James celebrates his 90th birthday today. To mark the event we’re posting this additional reflection. Happy Birthday, James!

On November 11th I reach my ninetieth year. I find it hard to believe as there is still so much yet to be discovered. As I look back over my life, I am aware of a long avenue of people who have appeared, often at crucial moments, to point a way forward, or deflect me from some action that could have been harmful. And, importantly, there have been those who have not hesitated to hold up a mirror so that I might see clearly my mistakes and faults – one is indeed blessed if one has friends who are not afraid to speak the truth. I also marvel at how many of these encounters seem almost planned, as though part of an intended pattern.

I recall how, at the age of twenty-one, when I was in state close to a breakdown, I happened to be passing a Catholic church in Ogle Street in London, a church I had never before visited, and I chose to go in and make my Confession. The priest suggested I make contact with a psychotherapist in Gloucester Place. And so began many years of Jungian analysis. It was Dr Franz Elkisch who helped assemble the bits of my jig-saw so that I could discover the person I was meant to be. Time and again such meetings and encounters have happened. As Joseph Campbell expressed it so memorably, ‘One has only to know and trust and the ageless guardians will appear.’

Lest I seem complacent, all this needs to be set against a background of financial insecurity, some successes, some failures, betrayals, disappointments, doors slamming in one’s face … That also is part of the journey for each of us – how we deal with setbacks, pain and difficulty.

I have been re-reading Cicero on Old Age. At one point he says, ‘As I approach nearer to death I seem as it were to be coming to port at last after a long voyage.’  His words remind me of a painting by Margaret Neve, entitled Home-Coming. In the foreground are five robed figures, their backs to us, waiting. In the sky is an enormous full moon, its circle reflected on the surface of the sea, and in the centre of that circle of moonlight is a ship with many sails is approaching land, coming in to harbour. Is this Ulysses returning from his many voyages, or is it each of us returning home when our time comes?

Cicero followed no religion for he was a Stoic, but he seems aware of deeper possibilities beyond death when he writes,

The soul, in fact, is of heavenly origin, forced down from its home in the highest and, so to speak, buried in earth. I used to be told that Pythagoras and almost all natives of our old country, never doubted that we had souls drafted from the Universal Divine Intelligence. I used, besides, to have pointed out to me the discourse delivered by Socrates on the last day of his life, upon the immortality of the soul – Socrates who was pronounced by the oracle at Delphi to be the wisest of men. I need say no more!

For myself, however many more years I have to live on this earth, I have no fear of dying. How is this, you may ask? Many decades ago, in a dream, I was shown a boat that looked like a curled leaf. I was told that this was the vessel in which I had come to earth and that in it I would find a return ticket. I knew then that when the time comes I shall return to the place from whence I came. It was on telling this dream to Dr Elkisch that he declared, ‘Your analysis is now ended.’

Interestingly, some decades later, I experienced a variation of this dream. In it I was show oval-shaped boats, fragile as leaves, and I was invited to lie down in one. Then I was removed to a great distance and shown the whole earth, which appeared like a circle made of leaves – a complete mandala made up of the essence of all beings, inter-leaved and inter-woven. There was nothing solemn or portentous about the dream: everything in it appeared wholly natural and simple.

Joseph Campbell writes, ‘What is unknown is the fulfilment of your own unique life, the like of which has never existed on earth. And you are the only one to do it.’ Elsewhere he also writes, ‘Move, move, move into the Transcendent! Get rid of the life you have planned in order to have the life that is waiting to be yours.’

I am aware at this age of how far I have travelled; but I am also aware of journeys yet to go, for, as T.S. Eliot tells us in The Four Quartets, ‘ Old men should be explorers still.’   

Our Unseen Companion

There is a series of paintings by an American artist, Thomas Cole, which depict the stages of life, from infancy to old age. In the first image an infant is seen in a small boat while at the helm stands a radiant angel who guides the vessel out of a dark cavern into a misty dawn light. In the next painting the infant has become a youth and the landscape opens up into a vast and exciting prospect. The youth now takes the helm while the spirit gestures farewell from the bank. In the third canvas, entitled Manhood, the boat is poised at the brink of a dangerous cataract. The helm is broken, the sky dark with menacing clouds, and the grown man now seems lost. Only in the upper corner of the painting can there be seen a faint light of hope where we can just make out the delicate shape of his angelic companion.

The final scene, Old Age, shows the stream of life reaching the ocean to which all life is tending. The now time-worn traveller recognises that his journey in life is ending and for the first time he sees the spirit who has accompanied him throughout, and the spirit is pointing ahead to a brilliant light.

In the Celtic tradition, as John O’Donohue reminds us in his book Eternal Echoes, there was a strong sense that each of us has an invisible companion who walks the road of life with us. The Christian tradition says that when we were sent here onto earth a guardian angel was chosen to accompany our every step, to watch over us and keep a circle of light around us lest any negativity damage us. Without our even knowing it our angel is always at work for us.

I learned this when I developed cancer of the thyroid some years ago. I was alone, my companion being in India at the time, and I was filled with fear. Then, one night I awoke with an interior voice saying ‘You are not alone. You have an angel working alongside you.’ And from that moment I ceased to have any fear.


Entering into meditation is like slipping into water and floating on our backs. Lying with the immensity of the sky above and the depth of the ocean beneath us, we float. We are at one with the sea and the sky, only a slight movement of the hands helping us to keep afloat, rather as, in meditation, we watch the breath coming in and going out.

And so now, as we each enter our meditation, let us allow ourselves to float in the Great Silence.


On the wall, facing me as I sit at my desk, are some words calligraphed on canvas by my friend John Rowlands-Pritchard, the founder of Opus Anglicanum. The words are: ‘At midnight noon is born.’

It is a reminder that at those moments of deepest darkness in our lives a new life is stirring, a new day will dawn with fresh opportunities. Nature has its own wisdom.

I recall how my life’s companion, Hywel Jones, in the first years of our knowing each other, wrote to me after spending a few days with his family in the village of Llangynog in the Berwyn Mountains. ‘The wonderful peace and quiet of the dark that I remember from my childhood is still here,’ he wrote. ‘We must try and spend some time together here, because after dark the mountains and the stillness have a kind of spiritual quality and I am sure it would help us to share it together.’

This is one of the things one learns from the practice of meditation: to wait, not knowing when the dawn will come – but certain, nonetheless, that our inner sun will rise.

We Are All Involved

At one level meditation can be seen as a natural process – clearing away distractions in order to have a more direct access to our unconscious. At another level it can be seen as establishing a link with the Transcendent, that union with God of which both Sufis and Christians speak.

When Jesus prays of his companions ‘that they may all be one, as you, Father, and I are one – that they may be in me, and I in them, as I am in you,’ he is not speaking of a united Church but of the profound connection that one experiences through the practice of meditation. In spite of all differences, we perceive our common humanity. This is also at the heart of Buddhism: compassion for all sentient beings.

The words ‘Be still and know that I am God’ which in our meditation group we all say aloud before entering the Silence, speak of an existential experience of Something Other. Some may call this God or a Higher Power, though that is only a name. Some, like Carl Jung, may refer to it as the Self, with a capital S. It is also a realisation that the whole of creation, of which we are a part, is still unfolding. As James Dean’s character in the film Rebel Without A Cause, cries out, ‘But Mum, we are all involved!’ There is a pattern and a purpose which, occasionally, we are fortunate to glimpse. There is an intelligence behind the entire universe.

Not Taking Notes

I’ve noticed that at exhibitions these days everyone is so busy taking Selfies in front of famous paintings that they don’t seem to give themselves time to absorb the art.

In the same way both Twitter and Facebook, while useful, too often encourage off-the-cuff, unthought-through, comments. I recall Robert Frost saying, ‘You don’t take notes during a love affair. You experience it, you live with it and through it. Only later may you want to make some observation.’

Real insights take time, grow out of silence, and in due course flower into words. It is interesting that in her first novel, The Voyage Out, Virginia Woolf has someone ask a young writer what kind of books he wants to write, and he replies, ‘Books about silence – about the things that people do not say.’


Mother Teresa once wrote, ‘Loving as He loves; helping as He helps; giving as He gives; serving as He serves; being with Him 24 hours.’

Working with the terminally ill our aim is be present as fully as we can. We may be tempted to preach to the dying and to give them our spiritual formula. We must avoid this temptation absolutely. Our task is not to convert anyone to anything but to help them get in touch with their own inner strength. Above all we need to allow the dying person to pass on in silence and in dignity. There is no greater gift that we can give than allowing a person to die well.

I have found that to sit for an hour or more in total silence, holding the hand of a dying person, is more powerful than any words – which is not to say that there may be occasions when some words of reassurance are called for. But the main thing is that we should be totally present.

Never Alone

Dom Bede Griffiths wrote, ‘There is a deep centre in your being where God is always present. In this deep centre you are loved by God. You are in Him and He is in you.’

Similarly St Augustine wrote, ‘I was searching without while you were within, more inward than my most inmost self’, a view echoed by that great mystic, Meister Eckhart: ‘God is closer to me than myself.’

It is interesting that Jung, as a psychologist, wrote, ‘Every day I am thankful to God that I have been allowed to experience the reality of the Divine Image within me.’ As Jesus also said, ‘The kingdom of heaven is within you.’

Slowly, if we persevere in deep meditation, each of us will come to this realisation. God is indefinable, but we shall sense a presence within us, and around us. Indeed, as Joseph Campbell once wrote, ‘One has only to know and trust and the ageless guardians will appear.’ We are never alone.

Breathing in the Pain

When the pain of rejection or the experience of someone’s animosity is so intense, we need to breathe in the pain and then release it on the outgoing breath. We take the spear right into our hearts. We breathe in the pain and then release it. And, if need be, we do this for half an hour or whatever is the length of our meditation. It won’t automatically heal the wound, but if we persevere we sense a change, perhaps even learning to accept that there are some situations in life which may never be resolved.


I am reminded of an exercise I often used in my ritual workshops. People would form pairs and, seated in chairs facing each other, would be asked to gaze into their partner’s eyes for twenty minutes, never looking away, but gazing as lovers do. In this silence, in this gazing, each enters deeply into the other, unafraid, becoming naked and vulnerable, meeting at a depth that we rarely achieve.

I am reminded too of the story of the Buddha’s wordless sermon. It tells how, towards the end of his life, he was sitting out of doors with his disciples when he picked a flower and, without saying anything, held it up. Alone among the group one young monk, looked at the Buddha, smiled and nodded. The Buddha smiled back, for he knew that the monk had understood in silence what no words could express.