contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Contemplative Druid Events

CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY IN PAGAN DAWN

PD197-500x500Gratitude and celebrations! The new edition of Pagan Dawn has given me the opportunity to describe contemplative Druid practice, as we have been developing it in recent years, to a wider Pagan and like-minded public.

In the meantime Contemplative Druid Events has arranged three open events for 2016:

7 February Dark of the Moon workshop in central London in Treadwell’s workshop space at 33 Store Street, London, WC1E 7BS. Facilitated by James Nichol and Elaine Knight. We will greet the dark of the moon using contemplative and visionary methods drawn from the evolving tradition of modern contemplative Druidry. Our programme will include contemplative exercises, subtle energy work, animist communion, silent sitting and Awen space group meditation.  Anyone with an interest is welcome to come.

15-17 April Our annual Birchwood Retreat at Anybody’s Barn, Birchwood Hall, Storridge, Nr. Malvern, Worcestershire WR13 5EZ. Facilitated by James Nichol, Karen Webb, Elaine Knight and J.J.Howell. Arrivals from 4.30 p.m. for 6.30 p.m. supper on Friday; departures by 4.30 p.m. on Sunday. Accommodation and full board included. Anyone with an interest is welcome to come.

1 October Contemplative Day in Stroud, from 10.30 a.m. – 4.30 p.m. at the St. Luke’s Medical Centre, 53 Cainscross Road, Stroud GL5 4EX.  Facilitation by James Nichol, Elaine Knight, Nimue Brown and Tom Brown. Anyone with an interest is welcome to come.      At the time of writing there are places on all of these events, though the London one is now filling up. For information on costs please see: http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com or write to grovelight@hotmail.co.uk

For Pagan Dawn, if you’re in the UK, check this link:

https://paganfed.org/shop/pagan-dawn?product_id=96

TOWARDS A CONTEMPLATIVE NOTE: REFLECTIONS ON 3 OCTOBER

I sense that we are finding a contemplative note in Druidry. To an extent we have had it for a while, but it’s becoming more assured. Last Saturday we had an open contemplative day in Stroud for Druids and fellow travellers willing to join us. I worked with Elaine Knight and Nimue Brown as co-facilitators. Some of the participants travelled a considerable distance for the event. Many of those present were new to each other. Some were new to this kind of event.

Yet the day felt very cohesive. For me, the group note resonated strongly though also softly. The vibration was a subtle one, interwoven with silence and stillness, whilst also clear and distinct. Building community together, and working together, we were more than the sum of our parts. We created a group identity, and sounded our note. I understand this as our small contribution and offering to the Oran Mor, the great song of what is.

I’ve been reflecting on how this happened, and on lessons to take forward. The main single factor has to be that everyone in the group understood the offer, was open to the experience, and wanted it to work. This is such an obvious aspect of a success that it can go unrecognised, like the so-called ‘placebo’ effect in healing: people engage their good will, almost unconsciously, and it has a strong positive effect.

On the facilitator side, there are several things we got right and that I want to remember. Having a record will help that.

We made a good choice of venue for the occasion, and this was supplemented by the blessing of a golden autumn day. The programme relied on activities, which someone at another of our events named as “simple but profound”. This choice is definitely part of our note. The building of our ritual container, whist still ‘lean’, was just a little bit more elaborate than in our local group. It clearly marked our sacred space and our expectations about how we would work in it.

I also found myself casting our circle in ‘the contemplative grove of druids’. This time I was careful to avoid the term ‘grove of contemplative druids’.  I have found naming ‘contemplative druidry’ to be a useful way of classifying a sub-set of interests within druidry. But I now believe that to think of people themselves as ‘contemplative druids’, a separate species within larger druid genus, is potentially divisive and doesn’t allow individuals to have inconveniently multiple interests. At the same time, when we join together in a contemplative event, we are indeed being intentional about contemplative practice. I have come to think of Contemplative Druid Events as a vehicle for a latent grove, a grove which constellates during our events and therefore deserves to be named. This grove provides space for our emerging note.

The note was considerably enriched when Nimue led a session that involved us in finding simple personal sounds and vocalising them over an extended period of time. After a while we could sense those diverse and discordant seeming sounds (our individual notes) come together as a collective sound where people spontaneously worked together. So the group note was worked for, discovered and explored in an absolutely literal way – and one which changed the atmosphere of the room. Later in the day, Elaine took the group through a version of an energy body exercise that went on to identify and reinforce the energetic connections between people, linking us as a group at subtle levels before moving into an animistic exercise. In my experience as a participant, these sections of the day were simple, profound and powerful too.

We made sure that we varied the pace of the day. Some of the work was relatively intense, but we had more leisurely and relaxed spaces as well, enjoyed time outside and made sure of an abundant supply of refreshments. For me, 3 October 2015 was a step forward in the evolution of our work. My heartfelt thanks to everyone involved.

MORE SPACE, FEWER WORDS

Just recently I’ve noticed a reluctance to write very much. I feel curious about this shift in my attention, and intuitively positive. My contemplative inquiry continues and my aims are the same. Yet the level of reading and writing that has shaped recent years no longer makes sense. It’s as though a phase has ended and a certain kind of job completed as far as it needs to be. I’m happy with what I’ve done, and I’m ready for a change in focus and expression. More space, fewer words: a reduction in apparent productivity, and an opportunity for something new to emerge if I’m willing to allow it.

In the meantime, I continue my contemplative practice in Druidry both solo and within my local group. I feel refreshed and sustained by these – so nothing’s changed there. More widely, Contemplative Druid Events is offering a contemplative day in Stroud on 3 October, a Dark on the Moon workshop in London on 7 February, and a weekend retreat near Malvern from 15-17 April. I’m enjoying this cautious expansion of outreach. Anyone interested in this work can follow its progress on:

http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com

 

CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY: MEME OR MOVEMENT?

On 3 October Contemplative Druid Events (CDE) – see http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com – will hold its last planned event for 2015. This will be a Contemplative Day, in Stroud, Gloucestershire, England. The facilitators will be James Nichol, Elaine Knight and Nimue Brown. Our programme is designed for a group of up to 15 people, and 12 are already committed. With just over a month to go we have a comfortable size of group, with room for a few more.

CDE offerings are built around insights from the book Contemplative Druidry: People Practice and Potential about the kinds of contemplative work that most seemed to resonate for the present generation of Druids. We offer sitting meditations of based both on a bare attention and on active imagination. We have outdoor walking meditations and opportunities simply to be, with awareness, in natural settings. We use methods that draw on creative arts. We have developed ‘Awen space’ as a group opening to, in and as Spirit. We build our repertoire as we gain in experience.

Is CDE spearheading Contemplative Druidry as a movement? I don’t see it that way. CDE was created as a minimal level of organisation for a single purpose. This is to offer a particular kind of event to small groups of Druids and fellow-travellers willing to join us. In doing this, we also promote the contemplative Druid meme, which now seems to be well recognised in modern Druid culture. But the CDE brand does not exhaust the possibilities of contemplative Druidry and we wouldn’t want it to. Modern Druidry, which is in some senses a postmodern Druidry, has a strong commitment to free exploration and diversity. The contemplative meme will find its place within that wider cultural framework. For better or for worse, we will never, as a collective, be organised around a Druid ‘four noble truths’. Contemplative Druidry will mean different things, and inspire different journeys, for different Druids.

CONTEMPLATIVE TASTER AS PROMISED

In my last post I promised to share my Rainbow Druid Camp 2105 taster session. Its aim was to interweave elements of mindfulness, extended sensory perception and celebration, and also to show how silent meditation and group sharing can act together to raise contemplative awareness.

This session was tightly timed to fit with its placement in a larger event – the timing was handled through the use of bells. In a different environment this practice could be run more spaciously, with longer periods devoted to each section of the meditation and space for writing and drawing or indeed simple time out between the sections. It’s a highly malleable programme.

 

START Welcomes and check-in round of names, including why we are here, how we feel right now, and any expectations we have.

Overview. The purpose of the session is to introduce Contemplative Druid Events and to share some of its working methods. This session aims to interweave aspects of mindfulness, extended sensory perception and celebration.

Entry into sacred space through lean ritual Facilitator leads, saying “we are here today in 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.   May there be peace in the 7 directions – east, west, north, south, below, above, within; may the spirits of place flourish here; may we be present in this space”.

Meditation in 5 three minute stages:

  • Becoming aware of our body and senses, scanning and finding something specific we appreciate or through which we feel blest
  • Becoming aware of our feelings, thoughts and images, scanning and finding something specific we appreciate or through which we feel blest
  • Becoming aware of the space around us, including each other, scanning and finding something specific we appreciate or through which we feel blest
  • Becoming aware of any other levels of presence or being, scanning and finding something specific we appreciate or through which we feel blest; alternatively extending and intensifying the previous section if nothing specific to this section emerges
  • Resting in awareness of everything that has come up in this meditation so far.

 

Sharing of experience – In groups of three, each person speaks in turn for three minutes each, with aware, supportive listening in silence, without dialogue or interaction. When everyone has had their turn, there is an opportunity for six minutes conversation in the group. On return to the main group, each person briefly reports back to the whole group.

Exit from sacred space through lean ritual. The facilitator says: “May the 7 directions be thanked for their blessings. May the spirits of place flourish here.  May this work inspire our lives.  We stand today in 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.”

Any questions? Anything left unsaid? END

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.

CONTEMPLATING OUR NEXT ADVENTURE

Druid Camp starts tomorrow. There will be more than 200 people there, perhaps many more since it’s an open event with the option for day tickets. Quite a few people from my local contemplative group will be there.  The site is close to where many of us live, across the River Severn at a point where it is still not quite estuarial. I will be there with my partner Elaine, specifically holding the banner for Contemplative Druid Events (CDE). We have been given the opportunity to offer two sessions, to demonstrate the kind of work we are developing.  Our challenge is to create a contemplative small group atmosphere within a bustling, dynamic environment.

We are going to be focused and experiential. People can fluff around words like ‘contemplative’ and Druidry’ almost endlessly, and ‘Contemplative Druidry’ could have many legitimate iterations. We are there to give a strong taste of ours. Both sessions will be built around specific practices held within a formalised sacred space. We will provide  minimal context, clear practice instructions and leadership in lean ritual. In each session one of us will present the practice, while the other will be in readiness to attend to the process and needs of the group.

I’ll be offering a semi-structured meditation in stages concerned with aspects of the here-and-now, with a maximum of 20 participants. Elaine will be offering Animist Hermetics, a more intense process, with a maximum of 12. We will offer the practices in an experimental way, and participants will have opportunities to talk about their experiences in a mix of smaller groups and the large one.  By the end of these sessions the participants should have a pretty good idea of what these practices have to offer and how we come to be presenting them as ‘Contemplative Druidry’. We are both looking forward to this opportunity to present our work.

WITHIN, BETWEEN, BEYOND

In a recent post I wrote of John Heron’s proposed ‘4th wave humanism’, a humanism open to the numinous and welcoming of Mystery. This naming allows Heron say that two out of three previous humanist waves in Western culture (Greek classical and Italian renaissance) have already been like that, with the current post Enlightenment wave a bit of a cultural oddity.

One of the things I like about the approach is the idea that we may find the extra dimension – the one we vaguely, almost helplessly, call ‘spiritual’ – in three places: within, between and beyond.  I’m relating this to practice, and how in my experience works for each domain.

I can speak of ‘within’ with the most confidence. I have a solo practice that works firstly as a therapeutic process: it supports and affirms personal wellbeing. It offers healing and deep peace. But these, although desirable as outcomes, and appreciated as rewards, are not the ultimate aims.  Such states enable a sense of awarely being and loving, in gratitude for the gift of human life and also feeling held within a larger context. This doesn’t happen without times of self-alienation and their call to shadow work. But the tendency of practice is in the direction of opening up and opening out.  The reflections that come from this are about integrity with self, others and the wider world, and how to live my active and relational life.

For the ‘between’ I can speak from the body of experience I’ve had, especially in the last couple of years, in groups working in contemplative Druidry. The groups are quite small and have a form of intimacy that comes from that. But the practices are not designed to create close personal relationships or an orchestrated group mind. We each have our own space in a setting where we also have a concern for each other and opportunities for personal sharing.  The connection is a ‘between’ one, neither frozen by distance nor drowned in euphoria. It owes something to each person’s within, and to the growth of personal connection, but it’s at least as much present in the group atmosphere, the subtle presence of a ‘more-than’. This aspect of the group work has become clearer to me than it was during the writing of Contemplative Druidry.

So it’s my view that ‘within’ and ‘between’ can be cultivated quite effectively – not without ups and downs, but effectively all the same. My sense of the ‘beyond’ is a little different. Beyond is beyond and needs to stay wild. It is true that the Ceile De fonn ‘Sireadh Thall’ (Seek Beyond) names the search, the voyage towards an ever-receding horizon, as in-built in us – for some, a sign of our awakening divinity. But we also need to avoid the colonisation of the numinous and any compulsive holding on to visionary experiences. They are gifts – inspiring, nurturing and transient. Brendan Myers, in his The Earth, the Gods and the Soul, includes a telling paragraph from A. E.’s The Candle of Vision.

“Such is human nature that I still felt vanity as if the vision was mine, and I acted like one who comes across the treasure house of a king and spends the treasure as if it were their own. We may indeed have a personal wisdom, but spiritual vision is not to speak of as ours any more than we can say at the rising of the sun, ‘this glory is mine’. By the subtle uprising of such vanities in the midst of vison I was often outcast, and found myself in an instant like those warriors of Irish legend, who had come upon a lordly house and feasted there and slept, and when they awoke they were on the brown hill-side.”

ANIMISTIC HERMETICS

Following my last post I have received requests to describe ‘Animistic Hermetics’.

Animistic Hermetics involves going out into nature and carefully selecting something to work with. This might be something obviously alive, like a leaf or plant. It might be something conventionality regarded as inanimate, like earth or stone.

Once this is done, we go back into a group setting where the facilitator takes us through a 7 step process:

  1. An attunement to energetic self-awareness
  2. if granted permission, attunement to the chosen form (e.g. leaf, stone) in all senses
  3. a full meeting, approaching, merging, identification with the chosen form
  4. a withdrawal from the identification, and a parting with thanks
  5.  re-connection with energetic self-awareness
  6. writing/drawing
  7. sharing if appropriate

Elaine Knight, who has developed this practice in the form presented, adds:

“The steps 1 to 5 involve an energetic level of activation, attunement and sensing, meeting and communion, separation and return. Be respectful, ask permission and give thanks. Be receptive and open to what arises. Ground yourself well on your return. I recommend that the practice be guided by someone experienced and that plenty of time is allowed for each stage.

“I would like to thank Julie Bond for sharing her Lectio Divina reading from the book of nature as it inspired me to use my own energy work and hermetic practice in a completely different way.

“The attunement I use involves activating the light body and becoming aware of one’s core star. My hermetic journeying practice was originally concerned with the inner world  This practice however involves an open encounter and communion with a object co-existing in the apparent world.  An “I – Thou” experience rather than an “I – it” experience to quote Graham Harvey.  To date the experiences reported by those participating have been overwhelmingly animistic and often bardic and poetic. Animism and Hermetics I believe sit well together and I look forward to further encounters and explorations using the practice of Animistic Hermetics.”

GROUP WORK IN CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY

In a recent blog post on https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2015/4/26/ I discussed the first weekend retreat offered by Contemplative Druid Events. I talked three about “developing a tradition” but I didn’t say much about the kind of work we did. Here I look at group practice in Contemplative Druidry and where I see my own place and contribution.

For me the retreat confirmed an existing sense of what a Contemplative Druid group looks like, certainly as developed through Contemplative Druid Events so far.

  • We are offering something different from a collective extension of solo practice. My solo practice is fairly typical of contemplative work in any tradition: a specific ritual and liturgical framework holds long periods of sitting meditation, with shorter periods of walking meditation, exercise and energy work. The group practice we’ve developed includes these, whilst being more outward-looking and interactive – more relational.
  • Our approach is especially suited to small groups – about 8-12 people – allowing time for people to build community and to share and process experience. We also place value on formal sharing, getting to know each other through introductory and check-in processes, reconnecting each morning through a process called ‘overnight phenomena’ and engaging in specific exercises where we have the opportunity to reveal a bit more about ourselves (or not) with supportive attention.
  • We practice ‘lean ritual’, minimalist and powerful, thoroughly grounded in Druid and Pagan tradition, which holds us in a dedicated Contemplative Druid circle and marks transitions in our group process within that circle. We build periods of silent attunement, 5-10 minutes long, into our ritual and transitioning spaces.
  • As a defining group practice, we have ‘Awen space’ and we chant the Awen for a period when entering and exiting that space. We open ourselves, becoming more receptive and sensitive, more present to what is in us, between us and in the space. Whatever follows will be whatever it is. Some of the time we remain silently aware of group and space; some of the time we chant, talk or sing, surrounded by silent attention which continues into the after echo of the sound. On this retreat we had a 45 minute Awen space following directly on from a 15 minute meditation
  • We are in some sense an experimental group. We’ve looked at various ways of incorporating sound, music and movement. We have used both ‘Lectio Divina from the Book of Nature’ and ‘Animist Hermetics’ – similar activities with different pedigrees and different philosophical assumptions, and looked at the different results that they produce. We have included long silent walking meditations outdoors and are looking to add a long narratised walking meditation outdoors later this year. What difference will that make? We have had one led session of ‘belly-breathing’ meditation (actually belly-heart-head with belly first and foremost) that seems highly congruent with Earth spiritualities and Druidry in particular. It isn’t the cauldron of Poesy (being more naturalistic), but it has a certain cousinship to it: another valuable exploration.
  • We have started to build a cadre of facilitators who, amongst our many roles in life and Druidry, are able to co-lead groups under the banner of Contemplative Druid Events.

It is likely – and desirable – that we will see other people picking up the ‘contemplative’ meme in Druidry and Paganism more widely.  There will be many approaches. But I’m clear that my personal focus and fealty are to the stream of work I’ve been involved in since the first Contemplative Druid day in July 2012. The work described above has followed on from that and it is still very much a work in progress.

For information on Contemplative Druid Events, or the books Contemplative Druidry and Druidry and Meditation, please see http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com/.

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