contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Month: October, 2017

SPIDER

I’ve been busy with spiders over the last few weeks, noticing their variety both indoors and out. There’s one outside my window as I write. Some of this attention has involved removing spiders from the house. As I become more sensitized to their sentience, I’ve grown somewhat ambivalent about this. Yet from a wider household perspective, it does need to be done. The extract below is from David Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous and looks at the life of a spider.

“Consider a spider weaving its web, for instance, and the assumption still held by many scientists that the behavior of such a diminutive creature is thoroughly ‘programmed in its genes.’ Certainly, the spider has received a rich genetic inheritance from its parent and predecessors. Whatever ‘instructions’, however, are enfolded within the living genome, they can hardly predict the specifics of the microterrain within which the spider may find itself in any given moment. They could hardly have determined in advance the exact distances between the cave wall and the branch that the spider is now employing as an anchorage point for her current web, or the exact strength of the monsoon rains that make web-spinning a bit more difficult on this evening.

“The genome could not have explicitly commanded the order of every flexion and extension of her various limbs as she weaves this web into its place. However complex are the inherited ‘programs’, patterns or predispositions, they must still be adapted to the immediate situation in which the spider finds itself. However determinate its genetic inheritance, it must still, as it were, be woven into the present, an activity that necessarily involves both a receptivity to the specific shapes and textures of that present and a spontaneous creativity by which every animate organism necessarily orients itself to the world (and orients the world around itself), that we speak of by the term ‘perception’”.

David Abram The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World New York: Vintage Books, 1997 & 2017

This book has been an inspiration to many people over the last 20 years, including both naturalist and animist Pagans. The extract comes from a section entitled The Mindful Life of the Body.

POEM: WONDER

10 October is dedicated to the 17th century Anglican mystic Thomas Traherne. Here are the first three verses of his poem, ‘Wonder’, where he sees the world through the eyes of a child. He seems never to have lost this capacity, and this was a factor in his mysticism.

How like an Angel came I down!

How bright are all things here!

O how their GLORY me did Crown?

The World resembled his Eternitie,

In which my Soul did Walk;

And evry Thing that I did see,

Did with me talk.

 

The Skies in their Magnificence,

The Lively, Lovely Air;

Oh how Divine, how soft, how Sweet, how fair!

The Stars did entertain my Sence,

And all the Works of GOD so Bright and pure,

So rich and Great did seem,

As if they ever must endure,

In my esteem.

 

A Native Health and Innocence

Within my Bones did grow,

And while my GOD did all his Glories show,

I felt a Vigour in my Sence

That was all SPIRIT. I within did flow

With Seas of Life, like Wine;

I nothing in the World did know,

But ‘twas Divine.

 

From: Happiness and Holiness: Thomas Traherne and his Writings edited by Denise Inge Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2008

CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY REVISITED

I experience this season as one of endings, fruitions and threads of continuity. I’m looking back at Contemplative Druidry (1), self-published on 9 October 2014, and currently with sales of just under 1200 – mostly through Kindle.

For me, the book feels true to its moment, a time when the ‘contemplative’ meme was still relatively unfamiliar in Druidry, but where we had already had two years to explore and develop it. The book drew on the experience of a local group in Stroud, Gloucestershire, England and the thoughts of the Contemplative Druidry Facebook Group in its formative period. Much of it was about people and their feelings, thoughts, identifications and values in the process of development.

The book offered no teachings or collective community line about contemplative Druidry. But it did offer a picture of who was involved, where they stood and what they did. I identified a tentative consensus that Druid contemplative practice happened in three main ways: formal sitting meditations (both ‘pathworking’ and ‘mindful’); being in nature and walking the land; and the contemplative use of creative arts. Practice could be solo or in groups, and the book itself helped to develop templates for group sessions and day retreats.

To balance this anarchic approach to spiritual development, I was lucky enough to have a foreword by Philip Carr-Gomm, who leads the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), to which I belong. Instead of the expected few words, he sent me his beautiful and inspirational essay Deep Peace of the Quiet Earth: The Nature Mysticism of Druidry. A treasure in itself, it has a deepening effect on the book as a whole.

Although the contemplative project, as a project, is finished, I am glad to know that the notion of a contemplative aspect in Druidry is no longer controversial. Within a few hours of launching the Contemplative Druidry Facebook group in 2012, I was challenged by two influential people in the Druid world. Now it has over 2,000 members and no-one turns a hair. The contemplative meme is there to stay, for its time, until it fades out again. The third anniversary of Contemplative Druidry finds me content.

(1) James Nichol Contemplative Druidry: People, Practice and Potential Amazon/KDP, 2014

IN A NUTSHELL

I value clarity and simplicity, especially in spirituality. Yet the subject often gives rise to mystifying ideas and language. From now on I want to avoid these, when genuinely avoidable, in my inquiry.

In 2014, not long before he became ill, Thich Nhat Hanh retranslated the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra, foundational to Mahayana Buddhism, and revised his commentary. Although brief, the sutra develops Buddhist emptiness teachings and therefore the Buddhist view of non-duality. After more than sixty years of monastic study and practice, Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that a flower is made only of non-flower elements, so we can say that the flower is empty of separate self-existence. But that doesn’t mean that the flower is not there. “When you perceive reality in this way, you will not discriminate against the garbage in favour of the rose”.

Thich Nhat Hanh worked at making Buddhism accessible to a modern Western audience, because the teachings of Buddhism are not one, but many. When Buddhism enters a new country, that country always acquires a new form of Buddhism. As part of his own teaching, he invented the term ‘interbeing’. Yet he is also true to tradition. In thirteenth century Japan, Zen Master Eihei Dogen taught that “enlightenment is just intimacy with all things”. Such intimacy nourishes the seed of compassion. Thich Nhat Hanh offers essentially the same understanding to other peoples in another time.

AUTUMN DAY

Autumn day. Freshness after high winds and rain. Warm, but not like Summer. A soft, enlivening clarity. Simple pleasure in simple experiencing.

In this stream of awareness, it is as if I am possessed of a warm, lighthearted openness and wonder. For the world seems new and provisional, empty of explanations about anything. It is a magical day, with time stopped and infinite space for enjoyment.

I am describing my spiritual home, which I find so hard to identify within communities and movements, even the good ones. Days like this stabilize my sense of being at home and lacking nothing. They are a wonderful blessing.

AM I SPLAINING?

‘Splaining’ – a word I hadn’t even heard until recently. The post helpfully explores this kind of communication from a number of angles.

Druid Life

We all do it, and often for perfectly innocent reasons. We tell people stuff they already know in a way they could find patronising and offensive. The most common innocent reason is just having learned something and being really excited about it. Given half a chance, kids and teens splain at adults. It’s good to affirm them by hearing them out and then gently letting them know that you knew. One day, they will tell you something you didn’t know and that will be exciting all round.

Sometimes we splain because we’re trying to do empathy or express that we know what it’s like, and we pitch it wrong. Sometimes in this case the splaining is in the ears of the listener, because we’re not splaining, we’re trying to tell them our truth about similar experiences. Maybe, because we’ve not previously found someone who might get what we’ve been through…

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EMPTINESS AND JOYFUL FREEDOM

This post takes its name from a book (1) about the ‘emptiness’ teachings traditionally associated with Mahayana and Tantric Buddhism. It makes the case that the ‘ease’ they bring can support a culturally ‘Western’ approach to life. The insights can illuminate us regardless of tradition, enabling new departures in the politics and art of living. The book includes meditations and exercises, so that readers can check it out for themselves.

“Through the immersion in these teachings, the rigidity and solidity of seemingly inherently existing phenomena give way to a precious lightness of life in the world. The famous Buddhist writer Shantideva expresses beautifully how our mind comes finally to rest:

“When neither something nor nothing

Remains to be known,

There is no alternative left

But complete non-referential ease.

“I feel that, as a person who had been seeking truth and ultimate reality, I found a satisfying answer in the realization of the emptiness of all phenomena. This realization comes with a greater sense of ease.

“For spiritual practitioners like me, the rigid attitude of knowing what’s right for everyone is an easy temptation. Spiritual teachings tend to have notions of absolutes, which by their very nature seem to trump everything else. None of them can claim to have absolute, transcendent truth on their side, so all of them need to prove themselves on the level of conventional, ordinary reality with practical questions like:

’Who does the view serve and who is being marginalized?’ or

‘Is the view helpful, compassionate or humane?’

“ ….

“It was a wonderfully freeing moment to recognize that there simply is no one way that reality ‘really’ is, and therefore no way to miss out on it. … At that moment, it became completely OK to be my Western self again, rather than trying to emulate what I took to be the Eastern blueprint of an enlightened practitioner’s way of life.

“ …

“By realizing that the inherently existent self does not exist, one is free up to work with the empty self. This is where the West’s abundant sources of creative self-expression can come in handy. You can celebrate and transform the (empty) self, creatively expressing it in ever new ways. The self can even be treated as a work of art. Towards the end of his life Michel Foucault said:

‘What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects, and not to individuals, or to life.’

“Joyful irony is our Western Way to describe the fruition of the emptiness teachings. You no longer think that your own values and goals are underwritten by the nature of reality. This insight enables a flexible, unattached attitude towards your one views and vocabularies, and fosters respect for the views of others”.

(1) Greg Goode and Tomas Sander Emptiness and Joyful Freedom Salisbury: Non-Duality Press, 2013 (Section written by Tomas Sander)

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