But (the blogger says, debating with what he wrote in the last line of his previous post) our witness is not always enough, though it is much.
So, then, action: but what to do, and how to do it well? A triad for deciding: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Almost always, one of these three stands out very clearly. It’s absolutely necessary. Or the truth of it is (at last) blindingly apparent and I can’t keep hidden any longer. But one or both of the remaining three points of the triad will inevitably catch me. Let’s say the words I have to tell my boss or coworker or partner are necessary. They’re true. But are they kind? OK, not really, not yet. So what can I do to make them (more) so?
Meerkats (just read the article!)
In a world short on ethical or moral algorithms or heuristics — I’m showing off here; they’re both simply ways to solve a problem — this triad has earned a place in my toolkit. (Yes, the Ten Commandments have their place as well, but frankly if you don’t already know that lying, stealing and killing are wrong, you’ve really got much larger issues to work on.) And when you’ve got headlines like “Zookeepers caught in love triangle,” you know the universe has a deeply bizarre sense of humor.
Need, logic and heart: another version. Though truth is bigger than logic. Anyone who’s loved another knows this. Love may not always be logical, but it’s deeply true. (Dogs get this, and cats in their sometimes greater and more temperamental reserve get it too.)
Like all formulations in language, this particular triad has limits. If all of its three points don’t line up, that’s not always a sign not to act. It may in fact be a time to act in the fullest awareness you can muster. Knowing, perhaps, you’re mostly flying blind, but acting anyway, in trust.
An example: in my first serious relationship after high school, I reached a point where, in an all-too-brief moment of clarity, I had to ask myself whether I should go any further. M., the woman I loved, was affectionate and intelligent. We were, as M. liked to point out, “physically compatible.” But she was emotionally manipulative. I asked my inner guide what to do. I even phrased it as a yes or no question about continuing or ending the relationship, expecting I’d get a clearer answer that way, since I can be pretty dense when Spirit tries to reach me. The reply surprised me (often a clue that the communication is genuine and not something I merely made up under pressure): “You’ll learn a lot.”
Under a heady mix of hormones, fear and curiosity, I went for it. And I learned a lot. But was it true, kind or necessary? I couldn’t accurately answer any of those three till many years afterward. Even asking the questions, though — testing the Triad — can put you in the way of helping to sort out the drama and challenge of everything from health to relationships to job opportunities. It’s a concentrated and dedicated version of “You work with what you get.”
Was it true? Our feelings were true. We felt what we felt. Was it necessary? Truth and necessity lay in the growth the two of us (and assorted friends and roommates who orbited with dismay and amusement our half-private passion-storm) experienced through all our ups and downs.
Well, then: was it kind? We valued each other’s presence. We mattered to each other. M. and I taught each other about selfishness and honesty. There’s ultimately a deep kindness when anyone risks being vulnerable in order to give and grow. Because, I ask myself, what’s the alternative?
Was it really necessary? Well, what things ARE necessary in the grand scheme of the universe? (Answer me that one and you’ve got a full-blown religion or politics or philosophy off the shelf and ready to roll.)
If the universe exists even in part to become aware of itself through all its many beings and forms and possibilities (and I feel deeply that it does), then that one relationship between two twenty-somethings, me inexperienced and in lust-love, M. more experienced and also in lust-love, counted as necessary. True, kind, necessary. Check, check, check. But not a way I could have heard or understood or acted on at the time. “You’ll learn a lot.” That was advice I could use. A good triad opens a door. I choose whether to walk through, or slam it shut.
/|\ /|\ /|\
IMAGES: tell the truth; meerkats.
Rabbit tracks in early morning snow by our garage
All around me, the formless. Everywhere I look, the track of some local thing I mistake for itself only, when it’s also a sign of the Mystery. In the end, it can feel like all is sign, one “it,” then another and another, each ceaselessly signifying the whole, each the center of Mystery, because each points to itself but also beyond and back again.
Everything’s in motion, no final self to stop and reckon with. Not just one thing becoming another, but everything becoming everything else. People age almost before our eyes, and a year that seemed long may turn and whisk itself into the past. Snow, sun, wind, tides — the hands of Spirit always reshaping the world. Already we edge closer to the third decade of the 21st century. Everywhere I see the mark of one thing passing into others, leaving spoor and benediction for those to follow who will.
I stalk Spirit in its many guises. Just when I think I’ve cornered it, something slips past uncommonly like a bird or feathered thing. Its pinions brush my cheeks. But when I meditate, when I remember to let go of catching anything, it comes to nestle in my lap. I feel its breathing stir my hair, and unexpected warmth sends a shiver down my spine. Remember, the voiceless thing says in my ears. Remember. Witness.
“A seed, a seed, at Imbolc a seed!”
“Ah, the seed has long lain there fallow, only at Imbolc do you at last feel it stirring beneath the snows.”
/|\ /|\ /|\
Marie-Louise von Franz
“One must start where there is still a flow of energy, even if it is just a thin flow, even if it seems silly” — Mary-Louise von Franz, Animus and Anima in Fairytales (Inner City Books, 2002).
Before and at and around Imbolc, the god Lugh draws me powerfully. Naturally, because time isn’t linear, and the workshop talk I’ve agreed to at Lughnasadh, a six-month conjunction with Imbolc and another fire festival, is now at work (was, before I agreed to it), by the god’s hand, or my own, or — more confusing and interesting — both at once. Snow on the ground, the land still in the grip of the Frost Giants (I like mixing myths, personally, at least by season), and here comes Lugh to prod me into action with his spear. Or if not action, exactly, some kind of attention.
The shape of the talk as it comes to me now in bits and starts will deal among other thiings with the matter of encountering a god, but also of any new course of action, of imagination, of inspiration. These wear different cloaks, but from what I can see, under them they’re the same, or at least siblings, equal parts trust and terror at times. Energy — which is what we are at heart, intelligent energy on the move.
So the seed, the nudge to change, to move, to grow — it comes and roots itself in us. And when the root-strength that cracks sidewalks and shoves boulders aside and generally plays havoc with human ideas of permanence and endurance finally gets to work, things move.
And often enough the seed then dies in the ground. What nourishes it? We stomp on it, uncomfortable thing, reminding us that something outside us wants to work its will with us, here, too. Right in the middle of streaming Netflix and election madness and ISIS and the woeful state of things and our own personal misery and joy, the particular flavor and color of crazy that the current year puts on each morning, mourning. Just because.
But let trickle reach seed and GERMINATION! Watch out! Funny, the vegetation god from the House of Bread (which is “Bethlehem” translated, as John Michael Greer obligingly reminds us) puts it this way in a Gospel, which really is supposed to be good news after all. Or as a Bard thinks of it, a song for the queens and kings we could be:
And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them, Listen, a sower went out to sow: And it happened, as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside, and the birds of the air came and devoured it. And some fell on stony ground, where not much earth was; and immediately the seed sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun rose, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and yielded fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some a hundredfold. And he said to them, Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.
/|\ /|\ /|\
We can play a part here in germination. (Says who? Well, I can argue about it, or I can try it out for myself. Which is more fun?) Where is my fertile ground? What god/dess is planting there? Where’s that trickle? Ah, there.
And so it begins. If I’ve learned anything to pass along, it’s the magic when seed and trickle meet. I can’t make seeds, but I can maintain a greenhouse for them. I can’t start the trickle, but I can pay attention when one comes — I’ve got ears to hear — and help it flow or block it. There. To work.
IMAGES: ML von Franz; sower.
In “The New Nature” (Boston Review, Jan 11, 2016), author Jedediah Purdy opens provocatively when he asserts that the current age “adds nature to the list of things we can no longer regard as natural.” His essay’s not easy going, but it definitely rewards close reading — and re-reading. Purdy’s ultimate argument is that with the profound impact of our human presence on the planet, “nature is now a political question.”
How he pushes beyond this seeming truism is significant. Those of us alive today “confront the absence of political institutions, movements, or even widely shared sentiments of solidarity and shared challenges that operate on the scale of the problems concerning resource use and distribution we now face.”
Of course, the challenges that humans have faced throughout our history frequently outpace our existing institutions, wisdom and capacity to take effective action. That’s one workable definition of “crisis,” after all. And the compulsions and sufferings of a crisis often catalyze the formation of just those institutions, wisdoms and capacities. (They also fail to do this painfully often, as we’ve learned to our cost.)
But Purdy’s contention goes beyond apparent truism or the obvious. Our current ecological predicament takes its shape as part of the third of three “revolutions of denaturalization.” The first of these is the realization that any political order is a human choice. The “divine right of kings” is out; flawed human agency is in. Whatever is “natural” about “the way things are” is what we’ve made and accepted. It decidedly does not inhere in the universe. It is not the will of any deity. (The caliph of Daesh/ISIL has no more claim to legitimacy than a local mayor. Humans put both of them in power. Humans can take them out.)
The second revolution, not surprisingly, concerns economics. Like politics, the “natural order of things” in a given economy is anything but natural. People aren’t destined by some cosmic law to be laborers, leaders, warriors, wealth-bearers, priests, etc. Humans choose how to feed and house themselves, what things have value, and who can gain access to them. Though nowadays we define prosperity in narrow terms, as one of my favorite political writers C. Douglas Lummis points out, “How and when a people prospers depends on what they hope, and prosperity becomes a strictly economic term only when we abandon all hopes but the economic one.”* Hope for more than a paycheck means a life based on more than money.
The third revolution hinges on nature. Purdy notes, “Both politics and the economy remain subject to persistent re-naturalization campaigns, whether from religious fundamentalists in politics or from market fundamentalists in economics. But in both politics and economics, the balance of intellectual forces has shifted to artificiality.” So too is “nature” subject to deification and renaturalization, and here the implications for modern Paganism and Druidry hit home.
Given the modern reflex abhorrence in many “organic” quarters towards anything “artificial,” it may take you a moment, as it did me, to move past such associations and hear what Purdy is actually claiming. To put it another way, keep doing what we’re doing, and we’ll keep getting what we’re getting. No god or demon (or magical elemental, set of “market forces” or cosmos) orders things this way — we do. Gaia, the clear implication is, won’t come to our (or Her) aid.
A religious re-naturalization of nature is therefore insufficient, whether it’s the RDNA (Reformed Druids of North America) gospel of “Nature is good” or Pope Francis’s emphasis on a divinely-ordered world of which we ought to be more compassionate stewards. Insofar as such a renaturalization or resacralization is part of any Druid program or agenda, it’s insufficient and perhaps even an obstacle. Only a political response, Purdy maintains, can begin to be adequate to the challenges of the Anthropocene Epoch– the human era we’re now in.
Thus, Purdy points out, “Even wilderness, once the very definition of naturalness, is now a statutory category in U.S. public-lands law.” The Sierra Club still markets this (outdated, in Purdy’s perspective) view as one of its touchstones: “In wilderness is the salvation of the world.” (By way of Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, paraphrasing Thoreau’s Walden; Thoreau actually wrote preservation.)
We often uncritically hold to a romantic (and Romantic) notion of the natural world as pure or unspoiled, a realm or order which is, at least in a few surviving locations, uncontaminated by human agency. But, Purdy continues, “as a practical matter, ‘nature’ no longer exists independent of human activity. From now on, the world we inhabit will be one that we have helped to make, and in ever-intensifying ways.”
Purdy is not anti-nature by any means, as a cursory reading of his essay might at first suggest. He’s not a foe to demonize or take down on Twitter, if you’re a radical Pagan/environmentalist. But the challenges he depicts are real. As a Druid I need to pay attention when he writes things like this:
To invoke nature’s self-evident meaning for human projects is to engage in a kind of politics that tries, like certain openly religious arguments, to lift itself above politics, to deny its political character while using that denial as a form of persuasion. It is akin in its paradox to partisan mobilization in favor of constitutional originalism, which legitimates solutions to political problems by recourse to extra-political criteria—in the present case, what nature was created to be, or self-evidently is.
Such arguments succeed by enabling their advocates to make the impossible claim that only their opponents’ positions are political, while their own reflect a profound comprehension of the world either as it is or was intended to be.
Is nature (or Nature) “self-evidently” anything? If so, what? Do Druids and Pagans generally have any special insight to share that can respond to views like Purdy’s with any kind of authority or credibility? Can we demonstrate a “profound comprehension of the world” in terms that matter and more importantly will shape policy? For environmentalists (and for Pagans, though Purdy doesn’t name them), “inspiration and epiphany in wild nature became both a shared activity and a marker of identity. They worked to preserve landscapes where these defining experiences were possible.”
But throughout human history, Purdy notes, various and successively changing ideals of nature have underpinned diverse economic and political arrangements that always consistently disenfranchise a designated fraction of humans. Whether slaves, minorities, women, aboriginal peoples, immigrants, certain racial or ethnic groups, someone always gets the short end of the stick from these idealizations of “nature.” To hold the natural world to anything but a democratic politics, Purdy says, is to exclude, to perpetuate injustice, and to oppress.
However, Purdy goes on, if we abandon an idealized nature,
if we embrace not just the Anthropocene condition but also the insight—if we accept that there is no boundary between nature and human action and that nature therefore cannot provide a boundary around contestation—we may have the basis of a democratic future. It will be democratic in the double sense of thoroughly politicizing nature’s future and recognizing the imperative of political equality among the people who will together create that future.
Whether a thoroughly politicized nature can aid us in creating a just future is an experiential question. We’ll prove or disprove it by political action rather than by theologizing about nature. (Yet every time we’ve attempted to discount a religious or theological view, it has returned in surprising force. Should we abandon theology for activism?)
In attempting to outline what a future democratic politics of nature might look like, Purdy offers the Food Movement as a kind of Exhibit A. Though the movement can be reduced to or parodied as privileged (mostly white) humans indulging in artisanal cheeses and wines at prices no one outside the 10% can afford, it marks the beginnings of much more, and
includes a number of elements that might be generalized to help shape the politics of the Anthropocene. First, it recognizes that the aesthetically and culturally significant aspects of environmental politics are not restricted to romantic nature but are also implicated in economic and policy areas long regarded as purely utilitarian. For example, a beautiful landscape worth preserving so that people can encounter it need not be pristine: it could be an agricultural landscape—preserved under easements or helped along by a network of farmers markets and farm-to-table organizations—whose cultural contribution is that people can work on it.
One problem with past policy is a fragmentation that separates and de-couples landscape from economy. The land is not merely a neutral resource. “The most credible food politics would combine an aesthetic attention to landscape with a concern for power and justice in the work of food production … [and] “ask what kinds of landscapes agriculture should make and what kinds of human lives should be possible there, so that the food movement’s interest in landscape and work is not restricted to showpiece enclaves for the wealthy.”
This blog and many of its concerns come under critique when Purdy remarks
It is too easy to say that, in the Anthropocene, we have to get used to change—a bromide that comes most readily to those with some control over the changes they confront—when the real problem is precisely how to build politics that can make the next set of changes more nearly a product of democratic intent than they currently seem destined to be.
I write from a decided position of privilege. So, of course, does Purdy. He and I both belong to that tiny minority on the planet “with some control over the changes they confront.” And if you’re literate and have time to read blogs and access to the technology where they appear, so do you. Though some days it may not feel like it, we have the luxury to question why and imagine how and even manifest what next.
Here on this blog I contemplate and explore a minority practice and belief, and try to make sense of my experience and the historical period I find myself in. To blog at all is to write from time left after making a living. How many of us have that? Besides, if everyone talks, who listens? Blogs ideally create dialog. But often a blogger like me can be guilty of doing more talking and less listening. (It’s ideally a balance rather than a binary opposition.)
Purdy notes in that last excerpt that he spies a definite trend or direction. He hopes “the next set of changes [will be] more nearly a product of democratic intent than they currently seem destined to be.” And he ends with a curious bow that seems to evoke much he has taken pains to empty of force.
Even that thought, however, is a reminder that this is only a fighting chance, part of a fighting future. The politics of the Anthropocene will be either democratic or horrible. That alternative is no guarantee that a democratic Anthropocene would be decorous, pleasant, or admirable, but only that it would be a shared effort to shape our more-than-human future with human hands.
Is there no alternative between democratic or horrible? Isn’t our own era an example of both? And what is that “more-than-human” future he says that we will shape with our own less than godlike human hands?!
/|\ /|\ /|\
IMAGES: Purdy; ostriches; “in wilderness” quotation; installing democracy; add new post.
*Lummis, C Douglas. Radical Democracy. Cornell University Press, 1997.
[I happened on Lummis years ago and have been grateful ever since. A professor of cultural studies at Tsuda University in Japan, Lummis, who has spent much of life overseas, ably critiques Western trends and politics from the vantage point of an inside-outsider. Most of his work has been published in Japan, and often in Japanese — and hence he’s not as widely known in the West as he deserves.]
Much of our human anxiety clusters around an odd mental construct we call “tomorrow,” and sometimes those wacky futurists brought to us by odd institutes with funky acronyms and obscure sources of funding actually have something useful to contribute to earn their keep. Here’s Bruce Sterling on change (link to blog):
… as a futurist I just don’t do “positive” and “negative.” I actively avoid that kind of value judgment. Wishful thinking and fearful thinking gets in the way of an objective understanding of change-drivers. Change occurs from pent-up energies: it’s like asking if a battery’s voltage is “good” or “bad.” All potential change has positive or negative potential: otherwise it isn’t even “potential.”
“Change occurs from pent-up energies.” Without a reservoir of energy, it simply doesn’t happen. Any equilibrium — I’m extrapolating out loud here, to see what the implications look like — any apparent equilibrium or stasis, then, is a kind of wallpaper over pending change and a cloak for accumulating energies. In other words, things don’t change, until they do. Watch the surface and I won’t catch the building forces for change. Equilibrium, rather than a kind of reset to normal, an all-clear, all-systems-go signal, can be seen as a boiler, a reactor, a container for accumulating change-energies. If change is the norm, equilibrium is a pivot, a hinge. It’s not a place to live, but to visit, to stop by, to rest in. It’s the next foothold, the plateau wide enough for a pause, along the ascent.
“All potential change has positive or negative potential …” Both at the same time, in every case? If the energies behind changes are anything like water or electricity, they find the easiest channel to flow. A habit is the smoothest channel — it’s been widened, deepened and swept clean by repeated use, so energies for change often dissipate if they can flow along the channel of a habit. Block the habit, even once, when change is about to happen, and the flow will seek another channel — maybe even a new one, if other habits don’t swallow the energy.
[Personal observation here: the habit I referred to in the previous post has yielded for now to image and sound work, but as part of what I’m seeing as realignment, I’ve been catching myself indulging more in other repetitive/obsessive behaviors. Compensation? The energy will flow. An old computer game, for instance, suddenly seemed irresistibly interesting — I’d play a typical 10-minute session again and again, between other more productive tasks. The “path of least resistance” applies profoundly to working with habit and change. Eliminate one habit and energy will flow into the next easiest channel. A key I’m learning: make a change that’s easy for energy to fill. How to do that is my practice.]
Can I avoid a value judgment, as Sterling claims he does? “Wishful thinking and fearful thinking gets in the way of an objective understanding of change-drivers.” Hmm. Often my wishes are negative: I want to escape/change/get away from/overcome X, and so X draws my attention, rather than the change I say I want to activate. Instead of spending energy on the change, I spend it on X. My attempt at change may actually be strengthening the habit.
Unlike the “get ___ quick/overnight/in just seven days!” promises of those with something to sell us, most permanent changes take longer to settle in. Everything I’ve learned from my habit can be used to build the energies of the changes I desire: visualization, sound, emotion, repetition. No doubt about it: change usually needs practice.
/|\ /|\ /|\
You might wonder what connection some of these recent posts have with Druidry. Good spiritual practice is good spiritual practice. Why else does “spiritual but not religious” resonate so deeply with so many? When religion gets in the way of spirituality, there’s a problem.
Druid and author Ellen Evert Hopman offers this excerpt from her forthcoming book Legacy of the Druids.* Here is the voice of one of the many Druids she interviews. The attitude here, rather than the specifics, is what I cherish and practice in my own way. The fact that it assumes a Druidic form simply means you have yet another opportunity to translate good spiritual sense into your own particular tradition or idiosyncratic practice:
“The grandest moment of the year is on Imbolc, when I open up my door to the night and thank her for all that she has given, then pour milk across my threshold to the living world outside, inviting Her in, whoever She is, whatever deep and joyous mystery, whatever unplanned liberation she brings, even if it comes in the guise of loss and fear and death.
I believe in the abundance of life, through the most frightening and toilsome passages. I believe in the essential expansiveness of our souls, and these are encapsulated in Brigit, the patron of poetry, of healing, of smithcraft, the one who guides sailors through dark and turbulent seas, who sets the teats flowing and brings birth to the calves and lambs.
The world we inhabit is hidden in a tangle of veils – fear, rage, misunderstanding of who we are and how we are connected and how we can survive and flourish, human and nonhuman, wild and tame.
Facing our own tangles and emerging filled with that ability to give, to receive, to hope and love: that is how I see Her worship as functioning best. She is the beauty and She is the veils, and She is the freedom and unity I keep my eyes on when I struggle through.
Opening the door to Her on Imbolc, giving Her and Her world the nourishing gift of milk and inviting them more deeply into my heart – these are the most joyous religious acts I can ever commit.”
It’s a portion of Druid wisdom to master change in our lives — not to dominate life, which we can never do, but to sail with it onto that endless golden sea that, whenever I pay attention, is sparkling and surging around and within.
/|\ /|\ /|\
IMAGES: tomorrow; reservoir; Hopman; golden sea.
*Hopman, Ellen Evert. A Legacy of Druids: Conversations With Druid Leaders Of Britain, The USA And Canada, Past And Present. Moon Books, 2016.
In the way of things, no sooner had I planned to explore further the transformative power of sound in response to comments on the last post than images, not sound, seized my attention.
Stay flexible, I told myself. Both inner and outer landscapes can turn out to be far more fluid that we expect. (Sometimes my inner voice can be a sanctimonious pain in the ass — especially when it’s also spot on.)
I’d struggled with a particularly troublesome habit which has persisted since my teens. It had been responding well to visualization and images. Problem was, that image practice seemed to siphon off energies that usually spark a new post for me. Nothing. The well was dry. Especially after recently re-dedicating myself to posting at least once weekly, this was distressing.
Finally, some two weeks later, with more than a little help from the awen, here’s that next post.
/|\ /|\ /|\
You feel a subject’s yours to write about when it falls in your lap. I subscribe to a weekly inspirational e-message from OBOD, and here’s what popped up in my emailbox one Monday morning about a month ago:
“The harmony that holds the stars on their courses and the flesh on our bones resonates through all creation. Every sound contains its echo. Before there was humankind, or even forest, there was sound. Sound spreads from the source in great circles like those formed when a stone is dropped in a pool.
We follow waves of sound from life to life. A dying man’s ears will hear long after his eyes are blind. He hears the sound that leads him to his next life as the Source of All being plucks the harp of creation.” — Morgan Llywelyn, Druids.*
You’d think with a prompt like that I’d suffer no lack of material. You’d assume the post would practically write itself. No such thing. (The universe effortlessly keeps us humble.)
Though it’s lovely and rich with insight, the very authoritativeness of this excerpt set me back on my heels. In Llywelyn’s novel, the Druid speaking these words knows these things viscerally. Sometimes a fictional character can project a greater presence and command higher respect than any historical sage or living pundit. Most of you, I hope, enjoyed just such enchantment many times in books and films.
/|\ /|\ /|\
“Every sound contains its echo.” Sound can lead directly to transverbal understanding. I know this powerfully, repeatedly, over years. So do most of us, if we stop to think about it. Like music, both chant and mantra can take us elsewhere. Rather than engaging the mind with its opinions, attitudes, assumptions and arguments, sound drives right through logic headlong into experience. Belief? Disbelief? Nope. You just know … at least until the music falls silent.
Echo, original, where are you? I long to hear you again. Always.
Try introducing someone to a new singer or band. “Oh, these lyrics are so inane,” your too-clever friend may whine. Meanwhile you sing along whenever the song plays, and the music just carries you with it. The words may fit poorly or well, but never mind. It’s the sound that carries them on its current. Your liking merely helps the sound reach deeper. All successful music resonates with such sympathetic magic.
Great musicians often stand out in front of popular taste, expectation and consciousness. We have documented evidence from the last four centuries of music in the West, from crowds weeping at the premier of a new symphony by Beethoven, through the fear of the freedom and perceived license of the jazz age, Elvis “the pelvis” Presley, the continuous screaming that welcomed the Beatles’ performances, the blissed-out faces of Hare Krishnas engrossed in kirtan, and on to the Evangelical fears of Satanic influence in rock – the infamous claims of backmasking in songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” only the most egregious among many examples.
I won’t claim all boundary-breaking is an unalloyed “good thing” — it’s not. But music – sound – possesses remarkable power to shift consciousness into new channels. We vibrate ultimately to what we long for and dream about, even if we resist it consciously. Our lives pick up and amplify the sympathetic vibrations, and start to manifest what we’ve set in motion. Imperfectly, sporadically at first, unless and until we learn to vibrate more consciously and healthily.
Much of what we do in chant and mantra is prime the pump, to mix metaphors. Start the vibration locally to attune to the vibration all around us, atoms alive with movement.
One of the best practices I know is to try out and compare different sounds, different vibrations, etc. Simply discover experimentally for yourself which ones actually work. Devote equal time to exploring awen, OM, HU, nam myoho renge kyo, the 99 Names of Allah, Gregorian chant, Tuvan shamanic throat singing, etc. — the extraordinarily rich human heritage of sound-working. Watch your mood, dreaming, creativity, insight and so on. In this way one can quickly dispose of much bad philosophizing with incontrovertible evidence from personal experience.
/|\ /|\ /|\
To return to my own experience these past few weeks: working with images helped tremendously in shifting my energy and attention away from the habit. Yet occasionally the desire would boil up and flood my awareness with all of its original force. What to do? Sound. Working with sound provides a way to re-tune the reservoir of energy that often accumulates behind a habit and begin to help it shift in new directions, into new channels of flow. Image alone won’t do it, I’m finding: it needs sound.
The “why” of the power of sound lies in demonstration. Like so many of our most potent and valuable experiences, we have to hear it to get near it, play it to say it, flow with it to know it most intimately.
/|\ /|\ /|\
*Llywelyn, Morgan. Druids. Del Rey, 1992.
IMAGES: female figure; didgeridoo; Beatles’ fans.; Hare Krishna kirtan.
The Awen I sing,
From the deep I bring it,
A river while it flows,
I know its extent;
I know when it disappears;
I know when it fills;
I know when it overflows;
I know when it shrinks;
I know what base
There is beneath the sea.
(lines 170-179, Book of Taliesin VII, “The Hostile Confederacy“)
Oh, Taliesin, how do you know these things? I say to myself. How is it you enchant yourself into wisdom?
I have been a multitude of shapes,
Before I assumed a consistent form.
I have been a sword, narrow, variegated,
I have been a tear in the air,
I have been in the dullest of stars.
I have been a word among letters,
I have been a book in the origin.
OK, you know it because you’ve been it, I say to myself and the air.
When I sing, I hear a music that both exists and does not exist until I open my mouth. We create in the moment of desire and imagination. “From the deep” we bring things that flow like rivers while we sing. But before the song, or after?
Contrary to what I may think in the moment, so many things are matters of doing rather than believing. Challenges behave much the same as joys. When I’m afraid, I have a chance to show courage. What else does courage mean but to be afraid — and to attempt the brave thing anyway?
And when I sing, that takes a kind of courage too. I mean by this that singing when the sun shines is easy enough. Necessary, too. A gift. But singing in the dark, singing in pain, singing in uncertainty — or singing in joy when joy itself is suspect and the times are bad — there’s a song of power Taliesin would recognize.
The Awen I sing,
From the deep I bring it.
Another tool for my tool-kit. Sing it and you bring it. Make it come true when before, without you, it not only hasn’t yet arrived, it won’t and can’t arrive until you do.