Choose Your Own Adventure on World Book Day 2015

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“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end,” said the King in Alice In Wonderland sequel Through The Looking Glass.

There is nothing quite like the consuming experience of enjoying a good book. The feel of it in your hands, its presence and weight appreciated and cherished. The wondrous smell of the tome, whether brand spanking new or retrieved from a dusty shelf in a second-hand bookshop. The sensation of the textured pages and the quietly pertinent sound as they turn. The way the letters and words form in paragraphs that resemble star-filled galaxies. A book is a delight to behold and tumble into like Alice down the rabbit hole.

From Alice In Wonderland to The Wizard of Oz to Around the World in Eighty Days to Le Petit Prince, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Alan Bennett’s A Life Like Other People’s, to Orwell’s Why I Write and Rumi’s poems, and Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving-Bell and The Butterfly – a soul-floodingly beautiful work – books take us on magical trips.

They make us ponder, they inspire us, they thrill us, they haunt us, they articulate our own thoughts and remind us that time is fleeting and the world is small.

Today – Thursday March 5, 2015 – is World Book Day.

Life is a book. You are not the reader, you are the protagonist. Many esoteric traditions posit that the best way to live is to observe your life as if you’re the reader even though you are simultaneously living every sentence, every paragraph, every page and every chapter as the leading player of your own life story. It is that duality of being both fully absorbed in the action – present – with the overriding notion of being distinct from it – non-attachment.

The plot twists and turns, it rises and falls in peaks and troughs, each element informing – as Joseph Campbell put it – the hero’s journey. Without the shade, we cannot know light. In a good book even moments of seeming humdrum serve a greater purpose – to heighten the excitement even more. Oscar Wilde deemed life to be too important to be taken seriously and while the more challenging aspects of our stories may test our patience, if we experience them with grace and humour we’ll emerge victoriously in the end.

Characters come and go – some major, some minor players – but all leave an indelible impression somehow. Some of the players in my life won’t even realise how they affected me but there are so many I am grateful for, if not all, for they have made me who I am now. Interactions with others reflect the self.

How you see yourself is key. If you know and embrace your self – your true being, not your ego-driven persona – then the world around you shines those qualities back to you. If you are a protagonist who expects to see the good, the good will be what you see.

A colourful chalk-written sign on a wall I once saw read: “Our only true mission in life is learning to know and love ourselves.” If we truly appreciate ourselves, we might not be able to understand the whole world and all those in it for that is an abstraction, but we will certainly interact with our own world and the people who inhabit it – the settings and characters on the pages of our books – in a genuine and loving way.

The narrative arc swoops over as what once was the status quo is challenged and either embraced (ideally, for change is the catalyst for growth) or sunk into deeper. That is the choice the protagonist makes – whether to create the life he or she really wants or to accept their ‘lot’.

Ultimately it comes down to trust, belief, in yourself. As the Queen told Alice, you should believe that anything is possible – as long as you know what you want. She said: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Life is a book you fill the pages of. You’re down the rabbit hole. It’s spellbinding and exhilarating and is filled with opportunity and promise. Be yourself, be kind, smile always, love unconditionally and have no regrets. There’s no such thing as a wrong choice if you follow your heart. Which route will you take? Where will the latest chapter find you?

* If these words have resonated with you, I urge you to send someone who has made a mark on your life story the gift of a book that means something to you. Anonymously if you like, but with love.

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Lasso the moon

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Whenever a bell rings, an angel has just got their wings.

Yesterday I watched It’s A Wonderful Life, the James Stewart classic. He plays George Bailey, who always dreamed of travelling the world but sidelined his wanderlust to take care of his family and friends in the small town of Bedford Falls. When his guardian angel Clarence shows him what the world would have been like had he never been born, George realises that everything he ever did reverberated in the lives of those around him.

Even though George didn’t fulfil his dreams, his was still a meaningful, a wonderful, life. As his daughter Zuzu reminds him at the end of the film, “Whenever a bell rings, an angel has just got his wings.”

Earlier in the film George tells his gal Mary about how he wants to see the world, then offers to lasso the moon for her.

Later, as he makes one of his first choices to turn away from his ambitions, a phrase on the wall reads: “You can only take with you that which you give away…” like a smile, like kindness, like love.

It’s one of those films I always cry at even though I must have seen it dozens of times, just like E.T.

In Spielberg’s finest, Elliott protects his friend from outer space by evading the authorities and cycling his BMX across the moon to get him back to his spaceship so he can head home.

I cry because I’m sad that George parks his dreams but am inspired by his kindness. I cry because I’m touched by the connection E.T. and Elliott have to say goodbye to but know that he will always be “right here”, in the little boy’s heart.

It’s the winter solstice today which, like these two films, reflect the vestiges of hope inherent in life.

In the Northern Hemisphere December 21 is the shortest day and longest night of the year. At the end of the darkest hours, the light always emerges.

That’s why you should keep following your dreams. How many people give up just before the light comes? What if the greats who lived before had given up when all was dark?

Along the way, if your heart is filled with hope and emanates love and kindness you’ll get back tenfold that which you give away.

So as long as you keep riding your bike across the moon, you’ll surely get your wings. And who knows, one day you may even lasso that orb of night.

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Lexicon Lady: A Woman of Lovely Letters – #edfringe2014

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In one week’s time, on Thursday July 31, a 10-day run begins of my second one-woman Edinburgh Fringe show. It’s called Lexicon Lady: A Woman of Lovely Letters and contains lots of words, a bit of rhyme and not much reason.

It’s a kaleidoscopic collection of a profusion of poetry, prose and puns from a young Thora Hird meeting The Littlest Hobo on the arch of a rainbow.

Ahead of the show, the lovely folks at ThreeWeeks and Broadway Baby interviewed me. Here are the pieces:

ThreeWeeks – July 25 2014

Broadway Baby – July 20 2014

The FREE show is part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. I’m hoping those who pop along will  smile, titter or chuckle, be stirred (but not too shaken) and enjoy the Love Hearts sweets I’ll be handing out which have been kindly donated by the UK’s premier confectioners Swizzels Matlow. If Love Hearts don’t get you excited, well, I don’t know what will.

 

 

 

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It’s not too much of a leap…

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”

Imagine by John Lennon (9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980)

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IT was a giant leap for mankind when a human footprint was left on the moon on July 20, 1969.

The moon landing is hailed as one of the greatest human achievements in history.

But maybe more so is the ‘overview effect’, a term coined by writer Frank White in 1987 in his book The Overview Effect – Space Exploration and Human Evolution, which refers to the experience many astronauts have had upon observing our planet from space.

In the brilliant documentary The Overview Effect, he said: “Many of the great wisdom traditions of the Earth have pointed to what we’re calling the overview effect. That is to say they had realised this unity, this oneness of all life on Earth.”

Space adventurers see the world with no boundaries, no divisions – only elegance and grace. In space they see a glorious, conscious, breathing organism where every living part contributes to the whole.

Their view of humanity and our world changed when they were in orbit in that they realised with their hearts, minds and souls that Earth is small and vulnerable, a speck in the fabric of the universe.

Astronaut Nicole Stott describes it as “this dynamic, alive place that you see glowing.”

From space, it seems, any human is instantly hit by the beauty and fragility of Earth and in a split second realises how ridiculous conflict is.

It would have been former South African President Nelson Mandela’s 96th birthday on July 18.

When I interviewed his former prison guard Christo Brand for The Times earlier this year he told me how Mandela survived 27 years behind bars thanks to his belief in the good in the world.

Christo also told me: “He would work on his prison garden. He’d always have some daisies or other flowers in his garden… He would say, ‘There’s still life… the flowers still bloom.’”

A friend of mine believes that a way to highlight the absurdity of violence would be for one side to launch flowers to shower the opposing side with, much like the famous Banksy image of the rioter throwing a bunch of blooms.

I reckon everyone who’s ever been into space would probably concur and think an act like that could prove to be the greatest leap ever for mankind.

* If this has resonated with you, please make a donation to a charity that fills your heart with hope for the future.

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Bear thrills

Bear Grylls courtesy of Channel 4 Pictures

Bear Grylls © Channel 4

HE’S an adventurer extraordinaire, a plucky pioneer and a dashing daredevil.

And when I met survival supremo Bear Grylls I found he had the infectious enthusiastic spirit of a fearless and wonder-filled child.

I met him at the launch of his new Channel 4 TV show The Island, which sees men aged from 21 to 70 from all walks of life endure the perils of the wilderness with no food, no water and no technology – as an experiment in whether modern man can cope in the wilds of nature.

He left the 13 men on a remote Pacific island for 28 days to see what would happen but feared they could come a cropper.

He was scared one of them would be dead within 10 minutes after they were stranded without outside help days in a supreme test of their survival skills.

“I was worried about people dying. Genuinely,” Bear, 39, said.

“You let people loose with machetes and it’s like, ‘You almost took your knee off.’ It’s so easy to go like that – boom – and it’s straight through the leg.

“You cut an arterial vein and you’re dead within 10 minutes.”

He continued: “I could’ve found the island they expected which was a beautiful Fijian paradise. But I wanted it to be about the hardship.

“What they got was a swamp – a crocodile, snake and scorpion-infested s***hole.

“It tests what they’re made of. This was an experiment in trying to find some answers about modern man.”

He continued: “Men totally feel emasculated at the moment.

“In olden days it was always clear – they used their speed, their agility and their brains, their resourcefulness and their courage. All that stuff made a man.

“Nowadays we’ve swapped the bow and arrow for the iPhone. It only uses a fraction of what it is to be a man.

“What I wanted to do – and I didn’t know the answer to this – is if you strip man of everything – the microwave, the bed and all of this stuff that we take for granted – when pushed and the bravado’s gone would they crumble or are the skills still somewhere in there?

“In the modern world what is masculinity?”

Bear has tested his manly mettle to the max via paramotoring in the Himalayas to martial arts training with a karate grandmaster in Japan, escapades with the SAS, and, at 23, being one of the youngest climbers to scale Everest.

And Bear – whose eyes glisten with verve – reckons it’s all about your mind… and your heart.

“It’s more important what’s in your head and heart in these kind of situations,” he said.

“The mental battles that these guys went through, I think they’ll agree, were much tougher than their physical ones.”

Bear gave the lads just one day’s survival training before abandoning them.

“They had the clothes on their back, a couple of machetes, a couple of knives, water for a day and that’s about it.”

He said it was important they felt truly isolated and weren’t just playing up for telly, which is why four of the group were embedded camera and sound crew.

“I wanted it to be really authentic. As soon as you put a TV camera in front of someone there’s always that bravado so that’s not a true indicator of what’s really going on inside of people.

“You only get to know people when they’re under pressure and they’re being themselves.

“When you’re vulnerable with people you create a bond. And where’s there’s a bond there’s strength.

“If society started to live like some of these guys, you could totally change the world.”

He added: “It’s an accelerated course in manhood and I hope it’s inspiring and encouraging.”

Meg Hine courtesy of Channel 4 pictures

Meg Hine © Ch4

I received an accelerated course in survival thanks to words of wisdom from Bear and a training session with his close pal Meg Hine – a mountaineer and expedition leader – in the tough terrain of the, erm, Channel 4 garden in the City of Westminster.

She taught me one of the most important things you need in a survival situation – how to create a fire.

Following your instinct is essential. Preparation is key. And it seems being in touch with your feminine side is crucial to thriving.

One of the major elements of her kit is a stash of tampons which, when smeared with Vaseline lip salve, become highly combustible.

She said: “They’re one of the best things for starting a fire. And soldiers carry them in their kits because they’re good for bullet wounds.”

I created a fire from the lady accoutrements and bark I’d peeled off silver birches. I ignited it with flint and a flick of the wrist, then added knife-chopped kindling to get it roaring.

Meg then taught me a vital skill needed in ANY situation – how to brew up a cuppa.

We positioned metal receptacles in the roaring flames, added water – which we’d collect from rain or a nearby stream but which was from the Channel 4 canteen – and then sprinkled in some nutrient-packed leaves.

After that I settled down under the canopy erected between trees to enjoy my wild nettle tea, infused with a smoky aroma and bits of ash from the fire, and became one with my surroundings.

But while Meg and Bear can handle themselves in such solitary situations, they both admit that in the long run, humans are social creatures.

Meg said: “You can go three minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without food and three months without company. We need other people around us.”

And Bear said of the 13 men on the island: “The thing I really noticed with these guys by the end, above everything, was an incredible respect for each other as human beings.

“They’ve walked in each other’s shoes a little bit and that’s an amazing thing.”

He added: “We need connection.”

Sipping my tea, I mused on metaphysical poet John Donne’s famous words: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

Here are Bear’s top survival tips:

KINDNESS

“What’s the most important quality in a tough, big, butch mountaineer? Kindness. That is not a word we associate with man is it? But it’s incredibly butch to be kind on day 29 when you haven’t eaten for 11 days. That is a man.

“What you really want from the people you are with is that they are kind.

“You want to be a great adventurer in life and in the mountains? It is simple: be kind.”

CHEERFULNESS

“The Royal Marine Commandos with whom I worked a lot in my military days, have the phrase ‘cheerfulness in adversity’ as one of their founding principles and it is a great one to live by.

“It is easy to be cheerful when everything is going like a song, but the real time to be cheerful is when everything is going dead wrong!

“My dad always said: ‘Be the most enthusiastic person you know!’”

INGENUITY

“The key bit of survival kit you possess is your brain.

“What I have always loved about survival is the resourcefulness of it, how you can take a shoelace and a tea bag to make something useful.

“It is ingenuity that can change a situation dramatically.”

FLEXIBILITY

“I try to maintain fitness all of the time really – I consider it part of my job. I train hard most days.

“I also do a lot of yoga which keeps me flexible and bendy for hanging off trees etc. It is functional strength that I am looking to achieve rather than big muscles.”

HARD WORK

“The key to survival is one thing – hard work. Everyone thinks it’s about the bandana around the head, the flexing the muscles, attacking the crocodile – it’s not, it’s about bloody hard work.

“Quietly get up early, be the first to collect the firewood, spend 12 hours trying to light a fire – it’s just hard work.

“The key to success on the island, as well as in life, is just hard graft. The rewards go to the people who work the hardest.”

PERSISTENCE

“I can sum up survival in one quote: ‘When you are going through hell, keep going.’

“We’re all more resilient than we believe.”

BE PREPARED!

Bear is the head of the Scouts whose motto is: ‘Be prepared!’

 

 

 

 

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Star-cross’d lovers, shooting stars, moonbeams and Mars

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WILLIAM Shakespeare was a champion of monumental excitement and remorseless discontent, of the majestic and the lonely, of the varied amazements and tortures of the human condition.

He invented most of the words in the last sentence for the English language is littered with 1700 words he created.

Today, April 23, which is also St. George’s Day, is celebrated as his birthday – 450 years ago in 1564.

The playwright and poet, who embodies the rambunctious romance of the Renaissance, is still the world’s most famous Brit nearly half a millennium after he entered the world.

Without him we wouldn’t have the pleasure of glorious words such as embrace, silliness, moonbeam, shooting star and hobnob. Or how about ‘honey-tongued’ from Love’s Labour’s Lost?

‘The long and the short of it’ (The Merry Wives of Windsor) is that we would be lost for wonderful ways to ‘break the ice’ (The Taming of the Shrew) and ‘wear the heart upon the sleeve’ (Othello) or ‘make short shrift’ (Richard III) and bid ‘good riddance’ (Troilus and Cressida).

And we wouldn’t have brilliant turns of phrase like ‘heart of gold’ (Henry V), ‘kill with kindness’ (The Taming of the Shrew), ‘star-cross’d lovers’ (Romeo and Juliet), ‘neither rhyme nor reason’ (As You Like It), ‘to thine own self be true’ (Hamlet) and ‘such stuff as dreams are made’ (The Tempest).

He even invented that classic joke structure in the Scottish play: ‘Knock, knock! Who’s there?’

It was his way of articulating the gamut of emotions that run through everyone at one time or another that ensured he would be remembered ‘forever and a day’ (As You Like It).

My favourite of Shakespeare’s sonnets (number 14) likens a lover’s soul to the power of the heavens and how with their death truth and beauty will cease to exist:

‘But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,

And, constant stars, in them I read such art…

…Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.’

Shakespeare’s works are littered with astronomical references. Indeed he saw art in the stars.

On the same day we celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, NASA has detailed a plan to launch a manned mission to Mars in just over 15 years’ time; an endeavour described as vital for the continued survival of the human race.

The Times reported that the space agency’s chief Charles Bolden outlined a series of “stepping stones” to the Red Planet that included “lassoing” an asteroid, using 3D printers for spacecraft repairs and growing vegetables in space ahead of a three-year return trip.

He said: “It is important to remember that NASA sent humans to the moon by setting a goal that seemed beyond reach.

“In that same spirit, the agency has made a human mission to Mars the centrepiece of its next big leap into the unknown.”

Now is the winter of our planet’s discontent. Perhaps our existence does indeed rely on journeying to the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.

To be or not to be? That is the question. Especially with the slings, arrows and outrageous fortunes that our world faces.

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but ourselves.

 

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Childlike spirit

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

– Pablo Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973)

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CHILDREN are running around laughing as a street artist creates huge soap bubbles above their heads. They skip out of the way of them or jump up to pop them with smiles etched permanently on their faces. For them nothing else exists but this moment of pure fun.

This was the scene that I watched on the streets of Edinburgh during the Fringe (read my write-up on the world’s biggest arts festival here) this summer.

There was creativity in the air anyway thanks to thousands of writers, actors, comedians, dancers and other performers descending on the city which sits in the middle of rolling hills.

But it was perhaps nowhere more alive than in these children whose hearts were brimming with joy for the fun they were engaged in.

Creativity emanates from children. They truly know how to live.

For them the past and the future do not exist – only the now. They know no fear. They make the best of what they have. Their enthusiasm knows no bounds, nor does their imagination. They are bundles of energy operating on a high frequency. They love unconditionally. They let go. A smile is never usually far away.

When I was a kid I used to love to get on my bike and cycle with friends into the nearby countryside to climb trees and play on rope swings at the side of streams. Pretty much nothing could be finer except perhaps returning home to find butterscotch Angel Delight was for dessert.

So it’s disheartening to hear that large numbers of children in Britain aren’t connected to nature.

A new study by the RSPB found that only 21% of children between eight and 12 are exposed to the outdoors.

The charity’s head of conservation Sue Armstrong-Brow told the BBC that spoilsport adults were dampening children’s natural curiosity and love of nature.

She said: “There is definitely an attitude out there, in some cases, that nature is not perceived as interesting or engaging.

“In some cases it is perceived as a dirty or unsafe thing, and that’s an attitude that won’t help a young person climb a tree.”

She continued: “If we can grow a generation of children that have a connection to nature and do feel a sense of oneness with it, we then have the force for the future that can save nature and stop us living in a world where nature is declining.”

Nature is all about the creative force and it is that force that is inherently powerful in children and should be encouraged.

If that is lost then what hope is there?

For the children dancing in the bubbles in Edinburgh, where the magnificent greenery of Arthur’s Seat rises proudly in the distance, the force of nature is strong.

* If you’ve enjoyed reading this, please spend one day this month immersing yourself in and appreciating nature.

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Tyke Rider at the Edinburgh Festival

“Sweet solo travelogue… really sunny.” Three Weeks – Aug 3, 2013

“Gently humorous… Brooks also does a mean Alan Bennett impression.” The Flaneur – Aug 3, 2013

“Open and unaffected speaker… well written… warms the heart.” Broadway Baby – Aug 2, 2013

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Coincidence in chaos in the conscious cosmos… The science of synchronicity

“And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth,
‘You owe me.’
Look what happens with love like that.
It lights up the sky.”

Believed to be written by Rumi – mystic poet and philosopher (30 September 1207 – 17 December 1273)

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ONE of my earliest memories is looking at the stars through a telescope, shimmering blue, oscillating red. Without being unable to comprehend quite how far away – in distance and years – they were, or indeed exactly what they were, I somehow understood how impressive they were.

I became fascinated by the cosmos and, along with learning the alphabet, one of the first things I knew was all the planets and some of the major constellations.

To this day my idea of perfect romance is heading into the countryside at 3am to watch a meteor shower overhead. Or waking in the early hours to watch the sun rise over the sea. There’s nothing like viewing the  sky.

The cover story of the latest edition of New Scientist magazine concerns the nature of space and time. In the piece, the author Anil Ananthaswamy states: “A light ray always moves at one unit of space per unit of time – in a sense it is n the edge between space and time.”

This is perhaps why many are spellbound by the night sky so much. Maybe the light-emitting stars which dwell at the point between space and time echo the pause between the in and the out breath – which is where eternity and infinity exist.

It’s often said that we are made of stars… and we actually are. All the elements we’re comprised of originated in the stars. The carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and other atoms in our bodies were created in stars over 4.5 billion years ago.

In the 1980s, astronomer Carl Sagan said in his popular American TV series Cosmos: “We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from, we long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff.”

Ann Druyan, who co-wrote Cosmos with her late husband Sagan, describes the series’ central revelation as being “our oneness with the universe.”

In this sense, we are part of a holographic universe where each component reflects the whole.

StarscopyrightNBrooks2013There’s no doubt we live in a chaotic cosmos marked by constant change and turbulent force. But in all chaos there are patterns to be found – because of the holographic nature of things. If you were to write out a series of seemingly random numbers for the rest of your life there would be various patterns to be found in there. In fact there are mathematically-ordained sequences running through everything. Take the twirling Fibonacci sequence – which is to be found everywhere from sunflowers to our own DNA. It seems that by design, it’s in (our) nature.

In terms of this coincidences can be seen as being connected as two similarities in an ocean of chance, even though they are not two events linked by causes and effects that the world at face value appears to operate on.

The meaning which emerges from two acausal events is known as synchronicity and was coined by psychologist Carl Jung. It’s what he believed proved there was an underlying order to the chaos in the cosmos.

In his book Synchonicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle he details the case of one of his patients who, during a critical moment of therapy, had a dream in which she was given a golden scarab beetle. When she was later relating this to Jung, he heard a gentle tapping at his window and turned round to see a flying insect knocking against the glass.

He said: “I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), which, contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt the urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment.”

I thought of this the other day when I was walking past a hedgerow and spotted a stag beetle on the ground on its back with its legs flailing and unable to right himself. I found two twigs and gently flipped him over onto his feet.

Synchronicity happens to us all. How many times has a song come on the radio that you had been thinking about hours earlier? How often have you been drawn to a book and opened it on a passage that has particular wisdom you were looking for? Or maybe a friend mentioned a classic film in passing that you had only just watched the other day?

The more you notice and even to a certain extent expect these unexpected occurrences – perhaps ‘glitches in the matrix’ – the more they seem to happen. It’s as if your subconscious has turned from red or amber to green.

Many scientists are now coming to believe that synchronicity is further proof of the interconnectedness of everything. In his absorbing book The Holographic Universe Michael Talbot details how many scientists including Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr, along with Karl Pribram and David Bohm, theorised the universe is a hologram brought into existence in part by the mind (consciousness). The theory goes some way as to unifying disparate occurrences and effects in the world. It would explain things such as synchronicity in that acausal events are linked because everything is – holographically.

For me synchronicity represents hope. Hope is the one thing that mankind cannot live without.

And it is perhaps in the ever-present shining stars that hope resonates out across the universe too.

What would someone think when looking from another vantage point in space back at the “Pale Blue Dot” or “pixel” we call home – Earth?

Use your eyes, heart and soul to study the stars above… to the nth degree from this Pale Blue Dot.

In observing the coincidences, the chaos and the cosmos we truly see our consciousness.

“The universe and the light of the stars come through me.” (Rumi)

* I often use this site to link to good causes. If you’ve been inspired by this post I would ask you to give a book on astronomy to a child – or someone with a childlike spirit – who you know.

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Each step is the way

“As people are walking all the time, in the same spot, a path appears.”

John Locke – Enlightenment philosopher (August 29, 1632 – October 28, 1704)

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IT’S New Year’s Day 2013 and this afternoon I took a walk along tree-lined country lanes through verdant fields in the whipping whistling wind.

A downpour worthy of Gene Kelly’s iconic scene in Singin’ in the Rain had just ceased as I stepped outside and watched the clouds break to reveal an untainted duck egg blue sky.

As I set off I thought of a book a friend recently gave me called The Art of Wandering by Merlin Coverley, which covers the history of walking writers from Plato to Rousseau and William Blake to William Wordsworth.

In it the Danish existentialist philosopher and poet Søren Kierkegaard is quoted as having said: “Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it… Thus if one keeps on walking, everything will be all right.”

Meandering is a method of giving meaning (or order) to madness (or chaos).

Your thoughts emerge then slip away like the clouds you’re walking under.

If the universe is a field of infinite quantum possibilities then the fields offer that too for a notion, an idea or even a paradigm shift can spring into existence when you’re ambling through nature.

It’s as if the combination of freedom and solitude – even if you’re walking with others – in motion charges and changes your cells.

You feel revived, refreshed and renewed even if you’re cold and exhausted.

And things can be viewed in a new light.

The special process involved in walking has been recognised the world over since time began.

From hikes in the beautiful British countryside, to the Aboriginal walkabout, to hikes to the summit of mountains and treks across Antarctica or the countless pilgrimages that have taken place for centuries.

It’s widely believed in these instances that the places people attend have some sort of magical power like Lourdes for example. But I think it’s actually in the journey taken to get there and the hope inherent in that trip that imbues the place with whatever one believes.

Walking, wandering, taking steps; therein lies the magic.

Along the way on my stroll I encountered two Shetland ponies grazing by a stream as the sun broke through the ashen nebula.

It was like a scene from a children’s fantasy adventure like The NeverEnding Story, The Princess Bride or Labyrinth where Sarah ventures into a huge maze to rescue her baby brother encountering weird and wonderful creatures along the way – like Goblin King David Bowie. You can’t beat a bit of Bowie.

Labyrinths are thousands of years old and have been found all over the world. The spiralling cyclical design is Fibonacci-esque – found in the patterns of sunflower heads and the twisting of our own DNA. It’s a symbol for wholeness and connectedness to the holographic universe and the world within.

The labyrinth is a walking meditation with a single winding path weaving its way around from the edge to the centre. The same path is used to return to the outside. There are no tricks, choices or dead ends in a labyrinth (unlike the one in the 1986 film). There are no wrong choices.

It is a symbol for the journey of life we all walk on with its twists and turns on the single path we take.

I consider the words of the Wiseman in Labyrinth who tells Sarah: “The way forward is sometimes the way back. Quite often, young lady, it seems like we’re not getting anywhere when in fact we are.”

The labyrinth loops back on itself over and over. Just as it seems you’re close to the centre it leads you away again.

It reinforces the idea that the journey is key and if you really experience the fullness of the way there, that’s what makes the destination what it is.

It’s in the way there (‘there’ never comes, only the here and now exists) where the threads of yourself are created and weaved together to form the ever-evolving tapestry of yourself.

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On the way back from my amble I noticed a rainbow curving through the heavens and felt glad for the rain that had fallen not long before.

I was invigorated and inspired for the year to come.

If you treat yourself and everyone, everything and every experience with a smile, full heart and kindness then you won’t take a wrong turn.

Each step is the way.

Wishing you an adventurous, laughter-filled and lucky ’13!

“The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose.”

Charles Dickens – author (February 7, 1812 – June 9, 1870)

* If this prose resonated with you, why not make it one of your missions for 2013 to take part in a fundraising charity walk?

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