Archive for August 2016

Three Times A Serpent   2 comments

Moving and stacking the last of the firewood yesterday, I disturb a garter snake three times. Same snake, or three different snakes? It’s there, perhaps, to feed on the fat black crickets that have congregated in the same spaces between the logs and pop away each time I lift another piece and toss it into the wheelbarrow. Or maybe it seeks rough edges to begin another peel, an autumnal sloughing off of old skin.

The three-ness of its appearances alerts me. I’m ready to pause and straighten my back and consider. Small moment-in-passing for snake and human, but wordlessly the snake has gathered my attention. Most of my days offer small moments like this, choices about where I’ll spend my energies beyond the daily necessary. Enough of them working together can define a larger trajectory, a disposition. Right now, though, I’m just attending to 18 inches of trim liquid muscle embossed with muddy green and yellow stripes, breathing lightly and slowly enough I can barely detect a small set of lungs working.

Except for one or two counties in the north part of the state where you can still rouse a rattler or maybe a water moccassin, Vermont has no poisonous snakes, so I’m at my leisure to ponder this one, or these three, up close. They’re sluggish with cooler evenings now, though the temperature still rises most days to the 80s. It takes a toe to prod this one off its perch on a piece of wood, coils oozing into a flow of motion. Sometimes being legless looks like an excellent choice for a species to make. No flailing limbs, just the slim body looping effortlessly behind the head until the whole marvel has poured itself out of sight.

Please understand — I share the common primate reaction to snakes. We yield, often enough, to that little shiver of distaste. But each time snakes usually stop me long enough to examine that response, and if I’m fair to the experience and question it, I find I end up pairing it with something like amazement. Warm and furry, bright-eyed and responsive to human presence — that’s a no-brainer: we easily go soft and mushy, and can lay a good half of our reaction at the feet of Disney and a whole industry of cuteness. Snakes are more alien, wonderfully adapted to their niches in the world, but changed enough from the ubiquitous mammal design we instinctively prefer that they provoke that involuntary shiver. Add to that the touch of cool skin against warm, if you pick up a harmless one to handle, the feel of it like a plastic raincoat.

So, snake, I’ll use what you left for me and ask a question. What do I welcome, what do I fear to touch, out of all I may meet each day? I add a tentative beginning practice of snake-shifting, gliding legless through my choices and meetings and discoveries, to see and smell, taste and feel what is there. Then return and judge, if I must, all I want. But first, encounter.

 

 

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Posted 26 August 2016 by adruidway in Druidry

Backstage Druidry   2 comments

Oscars-Backstage

In the end we all do what we’re told. (It’s a backstage conversation.) We just differ on who we listen to, who we decide to heed. The cicadas from central casting announce August outside my window, under this overcast summer sky on a day of rain, and I sit grappling with this post. Somehow they’ll work their way in, because I listen to practically everything. Bards most of all, because they’re such electric company. Each cicada-Bard croons a Lunasa song, turning and tumbling toward the Equinox now, the days shortening at both ends, darkness nibbling at the warm hands of summer.

Do we really do what we’re told, and follow a script handed to us backstage? “No rehearsal. You’re on in 10 seconds.” Then Pow! Birth! And going off-script means following another script, the one titled rebel or train-wreck, fool or genius, or what have you. What do we have? “What is written is written,” runs the Eastern proverb about fate. “What can I say?” quips Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “I flunked the written.” So many scripts to choose, rehearse, try out. When we read for “human,” how many other lines do we forget? “I am a stag of seven tines,” sings Amergin, “I am a wide flood on a plain, I am a wind on the deep waters …” Memory and imagination, the same, or inversions of each other.

When poet Mary Oliver gives Bardic advice, “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it,” I want to shout “But attention and astonishment are both luxuries!” And they are: ultimate, essential luxuries. Yes, Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Writing teacher Robert McKee turns it around: “The unlived life isn’t worth examining.” Ouch! Take it personally like I do (though quickly I blunt the edge by applying it to characters I’ve written, all those understudies and stand-ins for my life) — take it personally and you may turn another way, determined perhaps this time to swallow life whole. This life is brand-new, never seen before. Old games, true, but new blood.

Backstage I overhear someone whispering, “Worry about living first, and if necessary, leave the examining to somebody else.” Is that meant for me?  “You’re on! Break a leg!” Is that meant for me, too?

Broken. Stuckness. Does it happen more to people who overthink their lives, who need to see where each footstep will land before they take a step?  Those who strive to word a version of their lives acceptable for a blogpost?

“When I am stuck in the perfection cog,” remarks author Anna Solomon,

–as in, I am rewriting a sentence a million times over even though I’m in a first draft or, I am freaking out and can’t move forward because I am not sure how everything is going to fit together—I find it helpful to tell myself: You will fail.

A soul after my own heart! Failure: our solid stepping stone to success. Because who IS sure how everything is going to fit together?

I have this written on a Post-it note. It might sound discouraging, but I find it very liberating. The idea is that no matter what I do, the draft is going to be flawed, so I might as well just have at it. I also like to look at pictures I’ve taken of all the many drafts that go into my books as they become books, which helps me remember that so much of what I am writing now will later change. When I am aware that my work is not as brave or true as it needs to be, I like to look at a particular photograph of myself as a child. I am about eight, sitting on a daybed in cut-off shorts, with a book next to me. I’m looking at the camera with great confidence, and an utter lack of self-consciousness. This photograph reminds me of who I am at my essence, and frees me up to write more like her. —Anna Solomon, author of Leaving Lucy Pear (Viking, 2016), in a Poets and Writers article:

No rehearsal — it’s all draft, to mix metaphors. And You will fail. But once you do the draft, paradoxically, it becomes rehearsal, revision. Re-seeing. We will look again in astonishment, memory or return, mirroring the same thing, and marvel differently. Our recognition when another tells the tale, when others speak for us because they can, they live here too, they see and speak our hearts’ truth. We know, partly, because of them. They’re versions of us, dying and being born together.

“When death comes,” Mary Oliver says in the poem of the same name,

like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut …

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

Oh, Mark Twain gathers himself to answer. I hold my breath. Maybe it’s both like and unlike anything you imagine. Can we fear only what we dimly remember? “I do not fear death,” Twain says. “I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

Lunasa thoughts. The autumn in the bones and blood, while the young are dancing. Mead around the fire. We’re both grasshopper and ant in the old fable, gathering and spending it all so profligately. Expecting a pattern, a plan, we’re told to ignore the man behind the curtain. Sometimes there’s neither curtain nor man. Other times, both man and curtain, but as we approach, the spaces between each thread and cell, between each corpuscle and moment, each atom, have grown so large we can fly through appearances, into mystery, into daydream. Great Mystery drops us into the blossom before it’s open, we sip nectar, drowsing at the calyx, the Chalice. Mystery listens as the bees hum around us, gathering pollen. Stored up sweetness for the next season. To know itself, Mystery gazes from everything we meet, we see it in each others’ eyes, so it can see itself.

Attention, says Mary Oliver, attention is the beginning of devotion.

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Image: Oscars.

The Real Work: Living in Alignment   Leave a comment

The most valuable and life-changing practice of all, though,

says Philip Carr-Gomm in last week’s OBOD “Inspiration for Life,”

evolves gradually and simply as a different way of being in the world.

If you’re like me and many others, whatever practice you have does keep evolving. Sometimes in spite of your best efforts. A practice doesn’t sit still any more than we do — even if we want it to. “Can’t something stay the same in this too-rapidly changing world?” Apparently not. And it’s helpful to come to see that as a good thing.

From rearranging the objects and cloths on your altar(s) to wholesale changes in your beliefs and suspicions (that’s what I call things I suspect are true, the same way I suspect rabbits or deer of perpetrating the damage in our garden. I don’t need to believe it: I suspect it, even if I’d rather not), change will have its way with you.  You get born, promoted, pregnant, dead, partnered, relocated to the other side of the country or the planet, chosen for a god’s obscure mission, or dropped off to sit in the intersection as traffic blasts by you on all sides, just a nose-length away.

Or nothing happens for so long you feel the universe drugged you and left you on a sand bar and swam away long before you woke up with the tide lapping at you toes.

But look back on the path you’ve taken, and both it and you are different. Our adolescent longings to blend in and be like everybody else often lost out to our adolescent longings to follow our hearts, unlike all the seemingly worn-out and spiritually comatose people around us. We don’t need to fear change. And I suspect this is true for you, if you’re reading this blog or others like it. Even the longing for transformation counts. It lies that deep in us that years or decades of resisting the call haven’t stamped it out.

Through working with Druid teachings and ceremonies, changes occur in our attitudes, feelings and behavior which enable us to live more and more frequently in alignment with our sense of purpose and meaning, and with an awareness of the inherent spirituality of all life.

I hope whatever your path, Druid or Christian or atheist or animist or Pastafarian, (and yes, those are the only choices the universe has available at the moment — check back later), you’re “more in alignment with your sense of purpose and meaning.” If not, there’s still the rest of today and all of tomorrow and on from there to make a small change. Then another. And another. Make them so small they’re trivially easy, impossible NOT to make. You know, the sort of changes that come about by accident, by whim, by the energies stirring at the moment you make your choice. Paper or plastic. For here or to go. Mild or hot. Black or with cream.

More than anything else, I’ve found that a series of very small changes becomes a powerful road to success. Instead of the daunting prospect of hours of culling my shelf-groaning hoard of books, I pick just one book a day to consider and then either reshelve or drop into the box for the upcoming library book sale. Tomorrow, it’s two, or maybe three. (I don’t want to overdo it!) If I’m feeling sluggish, I can still manage an initial five push-ups today, then six tomorrow, then seven. Back to five, then ten the day after that, just for the hell of it.

Or a single sentence in a new journal. Then another tomorrow. And so on.  Don’t worry, you can tell yourself. You’re not really making any changes. You’re just ___ .  Status quo. Move along. The Censor whose vested interest is you, same-as-always unchanged, won’t notice. Be a micro-rebel. Break the rules, but in the smallest of ways. You know you want to.

I get writing done this way during what otherwise is a nasty case of writer’s block. It’s still nasty, but it’s become an ally: surprisingly often I find that some of the best material comes when I work with the block. Compost it. Test it for hidden dragons or home-canned jars of now-brandied peaches from 2004. Sell bags of it on Craigslist at bargain prices. Set a timer for 5 minutes and write without stopping — anything that comes. So many times, in fact, that I’ve lost count: gold and gods along with the garbage.

This may sound simple, but the consequences of achieving, or of working towards this state are profound. We enter a beneficent cycle, in which the more we express the core values of Druidry, the more we find those reflected back to us in the events and relationships in our life.

“Entering a beneficent cycle” sounds lovely. And for those among us who flee shrieking at the intimidation of possible, actual success (“that’s for everybody else but me!” we tell ourselves), note that even just working toward the state is transformational. More good news for the professionally self-sabotaging among us. We open to change like a flower beginning to exhale its perfume. Changes that have already happened waft their fragrance over small things that actually work out. (Every life has them!) Then larger ones. Watch for them. A (Druid) study in itself.

Cue the 1998 film “Shakespeare in Love.” Henslowe, a theatre owner, is talking to Fennyman, his backer, who expects payment. For “the theatre business,” read “our lives”:

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?

Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.

Hugh Fennyman: How?

Philip Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Or better, Mystery. And if we’re honest, Great Mystery, as many Native American tribes call it. Or if you need grim dark humor, as my mother used to say, “Worrying  about specifics is pointless. Something else will happen to you that you couldn’t have imagined anyway, so don’t waste your energies.”

“As this way of being evolves it becomes possible to find those elusive qualities of serenity and happiness, and to be of service to others and the world around us.”

This, more and more I’ve come to see, is the heart of it. As a recipe both for easing the neuroses and stresses of Daily Life, and for accomplishing something for others that “makes us feel good about ourselves,” you can’t beat service.

Or as my teacher said, take the Frank Sinatra song “It had to be you” and change the lyrics: “It’s not about you” the Universe whispers to us constantly. Time to do something with that.

Surprisingly, once I get attention off myself and onto something worth doing, I’m serving.

Or to draw on the words of still another Bard, here’s Marge Piercy‘s poem “To Be of Use” which closes:

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

 

This “different way” Philip talks about at the top of this post isn’t something to convert to, or at least not suddenly. It “evolves gradually and simply.” But it isn’t a facile or glibly tossed off platitude like “do what you love — the money will follow.” Now that may still be good advice, but it’s not something to begin tomorrow without divine guidance or a fat inheritance. The key part, though, is to forget about monetizing the service at all.

Do something, my guide says. Do something you love right now.

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