Archive for the ‘earth wisdom’ Category

Slowly, Then All at Once

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“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars.

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Slow, then sudden — this two-part rhythm is more widespread than we often notice. Not only with love, as John Green’s young-adult novel observes, but with much else besides.

If you garden, the seeds you plant can seem like they “take forever” to germinate, but then abruptly poke through the soil as if it’s really the first day of their existence and they’re busy to get on with it. A “breakout” artist shoots to fame “overnight” — except that happens very rarely. The apparent “overnightness” in truth often is years in coming. “A watched pot never boils” — until it does. Never mind the behind-the-scenes activity, the preparation, the earlier drafts, the years of sweat and doubt, the obscurity and perseverance. The American myth of “instant success”, like instant coffee, is a poor substitute for the slow-brewed original.

sine-waveWhat then can we make of this pattern and rhythm? If it’s built into the universe as one kind of energy flow, it deserves study. And of course in other guises it has indeed been studied for a long time. We hear of critical mass, we’ve seen plots of the sine wave, the surfer knows how to ride the ocean’s waves, and researchers looking for alternate energy sources attempt to capture the power of the tides and the rise and fall of sea surges.

Magic, like so much else, can often manifest this way: “nothing happens” and “nothing continues to happen”, until something does.

One of the things this tells me, anyway, is that attention, practice, energy can all accumulate. Repetition doesn’t automatically mean wasted energy. We dance because the universe dances — it looks like a primary parameter of the cosmos that merits our respect and imitation.

The child hounds the parent because past experiences suggest he or she will, sooner or late, cave. The clutch of gangly skateboarders hogging that sidewalk or parking lot repeat and repeat and repeat that impossible trick or sweet move, failing and failing and failing — until they succeed.

“Third time’s the charm” goes the proverb — maybe not literally accurate, but a piece of observational wisdom about the value and power of repetition. Even by the third attempt, we often see with many things that we can “improve the move”.

Animals do it. The play that the young of so many species engages in isn’t “for real” — until it is, and all those rehearsed moves, the testing of the limits of flesh and bone and sinew in self and other, the reflexes, the rhythms, the habits of feint and parry, attack and retreat “pay off” in victory or dominance or “simple” survival.

The profligate production of seeds in the plant kingdom mirrors this principle: bombard the Land with possibilities, and some at least will take root and flourish. Jesus offers the Parable of the Sower in the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8) as an image, as we might choose to read it, of the “spiritual kingdom” of our actions:

And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:  And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

If we’re all “sowers” or planters of seed, initiating actions, putting energy into manifesting what we desire, making choices, responding poorly or well to situations and challenges, growing and dying and being reborn throughout our lives, do we have the ears to hear, and the eyes to see, this profound pattern inherent in the “way of things”? If not, we’re missing out on a powerful strategy for living.

Almost as important, I don’t have to aim big from the very outset (though it’s true that will teach me a whole host of things I can’t learn so quickly any other way). I can start small; I make a habit of saying “thank you” in many ways and mean it, and slowly build a reputation as a respectful and courteous person, setting in motion a vibration that accompanies me wherever I go. Or I don’t. I gather with fellow Druids, or do rituals alone, and the regular practice, daily and at the “Great Eight”, slowly attunes me to a larger harmonic that helps hold me together when chaotic energies flash around me intermittently. A practice builds stamina, even as it plants the seeds for the breakout, the germination, the mastery, the arrival, the highpoint, the culimination.

ADF Druids ask, “Why not excellence?” knowing its achievement may well take place “as fast as a speeding oak!”

And one ideal among Native Americans recognizes the time that full manifestation can take. Wikipedia notes that “Seventh generation stewardship

urges the current generation of humans to live and work for the benefit of the seventh generation into the future. It originated with … the Great Law of the Iroquois – which holds it appropriate to think seven generations ahead (about 140 years into the future) and decide whether the decisions they make today would benefit their children seven generations into the future. It is frequently associated with the modern, popular concept of environmental stewardship or ‘sustainability’ but it is much broader in context … [applicable] in all our deliberations …

Wisdom, insight — these too seem to follow the same rhythm, accumulating like water in a well, until they fill and we can draw on them.

As a Druid I try to have the sense to apprentice myself to the living world. As the late U K LeGuin writes in A Wizard of Earthsea of her main character, Ged:

From that time forth he believed that the wise man is one who never sets himself apart from other living things, whether they have speech or not, and in later years he strove long to learn what can be learned, in silence, from the eyes of animals, the flight of birds, the great slow gestures of trees.

O maple I transplanted four days ago, from where you were poking through the hedge, hungry for light, I’m trying to listen.

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Images: sine curve;

La Vie en Vert: Life Greens

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On an overcast, mild and rainy day, the stones of our backyard firepit emerge at last from the retreating snow.  No thing exists “entire of itself” or for itself only. It also touches things around it, making and meaning for them a whole range of significances. For the moles in the lower yard, warming weather soaks the earth with snowmelt, and that means flooded burrows. For the deer who’ve survived the New England winter, fresh browse as the grass greens again under the strengthening sun, with the tender shoots of new growth burgeoning everywhere. For the returning birds, nesting material, the first bugs, and surfacing worms.

One of the core teachings explains that the macrocosm (literally ‘the great universe,’ the universe around us) and the microcosm (the ‘little universe,’ the universe within us) are mirror images of each other.

Thus, we can look to the world of nature around us for help in understanding our own nature, recognizing that if a theory about the nature of the universe proves to be a mistake when tested against the world around us, it will also prove to be a mistake when applied to the world within us (Greer, J. M. Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, pg. 15).

Inner turmoil, strange dreams I can recall only fragments of on waking, a sense of being reminded of — and held to — a standard I agreed to long ago. A sense of being on the cusp of some ordination, relied on for a spiritual responsibility. “Ready or not, here I come”, says Spirit.

“Every human being is already a priest”, says John Plummer in his book Living Mysteries,

in a very primal sense. We stand between earth and sky, like pillars in an ever-moving temple. We find ourselves within and among other humans and many other orders of being (stones, plants, animals, elementals, angels, etc.) with energies flowing back and forth, consciously and not … Our outer personalities mediate the sacred presence at the core of our being, more or less well. We are all points in an extraordinarily complex web, through which divine power moves. That power … is much greater than us, and not particularly concerned about whether we understand how it is working, at any given moment (pg. 13).

Whether baptized or called by the spirits, pursued and confronted by an animal guardian, taught in dreams, initiated through suffering or illness or other trauma into a spiritual quest, roused by the shakti of a guru or the accumulated potency of intensive meditation, ignited by our own unanswered questions and a divine discontent, or turned off all spirituality by its many fakes and shams into a formidable and rationalistic atheism, we are called.

Plummer continues:

… we cannot turn our back on it. If we try, it will come knocking louder and louder, until we re-open the door. We have to feed it from our own substance, letting it grow through us, and then hand it forward to those who come after us, whoever they may be. To fail to transmit what we have received is to dam a stream until it becomes a stagnant pond, rather than free-flowing, clear water (pg. 15).

And so we come to this weekend, both April Fools’ Day and Easter, that lovely Pagan celebration — after all, it does take place on the first day of the Sun, after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox — a true Pagan Triad of Light.

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Gulf Coast Gathering ’17, Live Oak canopy

Water and Light, and the holy Trees as witnesses.

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Greer, J. M. (2012). Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology. Weiser Books.

Plummer, John. (2006). Living Mysteries: a Practice Handbook for the Independent Priest. Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press.

Seven Druid Advantages

Edited 10 Jan 2018

[No, I’m not talking about the “open-source analytics data store designed for OLAP queries on timeseries data”. How the word Druid ever got patented and copyrighted, I’m not sure. Imagine trying to do the same with Christian or Hindu or Muslim!]

Recently the word “privilege” has accrued all manner of emotional loading with connotations of wokeness and political correctness, while one of its primary meanings — advantage — remains largely untouched. While I do see the seven points below as privileges, an accurate synonym is advantage, and so it’s this sense I want to examine here. Note also that I’m not claiming these advantages belong only to Druidry. But in my experience, Druids seem aware of them in uniquely Druid ways that contribute much to the experience of Druidry.

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Gulf Coast Gathering ’17 — photo courtesy Julie Babin

Seven Druid Advantages

1–Druids (and Pagans generally) are so clearly a minority in the West that they enjoy a built-in remedy against arrogance. The misconceptions about Druidry and Paganism still rampant can, at their best, make a person laugh. Yes, there’ll always be individuals who try on an inflated self to see just how far such a blimp will carry them. The cosmos deflates most swollen and bloated things in its own good time. But for the rest of us, humility is a useful place to begin almost any human activity. Except maybe politics. Minority status points Druids naturally towards humility and humor.

2–Druids do community about as well as anyone. (Visit a Druid camp or Gathering and test this firsthand.) While acknowledging the valleys and caves and hermitages our solitaries occupy — many community folks are solitaries, and vice-versa — we get plenty of practice in loving others. Because in the end, that’s why we connect. The currents and energies of the cosmos also dwell in other people. Looking to power a rite or discover a richer truth or share the inspiration of awen? When we attempt these things, we draw on each other at least as much as on the sun, moon, stars and spirits. Living things make up much of “the power of the land within and without”, as the OBOD invocation puts it. Druid community is practice for love.

3–With the practice of Druidry comes a discovery of the need for discipline. No one checks up on us. If we want something to happen, we need to be open to it and also help set it in motion. Achievement takes work, a basic truth we seem in danger of ignoring in Western culture. Through making a choice for a particular practice of discipline, we gain increased self-respect. We’ve earned what we know. (If we haven’t, someone will probably point it out to us.) The opportunities Druidry offers to practice self-discipline also build self-respect.

4–Because of the diversity of training, experience, location and heritage among Druids, our practices help keep us open to surprise. Whether we meet in community or keep in touch through books and online, we’re always encountering new insights, ideas, perspectives and techniques. We’ll never know it all, and that’s part of the wonder of the path. We gather in circles, and they always open into spirals. The path doesn’t stay the same, and neither do we. Druid practice helps keep us open to surprise.

5–An experimental mindset powers much of our practice, as it does our gardening and beast-craft and spiritual exploration. “If it’s operational, it’s true” goes the old tag from the 60s, and it still has validity for most Druids. From this attention to reality comes a particular integrity in the Druid experience. Dogma still creeps in from time to time, but attention to what’s happening to the land, to what the spirits and guides are showing us, to what our studies reveal, and what our dreams and visions and hunches direct us to consider, mean that unlike religions that center on professions of faith, Druids are busy exploring to find out for themselves. Once you know, you no longer need to believe. Belief’s often a useful tool, but it’s just one among many. The experimental mindset that Druidry encourages promotes spiritual integrity.

6–Druid teaching, ritual and practice spark many Druids to explore their artistic and creative sides. Yes, Druidry is a spiritual path that specially honors and fosters creativity. Meet and talk with Druids and you’ll also discover how creative people are drawn to Druidry because they seek a path where imagination plays a primary role in spiritual experience, rather than a suspect behavior leading to heresy, diabolic influence and poor choices. Druidry knows passion and vision and creative exploration are spiritual gifts.

7–The Great Mystery that lies at the heart of the manifest and unmanifest is what powers Druidry. It sparks humans and other creatures, burns at the heart of planets and stars, and shines out of the cosmos whenever we pay reverent attention. The open-endedness of Druidry, its sense of a new horizon beyond the next hilltop, make it both  welcoming, exciting and challenging. The heart of Druidry is both spiritual welcome and provocative challenge.

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Passing It On

What would you teach a young person asking to apprentice with you for the wisdom, skills and insights you’ve gained in your life? And how would you go about teaching these things?

The season itself encourages me to be mindful of such things. With its focus on harvest, completion, the Ancestors, and with my own middle age upon me, it’s natural to take stock and ponder what’s most worthwhile out of all the experiences and insights a human accumulates over several decades.

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Before going any further, why not take a few minutes and write down your responses to those questions in the first paragraph above?

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What follows is one half of a possible conversation with the other person.

“Thank you for asking. You honor me by bringing these questions to me. In turn, I’ll start by asking you what you’ve learned so far. We build on what we already have discovered, so this is a good starting point. Let’s go for a walk — you choose the direction.”

“One way to begin to answer these things for yourself is to look at times in life when you are happy, or totally engrossed in whatever you are doing. What were you doing, and what did the experience feel like? No need to hurry toward an answer. We can talk again in a few days. Time for a cup of tea or coffee, right?”

“What would go on your ‘favorites’ list? You know — favorite colors, places, animals, people, activities, etc. These things can be a source of comfort, encouragement and energy when you need to recharge or rebalance. Turning to them consciously and gratefully and making them a regular part of your life can assist you greatly. And they can be keys to explore further, and develop as part of your personal toolkit for living. For instance, carving out space and time to practice them, and making a physical space where they are represented, can make a surprising difference in our experience of each day.”

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“For some people, these can become doorways to a profession or career. For others, they become rituals and practices to restore and rebalance. For still other people, they can become spiritual symbols and subjects for meditation and insight. Here on my table altar is a hawk feather I found while my wife and I were looking at property here in Vermont. It was a teaching symbol that continues to remind me to pay attention to small signs. Because way beyond random probability, they can often turn out to be big signs.”

“What kinds of things are you good at? If you don’t know or aren’t sure, start asking and paying attention. Everyone has certain latent strengths, talents and abilities. It may be that others have already helped you find some of them, or have encouraged you if you’ve started showing or practicing them, but you can find them on your own as well. They may not always be things that others value right away, but you probably practice them anyway. In fact, some of the things we can be shy about are often things we deeply value and don’t want to expose to others’ opinions or judgments, so we keep them hidden. In spite of what Western culture tells us, there are such things as good secrets. Respect your own sense of when to open up about them, and when to keep them private. Or if I’m listening to the wisdom of plants and trees, build my root system first, then flower second.”

“If you’re wondering about what we’ve been talking about so far, or if you’re thinking they don’t seem very spiritual things, you’re partly right. We often undervalue such things, or think they don’t matter, or overlook them when we’re considering ‘matters of real significance’. Yet all these things make up part of the value of each individual. Each of us has importance, and each of us has core purposes we can discover and fulfill.”

“One powerful way to grow and learn is to serve. You hear a lot about service, and about ‘selfless service’. But I’ve found that the most balanced service is one that we may enter knowing we’ll benefit along with others, but not worrying about that either way. We serve because it’s another way to be grateful for what we’ve received. But we also serve because the universe makes us curious, and service takes us places we can reach in no other way. It connects us to people and places and other beings who we can help and who can help us. Service builds relationships. It’s a form of love. Though it may sound very strange to say it, loving another person can be a form of service. That includes loving ourselves. If we think about the numbers of unhappy people in the world today, loving ourselves is truly a vital and desperately needed form of service.”

“Finding something larger than myself and connecting to it is the only lasting source of happiness and fulfillment I’ve found. We long to feel deeply that our lives matter, and that kind of connection brings meaning and purpose and a deep sense of rightness. We may connect to a craft or art or skill, and we may connect to another person or organization or movement. During my life, I’ve moved around a bit among these at various times. Some people find one way to connect and spend their entire lives with that single way. But like everything else, there’s no single ideal way for everyone, but simply the way that works best for you right now. This isn’t something to believe, though you can if you want to, but it is something to test and try out and determine its validity for yourself.”

“Extending these insights into the practice of a craft, an art, a religion or spiritual path, an organization or cause or profession, are each natural developments of the initial urge and instinct to serve and to express our talents and abilities. A god or gods may help us focus our service, or become the center of what we do. But our service may not take that particular form. Our judgments about others’ choices will always be incomplete. To know our own purposes and priorities is the task of a whole life. We can honor others’ choices and give them the freedom to choose just as they give us that same freedom. There’s a deep test: does my practice afford others the freedom to choose? And does their practice offer me that same freedom?”

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“In this world of time and space and change, there is a spiritual adage whose insight I’ve learned the hard way, repeatedly throughout my life. And it’s this: each day’s rhythm means we must re-win our spiritual freedom for that day. It’s an ongoing practice, not a single achievement. In fact, it’s the substance of our service.”

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Deconspiracizing & Druidry

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through the branches, opening doors

Depending on where you lurk on the Net, you may have run across this passage:

Be sure the patient remains completely fixated on politics. Arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people they have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control. Make sure to keep the patient in a constant state of angst, frustration, and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing. Ensure the patient continues to believe that the problem is “out there” in the “broken system” rather than recognizing there is a problem with himself.

Keep up the good work,
Uncle Screwtape

“Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis ~1942

One of my cousins posted this recently on Facebook.

Also depending on your alertness and your familiarity with Lewis and his works, you may or may not have additionally spotted the following caveat. “Screwtape’s ‘fixated on politics’ quote”, notes Joshua Dance, “is not by C.S. Lewis. You and I may like the idea, but proceed with caution.”

How perfect for my purpose here: to use a wrongly-attributed quotation in the process of desconspiracizing ourselves. What ideas do we like, and how cautious are we — can we be — should we be — with them as we proceed?

And does this piece of wisdom still retain any value, once we uncouple it from its famous but misidentified source?

If you think it does, I invite you to keep reading. (If not, here’s the new-as-of-June trailer for Voldemort — Origins Of The Heir, a fan-film.)

Human liking for conspiracy theories is by almost all accounts wonderfully unbiased in its spread. Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian, Communist, Anarchist — whatever colors I fly on my mast, I’m just as susceptible to a theory that fits my prejudices as the next person. No one’s immune. In my book that qualifies as a “problem with myself”. Fortunately, remedies exist. Maybe not cures, but remedies.

Here, after a completely unscientific search, are seven news links [ Paul RatnerThe Independent | The Telegraph | Time | The Guardian| Conspiracies.net6 True Conspiracy Theories ] to some of the most popular conspiracy theories out there in the English-speaking world. (Those of you with a foot in other linguistic and cultural communities have your own favorites that you know far better than I.)

And if you’d like just one of many available pages pointing out the logical fallacies underpinning conspiracy thinking, here’s an example that offers 13 fallacies.

My main goal in this post? I want to remind myself most of all, and any of you so inclined, to  continue the work needed to minimize the effect of conspiracy thinking. Secondarily, I want to refresh my understanding of ways of thinking and doing — like Druidry — that can “distract me from the distractions”.

Two things I’ve learned over decades to treasure and nourish in myself and my dear ones more than anything else: what I choose to attend to, and how I choose to attend to it. In other words, attention and attitude.

We know how valuable our attention is because advertisers and politicians work so hard to get it and hold on to it. Our attitude matters just as much: everyone wants to tell us how to feel, rather than letting us discover that on our own.

Once someone has my attention hooked, and my attitude in their pocket, they own me.

So here’s one of my triads for action:

1) Love what I can see, touch and talk to most often — daily is ideal. This includes family, friends, trees, pets, the garden, ancestors, my community, and the people I meet. “I bless you in the name of what you love most deeply” is a silent prayer I can offer for everyone I meet. An even briefer version: “Bless this day and those I serve”. (I also find it’s very useful in stopping me from mechanical reactions for or against, from forming pointless opinions based on superficial details like age, weight, dress, gender, etc. — or for cutting me off in traffic, or tailing me much too closely. So I “repeat as needed”: “I bless you in the name of what you love most deeply”.)

2) Whatever time and energy I can give, work so that it will benefit others as much as myself. This blog is one of those things. My years in teaching, and in holding open discussions on spiritual topics in our local library, are a couple of others. A chance conversation in a shop or store that acknowledges another’s humanity and dignity can be a profound service to others. I don’t try to be selfless; I try to enlarge my sense of who is part of the Self. Because I’m  still learning, whenever necessary, I start small.

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backyard willow on wash-day

3) Thank everyone and everything that helped me do the first two things. Gratitude may be too simple for our complex and suspicious age, but, I notice, it never goes out of style. Again, it may be silent just as often as something to express. Yes, this can be a dangerous age to live and be generous in. But I find a wise kindness works well.

If I focus more on my attitude and attention, I can diminish the moments of “angst, frustration, and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing”.

The more I experience the inherent joy in using my attitude and attention skilfully, the more I find myself energized to keep on practicing with them. These are some of the truest things Druidry has helped me discover.

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Changing It Up For Real

Rather than emigrating to Canada or some other country when the candidate you don’t want wins anyway, consider a more radical change. Why not remain in your native land, but opt out of as many systems, expectations, structures, economies, etc. as possible that exist for others’ benefit but perhaps not yours?

Harder, you say? Less practical? I’m far less interested in the malcontent who talks of relocating to Canada and much more engaged by anyone who actually makes a change with less talk and more action.

Consider Yury …

What would it actually require to do what he’s done?

Of course, in the scant two plus minutes of the video, we don’t get anything like a clear picture of Yury’s resources and choices. We do get a romanticized picture of independence and self-reliance. What else has Yury opted to do without, in order to make his change?

Like Thoreau’s accounting of his expenses early on in Walden, let’s suss out a rough estimate of what a comparable transformation would require while remaining in the States. Readers who live in other countries know better than I how to translate expenses and possibilities to their own circumstances.

We learn Yury opted out of a professional life as a lawyer five years back. Presumably unlike many law students in the States, he doesn’t have massive loans to repay. Probably he was even able to save a modest amount in order to launch himself into his new life.

Sixty miles outside of Moscow, he’s obviously rural. How much land does he own? Does he raise most of his own food? How near is the nearest town? Can he walk to a general store or market for things he can’t grow? Solar panels on the roof power lights and a computer, but not much else. He apparently cooks and heats with wood. We’re told a generator tides him over for the few months each year when the sun isn’t enough.

How does he wash clothes? Is he still covered by a state health care system, or has he opted out of that too, living as most of humanity has until the last few generations? No car? Public transport nearby — even a bus — would definitely help.

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I’m going to use Maine as a starting point, because land taxes are quite high in Vermont where I live. In New Hampshire, there’s no income tax, but various other taxes take a larger bite. Live in a scenic NH area with appealing vistas and you pay a “view tax”. Maine has fewer services, but someone like Yury isn’t looking for such things anyway.

So here’s my accounting:

1 — Property: .5 to 5 acres of land (I used Maine Listings): $3-10,000.

With careful shopping, the land may come with a well and/or septic in place. Composting toilets and rain collection systems can provide other options. A few miles from a town of a few thousand people will generally give you reasonable access to supplies, at least during the summer months, when hiking or biking with backpacks is relatively easy. A friendly neighbor you trade with — occasional transport to and from town in exchange for vegetables, firewood, yard work, etc. — can also make such an arrangement more doable.

Rental or leasing would allow for less expensive options for property and for the next item — taxes.

2 — Annual taxes: $100-1000

This depends of course on many variables — property size, township, distance from town, structures in place and added, etc. If you’re supporting yourself with any sort of service or product — eggs, firewood, craft items, seasonal labor — the figure rises.

3 — House/other structure(s): $1000-10,000+

Yury’s underground house is straw, clay and wood, with some sort of insulating and waterproofing membrane. Building aboveground lets more light in, alleviates many waterproofing issues, but increases heating needs. Earth-berming is a powerful compromise — imagine a house with only south-facing windows — all other sides are bermed. A sod roof of a foot or more of earth is cheap and effective insulation.

Earthwood Building School run by Rob and Jaki Roy in West Chazy in northern New York has links and images to give you a range of ideas. (Rob, here’s some free advertising!) What you’re willing to do for yourself, and your minimum requirements, your “without-which-not” list, can shift the price quite dramatically up or down. Sweat equity also makes an immense difference here. Do you need perfect, or serviceable?

Add to this a chicken coop, wood storage, gardening equipment, perennial plantings as needed, etc.

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4 — Annual living expenses: $2000-10,000+

Ivan McBeth, whom I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, lived with his wife Fearn for many years until his passing last year on about $8000 a year on their 40-acre property in northern Vermont. Much of his income derived from running Druidry workshops and building megalithic structures on site for clients.

Again, it might be possible to pare the lower end of that $2000 still further, especially with barter. Everyone has their necessities.

5 — “Future Fund”: ?

If you plan at all for the future, old age, emergencies, or a desire to change your life once again after a 1, 5 or 20 year experiment, a modest nest egg of any amount can help smooth the way.

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deltadepartOr you decide instead to relocate to another country.  More expensive, very likely. Learning another language, living in a different climate, with different lifestyles, social norms, history, national trajectory and attitudes towards foreigners, and Americans in particular, will all play their part in your experience.

So does any of this whet your appetite, or discourage you?

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Images: earth shelters; airplane.

Bill Mollison, Permaculturist: 1928-2016

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It’s the fate of too many worthy people to receive attention at their deaths that would have served everyone better had it flourished while they were still alive. Fortunately, this needn’t be the case with Bill Mollison, father of the permaculture movement, simply because his ideas most definitely live on after his passing.

I’ll confess upfront: I know only a little about Mollison and permaculture. So let’s allow him to speak for himself, as he amply can. You can read a transcript here of a 2005 interview with Mollison that appeared in Green Living magazine. There Scott London, the interviewer, summarizes Mollison’s achievement quite succinctly in a short introduction:

Permaculture — from permanent and agriculture — is an integrated design philosophy that encompasses gardening, architecture, horticulture, ecology, even money management and community design. The basic approach is to create sustainable systems that provide for their own needs and recycle their waste.

Mollison developed permaculture after spending decades in the rainforests and deserts of Australia studying ecosystems. He observed that plants naturally group themselves in mutually beneficial communities. He used this idea to develop a different approach to agriculture and community design, one that seeks to place the right elements together so they sustain and support each other.

Mollison’s sensibilities and actions have won him many fans among Druid-y types. (For a splendid Druid blog and blogger walking the talk, which you might enjoy if you don’t already know of it and her, visit The Druid’s Garden.)

Still largely unknown outside of his native Australia, Mollison’s ideas have impacted agricultural practices. As London notes:

Scott London: A reviewer once described your teachings as “seditious.”

Bill Mollison: Yes, it was very perceptive. I teach self-reliance, the world’s most subversive practice. I teach people how to grow their own food, which is shockingly subversive. So, yes, it’s seditious. But it’s peaceful sedition.

So many bellwethers, prophets, forerunners we’ve ignored to our cost. For as Mollison notes in the course of the interview,

In the early 1970s, it dawned on me that no one had ever applied design to agriculture. When I realized it, the hairs went up on the back of my neck. It was so strange. We’d had agriculture for 7,000 years, and we’d been losing for 7,000 years — everything was turning into desert. So I wondered, can we build systems that obey ecological principles? We know what they are, we just never apply them. Ecologists never apply good ecology to their gardens. Architects never understand the transmission of heat in buildings. And physicists live in houses with demented energy systems. It’s curious that we never apply what we know to how we actually live.

Applying what we know to how we live: if we seek a clear life goal, a sane and humane practice, and a justification and outline for a spiritual path, that’s an excellent place to start.

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[Updated 7 Oct 2016]

Images: Bill Mollison.

For an instructive contrast (to say no more right now), consider the words of Adam Smith (1723-1790), which might well have appeared just yesterday, unchanged, in the Times or Guardian or Wall Street Journal:

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East Coast Gathering Image Song

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Don’t worry, spiders —
I keep house
casually.

Issa Kobayashi, trans. Robert Haas.

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Every day a journey waits, if we seek one of the boats waiting at the dock.

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Sometimes the way is closed …

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Sometimes it pays to ask who closed it, and whether you can open it.

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Sometimes what appears a wall …

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is a series of steps.

No rush to the top (or the bottom).
Each step can also be a rest point on the journey.

Autumn Equinox 2016

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late afternoon on our 3-mi loop-walk

The seasonal festivals may start to come upon you like the visits of old friends. You don’t need to be anything other than who you are for them, of course. Fat chance, anyway, of sustaining even a polite deception with someone who knows you this well. I can shove the unsorted laundry into a closet, ready the guest room with fresh sheets, maybe offer a vase of goldenrod and queen anne’s lace this time of year. Clear the top of a dresser or nightstand and set out a few found objects to share: quartz or shale or mica from a recent hike, driftwood from a stream or beach walk. Such gestures never go to waste. They welcome the guest and lift the mood of the host, if lifting is needed.

Sometimes it is. We felt a seasonal shift here in southern Vermont about a week ago, a subtle movement of energies and weather and light as they whisper together and ease us toward the equinox, the evocatively named Alban Elfed, “Light on the Water.” The birds knew it, too — maybe something in their song clued us in to pay attention in the first place.

Of course the linguist in me tries to quibble that neither word “actually means” light or water, but instead simply the quotidian equinox (of) autumn, but then rummaging around the OBOD website I’m caught up in wonder by Coifi’s observations in a lovely post:

This is the Feast of the Autumn Equinox. The Light of the Sun in the Wheel of the Year stands in the West, in the Place of balance between the Light and the Darkness. This is a time of the Great Tides. This is the Gateway of the Year.

This Feast is known by many names to many people, for the Truth is reflected from many mirrors. It has been celebrated as Alban Elfed and Harvest. Our ancestors called it by names long forgotten, and our children will call it by names as yet unconceived.

So it is that literal gets overtaken by the figurative, just as speech does by song. Or not overtaken, not exactly. Whether I let them or not, they start dancing, each bowing to the other. Here is one of the Earth’s truths that says listen. The ancestors gave it names, as do we with our Alban Elfed and Mabon and Harvest Home, and as will our descendants. Each will know it, both the waning light, and the promise of Return.

A further quibble that the festivals are “just modern inventions” dissolves when you can point to old stones and other markers: the earth, again, is a witness here. From the plains of Wiltshire with its over-famous Henge to a hilltop in southern Ohio with its Serpent Mound, the inhabitants of many lands have been drawn to find ways to mark off days and seasons with structures whose physical remains simultaneously hush and awaken the mind.

2000px-wheel_of_the_year-svgFor “light on the water,” as it turns out to my now-placated left brain, is indeed apt, a festival that celebrates a brief balance of light and dark in the quarter of the ritual year that belongs to the west and to water. “Light on the water” brings with it a twilit mood, a sunset reminder of the reality of life on earth, both dark and bright.

For the whole planet, northern and southern hemispheres both, experiences a balance of light and dark before the days continue to shorten or lengthen, depending on where you stand. The time, friends, is a whole-planet festival. Come! Join in!

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Images: western light in southern Vermont; Ritual Wheel of the Year.

A Druid’s Compass

[A version of this post was originally published in Druid Magazine. How do we orient ourselves, and what guides and markers can we use? The things I write about are part of my own “Druid compass” — you probably have a similar set yourself. The article gets a little purple in its prose, but if you’re a regular here, you’re used to reading past that.]

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Inwangsan (photo by Gael Chardon)

 

Sometimes it takes another country to teach you lessons about your own. Five summers ago while I was teaching English for a busy month in Seoul, Korea, I encountered a local land spirit who showed me that this lovely country I was just beginning to discover was decidedly not my home.

It was about a week after I’d finally joined OBOD and requested the Bardic course. It was also my last weekend to explore Seoul and its environs before I flew back to the States to await that first of a series of welcome brown envelopes with the British postmarks of the OBOD course.

So on a foggy Sunday morning I made my way by train toward Inwangsan, a sacred mountain a handful of kilometers from my one-room apartment in Seoul, and then on foot into the mist. Outside Dingninmun Station and under the overcast sky, I managed to miss the tourist signs and markers , but the mountain loomed nearby, unmistakable, so I began my ascent off trail, figuring I’d intersect it higher up, near where a Buddhist and shamanic shrine coexist peacefully. Inwangsan is famous for its commanding views and granite cliffs. As for the view, I had little hope for on this gray day, but exposed granite slabs and outcroppings shone slick in the rain.

Forty-five minutes of climbing later, wet, muddy, and annoyed with myself, I paused to catch my breath. The fog had thickened, but the rising slope was still a reliable guide for the direction I wanted to go. I took a step, and –- how to describe it? –- up rose a wall of resistance in front of me. Something challenged me and barred my way from further ascent. At first I thought, stubborn and oblivious as I can be, that it was merely the tug of my own fatigue, but when I took another step it was clear this issued from something other than me. The hair on my arms stood up. Heart pounding, I apologized out loud, mumbled the few phrases of polite Korean I knew, turned around and slogged back down.

What was it? I rarely see anything inwardly in such situations, but impressions came this time as I made my way off the slopes. Something with multiple arms, big as a pickup truck, banded in stripes of dark and light, and determined to block me from advancing any further. I’ve not written about this till now, and just putting it into words makes the feel of it march again up and down my spine, vivid as if it happened this morning, a heavy ascent of wet earth, a tang of juniper and Asian pine and dead leaves. Yet I’d forgotten the mountain’s name, and the train station’s, too, and had to consult my journal from that summer. That as much as anything reminded me yet again (as if I need any further sign) of my “outlander” status there: I did not know the proper names for things.

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Rupert Brooke, 1887-1915

After British poet Rupert Brooke visited the Rocky Mountains some hundred years ago on a North American tour, he wrote: “There walk, as yet, no ghosts of lovers in Canadian lanes … it is possible, at a pinch, to do without gods. But one misses the dead” (Brooke, Letter XIII, “The Rockies”).

Brooke was young – it was just a few years before his untimely death at 27 – and he wrote with a young bard’s flip ignorance to cloak his discomfort with an unfamiliar country. For of course ghosts walk this continent, millennia of them. Brooke simply hadn’t yet listened closely enough. But new landscapes often strike us that way. A Chinese proverb I heard while working in The People’s Republic of China sums it up handily: shui tu bu fu – “earth and water aren’t comfortable.” We don’t yet know them, and neither do they know us. But stay in a place long enough, sweat and sleep there, plant and harvest, raise families and bury your dead, and the land begins to learn you, too, and to recognize you. And as you work out names for the shapes of water and earth you find in the neighborhood, and come to greet the stones and trees as friends, the words get shaped by mouths that eat and drink here, by lungs that take in the local air.

In the way of Bards, another who grappled with the same challenge comes to answer Brooke’s verses with words of his own. At 86, Robert Frost was asked to deliver a poem for President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in January, 1961. The day dawned cold and bright, and with his failing vision and the sun in his eyes, Frost couldn’t read the words in front of him, so the old bard made do with memory instead, and recited another of his poems.

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Frost at Kennedy’s inauguration

“The land was ours before we were the land’s,” he begins in “The Gift Outright” (Frost, 1975, p. 348). How often a bard finds a way through error and trial and awen. Frost continues, naming an experience common enough among many American Druids who may strive to honor a rich heritage originating east of the Atlantic, while also heeding new-old voices here on what some First Peoples still call Turtle Island:

But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves …

Here in what homesick settlers called New England, older names still linger for things no one truly possesses. Within an hour from where I live you can find Mt. Monadnock, Mt. Ascutney, Wantastiquet Trail, Skatutakee and Nubanusit lakes. Anywhere you go on this continent, similar names and undercurrents whisper, and careful listening will repay any effort to attend to lore and myth and what the land wights may have to say. (The earth’s an old house: many lands have the same overlay of newer names on older ones.) Sometimes it takes long patience to regain their trust, if careless previous inhabitants squandered it. Sometimes it takes longer practice to stop withholding ourselves from our places, and to inhabit them fully.

Here in Vermont the Yankee accent and sensibility rise like springwater from long winters and sap from local trees boiled to syrup, pork from free-range pigs that graze the oak mast on Windmill Hill, which we can see from our living room window, and Okemo State Forest not so very distant. “Eating local” needn’t be mere marketing of another yuppie indulgence. It’s what we all did until just a couple of generations ago, growing it ourselves, letting the land feed our bellies and spirits. And it makes sense if you’re committed to “Druiding” (let’s make it a verb!) –- the taste and smell of home, and of a new place, too, can be powerful guides. The body leads the way by a kind of homing instinct.

Names, listening, tastes and smells. What of ritual and ceremony? Once my wife and I settled in Vermont, walking to learn my neighborhood became a go-to practice for me, with a three-mile loop of dirt roads my almost-daily ceremonial. When I honor the four quarters, I see the fish pond east of our house the former owners stocked with carp, and I remember water-of-air. The cold fronts each winter sweep down from Canada: air-of-earth. And with a hill named for a grove of hemlocks to our east beyond the pond that obscure the horizon, we never get much in the way of sunrises, but dramatic sunsets make up for it: fire-of-water. Online you can still track down Mike Nichols’ Wiccan classic “Re-thinking the Watchtowers: Thirteen Reasons Air Should Be in the North” (Nichols, 1989): it’s now a “sacred text” itself, though it started out as an observed deviation from traditional practice. Rules change with places, but ancient patterns abide.

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Works Cited:

Brooke, Rupert. (2004). Letters from America. Project Gutenberg EBook #6445. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6445/6445-h/6445-h.htm

Frost, Robert. (1975). The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged. New York: Henry Holt and Co.

Nichols, Mike. (1989). “Re-thinking the Watchtowers or 13 Reasons Air Should Be in the North.” Internet Sacred Text Archive. Retrieved from http://www.sacred-texts.com/bos/bos089.htm.

IMAGES: Inwangsan by Gael Chardon; Rupert BrookeFrost at JFK Inauguration.

Thirty Days of Druidry — 1

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After a complete slug-down from posting, brought on by a harsh bout of flu and subsequently a general lethargy, A Druid Way is back for a 30-day series on each day’s energies and perspectives. (Say awen, somebody. And all the freeze-dried grasses in my lawn say it, in their rustling speech. The tree limbs say it, and the twigs and branch-ends that have reddened and yellowed and greened with rising sap say it wordlessly, all night and all day long.)

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Long-time readers know I largely shy away from big social issues of the day. You’ll see very few comments here about politics, gay rights, abortion, race, the primaries, terrorism, climate change — the stuff of American and world headlines and the churn of the news cycle. I’m more interested in the opportunities each of us has to grow and love more in the small chances and changes right here. You could say that’s a kind of pure selfishness. And it is. We’re all engaged in self-crafting, one way or another. One way doesn’t negate another, I hope.

And I find these moments most easily not in the noise of our sometimes poorly-wrought human world, but in the silences when our human chatter subsides. When we can’t hear ourselves think, we too often think things that aren’t worth hearing. Or saying, though we keep on talking. Consider this blog a partial fast from the noise of the moment. Of course it’s a a fast in words, but paradox should be an old friend by now.

Don’t worry — if you really miss the latest batch of outrage and disaster and doom, they’ll keep till you’re done here. Rest easy, now. A few clicks will bring you right back into the middle of them. Many traditions invite us into silence, not to live our entire lives there. Speech matters. But to live always next door to silence, to befriend it, to let it teach us, to be rest and a refuge for us, as a true friend can.

The noise of the moment is of course one more testing ground. You CAN find many valuable lessons there, and you can hone your sense of rightness and justice and value to a keen edge, burnish them to a high sheen. (How much does my activism activate?) But we live mostly in the spaces between such tension points, and there I find rich terrain that never grows stale or flat. A half hour in the air and light, with birdsong or fog or frost and wind, is enough to restore a balance point that can go badly awry if we neglect the spiritual recalibration nature offers. Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers, says the poet.* But that’s only because what we mostly expect and work to get and spend a bunch of things that do not serve our highest good. How does a tree spend its powers, and does it have anything to say to me today?

Here for a reason, I say. Others scoff. Well, make your own reason. Then improve it. Better than drifting without one at all. Been-there done-that material. BTDT, as my wife and I say to each other. So try something you haven’t done, go somewhere you haven’t gone, says the awen in me, the awen spread across this blue cool late March sky.

springmoonEquinox energy is real. You can feel it in the stirring of so many things, blood and light and dream, storm and desire and birdsong. Not by accident do many magical and spiritual orders align their rites and festivals to the Equinoxes. Initiate then, in any senses of the word, and you catch a wave that can take you very far indeed. Out to the far isles beyond the horizon, where the Otherworld beckons beyond the ninth wave. In to the inner-verse that is always waiting like a beach after storm, strewn with all manner of oddments and debris, the flotsam and jetsam and occasional treasure you’ll find nowhere else. The one thing you need right now, washed up on your own shore, ready for the receiving into your hands. The spring break of the spirit, drunk with fear and longing and possibility.

Ah, tonight, first full moon of spring, rising in us, mounting the sky, stepping toward mystery.

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*Wordsworth.The Bards still keep trying to reach us, teach us, anything that doesn’t merely preach to us but means what we seek.

IMAGE: moon

Stone Wisdom

With camera in coat pocket and a muddy 3-mile walk ahead, I set out to see what a Saturday afternoon in the 40s might have to show. I started to write “teach,” and that may be accurate, but as human instructors discover, to say “I taught them but they didn’t learn it” is problematic at best.

I call this stone wisdom because it is a teaching of the north, of the earth, of winter, of this day which is all these things. It is a day of thaw, which I will take for my divination. Thaw what is frozen, so the lessons may enter, so I can move with what they teach.

One thing I’ve learned in the class of this life is that I really need to pay attention, to bring all I am to the moment. That’s a gift to the teacher, as well as myself, that richly repays any cost.

But “all I am” isn’t always easy. It includes idiosyncrasies, personal associations, weaknesses, quirks and curiosities, a whole range of human flotsam and jetsam. Keep anything away, and I under-represent myself. I come away shortchanged, denied because I have also denied something. Without it the exchange can’t or won’t or just doesn’t resolve into completion. But attend long enough, and the moment begins to sift out all that isn’t needful, until insight is possible. How long I let that go on depends on me.

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“Growing where you’re planted” can be hard work, depending on where you are. Friends who stand with you can help ease it, make it possible.

 

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“a world of made is not a world of born” — e e cummings. They feel and behave and interact differently. It can be a peculiar human study how to bring these closer.

 

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Everything leaves some kind of track. Not all deserve following. Look both forward and backward.

 

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“Private” only begins when someone else notices.

 

The Flow of things may well take you across lines and boundaries. Watch as you cross them, but follow the Flow. Let its gravity draw you.

The Flow of things may well take you across lines and boundaries. Watch as you cross them, but follow the Flow. Let its energy draw you.

 

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Triads are everywhere, and are never private. Is Cerberus, the 3-headed hound of Hell, lurking about? Not all teachers are easy ones, but all teach.

 

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Lying around waiting for something to happen? “Practice resurrection,” like Wendell Berry says.

Fighting Daily Black Magic

With a dramatic title like that, this post really has to deliver! But all I mean by it are the usually small ways we destroy, unmake, sabotage, undermine and discourage … ourselves.

Successful psychic attacks by others are remarkably rare. Those we work against ourselves are all too common. I can’t. I shouldn’t. I don’t. I won’t. And of course, let’s not discount the low-level psychic garbage of much contemporary media, with its insistence that it knows better than we do what the truth is about the world, its prospects, our futures in it, the roots of our safety and happiness, and so on. You can almost feel “know, dare, will, be silent” seeping out of you and spinning down the drain. “If it bleeds, it leads” may sell advertising space and draw viewers and readers, but it’s less than optimal energy to nourish ourselves with, to try to live on.

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One of Best Buy’s holiday logos

The solution isn’t merely to surround ourselves with a silver shield, though that’s often a good starting visualization. Whatever comes at you that you don’t want or need reflects off and away. Such a technique works well in traffic, in public places with a stew of emotions, like airports, bus stations — and any Black Friday shopping you’re daredevil enough to attempt. You can read the mindset already in place with advertising from sources like Best Buy and AARP that proclaim “Win the Holidays.” Can we make this season any more stressful?! Yes, but we don’t have to. This too is a choice we make.

And the desire I’ve witnessed in myself and many others from time to time, to retreat, withdraw, barricade the gates, is all too hobbit-like in its naivete.  “The wide world is all about you,” Gandalf reminds Frodo. “You can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.” The Survivalist mentality is understandable, but wrong-headed. What to do?

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elemental laundry magic — water, earth, air, fire

Sometimes the best magic there is to practice a simple shift of attention. Instead of someone else controlling what I will think and image and focus on, I can choose, if I wish. We all surrender this power of choice much too often, and daily. Does any advertizer, for instance, really have my best interests at heart?! But love purifies the market of the heart.

One of the most soothing of day-to-day tasks for me is laundry, especially when I can hang it outdoors and it comes in later, dry and sun-spiced — for free.

Laundry?, you say, more than a little outraged, perhaps. Consider the sly admonition of the Tao Te Ching, chap. 8:

The highest good is like water. Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive. It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao. In dwelling, be close to the land. In meditation, go deep in the heart. In dealing with others, be gentle and kind. In speech, be true. In ruling, be just. In business, be competent. In action, watch the timing. No fight: No blame.

We reject what can be most helpful, because it is simple. It doesn’t appeal to our vanity, to our sense that our problems must be large and important, because we are, so we may dismiss it.

Some of these recent sunny November days have seen our backyard with laundry magic at work, bowing in a cool breeze. But even the drying racks near the woodstove work their own charm. Elemental powers, I have summoned you, and you have served me well. I thank you for your gifts of earth, water, air and fire. Both the laundry basket and my heart come away lighter, cleaner. Hail, and farewell.

taozengardenSuch daily magic has more power than we suspect. I smile even as I write about this, and you may too, scoffing at my innocence or simple-mindedness. But in fact simplicity can be another most potent magic. The clear, simple task, with its attainable objective, is one key to using energy well. Breaking down more complex challenges into simpler tasks is good practice, as any successful efficiency expert, organizational consultant, psychologist, trainer, businessperson, housekeeper — and magician — knows.

When we reclaim such small spaces for ourselves, we witness small successes. Of such small successes and satisfactions is a good day built, and then a week, a month, a life. I don’t need to “win” any holiday. The spaces for love and celebration are always open for us, gifts we can then give to ourselves and each other, possibilities to reclaim in the small but cumulative and thereby powerful ways that magic usually works. To end on a final Tolkienian note and paraphrase Gildor Inglorion’s words to Frodo, “Joy (like courage) is found in unlikely places.”

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IMAGES: Best Buy “Win the Holiday“; stones in garden.

North Work

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In the Pagan calendar the north quarter is the direction of winter and earth. We’re already both in it and going deeper. Darkness falls before it’s even 5:00 pm. I imagine my ancestors in their hut, rushlights burning. Firelight flickers on the walls, and a cauldron — a practical one, nothing magic except the daily magical tranformation of cooking — a cauldron hangs over the flames, full of stew, roots and grains and berries, and whatever meat the hunters may bring in. Despite its hardships, winter can taste umami, rich and dark and all earth-savory. Like no other season, it can return us to awareness of our mortal, imperfect, stubborn bodies.

Though we haven’t yet hit the Solstice and the official start of Winter, you feel it in the temperatures as you shiver each time the door opens. You see it in the look of the mostly barren trees — and see it denied by the green mosses which apparently have no problem with these nightly hard frosts and bright chill days.

We’re here partly to witness everything. And our doings and our not-doings are also part of what we witness.

Witness. Martyr, in Greek, revealing one problem of witnessing dangerous things.

There are many safer witnessings, of course. I like Japanese Buddhist kinhin, “walking meditation,” with the literal meaning, from the Chinese it comes from (I discover, courtesy of my magical familiar, Wikipedia), of “going through like the thread in a loom.” A back-and-forth that produces a fabric, a weaving of disparate threads into a whole.

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My weaver wife’s out of state visiting relatives, and I make a note to share this small discovery with her when she gets back at the end of the week. Practitioners of Zen do kinhin in alternation with periods of sitting meditation, which is what za-zen or Zen means. I encountered kinhin in Japan, and tried it a few times, the slow version, a deliberate, meditative pace. For the typical American, it can of course drive you absolutely mad — and revealing that irritation is very much part of the point.

“It’s all meditation,” I can imagine them saying, though much of the discipline is paying attention, which generally means not talking. A wonderful, terrible commentary on our whole political scene.

There’s another version of kinhin that offers a brisk almost-jog, and that’s the version I prefer, this time of year at least, to get the blood flowing and keep this middle-aged body busy enough that the mind quiets and the world joins me as a companion, rather than standing off at a distance as a mere object for thinking.

So what’s the goal of such mindfulness? Attention, the shutting down of the chatter that too often fills our heads, that gets overfed by the social media we know we’re addicted to. A balance or equilibrium with everything that feels astonishingly wonderful when we slip into it, because we mostly stand outside of it the rest of the time. Yes, to continue an image that meditators sometimes use, prolonged practice endows your awareness with a kind of fragrance you start to carry around with you the rest of the time. You can be more mindful in everything you do.

2moss-stonesAnd for me there’s a key. Mindfulness by itself is another tool,  not an Answer. It can help me act more effectively. Otherwise, the water flows, the sun rises and sets all by itself, good things, surely — and moss covers me, also as surely as it does a stone set in the right balance of light and moisture. Compared with the stone, moss darts across the surfaces of things, greening them and slowly grinding them into dirt. Dirt — the end result of billions of years of animal life. We all come from the Mother, and to Her we all return. Sing it, brothers and sisters!

Except that’s not the whole story. Our human capacity for doing, so fraught with bad decisions, holds immense power for whatever we choose. Mindfulness can too easily become just another addiction, a way of blissed-out watching while the majority of humans slowly murder each other and erase themselves from the planet. The earth doesn’t need saving, but we do, and the plain evidence of millennia is that nobody else is gonna do it for us.

Renunciation of my power leaves the rest with power over me. One ring, old J. R. R. Tolkien, one ring does rightfully belong to me. I”ve worn it since birth, I’ll wear it till I die. The chance to become more fully who and what I am. And what is that? That’s the walking meditation I strive to practice, that’s the trick of time and space, to figure it out for ourselves in all the years we have. Not an Answer, not a Final Solution (we know how well that worked), but a tool for living.

In the meantime, the mosses watch and (g)listen.

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IMAGES: mosses — both shots — me, from yesterday afternoon’s walk; kinhin.

Asking What, Asking Who

mossrock2If I ask what? then I’m alone in a world of things, none of which says anything to me, though I may listen as long as I like. After all, why ask a thing?! Trying too hard, I can almost believe I’m just another thing myself.

But let me ask who? and then the world wakes to wonder.  Atoms like me, earthed like me, kindred, sky-breathed like me this November afternoon. Yes, sparked like me, too, being here, in this place, now.  Oh, let me lose no more songs that greet and open! You carry them, clouds — water too, and day gray on the hills.

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If I ask who, this stone
whirling with its billion atoms
mostly empty space they say (though
touching it you’d never believe)
its presence, its jacket of moss
this stone talks, not loud
if anyone listens.

Talks to itself, hasn’t yet
heard hey! from anyone else
through a skin thick
against weatherdance and stormscrape
I believe a free hand
on its rough cool reaches,
I begin to learn its witness
slow offshear in wind and heat,

flake and shard and century chip.
Stone long alone will not yield soon
but with a palm against a sunside flank
you can feel it heed sun nonetheless
warming at the distant inquiry of light.

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Who? is a song that wakes worlds. I wake you, you wake me, we rouse together singing.

The questions matter, though they’re one half of it. Mouth and ear, at the proportion of one to two, right for wisdom when the oak lets fall its hard fruit. Earth, you know. Who says so? A sapling, in a spring or two.

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Image: moss rock.

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