Archive for the ‘love’ Category

Invisible Essentials   Leave a comment

On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

“It’s only with the heart that you can see”, goes one rendering of these lines from St. Exupery’s classic The Little Prince. “Anything essential is invisible to the eyes”.

Still, you have to start somewhere. We all did, what with this being born thing, and with keeping the body together, in spite of maniacal drivers on the road, maniacal partisans in our politics, maniacal gremlins apparently in charge of both private and global destinies. Maybe the best reason for being a Druid is learning how to meet such magic with love, our oldest wizardry of all.

Without love in our lives, we die.

There’s a reason most of our popular songs talk about love. Good, bad, broken, ending, beginning, lost, found again. Sexual, Platonic, sentimental, confused, enduring, patriotic, familial, nostalgic. If it’s a Country song, there’s usually a pickup or whiskey or a gun in it. If it’s folk, there are often seven seas, or siblings, or signs, or at least a chorus everyone learns by the second go-round — the singer often demands we learn it. If it’s opera, there’s disguise and revelation, or an aria about, oh, I don’t know … buttons. But almost always it’s love that drives the story. Our story, after all.

The ways Druidry, like any worthy spiritual path, can lead us to contact love and bring more of it into our lives aren’t always made explicit, or even called “love” by name. But since too much of modern experience seems to focus on un-love between groups of people, and worst of all the un-love we direct towards ourselves, as the perennial experts in dark magic that we all are, it’s worth explicitly devoting a blogpost to this first invisible essential.

As with so many practices, I can only begin where I am. Remember, remember. Grow the love that already exists, and let it take up increasingly more space, till the extra spills over into other parts of my life, and then at length into other people’s lives, too. We all know people who are simply wonderful to be around. They give off love like sunlight. In their presence, there’s not just enough but plenty to spare. There’s a physics of love they’ve mastered, consciously or not: give it away so more can flow in. Like breathing, there’s a rhythm to it. It comes in, it goes out. Without this rhythm, we die. With it, we can inhabit our world and daily meet the possibility of loving someone and something in it better than we did yesterday. I start small because small things need love too. And because with love, there’s no such thing as size.

Romance gives us a glimpse of one kind of love in excess. Lovers often shimmer with it, their romantic love so strong you can feel it — even dense, non-psychic types like me pick up on it. There’s more than enough for them, so it spills over into the space around them, imparting to everything that giddy glamour we know if we’ve been there.

More mature love may not be quite so puppy-like, but that’s fine, too. We know people devoted to a craft or skill, or people who cook with love. They may not all be fabulous cooks, but you can taste the difference nonetheless. We know gardeners, pet-lovers, nature-lovers — the parade of lovers lengthens, with any luck, as you get older and tally up the encounters you’ve had with love of so many kinds. Druidry simply adds love of the green world to the pool of loves, and asks of us a practice to live more closely in harmony with this love and this world. Do what you do, and here are some tools to do it deeper and more powerfully and wondrously.

The particular form a practice takes, whether a daily walk (with or without dog), a morning or evening prayer, time feeling for a touchstone or seashell, piece of driftwood or stave picked up in a special place, that gem or animal fur or loved one’s cheek we caress, all let us bring some love into the physical world and ground it here, completing the circuit so more can flow in and out again.

Song, chant, ritual, poem, blessing, affirmation, or wordless love that kindles in the heart for this strange and marvelous planet, and all the other worlds we in-dwell: let our love come first in our hearts, guide, tool, weapon, defense against the dark, first and last resort, refuge, home, root, soul of every thing we cherish and hold dear. And more marvelous still, these things start to answer back, returning that love, building, if we only let it, the next step in our journeys, so that they may be joyful ones. And I wish this for you all.

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First major snowfall, 16 November 2018. Color photo, garbed in November’s hues.

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Rules for the Game   Leave a comment

One of the formative books of my adolescence is R S de Ropp’s The Master Game. First published in the late 60s, long before some of the shadier margins of the New Age self-help movement earned a few hustlers some big bucks (you can see his “names for their games” in the third paragraph below), de Ropp flattered, cajoled or profited from nobody’s ego as he examined what we spend our lives loving.

If I had to sum up his book, I’d cite this from the first page: “… what people really need and demand from life is not wealth, comfort or esteem, but games worth playing” (pg. 11; italics in original). We witness, to say it tactfully as I can, many dysfunctional life-choices that arise from lack of worthwhile games.

lehmanSome of the less commendable games de Ropp names are “Cock on Dunghill” and “Hog in Trough”. We’ve seen plenty of players of both those games over the last few decades. The 2008 global financial crisis resulted directly from “Hog in Trough” players. “Verily”, said a long-ago Galilean Druid, “they have their reward”.

Some play nobler games, like the Householder Game — raising a family. Some opt for the Art Game (beauty). We have the late Stephen Hawking as a premier example of a player of the Science Game (knowledge). Many go in for — and here de Ropp shows a monotheistic bias — the Religion Game (salvation). None of these are completely mutually exclusive, but people sort themselves by the games they play as much as by anything else. As you might expect, though, the game de Ropp favors, and calls the “Master Game” of his title, is awakening.

Being “woke” is very small part of it.

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So what do you know, how have you learned it, and how do you apply it in your lives today?!

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Denise observes (commenting on the previous post), “There is only one rule: treat others as you wish to be treated. When I remember that ‘others’ doesn’t only mean human others, the rest falls into place” [punctuated for clarity–ed.].

The law of love deservedly tops many lists of rules, sometimes in surprising ways. If you’ve raised children, you’ve probably deployed some version of tough love. That can mean letting others learn the hard way, or directly from consequences, if they’ve disregarded repeated warnings, instruction, examples, and loving requests. It can also mean not letting sentiment get in the way of responsibility. We do few favors by enabling bad behavior. But oh, it can be hard to put into practice!

Yesterday I removed a dead mouse we’d caught that had been living in and crapping all over our car for the past year. If you’ve listened and attended to the non-human world that chooses to live in close proximity with humans, you know the remarkable negotiations that can happen — on both sides. Ask spiders to leave a bedroom, and sometimes they will. Contact the moles in the yard and request they leave the garden alone, and sometimes they will.

It works both ways. Clean up the trash the previous owner left in our woods, came the message shortly after we moved in. Leave the undergrowth along your property lines, for habitat. Let the backyard weeds flower and go to seed. Then you can mow — just later in the season.

Sometimes we can reach an accord and live harmoniously. Sometimes one or the other side steps across, and learns the hard way. The non-human world has been asking us to clean up our messes for quite some time. We haven’t bothered, for the most part, and the payback continues to come due with each passing year.

Is this love?

Like you, like us all, I’m a work in progress. Love is a gift of attention and work, energy and time. You might call this the law of reciprocity, or balance, or harmony. Maybe a law guiding us on the way to love.

Other rules for this game of living arise in the world’s wisdom. One that’s bandied about a lot in New Age and Pagan circles, but too often without adequate exploration, is “As above, so below”. From what I’ve seen, it often works the other way, too, in ways I’m still discovering: “as below, so above”, insofar as what I do today has a definite effect on other planes, not just this physical one. Cultivate a negative habit, and it spills over into the quality of relationships, into opportunities missed, into other self-defeating behaviors, into dreams, and so on. The universe builds in multiple directions, not just top-down. It may be a uni-verse, a single turning, a whole in itself, from a certain perspective, but it’s poly-valent, too.

The law of paradox has also taught me a lot. “The opposite of an ordinary truth is a falsehood, but the opposite of a profound truth is, often, another profound truth”. I’ve carried that one around for decades, and it’s proven its value. It seems like a harmonic linking us with another plane, part of “as above, so below”. It teaches me to look more deeply at my own life, to mine it down to the marrow for meaning. And it’s a helpful first rule of thumb for testing a truth in the first place. (Do its opposites generate corollaries?)

Then there’s the law of unity, appropriate for a uni-verse — not any of our superficial, political unities, or a politically-correct drive for equality (limited and partial harmonics as they are), but a demonstrable unity, at work whether or not we believe in it or enforce it with merely human laws. It precedes us; it’s a thread in the pattern, part of the Web. It means, among so many other things, that the human sense of isolation and loneliness, of separation, doesn’t mirror the truth of things, but is rather a deception, a learned and self-reinforcing lie. It also means that whatever we do has consequences. We matter in so many ways to the whole and to each other, beyond our capacities to comprehend. The Hindu mystics put it in theistic terms:

The one Godhead, secret in all beings, the inner Self of all, presiding over all action, witness, conscious knower and absolute … the One … fashions one seed in many ways (Svetasvatara Upanishad).

But we all have sensed it, fragmented it may be, refracted, momentary, transient, flickering past — or sometimes longer, depending occasionally on a chemical or alcoholic lift, yes; or in meditation or ritual, or arriving unlooked for, unawares; or at the birth of a child, the death of a parent, in love, wonder, awe, deep emotion. Given all our many backgrounds, perspectives, filters, worldviews, we understandably give it different names, explain it variously. But it’s a near-universal in human experience.

mtftle1In 2012, on the centennial of the anonymous 1912 publication of the Kybalion [free pdf/public domain], J. M. Greer published a reworking of the seven spiritual laws it explores in his Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology. In Greer’s latter version, the seven laws re-emerge as statements of an ecological spirituality. [See here for posts examining each law].

Note that these aren’t things anyone is called to believe: they’re scientific facts, that much-abused word. One of the things that means in practice is that anyone can witness them in action, and draw their own conclusions from them. Turns out what we need to know has been around under our noses for at least as long as we’ve been here.

Other laws or rule for the game? If you took up my suggestion in the previous post to write down your own rules, you have some in hand. Denise did: for her, love tops the list.

Our understanding of life has the greatest impact when it’s put in terms we can grasp — especially when we put it in those terms for ourselves. Mine won’t work completely for you, simply because they’re mine. Yours are for you. We need individual understandings, because we’re individuals.

It’s because of the law of unity that we’re each individual, each one. For this reason we can also (learn to) value another’s freedom, even as they acknowledge ours. So the law of freedom also ranks high on my list. Grant others the freedom to be who they are, in accord with their granting me my own. This one much of the planet is still learning, to judge by daily headlines and our widespread experience of life in this world. “Your freedom ends where mine begins”, goes one popular formulation, and vice versa.

Tomorrow, to round out this discussion, I’ll post “Eleven Strands of Educational and Life Philosophy”, which I composed as part of my application with a teacher’s placement agency some two years ago.

Love, unity, reciprocity, paradox, and freedom — some of my rules. And my game? Druidry helps to keep waking me up, though I still drowse a lot.

What’s your game?

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Images: Lehman Brothers;

The Druid Dialogs: Rosmert   Leave a comment

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

Rosmert had appeared recently during my Inner Grove exercise.  I’d been discouraged about my progress.  So many setbacks.  Autumn had come, and projects I’d set for myself over a year ago remained distant goals.  After I recovered from my surprise at his appearance, I realized I had indeed been asking for help.  Of course, when it comes, I often don’t recognize it.  I nearly snarled at him to go away.  I’m glad I didn’t.  But that showed me how out of balance I was.

My awareness shifted from inner grove to my living room and back again.  Half the time I saw Rosmert sitting on a tree-stump.  Half the time he was perched on the edge of the recliner in the living room, facing the woodstove.  At first I scolded myself for lack of focus.  Then I realized it just didn’t matter.  Grove or living room, he was still here.  So I just went with it.  I told myself I could figure it all out later.  Soon we were in it pretty deep.

“You mean there’s a law behind even the randomness of things?” I asked him.  So many obstacles, it sometimes came near to breaking my spirit.

“Yes,” said Rosmert, stretching out his legs in front of him. “But it’s not only a physical law, even if it accounts for physical things.  Spirit is at work throughout all the worlds, continually keeping everything in balance.”

“That makes it sound like there’s still room for slippage,” I said.  Overhead, heavy storm-clouds and sun competed for equal time.  “Between one interval of growth and inspiration and another, there can be an awful lot of bad weather.”

He nodded.  “In a world of change, the adjustment is continual,” he said after a pause.  “So the tests we face, the people we meet, the problems, excitements, opportunities, setbacks, decisions, challenges, sorrows and joys are expressions of spiritual energy finding whatever opening it can into our consciousness to expand our awareness and our understanding of life.”

“Doesn’t it also sometimes shut down, or diminish?  Or maybe we do that to ourselves?  All I know is that we certainly take a lot of sidesteps, or steps backwards, too.”

Rosmert gazed steadily at me for a moment.  “If we’re trying to get a mile further down the road, a flat tire looks like a delay.  If we’re learning how to travel, it’s just another lesson. Keep a spare.  Have your tools ready.  Change your tires before they wear too thin.  While you’re in the moment,  though, a flat tire can definitely seem like a major setback.”  He grinned and leaned forward.

He was about to continue when I interrupted.  “What if the ‘flat tire’ is your life?  Not just a small setback on the journey, but all-out disaster.”

Unexpectedly, he laughed.  “The human consciousness does love drama at times.  And Spirit creates as it flows.  That’s what it does, what it is.  If we choose to create disasters as it flows in and around us, that’s what we’ll usually get.” He laughed again, this time at my scowl. “Yes, we encounter lesser and greater cycles of spiritual movement and flow.  Some of them involve a whole lifetime.  Some remain small, and fit into the larger cycles.  We each work with spiritual energy in our own way, as it flows into us, and as we give it back to situations and people according to our state of consciousness, through our words, deeds, thoughts, feelings, and imagination.”

He stood up, turned slowly in a complete circle, and then faced me again. “Have you ever gone horse-back riding?”

I shook my head at the sudden shift of topic.  “What?” I said.

“We can move with the horse, or we can bounce on every up and drop an instant late on every down, out of the rhythm all around us.  That makes for one really sore butt at the end of the day.  It’s a choice that solidifies into a pattern and then into a destiny.  For a while.  Then we choose differently, moving from one pattern and trying another, learning, and sometimes crashing and flailing as we go.  For a long time, we’re all slow learners.  Then we begin to notice the patterns, and finally maybe even look at the choices.  What is it you say?  ‘Been there, done that’?”

“So is there a way to increase the flow, or does that kind of pushing also throw us out of balance?  I guess my question is, can we speed up the process?”

Rosmert didn’t answer right away.  He breathed slowly and steadily four or five times.  Then he said, “The goal of the most useful spiritual exercises you’ve been learning is ultimately to invite a greater inflow and permit a greater outflow.  We need both.  We also need balance as we learn to do this more effectively.  Bottle it up without letting it out-flow and the result is the same as if you shut the inflow off completely.  To put it another way, we need to complete the circuit.  As we become more conscious of the movement of Spirit in and around us, we’re able to relax into this current that is always in motion, and live our lives more fully.  This is our own individual spiritual path to greater love of all life.”

“So if we stop resisting the complete flow,” I said ruefully, “we won’t get beat up so badly.”

“Right,” he said, chuckling at the expression on my face.  “It’s a practice.  Who doesn’t have some scars and bruises, and a broken bone or two?! We keep practicing till we get it right.  Let’s stop here and go for a walk.”

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Updated 23 April 2015

Versions of Your Life, and “Being Erica”   3 comments

Since my wife and I are too cheap to spend money on cable, we get most of our programming through the internet.  Vermont sometimes gets tagged in people’s minds as one of the hinterlands of the U.S., though in fact it’s scheduled to have ultra high-speed internet by 2013, billed as “fastest in the nation,” and VTel (Vermont Telephone) installers are actually ahead of schedule in some areas.

One result of our cable-free existence and frequent obliviousness to whatever is “trending now” is that we often discover programs toward the end of their initial run, or well after they’ve already gone to syndication or archive status.  Hulu is one of our friends, so if you’ve already watched the Canadian series “Being Erica” and you’ve moved on to newer fare, this post may not be for you.  It may be a case of BTDT (been there, done that).  So my electronic alter ego here with his Druidry and opinions and evident desire to pry where it’s sometimes uncomfortable (but interesting!) to pry isn’t offended if you log off and go do your laundry, or at least surf onward toward something more engaging.

==PILOT EPISODE SPOILER ALERT==

If you’re still here, the show’s pilot episode does a good job of making the series premise clear.  32-year old Erica feels she’s over-educated (a Master’s degree) and under-fulfilled (single, and with a low-level telemarketing job).  The pilot brings her to a low point — she wakes up in a hospital bed after an allergic reaction, and receives a brief visit from a Dr. Tom, who leaves her with a business card that reads “the only therapy you’ll ever need.”  As Erica and the audience simultaneously discover, he’s able to send his patients back through time to deal with events in their pasts that they regret.  Not to “fix” them in some facile way, but to learn more fully what they have yet to teach.

Vancouver Actor Erin Karpluk, who plays Erica, reveals a wonderful vulnerability and resilience, and she develops a daughter-father chemistry with Dr. Tom, played by veteran Michael Riley.  There’s also a “Canadian” flavor to the series, by which I mean something mostly vaguely felt, but nevertheless detectable at certain moments: many episodes are less politically correct, more real, better scripted and more risk-taking than the typical formulaic and “safer” equivalent might end up being in the States.  There’s been abortive planning to make both U.K. and U.S. versions.

So you know I just have to make a connection about now.  Ah, and here it is, right on schedule.  In my experience, the past is not some fixed thing, written into concrete forever, like one false step into a bog that draws you down and suffocates you.  Instead, it depends for its whole existence on you, in your present, here and now, in these circumstances and with this awareness, to understand and explore it.  Change your understanding of the past, and your past itself can change in almost any sense you care to claim.  Not what the “facts” are, which is almost always the least important thing*, after all (peace to all those police procedural shows and their fans!), but how they matter and still shape you today.  Just as history gets revised through time, as we gain new understandings and perspectives, so too do our own experiences, choices and destinies appear new or different to us as we change.  That bully in grade school turns out to have helped us develop a thicker skin, or empathy — or an unacknowledged contempt for “trailer trash,” or a keen taste for revenge that dogs our heels to this day.  Pick your blessing or poison.

The future is what is fixed, the track we’re still following, and reconfirming right now with our current habits, choices and focus — fixed, and set in stone — until we “change” our pasts by knowing and owning them more fully.  Seen from this perspective, “fate” is undigested, rejected past that’s come back to haunt you.  Healing comes not from literally changing “what happened” — possible only through repression or selective recall — but from squeezing out of each experience every last drop of wisdom and growth we can get from it. Yes:  easier said than done.  Much easier, often.

But if we find our pasts too painful to deal with, we’ll not only carry them around with us anyway, regardless, but miss out on their lessons as well.  As therapist Rollo May said, “Either way, it hurts.”  The point is not avoidance of pain, but growth.  My past comes at me whispering (or shouting, depending), “Do something with your pain, Dude.”  Revisiting and re-imaging the past may sound all New-Agey and Hallmarky, but if it’s one way among many to heal, why mock it or discount it, unless you love your pain more than anything else you have?  “Yes, it may be pain, but it’s mine, my darling, my precious.  Go dredge your own.”  Gollum much?!

This present moment is the pivot, the hinge, the point of transformation, if I’m ever going to act on those New Year’s resolutions that now seem so distant.  How many of them have I achieved?  (In a December post, I confess to not making any, at least not big ones, partly for this reason.)  Baby steps.  What’s the smallest change I can make?  That’s often the best starting point, because unlike the large resolution, I really can do the small stuff, and stick with it.  And then build on it.  Treat it all as experiment.  Document it — write it down. (Oscar Wilde says one should keep a journal so that one always has something sensational to read.)  My life as lab for change.  Talk about a show.

Part of the appeal of “Erica,” of course, is watching somebody else go through this.  Yet this isn’t merely a voyeuristic thrill so much as it is a provocation to reflect.  A significant part of the interest of the series for me is that even Erica’s therapist Dr. Tom, while often truly guru-wise with her issues, isn’t God, or some perfected being.  (We often really can see and understand others’ problems more clearly than our own.  The challenge is not to abuse this insight, but make the most of it in the best way for our own specific circumstances.)  He still has his struggles too — deep ones, as we come to discover, ones that come play a role in Erica’s therapy, to the dismay and growth of both of them.

And my response was “How right!”  A perfect being would be a bit of a pain, and might have forgotten (or never known) what it’s like, this human gig.  Jesus is never more useful and accessible than when he suffers humanly: when his friend Lazarus dies and he weeps, when he gets angry and physical at the money-changers for profaning the Temple, when the fig tree has no fruit because it’s not the season, and Jesus curses it anyway, when his friends ditch him to save themselves.  This human thing, he gets it.

Incidentally, I’ve never understood the Christian obsession with sin.  We’re all guilty and imperfect.  Check.  We’ve messed up.  Check.  But the point is that our pasts are our teachers.  They help us grow.  Our “sin” is what tempers and forges and perfects us in the end.  Yes, it’s a long end.  We’re all slow learners, those “special ed” kids, every one of us.  A sequence of lives to learn and experience and grow and love in makes sense for this reason alone.  For God or any Cosmic Cop to damn us to hell for “sin” cuts off the whole reason we’re here, from this perspective.  It’s like flunking everyone out of first grade because we haven’t mastered algebra yet.  We’re not ready.  Give us time.  Life’s tough enough to break every heart, several times if necessary — and to remake it bigger.  OK, here endeth the lesson.

==Final Season Spoiler Alert==

Except not quite.  The fourth and final season — Hulu doesn’t carry it — of “Being Erica” comes out this month on DVD, and Amazon.ca just sent email confirmation that it’s shipped.  My wife and I are looking forward to watching Erica become a therapist:  “Dr. Erica” in her own right.  Isn’t that part of our journey, too?  Out of our experience we grow, and then we can help others along the way, specifically because of who we are, and what we’ve learned.  Our imperfection and individuality are our great gifts, which we grow into ever more fully.  That’s an eternity to look for, if you’re in the market for one.

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*Even facts prove slippery, as any attorney, judge and gathering of eyewitnesses knows.   But sometimes it’s precisely a fact that makes all the difference.  Then it’s usually a fact that confirms or disproves a perspective, and so it throws us back to the centrality of perspectives and understandings once again.

Image:  Being Erica.

Things Dying, Things New-Born   2 comments

“Thou met’st with things dying, I with things new-born” says the Shepherd in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.  And his words seem a perfect description of spring.  Not all is new growth.  Much has died.  Sometimes we remember our own dead most vividly when life returns to the world around us.  We’re still here, but they will not share another spring with us, and sorrow is renewed along with the grass underfoot and the buds on the trees.  A bittersweet time.  A time of compost and ashes and dandelion greens in salads.  A time of sunlight growing, of life rising in the spine like sap in trees.  Spring, you old tonic.

Out of state and away from computers for several days, I return with a series of vivid impressions:  visiting my now retired cousins in Madison, Wisconsin, seeing them on their third of an acre lot, the earth bursting with literally scores of varieties of flowers, everything up and blooming more than a month early.  Their care over two decades in restoring an old and abused house to pristine condition (doing much of the dirtiest and hardest work themselves), the spaces full of lovely wood paneling and doors and moldings, and full as well of light on all sides from triple-paned windows.  Above ten degrees outdoors and their furnace goes off, if they get any sun.  A Druidic care for the space they live in, the house and grounds they beautify not only for themselves, but all who pass by and witness.

Longing for light. Opening blinds to a few wasps at the window, sluggish with morning cold.   The hazy spring moon growing each night, that Pagan moon by which Christians reckon the date for Easter according to that strange formula of “first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.”  (A perfectly Pagan calculation, when you think about it at all, even considering that the early Church wished for Easter to follow Passover, itself subject to a combined lunar and solar calendar.) People outdoors worshiping the sun on their skin, sitting in sidewalk cafes, heads leaned back and eyes closed.  Mild days and cool nights.  Love of this old world, with all its pains and joys.  Love renewed, spring’s gift, waiting to ripen in fruit and flower and heart.

Posted 6 April 2012 by adruidway in blessing, Druidry, Easter, love, nature, outdoors, spirituality, trees

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The Fur Teacher   2 comments

This will be a sentimental “cute doggie” story only in passing.  Not because I’m averse to sentimentality (I’m often a “softie” as my wife reminds me), or because emotion is somehow automatically suspect (it’s not), but because sentimentality on its own can be a distraction when there’s some other and more valuable discovery I can usually make.  Such a discovery may underlie the sentiment it raises like a flag waving, a blush at sudden emotional vulnerability.  But the discovery itself often reaches much deeper than sentiment can take us. Let sentiment always claim first dibs on my attention and I may never make the discovery that so often seems to slip past right under my nose. It’s like, well … licking off the dressing and throwing out the salad.  OK, imperfect metaphor, but you get the idea.

Sentiment deserves its proper place.  That’s a lesson on its own, I’ve found — figuring out what that place is in all the various experiences of our lives — and worth its own post.  But this is a story about animals as our teachers, a theme in Druidry (and elsewhere, of course) that never grows old, at least for me.  And it’s a story about one particular furred teacher, in this case a dog.  Often animals are some of our earliest and best teachers.

Some time ago, while my wife Sarah was slowly recovering from cancer surgery, the after-effects of follow-up radiation, and the side-effects of long-term use of an anti-seizure med, she fulfilled a two-decade dream of getting another Newfoundland.  For those of you who don’t know them, the Newf is the more mischievous cousin of the St. Bernard, with whom it is sometimes confused. Both are the giants of the dog world.  And both drool pretty much continually.

Sarah’s first Newf, her beloved and mellow Maggie, saw her through a rough time in her teens.  But her second Newf, Spree, was entirely different in temperament.  Strong-willed and stubborn, unlike Maggie in the latter’s eagerness to please, and formidably intelligent, where Maggie could be somewhat dim, Spree simply demanded much more from both of us.  Leash-training, house-breaking, socialization — all were more involved than either of us had experienced with previous dogs.  Spree’s first mission seemed to be to wrench Sarah out of a lingering mild post-op depression — by canine force, if necessary. “I am now your black-furred, drooling world,” she insisted. Lesson One:  “There’s more to pay attention to.  Watch (me)!”  A second Lesson followed closely on that one:  “You can still trust this physical body (to take care of me, for a start.)  There are years of use left in it.  Now move that fanny!”

Maggie had suffered from severe hip-displasia, a weakness in many large and large-boned breeds like Newfs that can leave them effectively crippled.  Sarah was determined by any means in her power to avoid this with Spree, if she could.  She researched bloodlines and ancestries, kennels and breeding practices.  Finally she made her choice from a recently-born litter in Ohio, eight hundred miles from our home.  On top of that, Sarah was prepared to cook from scratch all of Spree’s food for her first two years, while her bones grew and she matured.  Spree did in fact end up with good bones, as a couple of tests demonstrated to everyone’s satisfaction, and she never suffered from displasia, but she had a number of food allergies that plagued her the rest of her life. The next Lesson didn’t seem to be only “Guess what?  First problem down.  Next?”  It was more like “In the decade or so I am with you, I will stretch you and teach you to love more.  And you’ll be starting with me.  Ready?”

During all but the first of the eleven years Spree was with us, we lived in a dorm apartment at the boarding school where we worked.  Most of the freshman girls in our dorm adored her — certainly she was a great conversation starter for any visitors.  We put up a dog gate to protect the dog-phobic minority, an obstacle Spree despised.

It’s true that at 124 pounds she did outweigh many of the girls.  (More than once, out and about on campus with her, we heard pedestrians near us exclaim, “Oh my God, is that a bear?!”)  And on evenings when I was on dorm duty, Spree had her many fans among the girls who just had to pet that soft lush black fur before they could settle down to study hours.  And during breaks they’d come back to visit — Spree of course, not me.  One of the lessons here, which she seemed to express with a contented doggy gaze at me as she received the girls’ caresses which she took as her due, was “Remember the wisdom of the body.  It is after all your life in this world.  We all need touch to thrive.  (I volunteer to demonstrate.  Pet me.)  Remember good food.  (Feed me.)  Remember exercise.  (Walk me.)”

The last few months of her life, Spree dealt with bone cancer that started in her neck and shoulder and spread, weakening bone and aching more and more.  We always knew Spree had a very high tolerance for pain. A score of incidents throughout her life had shown us that. Injuries that would set other dogs crying or yelping she would bear in silence, and keep on running, playing, eating — whatever was more interesting than pain.  We learned to slow her down for her own good many times, to minimize further damage, to check just what had happened, to bandage and treat and clean her.  In her final weeks, however, even on medication, her suffering continued to increase. It was winter, and she would ask to go outside several times a day to lie in the snow, her great coat keeping the rest of her warm enough, as she chilled and eased the hurt, rolling slowly in the snow, then lying on her back and side for half an hour or more at a time.  The three shallow back steps to our small yard were eventually agony for her to climb either up or down, but she refused the sling we’d borrowed to help her.  She cried out only once, in her last days, when it simply hurt too much.  A Lesson:  “I stayed longer than my kind usually can. [The average Newf life-span is roughly 8 years.]  Make the most of what you’re given.  You two are obviously slow learners on that score.  Why else do you think I hung around this long?”

Spree in her final springtime, age 11

The last hour of her life, at the vet’s office, was  on a snowy winter day (she loved the snow). Dazed from a liberal dose of morphine, but as a result now blissfully free of pain, she enthusiastically greeted the three of us, Sarah and me and a fellow Newfie owner, who came to say goodbye as she was euthanized. Several difficult lessons.  “There will be pains and pain.  Guaranteed.  You can still do much.  There will be hurt, but there’s no need to grant it more power over you than it must have.”

Spree greeted the vet who came to administer the euthanasia with her typical curiosity and people-love.  A wagging tail, a nose pressed into the person’s thigh.  The last seconds before she passed, she lay full-length and at ease.  The vet had earlier inserted a catheter in her left paw to make both morphine and euthanasia easier to give, fuss-free.  Spree nosed the syringe that held the dose as the vet pushed the plunger.  “What is this?”  Always she had explored her world first through her exquisite sense of smell.  Near-sighted as she was her whole life, smell was her go-to sense.  It is of course the chief sense for most dogs, but so much more so, almost obsessively so, in her case.  Each shopping trip we brought into the house required a comprehensive smell-check, each item sniffed and investigated completely, regardless of whether it was (to a Newf) fit for food.  In part, the Lessons here seemed to be “Sniff out whatever comes into your orbit.  Find out its nature, whether it directly concerns you or not.  And enjoy the physical senses.  They also do not last, but each will tell you much about this life.”  And yet another lesson:  “Dying may suck, true.  Death, however, does not deserve our fear.  Pain does not last forever.  Be curious about everything.  Friends, isn’t that a better way?”

Animals teach wordlessly, and therefore often more effectively, through their nature as other spiritual beings who share the planet with us.  Here I have interpreted into language some of that teaching as best I could, without excessive anthropomorphizing.  I send gratitude for this fur-teacher in our lives.  And I thank old wisdom-teacher William Blake for writing, “Everything that lives is holy, life delights in life.”

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Sacred Language, Part 1: Love   Leave a comment

What makes a language “sacred”?  I find that it’s in sacred language that we most clearly hear echoes of the love we are and the love we seek.  Much that I write here is an exploration through the channel or “ray” of wisdom and my search for it.  But the channel or ray of love is at least as potent, and for many people more accessible.

Here’s an adaptation of a prose-poem by 17th century Anglican writer Thomas Traherne, who lived only to age 38.  In his writing he captures something of this love.

The whole world is the theater for our love.
We are made to love, both to satisfy this necessity within us
and also to answer the love of creation around us.
By love our souls are joined and married to the world around us.
If we focus upon only one part of creation,
we are not loving it too much, but the other parts too little.
Never was anything in this world loved too much.
What a treasure is a grain of sand when it is truly understood!
All infinite goodness and wisdom and power are in it.
What a world this would be if everything were loved as it should be.*

This then is one noble and worthwhile task, if we choose to accept it:  to love everything in the world as it should be loved.  We hear of those who “love too much,” or those who, like Othello, loved “not wisely but too well.”  We may recollect, too, those who love their abusers and do not flee them:  here’s a needed perspective on their situation.  A complete and powerful guide to living, summed up in ten lines.

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*Sections 65-67, “Second Century,” from Centuries of Meditation by 17th century writer and Anglican priest Thomas Traherne, adapted by Higginbotham, Paganism, 149-150.  You can find Traherne’s complete original here.

The image is of a stained glass window “by Tom Denny, reflecting the thinking of Traherne, in Audley Chapel, off Lady Chapel, Hereford Cathedral, dedicated in March 2007.”

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