The Secret is in the Garden - Cathy Bache - A sacred friendship
I came back to Fife from Findhorn in 2006 with the clear guidance to go and work with the nature spirits and come down to earth. I landed at Monimail Tower and back in the lands of my closest friend in Fife, Cathy Bache. When I had moved north 2 years earlier Cathy had asked me what I thought about the idea of her leaving her full time job in Fife Council and setting up an outdoor facility working with pre-school aged children. Cathy had taught drama and then later had moved into leading nursery education. She had been involved in the forest and exclusively outdoor education of young children when living in Norway for 4 years when her three children (at this stage teenagers) were little. My reply was 'You can do anything if it is right'. She told me later that it was my belief in her that she could do anything which was so special to her about our friendship.
Why wouldn't you believe in Cathy? Why wouldn't you believe in anyone with such a passion and a clear vision? When I returned to these Fife lands I had lost my identity a bit and was going through one of those dismemberments I habitually have. The vision in the Secret Garden's prototype was resonant to the one I held inside and would later step out of in 2009 to set up my own vision of the little red drum School of Creative Shamanism. It was therefore easy for me to find myself a temporary home inside the ethos of the Secret Garden at this time. The vision had been personally delivered to Cathy by the Muse in her retreat time in the tower at Monimail in 2004. Cathy had spent two years setting up the prototype as a child-minding service from her home and in the woods of Letham, the very same woods where the Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery would later take root. The soul of Cathy's ideology struck deep chords with my own. I am a shaman-nature practitioner and artist who works with presence and the cycles as a facilitator of creative expression as well as being an ex-teacher who has worked with Primary and pre school aged children in main-stream, home education, Steiner and Montessori settings. The shared experience of the two of us facilitated even more flow and understanding. The sacred job we had to do together here was to bring through the prototype for the Secret Garden curriculum. This curriculum is now known fondly as the spirals and the name we were given for it is 'Nature as Teacher'.
In the Winter and Spring of 2006 and 7 we spent hours together meditating on the Secret Garden's truth, holding the spirit of nature and the spirit of education for young children side by side. We brought in the at that time new Curriculum for Excellence and the spirit of the prevailing goodness and intelligence that fired its creation. We were keen to create something that could belong with mainstream education at the same time as hold the pillars of presence, wisdom of the life cycles and the restorative guidance of nature. Cathy and I have always felt ourselves belonging with everyone and our vision was always to reach the hearts and lives of all people. The intention behind the curriculum was from the onset one that would be easy to run with, easy to teach and easy to implement.
The curriculum came through the trees and the animals. The Inspired Creative child and the Confident Happy child spiral systems had creatures and trees which marked the qualities of the stages which all state nurseries in Scotland use for their assessment. I had the precious job of researching the healing essences of the animals, birds, moons, suns and trees and drawing the pictures for the spirals, the brochures and the website. When it was all finished, we had blended the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical elements of nature and the education system into a belonging with one another again.
The next year I spent chairing the Secret Garden (with the help of Cathy, a set of amazing, experienced and gifted directors, a gorgeous, positive community of parents and local people, keen practitioners and a wonderful Admin person), working with the children in the woods, installing compassionate communication systems and training staff. I then stepped out to give Cathy the space she needed to direct the vision with others through to the stage it is at today. So much more work has gone into the development of the ethos and the structuring over the last decade. So much thought has gone into how to help staff to develop and hold the ethos that is needed to be present and compassionate and learn how to allow nature to draw out the nature of the child. I was just an initial and essential seed that held the understanding of what was being called to be created. The power, care and determination Cathy and all the other members of the community team have shown over these years is phenomenal. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child.
Cathy brought in a lot more wisdom and practical applications over time with the connections she made to other organisations such as the Art of Mentoring, the Wilderness Schools and her work with Bill Plotkin, systemic constellation work and her devotion to the spiritual and mindfulness practice guided through her teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.
Over the last couple of years I have seen Cathy step back more and more as she has focused on her own spiritual journey and her longing for a deeper and more private communion with nature and soul.
As I remember this birthing time of the Secret Garden and the intensity with which Cathy and I played with ideas and opened with trust to let something beautiful, healing and life changing come through, I am feeling the divine essence of our friendship. This essence is akin to that very same spirit of play we both cherished in the child and within the creative process. It is like a divine spark that strikes a match that is both an insight and an opening to all manner of things. Sometimes it would get us into trouble and push us too close to merging or bump us into one another's edges. I can't speak for Cathy but I remember how I had to learn how to hold awareness of my own feelings as separate and see my own identity and boundaries more clearly to allow this level of affinity. But in time we came to know how to handle this inspiring connection and I am so grateful for the style of honest, plain, trusting and open communication I developed and now use in all of my relations because of this.
There is a Celtic term 'anam cara' which means soul friend. To have a soul friend is to have another who deeply sees and understands our soul. John O'donohue the Irish mystic, in his book of the same title, talks about how nature is our soul friend because it doesn't judge us and allows us to just be. The anam cara also understands us in a way that goes beyond words. There is the opportunity to open doors where doors have previously not been cited. Divine creation can come through when anam cara find one another. Anam cara is what Cathy is to me. We just got one another and doors would open. I know too that we each have a certain few anam cara in our lives. I am honouring too in writing this the other soul friends and soul family of Cathy. I am so happy to share her soul with you.
As I remember this birthing time, my heart is also remembering the past year and especially these last eight months with Cathy where the intensity of our friendship returned and I went with her on the deepest journey of healing and discovery as she was diagnosed with aggressive stage 4 cancer. I am remembering the morning tuning in and rattling in parallel with her meditating at 8 am and the way we would have resonant insights as we looked at what the focus would be for today. Just as Cathy had trusted me in the birthing of the Secret Garden curriculum now she was entrusting me with this journey with her life. She was trusted too in positivity and love by her children, Kirsty, Callum and Douglas, her siblings Andy, Joe and Jenny, her friends Louise, Father Michael, Hattie, Bea and so many others from the community of Sangha, friendships and the Secret Garden.
Cathy was in turns cheerful, hilarious, determined, honest, mindful, kind, compassionate, fierce and conscious. I would go around there until the final couple of weeks and we would be creased up laughing. She worked through the layers of the onion. I just listened and was present and she did the same but with miles more focus and diligence and much more potential fear and pain to face than I. We were both open to what would present itself to us at each stage and trusted the way. I know that healing can go in either direction. I don't have the say in what healing looks like. In the end life and death are a paradox. But I knew it was my role to hold life and this is what I always did. It was an amazing journey of door opening deep into the mysteries of how patterns are made. Animals, stones, moons, trees and birds would come through as healing allies just like they had journeying to the Secret Garden fostering of life curriculum. Cathy would visit trees and sites that came forward. Then when she couldn't get out so much anymore she would draw and journal, order rattles, write letters to people and gently and sometimes extremely deeply unravel. The play continued. The journey got deeper and Cathy got clearer. Right until the end she thought she could turn it around. I believe this too. I believe you can do anything if it is right. But the causes and conditions in the end were not so.
Cathy took me right through the passageway to death. Every single icon and power animal you could know of that has been marked in traditions to hold this territory I saw in her face, her demeanour and I felt all around her. She marched me through the stages. I have Vulture as a main guide but I see how clearly now vulture is at the other side of death. The places before it are for a much different and more ferocious and beautiful kind of bird. Cathy Bache in the end showed me what an amazing bird she is. One of the things Cathy wore a lot better than I have at times is her role as a teacher. As my teacher she took me deep into these mysteries. I am grateful I could travel with her and be the clarity that the drugs administered for the pain would take from her. I could tune in and say to her from where I was what I saw as the map and what I knew she wanted me to say that would make it right for her. I could sing her songs. I made them up like sagas from the journey into oneness. They went on for hours but they seemed to help. And I really was just one member of an amazing team around her. Her family, father Michael, her friends and Louise especially were so present and holding with her. I have never felt so deeply connected to the soul of a family or a sangha.
I left Cathy in her body an hour before she died. There was just a final layer to lift with the spirits and I left when the room went white. Since then I have been following her on the 49 day bardo journey. I am continuing to learn. We are on Day 6. I think where Cathy is going is amazing. I have learnt already just how many levels there truly are to all of this and how incredibly dense the ego really is. I can work with this now. I know that what I write here is about me and my relationship with Cathy's soul, my relationship with the Secret Garden's curriculum birthing and my relationship with death as taught to me by Cathy. It's not an eulogy by any means. Its a big wonderment and gratitude for Cathy, her journey and the friendship I have been lucky enough to have cherished. But I think what I am wanting to say too as well as sharing this special story that has inspired me and I hope will inspire you and help you feel even more inspired and loving about this amazing soul called Cathy (ladybird on the SG spiral) is about the secret in the garden. I have a glimpse of this secret through this turning out of the light in the world of our living sacred friendship. The secret is this: Connection. We don't need to let go. Even through death and after death. If we stay true to ourselves and listen and follow what we are guided to do moment by moment and find maps to keep us connected we can just open up even more. This means staying open to our pain and need for solitude at times too within this. Stay connecting. Choose presence. Because the light gets ever more true and it feels unfamiliar and like you want to grab at what is past. But the new light is even better and it includes everything that was ever before anyway. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It includes opening to the pain. Grief and the unknown are one and the same. And it takes us all more deeply into our connection with nature. And we can all find our way back to the garden.