Archive for the ‘Gerald Manley Hopkins’ Category

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

(And are those my only options?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

558/172 — Or, What It Is I Do All Day   2 comments

That — according to the statistics WordPress freely offers to the obsessed among each of its subscribers — is today’s proportion of published posts to unpublished drafts sitting on this site that never made it to your eyes. Except the number is misleading. All of the published posts were drafts at one point. (Many feel like they still are.) It’s all draft till you die, said one of my writing instructors. So you can always revise. A poem (a life) is never finished, simply abandoned. Then mix in the perspective of this Druid who sees rebirth as part of the process, and death as simply the end of a chapter, a stanza, not the book, not the Song.

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Original and image. Courtesy Pexels.com free images.

My chosen magic, I’ve discovered (What’s yours? Have you found it yet?), is to write myself into new spaces and truths. Yes, often an experience will boot me into new territory, but it’s reflecting on it, writing about it, trying on multiple understandings of it, that converts much raw experience into its subsequent effect on me — turns it into resource, compost, practice, training, the tenor and temper of my days.

How else to explain two people, same experience, very different outcomes? It’s what we do with what happens that matters. And what I “do” isn’t ever “done” — I’m what I’m doing, after all. (As you are you.) I keep adding, revising, re-imagining. Or I can, at any point along the way. The inexpressible freedom of this is something I keep encountering, flowering where I least expect it, hidden beyond the rise of the next hill, flickering through the screen of leaves in the woods around my house. An eye or ear or sometimes a whole face shows through the leaves, then disappears behind them again.

Gerard Manley Hopkins gets it, writes it:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

Am I really listening? Do I hear it? Listen harder, says one of my teachers. Each mortal thing does one thing and the same. I read the poem aloud to myself again, not troubling over meaning, just attending to the sounds and echoes of the words.

Other counsel: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid, says the Galilean master. Peace, a different kind of giving, no need for trouble or fear: immense gifts. Gifts Druids often claim. Gifts bigger, for the world today at least, even than any kind of salvation “down the road” — bigger to our current time-fixated mindsets, anyway, because they’re gifts for here, now. We need them today!

So am I called to receive differently — not as the world receives — in order to recognize and accept the gift? (If the gift is different, then — so my thought runs — my receiving of it must be different, too.) It sure looks like it. And that could explain much of our current sense of estrangement from “how things should be” — the sense of wrongness abundant in personal and public spaces, the partisanship, the distrust and anger and fear. “The time is out of joint”, exclaims Hamlet. But we may or may not share his corresponding sense of duty towards the situation: “O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!” (Not the whole show, Hamlet. Just your piece of it. Or at least start there.)

But how do I receive differently? As a Druid, I tell myself, I look to what I’m already doing. (Truth be told, as I’m still learning, we never start from scratch. There’s always a pilot light burning somewhere, at the heart of things. If I’ve lost sight of it, then that’s my practice: recovery.) I breathe, yes, but the air is also ready to come in and go out at the same time. Thus do many spiritual traditions counsel us to watch our breathing as one of the first and readiest and most powerful meditations or spiritual exercises. Do that attentively, regularly, and you’re halfway home.

Likewise my heart beats. (Through certain yogic practices, if you accept the evidence, it’s possible to achieve a level of physical mastery where you can stop and start the heart at will. Though for reasons that should be clear, I’m not spending my time learning that particular skill.) Can I receive the truth of how much of my life is a gift already, however I choose to honor or ignore it? Can I live the gift?

Let the fraction that is the title of this post remind me how much more I receive than I know or acknowledge. How else, indeed, is a life possible? So much flows through us to sustain us in every moment. Receive differently, tune into what’s going on this instant, then every subsequent instant.

OK, got it, I say to myself. But how to actualize this, to turn what is, after all, just a momentary perception into something useful and workable? Ah, there’s the need for a practice. Oh, we’ve attended the workshop, dived into the retreat, felt the flush of inspiration, had a mystic moment or two on our own, uninvited, or called by ritual, intoxication, chance, gift, an instant of vulnerability, openness. Useful, needful, helpful things. But to transform such a moment or interval into the richest soil where I can root and grow — that’s the work worthy of a life. And I know of no one who accomplishes that in any other way than by a spiritual practice.

That’s the magnum opus, the Great Work: to make of a life a gift in return. It is in giving that we receive, sings St. Francis.

Whitman sings in Song of Myself:

Stop this day and night with me …
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions
of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look
through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in
books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

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What We Do Is Us   Leave a comment

“Each mortal thing does one thing and the same”, sings Gerald Manley Hopkins, that wonderful bard who observed his world so loving-wisely. You can read the poem I’m reflecting on here at this site, which includes a bite-sized biography, along with short, helpful observations.

“One thing and the same”, Hopkins says, sounding confident, like he really knows.

What? you ask. The thing we all are, a self that “[d]eals out that being indoors each one dwells”: the “indoors” we each inhabit, the self we look out from onto everything around us. Deal it out, pay it out like divination, rope or money or time.

Hopkins gets it. He goes on: “Selves – goes itself, myself it speaks and spells”. Each self does this, it goes as itself, it “selves”, as if we are all verbs now, and everything we do speaks us and conjures us both out of and into the cosmos. To live at all is a magical act, “to be alive twice” as another poet calls it. From time to time we hear the echo of both lives, the two halves of us we can’t ignore, that kindle in us a human restlessness we can never extinguish. It’s also what we are, what we do as selves.

I’m born and I come upon myself, I gradually become self-aware, the self simply a larger and more engaging preoccupation among all the other things I do. Each of us sits in a self like we sit on benches. The bench of the self weathers in place, this place, the world of heights and depths, times and places.

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And what is the “speech” and “spell” it utters? Bard-like, Hopkins says it like he hears it: all these selves “Crying What I do is me: for that I came“.

I’m doing it right now, and it also will take me my entire life to do it completely. When my heart stops and my last breath goes out, I’ll have finished this particular doing, one turn on the spiral, whether I become the lichen near the bench or the shadow of tree-trunks or a tree or a human again, or something else “different”, says Whitman in another poem, bard singing to bard and to all of us, “different from what any one supposed, and luckier”.

Have you felt it, luck in the sunlight, possibility on your skin? There’s Druid-luck just in living, which I can know if I heed the reminders, or ignore them and suffer.  Either way, it hurts, says therapist Rollo May. I’ll suffer anyway. OK, on to do something through and around and even, if I have to, with my suffering. What I do is me: for that I came.

“Don’t you know yet?” scolds Rilke. (Damn these bards! The conversation hasn’t stopped since awen first stirred in us. One thing and the same. We recognize it in others, in the voice of the Bards, because we’re doing it too.

What? I ask again. Rilke answers, part of the Song singing all of us here, the voice at the center of things that makes music out of us all, the voice we hear in dreams and silence and sound, laughter and tears and the spaces inside us.

 

Fling the emptiness out of your arms into the spaces we breathe;
perhaps the birds will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.

…..

Of course, it is strange to inhabit the earth no longer,

to give up customs one barely had time to learn,
not to see roses and other promising Things in terms of a human future;
no longer to be what one was in infinitely anxious hands;
to leave even one’s own first name behind, forgetting it as easily as a child abandons a broken toy.
Strange to no longer desire one’s desires.
Strange to see meanings that clung together once, floating away in every direction.
And being dead is hard work and full of retrieval before one can gradually feel a trace of eternity.

Retrieval. Of course we fear death, if we’ve done it so many times before. A healthy fear of death, something I know, rather than terror of what I don’t know. I’ve done this death thing countless times already. What’s one more?

Well, a great deal. How many years to retrieve this time around, to begin to recall things I’ve never forgotten, maybe, but misplaced, thrown out, ripped up and shredded even, for decades, centuries. A self that emerges out of nothing, returns to it, and also manages a retrieval, with the help of crazy bards and singers on the edges, reminding us. Pointing us back to song that’s still singing us, notes on the wind.

What I do is me: for that I came.

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