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Thirty Days of Druidry 17: A Triad to Welcome Possibility   Leave a comment

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A brief triad from a weekend workshop on spiritual possibility and growth: “Wait, listen, don’t run away”. The breakout group that came up with this piece of wisdom laughed when it emerged, recognizing themselves in it. My impatience, obliviousness and fear sabotage so many spiritual gifts before I can even receive them. I resist the very opportunity I’ve asked for, or turn — run — away from it. Maybe it arrives decked out in dirty clothes — one whiff and I wrinkle my nose in disgust. Or it slinks in all shifty-eyed and lurky, then lounges at the bar, hitting on attractive patrons of both genders, when I expected elegance, grace, tact, self-restraint. Or — just to reveal how contrary I’ve become — it clearly exudes all those things and I’m bored already, longing for excitement, surprise, mystery. But if I can’t even recognize what I asked for when it lands on my doorstep, how can I receive it and work with it?

“Wait, listen, don’t run away” (WLDRA) counsels me that human time is just a subset of a larger cycle. A different pace might open doors — or let me see those already open before I speed past. Or if I really have to keep moving, let me at least pay attention. Salamander in a vernal pool today, creeping toward a patch of sun. Wait and listen on a day like today “when the world is mud-luscious” as e e cummings describes it in his poem “in Just-.” It gets easier, when the world begins to answer that patience. Not always. Just enough to keep me trying. Enough that surprise can still fill me like sap. I feel it all up and down my nerves and joints and sinews, sticky-sweet.

“Don’t run away (yet).” Sometimes it’s not fear that shoves me off, but a weariness with the same-old that drives me out of doors and away. And one second later, after my back is turned and I’m off to the next new thing, there it stands behind me, a little breathless, waiting — like I could have been — partner, companion, familiar other, element of the universe just my size, carved out of the vast flows of energy by my need and calling. And do I welcome it? Do I even see it at all? Ah, friend of so many missed chances yourself, you know the answer. I do not. But I could. Can, the next time. “Wait, listen, don’t run away.”

(Bard-crazy, I play with that abbreviation WLDRA. Trying to pronounce it, it comes out wooldruh, almost like wuldor, the Old English word for “glory.” Wuldra gehwa “each of (the) glories” — and I’m off in words. Conjure them and they will appear. The word, the thing it names. If I wait, listen, and manage, this time, to stay put long enough to witness and welcome and wonder at what comes.)

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Stone Wisdom   2 comments

With camera in coat pocket and a muddy 3-mile walk ahead, I set out to see what a Saturday afternoon in the 40s might have to show. I started to write “teach,” and that may be accurate, but as human instructors discover, to say “I taught them but they didn’t learn it” is problematic at best.

I call this stone wisdom because it is a teaching of the north, of the earth, of winter, of this day which is all these things. It is a day of thaw, which I will take for my divination. Thaw what is frozen, so the lessons may enter, so I can move with what they teach.

One thing I’ve learned in the class of this life is that I really need to pay attention, to bring all I am to the moment. That’s a gift to the teacher, as well as myself, that richly repays any cost.

But “all I am” isn’t always easy. It includes idiosyncrasies, personal associations, weaknesses, quirks and curiosities, a whole range of human flotsam and jetsam. Keep anything away, and I under-represent myself. I come away shortchanged, denied because I have also denied something. Without it the exchange can’t or won’t or just doesn’t resolve into completion. But attend long enough, and the moment begins to sift out all that isn’t needful, until insight is possible. How long I let that go on depends on me.

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4trees

“Growing where you’re planted” can be hard work, depending on where you are. Friends who stand with you can help ease it, make it possible.

 

hubcap

“a world of made is not a world of born” — e e cummings. They feel and behave and interact differently. It can be a peculiar human study how to bring these closer.

 

mudsteps

Everything leaves some kind of track. Not all deserve following. Look both forward and backward.

 

privprop

“Private” only begins when someone else notices.

 

The Flow of things may well take you across lines and boundaries. Watch as you cross them, but follow the Flow. Let its gravity draw you.

The Flow of things may well take you across lines and boundaries. Watch as you cross them, but follow the Flow. Let its energy draw you.

 

threedogpriv

Triads are everywhere, and are never private. Is Cerberus, the 3-headed hound of Hell, lurking about? Not all teachers are easy ones, but all teach.

 

gravestones

Lying around waiting for something to happen? “Practice resurrection,” like Wendell Berry says.

Tabooing and Handles   6 comments

In a 15 Feb 2008 post “Taboo Your Words,” Eliezer Yudkowsky writes:

The illusion of unity across religions can be dispelled by making the term “God” taboo, and asking them to say what it is they believe in; or making the word “faith” taboo, and asking them why they believe it … When you find yourself in philosophical difficulties, the first line of defense is not to define your problematic terms, but to see whether you can think without using those terms at all. Or any of their short synonyms. And be careful not to let yourself invent a new word to use instead. Describe outward observables and interior mechanisms; don’t use a single handle, whatever that handle may be.

There’s a truly breathtaking number of assumptions I could examine in this short excerpt. To name only a few: that any unity across religions is or isn’t an “illusion”; that any such unity hinges on either “God” or belief; that the only acceptable kinds of evidence are “outward observables and interior mechanisms”; that arguments or philosophical defenses establish truth; and that language, let alone philosophical discussion, is even possible without “handles,” which is what all words are. (In the beginning was the Word …)

But let’s set those issues aside — because we can. I recommend taking on this challenge for what it can teach you. Take an hour and get down in words what it is you actually believe, and why. Whatever else is calling to you online, including this blog, can wait.

For Druids, the word to make temporarily taboo is definitely “nature.”

After all, we use it as shorthand for an enormous range of referents: an object of our reverence; a source of our metaphors; the set of patterns, relationships and movements of energies that we claim accounts for all life, including the workings of human consciousness; the antithesis to human excess and imbalance, often symbolized by urban blight; a kind of deity or pantheon of deities; a characteristic quality that is the opposite of the word “artificial”; everything that exists, including those human activities that produce counter-currents and eddies in its ever-flowing stream; an impersonal force or being, and so on.

So I’ll take on Yudkowsky’s challenge: what is it that I believe, and why?

I believe that to be alive is a chance, if I take it, to be part of something vastly larger than my own body, emotions, and thoughts (or if I’ve learned any empathy, possibly also the bodies, emotions and thoughts of people I care about). These things have their place, but they are not all.

I believe this because when I pay attention to the plants and animals, air, sky, water and the whole wordless living environment in and around me, I am lifted out of the small circle of my personal concerns and into a deeper kinship I want to celebrate. I discover this sense of connection and relationship is itself celebration. Because of these experiences, I believe further that if I focus only on my own body, emotions, and thoughts, I’ve missed most of my life and its possibilities. Ecstasy is ec-stasis, standing outside. Ecstatic experiences lift us out of the narrowness of the life that advertisers tell us should be our focus and into a world of beauty and harmony and wisdom.

I believe likewise that the physicality of this world is something to learn deeply from. The most physical experiences we know, eating and hurting, being ill and making love, dying and being born, all root us in our bodies and focus our attention on now. They take us to wordless places where we know beyond language. Even to witness these things can be a great teacher.

I believe in other worlds than this one because, like all of us, I’ve been in them, in dream, reverie, imagination and memory, to name only a few altered states. I believe that our ability to live and love and die and return to many worlds is what keeps us sane, and that the truly insane are those who insist this world is the only one, that imagination is dangerous, metaphor is diabolical, dream is delusion, memory is mistaken, and love? — love, they tell us, is merely a matter of chemical responses.

I believe that humans, like all things, are souls and have bodies, not the other way around — that the whole universe is animate, that all things vibrate and pulse with energy, as science is just beginning to discover, and that we are (or can be) at home everywhere because we are a part of all that is.

I believe these things because human consciousness, like the human body, is marvelously equipped for living in this universe, because of all its amazing capacities that we can see working themselves out for bad and good in headlines and history. In art and music and literature, in the deceptions and clarities, cruelties and compassions we practice on ourselves and each other, we test and try out our power.

 

 

Boku no Shinto: My Shinto, Part 1   2 comments

[Shinto & Shrine Druidry 1 | 2 | 3] [Shinto — Way of the Gods ]
[Renewing the Shrine 1 | 2] [Boku no Shinto: My Shinto 1 | 2]

Following the magical principle of polarity to wing myself toward what I really want to write about, in the title for this post I’ve done something quite un-Nihonteki, un-Japanese — un-Shinto, in fact.  Japan’s native spirituality focuses on harmony between human and spiritual realms, a harmony which finds a powerful objective expression in the natural world.  “Seek Spirit?  Look around!”  Yet I used boku, I wrote “I” — as if “I” could possess Shinto, as if it were a thing among other things that a person could own or control or claim.  The i returns to its proper size in balanced relationship.  An outsized I is part of the challenge the West currently faces, as well as each of us individually.  Be yourself, we’re told.  What the hell does that mean, anyway? Still too much.  (Too much is not enough, says the lower-case zen master/fool in my ear.)

Sometimes I just need to back into it, the destination that feels nearby, though I can’t see it.  “Returning is the motion of the Tao” (chapter 40). Because if I try it head-on, all the old defenses go up like a bad reflex. An old i holds on even as a new one moves in.  They spar a little.  But what are wood and water doing while I stare at an i?

treesoncliffsm

“who are you, little i” asks e. e. cummings in a poem of that title, “(five or six years old)/peering from some high/ window; at the gold/of november sunset” — let’s make it May instead: we can, and e. e. won’t mind.  Will cheer us on, I suspect — “(and feeling: that if day/has to become night/this is a beautiful way)”

Participate in our own becoming.  A call, if we choose to hear and heed it.  Make it day when it’s night (for our next trick, do it without using electricity).  Or vice versa, turning off the glare of the spotlight on the self which isn’t the whole story.

After all, “five or six years old” is about right: didn’t that crazy Galilean say we need to become like little children again?  Is that “being yourself”?

Like is important: we can all imagine it, approach it, approximate it.  Journey towards it.  Try out “yes” till it drops the ” ” — that little chicken scratch that distracts us from so much.  Or become the chicken that makes the scratch.  That’s a power we’re granted, too. Shape-shift at will and need.  One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother.  Thanks, Mom.  Can faking it make it real?  Well, the pressure’s off if all I need to do is fake it.

(e. e., you saw it, said it elsewhere:  “i thank You God for most this amazing/day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees/and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything/which is natural which is infinite which is yes”).  And if “You God” doesn’t work for you, insert your own addressee of choice.

Need a spell to make it happen?  “Power of choice I grant thee, I grant thee, I grant thee.” O.K., proceed.

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Entrance, Tsubaki Grand Shrine, Washington state

Site stats show that my previous posts on Shinto are among the most popular here at A Druid Way.  The reason for that can’t be too far to find.  We crave like a food-hunger a spiritual reality that does not depend on belief (or at least not on belief alone), but is present to us whenever we’re present to it — and even when we’re not.  We may hunger for a Way or Ways, just like we yearn for dark chocolate or hot sauce or beef or fresh limes in guacamole (insert your favorite food hunger here), a harmony that we can begin to fall back into at any moment, wherever we are, just by shifting our attention, and restore a sense of balance and integrity. And not just a sense of them, but its reality — a poise for living that shows in our words and deeds.  We’ve all known this harmony, witnessed it in others, however briefly, which is why we can feel so disheartened when we lack it, when we’ve lost it, fallen out of it.  We know it’s possible because it’s there, in living memory, however far we stand from it right now, in this grubby, muddy present moment.

We’ve even got a Shinto shrine in the U.S., the Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Washington State, if we need the reminder.  Which is what a shrine, among other things, persistently tries to be.  It’s here, all around us, what we seek.  And a few among us imported Shinto as a recognition of that consciousness, as a support for us when we lose our way.  From it we can jump-start our own (there’s a possessive pronoun again) American Shinto, if we desire it, if we give it space to manifest.  The kami know and dwell in America, too.

Though it’s not a perfect instrument, a song, a painting, a poem can remind us, point us in directions that can restore and heal. “The Spirit,” says Mary Oliver in her simply-titled “Poem,”

                        likes to dress up like this:
                          ten fingers,
                            ten toes,

                      shoulders, and all the rest
                        at night
                          in the black branches,
                            in the morning

                      in the blue branches
                        of the world.
                          It could float, of course,
                            but would rather

                      plumb rough matter.
                        Airy and shapeless thing,
                          it needs
                            the metaphor of the body,

                      lime and appetite,
                        the oceanic fluids;
                          it needs the body's world,
                            instinct

                      and imagination
                        and the dark hug of time,
                          sweetness
                            and tangibility,

                      to be understood,
                        to be more than pure light
                          that burns
                            where no one is--

                      so it enters us--
                        in the morning
                          shines from brute comfort
                            like a stitch of lightning;

                      and at night
                        lights up the deep and wondrous
                          drownings of the body
                            like a star.

(And so I ask myself, what isn’t Spirit?!  Is that being yourself?)

Tsubaki Grand Shrine -- harmony

Tsubaki Grand Shrine — harmony

“The Japanese,” says a BBC Religions page,

see shrines as both restful places filled with a sense of the sacred, and as the source of their spiritual vitality – they regard them as their spiritual home, and often attend the same shrine regularly throughout their lives. Shrines need not be buildings – rocks, trees, and mountains can all act as shrines, if they are special to kami.

Physical world as spiritual home: what a change that would make in us if we carried that knowing with us all day long.

A large shrine can contain several smaller sub-shrines. Shinto shrines can cover several thousand acres, or a few square feet. They are often located in the landscape in such a way as to emphasise their connection to the natural world, and can include sacred groves of trees, and streams.

How many of us find the kami in a garden, a window pot we lovingly water, a bird feeder stocked through winter, or whatever season in your area that otherwise challenges the small feathered lives around us?

Tsubaki Grand Shrine ritual

Tsubaki Grand Shrine ritual

Various symbolic structures, such as torii gates and shimenawa ropes, are used to separate the shrine from the rest of the world.

Separation as a reminder — not that one exists like some line in the sand, but one we need, in order to notice what’s right in front of our noses.

And so I remember to bow at the willow at the bottom of the hill where our house sits.  I talk to the crocuses.  Sometimes I forget.  Then I remember again.  Muslim mystics chant the dhikr, literally the “Remembrance” of that one Name ringing just behind our day-to-day awareness.  Or many names, each waiting to be cherished, each a kami, each a potential doorway to what we seek.  In a world of seven billion persons, a grand synthesis, a God for everyone, may not be feasible at this point in our consciousness.  But we can reverence that lopsided pine down at the corner, honor the robins and starlings on our lawn, respect our own bodies on this earth, and begin, again, to find our ways.  Isn’t that much of the promise of spring (and of so many of our human stories) — starting over?  The growing shout of green, the rising sap, birdsong and peepers calling into the night, what we call spring fever in our veins and nerves and sinews, obeying an old law we’ve almost forgotten.

In answer to a query about the viability of some form of American Shinto, about “What is Shinto to the West,” a Westerner observes,

Well, Shinto in the West is automatically different from Shinto in Japan. For some reason, Japanese immigrants and their descendents don’t seem to keep practicing Shinto very much, perhaps because of the difficulty in practicing a shrine-centered, community-oriented faith in a place with nearly no shrines (I can count the ones I know of on one hand!) and a very small and scattered community.

So, most of the North American practitioners I know of are of European ancestry, trying to practice Shinto alone and without shrines, and learning what they know from books. Many have some sort of cultural connection to Japan – either they’ve studied it academically like you, or else they have married a Japanese person, or they lived part of their life there, or have learned a bit about Japanese spirituality through the martial arts community. We have to adapt the religion to our new environment, e.g. finding replacements for unavailable supplies, translating prayers from Old Japanese into English, and trying to answer hard questions like, should we honour the spirits of Japan or try to identify the spirits of our own environment?

Druids have built their own shrines, and begun to listen to the spirits here on the North American continent, which differ from European or Asian ones.  Just the act of listening opens many doors.  What we often lack is the support of a community in our practice.  Many have the strength of self-discipline to sustain a solitary practice, but others need the interaction, inspiration and community spirit that can help through the arid periods where nothing seems to be happening and we’re stopped dead in the water.

For that reason alone many Americans stick with Christianity or Judaism, because it offers that support, even if they also seek out other founts of spiritual nourishment in places their Abrahamic fellow-religionists might balk at.  It’s the reason behind “spiritual but not religious,” which ultimately is often hard to pull off in practical terms, because spirit seeks a form, a practice, if only to come true to us, to enter our physical lives in manifest ways, as Oliver’s poem above reminds us. We do this and not that because it works.  Any claims about earlier or better or more spiritual or, Goddess help us all, divinely inspired and uniquely true forever and always, come along after.

Part 2 here.

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Mary Oliver. Dream Work, Atlantic Monthly Press (Boston, MA), 1986.

Images: trees on cliff; Tsubaki Grand Shrine images (homepage auto-sequence), accessed 9 May 2014.

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