Archive for the ‘spiritual practice’ Tag

Eleven Strands of Educational & Life Philosophy   Leave a comment

Here as promised in yesterday’s post is a statement of my personal philosophy, developed as a supporting document required as part of my application with a teacher placement agency. I don’t always state things in Druid terms here — this document was intended to address life and educational philosophy for secondary schools, after all. And if you’ve ever tried to get down on paper a statement of your philosophy — a very worthwhile spiritual practice, worth spending time on! — you’ll no doubt find yourself tweaking it, if you continue to live and grow and change.

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Five of us scouting a ritual site at MAGUS ’17. Photo courtesy Gail Nyoka

1) “The three pillars of achievement: a daring aim, frequent practice, and plenty of failures” – old Welsh triad. Very succinctly, try one more time than you fail. Helping students, colleagues and myself practice this principle boosts successes. Give me a worthwhile daring aim, and I’ll try that extra time.

2) “Think inside the box – it’s fresh territory again. Everybody else has left”. As long as I don’t overuse this, I can still get my wife to laugh at it. More to the point, it’s increasingly true. “Tried and true” techniques, practices, strategies and principles that don’t grow old with time or use really do still exist and merit our attention and implementation. (Often they’re just lying there in the box.)

3) Listen early and often. “Everybody’s talking at me/I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’” sings Harry Nilsson. Goes double for adolescents. Help being heard not be a novel experience for others.

4) “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink, I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish fill the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars” – Thoreau, Walden. Among many other things, a mantra for calm and perspective. Ask me about my focus and I’ll be recalling center-points like this.

5) One and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one are 10. Hint: the double-digit sum really doesn’t come out of nowhere. Even despite appearances. Or to steal from Neil Armstrong, it’s that next small step that makes a giant leap possible.

6) Upren masei kapotas ambei solna ir mitmu aljagotvei djuva. Literally, “Over our heads are both the sun and a most changeable sky” – Sovermian proverb (one of my constructed languages). Constants and variables aren’t equivalent, though we mistake one for the other constantly (and variably). And where does literature not illustrate this?!

7) Man déð swá hé bið þonne hé mót swá hé wile. Loosely, “folks do as they are when they can do what they want” – The Old English Durham Proverbs. Alternatively, both a justification for the rule of law, and for the positive consequences of accepting responsibility for oneself. Worth modeling.

8) “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” (AKA, good things can come from student film recommendations!) Pithy and fresh enough to stick in adolescent brains. Better than most “don’ts.”

9) If it’s avoidable, avoid it. If it’s celebratable, celebrate it. If it’s mnemonicizable, mnemonicize it. And if it has scales and fins, in which direction does it actually swim? (I’m a fan of mnemonics and other learning strategies.)

10) “All materials to build your home in this world or the inner cosmic worlds come from within, from the God center in your heart” – Paul Twitchell. Good for resetting the relative positions of responsibility, source, potential and manifestation. Frequently applicable in classrooms and curricula. “Ask me how!”

11) “… by now my desire and will were turned,/Like a balanced wheel rotated evenly,/By the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” – Dante, Paradiso. A life goal.

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Looking for a Title   3 comments

Now that I’ve chased away, as I usually manage to do every few weeks, a few incautious new readers who thought they’d follow my blog — until I said something indigestible to them — you and I remain to take stock. It’s part of my job description, in fact: blogger must intermittently provoke, offend or banish a portion of readership, if only to establish and maintain some semblance of integrity. That’s one route, anyway, to blogger bona fides.

Otherwise I’m just a spiritual politician, telling people mostly what they want to hear, scrambling for votes or likes. Please don’t merely “like” me. We’re not in primary school, right? Life isn’t, despite what the weak magic of  social media enchants us to believe, a popularity contest. We’re not even in secondary school any longer. Read and ponder what I’ve said, and test it — not just with your opinions, but with your life. As I try to do, in spite of that annoying and near-universal tug toward hypocrisy.

So there really aren’t any rules? my inner teenager asks. The previous post was a feel-good piece. Love is all you need. All paths lead to the same destination. We’re all in this together.

And we are. Except.

Anyone who practices an art or craft knows that rules, especially rules-of-thumb gained over long experience, can be really useful. Gardening? Plant marigolds with tomatoes. Tuning your guitar? Start with your sixth string, the Youtube video instructs, held down on the fifth fret. Guidelines for what to do, how to tackle challenges and complexities. Received wisdom. Even, if I can use the word, a tradition. We rarely need to start from scratch.

When we’re young, we’re told to color inside the lines. What happens if you color outside the lines? Nothing. You’ve colored outside the lines. What you do is what you get. Maybe a well-meaning adult scolds you, or not. A little later, perhaps a reward or penalty. We know how early such patterns and personality traits get set. Some kids without prompting will color up to the lines so neatly an adult couldn’t better it. And they’ll get praise for neatness and attention and whatever other labels get put on noticing boundaries and respecting what they have to teach.  Because they do have much to teach. Just not everything.

All right, teenaged self. What do you want rules for, anway? To push against, so you can declare yourself an original? To piss off a special adult, or adults in general? To run roughshod over, ’cause you’re such a rebel? Win the attention of possible partners, producers or profit-sharers? Welcome to inverse conformity: you’ve still let the rules define you. Can you make your own liveable set?

Robert Frost said writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net. He meant it disparagingly, but it’s actually just another game. Handball. Without a single thing labeled “net”, nearly every surface becomes playable. Players don’t stand opposite each other, but — often — side by side. The rules: changed, but still present. Because that’s what a game is. It’s hard to make “whatever” into a game very many folks want to play.

Yesterday John Beckett posted “Get Over Your Fear of Religion!” tackling the frequent superficiality of much contemporary spirituality. On at least one online forum I visit, his post predictably sent some into a tailspin. Beckett notes, “Some of this [the “spiritual but not religious” movement]  is an understandable reaction against negative religion, but much is an avoidance of the work required to build any real spiritual or religious depth”.  Some scolding is good for me.

Of course, our reaction against stifling religiosity also has ancient roots in human experience. It will never go away as long as we face complacency and laziness in our cultural institutions and practices. As a certain rabbi once observed a score of centuries ago, “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life”.

But beyond the pleasurable intoxication of a numinous moon or molten sunset or gold-drenched sunny afternoon, there’s more. “If you want a deep spiritual practice”, John continues, “that will help you handle life’s challenges, build deep and meaningful relationships, and change yourself and the world, you’re going to need religion”.

The first part sounds like what many people say they want. The last clause, though, tosses a dead mouse into the punch bowl.

Whatever else needs to happen as a consequence of mouse or punchbowl or tossing, reactions to the incident will reveal something to me in my own thinking and practice that I need to work on. Maybe you or I will take the bowl to the kitchen and bring out a fresh one. Maybe we’ll just cringe a little, and wait for somebody else to fix things. Maybe we’ll fish out the mouse, or shame the tosser, or ask for better punch-bowl covers, or mouse-traps. Or we’ll take to raising larger mice. Whatever our roles, the incident jolts us. Your outrage is yours. I do mine just fine, without help. But I don’t want to stop there, but start.

Over the decades, I’ve noticed life becomes custom-fitted to teach each of us what we need to learn. It gets to know us, scouts us right up to our weaknesses. I’m not always talking “fair” or “easy” or “blessed”, either. What I hold on to most tightly I’ll probably be compelled to relinquish. Rigid things tend to break. The gods prodding humans to grow. Or evolution fine-tuning a whole complex of eco-systems, sharpening the ability of each species to thrive by choosing the most adaptable individuals and going forward with them because — quite simply — they can change. A hundred thousand lemmings die, but one, slightly different, flourishes and becomes the progenitor of a new species. Ancestral lemming, I salute you.

If we’re changing, how could all the old rules possibly serve? Because rules can change, too, and most of the ones that trouble us and dog our heels are ones we’ve made for ourselves that haven’t changed with us. A few other parameters we encounter, like this pesky aging-and-mortality thing, and finite planetary resources, and cause and effect, we’re still learning to work with. It’s just that from time to time we confuse human rules with spiritual law. Confuse them so successfully we think they’re the same thing, until we find they’re not.

Imagine your ideal set of rules for how you’d play the game. Or laws, if you’re going for large-scale. Work to get down in writing at least three or four of them — you may uncover more — then try them out on your life, checking for fit, and then try them on the lives of a few other beings. Revise as needed.

Next post I’ll post mine.

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Cabin Fever and Creativity   Leave a comment

“It’s a good thing to give thanks, whatever your tradition, or none. So we’ll have a moment of quiet. Simply listen, if you  like, to the others near you, breathing”, says the pastor opening last night’s community dinner.

One of the joys of rural New England life is the Cabin Fever dinner tradition. These early spring events are a true “moveable feast” — held in churches, cafeterias, grange halls, schools — sometime in March or April, anywhere there’s a willing core of people dedicated to making community happen. Neighbors get called together from the more private hunkering down we all do each winter, watching wood-piles diminish, the inevitable March storms re-establish banks of snow that had been shrinking after the midwinter thaw, squinting at sky and trees, feeling the light linger a few minutes more at either end of day, scolded by the indomitable chickadees, uplifted at the distant honking of a flock of geese winging north again, at long last.

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We’re crammed, atheist and Pagan, Christian and agnostic, Jew and animist, into the sanctuary of the local Congregational Church for the 13th spring in a row — a lunar year of springs. Tables and chairs from a local high school have been set up, filling the space to the stairwell. There are no pews. After the original church burned down years ago, our community vowed to rebuild a maximally flexible space, church and community center both.

Our local Cabin Fever dinner draws attendees from half a dozen nearby towns, in part because the pastor’s husband is a trained master chef who volunteers his skills for each year’s feast, but also because of the tradition of storytelling that proceeds throughout the dinner, as neighbors rise, take the microphone — there are over 200 of us here this evening, and for the first time the pastor had to turn away a few score later-comers — intermittently interrupt conversations, and regale us with stories of the quirks and humors of country living, encounters with moose and fisher cats, chimney fires, deaths and births, lost cows and sheep, found dogs and children.

The evening opens and ends with announcements, car lights left on, alerts that the bears have begun to emerge again from hibernation, hungry and ill-humored as always, that the Green Team meeting has been moved to Friday afternoons, that tryouts for the world music chorus will take place the following Saturday.

A few of us scurry to the basement kitchen after the announcement that packaged leftovers are available for an open donation. We leave with two cartons of roasted vegetables for the next day’s lunch.

Here is our prayer and our praise, our magic and our offering: we manage to come together again, we learn anew that it’s worth listening to each other for the sad-funny turns life takes us all on, that we can recognize in each other, for all the differences of temperament and history and desire, a common table, light and talk and laughter into a cold spring evening.

There’s been no preaching or teaching, only what we bring to each other out of our lives and stories, the best kind, lived last month, yesterday, in the parking lot before coming in.

With such things we do not solve or resolve, so much as we celebrate as we struggle. We sing as we go on.

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“I’m doing Druidry wrong”   Leave a comment

Have you seen them? The ridiculous (to my mind, anyway) articles, often partial advertisements or product placements, that purport to instruct the reader.  They arrive in a simple format, usually with the same clear lead: “You’re doing X wrong”.

(I strive to avoid yielding my attention, as much as possible, to things that can’t instruct me, however I may initially feel about them. So let’s see what we can gain here, for I would exploit all things that seek to manipulate me, and wring from them something both needful and utile. You know: just to turn them back on themselves, and fulfill my part in manifesting the ancient wisdom that says all thing work together for good for those that love. Because, to exploit another more recent piece of wisdom, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end”*. We are, after all, actors in a 10 billion-year-old play. Just gotta get through this particular scene. Find your character’s mark, don’t bump into the furniture, deliver your lines with feeling. Ah, there now.)

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Public? private? Is there a difference, if both need clearing?

Now it may be Americans in particular who are susceptible to this form of social insecurity — wanting desperately to fit in, do the right thing (wear and drive and own and think the right things), be hip, be au courant, woke, and all the other necessary adjustments that our national Puritanism tells us are necessary for secular salvation. And so perhaps only Americans are doing our planetary Druidry wrong. Or not.

(Anyone outside the petri dish-circus-nuclear meltdown-barbecue that is America can spot a number of necessary adjustments Americans should be making for our own good and the good of the planet, but which we somehow inexplicably and wilfully ignore, but that’s another matter. We all have our own to-do lists.)

If there was money in it, somebody somewhere would be telling me I’m doing Druidry wrong.

And I am. Because all that means is I’m not doing me precisely like you’re doing you.

The tree-wisdom that is Druidry means living our lives on earth, in these earth-bodies, whatever else may be going on with us, whatever other realms we inhabit. All we can do is go with what we get — through the senses and training and experience, memory and genetics, personality and character, hints and clues and dreams, the nudges and examples of friends who wish us well, inner and outer gods and neighbors, animals and the blessed trees.

Quite a package. When we say we don’t know what to do, how to choose, what matters, how to go on, it’s not for lack of choices and possibilities, but from a super-abundance. And no clue, key or compass ready to hand.

So when I say I’m doing Druidry wrong, I mean by that what Thoreau says (pronouns expanded): “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 their own ways, and not their father’s or their mother’s or their neighbor’s instead”.

That is, I ignore or defy peer pressure (insofar as I can) where it really matters — not in the obvious outward ways of young people discovering for the first time what it means to have a self, choosing hair or makeup or clothing or other faddishness at odds with arbitrary norms that superficially reassure us all is well, that the walls are secure, that wakeful sentries guard the gates. Not outwardly but inwardly I wander and marvel, where as yet the Thought Police do not patrol. (Though cookies and bots, Google and Amazon are scratching at the windows.)

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What cookies have I swallowed whole lately?

It’s because we do not trust each other to “be very careful to find out and pursue their own ways, and not their father’s or their mother’s or their neighbor’s instead” that we feel we must lay out tracks and paths for all, lest the heedless deeds of a few bring down the whole ramshackle scaffold that passes for civilization. And the few are never us but always Somebody Else. Until the trees finally reach me and teach me differently.

Ya gotta go wrong to go right.

“You gotta get in to get out”, Genesis sings in “The Carpet Crawlers”.

“The only way out is through”, says Robert Frost in “A Servant to Servants“.

outbackstAh, Outback Steakhouse, guru of the moment, with its tag “No rules, just right” — there’s a form of my own credo: that somehow, in the spiritual Outback we’re each exploring, I suspect there’s a path that’s right, apart from (other’s) rules, one for each of us. My evidence: we’re all walking our own paths anyway, in case you haven’t noticed.

Something of what all this can mean in turn I’ll be addressing in the next post.

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*The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, 2011.

Images: cookies picture by Kimberly Vardeman; Outback Steakhouse tagline.

Moon of Brighid   Leave a comment

Brighid--Patrick Tuohy

St. Brighid/Patrick Tuohy

For those of you incubating your own enchantment of Brighid to coincide with the upcoming 19 days of the goddess, you have the moon to aid you. Waxing now, it reaches full at nearly the midpoint of the 19 days, on the 31st of January — a fine symmetry, whether you choose to align with it or not.

The Solar Question for today, the 20th of the month, in Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional (Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2004) asks “What is the source of your spiritual guidance?” The Lunar Meditation* for the fourth day of the moon (counting the New Moon, Jan. 17,  as day 1) is “the wonder of life”. If I’m facing a period of spiritual dryness, if I have no other ready guidance, “the wonder of life” is a fitting source. Watching and listening, I can find in something small as the sun sparkling on an icicle a subtly radiant doorway into the Enchantment of Brighid.

Because magic so often starts small, no more than a tickle, a spark, a whisper. Till it builds.

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Images: St. Brighid by Patrick Tuohy (1894-1930)

*The book includes a perpetual calendar displaying the 19-year lunar cycle, allowing a reader to find the appropriate Question and Meditation.

Refreshing “Home”   Leave a comment

Keep refreshing “home” and your browser gives you different results, your Facebook feed changes, etc., my wife said the other day.

If I’m paying attention, an inner bell goes off for me at such moments, an aha! of illumination. Spiritual practice is my way of refreshing home, of choosing — or asking for — something else than what the apparent or obvious may be telling or showing me. Some animals and insects excel in mimicry as a defense, or to lure prey. So too the human world, with its heartfelt truths and its cons, its bullshit and its profound beauties, its “characters” and “originals” and its gold standard friends.

Refreshing home is a kind of alertness that many animals retain, honed senses not dulled by noise from talking self. Don’t get me wrong — human speech is indeed a gift. But like many powerful gifts, it’s double-edged. It’s true, peace to Walt Whitman, that animals “do not make me sick discussing their duty to God … Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago”*

So when I write, as in the previous post, about things like devotion to Brighid, and you’re feeling particularly agnostic about, maybe, absolutely everything, consider J M Greer’s observations about egregor(e)s, the energy of group consciousness that forms around any regular gathering and gives it a distinct character, and especially around magical groups that work intentionally with charging and exploring its potentials. Is Brighid an egregor? Does your local parent-teacher association or book club or university class differ from other groups in any way? Of course. But is Brighid “merely” an egregor?

Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and other atheists miss a very large point here. I won’t spell it out — you already know it, or else you’re not interested in knowing it.

Greer says, writing about magical lodges:

… egregors capable of carrying the highest levels of power can only be built up on the basis of the living patterns of the realm of meaning, outside space and time. These patterns are what some religions call gods, and what others call aspects of God. They have a reality and a power that have nothing to do with the egregors built up around them, but they use the egregors the way people use clothing or the way actors in many traditional societies use masks. Skillful, intelligent, ethical, and dedicated work with these egregors, according to tradition, can bring lodge members into a state of participation with the primal living powers of existence itself — a state that is the goal of most religions, and as well as the highest summit of the art of magic (Greer, Inside a Magical Lodge, Llywellyn Books, 1998, pgs. 109-110).

It’s the part of those willing to work with and within a tradition not to stop at the level of belief in it, but to test and explore its possibilities. We’re worlds away from credal faith here. But you may, if you’re around a devotee of Brighid, especially this time of year, overhear or encounter a song or poem or prayer of dedication, service, and love.

 

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*”I think I could turn and live with the animals“; Song of Myself.

Nineteen Days of Brighid   2 comments

Imbolc, the February 1st or 2nd holiday, part of the seasonal cycle of the “Great Eight” Pagan festivals, has long been associated with Brighid. Goddess, saint, patron of poets, smiths and healers, Brighid is a potent presence for many Druids. Christian Druids can honor her in either or both traditions, and her legends and symbols — effective points of access to her — are many.

Among the traditions that have gathered around her is the significance of the number 19 — whether part of the ancient awareness of the moon’s Metonic cycle, or the Christian tradition for determining Easter, curiously associated with the full moon, or the 19 nuns at Kildare connected with Saint Brighid. Or the practice of 19 days of magic focused on devotion to the goddess-saint, which this post examines. As a Druid-Christian link, the number and practices associated with Imbolc and Brighid can join the others I’ve talked about in other posts here as yet another means to transcend argument or debate, and find blessing.

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Nineteen days with Imbolc in the center (on Feb. 1), the 10th day, begin January 23 and take us to February 10.

As this circle is cast, the enchantment of the apparent world fades … We stand together in the eye of the sun here and now …

So goes part of OBOD standard ritual. Why, you might be asking, if Druids say they wish to attune themselves to the natural world, do they practice ritual that sees the natural world as both enchanted and apparent?

Well, we still stand “in the eye of the sun”. Partly it’s “talking self” (see this and this post) that distracts us, that enchants us in the sense of holding us spellbound (and self-bound) rather than freeing us to grow. Circles concentrate energy and attention, contain them for the duration of the ritual, and can help charge us as instruments of the divine in order that we may “know, dare, will and keep silent”, as the old adage goes. So we circle alone and together to watch that particular enchantment fade, so that others can manifest more clearly. It’s a choice of enchantments. Do you like the current ones at work in the world? “She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes”. Sign me up!

Spending the interval from now till the beginning of the 19 days, a week from today, determining what service to offer, what magic to work, is time well spent.

I’ll be following up here with my experiences.

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Image: Brighid. My preference is for deity images that aren’t sentimental or “airbrush pretty”. Contemporary artists often portray sexy gods and goddesses, which is fine, but as an image for meditation I’d rather not use soft porn.

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