Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

Eleven Strands of Educational & Life Philosophy

Here as promised in yesterday’s post is a statement of my personal philosophy, developed as a supporting document required as part of my application with a teacher placement agency. I don’t always state things in Druid terms here — this document was intended to address life and educational philosophy for secondary schools, after all. And if you’ve ever tried to get down on paper a statement of your philosophy — a very worthwhile spiritual practice, worth spending time on! — you’ll no doubt find yourself tweaking it, if you continue to live and grow and change.


Five of us scouting a ritual site at MAGUS ’17. Photo courtesy Gail Nyoka

1) “The three pillars of achievement: a daring aim, frequent practice, and plenty of failures” – old Welsh triad. Very succinctly, try one more time than you fail. Helping students, colleagues and myself practice this principle boosts successes. Give me a worthwhile daring aim, and I’ll try that extra time.

2) “Think inside the box – it’s fresh territory again. Everybody else has left”. As long as I don’t overuse this, I can still get my wife to laugh at it. More to the point, it’s increasingly true. “Tried and true” techniques, practices, strategies and principles that don’t grow old with time or use really do still exist and merit our attention and implementation. (Often they’re just lying there in the box.)

3) Listen early and often. “Everybody’s talking at me/I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’” sings Harry Nilsson. Goes double for adolescents. Help being heard not be a novel experience for others.

4) “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink, I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish fill the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars” – Thoreau, Walden. Among many other things, a mantra for calm and perspective. Ask me about my focus and I’ll be recalling center-points like this.

5) One and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one are 10. Hint: the double-digit sum really doesn’t come out of nowhere. Even despite appearances. Or to steal from Neil Armstrong, it’s that next small step that makes a giant leap possible.

6) Upren masei kapotas ambei solna ir mitmu aljagotvei djuva. Literally, “Over our heads are both the sun and a most changeable sky” – Sovermian proverb (one of my constructed languages). Constants and variables aren’t equivalent, though we mistake one for the other constantly (and variably). And where does literature not illustrate this?!

7) Man déð swá hé bið þonne hé mót swá hé wile. Loosely, “folks do as they are when they can do what they want” – The Old English Durham Proverbs. Alternatively, both a justification for the rule of law, and for the positive consequences of accepting responsibility for oneself. Worth modeling.

8) “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” (AKA, good things can come from student film recommendations!) Pithy and fresh enough to stick in adolescent brains. Better than most “don’ts.”

9) If it’s avoidable, avoid it. If it’s celebratable, celebrate it. If it’s mnemonicizable, mnemonicize it. And if it has scales and fins, in which direction does it actually swim? (I’m a fan of mnemonics and other learning strategies.)

10) “All materials to build your home in this world or the inner cosmic worlds come from within, from the God center in your heart” – Paul Twitchell. Good for resetting the relative positions of responsibility, source, potential and manifestation. Frequently applicable in classrooms and curricula. “Ask me how!”

11) “… by now my desire and will were turned,/Like a balanced wheel rotated evenly,/By the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” – Dante, Paradiso. A life goal.

The Four Powers: Know, Dare, Will, Keep Silent–Part 4: Will and Imagination

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 5]

waitomo-dawnDaily you call me to pray — not the prayer of asking, of importunity, but the prayer of communion, of celebrating blood flowing through veins, of life moving in lungs and belly.  In the cool of dawn this morning I slip outdoors for air plush with oxygen, newly breathed out from the green lungs of the trees.  I gaze on the mist-shrouded pines and maples and scrub oaks, hear the neighbor’s rooster break into the sheared metal cry that is his morning’s call.  The other birds are already about, the jay chicks now big as their parents, and noisier, in their cries to be fed.  A fox bitch slinks back into the woods, cat-footed and deft as she threads her way through tall grass and brambles.  Dampness clings to my skin.  Life-prayer, what the birds and wind and water and morning light are saying.

I say “you” call me to pray: there’s a presence I address, though it’s not a person.  I could call it the echo of listening, the ambit of my attention, some kind of answer or reverberation to the pressure of a human walking the land and caressing the world with hominid consciousness that wants to talk, to name, to engage, to encounter as a person, to bring down to size a world that resolutely will not yield to whim, or whimsy.  But that’s not quite it, either.  “You” is the best I can do, to honor and salute the world I encounter, particularly when it glows or sparkles or hums or burns.  Others have called it god or gods, Spirit or numina.  We know a little better, in some places at least, how names can trip us up.  But names can be good talk. It is awen, too: that Welsh word for “inspiration” that is also the presence of Spirit.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Wadin Tohangu comes unbidden, unless it’s a prayer to the universe which alerts him as well that I’m actually paying attention again.  Fallow time has “done it,” though merely “going fallow” as I mentioned in the previous entry doesn’t cause a change to happen, but it often accompanies it.  Something about the will is involved.  Sometimes the greatest magic is to set aside the will and be open to change.  I don’t like surrender because I can’t claim credit when the change comes.  I want it to be under my control.  Stereotypically to surrender is a male difficulty and a female strength, but there are plenty of strong-willed women who find surrender difficult, and weak-willed men who need to work on self-assertion.  So that’s not it altogether either.

“Are you finished talking to yourself about this?” Wadin asks, his mouth crinkled in a smile.  I realize he has been sitting there for some time now as I swam and splashed in my thoughts.  I smile back, unable to respond right away — or rather, my mind spins over a thousand responses, none of them particularly graceful or useful or true.  But I do know I’m glad he has come.   That’s something I hold onto in gratitude, and the whirling of thought slows enough that I can say it.

“It’s good to see you.”

His smile widens — he seems perfectly at ease in the moment, as if he came expressly to do nothing else than sit and listen to me think. Not in an obtrusive way, not eavesdropping, but simply how he is, awake to what goes on around him.

“You’re struggling,” he says, “with how to talk about the will, and that’s also been a focus for you for some time.”

“That’s definitely true,” I answer.  “I guess inner and outer worlds do line up from time to time.”

“What happens when they do?” he asks.

“I’m freed up to write about it, for one thing,” I say. “I get unstuck.”

“The stuckness often comes from pushing with the will,” he says.  He leans forward a little, resting his elbows on his knees.  “It’s a common confusion to think that will involves strain.”

“Sometimes we push through, and we can accomplish a lot.  And athletes push against fatigue all the time,” I say.

He nods. “That’s true for the physical body, of course.  Muscular effort moves objects.” He pauses before continuing.


“We feel pain and can push through it with the will.  Sometimes that means we ‘win.’  And of course sometimes that means we end up with a sprain or torn ligament or some other injury, too.”

He gazes at me.  “So what causes the difference?” he asks.

“I’d say, listening to the body. Not fighting it, but working with it.”

“Good,” he says. “Certainly listening can spare you injury or tension or strain.”  He runs a sandaled toe over a design on the carpet, and I realize we’re sitting in my living room.  I write “sitting in my living room,” and look up from the keyboard, and of course there’s “no one there.”

“Come back to our conversation,” he says, reaching to prod me with a forefinger.  “There’s more to talk about.”  He looks at me with interest.  “What did that feel like just now, when you returned from ‘no one there’ to our meeting?”

“I could feel an energy shift,” say. “I got interested again.  And I wanted to keep going.”

“All of these are important,” he says.  “The shift is something you ‘do,’ but it’s not a strain or a push of what we normally call the ‘will.’  And your interest and curiosity also matter.  They draw you in, rather than you pushing against resistance.”

I say nothing, waiting for him to continue.

“Imagination is effortless.  You can ‘try to imagine,’ of course.  Or you can simply imagine.  This is the difference between will or imagination, and strain, which is what most people mean by ‘will’ or ‘willpower.'”

“What about people who say they ‘can’t’ imagine?” I ask.

“They’re usually telling the truth. Fear blocks them, or their straining against their habit or desire keeps them from accomplishing what they ‘try’ to do.  That’s what they’re imagining instead. Imagination runs ahead of ‘will’ in that sense. It’s already ‘there,’ at work in the ‘future,’ long before ‘will’ arrives.  While ‘will’ is still waking up, imagination has already constructed a palace or dungeon for you to inhabit, according to your focus.  Not everyone imagines in pictures, of course.  For many it’s often feeling instead.  We already feel a certain way about something, and that ‘colors our experience,’ as we say.”

“But where’s the element of choice in that?” I ask.  “It sounds like will or imagination is just a reaction to circumstances, rather than a conscious decision to focus on what we choose.  Isn’t that the will?  What we choose, rather than what we simply let happen?”

“Discipline of the imagination is the key to life,” he says, looking at me steadily.  “What you attend to, what you look at or focus on, and how you look at it, determine your experience to a great extent.  That’s the actual ‘will,’ not the strain to do something against our intention.”

“Would you explain that?” I say.

“Remember your own experience a short time ago,” he answers. “As you looked where I was sitting, you ‘realized’ that I ‘wasn’t there.’  Then your attention shifted, and our conversation continued.  I’m ‘here,’ though I’m not ‘here.’  Which do you focus on, my presence or my absence?”

“You mean both are true?” I say.

“Yes.  Though ‘true’ is a distracting word.  You activate one or the other with your attention.  That’s will, or intention.”

“But what about human suffering?” I say. “We don’t choose to suffer or experience hardship or disasters or …”

He was smiling at me again.  “The challenge is that our habitual attention gives lasting reality to our imagination.  ‘As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,”* goes one way of expressing it.  ‘What you do comes back to you.'”

“But what about people born into horrendous circumstances?  You can’t say they imagined them into being!” I could hear the hint of outrage creeping into my voice.  “The circumstances happened to them.  They certainly didn’t choose them.  Who would choose pain and suffering?”

“That’s an important question,” he says. “Do you know anyone who keeps making ‘bad choices,’ as they are called?  And keeps getting painful results?   That’s a fairly severe example of such choices at work.  Of course we often face the accumulated consequences of long imagining.  Lifetimes of imagination can solidify into exceptionally firm and unyielding circumstances.  In such cases, an hour or day or even a year of change  and effort may bring only surface alteration.  Deeper transformation can take longer.”

“Aren’t we blaming the victim in such cases?” I say.

“You see, there is no blame here.  We are talking about growth.  You may know the story of the Galilean master who is questioned about the man born blind.  “Who sinned?” his followers asked him.  ‘The man himself, or his parents — what caused him to be born blind?’  And the Master answers them and says, ‘Neither one.   All this happened so that the work of God might be shown in his life.’**  A circumstance can be destiny, and we can lament limitation, or it can be opportunity, and we can move and build from there.  It depends on which direction you look.  One way to understand it is that a disciplined imagination is one that is ready to accomplish the ‘work of God.’  Imagination is a powerful tool of Spirit.”

“But where does it all start?” I say.

“Often the fledgling falls from the nest and learns to fly the ‘hard way,'” he says. then pauses at my expression.

“But gravity is not ‘evil,” he continues, “though it may hurt, if the chick tumbles onto a branch or onto the ground.  But when the eagle has mastered using gravity to move through the air, it can soar.”

“Is that the price we pay?” I say.

“You hoped it would be painless, I see,” he says, smiling again.  “Pain does get the attention in a way nothing else can.  Maybe that’s why it’s still useful as a spiritual tool.”


“Pain as a tool?  I’ll have to think about that some more.”

“You think a lot.  Everything can be a tool,” he says. “You just need to decide how to use it, rather than getting stopped by it.”

/|\ /|\ /|\

The first post in this series looks at kinds of knowledge.  The second shows how wanting to know leads to discoveries about our real selves.  The third looks at daring and how it is a kind of freedom.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: Waitomo Dawn by Richard Tulloch; athlete; toolbox.

*Proverbs 23:7

**John 9:1-3

Updated 30 Sept. ’14

The Four Powers–Know, Dare, Will, Keep Silent–Part 1

[Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5]

This is the first of a series on the powers of magic.

heaney“All I know is a door into the dark,” says Seamus Heaney in the first line of his poem “The Forge.”  In some way that’s where we all begin.  At three, four, five years old, some things come into our world already bright, illuminated, shining, on fire even.  The day is aflame with sun, the golden hours pass until nightfall, and then come darkness and sleep and dreaming.  We wander through our early days, learning this world, so familiar-strange all at once.  We grow inwardly too, discovering trust, betrayal, lying, love, fear, the pleasure of imagination, the difference between visible and invisible worlds.  Which ones do people talk about, admit to themselves?  Which ones do people around us ignore, or tell us don’t matter?

Much of our knowing is experiential during those years.  We learn about the physical laws of our planet, the bumps and bruises and sometimes breaks of childhood a testament to the hard edges of this world.  We learn some of its softnesses too: favorite foods, the touch of loved ones, the warm fur of pets, a dog’s nose meeting ours, the new air on the skin that spring and summer bring, the delight of rain and puddles and baths and fresh-laundered clothes.

child-at-shoreThen in some parts of the world comes another learning, one that typically fills much of our days for the next decade or so:  a knowing about, the accumulation in school of facts and statistics and words and ideas, math and languages and art,  science and history.  Still some experiential learning comes through as a matter of course — Bunsen burners glowing, magnesium and potassium in chemistry doing their flaming and bubbling tricks mixed with other elements.  The practice of basketball, baseball, volleyball, football and soccer, the sprints and catches and throws and spins and tricks, the correct forms and personal styles.  Wrestling, dance, music, track and field, teaching the body to know beyond thought, to form and shape habits useful precisely when they become habit and no longer demand our full attention.

And other knowledge of the body, too:  the awakening of sexuality, the chemical prods and prompts of hormones to stir the body into further change, the powers of attraction and desire, the experimentation with consciousness-altering that seems a universally human practice, whether “naturally” through exercise and pushing one’s physical limits, through chant, prayer, meditation, dance, song, music, or through “assisted alteration” with certain herbs, drugs, alcohol.  Even into adulthood much of this knowledge rumbles and whispers just below the level of conscious thought much of the time.  Without socially-approved times and places to discuss many of these experiences, we withhold them from daily conversation, we “fit in” and accommodate, we commit to being just like everyone around us, and the nudge of what feels like difference becomes part of the background hum of living, an itch we scratch haphazardly, or learn to tune out.

We forget how valuable this kind of knowing is, how it persists throughout our lives.  This used to be wisdom of a kind we valued precisely because it took lived experience to acquire.   You couldn’t rush it, couldn’t buy it or fake it, at least not without so much practice you almost recreated for yourself the original source experience anyway.

In a previous post on this blog, I noted:

Some kinds of knowledge are experiential and therefore in a different sense hidden or secret from anyone who hasn’t had the experience.  Consider sex:  there is no way to share such “carnal knowledge” – you simply have to experience it to know it.  And thus Adam and Eve “know” each other in the Garden of Eden in order to conceive their children.  Many languages routinely distinguish “knowing about” and “knowing” with different words, as for instance German kennen and wissen, French savoir and connaitre, Welsh gwybod and adnabod, Chinese hui/neng/zhidao. The kinds of experiential knowledge humans encounter in a typical lifetime are substantial and significant:  first love, first death, first serious illness and so on.

Back to the poem I mentioned in the first line of this post.  Reading it can be, in a small way, a re-initiation back into some experiences and kinds of knowing we may have forgotten or waylaid.  It’s “just words,” but also — potentially — more.

The Forge
by Seamus Heaney

All I know is a door into the dark.
Outside, old axles and iron hoops rusting;
Inside, the hammered anvil’s short-pitched ring,
The unpredictable fantail of sparks
Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water.
The anvil must be somewhere in the centre,
Horned as a unicorn, at one end and square,
Set there immoveable: an altar
Where he expends himself in shape and music.
Sometimes, leather-aproned, hairs in his nose,
He leans out on the jamb, recalls a clatter
Of hoofs where traffic is flashing in rows;
Then grunts and goes in, with a slam and flick
To beat real iron out, to work the bellows.

forgeHere’s one opportunity of our human life (there are others) — a door into darkness, a world inside us that is a forge, a place of shaping and molding, of hammering material into a desired form, a place of work and energy and transformation.  The door leads to a place where we can find an altar, where we can “expend ourselves in shape and music” and “beat real iron out.”  Sometimes it appears others stand there before us; at times, we stand alone, tools scattered about, not always sure of how to proceed, dimly aware, or not at all, of anything like an altar or metal or tools.  But here lies a chance at the magnum opus, the “great work” many of us seek, that task finally worthy of all that we are and can do and dream of, a labor that is pleasure and work and art, all at once or at different times.

Even to know this in some small way, to imagine it or suspect it, is a start.  The door into the dark may not stand open, but we discern the outlines of something like a door, and maybe grope towards a handle, a yielding to an inner call, something that answers to a hand on the doorknob, or shifts like a latch, clicks open.  To know this much is a priceless beginning.

How magic can build on this beginning, and assist in self-making, will be the subject of the next post.

/|\ /|\ /|\ 

Images: Seamus Heaney; child at shore; forge.

Updated 3 July 2014

The Druid Dialogs: Aithne, Part 2

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

“The  Blood of Veen is a key to new insights for you,” said Aithne.  “Your ancestors reach you through the body — your body.  You carry them with you wherever you go, in your cell memory, your DNA, your genetic coding, and the energy signatures scientists are just on the edges of discovering, which are part of the bonds that link the physical body to the other worlds.”

“So how does the Blood of Veen connect with me personally?”

“If you visit a place where your ancestors lived, you may have a dream or vision that teaches you something you need to know.”  Aithne stood gazing a little above my left shoulder, or head, as if she was watching something move there.  “Veen is in the province of Brabant.”  She paused, apparently studying empty air.  “And some of your mother’s ancestors came from that region,” she added.  Aithne’s knowledge startled me.  One of my mother’s aunts had traced much of the family line back to medieval France and Belgium.  Some of her ancestors came from Brabant, including a noble named Joscelyn de Louvain, when Brabant was a Duchy.  (Don’t get the wrong idea here. I have my full share of black sheep in the family, too!)  And Louvain is a city in Brabant — its capital, in fact.

“But I can’t just pick up and visit Brabant or anywhere else in the world at the drop of a hat! Most people don’t have the time or money to track down their ancestors in other countries or take some sort of reincarnation tour.”

“You don’t need to,” said Aithne, ignoring my flash of irritation.  “Pictures can help.  And there are online forums where you can ask questions and find out detailed information about almost anything you want to know.  Let your curiosity work for you. After all, how much time do you waste online as it is?!”  Her sudden smile was teasing.  “Make the first move, and the ancestors will respond.  You’ll have a dream, find a book, ‘happen’ to meet someone, make a connection.  They will guide you.”

Somehow it surprised me that Aithne knew these things.  While I’ve come to expect my inner experiences to bring me general insights and hints and nudges on occasion, whenever I receive specific information it still surprises me.  A few years ago in a dream I got the name of a small British town in Devon where some of my father’s family originated.  I’d never heard of it before, and it no longer exists today.  For that reason I know that no one in my family had ever mentioned it.  But there are archaeological records and mentions of the town in chronicles and censuses of the period showing that it once did exist.

That was the outer confirmation of an inner experience.  Such validation doesn’t always come, but when it does, I feel a shiver of awe and wonder.   These things are real.  The worlds link however briefly, and lives change as a result.  I know this, I’ve experienced it before enough time to silence any doubt, but my inner doubter doesn’t care.  He’s achieved pro status by this point, and just goes about pointing out sly new possibilities of self-deception.  I guess my ancestors have to be pretty patient with me to get through at all.  I often think they must find other descendants more worth their time.  Then I remember they’re working outside of time — at least outside of my time.  They can afford a little patience with the stubborn and half-deaf ones like me.

Aithne seemed to be following my thought.   She was nodding slightly, and then she said,  “Sometimes the act of inquiring leads you to new people and experiences that are beneficial for everyone involved.  You know this,” she said.

“I’ll return one more time,” she said.  “We have a few more things to discuss.”

/|\ /|\ /|\

Updated 23 April 2015

The Druid Dialogs: Aithne, Part 1

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

Rosmert returned again today, but only briefly, and only, he explained, to introduce Aithne.  At first I could not see her clearly, except to note she was only slightly shorter than Rosmert.  Then it seemed the space around her sharpened somehow, or — I had the distinct feeling now — she was letting me see her.  She wore the hood of her robe up, and it shadowed her face.  Freckles dotted her nose, and a few tendrils of chestnut hair slipped from her hood. Then all I knew was her eagle gaze.  Two green eyes of startling fierceness regarded me.   She grabbed my half-extended hand, shook it vigorously, then promptly pointed out a problem.

“Greetings.  You do realize you left the gateway open?  Magically careless.  Let’s close it immediately.  I’ll show you how.  But first, let me take a quick look around.”

From her brisk words and tone I could tell that today at least there was no such thing as Druid-business-as-usual.  Or maybe this was usual, for her.  As she studied the trees and stones, she began to describe one way to seal a grove more effectively against unwanted presences and energies.

Then I saw Rosmert winking at me just before he disappeared.  He made a sweeping gesture that seemed to say “You’re in her hands now.” I laughed in spite of myself.

At the sound, Aithne turned from her survey of my grove and regarded me with a frown.  “You have made a beginning, but you need practice at defense,” she said.  “Now expel me from this space.”

When I hesitated, she exclaimed, “Do it!  You did not invite me like you did Rosmert.  I came at his bidding, not yours.  So you can rid this grove of me quite easily.  Do it.  When you are quite satisfied I am gone, you may choose to invite me back, or not.  But secure the gateway first, whatever you do.”

I centered myself in my grove and sang the Word of Protection.  One instant, Aithne stood there, her head tilted to one side, listening.  In the next, she vanished.

I walked the inside perimeter of the grove, singing.  I walked it three times.  I played with the thought of not inviting her back. At length, when I was satisfied with the wards and had formulated the triple seal, I called her by name, just once.  A second later she appeared a few meters away.

“Better,” she said.  “I tested the gateway several times before you called me.  Much better.”

She turned slowly again to take in the trees.  Over the past months it had been a fallow time for me while outer things made their demands, and I needed to do some inner work.  The space certainly reflected this.  It looked, quite frankly, unkempt and overgrown.

“But I did not come to critique your grove or your training,”she said, “or to sight-see.  Whatever you might think.”  She clapped her hands, and sat down on the same tree-stump Rosmert had occupied when he and I talked.  “I need your help.”

Nonplussed, I stuttered, “Well, OK, with wh- … uh, how can I help?”

“It’s a matter of the Blood of Veen.”

“Who — or what — is Veen?  Like it sounds?  V-E-E-N?” I asked, spelling it.  Goddess help me, I thought I could hear capital letters when she said Blood and Veen.  It sounded, well, cheesy.  Like hack sword-and-sorcery writing.

“It’s a town in the Netherlands.  You have an ancestral connection to the region.”

/|\ /|\ /|\ 

Updated 23 April 2015

The Druid Dialogs: Rosmert

[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.”

/|\ /|\ /|\

Updated 23 April 2015

Circe’s Power: Part 1

OK, be forewarned … this runs long.  If you’re more in the mood for bon-bons than for jerky, come back later.  This ended up pretty chewy.  It’s also provisional, a lot more tentative than it sounds.  Now I’ve told you, so don’t get cranky with me later.  Here goes …

/|\ /|\ /|\

In her poem “Circe’s Power,” Louise Glück speaks in the voice of the sorceress who transforms the crew of Odysseus into swine when they arrive on her island.  Even the great war-leader and trickster Odysseus himself would have fallen under her spell, but for a charm the god Hermes gives him.  (“Some people have all the luck,” “the gods favor them,” etc.) So it’s dueling magics at work, divine and mortal enchantments competing for supremacy.  (Sort of feels like life at times.  Like we’re adrift in a hurricane, or trying to build a house on a battlefield.) Circe speaks to Odysseus, to all of us, in a kind of explanation of life seen from the vantage point of magic. Or not.

I never turned anyone into a pig.
Some people are pigs; I make them
look like pigs.
I’m sick of your world
that lets the outside disguise the inside.
Your men weren’t bad men;
undisciplined life
did that to them. As pigs,
under the care of
me and my ladies, they
sweetened right up.
Then I reversed the spell,
showing you my goodness
as well as my power. I saw
we could be happy here,
as men and women are
when their needs are simple. In the same breath,
I foresaw your departure,
your men with my help braving
the crying and pounding sea. You think
a few tears upset me? My friend,
every sorceress is
a pragmatist at heart; nobody sees essence who can’t
face limitation. If I wanted only to hold you
I could hold you prisoner.

Oddly, this poem always cheers me up, with what I take to be its hard realism.  That may sound funny, since part of the time Circe’s talking about magic, and she has a cynic’s view of much of life.  Or maybe a minimalist’s.  How do those two things go together?! But it’s a magic we’re born into, the nature of a world in which the outside does indeed often “disguise the inside.”  Here, almost everything wears a mask.  Even truth hides as illusion, and illusion as truth.  The god of this world, we’re told in the Christian Bible, has the face and name of Liar.  We learn this soon enough, discovering quite young the great power of lying.  It’s a magic of its own, up to a point — a beguiling enchantment.  Some of us never recover.  It’s lies all the way.  But there are other worlds, and other magics as potent, if not more so.  If Circe is “sick of this world,” what can she tell us of others?

Another way of looking at it can come to us in an Emily Dickinson poem.  (What is it with these poets, anyway?!  Liars, magicians, many of them.  Enchant us into the real.)  “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant,” says the Amherst visionary, and we’re off to the nature of truth seen in a world of illusion:  paradox.  (Maybe truth needs a mask, to exist here at all.)   “The only way out is through,” insists Frost in yet another poem, but in spite of our longing for the Old Straight Path, it’s fallen away from us, and the world is now “bent,” as in the Tolkien mythos.  We can’t get out so easily.

“Success in circuit lies,” Dickinson goes on to say.  In other words, “you can’t get there from here”: the directions are all scrambled, even the best of them.  You travel in a cosmic roundabout and end up somewhere else, not just on a road less traveled, but one apparently never traveled before, until you set foot on it.  Who can help you as you journey there?  No one?  Anyone?  One paradox is that you’re walking the same path everyone else is, too.  Everyone’s having an experience of being on their own.  What we share is what keeps us separate.  Paradox much?  Useful at all?

“Too bright for our infirm Delight/The Truth’s superb surprise,” says Dickinson. OK, so what the hell does that mean?  Well, Circe knows, or seems to.  If every sorceress is indeed a “pragmatist at heart”, then she and all the others who deal in truths and illusions may have something useful to tell us in the end.  Certainly our encounters with truth can have a surprising quality of sudden opening and revelation.  Whether the surprise is “superb” depends in part on you.  But what are we to make of her next assertion?  “Nobody sees essence who can’t face limitation.”   The two negatives “spin your head right round.”  Is it still true if we remove them?  “Everyone sees essence who can face limitation.”

This is without doubt a world of limits, of hard edges, of boundaries we run into all the time, however much we try to ignore them.  Inconvenient truths aren’t the same as illusions.  (We just wish they were.)  Some of the edges cut, some leave scars.  We get away with very little, in the end.  Most of our illusions get stripped away, in this world of illusions.  What’s left?  Emily, Louise, mother-wit, “the sense God gave gravel,” somebody (anybody!), help us out here!!

“As Lightning to the Children eased/With explanation kind/The Truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind –” Emily concludes.  (Maybe the dash says it all.) Is there any “kindness” in this world of disguises?  Well, if some truth really is, or can be, as potent as the words here suggest, then one kindness is precisely the illusion we complain about.  It’s protection, insulation, a hot-pad between us and the Real, to keep it from scorching our skin, burning our vision.  Mortal eyes cannot behold the infinite.  “No one can see the face of God, and live,”  Moses is told.  Things get scaled down in this world.  The hot turns lukewarm, tepid.  You want scalding?  You were warned.

So what might we take away as a provisional set of guidelines to test and try out, and maybe use, if and when they fit?

1.  Know your worlds.

This ain’t the only one.  Don’t mix ’em, or expect one to work like any of the others.  “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and all that.  This world in particular revels in concealment.  Spring lies in the lap of winter, and unlikely as it seems, green and warmth will return to this world gone gray and white and cold.  Neither winter nor spring is the whole truth, but each is true in its season.  Time works out truth in a world built of time and space.  “Dazzle gradually,” so you can surprise and startle and reveal intensely … in the end.

2.  Essence and limitation are linked.

“Nobody sees essence who can’t face limitation.”  If we want the truth we seek, and desperately need, and deep-down know already (a particularly maddening truth we reject whenever we can), we find it here in this world, in limits and seeming dead-ends and walls and obstacles and finales.  Death’s a big one.  These are our teachers still, till we’re able to move beyond them.  Really?  That’s the best you can do for us?  Well, got any other world handy? Yes?  Then you know what I mean.  You don’t need this.  No?  Then you’re right where you need to be.  Understand that I’m not speaking from any privileged or superior place.  I know what you know, and vice versa.  Deal.  You’ll notice that I’m here in this right beside you.  As my wife and I remind each other whenever necessary, those too good for this world are adorning another.

3.  Truth ain’t so much obscure or impossible or unavailable or “an empty category,” but it IS often different than we think or want it to be.

We manifest it as we discover it.  We know it when we see it, like pornography or good taste.  Just don’t ask for someone else’s version to guide you, or you’re back to square one.  (As a clue, OK.  As absolute authority over your life?  Don’t even think about it!)

4.  In the end, it’s all Square One.

5.  And that’s a good thing.

6.  To quote The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be all right in the end.  If it’s not all right, then it’s not yet the end.”  Patience is one of the primal and most subtle of magics.

7.  Your version of “all right” will keep changing.

If it hasn’t changed recently, check your brain for clogs.  You may have missed an important message the universe has been trying to tell you.

8. Everything wants to make a gift of itself to you.

The distance between your current reality and that truth is the measure of the Great Work ahead.  This one’s taken me for a couple of l o n g walks indeed.  EverythingGift.  If I resist it, it comes back in an ugly  or terrifying or destructive “un-gift” form.  There are hard gifts.  Each life ends with one.  Still a gift.

9.  Ah, the triple three of nine, a piece of Druid perfection.

The ultimate four-letter word is love.  “A love for all existences,” goes the Druid Prayer.  Get there, and life begins in earnest.  We’ve all been there, briefly.  Time to make it longer than brief.  “Reverse the spell to see the goodness and the power,” to reword Circe only a little.  Still working on these.

Grow Where You’re (Not) Planted

In early June my wife noticed a particularly vigorous shoot rising from an old compost pile beside our woodshed.  The squash plant it eventually revealed itself to be has flourished joyfully, spreading in two directions, while the pitiful growths in one of our new raised beds refuse to be coaxed into thriving.

If life gives you lemons, you could make cleaning supplies, ant repellent, pickles, sore throat medicine, laundry whitener, stain remover, fruit preservative, copper cookware restorative, disinfectant — and if you insist, lemonade, too.  The dead (cliche) comes to life when our attention lies elsewhere.  Practice resurrection, and get used to it.

We hear a lot about growing where you’re planted, but what about everywhere else?  The surprise that is our universe so often arrives with the unexpected, the new pattern, the shift, the change.  Life does a one-off.  It does what it is.  (Isn’t that what you are, too — individual, unique, nothing else quite like you?  The trouble comes when I or somebody else insists you should be like the rest of us.  The universe never “conforms.”  It’s simply itself.  That’s our pattern too.  We are where we come from.)  We stand amazed at the burgeoning of vitality in places we doubted it could exist.  If we have different plans, life may upset them.  A young Christian couple I know, just married, decided they would leave conceiving a child “up to God.”  A friend from their congregation remarked, with considerable glee, “They gave it to the Lord, and he gave it right back to them.”  She got pregnant six weeks after the wedding.

In the mass of asphalt and concrete that is Route 91, like any superhighway, a few weeds have taken root on the meter-high divider between northbound and southbound lanes, a little way north of Hartford, Connecticut.  They’re particularly visible because they happen to be growing just about at eye level as you drive by, and the highway department hasn’t yet set upon them with weedkiller.  I give a silent cheer each time I pass, though I know my tax dollars support their eventual extinction.  Still …  Give them a few years and their roots will begin to split and break down the rigidity of man-made material into the beginnings of something more closely resembling soil.  If there’s an “agenda” at work here, it isn’t always a “human” one, though humans are born into such a world, have grown and evolved within and through its shaping patterns, and have lived in it for millenia before they thought to try permanence on a scale the universe doesn’t really support.

Instead of worrying about “what the financial situation will support,” or what our many and often distinctly weird human institutions “demand,” why not ask what moves in harmony with the patterns of the universe?  The main reason is we wouldn’t always like the answer.  Sometimes we would.  But we might find more balanced and sustainable ways of living that would approach “permanence,” which is just a weak version of natural equilibrium.  Could we devise a “financial permaculture” that might not jolt us from crisis to crisis?  Sure.  Will we?

The Dao De Jing winks at us when it makes its observations:

Not exalting the gifted prevents quarreling.
Not collecting treasures prevents stealing.
Not seeing desirable things prevents
confusion of the heart.

The wise therefore rule by emptying hearts
and stuffing bellies, by weakening ambitions
And strengthening bones.
If men lack knowledge and desire, then clever
people will not try to interfere.
If nothing is done, then all will be well.

(Gia-Fu Fen translation)

“Doing nothing” isn’t exactly what Daoism teaches; it’s more along the lines of “unforced action,” or “going with the flow”: wu-wei in Chinese.  And can we expect people to succeed by weakening their ambitions?  I don’t know; have we ever tried it?  In all this there’s a wink and a smile, too.  As if that wise voice is saying, “I don’t always mean this literally, of course, but you get the idea …”  And who knows?! “Emptying hearts (in a good way) and stuffing bellies” might just pay off.  Fill our stomachs, not our heads …

Or take this advice, surely perfect for our U.S. political season:

To talk little is natural.
High winds do not last all morning.

I’ll let Ursula Le Guin’s version of Chap. 27 have the final say here, a kind of diagnosis of how we’ve “gone astray,” that peculiar human thing we can do that the rest of the natural world doesn’t:

Good walkers leave no tracks.
Good talkers don’t stammer.
Good counters don’t use their fingers.
The best door is unlocked and unopened.
The best knot is not in a rope and can’t be untied.

So wise souls are good at caring for people,
never turning their back on anyone.
They’re good at looking after things,
never turning their back on anything.
There’s a light hidden here.

Good people teach people who aren’t good yet;
the less good are the makings of the good.
Anyone who doesn’t respect a teacher or cherish a student
may be clever, but has gone astray.
There’s deep mystery here.

/|\ /|\ /|\

There are many free versions of the Dao De Jing online; the site from which I drew these few excerpts provides several reasonably reputable versions to sample.  Sustained meditation on the text (get a couple of versions and let them talk across to each other) can ease stress and open up many doorways and paths.  It’s one of my most beloved Druid written resources.  Wikipedia’s entry for Tao Te Ching captures some of its qualities:  “The written style is laconic … and encourages varied, even contradictory interpretations. The ideas are singular; the style poetic. The rhetorical style combines two major strategies: short, declarative statements and intentional contradictions. The first of these strategies creates memorable phrases, while the second forces us to create our own reconciliations of the supposed contradictions.”  If you recall, resolution of supposed contradictions, or finding the tertiary that resolves the binary of “either-or,” is a technique and strategy of wisdom taught in several Druid paths.

Celebrating “Manhattanhenge”: Sparks of Urban Druidry

Our green world and ready contact with its natural rhythms can sometimes feel remote in urban settings.  Because so many people live in one of the “mega-metro” areas on the planet, their appreciation of the natural world may often burn more brightly than it does for the small-towner who has lived all her life surrounded by cows and trees.  With Tokyo, Seoul, Mexico City, New York and Mumbai heading the list at over 20 million souls each (counting their greater metro areas), it’s good to celebrate the green world particularly when it makes itself known among the girders and concrete.  The first entry in my “Druid of the Day” series, just started, was a nod in that direction.  Manhattanhenge is another one, and much larger:

If you follow Yahoo, you probably caught it.  The caption for yesterday’s image reads “The sun sets during ‘Manhattanhenge’ on July 12, 2011 in New York City. The Manhattan Solstice is a semiannual occurrence in which the setting sun aligns west-east with the street grid of the city.”  There’s a short sequence of similar images worth visiting.

We need such rhythms — to calibrate our biological clocks, to remind us how the world nourishes and sustains us, and how we need to remember it in our daily decisions — not out of piety for the Earth Mother (though nothing’s wrong with that, of course) but for the very real reason that this world is home.  Whenever we can truly celebrate, our hearts open.  And in a time when so much “news” doesn’t help us live better, stopping to enjoy the sun looking down the city streets is a good thing.

/|\ /|\ /|\

For those interested in astronomical details and explanations, Wikipedia’s entry for Manhattanhenge helps.  The event occurs twice a year, in May and July, on either side of the planetary solstice, as the sun makes its (apparent) journey north and then south again after the solstice.

Druid of the Day (1)

New York Times columnist Dana Jennings wins the first “Druid of the Day” award particularly for this portion of his column in yesterday’s (7/10/12) Times:

Scenes From the Meadowlandscape

Monet had his haystacks, Degas had his dancers, and I have the New Jersey Meadowlands from the window of my Midtown Direct train as I travel to and from Manhattan.

But what, it’s fair to ask, does squinting out at the Meadowlands each day have to do with art, with culture? Well, as a novelist and memoirist for more than 20 years, I like to think that if I stare hard enough — even from a speeding train — I can freeze and inhabit the suddenly roomy moment. Through the frame that is my train window I’m able to discern and delight in any number of hangable still lifes.

And the Meadowlands never disappoints, no matter what exhibition is up.

Its shifting weave of light, color and texture hone and enchant the eye. The sure and subtle muscle of the Hackensack River is sometimes just a blue mirror, but when riled and roiled by wind and rain it becomes home to slate-gray runes. The scruff, scrub and brush are prickly and persistent, just like certain denizens of New Jersey. And the brontosaurus bridges, their concrete stumps thumped into the swamp, idly look down on it all.

For his focus, intentionality and the requisite quietness to see, and then — just as important — turn the results of that seeing into a window, an access point for others who read his column to do the same “noticing” in their own lives, Jennings earns my commendation as “Druid of the Day.”  This seemed like a good series to launch, to help remind myself as well as my readers of ways we can be more attentive to beauty around us, particularly unexpected instances — free, a gift if we only notice them — and receive their transformative power.

City or country, it doesn’t matter: we can be witnesses of natural power and beauty, and learn what they may have to teach us, anywhere — including Manhattan, and from the window of the Midtown Direct train.  These are no less — or more — “Druidic” than any other spots on the planet.

Know others who deserve recognition as “D of the D”? Please send them along to me and I’ll write them up and include an acknowledgement to you in the citation.  Thanks in advance.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Dirty Words, Green Thoughts

Compromises.  They get bad press. In this time of American public life, compromise is among the worst of bad words.  It’s true that we often seem weakest where we make one.  That’s OK, as long as we aren’t blindsided by them, as long as our compromises aren’t destructive to us, as long as we can make them and live with them as conscious acts.  But any one of those challenges can pierce us to the core.

As a case in point, I want to address a “local” issue that echoes everywhere.  Last December, over a thousand residents in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts gathered to protest the continued operation of the Vermont Yankee (VY) Nuclear Plant beyond its original 40-year licensing period. There were over 130 arrests, though the protest remained orderly — both protesters and police had prepared months in advance.

As Vermont transplants rather than natives, my wife and I inherited the controversy when we settled here over a decade ago.   So first, some details — as unbiased as I can make them, from sources on both sides. A Druid tries to find the multiple tertiaries or neglected alternatives between two opposed binaries, so bear with me here.

First, the pros:  VY has been through $400 million of upgrades since it was first commissioned in 1972.  These include a 2006 retrofit that allows the reactor to generate approximately 20% more energy than its original design specifies, obviating the need to build other plants or increase fossil fuel use.  Vermont relies on the plant for about 30% of its current energy use, and when VY is down for refueling, increased consumption of gas and oil must make up the difference.  Decommissioning the plant would require finding other (and mostly more expensive) energy sources to make up the shortfall.  Published estimates put the pollution savings over the past four decades  of operation at 50 million tons of carbon that VY’s nuclear capacity has avoided dumping into our atmosphere.  That clean operation contributes heavily to keeping our famously pristine Vermont air famously pristine. Employment statistics put the number of jobs directly connected with the plant and its operation at around 650 people, and the impact on the state economy in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Obviously, shutting down the plant isn’t just a matter of pulling the plug.

Second, the cons:  VY’s design closely resembles the Fukushima reactor in Japan that failed in the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.   The 2006 upgrade that allows VY to generate approximately 20% more energy beyond its original design specs imposes unknown and unstudied stresses on a reactor structure deteriorating in spite of repairs — uncertainties the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) admits.  The plant stores its spent fuel in containment tanks that are now already at 95% capacity, yet the scheduled recommissioning is for another 20 years.   VY sits on the Connecticut River, whose waters ultimately empty into Long Island Sound.  An accident to either the reactor or fuel containment pools would not only affect the immediate area of mostly small towns, but carry radiation and waste downstream directly into the middle of  major centers of population like Springfield and Hartford, and numerous smaller towns like Greenfield, Deerfield, Northampton and Holyoke, MA, and Enfield, Middletown and Old Saybrook, CT.  It would then spread into the Long Island Sound and quickly impact eastern Long Island.  Tucking the spent rods and other waste away in “remote locations” like Yucca Mountain is no real solution, only a poor stop-gap measure.

Critics cite a string of mostly minor incidents at the plant over the years — small leaks, structural failures, and accidental discharges, as well as cover-ups, lies, bribery and arrogance in responses by the parent company Entergy, which runs eleven other nuclear plants around the country. Vermont governor Peter Shumlin openly says he wants VY shut down.  Entergy’s own website for VY (at addresses safety, somewhat obliquely, with a list of emergency contact numbers and the statement:  “The area approximately 10 miles around the Vermont Yankee is called the Emergency Planning Zone. Plans have been developed for warning and protecting people within this 10-mile area.”  Within this 10 mile radius live approximately 35,000 people. Yet after the Fukushima reactor meltdown in Japan, the NRC recommended that Japan extend its emergency safety zone radius to 50 miles.   The number of people within a 50 mile radius of VY is 1,500,000.

Here’s an aerial view of VY, courtesy of Entergy:

VY may well be shut down in some future election cycle, or it may face a spate of incidents that call into question its safety.  It may even run safely (for a nuclear plant) until its all of its operating extensions expire.  Until then, unless I and everyone else who benefits from the plant volunteer to cut our energy usage by that 30% that VY generates, and help subsidize a transfer to alternate sources of energy, can we justify our self-righteous claims to “shut it down” with no further personal sacrifice?  What are we willing to give in order to get what we want?

Though some people deride our Druid rituals and mock our perspectives about the earth, what we do to the world we do to ourselves in very real ways.  The facts can be disputed — the principle operates in full force as it always has.  What goes around comes around: we know this, which is why such sayings have penetrated the common language and consciousness.  We alive today are part of the world’s karma — our karma, the choices we make and actions we take every day.  I turned on the oven to heat my lunch earlier today.  Would I be willing to make do with a solar oven, or eat my meal cold, or … any of a number of alternatives?

A Wise One observed that in the last decade the entire world had the opportunity to accept a major initiation — a step forward in consciousness, based in large part on our accepting greater responsibility for our actions and their consequences.  As a single aware corporate entity, the world consciousness refused this opportunity.  (Was it majority vote?!) Individually we still all grow at our own paces, but we also take part in a world shaped by planetary consciousness as a whole, to which we each contribute a part.  We can plainly see the results all around us right now, and whatever we may think of the ultimate causes, they began in human choices. As Gandalf observes (and why shouldn’t a decent movie Druid get his share of press?), if we regret the choices we see and the consequences of those choices which we know many will suffer, “so do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”  And that is enough for any film character, or four-dimensional beings like ourselves.  Each life improved is a life improved, and within our circles we can accomplish much of value before we leave this world.  It is not our task to redeem the planet.  World-saviors appear in flesh and myth to do such tasks.  (Unless you’re signing up for the job, in which case you should have been told where to go and what to do.  Just don’t ask me.)  The time that is given to us is enough to fill with the best that is in us right now — not in some imagined future “when we — or our people — have the power.”  To leave the last words again to Gandalf:  “[I]t is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

/|\ /|\ /|\

Earth Mysteries — 7 of 7 — The Law of Evolution

[Earth Mysteries 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7]

So here we are at the last installment of this seven-parter.  Indigestion and too much caffeine.  No, not the series, though you may be thinking or feeling that, too.  Looking back over earlier ones I realize each post has gotten more random than the preceding one.  Not sure if I’ve done Greer a favor, writing about his seven keys — keys belonging to all of us — but doing it in such a way that they’re more “notes for a revolution” than anything like a review.  You can’t just dump a bunch of principles by themselves on people and expect them to see how they fit, exactly. Which is what I’ve sorta done anyway.  Inoculation by reading.

Like I said, they’re more notes for a revolution, so that when it comes, you’ll recognize the advance guard and maybe the sound of the explosions and know you’ve seen and heard something like this before, and maybe deal with it better or more inventively than your brother or neighbor out here panhandling and prospecting with the rest of us.  “Look what I found!  It’s a … well, I don’t have a name for it, but it might be useful at the weekly swap-and-steal.”  Heaven consists of the spare parts of creation that didn’t get used elsewhere.  We’re destined to mine the scrap heaps for the gold everyone’s tossed there by mistake.

Here goes with the last Law.  (Of course it’s never the last law.  There’s always another one, like yet another stray that won’t leave, moping around for scraps.  Throw it a bone, or a filet. Watch what it does with it.)

“Everything that exists comes into being by a process of evolution.  That process starts with adaptation to changing conditions and ends with the establishment of a steady state of balance with its surroundings, following a threefold rhythm of challenge, response and reintegration.  Evolution is gradual rather than sudden, and it works by increasing diversity and accumulating possibilities, rather than following a predetermined line of development.”*

A shiver of awe and delight coursed through me when I first read this one.  Maybe nobody knows where humanity is headed — it’s not something mapped out beforehand.  “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit,” says the Beloved Disciple in the eighth verse of his third chapter.  (What, you didn’t know portions of the Bible are a Druid stealth device?  Look twice before crossing.)

Sure, our DNA has something to say about it, and so do the causes we’re always setting in motion.  These will shape our experience and our future.  But they’re our causes.  We can change.  And we want to “accumulate possibilities” because these mean freedom.  The dead-end singleness of conformity and bland homogeneity leave us hankering for the quaint, the queer, the mysterious, the odd, the doesn’t-fit, the original, the new, the surprising, the fresh.   After all, we left Eden (some versions have us kicked out, but the result’s the same) and we’ve been on quest ever since.  But “pave paradise and put up a parking lot”? Not what we really want, is it?

In  “To Holderin,” the German poet Rilke writes to a compatriot:

Lingering, even among what’s most intimate,
is not our option.  From fulfilled images
the spirit abruptly plunges towards ones to be filled:
there are no lakes until eternity. Here falling
is our best.  From the mastered emotion we fall over
into the half-sensed, onward and onward …

We suspect so much more of reality than we let on.  Or than it does.  It’s not safe to do so, but it’s right, in the best senses of the word.  Who ever wanted what is merely safe, when fuller life offers itself to us?  Well, some people do, and often enough they get what they desire, and before long beg to be freed of it.  Poetry means “making” in Greek, and we all make, we’re all makers, poets of our lives.  Song is our native tongue, or could be.  It’s that melody playing just beyond hearing that we’re always trying to capture, to get back to.  That crashing sound?  That’s just another person banging around the music room in the dark, trying to pound out a melody.

While we’re listening to Germans, here’s Martin Heidegger:  “To be a poet in a destitute time means to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods.  This is why the poet in the time of the world’s night utters the holy.”  Cool, just so long as we know the holy really isn’t safe at all.  No place to hide.  Here’s Rilke again:

Here is the time for the sayable, here is its homeland.
Speak and bear witness.  More than ever
the Things that we might experience are vanishing, for
what crowds them out and replaces them is an imageless act.
An act under a shell, which easily cracks open as soon as
the business inside outgrows it and seeks new limits.
Between the hammers our heart
endures, just as the tongue does
between the teeth and, despite that,
still is able to praise …

Sometimes you get the sense from Rilke, like from other madmen and seers, that you’ve always known what he means, that in fact you’ve done what he’s saying, even though you may not be able to say it yourself.  But he manages to.  We leave saying to the poets as if they’re somebody, but not us, who forgets you aren’t supposed to say these things, or that nobody expected you could say them.  But you say them anyway.  And get inconveniently booted to the curb by your neighbors, who  take over “for your own good,” and after you comes flying what you thought was your life.

So you pick yourself up, brush off the worst of the dust, and keep going, without a life if you have to.  Not as if nothing has happened, but as if everything has, and it keeps on happening.  Who else do things happen to, but us?  We’re mistaken if we think that disconcerting little factoid that reaches the news but which happens in “some other part of the world” — outer Don’t-bug-me, central I-don’t-care-yo! — isn’t our concern.  Next week I’ll find refugees from there in my basement, peering up at me.  My new psychic friends, walking my dreams, if I don’t see them actually fishing through my garbage, desperate for food or love or those pieces of my life I decided weren’t worth my time.

Oh, Druids are a little bit crazy, more so on certain days of the week than others, and most of all under certain phases of the moon.  We’d cry if we weren’t laughing so hard, and sometime it sounds much the same.  But the spirit lightens a little, and we see the outlines of a Friend where before was only a little mannikin of sadness or despair.  We keep doing this for each other just often enough to go on, suspecting ourselves of the worse motives, and probably right to do so.  But there’s a fire over the horizon, and singing, and the party’s going on without us. It’s the same fire in our heads.

Shapes move and stumble around the fire, vaguely familiar, so that after joining them it seems we know them, we left them years ago, but this is a reunion where we see everyone’s suffered and grown, though some have become knotty and twisted, like old trees.  But there’s a few among us brave enough to hug them anyway, and bring them into the Dance. And so we dance, all night, the last stars twinkling when we finally stumble home to bed and a delicious, bone-weary sleep.  And later, who knows what waking?

/|\ /|\ /|\

*Greer, John Michael.  Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. Weiser, 2012.

Earth Mysteries — 6 of 7 — The Law of Planes

[Earth Mysteries 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7]

“Everything in existence exists and functions on one of several planes of being or is composed of things from more than one plane acting together as a whole system.  These planes are discrete, not continuous, and the passage of influence from one plane to another can take place only under conditions defined by the relationship of the planes involved.”*

One “map” of the planes I’ve found useful also features in many other spiritual teachings (mystical Christianity, Neo-Platonism, and some forms of Hinduism among them), including one I’ve followed for over thirty years, and identifies the physical universe as just one of several other planes.  Besides the physical plane which we experience with our physical bodies, we experience the astral (see the third paragraph of Earth Mysteries — 4 of 7) or emotional plane (also sometimes called the etheric plane), the causal plane of memory, and the mental plane of thought.  These last two also sometimes have different names — not surprising, considering they can seem more removed from immediate physical sensation and experience — and thus, understanding.  Yet we exist in and experience these planes all the time.

Who’s doing the experiencing here?  According to this way of perceiving things, that’s the real you, soul or spirit who wears these other bodies like clothes appropriate to different seasons and climates.  So if we say “my soul,” who is talking?  The experiencer or consciousness is soul, using the mind to think, the causal body to remember, the astral body to feel and imagine, and the physical body to experience physical reality.

While we can’t directly experience the astral world with our physical bodies, given the close proximity of the two planes, we certainly can feel the effects of strong emotions with our physical bodies and the “atmospheres” of places likewise charged with feeling.  We’ve all walked into a room where there’s just been an argument, where religious observance has been performed over a sustained period of time, etc.  We may pick up the vibe of such places — vibrating at a characteristic frequency, physics tells us, is what everything is doing already anyway — and if we’re inattentive we may internalize it, harmonize with it, and then not understand why we ourselves may feel tired, energized, angry, calm, etc. after spending some time there.

But our astral body is fully capable of experiencing the astral plane, and doing neat things like flying, changing form, and generally responding rapidly to thought, as it does in dreams. (Our physical bodies also respond to thought, but being of a slower vibrational rate, they more often take years or decades to show the effect.  You’ve heard the expression “to worry yourself sick,” and that’s one of the more negative uses of focused and intense emotion — a kind of magic turned against ourselves.)  The astral is the plane of imagination, where we may see things in “the mind’s eye,” or with “rose-colored glasses,” if we’re particularly optimistic, because pink or rose is one of the dominant colors there, just as green is characteristic (though by no means ubiquitous) in the physical world with its plants and chlorophyll.

The astral plane, according to many traditions, is where most of us transfer our consciousness after the death of our physical bodies.  It is certainly possible to open our astral awareness (often without much control, which can make it dangerous without proper guides) with alcohol or drugs.  Safer techniques include drumming and trance work, dance (like certain Dervish orders do, for instance), chant, mantra, ritual, physical exhaustion, daydreaming, meditation, creative visualization, and so on.

The causal plane of memory, like the astral plane, has its own rules and qualities, as does the mental plane.  We say “that rings a bell” when we’re reminded of something, and each plane has characteristic sounds associated with it as well as colors. When we focus attention on these other planes while physically awake, we tend to tune out the physical world and its body, and are “lost in thought,” or “in another world.”  In these and other instances, our languages preserve fragments of ancient wisdom our modern world tends to ignore, though we often intuitively know something of its truth in spite of the habitual skepticism of our current age.

Our contemporary default position of disbelief is no better than the habitual credulity of previous ages, when people believed all sorts of things which, while they may have been true of some other plane, weren’t usually true of this one.   And in our turn toward the currently widespread religion of science, we’ve adopted its characteristic blind spots just as wholeheartedly.  Ask scientists why the universe exists, for instance, and you can usually reduce them to speechlessness.  It’s simply not a question science is equipped to answer.

The ability to manifest consciously the realities of one plane in another — and since we’re focused heavily on the physical world, for the sake of this discussion that usually means bringing something into physical form — is a supremely human accomplishment.  Yes, animals are wired with instinct to reproduce their own kind, and in the case of birds and mammals, care for their young, but in addition to such instinctive drives, humans create cultures, with their languages, arts, crafts, technologies, rules, perspectives, and ways of living in the world.

In each of these posts on the seven Laws, I’ve barely scratched the surface.  Each Law deserves repeated meditation, and in his book Greer makes several suggestions for experiencing the creative force of each Law and some of its far-reaching implications. Alone, the Laws can seem rather abstract, hard to apply to daily concerns and problems, too generalized to match the specifics of our individual situations.  This itself is a powerful realization:  to bring things into manifestation, we need the individual, the distinct and unique set of qualities, experiences, memories, talents, perspectives and strengths, in order to achieve what makes and keeps us human.

If it seems that the Laws swallow up individuality in statements about general tendencies, groups and patterns larger than one human life, it’s important to remember that it was humans who first noticed these principles, and humans can choose either to disregard them or to work consciously with them.  Conscious and creative cooperation with the spiritual principles of existence is the fulfillment of humanity.  Through such means, we can manifest what has not yet been seen or experienced or even imagined, in forms of power and beauty and usefulness, for others as well as for ourselves.  That’s one way to repay the gifts we’ve been given.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*Greer, John Michael.  Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. Weiser, 2012.

Earth Mysteries — 5 of 7 — The Law of Cause and Effect

[Earth Mysteries 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7]

“Everything that exists is the effect of causes at work in the whole system of which each thing is a part, and everything becomes, in turn, the cause of effects elsewhere in the whole system.  In these workings of cause and effect, there must always be a similarity of kind between an effect and at least one of its causes, just as there must be a similarity of scale between an effect and the sum total of its causes.”*

Under the guise of karma, this principle is superficially familiar to more people, perhaps, than the other six laws.  Though not exactly what some people have in mind when they wish you “good karma,” as if it were the same thing as luck.  Where does luck fit in a world system of cause and effect? Worth considering.  A Wise One once remarked that it’s not always possible to be the cause in every situation — to initiate, to be the active force, to get things moving — but that if we must be effect, at least we can strive to be conscious effect.  Recognize the cause, and respond consciously, rather than be manipulated by it unconsciously.  Because who knows? — it may not have your best interests at heart.

That’s not to say that a cause is necessarily actively malevolent or is seeking you out to destroy you and unmake you.  But it may simply be a cause you or someone else set in motion at random, unconsciously, unintentionally.  If you’re its unconscious effect, it’s suddenly detour time.  Willing to go for a ride with a strange cause, one that beckons to you, flashing those stunning looks, that oh so beguiling smile?  Have fun!  Just don’t expect things to be the same when you get back.  Whenever that turns out to be …

You can be spontaneous and conscious too.  But be the cause.  Otherwise, what’s consciousness for?  I find that a fascinating, troubling question.

So many beings get along fine without the human excess of self-consciousness, that strange echo-chamber or feedback loop that tells us our thoughts, our feelings, our thoughts about our feelings, and our feelings about the thoughts we’re having about our feelings.  How often we long for pure experience, without that inner narrator who insists on supplying second thoughts, doubts, fears, insecurities, grubby little (or big) desires, and so on.  It’s like a bad voice-over in a film, a jangling mess that some spiritual traditions remedy with meditation to calm the “monkey of the mind,” so we can get at whatever of value may lie underneath the noise of consciousness.

OK, that’s human consciousness, and specifically self-consciousness, at its least attractive.  But what of consciousness itself?  It’s not all bad.  In fact, it seems to confer some evolutionary advantages.  A conscious being can make choices, react with more than instinct — maybe even live through challenging situations where instinct isn’t enough.  If you’ve observed animals, you can sometimes catch reflection and thinking.  Dogs and cats give evidence of it.  Both birds and mammals can learn and adapt, maximizing their ability to survive, and to pass on their genetic material to their offspring.  But is there more than evolutionary advantage to the species?  How about to the individual?

In more conscious creatures, play and possibly even pleasure are gifts that consciousness also seems to confer.  Otters play for hours, and birds — if you’re convinced by people like David Rothenberg — sing not only to defend their territory, attract mates and warn off rivals, but also to express joy. Is that too human?  Are we anthropomorphizing?

And creativity … to me that’s the greatest gift of consciousness. We’re problem solvers.  We love smooth sailing for sure, long for it deeply in the trough of trouble, but we’re often at our best when challenged, when pushed to grow.  Even our attempts at avoiding growth are frequently clever, creative, inspired.  We procrastinate, rationalize, justify, repress, suppress, distract ourselves, get addicted to something too small for the love we’re driven to express, and our suffering is outrageous, ridiculous, painful, outsized, exaggerated — often because we’ve made it just that way in our struggles to escape what we know we must do eventually.

And here’s the kicker:  even — and maybe especially — our avoidance just makes us stronger for when we finally do face down the problem or issue or challenge.  We’ve tried everything else, all the other options, and they’ve failed in some way.  So we bring to that eventually unavoidable moment of growth a head of anger and frustration, true, but also a chunk of wisdom and strength that we got precisely because we’ve resisted for so long.  That momentum, that power and wisdom with a glow of a little anger and a dash of curiosity under the fear — this very mixed package of preparation — may not always get us through the challenge.  It still may not be enough this time around.  Now we’re still effect, but we’re on the way to becoming cause.

The failure to meet the challenge this time, to pass the test, signals to us what we still need to do to be ready next time.  And the heightened emotion clinging to the lesson, the issue, and the events and people around it, flags it for us.  Never again will we completely be able to avoid it, to shove it entirely back into the shadows, and let ourselves slide into unconsciousness.  A tail sticking out of the box, or paw scratching at the door, or fur on the carpet, will be evidence of this animal self, our helper, our “trouble double,” that we’ve tried to hide.  We will be cause, even if we can’t yet pull it off.  Something in us knows this.  Our growth will seem to pursue us on its own — because we’ve made it ours by being cause even to a limited degree, and cause must, inevitably, unavoidably, have its effect.

All this time, we’ve not been idle; we’ve also been building up strength for our next attempt:  by more avoiding, maybe (if we’re really good at that), but also by a slowly growing awareness that growth is what we’re destined for, that we can actually work toward it, even if our own lives have to drag us there kicking and biting and howling the whole way, functioning as some of the causes we ourselves have set in motion.  There’s more strength building in us, and if there’s a cost, then we’ll pay.  (Another cause, another effect.)  We’re slow learners, because sometimes that’s the only way the lesson sinks in deep enough that we really get it good, get it down pat, and run with it.  One way or another …

And so the causes we absolutely needed to set in motion will become just the effects we need to experience down the road.  But because we grow as a result, the effects which were “everything we ever wanted” at the time will eventually come to box us in, because we’ve grown, and so they’re no longer enough for us.  Then they start to strand us, and constrict and blind and infuriate us, until we arise from them stronger and are again able to set new causes in motion.  Open-ended growth.  Our ideas of perfection often seem to involve stasis:  at some point we imagine we’ll “arrive” and not need to grow anymore.  Heavenly choirs and streets of gold, no telemarketers or spam or mosquitos or flu, and sitting around all day in Paradise Lounge, plucking at harps and sipping (virgin) daiquiris and margaritas.  Likewise our perspective on setbacks often doesn’t take in enough time to see the causes and effects playing out. Sometimes we can’t see them all, if they span multiple lives.  Or parallel ones, if you’re not prone to reincarnate like I am.

But back to perfection as stasis:  from what I’ve seen, that misses how the system works.  “Everything becomes, in turn, the cause of effects elsewhere in the whole system.”  No final perfection — that’s just another trap or sidestep.  Which is fine, if you’d like that experience: then it’s no trap or sidestep so much as interesting or even productive diversion.  (Having your cake is eating it too, after all.  Otherwise it just sits there.) We don’t arrive at long last at any unchanging endpoint.  That’s not perfection.  We’re travelers.  We may get rest stops, but the growth is endless.  “Eden bears those footprints leading out …”

/|\ /|\ /|\

*Greer, John Michael.  Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. Weiser, 2012.

Image:  paradigm shift.

Earth Mysteries — 4 of 7 — the Law of Limits

[Earth Mysteries 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7]

“Everything that exists is subject to limits arising from its own nature, the nature of the whole system of which it is a part, and the nature of existence itself.  These limits are as necessary as they are inescapable, and they provide the foundation for all the beauty and power each existing thing is capable of manifesting.”*

Though it’s not good New Age gospel to admit it, we’re faced with limits and boundaries all the time, and more to the point, that’s a good thing, for the reason Greer points out, and for others.  Limits are the counterweight, the resistance for our training, the sparring partner to keep us in fighting trim.  Rules change on other planes of existence, but to manifest power and beauty here, limits are absolutely essential.  They’re the valve that allows us to build up pressure in the boiler, the enclosure that intensifies the heat of the fire, the focus for the laser — or the conscious, persistent human intention that manifests a goal.

Physical limits allow us to give shape to things, and to have a reasonable expectation they’ll stay in that shape, usefully, predictably.  These rules don’t apply in the same way elsewhere.  All of us have had experience on, and of, at least one other plane, the astral, where most dreams occur.  You know how fluid and changeable the forms and shapes are there.  The dog chasing you morphs into a car you’re riding in with the person who bullied you in high school.  You look closely and that person’s hands aren’t holding the steering wheel any longer, but clutching a bouquet of flowers instead, two of which turn into ropes that winch you so tight you can’t breathe.  You struggle, wake up gasping, and — thank God! — you’re in your bed. It’s the same bed as last night, last week, last month, the bed which someone made years ago, and it stays put, reassuringly solid and unchanging beneath you, obeying the laws of this physical world.  You slowly come back from the feeling-sensation of your dream on the astral plane, welcoming the heaviness of your physical body around you, touching a few of the things here, pillows and sheets, your partner, a pet curled against your thigh or your face, the nightstand or wall beside your bed.  Familiar, stubbornly solid objects and beings, responding to gravity and inertia.  Yes, things mostly stay put here, in this world.  Though we all have stories about the car keys …

The image at the top comes from a site with its own take on freedom and limits.  What I find interesting is the image of flight presented as one of limitless freedom.  Yet flight depends on air, resistance, lift, momentum, wing span and area, an appropriate center of gravity, and so on.  Not everything stays aloft after you fling it into the air, and flight in a vacuum like in space follows different rules than flight in an atmosphere.  It can seem paradoxical that freedom increases the better we understand and work within limits.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*Greer, John Michael.  Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. Weiser, 2012.

Image:  glider.

%d bloggers like this: