Archive for the ‘Confucius’ Tag

The Other Three Corners   Leave a comment

[Part One]

Getting into nature if you can at all will go far to restoring balance and harmony. It can just set things right. For that reason I’ve illustrated this post with images from a recent walk my wife and I took along the Pinnacle Trail, part of a 35-mile (56 km) community-built system of trails in our area here in southern Vermont. With closures because of the virus, we had to walk 2 miles from where we parked in a neighbor’s drive in order to reach the trail-head. During the four-hour, six-mile hike we met just three other people.

Pinnacle signpost 1/4 of the way along the trail.

One thing that distinguishes much of Druidry — or at least many Druids, which isn’t always the same thing — is a way of responding to times of stress and crisis. I should be more accurate: deploying a widened range of ways to respond. Of course the same holds true of any spiritual path. The widening comes about through direct experience, and through something else we often forget: We’ve survived before. We can do it again. And maybe even — this time — thrive.

[When I first encountered Old English, some decades ago now, one particular proverb stuck with me: Þæs ofereode — þisses swa mæg. It appears as the refrain in a poem called “Deor“, and means literally, ‘That’s passed over; so can this’. We run into modern versions of it everywhere: Takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’ goes one example. When the going gets tough … (you know the rest) is another.

Yes, I’ll admit that like you sometimes I want to reach through the phone or computer screen and throttle the blithely casual writers who toss such sayings about, as if words alone can fix things, as if I never would have thought of courage or persistence, or decided to push on without such helpful reminders, but would have resigned myself to despair and conveniently expired on the spot.

Of course, invocations of fortitude and perseverance have their place. Our ancestors doubtless knew their own variations on such themes, and probably felt much the same way about overusing them. We might consider what the present love of memes and gifs with inspiring (or despairing) sayings has to tell us about our capacity to hold larger and smaller goals and energies in our consciousness in times of change like this one. Survival first happens spiritually, and then our bodies follow.]

Check out Druid forums online and it’s our individual uniqueness that stands out: a remedy or strategy that sometimes works for one works wonderfully for another person and not at all for a third. And that’s no surprise. The tree in your front yard, the same species as the one down the road, still grows in its own way, with a unique spread of branches, because your yard is different, unique in its light and shadow, in any neighbouring trees and buildings that surround it, in rainfall and earth, and in any care or pruning that land-keepers think to give it.

A Druid respect for uniqueness feels almost built in to our inescapable experience of encounter in nature. Bear or bug or beech or bass, no matter the species, right now it’s the individual in front of me that matters. Bear-in-the-abstract isn’t this bear, plumping itself on fruit in preparation for hibernating, or peering at me quizzically from across the meadow, or as surprised as I am when we meet in the woods behind our house.

So when something like this “one corner out of four” quotation courtesy of an old Wisdom-Teacher like Confucius plops down in front of me, I may resort to a different tool-kit than you will in my response. And that’s a good thing.

100-million year old bedrock exposed along the trail

A dear friend uses an “inventory of the bodies” technique when life turns hard. Like all of us do, she uses a particular map of reality to clarify experience. Her map divides the human self into five parts: physical, astral, causal, mental and soul. Knowing where events and experiences are clustering is a step toward working with their energies. Her partner often works with her map as a couple’s meditation, checking in with her and asking: “How’s your physical body? How are your emotions? What memories are stirring?” with pauses between each gentle inquiry.

Whatever my own map, just the act of stepping back and looking and listening to the movements of experience across my consciousness can bring needed clarity. If I can track a sour mood to a morning back-ache or to an uncomfortable memory surfacing, I’m halfway toward taking responsibility for my state of consciousness. Literally — my ability to respond, rather than merely react. It’s another practice, which most often means recognizing where my attention is right now, and then deciding if that’s where I want it. Likewise with a positive state — what does it empower me to do?

Yes, much may well lie beyond my control. (Longing for control is another issue to explore. I need only look at today’s headlines to see power-plays in abundance, with so many centers of power — people and institutions, spirits and egregores — demanding my attention and assent to nourish them. There’s a reason aboriginal peoples speak of “soul retrieval” — how often do I give it away?) But where my attention rests, and how I’m attending, are two potent keys for change and transformation. To echo the previous post, if I’m tired of the same old story, I can turn some pages. Like all practices, this one takes time, but I can (1) start right now, (2) start small, and (3) keep going.

stump near the Pinnacle ridgeline

There’s a triad that lies close to the core of much that I value in this life: timing, size and continuity. Size matters, it’s true, but most things that matter to me aren’t the big ones that roll in just a few times in any life, but the small daily experiences of joy, wonder, love. That’s mostly what I have to build on, or dismiss, each day. And, my friends, so do you. A practice of once during one day has an effect that’s usually small. But it’s a start. Make it small enough that’s it’s too easy not to do. Then keep going. Check in after a week. Then a month. A year, and then a life, and you will see changes, guaranteed. In the end, we can prove it to ourselves by the doing of it.

We’ve been conditioned, it’s true, for astonishment. Movies market it. Think for a moment what a “blockbuster” is designed to bust. (The military imagery continues in expressions like “blowing my mind”. Unless I’m so stiff and rigid I need such explosions, rather than blowing it, let me collect and assemble the pieces.) Love stories trade on astonishment, and every advertiser promises a piece of it, if I only buy buy buy. Religions depend on it, too — if promises of joy and salvation grow old, there’s always hell and damnation for the lurid thrills they offer.

Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” offered hell as entertainment. Up to a point, a superficial reading of Dante’s Inferno offers the same thing. Firsthand accounts of Edwards’ preaching report people shrieking with fear, even as they lapped it up. We might call it disaster porn — a version of the same thing promised by both sides in the partisan charade that’s taking place in the U.S. right now. We deny magic, even as we live half- or wholly be-spelled and enchanted by others every single day of our lives. Time to exercise some of our own craft on our lives, even if it’s just to explore what happens with our particular flavor of magic. It will fit us better than any one’s, because it comes from us. Let us surprise ourselves for once. Then make it a habit.

“Follow the Yellow-Leaf Road”

In that original quotation, it’s true, Confucius seems unconcerned. He seeks willing students — but then who doesn’t? All he’s both offering and asking from us is one corner — 25% — a flash of recognition that what he’s offering has value, that it might be worth a try. Twenty-five percent is a decent-sized sample, a good taste of the merchandise. It’s taking the car for a test-drive, looking under the hood, checking the under-carriage for rust, kicking the tires, and peering down the exterior for tell-tale dents and ripples in the fenders.

Many of us are already operating above 25%, give or take. Given that percentage, our lives can resemble a baseball game, a few home runs along with more than a fair share of strikes and fouls. “Two out of three ain’t bad” goes the saying, but one out of three is already a very respectable baseball average.

A lot of what we need is already in place, waiting to be activated. You can feel that from time to time, if you’re anything like me, in the mortal restlessness that creeps up on you. Some of the time, we really do “get it”. Moments of clarity illuminate the outlines of the path. Glimmers, snatches, fragments. We may lose sight of it again for a while, a month or a decade or — gods help us — an entire life. (“Better luck next time” at that point is just cruel).

All of this is — or can be — useful data, material for making a change, spending time with the pieces till they form a recognizable outline we can understand. We’ve done much of the necessary work already, or we wouldn’t even know this much.

Together with the inertia inherent human affairs that can seem at times like “malevolent forces out to get us”, and less dramatically as “one step forward and two steps back” is a parallel protection from “going off half-cocked, on a wild goose-chase”, etc. These old proverbs and expressions are both useful cautions and reminders of the status-quo mindset.

So let us meld them into a missing whole. Together — the synthesis, the third element of the triad that begins with thesis and antithesis, joy and sorrow, argument and counter-argument — they point toward a path that moves with a rocking motion, a rhythm that draws from both, as one way forward. Try it out — you’ll recognize it when you do. It’s the rhythm of waves, of horseback-riding, of sleep and waking, death and birth, of sex — the movement of spirit in these worlds of time and space and matter, the Old Magic always waiting for a consciousness (yours! mine!) to activate it and deploy it to make new forms of possibility and joy and love.

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Mist rolling in around the 50-mile view from the Pinnacle Ridge.

Posted 4 October 2020 by adruidway in Confucius, Druidry, spiritual practice

Tagged with , ,

One Corner (out of Four)   Leave a comment

[Part Two]

In the Analects, Confucius (Kong Zi or Master Kong) is reported to have said:

I never try to make people open up [to the world of learning] unless they already have a pent-up excitement about it. Then if I give them one corner [of a problem or point of study], if they do not come back to me with the other three corners I will not involve myself with them again.

Full moon vision to you.

The first time I encountered this passage, I recall thinking that it sounded arrogant, exclusive, etc. Over time, though — especially after I became a teacher myself — I realized it’s just common sense. Not every student will care or bother about things that may in fact be central to their lives either now or down the line. Teachers themselves may or may not perceive this, but it doesn’t matter. Insist, or try to force the issue, and it’s like pouring water into a cup that’s already full. Until you take a drink, any more just spills over the sides and onto the ground. No one benefits from pushing it, and relationships can go sour through nobody’s fault.

This, I’m finding, makes for a very useful seed for contemplation. What corners have I received that may like seeds now be lying fallow, that I can set into soil and encourage to germinate?

After all, nature wastes nothing, though it can at times look incredibly profligate. Plants produce thousands of seeds for just a handful to find a niche, germinate and grow. Many fish likewise spawn thousands of offspring, and most will die or get eaten. Even with mammals, who take greater care of their young, many will never reach adulthood. Yet each living thing, either by its life or death or both, enriches the whole in countless ways we’ve only begun to explore.

The imagery of four is another useful key key: often a corner [of a problem] pokes up in the form of an elemental “flag”. At first glance the details and circumstances of my life seem isolated, fragmented, singular and disconnected from each other. Like a materialistic view of individuals, whatever concerns this one stops at the borders of the skin, and doesn’t touch that one.

Superficially at least, that may well prove true. But life itself often prods us to dig deeper. By that I mean that I may face a health concern, like the flare-up of a skin condition I’m experiencing right now. On the surface — in this case quite literally — it’s “just” a skin condition. Something skin-deep. But almost never do such things come singly, but rather in a skein or network or cluster. How a deeper situation presents itself elementally can be a significant spiritual diagnostic tool. Earth may be the dominant elemental signature of a deeper situation — the “one corner” that widens to show new connections to the other three.

We’ve slowly been learning as a species how a systems approach not only links seemingly disparate events and circumstances, but opens up new strategies and approaches. Formerly invisible but beautifully appropriate and creative responses become visible and possible, once we broaden our vision, once we experience and consider the whole. My skin, my house, my level of exercise, diet, stress level, outlook, toxins around me, etc., all interplay and correlate and function together as a system of interlocking relationships and influences. Pluck just one string of the cosmic guitar, and the whole instrument starts vibrating.

I’ll look at “The Other Three Corners” in the next post.

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The Name’s the Thing — 2

[Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3]

An understanding of the power of naming is ancient and world-wide. During his lifetime, the Chinese sage Confucius was asked what he would do if he were a ruler, and he replied that he would “rectify the names” (Chinese zheng ming). He explained that words need to correspond to reality.

Damage that alignment, destroy the match-up between word and thing, he continued, and social order collapses. Or to jump ahead millennia and borrow from Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy, “enterprises of great pitch and moment,/With this regard their currents turn awry,/And lose the name of action”. In other words, to jump still further ahead in time to almost our century and to the much-quoted words of W. B. Yeats, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …”. Bards get these things, and warn us sometimes centuries in advance of when we’ll need them.

Or to put it in the unpoetic jargon of our times, things suck cuz our names for them are wrong.

It’s not always wholly that simple, but it’s also not so far off.


“A rose by any other name
Would get the blame
For being what it is–
The colour of a kiss,
The shadow of a flame.
A rose may earn another name,
So call it love;
So call it love I will,
And love is like the sea,
Which changes constantly,
And yet is still
The same” — Tanith Lee
A test for each of us: does this poem clarify, or obscure?

Likewise in ancient Egypt, where knowing the true names of people and things gave you power over them. U. K. LeGuin develops this idea in her Earthsea books. There her characters have “use names”, and hold their true names secret. For mages as persons of power, this practice is even more essential. And aren’t we all “persons of power”, however unclaimed? (Disempowerment is the magic too many wield today, against themselves as much as against anyone else.)

Sparrowhawk, the use-name of the wizard hero of the Earthsea books, goes through a naming ceremony on the cusp of adolescence. The mage Ogion “reached out his hand and clasping the boy’s arm whispered to him his true name: Ged. Thus was he given his name by one very wise in the uses of power” (A Wizard of Earthsea).

Egyptians in the times of the Pharaohs as well as Native Americans and many other peoples took on new names after defining events or achievements. To cite just one example from contemporary culture, Lily Collins’ anorexic character in the 2017 film To the Bone is given a new name by her therapist to help her imagine and discover her identity as someone other than a sick young woman.

Some of us pick up nicknames from others (including ones we may loathe), as well as give them to beings that matter in our lives. Dog and cat owners know this well. We give our loved ones “pet names”. And again, among the Egyptians, if you can name someone or something accurately, write its name on a pottery shard or piece of parchment, and then destroy the object that bears the name, you lessen the power of the person or thing.

A common rationalist view (an egregore at work there, too, one claiming that reason alone is exempt from all bias) calls this the rankest superstition. But insofar as words and names matter — and you need only scan current headlines to see a myriad of examples that names do matter, and deeply — that’s exactly where we’re living, whether we think we participate or not. “Superstition” literally stands (Latin sta-, stit-) over (Latin super) us. Are government stay-at-home orders “safety precautions” or “tyranny”? What we call them matters in concrete, “real-world” ways.

Next door in New Hampshire, protesters against the virus lockdown rally in the state capital. An added poignancy or irony: the NH state motto is “Live free or die”. People are hurting, both from the virus directly, and from restrictions around it. Does the binary of “live free or die” offer a good path forward, or might the Druid practice of transforming a binary into a ternary prove beneficial?


Breitbart News, 18 April 2020

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In the previous post in this series, I asked these questions:

What is your best name? (Do you have more than one?) How can you invite it into your awareness most beneficially? What reminders of it can you build into your days?

With some time spent in meditation, you can answer the first question for yourself. Make a name-giving ritual that’s meaningful to you — an opportunity to manifest your creativity. Consider both the power of writing down your name, or wearing it, perhaps in a locket or pouch around your neck, and also of keeping it secret, guarding its energy even as you build it, and never committing it to writing.

Maybe you take on a different name for each day of the week. More elaborately, you dedicate yourself to a month of name work. A different name for each day of the month. Watch for names you are taking into your awareness. What names are you giving to things? What names do you have for the events and circumstances and people you encounter during the day, week, or month? What power do you give them (or take from them) as a result of your naming?

If your birthday or another significant day is near, how can you consecrate that day and the names you’ve given it? “Oh, that’s the day that I ___ “. So what difference does that name make in your memory and experience? Try it out, with serious and also silly names.

Sticking with these practices, even if only for an hour at first, and then a whole day — or week — can demonstrate their efficacy and value better than anything I can write here.

What prayers can you create for your (new) name? Does that sound strange at first? Maybe a simple triad: “I shine the power of today’s sunlight on my name. I give the love of my ancestors to my name. I feed my name with the pungency of nutmeg” and so on. Work with this name, and spend time using it in contemplation. “By the power of my name, I ____ ”

May you find names of beauty, wisdom and freedom, and welcome them into your lives.

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Images: Breitbart photo of NH protest;

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