This post is about methods in contemplative inquiry. It is the second in a series looking at what forms of inquiry best serve our times. The first (1) concerned values. This is the first of three addressing methods. A final post will be about issues of interpretation. My focus below is on the ritual container for my early morning Temple of Sophia practice, and how it enacts the values discussed on 16 June.
I inaugurated the Temple on 22 March of this year, and described it at the time (2) as a “magical space”. As my inquiry has developed, I have tended to let go of words like ‘magic’, ‘mysticism’, ‘gnosis’ and ‘enlightenment’ as too imprecise and in a way too theatrical for my current purpose. Yet I stand by what I said at the time. In particular, I continue to understand myself as using “a set of methods for arranging awareness according to patterns”, the definition of magic I used in March. I use all five of the specific methods I listed: concentration, meditation, visualization, ritual patterning and mediation. I particularly want to re-emphasize a key point about replacing a deliberate, effortful style of concentration with one based on interest and excitement like the concentration of children at play. (If it doesn’t work, do something else). But the last of the five methods above is now reframed. Instead of ‘mediation’ I would talk about the state of empty awareness and its influence. In the Headless Way (3) the phrase “clear awake space, and capacity for the world” is often used to describe the state as both experience and resource.
On arrival in my Temple space, I stand in what will be the centre of my circle, facing East where the image of Sophia gazes back at me. I begin with words inherited from my Druid practice, because I strive for continuity and integration wherever possible. The words are from Irish and Scottish Gaelic tradition, alternatively known at St. Patrick’s Prayer and the Cry of the Deer. They are a means of bringing in and expressing the humility and reverence I discussed as values in my last post, and are best declaimed slowly and spaciously.
I arise today through the strength of heaven, light of sun, radiance of moon, splendour of fire, speed of lightning, swiftness of wind, depth of sea, stability of earth and firmness of rock.
I continue – again following modern Druid tradition – by calling for peace in the directions, and aligning myself to them: May there be peace in the 7 directions – East, West, North, South, Below, Above, Within. May I be present in this space.
Then I circle sunwise, spinning slowly at the centre of the circle, extending my left arm at chest level, index finger pointing down and saying: I cast this circle in the Temple of Sophia. I continue to move sunwise round the circle, speaking as I reach the appropriate cardinal points: I thank the Source for Land (North), Life (East), Light (South), and Love (West). May they continue to nourish me. My I continue to honour them. May the harmony of this circle and of my life be complete. When facing East again, I say: I open my heart to the Wisdom of Sophia. I do not use ‘Source’ and ‘Sophia’ as theological terms. They are a way of expressing gratitude and connection. The way we are made, the very social way in which our capacity for language has developed, create a yearning for I-Thou rather than I-It forms of relationship with the Cosmos and whatever we met here, without or within. It seems to me to be a first person need, and I notice that it doesn’t seem to require literal reciprocation.
This opens my Temple, and a mirroring reverse process closes it at the end. For me these processes are an important ritual patterning in themselves, setting the note of my day overall, and not just markers for the Temple space. Before I begin to close the circle and exit the Temple space, I perform a ‘blessings’ practice, which has some resemblance to Buddhist loving-kindness practice whilst not being the same. Here I extend my circle of care from the centre outwards, until it becomes universal. Again I have to say that OBOD Druidry has a culture of commitment to blessings and the energy of blessing, and I continue to hold to that culture. Elaine, named below, is my wife.
I say: A blessing on my life. May I be free from harm; may I be healthy; may I be happy; may I live with ease – repeating the sequence for Elaine’s life, the lives of our kin, the lives of our companions, all lives I touch and am touched by and all beings throughout the Cosmos. A blessing on our lives (arms raised); a blessing on the work (hands over heart); a blessing on the land (touching the ground).
I am not, after some hesitation on the matter, working within a set of formalized ethics. Rather, the culture of practice seeks to generate a patterning of awareness that supports choice-making based on a view of love and wisdom. Methods enact values, which are then taken out of the Temple precincts and into the wider world.
I will talk about my physical/energetic and contemplative work within the circle in a dedicated post. This will include a look at why I do the entire practice standing or moving, and also why and how stresses and pathologies are given their space and voice.