Archive for the ‘spiritual law’ Category

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;

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Looking for a Title   3 comments

Now that I’ve chased away, as I usually manage to do every few weeks, a few incautious new readers who thought they’d follow my blog — until I said something indigestible to them — you and I remain to take stock. It’s part of my job description, in fact: blogger must intermittently provoke, offend or banish a portion of readership, if only to establish and maintain some semblance of integrity. That’s one route, anyway, to blogger bona fides.

Otherwise I’m just a spiritual politician, telling people mostly what they want to hear, scrambling for votes or likes. Please don’t merely “like” me. We’re not in primary school, right? Life isn’t, despite what the weak magic of  social media enchants us to believe, a popularity contest. We’re not even in secondary school any longer. Read and ponder what I’ve said, and test it — not just with your opinions, but with your life. As I try to do, in spite of that annoying and near-universal tug toward hypocrisy.

So there really aren’t any rules? my inner teenager asks. The previous post was a feel-good piece. Love is all you need. All paths lead to the same destination. We’re all in this together.

And we are. Except.

Anyone who practices an art or craft knows that rules, especially rules-of-thumb gained over long experience, can be really useful. Gardening? Plant marigolds with tomatoes. Tuning your guitar? Start with your sixth string, the Youtube video instructs, held down on the fifth fret. Guidelines for what to do, how to tackle challenges and complexities. Received wisdom. Even, if I can use the word, a tradition. We rarely need to start from scratch.

When we’re young, we’re told to color inside the lines. What happens if you color outside the lines? Nothing. You’ve colored outside the lines. What you do is what you get. Maybe a well-meaning adult scolds you, or not. A little later, perhaps a reward or penalty. We know how early such patterns and personality traits get set. Some kids without prompting will color up to the lines so neatly an adult couldn’t better it. And they’ll get praise for neatness and attention and whatever other labels get put on noticing boundaries and respecting what they have to teach.  Because they do have much to teach. Just not everything.

All right, teenaged self. What do you want rules for, anway? To push against, so you can declare yourself an original? To piss off a special adult, or adults in general? To run roughshod over, ’cause you’re such a rebel? Win the attention of possible partners, producers or profit-sharers? Welcome to inverse conformity: you’ve still let the rules define you. Can you make your own liveable set?

Robert Frost said writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net. He meant it disparagingly, but it’s actually just another game. Handball. Without a single thing labeled “net”, nearly every surface becomes playable. Players don’t stand opposite each other, but — often — side by side. The rules: changed, but still present. Because that’s what a game is. It’s hard to make “whatever” into a game very many folks want to play.

Yesterday John Beckett posted “Get Over Your Fear of Religion!” tackling the frequent superficiality of much contemporary spirituality. On at least one online forum I visit, his post predictably sent some into a tailspin. Beckett notes, “Some of this [the “spiritual but not religious” movement]  is an understandable reaction against negative religion, but much is an avoidance of the work required to build any real spiritual or religious depth”.  Some scolding is good for me.

Of course, our reaction against stifling religiosity also has ancient roots in human experience. It will never go away as long as we face complacency and laziness in our cultural institutions and practices. As a certain rabbi once observed a score of centuries ago, “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life”.

But beyond the pleasurable intoxication of a numinous moon or molten sunset or gold-drenched sunny afternoon, there’s more. “If you want a deep spiritual practice”, John continues, “that will help you handle life’s challenges, build deep and meaningful relationships, and change yourself and the world, you’re going to need religion”.

The first part sounds like what many people say they want. The last clause, though, tosses a dead mouse into the punch bowl.

Whatever else needs to happen as a consequence of mouse or punchbowl or tossing, reactions to the incident will reveal something to me in my own thinking and practice that I need to work on. Maybe you or I will take the bowl to the kitchen and bring out a fresh one. Maybe we’ll just cringe a little, and wait for somebody else to fix things. Maybe we’ll fish out the mouse, or shame the tosser, or ask for better punch-bowl covers, or mouse-traps. Or we’ll take to raising larger mice. Whatever our roles, the incident jolts us. Your outrage is yours. I do mine just fine, without help. But I don’t want to stop there, but start.

Over the decades, I’ve noticed life becomes custom-fitted to teach each of us what we need to learn. It gets to know us, scouts us right up to our weaknesses. I’m not always talking “fair” or “easy” or “blessed”, either. What I hold on to most tightly I’ll probably be compelled to relinquish. Rigid things tend to break. The gods prodding humans to grow. Or evolution fine-tuning a whole complex of eco-systems, sharpening the ability of each species to thrive by choosing the most adaptable individuals and going forward with them because — quite simply — they can change. A hundred thousand lemmings die, but one, slightly different, flourishes and becomes the progenitor of a new species. Ancestral lemming, I salute you.

If we’re changing, how could all the old rules possibly serve? Because rules can change, too, and most of the ones that trouble us and dog our heels are ones we’ve made for ourselves that haven’t changed with us. A few other parameters we encounter, like this pesky aging-and-mortality thing, and finite planetary resources, and cause and effect, we’re still learning to work with. It’s just that from time to time we confuse human rules with spiritual law. Confuse them so successfully we think they’re the same thing, until we find they’re not.

Imagine your ideal set of rules for how you’d play the game. Or laws, if you’re going for large-scale. Work to get down in writing at least three or four of them — you may uncover more — then try them out on your life, checking for fit, and then try them on the lives of a few other beings. Revise as needed.

Next post I’ll post mine.

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Boku no Shinto: My Shinto, Part 2   Leave a comment

[Shinto & Shrine Druidry 1 | 2 | 3] [Shinto — Way of the Gods ]
[Renewing the Shrine 1 | 2] [My Shinto 1 | 2]

PYogananda

Paramahamsa Yogananda

“Its technique will be your guru.” With these words (ch. 11 of his famous Autobiography, online here), a young Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), founder of Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) and a principal exponent of Kriya Yoga in the West, counsels a peer he has just initiated into the tradition he follows himself. With these words he also points toward a kind of spiritual path that Westerners, rightly wary of super-sized personalities and god-realized con-men, can approach and walk.  A flexible and potent technique can be a trustworthy, profound and endlessly patient guide.

Technique as guru:  as a practitioner of OBOD Druidry and Eckankar, I know firsthand that a technique responds to practice and devotion as much as any teacher.  Religious and spiritual practice will always be as much art as science, because they welcome (and can profoundly benefit from) our subjectivity, even as they also point to their scientific aspect — definite and repeatable results we can achieve from dedication and regular practice.  My emotions, my commitment, my ambition and drive, my struggles and dreams can all contribute to my practice — leaven it and enrich it and make it “mine.”

my double -- b/c we were both angry at each other

“other” as double: both of us angry at each other

My anger at the driver who cut me off in traffic last week, on my way back from dropping my wife off to stay with her cousin, can help me uncover other unexplored pools of anger I can work to identify, learn from, and transform.  Anger by itself need not be bad, only unconscious anger, anger I act from unthinkingly, little different from a live wire I brush against in the dark, unintentionally — or attach to a light fixture and illuminate another step along the way.  Without the experience of anger, I might well miss the wire altogether, and forfeit a chance at illumination.

I can, if I listen, come to see that my whole life is laboratory — not only what I close the door on at 4:00 or 5:00 pm each weekday and return home from.  The individualistic-narcissistic-tending “MY spirituality” gets whittled down to more beneficial size through ongoing spiritual practice. And paradoxically reveals a personalized curriculum tailored to me, right now and here.  Anger?  Yup — that’s on my curriculum, though it may not be on yours.  And my life is ideally set up to help me work with precisely that curriculum point, just as yours is for your distinct points.  Yes — we share a “common core,” too.

compost is transition

compost: just another point along a transition

A practice like Druidry that places me in the natural world immediately begins to slim down ego in concrete ways and immediately accessible ways:  merely walk out the door, and at once it’s clear I’m not the center, nor even the “most important” thing in the universe.  I constantly meet the “spirit other”: animals, birds, trees, and beings without skin on — or bark, or fur, or scales.  I am a paragraph in a chapter, not the whole story. And that’s a good thing, because the world is guru, too. Hard limits of some kind are the only way a world can work (try seriously to imagine one without them), but if I engage them wisely, they build spiritual strength rather than frustration, nihilism and despair.  This physical body is eventual compost, like everything else: but not yet.  And this interval is all.  (Whether it is also “only” is an experiential question, one which only experience can accurately answer, not some dogma to be believed or rejected.)

“My Shinto,” my Way of the Spiritual Order of Things — let’s call it WOTSOOT — begins with the circumstances of my life today.  Here I am, a 55 year-old white male, a teacher, a cancer survivor, married, nearsighted, in fair health.   The initial details of your personal WOTSOOT naturally vary less or more from mine.  They’re also often quite superficial — party chitchat, gossip in my cul-de-sac. Because I am also a point and vector of conscious energy situated in widening networks of energy exchange.  I breathe, and chlorophyll all around me gets inputs it needs.  Bacteria on my skin and in my gut flourish, and help me flourish too, if I stay alert to their balance. I sweat and crap and piss, and nutrients move where other beings can begin to use them.  I consume some of these other beings — not too many, if the system is to remain in equilibrium — just as some them will consume me.  New networks arise, as older ones shift or die.  And part of my practice is: all praise* to the WOTSOOT!

Such processes of the physical realm are both fairly well understood and all too rarely incorporated into larger networks that spiritual teachings of all kinds tell us glow and ripple and transform and pervade the universe.  Scientific insight begins to catch up here and there with spiritual wisdom.  Not dogma, not theology, not creeds — that’s merely paparazzi spirituality — but insights into living networks — the shin-to, the “spirit-way.”  As I write and you eventually read this, we use an electronic network we’ve crafted that simulates in surprising ways organically occurring ones, and we can acknowledge the remarkable power and potential of such interactive patterns of energy and information flow as analogs to the ones we are born into.
calhobresolution

One valuable key to working with the WOTSOOT that I keep reminding myself of is “small steps. ” This works both as a starting point and a successful process, too. Any attempt at change, on any level, meets what we experience as resistance, because of inertia and equilibrium implicit in networks. (Otherwise, without inertia or resistance, they’d never have a chance to grow and develop at all, shifting and falling apart at the least push or pull from outside.  They wouldn’t become “things,” which are semi-lasting whorls and eddies in the flow of WOTSOOT.)

We all have heard that “If it works, don’t fix it,” which is fine, except that a corresponding inherent tendency toward change means that even as it’s working, it’s also changing, or accumulating energy toward change.  Often the changes are small, and if we model ourselves on this larger pattern, our small changes will accord with the flow around us.  (Small ongoing changes help us avoid really disabling larger ones, that can manage to accumulate a staggering wallop of energy if we don’t make those smaller changes.)

“Change your life,” counsels your friendly neighborhood deity of choice.  Okay: but do it in manageable chunks, unless a cataclysm conveniently presents itself to you, ready-made. I have a profoundly messy office right now: too much for a single day of cleaning, without a herculean effort.  Sometimes I can muster one.  But one box today, one shelf tomorrow? That I can manage most days.  Thus both my spiritual paths exhort me to daily practice. (With two paths, as long as I get in at one least set of practices, I’m usually ahead of the game.   I double my options — and find overlaps and interweave and insight from such doubled options — the paths are no longer nearly so separate, but feed each other and me.)

gmplogo

our local VT electrical utility

In concrete terms of just one network, in one person’s life? — Let’s choose the physical for convenience, since we’ve established and can understand a set of fairly common labels like physical measures.  My wife and I have reduced our “garbage” to an average of 8 pounds a week — mostly non-biodegradable packaging and other non-compostables at this point — and I’m working to bring it down from there.  (Why? Throw it “away”?  Nothing goes “away” — it always ends up somewhere, and the nastier it is, the deeper it usually sinks its fangs in my butt when it returns.  Part of my practice, then, is shrinking my “away” — out of pure self-interest, mind you!)  Everything else we’re able to compost or recycle, thanks to recycling options in our region of southern Vermont. We continue to tweak our car and woodstove emissions by wise use, insulation, consolidation of trips, carpooling, etc.  Infrastructure shifts will eventually impact these, as mass transit improves and efficiencies increase, or whole modes (like petroleum-sourced energy) eventually fall out of use.  Only this February 2014, out of the past 24 months, did we use more electricity than our solar panels generated, so we’re in the black there.  But a chunk of that comes from liberal surplus buy-back subsidies from GMP, our local electrical utility company.

Cap'n Henry T.

Cap’n Henry T.

All told, apart from property taxes, our annual shelter costs run roughly $600 — for firewood.  I mention all this as evidence for one person’s start at working with one network among many — by no means an endpoint, nor a claim for any kind of praise or desire for virtue** or self-satisfaction.  It’s part of practice, a point along a continuum, remembering my practice is both a “what to live for,” and also a “how to live” at all.  And again I repeat: your practice, because you are you, necessarily differs.  As H. D. Thoreau observes, “I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.”

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Images:  Paramahansa Yoganandathat “other” drivercompostCalvin and Hobbes resolution;  Green Mountain Power;  Thoreau.

*I don’t know about you, but I can feel gratitude without needing a target, a recipient or respondent:  a magnificent cloudy sky or bright flash of plumage or swirling blizzard evokes awe and gratitude I love to express.  Do I need to say I’m grateful to Anyone?  Can’t I simply be grateful for? Of course! Gratitude feels good.  Why deny myself such pleasure?  There’s a motivation if you need it: practice gratitude out of selfishness, because it makes you feel good, if for no other reason!  Or if I choose to thank a spirit or Spirit, that in no way detracts from my gratitude.  A target for it is another kind of pleasure I choose not to deny myself.

**Except for virtue in the older sense of “strength” or “power.”  This kind of “original virtue” is literally “manliness” — what a vir “man” ideally accomplishes that makes him worthy to be called vir — to de-gender it, “what humans do at their best.”  And what’s “best”?  That which accords with the Way, the Tao or pattern of the universe.

Updated: 7 July 2014

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

Grow Where You’re (Not) Planted   Leave a comment

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.

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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.

Silence and Discovery   Leave a comment

My wife has a designated daily mid-afternoon contemplation period at 2:00 pm.  “I made a commitment,” she reminded me again this morning, when we were planning the day and I sweetly noted that her set time conflicted with other tasks that needed doing. While another time would probably serve her better (read “be less inconvenient for the people who live with her”!), I respected her response, because I know how precious an established positive habit is in transforming my own life.

One of the first discoveries almost anyone makes who sets out on a path of spiritual exploration is the apparent initial state of our individual inner worlds.  If you make room for some down-time to relax and grab your recommended minimum daily requirement of silence and commune with yourself, you frequently get brought up short:

After an amazingly short time you will most likely feel bored.  This teaches us one very useful thing.  It gives us insight into the fact that if after ten minutes of being alone with ourselves we feel like that, it is no wonder that others should feel equally bored [with us]! (68)

These words* by Orthodox Christian monk, bishop, writer and spiritual director Anthony Bloom (1914-2003) strike home, for me at least.  While boredom is a particularly American problem, it’s not unique to us.  Others know it, but with our incessant desire for entertainment and stimulation, to be bored is the prime cause that drives us toward whatever is new.  Even information about recent events we don’t yet know about, information which in a different world might actually be more useful to us, is called simply “news.”  “What’s new?” we ask.  Think about what really is “new.”  Are you finding it at 6:00 pm nightly on your media source of choice?

Bloom continues his examination of boredom and the challenges of “inwardness” and stillness:

Why is this so?  It is because we have so little to offer to our own selves as food for thought, for emotion and for life.  If you watch your life carefully you will discover quite soon that we hardly ever live from within outwards; instead we respond to incitement, to excitement.  In other words, we live by reflection, by reaction.  Something happens and we respond, someone speaks and we answer.  But when we are left without anything that stimulates us to think, speak or act, we realize that there is very little in us that will prompt us to action in any direction at all.  This is really a very dramatic discovery.  We are completely empty, we do not act from within ourselves but accept as our life a life which is actually fed in from outside; we are used to things happening which compel us to do other things.  How seldom can we live simply by means of the depth and the richness we assume that there is within ourselves. (68)

Bloom doesn’t exaggerate about that emptiness in us, and yet of course there are indeed wonderful riches inside us all, just as we suspected.  The difficulty I face in accessing them measures out for me how outward-directed I have become.  How much I have to dig to regain one darkly shining edge of those inner worlds shows me where I have work cut out for me.  (And that itself has become one of my spiritual exercises, rather than wasting time feeling guilty or making unlikely resolutions to do better.  When you can’t do anything else, do laundry, or dishes. You’ll get something done that needs doing, ground yourself with a physical act, feel better about how you spent your minutes, and even carve out another space where you realize you can be both meditative and “productive” at the same time.)

As with so many things, balance is priceless.  For everything else there may not necessarily be a spiritual MasterCard at hand, but you get the idea.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (here and here, among others), the challenge of becoming cause in our lives, of living consciously and with intention, is a prime Druid discipline, as it is in almost every spiritual tradition in some form.

Bloom points out an opposite trap we can also fall into.  Now that you’ve given yourself the delicious gift of downtime and reflection or meditation or contemplation, whatever you prefer to name it, “you will not be pulled out of it by the telephone, by a knock on the door, or by a sudden upsurge of energy that prompts you to do at once what you have left undone for the past ten years.”  And you make another find, when “you discover that the world does not falter and that the whole world — if you can imagine it — can wait for five minutes while you are not busy with it.  This is important, because we usually deceive ourselves, saying, ‘Well, I must do it: it is charity, it is duty, I cannot leave it undone.’  You can, because in moments of sheer laziness you will leave it undone for much longer than the five minutes you have chosen” (86-87).

Then at length the gifts of silence and inner discovery begin to open up.  But the less I say about them here, the better.  You already know what they are, from those rare precious moments when they already manifested to you.  What is fleeting can eventually become an atmosphere that accompanies you and cloaks you.  Such deep silence rings with a powerful intensity.  If you’re fortunate, you’ve met someone who radiates this as a living presence.  As the Bhagavad Gita says, “Even a little practice will free you …”

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*Bloom, Anthony.  Beginning to Pray.  Ramsey, NJ:  Paulist Press, 1970.

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Updated 4:31 pm 7/24/12

Dirty Words, Green Thoughts   Leave a comment

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 www.safecleanreliable.com) 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.”

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