Archive for the ‘earth-centered spirituality’ Category

July Interval   Leave a comment

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

IMG_1740

lilies & hydrangeas, NW lawn

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

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

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

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

/|\ /|\ /|\

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

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

IMG_1742

space of a writer at work and play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

/|\ /|\ /|\

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

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

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

/|\ /|\ /|\

Advertisements

June-cember — Seasons in Season   2 comments

Every season is in season. Here on June 4, a private foretaste of winter. Not because the world is cruel, or because I’m cynical or confused, or because the nighttime temperatures here in the hills still refuse to budge from the mid-40s F (6 C), but because all possibilities are alive at every moment, even as time sorts them into sequences, into sets of before-and-after.

IMG_1719

The first two cords of firewood arrived a couple days ago. I stack wood in June, and I’m reminded that I will lift these pieces again in December to carry in to the woodstove, my hands faintly scented with oak and maple and elm. This comes not as a rush of melancholy, but rather an intuition of a rhythm far larger than any one person or tribe or party. I sweat in the doing of it, and feel a familiar ache in the shoulders after I pause and straighten and stretch, another row done.

All around, we scrabble, dust ourselves off and parade our opinions, we joust and spar, not in our spare time, but in a time always spare of days. Meanwhile the great patterns we could apprentice ourselves to go largely unregarded, day following day, even as we wonder at what’s missing from our lives, and point fingers outward, away from where our lives point us.

At the close of World War 1 in 1919, two years shy of a century past, W. B. Yeats wrote these verses which too easily match today’s headlines:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Meanwhile what I need to know has always looked me in the face every minute of my life. It whispers in my ears, offering itself to my hearing. What I need to do comes to me in breathing, eating, working, sleeping and waking again, watching the worlds around me even as I take part in them and explore their textures with my skin. The moon waxes towards fullness, and birds sing all night long, making counterpoint with the peepers in the pond. The month warms towards the Solstice, and in a few weeks I will gather to celebrate it on a nearby hillside with half a score of others here in southern Vermont who also choose to honor the ancient rhythms.

With this blog I try to avoid “must” and “should”, “ought” and “have to”, except when I’m talking about myself and my own doings. Oh, I’m just as much a busybody as anyone. I have my opinions about what and how, who and when and why. But I also try out a path of wisdom laid down long ago and rein myself in, as much as I can, from dumping mere prejudices on you. And I submit that both of us breathe more easily as a result, and are the better for it. In their place, I strive to listen and reflect and marvel and shape into words what comes of that.

IMG_1718

I see my woodpile and I lift, piece by piece, the life that is given to me, and order it as it lies within my power to do. And you, friend — blessedly, you do the same where you are.

“Ceremonies of innocence” have endured all these long millennia — will endure, as long as we practice them. And the Center? The Center has always held, making everything else possible — it’s the edges that fray, that have always frayed. We stitch up, and rip, as we go. So I turn toward that shining Center when I can, I invite you to consider the Center where you are, as it may look to you. And I write about it here.

/|\ /|\ /|\

 

Moons of Spirit, Synonyms for God: Part 2   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

For a related reflection about selfishness, continue on to the next paragraph. To jump to the next four points in this three-part series, scroll down to the break and the three awens /|\.

Selfishness. The behavior often gets a bad name, but I sometimes forget that survival is always a blend of self and other. In my marriage, my wife and I pursue both couple and individual goals. They needn’t conflict, though sometimes they rub up against each other in challenging ways. We negotiate and compromise. The marriage fails, or endures, on the basis of affection and communication. Self and other is what drew us together in the first place. Blending and balancing them is what sustains the partnership.

Change the scene. In a harsh environment, as human or animal, if I don’t eat so that my offspring can, I may starve, but they may survive. Biologically, this makes good sense — my genetic material gets passed along through them. Personally, of course, it may be disastrous, if I die. But the species benefits. My lines continues, with whatever genetic variants and strengths it may contribute to the whole. But if I don’t act “selfishly” enough to survive in the first place, I will never reproduce. The genetic possibilities I offer never benefit the species.

And this is just a simplistic biological sketch. My wife and I have no children. Biologically, simplistically, we “contribute nothing” to the species. Our species’ old judgments of childless couples stem from biology, and to an extent, they make very good sense. But wait …

What about spirituality? Some have labeled it a maladaptive behavior. From some perspectives it does look useless. For that matter, how do art, music, religion, philosophy, or other kinds of inward searches with variable outward results benefit either the species or the individual?

Humans have developed so that cooperation has begun to balance instinct as a means of both individual and species survival. We definitely haven’t mastered it yet — we’ve managed to kill the equivalent of the population of a large country of our own species (some 200 million) in just the last hundred years. Anger and fear, very ancient companions, still live with us. Each also has a survival benefit, up to a point.

But we’ve also managed to enrich both our individual and species experience immeasurably through beauty, wonder, awe, delight, pleasure, curiosity — you can extend this list yourself. These skills of consciousness make our species marvelously adaptive in unique ways we’re still only beginning to understand. To take just one ready example, ask yourself how often music has seen you through a rough period, or served as the capstone to a time of joy.

As a biological experiment, like all other species, it remains to be seen if we continue to adapt, or die out. But one rich component of our adaptive skill is self-consciousness and an ability to weigh courses of action. How well can cooperation serve us? How well can we manage both to honor instinct and also not let it usurp our chances and choices?

If you’re reading this blog, you presumably feel that spiritual inquiry and awe serve our species better than many other things we also do.

/|\ /|\ /|\

5. How am I looking for connection in ways that mesh with my practice?

If I use regular physical exercise, for example, as a time to renew, reconnect, and rebalance, I may gain in physical well-being, a priceless gift. But I may not pick up as readily on other spiritual cues and clues that come along and which I can access through other practices. Neither is “better” than the other, but they are choices and practices, each with distinct consequences and benefits.

To continue with the example, some forms of physical exercise allow for a meditative experience as a side benefit. Some don’t. The emptying and easing of worry, care, concern or obsessive thought that can result during vigorous exercise may be just the practice I need — a time away, a refuge on a par with prayer, meditation, silence, etc. On the other hand, if my body has sustained injury, or has survived for several decades, or for a host of other reasons, then other kinds of practice may be more suitable.

One point I’ve learned the hard way: I tend to overlook the gifts of one form of practice and lament that I miss out on other gifts that issue from practices I’m not trying. But I’ve learned that a spiritual practice almost never should be “either-or”. Most practices encourage tinkering and experimentation. If the path I’m on, the religion or spirituality or tradition that I follow, doesn’t urge me to play and explore and find delight, I need to seriously reconsider the path, or at least my approach and understanding of it. I may be serving it, probably mechanically or out of rote habit, but it’s not serving me.

6. How is my practice itself part of what’s inhibiting communication?

By definition, my practice is a choice I’ve made, a seed I’ve planted. All choices have consequences, and will germinate and grow and branch in unique ways. So it’s a given that my practice will inhibit some kinds of spiritual connection even as it sparks others. Rather than seeing this as a “bad” thing, though, I can see it as a measure of change and opportunity. Life is laboratory. Like a hermit crab, I may need to move on to a bigger shell. Tweak my practice, and new connections and communication become possible. I’ve dropped a few yoga asanas that now seem to strain more than they soothe, and I’ve added a daily 5-minute outdoor meditation leaning against the trunk of my favorite hemlock along our northern property line. New possibilities for connection open up I’m only beginning to discover.

IMG_1698

hickory to our north, with new growth at the tips

7. What assumptions am I making?

Mind is really really good at assumptions. If instinct doesn’t always kick in, assumptions will. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, in itself. How else do I find a baseline for thought? I have to start somewhere. The large animal running toward me has attacked before. It’s likely to attack again. That food doesn’t agree with my digestion, so if I indulge, I’ll regret it. From good assumptions come “thrival” and survival. Poor assumptions lead to “complications”: death, stress, conflict, indigestion, anger, despair. We learn from “experience”, which is just another name for our set of assumptions constantly being tested, weeded out, replaced, refreshed and broadened. Cling too tightly to assumptions and, sure, they’ll lead to suffering. But hold on too weakly to good assumptions, and I overlook the usefulness of past experience as a guide to present choices.

So I start with assumptions. We all do. A “blank slate” means no basis for choice, judgment, taste, preference. The more I know my existing assumptions, the more I can play with them, rather than letting them play me. I can try out a new assumption like I would test-drive a car or a pair of shoes or a new series on Netflix, and see if I like it, see if it takes me somewhere I never imagined, if it builds and grows, or heals, teaches or delights.

8. To what degree is my understanding or misunderstand a matter of semantics?

To some degree — that I already know. Two evenings ago, a monthly study group I belong to spent some time talking about “broken” words and phrases, ones that just don’t communicate what we sense they might, or what others intend by them when they use them.

So we worked with renaming some of them. Instead of surrender, allowing. Instead of God, Spirit or the Way. And there’s the Bardic quest, in a nutshell: to dust off and recall old names, but also to refresh the imagination, to restore and recover and transmute energy. To commemorate, celebrate, innovate. Lots of “-ations”! To find and manifest and honor the elemental sacraments of spirit in fire, earth, water and air. To keep naming, to go on singing, what we need to hear.

We all know the experience of being called or offering the wrong name, the pleasure of someone (ourselves included!) remembering and using the right name. Confucius talked about cheng ming, the “rectification of names” to promote and ensure harmony. This, too, is practice.

“Call on me by my name”, say the gods and teachers of so many traditions. Paradoxically, most gods and teachers also possess and answer to many names. Then we get to play another game: Is Pallas Athena “the same” as Athena Parthenos? Is Coyote or the Trickster the “equivalent” of Hermes or Mercury or Loki?

“The name (ming) that can be named isn’t the real/lasting/eternal name”, the Tao Te Ching slyly reminds us in its second line (“Ming ke ming fei chang ming”.) Wider understanding of that little detail might have saved a few million lives.

Of course my understanding is partly mediated by semantics. Get over yourself, I hear. You’re a lot more than your mind. Use other tools, and your understanding gets mediated in other ways. The trick, I’m still learning, is to choose the tool, and not let the tool choose the understanding. Add a tool, add an understanding. We might ask, wresting to our own purposes the Samuel Jackon-fueled Capital One ad(vert)s, “What’s in your spiritual wallet?”

Part 3 will close this series.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Essential Welcome   1 comment

[Edited 9:05 am, 29 May 2017]

Today I take for my divination the two rhododendrons blooming outside our bedroom window. One hasn’t wintered well, ungainly thing, and it needs pruning at the end of the season. Whether it was winter die-off or just increasing age, a good bit of the plant is brown and lifeless. But the blooming part is lovely as ever, the lush buds spilling open into flower at one with the birdsong that begins around 5:20 a.m. now, at first light.

IMG_1711

IMG_1710

It’s my mother’s birthday today — she’d be 98 if she were still with us, and I marvel each year as that number nears a full century. As many do, I’ve long found that spring and early summer can intermittently be times of intense nostalgia. Here again is new life, and in the midst of each lengthening day and its wonders, so many things seem intent on calling us to remember what has departed as well as what thrives and burgeons and grows. This is the Samhain-of-Beltane, the autumn in spring. Not a diminishment at all, but a deepening of each birth and renewal. All the earth, the dirt underfoot, is the substance of past life. In a very literal way, we could not live without the lives of those gone before us, their bodies nourishing and supporting ours, ours depending on theirs for every breath.

In her Celtic Devotional, Caitlin Matthews writes:

There are so many difficulties in our daily lives, so few incentives to act responsibly, so little support for personal spiritual growth that it is only within the broadest categories of spiritual hospitality that the soul can be encouraged to find its own natural pathway. This is especially so where the soul has been injured by intolerance and lack of charity, or scandalized by the unholy infighting of formal religion, or by its lack of respect for non-human life-forms and neglect of planetary and universal issues. These and many other reasons may drive people from formal religious adherence, but they do not stop the need for them to pray, to meditate or contemplate in union with the world …

The urge to follow a spiritual pathway comes in a variety of ways, but, in every case, the soul puts out its exploratory shoots in the context of personal devotion, testing the ground, discovering how Spirit responds, learning how true communion with the Divine can be brought about (Celtic Devotional, p. 8).

One of the many ironies of this period of human history is that while it can indeed be a time of difficulty and lack of support as Matthews describes, paradoxically it’s also a time where our need for a spiritual practice is all the more acute and obvious. Other supports for any inner life have been weakened or destroyed, and the emptiness of the available distractions shows all the more clearly. The outlines of what we need are clearer now than before.

Small wonder then that the spiritual power of authentic practice touches so many, and even a little bit can point the way forward. Whether it’s some form of Paganism or some other spiritual path that calls to us, the appeal is patent and powerful. In some form we feel the lack every day until we begin to nourish ourselves with a practice. The shape that practice takes will necessarily be our own. No one else can dictate what it should be for us. It will evolve with us as we set out on the journey.

For the beginning of a practice, then, a prayer-charm:

I weave the cincture of protection,
from the nine powers of nine trees,
strength of oak,
straightness of ash,
purity of birch,
absorbency of alder,
brightness of beech,
elegance of elm,
healing of willow,
power of holly,
everlastingness of yew.
Nine trees to circle me,
nine powers to guard me,
as the Summer song resounds.

(Matthews, Celtic Devotional, pg. 86)

May you live and grow and flourish in groves of protection.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Matthews, Caitlin. Celtic Devotional: Daily Prayers and Blessings. Rev’d ed. Gloucester, MA: Fairwinds Press, 2004. (First published by Godsfield Press, 1996.)

“Connected and Blessed”   4 comments

“… if we could reduce Paganism down to its essentials”, write the Higginbothams in their 2002 book Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions, “we believe its two most central concepts are interconnectedness and blessedness” (pg. 2). I look at the two trees on the cover. Let the left one be connection, I say to myself, and the right one blessing.

llew-higginI quote this book because it’s on my mind. The Pagan group of some dozen members I’ve recently helped to form here in southern Vermont is discussing it as a way toward building some common ground. We’re Wiccan, Pagan, Druid, agnostic and more, veteran and newcomer, from our 20’s through our 50s.

If we seek connection and blessing, it helps to know where to look for them. It’s no surprise that “current events” offer scant help in seeing and experiencing either one. But then, if I’m looking to daily sensationalist media accounts of human mistakes and suffering for inspiration and guidance, what do I expect? The news that gets reported is commonly bad. Pain and suffering pull in eyeballs, and sell advertising. Most informational media, you can soon conclude, aren’t ultimately here for our benefit at all. To be “informed” commonly means nothing more than to know the bad news in the distance. You could easily be excused for wondering how there’s any world left, after just a week of “current events”. What won’t “go to hell in a handbasket”, if we give it half a chance?

But we also make our own news every day, closer and more important. The only two givens: I was born and I will die. Between those two mile-markers lies everything to make the worst and also the best life I can. Everything begs for our attention, the most precious thing we have. Where to put it?

After a day of rain and cold, morning sun. Outside these house walls, where my wife and I are sorting  through a few decades of packrat-dom — simplify, simplify! — the blossoming crab apple in the front yard draws an orchestra of bees.

IMG_1694

Connection and blessing. They come like a handshake — the offer’s there, but I need to extend my hand as well, if I want to complete it and bring it home. All the disasters in the world do not negate the possibility of connection and blessing. Like the frame for a picture, they only accentuate its value. The only reason I’m here at all is because of connection and blessing. Pass it on, says the crab apple, the sweet spring air, the buzz of bees. Do your best to pass it on.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Image: Llewellyn Publications.

Higginbotham, Joyce and River. Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2002.

“First and Last Things” — Druid & Christian Theme 9   2 comments

[Themes |1| |2| |3| |4| |5| |6| |7| |8| 9]

Now that I’ve reached the end of this series on some possible shared spaces between Druids and Christians, I’d like to pause and take stock.

How many of us have experienced anger, frustration or a kind of spiritual PTSD from our contacts with Christianity? How many have found one or more of these posts irritating or painful? Yet how many still feel drawn to something alive in Christianity or Christian practice?

From the wild stats this particular series has generated, I have to conclude it’s provoked a whole complex, difficult medley of thoughts and feelings. Consider, as I have, new readers from outside the circle of the most common visitors — North Americans and a few western Europeans, with the occasional Australian or New Zealander. This series, however, has drawn readers from Iraq, China, Turkey, India, Japan, Hungary, Singapore, Greece, Pakistan — and a readership from all of these nations showed up not just for single post but for most of this series.

And what should appear here as the 9th theme? Magic? Prayer? Initiation? Heresy — the right to choose — along with heterodox beliefs and practices? The Otherworld? Divine kingship? All promise rich materials as fitting ways to close. I’ll probably tackle at least a few of these in the coming weeks. If only because a series like this, like a devotional practice undertaken with love over time, almost always generates a momentum no finite thing can contain.

aceofcupsOr what about a shift of terminology? Would that help at all with any of these themes? If instead of “Baptisms of the Elements”, we called them “Elemental Sacraments”, would that easier name make a difference? Would it make it any easier to move beyond instinctive antipathies and past traumas?

Christian Druids and Druid Christians have already found ways to integrate their practice and ritual, celebrating spirit as it actually manifests, regardless of creeds. Some of the best links happen in community and fellowship. We experience something together beyond words, even as we struggle to embody it in language. But it’s that initial encounter, not the subsequent formulation in speech or writing, that constitutes the source of spiritual energy.

Saint Francis sings in part:

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.

Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
Mother Earth
who sustains and governs us …

Here is insight and wisdom and reverence indeed, one that may find resonance for both Druids and Christians.

An “incarnational” Druidry, one that shares with Christians a deep gratitude for natural beauty and for the mystery of birds and beasts, for the holy gifts of choice and speech, thought and reason, for birth and dying and rebirth, and for the voice of the sacred in dream, vision, prayer and ritual, and for the transformational power that a spirit-filled person can manifest, whatever the tradition, will earn respect and a hearing in any quarter a Druid would want to find one.

Likewise, a humble Christianity, one which seeks first to model love of self and other, of spiritual freedom, of service and stewardship of the created world, of care for the body, and delight in our kinship with the natural world, one which reads with reverence the Book of Nature, will move and persuade and welcome Druids and other Pagans far more than any scriptural proofs or the tongue of condemnation, doctrine or preaching.

“Let our deeds and our shining faces be our testimony”.

/|\ /|\ /|\

 Image: Ace of Cups.

Daily Practice — Druid & Christian Theme 7   Leave a comment

[Themes |1| |2| |3| |4| |5| |6| |7| |8| 9|]

How do I keep the inward doors open? (How do I even begin to locate them and find their handles?) How do I pick up on subtle nudges? How do I hear the quiet inward speech of things — the “still small voice” as older versions of Christian scripture call it? We all get the big events — no need to go looking for them. They burst on the scene, kicking down the door a few times in a life, unmistakably loud and messy, whether good or bad, and usually a mix. But they break through, and everything shifts.

“Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13).

With wind and earthquake and fire, how do we ever catch the whisper? And then, even if we manage to hear the “still small voice”, we may find that instead of resolution or insight or growth, we’re left with questions, like Elijah. Our own lives interrogate us. “What am I doing here? How did things end up like this?”

Most traditions urge a daily practice. As much of Christianity has become focused on belief rather than practice, it has lost much of what monastic practice has preserved. A site on Trappist monasticism notes:

The practice of lectio divina, (divine reading), is foundational to monastic life. So important is divine reading to the spiritual well-being of a monk that, traditionally, we devoted some of the best hours of the day to this practice. Lectio Divina is a discipline whose fruits are experienced over time. One needs to understand the practice and then commit to it with some regularity.

Practice matters. Not because it makes our lives “safe” or “easy”: no life is that I know of. If I think about it, most lives resemble the character throw in role-playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons and Dragons. You toss the game dice for talents, strengths and weaknesses. You may for instance roll a high intelligence, but your physical body is weak. You can’t rely on it. If you’re allowed to roll again, your strength, your vitality, may be high this time, but you’re none too bright.  Or on the third throw, both intelligence and strength come up high, but your temper makes your life a train-wreck of impulse and blame.

A daily practice helps build spiritual stamina. It’s something like what our grandparents and great-grandparents used to call “inner resources”, though they may rarely have shown us how to develop ’em. (Merely “following the rules” doesn’t usually help.) But they knew enough to recognize people who had them. (In RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, you can improve even weak qualities of your character over time, through experience. Funny thing!)

One of my teachers says that even if we could know the future, we’d have a hard time accepting just the good things to come in our lives. (That they might not always resemble “good things” from our present standpoint rarely occurs to us.) We build stamina over time, so that the big lifting is more manageable, and the daily lifting can become a small pleasure in itself.

A daily practice helps us hear that whisper, catch the still small voice. And that in turn can help us ride the worst of the big bad events, and make the most of the big good events (and little ones, too). And that can lead to all kinds of wonderful things. But the practice itself doesn’t deliver them. It catalyzes. It doesn’t guarantee.

One Druid I know makes it a point, whatever the weather, to visit a small outdoor shrine in his backyard each morning, before he heads off to work. He says a short prayer, or holds a meditation, makes an offering, etc. His practice builds over time, with things added or discarded. If, under pressure of a tight schedule or occasional family craziness, he misses his practice one morning, he feels the lack. But that in itself has deep value — it’s one way to recognize the value of a practice. It’s a good habit. The gods know we all cherish enough bad ones.

So working with the habit-forming tendencies we all have, we put them to work here and there. We start small. A daily practice can be a form of magic, of empowering ourselves to live more fully. Because really, what else is there? If we’re so sunk in difficulty that every day is a struggle just to survive, we’ve got nothing extra to share with anyone or anything. Our work is simply to endure. And sometimes that has to be enough. But beyond survival, one goal can be to spend our surplus as we choose, consciously, with intention. The goal is to find ways to get to a surplus in the first place, so we have something to spend, something to give back, to build on, to build up.

As Philip Carr-Gomm has written, “In a world sorely lacking in meaningful ritual, it can feel like a balm to the soul to engage in actions that are not obviously utilitarian, that are designed to help us enter into a deeper sense of engagement with life –- to give expression to our belief in a world of Spirit that infuses this physical world with energies that bring healing and inspiration.” If such ideas seem foreign or strange, that’s a measure of how far we’ve wandered from ways of living proven over millennia to help us make the most of our few decades here.

The Christian “Lord’s Prayer” is brief, and usefully so. Or if you’re a Catholic, the Rosary is comparably short. Most traditions offer short usable rites like prayers or visualizations. Along with similar prayers, OBOD Druids and others may practice a Light Body exercise.

Repetitions done mindfully can be remarkable in their effects over time, hard to describe until you try them out. Like any exercise, they build strength and stamina. We can propose to ourselves any number of fine practices, elaborate rituals, intense mystical exercises. But the small one we actually follow through on every day for a month will be the one that begins to convince us of its value, and of the value of a practice.

The key is to find what works, and what I can stick with. I keep a record. Did this for a week. Liked it. Kept it up for a year. Discarded it. Felt the lack. Picked it up again and added it back in to the mix a year later. Forgotten I’d made that experiment till I re-read my journal from that time.

Finding what works for me, ultimately, is a practice all its own, one of the most “practical practices” I can try.

/|\ /|\ /|\

I’ll close with a Youtube clip of “Pirililou”, which as its description states, is

an old Gaelic Chant sung at the Western ocean’s edge to the soul of the departed, in the first days after death, to assist the soul travelling from this world to the next ones. It is said to imitate the call of a shore bird … a bird dedicated to Bridhe and St Brigit, who assist the birth of souls in this world as well as the next.

As a meditation before sleep (that practice journey we all make nightly), this kind of meditation can lead to deep insight. Have we, after all, been fully born into this world, never mind any other one? Playing (singing, composing) a short devotional song that moves you deeply, and listening (performing) with intention, can make for the beginning of a profound practice.

%d bloggers like this: