Archive for the ‘transformation’ Category

Devotionals   Leave a comment

On a Druidry Facebook group I’m a member of, the question arises a few times each year: what makes Druidry distinctive? In other words, if you’re looking over your options, “Why this and not that?”

Sustained contact with the green world is first practice, never abandoned, never out of date.

In a comment on the last post here, bpott said she was told in meditation to “practice devotionals to the gods outdoors. Lighting a candle to Brighid and sitting with her, or pouring water in a bowl for the moon to infuse its energy and listening to Manannan are such devotionals. There is indeed much to be gained through these spiritual practices”.

But this isn’t something for you to take anyone’s word for. It’s not that kind of observation. Words are meant guide us to own experience and back out again, to reflect so we can experience deeper.

Or as J M Greer puts it,

Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth.  It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit.

We regularly need reminders like these, because Talking Self sidetracks us.

“Talking Self” — you know, that chatty, sometimes neurotic self we use to read and post on Facebook, grumble at headlines we don’t like, and cheer for ones we do. It can often persuade us that it is all of who we are, because its medium is language and the thoughts and feelings language kindles in us. Name it, says Talking Self, trying to keep everything in its domain of names and words. (The Dao De Jing quietly reminds us “the nameless is the origin of heaven and earth”.)

Druidry says take yourself out of talking self and into Self — the being linked in its sinew and blood, bone and spirit, to all that is — rivers and streams, woods and meadows, valleys and hills, tundra and deserts, bird and beech, beast and bass and bug.

When you come back, you can turn Talking Self toward song or ritual, if you like — give it something to do that it does well — but in the service of something higher than reactive gossip and self-importance and anxiety.

And “going outdoors” doesn’t have to entail a frigid January plunge through a hole in the ice at the local lake. It may be as simple as smelling an evergreen twig you picked up yesterday on a walk, and now you hold it as you meditate, on the change of seasons, the incense of a living thing on your fingers and in your nose. Crafting a banner or a poem for the next time your Grove meets — at Imbolc in February. Baking and taking a gift to an elderly neighbor or the local soup kitchen. Grooming your dog or cat.

All these things re-engage the body and give Talking Self a break. Poor thing, it needs one. These practices help restore our connections. They gift us with balance. For these reasons they are, in a curious word more often associated with another tradition, incarnational. They literally put us into our bodies, even as they give Spirit shapes and forms we can experience.

Many forms of Spirit, many bodies to experience them: earth body and dream body and thought body and memory body. And others we haven’t begun to explore.

I lay the makings of a fire in our woodstove, crumpled newspaper and punky dry strips of willow from a fallen branch two years ago, and thin strips of a log split and split and split again. Wood’s our primary heat-source — we’re far too stingy to waste money on our electric backup, except in direst emergencies, and then the power may have gone out anyway. I can pause a moment before setting the match to the kindling and honor Brighid. The makings of a devotional. Not “believe in Her”, not “profess my faith She exists”, but honor Her. Often something quite different.

As someone once quipped, more important than me believing in Brighid is Brighid believing in me. What god would care to waste attention on a human who isn’t ever here? But if I’m here and as I honor Her I sense She’s here, what’s left to believe? It’s the honoring that’s important. The connection.

The Druid experience continually “abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit”. Continually, because my rigidity will creep back in, and fire and touch can warm and soften and free me from inflexible habits and open me to change and love.

I met Brighid most intimately through the task of firing up the woodstove when we settled in Vermont in 2008.  Fire became a daily reality each winter (and much of spring and autumn, too). The wonder of fire and the opportunity of honor to Brighid needn’t be separate from the gathering of kindling and the match. Our winter-fires may not be the reverential fire of Kildare — though they can be. Every morning.

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Today I’ll take out the ash to the compost pile, the midden, lovely old word. I let the freshly-removed ash sit out in the hod for a week, so I’m not dumping a pile of embers outdoors on a windy day. Old ash out, new ash to the hod, new fire to the stove ,whose walls are still warm to the touch. I set the kindling, whisper a sometimes wordless prayer to the goddess, and watch as flames grow and spread.

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taking out the ash

 

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new fire

My devotional has to take a particular, concrete form if it’s to exist at all for the body and senses to engage. Spiritual-but-not-religious knows this, instinctively keeps seeking but then abandoning forms, because it distrusts forms even as it senses their value. But it’s the dead form and the opinions-and-then-dogmas of Talking Self that are the obstacle to spiritual connection, not form itself.

Oh, Lord [goes one prayer] forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.
Thou art Everywhere, but I worship thee here:
Thou art without form, but I worship thee in these forms;
Thou needest no praise, yet I offer thee these prayers and salutations.
Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.

Except they’re not limitations at all: the way to do them in time and space is with temporal and spatial forms. I find little limitation in building a fire and honoring Brighid too. My devotional is a matter of intention, of choice. When I’m on another plane, I adopt its forms. (In dreams I fly, with dream-power my earth body doesn’t have.) But now, here (no need to apologize for limitations*), these forms.

Without a form, no transformation, whisper the Wise.

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*The words “limit” and “limitations” are dirty words, far more obscene these days than any other. Obsessed with freedom, we miss what limits are and signify for us.

A shape is a limitation. Personally, I like shapes and forms. If I had no particular shape or form, I wouldn’t be “free” — I’d be monstrous, “de-formed”.

J M Greer notes in his Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. 2012, pgs. 42-53:

A field mouse, for example, has teeth and a digestive system that are fine-tuned to get nutrients from seeds and other concentrated plant foods, and so that is what field mice eat. They do not eat crickets, even though crickets are very nourishing; they leave crickets to the garter snakes. They do not eat herbs, even though herbs are very abundant; they leave herbs to the rabbits. They limit themselves to one kind of food, and as a result their bodies and their behavior are exquisitely shaped to get and use that kind of food. Rather than jacks-of-all-trades, they are masters of one.

… the elegant lines of the blade [of grass] have evolved to make the most economical use of limited energy and resources, for example, and the curve at which it bends measures the limit of the blade’s strength in the presence of the wind. Remove the limits from the grass, and its beauty goes away. The same thing is true of all beauty, in nature as a whole and in the subset of nature we call human life: beauty is born when a flow of nature encounters firm limits, and the more perfect its acceptance of those limits, the greater the beauty will be.

… The same thing is true of all power, in nature as a whole and in that subset of nature we call human life: power is born when a flow of energy encounters firm limits, and the more narrow the outlet left open by those limits, the greater the power will be.

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Evaluating Values, Part 2   Leave a comment

Here’s the second half of the set of values I began looking at in Part 1.

Let go and move on.
Set goals.
Care for self and others.

For a nation that claims to be forward-thinking and looking, we’re accumulating an impressive ability to lick old wounds and live in the past. “Times were better when” can afflict the best of us. But even if it’s true, I live now, not then, and I need to begin with what I have today. I’m older (any “wiser” part is an independent variable).

If I’m listening to here, safe in my home cosmos, and honest with Deep Self, I already have a foundation to build on (“here”, “safe” and “honest” are the first three values from Part 1), one that lets me proceed to the next three steps. (Hint to self, or Self: they’re not necessarily steps in a sequence. Repeat-practice any as needed. Each also offers me an extended theme for meditation.)

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Mantis, 4 Sept. ’17. Photo courtesy Jodi Klue.

Mantis, you landed on nearby steps to interrupt a casual conversation a few weeks past, so this time I invite an image of you here to do the same. You become a prayer I can pray often. Let me see interruption as spiritual opportunity, the green world and all the persons in it as companions and allies and teachers, not adversaries. If you offer difficult gifts, I will not just refuse them outright.

You are my divination and message-bearer. (Yes, “sometimes a bird is just a bird” — until awareness greets it like a friend, with understanding that makes good sense of experience. Nothing has the “final word”. The Spiral opens onward, even as it offers rest and respite. Keep questing.)

Plainly you’re turning with the year, the vibrant green of early adulthood now muted, brown as leaves that carpet the yard and driveway. Hunter, are you weary? What have you seen with those complex many-faceted eyes? The power of awen: the empathy to enter other lives and know them, to sing their energies and possibilities, to feel slender legs beneath me, two powerful ones raised and ready to clutch. To sing and die and rise again, to thread the labyrinth of time.

Ah, shape-shifting is a mighty way to “let go and move on”! We do it each night in dreams, a practice I can extend to waking hours. Who can I become to know this world better? What links of sympathy connect me to all life? How does this moment offer doorways into what the cosmos needs next? How can I serve? Out of self and into Self and into other selves. Brother fox and sister hawk, I hear you breathing, your lungs contract and fill in my own chest.

Sometimes I can serve by setting a goal. Let me take the last two practices together: I set a goal to take care of myself so I can take care of others. After all, I can only serve if I CAN serve. How often I misunderstand self-sacrifice! If I can only perform the sacrifice once, chances are I’m limiting myself.

O wisdom-guide, you whisper, Often the best sacrifices are ones you can keep doing. The point isn’t burnout. Make it sacred, sacri-fice it, so you can make it sacred again.

Those of us who attended the recent East Coast Gathering are resuming our “mundane” lives. How to integrate the vision and energy of a Gathering, or any time of intense spiritual uplift, back into daily living is a perennial challenge.

But slowly I am coming to see that I need to “get spiritual” just so I can begin to see that the “mundane” is also absolutely overflowing with spiritual energy. We need to re-charge, yes: so we can flow again. Or to put it another way, my ability to tune in to a seemingly “ordinary” interaction in line at the supermarket, or pumping gas, or climbing the steps at work can transform the apparently mundane into a spiritual connection. The “apparently mundane” in all its flatness and dullness is our workshop, laboratory, spiritual opportunity. Empty canvas. It’s easy to perceive and ride the spiritual currents during events like ECG. Then I get to practice during “everyday life”. I am transformer, I am catalyst, I am pathway in and of myself. It can always begin again with each of us.

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Is Magic Necessary?   Leave a comment

“I’m here to have an argument.” (Welcome to our daily flying circus.) I’m enlisting the aid of high art and low craft to get through this post.

This post is an argument — not a disagreement, but an argument in the older sense of the word: a proof, a seeking of an accurate assessment of our world. Did the title put you off? It’s going to get worse. Maybe you should just enjoy the Monty Python video, and let the net distract you from there.

Are you allergic to magic, having tried it and found it to be mostly flash and bluster? Does it simply not rouse in you any response — the kind of response you’ve learned to listen for, the kind you’ve come to trust intuitively along your spiritual journey?

You can sigh justifiably — go ahead! — as I pursue yet another topic tangential to your interests or needs. Check back in later. If you’ve been coming here for any length of time, you know I’ll roll around again soon enough to something you can use. Till then, compost and ruminate. It will do you more good. This post really isn’t a downer, but it’s one that will get few or no likes, and recede ignored into the archives.

Because mostly with this blog I’m arguing with myself, of course. (You’re all much too kind and rarely call me on my crap, for which I think I thank you.) But like a madman, I do the arguing semi-publicly, flopping and writhing on the sidewalk, because what else is worth doing, if I don’t also put myself on the line? Do I mean what I do and say, or not? All right then.

[If you’re not like me or most other humans, you move through life blissfully, largely untroubled by the shifts and turns of living in this world with a body that ages and will eventually die. If indeed you belong to that singularly uncommon group, please leave now. I have nothing to say to you. However, you perhaps have something to teach me. It’s likely you’re spending down a karmic store from a previous life. Spend wisely. But if in fact you’re an enlightened being here for the upliftment of others, and you have no personal life or what we now like to call issues but used to be more accurately called hang-ups*, please open your school/temple/retreat/grove/workshop and get on with your mission. The world needs your wisdom.

*hang-ups: those weak spots in our make-up that serve as ideal targets for tests and challenges and other people’s hang-ups. Shrike-like (warning: video at link!), they hang us up on the thorns of uncomfortable truths behind our comfortable illusions before they rip into us. Because pain is often the creator of awareness. I don’t know about you, but some of my most valuable learning has come at the price of pain. And — after the pain has passed — it’s usually worth it. Cancer, deaths in the family, end of relationships, arson, loss of friends: like most of us, I’ve had my share. And like you, I’m still here. The best revenge is living well.]

Having dispatched some of my readership with one or the other of the last few paragraphs, I ask those of you who remain to consider the following. If you want to grow or make changes in the world, or both, and you’ve been frustrated, recently or for a bad long while, here’s an observation worth trying out in the laboratory of the every day. To put it in concrete terms, if during the upcoming holidays you’re up against a Clinton or Trump supporter in your immediate circle (or, with a change of nation, Brexit or Erdogan or Putin or Modi, etc.) who just doesn’t see the world your way, step back a moment and prepare to get magical:

The tools of magic are useful because most of the factors that shape human awareness are not immediately accessible to the conscious mind; they operate at levels below the one where our ordinary thinking, feeling, and willing take place. The mystery schools have long taught that consciousness has a surface and a depth. The surface is accessible to each of us, but the depth is not. To cause lasting changes in consciousness that can have magical effects on one’s own life and that of others, the depth must be reached, and to reach down past the surface, ordinary thinking and willing are not enough. — J. M. Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Weiser Books, 2012, pg. 88.

For “magical” effects, read “transformational.” I’m a sucker for a good transformation. Aren’t you?

It may be that our wands, like Ron’s, simply need replacing. We’re all “truth (im)moral high ground rights victory” and what we really need is just a new, and appropriately charmed, stick of wood.

51qgd7w1ecl-_sx408_bo1204203200_To add to the mix, I’ll add a line from the Hebrew Bible (Proverbs 16:32) that’s resonated with me since I was a teenager (read in your own appropriate pronoun): “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”

Yes, I’m as subject to confirmation bias as the next person. I like this passage because I’ve seen in my immediate family the ravages that anger can leave. I’ve also shed any expectation that another person will or can do the work in my life that only I can do. (Politicians top that list, no surprise. Blame is always easier than change, and they’re so obligingly convenient to blame.)

iluupncRound this off with Gandhi’s admonition to be the change we wish to see in the world, and I’ve got a lot of changing to do. But better me than you, I remind myself: if I’m hard to change, you’re even worse. The world — by which I mean you and anyone else in my circle — refuses to do almost anything I want. Me, on the other hand, I’ve hand some success in shaping. Small steps, to be sure. “I love you, you’re perfect, now change.”

How to reach the depths? Like others who’ve learned the hard way, Greer lays out a number of testable, practical suggestions. (Because they’re not “new and improved” they get less attention than they merit.) You’ve already heard me grapple with a number of them on this blog.

What I’m proposing, then, once a week going forward, whatever else I’m doing, is an account of my own experience with some of these specific practices , together with my results. I like the spiritual laboratory of experience, not because I “succeed” but because my failures are often remarkably instructive. I learn how to hear and integrate wisdom or make room for enlarged awareness in my own odd life much better by making “mistakes” with it than I ever could merely by reading or giving intellectual assent to others’ ideas.

A sign I need to grow: I’m either strongly attracted to, or repelled by, a person, place, thing, idea, or feeling.

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Images: Wandlore; “I love you, you’re perfect, now change.”

 

 

Holy Fire   Leave a comment

Some things glow with it,
flame-keepers, hearths we return to
whenever the world dulls and grays,
whenever bodies earth themselves
too deeply, those mornings each of us
can count all two hundred and six bones
stacked here in our skeleton houses.

Some things touch and smolder,
some kindle, flare once, no more.
Others spark and ignite everything around them.

Fire says: be done with cataloging. I
will renew. In the end, leave everything
for a bright journey. Burn
slow and long.

Thirty Days of Druidry 24: Playing the Druid Card   1 comment

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Could I be the Mage,
or might I be the Fool?
Should we learn to use our cards
like any kitchen tool?

When I search for wisdom,
when I peruse old lore,
do I seek just kicks and tricks
or something worth much more?

Is my quest a question,
things I already know,
or an “undiscovered country”
I rediscover as I grow?

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If “playing the _____ – card” means to take (unfair) advantage of some given of our identities, what might it mean to play the Druid card? Well, it certainly gains us nothing with either the gods or local land spirits.

Druid-card Holder (DCH): “Hey! I’m a Druid!”

Land Wight (LW): “Welcome. Have you listened to the land, spent time hearing what it has to teach, growing a portion of your own food on it, and feeling how each season and its energies shape the lives of all the creatures on it, including you? Have you, in four words, lived where you live?”

DCH: Well, no …

LW: Go away and do not return until you learn reverence.

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“I invoke you, goddess, for a change.”

Let me try again. If I live where I’ve lived, rather than almost anywhere else, I accept the gift of responsibility. Usually the word sounds heavy — something people try to flee rather than to welcome. But let me do my Bard word trick once more. I know I’ve often walked away from my response-ability, my ability to respond. I turn it off, drown it out, change channels, either because it’s painful or too demanding or or or. Third time’s the charm: find three or’s and I can successfully escape my ability to respond and maybe spend my whole life in someone else’s dream rather than one of my own. Success!

I often explore my own “weaknesses” because I find I learn more from them than from my strengths. (“Could that be one of their uses?! Hmm.”) We’re so accustomed to others being down on themselves that you may hear this as more of the same. No. I gain strength and insight from such cool, steady gaze. Don’t misunderstand. I’m as good at denial, deflection and depression as the next fellow. A 3-D life! A modern Western triad!

But what I want to get better at are the finely-tuned opportunities my weaknesses constantly point me toward. Lack something, and I sensitize myself to it everywhere around me. My lack magically energizes the thing to keep knocking at the door of my life. But rather than turning to my ability to respond, my responsibility, I do everything to reject the thing I said I wanted. But no worries, mate: it doesn’t actually vanish. It will keep knocking until I let it in. “Ask (I keep asking all the time) and it will be given to you; seek (we never really give up seeking, just take breaks for a day or a decade) and you will find; knock (oh, how it will knock back, friend!) and the door will be opened to you.”*

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Bala Lake in Wales, where Gwion Bach begins his adventure of transformation

More and more it seems that rather than missed opportunities, there are only ones I keep rejecting. If I really do “miss” one, it will re-group and when necessary take another form in order to reappear down the road and insert itself into my life. Come around the next turn and — ah! There it is, possibly in a guise more difficult to ignore, less easy to escape at all.

My fate pursues me like yours does you, like Ceridwen pursues Gwion through all his transformations. I might even evade my fate for a life or two, come back in another body, gender, set of circumstances, with a “clean slate” so to speak. Except not really. My one life is with me, my responsibility sharpens, clarifies, till I can live it fully, because there’s nothing else I can do, even if I wanted to.

That’s one corner of my “Druid card” — at least, living where I’ve lived, as I understand it so far. What’s yours?

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When I respond, link, connect, then I “beltane.” Let’s make it verb … Not to cheapen it, market it, no. To sanctify it. And you, my kin, my readers, when you last beltaned, what did you discover?

“Beltane is so much about the urge to connect, to blend and merge; to feel a part of something extraordinary; to at once lose one’s sense of self in that merging but also to paradoxically feel more absolutely and truly oneself because of it. In the desire to penetrate life’s mysteries, we need also to open ourselves to them, surrendering to the power of love that it may have the opportunity to transform us. Great things are born in us at such moments of union; this place of merging is where the tap root of our creativity feeds, without it we feel dry and disconnected. If that magical, alchemical moment of connection and merging were a colour, I suspect it might be perceived as many beautiful, vibrant shades but its foundation, I feel sure, would be the green of spring: ecstatically joyful – the irrepressible life and desire that leads us to love.” — Maria Ede-Weaving

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IMAGES: Ceridwen Centre logoBala Lake.

*Matthew 7:7 — an excellent Druidic number!

Updated 9 May 2016

“Every Sound Contains Its Echo”   1 comment

soundimageIn the way of things, no sooner had I planned to explore further the transformative power of sound in response to comments on the last post than images, not sound, seized my attention.

Stay flexible, I told myself. Both inner and outer landscapes can turn out to be far more fluid that we expect. (Sometimes my inner voice can be a sanctimonious pain in the ass — especially when it’s also spot on.)

I’d struggled with a particularly troublesome habit which has persisted since my teens. It had been responding well to visualization and images. Problem was, that image practice seemed to siphon off energies that usually spark a new post for me. Nothing. The well was dry. Especially after recently re-dedicating myself to posting at least once weekly, this was distressing.

Finally, some two weeks later, with more than a little help from the awen, here’s that next post.

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You feel a subject’s yours to write about when it falls in your lap. I subscribe to a weekly inspirational e-message from OBOD, and here’s what popped up in my emailbox one Monday morning about a month ago:

“The harmony that holds the stars on their courses and the flesh on our bones resonates through all creation. Every sound contains its echo. Before there was humankind, or even forest, there was sound. Sound spreads from the source in great circles like those formed when a stone is dropped in a pool.

We follow waves of sound from life to life. A dying man’s ears will hear long after his eyes are blind. He hears the sound that leads him to his next life as the Source of All being plucks the harp of creation.” — Morgan Llywelyn, Druids.*

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Didgeridoo

You’d think with a prompt like that I’d suffer no lack of material. You’d assume the post would practically write itself. No such thing. (The universe effortlessly keeps us humble.)

Though it’s lovely and rich with insight, the very authoritativeness of this excerpt set me back on my heels. In Llywelyn’s novel, the Druid speaking these words knows these things viscerally. Sometimes a fictional character can project a greater presence and command higher respect than any historical sage or living pundit. Most of you, I hope, enjoyed just such enchantment many times in books and films.

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“Every sound contains its echo.” Sound can lead directly to transverbal understanding. I know this powerfully, repeatedly, over years. So do most of us, if we stop to think about it. Like music, both chant and mantra can take us elsewhere. Rather than engaging the mind with its opinions, attitudes, assumptions and arguments, sound drives right through logic headlong into experience. Belief? Disbelief? Nope. You just know … at least until the music falls silent.

Echo, original, where are you? I long to hear you again. Always.

Try introducing someone to a new singer or band. “Oh, these lyrics are so inane,” your too-clever friend may whine. Meanwhile you sing along whenever the song plays, and the music just carries you with it. The words may fit poorly or well, but never mind. It’s the sound that carries them on its current. Your liking merely helps the sound reach deeper. All successful music resonates with such sympathetic magic.

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Beatlemania

Great musicians often stand out in front of popular taste, expectation and consciousness. We have documented evidence from the last four centuries of music in the West, from crowds weeping at the premier of a new symphony by Beethoven, through the fear of the freedom and perceived license of the jazz age, Elvis “the pelvis” Presley, the continuous screaming that welcomed the Beatles’ performances, the blissed-out faces of Hare Krishnas engrossed in kirtan, and on to the Evangelical fears of Satanic influence in rock – the infamous claims of backmasking in songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” only the most egregious among many examples.

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kirtan

I won’t claim all boundary-breaking is an unalloyed “good thing” — it’s not. But music – sound – possesses remarkable power to shift consciousness into new channels. We vibrate ultimately to what we long for and dream about, even if we resist it consciously. Our lives pick up and amplify the sympathetic vibrations, and start to manifest what we’ve set in motion. Imperfectly, sporadically at first, unless and until we learn to vibrate more consciously and healthily.

Much of what we do in chant and mantra is prime the pump, to mix metaphors. Start the vibration locally to attune to the vibration all around us, atoms alive with movement.

One of the best practices I know is to try out and compare different sounds, different vibrations, etc. Simply discover experimentally for yourself which ones actually work. Devote equal time to exploring awen, OM, HU, nam myoho renge kyo, the 99 Names of Allah, Gregorian chant, Tuvan shamanic throat singing, etc. — the extraordinarily rich human heritage of sound-working. Watch your mood, dreaming, creativity, insight and so on. In this way one can quickly dispose of much bad philosophizing with incontrovertible evidence from personal experience.

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To return to my own experience these past few weeks: working with images helped tremendously in shifting my energy and attention away from the habit. Yet occasionally the desire would boil up and flood my awareness with all of its original force. What to do? Sound. Working with sound provides a way to re-tune the reservoir of energy that often accumulates behind a habit and begin to help it shift in new directions, into new channels of flow. Image alone won’t do it, I’m finding: it needs sound.

The “why” of the power of sound lies in demonstration. Like so many of our most potent and valuable experiences, we have to hear it to get near it, play it to say it, flow with it to know it most intimately.

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*Llywelyn, Morgan. Druids. Del Rey, 1992.

IMAGES: female figure; didgeridoo; Beatles’ fans.; Hare Krishna kirtan.

Boku no Shinto: My Shinto, Part 2   Leave a comment

[Shinto & Shrine Druidry 1 | 2 | 3] [Shinto — Way of the Gods ]
[Renewing the Shrine 1 | 2] [My Shinto 1 | 2]

PYogananda

Paramahamsa Yogananda

“Its technique will be your guru.” With these words (ch. 11 of his famous Autobiography, online here), a young Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), founder of Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) and a principal exponent of Kriya Yoga in the West, counsels a peer he has just initiated into the tradition he follows himself. With these words he also points toward a kind of spiritual path that Westerners, rightly wary of super-sized personalities and god-realized con-men, can approach and walk.  A flexible and potent technique can be a trustworthy, profound and endlessly patient guide.

Technique as guru:  as a practitioner of OBOD Druidry and Eckankar, I know firsthand that a technique responds to practice and devotion as much as any teacher.  Religious and spiritual practice will always be as much art as science, because they welcome (and can profoundly benefit from) our subjectivity, even as they also point to their scientific aspect — definite and repeatable results we can achieve from dedication and regular practice.  My emotions, my commitment, my ambition and drive, my struggles and dreams can all contribute to my practice — leaven it and enrich it and make it “mine.”

my double -- b/c we were both angry at each other

“other” as double: both of us angry at each other

My anger at the driver who cut me off in traffic last week, on my way back from dropping my wife off to stay with her cousin, can help me uncover other unexplored pools of anger I can work to identify, learn from, and transform.  Anger by itself need not be bad, only unconscious anger, anger I act from unthinkingly, little different from a live wire I brush against in the dark, unintentionally — or attach to a light fixture and illuminate another step along the way.  Without the experience of anger, I might well miss the wire altogether, and forfeit a chance at illumination.

I can, if I listen, come to see that my whole life is laboratory — not only what I close the door on at 4:00 or 5:00 pm each weekday and return home from.  The individualistic-narcissistic-tending “MY spirituality” gets whittled down to more beneficial size through ongoing spiritual practice. And paradoxically reveals a personalized curriculum tailored to me, right now and here.  Anger?  Yup — that’s on my curriculum, though it may not be on yours.  And my life is ideally set up to help me work with precisely that curriculum point, just as yours is for your distinct points.  Yes — we share a “common core,” too.

compost is transition

compost: just another point along a transition

A practice like Druidry that places me in the natural world immediately begins to slim down ego in concrete ways and immediately accessible ways:  merely walk out the door, and at once it’s clear I’m not the center, nor even the “most important” thing in the universe.  I constantly meet the “spirit other”: animals, birds, trees, and beings without skin on — or bark, or fur, or scales.  I am a paragraph in a chapter, not the whole story. And that’s a good thing, because the world is guru, too. Hard limits of some kind are the only way a world can work (try seriously to imagine one without them), but if I engage them wisely, they build spiritual strength rather than frustration, nihilism and despair.  This physical body is eventual compost, like everything else: but not yet.  And this interval is all.  (Whether it is also “only” is an experiential question, one which only experience can accurately answer, not some dogma to be believed or rejected.)

“My Shinto,” my Way of the Spiritual Order of Things — let’s call it WOTSOOT — begins with the circumstances of my life today.  Here I am, a 55 year-old white male, a teacher, a cancer survivor, married, nearsighted, in fair health.   The initial details of your personal WOTSOOT naturally vary less or more from mine.  They’re also often quite superficial — party chitchat, gossip in my cul-de-sac. Because I am also a point and vector of conscious energy situated in widening networks of energy exchange.  I breathe, and chlorophyll all around me gets inputs it needs.  Bacteria on my skin and in my gut flourish, and help me flourish too, if I stay alert to their balance. I sweat and crap and piss, and nutrients move where other beings can begin to use them.  I consume some of these other beings — not too many, if the system is to remain in equilibrium — just as some them will consume me.  New networks arise, as older ones shift or die.  And part of my practice is: all praise* to the WOTSOOT!

Such processes of the physical realm are both fairly well understood and all too rarely incorporated into larger networks that spiritual teachings of all kinds tell us glow and ripple and transform and pervade the universe.  Scientific insight begins to catch up here and there with spiritual wisdom.  Not dogma, not theology, not creeds — that’s merely paparazzi spirituality — but insights into living networks — the shin-to, the “spirit-way.”  As I write and you eventually read this, we use an electronic network we’ve crafted that simulates in surprising ways organically occurring ones, and we can acknowledge the remarkable power and potential of such interactive patterns of energy and information flow as analogs to the ones we are born into.
calhobresolution

One valuable key to working with the WOTSOOT that I keep reminding myself of is “small steps. ” This works both as a starting point and a successful process, too. Any attempt at change, on any level, meets what we experience as resistance, because of inertia and equilibrium implicit in networks. (Otherwise, without inertia or resistance, they’d never have a chance to grow and develop at all, shifting and falling apart at the least push or pull from outside.  They wouldn’t become “things,” which are semi-lasting whorls and eddies in the flow of WOTSOOT.)

We all have heard that “If it works, don’t fix it,” which is fine, except that a corresponding inherent tendency toward change means that even as it’s working, it’s also changing, or accumulating energy toward change.  Often the changes are small, and if we model ourselves on this larger pattern, our small changes will accord with the flow around us.  (Small ongoing changes help us avoid really disabling larger ones, that can manage to accumulate a staggering wallop of energy if we don’t make those smaller changes.)

“Change your life,” counsels your friendly neighborhood deity of choice.  Okay: but do it in manageable chunks, unless a cataclysm conveniently presents itself to you, ready-made. I have a profoundly messy office right now: too much for a single day of cleaning, without a herculean effort.  Sometimes I can muster one.  But one box today, one shelf tomorrow? That I can manage most days.  Thus both my spiritual paths exhort me to daily practice. (With two paths, as long as I get in at one least set of practices, I’m usually ahead of the game.   I double my options — and find overlaps and interweave and insight from such doubled options — the paths are no longer nearly so separate, but feed each other and me.)

gmplogo

our local VT electrical utility

In concrete terms of just one network, in one person’s life? — Let’s choose the physical for convenience, since we’ve established and can understand a set of fairly common labels like physical measures.  My wife and I have reduced our “garbage” to an average of 8 pounds a week — mostly non-biodegradable packaging and other non-compostables at this point — and I’m working to bring it down from there.  (Why? Throw it “away”?  Nothing goes “away” — it always ends up somewhere, and the nastier it is, the deeper it usually sinks its fangs in my butt when it returns.  Part of my practice, then, is shrinking my “away” — out of pure self-interest, mind you!)  Everything else we’re able to compost or recycle, thanks to recycling options in our region of southern Vermont. We continue to tweak our car and woodstove emissions by wise use, insulation, consolidation of trips, carpooling, etc.  Infrastructure shifts will eventually impact these, as mass transit improves and efficiencies increase, or whole modes (like petroleum-sourced energy) eventually fall out of use.  Only this February 2014, out of the past 24 months, did we use more electricity than our solar panels generated, so we’re in the black there.  But a chunk of that comes from liberal surplus buy-back subsidies from GMP, our local electrical utility company.

Cap'n Henry T.

Cap’n Henry T.

All told, apart from property taxes, our annual shelter costs run roughly $600 — for firewood.  I mention all this as evidence for one person’s start at working with one network among many — by no means an endpoint, nor a claim for any kind of praise or desire for virtue** or self-satisfaction.  It’s part of practice, a point along a continuum, remembering my practice is both a “what to live for,” and also a “how to live” at all.  And again I repeat: your practice, because you are you, necessarily differs.  As H. D. Thoreau observes, “I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.”

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Images:  Paramahansa Yoganandathat “other” drivercompostCalvin and Hobbes resolution;  Green Mountain Power;  Thoreau.

*I don’t know about you, but I can feel gratitude without needing a target, a recipient or respondent:  a magnificent cloudy sky or bright flash of plumage or swirling blizzard evokes awe and gratitude I love to express.  Do I need to say I’m grateful to Anyone?  Can’t I simply be grateful for? Of course! Gratitude feels good.  Why deny myself such pleasure?  There’s a motivation if you need it: practice gratitude out of selfishness, because it makes you feel good, if for no other reason!  Or if I choose to thank a spirit or Spirit, that in no way detracts from my gratitude.  A target for it is another kind of pleasure I choose not to deny myself.

**Except for virtue in the older sense of “strength” or “power.”  This kind of “original virtue” is literally “manliness” — what a vir “man” ideally accomplishes that makes him worthy to be called vir — to de-gender it, “what humans do at their best.”  And what’s “best”?  That which accords with the Way, the Tao or pattern of the universe.

Updated: 7 July 2014

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