Archive for the ‘chant’ Category

The Water is Wide   Leave a comment

Like most of the posts here, use your spiritual discrimination. If what I write works for you, good. If it rubs you the wrong way, rather than fretting over it or wasting your valuable energy in anger, click away. (Anger can be an energy response that opens doors, but can also close them.) I try to write from different perspectives, and address different spiritual temperaments, and this may simply not match yours. Time with your dog or cat or partner or the spring or autumn sky or a beloved tree will do you much more good.

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Often the spark or seed for a post comes from someone’s “chance” comment in a conversation, in person or online, or a phrase from my reading, or the nudge of a dream. I’ve found repeatedly from painful experience that so-called writer’s block, like spiritual block, usually means too much rather than too little. The door opens inward, and I’m standing in my own way.

This paradox can hurt. It can drive people in so many directions away from the exact thing they need. But for each of us, no one else can say what that needed thing is, only the person living that life. So much is pouring through us that we can’t make out a single handle or corner to grab onto and work with. It’s all just a blur, like standing under a torrent with a coffee-cup in hand. The surge of water can dash the cup from our hands in an instant and snatch it away in the flood.

In fact, when the “pour” is sufficiently loud and strong, like it is right now for so many people in these heightened times, it can feel, perversely, like the opposite, like nothing at all is shaping or coming, when in truth more pours through than ever. The triple frustration of greater need, constricted access, and a suspicion of all that possible abundance out there can make tempers flare, and drive despair.

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The water is wide, I can’t cross o’er
And neither have I wings to fly,
But build me a boat that will carry two
and we will row, my love and I …

The words and tune of the old Scots or English folk song, in one of its variants, have stuck with me since I first learned them, years ago now. You may well know them. Several versions exist — here’s a plain and soulful one by James Taylor:

Making room for spirit is often a matter of singing a song, re-linking to the awen that is always flowing. If something like this simple melody, easily learned through repetition over several verses, helps calm you, you’re on your way. A visualization I use with it is seeing the boat, knowing what I love most deeply always travels with me, even and especially when it can seem like I’m alone in the boat on the wide water. Or when it feels like I don’t have a boat at all.

Songs, in other words, can launch and power a practice. You may well have your own favorites in play, close to your heart. You know their power. Sound can open us to possibility like nothing else.

The first stanza of “The Water is Wide” is lovely. Listen through the rest of the song, however, and you eventually reach words above love growing old. What?! you may be saying. Betrayed again?! That’s where many of us are right now. Even the most basic or profound solutions aren’t working for us any longer. Even love can seem like it’s not enough. But the chorus comes one last time, a reminder. A boat built to carry two will get us across. Who or what is the Other with us? Always, always, someone or something accompanies us.  The hackneyed saying “we are never alone” remains scorchingly, absolutely valid still. Deny it as I may, I won’t get across without it. But what is it?

[If you’re anything like me (you are and you aren’t, of course, both at the same time, another paradox), you can spend a whole life in denial, till it’s one of your superpowers. I’m a master of denial, and I try to deploy it like the spiritual weapon it can be. But my challenge (it may not be yours) is not to let it wield me. Most of the time I need to sheathe it again, rather than keep waving it about.]

Sometimes letting go needs to be my practice, and a song can help then, too. Making whatever I’m feeling into a poem or song is powerful practice, an ancient tradition in many cultures. No one else ever needs to hear it. But some famous laments, and songs of celebration, and every other response to living in this world, have survived for us as models and springboards.

I can’t force the Other into the second spot in my boat. But a practice of knowing the Other is there, whether I’m aware or not, can go far to restoring me to the boat that will carry me across. Both need to row. I can’t get there alone. But build that boat through a practice, and I can cross over. (How often do I need to relearn that?)

Notice this isn’t a faith so much as a practice. I don’t need to believe something I can’t believe right now, where I’m in this moment. I need to practice something I can keep practicing, whatever I believe, the same way anyone gets better through practice. If I’m baking bread — the time is prime for it, people are home more, and hungry — I don’t need to believe the bread will make itself. But by mixing flour and water and yeast, working the dough, and putting it in the oven to bake, bread comes out. Yes, I get better at it through practice. The loaves will be better shaped, less lumpy, lighter. But my getting better, while a good thing, a needful thing, isn’t the final point. The bread is.

The water is wide. May your boats carry you over.

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Thank-you’s to annaelleamaya for her recent likes. Knowing others read and value what I post here helps keep me going, especially in these times!

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.

salamander--annaoakflower

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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“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.

“Every Sound Contains Its Echo”   1 comment

soundimageIn the way of things, no sooner had I planned to explore further the transformative power of sound in response to comments on the last post than images, not sound, seized my attention.

Stay flexible, I told myself. Both inner and outer landscapes can turn out to be far more fluid that we expect. (Sometimes my inner voice can be a sanctimonious pain in the ass — especially when it’s also spot on.)

I’d struggled with a particularly troublesome habit which has persisted since my teens. It had been responding well to visualization and images. Problem was, that image practice seemed to siphon off energies that usually spark a new post for me. Nothing. The well was dry. Especially after recently re-dedicating myself to posting at least once weekly, this was distressing.

Finally, some two weeks later, with more than a little help from the awen, here’s that next post.

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You feel a subject’s yours to write about when it falls in your lap. I subscribe to a weekly inspirational e-message from OBOD, and here’s what popped up in my emailbox one Monday morning about a month ago:

“The harmony that holds the stars on their courses and the flesh on our bones resonates through all creation. Every sound contains its echo. Before there was humankind, or even forest, there was sound. Sound spreads from the source in great circles like those formed when a stone is dropped in a pool.

We follow waves of sound from life to life. A dying man’s ears will hear long after his eyes are blind. He hears the sound that leads him to his next life as the Source of All being plucks the harp of creation.” — Morgan Llywelyn, Druids.*

didge

Didgeridoo

You’d think with a prompt like that I’d suffer no lack of material. You’d assume the post would practically write itself. No such thing. (The universe effortlessly keeps us humble.)

Though it’s lovely and rich with insight, the very authoritativeness of this excerpt set me back on my heels. In Llywelyn’s novel, the Druid speaking these words knows these things viscerally. Sometimes a fictional character can project a greater presence and command higher respect than any historical sage or living pundit. Most of you, I hope, enjoyed just such enchantment many times in books and films.

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“Every sound contains its echo.” Sound can lead directly to transverbal understanding. I know this powerfully, repeatedly, over years. So do most of us, if we stop to think about it. Like music, both chant and mantra can take us elsewhere. Rather than engaging the mind with its opinions, attitudes, assumptions and arguments, sound drives right through logic headlong into experience. Belief? Disbelief? Nope. You just know … at least until the music falls silent.

Echo, original, where are you? I long to hear you again. Always.

Try introducing someone to a new singer or band. “Oh, these lyrics are so inane,” your too-clever friend may whine. Meanwhile you sing along whenever the song plays, and the music just carries you with it. The words may fit poorly or well, but never mind. It’s the sound that carries them on its current. Your liking merely helps the sound reach deeper. All successful music resonates with such sympathetic magic.

beatlesfans

Beatlemania

Great musicians often stand out in front of popular taste, expectation and consciousness. We have documented evidence from the last four centuries of music in the West, from crowds weeping at the premier of a new symphony by Beethoven, through the fear of the freedom and perceived license of the jazz age, Elvis “the pelvis” Presley, the continuous screaming that welcomed the Beatles’ performances, the blissed-out faces of Hare Krishnas engrossed in kirtan, and on to the Evangelical fears of Satanic influence in rock – the infamous claims of backmasking in songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” only the most egregious among many examples.

harekrishnachant

kirtan

I won’t claim all boundary-breaking is an unalloyed “good thing” — it’s not. But music – sound – possesses remarkable power to shift consciousness into new channels. We vibrate ultimately to what we long for and dream about, even if we resist it consciously. Our lives pick up and amplify the sympathetic vibrations, and start to manifest what we’ve set in motion. Imperfectly, sporadically at first, unless and until we learn to vibrate more consciously and healthily.

Much of what we do in chant and mantra is prime the pump, to mix metaphors. Start the vibration locally to attune to the vibration all around us, atoms alive with movement.

One of the best practices I know is to try out and compare different sounds, different vibrations, etc. Simply discover experimentally for yourself which ones actually work. Devote equal time to exploring awen, OM, HU, nam myoho renge kyo, the 99 Names of Allah, Gregorian chant, Tuvan shamanic throat singing, etc. — the extraordinarily rich human heritage of sound-working. Watch your mood, dreaming, creativity, insight and so on. In this way one can quickly dispose of much bad philosophizing with incontrovertible evidence from personal experience.

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To return to my own experience these past few weeks: working with images helped tremendously in shifting my energy and attention away from the habit. Yet occasionally the desire would boil up and flood my awareness with all of its original force. What to do? Sound. Working with sound provides a way to re-tune the reservoir of energy that often accumulates behind a habit and begin to help it shift in new directions, into new channels of flow. Image alone won’t do it, I’m finding: it needs sound.

The “why” of the power of sound lies in demonstration. Like so many of our most potent and valuable experiences, we have to hear it to get near it, play it to say it, flow with it to know it most intimately.

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

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

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