Archive for the ‘spiritual practice’ Category

5: Druid and Christian — Holy, Too   3 comments

[Part 1|2|3|4|5]

But what about the moments when something outside of us, without our conscious intention or instigation (or with it), announces itself to us?

You know — those times when no circle or congregation, no rite or prayer has claimed us in our striving, and something reaches out to us of itself.

Dream, presence, deva, spirit, ghost, exaltation, angel, mystery, expansiveness, ecstasy, cosmic consciousness, god/God — a hundred names for what well may be a hundred different things. But each or all of them qualitatively different from you and me. The shiver, the awe, the freaking out, the reverence, the fear, the adoration, the Other. Or so virtually every description of these encounters suggests. And yet we’re intimately linked to them somehow, or we could never experience them in the first place.

What to do with this mass (and mess) of human experience? Religions often attempt to categorize, naming some portion as legitimate or amicable or “good”, and others as impostures, as frauds, as inimical or “bad”, and setting forth ways to grapple with it, to formalize human interactions with it.

On the other hand, with almost no consistent measure except the subjective available to it, science has for a long time typically dismissed the whole category as incoherent, though psychology and recent advances in neuroscience have begun to rehabilitate the subjective as a domain for serious study and insight. Or to put it another way, “The visible clings to the invisible”, say the Wise. WTF? says science.

So we devise rituals as one way to tame and investigate the subjective. Whether we go to wild places on a vacation or a quest to find ourselves, whether we spend too much to attend weekends and workshops on soul retrieval or finding our inner warrior, whether we rise and kneel in the pews, stand in Pagan circles, or renew our prescription to the current drug of choice, we try out options to scratch the itch of the Holy. Sometimes it’s merely a single mosquito bite. Sometimes it’s a whole-body rash.

Looked at one way, then, by pursuing a Druid-Christian approach we’re doubling our odds of successful encounter and engagement. Looked at another way, we’re muddying the waters, profaning the well, treading the old syncretistic path that usually ends not in transformative encounter but at best in a bland, safe vanilla spirituality void of those tradition-specific commitments that give each tradition its spiritual punch.

How to experience both living god/God and living earth? We wouldn’t have endlessly fracturing Christian denominations if “Jesus people” had a lock on things. Nor would we continually feel the need to hive off and fracture and splinter and regroup in virtually every other way as Druid and Pagan practitioners, either. Rather than seeing these things as weaknesses, we could celebrate them, always asking for integrity in ourselves first and foremost: what do we seek? What purpose does it serve? Who benefits?

Funny how the same questions never lose their applicability. Avoid personal integrity, and we squander our time demonizing opponents rather than incarnating the Holy in our words and deeds. Both difficult to access and continually present, the Holy is a paradox singularly appropriate for humans, who rarely make things easy for themselves.

Whether it’s solstice dawn or empty tomb, death or birth or other experience of transcendence, we seek communion, drink from a common cup, listen to and watch each other’s words and faces for signs of that contact, that connection. And when a strange-familiar wordless joy overtakes us, we try to put it into words for each other, as I do here, to pass it on.

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Front entrance — my office, where I write this blog. Winter ’16.

May the Holy light your roof and bathe you in itself.
May the season offer you its generous portion
and open the door for gratitude.
May you turn to joy rather than despair
to nourish and sustain you in your trials and triumphs.
The blessings of your life to you,
rooted in each day’s grace and gift.

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Living a Triad   Leave a comment

Here’s a triad I initially wrote about almost two years ago:

“Three reasons for supplicating the Mighty Ones: because it is a pleasure to you, because you wish to be a friend of the Wise, because your soul is immortal” — traditional.

Lovely reasons, all of them. Long-time readers of this blog know I like to take out truths and proverbs and see how they fit my experience. Not to either “prove” or “disprove” them, but to try them on for size, share something of the results, and possibly add to my spiritual toolkit.

Supplication as a source of pleasure: does this apply to my interactions with Thecu Stormbringer? [blogpost links 12, 3]

My first response is “up to a point”. When my fear of change kicks in, it’s less pleasurable to learn more. But what have I learned?

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When I last wrote, I’d received nine runes of change. But instead of trying them out, I stashed them in an envelope, because I was living them. That was manifesting as a move to an out-of-state teaching job that included housing. And then a return move back home within the month, when the job proved a “poor fit” — an often wry educationese euphemism that, in the words of Shakespeare’s Juliet, meant the whole scenario turned out to be “too rash, too unadvised, too sudden”.

And Thecu alerted me well in advance of the whole thing.

We often think — or I do, anyway — that if we could only know the future, we’d be armed against it, as if change were the enemy.

But to choose just one element of the whole experience that I’m writing to my Ovate tutor about, it was in the month before my wife and I made the change and packed up for a year out of state that I’d finally found a solid link to the land here in southern Vermont.

So leaving it hurt. And returning felt like a reprieve, or a fresh start. At the heart of it lay the increasingly clear perception that where we live has at last become our spiritual home.

More change coming. That’s this morning’s word to me from the goddess. To anyone alive today, change shouldn’t come as a surprise, though of course it still does.

I draw one rune from the envelope, even as I make a new place on my shelf-altar for Thecu.

(Surprised I hadn’t already? That’s the human inertia we all work with, which helps ballast us against small daily changes that shouldn’t upset us, and yet paradoxically weakens us when the big changes come along, because we’ve resisted incremental adjustments that would have made the transition much smoother.)

American children in schools across the nation “pledge allegiance to the flag” — an inanimate representation of the U.S. Is it so strange to extend reverence for an energy or consciousness reaching out to alert me of change and storms to come?

The rune I draw is the sixth of nine, last of the second set of three. For storms, angular energy, and wind sheer. For changes, side factors that contribute significantly, but which I overlook. For responses and initiatives, avoid a frontal resistance, and seek out angles and directions that can use the momentum and energy of change to shift to a better state and condition. Scuttle sideways, crab-like. Crab totem coming …

“When in doubt, divine”, says a journal entry from just about a year ago. A fragment, a contemplation seed, a gift, waiting for me to accept and receive it.

As I note at the end of a previous post about Thecu and change:

We can of course take an a-gnostic approach to all of the above as well: I sense changes coming (no surprise at all, given the state of the world!) and my imagination/subconscious is throwing up images, ideas, tools, hints to help me deal with them. Useful, wholly apart from the nature of their origin, because they’re intended to be empirical: their value lies in what they can do, what I can do with them. Who says the imagination or subconscious has no practical value? In some ways, that’s the ONLY thing it has.

And likewise, a reasonable response to a gift is gratitude for what’s been given.

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Image: stormcloud — Pixabay “free for commercial use — no attribution required”.

 

West   Leave a comment

Here we are, autumn of the year, gathering the harvest of what we have sown, both bitter and sweet. Hail to the West, place of the setting sun, of evening, of fullness and reflection and maturity.

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ECG ritual banner of the West. Design by Dana Driscoll.

West, traditional place of feeling and intuition, and in this cycle, the moon waxing toward fullness, too. I know: in the associations of many tables of correspondence, West is the waning moon. Why not attune to what will light the sky this evening, rather than a pattern that obviously doesn’t fit the moment? Tonight I’ll sit at my fire-circle for an evening contemplation, open as I can to what comes.

With the full moon can come illumination of what was previously hidden. We move in cycles, nourishing some causes and energies in the unconscious, till they move into awareness and we can assess whether they work to our advantage.

Larger cycles concern nations and planetary systems, whole species and immense and intricate patterns, while smaller ones shape our communities and individuals. Disasters and tragedies will keep coming, whether through deeply-rooted patterns in human psyches, or in natural cycles of change, disruption and rebalancing.

After a hurricane, rather than recriminations, it’s most useful to serve obvious need. Likewise after a human tragedy like a shooting. Let my sympathies rouse me to understand causes better, work for change, or open my compassion in concrete forms of aid. Otherwise, am I doing anything more than muddying the astral waters?

Emotional reaction has its place — we feel what we feel — but it can most lovingly be grounded in prayer, ritual and contemplation, and action, for my own good as well as for the good of others. Look to your own self first. the beginning point of all thought and action, counsel my inner guards and guides.

Here’s a first draft of a ritual meditation I’m still working on:

Earth in my hands, my gaze to the horizon,
I cast fear away, hate away, anger away.
clearing the bodies for health.
Water in my hands, my gaze to the wells of spirit
I wash in love, I bathe in compassion, I cleanse with caring,
clearing the springs of the heart.
Fire in my hands, my gaze to the flame of purification
I burn away limitation, I incinerate obstacles, I ignite useful anger,
clearing the will for further growth.
Air in my hands, my gaze to the way of wisdom
I conceive a change, I know a change, I understand a change,
clearing the mind for action.

I don’t say these things because they’re easy, but because they’ve proven themselves to me to be among the best responses over time, and the best ways to take a pro-active stance as well. They’re a practice, something I find worth doing in itself like any practice worth the name, and for healing needed so plainly and deeply.

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Frequency-Matching for Love & Money   Leave a comment

[Part 2: First Leaf, Outward Leaf]

“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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