Archive for the ‘spiritual toolkit’ Category

Some Prayers and Praying   Leave a comment

In the previous post I said I’d talk about prayers and praying. If there’s a blogger’s equivalent to stage fright, I get it at least 50% of the time. I commit, I step up, and — yup, there it is, running its paws along my spine. (It helps keep me paying attention to guidance I receive.) Who am I to write some of the stuff I’ve written? I’m a person like you, alive today. That’s all the authority any of us needs.

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front yard, hydrangeas, 17 August 2017

Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers offers a helpful starting point for prayer and fasting. Because each of the three kinds of prayers in her title combine both: I can’t ask for help if I don’t fast from pride or despair. I can’t be grateful if I’m caught up in fear and anger, and so on. Prayer IS fasting, and vice versa — a magical choice to place our attention not where anybody else wants it but where we choose.

Sometimes all I  can do is ask for help. Often asking — even trying to ask — opens a door, especially if I can shut up before and after, even if it just means hearing the hinges squeak. Something’s in motion that wasn’t before.

After a three-year job search, I despaired of outside help. Persistence and patience between them do gather up tremendous reservoirs of energy. But you get in line, one of my wife’s go-to techniques, and you advance until it’s your turn just wasn’t working for me.

Until it did. Last week I received a solid job offer to do just what I’d been asking for. But because it was out-of-state, because it meant a move and other changes — because it asked me to grow into it — I immediately found several reasons to say, quite loudly, NO! Fortunately, just not to the person offering me the job. As U. K. LeGuin so gracefully puts it, I had to enlarge my heart to accept the gift.* And I had to recognize the gift as gift before I could even do that.

I ask you — what can the gods do with such mortals?!

Often, a lot.

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Hemlocks, north property line, 17 Aug. 2017

Other times you just want to say thanks. If I haven’t done so for a while, I can tell by how it feels to start up again. Like I’d forgotten a key ingredient. But now it’s back in the sauce, the mix tastes sweeter, the glue sticks, the paint dries to an appealing hue.

This blog offers guarantees very rarely, and for good reason. But practice no other prayer than gratitude for a year and a day, then get back in touch. I guarantee this triad: transformation, wonder, and a new conviction in you.

Wow is a third kind of prayer. If you choose, you can perceive awe as a form of tribute, a gift at the altar. “The finest emotion of which we are capable”, Einstein exclaimed. “is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science”. Even if we scale it back for the sake of the skeptical among us, who doesn’t appreciate awe? How else to feel so small and so connected at the same time?

In a post from a few years ago I looked at a “prayer prompt” I still find valuable.

The prayer serves as a starting point for how I try to pray for others in difficulty without mucking things up further for them with what I think they need. It’s also more eloquent than I can usually manage to be, which never hurts either.

In the excerpt below, from Mary Renault’s splendid evocation of classical Greece, The Last of the Wine, a friend of the main character Alexias is speaking, near the tail end of the suffering that much of Greece experienced during the three brutal decades of the Peloponnesian War:

We have entreated many things of the gods, Alexias. Sometimes they gave and sometimes they saw it otherwise. So today I petitioned them as Sokrates once taught us: ‘All-knowing Zeus, give me what is best for me. Avert evil from me, though it be the thing I prayed for; and give the good which from ignorance I do not ask.’ — Mary Renault. The Last of the Wine. Pantheon Books, 1964, pg. 344.

Can I pray for what’s best for me, can I keep alert for its first stirrings when it arrives, even or especially when it’s not what I thought I wanted? If I can answer yes even some of the time, change can open my heart to possibilities I’d otherwise turn away from, if not actively shut down. Then maybe I’m ready to pray for others, too. (We won’t mention changes that come to all of us anyway, unasked for. Welcome, travelers of all realms, whisper the gods, to these worlds of time and space. Buckle up.)

Other times prayer means simply immersion. I go for a favorite walk, I sit with a favorite CD, a song or chant for meditation, or I follow a theme in a series of meditation sessions, and I’m in it. Borne away from here-and-now to there-and-then. Sometimes I only know when I return, like waking from a dream, that wherever I was, it sure wasn’t here. And I’m better for it.

Formal prayer has its place, too. As many do, I find Iolo Morganwg’s Gorsedd Prayer, also called the Druid Prayer, which Morganwg first spoke publicly at the 1792 summer solstice, a comfort:

Grant, O God/dess/Spirit/etc., thy protection,
and in protection, strength,
and in strength, understanding,
and in understanding, knowledge,
and in knowledge, the knowledge of justice,
and in the knowledge of justice, the love of it,
and in that love, the love of all existences,
and in the love of all existences, the love of God/dess/etc.,
and all goodness.

You may turn to other prayers, or you’ve written your own. I’ve mentioned sources like Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional. Sometimes all I can manage is the spontaneous cry of the heart, standing at my backyard fire circle, facing an indoor altar, or stunned to despair while I stand in the shower, hot water indistinguishable from tears. You go with what comes.

Sometimes it’s stillness I’m called to. In the stillness I may receive much. The blessing of turning off the monkey mind. Intimations of the future. A nudge towards or away a choice, a pattern, a practice, a person. Or any of a range of still small voices that will never shout to be heard, that have waited patiently for me to listen once again.

Sometimes it’s a reminder about a commitment I’ve made. In that case it’s a god invoking me, rather than the other way round. How have I answered, how will I answer, now? The offering I made was for my own good as well as a gift. The service I vowed transforms me in the doing of it, even as it fulfills a request by guide or god or spirit I have promised.

Sit, sing, and wait, counsels one of my teachers, if I need things to clarify, and no other path seems clear. And a book that same teacher delights in offers two additional pieces of advice, opening and closing the same paragraph: “Hold all and wait … Drop all and start over again.” Both valid, both true, both potent for good. How to know which to practice, other or either, if not both at once? I turn once again, I return, listening, praying, fasting. Don’t we all?

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LeGuin, U. K. A Wizard of Earthsea. Bantam Books, 1968, pg. 69.

Nine Paths of Storm — Riding Changes   Leave a comment

clouds

An offering to Thecu Stormbringer:

Hail, Goddess. I will go with what I know,
with what you show: you give me
nine runes, nine paths of storm;
you tell me their wisdom lies in riding changes,
walking the storm-paths. So I ask how
I may serve in return for your gift.

Speak how, instead of squaring the circle,
to try circling the square. Not to share
exact shapes [of the runes], but their greater principle
you may share. [For] they form a sequence:
linear as you received them, but also

a circle or spiral. Four by three, and three by four:
ending and beginning lie side-by-side,
or — you will understand it —
directly above and below each other,
[on] different rounds of the spiral.

The Runes of Thecu combine straight lines
and circular shapes — lines of force
and vortices or whorls [of energy in motion].

How to ride changes?
Practice [with the runes] to find out.
And I will guide you.

How to transcribe what you receive in such instances? Well, the obvious answer is this: you do the best you can. And you ask, usually more than once, for clarification.

Let me puncture any mystery here: the words I attribute above to Thecu came during three intervals. The first and second, along with runes, over the past week, in two separate periods of meditation. The first led to the insight that Thecu was offering guidance on how to walk “nine paths of storm”, and a preliminary sense of what that might mean. The first five runes also came then, drafts scribbled on scrap paper, as I tried to get their shapes to match the different flows of energy my inner experience felt like it conveyed. The same thing a second time, two days later.

Then this morning: I already knew I was going to write about this, and I’d made a draft, along with the admonition I’d received not to share except in general terms the insight of the runes. So in about five minutes the above lines came, as I attempted to pull together fragmentary notes about the runes and render the impression of those meditation sessions into something more like continuous speech.

Are they “the words of the goddess”? Sure. Also, no and yes. In keeping with the deep wisdom of unverified personal gnosis (UPG), they’re meant to be tested and tried out, to see how their truths work for me. One key to practice, and it can be disconcerting, is to shift from “UPG mode” to “critical thinking mode”. I get this stuff in ways similar to how I get pieces of poems and stories. And it’s the same kind of thing: then you have to figure out what to do with them. Sometimes the message, image, metaphor is clear. Other times, it needs shaping or untangling. And to keep honest about proportions of these things has indisputable value, but not — it needs to said as well — spiritual primacy. The impulse-message-insight-inspiration needs to get recorded before, like such things do, it flows away like cloud.

And I share this experience for what it’s worth to others who may encounter similar impressions, nudges, doubts and insights. What to make of such things? For me, it’s to see how and where they might fit in living my life, and whether their usefulness, if any, merits passing along anything about them to others. So I serve notice here most of all to myself. Any value to this experience will emerge, or not, in and over time. And I will try to report that here.

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Image: stormcloud — “free for commercial use”.

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.

Truth, Sturdy Tree   Leave a comment

In English (and other Germanic languages) there’s a cluster of words related etymologically in “deep time” and beginning with tr-: true, troth, trust, tree. The meanings they convey branch outward — the metaphor is no accident — in other European languages, with similar connected meanings. In some Indo-European languages it’s specifically the oak that’s the quintessential tree, its hard wood most reliably “true”, able to hold its shape, resist warp and rot, or honor the gods like the oaks at the Greek oracle at Dodona, sacred to Zeus. Druids aspire to be “people of the trees”.

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It’s no surprise then that speakers of these languages tend to think of truth in similar terms. Languages offer such networks of related meanings, idioms and imagery that shape and direct our thoughts and our cultures in both subtle and pervasive ways. The resource of words, like any resource, can be spent well or ill. We can draw on it to nourish and enrich human lives, or abuse it to twist, enervate, and destroy. We are, as older culture put it, only as good as our word.

In the archaic “troth, betroth, plight one’s troth”, we encounter truth in another sense, as a promise, something time will help fulfill, yes, but primarily a human action dependent on fidelity and effort. To betroth is to promise “by one’s truth“. Here, truth doesn’t just happen. It’s an outcome of a commitment. We enact truth. We say of something that it “holds true” — it meets the tests of time and other forces colliding with it. If this intrigues you, start a list of other expressions like it, and work with it in meditation.

So we have two related senses of truth: a quality often inherent in experience, and a human way of perceiving, choosing and acting. But in both cases, when something is true, it exhibits a quality similar to a good carpenter’s labor — the pieces fit, align, work together harmoniously, possessing strength and beauty and utility. Hence our sense of truth as something that is often beautiful as well. English idiom also gives us the lovely image of things that “ring true”. Truth, then, also “sounds right”. While a true thing may not exhibit all these qualities every time, it frequently does in surprising ways.

So I offer this as another subject for meditation: in how many ways does a truth appeal to the senses and offer its qualities through numerous images and metaphors in making itself  accessible to human consciousness?

I’m always looking for techniques, for strategies and methods. My pragmatic streak longs for good ways to do things. (That’s not to say my lazy and selfish streaks don’t play their parts all too well. What’s new there? We all deal with limits worth exploring and working with creatively.)

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These two related senses of truth offer what I’m looking for in the form of three challenge-questions I can ask: (1) Does my experience of a person, thing, idea or course of action offer these qualities of harmony, fit, rightness, alignment? (2) If I enact a commitment in my own life based on these qualities as indications of its truth, do I achieve results with similar qualities? (3) Does a possibly true thing “hold true”? That is, do its qualities persist over time?

Apply these observations at will to your own choices, commitments, beliefs and the actions of others. Do they hold true for you?

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Images: Wisdom Tree; Tree World.

 

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