Archive for the ‘spiritual practice’ Category

13 Things that Make a Druid   5 comments

“What makes a Druid a Druid?”, asked a recent post to a Druid Facebook group I follow. The question, and the responses that followed, are both wonderfully instructive. I’ve distilled a large number of comments into thirteen ways of addressing the question. Below are the condensed originals, along with my indented comments.

1) A sickle, a white robe and a beard. What else?

This is one popular image, which we can trace to the Roman historian Pliny (link to short excerpt from his Natural History). Though it ignores the reality of female Druids in both the past and present, it does show that rather than a set of beliefs, Druidry suggests a set of tools that one uses in roles that Druids fulfill. In this case, harvesting the sacred mistletoe from the oak.

Ellen Evert Hopman likes to point out that white is really impractical — it shows dirt. Some of the oldest surviving Irish Druid materials talk about certain colours and patterns of cloth set aside for Druids — but not white. Wearing white stems partly from the influence of Pliny and partly from practices of the Druid Revival of the 1700s and onward.

2) A desire to seek knowledge regardless of belief or faith, a desire to keep that knowledge safe and a desire to share that knowledge with those able to understand it.

A good first draft of a Triad: “Three desires of the Druid: to seek knowledge, to preserve it, and to share it with others”. But many of us linger in desire without ever bringing it into manifestation. Desire alone won’t make a Druid.

3) Knowing when to put the kettle on.

Though it’s another piece of humour, timing of course matters deeply, and the “trick” of “catching the moment” reveals a great deal. Alertness to the hints the world is constantly giving us can guide our days. Likewise, obliviousness to such nudges and intuitions simply means our lives will be that much harder and less joyful. Nature so often is our first teacher.

The 21st century and most of its challenges reflect how often we’ve missed catching the moment and willfully ignored the many hints coming our way. Now we’re simply going to learn the hard way for the next few centuries. Neither Apocalypse nor Singularity, damnation or salvation: but a good deal more schooling in what we didn’t bother to learn the first few times round.

4) Initiation.

As a one-word answer, “initiation” points us in an important direction. But what we think it is, where and how we seek it, and what we do with it once we “have” it — those are places we can trip up.

As one commenter noted, “a Druid isn’t a ‘what’ – it’s not a thing to be initiated into. A Druid is what you are – you can be initiated into Druidry, but that doesn’t make you a Druid”.

Though, as another commenter observes, “self-initiation is a thing”, we are never alone: spirit, spirits, the ancestors, animal presences all participate in both “self” and group initiations.

In a larger sense, too, “initiation” happens to everyone. Life itself initiates us, through love, suffering, birth, death, the seasons. In that sense, we’re all “Druids in training”. Some opt to work with such energies more consciously and deliberately.

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The Morrigan personifies the challenges that prove and test us all. Photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty.

5) Membership in an Order.

For many — and it can be a valuable step — what “makes a Druid” is membership in an Order. The path of the Solitary means doing preliminary training on one’s own, and the requisite patience and listening and discipline of the Solitary aren’t for everyone as a starting point. Solitary work can feel trackless at times — how do I know where to focus? How do I assess my efforts? An Order can lay out for us its set of answers to such questions. However, to do more than merely “belong” or “be a member” — to grow into Druidry — still requires that same patience and listening and discipline which the Solitary practices.

6) Doing the necessary work.

As a commenter says, “Whether as a solitary or as a member of an order, WORK is required. Otherwise, to call oneself a Druid is meaningless”.

7) Study, reverence, work in nature, and commitment.

For most Druids I know, one or more of these may flag at times. It’s unavoidable. Jobs, relationships, changing health and life circumstances all demand much of us. Returning again and again to pick up the work is what “makes a Druid”.

“Persistence …” says one of the Wise. “Is not this our greatest practice?”

8) Alternative answer: you have to be able to summon a unicorn or a dragon. You can also grow a tree that grows/attracts its own dryad.

Again, though a bit of humour, these answers point to Druidry as something people do rather than something they merely believe.

9) Living in honourable relationship with nature, the Gods and the tribe. (And the evidence that we’re doing this?) The ability to model and teach all of that.

10) There is a special badge you get that says “I’m a Druid” on it …

Ask a silly question …

If you’ve been at some Druid or Pagan events, you may on occasion have wondered whether it’s the bling that makes the Druid. Fortunately, no.

Theme for meditation: what says “I’m a Druid” to the non-human world around us?

11) Practice, experience, and listening.

Another good Triad to take into meditation. Each of the three informs and feeds the other two. What am I listening to? Is it nourishing the deepest part of me? If not … What have I learned from experience? How can that shape my practice? Does either practice or experience show me new things to listen for? What is teaching and guiding me today, right now? What is my next step?

12) 19 years of study … at least for the ancient Druids.

As others have pointed out, the dozen or more years of modern education most of us undertake account for a chunk of those 19 years, but by no means fulfill or equal all of them. A Druid who persists on the path finds in the end that those symbolic 19 years cover just the “introductory material” anyway …

13) You are a Druid when your community says you are — fulfilling the role.

This presents a paradox of sorts. It means I practice and work on fulfilling the role, though recognition may or may not come right away — or ever. But that’s not why I’m practicing. I’m not a Druid until I possess that inherent authority of experience that others recognize, yet I won’t possess that authority or experience unless I practice despite all lack of recognition. My indifference to such recognition as I practice is often a more sure way than any other to attain it.

One advantage of membership in an Order is that the community of members will come to recognize this authority. People will begin to turn to a wise and compassionate Bard, even though others who’ve completed the “higher” grades may also be present.

Another commenter reflects: “Because being a Druid is defined by function, it’s not something you can be in isolation. You can train as a teacher, and maybe even qualify. You can call yourself a teacher. But you are not in reality a teacher until you have taught someone, just as you are only a healer if you have healed someone. You are only a Druid if you carry out the role of a Druid”.

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La Vie en Vert: Life Greens   Leave a comment

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On an overcast, mild and rainy day, the stones of our backyard firepit emerge at last from the retreating snow.  No thing exists “entire of itself” or for itself only. It also touches things around it, making and meaning for them a whole range of significances. For the moles in the lower yard, warming weather soaks the earth with snowmelt, and that means flooded burrows. For the deer who’ve survived the New England winter, fresh browse as the grass greens again under the strengthening sun, with the tender shoots of new growth burgeoning everywhere. For the returning birds, nesting material, the first bugs, and surfacing worms.

One of the core teachings explains that the macrocosm (literally ‘the great universe,’ the universe around us) and the microcosm (the ‘little universe,’ the universe within us) are mirror images of each other.

Thus, we can look to the world of nature around us for help in understanding our own nature, recognizing that if a theory about the nature of the universe proves to be a mistake when tested against the world around us, it will also prove to be a mistake when applied to the world within us (Greer, J. M. Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, pg. 15).

Inner turmoil, strange dreams I can recall only fragments of on waking, a sense of being reminded of — and held to — a standard I agreed to long ago. A sense of being on the cusp of some ordination, relied on for a spiritual responsibility. “Ready or not, here I come”, says Spirit.

“Every human being is already a priest”, says John Plummer in his book Living Mysteries,

in a very primal sense. We stand between earth and sky, like pillars in an ever-moving temple. We find ourselves within and among other humans and many other orders of being (stones, plants, animals, elementals, angels, etc.) with energies flowing back and forth, consciously and not … Our outer personalities mediate the sacred presence at the core of our being, more or less well. We are all points in an extraordinarily complex web, through which divine power moves. That power … is much greater than us, and not particularly concerned about whether we understand how it is working, at any given moment (pg. 13).

Whether baptized or called by the spirits, pursued and confronted by an animal guardian, taught in dreams, initiated through suffering or illness or other trauma into a spiritual quest, roused by the shakti of a guru or the accumulated potency of intensive meditation, ignited by our own unanswered questions and a divine discontent, or turned off all spirituality by its many fakes and shams into a formidable and rationalistic atheism, we are called.

Plummer continues:

… we cannot turn our back on it. If we try, it will come knocking louder and louder, until we re-open the door. We have to feed it from our own substance, letting it grow through us, and then hand it forward to those who come after us, whoever they may be. To fail to transmit what we have received is to dam a stream until it becomes a stagnant pond, rather than free-flowing, clear water (pg. 15).

And so we come to this weekend, both April Fools’ Day and Easter, that lovely Pagan celebration — after all, it does take place on the first day of the Sun, after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox — a true Pagan Triad of Light.

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Gulf Coast Gathering ’17, Live Oak canopy

Water and Light, and the holy Trees as witnesses.

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Greer, J. M. (2012). Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology. Weiser Books.

Plummer, John. (2006). Living Mysteries: a Practice Handbook for the Independent Priest. Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press.

Eleven Strands of Educational & Life Philosophy   Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Cabin Fever and Creativity   Leave a comment

“It’s a good thing to give thanks, whatever your tradition, or none. So we’ll have a moment of quiet. Simply listen, if you  like, to the others near you, breathing”, says the pastor opening last night’s community dinner.

One of the joys of rural New England life is the Cabin Fever dinner tradition. These early spring events are a true “moveable feast” — held in churches, cafeterias, grange halls, schools — sometime in March or April, anywhere there’s a willing core of people dedicated to making community happen. Neighbors get called together from the more private hunkering down we all do each winter, watching wood-piles diminish, the inevitable March storms re-establish banks of snow that had been shrinking after the midwinter thaw, squinting at sky and trees, feeling the light linger a few minutes more at either end of day, scolded by the indomitable chickadees, uplifted at the distant honking of a flock of geese winging north again, at long last.

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We’re crammed, atheist and Pagan, Christian and agnostic, Jew and animist, into the sanctuary of the local Congregational Church for the 13th spring in a row — a lunar year of springs. Tables and chairs from a local high school have been set up, filling the space to the stairwell. There are no pews. After the original church burned down years ago, our community vowed to rebuild a maximally flexible space, church and community center both.

Our local Cabin Fever dinner draws attendees from half a dozen nearby towns, in part because the pastor’s husband is a trained master chef who volunteers his skills for each year’s feast, but also because of the tradition of storytelling that proceeds throughout the dinner, as neighbors rise, take the microphone — there are over 200 of us here this evening, and for the first time the pastor had to turn away a few score later-comers — intermittently interrupt conversations, and regale us with stories of the quirks and humors of country living, encounters with moose and fisher cats, chimney fires, deaths and births, lost cows and sheep, found dogs and children.

The evening opens and ends with announcements, car lights left on, alerts that the bears have begun to emerge again from hibernation, hungry and ill-humored as always, that the Green Team meeting has been moved to Friday afternoons, that tryouts for the world music chorus will take place the following Saturday.

A few of us scurry to the basement kitchen after the announcement that packaged leftovers are available for an open donation. We leave with two cartons of roasted vegetables for the next day’s lunch.

Here is our prayer and our praise, our magic and our offering: we manage to come together again, we learn anew that it’s worth listening to each other for the sad-funny turns life takes us all on, that we can recognize in each other, for all the differences of temperament and history and desire, a common table, light and talk and laughter into a cold spring evening.

There’s been no preaching or teaching, only what we bring to each other out of our lives and stories, the best kind, lived last month, yesterday, in the parking lot before coming in.

With such things we do not solve or resolve, so much as we celebrate as we struggle. We sing as we go on.

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“I’m doing Druidry wrong”   Leave a comment

Have you seen them? The ridiculous (to my mind, anyway) articles, often partial advertisements or product placements, that purport to instruct the reader.  They arrive in a simple format, usually with the same clear lead: “You’re doing X wrong”.

(I strive to avoid yielding my attention, as much as possible, to things that can’t instruct me, however I may initially feel about them. So let’s see what we can gain here, for I would exploit all things that seek to manipulate me, and wring from them something both needful and utile. You know: just to turn them back on themselves, and fulfill my part in manifesting the ancient wisdom that says all thing work together for good for those that love. Because, to exploit another more recent piece of wisdom, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end”*. We are, after all, actors in a 10 billion-year-old play. Just gotta get through this particular scene. Find your character’s mark, don’t bump into the furniture, deliver your lines with feeling. Ah, there now.)

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Public? private? Is there a difference, if both need clearing?

Now it may be Americans in particular who are susceptible to this form of social insecurity — wanting desperately to fit in, do the right thing (wear and drive and own and think the right things), be hip, be au courant, woke, and all the other necessary adjustments that our national Puritanism tells us are necessary for secular salvation. And so perhaps only Americans are doing our planetary Druidry wrong. Or not.

(Anyone outside the petri dish-circus-nuclear meltdown-barbecue that is America can spot a number of necessary adjustments Americans should be making for our own good and the good of the planet, but which we somehow inexplicably and wilfully ignore, but that’s another matter. We all have our own to-do lists.)

If there was money in it, somebody somewhere would be telling me I’m doing Druidry wrong.

And I am. Because all that means is I’m not doing me precisely like you’re doing you.

The tree-wisdom that is Druidry means living our lives on earth, in these earth-bodies, whatever else may be going on with us, whatever other realms we inhabit. All we can do is go with what we get — through the senses and training and experience, memory and genetics, personality and character, hints and clues and dreams, the nudges and examples of friends who wish us well, inner and outer gods and neighbors, animals and the blessed trees.

Quite a package. When we say we don’t know what to do, how to choose, what matters, how to go on, it’s not for lack of choices and possibilities, but from a super-abundance. And no clue, key or compass ready to hand.

So when I say I’m doing Druidry wrong, I mean by that what Thoreau says (pronouns expanded): “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 their own ways, and not their father’s or their mother’s or their neighbor’s instead”.

That is, I ignore or defy peer pressure (insofar as I can) where it really matters — not in the obvious outward ways of young people discovering for the first time what it means to have a self, choosing hair or makeup or clothing or other faddishness at odds with arbitrary norms that superficially reassure us all is well, that the walls are secure, that wakeful sentries guard the gates. Not outwardly but inwardly I wander and marvel, where as yet the Thought Police do not patrol. (Though cookies and bots, Google and Amazon are scratching at the windows.)

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What cookies have I swallowed whole lately?

It’s because we do not trust each other to “be very careful to find out and pursue their own ways, and not their father’s or their mother’s or their neighbor’s instead” that we feel we must lay out tracks and paths for all, lest the heedless deeds of a few bring down the whole ramshackle scaffold that passes for civilization. And the few are never us but always Somebody Else. Until the trees finally reach me and teach me differently.

Ya gotta go wrong to go right.

“You gotta get in to get out”, Genesis sings in “The Carpet Crawlers”.

“The only way out is through”, says Robert Frost in “A Servant to Servants“.

outbackstAh, Outback Steakhouse, guru of the moment, with its tag “No rules, just right” — there’s a form of my own credo: that somehow, in the spiritual Outback we’re each exploring, I suspect there’s a path that’s right, apart from (other’s) rules, one for each of us. My evidence: we’re all walking our own paths anyway, in case you haven’t noticed.

Something of what all this can mean in turn I’ll be addressing in the next post.

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*The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, 2011.

Images: cookies picture by Kimberly Vardeman; Outback Steakhouse tagline.

Walking Your Walk   Leave a comment

“There’s nothing new under the sun” — traditional proverb.

But under the moon …

In Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional, the lunar meditation for Imbolc for this day is “Your Spiritual Quest Thus Far”. Rather than trying to assess how well I’m growing (what measures would I use?), or where my weaknesses lie (how often have you benefited from focusing on your shortcomings?), this meditation asks for something different: How’s my quest going?

It’s a great question, and it can be a tough one to answer adequately. If you’ve been on a quest for any length of time, you’ve noticed its quality has changed. As I grow, what I notice and look for and value will grow and shift as well. Maybe you’ve always sought the same thing, being the unswervingly upright, single-minded, and clear-eyed quester that you are, but I’d suspect the whole shebang (a profoundly scientific term) if my path didn’t reveal new vistas and challenges as I travelled along it.

Because I walk two different paths (though my suspicions just keep deepening that they’re really versions of the same journey, if only because they steal images, teachers, symbols, dreams, and everything else from each other) — because I walk two paths, as I’ve mentioned, the question feels particularly useful.

When I’m in doubt, I ask questions in turn. So is there anything I even idly imagine, let alone seriously think, would be more fulfilling and worthwhile? Because daydreams and fantasies are telling. Repressed material surfaces, seemingly random wishes and desires take form, and I can learn surreptitiously from what hasn’t yet stood careful scrutiny. I just have to be careful not to scare it off, timid woodland creature that it often is.

I let a delicious laziness steal up on me and cradle me for a moment, and imagine no need to take up a spiritual quest. I have friends, after all, who live their lives untroubled by the questions and practices and experiences that fill my days. They look at me as the odd man out. Perhaps, to judge by the great masses of my compatriots, they’re right.

Of course, I counter with the observation that the suffering I perceive in the lives of so many of my countrymen, to say nothing of anyone elsewhere in the world, in spite of the supposed luxuries of American life and its vast consumption of resources, is a clear symptom of spiritual hollowness, so it turns out we’re all on quest for something. Since the widespread perception in the West is of decline rather than improvement, an inkling of something rotten in Denmark, and D.C., of a gnawing sensation of something gone or going wrong, I venture to assert that numbing my doubts and unhappinesses with an even bigger gulp of more of the things frantic advertisers want me to buy won’t take away the pain. If there’s ever a Been-There-Done-That moment, then endless and mindless consumption surely qualifies.

So, to answer my own question, is there anything that calls to me, that proposes itself in place of the current spiritual quest I engage in?

Sure: going back to sleep. Blissful, untroubled slumber. Sleep is the theme of much social media — especially dreaming someone else’s dream (nightmare), less complicated than my own, or — sometimes — dreaming nothing at all. Letting myself be anesthetized by a waiting troupe of ready diversions — endless music and video-on-demand, newly-legal weed, endless waves of porn, another no-money-down adventure, the new-and-improved life that American society always dangles just beyond my cash-strapped nose. Even spirituality has been boxed, buffed, polished and marketed to the discerning (clueless) consumer: for a (hefty) price, you too can enjoy enlightenment in a weekend workshop, or a crash course of empowerments, blessings, trainings, practices, etc. God, nirvana, orgasm, all just a phone call and credit card away. Don’t believe in magic? Why would you? We’re already bespelled, magicked, ensorcelled, enchanted in a truly grim fairy tale, and it’s part of the spell to weaken our ability to detect its presence.

Is it any wonder so many people fast from social media, from advertising, from the Noise that strives to drown out our still small voices, those whispers of divine dissatisfaction that bless each of us and make the spiritual quest the best adventure of them all?

If you’re reading this blog, if you’ve initiated any kind of a spiritual quest at all, congratulations. You’ve already scored your first victory against distraction.

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Matthews, Caitlin. Celtic Devotional. Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2004.

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