Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category

A Druid Target   Leave a comment

What you are going through today is training for tomorrow. You need today to reach tomorrow, says my teacher.

OK, I say to myself. I’ve got today. Heavy headlines. Death. Hate speech. Unrest. Fear. And even seeing the “big picture” can offer little comfort sometimes. Week, day, year? It’s been a hard couple of centuries.

A few years ago, the late Toni Morrison ended an essay for The Nation like this:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work …

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.

Information that can lead to knowledge–even wisdom. I’m so there. It’s a Druid thing, reads the t-shirt I imagine myself wearing this morning. (After all, can you accomplish anything without the right t-shirt?) But what is this “information” that I get from failure and chaos? I’d really like to know.

A first step is a “refusal to succumb”. (And one secret: even if I think I’ve succumbed, I can stop. If I find that’s hard, well, that’s my “work of today” that will get me to tomorrow.)

It’s good and right to grieve — that’s not the same thing as succumbing. Maybe because we often censor our grief — “it’s just not American!” — we don’t grieve well — we refuse the difficult work of grief. Grief blocked can feel like succumbing. Sometimes we spend our energy blocking grief and have little left over for much of anything else.

Make a plan to turn negative energy to advantage, says my teacher. At this level of creative imagination, you’re in a condition of survival. The lesson of these worlds is to develop your ability to ride the crests of life.

If there was ever an art, it’s riding the crests of life, I tell myself. Isn’t that what all my vaunted talk of “spiritual tools” is about?! Be not simply good, but good for something, says my go-to guy Thoreau. On this blog, among other things I do, I want to be good for something. Most of all for myself, because if it doesn’t work for me, I have no business offering it to anybody else.

But sometimes I hear spiritual counsel like “Make a plan to turn negative energy to advantage” and I feel like I’m already succumbing. It feels like too much work.

Where am I grieving failure and chaos? After large-scale events like the recent white supremacist massacres in the States, we see people earthing their grief in flowers, pictures of the dead, and other rituals of grief. Grieve, yes. But also leave some energy for making that plan.

The creative part, the part where we “artists go to work” — and that means all of us, not just those wearing a hat or a self-label that says “artist” — means there isn’t any one plan that fits everybody. Teasing apart the question above — where am I grieving failure and chaos? — that’s part of my plan.  It may or may not work for you.

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I heard myself talking with my wife this morning over breakfast, still processing some less than ideal aspects of my last two jobs — I still carry anger about how I was treated, for one thing. I’m also still grieving other personal failure and chaos, even as my country reels and deals with its much bigger public versions. New grief can spark older griefs.

As a writer, much of my plan circles around writing. It’s one of my principal tools — a way to ground and earth my life sufficiently that I can take a look at it, celebrate the victories, and with any luck, and through the gift of the gods and the blessings of the ancestors, turn negative energy to advantage.

Because we’re all spiritual transformers — it’s our human specialty. That’s how we all survive, how we’re still here at all. So much flows through us, and we parcel it out to the different elements and to combinations of elements. Some of us ground it in particular forms — our families, jobs, talents, relationships, community service. Some of us let it inspire new ideas and thoughts, which we may or may not later ground and earth in forms and shapes and things. Someone else may pick them up and run with them. And so on. (We haven’t even gotten to fire or water yet.) The point is that a plan taps our unique identities, situations, talents and strengths and amplifies them. We don’t have to do it all. We do have our part, our portion, that no one else can do.

Just where am I sending energy? And how much?

There is usually a struggle when we move to a larger state of awareness, and that is natural, says my teacher. Often we swallow the belief that we’re doing it wrong if it doesn’t come effortlessly, if our growth doesn’t move forward like a hot knife through butter. We feel like frauds even as we hide the hassle, when sometimes that’s one of the more valuable gifts we can offer others — let them see that our achievements cost us something.

If you’re a certain age — if like me you had parents who came of age during World War II and the Depression, you probably heard variations on there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Lost in all that well-meant advice is the point that there is a lunch, and a breakfast and dinner, and feasts and fests besides. Yes, they come with a cost, but they do exist.

It’s gonna cost you, leers the gangster figure or Mob boss, the loan shark, the street dealer, the manipulative partner or blackmailer. We hear the words with a sinking heart, feeling for our heroine or hero. Don’t do it! we may be tempted to shout at the screen. Run away now! Get out while you still can!

In the movie of our own lives, we may have learned half the lesson so well we forget the other half. Nothing kills the Awen-Song from the Deep.

Where and when and how we sing, though, and who we’re singing to — that’s up to us.

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For an example of another’s response and plan, here’s a link to John Beckett’s blogpost.

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Four Holds on Joy   Leave a comment

Loosening Holds

For me, four of the prime holds to loosen are don’t, can’t, shouldn’t and won’t. Each pretends to wisdom, when in fact it’s almost always mere legalism. And if it isn’t (a fifth hold?), a practice I try out will almost always begin to reveal it for what it is.

Let’s look at each hold in turn. Don’t presupposes tendency or present fact. “People don’t do X or Y”. Peer pressure being what it is, “majority rule” often enough shunts people away from even trying something different. Don’t try out Nanowrimo, the new job, the blind date, the salsa, the nudge to take a different route home.

Don’t as command can also, perversely, provoke instinctive rebellion, so that some people will do something simply because someone in authority forbids it — not from careful reflection, but reactively. This opens up a second meaning of don’t: pure prohibition. And our first encounter with this form as children has a sometimes dubious accompanying parental justification: “because I said so”. We can take at least one step forward and say what it is we actually do, rather than defining ourselves or anyone else by exclusion.

How to simplify a lifetime of teaching, if your nickname has become “The One Who Teaches”? Choose again, counsels the female messiah Aenea in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos.

Can’t opens up a whole set of assumptions that have been successfully challenged over time. Some have to do with the capacities of a subset of humanity, whether we select on the basis of gender or ethnicity or social class or some other criteria. Further, there are two kinds of can’t: permission of another person and our own personal abilities. We hear “You can’t do that!” often enough that we may carry its echo within us to the grave. “What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?” asks Thoreau of such times. Often that inner echo is enough to stop us from ever testing the second kind of can’t: are we in fact actually able to do it? Do we possess the will, grace, skill, energy and courage? The Nike campaign of “Just Do It” may not be the best single counsel, but taken with other helpings of wisdom at the meal of decision-time, it’s a plucky guide.

Shouldn’t may arise from the prudent counsel of another, but as a percentage of shouldn’ts that most of us hear, it rates pretty low. Much more common are the shouldn’t of fear, of concern for appearances (what will the neighbors/family/friends/coworkers think?), or of the speaker’s own incapacity, not mine. What does my dog think, when I run it by her? How about the friendly oak in the back yard, or the rowan guardian out front, that I’ve consulted in the past?

Won’t is a limit all its own. “It won’t work. You won’t succeed. Thing won’t turn out as you expect. You won’t like it once you get it”. Again, many of these are envy or fear of another’s success, or the habitual naysayer’s discouragement. A few won’ts may rise from loving concern, a desire to protect us, but they’re almost always better phrased as positives. “How about X? Have you thought about Y? Maybe Z would also work”.

Like other valid spiritual practices, Druid teachings generally offer positives in place of such holds on action, freedom, discovery and expression. Here are a Druidy set of seven I go to:

1) Ask for guidance. It can come in many forms: our animal neighbors, dreams, chance conversations in the checkout line, pets, flyers on a bulletin board, children, lines from books, a phrase on the evening news, and so on. Unless it’s a split-second decision, a choice usually benefits from at least a day’s reflection. Assemble your Wise Ones, consult them, and proceed from there.

2) Practice a form of divination to uncover factors you may not perceive are at work. A “divinatory attitude” increases options, and need never rule out my common sense. Tarot, impulse, hint, chance, ogham, runes, bibliomancy (opening a book of wisdom at random and focusing on what appears there) — there are many forms to try of openness to the cosmos.

3) Pray. Who and what you pray to and for, and how, and when, are up to you. Many resources exist to help open up this universal and age-old practice. If you’ve tried prayer, and had no success, maybe your target audience needs a switch. Ancestor, deity, ideal, energy — we open up when we pray. Turn the switch, open the valve, unlock the door, crank the window, twist off the lid. Breathe. Give thanks for a pulse.

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Pythagoras the rooster — what is he saying? Photo courtesy Dana Driscoll.

4) Consult tradition. While each of us breaks new ground by simply existing in ways and places and spaces no one else has, we also share immense common ground with others. The insights of the best of them have been preserved for our benefit, and it’s pure foolishness for me to overlook what they may have to say to me. They’re called classics for a reason. Pick your oracle. I light incense, a candle, toss a coin in a fountain, leave a larger tip in a restaurant, offer a piece of quartz to a favorite tree. Offerings, especially spontaneous ones, help open me up to listen, before and after. For me it’s part of cultivating an intention.

5) Follow intuition and guidance. When I write down my dreams and images and words from contemplations, even if I don’t always catch what’s coming through at the time, they prove their value as guides over time when I read them a day or week, month or year later.

6) Listen for creative nudges and work-arounds. We may admit later to factors in action that we turned away from at the time. Keep options in play. Everything in my heart and out my window has something to say, and that’s just one small corner of what’s available to me. I choose the red leaves on the blueberry bushes out the window as I write this, which remind me to bring in the garden hose before the next frost tonight.

7) Watch for signs. One good reason you and I exist — we’re individual responses to factors at play right now. We can hear and see things no one might notice or know of. Mentioning them from time to time to a trusted friend or partner is a useful reminder. They might have missed them. I have something to contribute to the conversation the world is always having with anybody listening.

“The awen I sing — from the deep I bring it” — Taliesin.

In Welsh, Yr Awen a Ganaf, Or Dwfn y Dygaf. Badly, uhr AH-wehn ah GAH-nahv, ohr DOO-vn uh DUH-gahv.

Chanting this quietly to myself — a practice all its own.

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Oddments and Evenments   Leave a comment

A 4:34 video of the recent Gulf Coast Gathering by M. Fowler:

C. S Lewis titles a chapter in his book Mere Christianity “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe”, and there are many such clues. Much of spirituality consists in looking and listening long enough to perceive them.

Rather than a set of don’t’s, a livable spirituality consists mostly of do’s, if only because they give us a path of action rather than avoidance. Do try out what you’ve learned, do love other beings, do test your understanding of the universe against the universe itself and see where you can improve what you do, if only for the pure pleasure of the doing. Do watch for patterns and spirals, do celebrate when you can, because much passes by, never to return. Do drink deep, because with or without you, life keeps brewing marvels.

Love and timing: two powerful ways to live which — combined — work even better. Each is a mode of dancing with life, rather than resisting it. Feel the sway of your lover’s back, note the slight change in pressure of your lover’s arms, and be ready to move on into the next steps. Part and return, part and return again. These bodies wear out anyway. Why darken the changes with unneeded stress, violence and worry?

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In a post from late 2014 I invoked Brid and Ogma for a tongue, and over time received a set of them, Hurundib and Fizaad and Hodjag Rospem, among them conlangs for my fiction, as well as impetus for my Facebook group that practices Old English and among other things right now is reading Peter Baker’s Old English translation of Alice in Wonderland/Æðelgyðe Ellendæda on Wundorlande.

Ask, and it shall be given — just usually not in the limited way I’ve set up. Make my parameters too narrow, in fact, and I effectively shut off the very thing I seek. How often that’s happened to me I can’t begin to count, even in retrospect. Sometimes (most of the time?) our prayers need escape clauses. When I learn to give Spirit room to work through its endless forms and wisdom and energy (after all, it permeates all things, not just this middle-aged Druid), it’s amazing what results and can manifest. A home in the country, time to write, healing from cancer. It just took longer, with many more twists and turns to get there, than I’d planned: read that as “expected and thought I’d constrain the energy of the universe to manifest for me”.

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Today, wind and sun and cold — a defiance of anything the calendar has to say. Yet even and especially in the darkest and coldest of times, the promise of solstice: a fire burns at the heart of things.

Hail, then, Eternal Flame! May the awen, the gift of Brighid, the truth that nourishes lives and worlds, burn bright for you all.

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Winter Solstice fire 2017

“What needs to be born?”   Leave a comment

I’m borrowing the title for this post, a lovely question, from John Beckett’s recent article here.

As we approach the turn of the year, we have W. B. Yeats’s version, the evocative query ending his poem “The Second Coming“:

… what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

For we give birth to all manner of things, and not always to our benefit. Like the young mage Ged in LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, “who raged at his weakness, for he knew his strength”, we sense an inchoate energy at work in so many things, if we could only align it to our purposes. Or is it time to listen more, and align ourselves with the energies of the intelligent universe all around us, that brings forth beasts and birds as well as humans who ask such questions?

And there’s our challenge: alignment. Complete the circuit. Our youth culture “hooks up” without finding satisfaction or connection. Loneliness, anxiety, depression afflict so many. Pain both physical and psychological drives an opioid crisis. What spiritual prescription can begin to address such heavy concerns?

If we’ve been paying attention, we know that no single solution works for everyone. This holds true in religion and spirituality, too, though plenty of one-true-wayers will beg to differ. So we turn again to do what we can, each in our own way.

As one of the Wise observes,

The ideal that you hope to achieve is always to be ready for an incarnation, whether it is in this world or those planes beyond. But unless an incarnation can be offered its birth through you, though, it is incapable of being brought into the manifestation of life. Therefore, your attitude should be one in which … you alone accept the responsibility of incarnating a new and greater value of yourself.*

Examining what needs to be born is a first step in bringing about a birth. (Following the metaphor further, we can of course rush to conception, and deal with the aftermath later. Some of us at least have learned that doesn’t always end well.)

1–What can we help be born in our homes and yards? I’ll start here with Earth. This time of year is perfect for dreaming with garden catalogs. What else? Is there a spot of backyard I can allow to grow wild, or at least wilder? The front lawn may feel more public, or be subject to various town or highway ordinances. But especially if you have even a couple acres like I do, consider whether a spot of wild is both “creature-kinder” and asks less mowing and upkeep. Brush from winter windfall can get it started.  Erecting even a few birdhouses for the more shy species that favor cover can also help. We’re still shaping what we’ve received from the previous owner of our land. I’m less green-thumbed than many, but even a thoughtful neglect to mow absolutely everywhere can encourage many species. We have a working truce with our feisty moles, renewed each year with a ritual and a few conversations, to keep them from our garden areas.

Is the way open for berry bushes, which birds may have obligingly already started for you? Along fence lines and beneath their favorite perching and nesting shrubs and trees, birds drop seeds that will grow in a few seasons to a source of blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, and more. Staring at snowdrifts can serve up good practice for imagining spring and planting and new green.

2–What can be born in my spending habits? I’ve come to appreciate small changes, because they’re easiest to stick with. There’s more virtue and occasion to feed the ego (and thereby nurture a positive practice) if I follow through for a year, rather than think big but end up doing nothing. Combine errands and car trips? Recycle used oil, parts, tires, cardboard, glass? Many communities are moving toward better custodianship of resources, and starting to offer better options. Inherit a shed filled with rusting things, and badly-labelled containers of possibly petroleum substances? Any clean-up is “more than before”. Shop used when possible. The northeast U.S. reads a lot through the winter months, and well-patronized library book sales often have surprisingly current titles. With many large libraries so short-sightedly downsizing their collections, you can sometimes enjoy remarkable finds.

3–What can be born in my practice? By this I mean spiritual practice. Whatever yours is, feed it. Make it easier for you to do it, whatever form that may take. If you haven’t taken up a practice, the new year is a good time to try one out, if not today. Again, make it easy on yourself. Huge numbers of possibilities: five minutes for sacred reading (and you decide what’s sacred to you), stretching, breathing exercises, clearing a chest of drawers or closet or room, an artistic practice, listening to music, yoga, meditation, home renovation, volunteering, helping a neighbor, shoveling a driveway, driving someone to an appointment. Writing actual letters. Listening. Singing or playing an instrument. Cooking. Tending a household shrine. Photography. Weaving.

Whatever it is, I succeed most when I begin with such a small period of time I can’t NOT begin. As a writer, I practiced with 10 words a day during my busiest times. (Too small not to succeed! Easy to make up for the next day, with 20, if I “forgot” the previous day.)

4–What can be born in other quarters of my life? I’m often not a very social person. (My default mode is reading or writing, rather than hanging out and talking.) This blog is part of what I do to connect beyond my own immediate circle. I’m also not a major volunteer, either, but rather than guilt myself up about it, I choose options where volunteering at all will encourage me to do it again. A monthly open discussion series at a local library starting in January is one of my current outlets. Supporting my wife, who’s the current wage-earner in the family, is another. Laundry, dishes, fire (our heat source), snow removal from driveway and solar panels, and I’m serving, acting outside myself, encouraging flow.

5–And I make and find rituals for what needs to be born, to help keep the doorways open. What needs to be born?, I ask, and light a candle, gazing at its yellow flicker. What needs to be born in me?, I ask, and spend time writing in my journal the response that comes. What needs to be born that’s already taking shape, that I can help with? What’s about to be born, that I can work with, and foster, and celebrate? What’s born among friends, when we gather in two days on the 17th in their backyard, to light a fire, and talk and snack and sit on lawn chairs in the snow, feet toward December flames?

Asking the question as I go, keeping the fire of my attention burning, helps the new thing be born.

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*Paul Twitchell. The Key to Secret Worlds, pg. 7.

The Druid Agenda   Leave a comment

cropcircle“Stop thinning your hair for good!” promises the spam in my inbox.

OK then, my inner imp says. I’ll start thinning my hair for evil.

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Because sometimes you can just tell it’s going to be one of those days …

I depart for a job interview in a neighboring town with about 15 minutes extra time built in, and I hit a traffic delay. I’ve Google-mapped the location — twice — but when I arrive, can I find it? I cannot. I have an older cell phone, one of the flip-phones that’s so last century. I tenderly call it my “stupidphone” because I’m too cheap to pay what still seem to me exorbitant data plan rates for smartphones. When I call the number for the interviewer, what I get is the immediately recognizable beep-and-squeal of a fax line. I call the other number I have for them and the line’s busy. Some days you’re just not meant to do what you set out to do.

The god aren’t so much crazy as determined to make you pay attention to your goals. Is this really what you want? How badly will you work for it? They ask. You check in with your goals and intentions and practice and find, yes, there’s a place that needed your love and energy. Or you’ve paid it too much attention already. Sometimes I’m the thing that makes the line busy, that re-routes all traffic to dead ahead in front of me. Sometimes the universe puts up road blocks just to get me to wake up a little more to my part in it all. We can never be wholly detached, apart, because we’re each a part. No man is an island, entire of itself, sings John Donne (Meditation XVII). Each man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. O American, proud of your illusory independence, crying in your loneliness, it never occurs to you the two are connected, and so you stand on your own two feet, oblivious to the earth beneath them holding you up.

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Not that I’m allowed to stay oblivious forever.

“I want to know what love is,” sings Foreigner. “I want you to show me.” Well, I think. No use waiting around for that to happen. Love can start here, with me. Even the smallest bit can be kindling for a fire. Once lit, it surprises me how well it keeps burning. Yet by doing my part, I realize love was pouring through all the while. I just couldn’t see it until I returned it. The circuit wasn’t complete until I stepped into it. I was the missing piece. Each of us is part of a circuit, self and Spirit that is the other pole, the thing that lets self be self. We know it when the circuit’s complete, when we’re plugged in, and also how desperately we need that completion, how it feels when it’s turned off. You know what love is, the trees sing, even without their leaves. We constantly show you.

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If there were a Druid agenda it would start in the silence of a November dawn. It would pour from the sky like rain or light or possibility, it would skip from leaf to stone like the chipmunk that scavenges beneath the bird feeder in the front yard, then sits up and gazes at me as long as I make no sudden movements. Sometimes beauty, truth, they’re shy creatures.

“You meet with things dying, I with things newborn,” says the old shepherd in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. Isn’t it always “Scene Three, Bohemia, a desert country near the sea”? That’s where we find ourselves, that is the tale of winter, a time of encounter with death and life on a Sunday afternoon. What, my life asked me today, is your Druidry not about? What doesn’t it touch on? Have you kept yourself from yourself, held a piece of you in reserve, not spent it all on this precious life? What is it you’re waiting for?!

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“Whatever gets the words on the page is right,” says one of the pep talks Nanowrimo offers on its site for this month. Please take that out of context, says my inner imp, running with it like a mad dog with a bone. The perfect defense for pretty much anything I do wrong. Just getting the words on the page is all …

8671nano15My novel this year involves a gang called the Red Fists, the Chenek Duz, incarcerated on the prison planet of Resken. A few days ago their names came through in a rush, and all in Gelem, a language I’ve invented just enough of for the story so far. The ringleader is Lodzat Moy, scarred from radiation burns and missing one eye from an assassination gone awry. With him is young and innocent-seeming Am Hezel, tech genius Dinshir Gagek, the thief Soknu Munt and the black-tempered, murderous Yar Fen. They get thrown together, through unlikely circumstances I’m struggling to make more likely, with a circle of artsy freshmen studying at the College of St. Swithins. I’m still working out the hows and whys. It’s fun to see it unfold. A kidnapping, a dream thief, a case of wrongful imprisonment, and bad love. What more could a writer ask for?

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Image: cartoon.

Nano-ed ’14   2 comments

nanowidge50KwootFinished a day early, with a solid push for most of the day. Spent three hours at an informal Write-In at the Brattleboro library, which helped a lot. Tired–check! Glad I Nano-ed again this year–check! You can always learn more about process and the reaches and tricks of self-discipline and the divine gift of imagination. Looking forward to revising-check! But not yet.  First: sigh. S-T-R-E-T-C-H. Relax. Binge-video-watch. Ah!

“Oh no, ya can’t always git whatcha want”   2 comments

nanowidge34k“but if ya try sometimes …” Well, the Stones’ song is a good piece of writing advice for your main character. Give her what she wants too soon, and your story’s done before you’ve gotten to chapter two. But let her find out what she needs? Well, that’s at least as interesting.

When a regular blog doesn’t deliver the goods, some accounting by the blogger is in order. So here’s a quick Nano-update: I’m in the home stretch, a few thousand words behind, but that’s manageable. Eight days more! At this point I feel I have at least as many questions as my main character Emily: about the other world she’s been dragged to, about the people behind the scenes and their motives (because, let’s face it, how many people do you know who openly share their motives with you, alert you when they change, and generally keep you in the loop?). Yes, I’ve already written 30,000 words about her experience. Could you do justice to your life in 30,000 words?!

Of course, that’s half the reason to write: to find out what’s gonna happen next. And depending on whether the ending of the monster-lovely thing you’re birthing is clear to you, how it’s all gonna work itself out.  In my story, the girl gets the boy. But that’s when her real problems begin.

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