by John Young
Pat, retired, owner for several months of a quiet village cottage and still adjusting to life after her husband’s long illness and death, takes her usual seat on a rock in front of a twelve feet high monolith which the locals refer to as the ‘Guardian Stone’ or simply ‘The Guardian’. None of her neighbours are clear as to why it bears that name though it is vaguely suggested that its position on a hill overlooking the village invites comparison to a vigilant sentry.
To satisfy the curiosity of villagers she has explained her frequent visits to the stone with various references to her health. ‘Climbing up the hill is good exercise; it strengthens my legs.’ Or: ‘It’s good for my lungs.’ Or: ‘I’m trying to make up for years of inactivity.’ Sometimes she would, in a distant and very brief way, hint at a desire to put behind her the turbulence of previous years. ‘My husband had a difficult time before he died.’ Or: ‘It’s such a peaceful contrast to the commotion of town life and hectic years in a busy office.’
Most of her neighbours, warming to her obvious love of her cottage now embraced by its daffodil carpeted garden, and to her cheerful but unobtrusive involvement in various village activities, quickly accepted these explanations at face value and avoided any attempt to gain a deeper understanding of her attraction to the stone.
Her frequent walks to the monolith did however attract passing interest from an elderly somewhat eccentric neighbour called Paul, regarded by local farmers as a very reliable water dowser. ‘Earth energy lines and underground streams intersect thereabouts,’ he said, glancing in the direction of the monolith. Then he paused for a moment looking at her with a curious eye. ‘Sensitive folk can pick up things in spots like that’.
Not wishing to be drawn into discussion about what she may or may not be experiencing she merely nodded and replied in a casual manner. ‘I love the tranquillity of the place.’
The real reasons for her frequent trips to the Guardian she does not for an instant feel the need to disclose, that she purchased the cottage because of a chance visit to the spot; that the ‘presence’ - the heavy but peaceful stillness - which she enjoys around the monolith, reminds her of fleeting episodes of happy tranquillity during the stress-filled months of her husband’s painful decline. At the time, these moments racked her conscience, but not to the point of entirely extinguishing the conviction that ‘something’ was experienced - a form of awareness - which should have a valuable and permanent place in her life.
‘Presence!’ She feels uncomfortable using this word. Too spooky by half! she thinks. Considering herself to be a very practical down-to-earth person she studiously avoids mystical speculations or dwelling on her neighbour’s theories about ley lines. She contents herself with the judgement that many places - churches, buildings even towns - have what she refers to as a ‘feel’, some pleasant some less so. ‘Presence?' Just a more intense, more focussed version of an everyday experience, she thinks. Anything else? Just a distraction!
‘A feeling?’ A lens? A prompt? Or maybe a teaching aid helping me to get a gentle grip on this experience. The spot around the stone is her classroom. Or is it my nursery, my playroom, my inside-my-head workshop?
Today, as usual she takes a seat on a convenient rock in front of the monolith. Allowing her gaze to flit across its surface she searches for the means to articulate, or, as she wants to describe it ‘to fit’ the special experience that she wants to recall and recapture.
‘Nothing coming, ‘she mutters after several minutes. She tries to control her frustration. Suddenly she feels bored. Not in the right frame of mind! Not at all! She wants to be active. Things to do in the garden, she thinks and readies herself for the walk back down to the village.
Then a thought, seemingly haphazard, drifts into her consciousness and she glances again at the monolith. Wonder what the view looks like from the top of the Guardian? A further thought quickens then congeals, carrying with it an ill-defined sense of certainty. Above! For some reason, the small word seems to be important.
‘Seeing things from above!’ she whispers. Her perception of her surroundings suddenly shifts - her experience of the world is reorganised. For a vivid instant, no more than that, the separation of her inner self and the world is replaced by an exhilarating sense of immersion in a broad sea of consciousness, in which she is only a part. But then as she attempts to grasp the shifting kaleidoscope of vibrant experiences the normal pattern of her reality abruptly reasserts itself.
Normal? What’s that? she thinks. Me! Looking at the world out there. Just like looking through a window. Me ... trapped in my head.
She breathes deeply, attempting to calm herself. ‘Seeing things from above,’ she repeats. ‘From above! Not striving, participating. No inside, not outside! No self! Just being aware. Only that.’ Once again, her perception of the world seems to tilt and then, as before, in an instant, her ‘normal self’ reasserts itself.
As she heads down the hill towards the village, she is grasped by the conviction that she can ‘be’ in the world, can see the world, can experience and encounter life, in two distinct ways. ‘It’s basically a gestalt thing,’ she murmurs, chuckling at the simplicity of the discovery. ‘Now you see two faces in profile. Now you see a vase. Now I am the usual me; now I am part of ...’ Words are not necessary, she decides. Her new experience is special - very special, very precious - but at the same time is not special at all: just an alternative, everyday way of being in the world.