Archive for the ‘Taliesin’ Category

Miscellanea, September 2019   2 comments

1) I’m working my way through Caitlin and John Matthews‘ recent (2019) The Lost Book of the Grail: The Sevenfold Path of the Grail and the Restoration of the Faery Accord. When I’m finished I’ll post a review here.

Perceval_à_la_recluserie

Perceval à la Recluserie/Perceval at the Hermitage, XV century. Wikipedia/public domain

The “lost book” of the title is 484 lines of Old French verse from the 1200s called “The Elucidation”, which has been mostly ignored by scholars, though it serves as prologue to the works of Chrétien de Troyes , the French trouvere or troubador who can be fairly said to have launched the Arthurian tradition. Caitlin Matthews and Gareth Knight include their new joint translation of “The Elucidation” in this book.

2) Pillbug, Part 9427

This section isn’t important. You’ve got better things to do. The content has been generated from statistics caused by a wormhole in social media. OK — you’ve been warned.

Why does a post from March 2017 that’s still received no likes in the more than two and half years since it was posted show a 5-month increase in readership? (Yes, I know such things are circular — some of you will now read it merely because I mention it here. I’m trying to minimize that source of views by making you look via the Search box if you really want to read it.)

Here’s one snapshot of the stats for the post that WordPress supplies to the numbers-obsessed:
Created with GIMP

I conclude one or more the following:

+ The post conceals a vital hidden meaning, or cosmic code, that I myself don’t recognize, but that perceptive readers have detected and are studying scrupulously.

+ The post has become a loathsome example of clickbait and you’re just pranking your friends to get them to visit it, laughing maniacally when another feedback loop like this post confirms your success.

+ You’re deeply bored.

3) Like many of you, I distinctly felt the shift around the Autumn Equinox as we continue to enter more fully into the dark half of the year (the bright half for everyone down under). Now is a time of turning inward and attending to rebalancing, harvest, composting, integration and dreaming. (Or renewal, seeding and taking root, augmenting, blossoming and vision.)

I work with an aging hospice patient who’s dedicated his professional life as a doctor and medical researcher to exploring, understanding and addressing the effects of the shifts in the earth’s magnetic field, daily, monthly and seasonally, on the seasonally-sensitive among us. And that includes a wide number of us, when we assemble changing energy levels, seasonal-affectivity and other mood disorders, people sensitive to electrical storms, neuro-degenerative illness, alcoholism, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, certain cancers, irritable bowel syndrome, residence at high latitudes, etc. One particular prescription he offers is to engage with “the meander” in all its forms: walking labyrinths, doing sacred pilgrimages, and attending to balanced meditative physical rhythms of many kinds (tai chi, etc.) to reset our internal harmonics.

4) Tarot reading this morning: hierophant (5), high priestess (2), moon (18). In the dark of the moon today, with a new moon this evening for the eastern U.S., that feels worth my attention on our sacred identities as mediators of holy energies, and the moon beginning a new cycle.

5) “Patience”, says my lectio divina for today, my holy devotions, “is the greatest discipline along the spiritual journey. By patience you can endure hardships, karmic burdens, slander, the pricks of disease and pain. Keep your focus on the goal, returning every time you swerve away”.

6) Some of my Pagan friends on social media have expressed deep delight in this over-the-top column from 26 Sept. 2019 in The Federalist, a strongly right-leaning publication. Headed by a close-up pic of climate activist Greta Thunberg, the article opens, “Climate Worship Is Nothing More Than Rebranded Paganism. We’re seeing sexualized dances, hallucinogens, worshiping nature, confessing sins in pagan animism, worshiping purified teen saints, all to promote a supposedly greater cause”.

“Where do I sign up?” wrote one of my friends.

“Ah, I’m finally starting to remember the Sixties!” wrote another.

“Aw, sh*t! I’ve been doing it wrong!” exclaimed a third.

7) In his poem “The Spoils of Annwfn” Taliesin writes:

Apart from seven, none came back up from Caer Siddi [an Underworld fortress].
I am one who is splendid in (making) fame: the song was heard
In the four-turreted fort, fully revolving.
It was concerning the cauldron that my first utterance was spoken:
It [i.e. the cauldron] was kindled by the breath of nine maidens.
The cauldron of the Chieftain of Annwfn: what is its faculty?
— Dark (ornament) and pearls around its rim–

One of several translators of the poem for a book published a little over a century ago observed that it is “one of the least intelligible of the mythological poems” (Charles Squire, “The Mythology of the British Islands”. London, 1905).

But sometimes ya just gotta run with what comes. I can always work it out later. Meanwhile, why strive to interrupt the awen as it flows, issuing from the Deep (one of the meanings of Annwfn) within us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next post: A Path, By Walking It.

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Review of The Broken Cauldron   Leave a comment

Smithers, Lorna. The Broken Cauldron. Norfolk, UK: Biddles Books, 2016.

Change the names, goes the old Latin tag from Horace, and it’s a story about us.

Smithers, a Lancashire awenydd, poet, blogger at Signposts in the Mist, and devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd, has mediated in her latest book a challenging prophetic vision of psychic and environmental shattering in the image of the Cauldron, that ancient and present manifestation of birth, wisdom and regeneration. Spiritual vessel, military-industrial grail, the Cauldron contains both dream and nightmare.

Through prose retellings of Celtic myth and legend, through poems that grapple with this world and that Other that has always deeply haunted us, Smithers links voices, times and places. She revisits the central Druidic myth: Gwion Bach’s transformational encounter with — and theft of — the Three Drops of Inspiration. Holding it up for careful scrutiny, she underscores its immense cost to species and planet. In one retelling she speaks in the voice of Ceridwen’s grotesque son Afagddu, “Utter Darkness”. It is for him that Ceridwen has set the Cauldron brewing in the first place, hoping for his transformation, posting the hapless Gwion to tend it. In a painfully apt contemporary twist, Gwion’s a negligent employee at a chemical plant, daydreaming through a reactor disaster, though acquitted in the subsequent court case.

But Afagddu’s gifted with his own preternatural wisdom, knowing Ceridwen still apologizes for him, even as she dreams of him “suave, clean-shaven, the head of the company in a priceless suit with ironed-in creases” (pg. 74). How we persist in our stubborn lusts and blind dreams.

The five subtitled sections of the book capture something of its span: “The Broken Cauldron and the Flashing Sword”, “Ridiculous”, “Drowned Lands”, “Operation Cauldron” and “Uranium”.

What will we do, we whose minds are “shrunken and empty of gods”? Smithers’ patron deity accuses us all in the person of Arthur, whose profaning raids on the Otherworld have gained humanity a magical treasure, true, but loosed a devastating tide of death. In a triad of admonition to human raiders on Annwn, the Otherworld, Gwyn ap Nudd declares: “Lleog, lay down your sword. Taliesin, cast your mind from praise poems. Arthur, be true to your bear-skin past, hear your bones and the star of the north” (pg. 10).

Listen to our bones, heed the stars: a quest each of us may still accept or decline.

For it is the Otherworld that restrains the increasingly violent rebalancing we have brought on ourselves. And it is there we find “a cauldron that is whole and filled with stars, the infinite reflection of the womb of Old Mother Universe” (pg. 7).

As a solitary, Smithers turns here from a mythos that has long troubled her. She declares her preference for Afagddu, refusing “complicity in the mysteries of Taliesin” whose limitless hunger to despoil and pillage and consume “can only lead to the world’s end” (pg. 8).

It lies in grappling with the double edged-ness of the “flashing swords” of the raiders on Annwn, I would add, that we may at last learn wisdom. Can we learn to gauge and compensate for both gain and cost? Whether we do or no, the Otherworld will assert its balance. A unique book.

Grove Divination   2 comments

Over the past several days I’ve assembled the results of three forms of divination into what may seem a hodgepodge of craft but which serves the purposes I’ve felt called to work with. More about them in a minute. When even our choice of the means of divination we’ll use is itself potentially a matter for divination, we can quickly get lost in a hall of mirrors and never get out and actually do something. Turtles all the way down.

We’ll continue to make mistakes anyway, even with the best of divinatory insights. There’s small advantage in refraining from acting simply because our guidance is incomplete. It’s incomplete at the best of times. That’s not a weakness but the definition of the proper field for human action. The gods don’t want, need, or make puppets, after all. (Not most of ’em, anyway. Those that do, flee as fast as you can.) Deprive us humans of initiative and will and vision, and neither human nor divine sovereignty means much.

The first divination I already mentioned in the previous post: the turtle in our yard, crawling north. Near midsummer, a reminder of the North, of earth, of manifestation, of the vessel for all this heat and light — the realm of form. After I completed my work of mowing for the day, I spotted a fellow being on its own journey. End of story? No. Whatever we do individually, we’re also companions on the way all creatures follow, alive here in time and space. All things are themselves and signs. We, too, endlessly offer our existences as tokens, pointers, guides to others. Meaning is what we do. Our presences always carry a specific weight and effect.

One thing imprinted itself clearly in my awareness, a laugh at self. I’ve been turtle-slow to acknowledge this inner tug, this call for a grove, and to work with it. The turtle, blood warmed in solstice heat, vigorously crawled some five meters without pausing. Even I am faster than you these days, human.

The turtle or tortoise is absent from the Celtic-inspired Druid Animal Oracle, but it’s a living symbol among native peoples of North America. Turtle Island. Many tribal stories recount how turtle does its thing, swimming to the bottom and resurfacing. A guide, an opener of possibility. In the efforts of many spirit beings to create land for plant and animal life to dwell on, turtle carries on its back the earth that muskrat or duck or some other bearer brings up from the bottom. Carry the earth to us, for us, under us. Turtle carrier, guide, creature yourself, alive in this place, complete in your own being and purposes.

We could work out a new divination system following the shell markings of the turtle. The idea certainly isn’t new with me — it exists in various forms already. Anciently the Chinese oracle bones derived from turtle shells. But even as new tarot versions and re-workings of the runes and ogham make their ways into our awareness, so too does the power of all things to serve a dual potential as themselves and as symbols. We’re always ourselves, but linked as we are, we’re also more. We live and we signify.

A second divination: obstacles, multiple reversed runes, blocked energy. Taking the three divinations I performed as past, present and future, this second divination certainly outlines an accurate picture of the present. After-the-fact interpretative retrofitting of a divination? Sure … why not? Or take it as 1) existing causes, 2) materials, circumstances, contributing influences, and 3) consequences, results, practices to assist coming manifestations. Either way.

IMG_1379

Entering my potential grove from the northwest, and facing east. What have I let grow to block my way?

I’ve worked most with the Arthurian Tarot, so it seemed prudent to turn to this for the third divination, because I seek insight into constructing a Druid grove.

sovereignty

Sovereignty

I enter my potential grove space from the northwest, improvising an invocation and pausing at each of the quarters and then the spirit center to lay face down a card I chose by touch and guidance from the deck. I circle a second time to each quarter and pick them up and view them. Here are my cards: North — the grail king; East — Arthur; South — the Spear Maiden; West — 2 of Spears; Spirit center — Taliesin.

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Blending my two paths, dedicating each direction respectively, starting with the North, to word, thought, deed and feeling, all in the circle and presence of Sovereignty, of Spirit, I take the following reading:

 

GrailKing

Grail King

The Grail King, associated with the West, guards hidden mysteries, approachable through imagination, dream, feeling. Yet he shows up in the north, and also paired with words. He offers guidance to negotiate the path if I am alert. If I abandon a stubborn fixity and pay fluid attention to the earth, to my body, to our shared physicality, then needed energies will come for manifestation. I can help myself by writing the way, by wording my passage as I go, by welcoming, shaping, and passing along my share in the voice of awen.

Arthur, from the major arcana, occupies the traditional fourth Emperor position. The Matthews’ handbook* notes, “The primary feature of Arthur’s role is guardianship and defence of the land … His creative energy is fuelled by close Otherworld contact through the mediation of Sovereignty” (Matthews, pp. 29-30).

arthurIn the realm of thought, Air and the East, he offers a gift of dynamic strength, along with a clear reminder of where strength derives. The Matthews further observe, “Whenever he attempts to depart from his kingly responsibilities … or live a life of his own, he comes to grief” (p. 30). Once we walk a certain distance along the path, we can no longer validly make a permanent retreat from human life, much as a hermit-like withdrawal still appeals to me — has, for much of this lifetime.

The Spear Maiden, signifier for the South, “shows the way through impossible situations by her daring, often by disguise or by shape-shifting” (Matthews, pg. 78). Again, I need not insist on a particular form, but allow it to remain supple, fluid. And take boldness for my approach, not this listless, hesitant, intermittently indulgent and slothlike state that’s dogged me for over a year. Boldness fuelled by Otherworld/Innerworld contact. The work of the OBOD Ovate grade, which I entered formally at the equinox last fall with initiation, but haven’t really yet engaged.

Spears again for the West, this time the 2 of Spears. A theme’s emerging. Matthews’ text says, “The skilled organization of resources leads to the achievement of desire; intuitive synthesis; dynamic drive” (Matthews, pg. 74). South in the West: intuition, yes, but propelled by the fires of the South.

Sovereignty

2nd image of Sovereignty as a major arcanum

Finally, the Spirit-center, under Sovereignty. A fitting place for Taliesin to appear, chief of Bards, initiatory model for Druids. He represents transformation “of the mundane into the spiritual,” a worthy goal for the making and purpose of a Druid’s grove. He is ready to aid the seeker in contacting “the living wisdom of the Otherworld … [B]y prophecy and far memory, he can instruct and guide … well able to represent images to the receptive mind and forge connections in the waiting heart” (Matthews, pg. 32).

 

 

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Images: Sovereignty; Grail King; Arthur; 2nd image of Sovereignty; Taliesin.

Matthews, John and Caitlin. The Arthurian Tarot: A Hallowquest Handbook. London: Thorsons, 1995.

Thirty Days of Druidry 12: J3D!   Leave a comment

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J3D — “Just Three Drops” — is shorthand for the experience of Gwion Bach, the servant boy in the Welsh story who tends the cauldron of transformation for … how long? Yes, perhaps you’ve already guessed it — a year and a day. The magic brewing in the cauldron is, alas, destined for another, and Gwion is sternly charged to keep the fire carefully. Never let it die out. Always maintain a steady flame. Haul wood, carry water. Be sure the contents continue to simmer and seethe and stew as they slowly wax in power.

After Gwion faithfully tends the fire for that long, sooty and tedious year of drudgery, at last the mixture nears completion. One day the cauldron boils up, spattering a little, and three drops spill onto Gwion’s hand, burning it. Instinctively he lifts the burn to his mouth to soothe it. Voila! In that moment he imbibes the inspiration, awen, chi, spirit, elemental force meant for another, and so begins the series of transformations that will make him into Taliesin, Bard and initiatory model for many Druids and others who appreciate good wisdom teaching.

An accident? Has Gwion’s year of service led to this? Was it sheer luck, a “simple” case of being in the right place at the right time? Does blind chance govern the universe? (Why hasn’t something like this happened to ME?) Is the experience repeatable? Where’s a decent cauldron when you need one? Can I get those three drops to go? J3D caps, shirts, towels, belt-buckles on sale now! Buy 3 and save.

J3D in some ways can mislead you. “Visit us for your transformational needs. Just three drops, and you too can become a Bard-with-a-capital-B!” The ad seduces with the promise of something for almost nothing. (May the spirits preserve us from clickbait Druidry!) Such glibness leaves out the inconvenient preparation, the lengthy prologue, the awkward context, the unmentioned effort, the details of setting everything depends on. (Doesn’t it always?) It’s true: Just three drops are all you need, AFTER you’ve done everything else. They’re the tipping point, the straw that moved the camel to its next stage of camel-hood. J3D, J3D, J3D! The crowds are chanting, they’re going wild!

Curiously, J3D is a key to getting to the place and time where J3D’s the key. It’s the sine qua non, the “without which not,” the essential component, the one true thing.

Fortunately, the way the universe appears to be constructed, we can locate, if not the ultimate J3D, still very useful versions of it, tucked away in so many nooks and crannies of our lives. If I didn’t know better, I’d even suspect that the universe in its surprising efficiencies has shaped every environment for optimum benefit of the species that have adapted themselves to live there. Which means pure change and perfect intention are pretty much the same thing, depending on the local awen you’re sipping from. Paradox is the lifeblood of thinking about existence. Or as one of the Wise once put it, the opposite of an average truth may well be a falsehood. But the opposite of a profound truth is often enough another profound truth.

When the first glow is gone, the spark has dimmed, the lustre has worn off, you’re probably at the first drop. When any possibility of an end has faded from sight, when you’ve forgotten why you’re doing it and you’re going through the paces out of what feels like misplaced devotion or pure inertia, if you even have enough energy to stop and think at all, you’re likely in the neighborhood of drop 2. When you’ve given up theories, regrets, anger, hope, denial, bargaining, and grief itself, and you simply tend that fire because you’re able to tend that fire, and lost in reverie you feel a sudden burning, the third drop announces itself.

At that point the experience may well appear as three quick drops in succession, erasing any memory of the earlier drops, the practice for the final event, slog to get to that point. Or the long intervals between each drop find themselves renewed, deepened, intensified in the pain the third drop brings. Somehow, though, all that has gone before either falls away, or the pain of change is so intense it fills your whole awareness, crowding out all else, a white and scalding fire from horizon to horizon. Or in a vast hall of silence, the only sound is a whisper of the soft flesh of your hand soothed by tongue and lip. Then you know the transformation is upon you.

J3D.

Bringing It   5 comments

welsh-taliesin-picThe Awen I sing,
From the deep I bring it,
A river while it flows,
I know its extent;
I know when it disappears;
I know when it fills;
I know when it overflows;
I know when it shrinks;
I know what base
There is beneath the sea.

(lines 170-179, Book of Taliesin VII, “The Hostile Confederacy“)

Oh, Taliesin, how do you know these things? I say to myself. How is it you enchant yourself into wisdom?

I have been a multitude of shapes,
Before I assumed a consistent form.
I have been a sword, narrow, variegated,
I have been a tear in the air,
I have been in the dullest of stars.
I have been a word among letters,
I have been a book in the origin.

OK, you know it because you’ve been it, I say to myself and the air.

When I sing, I hear a music that both exists and does not exist until I open my mouth. We create in the moment of desire and imagination. “From the deep” we bring things that flow like rivers while we sing. But before the song, or after?

Contrary to what I may think in the moment, so many things are matters of doing rather than believing. Challenges behave much the same as joys. When I’m afraid, I have a chance to show courage. What else does courage mean but to be afraid — and to attempt the brave thing anyway?

And when I sing, that takes a kind of courage too. I mean by this that singing when the sun shines is easy enough. Necessary, too. A gift. But singing in the dark, singing in pain, singing in uncertainty — or singing in joy when joy itself is suspect and the times are bad — there’s a song of power Taliesin would recognize.

The Awen I sing,
From the deep I bring it.

Another tool for my tool-kit. Sing it and you bring it. Make it come true when before, without you, it not only hasn’t yet arrived, it won’t and can’t arrive until you do.

IMAGE: Taliesin.

Persistence   Leave a comment

Persistence, and its twin patience, may be our greatest magic.  Sacred writings around the globe praise its powers and practitioners. So it’s hardly surprising, here in the too-often unmagical West, with its suspicion of the imagination, and its demand for the instantaneous, or at least the immediate, that we are impatient, restless, insecure, harried, stressed, whiny, dissatisfied and ungrateful.  We bustle from one “experience” to the next, collecting them like beads on a necklace.  The ubiquitous verb “have” leaves it mark in our speech, on our tongues:  we “have” dinner, we “have” class or a good time, we even “have” another person sexually, and one of the worst sensations is “being had.”  We do not know self-possession, so other things and people possess us instead.

The “slow food” movement, the pace appropriate for savoring, craftsmanship, care, reflection, meditation and rumination (slow digestion!) all run counter to the ethos of speed, promptness, acceleration that drive us to a rush to orgasm, speeding tickets, the rat race, stress-related illness, and so on.  None of these problems or the observations about them are new, of course.  But we remain half-hearted in our efforts or understanding of how to “pursue” their remedy.  We chase salvation as much as anything else, as a thing to collect or gather or purchase so we can be about our “real” business, whatever we think that is.  Spirituality gets marketed along with orange juice.  For a sum, you can be whisked off to a more exotic locale than where you live your life, spend time with a retreat leader or guru or master or guide, and “have” (or “take”) a seminar or class or workshop.

Anyone who has adopted a spiritual practice and stuck with it has seen benefits.  Like regular exercise, it grants a resilience and stamina I can acquire in no other way.  I sit in contemplation and nothing much happens.  A week or a month goes by, and my temper might have subtly improved.  Fortunate coincidences increase.  My dream life, or a chance conversation, or a newspaper article, nudges me toward choices and options I might not have otherwise considered.  But usually these things arrive so naturally that unless I look for them and document them, I perceive no connection between spiritual practice and the increased smoothness of my life.  From a slog, it becomes more of a glide.  But the very smoothness of the transition makes it too subtle for my dulled perceptions at first.  It arrives naturally, like the grass greening in the spring, or that gentle all-day snow that mantles everything.

I abandoned a particular daily practice after many years, for complicated reasons deserving a separate post, and I needed only to read the notebooks I kept from that earlier time to recall vividly what I had lost, if my own life wasn’t enough to show me.  My internal climate faced its own El Nino.  I was more often short with my wife, mildly depressed, more often sick with colds, less inspired to write, less likely to laugh, more tired and more critical of setbacks and annoyances.  Set down in writing this way, the changes sound more dramatic — didn’t I notice them at the time? — but as a gradual shift, they were hardly noticeable at any one point.  I still had my share of good days (though  I didn’t seem to value them as much), and my life was tolerable and rewarding enough.  “But I was making good money!” may be the excuse or apology or justification we make to ourselves, and for a time it was true enough of me.  Then came the cancer, the near-breakdown, the stretch of several years where I seemed to move from doctor to doctor, test to test, treatment to treatment.  If you or anyone you know has endured this, you get what I’m talking about.  It’s distinctly unfun.  And while I won’t say lack of practice caused this, it’s an accompanying factor, a “leading indicator,” a constituent factor.  Doctors might very profitably begin their diagnoses with the question, “So how’s your spiritual practice?”  Our spiritual pulse keeps time with our physical lives.  They’re hardly separate things, after all.  Why should they be?

In the story of Taliesin I mentioned in my last post, the boy Gwion, so far from the future Taliesin he will become, is set by the goddess Cerridwen to watch a cauldron as it cooks a magical broth meant to transform her son Afagddu, a mother’s gift to her child.  A year and a day is the fairy-story time Gwion spends at it.  A full cycle.  The dailiness of effort and persistence.  The “same-old,” much of the time.  Gwion’s a servant.  The cauldron sits there each morning.  The fire beneath it smoulders.  Feed the fire, stir the liquid.  It cooks, and Gwion “cooks” along with it, the invisible energy of persistence accumulating as surely as the magical liquor boils down and grows in potency.  Through the spring and summer, insects and sweat.  Through autumn and winter, frost and chill and ice.  The cauldron has not changed.  Still at it?  Yes.  The broth slowly thickens as it bubbles and spatters.

One day a few drops (in some versions, three drops) fly out onto one of Gwion’s hands, burning.  Instinctively he lifts the hand to his mouth, to lick and soothe it with his tongue.  Immediately the magic “meant for another” is now his.  He did, after all, put in the time.  He sat there daily, through the seasons, tending the cauldron, stirring and keeping up the fire, swatting insects, breathing the smoke, batting sparks away, eyes reddened.  Yes, the “accident” of the spattered drops was at least partly the result of “being at the right time in the right place.”  It is “luck” as well as “grace,” both operative in his life.  Part, too, was the simple animal instinct to lick a burn.  And the greater portion was the effort, which catalyzed all the rest into a unified whole.  Effort, timing, luck, chance, grace:  the “package deal” of spirituality.

And the consequence? For Gwion, his growth has just begun.  It is his initiation, his beginning.   In his case it distinctly does NOT mean an easier path ahead for him.  In fact, just the opposite — more on that in a coming post.

The Hopi of the American Southwest call their ritual ceremonial pipe natwanpi, “instrument of preparing.”  The -pi suffix means a vehicle, a means, a tool.  Tales like this story of Gwion can become a natwanpi for us, if we choose — part of our preparation and practice, a tool, a way forward.

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Fast food

Transformation

Hopi blanket

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