Archive for the ‘mantra’ Tag

Doing the Work   Leave a comment

I don’t talk directly about the other path I follow, and that’s principally for my own benefit, so I can keep clear about where I am and what I’m doing at the moment. Obviously I can’t keep them separate, and there’s no reason to try. They feed each other constantly anyway, and often unexpectedly, too. Like when a teacher from the other path shows up as a Druid guide in a dream or meditation. Or an exercise originating in OBOD does nothing Druidy, but opens a door I thought was locked tight, or didn’t realize was a door in the first place, and shows me a new landscape I couldn’t even have imagined in my understanding of the other path. And that’s the short version of why I keep practicing both. Do the work, say both paths.

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Louisiana Live Oak near Gulf Coast Gathering, 1200+ years old

One of the practices of the other path, nothing particularly unique or esoteric in itself, is writing a monthly letter to one’s teacher surveying the past 30 days, noting discoveries and setbacks, places for focus, requests for help, dreams, encounters, insights from reading and study, and so on. It doesn’t have to get (e)mailed (though that can be its own practice), because the value is in the doing. No surprise, we receive in direct measure as we give.

I talk often here about the value of a daily practice, whatever form it may take. Certainly weekly and monthly cycles grow and build on that daily rhythm, whatever it is. (Start small, and with what feels appropriate.) Lapse in my daily discipline, and I see the larger cycles become more challenging. They have to pick up my slack. The weekly fast, physical or mental, that can be so cleansing, simply has more to clear away, and that can make it harder to move through. If it’s physical, food calls with an imperative clamor you would not believe unless you’ve tried it. If mental, every weakness seems to arrive and bid for attention. Or they take turns. And sitting to begin that monthly letter, which you might think would welcome such experiences as ready-made material to incorporate, instead throws up formidable writer’s block. I am called to do the work. Otherwise I sit still, and stagnate. No fun there.

Along with the letter, of immense value is working with a personal word or mantra. Many know and use traditional words and phrases — OM, amen, nam myoho renge kyo, allah hu akbar, and so on. And these practices prove their own worth, in groups and alone. But the personal word is a spiritual key, and it can unlock many doors, simply because it is tuned to my present consciousness. It echoes where I am today. And that means that if my current word wears down, as they do over time, asking for a new one is part of the practice.

Watching and listening for the new word is an exercise in itself. Sometimes it will present itself in contemplation, as if dropped in place like a stone in a pond. It may be an existing English word, or a non-English syllable or two or three. I try it out, the vibration engages, and I’m off. Testing it is an important part of using it. If I feel a habit loosen, a mood lift, an energy or pulse that shifts things usefully, I know it’s working. Other times, it appears in a newspaper headline, or on a billboard, or in casual conversation. A small inward chime goes off, and I recognize it. Or it comes calling multiple times, till I catch on and at last wake up to its persistent knocking.

These are just two of what we might call foundational practices, the kinds of things that can sustain a spiritual life, that less commonly examined flooring for ritual and ceremony, the underpinnings of magic for whatever is the next in the round of seasonal festivals, in this case Yule or the Alban Arthan rite at winter solstice, now less than a month away. Take on a daily practice and it usually will come to consist of a set of such foundations and supports, mini-rites or prayers or practices, recitations or visualizations, exercises or devotions that may range from lighting incense to offerings made to the four directions, to presenting oneself as a ready servant to a patron god or goddess, to community service, volunteer work, and so on.

A living practice evolves and shifts over time. This is a good thing. For some years because of my cancer, I couldn’t prudently practice a physical fast, so the mental one taught me something of what it has to teach. And teaching adolescents in a boarding school, while it was a job, also allowed me chances to serve, to listen, rather than fill other heads with my chatter all the time.

Doing the work each of us is called to do readies us for working together. (Is it any wonder we face such division and partisanship in the U.S. these days? How many of us if we’re filled with anger and distrust and fear are doing the work?) A wise OBOD Druid recently remarked, “When we commune together in song and revelry, we become friends. When we rise together in ritual, we become allies. When we take time and heart to initiate members into the order together, we become family”. Slowly I’m seeing more and more how friends, allies, family all depend on each of us doing the work.

I’m getting closer, though, to a place where fewer boundaries exist between my two paths.  It used to be that tempera paint, egg-based, stayed separate from oil painting, till someone with sufficient mastery thought to combine them. I can see such a point in what one might call the future, though if I can see it at all, the future in some sense has already arrived. I just have to catch up to what is inwardly waiting. Isn’t that the story of our lives, the ongoing possibility of manifesting what already dances across the River, on the other side of the moonlight?

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Talking Old   Leave a comment

Sometimes when I grow weary of one particular voice, my own, the one chattering in my head, I “talk old.”  For me that means to use words from Proto-Indo-European, the reconstructed mother tongue of a hundred languages, ranging from Irish in the West to Hindi in the East.  It means to play, to sing, to delight in the most lasting, the most insubstantial, intangible human artifacts we have.

Words like *deiwos “god (divine),” *ogni “fire (ignite),” *udor “water” are mantras for me, songs I sing to myself when no else is listening.  (The * means the word is reconstructed.  For me, the * means “Pay attention!  Talking old is going on!”) Words no one speaks now, unless it’s some historical linguist, a professional muttering over a journal article she’s writing, or an amateur and word-mystic like me who gets lost in the shape and sound of “talking old.”  Here are words our ancestors used, to talk to each other and to name their world.  *kolnos, mountain … and I’m off, among moss and trees floating into view and disappearing again in the mist.  *wlkwos, almost unpronounceable: the wolf, vilkas, ulf, vrka, lupa, lobo, those shapes of gray fur with fierce teeth that flash into view around a fire at night, only to vanish again, and then those unearthly howls echo from the hills and up and down our spines.  We say unearthly — yet the only place we hear them is on earth.  Home that is not home forever.

Individual words come fairly easily.  There are whole dictionaries of Indo-European you can pore over, lists of cognates from a range of languages, the vowels and consonants shifting, the resemblances still striking, like at a family reunion where maybe a generation will skip, and then a nose or line of eyebrow or chin will reappear on a toddler asleep in the lap of her grandmother, and the kinship shows clear again.  Blood will tell.

Sentences are harder, but still possible.  The best we can do now often feels like speaking with a strong accent.  We can get close enough we’d probably be understood here and there, across the six thousand years that separate the present from early Proto-Indo-European times, simple things the best, reaching the furthest across the miles and millennia.  *Twom ognibyo wikyo, “I hallow you with fire,” and instantly I’m present at the rite, the flames dancing in our eyes, the smoke drifting and clearing.  *Nomen bhero, “I carry a name,” I bear it, like a beloved cup that has passed down several generations, the edges softened, a few chips around the rim, the color or design worn in places.

Or maybe it’s been renewed, lovingly reworked so that its energy and substance will last a few more generations, the way we can still trace the meanings of so many names, handed on like heirlooms through a family.  “That was your great-grandfather’s name, that was your aunt’s, you and your cousin both have the same middle name from your grandmother’s family.”  *mater, *bhrater, *swesor, *pater, *sunu, *dhugater: mother, brother, sister, father, son, daughter — across thousands of years the family persists, its names still holding their old shapes and sounds, recognizable across a score of languages, the human links we share.  *oinos, *dwou, *treyes, *kwetwores — one, two, three, four, and I count minutes, the pleasures of being alive, the four directions, the four seasons.

I “talk old” to the point that I’ve created several simplified forms of Indo-European as a constructed language or conlang, and used it to write simple prayers and poems.  I “talk old” whenever English gets diluted by advertisers and politicians and careless speakers who squander its beauty and significance in talk that’s literally cheap, of little value.  Poetry saves language because it always is trying to mean more, sometimes straining a language to its limits.  Though paradoxically (signpost of how many truths!) the best poetry comes effortlessly, as if the universe speaks English, or Urdu, or Swahili, and everyone everywhere could understand the words, if they wanted to, if they just happened to be listening.  Then “talking old” is simply speech, the human voice shaping experience, in love with possibility, the universe surprising us still, once again, always.

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