Archive for January 2016

Future as Battery   Leave a comment

tomorrowjpgMuch 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.”

Res-boarder“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.

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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.

hopman

Ellen Hopman

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.”

Mael Brigde
Vancouver, Canada

goldseaIt’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.

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IMAGES: tomorrow; reservoir; Hopmangolden sea.

*Hopman, Ellen Evert. A Legacy of Druids: Conversations With Druid Leaders Of Britain, The USA And Canada, Past And Present. Moon Books, 2016.

“Every Sound Contains Its Echo”   1 comment

soundimageIn 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.

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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.*

didge

Didgeridoo

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.

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“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.

beatlesfans

Beatlemania

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.

harekrishnachant

kirtan

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.

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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.

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*Llywelyn, Morgan. Druids. Del Rey, 1992.

IMAGES: female figure; didgeridoo; Beatles’ fans.; Hare Krishna kirtan.

Bringing It   5 comments

welsh-taliesin-picThe 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.

IMAGE: Taliesin.

Choice, Experience, and Wisdom from Many Wells   Leave a comment

I want to do some thinking out loud here. Nothing new, since I do it frequently. But it’s an experiment with a more specific kind of thinking I share less often here, because for many people, negative experiences with Christianity raise painful associations and memories that make even a mention of Jesus or the long, rich, varied and potentially very useful Christian tradition anathema to them. So if you’re still deeply allergic and over-sensitized to some of the more toxic forms of religion, well, here’s your red flag. But if you choose to go forward, simply treat the following as another kind of practice, like tai chi or dancing when no one’s watching, or waving at the moon.

Try it out for what it’s worth, without preconceptions. If you need a prod, here’s one: “I can’t dance” doesn’t cut it. Everybody moves, and everybody can move rhythmically. That’s all that’s needed. The rest is mere practice and polish.

As a Druid I feel almost a compulsion to follow wherever the light leads. I’ve rarely been disappointed, which is why I keep doing it.

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One legacy of my Christian upbringing is a fascination with “wisdom from the borders.” Unlike my more fundamentalist cousins, my mother was drawn to Christian Science with its focus on healing, and my World War II vet father was a member of the “God made the world, I farm a small piece of it, I’m grateful for its seasons and gifts, and that’s already enough for me” school of deism. From that initial gift of my parents’ openness to possibility, I learned and grew the most, before I took other paths, through insights from the periphery, or even outside the official “party line,” of Evangelical Christianity, or “EC.”

EC is, after all, just one sub-branch of one faith, but it’s a sub-branch that sometimes gets a bad name for its often unreflective adherence to dogma, especially in the face of good counter-evidence. Because of that, it also gets a lot of press from agnostic and atheist strands in contemporary thought and journalism. One of the regrettable but understandable consequences of the debate is that many people write off a whole religion because one or two particular flavors of it that they happen to know or have experienced just make them gag. It’s a “baby with the bathwater” thang.

goat-and-sheepOne of the EC dogmas that bothered me the most, from about the age of 8 or 9 onward, and that has set many other people’s teeth on edge as well,  is what’s more recently been called “damnationism” — the apparent and deeply problematic need to condemn whole swaths of humanity to eternal torment because they don’t happen to believe the right things required by one stream of orthodoxy, all so we can hang with the sheep and not with the goats for the rest of time. Finally, some writers are even starting to call that out for what it is: a blasphemous perversion of an original truth.**

Greetings-From-Hell

Hell, MI, 48169 — an actual place, population approx. 260, located 15 miles NW of Ann Arbor.

One of my favorite writers within the universalist stream of Christianity, which doesn’t clutch a self-righteous need to condemn everyone else but Christians to hell, is Thomas Talbott. Universalism can be conveniently summed up in just two words: love wins.

Talbott’s insights do come cloaked in evangelical language, because that’s his particular upbringing. But he looks far beyond the surface, like I hope you will, and like most people learn to do when they realize either a pretty or ugly face is often the least interesting and important part of a person.

Here’s an excerpt I want to work with, from Talbott’s fine book* The Inescapable Love of God:

In fact, our bad choices almost never get us what we really want; this is part of what makes them bad, and also one reason why God is able to bring redemptive good out of them. When we make a mess of our lives and our misery becomes more and more unbearable, the hell we thereby create for ourselves will in the end resolve the very ambiguity and shatter the very illusions that made the bad choices possible in the first place. That is how God works with us as created rational agents. He permits us to choose freely in the ambiguous contexts in which we first emerge as self-aware beings, and he then requires us to learn from experience the hard lessons we sometimes need to learn. So in that way, the consequences of our free choices, both the good ones and the bad ones, are a source of revelation; they reveal sooner or later — in the next life, if not in this one — both the horror of separation from God and the bliss of union with him. And that is why the end is foreordained: all paths finally lead to the same destination, the end is reconciliation, though some are longer, windier, and a lot more painful than others.

When I read sound insights from the Wise working in other traditions that may ring notes that jar a little, I like to try out alternate versions, to see how they work when clothed in other terminology. How much of the wisdom survives the change? How much of the difficulty is merely semantics? Here are Talbott’s words again, re-garbed in non-theist language:

In fact, our bad choices almost never get us what we really want; this is part of what makes them bad for us, and also one reason why our subsequent experiences are able to bring good out of them. When we make a mess of our lives and our misery becomes more and more unbearable, the hell we thereby create for ourselves can eventually resolve the very ambiguity and shatter the very illusions that made the bad choices possible in the first place. That is how the patterns of the universe often respond to us as rational agents. They permit us to choose freely in the ambiguous contexts in which we first emerge as self-aware beings, and then let us learn from experience the hard lessons we sometimes need to learn in order to gain wisdom. So in that way, the consequences of our free choices, both the good ones and the bad ones, are a potential source of growth and discovery; they reveal both the suffering of separation from our own highest good and the bliss of heeding its shaping pattern.

That’s interesting to me. How much did I change? Well, “God” gets replaced with patterns that inhere in lived experience, and “redemption” becomes growth and increased insight. The universe becomes aware of itself in us and in other beings. Is that “true”? Well, let’s be Druidic about it and test it, for years if necessary, rather than bothering with any belief or disbelief about it before we even have a foundation of experience to reflect on. Whether the patterns of the universe tend towards love is an experiential question, and really not a matter that mere belief can adequately resolve either way. And for how many other questions like it is this also true?

These insights issue from what used to be called the “perennial tradition,” or the philosophia perennis, a well of wisdom common to the depths of all valid traditions, part of the heritage of humanity rather than the exclusive possession of any one culture or tradition. It’s also part of folk wisdom in the West that emerges in sayings like “what goes around comes around” and “what you do comes back to you.” The added insight here points to the value of “bad” experiences, just as useful — or misleading! — as the good ones. For ease and comfort can mislead us about the pain and suffering in the world, just as our own pain and suffering can blind us to the beauty and wonder and possibility around us. From all I’ve seen, life, fortunately, is bigger than either.

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iolo-morgannwgOne of the streams from the early days of the Druid revival and the writings of Iolo Morgannwg*** runs with a Welsh version of such wisdom, offering a vision of a cosmos in which all things move toward growth and increasing consciousness, over countless eons, through every imaginable form, and in every imaginable experience. In this conception, the universe is a flow of energies, and its current sweeps us/we ride it from Annwn (ah-noon) and Abred (ah-bred) to Gwynfyd (gwin-vid) and ultimately on to Ceugant (kye-gahnt), a kind of infinity. Eventually we all experience everything.

Unlike the Christian sense of redemption or heaven, you’ll note, these are simply points along the flow. Another way to see it: the mouth of the river as it enters the sea is not superior to its source in the springs on a distant hillside. All is flow. Things may slow down or speed up as they move along the river, adjusting to the current, to the shore, and to each other.

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I had the privilege this last Saturday to take part in an open discussion on the topic “Have You Had a Spiritual Experience?” Those who attended were mostly older than me. Graying or white hair framed almost every face as I looked around the circle of the dozen or so of us who attended. But when the question arose about how many of us kept to some kind of spiritual practice, every hand went up. I found this wonderfully inspiring.

The point that everyone wanted to tackle: what’s next? How do we work with spiritual truths, with the patterns of life we’ve all encountered, and continue to grow in wisdom and love?

Those questions also continue to drive me on my own path and underlie my explorations on this blog. Thank you to all who read this blog for joining me for a few minutes each week and for considering these things, too.

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*Talbott, Thomas. The Inescapable Love of God. 2nd ed. Cascade Books, 2014.

**Favager, David. Hell to Pay?: The Blasphemous Absurdity of Damnationism. Amazon Digital/Kindle, 2015.

***Iolo Morgannwg — from the foreword to the Sacred Text Archive to Morgannwg’s collection Barddas:

However, this is one of those visionary texts which is worth reading for its own merits, irrespective of whether it is ‘genuine’ or not. Taken at face value, the Barddas remains a fascinating text. It has resonances with the Upanishads, Kabbalah, and Freemasonry. The Bardic alphabet presented in the ‘Symbol’ section is completely invented, based on Runic and Ogham, and has utility as a magical alphabet. However it is about as genuine as the alphabets of J.R.R. Tolkien. The ‘Theology’ section appears to be based on Iolo’s peculiar Christian views (he described himself as a Unitarian Quaker). ‘Theology’ also contains a great number of Triads, some of which may be from authentic ancient Bardic lore. The ‘Wisdom’ section has a great deal of mythopoetic information, some of which is authentic, some not. The Barddas is great reading if you are at all interested in the ancient Druids, as long as you keep in mind the background of its creation.

IMAGES: goat and sheep; greetings from Hell, Michigan; marker — Iolo Morgannwg.

 

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