contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: A. C. Graham

POEM: THE SADNESS OF THE GORGES

Above the gorges, one thread of sky;

Cascades in the gorges twine a thousand cords.

High up, the slant of splintered sunlight, moonlight;

Beneath, curbs to the wild heave of the waves,

The shock of a gleam, and then another,

In depths of shadow frozen for centuries;

The rays between the gorges do not halt at noon;

Where the straits are perilous, more hungry spittle.

Trees lock their roots in rotted coffins

And the twisted skeletons hang tilted upright;

Branches weep as the frost perches

Mournful cadences, remote and clear.

A spurned exile’s shriveled guts

Scald and seethe in the water and fire he walks through.

A lifetime’s like a fine-spun thread,

The road goes up by the rope at the edge.

When he pours his libation of tears to the ghosts in the stream

The ghosts gather, a shimmer on the waves.

Meng Chiao (751 – 814) in Poems of the Late T’ang Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965 (Translated with an Introduction by A. C. Graham)

POEM: ARTHUR

Behind storm-fretted bastions gray and bare

Flame-crested warriors of Cunedda’s line

Feast in a gold ring, – their targes shine

Along the wall and clang to gusts of air;

And in the shadow, torches blown aflare

Reveal a chief, half human, half divine,

With brooding head, starred by the Dragon Sign,

Hung motionless in some undreamed despair.

But when he starts, three torques of twisted gold

Writhe on his breast, for voices all men fear

Wail forth the battle-doom dead kings have borne;

And as the mead-hall fills with sudden cold,

Above the wind-tossed sea his heart can hear

The strange gods calling through their mystic horn.

Arthur is one of Six Celtic Sonnets written by Thomas Samuel Jones and included in From the Isles of Dream: Visionary Stories and Poems of the Celtic Renaissance, selected by John Matthews and with a foreword by Robin Williamson (Floris Books, 1993).

Thomas Samuel Jones (1882-1932) came from Welsh and Irish stock and was born in Oneida County, New York State, near the Adirondack Mountains. Each of the six sonnets reflects a facet of Celtic tradition. They were originally published in 1930 as part of the collection Aknahton and Other Sonnets. For those of us who resonate with Druid and Celtic spirituality, they are part of our modern cultural ancestry.

RAINBOW DRUID CAMP REFLECTIONS

It’s just under a week since the end of Druid Camp 2015. Time enough to have some perspective. As an event it’s clearly been very successful. It has an experienced leadership which knows how to balance continuity and innovation. The organisation reflects both practicality and care.

Nonetheless I went to the camp with reservations about my proposed role in it. Last year I attended out of a simple desire to try something new. This year I was conscious that the Camp was playing with an element of the ‘contemplative’ practice which I and others have been championing in recent years. For me there was a possible point of tension between the celebratory and releasing flavour of a Lammas camp and the quieter and more inward direction of contemplative practice as usually understood. I felt that I was holding that tension within my own body and energy system and as it turned out this did have a cramping effect on my experience of the Camp.

Of course that’s not the whole story. The Rainbow Druid Camp does have room for a range of micro-cultures within the larger community and, at the Camp, I experienced the management and use of spaces as very enabling. I ran an early session in the space reserved for the contemplative thread.  It was very congenial. An ideal number of people showed up. The session itself was pitched as a warm-up to the theme and it was very well received. I attended some of the other sessions in the same space and heard about others – the offerings were of the kind that I would hope for there. One of the guest speakers, Philip Carr-Gomm, had meditation as his topic. This ended with an extended and lively question and answer session which showed that meditation was a live topic for people attending the Camp.

As time progressed, there were other aspects that I personally enjoyed – like the music on both Friday and Saturday evenings. An unplanned performance by Kevan Manwaring and Chantelle Smith based on two Scottish Border ballads led me to go to a workshop with Kevan the following day. I felt a revival of a lost Bardistry and performance potential, a bit damped down by my ‘contemplative’ turn. I don’t know where this is going but paradoxically my greatest personal gift from this year’s camp.

I’ll post up my session in another blog in case other people might want to use or adapt it. Elaine decided not to present Animist Hermetics, feeling that this practice actually does require a more specialist and protected environment. She will be presenting it at our Contemplative Day on 3 October – see http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com/

This year I didn’t come away from the camp with the feeling of euphoria of 2014. But it’s a good result all the same and I am grateful for Rainbow Druid Camp and its role in modern Druidry.

OVERNIGHT STAY WITH K’O-KUNG

For me, this poem by Chia Tao is a contrasting twin to Poems Just Dotted Down in my last blog. On the one hand it is more self-conscious and struggling, and on the other more poignant and touching with the human face revealed. I like to read them together.

For ten li

I’ve been searching for the hidden temple

Up branches

Of the cold stream.

Monks sit Ch’an,

One with the snowy night;

Wild geese, approaching Ts’ao-t’ang,

Fly within hearing.

With lamp flames dying,

Our words are subdued;

The rest of our lives

Should be clouds and high peaks.

Up to now,

I’ve been sick a lot,

And the Enlightened Prince

Does not know my name.

From When I find you again, it will be in mountains: selected poems of Chia Tao (2000) Somerville, MA, USA: Wisdom Publications

Chia Tao (779 – 843) an erstwhile Ch’an monk, became a poet during China’s Tang Dynasty. Ch’an was the Chinese predecessor of Japanese Zen.

English translation by Mike O’ Connor.

ACTIVE IMAGINATION: BEYOND MICHAELMAS

In my Active Imagination post on 18 August this year, I wrote about an image of a wild park, a tree, deep twilight, the moon, a river, a gorge, and a bridge, a city of lights, a messenger and a message. I owned every feature of the image as part of myself.

I’ve had another one, loosely connected to the first and also numinous for me, and compelling. I’m in a walled garden, now within the city of lights. It’s as if I’ve got the message and crossed the bridge. So there’s an element of journeying in the process after all, hidden behind the images themselves.

The city is surprisingly spacious and offers a sweet slowness as well. It could also be described as a little run down and depopulated. But an easy place to be, not a stressful one. The specific place in which I find myself seems familiar, though subtly changed.  I am in Sophia’s Garden, with its unmistakeable fountain in the centre surrounded by red and white rose beds. And there are fruit trees – apple, pear and plum – trained around the walls. In memory it is a noon time place where bright sunlight shines on the scene and strikes the dazzling water of the fountain.

Now it is late afternoon and the sunlight is muted.  The water from the fountain cascades from its bubbling centre, and individual drops – each the whole of H20 – fly out for their moment in the sun before falling into a pool below. The fountain seems eternal. Its water seems eternal. The roses seem eternal. The rest of the garden is in an advanced autumnal stage – certainly beyond Michaelmas. At best, a limited time (overtime?) left for harvesting. The Goddess is dispersed in everything, as everything. I as observer am very much involved. In this realm I am her eyes and must stand as her wisdom too. There is no one else to do it.  For there is a sense in which, like Neo in The Matrix, we are each the One in our own Universe.

CONTEMPLATION AND SHAMANISM

The early Taoist classic Inward Training (1) says:

 By concentrating your vital breath as if numinous, the myriad things will all be contained within you.

The word translated as ‘numinous’ is ‘shen’. And it shows the contemplative Taoist’s debt to China’s long tradition of shamanism. For shen can also refer to the external spirits or numina of mountains, rivers or ancestors, “the powers that descended into early Chinese shamans and shamanesses during their ritualized trances”.

Harold Roth (the translator of Inward Training into English) also points out that this text does not use a word for ‘emptiness’. Instead, it uses a metaphor – ‘cleaning out the lodging place of the numinous’. This is suggestive of either an external temple being cleansed in preparation for the descent of a divinity or the purification of a shaman in preparation for serving as a medium. Roth quotes A. C. Graham (2) as suggesting “that the meditation practised privately and recommended to rulers as an Arcanum of government descends directly from the trance of the professional shaman”.

The Indian story is somewhat similar, according to Mircea Eliade (3): most Indian spiritual practice inherits the structure of early shamanistic culture. He reminds us that the shamanic tree has seven, nine or sixteen steps, each symbolising a heaven, and climbing it is the equivalent of ascending the cosmic tree or pillar. Then he goes on to say, “The Brahmanic sacrificer mounts to heaven by ritually climbing a ladder; the Buddha ascends the cosmos by symbolically traversing the seven heavens; the Buddhist yogin, through meditation, realizes an ascent whose nature is completely spiritual. Typologically, all these acts share the same structure: each on its own plane indicates a particular way of transcending the profane world and attaining to the world of the gods, or Being or the Absolute. The one great difference between them and the shamanic experience of ascent to heaven lies in the intensity of the latter: … the shamanic experience includes ecstasy and trance”.

It seems to me that early images of an antlered sitter – on a seal from Mohenjodaro, the ancient city state of India, and on the Gundestrop cauldron (4) – are equally appropriate to vatic trance, walking-between-the-worlds and contemplative meditation. Indeed is perhaps anachronistic to make such distinctions, for we know little about actual practices in their cultures of origin.  What we can say is that contemplative and shamanistic traditions share the same roots and that modern practitioners – like Druids! – may stand to gain from exploring both at the same time.  The Tibetan Bon tradition has adopted this approach for many centuries, as Tenzin Wangal Rinpoche shows when looking as the five elements in Tibetan Shamanism, Tantra and Dzogchen (the contemplative aspect), brought together as a unified developmental system within the Bon path.

References:

 1: Roth, Harold D. (1999) Original Tao: ‘Inward Training’ and the foundations of Taoist mysticism New York, NY: Columbia University Press

 

The Bookish Hag

Druidry: Reflections From A Bookish Beginner.

The Blog of Baphomet

a magickal dialogue between nature and culture

rawpagan.wordpress.com/

nature spirituality ~ writer ~ magic ~ psychology

This Simple Life

The gentle art of living with less

Musings of a Scottish Hearth Druid

Thoughts about living, loving and worshiping as a Hearth Druid. One woman's journey.

The River Crow

Reflections of a meandering Hedge Druid

Wheel of the Year Blog

An place to read and share stories about the celtic seasonal festivals

Walking the Druid Path

Just another WordPress.com site

anima monday

Exploring our connection to the wider world

Atheopaganism

An Earth-honoring religious path rooted in science

Grounded Space Focusing

Become more grounded and spacious with yourself and others, through your own body’s wisdom

The Earthbound Report

Good lives on our one planet

John Halstead

The Allergic Pagan; HumanisticPaganism.com; Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Paganism; A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment; Earthseed

The Hopeless Vendetta

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.

barbed and wired

not a safe space - especially for the guilty

Down the Forest Path

A Journey Through Nature, its Magic and Mystery

Druid Life

Pagan reflections from a Druid author - life, community, inspiration, health, hope, and radical change

What Comes, Is Called

The work and world of Ki Longfellow

Druid Monastic

The Musings of a Contemplative Monastic Druid