Archive for the ‘spiritual practice’ Category

Frequency-Matching for Love & Money   Leave a comment

“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want”  – Einstein.

Gandhi in that oft-deployed admonition “Be the change you wish to see in the world” urges me to see the power of accepting responsibility for what I want, and helping it first manifest, however tentatively, within me. But Einstein gives me an inkling — no more! — of how. I don’t even care if it’s a case of “do as I say, not as I do”. I read crazy old Albert’s words and they ring true for me, call me to extend their resonance into action, into practice to see what they’re worth. Because how else can I know?

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“Everything is energy …”

If you’ve read a number of my previous posts, you know by now it’s one of my ongoing obsessions to find out how others achieve what they do, and then, if I can possibly pull it off, to beg, adapt, borrow, or steal what I can from approaches, mindsets, techniques, strategies, work-arounds. (Oh, just give the old Druid a tool, already!)

Because belief, almost the sole technique on offer these days in the great monotheistic faiths, just ain’t enuf for me. (The spiritual riches of most traditions sadly lie ignored.) Or rather, it’s a powerful tool, but it needs material to work on, logic and motive as much as emotion.

We get another inkling of what matching frequencies can be like from human sexuality. The drive to mate and merge, instinctive in animals, can become more conscious in humans. (I say can. If you’ve approached such consciousness, you know the weight and force of that word can. How it slips away, how messed up and yet delighted we become in the presence of the “urge to merge”.)

A committed couple, the Judeo-Christian scriptures tell us, unites in a special way. Matthew (10:8) says, “… the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one …” If you’re reading this and you’ve known that particular blessing of unity, you get it. If even for a short interval, human sexual union gives us a direct experience of unity. It’s no surprise that we say we’re “in tune” with others, that we seek as well a wider “harmony”, that we long to be “in sync” — our languages mirror truth when they can, when we don’t muck about with them too much. (Ideologues and advertisers have much to answer for!)

So matching frequencies gets us “on the same wavelength”. We vibrate together, and with sympathetic vibrations each intensifies and reinforces the other. How to do this?

Mantra, sacred song, chant all aim for attunement. (All music aims to attune us to something. It just may or may not be a vibration in harmony with what I truly want. What does it help me manifest? What am I getting? What frequency have I matched? Where do I habitually vibrate?)

What is it about people and places that it just feels good to be around? What’s the quality that produces that comfort, that pleasure, that delight?

I want to tune myself in more consciously. That doesn’t mean I turn into some plastic saint, Druid or otherwise. It means in fact that if I want to express anger, I can do it consciously and responsibly, not passive-aggressively and unintentionally. I don’t need to summon into my life even more fallout from the random consequences of an already negative frequency buzzing in my head or heart. This, I know from hard experience and from looking almost everywhere at my fellow humans, is a core lesson.

I can take annoyance, irritation, and dump it through cranking a good headbanging song on speakers or headphones. Or do a ritual — ad hoc can be perfect — that lets me purge myself by dumping said negativity into an object I then bury in the earth. (Earth, take this from me. I transmute! says Earth.)

Or I do a quick visualization, one of my go-to’s, in fact: gathering my crap into a snowball and casting it into a river that sweeps it away and dissolves it. Gone. Even the turning of attention to such a visualization helps break an undesirable frequency, and guides me toward something that I initiate, not something thrown at me, dropped on me, spun within me. I become cause. Or at least, conscious effect.

Do these things, says my guide, and you open ways to fulfill your destinies. Because we all have more than one.

And if I remember to temper excitement at any new spiritual tool with useful clarity about the nature of the physical plane, and its inherent stability, I’ll learn to extend my practice to all planes, not just this one where change is — safely! — slow, most of the time.

Earth is a great laboratory for experimentation. Because then I won’t destroy every single new thing I mean to create, until I’ve learned my how through practice. And by then I’ll have seen how much more fluid the astral and other planes can be, how frequency-matching can be closer to instantaneous. How earth provides a useful counterweight to newbie mistakes and goofs. The ancestors, the gods, the spirits, the land — all help, all watch, all wait to be invited to the only adventure there is.

Part 2, in which I examine the time lag and solidity of Earth, coming soon.

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Moons of Spirit, Synonyms for God: Part 3   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

[Updated 7 June 2017]

9. How well does my spiritual interaction pass through the “Three Gates”?

This, I’ve slowly learned, is a great question to ask both before and after. In other words, any time.

As Matt Auryn notes in his original blogpost, “Rumi is credited with wisdom about three gates of speech. ‘Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: At the first gate, ask yourself “Is is true?” At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?” At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”‘”

These gates, I’ve found over the years, work splendidly as a guide for my spoken interactions and for any other kind, too. They also form a powerful Triad for making decisions.

I need to include myself in the Triad: is my speech, action or decision also true, needful and kind — to me? What about my thoughts? And my feelings?

Often, whatever I’m testing with the Triad, I can get two out of three. Often it’s true and necessary. But it’s not kind. Return, return. Start over.

Standards tighten, I’m discovering. It’s not necessary anymore merely to “do no harm”. Someone — god, ancestor, higher self (same, different?) demands more. As elastic beings, staying where we are almost guarantees that the past stretching we’ve suffered through and learned from and grown into will weather down into slack. I can read the signs — tedium, stagnation and listlessness, if I don’t keep on stretching, letting myself be stretched, seeking out opportunities to stretch not just further, but wisely.

10. What’s my goal for interaction with Spirit? What is Spirit’s goal for me?

Important questions. Sometimes I know, or think I know, what’s needed at the moment. Sometimes it takes some digging to get to honesty with myself.

Other times the answer’s easy: no clue.

Usually that’s an excellent place for me to be. It means I need to listen first, before anything else. Instead of a ready cliche or a stock answer or something I dredge up from my own most recent spiritual slackness, I practice patience.

Sit, sing and wait, counsels one of the Wise. So I find different places and perspectives to sit in. The front entry of our house does duty for a small but useful office. Or a tree-stump from a powerline clearing that Green Mountain Power left beneath the row of hemlocks on our north property line. I sing a word, a name for spirit, a line from a song or poem, a spoken fragment from a dream. And I watch as this moment crystallizes into the next, and shapes of possibility begin to form. Often they scatter, birdlike, flying somewhere along the horizon, not where I’m gazing at all. I stand up and go about my day, and a whisker of insight, if I honor the handshake of spirit, comes.

11. How can I see and describe my understanding as a perspective?

Matt Auryn observes, “One of the best ways to keep your ego in check when discussing different methods and ideas is to claim them as your perspective and not as the dogmatic way to do things”.

So I try to remember to tell myself rather than believing X or Y that I suspect X or Y. Because whether it’s a ripple in the apparent world or a flash in the Otherworld, I almost always under-perceive it. I miss something, and often a lot. I kneel down to study a large footprint in our muddy backyard, never seeing the bear that made it lumbering away to forage among early blackberries. But knowing there’s alway more to perceive doesn’t discourage me. It makes it a game, even and especially when the stakes are high. Sometimes my best contemplations take wing when I begin by asking So what did I miss this time?

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backyard black walnut coming into leaf

12. What hints and nudges has spirit sent to me already about fine-tuning my practice?

Every week or so, there’s a tonic that Spirit throws me down for and forces me to swig. “Take as indicated”, the label reads. And the fine print says:

“You’re a slow learner. That’s ample reason to practice humility. Everyone else is a slow learner, too. That’s an excellent reason to practice compassion.”

Funny how I haven’t yet overdosed on either of these.

13. What examples and teaching from the natural world greet and guide me today, right here and now?

A question I need never cease asking.

Yesterday and today, rain. The power out for about 90 minutes. The thermometer reads 46 F (8 C). I lit a fire about an hour ago. And as I set a match to the wadded newspaper and kindling, breathing the faint cold ash of the last fire, I knew Brighid was present, whether I’d invoked her this time or not.

Invocation, I heard/thought as the flame took hold, is my privilege. The gods welcome my service, but they move in the worlds just fine without me. And where there is privilege, and service, there is also wonder.

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June-cember — Seasons in Season   2 comments

Every season is in season. Here on June 4, a private foretaste of winter. Not because the world is cruel, or because I’m cynical or confused, or because the nighttime temperatures here in the hills still refuse to budge from the mid-40s F (6 C), but because all possibilities are alive at every moment, even as time sorts them into sequences, into sets of before-and-after.

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The first two cords of firewood arrived a couple days ago. I stack wood in June, and I’m reminded that I will lift these pieces again in December to carry in to the woodstove, my hands faintly scented with oak and maple and elm. This comes not as a rush of melancholy, but rather an intuition of a rhythm far larger than any one person or tribe or party. I sweat in the doing of it, and feel a familiar ache in the shoulders after I pause and straighten and stretch, another row done.

All around, we scrabble, dust ourselves off and parade our opinions, we joust and spar, not in our spare time, but in a time always spare of days. Meanwhile the great patterns we could apprentice ourselves to go largely unregarded, day following day, even as we wonder at what’s missing from our lives, and point fingers outward, away from where our lives point us.

At the close of World War 1 in 1919, two years shy of a century past, W. B. Yeats wrote these verses which too easily match today’s headlines:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Meanwhile what I need to know has always looked me in the face every minute of my life. It whispers in my ears, offering itself to my hearing. What I need to do comes to me in breathing, eating, working, sleeping and waking again, watching the worlds around me even as I take part in them and explore their textures with my skin. The moon waxes towards fullness, and birds sing all night long, making counterpoint with the peepers in the pond. The month warms towards the Solstice, and in a few weeks I will gather to celebrate it on a nearby hillside with half a score of others here in southern Vermont who also choose to honor the ancient rhythms.

With this blog I try to avoid “must” and “should”, “ought” and “have to”, except when I’m talking about myself and my own doings. Oh, I’m just as much a busybody as anyone. I have my opinions about what and how, who and when and why. But I also try out a path of wisdom laid down long ago and rein myself in, as much as I can, from dumping mere prejudices on you. And I submit that both of us breathe more easily as a result, and are the better for it. In their place, I strive to listen and reflect and marvel and shape into words what comes of that.

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I see my woodpile and I lift, piece by piece, the life that is given to me, and order it as it lies within my power to do. And you, friend — blessedly, you do the same where you are.

“Ceremonies of innocence” have endured all these long millennia — will endure, as long as we practice them. And the Center? The Center has always held, making everything else possible — it’s the edges that fray, that have always frayed. We stitch up, and rip, as we go. So I turn toward that shining Center when I can, I invite you to consider the Center where you are, as it may look to you. And I write about it here.

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Moons of Spirit, Synonyms for God: Part 2   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

For a related reflection about selfishness, continue on to the next paragraph. To jump to the next four points in this three-part series, scroll down to the break and the three awens /|\.

Selfishness. The behavior often gets a bad name, but I sometimes forget that survival is always a blend of self and other. In my marriage, my wife and I pursue both couple and individual goals. They needn’t conflict, though sometimes they rub up against each other in challenging ways. We negotiate and compromise. The marriage fails, or endures, on the basis of affection and communication. Self and other is what drew us together in the first place. Blending and balancing them is what sustains the partnership.

Change the scene. In a harsh environment, as human or animal, if I don’t eat so that my offspring can, I may starve, but they may survive. Biologically, this makes good sense — my genetic material gets passed along through them. Personally, of course, it may be disastrous, if I die. But the species benefits. My lines continues, with whatever genetic variants and strengths it may contribute to the whole. But if I don’t act “selfishly” enough to survive in the first place, I will never reproduce. The genetic possibilities I offer never benefit the species.

And this is just a simplistic biological sketch. My wife and I have no children. Biologically, simplistically, we “contribute nothing” to the species. Our species’ old judgments of childless couples stem from biology, and to an extent, they make very good sense. But wait …

What about spirituality? Some have labeled it a maladaptive behavior. From some perspectives it does look useless. For that matter, how do art, music, religion, philosophy, or other kinds of inward searches with variable outward results benefit either the species or the individual?

Humans have developed so that cooperation has begun to balance instinct as a means of both individual and species survival. We definitely haven’t mastered it yet — we’ve managed to kill the equivalent of the population of a large country of our own species (some 200 million) in just the last hundred years. Anger and fear, very ancient companions, still live with us. Each also has a survival benefit, up to a point.

But we’ve also managed to enrich both our individual and species experience immeasurably through beauty, wonder, awe, delight, pleasure, curiosity — you can extend this list yourself. These skills of consciousness make our species marvelously adaptive in unique ways we’re still only beginning to understand. To take just one ready example, ask yourself how often music has seen you through a rough period, or served as the capstone to a time of joy.

As a biological experiment, like all other species, it remains to be seen if we continue to adapt, or die out. But one rich component of our adaptive skill is self-consciousness and an ability to weigh courses of action. How well can cooperation serve us? How well can we manage both to honor instinct and also not let it usurp our chances and choices?

If you’re reading this blog, you presumably feel that spiritual inquiry and awe serve our species better than many other things we also do.

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5. How am I looking for connection in ways that mesh with my practice?

If I use regular physical exercise, for example, as a time to renew, reconnect, and rebalance, I may gain in physical well-being, a priceless gift. But I may not pick up as readily on other spiritual cues and clues that come along and which I can access through other practices. Neither is “better” than the other, but they are choices and practices, each with distinct consequences and benefits.

To continue with the example, some forms of physical exercise allow for a meditative experience as a side benefit. Some don’t. The emptying and easing of worry, care, concern or obsessive thought that can result during vigorous exercise may be just the practice I need — a time away, a refuge on a par with prayer, meditation, silence, etc. On the other hand, if my body has sustained injury, or has survived for several decades, or for a host of other reasons, then other kinds of practice may be more suitable.

One point I’ve learned the hard way: I tend to overlook the gifts of one form of practice and lament that I miss out on other gifts that issue from practices I’m not trying. But I’ve learned that a spiritual practice almost never should be “either-or”. Most practices encourage tinkering and experimentation. If the path I’m on, the religion or spirituality or tradition that I follow, doesn’t urge me to play and explore and find delight, I need to seriously reconsider the path, or at least my approach and understanding of it. I may be serving it, probably mechanically or out of rote habit, but it’s not serving me.

6. How is my practice itself part of what’s inhibiting communication?

By definition, my practice is a choice I’ve made, a seed I’ve planted. All choices have consequences, and will germinate and grow and branch in unique ways. So it’s a given that my practice will inhibit some kinds of spiritual connection even as it sparks others. Rather than seeing this as a “bad” thing, though, I can see it as a measure of change and opportunity. Life is laboratory. Like a hermit crab, I may need to move on to a bigger shell. Tweak my practice, and new connections and communication become possible. I’ve dropped a few yoga asanas that now seem to strain more than they soothe, and I’ve added a daily 5-minute outdoor meditation leaning against the trunk of my favorite hemlock along our northern property line. New possibilities for connection open up I’m only beginning to discover.

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hickory to our north, with new growth at the tips

7. What assumptions am I making?

Mind is really really good at assumptions. If instinct doesn’t always kick in, assumptions will. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, in itself. How else do I find a baseline for thought? I have to start somewhere. The large animal running toward me has attacked before. It’s likely to attack again. That food doesn’t agree with my digestion, so if I indulge, I’ll regret it. From good assumptions come “thrival” and survival. Poor assumptions lead to “complications”: death, stress, conflict, indigestion, anger, despair. We learn from “experience”, which is just another name for our set of assumptions constantly being tested, weeded out, replaced, refreshed and broadened. Cling too tightly to assumptions and, sure, they’ll lead to suffering. But hold on too weakly to good assumptions, and I overlook the usefulness of past experience as a guide to present choices.

So I start with assumptions. We all do. A “blank slate” means no basis for choice, judgment, taste, preference. The more I know my existing assumptions, the more I can play with them, rather than letting them play me. I can try out a new assumption like I would test-drive a car or a pair of shoes or a new series on Netflix, and see if I like it, see if it takes me somewhere I never imagined, if it builds and grows, or heals, teaches or delights.

8. To what degree is my understanding or misunderstand a matter of semantics?

To some degree — that I already know. Two evenings ago, a monthly study group I belong to spent some time talking about “broken” words and phrases, ones that just don’t communicate what we sense they might, or what others intend by them when they use them.

So we worked with renaming some of them. Instead of surrender, allowing. Instead of God, Spirit or the Way. And there’s the Bardic quest, in a nutshell: to dust off and recall old names, but also to refresh the imagination, to restore and recover and transmute energy. To commemorate, celebrate, innovate. Lots of “-ations”! To find and manifest and honor the elemental sacraments of spirit in fire, earth, water and air. To keep naming, to go on singing, what we need to hear.

We all know the experience of being called or offering the wrong name, the pleasure of someone (ourselves included!) remembering and using the right name. Confucius talked about cheng ming, the “rectification of names” to promote and ensure harmony. This, too, is practice.

“Call on me by my name”, say the gods and teachers of so many traditions. Paradoxically, most gods and teachers also possess and answer to many names. Then we get to play another game: Is Pallas Athena “the same” as Athena Parthenos? Is Coyote or the Trickster the “equivalent” of Hermes or Mercury or Loki?

“The name (ming) that can be named isn’t the real/lasting/eternal name”, the Tao Te Ching slyly reminds us in its second line (“Ming ke ming fei chang ming”.) Wider understanding of that little detail might have saved a few million lives.

Of course my understanding is partly mediated by semantics. Get over yourself, I hear. You’re a lot more than your mind. Use other tools, and your understanding gets mediated in other ways. The trick, I’m still learning, is to choose the tool, and not let the tool choose the understanding. Add a tool, add an understanding. We might ask, wresting to our own purposes the Samuel Jackon-fueled Capital One ad(vert)s, “What’s in your spiritual wallet?”

Part 3 will close this series.

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Moons of Spirit, Synonyms for God: Part 1   2 comments

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

In his fine novel South of Broad, Pat Conroy writes:

His curiosity about the earth ennobled his every waking moment. His earth was billion-footed, unseen worlds in every drop of water and every seedling and every blade of grass. The earth was so generous. It was this same earth that he prayed to because it was his synonym for God (Pat Conroy, South of Broad, New York: Dial Press/Random House, pg. 3).

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I’m adapting the 11 questions from Matt Auryn’s recent (May 27, 2017) post “Witchsplaining & How To Avoid It”, turning them around, upside down, and inside out, shaking them a little, and adding two more to make it 13 in total for this three-part series.

Matt’s original asks questions to help others avoid condescending or patronizing interactions – think “mansplaining” and apply it to Witchcraft. My adaptation repurposes the questions. (Who would condescend to themselves?!) It’s for myself and others who’d like a jumping off place for assistance and perspective in examining our interactions with Spirit. Among other things, I’ve modified the questions to make them into “hows” and “whys” along a continuum, rather than a matter of yes or no, all or nothing. You can think of a spiritual practice as an inward synonym for gods or God.

So here goes: if I feel Spirit or the Divine doesn’t seem to be speaking to me, here are some questions I try to remember to ask myself.  Versions have been kicking around in my journal for a couple of decades. You might think of them as “13 Moons of Spirit”, a year’s worth of spiritual investigation. Because if I haven’t visited some version of these recently, I’ll discover — or get prodded into remembering — that it’s time to return and incorporate asking and listening to them into my practice.

1. How have I already been asking for and seeking a connection with Spirit?

Almost everyone has some kind of practice already in place, at least in embryo. Take a walk, a jog or a drive after work to unwind? Read a favorite author or listen to the same song to help you fall asleep? Get up before everyone else, or stay up after everyone else, to find some “alone time”? Seek a particular household task (dishes, laundry, window-washing, vacuuming, etc.) as much for its rhythm as for its usefulness? Recite a favorite saying, charm, poem, etc., at a particular moment of your day, just before sleep, right after waking? (For some years, out for a jog each morning a little before sunrise, I’d whisper to myself these words from the Odyssey at the dawn: “The sun rose on the flawless brimming sea into a sky all brazen–all one brightening for gods immortal and for mortal men”.) You’re on the way to a practice already.

Often we assume that with Spirit we start from zero and move from no connection to full connection. Or sometimes we evaluate spiritual practices or paths like we rate internet connections or sports cars: 0 to 60 in how many seconds? Not fast enough? Change brands or makes of car. Get the speed you need! Sticking with a practice and timing it for results is like watching a pot for when it starts to boil, like waiting for seedlings to germinate, break through the surface and send out their first leaves. It will happen, and it also takes way longer if I sit there just watching for it. Finding something else to do can be an important part of my after-practice.

2. How can I open myself further to Spirit? How can I strengthen my “essential welcome” (see previous post)?

Asking for connection, all by itself, is a great start. Listening for answers and trying out nudges and hints is a fine second step.

What will I do with greater access, increased flow? How will I pass it on? (Otherwise it bottlenecks, and all the openness in the world to “more” won’t pass it along until I find an outlet. In-flow, out-flow. We are lakes, reservoirs, oceans, capacitors. Or if I’m feeling particularly modest, a tea-cup. Once I’m full, “more” has no place to go but over the sides. I need to get bigger, too. I need to pass along the gift.

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3. How have I responded when Spirit and I DO connect?

If I don’t record it somehow, it almost always disappears. Getting it down is a practice of gratitude all its own. Our minds are exquisitely this-world focused. That’s useful for driving a car, following a schedule, coloring within the lines. Want to keep a job, an appointment, a promise? Mind is your go-to guy.

Want to retain the touch of a god, the breath of Spirit, the thrill of broadened understanding, the trance of ritual, the gift of love between luminous beings? Mind drops what doesn’t fit on its notepad, its index, its time-card. Write it down, record your voice telling it, draw it, sing it, etc. This, I’ve found, helps train mind to hold on to just a little more. Every once in a while I get a glimpse of how much comes and how little I notice. And reviewing such records helps prime the pump, blows away the cobwebs and reminds us of past connections. One daydream including a glimpse of hilltop or temple may be a lapse of attention. Five or ten “daydreams” of the same location, recorded over a year or three, (mind WILL forget!) is something else entirely. How will I detect the difference if I lose the recall?

Response generates response. Thanks, with no other practice, can take me amazingly far into other worlds where gratitude is the sole pass-key. Thanks, wonder, generosity: a holy triad.

4. How, if at all, have I formally apprenticed myself to Spirit? How, if at all, have I agreed to make Spirit or any Wise Ones partners in my training?

Making these kinds of agreements can be of immense help in training a stubborn and lazy human consciousness to serve more widely. Once I begin to serve, the tools and resources and opportunities begin to open up. Make the request or promise seriously to grow and serve — they amount to the same thing — and Spirit will hold me to it. The training and the feedback in the form of quicker reactions to my actions all help sharpen awareness. If it gets to be too much, I can always take a break. Dial it back. Soon enough, I’m restless and eager to grow again. Because on an endless journey, there’s no rush. Only a holy rhythm.

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Essential Welcome   1 comment

[Edited 9:05 am, 29 May 2017]

Today I take for my divination the two rhododendrons blooming outside our bedroom window. One hasn’t wintered well, ungainly thing, and it needs pruning at the end of the season. Whether it was winter die-off or just increasing age, a good bit of the plant is brown and lifeless. But the blooming part is lovely as ever, the lush buds spilling open into flower at one with the birdsong that begins around 5:20 a.m. now, at first light.

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It’s my mother’s birthday today — she’d be 98 if she were still with us, and I marvel each year as that number nears a full century. As many do, I’ve long found that spring and early summer can intermittently be times of intense nostalgia. Here again is new life, and in the midst of each lengthening day and its wonders, so many things seem intent on calling us to remember what has departed as well as what thrives and burgeons and grows. This is the Samhain-of-Beltane, the autumn in spring. Not a diminishment at all, but a deepening of each birth and renewal. All the earth, the dirt underfoot, is the substance of past life. In a very literal way, we could not live without the lives of those gone before us, their bodies nourishing and supporting ours, ours depending on theirs for every breath.

In her Celtic Devotional, Caitlin Matthews writes:

There are so many difficulties in our daily lives, so few incentives to act responsibly, so little support for personal spiritual growth that it is only within the broadest categories of spiritual hospitality that the soul can be encouraged to find its own natural pathway. This is especially so where the soul has been injured by intolerance and lack of charity, or scandalized by the unholy infighting of formal religion, or by its lack of respect for non-human life-forms and neglect of planetary and universal issues. These and many other reasons may drive people from formal religious adherence, but they do not stop the need for them to pray, to meditate or contemplate in union with the world …

The urge to follow a spiritual pathway comes in a variety of ways, but, in every case, the soul puts out its exploratory shoots in the context of personal devotion, testing the ground, discovering how Spirit responds, learning how true communion with the Divine can be brought about (Celtic Devotional, p. 8).

One of the many ironies of this period of human history is that while it can indeed be a time of difficulty and lack of support as Matthews describes, paradoxically it’s also a time where our need for a spiritual practice is all the more acute and obvious. Other supports for any inner life have been weakened or destroyed, and the emptiness of the available distractions shows all the more clearly. The outlines of what we need are clearer now than before.

Small wonder then that the spiritual power of authentic practice touches so many, and even a little bit can point the way forward. Whether it’s some form of Paganism or some other spiritual path that calls to us, the appeal is patent and powerful. In some form we feel the lack every day until we begin to nourish ourselves with a practice. The shape that practice takes will necessarily be our own. No one else can dictate what it should be for us. It will evolve with us as we set out on the journey.

For the beginning of a practice, then, a prayer-charm:

I weave the cincture of protection,
from the nine powers of nine trees,
strength of oak,
straightness of ash,
purity of birch,
absorbency of alder,
brightness of beech,
elegance of elm,
healing of willow,
power of holly,
everlastingness of yew.
Nine trees to circle me,
nine powers to guard me,
as the Summer song resounds.

(Matthews, Celtic Devotional, pg. 86)

May you live and grow and flourish in groves of protection.

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Matthews, Caitlin. Celtic Devotional: Daily Prayers and Blessings. Rev’d ed. Gloucester, MA: Fairwinds Press, 2004. (First published by Godsfield Press, 1996.)

Daily Practice — Druid & Christian Theme 7   Leave a comment

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How do I keep the inward doors open? (How do I even begin to locate them and find their handles?) How do I pick up on subtle nudges? How do I hear the quiet inward speech of things — the “still small voice” as older versions of Christian scripture call it? We all get the big events — no need to go looking for them. They burst on the scene, kicking down the door a few times in a life, unmistakably loud and messy, whether good or bad, and usually a mix. But they break through, and everything shifts.

“Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13).

With wind and earthquake and fire, how do we ever catch the whisper? And then, even if we manage to hear the “still small voice”, we may find that instead of resolution or insight or growth, we’re left with questions, like Elijah. Our own lives interrogate us. “What am I doing here? How did things end up like this?”

Most traditions urge a daily practice. As much of Christianity has become focused on belief rather than practice, it has lost much of what monastic practice has preserved. A site on Trappist monasticism notes:

The practice of lectio divina, (divine reading), is foundational to monastic life. So important is divine reading to the spiritual well-being of a monk that, traditionally, we devoted some of the best hours of the day to this practice. Lectio Divina is a discipline whose fruits are experienced over time. One needs to understand the practice and then commit to it with some regularity.

Practice matters. Not because it makes our lives “safe” or “easy”: no life is that I know of. If I think about it, most lives resemble the character throw in role-playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons and Dragons. You toss the game dice for talents, strengths and weaknesses. You may for instance roll a high intelligence, but your physical body is weak. You can’t rely on it. If you’re allowed to roll again, your strength, your vitality, may be high this time, but you’re none too bright.  Or on the third throw, both intelligence and strength come up high, but your temper makes your life a train-wreck of impulse and blame.

A daily practice helps build spiritual stamina. It’s something like what our grandparents and great-grandparents used to call “inner resources”, though they may rarely have shown us how to develop ’em. (Merely “following the rules” doesn’t usually help.) But they knew enough to recognize people who had them. (In RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, you can improve even weak qualities of your character over time, through experience. Funny thing!)

One of my teachers says that even if we could know the future, we’d have a hard time accepting just the good things to come in our lives. (That they might not always resemble “good things” from our present standpoint rarely occurs to us.) We build stamina over time, so that the big lifting is more manageable, and the daily lifting can become a small pleasure in itself.

A daily practice helps us hear that whisper, catch the still small voice. And that in turn can help us ride the worst of the big bad events, and make the most of the big good events (and little ones, too). And that can lead to all kinds of wonderful things. But the practice itself doesn’t deliver them. It catalyzes. It doesn’t guarantee.

One Druid I know makes it a point, whatever the weather, to visit a small outdoor shrine in his backyard each morning, before he heads off to work. He says a short prayer, or holds a meditation, makes an offering, etc. His practice builds over time, with things added or discarded. If, under pressure of a tight schedule or occasional family craziness, he misses his practice one morning, he feels the lack. But that in itself has deep value — it’s one way to recognize the value of a practice. It’s a good habit. The gods know we all cherish enough bad ones.

So working with the habit-forming tendencies we all have, we put them to work here and there. We start small. A daily practice can be a form of magic, of empowering ourselves to live more fully. Because really, what else is there? If we’re so sunk in difficulty that every day is a struggle just to survive, we’ve got nothing extra to share with anyone or anything. Our work is simply to endure. And sometimes that has to be enough. But beyond survival, one goal can be to spend our surplus as we choose, consciously, with intention. The goal is to find ways to get to a surplus in the first place, so we have something to spend, something to give back, to build on, to build up.

As Philip Carr-Gomm has written, “In a world sorely lacking in meaningful ritual, it can feel like a balm to the soul to engage in actions that are not obviously utilitarian, that are designed to help us enter into a deeper sense of engagement with life –- to give expression to our belief in a world of Spirit that infuses this physical world with energies that bring healing and inspiration.” If such ideas seem foreign or strange, that’s a measure of how far we’ve wandered from ways of living proven over millennia to help us make the most of our few decades here.

The Christian “Lord’s Prayer” is brief, and usefully so. Or if you’re a Catholic, the Rosary is comparably short. Most traditions offer short usable rites like prayers or visualizations. Along with similar prayers, OBOD Druids and others may practice a Light Body exercise.

Repetitions done mindfully can be remarkable in their effects over time, hard to describe until you try them out. Like any exercise, they build strength and stamina. We can propose to ourselves any number of fine practices, elaborate rituals, intense mystical exercises. But the small one we actually follow through on every day for a month will be the one that begins to convince us of its value, and of the value of a practice.

The key is to find what works, and what I can stick with. I keep a record. Did this for a week. Liked it. Kept it up for a year. Discarded it. Felt the lack. Picked it up again and added it back in to the mix a year later. Forgotten I’d made that experiment till I re-read my journal from that time.

Finding what works for me, ultimately, is a practice all its own, one of the most “practical practices” I can try.

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I’ll close with a Youtube clip of “Pirililou”, which as its description states, is

an old Gaelic Chant sung at the Western ocean’s edge to the soul of the departed, in the first days after death, to assist the soul travelling from this world to the next ones. It is said to imitate the call of a shore bird … a bird dedicated to Bridhe and St Brigit, who assist the birth of souls in this world as well as the next.

As a meditation before sleep (that practice journey we all make nightly), this kind of meditation can lead to deep insight. Have we, after all, been fully born into this world, never mind any other one? Playing (singing, composing) a short devotional song that moves you deeply, and listening (performing) with intention, can make for the beginning of a profound practice.

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