is A Course in Miracles.

The quote from the Course which stands in my mind and is the one I go to in times of stress and anxiety, such as these, is “There is no need to fear”. That has got me through a lot of tough, challenging times and as a mantra it has a calming effect. I’ve added the link for this lesson of the course; it may help, it may not. It works for me.

But what of the other freedoms? To be free to speak out, to worship whichever higher being  nurtures our spiritual needs, to be free from want, through hunger or not having shelter are all important. Sad to say all these freedoms are not fulfilled in our current world, making The Four Freedoms as relevant now as they were when they were voiced by FDR.

Freedom from fear, for me, is the freedom which underpins them all. We can so easily be paralysed by fear, which would hamper us speaking out, as would being afraid to openly worship in ways right for us, and likewise we can be afraid of not having enough to survive on.

The world we know seems to be crumbling apart, but as scary and unsettling as this is, there are some good things emerging. People, marooned in communities locked down against the spread of coronavirus are starting to form support groups and organise how they can help each other, especially those seniors who may become isolated. Today, for  about 30 minutes I was distracted and delighted to hear from all my cul-de-sac neighbours in the UK who have formed a WhatsApp help and support group.

Although I’m in Houston and hoping to get a flight back home, I felt buoyed up by the friendship and community spirit as all of us joined in and added our twopenny-worth of energy to the enterprise. The fear retreated and something brighter and more positive took its place.

 

Lost in the NEC

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Yesterday we went to the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham to the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show, just for a look round and an update on what’s new. Not with any significant purchase in mind. You just have to keep up with what’s currently around.

Our van is just over 7 years old, it’s our 3rd van, and has started to show a few signs of age, with the odd  (and sometimes rather expensive) thing going wrong which needs replacing. So a visit and a day looking at new vans and sussing out the state of the art promised a good day out.

No, we didn’t decide to buy a new van, but we got plenty of ideas on what we might and might not like. It was interesting to note that our tastes and preferences have changed very little over the past 7 or so years, and the van we chose then to be our palace on wheels is still top of the pops for us in so many ways.

When we’d seen enough and had enough van viewing, it was time to head home and make our way back to car park N3, somewhere outside in the vast NEC estate. We’d walked from the car park to the exhibition centre and had more or less followed the flow of the crowd, also going in the same direction. But late on in the afternoon, when the crowds started to thin out, there were not too many people around aiming for car park N3. We got lost.

We looked in vain for signage and directions to the car parks, we followed directions which took us to nowhere we recognised, and we asked for directions from several different members of NEC staff, the press office staff, the bureau de change staff and various stewards on how to get back to car park N3. They were all helpful. Most of them didn’t have a clue and sent us off on wild goose chases. We ended up at the station, then at the airport, then at the main entrance, which was not the one we’d entered by. We looked at a plan of the entire NEC complex and tried to use that to navigate by. We tried to gain access to the Skywalk we needed to cross, but the access doors were locked. It was beginning to feel like us getting Lost in Cumbria all over again. I almost started humming Hotel California – “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave….”

On our second arrival at the main entrance, we asked the security guards for help. One of them vaguely waved directions at us, the other came up with the goods and finally, at long last, we managed to get out of the building and on our way to car park N3.

It had taken us over an HOUR to get out of the NEC and back to our car. As we thanked the security guard who’d come up with the right solution, another stressed out couple were approaching him to ask for directions.

If I ever go to the NEC again I’ll consider taking a large ball of wool to tie to the door I enter by, and keep it with me in my hand to help me get out of the place!

Life without Pluto

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Astrolabe in the house – now a museum – of Leonardo da Vinci,  Amboise, France

On 24th August 2006 a group of scientists and astronomers got together in Prague and decided to demote the status of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet. Their decision came after a lengthy period of search for the definition of what a planet is.

Several years later I visited the Jodrell Bank Observatory with two children aged 8 and 10. The Observatory has a brand new visitor centre and I was looking forward to seeing how they had reconfigured the site and displayed the old brass observational sextants and other instruments, including the famous mechanical orrery with its planets orbiting the Sun. I was very disappointed. All of these had gone, along with the Planetarium which had offered interactive quizzes and visual high speed trips across the galaxy.

In their place were two very modern buildings with slick display boards, often accompanied by a video but not much else. Equipment and fun experiments in the hands-on area for children had been reduced and the two children I was with soon lost interest as there was little to engage them. In one area, empty apart from displays on the wall and a large modern orrery suspended from the ceiling, we searched out and named the planets. Pluto, long demoted, wasn’t there and I explained to the children why it wasn’t there, also telling them it had been discovered in 1930. The new visitor centre may be state of the art, presenting bang up to the minute modern science, but all sense of the history of discovery behind it had been erased.

This got me thinking about how life, for those heretical beings amongst us who dare to claim we are astrologers, would be without Pluto. OK, so Pluto has been around a relatively short time and its discovery and subsequent inclusion in astrological charts and interpretations is also relatively new. But its discovery, after lengthy research by Clyde Tombaugh, coincided with the start of an era of world war and disruption, brought to a halt by the dropping of the atomic bomb. Astrologically Pluto is often feared, or at least treated with due caution and respect as it can herald big changes and upheavals often leading to transformation. The Hubers, in their book The Planets, describe Pluto as one of the three transpersonal planets saying, “The stimulation of Pluto’s energy makes us experience an expansion of consciousness affecting all of our lives”. Would we want to be without this?

When using astrological psychology, especially with a client, it would become quite difficult to interpret a chart and give a consultation without including Pluto. Symbolically, Pluto offers opportunities in life for us to transform ourselves and our ways of thinking and move on. It can encourage us to go boldly go where we’ve not been before, sometimes plumbing our inner depths and spaces and demanding that we make ourselves anew.

As an astrological psychology consultant I know that real, deep, life-changing experiences or issues can be triggered by Pluto in the natal chart. I’ve been able to support people going through Plutonic changes as they travel through challenging times. But one thing is for sure, and that is that we’ll come to grief if we try to use Pluto’s energy to gain personal power and control over someone or something. But we can learn to use the energies of Pluto, a transpersonal planet, not for ourselves, but for those things which affect the collective, embracing change, transformation and the good clear out and spring clean that goes with it.

IMG_1621Reflecting on my disappointment that Jodrell Bank had changed and become more slick and glitzy, I can raise a smile at the thought of Pluto at work in this complete makeover. Gone is the old, the history and the links with the astronomical past. However, the best part of the visit was a guided walk around the enormous, and famous, Lovell Radio Telescope. Like following the stations of the cross in a church, we were taken to a series to display boards around the perimeter of the telescope. I learned more in the short talks at each than I ever have about  – yes – the history of this impressive piece of engineering, once the largest radio telescope in the world but now demoted to the third largest.

In the makeover, the baby wasn’t quite thrown out with the bathwater after all. I wonder – did Pluto get the last laugh here?