Heaven Forfend

Stumbling on the Path

I wasn’t ready for it. The crows in the woods below the farm were on form. Each morning they wake up just before dawn and chatter in hundreds, working themselves up and suddenly taking to the air together, swooping around over the fields, doing crazy tribal manoeuvres, crarking and grating, settling and then swooping again as a mass before landing on the rooftops and trees of the farm and the big house next door, to sit there awhile and begin their day as individual crows, each with a life to live.

It shows the power of synergy, when they interlock minds to fly as one being, with no visible leadership, making a deep rumbling as hundreds of wings thrash the air in harmony. Meanwhile, waking up in pain and feeling unwell, I had missed an opportunity to sound-record one of the best dawn crow displays of late (for my next podcast). Oh well. That’s what happens when your life is humiliatingly falling apart and all your well-learned human capabilities start failing you.

Plus some dilemmas. On Thursday afternoon I landed up sitting there crying my eyes out, unable to get help after four days of trying, following a stream of unreturned calls, answering machines, referrals to other numbers, and promises unkept. Yet again I was landing up at the end of the day having got nowhere. I was in pain and going down. The dilemma is that, when I do get someone at the other end, they’re really good – but somehow, the system just isn’t working, and a clock was ticking on me.

Come Saturday morning, I got through to an emergency number and the nurse was really helpful and attentive, assuring me she would ring back within an hour – and she did. “I hate to do this to you, Palden, but I must refer you to yet another service”. OMG. Eventually, by afternoon I was down in the Urgent Care Unit at West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance. By evening I was at last fixed with the medication I had been promised five days before. Penny, busy helping another of her care clients move house, came to pick me up in an enormous van and dropped me home. Staggering around on autodrive, I lit the woodstove, made tea and then had what my mother in her later years used to call ‘a good sit down’. Thus ended a nightmare week during which I had squared with a few rather hard things.

Medically, my prospects are not good – I’m doing alright with the cancer but not with its side-effects, and the prospects are ‘risky’. I’m at a choice-point. It all boils down to a matter of will-to-live. A decision in my soul, in my bones, not my head. Will this crisis be followed by an upswing or a downward slide? This isn’t just about health conditions. Getting through each day has become more difficult and I’ve started getting tired of it, wondering how much it’s worth struggling on.

It’s a bit like climate change: a question of mitigation (trying to solve the problem) or adaptation (getting used to the idea that you can’t). Do I have what it takes to break medical expectations? Or shall I let myself decline in peace, perhaps during the coming year? If I revive, for what and for whom? I am on my own almost all of the time and, recently with diminished creative inspiration, there isn’t a lot to do except talk to myself and deal with a succession of difficulties in a muddle-through kind of way.

Yes, that’s honing to the soul, and there’s always something to learn. But fighting to stay alive is not all there is to life, and there comes a point where it gets a bit stupid resisting a tide that currently seems to want to carry me back home. I’m leaving the question open for now, but it’s sitting with me.

‘Heaven…’, sang Talking Heads a few decades ago, ‘Heaven is a place, where nothing, nothing ever happens…’. I don’t agree. That’s an earthbound perspective arising from the forgetting process we went through around birth and in early life. Forgetting who we are and why we came. So going back to where we came from becomes a scary issue that few wish to face, because it involves remembering who we are, or were, or could be, and why we came. But the rub is, everyone will face it. And things do happen after death, and there’s more to life than what we’ve experienced thus far.

Astrologers amongst you will probably recognise the symptoms: I’m on a Neptune opposition Saturn. I’ve been given cancer to give my life a new focus. The last two years have been like ten. Struggles have changed me a lot, for better and worse, but there comes a point where a new hurdle hoves into view: letting be, letting go and ‘letting God’.

We get these let-gos throughout life, and the more experience of them that we gain, the more we position ourselves well for the final one. But there are some biggies to get to grips with – particularly regrets. Things we did, or didn’t do, that we could have done differently.

If we’ve done something with our lives, if we have at least tried, other things come around too, to show us where we got things more or less right. For me, as I slowly pull out of my temporal life-slot, things are coming to pass that I got used to accepting as unchangeable. World transformation is not an easy thing, and we’re in a painful period, but things are starting to wrench themselves out of their stuckness – also known as ‘normality’. The mechanism by which change is happening is not one that anyone could have forecast. It’s getting us from behind and underneath.

It started with Covid and its cascading consequences, and we’re heading for the next big wave. Again, it will be something that few visualised or expected. It’s a raking-out of all and everything, very thorough, corroding and eroding many things, all separately, and building up into an enormous slow, drawn-out quake, an avalanche of issues that will come to a scrunch-point – and then something else starts happening.

We’re not used to insecurity and uncertainty but we’re being forced to get used to it. Covid, with its consequential effects, was just the start. There’s more (see here). In the end, all will be well, but it’s really difficult now – my 25ish futile telephone calls of the last week were a minuscule example of the cumulative systems breakdown that is coagulating at present. The exception has become the rule, and relative chaos is becoming the new order.

After a life of going against the grain, I’ll be leaving a world where the logjams are at last beginning to free up. In a way, it’s a time of tribulation, but in another way it’s a time of solutions and breakthroughs, goaded by crisis and necessity. But if we truly want a new world, we must truly let go of the old one – and that’s what the coming decades are about.

Hence we see such daunting attempts at social control today. Humanity has started sliding down a ski-slope and it’s shit scared of losing control. Stamp out the virus, rescue the economy, maintain normality, control the future, blame it all on others. Change whatever you like as long as it doesn’t affect me.

This is not all that there is to life. Even fighting against it is not all there is to life. There’s more. Humanity is struggling to figure out why we are here, and what exactly for. It’s an endless process. It’s the Universe trying to find out who it is, by scraping the accumulated experience of billions of struggling humans into an enormous databank of universal experience, fiddling with models and algorithms to find out what it’s here for. And whether the telling of the story really was worth it. Or whether, as my Tibetan teacher HH Gyalwa Karmapa XVI once put it, it was all simply a fart in the void.

Meanwhile, now on medication, I’m beginning to feel ‘better’ and out of danger, but I’ve been knocked down a rung, and this is a different place. Another fullmoon has passed. Here’s sending a hug to those who will be alone at Christmas, and best wishes to all of you, whatever you are or aren’t celebrating, with a reminder and a smile: it’s all okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

Love, Palden.


A new podcast is coming soon when my production team (me) gets its act together. Meanwhile, an optional extra: some music, Pink Floyd’s On the Turning Away