Archive for the ‘intentionality’ Tag

Druid & Christian: Whole, Healthy, Holy

Beside various books, conferences, retreats and training programs on the subject, the ongoing Druidry and Christianity conversation has a number of other outlets, among them Forest Church and some Facebook groups. On one of the latter which I co-admin with a Christian-Druid friend, we’re polling members for the topic of our next Zoom meeting. The current favorite is “Blending Earth Spirituality and Christianity”.

We can find many paths inward to such meeting-places, but we might begin with Shawn Sanford Beck’s observation (in his 2015 Christian Animism) that “To say that a Christian can, and should, cultivate a relationship with the spirits of nature, the spirits of the land, is something new. What was natural and somewhat unconscious up until the end of the medieval period now requires consciousness and intentionality”.

That time-line is significant. If such relationship seems foreign or alien to Christianity today, it’s perhaps more a measure of our often severe disconnect from the natural world rather than any heretical bias or heterodox belief. One has only to read the Biblical Psalms with their ecstatic delight in the natural world to begin to recapture what was once a human birthright. “Earth’s crammed with heaven”, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning exclaims in Aurora Leigh, “And every common bush afire with God,/But only he who sees takes off his shoes …” The difficult and awkward questions arise: Do I even want to see any more? And if I did, would I instinctively know to take off my shoes?

e-cook trees-s

Note that Beck’s and Browning’s exclamations aren’t set forth as any kind of doctrine, but as celebrations of something self-evident. Spend time in nature, these guides say to us, and you will know these things, too. And so Beck notes further that if we read saints’ lives and consider their remarkable interactions with birds, snakes, and other beasts, “The ability of the saints to cultivate such interesting relationships with animals was seen to be a sign of their growing sanctity.” What is holy is whole and healthy — the Old English forebears of these words form a network of related terms*.

*hál: hale, healthy, whole, sound, without fraud (links here and following are to entries in Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary online). (Note common Old English greeting wes hál be well, be healthy, hail!)
hálig: holy; a saint (in the forms se hálga/ seo hálge).
hálig-dæg: holy day; holiday.
hálgian: hallow, sanctify, make holy, consecrate.
hǽlþ: health; wholeness, healing, cure.
hǽlan: heal, make whole, cure, save.
hǽlend: a healer, savior; Jesus.

We begin to re-approach such “Garden relationships” with a world of non-human others, you might say, using the metaphor from Genesis, when we re-attune to the world all around us. God brings the animals to Adam “to see what he would call them” (Gen. 2:9). Have we forgotten who and what we named, and how we once could distinguish and recognize each one? Do we have “eyes to see and ears to hear”, as Jesus asked?

These senses matter, because “this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them” (Matthew 13:15). The healing and wholeness we desire are conditional — they depend on us. They can’t reach me, on offer as they still are, until I open to them.

So a major first step is to put myself into connection. Of course, that step and that action are not merely one-sided, from me. Bugs, birds, plants and beasts also keep trying to connect, though we often ignore them. Druid and blogger Dana Driscoll has a marvelously wise post on encountering the teachings of Poison Ivy.

In the same post, Dana addresses what the wholeness-that-is-healing consists of:

Sometimes, as druids and as nature-oriented people, we focus only on the fuzzy and happy parts of nature: blooming edible flowers, fuzzy soft rabbits, cute animals, soft mats of green moss, and shy deer. But nature isn’t just about things that are comfortable to us and that bring us joy and peace — nature is also about survival of the fittest, about defenses and predators, about huge storms, floods and destruction. I think its important that we learn about all aspects of nature, even those that don’t always make us comfortable. Part of this is because nature is a reflection of ourselves — we have our dark parts, the parts we wish we could avoid or forget. And understanding these many pieces of nature, I believe, helps us better understand the complex mosaic that makes up any human being. But another part of this has to do with honoring nature — without connecting with the many pieces of nature, we are in danger of misunderstanding her, of not seeing the whole, and not having a whole relationship with her.

/|\ /|\ /|\


Living Like Snow

The first exercise or technique in my workshop and booklet for Gulf Coast Gathering this Saturday is “Forming an Intention.”

There’s a lot of talk these days about “being intentional”. And I wonder: Did past generations somehow do it better? Did they set about what they were doing with more awareness than we do? Or is that the point: we can do better today because we somehow “get” the importance of intention? Really, I doubt both of these things. You or I? Yes, you or I can do better. “We” meaning large numbers of people? Not so much, then or now. Where to place and focus effort?

I love that when I google “intention” the first two definitions that appear are “a thing intended” (classic dictionary-ese!) and “the healing process of a wound”. I click on the link and that specialized medical usage comes well down on the list of meanings. Can intention, handled well, help with healing? Is that what intention is, one way to understand it? Healing?

What if I approach each action as an opportunity for healing? Some intentions heal, some don’t, or hurt more than they help. Would this change how I intend?

This last weekend I attended a regular “second Saturday” spirituality study group that’s been ongoing now for several years. The book we read is less important than the group, the intentionality of a monthly meeting, the ongoing flowering of awareness that comes from it, and from practice of a set of spiritual exercises together and individually that open the doors of insight. One of the group members, Bill, said something last Saturday I knew I had to include, giving credit where it’s due, in the final draft of the Gathering booklet:

Intention is a description of the limits of manifestation.

This is a fruitful theme for contemplation. If you choose to use it that way, I’d recommend you stop reading now and come back later, after you’ve gained your own insights into its reach. What follows below are some of mine.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Outdoors, the nor’easter that’s been named Stella (the “star” of the show, that’s for sure), has begun to blanket New England and the mid-Atlantic region with a classic March snow. Right now, at 9:00 am or so, the snowfall is still gentle and steady. Later it will strengthen, and rising winds will transform the world into a snowglobe both shaken and stirred. Meanwhile, the indomitable chickadees flit back and forth between the front yard feeder and the branches of the mountain ash.

Intention doesn’t guarantee any kind of “success”. That’s not its purpose. (Why do it then? I hear myself and some of you asking.)

But intention does invite a flow, form a mold, shape a potential, and let us exercise our sacred gift as transformers of Spirit. “Spirit must express itself in the world of matter,” writes John Michael Greer, “or it accomplishes nothing. Insights of meditation and ceremony gain their full power and meaning when reflected in the details of everyday life” (Greer. The Druidry Handbook, pg. 138).

For me, even more importantly, intention sets up a precedent of balance. It’s a handshake with Spirit, a gesture of welcome. Spirit needs our individuality to express itself. It’s what we are. But we also need Spirit to work through us, or “nothing happens”.

I set the intention of flying out to the Gathering and a nor’easter may intervene, changing an intention, cancelling flights, closing an airport, disrupting human routine. Part of the skill of setting intentions is releasing them, and then navigating through what comes. (Insisting on a particular intention can sometimes and temporarily shift all the factors in one’s favor, but the juice usually isn’t worth the squeeze. Doubt me? Don’t waste time arguing. Try it out for yourself. And as the universe sets about kicking you down the road, use your black and blues as a now-personalized theme for reflection.)

If you’re still wondering what value an intention has, look again at the situation, but this time without the particular intention. The nor’easter comes anyway, and whatever else I’m doing — intentions there, too — the storm still impacts them.

So one point I draw from this? I want to be intentional about my intentions. I’m constantly creating them anyway, manifesting constantly. I get up from bed. I make coffee. I build up the fire. I may “plan my day” or “wing it” as things unfold around me. That’s what it means to “have a life”. I just may be more or less conscious as I do, and have, and am.

But intention isn’t something that only I have, or set in motion all alone onstage. In a world of multitudinous beings, intentions constantly line up or come in conflict all around us.

“The intelligent universe longs for an equal partner” (Gary Lindorf. 13 Seeds. Northshire Press, pg. 21). I can ignore the marvelous energy of intention and still live. But not as richly, as full of love, or as magically. What does it mean to be an “intelligent partner” to life? Partner: not servant, not master.

/|\ /|\ /|\

“Intention is the description of the limits of manifestation”. Each of us has a set of experiences and talents and insights that give us a personal key to being intentional. As with most things, being intentional isn’t a matter of “either-or” but a matter of “less-more”. What are the limits of manifestation? Do I, does anyone, actually know? We make intention experimental — something to be explored.

stellaIn the last 40 minutes — it’s now 9:43 — the snow has intensified. An-inch-an-hour is nothing new for much of the northern U.S., but each time I “have time” or “make time” to watch, it never gets old. Like watching the tide, waves endlessly arriving on the shore. Repetition builds a universe. On one scale of things, you might call Stella a very “minor” event. Take a large enough view and almost everything turns small. The weather image of the continental U.S. shows the small portion affected. What does such a view offer? On a small enough scale, it’s all-encompassing. Here in southern Vermont, a cloud moving white in every direction.

It may seem strange to speak of “non-personal” events like weather in terms of intention, but then I think that the existence of anything forms or reveals its intention. After all, do I ever see snow except when it falls, or has fallen? That’s what snow is. And I imagine — intend — living more intentionally, living like snow, being an intention of Spirit, with the added and priceless human gift of witnessing as I do.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Image: stella.


Notes on Magic


What follows are brief notes from a short talk I recently gave on magic.

Dion Fortune’s definition of magic: “the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will.”

“… most of us, most of the time, are content to use the imaginations of others to define the world around us, however poorly these may fit our own experiences and needs; most of us, most of the time, spend our lives reacting to feelings, whims and biological cravings rather than acting on the basis of conscious choice; most of us, most of the time, remember things so poorly that entire industries have come into existence to make up for the failures and inaccuracies of memory” (J. M. Greer, Circles of Power, 52).

We can, however, choose to imagine – & remember – ourselves differently. When we do so with focused attention, changes happen, both subjectively & objectively.

/|\ /|\ /|\ 

Magic stems from an experiential fact, an experimental goal, & an endlessly adaptable technique.

The fact is that each day we all experience many differing states of consciousness, moving from deep sleep to REM sleep to dream to waking, to daydream, to focused awareness & back again.  We make these transitions naturally & usually effortlessly.  They serve different purposes, & what we cannot do in one state, we can often do easily in another.  The flying dream is not the focus on making a hole in one, nor is it the light trance of daydream, nor the careful math calculation.

The goal of magic is transformation – to enter focused states of awareness at will & through them to achieve insight & change.

The technique is the training & work of the imagination.  This work typically involves the use of ritual, meditation, chant, visualization, concentration, props, images & group dynamics to catalyze transformations in awareness.

/|\ /|\ /|\ 

Magic is also “a set of methods for arranging awareness according to patterns.”

We live our lives according to patterns.  Some patterns are limiting & may be unmasked as restrictive.  Other patterns can help bring about transformation.  “[T]he purpose of magical arts is to enable changes within the individual by which he or she may apprehend further methods [of magic & transformation] inwardly.”

“… [O]ur imagination is our powerhouse … certain images tap into the deeper levels of imaginative force within us; when these are combined with archetypal patterns they may have a permanent transformative effect.”

– R. J. Stewart, Living Magical Arts

/|\ /|\ /|\ 

Image source:  sunset.

Druid of the Day (1)

New York Times columnist Dana Jennings wins the first “Druid of the Day” award particularly for this portion of his column in yesterday’s (7/10/12) Times:

Scenes From the Meadowlandscape

Monet had his haystacks, Degas had his dancers, and I have the New Jersey Meadowlands from the window of my Midtown Direct train as I travel to and from Manhattan.

But what, it’s fair to ask, does squinting out at the Meadowlands each day have to do with art, with culture? Well, as a novelist and memoirist for more than 20 years, I like to think that if I stare hard enough — even from a speeding train — I can freeze and inhabit the suddenly roomy moment. Through the frame that is my train window I’m able to discern and delight in any number of hangable still lifes.

And the Meadowlands never disappoints, no matter what exhibition is up.

Its shifting weave of light, color and texture hone and enchant the eye. The sure and subtle muscle of the Hackensack River is sometimes just a blue mirror, but when riled and roiled by wind and rain it becomes home to slate-gray runes. The scruff, scrub and brush are prickly and persistent, just like certain denizens of New Jersey. And the brontosaurus bridges, their concrete stumps thumped into the swamp, idly look down on it all.

For his focus, intentionality and the requisite quietness to see, and then — just as important — turn the results of that seeing into a window, an access point for others who read his column to do the same “noticing” in their own lives, Jennings earns my commendation as “Druid of the Day.”  This seemed like a good series to launch, to help remind myself as well as my readers of ways we can be more attentive to beauty around us, particularly unexpected instances — free, a gift if we only notice them — and receive their transformative power.

City or country, it doesn’t matter: we can be witnesses of natural power and beauty, and learn what they may have to teach us, anywhere — including Manhattan, and from the window of the Midtown Direct train.  These are no less — or more — “Druidic” than any other spots on the planet.

Know others who deserve recognition as “D of the D”? Please send them along to me and I’ll write them up and include an acknowledgement to you in the citation.  Thanks in advance.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Resolutions — New Year’s and Others

It’s no accident that this time of year turns us toward thoughts of resolutions.  After the family gatherings and excess of the holidays — and let’s be honest, some excess and abandon can be fun, or would be, if our Puritan strain didn’t kick in, and kick us — we can feel slack and listless.  We’ve crested the peak of seemingly endless sugar and fat in our holiday diet — unless New Year’s Eve is the bigger holiday for you, in which case you’re just getting in training.  In the shadow of the sugar low, just combine these things with cloudy days, at least here in the northeast U.S., and you face a perfect storm of sloth and dejection and mild to severe loathing.  At some point our usually inevitable American self-improvement gene then steps forward, and it’s off to fix ourselves.

Whenever we push happiness or improvement into the future, we can be in trouble.  If it’s in the form of satisfaction with ourselves, twice the trouble.  How many times have we started and quit some scheme of fix-up?  Lose weight, get in shape, hold your temper with the left- or right-wing relative who always gets under your skin, forgive your neighbor, keep a diary, save more money each month, clean the basement or garage — paper for all the lists of vows and resolutions could keep Staples in business all by itself.  And if you truly enjoy flogging yourself, you key in your list to your favorite electronic device, so you can torture yourself with it several times a day.

You should know I tend not to make many resolutions.  Partly, my personal standards are lower, I’ll admit — and that makes things easier.  I confess to a startling capacity for indolence.  Both my wife and I have had years where we’re either flat out — busy, or flat out — in sloth.  Partly as a result of that, I’m a pragmatist.  No use flailing and contorting to begin something I won’t finish.  Shorten the list, I tell myself.  Throw it out altogether.  Delete the to-do’s accumulating on your virtual or actual desktop.  Be realistic.  You’ll be happier not making yourself miserable with what you fail to accomplish.  Or just keep it off the list in the first place.  Guilt may be a Catholic specialty, but most Americans, regardless of religious ancestry or affiliation, have managed to add it to their personal repertoire of masochism and psychological waterboarding.  Thus do I lower expectations.  And I’m only exaggerating slightly.  Low expectations let me rejoice in walking down a hallway and back — once — after my cancer surgery. Then twice.  And so on.  In three months I was jogging three miles a day.  Which was not my intention, and would have seemed daunting at the outset.  I just increased my distance a little each day.  The gifts of fresh air and daily sunrise were more than half of my success.

Which brings me to magic.

Not a transition you saw coming, I imagine.  Enough for at least a couple of readers to stop in disgust.  We’ll ignore the fact that what gets called “magical thinking” is exactly what propels many of our resolutions to change.  Such thinking is indeed unrealistic, because — to use the physical metaphor — we try to do the equivalent of the Boston Marathon without first taking up merely a short daily walk.  Too often we simply crash and burn.

So let’s define magic as most actual practitioners do:  the art of creating changes in consciousness in conformity with the will.

This isn’t the “will” of willpower, as if we could compel the universe to do anything it isn’t already inclined to do.  That kind of will is the popular image of the witch or magician, however, muttering arcane mantras and spells, and perhaps waving a wand.  It’s Harry Potter magic, which is why many practicing magicians found the Evangelical Christian hysteria (here’s a more balanced overview) over the book series and its supposed promotion of “Satanism” and “witchcraft” to be hysterical, as in funny.  See how far you get waving a wand and shouting “Expelliarmus” or “Avada Kedavra.”  (“Expecto Patronum”* might get you incrementally closer to achieving something, if only because it may lead you to focus on a positive.)

Actual — as opposed to Hollywood or popular — magic is a matter of discerning the patterns and tendencies of the natural world and its powers and forces, and then aligning oneself with them.  Quite simply, any other approach is highly unlikely to succeed.  As Druid and occult author J. M. Greer observes, if it “ignores the momentum and flow of natural patterns, it’s clumsy and wasteful of energy.  It’s much like trying to cross a lake on a rowboat without paying attention to the winds and the currents.  If you ignore these, you can put plenty of effort into rowing and make very little headway, or even end up further away from your goal than you started” (The Druid Magic Handbook, 18).  Blindly asserting the will is rowing while oblivious to movements and energies of the larger world.  Far from being supernatural, magic is thus deeply involved with the natural world.

The will involved in magic is much better identified as intentionality, and it’s intentionality that helps our New Year’s resolutions actually succeed.  Greer continues:  “Real will is effortless.  It corresponds, not to struggle and strain, but to what philosophers call ‘intentionality,’ the orientation of the mind that locates meaning in objects of experience” (20).  He gives the example of choosing to look at a window, or through a window at something on the other side.  The well-known image of faces or a vase offers a similar instance.  It’s by intention that we shift our perception.  Strain has nothing to do with it.  You perceive the two dark faces in profile looking at each other, or you perceive a white vase on a black background.   It’s hard to see both simultaneously.  But intentionality lets you shift between them.  It’s a choice.

One technique, therefore, for training the will or the intentionality, is to do something simple and comparatively effortless.  Set yourself a ridiculously easy task, follow through on it, and record your results.  The purpose of this training is to reveal and separate all our defeatist and negative self-sabotaging attitudes from an actual act of intentionality.  For instance, five times during the day, stand up, turn three times in a circle and sit back down again.  Record the date and time on each instance that you do this.

Now presumably nothing interfered with your success, except perhaps a mild feeling of embarrassment.  But you set up an intention, and manifested it without strain.  You simply did it.  Yoda’s words are apropos here:  “Do, or do not.  There is no try.”  The “trying” is the strain, the effort of will to do something you actually don’t want to do.  Intentionality bypasses that.  You simply do it because you decided to.  This is a form of preliminary magical training:  doing small, effortless, things you know you can achieve without strain, in order to gain confidence in intention.

Because intentionality is a choice, not a struggle, many aspects of our lives can come under its influence.  Greer continues,

If you face a challenge with confidence, for example, you chances of success are much better than if you face the same challenge full of doubts and worries.  Intentionality is the reason why.  What the confident person sees as potential opportunities, the worried person sees as potential obstacles, and they are both right, because whether something is an opportunity or an obstacle usually depends on how you choose to approach it (Greer, 21)

— that is, on your intentionality.

We use a form of magic whenever we make a resolution — in this sense, we’re all magicians at work.

The difference between intentionality and ordinary ideas of willpower explains many of the failures that bedevil beginners.  When you try to use magic to will the world into obedience [in the case of a resolution, you will yourself to change your own behaviors and habits — ADW],  you set up an intentionality of conflict between yourself and the world … The harder you try to make the world obey, the more it fights back, because all your efforts reinforce the intentionality and amplify the conflict.  Change your intentionality to one of moving in harmony with the world, and the conflict disappears (Greer, 21).

This is not unfamiliar territory to Christians, either, or shouldn’t be.  Jesus says, “Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him.”  “Turn the other cheek,” and so on.  In other words, don’t make additional and entirely unnecessary trouble for yourself.  Don’t stand in your own way.

Because we often practice “black magic” on ourselves, sabotaging and short-circuiting our own best intentions with negative thinking and self-limiting behavior, and setting up conflicting, opposing intentionalities, we waste time and energy “rowing against the current.”  Many beginning magicians

try to use magic to achieve financial prosperity, and it’s common for their efforts to backfire and leave them poorer than they started.  Why?  In many cases, their magic focuses on wanting what they don’t have.  This sets up an intentionality of wanting and not having, and so they end up wanting money and not having it.  As with so many things in life, the more energy they put into chasing something, the faster it runs away (Greer, 22).

Because Greer has such insightful and useful things to say about intentionality — and thus resolutions — I want to let him have (almost) the final word:

If you want to use magic to become prosperous, your intentionality has to focus on being prosperous, not on wanting to be prosperous.  One effective approach starts with noticing the prosperity already in your life — if you have a roof over your head, three meals a day, and the leisure to read this book, after all, you have more prosperity than half the people on this planet — and letting the change in focus from wanting to having gently redefine your intentionality toward wealth.  Another useful strategy focuses on seeing opportunities for abundance around you.  This redefines your surroundings as a source of opportunity, and as [our life energy] follows intentionality, and shapes experience, opportunities appear (Greer, 22).

So to sum up, practice intentionality with actions that don’t haul negative habits of thinking along with them.  Focus on having and being, rather than on wanting and lacking.  Experiment.  Use the power of choice to shift consciousness — to see the vase, the faces, or whatever your intentionality is.  Repeat as needed.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: resolutions and faces/vase

Postscript: when I was searching for the first image, a list of resolutions, I came across pictures of computer screens, too — another meaning of resolution — the pixel resolution or clarity of image that a screen possesses.  Likewise, my clarity in visualizing the goal — of having or being what I desire — is key to “keeping” my resolutions.  Imagining what it is like being and having what I desire is halfway to my manifesting it.  I already know something of what it feels like to succeed. (I’m using this strategy as I revise my nanowrimo draft.)

*”Expecto patronum” — (Latin, literally, “I await a patron/protector”) summons a familiar or symbolic representation of the self to protect one against negative energies, such as Dementors in the HP series.  Harry’s patronus is a stag, as was his father’s.  Of the three spells I cite above, this one is good defensive magic and actually works well against nightmares. The following is part of the entry from the Harry Potter wiki on the Patronum spell:

A Patronus is a kind of positive force, and for the wizard who can conjure one, it works something like a shield, with the Dementor feeding on it, rather than him. In order for it to work, you need to think of a memory. Not just any memory, a very happy memory, a very powerful memory… Allow it to fill you up… lose yourself in it… then speak the incantation “Expecto Patronum”.

Remus Lupin teaching Harry Potter the Patronus Charm

%d bloggers like this: