Meaning by Design - Symbolic Encounters

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Ancestral Talbot

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Q. Further to our investigations into prayer, somehow prayer to me seems to be in that place of first making sure we are able to 'be in the temple' so that God can work in us. And then offer that to whatever we meet. Prayer then seems much more inherently relational than I had ever considered . And your writings brought that up for me as well.
A.  I think relationship is the essence of prayer - the attempt to be in relation to Somewhat. The nature of the ‘somewhat’ is the problem.

Roads Less Travelled: Talbot

I'm re-posting these old 2013 posts for Tom, a man with the voice of a Folk-singer, the heart of a Poet and the soul of an Aussie. May the ancestral Irish-Aussie pioneering spirit stir again....

On our recent trip to Australia I found myself beguiled by roads. We went for a family reunion in the little country town of Talbot. My great-grandfather opened one of the first Pubs in the gold-fields during the great Rushes of the 1850’s, and our family has much history there.  Talbot’s glory-days are over.

Ancestral Talbot

For Tom. Sing on.....

My last post depicted a rather de-populated Talbot, so I thought I would share a little more of its quirky charm and inhabitants, past and present.

As I was  there for a family and ancestral reunion, itgot me thinking about ancestry; one's line of forebears, the daily lives and preoccupations of those long gone. The graves under the quiet gums; no trace of motivation or the force that drove the fuse and flower of their lives. To be honest, although intriguing and moving, these ancestors are largely mute; fragments, frames frozen in time.


Q.  I very much appreciate your observations and frankness. If I'm understanding correctly you’re making a big distinction between self-improvement and spiritual experience. This is something I find myself doing often; that is hoping spiritual experience will somehow improve parts of myself that I wish to change or improve (more patience, better listening, more compassion, clearer perception....). 

This of course leads to self-rumination which in turn leads nowhere. Nevertheless these are life habits most of us have.


Q. I realised I have never spoken to you about prayer, and I would like to. That might be a missing part of my practice.
A.Prayer is difficult to identify outside of a conventional religious context. But it’s important to gain a deeper understanding because I think prayer belongs alongside meditation and contemplation as a trinity of practice -- mutually dependent, overlapping and inter-twining, but distinct.
The terms prayer, meditation and contemplation considered together, suggest a western theistic background, ‘contemplation’ in particular, but all traditions and ways of inner work have related practices.


"Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark...." Thus Dante begins his Divine Comedy and journey through the three realms of existence.  It is a recurring metaphor for many at a certain stage of life. Here another finds herself in that forest....

L.  I see your dark forest, and suggest that if you visit it again, you look for a fountain, spring or stream which will be there somewhere, although you are not seeing it by staying resolutely on your chosen (only) path.


I have added this as an explanatory addendum to the post  'Walking the Edge' (Meditation skills), but the relevance is general. The question there was: 'How do you walk the razor's edge between these two...?'

I’d just like to add something to this question and response, as it provides a good illustration of the principle behind working with symbols. My response was aimed at showing how the hidden (unconscious) power of the metaphor chosen here conditions the way the situation is seen, and therefore behavioural and psychological reverberations.


Q. I would find no other pursuit ultimately satisfying and yet to be honest there is a lingering feeling that I have not ever really fully committed. Maybe I could sit more, study more, be more patient, be more focused throughout the day, give up pleasures and desires in life that I enjoy because they are distracting.....
A.Could I suggest less striving, less 'working on'. For dedicated people like yourself, who have committed for so long, who have had the experience of inner knowing, adding striving to striving seems to cease being effective, and the frustration you feel, I think, is the natural process of indicating change of tack needed.


For some time I have been taken by the symbolism of the Osprey, eagle of the mountains and waters, with its far-seeing eye, long-distance navigation skills, and fantastic speed- plunge into the lake to seize a fish seen from the heights. The fish is grasped unerringly with great claws despite the water’s refraction and the fish’s swift motion, and the osprey's wings will beat to lift both itself and fish clear of the water’s gravity.

The Osprey is a good symbol for seer-ship—the ability to discern beneath the surface of phenomena, to recognise the core and potential and perhaps where these may lead.


Q.  Now and then I have moments of great determination. For example in meditation I would think ‘’If only I can concentrate just that little bit harder, just be a bit more one pointed….I know I can go deeper, I just need to try a tiny bit more….etc” 

At other times I see clearly that I can do nothing at all, that everything just happens without any personal control or choice. Not only external events but even my thoughts and feelings. So thinking “I” can do anything at all seems to be the great illusion.


Q.I’ve searched for my ‘core’, as you suggested,*  but although I can sense something, I can’t locate anything specific I could call a core.

A.The act of searching or directing your attention is both means and resolution.  In other words, by searching you are setting co-ordinates which define a space,  pinpoint a potency,  but there is no ‘hard object’ to find.

It is an act of  locating the boundless. The core is without dimension, but a defining force none the less.

Perhaps the metaphor of ‘core’ has associations with apple-cores (note the seeds—generative) or some kind of hard lump!


It’s not uncommon for people who have been dedicated practitioners of meditation or other inner disciplines to reach a stage of feeling that they have reached an impasse, or that their expectations have not been met and they don’t know the way forward any more. Their original motivation has worn out….Here is one such:
Re. My whole life feels like it's floating about me--the choices I've made, the decisions, and all that has not worked out as I would have expected.
A wise person once said to me: "If there's nothing to do, do nothing".


The following was written to accompany our daughter's Xmas present, which was a miniature Zen garden on a ceramic tray, with stone mountains, a tiny mud house, bench, shrine and fisherman, and bamboo rake for the sand. The tradition of these tiny gardens dates from the Tang dynasty, over 1000 years ago.


Each morning he goes out of his little house and rests on a bench to contemplate the Mountains, to remind himself of This and especially of That.

Then he rakes the sand, smoothing into patterns of design the chaos of wind and water, calming and preparing his mind.


Re. Winter in Canada, fishing with long time friends. Cold, snowing, ever so quiet and still. Learning Spey casting; an art form when done by a master; rhythm, timing and touch; less is more. The masters say it's no longer about catching fish. 

Now on the cold snowy river there is a quiet stillness, the river majestically and unceremoniously heads ever onward, I don't know the next bend. Beneath the quiet is a deeper quiet, much easier to hear now….
L. Your email describes a living metaphor.


As well as miniature gardens, there is a long tradition of mudman figurines in China, made by hand from mud or clay. The fisherman is a popular figure, usually with a hat, a pot and a ceramic fish on the end of a line.

The Fisherman sees into the distance and holds his rod gently.

On his back is a hat to shield him when the sun or rain is too intense, but no heavy bag of pain and sorrow which would bow him to earth and cloud his vision. The hat hangs lightly from his shoulders, and the small pot at his feet will hold what is necessary.
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