Archive for November 2016

Tending One Thing   Leave a comment

On several occasions my teacher has shared with the small circle of his students his practice of tending with love one thing that he does regularly anyway. Then to do it with intention and focus and care.

The action can be as simple — and simple works well — as tying shoelaces. Getting out of bed. Shaving. Watering a plant. Opening the front door. The technique transforms a quotidian something that has till now just sat there in its ordinariness and now begins to flower in our awareness, once we give it that kind attention. I was going to write kind of attention, but “kind attention” fits, too. Do this, I keep finding, and like pockets or balloons of energy, the world through the particular thing we are cherishing and tending opens itself as a gift. This happened to me on my regular 3-mile loop walk, when I walked with intention. Putting each foot down, lifting the other, breathing, listening.

What remains green when other things are dying?

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Mosses and lichens nibble at stones, evergreens of a different tribe. I run a hand lightly over them, this first cool green being on the walk.

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I give thanks for all that comes free — air and earth, cloud and sunlight, birdsong and breathing.

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I give thanks we have language to name such things, our round, treaded words rolling us from perception to perception, good pointers that they are.

Numbers, letters, the signs we make to write speech onto things — little wonder we’ve attributed their origins to gods — Thoth, Hermes, Saraswati. Attend closely enough to roundness and the shape echoes, singing in the ear. Who knew worn round things have such stories to tell?

I will tend you until who you are is more important than my opinion about you.

img_1535I give thanks for this world of contrasts where, according to one of the Wise, many beings wait on the threshold, longing to incarnate for the extraordinary lessons it offers. The denser and harder its energies and challenge, the more it offers them opportunities to grow as they can nowhere else.

Shadow and light, new equilibriums possible with each step, so many things whose tending reveals things coming into existence because we have tended them.

Light and dark hold hands — or clasp branches, as the case may be.

What questions does the world answer that we haven’t asked — but could?

 

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ann-hallAncestors, relatives, descendants — who really is a stranger in the end, when so many are kin?

From the flat pink-yellow photo paper my great-great-grandparents Ann and James look out on their wedding day.

Did you foresee the Civil War gathering its bayonets and gunpowder, gangrene and despair?

Picture frame like a ship’s porthole — I half expect you to stand and move about and take up your lives as I gaze at you. I give thanks that because of you, I exist. I know you in my bones, though I know little enough about you: this image, and birth, wedding and death dates.

(I’m grateful even for the big noses you both obviously bequeathed to us your descendants.)

The world follows its own dells and channels and boundaries, often ignoring ours.

Build a wall and before long, birds, wind and animals help seed the beginnings of a thicket instead. Tree roots thrusting from below make a ruin of any wall. Trees might have served better to begin with.

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I’m grateful walls sometimes simply end abruptly. Should I leap from the capstone? Build a sacred fire on it? Shift it to seek for treasure cached beneath it.

Maybe just listen and see if it has something to say other than whatever I’m thinking. My thoughts may have less to say than its silence.

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Then there’s time’s rough handling. Hang around long enough, and the things you’ll lose, as much as anything you’ll gain, will build your character, all our ancestors mutter.

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I’m grateful for the tracks of things, however faint, that pull me out of thought and into larger possibility.

I give thanks life meets me halfway — just not always where and how I expect it.

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I give thanks, finally, that the path itself doesn’t always stay the same. Sometimes I think it changes underfoot, just to check if we’re paying attention, and not sleepwalking along our ways.

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Posted 27 November 2016 by adruidway in Druidry, gratitude

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Is Magic Necessary?   Leave a comment

“I’m here to have an argument.” (Welcome to our daily flying circus.) I’m enlisting the aid of high art and low craft to get through this post.

This post is an argument — not a disagreement, but an argument in the older sense of the word: a proof, a seeking of an accurate assessment of our world. Did the title put you off? It’s going to get worse. Maybe you should just enjoy the Monty Python video, and let the net distract you from there.

Are you allergic to magic, having tried it and found it to be mostly flash and bluster? Does it simply not rouse in you any response — the kind of response you’ve learned to listen for, the kind you’ve come to trust intuitively along your spiritual journey?

You can sigh justifiably — go ahead! — as I pursue yet another topic tangential to your interests or needs. Check back in later. If you’ve been coming here for any length of time, you know I’ll roll around again soon enough to something you can use. Till then, compost and ruminate. It will do you more good. This post really isn’t a downer, but it’s one that will get few or no likes, and recede ignored into the archives.

Because mostly with this blog I’m arguing with myself, of course. (You’re all much too kind and rarely call me on my crap, for which I think I thank you.) But like a madman, I do the arguing semi-publicly, flopping and writhing on the sidewalk, because what else is worth doing, if I don’t also put myself on the line? Do I mean what I do and say, or not? All right then.

[If you’re not like me or most other humans, you move through life blissfully, largely untroubled by the shifts and turns of living in this world with a body that ages and will eventually die. If indeed you belong to that singularly uncommon group, please leave now. I have nothing to say to you. However, you perhaps have something to teach me. It’s likely you’re spending down a karmic store from a previous life. Spend wisely. But if in fact you’re an enlightened being here for the upliftment of others, and you have no personal life or what we now like to call issues but used to be more accurately called hang-ups*, please open your school/temple/retreat/grove/workshop and get on with your mission. The world needs your wisdom.

*hang-ups: those weak spots in our make-up that serve as ideal targets for tests and challenges and other people’s hang-ups. Shrike-like (warning: video at link!), they hang us up on the thorns of uncomfortable truths behind our comfortable illusions before they rip into us. Because pain is often the creator of awareness. I don’t know about you, but some of my most valuable learning has come at the price of pain. And — after the pain has passed — it’s usually worth it. Cancer, deaths in the family, end of relationships, arson, loss of friends: like most of us, I’ve had my share. And like you, I’m still here. The best revenge is living well.]

Having dispatched some of my readership with one or the other of the last few paragraphs, I ask those of you who remain to consider the following. If you want to grow or make changes in the world, or both, and you’ve been frustrated, recently or for a bad long while, here’s an observation worth trying out in the laboratory of the every day. To put it in concrete terms, if during the upcoming holidays you’re up against a Clinton or Trump supporter in your immediate circle (or, with a change of nation, Brexit or Erdogan or Putin or Modi, etc.) who just doesn’t see the world your way, step back a moment and prepare to get magical:

The tools of magic are useful because most of the factors that shape human awareness are not immediately accessible to the conscious mind; they operate at levels below the one where our ordinary thinking, feeling, and willing take place. The mystery schools have long taught that consciousness has a surface and a depth. The surface is accessible to each of us, but the depth is not. To cause lasting changes in consciousness that can have magical effects on one’s own life and that of others, the depth must be reached, and to reach down past the surface, ordinary thinking and willing are not enough. — J. M. Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Weiser Books, 2012, pg. 88.

For “magical” effects, read “transformational.” I’m a sucker for a good transformation. Aren’t you?

It may be that our wands, like Ron’s, simply need replacing. We’re all “truth (im)moral high ground rights victory” and what we really need is just a new, and appropriately charmed, stick of wood.

51qgd7w1ecl-_sx408_bo1204203200_To add to the mix, I’ll add a line from the Hebrew Bible (Proverbs 16:32) that’s resonated with me since I was a teenager (read in your own appropriate pronoun): “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”

Yes, I’m as subject to confirmation bias as the next person. I like this passage because I’ve seen in my immediate family the ravages that anger can leave. I’ve also shed any expectation that another person will or can do the work in my life that only I can do. (Politicians top that list, no surprise. Blame is always easier than change, and they’re so obligingly convenient to blame.)

iluupncRound this off with Gandhi’s admonition to be the change we wish to see in the world, and I’ve got a lot of changing to do. But better me than you, I remind myself: if I’m hard to change, you’re even worse. The world — by which I mean you and anyone else in my circle — refuses to do almost anything I want. Me, on the other hand, I’ve hand some success in shaping. Small steps, to be sure. “I love you, you’re perfect, now change.”

How to reach the depths? Like others who’ve learned the hard way, Greer lays out a number of testable, practical suggestions. (Because they’re not “new and improved” they get less attention than they merit.) You’ve already heard me grapple with a number of them on this blog.

What I’m proposing, then, once a week going forward, whatever else I’m doing, is an account of my own experience with some of these specific practices , together with my results. I like the spiritual laboratory of experience, not because I “succeed” but because my failures are often remarkably instructive. I learn how to hear and integrate wisdom or make room for enlarged awareness in my own odd life much better by making “mistakes” with it than I ever could merely by reading or giving intellectual assent to others’ ideas.

A sign I need to grow: I’m either strongly attracted to, or repelled by, a person, place, thing, idea, or feeling.

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Images: Wandlore; “I love you, you’re perfect, now change.”

 

 

When’s a Sign a Sign?   Leave a comment

Yes, there are signs and signs. And whole bunches of debate, at intervals, over what “really” constitutes one.

Here’s my in-progress rule of thumb: if it helps me see more deeply, love more richly, create more vibrantly, wonder more amazedly, then it deserves the name “sign.” Coincidence doesn’t enter into it — in fact, it’s irrelevant. (Most days, though, I won’t go as far as Carl Jung and say “Superstition and accident manifest the will of God.”)

What matters with a sign for me, then, is not its origin but its effect. If I don’t invite such causal ripples, funny thing, they tend not to manifest for me. Tune myself away from the universe and it doesn’t vibrate for me like it did. I cut myself off from that original song that’s always singing just beyond my hearing. That’s a form of spiritual death.

If a potential sign doesn’t manage to do any of these positive things, however woo-woo* it appears, I’ve got better things to do than wade in superstition. By which I mean a vague sense of woo, yes, but without anything concrete and transformative that rises out of my encounter or experience. Those are just dime-a-dozen woos.

And if it’s your sign? Go with it! What does it say to you?

But I tend to discount signs others witness and want to “give” to me. To each our own. There’s a reason you and not I witnessed what you witnessed. And vice versa. That neither validates nor invalidates the sign. It simply personalizes it. If, following Leonard Cohen, the “cracks in the world let the light in,” the person or persona lets the sound of awen through. Latin persona: the theatrical mask (and later, a character or role) that lets a voice come out that did not speak before.

If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you …

sings Leonard Cohen in “If It Be Your Will.”

But he continues:

If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell …

As long, then, as the rivers fill and the hills rejoice, I take it that there is a choice — and it’s our choice.

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On to my “sign of the day” — two giant red oak leaves I spotted during my climb up Wantastiquet Mountain, detailed in the previous post.

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The larger of the two leaves comes in around 10 in./25 cm. Are they “signs”?!

I find meaning in them. They make me marvel. They come at a needed time. More about that in a minute. They resonate in my thoughts. They also objectively stand out in some way — in this case, a measurable physical dimension. Together, those qualities are enough for me for them to earn the name “sign.”

As a primary tree of Druids, the oak already comes laden with symbolic meanings. (Some plausible etymologies, after all, define druid as “oak or tree knower.”) And now, for me, more: to stand up in a way that expresses my best. To be more visible in my walk (especially since I found the leaves on a mountain walk, and after asking for sign). Not to shy away from living the values that matter to me. To leave a legacy that inspires, even as I have been inspired. Simply, to give my best.

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*woo-woo: a deeply scientific term, used here, of course, with ultimate precision. Urban Dictionary obligingly defines it as “any belief not founded on good evidence.”

Light Gets In   Leave a comment

To begin this post I invoke with the words of a great Bard, the late Leonard Cohen, who sings in his song “Anthem” : “Ring your bells that still can ring./Forget your perfect offering./There’s a crack, a crack in everything./That’s how the light gets in.”

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Doing my small part to ring some bells and locate some nearby cracks to work with, it’s been in my thought more and more to explore Wantastiquet. But it took word of another’s recent climb to the peak to prod me into visiting this local treasure. As a Nigerian acquaintance said to me recently, quoting an African proverb, “Those who live nearest the church arrive late.”

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Just over the Connecticut river east into New Hampshire, Wantastiquet Mountain rises to approx. 1350 feet. It’s a moderate 1.5 mile hike to the summit — about an hour’s walk along numerous switchbacks for this 57-year old. From downtown Brattleboro it’s a little over half a mile to the foot of the mountain, so plenty of hikers and their dogs were out enjoying the afternoon. The sunny weather hovered in the mid 50s, oak leaves carpeted the trail all the way to the top, and as mountain treks often do for me, the climb had the feel of pilgrimage. There is a berg-geist, a mountain spirit, if I silence the mind chatter and attend. The rumble of weekend traffic from nearby interstate 91 which the river valley amplifies begins to fade around 500 feet up.

The site is a perfect shanshui — landscape, literally “mountain-water” — one of my favorite Chinese words from a year in the mid-80s spent teaching English in the People’s Republic of China. The Connecticut river valley defines the state line between New Hampshire and Vermont for 150 miles, and seen from the west, the peak appears to ascend right out of the river. Here’s a view from perhaps 70 feet up on the trail, looking back toward Vermont.

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Evergreens march along either side of the path, but the few remaining leaves on oak branches above them account for the trail’s leaf cover.

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The pines and oaks busy themselves both splitting the rock and holding it in place.

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Gathered near the marker at the summit were several resting hikers who left shortly after I arrived.

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In the distance, the peaks of Ascutney (45 miles north) and Hogback (13 miles due west) loom through the haze.

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I’d gathered a handful of acorns along the way, thinking to plant them as I establish my grove at home. But as I neared the top, an impromptu ritual (my favorite kind) threaded into my attention and I made an offering instead. Finding a clearing a few hundred yards away, I bowed to each direction.

I gather, I give away.

To the North:
you are holy —
may it grow there.

To the West:
you are holy —
may it grow there

To the South:
you are holy —
may it grow there.

To the East:
you are holy —
may it grow there.

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Images: Wantastiquet map.

In practical terms …   Leave a comment

So what do all these high (and abstract) sounding principles in the previous two posts actually mean in practical daily life terms? They mean much to me because they’re part of my practice. Yours will be different.

I talk a lot on this blog about the foundational importance of a regular practice — I’ve learned the value of one from years of experience, failures and successes. Part of your unfolding practice can consist of crafting prayers and rituals and deploying them to help empower you daily — hourly, if needed. Here’s a fine and succinct example (shared with permission) from Catriona Hughes:

Water on my left, fire on my right,
Cleanse and shield me through this fight.
Earth below and sky above,
Help me greet the world with love.

A great deal of the post-election reaction in the U.S. among many has been (and continues to be) fear, blame, anger and grief. Unless these energy flows serve to cause specific and useful changes in our behavior, they wantonly squander our energy without giving us anything like a worthy return. We can give a true gift to ourselves and dedicate the same energies behind them to something we choose, not something reactive — dependent on another’s actions. Otherwise we’re not only left with fear, etc., but we’ve squandered what personal power we do have for that hour or day or month that could have shaped a creative and positive response, and seeded still more over time. Replacement is essential. Our psyches, like nature, abhor a vacuum. Clearing them is the first part. Filling them with what we, not others, choose, is a vital second step.

Something like Frank Herbert’s fine “Litany against Fear” in his Dune series of novels can also answer this need:

I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.  Only I will remain.

“Season to taste” fits a life even more than a meal. Find what actually works for you.

Build your own life first. Securing creative sources of shelter, heat, food and water answers our first animal and elemental needs. Ask for help from Spirit and the Four Quarters. Make a form and expression of gratitude part of that daily practice. Blessings and graces — bless the fire as you light it, the food as you eat it, the wind outside as it sweeps past you, the light from the sky as it pours down on you, the animal and plant life all around you, in every season.

Write, sing, dance these things–you choose. Window boxes with herbs or salad greens are within the capacity of all but the most physically restricted of us. Just having something green beside you in the winter months cheers the heart. Eating anything you’ve grown is a return you have gifted to yourself. Note its symbolic power as well — this accompanies any physical act and often matters at least as much to outcomes and influences.

Practices are just that — practice. Refine and adapt as needed. The “best practices” are ones that fit you and feed you. You’ll know this by the doing of it — and gain in confidence and self-knowledge when choosing future practices wisely and heart-fully.

Nurture relationships. Everyone has friends, family, pets, neighbors, co-workers, co-religionists, etc. who can accomplish more together than apart. You know best how to do this, when, on what scale, how often, in your own way.

Practice being an ancestor. Make a point of challenging your own perspectives, beliefs and practices so you can anticipate and ride changes more smoothly. Again, you know best how to do this. The coming days, years and decades will not slacken in the tests and challenges they will bring to us to face. Our ancestors survived their share — and we are living proof. We can do the same.

Know what matters to you, what you believe, what deserves your effort and love. Set it down in writing. Share it with those who matter to you. It may be a list or a theology or two or three practices you want in front of you, within a daily sightline, for a visual reminder as you go about your day. You choose.

Take stock and assess areas above (and others on your own list) — both those that continue to need more attention and those that already flourish and bring you energy and joy. Let your assessment focus on what you’ve learned and what your next steps can be. If you’re like most humans, you’ll benefit from putting these in writing and reviewing them regularly. Once a month — the full or new moon — is a sound time to do so.

There — the beginnings of a practice already, a focused response that will generate, I guarantee, positive results.

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Above and Below as a Warrior’s Way   Leave a comment

Solwom wesutai syet — may it be for the good of all beings.

This post continues the teaching from the previous one. “Above and below” together offer a way to live for the good of all beings, including as a warrior. We need the warrior’s way today at least as much as ever in the past.

The version of the Warrior’s Way of spirituality I attempt to summarize below offers a high challenge I’m still learning and exploring and trying out, after decades of practice, as I continue to walk along two different spiritual paths. I’ve come to see we’re all “slow learners” — it takes many spirals of experience even to begin to understand and live with honor. But how often I stumble simply doesn’t matter — it’s a necessary part of the practice. If I’m not stumbling, I’m probably not practicing. All that does matter is that I try just one more time than I fail.

The warrior’s way doesn’t depend on others for its success. Victory, in fact, isn’t the final point. Are you with me still? Are you asking “Why bother, if it doesn’t lead to victory?”

What makes this the way of a warrior in particular? Any path is a specialization, a focus, a dedication, an ongoing practice. Its whole point is an effective approach. There’s no particular endpoint, but ongoing refinement throughout one’s life. A musician practices because that’s how to be a musician. The warrior’s way is no different.

pwyllAncient cultures held out a code of honor, and the pursuit of excellence, as guides for their warrior heroes. Along with Celtic poems and legends in collections like the Mabinogi, and the figure of Pwyll (left), the Greek epics the Iliad and the Odyssey, for instance, make much of τιμή timē “honor” and ἀρετή aretē “nobility, excellence” as standards to aspire to.

The Hindu epic Mahabharata, which contains the beloved scripture Bhagavad-Gita within its vastness, also presents a similar “warrior’s way.” And just in case we’re not paying attention, the very first stanza of the Gita tells us that the upcoming battle takes place on kurukshetra, yes — the field of the Kuru princes — but also on dharmaksetra, the “Field of Virtue.” Here the rubber hits the road or, you might say, the philosophy hits the fighting.

arjunaThe opening chapter of the Gita introduces the “spiritual student” and warrior Arjuna (right). He’s downcast at this point — the chapter is aptly  called Arjuna Vishada “The Dejection of Arjuna.” The reason becomes quickly apparent — he sees the imminent deaths in battle of those he loves, together with the destruction of a whole social order, and at the outset of the second chapter, he declares bitterly (II:9) na yotsya “I will not fight.”

The profound spiritual counsel he receives from his charioteer, who is also the god Krishna, makes up the rest of the Gita. Arjuna does in fact go on to fight, for reasons that make the Gita very worth studying. (Find a good translation — I can recommend among others the bilingual and carefully annotated version by Winthrop Sargeant, available in paperback.)

These values of honor and excellence or virtue feature dramatically in the larger-than-life examples of heroes, and of course they also come bearing the limits and glories of their respective cultures. As a work in progress, the warrior’s way, like all life-ways, continues to deepen and unfold as we practice it and spiral with it.

A college friend of mine was very into the warrior’s way, to the extent that the only picture on his apartment walls was a large and dramatic painting of a robed figure wielding a weapon of light and bearing the caption “swordsman of spirit.”

Every human life has its battles, inner and outer. The recent political upsets and twists and turns here in America are ultimately a very small part of an immense and ongoing drama. They feel large because they’re ours, and disorienting in part because many of us have been sheltered by privilege and ease from realities others must live daily. But every generation faces down its own challenges, and acts and reacts out of what my grandmother and her generation liked to call “inner resources.” The various “toolkits” of techniques and practices that cultures and spiritual paths offer in order to cultivate these is one of my abiding interests.

Here then are nine principles of one warrior’s way as I understand it and strive to practice it today:

* let my actions unfold from the still point within me, so that each deed serves life

* know I can always return to that still point, whenever I step away from it for any reason

* rest in the embrace of this present moment, the only time I truly have

* remember I and all beings exist because spirit continuously manifests in this world of form, time and space

* keep to a daily practice in order to develop and maintain spiritual strength and connection

* practice compassion for others without letting sympathy bind me to agreement with their state of consciousness — or their lessons will also become mine

* see others as spirit beings like myself, so they may see themselves likewise

* distinguish between mind’s fears, patterns and opinions, and the love and wisdom of spirit, in order to hear my inner guidance more clearly

* recognize the only true battle takes place in my consciousness

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Images: PwyllArjuna.

Above and Below   Leave a comment

Solwom wesutai syet. [sohl-wohm weh-soo-tie syeht] May it be for the good of all.

What we choose to attend to, and how we choose to attend to it, are two sovereign powers that Spirit has gifted to human beings. These two gifts can often seem small or unimportant, especially in the face of difficulty or suffering or injustice, but from them comes all that is great within us. They are the wellsprings of all that we ultimately achieve here and in the other worlds. They are gifts of love and freedom no one can take away from us. We can only relinquish them out of fear. When we build on them and as much as possible make them the foundation of our lives, we are already speaking our own truths against the world.

There will always be challenges and disturbances to test and try us. Finding that still point within is a great help. Any practice that guides us there and strengthens us in the sanctuary of our own spirits is a treasure to cherish.

The land is also always speaking and teaching. The image below is of our pond, yesterday afternoon, a moment of the above-and-below nature of all things. Sometimes the image is clouded and we may miss the reflection. But the original remains. Thus do we, along with all creatures and beings, bring forth what is within us. May it be our best, a sacred choice, a sacred way of walking the path of life.

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Just as the Celtic peoples inspired much revival and contemporary Druidry, native practices of other lands we dwell in can be a source of inspiration and an example of living with an open heart. Solwom wesutai syet, the Indo-Europeans said. May it be for the good of all.

From a Dine (Navajo) prayer-song I heard and learned over thirty years ago, which I use as a healing and peace meditation, aloud or silently:

In beauty I walk.
in beauty before me I walk.
In beauty behind me I walk.
In beauty all around me I walk.
In beauty within me I walk.
It is finished in beauty. (3 more times)

And here is another short Dine song for meditation.

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