Archive for the ‘spiritual practice’ Category

Seven Signposts Along Our Journeys   1 comment

philosophia_perennisDenise comments:

Wonderful series; I hope you’ll continue. I’m another square peg – endlessly resisting all attempts to assimilate, no matter where I wander. Somehow, I keep finding myself coming back to Christianity but not “that” Christianity, I say to myself – not the rigidly human-focused, hierarchical, be-a-good-girl version of my childhood. No, not that one but the magical, connected, generously giving version that was part of my childhood too – the one that did not exclude anyone or anything… I recognize glimpses of it in your writing and think Yes! That’s it! That’s it! What exactly is it though? I don’t really know yet but it’s worth the journey to find out.

From this and other recent comments, we can begin to suss out the kind of practice, experience and reconnection many of us are seeking. I’ll be drawing from Denise’s comment above a number of signposts, because in it she hits on a series of crucial aspects of a spiritual quest, Druid or otherwise. And because I’m a Druid blogger, I’m choosing and focusing on Seven Signposts we can identify there. I’ll launch each signpost with an excerpt from the comment:

“another square peg — resisting all attempts to assimilate”

We’re social beings, even the most formidably anti-social and hermit-like among us, predisposed to find a niche when we’re with others of our kind, like other intelligent and social mammals. So not feeling at home in our world can be a sometimes painful indicator that a spiritual journey is under way. Something’s shaken loose and ejected us from easy comfort with our situations and our social circles. It matches an inner resistance to the conventional niches on offer in our lives, if they don’t nourish and feed us as they should, as they used to, but no longer can.

glass-in-sun

So we shy away from sham spiritual landing pads, not trusting the footing they offer us. “I yearn to find where and how I fit, but I’ll be damned if I have to sell out to do so”, we seem to keep whispering to ourselves. A certain integrity deep inside us, one we instinctively hear and trust, warns us off the varied boxes, chains, handcuffs and cages we see around us, even as we can see the comfort they appear to bring to others. That makes it doubly hard to explain why we won’t join them in an adjoining cell. “If it works for them …” But it keeps on not working for us.

And in turn, this sense of not fitting in can often lead to …

“wander(ing)”

“Not all who wander are lost”, Tolkien reminds us, writing of the royal-heir-in-waiting Aragorn, but also of course of each of us — heirs like many mythic figures of more than meets our physical eyes. Lineage, heritage, ancestral bequest — it’s there. Or in 90s speak, “Exiled much?”

But the arms of our immense spiral journey can circle so widely, so far over the horizon, that we may have little sense of anything like a spiral at all, only of our wandering, our meandering, generally off the kind of track so many others around us seem to be following. (Though that, too, can be an illusion, given how good we are at “keeping up appearances” for each other.) At times, those same others may envy what they see in us as freedom, while not seeing the cost we keep paying. And we may envy the stable, settled, found-my-niche folks who envy us in turn, and for the same reason: dissatisfaction with The Way Things Are Now.

“keep finding myself coming back”

So we still face one of several paradoxes we’ve gotten to know far too well. Paired somewhat oddly with the previous meander, our wandering in out-of-the-way spaces and places intermittently offers that delicious sense of return. We can also feel like we’re circling around an inner shrine or ideal, even as we’re often barely half-aware it’s there. And if I notice a movement of return, it can often slip past, like one more part of my larger wanderings, which may not be comforting. Am I making any headway at all, or just circling the same dead-end? Is this zeroing in on something valid, or endlessly backtracking to something I’ve already tried and rejected?

And what is it that we’re coming back to? Often we can identify it as …

“magical, connected, generous”

We know these qualities because — somehow, somewhere — we’ve stood in the heart of such worlds, lands that feel more like home than home, places of wonder, communion, and flow. Or maybe we can pinpoint exactly when we experienced such realms, when we entered and when we left. In either case, yearning for them has at times consumed us, or still burns in the background as a steady low flame, a kind of pilot light of the spirit, alight through years or decades or — we may have a sense — through lifetimes.

Here at the midpoint, the fourth out of seven signposts, we stand where we’re going, we’ve arrived again where we’ve never been before, and other paradoxical ways of attempting to get into words the sense of …

“recogniz(ing) glimpses”

The haunting, beguiling, infuriating sense of recognition stalks us, not letting go. It’s both in us and outside, out front and behind, a kind of spiritual transfusion, a re-kindling, the light of a star for us “in dark places, when all other lights go out”, as Galadriel says to Frodo in Fellowship of the Ring. These archetypal, primal spiritual presences stand behind the varied forms of religions and cultures, never wholly removed from us, however dim our sight at the moment. They endure because we do, reaching us in ways we can perceive and understand, connect with, honor and revere, work with, pass on, adapt to our circumstances — but ideally not make a dogma out of, despite our best efforts to nail them down, clasp them in our hands, own them outright, box and sell them, fight and die for them. (Maybe instead I could live for them?!)

“No one comes to Spirit except through me”, to cite a “difficult” text of just one tradition, need not be a claim to religious exclusivity and spiritual imperialism: it can be a simple statement of spiritual reality. “If I want to get closer, I need to find the original, authentic me within”. Or if I ignore this counsel, I’ll come round the long way, better supplied the next time I meet up with a moment of spiritual reconnection with the acuity to sort wheat from chaff, gold from dross. A few more notches on my belt, scars on my face, tools for my need.

“There are two paths you can go by”, sing Led Zeppelin. “In the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on”. Yup, I’m in it for the long run. And a multitude of paths: we’re each on trails of our own, criss-crossing others, at times walking the main track, at others turning aside at a fork, a fallen tree across the way, a washed-out bridge over a chasm, a fiery guardian brandishing a cruel-looking scimitar.

“what exactly is it?”

“I’ll know it when I see it”. “It takes one to know one”. The melody we carry in our hearts will burst forth in the right circumstances, harmonizing with the First Song, the awen echoing in all things, the Word, the Bani, the Shabda, the Kalaam-i-Haqq, the Hu, the Voice of the Silence, and a thousand other names. In one sense the spiral we’re on never ends — we circle, always closer. In another sense, we’re the endpoint, we’re the spiral itself, and the spiritual quest can feel like chasing our own tails till we’re dizzy with it.

stained-glass-spiral

I take it as one measure of my place on the spiral whether my sense of “what exactly it is” happens to line up with others’ senses of it. If our sensibilities align, I know the gift of a way-station along my journey, and fellowship here. I may be able to work and grow with others, and find solace and companionship with them. If our senses don’t happen to line up just now, I walk solitary for a time. Familiar with both arms of the spiral, I try to honor where I am at the moment, and make the most of it. No judgment, no better-or-worse-than. Strive to honor the integrity of your own walk, counsel my guides and teachers.

“worth the journey”

In spite of everything, or because of it, we also carry an intimate sense that nothing else matters but this … whatever-it-is. Worth the journey, equal to and surpassing the pain, deserving our deepest dedication.

If, like me, you’ve “stepped away” on occasion, well, that too is a path, and will end up teaching more than the solitary person who walks it. We teach each other, most of all when no other teachers seem to paying attention to us, or we’re late to class, or we’ve lost the assignment, mislaid the text, dropped out, failed, skipped town, run off with a comely classmate to parts unknown. All our oldest tales tell of something similar. We’re in good company along the road.

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We keep listening because we keep hearing hints. We keep looking because of what we’ve already seen. We walk across the darkened chamber because we have a sense of where at least some of the furniture looms, where a door behind this cabinet opens onto a realm of light.

The wisdom and practices of Christianity and Druidry together amplify each other, and for those who find resonance and insight in that happy confluence, a few more posts on the subject are in order.

And then it will be Spring Equinox — Autumn Down Under — and this old world will continue to knock in our bones and drum in our blood, while the spirit in us burns bright or dull, according to the myriad paths we traverse.

May Friend and Flame, Word and Melody light and cheer you as you go.

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IMAGES: Pexels.com

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Building from the Center Outwards   2 comments

You hear a lot about “top-down” and “bottom-up” initiatives. Start from the grass-roots. Or identify good leaders and let the growth come from their inspired guidance through hard times. But I’d claim that most of our best ventures build and grow from the center outwards. We’re all involved in this kind of initiative, and as a result we instinctively know what to do, even if we tell ourselves — or others have convinced us — otherwise. So the center is a good place to start.

Whether it’s an embryo, a crystal, a sapling, a story idea, a garden, a relationship, a ritual, a company or a nation, there’s a core, a center from which energy, ideas, blood all flow. This center — and this is an important key — also replicates itself everywhere, establishing new centers of activity and growth. Some — many — are within us. A tree sends out roots, plants send out runners, healing occurs and spreads from re-energized tissues and bones, and human nudges and hunches and gut feelings point us toward inner and outward changes. All living things seed themselves, passing on their dynamic potential to another generation, on multiple levels.

Druid attention to the ancestors, if it’s prudent, never seeks to excuse poor choices, bad parenting, or painful and difficult legacies passed down through generations. Each living thing is awash in a sea of tendencies that pair up with inherent directions and characteristics in its environment. I won’t ever have the body or metabolism of a long-distance runner, but that’s not really the issue: I can keep the body I do have as fit as possible, starting from the center of where I already live each day. The small daily changes I make are ones I’m more likely to stick with, even as the small changes my body makes as it ages prompt me, if I’m paying attention, to make adjustments for strength, endurance, energy and so on. Then when larger shifts and changes occur, I can better adapt to them. The same holds true for my inner bodies, emotion and thought and vision, memory and intuition.

Partly this comes out of practice with the small changes first, and partly out of stores and reserves put in place by going with the flow rather than fighting every single direction that living in a physical realm urges on us all. Electric cars coast downhill and save energy for the next climb. Hibernating species store up resources against the hard times. So, if I’m paying attention, can I, both physically and spiritually, prepare myself for each turn of the spiral. The “how” becomes part of my practice, if I let it, and the next challenge I face becomes my chance at re-calibration. Quite simply, is it working? Even to ask that question at all opens many doors.

Out of our sometimes violent human history and its consequent long conditioning, we may fall back on military metaphors, which don’t always yield the optimal mindset. You have to pick your battles, we say. No general wins on every front. More helpful is a range of metaphors, a rich gathering of stories to tell and learn from.

woodland path

If it seems that spiritual 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, studied them, plumbed their potentials. And humans have always chosen either to disregard them or to work consciously with them. Intention is powerful. Animals largely follow an instinctive path. Humans have wider choices. Conscious and creative cooperation with the spiritual principles of existence is a powerful key to our individual human fulfillment.  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.

As we become ancestors ourselves to our descendants of blood and spirit, passing along this “connective tissue” of life-giving thoughts and actions to succeeding generations, that’s one deep way to repay the gifts we’ve been given. It will then be their task to choose what works best for them, to honor and build on what they’ve received, and add their own stamp and color and flavor to the lives they live.

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Image: Pexels.com.

 

Grail 5: Some Assembly Required   Leave a comment

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

ONE

To recap: I rely on sacred sound, on awen, as my first and go-to practice. (Let’s call it East for now, since I need air to sing it.) Without the daily retuning it affords me, I find “all bets are off”. It clears the way, keeps me facing my own best interest more of the time, inspires me, keeps the creative stream flowing, helps me with compassion for others going their ways. In short, I like myself better when a sacred melody is my heartsong. Life flows more smoothly.

Some personal assembly is required for the “spiritual components” I’ve mentioned in this series. I can’t force a flower to open. What I do needs to flow from me gratefully, gracefully, as if I let myself out of a cage I didn’t know barred me from wider, richer experience. I may stand at the door a little dazed at first, but then the world outside the bars invites me. Spirituality offers a series of recipes. I don’t need to make and live on bread alone, or just green curries, but practice means I’ll improve on what I’ve started already. For what it’s worth, consider: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one thing well”. (When you fully understand that, you can explain it to me!)

Or to paraphrase what I remind myself: The awen is already flowing in your life. Find out where!

If you want a poem version of the reminder, try Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”. Yup, awen coming thru: “your imagination calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting, over and over announcing your place in the family of things”.

TWO

grail_king_pelles_daughter

Elaine of Corbenic*, King Pelles’ daughter, bearing the Sancgraal/Frederick Sandys, 1861

The Elements, part of my “family of things”. Water, and West. Grail — Cauldron — Feminine Principle — Goddess — Virgin Mary — Yang and Yin together again. Octave, door, spiral key. Working with the Grail bears similarities to a form, like a kata in martial arts. Alone, it may not seem like much. As part of a path, a spiritual choreography, it opens out into unexpected country.

How I assemble, and what parts I choose, that becomes my practice.

I have a lovely blue-green vase given to me by a former student. It sits on a shelf, and needs dusting from time to time, especially after the winter season with ash from the woodstove. I also eat from a commonplace bowl that’s gotten chipped from wear, and lives part of its life submerged in soapy water along with all the other dishes I’m washing. Both are forms of the Grail. One sees daily use. The other looks pretty. Sometimes I feel a Grail in my heart, a divine space of possibility. The Grail is my heart, is everybody’s heart — our hearts together form the Grail.

sangreal-elaine

Another image of Elaine, by Arthur Rackham, 1917.

Seen from one side (the Grail has no sides), I’m on a Grail Quest. Seen from the other side, the Grail is the first thing I started out with, or that started out with me, as I tagged along childlike. It gave me away to the world (a way to all the worlds), knowing I’d always come back.

[*Elaine of Corbenic, the Grail Maiden of Arthurian legend, is the mother of Galahad with Lancelot.]

THREE

Earth, north. I sit gingerly at the keyboard, easing my back where I pulled a muscle yesterday on our icy driveway, carrying in an armful of firewood and nearly falling, catching myself with a wrench. Boar snorts at my shoulder, saying you know what to do. I reach to touch his bristles, reminding myself to relax, to shift, rock, ease the muscles from sitting too long in one posture. I stand up to look out the window at blue twilight on the snow, and stretch.

Grounding what I experience is key to bringing its use fully into my worlds. I practice this, writing, embodying shapes I’ve seen in vision, drawing (badly) the sword from yesterday. Though sword is east, it’s also undeniably a physical object — north, steel, mined from earth. Holding it, even in imagination, I ground the experience further. Holding a piece of metal or wood in my hand as a ritual equivalent, feeling its solidity and inertia, I ground further. Grail-in-all-things, goddess-in-all-things.

FOUR

Fire, south. Sun each day, moon each month, two great spirals for practice, a daily sun salutation, surya namaskar. A monthly moon meditation. Knight connects a version of this rhythm to polarity working with the Grail, too. Two ritual-contemplation questions arising in meditation today: “What is the sun of the moon? What is the moon of the sun?” I don’t need to understand everything before it becomes part of me. In fact, with much that I value deeply, like my wife, my marriage, understanding happens only after it has become part of me, and I of it, not before.

FIVE

First star tonight in the eastern sky tonight, Grail-star. Quintessence. Yes, earth my body, water my blood, air my breath, fire my spirit — so the old Pagan song instructs me. But spirit-greater-than-fire is here — spirit the essence of all four, and more, pouring inexhaustibly from the Grail across the cosmos.

With my forefinger I trace a pentagram in the twilight sky in the Seven Directions, another form I use: four quarters, zenith above, nadir below and center.

For the good of all beings, for the good of the whole, for the good of each one, may it be so.

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IMAGES: Elaine by Sandys; Elaine by Rackham.

Grail 3: Part of the Rest of a Story   Leave a comment

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

And you might think after that last post, theres nothing more I can add to the subject. I boxed myself in with a few home truths. You make your own path by walking it. Done. QED. End of story. Except …

dockmt

One quality of a valid path is that it rewards the walking of it. Its not valid merely because somebody else says so. The only authority worth recognizing is ultimately the truth we each sense within, in the doing of it. (Good parenting means in part supplying the rudiments of crap detection to our children. Pass along even the minimum we picked up over some decades of living, then, when the time is right, let them risk burning their own fingers, if they must, while we stand by with first aid.)

In some places this capacity for judgment used to be called critical thinking, and for past generations, inner resources. In many places we seem to have abandoned them. If we havent already refined that organ of good sense so that it serves us reasonably well, wherever and whatever it is, we can begin work right there. Life will, quite ruthlessly and uninvited, lend a firm hand.

As Ernest Hemingway once quipped, when asked what was needed, before anything else, to succeed at writing: “a built-in, shock-proof, crap detector”. One reason this tool matters so deeply, and in wider fields, is this: “At any given time, the chief source of bullshit with which you have to contend is yourself”. (This corollary to Hemingway comes from Neil Postman’s invaluable classic essay, “Bullshit and the Art of Crap Detection”, available online here.)

And Postmans corollary also means knowing when to turn off the crap detector, consciously and intentionally, for purposes you choose. And the reason for this is significant:

“Each man’s crap-detector is embedded in his value system; if you want to teach the art of crap-detecting, you must help students become aware of their values”.

[Postman is talking to English teachers in this lecture/essay; he’s also talking before our current heightened sensitivity to pronouns, so cut him some slack if his wisdom outweighs his sexism for you.]

A pause here to regroup and reconnoiter:

  • my single most useful tool is a crap-detector;
  • its default target, when no others present themselves, is me;
  • my use of a crap-detector is an art;
  • and if I hope to learn how to use mine well, I need to know what matters deeply to me, because that’s where both my values and my crap live.

Where’s the Grail in all this, again? Bear with me. You’re here, if you’re following my promise in the first post in this series, to discover something about my way. Yours will, by the fact of your irreducible uniqueness, be different from mine, but also similar enough you may take away something useful.

Now you may already know all this — or think you do. In which case, write your own book, or run that weekend workshop, and tell us how it’s done (AKA how you do it). Apart from privileging your crap over mine, and separating me from some of my money in the process, I doubt you’ll be ahead in the end. I might be, if the experience helps me refine my crap detector.) The best things in life may, unlike your workshop, truly be free, but I work the hardest for them. But that way, oddly enough, I discover they’re splendidly my own, in a way yours can never be. They cost something far more valuable than money. They’re “free” in another sense because that’s what they make me. So: catch you on another rung of the spiral.

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ace-cups-tarot

a Grail image

As a form, a container for energies and aspirations, the Grail earns my respect. (It passes my crap detector.) As an object for contemplation and visualization, together with regular practice of the cauldron sound I’ve described, I’ve begun to learn what matters to me, which is partly to say what works for me, what kindles me, what echoes in my bones, what seeks me out because it’s mine, and what I belong to in ways I’m still discovering. The Grail can be a passport to our native country. With it, I can go home again.

And as always, I try to heed the best bards. T. S. Eliot says in his “Four Quartets” (a vastly superior poem, in my arrogant opinion, to “The Waste Land” because I come away from it better equipped for joyful growth): “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. Grail is perennially “first time” in its power to renew and heal, and in that way it’s a virgin experience. Spiritual renewal and rebirth bears this signature quality.

Paradoxes, like those in the preceding paragraph, are for me a sign and signal of approaching four-dimensional truth. As a Wise One once said, the opposite of a superficial truth is a falsehood. But the opposite of a profound truth is, often, another profound truth.

True poets and bards, they recognize this by instinct, and (at least in their better moments) never try to own it, only to announce the strange good news to us all through their words and songs. And we may catch ourselves shivering in recognition, another sign. This awe-tinged joy sparking in us, this inner alertness and attention and focus, is another quality the Grail can mediate, a quality I’ve learned to recognize with my crap-detector, which yields and bows. (Of course I can and should turn it back on — later — to assess what and where and, on occasion, what next.)

Up next — Grail 4: Elements, Tools, Guides.

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IMAGES: Pexels.com.

Regarding public domain status of the Rider-Waite tarot: “In the United States, the deck fell into the public domain in 1966 (publication + 28 years + renewed 28 years), and thus has been available for use by American artists in numerous different media projects”.

Grail 1: Exploring the “Cauldron Sound” of Awen   Leave a comment

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

Image result for awenWant a good overview of the awen in the life of another Druid? Don’t just take my word for it. Read Druid-in-two-traditions Dana Driscoll’s account here. [I’ve written about it, among other times, here and here.]

Looking for the lost melody of your life? For that sense of spiritual freedom you may have touched as a child? For the heart-song that so often eludes us in the busy-ness of 21st century living?

If there’s such a thing as a “container” for the awen, beyond the bodies of all things, it’s the Celtic Cauldron, proto-grail, womb, goddess symbol, under- and other-world vessel, humming on the edges of our awareness. To participate in its sound is to begin to manifest some of its properties. Put myself in sympathetic vibration with it, and I discover its powers of transformation. It accomplishes change through vibration — no surprise, when we know that every atom of the cosmos vibrates at its own particular frequency. That’s also part of why every major spiritual tradition on the planet includes chant, song, mantra, spoken prayer. The whole thing sings. When the bard Taliesin exclaims in one of his poems, “The awen I sing, from the deep I bring it”, he points us toward the pervasiveness of awen, its habitation in the heart of things, its flow through us, both lesser and greater, as we sing, and bring.

Dana observes, “One of the most simple things to do is to invoke Awen regularly as part of your practice.”

A tangent. An article from a few days ago somewhat ruefully acknowledges that there’s actually a specific day — January 17 — when Americans see many of their New Year’s resolutions fail. (Your own culture, if you’re not a Yank, may exhibit lesser or greater persistence.) Since we seem to addicted to bad news these days, feel free to indulge here in some delicious negative thinking, if you wish. But then read closer: “Contrary to widespread public opinion, a considerable proportion of New Year resolutions do succeed,” notes a psychology professor in the article. Even at the 6-month point, according to studies, some 40% of resolutions — and their “resolvers” — stick with it. While the data pool may well need refining, still, that’s an astonishing figure. Better than the best baseball average. While “two outta three ain’t bad”, as the Meatloaf song tells us, even “one outta three” is pretty damn good, in so many human endeavors. And if you’ve read this blog for a while, you know my strategy for success with resolutions. Start so small that it’s next to impossible not to begin. “Oh, anyone can find 30 seconds a day”.

And this holds true with so many practices, spiritual or otherwise. A habit is simply an expression of equilibrium. The resistance to change is the resistance of all set-points and stasis and inertial systems — their first “response”, if we think of them for a moment as conscious beings, is to absorb the new thing rather than change on account of it. It’s a survival mechanism, after all, evolved over eons, to prevent dangerous over-reactions and hyper-compensations to what are often only temporary blips in the environment. We can’t afford to be thrown off by “every little thing”.

Why would this apply to something like the awen, a pervading cosmic sound and vibration? It’s already flowing through us, at a sustaining level, keeping us alive, the heart beating, the electrical system of the body sparking along. But upset that equilibrium unwittingly, kick the carefully calibrated network of bodily systems, and you risk the same thing rash occultists and yogis do when they raise the kundalini unprepared, force their way onto the astral plane too abruptly, shift the body’s and psyche’s equilibria by force of will, and then face all the unexpected consequences — illness, accident, poor judgment, disharmony — all the attendant symptoms of dis-ease, of a complex equilibrium under abrupt, too-rapid or even violent change.

So I begin small, and gradual, and see how it goes, if it’s worthwhile, if it adds to and builds on my life — as I already live it. This latter point is keenly important, I find. And I encourage you to try the awen, or — if you’re drawn elsewhere — its kin in other traditions. (Maybe one living near you: Om, Hu [link to an mp3 sound file], etc.) Give it a year of serious practice, and I will personally guarantee positive change, or your karma back. Other practices have their established value, but sacred sound is special.

The “rewards” of such a practice are not always easy to “calculate”. (Revealing that we even use such language). But practice, as you’ll discover, opens many doors we didn’t even know were there. As OBOD Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm notes,

Try opening to Awen not when it’s easy, but when it’s difficult: not when you can be still and nothing is disturbing you, but when there’s chaos around you, and life is far from easy. See if you can find Awen in those moments. It’s harder, much harder, but when you do, it’s like walking through a doorway in a grimy city street to discover a secret garden that has always been there – quiet and tranquil, an oasis of calm and beauty. One way to do this, is just to tell yourself gently “Stop!” Life can be so demanding, so entrancing, that it carries us away, and we get pulled off-centre. If we tell ourselves to stop for a moment, this gives us the opportunity to stop identifying with the drama around us, and to come back to a sense of ourselves, of the innate stillness within our being. And then, sometimes, we are rewarded with Awen at precisely this moment.

“The Holy Grail won’t go away” — and for very good reasons.

Next post: A Path, By Walking It.

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Year 7 at A Druid Way   Leave a comment

At the close of my seventh year with this blog, I’m devoting a post to taking stock.

First, thank-yous to everyone — nearly 10,000 of you this past year — who keep coming back to read, to ruminate, and to comment.  As I note on my About page, quoting Philip Carr-Gomm:

Just as the spiritual path can be characterised as the ongoing attempt to both remember yourself and forget yourself, so blogging can be seen as a challenge to both be more personal, more open, more sharing of the riches of a life and at the same time to take yourself less seriously, to let go of the concern about what other people might think about you, and to reveal rather than conceal your curiosity and amazement at the often crazy world you find yourself in.

As a spiritual practice, writing here keeps me turning over my experiences and perspectives — a good thing, I’ve found, for both consciousness and compost. This coming February 2019 I’ll join a panel of speakers with the rich topic of “Spiritual Lessons from Everyday Life”, and my time with this blog will definitely contribute. Human experiences have no “size” that I can determine, despite any labels we apply to them. Seemingly “small” ones deliver impacts that may not fully mature for years, while the splashier ones often fade quickly as dreams. You keep turning them over, turning them over, and good stuff emerges, which you know in retrospect mostly because it nourishes what will grow in the future. If I neglect this, soon all I have is a midden that smells, attracts pests, and I learn I’ve forfeited an opportunity for work that is real. Fortunately I can pick up the pitchfork and shovel at any moment and begin.

What other people bring to say, and how they respond to what I share here, seems to work much the same way. You learn it’s often not about you at all, whatever you thought. Each of us makes individual journeys so idiosyncratic and often difficult to get into words that what amazes me is we’re able to share anything at all. Or as I have occasion to exclaim to my wife, I’ve slowly learned that two things are simultaneously true, in the best traditions of paradox: that I’m nothing like other people, and that I’m exactly like other people — I’m an alien, or I’m your twin. This blog usually lands somewhere along that continuum.

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Three of the most popular posts this past year originate not from this year but from my 2017 “Druid and Christian Themes” series. This intersection of traditions still lights up for me, as it apparently does for a sizable proportion of readers. Otherwise, the only excuse I can offer for my choice of topics is also Thoreau’s: “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.” But beyond Transcendentalist Yankee Smart-assery, he makes a subtler point: go deep enough inside yourself and you will find things to say that resonate for others at least some of the time. The odds of this happening are about the same as for baseball, so an average of .300 is respectable indeed.

Looking a little further at the Druid-Christian intersection I recall how Philip Carr-Gomm notes in his book Druid Mysteries:

Although Christianity ostensibly superseded Druidry, in reality it contributed to its survival, and ultimately to its revival after more than a millennium of obscurity.  It did this in at least four ways:  it continued to make use of certain old sacred sites, such as holy wells; it adopted the festivals and the associated folklore of the pagan calendar; it recorded the tales of the Bards, which encoded the oral teachings of the Druids; and it allowed some of the old gods to live in the memory of the people by co-opting them into the Church as saints (p. 31).

Since I find I’m citing Carr-Gomm a lot in this post, I’ll end with one more observation by him that I find still most topical today, the 30th of December 2018:

One of the most important tasks that face us today is one of reconciliation, whether that be between differing political or religious positions … the Christian community, far from taking fright at a perceived regression to a pagan past, can ally itself with [Druidry] which is complementary, and not antagonistic to Christian ideals and ethics …

St. Columba said “Christ is my Druid” and I believe that if we take Druidry to represent that ancient wisdom which lies deep within us, and that can connect us once again to the Earth and her wonders, we can understand how we can be Christian Druids, Buddhist Druids or Druids of whatever hue or depth is needed for us at our present stage of development.

May we each find and recognize “whatever hue or depth is needed for us at our present stage of development”. Blessings of the coming New Year to you all.

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Invisible Essentials   Leave a comment

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

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

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

Without love in our lives, we die.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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