Archive for the ‘awen’ Category

“The Truth *Against* the World”?   Leave a comment

Tuesday morning as my wife and I were returning with the rare indulgence of take-out breakfast from a local cafe we love, we saw a morning walker on the back roads wearing a fluorescent yellow vest with the black lettering “I own safety“. All I could think was, Wow! Really? Could I please borrow some from time to time?

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Steve writes in a couple of recent comments:

… set(s) the truth right side up again …

I have long thought one of the primary functions of the modern druid should be to keep truth on a firm foundation, both for oneself and one’s “tribe”. Truly a worthy task in a time when truth has often been a subjective commodity, sold to the highest bidder.

A worthy task indeed. Far too many people in this era seem confused about truth, even about whether it’s possible. I keep attempting to present on this blog an experimental knowledge anyone can test and duplicate for themselves, as one reliable way of getting to truth. That’s why I keep writing about practice, practice, practice in as many ways as I can. Practice helps keep me honest, and also gives me plenty of material.

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Words about truth can resemble what remains after a fire.

The Roman poet and satirist Horace (Horatius) is my bard today. Si quid novisti rectius istis, candidus imperti; si nil, his utere mecum. “If you can better these principles, tell me”, goes one translation. “If not, join me in following them” — Horace, Epistles, Bk 1, 6, 67-68. But that tame version takes the snarky edge off Horace: “If you have come to know any precept more correct than these, share it with me, brilliant one; if not, use these with me”. Or as we might say, “OK, genius, you got a better idea? No? Then let’s try this one”. (I let people like Horace be snarky for me, so I can pretend to claim higher ground.)

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Y gwir yn erbyn y byd, goes the Welsh tag: “The truth against the world”. This British blog attributes the words to Iolo Morganwg. Some claim them for much more ancient Druids, some for King Arthur, and some for Boudicca (Wikipedia | History.com), queen of the Celtic Iceni, who died in the year 61 fighting the Romans. (If the words do originate with her, they’d have first appeared in a much earlier form of Brythonic than the modern Welsh quoted above.) Amazon, no surprise, sells a black t-shirt emblazoned with them, accompanied by the awen /|\ symbol. (The Amazon page for the shirt airily notes, “Show your support for culture, history, tradition and peace”. Oh, where’s Horace when you need him?!)

The Gorsedd of the Bards has adopted the words as their motto, and there’s a bardic chair with them carved into its back for winners of the Welsh National Eisteddfod. (The words appear on the larger chair to the right, just below the /|\. The glare of the camera flash obscures part of the line.)

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creative commons/Wicipedia (Welsh Wikipedia)

Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely considering we’re human, we want our truth boxed and bubble-wrapped and tamely waiting for when we deign to grant it our attention. We want to own it, defend it, and — gods help us — buy and sell it, like anything else. Fortunately, truth isn’t like “anything else”. I know it in its purest form when I serve it rather than try to possess it. And maybe it’s not a moving target: I am.

Christian, Pagan, humanist, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and so on — if you pray, meditate, study, struggle, do ritual, and pay attention, you too know these things from experience.

Rather than a list of principles straight from the mouth of deity, or set of ultimate equations about reality scrounged up in a Silicon Valley lab, truth seems to be a function, which Google obligingly tells me is “an activity or purpose natural to or intended for a person or thing”. We can live from it, in other words. We can express it through our lives and actions to a greater or lesser degree, but we’ll always find it hard to put into “words now and forever”. Words don’t do that kind of thing well at all*, and neither, the accumulating evidence of human history shows, should we.

So I can sing and dance the truth better than I can profess it from the soapbox of this little blog in the early decades of the 21st century. (You need to know I sing and dance quite badly.) And if it’s true that a person can experience deep realization gazing into the heart of a flower, as I noted in the previous post, any “truth” in that moment isn’t coming through words. It’s a function of the prepared individual and the flower and the moment of attention. It’s “an activity or purpose natural to or intended for a person or thing”. And so to the degree that I stray or get distracted from “the activity or purpose natural to or intended for me”, I lose the ability to serve truth.

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The “truth against the world” often means conflict and struggle. The “world” in this case seems to signify a human form of inertia and resistance to time’s change. The desire to box and bag the perfection of a moment effectively kills it, leaving me with a dead thing, a mental photograph that doesn’t show the living being that’s its original. The “world” doesn‘t seem to mean the tree outside my office window, the woodchuck nibbling the tender clover in the back yard, the sunlight blessedly falling all around, the “Time of New Talk”, as Rudyard Kipling called the springtime returning to India in The Jungle Book.

So if I want to serve truth, to practice “an activity or purpose natural to or intended for me”, I find I’m working with a kind of electrical circuit, with resistances and poles and a definite direction of flow. The more I struggle to own truth, to box it and lord it over others as if I finally “have” it, the more I forfeit the “spark” of my electricity — the metaphor’s a useful one — the very thing that keeps me alive and vital and rooted in what is “natural to or intended for” me.

The word “world” has a whole set of specifically Christian associations I’d like to glance at here. Be of good cheer, says Jesus at one point in the Gospels. I have overcome the world. To me one big takeaway of that is a priceless unspoken corollary. I have overcome the world, and so can you. The Galilean says to me, I have overcome the resistance in myself to serving truth, rather than owning it. Do that, and you too will be able to say of your holy experience “I’m the way, the truth and the life. Nobody gets to the Source, or stays centered in it, except like that”.

And I hold this out not as an “opinion”, or worse as some kind of dogma, Druidic or otherwise, but as a potential truth to try out, to test, to practice till I know it from my own experience and can live it more fully. Or prove it inaccurate, say so, and look elsewhere. And maybe you will, too. You can be my Horace: “if you can better these principles, tell me”. Because as one current meme suggests, I can hold all kinds of opinions without evidence. But as soon as I present them as “truth” to others, untested in my own experience, I’m guilty of lying and fraud.

To repeat Greer’s words from the previous post, “at the human level, the individual Awen for the first time may become an object of conscious awareness. Achieving this awareness, and living in accord with it, is according to these Druid teachings the great challenge of human existence”. The world (not the world that the truth is “against”) seems to manifest this out of the same awen, but without human conscious awareness. It’s what we’ve labeled instinct, though that doesn’t account very well for plant energies that manifest leaves and branches and fruit and roots. That’s one reason why we find the natural world a restorative presence when we walk in it, savor it, apprentice ourselves to it. Notice that you don’t have to believe nature is restorative. You know this from your experience in it, and any belief — more accurately, trust — comes after.

And so I return to words that are “holy” to me, because I keep discovering ways they prove worth my ongoing time and exploration. They’re also holy because the principle behind them can be rediscovered by anyone who does what they describe:

Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth …  It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit. (Greer, John Michael.  Druidry — A Green Way of Wisdom, qtd. in Carr-Gomm, Philip. What Do Druids Believe? London:  Granta Books, 2006, p. 34.)

May your practice and path bring you into contact with what is deepest and most worthwhile within you.

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*Ursula LeGuin says it well: a writer attempts to “say in words what cannot be said in words”, as she puts it. And so a writer resorts to story, getting at the “truth” through imagination.

Off into the Deep End Again   2 comments

In what follows, among other things I’m setting out elements from my own peculiar spiritual journey. So if what I write irritates or angers you, that’s probably a good signal to stop reading and go do (or eat) something else. When it’s not to your taste, any more than a mayonnaise and peanut butter sandwich, there’s no need to take a second bite. Or even a first one!

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A recent comment on an old post asking “What’s the spiritual meaning of X?” is what launched this post. In some ways, the question asks, “What’s appropriate action in this moment?” Or maybe, “How might I respond to this appeal to my attention?” or “Should I even bother to pay attention?” (Maybe we should start with “What’s the physical meaning of X?”)

The X in the question above isn’t the main point (Yeah it is! shouts the seeker in me), for though it’s what snags my attention and draws a lion’s share of the drama, the meat of the question is about meaning, about how and where my attention is focused, and about what if anything happens as a result of that focus.

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One of the discoveries we can slowly make in worlds of time and space is that few things have a single meaning, spiritual or otherwise. At the most literal level, a good dictionary will list several meanings for almost every word. Even deceptively “little” words (“Those? They’re the absolute worst!”) like English a, an, the have numerous meanings, as learners of English discover to their dismay, and writers have attempted to catalog. (Alan Brender’s Three Little Words: A, An, The lists 52 meanings and uses for ’em — one for every week of the year.) What to do with a universe so perverse? says the rationalist in my spleen. Hey, you rhymed! says the bard at my elbow.

Meanings are almost always plural. OK, but does that in turn mean that it’s just “Pick a card, any card”? Well, it’s true that some days, or some whole lifetimes, can feel that way.

Usually if I’m noticing something, it’s communicating to me, and further, I usually already have a hunch or suspicion of some possible meaning(s) of that communication. These two go together, usually so intertwined I can’t separate them. We’re trained to sift and sort all the input from our senses and select only what we need to notice. If something’s already risen to my conscious awareness, the “meaning filter” has let it through. The “Ten Thousand Things” can fade into background. The particular thing or event or person now stands center stage.

My right shoulder and forearm have been bothering me on and off for over a month. Exercise helps some, but I’m still fine-tuning which exercises. As we age, the cartilage in the shoulder and spine, the facet joints, start to deteriorate, says my wife, with her physical therapy training. In fact, the shoulder is often the first to go.

And I can leave it at that. But I can also choose to listen how my experience opens up insight, including insight about the experiences of others.

If something’s already communicating to me, how can I respond?

Meaning-bearer, I greet you. Thank you for arriving in my world with your messages. As they unfold with my intention, may I honor and fulfill them with my life.

“Wait just a minute”, says another of the selves I wear. I can hear the outrage grow in his voice. “Do you mean I should be grateful for shoulder pain?!”

That’s not what I’m saying. Pain sucks. But like the X of the opening question, pain isn’t the final point. “If the world were only pain and logic”, says Mary Oliver in her poem “Singapore”, “who would want it?”

One of our great skills as humans is to bring the hidden into manifestation and to clothe the non-physical with form and shape. We do it throughout our lives, constantly. No surprise, we’re pretty good at it. (Wedding planners, investment bankers, gardeners, contractors, parents, janitors, children, athletes, generals, lovers, daydreamers, cooks, doodlers, singers … OK, you get the idea.) We bring into existence something that wasn’t there before. It’s also how we fall in love.

That spark of attention that events kindle in us also ignites our attempts to put them into words. For this reason many cultures consider speech a holy thing — words as spiritual objects are not to be lightly disrespected or misused. The Queen of Faerie tells Thomas the Rhymer to hold to silence in her realm, “so that his speech might store up power” for his return. In many cultures, songs and stories tell how speech is a divine gift, how creation happens through words, and knowing the right word, the true name for a thing, is a key that opens many doors.

Insofar as I think with words, then, I can hallow thinking through conscious intention. My attention and my intention, my noticing and the shaping of my consciousness in return, can be choices. (They’re also a deal of work, as anybody knows who’s tried.) They can be gifts to myself and to others around me, because they change me. Such holy things are never in vain. Even this much, just the attempt, although the fullness of meanings may not yet have come clear to me, takes me into sacred territory. With the sacred in my heart, I start to become a holy meaning maker with the materials of my attention and intention. These are among my return gifts to the sacred within and around me.

Stranger on earth, thy home is Otherworld. Pilgrim, thou are the guest of gods.

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The Céile Dé, Celtic Christian heirs to older teachings I mentioned in a previous post, offer on their website this article “Advice at the Threshold“, including the questions below, as a gauge to some of the challenges of conscious awareness of the awen:

In the course of what would be a typical week, would you say that you are very likely to experience one or more of the following?

+ hurt feelings
+ feel offended or insulted
+ lose your temper
+ act or react on impulse and regret it soon afterwards
+ complain about your lot
+ blame others for your inward state

If you want a clear account of my recent emotional geography, look no further than the list! (That unfriendly planetary virus that’s currently making the rounds doesn’t help.) But if I move beyond that threshold into realms of awen, I’m no longer a passive recipient of someone or something else’s meaning, floundering and struggling to figure out “what it all means”.

Oh, she meant well, we sometimes say. Or he didn’t mean it, we remark. But we usually offer these as excuses, rather than opportunities. J. M. Greer, citing the Barddas, that 19th century compilation of Druid Revival teachings, notes:

… a unique Awen is said to be present in each soul from the moment it comes into being, and guides it on its long journey up through the Circle of Abred — the realm of incarnate life in all its myriad forms — to the human level of existence. It is at the human level that the individual Awen for the first time may become an object of conscious awareness (Greer, The Gnostic Celtic Church, pg. 12)

As above, so below: we share in our humanity as individuals precisely because awen is present within each of us, but in each of us it’s a unique awen. To be a person is to be “awenized”, but also to be an awenizer. The Welsh call this awenydd, one filled with awen, a poet or bard.

Wait, you say. I’m not a poet or a bard.

Greer continues:

… the individual Awen for the first time may become an object of conscious awareness. Achieving this awareness, and living in accord with it, is according to these Druid teachings the great challenge of human existence.

Another way to approach it: You might say “awen isn’t just for poets anymore”.

When something comes into my awareness, catching my attention and seeming to signify s o m e t h i n g, “does it mean it”? One way to answer: Only if I respond and make meaning along with it.

Things “mean”, and “have meaning” for us, because in some way they are pointing us toward greater awareness of our awen, prodding us to become more conscious of it. Human existence provides a spiritual opportunity to make our awen a mode of consciousness — our prime mode of consciousness.

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If I and my life could mean anything right now, in addition to whatever they already mean, what do I want that to be?

One way to grapple with this enormous question is to reply with a question: How and where — because I can’t know it unless I’m already in touch with it — is my awen already emerging and appearing?

For me, oddly enough,  resistance is a key component. (Like so many people with mixed motives, I’m often working against my own destiny — a brutally efficient way to discover what it is when it smacks me in the face.)

“What are you rebelling against?” asks a character in The Wild One.

And Marlon Brando’s character Johnny Strabler replies, “What have you got?”

Johnny’s point underscores how rebellion or resistance is reactive — it takes a mechanical response to meaning-making, rather than a creative one. That is, the event, circumstance, or other person is still in control of what I do.

But once I get even some glimmers of my own awen, I start to know what’s right for me. Of course we can still confuse “what’s right for me” with ego, impulse, reactiveness and so on, but it’s a big step. Yes, I can cherry-pick meanings from the events in my life and miss larger beneficial meanings — we witness each other doing this all the time, while remaining half-blind when we do it ourselves.

But I sometimes think our resistance helps us from capsizing our lives with too much change all at once. The sailor’s strategy in heavy weather of deploying a sea anchor can stabilize a boat, keeping it pointed in the desired direction even as it slows forward movement. A little resistance can be a good thing, a way to try out the meanings I’m making, giving them a test drive.

“Find and follow your own awen” eventually becomes the foundation of each of our individual ways of life. That’s what gives them their integrity, power and beauty. And in the words of that wonderfully ambiguous expression current when I was in secondary school and still heard occasionally today, “It takes one to know one”.

Sometimes it takes one very far indeed.

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Can anyone identify either of the flowers above? The first is from a tree in our front yard that eventually produces a firm reddish-brown berry about the size and shape of a small olive. They remain on the boughs through the winter. Cedar waxwings come through in February and devour them all, usually in a single day.

The second, I’ve been told, is some kind of hyacinth, but I haven’t yet found a variety that matches. (Same color alone isn’t enough for identification!) Any ideas?

The Céile Dé and the Fonn   Leave a comment

The Céile Dé, sometimes Anglicized as Culdee, is one current revival of an ancient and largely monastic Celtic Church of the British isles. If you’re looking for aids to meditation and a means to reduce anxiety, gain focus and know your own core being, a fonn of the Céile Dé may be for you. I was privileged to attend a Céile Dé presentation at Solar Hill in southern Vermont several years ago, and to experience a demonstration of several fuinn (pl. of fonn). As part of a spiritual practice, you too may find these chants potent for healing and balance.

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salamander, Camp Ashby, MA

The Ceile De website notes:

The fuinn (plural) are said to bring the three parts of us — Spirit, Psyche and Physical, into harmony. They offer a powerful practice that can help us sink into a deep meditative state … or enflame the heart.

Most of the fuinn are short and repeated over and over. Fuinn can also be “prescribed” as anam leighis (soul medicine).

The three free chants on the website clock in respectively at about 6 minutes, 3:20 and 2:45. Once you’ve listened a few times and harmonized to the energy and rhythm of the chant, you can begin to adapt the form to passages from other poems, songs and prayers that uplift you. A slow, meditative chant works, as the website observes, “because we always have our voices and hearts with us”.

Using the previous sentence, “our voices and our hearts together” can form a group chant.

“The awen … I sing … from the deep … I bring it” serves equally well as an individual chant, which can be effective in alternating periods of silence and chant. Try experimenting with where you divide up the line, into three or four parts, or one longer slow chant.

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You can read an OBOD article on the Céile Dé here.

I invite you to post about your experience with these chants.

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From the Druid’s Prayer Outward   Leave a comment

Ri, a’h Isprid, do iscod …

Grant, o Spirit, thy protection …

If I pray, or make a vow, in a constructed language like the one I used to translate the Druid’s Prayer two months ago, is the prayer worthy, or the vow valid?

One direct test: does the spiritual world take them seriously? How do I know? And what, in turn, can that tell me about intention, creativity, awen and gods I may not worry about “believing” in, but whom I’m happy to work with, if I ask and if they choose?

(O Bríd and Oghma, for the gift of speech already I thank you …)

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eastern counter-glow over our roof at sunset

“Sound”, says the Old Irish In Lebor Ogaim, The Book of Ogams or the Ogam Tract, “is the mother of Og(h)ma, and matter his father”. Sound becoming language, the tongue of human beings, mediated by a god. The awen you sing, from the deep you bring it. And I pray you will.

No, I’m not claiming for my nascent Celtic con-lang any sort of special divine or holy status. (At least not in advance.) All languages are holy, or could be. But yes, I am working magic, going with an intention, asking blessings on it, charging it with desire, putting in a sustained effort, sailing with the wind, trusting to its fulfillment in time, doing my part, perceiving it from the vantage point of already-manifested, working with the as-if principle, feeling it as much as thinking it — because feeling charges an intention till it begins to spark, and it kindles (mostly) along paths we’ve laid for it, following the principle of the path of least resistance.

“I look forward to seeing where this goes as you work through the details”, writes Steve.

So do I, whether he was referring to the language or the prayer behind it, or both, or something else. “Working through the details”, the concrete form or mold into which we invite the magic to pour, helps give it shape. But whether it fills that form, or another more open to its flow, isn’t wholly up to us. If you’ve been at all involved in the building of a house or barn, with concrete being poured, you’ve run across stories of the concrete forms blowing out, and the heavy wet stuff flowing everywhere you didn’t want it. Magic is alive, god/dess is afoot, as much when I stub a toe or mash a finger as when the magic shifts my life to wonder and growth. Force flowing into form.

More than a little humility can help keep us from acts of outright stupidity in the face of divine power manifesting. Insisting that magic go a certain way is like commanding the tide: the tide always wins. But not seeing it as a contest, but as a chance to sail on the seas of magic, lets me ride the waves, tack across the wind, or run with it, and reach harbor. A light hand on the tiller, a boat that isn’t an ego project, a “vanity vessel”, but a seaworthy ship.

Expecting the wind to drive my boat out onto the waves, steer it where I want to go, and deliver me without any further effort on my part beyond the “ask”, is folly beyond telling. To put it more crudely and memorably, in words a friend said to me recently, it’s just naive as f*ck.

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So what lies “outward from prayer”? (Between sacred and profane may lie the merest hair’s breadth. Live, pure, wise, fire and true are also among our four-letter words.)

Make the turn, just don’t insist on logic as the link.

The Great Triad of Jesus is familiar to many, but too often we forget the hard-earned admonition that immediately precedes it:

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

I know I squander the holy far too often, casting it aside like a paper wrapper around the candy of what I think I “really want”. After all that asking, seeking and knocking, I just let it slide from my fingers. So I take up the task again, asking, seeking, knocking — until I find that supple, elusive thing I need like blood and breath.

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I’m slowly reading two related books (like many “bookies”, I almost always have more than two going at any one time), to listen to them echo and ricochet off each other: Thomas Kunkel’s Enormous Prayers: A Journey into the [Catholic] Priesthood, and Rev. Lora O’Brien’s A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood. The first volume I’d salvaged free from the last day of a used-book sale where any remainders were given away to clear space. The second I recently bought used, though it appeared in 2019.

We still grant to “priest” and “priestess” an aura of magic and mystery — tarnished, yes, by years of unfolding Catholic scandal among others, while also reclaiming, often from non-Christian sources, new resonance and imagery and sacred fire. As one priest in Kunkel’s book exclaims, “… people are starving today for mystery, the power that grounds, suffuses and surpasses all things, that ever-present but elusive reality … as a result, our souls are withering from underuse and lack of nourishment.” And we know this because “people have a sickness that no psychologist or physician can cure …”

We need to move beyond prayer to find that use and that nourishment. Fortunately, many are beginning to wake again to themselves, and to reclaim that holy task, rather than yielding it to any other.

Priests and priestesses? Needed, yes. Needed very much at times. But not essential. The life we each hold (a trust, a sacred heirloom, a gift from the ancestors) is enough.

And may you know blessing as you too reclaim, and name, and flame.

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Kunkel, Thomas. Enormous Prayers: A Journey into the Priesthood. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998.

O’Brien, Rev. Lora. A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2019.

“Am I Crazy, or Just Fabulous?”   Leave a comment

(And are those my only options?)

The title comes from a casual workshop comment on the awen with Welsh Druid Kristoffer Hughes at East Coast Gathering a couple years ago. As we take our first steps in this fabulously crazy year of 2020, it’s a superlatively appropriate question to ask.

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“May your bridge be a star, and your star a bridge” — Winston-Salem, NC. April ’19

Or to take it for a spin, account for your life in your own way, on your own terms, and you may well see a change — especially if you respond to some of its challenges with mu — that great Zen keyword which in at least some traditions means “un-ask the question”.

Let’s consider for a moment the joys of those being our options: a touch of insanity, or unsurpassed excellence. Make these specifically Druid madness and marvelousness, and you just might be onto something. Especially if you mix them …

The counsel of a bard — Gerard Manley Hopkins, that blessed fool of Victorian England, writes in “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” (you know you’re near bardic territory with such titles):

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

What I do is me … the greatest spell any of us will ever work. Each thing in the universe is dear for its individuality, its singularness. Irreplaceable you.

Now to turn this potent enchantment to a purpose, rather than watch it subside into itself like a melted-down candle. How many of us are quite literally mis-spelled? That is to say, there are definite spells or enchantments in play, but they do not work wholly or even partly for our benefit. The spell is working counter to our purposes. (How many of the knights in Arthurian myth quest nobly for the Grail, and never catch even a glimpse of it? Or to quote author Feenie Ziner, who writes about her son’s quest in the wilderness for a truer vision than 70s America offered him, on any great moral journey, the devil is always a stowaway. We take the mis-spelling right along with us, we yield to almost any spiritual enchantment that comes along, especially if it’s cleverly packaged, and we give it space in our rucksacks and backpacks, a place on our storage shelves.)

So often we can hear other bards answering. They’re in endless conversation with each other, when they’re not sitting stunned after a visit from gods, or mead has simultaneously fired and rewired their inward sight, or a spell of solitude eventually returns them hungry for the magic of simple, daily things — a crackling fire, the wet nose or soft fur of a pet, the comfort of a friend’s presence when nobody needs to say anything at all. And sometimes they talk most when they find themselves right in the middle of these simple things. Because in the end, where else is there?

As the late author, mystic and former priest John O’Donohue puts it in Eternal Echoes*,

Each one of us is alone in the world. It takes great courage to meet the full force of your aloneness. Most of the activity in society is subconsciously designed to quell the voice crying in the wilderness within you. The mystic Thomas a Kempis said that when you go out into the world, you return having lost some of yourself. Until you learn to inhabit your aloneness, the lonely distraction and noise of society will seduce you into false belonging, with which you will only become empty and weary. When you face your aloneness, something begins to happen. Gradually, the sense of bleakness changes into a sense of true belonging. This is a slow and open-ended transition but it is utterly vital in order to come into rhythm with your own individuality. In a sense this is the endless task of finding your true home within your life. It is not narcissistic, for as soon as you rest in the house of your own heart, doors and windows begin to open outwards to the world. No longer on the run from your aloneness, your connections with others become real and creative. You no longer need to covertly scrape affirmation from others or from projects outside yourself. This is slow work; it takes years to bring your mind home.

The work of both Druid and Christian — as it is the work of anyone walking a “path with heart” — is to turn from the “seductions of false belonging”. Christians may call this “the world”, and offer strategies for dealing with it that are specific to their tradition. Such guidelines can be most helpful if, as my teacher likes to say, they’re truly a line to my guide, and not an obstacle to testing and knowing for myself.

More often than not, Druidry simply presents its particular practices and perspectives on living in harmony with nature, trusting that anyone who follows them deeply enough will discover much the same thing. Rather than do’s and don’t’s, it suggests try this out for yourself and see. (Imagine a more directive Druidry, a more experiential Christianity. What could happen?!)

One thing I admire about O’Donohue, and seek in other writers and teachers and traditions, and try to model myself if I can, is never to present a problem or criticize a behavior without also offering at least some strategies for negotiating it. Show me a how — and preferably more than one. A palette of choices.

Here O’Donohue spotlights one of the challenges the human world offers us — the seduction of false belonging, whether spiritual, political, romantic, economic, etc. — and identifies an answering response or strategy of finding our true home, of resting in the house of our own heart, of bringing the mind home.

Now these poetic expressions are lovely and metaphorical — at least until we begin to experience them for ourselves, and find out what they can mean for us. Every human life offers opportunities to do so, though one of the “seductions of false belonging” urges us to discount them, to treat them as idle fantasies, as pipe-dreams, to replace our instincts with advertising slogans. Cynicism about spiritual opportunities abounds, because like so much else, hucksters have sought to monetize them, to profit off our naivete and first attempts to build that true home, to rest in the heart-house. Nothing drives us from such homes like mockery and shame.

Mis-spell me, spell me wrong, and I’ll look everywhere but in a song to tell me what I need to know, where I want to go. Home is the poem I keep writing with my life.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of my daily go-to practices involves singing the awen, what I’ve also called the “cauldron sound” in Druid terms. Others know it as the hu, the original voice that sings in everything. Hindus call it om, and Christians term it the Word of God, the “amen, the faithful and true witness”. You encounter mention of it in many different traditions around the planet, because it appears to have an objective reality (and that’s something to explore, rather than accept — or reject — dogmatically).

Here’s a short video of Philip Carr-Gomm and Eimear Burke leading a chant of the Irish equivalent imbas: One key is to experiment — find the song, the word, the home that fits. And hermit-crab-like, move when it no longer can house you, or shelter your spirit. 

And one Druidic extension of these practices can be to search out and experiment with sounds and voices specific to our individual heart-homes and houses. Our spirit animals can be helpful in this pursuit, alerting us to inward places to visit, and situations to avoid, or plunge into. Or as the Galilean master noted, “In my father’s house are many dwelling-places”.

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*O’Donohue, John. Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong. HarperPerennial, (reprint of 1999 original), 2000.

Winning the Dream   Leave a comment

[Updated 8:46 am EST 12 Dec 2019]

I’ve found there’s so often a link between “finding something to write about” and paying attention to whatever might be my spiritual “work of the day”. Start with one, and the other follows you like a stray, till you take it home and make it a member of your household.

These things circle back on themselves, or more accurately — like so much else — they spiral. They’re not exactly the same each time they reappear, because we’re not the same.  No point in a lesson about something I’ve mastered, when there’s so much else a dream could tackle. (Yes, I’m a big believer that our dreams are intelligent and insightful, in spite of our best efforts to ignore them — maybe because we try to ignore them.)

I had a recurring dream throughout my 20s of being back in high school. This kind of thing — a dream-revisiting of a supposedly finished part of our lives — isn’t uncommon. (The worlds interweave much more than we often understand.) Even in the dreams, I often felt blocked, frustrated, sometimes knowing I’d already graduated, but was back because of unfinished business. Sometimes I recognized other people in the dreams, sometimes not.

I kept asking for clarity and resolution, and eventually I did “go back to high school”: I taught in one for a decade and a half. The dreams stopped shortly before the job offer came through: I finally graduated in one dream, years older than my dream classmates. Even in the dream I felt a vast sense of relief.

I’ve come to see that the past wasn’t the only thing I had to deal with. The dreams were offering preparation for the future, too. But it took re-reading of my dream journals from that period to make these connections, the shifting patterns of dozens of high school dreams, to understand part at least of what was happening.

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The title of this post, “Winning the Dream”, is partly to point out (to myself, as much as anybody) how badly “winning” fits either our dreaming or waking selves. We dream the same way we live, not to beat off all competitors (though up to a point anyone can pursue this interesting but ultimately exhausting set of life choices), but because we’re here, and this is what we do. To live, to dream, with the awen thrumming in your blood is an amazing, daunting, humbling, unmissable thing.

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Sometimes, the best transition is no transition at all. One minute you’re asleep, the next you’re awake. My dream, and my life, both leave it to me to figure out.

I suspect — one of my favorite words (rather than “believe”) — that awen is the link here — awen and genius. To work with these two (the same thing?) is to be what the Welsh call an awenydd (ah-WEHN-eeth) — one in touch with spirit: “Spirit energy in flow is the essence of life”, as Emma Restall Orr puts it in Living Druidry (Piatkus Books, 2004).

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Genius. Funny word, much changed from its early sense compared to how we commonly use it these days.

Here’s a sample of the older usage, from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is walking home in the evening shortly before Christmas:

The yard was so dark that even Scrooge, who knew its every stone, was fain to grope with his hands. The fog and frost so hung about the black old gateway of the house, that it seemed as if the Genius of the Weather sat in mournful meditation on the threshold.

In such older usage we hear something of the Latin origin of the word — genius as “spirit”, as in genius loci, or “spirit of place”. Places, families, individuals each had their associated genius or spirit. (Nowadays we might be more likely to say “atmosphere”, or “vibe”.) From there the meaning of genius grew to include a person connected to an especially impressive spirit — one way others could explain a person of exceptional talents, gifts, virtuosity, or unusual ability. Genius came to mean “great talent”: She’s a genius in the lab. And now it’s also an adjective, common in memes and advertising: Try this genius solution to all your storage challenges!

But if you and I and everybody else enjoys an associated genius, we might be wise to check in first with the genius each of us has, rather than chasing after ones that aren’t native to us. (In fact, as I look at my life, I could well characterize most of its events as a study in either chasing non-native genius, or checking in with native genius.)

Different traditions give the genius a frequently confusing range of names — guardian angels, daemons, jinn, and so on. Some of the more polarized traditions may label the spirits of other traditions as unequivocably evil, though they often viewed their own entities as a much more mixed bag. Acceptable former gods become saints, and vice-versa, while others get tarred with the label devils. (A god or goddess survives if they can ride such changes over centuries and millennia, and work creatively with openings when they arrive.)

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Yesterday morning the hospice client I work with (scroll down to section 4 at the link, if you’re interested) was talking again about labyrinths as spiritual tools, and remarked, “You can only access the wisdom of place if you know the place you’re in”. Everything we experience is real, you might say, putting it another way. We just need to determine which world it’s real in. It doesn’t fit here? Change the this-here to other-here and it just might snap into place, complete the puzzle, fill in the mozaic, carry the melody to its close.

Know the place, know the person, and you know a great deal about the genius, or governing spirit.

In many ways, then, “winning the dream” means know the genius of whatever you’re doing, where you’re at, what you’re into.

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Five questions for sussing out genius:

1) What spirit is driving it? Is it something familiar, something I’ve worked with before? Or something new? A song came through last fall, and I don’t do songs. But maybe that’s the point: it’s time to start singing. A new way spirit is striving to get through, to express what it is, what I am. Or I’m thrown in with people I normally wouldn’t talk with, because we don’t seem to have anything in common. Well, you’re both breathing, right? You share 95% of what’s happened ever since you both started with that in-breath, out-breath thing you’re both doing. The rest, as they say, is mere details.

I stopped off this last Monday for a one-time hospice volunteer respite-visit for the family of a neighborhood 92-year old. They had medical appointments themselves, and volunteers give them precious time away, knowing someone is staying with the family member.

His hearing is still pretty good, though his eyesight means he himself can’t read any more. But nine decades means you’ve seen a good deal. I read a little to him, and we talked. What you “read” at 92 is different than at 20 — but no less valid. As the body wears down, you’re already prepping for the transition, the next rung of the spiral. You can see it in his eyes, sharp and bright as any bird’s. He’s still taking it all in, alert to the surprise of the ordinary, as much as anything else: the taste of his lunch, the warmth of the nearby woodstove (they set his bed just a few feet away), the fall of clumps of snow melting from the roof as the temperature climbed well above freezing — to be here at all, to wear this body, even with its aches and pains, defeats and deficits. Sitting and talking with him, it feels like he’s mastered the skill of being present.

2. What apparent opposites are in play? Spirit so often manifests this way. Polarities set the stage, define the players of the game, map out a particular curve on the spiral, mediate energies at work in the situation. Identify with one or the other, and I may lose sight of the overall dynamic, where it’s actually going, and define myself solely by opposition or resistance. Which may well be the point, or it may completely miss it, depending … But do I know? Have I seen what’s in play, at play, what the drama is today?

3. What’s the flow? Polarities may set the charge moving, but it’s our presence that mediates spirit, that determines what flows toward and away from us. Taoism is a wise study of this particular aspect of being alive, and has much to teach about riding the currents, sailing where we need to go, surfing the waves of the cosmos as they manifest in the weather, the Others in our lives, the kiss of a dog’s nose, the aroma of cooking, the punch of cold air when I open the door to December.

4. What’s the form? The flow arrives into forms and beings, walls and doorways, shaped by awen and wyrd and choice and momentum. Form is a becoming, rather than anything like an endpoint. In worlds of time and space, form is “re-forming” constantly, whether on a slow scale of millennia, like a mountain, or much more rapidly, as in the stages of the life of a mayfly. Do I recognize the forms with and around me, and what energies are arriving through them? Have I included myself as one of those forms? (Exempt myself and I miss a good half of whatever’s going on, what it’s saying to me.)

5. What’s the alignment? What things are being adjusted, modified, “edited”, re-formed, and then opened up again to Spirit? (The cycle begins again, the spiral reforms on a different harmonic.) Where and how — and when? — can I join in, do my part, make a play, run with it?

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Creativity’s Messy–2: Druid & Christian   Leave a comment

No surprise (though I’m often slow on the uptake), after the period of inner work I detailed in the recent “Listening to Inwardness” series, that creativity should be the theme of these posts. The awen, like water, seems to follow the paths of least resistance in our lives, so for me it manifests in language creation, and in returns to themes I’ve looked at already but need to spiral with. And in physical reminders, too, as this body ages, to exercise, to eat healthy, to stretch, to listen.

And that means a challenge I’m noting for myself, even as I record it here for you: creativity left unmanifest, ignored for too long, can out itself through my weaknesses, too, amplifying them, doing a full-on “mercury retrograde” to my daily life on the spot, when a hundred little things that might go wrong will absolutely find a way to do so, if they can. If that divine energy that is creative always has got nowhere else to go, I’ll have a right royal row with my wife, stub my toe on the woodstove base, get splinters in my palm while chopping wood, break a clean plate while emptying the dishrack — all in the same morning. Like electricity, creativity will ground itself along the most direct path to earth.

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Another instance of the messiness of creativity rests in our spiritual encounters and how we respond to their challenges and opportunities — to those places and moments where something rattles our cages, and with any grace induces us to sort out what’s habit and inertia and no longer helpful to our lives, and what remains valid on a new round of the spiral of our journey. Person, place or thing, it doesn’t matter: each asks us to bring the fire in us to bear on problem solving, on spiritual creativity at work in daily life — in a word, at finding joy. But ignore the lesson-opportunity-blessing, and just as with the smaller moments, so the bigger ones, as R. J. Stewart observes:

It may seem to be hardship imposed from without, almost at random, but magical tradition suggests that it flows from our own deepest levels of energy, which, denied valid expression by the locks upon our consciousness, find an outlet through exterior cause and effect (Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 20-21)

Creativity is one of the most enjoyable ways to “unlock” that I’ve experienced. But it’s almost guaranteed to be messy!

I’ve posted elsewhere on this blog my own attempts to plumb some of the numinous encounters and intersections of Druidry and Christianity, a deep and rich vein to explore, as writers and teachers like John Philip Newell have done in several books.

Here’s Newell in his 2012 book A New Harmony* on the “sound of the beginning” — a pretty close description for the awen, at least as some Druids experience it:

New science speaks of being able to detect the sound of the beginning in the universe. It vibrates within the matter of everything that has being. New science is echoing the ancient wisdom of spiritual insight. In the twelfth century Hildegard of Bingen taught that the sound of God resonates ‘in every creature’. It is ‘the holy sound’, she says, ‘which echoes through the whole creation.’ If we are to listen for the One from whom we have come, it is not away from creation that we are to turn our ears, it is not away from the true depths of our being that we are to listen. It is rather to the very heart of all life that we are to turn our inner attention. For then we will hear that the deepest sound within us is the deepest sound within one another and within everything that has being. We will hear that the true harmony of our being belongs to the universe and that the true harmony of the universe belongs to us. … Everything arises from that sacred sound.

So far, so Druid. But in the same book, Newell then turns toward issues that often receive less insightful treatment in too much of Druidry. Spend time in Druid communities and you encounter firsthand what they struggle with, too: addiction, abuse, imbalance, illness, spiritual immaturity and blindness, ignorance, superstition, fear, anger. In other words, with the human weaknesses that beset every other human community.

Newell observes:

Knowing and naming brokenness is essential in the journey towards wholeness. We will not be well by denying the wrongs that we carry within us as nations and religions and communities. Nor will we be well by downplaying them or projecting them onto others. The path to wholeness will take us not around such awareness but through it, confronting the depths of our brokenness before being able to move forward towards healing. As Hildegard of Bingen says, we need two wings with which to fly. One is the ‘knowledge of good’ and the other is the ‘knowledge of evil’. If we lack one or the other we will be like an eagle with only one wing. We will fall to the ground instead of rising to the heights of unitary vision. We will live in half-consciousness instead of whole-consciousness.

Both Druidry and Christianity still tend to be “one-winged”, and in opposite ways. (That’s partly why each could learn much from the other.) To grossly over-generalize, Druids celebrate the good, and glory in images of that old Garden and those ancient Trees, while underplaying the human evils that beset Druids and their communities as much as anyone, and forestall them from entering more fully. Christians may understand and even fixate more on the evils, and have much indeed to say about sin, but underplay and even distrust the gifts and capacities, lessons and potentials of a world that can catalyze the spiritual growth and maturity they often refuse.

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Part of this particular creativity lies in the practice of listening across traditions. John Beckett writes in a recent blogpost apropos of traditions, DNA, supposed bloodlines, and their dubious guidance for “choosing your religion”:

We dream of finding a heritage that’s mine, that provides connection and meaning.

Too many of us, though, fail to understand that mine means “where I belong” and not “what belongs to me.”

Rather than looking for roots in DNA, put down roots with the land where you are: observe it, touch it, eat it. Honor the spirits and other persons who share it with you.

Or to paraphrase a certain Galilean: Why do you seek the living among the dead?

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Awen a ganaf — o dwfyn ys dygaf, says Taliesin, in his poem Angar Kyfandawt. “(It’s) the awen that I sing — (it’s) from the deep that I bring it”. (Or in my flowering Celtic ritual language, Bod an awen a canu mi, o’n duven a tenna mi.) But the bard continues (rendering by K. Hughes, From the Cauldron Born):

It’s a river that flows; I know its might,
I know how it ebbs, and I know how it flows,
I know when it overflows, I know when it shrinks …

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*Newell, John Philip. A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul. Jossey-Bass, 2012. Republished as A New Ancient Harmony: A Celtic Vision for the Journey Into Wholeness. Material Media, 2019.

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