contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Chants

DEEP REST AND THE MAGIC OF AWEN

2020 is beginning its journey from Beltane to Midsummer in my neighbourhood, and I am feeling the call of Awen. Hence the pendant. I am also looking at the theme of balance (1). There’s a question for me about balancing the call of Awen with my commitment to the deep rest of contemplation and its nourishing effects.

As a fruit of my contemplative inquiry, I found ‘at-homeness in the flowing moment’. This at-homeness nourishes my life. It is not dependent on belief or circumstance, but on the ultimate acceptance that the experienced moment is what is given. Being alive, having experiences, and being aware that I have experiences is an extraordinary set of gifts. But it has taken me a while to find deep rest in simple experiencing, at will.

When I go home to the flowing moment, I slow down the stream of consciousness without attempting either to halt it or to put it to work. A stillness lives within the flow and finds its place there. I experience ‘now’ as state of presence, rather than a unit of time. A pervasive sense of deep rest emerges from ‘just being’. Immersed in being, I can lose my sense of a boundaried, separate self.

But I am also an embodied human, in a perpetual process of becoming, When I hear the call of Awen, I feel as if a larger life is inviting me to share in the magic of creation as a co-creator. It is likely that humans began calling, chanting and music-making before they developed conceptual speech. Awen is close to source, deeply involved in the emergence and flourishing of our collective and personal voices. Gaelic tradition speaks of the Oran Mor as the great song in which all beings have a part.

In this final, dynamic stage of the rising year, I do feel called in this way. My initial response has been to re-incorporate Awen into my practice both as a three-syllable chant (aah-ooo-wen) and as a two-syllable mantra meditation (aah, on the inbreath; wen, on the outbreath). This is already changing the feel of the practice. When chanting this is through the sound, with its distinctive pulse and vibration, and through a strong felt resonance in my body. In the meditation, the awen mantra seems to enliven my breath, making it very real as the breath of life. It also energises my body as a whole, less dramatically but more subtly than the chant. Overall, I sense myself as enlivened, inspired, and activated. Awen is influencing my experience, and my inquiry. I will see where this magic leads me.

(1) https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2020/04/29/beltane-2020/

FUINN II: THE POETRY OF PRACTICE

I’m a Pagan Druid, happily placed in a tradition that values poetry and seership over dogma and system building. I experience my practice as a sort of poetry. In this poetry of practice, I am held in a compelling myth of origin, an ever-now origin, and I have found a new way of working with it.

My new collection of Fuinn (Ceile De chants in Scottish Gaelic) includes a very simple one which goes A Hu Thi (ah – hoo – hee) repeated over and over again. The Ceile De interpretation, a Celtic Christian one, is that this chant “represents the three stages of the unfolding of creation … A– the Great Mystery draws in its breath … Hu – that breath is breathed out, and creation is born from out of the Mystery … God becomes matter … Thi – the Divine nature, beingness and intention acts within the field of intention … Some Ceile De would say that this final stage represents Christ Consciousness.”

It’s a bit different for me. I’ve been working with this Fonn daily for a couple of weeks now.  I don’t chant. I use slow deep breathing with a silent awareness of the sounds. I find that for me, the A sets up a sense of latency, a subtle pulse and vibration on the brink of becoming. I feel it in the quality of my inbreath, as a kinaesthetic song. Hu the outbreath feels more vigorous and intentional; there’s a real sense of movement, expressed as exhalation – the breath moves out from my body, through my nostrils. Thi breathed in feels like the delighted expression of a new reality, one that I share in, distinct yet inseparable as a sentient being. This generally brings up feelings exhileration, gratitude and joy. It leads me on to the use of another Fonn as a contemplative and devotional prayer, which I wrote myself using my collection of Fuinn as a model.

A Brighde, A Brighde, solus an domhain; A Brighde, A Brigdhe, Brighde mo chridhe

A Vree-jah, A Vree-jah, solus an dowan; A Vree-jah, A Vree-jah, Bree-jah mo cree

Brighde, Brighde, light of the world; Brighde, Brighde, Brighde my heart

Brighde is the breath, the practice and the Fuinn. When writing my Fonn I wanted to build a felt sense of Brighde as cosmic birther, initiator into being, with a seat in my heart.  Her name evokes power and the prayer invokes relationship – identified as She is with primal generativity and the deep powers of life and land, and also One who inspires skill and accomplishment in those She supports and fosters. Through my experience of relationship and connection, deep levels of feeling and intuition are satisfied, in some way met. I feel empowered, with a sense of having more resources available to me. Why would this be? I don’t really know. What I do know is the value of practice as poetry, and the magic it holds.

The Ceile De can be found on http://www.ceilede.co.uk

AWEN SPACE

I’ve heard it said that attempting to describe actual spiritual practice is folly. It’s like pinning up butterflies for display – you retain the husk whilst losing the flight. But sometimes the endeavour seems worth the risk. I want to talk about the group practice of ‘awen space’ that forms a part of my Druidry.

My local contemplative Druid group met for two hours last Tuesday, 9 December. We connect for two hours in the afternoon on the second Tuesday of every month, except for May and November – a pattern that has now lasted for just over a year. In those months we meet for a full Saturday, sometime after the festivals of Beltane and Samhain. The days offer the advantage of time for a greater variety of practice, the presence of people from outside our local catchment area, and an introductory space for new members. 19 people are now at least provisionally involved, and we have decided to close the group. The Tuesday sessions offer a greater sense of continuity, a more intimate atmosphere, and even greater focus and simplicity. Attendance currently fluctuates between five and nine. This week eight of us were present.

Our usual structure for a two hour session tends to be

  • Pre-meeting for greetings and refreshments
  • Entry into sacred space through a brief ritual opening
  • Group check in
  • A period of silent sitting meditation (about 20 minutes)
  • A move into the awen field (for about 35-40 minutes)
  • Group check-out
  • Exit from sacred space
  • Farewells

Although our use of ritual is lean and parsimonious, it is a very important part of this process. It is the first step in making our attention intentional, and in turning a domestic hearth into a nemeton. Over time, we have tended to favour putting our personal check-ins and check-outs within the nemeton, since we are entering into sacred relationship as well as sacred space, tuning into each other as part of the practice – not just as a preliminary or warm-up. We use a talking stick process for this, to emphasise the intentional and ritualised aspect of what we are doing.

I think of the awen space as being the most distinctive part of the session. We enter the space through a repeated chanting of awen – how much, or whether we ‘cascade’, depends on our sense of the moment – and then enter silence, consciously together rather than meditating side by side as in the simple sitting meditation that precedes this practice. We may maintain this collective and relational silence or we may choose to sing, chant or say things. In this sense it is an interactive practice albeit a subtle one. It is most powerful when we can hold back from entering into actual dialogue and exchange whilst at the same time moving with the current of communication and relationship which we are generating both through our silence and our utterance. There’s a fine point of balance and tension here. When the awen space is over – it’s over, so it’s not strictly timed. There’s a person whose job it is to lead us both into and out of the space and they make the call. Usually it reflects everyone’s sense of the appropriate ending. We chant awen on our way out of this space as well as into it.

In this context we experience awen, Druidry’s subtle magic, as an energetic field in which we are inspired to be more open and receptive to each other – and at times to find authentic here-and-now language for our felt sense of co-presence and connection within an enlivened space. So it’s something within and between us when we are together, not so much a lightning flash from above. Sometimes our experience completely flows; sometimes it’s more halting. The space gives us a mirror, say rather an echo, of what we bring to it on the day. The physical space matters too – on Tuesday it was a space of wood burner glow and tiny lights in a deepening dusk, and a circle of people working gently together. For me, the feeling-tone and the imagery of this space, lodged in the shifting ever-now of memory, are my key reference point for ‘contemplative Druidry’ as a unique spiritual note. And I am made even more grateful to be able to practice in this way with a group of good companions.

 

DRUID CHANTS

Nimue Brown shares a chant that she offered in our Gloucestershire group and talks about chanting more broadly. Her chanting changed the space in the room, as resonant chanting does.

Druid Life

Music has always been a big part of my life, and I’m deeply attracted to the bardic threads in the Druidic weave. I’m also interested in meditation and contemplation. Unshockingly, this has led to time spent chanting. I even run the odd workshop on subverting and messing about with chants to make group singing more collaborative and playful. Let’s face it, there’s only so many times a bunch of people can sing ‘we all come from the goddess’ until it tails off in awkward silence. We are more likely to fall into tedium than reverie, if my experience in circles is anything to go by. I’ve long been interested in finding ways of changing that experience, for myself and for those around me.

I’ve been blessed with some excellent chanting experiences, too – most notably those led by JJ Middleway. His ‘enchanting the void’ sessions offer room for creative exploration…

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NOTE AND SONG

I have continued to experiment with the forms of contemplative prayer and mantra work I use in connection to my Ceile De paidirean.  Having worked some time now with the heart prayer, I have started to engage with other expressions of this tradition. These are drawn from the wider range of Ceile De fuinn (chants).

My overall morning practice is customarily held within a circle cast in “the Sacred Grove of Sophia, the luminous spirit of wisdom”. I have found a fonn (chant) for my walking meditation that links back, for me, to her.  The words are:

Gun tigeadh solas nan solas air mo chridhe; gun tigeadh ais an spiorad air mo chridhe

Goon tee-guch solus nan solus air mo chree; goon tee-guch aysh an speer-utch air mo chridhe

Come light of lights to my heart; come wisdom of spirit to my heart

When I use this fonn (chant) in walking meditation, I use Sireadh Thall (Sheer-ich Hall) as a mantra, for periods of time, when sitting. It means “seek beyond” and according to the Ceile De, Sireadh Thall is “one of the many poetic names for the Great Goddess of the Gael, Brighide or Bridget”. She has sometimes been called the northern Sophia (as in Caitlin Matthews’ book, ‘Sophia’).  Sireadh Thall, as a divine name, gives me a sense of the Goddess pointing beyond herself to a place where names, forms and images of the divine dissolve.

Gun tigeadh solas nan solas air mo chridhe; gun tigeadh ais an spiorad air mo chridhe is the fifth fonn on the first Ceile De fonn CD.  Sireadh Thall is the tenth.  I find this latter especially moving.  For me it is presented here in a perfect weaving of voices.  There is no soloist, yet the loss of any one voice – each with its unique integrity – would diminish the piece.  So collectively this fonn gives voice to the Oran Mor, the great song of what is.

In working with different fuinn in this way, I can listen in to them, feel them, taste them – their resonance, their energy, and their inspiration. I get closer to finding my note within that song.

(Sireadh Thall can be accessed and downloaded on http://www.ceilede.co.uk/company/the-fonn.)

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