Archive for July 2017

After-ritual Inquiry   Leave a comment

map30-7-17“So how did the ritual go?”

Site statistics for the last post drew readers from surprisingly varied lands: Vietnam, South Africa, Argentina, Ukraine and Latvia among them. I highlight these simply because their national languages aren’t English (with the exception of S. Africa). Not only are readers there interested in Druidry, but they’re seeking out English-language media that talk about it.

“Show us applied Druidry and we’ll pay attention”, you’re saying.

Here’s a follow-up, an excerpt from my “post-mortem” journal entry after the ritual. Because “feels” don’t really tell the whole story, as you’ll see. How I think a ritual progressed, and the whole picture with every factor included, can be two different things.

First off is the ritual set. You know: state of mind, weather, time of day, preparation. Alert. Noticing many animal presences, especially ants, flies, aphids, grasshoppers. Slightly edgy, the way I often feel when stuff’s going on I know I don’t otherwise notice. (Material for later meditation there.) Weather sunny and clear, 73 F (23 C). Approximately 2:00 pm. Preparation minimalist, with a few objects I was led to choose in meditation earlier that day. (Barely visible, behind and below the cup to the left/north sits a black Cherokee owl cup, containing objects from my first OBOD initiation, along with a symbol of the wild boar, one of my animal guides. (Yes, in one sense this wasn’t “minimalist” at all; I’d pulled out all the stops for this rite.)

Below is an image with the fire lit, a little more than halfway through the rite. I began with a standard OBOD ritual opening: “By the power of star and stone, by the power of the land within and without …”

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In the picture I’m facing East. Directly in front of me is the blue bowl of water for West. To the right, South, the dragon candle-holder, with a green candle.

“Green for South?” I hear the purists gasp. Yup. Why? As one of my friends might say (and spell) it, that’s the color of “the green fyre” of nature. I’d been nudged to use green at our Midsummer ritual. More than the sun, how the Land flourishes under the sun at the solstice says “summer” to me. Your climate and tools differ? Excellent! We’re both learning to listen to what’s in our faces and under our feet and in our hearts.

On the far side of the circle in the East is a deer-bone whistle from Serpent Mound. Its high pitch matched the cry of birds overhead, the wind in the trees. Finally, to the left and North is my Ovate anchor stone and one of several offerings, a cup of milk and a slice of bread (already offered by the time of this picture), white for the northern snow, for Lugh Lord of Light, and for Thecu Stormbringer*, for fertility and harvest both, how we are all nourished from the time we are born, “the fat of the land”. What is it that fire burns, after all?

Dry wood lay ready, kindling and newspaper, too. I’d just said these words “I ask your aid in consecrating this fire circle and the greater circle, that has its center here, its circumference everywhere.”

Out with the book of matches. One after another. Nothing. The fire wouldn’t light.

So back into the house for wooden matches. “Disaster! Bad omens abound! No fire means no passion, no energy for your work. AND you broke your ritual circle!”

Well, no. Remember the part above about the “greater circle”? I was still in it. I pondered the nudge to include this line as I wrote it earlier in the day. And if such “ritual breakage” distresses you in your own rites, you know what to do: cut yourself a ritual doorway, The circle won’t blow away during the few minutes you’re gone.

Sometimes a break in the ritual points to a specific focus for the ritualist to attend to. I took the need to get better matches as a ritual message: when I tend any fire — energy — passion — heat — will — decision — I need to pay particular attention to beginnings, to my tools, to an extra step that might be necessary to assist with manifestation. Fire spoke: any ritual worth its salt links self-as-home together with the ritual action. Fire comes from within as much as from without. Much more useful and to the point than irrational fear of bad ritual mojo.

“I kindle this fire in honor of all the elements,  earth and form and north the altar, air and breath and east the means, water and cauldron and west the capacity.”

At length, after a meditation I’m still reflecting on, the closing, again adapted from OBOD ritual: “As the outer fire dies down, may it remain a pure flame within. This circle is closed in the apparent world. May its inspiration continue within us all, a gift”.

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*In the next post, an update on my work with Thecu of the Nine Paths of Storm.

The Democracy of Incarnate Living   Leave a comment

“The hours of folly are measured by the clock, but of wisdom no clock can measure” — William Blake, “The Proverbs of Hell”.

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“Where do you get your ideas from?” Every writer’s been asked this question, and every writer morosely ponders it anew, when inspiration flags and the blank page or screen stares back. When the awen is flowing, writing’s a pleasure. When it’s not (or as my guide might say, “It’s flowing differently”), often the real work begins: to listen, to bless the fallow times. To let go. Or as one of my teachers puts it, “Sit, sing, and wait”. No — not a prescription for doing nothing, but rather a particular kind of blessing. To bless ourselves is often the hardest work of all. It asks less than we’re willing to do, because doing isn’t the issue. At least not the kind of doing I usually do.

Often I get ideas from you, my readers. I look at the site statistics and find an old post from a year or two past is getting traction again. Why that topic? Why the interest now? I re-read it and listen for what might be speaking. What are you looking for? What’s shaking in your lives right now? Often, too, human memory being what it is, I don’t remember the post well (or at all), and so I can come upon it with something like fresh perception. Your interest helps me look and listen. And if it’s happening with you, it’s almost a sure thing it’s happening with me, too.

In the previous post, I wrote of honoring the mundane, respecting this world and its rhythms and changes. I go out later today to a new fire circle in my backyard to ask that it be consecrated. I initially wrote “to consecrate it”, and that could well be accurate, if I took on the sole responsibility of hallowing it. But even then, other energies and presences are involved. Because do I ever act alone? More and more, I’m learning at least my own answer to that question.

I ask for consecration, as well as performing it myself, in order to hear something of what goes on around and through me. As a capacitor and transformer of spirit, I find listening almost always clues me in that there’s more going on than I suspected. This is a suspicious universe, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. There’s so much to imagine might be happening, and imagination will pull back the curtain, open the window. I suspect the sacred all around and within me.

And then? Often, because vision’s my default sense, I expect, or suspect, I’ll see something. Instead, an air blows through the open space that carries me with it. Or a bird calls, or one of the sugar ants that have invaded our house this summer crawls across my arm. I start, and grumble at a meditation interrupted, until slowly it occurs to me this is a message. I’m part of a host of others, of selves, and we spiral together. Consecrate a circle or grove, and every square centimeter is stuffed with beings. Even counting only those with skins on.

In a post from a few years back that’s been drawing readers, I wrote,

So we return and begin (again) with the things of earth, these sacred objects and substances.  As sacraments, earth, air, fire and water can show us the holy, the numinous.  Their daily embodiments in food and drink, precious metals and gems and sex, pleasure and learning and science, music and literature and theater, sports and war and craft, are our earliest teachers.  They are part of the democracy of incarnate living, the access points to the divine that all of us meet and know in our own ways.

Not bad, but I’d add: “their daily embodiments” in embodiments. In all the Others that journey with me. These are the ones I’ll invite to join me as I open my inner grove, and as I light the first fire in the new fire circle later today.

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While digging up our yard for a new foundation last fall, our contractor unearthed a lot of stones. We asked him to pile them on the edge of the excavated area, suspecting we’d find places for them eventually, and wanting them nearby and handy, rather than neatly dropped along our property line — and further away to carry. Puzzled, he agreed. When his crew returned two months ago to reseed the area with grass, they added to the pile as they raked and smoothed the dirt. We could hear them talking and see them shaking their heads as they threw more onto the pile in what looked to them like the middle of our back yard.

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And now some serve for a fire circle, and others — the two or three large ones above — may work for seats or altar stones, if we can manage to shift them and set them firmly in place. To give you an idea of size, the large one to the right weighs a few hundred pounds (150 kilos or more).

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Honoring the Mundane   Leave a comment

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Lugh image found in Paris

One of the groups I gather with to observe at least some of the “Great Eight” festivals has been searching for a meeting place for our upcoming Lunasa/Lughnasadh celebration.

So, I ask myself, what does my teacher of Daily Druidry have on hand to show me this time?

Turns out, a lot. One member of our group whom I’ll call V has generously hosted our past three festivals in her spacious back yard.  From the Spring Equinox to Midsummer, she provided cooking space as well as an altar. And plates, cups, and tableware.

And, on more than one occasion, burgers and sausage to contribute to our potluck meals, and a bottle of wine, too. So it’s well past time for a change of host and venue, if only not to impose any more on V’s hospitality. Even though she was willing to offer her home yet again, this time for Lunasa. Until her life rearranged and changes blew through it — good ones! — and now she can’t host us after all (or attend).

So I pour a double libation to Mundana and Mundanus, twin deities of this world where we launch so many spiritual vessels, never noticing how our “ordinary” realities matter at least as much as any other.

As a for-instance: the day of ritual dawns on all-day rain, and we scramble to move indoors, or reschedule.

Or the quiet fellow who agreed at the last gathering to take on writing the ritual script for this one falls sick the day before, with just a skeleton outline he was waiting to complete with the adrenalin/awen inspiration of last-minute-ness, and so we scurry to come up with an alternative ritual, offer up energies to aid him in dealing with his physical reality, and ponder again the key role of those twin gods of the mundane.

Need a hull or anchor, a current or shore to set out from, wind in your sails, fire in your belly, water in your canteens or buoying you up, tide and moon and sun? Hail, gods of the Mundane! We honor and salute you, without whom this world cannot shape the Spiral, playing its part in manifesting anything at all in the world of form. Right and Left Hands of Spirit, we offer these gifts and salutations.

It’s fitting that Lugh whose festival is upon us bears the epithet Samildanach: “equally skilled in many arts”. The god stands out not for any particular excellence but for all of them.

And that includes — fully, rightfully, honorably, deservedly — the forms that Spirit takes in its guise as the “mundane”: the gifts of welcome, an open hearth, food and laughter and good company.

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“mundane” altar: stone (N), feather (E), candle (S), shell (W)

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Images: ancient three-headed image of Lugh found in Paris in 1800s.

Part 2: First Seed, Outward Leaf   Leave a comment

[Part 1: Frequency-Matching for Love and Money]

When I wrote earlier this year in May, reviewing the first Mid-Atlantic MAGUS Beltane Gathering, I noted briefly how “the initial inward glimpse of the Gathering came to one of the organizers almost a decade ago.  There’s yet another indication, if I need the reminder, of the possible time-gap between first seed and outward manifestation.”

For this post, let’s substitute “frequent” for “possible”. Life on earth often means adapting to that pace — that’s a large part of “growing up”, working patiently with the gaps between seed and manifestation. Life in the “fast lane” is precisely that — unearthed, out of harmony with the planet, with embodied existence in general. The old tradition of letting the land lie fallow, to restore its fertility as well as to rest, testifies to this ancient understanding. Even as we try to increase the pace of change here for our own benefit, the land, like humans, need breaks from busy-ness. Land unbusied by humans is “wild” going about its own concerns that do not need humans. So much that we find restorative in wilderness stems from its rootedness in its own rhythms, in a pace it sustains through countless ages. Attuning to that pace, as so many traditional cultures show us, is health-giving. Yet all wild landscapes change, too.

throught he mother stone -- Wendy Rose Scheers

photo courtesy Wendy Rose Scheers

Earth following its own nature brings things forth “in season”. There’s a time for everything, and everything in its time — and we say the same thing, even more, about place.  Even at death, that instant of change, we work with liturgies which (re)assign places: we hear “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. Pagans regularly “ground and center”. Humans attempt to earth changes, to ground or integrate or heal them with the sovereign power of physical stability and constancy. Terra firma. The fixed and reliable earth. Back on solid ground.

Many qualities of earth match the same ones we cherish in other people. “You can always count on her”; “He’s solid — you know where you are with him”; “I feel safe and protected around him”; “She’s a total earth-mother”; “She’s a really well-grounded person”; “He’s the salt of the earth”. Earth-home. This old “bone-house”, bānhūs, as the Anglo-Saxons called it, the skeleton of the physical body that mirrors earthiness, that holds the flesh up. Backbone, spine — good things. Courage of earth. Resilience.

If an inner threat encroaches on me, if I need respite and retreat, I open my practical tool-kit and deploy a triple protection exercise. As I turn from what troubles me, I ask for the protection of earth. In vision I approach a golden mountain. Set in the rock are enormous, heavy double doors. I walk through and they close protectively behind me.  I proceed, coming to a second set of doors, even larger and more massive than the first, which also thud shut after I pass. I feel the echo in my bones. On through the final set of doors, greatest of the three, which close with a resounding boom. Safe behind these triple doors, I regroup. Here I can regain balance and poise, seek insight and perspective. I will emerge only when I’m damn good and ready.

And we make games of change because in contrast to earth’s stability, change still does happen. We notice it most clearly against the “background” of the land, of the concrete, the manifest, the dense material world. And so we flirt with change and chance, we attempt to build, or flee from,  a “house of cards”, we enshrine reminders to ourselves in proverbs like the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, we see (or miss) the approach of a “tipping point”,  we witness the point itself in volcanoes, earthquakes, those sudden and massive shifts in previously reliable earth, we lament it in accidents, injuries, illnesses. We gamble, take risks, bet on our intuitions of what will last and what will lurch and abruptly buckle. We “time the market”, watch for that “point of no return”, and so on and on.

In a word or two, then, much of the time we get it. We’re good at earth.

But earth’s just one of the elements. Also breathed on by air, washed by water, flamed with fire, we manifest spirit — we’re that quintessence, those five points of essence, of existence. “Every man and woman”, says Aleister Crowley, “is a star”.

When our “lives rearrange in the winds of change”, as one song goes, when we set sail on the ancient sea within us, when that slow-burning fire flares up and heats everything, when spirit nudges us through all these forms, then change happens. A key: the elements working in concert usher in smoother change than the kinds that shatter the worlds of form. But as a transformer of spirit myself, I may choose to ignore the ebb and flow of energies. When I cast the elements aside, ignore spirit, turn my face from all things around me speaking what I need to know, then I invite more violent change. Nothing, nothing, nothing — WHAM!

But there, in the broken soil of change, a seed germinates, splits open, sends forth its first pale tendrils, and begins again the long game of living. How will it, how will I, manifest this time?

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From an earlier post — “Creating a Goddess Book“: “The physical world, so important for manifestation, by its nature tends to lag behind the swiftness with which vision can appear. But that lag is precisely part of this world’s immense value: its inertia and density allow for greater permanency and resistance to change, so that we can experience the results of vision over time — and fine-tune it if we choose. Unlike in dream, where the subtle stuff of vision or imagination can wisp away so quickly, physical manifestation tries to linger.”

Frequency-Matching for Love & Money   Leave a comment

[Part 2: First Leaf, Outward Leaf]

“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want”  – Einstein.

Gandhi in that oft-deployed admonition “Be the change you wish to see in the world” urges me to see the power of accepting responsibility for what I want, and helping it first manifest, however tentatively, within me. But Einstein gives me an inkling — no more! — of how. I don’t even care if it’s a case of “do as I say, not as I do”. I read crazy old Albert’s words and they ring true for me, call me to extend their resonance into action, into practice to see what they’re worth. Because how else can I know?

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“Everything is energy …”

If you’ve read a number of my previous posts, you know by now it’s one of my ongoing obsessions to find out how others achieve what they do, and then, if I can possibly pull it off, to beg, adapt, borrow, or steal what I can from approaches, mindsets, techniques, strategies, work-arounds. (Oh, just give the old Druid a tool, already!)

Because belief, almost the sole technique on offer these days in the great monotheistic faiths, just ain’t enuf for me. (The spiritual riches of most traditions sadly lie ignored.) Or rather, it’s a powerful tool, but it needs material to work on, logic and motive as much as emotion.

We get another inkling of what matching frequencies can be like from human sexuality. The drive to mate and merge, instinctive in animals, can become more conscious in humans. (I say can. If you’ve approached such consciousness, you know the weight and force of that word can. How it slips away, how messed up and yet delighted we become in the presence of the “urge to merge”.)

A committed couple, the Judeo-Christian scriptures tell us, unites in a special way. Matthew (10:8) says, “… the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one …” If you’re reading this and you’ve known that particular blessing of unity, you get it. If even for a short interval, human sexual union gives us a direct experience of unity. It’s no surprise that we say we’re “in tune” with others, that we seek as well a wider “harmony”, that we long to be “in sync” — our languages mirror truth when they can, when we don’t muck about with them too much. (Ideologues and advertisers have much to answer for!)

So matching frequencies gets us “on the same wavelength”. We vibrate together, and with sympathetic vibrations each intensifies and reinforces the other. How to do this?

Mantra, sacred song, chant all aim for attunement. (All music aims to attune us to something. It just may or may not be a vibration in harmony with what I truly want. What does it help me manifest? What am I getting? What frequency have I matched? Where do I habitually vibrate?)

What is it about people and places that it just feels good to be around? What’s the quality that produces that comfort, that pleasure, that delight?

I want to tune myself in more consciously. That doesn’t mean I turn into some plastic saint, Druid or otherwise. It means in fact that if I want to express anger, I can do it consciously and responsibly, not passive-aggressively and unintentionally. I don’t need to summon into my life even more fallout from the random consequences of an already negative frequency buzzing in my head or heart. This, I know from hard experience and from looking almost everywhere at my fellow humans, is a core lesson.

I can take annoyance, irritation, and dump it through cranking a good headbanging song on speakers or headphones. Or do a ritual — ad hoc can be perfect — that lets me purge myself by dumping said negativity into an object I then bury in the earth. (Earth, take this from me. I transmute! says Earth.)

Or I do a quick visualization, one of my go-to’s, in fact: gathering my crap into a snowball and casting it into a river that sweeps it away and dissolves it. Gone. Even the turning of attention to such a visualization helps break an undesirable frequency, and guides me toward something that I initiate, not something thrown at me, dropped on me, spun within me. I become cause. Or at least, conscious effect.

Do these things, says my guide, and you open ways to fulfill your destinies. Because we all have more than one.

And if I remember to temper excitement at any new spiritual tool with useful clarity about the nature of the physical plane, and its inherent stability, I’ll learn to extend my practice to all planes, not just this one where change is — safely! — slow, most of the time.

Earth is a great laboratory for experimentation. Because then I won’t destroy every single new thing I mean to create, until I’ve learned my how through practice. And by then I’ll have seen how much more fluid the astral and other planes can be, how frequency-matching can be closer to instantaneous. How earth provides a useful counterweight to newbie mistakes and goofs. The ancestors, the gods, the spirits, the land — all help, all watch, all wait to be invited to the only adventure there is.

Part 2, in which I examine the time lag and solidity of Earth, coming soon.

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July Interval   Leave a comment

Holy Ones I know, you grasp
the thread of my life. Sometimes
I feel your fingers drawing
me tight against the soundboard.

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lilies & hydrangeas, NW lawn

Can I sing for all of us, or does the song come for me alone? We don’t always want another to sing for us any more, though it was once a chief pleasure at the gatherings of a people. Once we knew the songs, sought to renew them when they flagged in us, when we lost the tunes from time to time. Pick them up again, friends. Then tell, tell the Tribe.

First stanzas. They can arrive in an echo, a line or two, teasing me to follow. Sometimes the whole thing turns out in an hour of listening and trial. Sometimes I fold the first words away for the next look, when maybe a day has turned and tuned me closer to where the words will go best this time. Always and never the same as last time.

Wake from a dream of speaking to those who don’t wear bodies like this, my wife rousing from a kindred dream, my parents (gone this past decade and more) in a house we have built and furnished together with them.

Sometimes I’m left ahead, not behind. It’s things that need to catch up to where I am, things that will turn round a few more turns before I understand. Then they’ll rush on ahead again.

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“Lady of the Land, open the door,
Lord of the Forest, come you in”

–Caitlin Matthews, Celtic Devotional. Gloucester, MA: Fairwinds Press, 2004, pg. 94.

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space of a writer at work and play

Here in New England, you can hear the Land singing a version of this Lunasa greeting. In the distance, a lawn mower, a chainsaw. And just outside my door, for almost the last hour now, swallows sing and chatter practically in my ears. They’ve commandeered for their nest the space on top of the outdoor light above the front steps, less than a meter from where I write, the front entry-way I made into a womb-like office.

A coming weekend program of workshops and talks on the other path I take, titled “How to Survive Spiritually in Our Times”.

It’s an excellent topic to explore, and I invite you, before you read any further, to look aside from the screen you’re on, grab pen and paper (or open a doc on your desktop) and write down some of the strategies you’ve learned. How have you survived spiritually so far? And what have you learned the hard way, perhaps the deepest and wisest and most valuable among your resources?

Did you stop to make at least a few notes? Did you include questions among your strategies?

Taking at least a few minutes for this is worth doing. (You can still do it, right now …)

I list among my own strategies getting my experience(s) down in writing, keeping a record. Both this blog and a bedside notebook help me place the downs and ups and make sense of why? and what next? My computer desktop fills with notes I date obsessively, and gather roughly once a month into another kind of journal. That one often I revisit perhaps just once or twice a year — as valuable as the others for patterns and themes I’d otherwise miss. A hoard of unattached dream fragments, poem notes, quotations, lines from my reading, a song lyric that’s dogged my heels and probably is asking for attention, long-term and refreshed to-do lists, scraps of conlangs, orphaned things that I’ve learned will find their homes and families if only I take them in and find them clothes and beds.

And what is spiritual survival, anyway? We get physical survival, we learn both fast and slow, throughout our lives, what we need to sustain ourselves, what we need to live. Fast, because if we miss those first lessons, we never live long enough for any others. Stay out of traffic. Respect hot and electrified things. Don’t take into your body absolutely everything (substance, person, idea, spirit) that presents itself.

Not long after these — learning them a little more slowly, but not much — come later lessons. Just as you don’t take into your body everything on offer, take into your heart even less. Give, instead. (Loving others as self-defense!) Cherish good measures. Learn which lines it’s truly wise not to cross. Learn which other lines actually are, in fact negotiable, despite what others tell you. (Study which lines keep moving.)

Learn whose approval and disapproval truly matters. Learn to wield your own approval and disapproval. Sell yourself not short but long. Label idols carefully. Review regularly. Love, four-letter word and practice, not just in spite of anyone or anything that comes at you, but as the idiom goes, “for good”.

Is anything not spiritual survival? How I’m spending today continues to manifest whatever spiritual truths I’m learning.

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“You”, said Apollo to the German poet Rilke, “must revise your life”.

Holy Ones we know, you grasp
the threads of our lives. Sometimes
we feel your fingers glide, drawing
us tight against the soundboard.

You pluck from us those first notes
of song. They rise, we rise, and …

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Testing the True   Leave a comment

real_fakeA lot of talk these days about truth or reality and fakeness, almost as if our era was the only one ever so burdened, so challenged, so troubled by discerning the difference. So I cheer when I find a key to help me along the way, one I can hold up to the light and turn in my hands and consider, one I can offer to you and see whether it serves your need, too.

Es ist alles wahr wodurch du besser wirst, runs a German proverb Thoreau quotes in his journal entry for October, 1837 — “Everything is true through which we become better.”

I love this as a test for truth. No abstraction here, but rather a laboratory prompt, a calibration on our internal alethiometers, to use the example of Philip Pullman’s delicate device for measuring truth.

alethiometerIn the first volume of the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, Pullman describes the alethiometer like this:

It was very like a clock, or a compass, for there were hands pointing to places around the dial, but instead of the hours or the points of the compass there were several little pictures, each of them painted with the finest and slenderest sable brush (Northern Lights, 1995).

(Do you have your own alethiometer already? You do? Is it in good working order? Or are you looking for one?)

And that in turn should tell me something. As much as it is anything else, truth is an image, a whole set of images, that I carry around. From childhood onward, from experience, from stories, movies and the examples of others, from my culture and the era I was born and grew up in, I gather up and walk with a museum of images. Does what I see and experience right now match those pictures? If not, can it be true? How can it be true?

Everything is true through which we become better. Should I walk around asking, “Have you become better yet?” Well, no: unless I start first with myself. You know this is my principal strategy for avoiding insufferable arrogance, spiritual myopia and self-righteousness. Turn the edge on myself first, before urging the blade on others. A better question is “How did you do it? And can I generalize a principle, extract a technique from your answer, so that I can pull it off, too?”

What am I doing, what have I done, and has it helped? Have I become better? If so, can I do more of it? How Druidic! Rather than an eternal and external standard to which I must somehow conform but which is native, apparently, to nobody, instead I practice one dependent on my life and my experience. Yet we can recognize a shared quality in both our experiences, even though they’re different. What can that tell us? What are we perceiving? Part of an answer seems to lie in the relationship between honoring my own experience even as I honor another’s.

To give a specific example, echinacea consistently upsets my system, but my wife finds it a wonderful aid. My truth doesn’t trump hers, but neither does hers negate mine. One principle does for both: if it helps, if through it I become better, it’s true for me. As with freedom, so with truth: yours ends where mine begins, and vice versa. Force either on me and they cease being what they are, but become their own opposites. (We still endlessly practice this negative magic on ourselves and each other.)

I do ritual alone, or with others, and stand together in a circle with the Visible and the Invisible to welcome the sacred. My wife and I work at our marriage, and it has its good and better years, like anything planted and cultivated, watered and weeded. I fell out of touch with a college friend, and we’ve drifted apart. I remember others regularly, and our relationship still holds true.

I find truth in the quality of such relationships. Improving a relationship is one way I become better.

Oh, uniformity or conformity has its place. Build a house and you want dimensions as close as you can measure and cut them. We also speak of angles, materials and directions as true. True north. We’re dismayed, or gratified, when potentials and promises come true. In a ritual it’s helpful if we work together. The chant grows stronger when we say or sing the words in unison, like any chorus. Unity can be … fun.

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Alan Watts (1915-1973)

The principle remains, whatever the design of the structure you build, house or ritual, song or life. As Alan Watts quipped decades ago — I can’t locate the source offhand — most creatures on the planet are endless variations on a single design: tubes with various attachments. (We’re improvisations, like jazz, like the unrepeatable concert version your favorite band performs of its signature song.) What wonderful diversity elaborating and playing with that unitary principle!

But what’s diversity for? I remember my first years at the school where I taught, serving as international student adviser. “Students from 38 countries!” the school brochures and website crowed at the time. “OK,” I said at one faculty meeting, feeling out the parameters of my new position. “We’ve got diversity. Now what do we do with it?” I genuinely wanted to know. No one answered. But I wasn’t being rhetorical. Was “having” diversity enough? Was that the goal, now achieved, box checked, on to the next item on some larger list? Was the school, were we, with our vaunted diversity, somehow now better? If so, how?! Could we measure it? Could we be or do something, anything, better as a result?

“I desire”, says Thoreau in Walden,

that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.

If we respect ourselves in all our quirky uniqueness and individuality, how can we not respect everything else? Your difference affirms mine. The world and all its creatures, the Chinese wan wu, “Ten Thousand Things”, announce this principle every moment. How can we not glory in such diversity?!

Apparently, to judge by what’s happening in so many places, we often can’t. Is it because we don’t trust our own uniqueness? Do we fear ourselves as distinct and free beings, and therefore fear everyone else who is also a unique self, different from us?

Does your difference help me become better? No, it must be said, not if I run from it in fear, or if I feel I must attack you to protect myself, or deny you any way to live your difference, so that it leaves mine alone. Shortsightedly, I could even claim your difference makes me worse, not better, because I don’t like it, or because you remind me of my own freedom and uniqueness. Because all difference urges me to the responsibility to live from that knowledge. No, I don’t want to become better. Save me from any such transformations! I want to be, not become.

I find truth in the quality of relationship. I want to connect to others who help me become, just as I want to help them become more of who they are.

Selfishly, I readily admit, they’re more fun to be around when they’re becoming than when they’re locked in fear and desperately trying to remain who they are. And paradoxically, they become more of who they are when they keep changing and growing. And so, they tell me, do I.

Yes, the Great Self of the Cosmos first says Be! But then its continues, saying Become! I want to hear those Words and live them. Because what else is there? Serving something larger than the self, another paradox here, fulfills the self. All the many species around me live and flourish and die and return because they and I are what the cosmos does.

And ritual, song, art, creativity in solving problems, joy, relationships with other unique beings, are all ways to express and take part in and complete that doing.

eplurunYes, to be national for a moment, the motto on our U.S. currency proclaims E pluribus unum — “Out of many, one”. When you start with states that are nearly independent nations, unity can hold great allure.

In other contexts, too, of course, we seek that uni-verse, that “one-turning”, of one-ness. But if we seek a more whole truth, a “single turning” through which we might become better, we also recognize and acknowledge and begin to live from its other half, too — its complement, which we’ve often overlooked: Ex uno plures — “Out of One, many”. As the old song goes, echo of a cosmic melody, you can’t have one without the other.

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