Friday, October 07, 2011

Where Change Happens

This is the 40th episode in the travelblog I began on leaving the UK 18 months ago and therefore I felt it appropriate to mention the significance of change and renewal as represented by the number 40.

Forty is a sublimely interesting and noteworthy number in many traditions as well as to those who mark the days and years of life as a series of passages through landmark events. Life begins at 40 we are told, and many who have passed that milestone can affirm the truth of this assertion.

Scripture tells us it rained for 40 days while Noah and his family were on the ark that ultimately landed on Mount Ararat in modern day Turkey. It is also written that Moses was forty years old when he left Egypt and another 40 years passed before he returned to seek the release of ‘his people’, then wandered forty more years in the wilderness. Saul, David and Solomon each reigned for forty years. Jonah was in the whale’s belly for 40 days.

To study Kabbalah a man is supposed to have attained the ripe old age of 40 years while in Islam and Orthodox Christianity the post-death mourning period is 40 days during which the spirit of the deceased is still on earth. Jesus spent forty days meditating and being tempted in the desert then remained on earth for 40 days after his resurrection. The period of the Christian Lenten festival, which precedes Easter, is 40 days. Additionally, Mohammed was forty years old when the archangel Gabriel first delivered to him the revelation of the Qur’an.

Music sales are registered a success for reaching the ‘Top 40’, a nap is called ‘forty winks’ and naturally, you will be aware the duration of the average pregnancy for women is 40 weeks.

Interestingly, the planet Venus forms a pentagram, or five-pointed star, in our night sky every eight years, with five star shapes in succession it returns to its original point every 40 years (5x8=40). Many historians, numerologists and religious scholars believe this cycle of the morning star may be the reason the ancients attributed such significance to 40. Venus is inextricably connected to Earth through mythology and astrology and retains symbolism that still affects understandings of personality in even the least superstitious of people, after all who doesn’t appreciate Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ or know Venus is goddess of love?

The examples continue, but you get the point. Forty is intrinsically linked with a time of change and renewal; it represents testing and purifying through the passage of time combined with extraordinary experience. So, in maintaining tradition with the wise and the mysterious, after this 40th travel adventure post, I too will revise the way Edge of the Map is presented now that it has matured (and I'm bored with the style and too busy to continually work at it).


I pulled back on the throttle and drove down the winding gravel road toward the seafront. A couple turns of the wheels and I was gliding above the sea cliffs past the marina. I took in the majestic scenery around the cape, easing round the bends to enjoy the view unfurling in panorama before me. Starting up the coast I left the wide expanse of the clear blue bay in my mirror. Reaching higher ground, the wind in my hair and the sun on my face brought my senses to life and I felt the freedom and exhilaration that comes from knowing what lies ahead is open road.

I had a couple stops of personal interest before arriving at the rendezvous point and boating off to the tiny secluded village on the turquoise coast that was my eventual destination so; I turned off the main road through thick woodland.

After my second sunrise of the day, I traversed the high grey mountain peak and entered the upper plains of the other side cruising toward the Asklepieion. Heat ripples rose like the waves of a desert mirage from the softened black tarmac as the tires of the motorcycle spun softly into the stones along the side of the road. Swigging water from the leather cask slung over my back I surveyed the local countryside of green and yellow meadows, dusty red mountains that rose up from fertile olive groves and dark pine forest where boar and deer roamed free and gave thanks for this earthly creation.

Looking out over the Aegean this site dedicated to the son of Apollo was originally built early in the 3rd century BCE as a temple and altar of some significance to the ancients. The king of Pergamon further enhanced it when he added stoa of the Doric order a couple centuries later. The massive marble staircase, 38 metres wide, that led up the hillside was lined with columns and statues of gods and important figures of the day. Much of what actually occurred here in terms of ritual is lost in the annals of history, however its importance as an altar is underlined by the location and many artefacts uncovered in and around the temple grounds.

The best thing about it today, other than a few interesting relics, is the natural beauty of the setting, with an incredible view across the straits to the islands in the near distance. I stayed long enough to enjoy a freshly squeezed orange juice under a mossy shade tree before setting off toward the 500-year-old fortress that was built to protect the region from marauders and armies from near neighbours that patrolled the coast seeking opportunities for expansion and conquest. The fort and its battlements, though abandoned in recent years, still impresses with its scale and stunning position on the cliffs high above the town. One can imagine the mighty cannons that would have boomed warning shots across the bows of invading forces and the echo of victory accompanying the many battles seen from behind its towering walls.

I was alone and undisturbed as I enjoyed the spectacular view from the summit, and walking around the crumbling castle I could only imagine the many stories of the brave men who lived within these solid walls to protect the villagers’ ordinary lives in the valley below. A citadel of immense proportions with cannons aimed out over the blue sea, its purpose now rendered useless by the jets that occasionally stream overhead, it served as home to hundreds in an age now long past.

Today hawks and ravens swoop on small prey along the edge of the rock face while a small troop of soldiers practice manoeuvres in a fenced arena on the plains at the base of the mountain where only a herd of goats foraging for sweet grass provide any threat.

I had an appointment to keep and after a brief moment of daydreaming I hit the road again, cruising down the other side of the mountain until the rocky peaks receded into serrated grey shadows above me.

A few fishing boats bobbed in the sun-streaked ripples along the seafront as I drove into the harbour and I located my friend in the little café on the strand. We wasted little time wading out to the boat and kicking the little motor into life. The journey along the rugged shore was stunning and offered us a bit of time for a dip in the crystal blue water of the tiny cove where we anchored for lunch.

I hadn’t commandeered a speedboat for some years and felt a little out of my depth as we rounded the peninsula and caught the crosscurrent with a sensation reminiscent of the day I took my sons and dad out on an open water northern Scottish loch. The engine wasn’t strong enough, I felt, to handle the pull of the waves where the Aegean met the Mediterranean and although I managed to manoeuvre the speedy craft through the drag it wasn’t the most comfortable feeling for this landlubber. I was glad to round the cape and find an inlet to pause for a refreshingly cold drink and another swim in the azure water before the final leg of the voyage.

Dinner was a feast of local culinary delights and fabulous entertainment including an impressive lady who did amazing things with raw flames. Hopefully, the effort I put into this expedition, and the groundwork I laid beforehand will spark a fire and ignite a positive change of schedule. I have lived a blessed life with so many memories I can only give thanks for the opportunities I have been given, the paths I have travelled and the people who have lived with my need for eternal transformation.

Those who love me and nurture my hopes even with knowledge of my naturally passionate and restless character are always first in my thoughts.

My own time on this earth has been marked by a sequence of actions and deeds categorically consistent with the ‘normal’ experience of living, either because I’ve simply followed nature’s course or by imposing upon myself a set of predetermined expectations that became self-fulfilling. However, it hasn’t been an ‘ordinary’ life. I’ve experienced most of the usual chain of events, university, marriage and children and a regular job, to arrive where I am now with a reasonable understanding of how each subsequent action was informed by the previous providing me with appreciation of both a linear and cyclical vision of the continuity of human existence.

What goes around comes around, like instant karma and the stars above, and we become renewed in faith as we dare to dream. I believe we learn by opening our hearts and minds to all potential experiences and applying those lessons. Unfortunately, I meet many people who haven’t a clue about our origins or latent power and fear their dreams of discovery remaining ignorant of the rainbows that swirl as kaleidoscopes in our minds.

Most people it seems are obsessed with notions of success that remove them from true knowledge – a new kitchen installed every three years according what some arbitrary design consultant tells them is fashionable, a faster and bigger car every two years and recognition of achievement amongst strangers; seriously, what is this pedestal of fame and why do so many clamour after it as though it were the holy grail of life? Everybody wants to change the world – but look where that has taken us. The only thing worth changing is your mind. That’s where real change happens.

A change is as good as a rest they say, and I had so many changes over the years that it became a way of life for me; I must be well rested by now.

I enjoy change and the challenges it brings; I’m happiest in a liminal state where transformation leads to acquired knowledge and growth. The Chinese character for change denotes both opportunity and risk, and that appeals to me because I see no joy in a life that is forever mired in habit. The same people, the same job in the same place, the same food and the same thoughts signify stagnation and boredom to me. So, I present myself with challenge to develop interests and discover opportunities for spiritual and intellectual growth. Constant renewal helps to keep me feeling alive and vital.

Though not everyone handles change with the same determination and enthusiasm, everyone knows it always feels good to come home, so I do believe some routine is essential to stability of mind; continuity represents security for most people. Continuity and change are two sides of the coin that buys wisdom and happiness. So, while life goes on with its endless custom of change so too the things that keep us grounded reinforce our sense of identity and connectedness to community.

We all need change and experience to grow and we all need continuity and security to feel like we belong, but as Sitting Bull, the great Sioux Chief said, “we belong to the Earth, Earth does not belong to us.”

So, as summer will become autumn and the stars above us shift in alignment with nature’s laws of physics hold that thought in mind, and remember that maintaining a balance of reality with the ambition of imaginings is key to a happy life, and living in harmony with nature is essential to future life on this earth. I too will adapt and move on regardless of past dreams and aspirations, plans that succeed and those that don’t, people who come and those who are gone, but I recognise age is but a number and all numbers though significant in their own way are but abstract signs on the road to paradise.

Whatever your personal situation, whatever times we live through, the ups and the downs of experience, all of life is connected; as history flows from the past to the future so too we continue to change and mature with our own unique and wonderful story of being and becoming in harmony with the beautiful planet we live on.

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Each team plays 40 matches in a regular Premier League season, but unfortunately Arsenal, the team I’ve been following since 1971, exactly 40 years, are having their worst start in many years. Thank goodness my hometown team, Peterborough Posh are having one of their best seasons in a long time. After being promoted into the Championship (one division below the Premiership) through the playoffs they’ve been having a terrific run. Two seasons ago, following 2 consecutive promotions, they crashed out of the Championship with one of the worst ever records. However, with Darren Ferguson (son of Manchester United manager Sir Alex) back at the helm, the Posh have returned to winning ways and are maintaining a reasonable position in the top half of the table. I, like most Posh supporters, will be happy just to see them stay up, but so far they’ve exceeded expectations, beating Ipswich by a stunning 7-1 and thanks to a last minute own goal, we beat the recent FA Cup winners from the south coast on their home turf 3-2. Up the Posh!

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