ROSE, PEWTER & NATURE MYSTICISM
In my introduction to Contemplative Druidry (1) I describe “a wholly unexpected and not at all dramatic epiphany … triggered simply by noticing and contemplating a wild rose”. Although the experience lasted for only a few moments, “for some weeks I woke up every day with a sense of joy and connection”. It was a shift in my spiritual centre of gravity.
This happened on a midsummer morning in 2007, just outside the Scottish Border town of Melrose on the bank of the Tweed. It is a place loaded with religious and mythic reference – Melrose Abbey with its Green Man carvings and the heart of Robert the Bruce; the Eildon Hills, those hollow hills where the Queen of Efland took True Thomas, making it clear to him that she was not the Queen of heaven.
I had chosen to walk away from those, and towards a riverside path. My experience of the rose was entirely natural, in this legend laden land. In that sense I can call it an instance of nature mysticism, and a nudge towards a contemplative Druidry largely shorn of mythic narrative for the sake of a clearer eye. Looking back, I understood my experience as a lesser form of the one reported by the German mystic Jacob Boehme, who “fell into a trance upon looking into a burnished pewter plate that reflected the sun. In his ecstasy he saw into the very heart of nature itself and felt totally at harmony with creation” (2). Unusually for a seventeenth century Protestant, Boehme had a sense of the Divine feminine, and thought of Sophia as “the visibility of God”. He went on to be a key inspiration in a growing movement for a kinder, gentler version of the reformed faith despite the trials and trauma of his time. Boehme’s work finally appeared in English in 1662 and gave rise to a group called the Philadelphians, less known or numerous than the home grown Quakers.
Now I have entered another, different, phase. It is marked by a demystification of mysticism itself. It involves a deeper, more conscious inquiry into what I mean by ‘nature’ – the nature I see, the nature I am, and the relationship between them. On 23 May 2014 I scribbled down some words attributed to the 20th. Century teacher and sage Nisargadatta Maharaj and posted on the Science and Nonduality website. I thought of working them into the text of Contemplative Druidry. But though I found them inspirational, I hadn’t tested them or assimilated them into my experience, and so I left them out. These words are: “Love says ‘I am everything’, Wisdom says ‘I am nothing’. Between the two, my life flows. Since at any point of time and space I can be both the subject and the object of experience, I express it by saying that I am both, and neither, and beyond both”.
My new connection with the Headless Way, with its simple, transparent processes, provides a framework for doing the work I had not done two years ago. My readiness to do it owes much to my experience of contemplative Druidry during the intervening time, just as my earlier work with contemplative Druidry probably helped me to recognize the value of Nisargadatta’s words in 2014. As I move forward, I increasingly see the threads of continuity in my overall inquiry, and this gives me confidence and energy for the work itself.
- James Nichol Contemplative Druidry: People, Practice and Potential Amazon/KPD, 2014 (Foreword by Philip Carr-Gomm)
- Caitlin Mathews Sophia Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God Wheaton IL: Quest Books, 2001