Archive for October 2012

Druid of the Day (3)   Leave a comment

Author, Episcopal priest and current professor Barbara Brown Taylor has written An Altar in the World, a splendid little book on simple, essential spiritual practices which anyone can begin right now.  She writes from a refreshingly humble (close to the humus, the earth) Christian perspective, and a broad vision of spirituality pervades her words.  Because of her insight and compassion, her awareness that we are whole beings — both spirits and bodies — because of the earthiness of her wisdom, and her refusal to set herself above any of her readers, she makes an excellent Druid of the Day.  I hope I will always remember to apprentice myself gladly to whoever I can learn from. As the blurb on her website page for the book notes, “… no physical act is too earthbound to become a path to the divine.”

Taylor brings a worthy antidote to the bad thinking and fear-mongering so widespread today.  Here’s a sample:

… it is wisdom we need to live together in this world.  Wisdom is not gained by knowing what is right.  Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right, and noticing what happens when that practice succeeds and when it fails. Wise people do not have to be certain what they believe before they act.  They are free to act, trusting that the practice itself will teach them what they need to know …  If you are not sure what to believe about your neighbor’s faith, then the best way to find out is to practice eating supper together.  Reason can only work with the experience available to it.  Wisdom atrophies if it is not walked on a regular basis.

Such wisdom is far more than information.  To gain it, you need more than a brain.  You need a body that gets hungry, feels pain, thrills to pleasure, craves rest.  This is your physical pass into the accumulated insight of all who have preceded you on this earth.  To gain wisdom, you need flesh and blood, because wisdom involves bodies–and not just human bodies, but bird bodies, tree bodies, water bodies and celestial bodies.  According to the Talmud, every blade of grass has its own angel bending over it whispering, “Grow, grow.”  How does one learn to see and hear such angels? (14)

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Taylor, Barbara Brown.  An Altar in the World.  New York:  Harper One, 2009.

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About Initiation, Part 5   2 comments

Go to Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Much of what we can do with initiation consists of bringing the inner experience outward, establishing it in consciousness, so that we can begin to live in and from the new awareness.  That can often mean we find ourselves expressing it through light, sound, color, form, in painting, drawing, photography, dance, music, writing, embroidery, etc. — some way to bring that inside stuff into this realm of touch and smell and contact and physical sensation.  The correlation doesn’t need to be, won’t be, exact.  Doesn’t matter.  It’s a bridge to somewhere over the rainbow, where the sidewalk ends, where the path disappears into a pool of still water.  Pick(le) your metaphor.

Believing, as the (transformed) saying goes, is seeing.  We see it through, we manifest it, because we’ve seen it before, maybe via an inner sense that doesn’t always feel like sight but may come as some other way of knowing.  Do we need to be told “what to look for and when” as the cartoon suggests?  Only if we’re focused on proof rather than transformation.  Only if we’re trying to see somebody else’s vision.  Ours, however, is ours — it doesn’t require tricks.  (True, it may sneak up on us, or we may be the ones doing the sneaking.)  Others may well “believe” it when they see it in our lives, when they have something they can contact that reassures them we’re still grounded here. Even if — or especially when — we’re not, anymore.  Or not like we were, exclusively.  We’re not freaks (at least usually not obvious ones).  But the life that flows through us when we complete the circuit and connect to both poles comes across to everyone.  Each person is charged at least a little, whenever any one of us is.  The democracy of spirit.  The changes come, and with a measure of luck and grace and good weather, we survive this life again, and enough of our loved ones are still with us to carry on.

If it’s a difficult initiation — unwanted or unsought — we may resist the awareness.  The divorce, the scary diagnosis, the death of a friend, the chronic pain.  But even if it’s the events and timing of the outward initiation that seem to be the launch-pad, the dividing line between our old and new selves, almost always, in my experience, sign-posts and markers of the inner preparation and change have shown up beforehand.  We just may not recognize them till later, if at all.  Scant consolation when your life falls apart all around.  And even less welcome are the well-meaning Others in your life who may let slip that they “saw that one coming a mile away.”  (But could we listen, could we hear the warning?  Nope.  Absolutely not.  Don’t want to, don’t tell me, I don’t want to hear it!)  Sometimes deafness is protection, the only shield we have at the moment.  Compassion for ourselves, for others in that moment, and after.

One of the reasons I maintain this blog is the opportunity it gives me to test and measure some part of my inner worlds against this outer one.  After all, this is the world I live in with a physical body, and if I want to use here what I’ve experienced elsewhere and inwardly, it needs to be adapted to the dynamics of this world.  This physical life is one pole of the circuit that is our existence.  The other pole lies in our inner worlds, but that’s no reason either to discount it or to grant it a superiority over everything else that it doesn’t deserve.  Who has explored “everything life has to offer”?  I’ve been around for several decades, and I still feel like a rank beginner, like I’m only just starting to do more than scratch the surface.  And yet at the same time as doors open, a strange-familiar welcome lies on the other side, like I’m returning to something I’ve always known but haven’t yet walked.  Now (first time?  second time?) I’m setting foot there.

In the first branch of the Mabinogion, Pwyll prince of Dyfed encounters Arawn, Lord of the Otherworld, and the exchanges that develop between the two realms profit both of them.  It’s a circuit both literal and figurative, as most things are:  accessible to the metaphorical part of our minds, but also to our inner senses, if not our physical ones.  And sometimes the division falls away and no longer separates the worlds. In the Western Tradition, Samhain or Hallowe’en celebrates just such a thinning of the veil.  The Otherworld enters this one, or we journey there in dream or vision, and we become walkers in both worlds.  Sometimes this world can then go transparent, and we see both worlds simultaneously, that old double vision that dissolves time and distance and the game of mortality.  Then the veil falls again, easy concourse between the worlds slips away, and we resume to our regularly scheduled lives.  Except not quite.  We’ve changed.

As the old U.S. Emergency Broadcast System (now the EAS) used to say, more or less, “Had this been an actual emergency, you would have received instructions about what to do next,” except that instructions are already hard-wired in our hearts.  Listen without listening, and all we get is static.  The station has nothing more to say to us.  No instructions.  It seems like no one’s at the controls.  No directions.  If we can’t easily access them any longer, out of neglect or fear or ignorance, sometimes there’s a gap between learning about the “emergency” and “receiving instructions ” — a gap of hours, months, years, lives even.  Where to go, what to do, how to go on, all become unknowable, impossible, lost to us.  And so the ferment works in us, till we’re driven to find out, to quest for wisdom, to cry for vision.  And what we ask for, we receive — eventually — as the Great Triad records:  Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and it will open to you.  Eventually.  Patience, old teacher, maybe the earliest and longest lesson of all.  Another face of that strange love that sometimes seems (dare we admit it?) built into things, that will not ever let us go.

Go to Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Updated 15 March 2013

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Images:  mystical dancer initiation; proof; b&w figures

Encounter   2 comments

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9]

Crying for vision, I step into the forest.  Early twilight cloaks me, and mist cloaks everything else.  A shiver stalks my spine. I feel something tread nearby with feet heavy as horses’ hooves, yet subtle and delicate as cloud.  How it can be both I don’t know.  Something breathes on my neck, though when I spin around I know nothing will show.  Yet.  I know I can freak myself out — I’ve done it lots of times.  This is different.  It is not fear, at least not fear as I know it.  Instead it comes as joy and awe mixed, like the charge of touching the bark of a towering redwood a thousand years old, or the first glimpse of a landscape wholly remade by a night’s snow — beauty unlooked for, encounter with something awake and vital and ancient that I’m paying attention to at last.

How to explain it?  Almost anyone listening would think I’m crazy, when all I can do is say “Look!  Don’t you see them?!” as they dance and stalk and whirl themselves all around us both.  And all the other person can do is shake his head at me, totally ignoring them as they gaze at him and size him up — perplexed, annoyed, amused, indifferent — depending on their natures.  I shrug and turn back to them, watching, listening, enjoying and returning their welcome.

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Updated 23 April 2015

Druid in a Box, Part 2   Leave a comment

When the phone call came, she was standing bent over the kitchen table, up to her elbows in pumpkin innards.  A crop of volunteers had sprung up in a poorly-turned compost pile.  She thanked Spirit for the gift, leaving wherever she harvested pumpkin a small bundle of dried thyme in exchange.

At the first ring, she looked down at her sticky hands, then out the window.  A brief scatter of rain still sparkled on grass and leaves outside the kitchen window.  Calls these days were almost always marketers.  If it was Jack, she could call him back.  They still needed to sort out a few things.  But she would not rush the day, nor her mood, over answering the damn phone.  She did pause at the third ring.  Your worst arguments are with yourself, she remembered hearing.  No, let the machine take it.  She’d had it since high school, the black plastic housing cracked and duct-taped together.  The sexless mechanical recording came on.  She turned back to pale orange pulp and slimy seeds, slipped a couple into her mouth to chew, imagined them baked and salted.  She waited, half expecting the caller to hang up.

The raspy voice on the machine straightened her back all by itself.  Cassie, her father’s baritone said.  And paused.  Cigarette cough, the same. I want …  I’d like to talk with you.  She didn’t know how she felt.  He’d kicked her out … eleven years ago, it was.  They’d talked just twice since then.  All that weekend’s worth of argument over a festival she’d been determined to attend.  She couldn’t even remember its name.

No more of that Pagan crap in this house, he said, finally.  I’m sick of it.  You go and you don’t come back.  They didn’t yell, at the end.   Plenty beforehand.  Fine with me, she said.  She left about twenty minutes later. Didn’t even slam a door.  And that was that. But you could have bottled the acid in the air and scoured steel with it.

I’m in Sacramento now.  Oh, my number, it’s …  She heard him stumble over it.  I hope you’ll call back.  Another long pause.  As if he could hear her thinking, waiting.  Not answering.  Not wanting to.  Cassie.  The tug of her name again. Then a click and brief dial tone.  She stared bleakly at the red digital 1 that appeared on the messages screen.  How much of life was playback.

Outdoors the sky had darkened again, and her mood with it.  She knew she needed to breathe and stand in the open air, to listen to something other than her own thoughts.  Once outside, she knelt and rested her palms flat on the grass, to give her anger to the earth, not to carry it. Earth, take what I need no longer, teach through weakness what makes stronger.  She  breathed through the words, said them again, then a third time.  She would call him back this evening.  At nine, six o’clock his time.  Sacramento.  What was he doing there?  Well, she could wait to find out.

Re-vision   2 comments

This unretouched image of trees and sky, courtesy of Druid Debbie Brodeur, was taken from a moving car.  How much glory lies just behind the “ordinary.”  Our eyes insist there’s “nothing new,” while all the time endless wonders dance past us.  It’s possible to remember to “look again,” to re-vision things, even a few more times a day.  Small steps, to see the world new again.

Druid in a Box, Part 1   4 comments

She was Druid.  When she needed to know things, a way would open.  She was learning to trust it.  Sometimes an opening way asked for patience, and that took work, still.  Waiting rarely looked hard when others did it, but she’d done enough herself to know better. A song made it easier, and when she listened a certain way, now and again songs came, tinkling on the air, or roaring out of someplace she didn’t know she’d gone to till she returned with a start, the phone ringing, or her cat Halfpint curled in her lap and kneading one thigh with paws tipped with needle claws.  Often the words came later, the melody already running ahead of her, in and around her attention till she got a version down on paper or on her music program.

She was Druid, she knew.  It was a long time coming, that knowledge.  Sometimes she’d resisted, convinced she was done with paths, and seeking and god-stuff, anything like that.  But through it all the gifts kept arriving.  Hard ones, and easy ones too.  Often enough it meant whatever the land gave her at the moment.  For proof, all she had to do was look at her house, filled with stones, bird bones, animal skulls, pressed flowers, carved branches, vervain and basil and mint, garlic and St. John’s Wort and other herbs she was learning as she went.  After Jack left with his secretary, she got the little ramshackle two-bedroom house and the six acres of pasture they’d planned to farm, and slowly the once-empty rooms filled with links to the green world outside the door.  Inside, too.  Spiders in the corners, mice in the walls, squirrels skittering across the tin roof, crows caucusing in the back yard.

Jack.  One of the hard gifts.  He left, and for a while the emptiness threatened to eat her alive.  A big hole she had to stop looking into.  No bottom, but walls dark with bitterness.  So she stayed busy volunteering and running the food pantry and substituting at the local elementary school, until one day a boy complained about the smell of incense that seemed to follow her wherever she went. “Witch” was the real reason, she heard from a sympathetic colleague.  Parents complaining about “that teacher.”  Though when the principal called her in “for a little chat,” what he said was they just couldn’t rely on her to be on time.  All she knew then was that her morning ritual had just cost her one needed source of income.  Hard gift.

A month of therapy, and “you’re stuck in a box labelled ‘wife,'” until she knew she could give herself better advice, and cheaper. When the box is the whole world, then I’m Druid in a box, she thought.  And thinking inside the box is a great place to start.  Hardly anybody else is in here.  They’re all outside, because that’s where they’ve been told they should be.  That’s where the clever ones are, the ones who want to be ahead of the curve.  Mostly people do what they’re told.  But almost always something held her back from doing what everybody else did, shoved her or kicked her sideways.  A kind of resistance, a suspicion, a compass set in her belly and spinning her some other way.  Ahead of the curve?  It was more than enough to be the curve, bird’s wing in the air, crescent moon, arc of water coursing over a falls.  The backyard junipers and oaks and one old willow bowing at the sky.

Then it was October, her birth month, and in spite of turning 30 in a few more days, her mood lightened.  She could feel a shift coming, something new trying to find her, a little blind, and maybe needing help.  She could help it.  Listen, she reminded herself.  It was one thing she’d finally gotten good at.

To be continued …

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