Archive for the ‘St. Francis’ Tag

A Druid Way’s Guide to Guides   Leave a comment

One of my best teachers is in fact a high school teacher and an administrator, and — out of long personal experience — no fan of committees and their guidelines. “Is it a guideline, or a line to my guide?” he likes to ask. Does it get born and die on the page, like most administrator-ese, or is it a living thing, helping me connect to what matters?

at-ease

A case in point is the funny little post “Pillbug“, about — among other things — the experience of connecting with an animal guide. I first wrote it in March 2017, and it went the way of many of my posts, with a brief flurry of interest when I posted it, and then the usual precipitous disappearance into the group anonymity of most other posts here. But a few of you must be reading backwards, or telling each other about that particular post, or both. Because around 5 months ago, Pillbug started enjoying a second life, with several hundred views, more than after it was first published here. Why? (Take a look at it, if you haven’t already.)

I know the subject of guides and other non-human — or often non-physical — helpers keeps on rising into our group awareness. A blogpost, a forum question, and we’re off again.

The topic’s a perennial favorite, and in our skeptical age we often psych ourselves either into complete rejection of such things, or else we run whole hog in the opposite direction, with uncritical acceptance of our more interesting experiences. No halfway for us!

John Beckett’s current post, “Run Rabbit Run — An Augury For One” takes up the subject as well. He approaches many of the same issues I have [see here, here, and here, among others] — no surprise, because we’re all walking a path, and our paths constantly intersect — an opportunity for rich exploration, if we only see and take it, rather than being affronted by difference, challenge, change, otherness. You might find his perceptions a useful counterpoint to other things on the subject you’ve encountered. If so, tell him! Leave a comment on his blog. Help him keep writing his useful guide, based on his experiences.

As I wrote elsewhere, paraphrasing Mara Freeman:

Every thing that exists expresses itself. How else do we know it except through its expressions? If I arbitrarily rule out any non-physical expression from my interest or attention — and here we can include emotion, hunch, imagination, intuition, gut feeling, creative impulse, dream, memory, love — I merely impoverish myself. Why on the deep earth or in the starry heavens would I want to do that?!

So much of our training — maybe all of it — is training in listening, in paying attention. Often we’ve learned the lesson by school age, where teachers call us back from daydream to “pay attention” — and we are, just not to them!

I wrote in “Hunter, Hunted: Animal Guides, Denial, Persistence“:

As I look over these notes, several points stand out.  (I’ll put them in first person and speak only for myself, not to presume too much about who you are, or what your experience may be.)  First, to my mind, is the desire (I don’t know how else to put it) of the Other — Spirit or spirits, guides, deities, totems — to connect with me.  Second I must concede my own obliviousness.  I ask for help, or a “sign,” but even when it lies down in front of me and trips me up, I STILL manage to ignore it.

Next is the likelihood that once I start looking, coincidences begin stacking up until it’s clear there’s more than coincidence going on.  Common themes emerge.  The animal I seek is also seeking me — in dreams, “accidents,” images, unaccountable emotional reactions to seemingly “unimportant” things -– in all the different ways it can reach me, in case one or more channels of communication are blocked (usually on my end).

Animal images in poems also cry and echo for the nerd-Bard that I am.  We repress the animal guides in and around us, so that like other repressed things, they eventually spring, animal-like, into our psyches elsewhere, in sometimes strange and nightmarish images, in art, dream, eventually, even, in national obsessions and pathologies.  If they pool and accumulate enough cultural energy, they manifest in personal and societal outward circumstances, in political and cultural movements, in wars and other conflicts.  Think of W. B. Yeats’ apocalyptic poem “The Second Coming,” which famously ends “what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Or consider Philip Levine’s “Animals are Passing from Our Lives” in the voice of a pig approaching its slaughter.  Apocalyptic and angry poems like these, like most art, aren’t “about” only one thing.  Run them to earth and they keep meaning something more.  We use animals (animals use us!) to communicate what we sometimes cannot say directly. Among all the other things they do, animals help us express that deep love, that bitter grief, anger and darkness, comfort and healing, that simply may not be able to manifest in any other way.

There’s a fine Old English proverb (from the collection of 46 Durham Proverbs, if you’d like to know) that I keep encountering: Ciggendra gehwilc wile þæt hine man gehere. “Everyone that cries out wants to be heard”, as I render it here. Literally, “Of-the-criers, each wishes that him someone hears”. I know that I want to be heard. Who doesn’t, after all?

Or to take a somewhat different context, “Only connect,” says a character in E. M. Forster’s Howard’s End. “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer”. The prose of our daily lives, the passion of those moments when we’re lifted out of ourselves and we say this! This is what I’ve wanted!

camellia

“And the fire and the rose (or camellia) are one” — T. S. Eliot

Yes, we live in fragments. The commonest complaint in the West is often, ultimately, loneliness — loss of connection, fragmenting of our bonds with the cosmos, to the point where we sometimes feel like an abandoned “bag of skin”. But when I think how the whole rest of the universe is talking, that’s a lot of hearing that things ask of us. Am I myself talking too much to hear them? Can I pare back my chatter, save my speech even a little more for what matters, fast a little from running at the mouth, and begin to attend to all the other things that are talking too?

And rather than waiting on someone else to connect with me, can I be the connector? Isn’t that one thing that Druidry calls us to do? It gives us tools to help us do what we’re made to do — and it launches us into a talking world to listen at least as much as to talk.

The prayer of St. Francis might just have something to say to this:

O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

If I want to experience eternal life in this moment (the only place in this busy, brief, uncertain and intense mortality where I can), I’ve got a guide here. This isn’t just “Christian” morality, as though there can be different kinds of morality. The uni-verse is a “one-turning” and it is what it does, it does what it is. St. Francis’s words aren’t something to believe, but to try out. Quite simply, do they work? Is he offering a powerful spiritual tool here, equivalent to burning cedar, invoking the Elements, divining for job opportunities, working magic to heal? (The modern neo-Pagan movement has delved and mined and workshopped and practiced every spiritual tradition on the planet except the one the West has known for two thousand years. How have I been depriving myself of wisdom in my backyard, along with the moles and bull hornets, the woodchucks and clover and hemlocks?)

In this post so far I’ve come at the matter of guides obliquely, which I find is my default way of feeling my path into understanding. I’ve left clues and approaches, words and feelings, tangents and directions to explore.

I could chart it and number it and lay it out — and ask if you’d like me to do so in a subsequent post, and I will — but then, without great care on my part, it can slide perilously close to the administrator-ese my teacher so dislikes. Read the posts, including John’s, ask your own questions as clearly as you can, and see if I or John or the grass and rain and birds out your window have something to say to you that you might want to listen to. And listen to yourself most of all, that deep self, not the selfie-Facebook-chatty self, but the one who’s been deep within you since you arrived here, however many years ago that was, the one that whispers in dream and awake, that knows where you’re going before you arrive, and has something worthwhile to say on the way to every destination.

And may you know the blessings scattered all along your path, the one you are walking right now, and recognize them and share them and find in that sharing the solace and heart’s healing we all seek.

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558/172 — Or, What It Is I Do All Day   2 comments

That — according to the statistics WordPress freely offers to the obsessed among each of its subscribers — is today’s proportion of published posts to unpublished drafts sitting on this site that never made it to your eyes. Except the number is misleading. All of the published posts were drafts at one point. (Many feel like they still are.) It’s all draft till you die, said one of my writing instructors. So you can always revise. A poem (a life) is never finished, simply abandoned. Then mix in the perspective of this Druid who sees rebirth as part of the process, and death as simply the end of a chapter, a stanza, not the book, not the Song.

bridge-arch

Original and image. Courtesy Pexels.com free images.

My chosen magic, I’ve discovered (What’s yours? Have you found it yet?), is to write myself into new spaces and truths. Yes, often an experience will boot me into new territory, but it’s reflecting on it, writing about it, trying on multiple understandings of it, that converts much raw experience into its subsequent effect on me — turns it into resource, compost, practice, training, the tenor and temper of my days.

How else to explain two people, same experience, very different outcomes? It’s what we do with what happens that matters. And what I “do” isn’t ever “done” — I’m what I’m doing, after all. (As you are you.) I keep adding, revising, re-imagining. Or I can, at any point along the way. The inexpressible freedom of this is something I keep encountering, flowering where I least expect it, hidden beyond the rise of the next hill, flickering through the screen of leaves in the woods around my house. An eye or ear or sometimes a whole face shows through the leaves, then disappears behind them again.

Gerard Manley Hopkins gets it, writes it:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

Am I really listening? Do I hear it? Listen harder, says one of my teachers. Each mortal thing does one thing and the same. I read the poem aloud to myself again, not troubling over meaning, just attending to the sounds and echoes of the words.

Other counsel: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid, says the Galilean master. Peace, a different kind of giving, no need for trouble or fear: immense gifts. Gifts Druids often claim. Gifts bigger, for the world today at least, even than any kind of salvation “down the road” — bigger to our current time-fixated mindsets, anyway, because they’re gifts for here, now. We need them today!

So am I called to receive differently — not as the world receives — in order to recognize and accept the gift? (If the gift is different, then — so my thought runs — my receiving of it must be different, too.) It sure looks like it. And that could explain much of our current sense of estrangement from “how things should be” — the sense of wrongness abundant in personal and public spaces, the partisanship, the distrust and anger and fear. “The time is out of joint”, exclaims Hamlet. But we may or may not share his corresponding sense of duty towards the situation: “O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!” (Not the whole show, Hamlet. Just your piece of it. Or at least start there.)

But how do I receive differently? As a Druid, I tell myself, I look to what I’m already doing. (Truth be told, as I’m still learning, we never start from scratch. There’s always a pilot light burning somewhere, at the heart of things. If I’ve lost sight of it, then that’s my practice: recovery.) I breathe, yes, but the air is also ready to come in and go out at the same time. Thus do many spiritual traditions counsel us to watch our breathing as one of the first and readiest and most powerful meditations or spiritual exercises. Do that attentively, regularly, and you’re halfway home.

Likewise my heart beats. (Through certain yogic practices, if you accept the evidence, it’s possible to achieve a level of physical mastery where you can stop and start the heart at will. Though for reasons that should be clear, I’m not spending my time learning that particular skill.) Can I receive the truth of how much of my life is a gift already, however I choose to honor or ignore it? Can I live the gift?

Let the fraction that is the title of this post remind me how much more I receive than I know or acknowledge. How else, indeed, is a life possible? So much flows through us to sustain us in every moment. Receive differently, tune into what’s going on this instant, then every subsequent instant.

OK, got it, I say to myself. But how to actualize this, to turn what is, after all, just a momentary perception into something useful and workable? Ah, there’s the need for a practice. Oh, we’ve attended the workshop, dived into the retreat, felt the flush of inspiration, had a mystic moment or two on our own, uninvited, or called by ritual, intoxication, chance, gift, an instant of vulnerability, openness. Useful, needful, helpful things. But to transform such a moment or interval into the richest soil where I can root and grow — that’s the work worthy of a life. And I know of no one who accomplishes that in any other way than by a spiritual practice.

That’s the magnum opus, the Great Work: to make of a life a gift in return. It is in giving that we receive, sings St. Francis.

Whitman sings in Song of Myself:

Stop this day and night with me …
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions
of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look
through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in
books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

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