Sunday, 21 June 2015

Happy Solstice!

The forecast was cloudy with sunny intervals, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect as I set out early this, very warm, morning to celebrate the Summer Solstice sunrise. It was cloudy but broken by slivers of clear blue lightening sky that grew as I walked the path through the fields that leads directly towards the summer solstice sunrise. The wheat, still soft and feathery, and more blond than golden, wafted in the gentle breeze, heads bowed by ripening grains.

At last, I found a spot which felt welcoming and was in good view of the horizon and set about creating the space, giving thanks and making offerings (bread, a peach and some peppermint tea), and welcomed the sun as he rose behind a slim stretch of cloud across the horizon, then peeking out above the cloud into view. The timing could not have been better nor more captivating. A perfect moment in a perfect space in place and time, surrounded by birdsong. Beautiful.

After a few moments of contemplation and offering thanks again for sharing this special moment with me, I wished all farewell, bowed with a grateful smile, picked up my things, took a couple of photos and filmed the short video above, and set off back along the track, my back warmed by bright morning sunlight.

I wish you a very happy solstice and much health, wealth and fulfilment in the months ahead.

Blessings of Sun and Earth, God and Goddess and all the Buddhas, the awakened ones, be with you /|\

Sunday, 24 May 2015

What is magic? Part 1 - First musings

Magic. Does it work? Oh yes. Of that, I have no doubt. Does it always work out the way we expect? Not necessarily. Do I use it? Yes and no; never and always. But what is magic? The magic I do is all in the mind (no paraphernalia) but is perhaps better described as active prayer. Prayer in the sense of asking a deity to do something for you is what I call passive prayer - and sometimes we get what we ask for, but mostly not, because that kind of prayer generally involves too much asking and not enough listening. Magic is prayer in which we use our imagination as a channel and our emotion as the fuel to manifest what we need. And, most importantly, we listen, we listen with our whole being - we establish a relationship with what is more than our small and illusory egos in order to bring about a particular outcome, through us, in the world around us. It changes us so that we can act in a way that effects the changes we need. Magic is a two-way relationship.

In order to effect those changes through the imagination, it is necessary to connect very deeply with that which is greater than us. And there lies the irony: in my experience, if you connect fully, you realise that things are pretty much turning out as they should! So the magic becomes more a tweak or a polish than a change - more an awareness-raising exercise in ourselves, a re-attunement. (Or it may serve to unblock creative, loving energies that have become stuck, perhaps because of life events that have sent us reeling into retreat or hiding, or plunged us into despondency or defeat - although, if we have not handled challenges as well as we would have liked, that could be because the flow was already blocked - as I have discovered in my own life.) You become more a channel for the natural flow of universal energies than the agent of change. And what really changes is our relationship with/understanding of the world - and by seeing the bigger picture, we start to act in less self-destructive and more beneficial ways, and so effect the changes we need. Through magic, we don't really 'control' anything; rather we become active participants in the unfolding of the universe.

Magic, done honourably, with love and respect, is a joyful participation in life. And how do you know you’ve done it properly? You come away from it feeling relaxed and re-energised. If you sleep, you awaken refreshed; if active, you feel more in flow. If you feel depleted or spaced out, you’ve not been channelling, you’ve been forcing - and consequently using up your own ego-limited energy instead of allowing universal energy to flow naturally through you. (In which case, the only remedy is rest - have something healthy to eat and perhaps go for a stroll, in nature and barefoot if you can, to re-earth yourself, and sleep).

Magic is the art of getting back in touch with the divine nature of everything as it is - our natural state. In fact, in our normal day-to-day lives we are generally ignorant of (in the sense of 'we ignore it') this natural divine state of existence, and are instead caught up in the delusion that our ego states are real and all-important. Non-magic is, in this sense, unnatural - and that's why we humans tend to blunder about, hurting one another and wrecking the environment (Believe me, I know - I’ve done enough of my own blundering to learn this lesson the hard way!). Basically, we spend most of our short lives out of touch with that which is more than ego; magic is the act of getting back in touch.

The gods/angels (being themselves servants of that which is greater than the sum of the parts) - or powers that go beyond our egos and who are far wiser than us and far more finely attuned to the universal unfolding - can only act through us by invitation. Most of the time, we act on our own, do what we want, thinking we know best (and perhaps very occasionally getting it right!). The gods cannot help without our permission. Through prayer, we give permission; through magic, we take part. Through prayer we are acknowledging that we don't have all the answers - that we lack the necessary wisdom; through magic we are also acknowledging that we are responsible - that we are part of the solution. "The gods help those who help themselves" - this can be misunderstood rather negatively, but what it means is: for example, if we want to be healed, we have to participate in the healing. Just as we might go to a doctor when we're sick, we also have to take the medicine and, perhaps, exercise more or improve our diet. Or, if we want to learn a new skill, we can't just ask to be taught; we also have to do the learning by practising what we have been shown.

Magic is re-attuning ourselves with our innate, natural divinity - our relationship with the universe - and, as a channel, bringing about the changes we need through imagination and participation. And being grateful for the help we get.

A personal example: we were made homeless. I was at a loss and asked, with all my heart, the goddess of hearth and home for help. But I also looked for a new home, asked around, and seized opportunities when they arose seemingly out of the blue. She didn’t do everything for us - a house didn’t suddenly materialise out of nowhere - but she did give me the energy to keep going, to be strong for my family, and the awareness to spot opportunities when they arose. It was a relationship. Did we got exactly the home we wanted? No. It’s not a beautiful mansion surrounded by acres of woodland and meadows. Did we get exactly the home we need? Yes, absolutely.

Ultimately, we can ask for stuff, but we'll only get it if it respects the universal unfolding. And what we want is not always what we need - we might want lots of money, but what we need is a lesson in managing our resources better, or learning to appreciate what we already have. We'll only get what we want if it's also what we need and if we're ready (spiritually/emotionally/psychologically) to receive it. Getting ourselves ready is where spiritual practice comes in - and that's the foundation of all magic. The gods/angels/universe can't pour water into a cracked pot (and they won’t - it would be unethical for them to do so) - at best it would just leak everywhere; at worst, crack apart. So we only ever get what we can handle - and that's rarely everything we want. And that, though we may at times find it hard to accept, is a blessing!

To be continued...

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Save our woodland

Our woodlands are precious green oases in an increasingly built-up country. They are the oxygen for our lungs, the anchors for our soil, the food and homes for our birds and other wildlife. Every tree is a vital ecosystem in its own right; each woodland is therefore a galaxy of worlds each interdependent on the other. And we humans, too, are part of that interdependent universe of lifeforms - what happens to our trees affects us all.

It is time our woodlands, especially our ancient woods, were respected at least as much as our built heritage sites such as palaces, castles and halls. And it is time they were protected for posterity, preserved for the benefit of future generations that they too may breathe clean air and enjoy green spaces where wildlife can thrive and people can reconnect with the natural world which, ultimately, is what keeps us alive.

Please do your bit to help protect these precious oases of life. Follow the link below to urge the government to act. Thank you.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Write in the Moment

Now swept away:
our favourite beach,
your final days

A practice common to Druidry and Buddhism is living in the present moment, in each moment as it passes, knowing it will never come again, so it must be savoured… and let go… Just as the seasons come… and go... To live, we must breathe in… and out… and change with each breath.

Writing haiku (a Japanese poetic form which has been greatly influenced by Zen Buddhism) is a practice in mindfulness. The “haiku moment” is a flash of awareness that connects us with what is going on now, which we then put into words. It is a kind of word-picture that tries to express the essence of a moment: poetry distilled. There are a few rules to the form, which are treated more as guidelines by most writers (usually three lines, 5-7-5 syllables, with a “cutting word” that juxtaposes two images or ideas, drawing from the natural world).

Phillip Murrell, a judge in the British Haiku Awards 2013 - the two winners of which were announced in the British Haiku Society’s journal, Blithe Spirit, in May (my haiku above being one of them) - describes haiku as “a kind of dialogue between writer and reader; a piece in which, ideally, the reader plays some part in completing the unstated” and which “in some way stir[s] the emotions”. This is more important than adhering strictly to the form.

Personally, I find writing (and reading) haiku therapeutic. A haiku, and our response to it as a reader, can tell us as much about ourselves as it can about the writer. A good haiku needs no explanation - in fact, your interpretation, if it is meaningful to you, is as good as mine.

However, if you would like to know the inspiration for the above haiku, read on (if not, look away now): Shortly before my mother died, we took a walk along the beach at Blakeney in north Norfolk - her favourite spot since childhood. This moment, though bitter-sweet, is one of my last happy memories of our time together. Then, last December a tidal surge decimated the coastline.

Article first published in the Druid Network’s Lammas 2014 newsletter

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Connecting with the spirit of place - a relationship with here and now

How to connect with the spirit of place? Touch the earth with your feet, feel the wind on your skin and hear the song of the land in your heart.

I was lucky enough to have spent all but the first three years of my childhood in a small country town with plenty of countryside. My connection came from long walks with my dog out across fields, whatever the weather: beneath clear skies or in rain, wrapped in fog or sunshine, with thunder rumbling and lightning crackling the sky, or just the drumbeat of my feet on the ground, the twitter of birds and the sound of grass being munched by the cows; sometimes by day, sometimes beneath distant stars...

I never really felt a deep connection with the town itself. Nothing against it: it was a nice town, decent people - it was home. But it was out in the fields that I met my soul. And looking back, 20+ years on, I know this early experience shaped my Druidry today.

In my early adulthood, I moved around a lot, living in Wales (the beautiful Gower peninsula), Germany, Russia, Somerset, and now East Anglia. In each new home, I always felt the need to walk the land to connect, to greet the spirit of the place. And each place has been the same, and different - all on and of the Earth, and so sharing that in common, but also each place a unique expression of the Earth's energy. The energy of a field of wheat is different to the energy of the woodland next to it.

When I arrived somewhere new, I would let my feet do the talking, just feeling myself connect as I walk. Words may come but, if not, my heart would just connect and I would bow respectfully to the spirit of the place, thank it for its welcome, and either dwell for a while or wander home. This always seemed to help me to re-root into the new earth - like a plant taken from one pot and put into another. (In fact, even though I have lived here for many years now, I like to reconnect whenever I step into the garden, or take a walk into the fields, or visit one of the nearby Woodland Trust woods.)

Interestingly, I also found I would connect with a deep human layer of place - in Wales I found myself beside the sea relating to Manawydan - I tried the sea gods of other pantheons, but the connection was weak; in Germany, Donar and Wotan came through loud and clear. But I have found that by relating directly with the spirit of a place, honouring it in its own right, seems to connect more directly, past the filter of attempts by earlier humans to personify natural phenomena. The sea is the sea, the sun is the sun, the thunder is the thunder, the land is the land, the wood is the wood - each with its own spirit, in its own right, not human and yet made, ultimately, of the same stuff we are made of.

When I greet the sun, I remember that it is this huge, amazing, dynamic ball of interacting gases that dwarfs our tiny, but beautiful, earth, which dwarfs this minuscule me - and I find it much easier to connect deeply in that knowledge than through an anthropological filter. And when I do so, the miniscule me disappears - the walls of the ego fade and I feel both infinite and infinitesimal at the same time, part of something much greater than this small life that often seems so very important. It's really quite liberating.

Indeed, connecting with the land can be just as easy in a city. I used to engage in a walking meditation from the bus station to my place of work and discovered that, despite the busy-ness of rush hour, if I walked at a good enough pace not to be late, but mindfully, I connected with the spirit of the city beneath the outer hubbub, then going deeper, I found I connected with the spirit of the land that the city - before it was even a tiny hamlet of a few homes - was built on. Suddenly, in my mind I was in the countryside, although still aware of the bustling city around me. It turned the walk into a meditation and I arrived at work feeling more real, calm and connected with my deeper truth.

Then, if I felt a little depleted during the day, and was unable to get out to the park, I would shut my eyes for a moment, there in the office of brick and glass, reconnect and feel my energy revive. We might forget our connection with nature in the busy-ness of the day, but the connection is always there - nature never leaves us. We need only remember, and we reconnect.

There are many layers of place to which we can relate and our experience of the spirit of a place depends on what, in our hearts, we take with us, regardless of whether we are among towering trees or towering office blocks.

We connect as the person we are at the time with the place we are in at the time with the people (living beings generally) we are among at the time - that, for me, is Druidry. We can relate on many different levels, and these "levels" are all circles within circles within circles. 

In conclusion, I think that, although I am happy to connect with a land through its gods and goddesses, I have found over the years that I connect more deeply with a place by doing what I learned on those long walks with my dog so many years ago: touching the earth with my feet, feeling the wind on my skin and hearing the song of the land in my heart.

This arose out of a reply I wrote in a discussion on the Druid Network forum in July 2013

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Parenthood and Overcoming Fear

"Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else 
is more important than fear" - Ambrose Redmoon

"Courage" and "fear". Big words. I'm sure we can all bring to mind people who have the courage described by Ambrose Redmoon. The obvious ones are the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, doctors and nurses in war zones, aid workers, firefighters... etc. But I'm not going to talk about these people: their courage in the face of tremendous danger and hardship is clear for all to see. Here, I'm more interested in the neurotic fears that we all have to a greater or lesser degree. They are little fears by comparison but not necessarily to the person living with it.

We all show great courage, in our own way, every day. The fear we face may not be the kind faced by the people mentioned above, but it can be debilitating if allowed to rule our lives. At worst fear can drive us insane with worry and make us physically ill; at best it might prevent us from enjoying an aspect of life open to other people.

Of course, fear is there to protect us. We fear something because our subconscious at some point in our lives has learned that something is dangerous and it wants to protect us from it. In many cases, it is right. But not always. Sometimes our fears are simply out of date - life has moved on, but maybe a defence mechanism has not.

Many of our fears we learn as children, from our parents or other parental/authority figures. As adults, we may have a phobia but not even know why - the chances are that it stems from something that happened to us, or we saw happen to someone else, when we were younger. Or it may even be two entirely different, unconnected things that our subconscious has mistakenly linked.

As parents, we have the opportunity - I might even go as far as to say the duty - to ensure we do not pass on our neurotic fears to our (or anyone else's) children. Because children learn far more from what we do than from anything we say. And parenthood (or aunthood, unclehood, teacher-hood) is also a great opportunity to overcome our own fears, and make our own lives a little better and our own worlds a little bigger.

I love thunderstorms. I love standing out before, and in, the rain listening to the rumbling and watching lightning streak across the sky ('God laughing and flashing a smile'). It's exhilarating. In fact, years ago I was stood on Glastonbury Tor (a small hill jutting up above the Somerset levels with the remains of a church tower on top - hit a few times by lightning throughout its history) with thunder shuddering through the landscape and lightning crackling around me. It was one of the most thrilling experiences in my life. It's perhaps not something I would recommend - for health and safety reasons - but I felt so alive. 

My love of thunderstorms may have stemmed from my experience as a child. As soon as the rumbling began, my mum, dad and I would sit at the window and watch. Many years later, after I had left home, I was visiting my parents and while chatting to my mother, she told me she had been terrified of thunderstorms all her life. "But we used to watch them together," I protested. She replied: "Only because I didn't want you to have that same fear." Actually, she had been terrified but never showed it, so it never rubbed off on me.

I've done the same myself. My stepdaughter was learning to swim and was nervous about putting her head under water. So my wife and I took her swimming. I couldn't swim... and had a fear of putting my head under water. But I knew I had to show her that there was nothing to be frightened about. So I dunked my head under water... for her. And that day, I overcame my own fear. Now I swim - not well, but I can get from one side of a small pool to another - and although I can't say I like putting my head, I can do so. This small overcoming of what, to me, was a great fear has meant I have since been able to go swimming with my son - something which might never have happened had it not been for my judgment that my stepdaughter's welfare was more important than my own fear. And my son loves swimming - perhaps almost as much as I love thunderstorms.

We do many things for our children, make many personal sacrifices, but I think one of the best things we can give them is a degree of fearlessness. Or, at least, the understanding that fear is a choice and courage is the judgment that something is more important than fear.

Balance: Are you giving, or taking, too much?

The equinox, when day (very nearly) equals night, seems a good time to ponder the notion of 'balance'.

Firstly, what strikes me from simple observation of the world around us is that balance is not a dull, static, flavourless state, but a dynamic, flowing, colourful process of give and take. It is like a good risotto, which is a harmony of ingredients, each with its own flavour, which, working together, produce a tasty, healthy meal.

Among the questions which, I think, we should ask ourselves from time to time - and the spring and autumn equinoxes seem naturally apt times to do so - are: Am I taking more than I need? And: Am I giving more than I can afford (not just in a financial sense, but in terms of time, energy, emotions, thought, etc)?

Take, take, take is, of course, selfish, but give, give, give can be as self-centred if done for the wrong reasons. For example, do we give out of love and caring for another person, wanting and expecting no reward? Or do we do so to ease our guilt so we can feel better about ourselves? Or to bolster our ego so we can look like the wonderful generous person we wish to be seen as, and so feel good about ourselves? Do we, for example, self-identify as 'the giver', whose feeling of self-worth derives entirely from giving, and who relies on others' grateful acceptance of our gifts for our own happiness?

Of course, there is nothing wrong with feeling good about giving, but it is important not to cling to that feeling or to give again and again simply in order to feel that way again. That is the path of the addictive giver. And behind such an addiction can often be a need to control, which possibly comes from low self-esteem. As I said earlier, can you give without reward? Or do you give in order to control the fate or feelings of another, perhaps to make them feel indebted to you? Do we give only when it suits us, or only what we think the other person needs rather than what they actually want/need? Sometimes giving, if done selfishly or carelessly or with the wrong motivation, can do more harm than good.

It is as important to ask ourselves about how much we give, and why, as it is to ask about how much we take, and why - and find the right balance, according to the time, skills and material, physical, mental and emotional resources we have available.

If we give more than we can afford, we can end up creating more unhappiness in the world, starting with our own. And if we are unhappy, it is likely that our unhappiness will spill over into the world, and on to the people around us. Give too much and everyone loses.

So, at times like the spring and autumn equinoxes, it is good to consider how we give and take, and how we can ensure that our actions respect the dynamic balance that is essential for us all to live fulfilling and harmonious lives, inside and out.

As the saying goes: we have two hands - one to give and one to receive.

Remember, to live we must breathe in as well as breathe out... accept as well as give...