contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: contemplative Druid retreats

CONTEMPLATIVE CHANGE

Tides in a life. A sea-change. My contemplative inquiry is gentling, in its fifth and final year. I began with charged and focused intent. Willing a change in self and world, I surrendered to a vision. I accepted the risk of becoming driven, of being one-eyed and obsessional to the point of self-caricature. Mr. Contemplative.

I don’t believe it’s ever been quite that bad. Loving and accepting love matter more to me than seeing through the eye of the divine, to the extent indeed that the two are even different. Contemplative traditions and their practices, even when adequately customised, internalised and working effectively, have never been my absolute priority. Nonetheless the intent to live from a deeper dimension, fed by an inner spring of stillness and spaciousness, has been a key life direction during this period.

I can sense a difference now, a relaxation. For me there’s a point at which enhanced study and practice in any field encounters a law of diminishing returns. I’ve got what I’m going to get out of the exercise. The field itself may be one of infinite possibilities – yet I reach a point of needing to begin a process of detachment where I recognise the fruits of my inquiry and ease in to a new normal.

The new normal incorporates what I need, or can take in, from the inquiry process. I’ve had this experience twice before, in relatively recent years. The first was a doctoral project about a developmental approach to ageing: the idea that later life offered specific potentials for growth and creativity not generally recognised in mainstream culture. As a project, this was summed up in the thesis itself, and I moved on. But the core idea continues to guide me. The second was the current version of the OBOD distance learning course, which also had a specific summation – and also continues to inspire me. I’m not sure whether to document my contemplative inquiry in this kind of way – my book Contemplative Druidry was something different, a collaborative piece which opened up the topic in a Druid context. A more personal piece is something to ponder over the next year.

In terms of fruit, there are a few things that I can say now. The first is that I’ve got a contemplative practice that I’m at ease with. I notice that I’m spending less time on it than at the height of the inquiry period. This feels like a natural adjustment. More importantly, I celebrate finding spiritual companions, with whom I have been able to develop group practices that are both contemplative and relational. For example, we’ve got a tried and tested model for how a local group can work, a model for day retreats, and a model for weekend retreats. These are developments that I expect to take forward. Our local group has a day retreat this Saturday (21 November), and my partner Elaine and I are offering a Dark of the Moon day retreat in London on 7 February 2106 – see http://contemplativedruidrevents.tumblr.com – so I may have more to say about these in future posts. We plan a residential retreat for next April.

I don’t want to get consumed by organising and facilitating small group events. But I certainly expect them to outlive the inquiry, and to make them part of the new normal as I broaden my overall field of attention once more.

 

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

DRUID CAMP, STROUD CONTEMPLATIVE DAY, SMALL GROUPS

I’ve just had a couple of lazy summer days and I feel all the better for them. They’ve been interwoven with a relaxed stocktaking about contemplative Druidry and my part in it. I notice that my main focus is on small groups.

As I write, I’m at peace with my personal life and practice. At the collective level, I’ve had recent good news. My friend and colleague JJ Howell has let me know the specific roles that my partner Elaine Knight and I will be playing at Druid Camp in four weeks’ time. Druid Camp – www.druidcamp.org.uk  – is a large group (200-300 people), but we’ll be working with small groups, offering contemplative sessions from the repertoire built up by our local group over the last year. Meanwhile I also know that an open contemplative day in Stroud, organised by our own outreach arm Contemplative Druid Events –   http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com  – is now viable and will go ahead on 3 October. We have seven people fully booked and three more with strong expressions of interest, with 15 being our max.

The overall position is that we have a flourishing local group, now three years old; a book largely though not exclusively based on the thoughts of its members; and an outreach arm able to offer an annual residential retreat (The Birchwood Retreat) every April and an open contemplative day in October 2015, which might become annual too. In all cases the events concerned will have no more than 15 participants. We could do a little bit more – providing small group sessions at other larger events, or offering more contemplative days either locally or elsewhere. But my sense is that we need to respect limitations in our capacity, stick to the small group approach, and make sure that all our work is experiential and not simply discursive. People need to taste it.

For me perhaps the greatest value of the small group is the opportunity for all participants to introduce ourselves and be heard. For that to work fully, we need a quality of listening which itself becomes a practice and part of our culture, and whose intention is to ensure that no one is either misrecognised or ignored. This in itself is counter to mainstream communication, including ours, and needs conscious practice. It will include mis-steps from time to time within our own groups. So it’s not about ‘getting it right’ all the time: the point is to be conscious. In a contemplative context, we can hope to go further: establishing a level of trust that opens the door to deeper I-Thou recognition and communion. It’s a different opportunity to those provided when large numbers of people become immersed together in prayer, song, ritual or formal meditation. It’s more personal, in the best sense of that term. I find it both more challenging and rewarding, whilst believing that all of these approaches have their honoured place.

Small groups have other advantages too. It is easier to be flexible on programming within the event. It is easier to offer activities which demand time for reflection and debriefing. It is easier to become aware of other people as spiritual companions, even if we have not met them before or do not know them well. I think, too, that it’s easier to learn, not least when in a facilitative role, because the style of the event can be person centred rather than goal centred. Activities are designed to support us in our human, and therefore spiritual, flourishing. They are not Everests to be climbed so we can say that we ‘knocked the bastard off’.

I think this is why we have not oriented our contemplative Druidry around long meditations or meditation training. It was one way to go, and in some ways the obvious one. It would certainly be the most traditional one and my solo practice is very much tilted that way. But the group context changes things. Pragmatically, our local group is about evenly divided between people who gain from long meditations and those who don’t. We would lose people by taking this approach. More importantly, the group is co-creating a culture in which the blessing of space and silence is received differently – through short meditations, attunement to the seasonal moment, silent walks, or activities like ‘Awen space’ in which we sit with each other, open to spirit, and can speak, chant or sing into the silence when so moved. We can also explore co-creation from silence into sound and story, or find different ways of awakening to the fields of energy and presence within us, between us, and around us. It’s a subtle and sensitive kind of work. It needs times of stillness and silence. It also needs times of movement, sound and speech. It needs times of reflection and relaxation.

In my view, we are still at an early stage of this exploration. We have a name – Contemplative Druidry – to hold us. We have literature – Contemplative Druidry and also Nimue Brown’s Druidry and Meditation – to support us. We have a dedicated group and an outreach arm. The small group approach has evolved quite naturally and I see it as a critically important aspect of how we work.

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/.

CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY: DEVELOPING A TRADITION

It’s now been a week since our residential retreat at Anybody’s Barn. For me it marked a shift from an awareness raising phase to a tradition building one. In a way, the key moment was after the retreat itself, when we agreed to make this retreat an annual event. ‘We’ are the four co-facilitators of the retreat – Elaine Knight, JJ Middleway, Karen Webb and myself. We decided to stay together as a team, stay with the same venue, and book the equivalent weekend next year. These are all decisions that lean on the side of continuity and stability as important features of tradition building. We will continue to inquire and innovate: inquiry and innovation are essentials components of the tradition as we see it. But we now also have the opportunity to refine and develop the residential work within an established framework. We call this framework The Birchwood Retreat, linking it to the land we are on rather than a building.

The Gloucestershire contemplative group has been around for nearly three years and has developed its own tradition, which certainly influenced the retreat since all the facilitators are members. Quite a number of our members will be involved in Druid Camp 2015 – see http://www.druidcamp.org.uk –  our input to the larger event will reflect our tradition as well.  We have a Contemplative Day in Stroud on 3 October which will both reflect existing practice and provide new material. The facilitators on this occasion will be Elaine Knight, Nimue Brown and me – see also http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com/ where information will be updated as the programme develops.

All of the above have been in development for some time. None of the above is new information. And yet something has changed for me. It’s a move from primarily inquiring, exploring, sharing ideas (e.g. through the Contemplative Druidry book) and trying things out in groups, to a place of a primary concern with co-creating a Contemplative Druid tradition in which inquiring, exploring and innovating have an honoured place. It’s a subtle difference, but a significant one. The agreement to hold an annual Birchwood Retreat marks this shift for me.

LINES WRITTEN ON CONTEMPLATIVE RETREAT, WHEN THE BLUEBELLS APPEARED

BLUEBELL

Growing –

green growing

viriditas

virilitas

I have pushed up through the earth

nurtured by her nutrients

and her moistures,

fuelled by the fires of her core.

I have pushed up through the earth

and out of the earth

out of the earth

skywards

a green stalk

a green stalk in the joy of being

the potency of becoming.

I have pushed up

I have bathed in the sun rain and wind

In the light, open world

pushed up from the nurturing dark below

and am now, in my own being,

the grace of the blue flowers

a profusion …

some open

some opening

some yet to open

some never to open.

All mine. All me.

And in the heart of these abundant

reachings-out,

I am waiting.

POEM: THE OLD PEONY STALK

Seeming old dry stick

and yet …

a whole ecology

of

moist earth

tiny insects

a little live stem

whiskers and bones

whiskers and bones

dying back to the earth

without fuss

and not too fast

enough life left to feel/hear its

resonance

… a  subtle one.

Stillness allowing movement

permitting earth, moisture, fragmentation

in slow process

easy not to notice

yet, in softened, mutated from –

Part of the Song.

One of the cultural values of the Druid path is that those of us who are not dedicated, specialised poets and artists are encouraged to write poetry and to practise in the arts. I wrote this yesterday after participating in a ‘Lectio Divina from the Book of Nature’ practice with my partner Elaine. This practice was first introduced to us by our colleague Julie Bond and Elaine has adapted it. She will be offering it at our Contemplative Druid Retreat this weekend (17-19 April). I enjoyed rehearsing the practice with her very much, and am glad to have this record of its fruits.

EVENTS UPDATE

The Contemplative Druid residential retreat (17-19 April 2015). at Anybody’s Barn, Birchwood Hall, Storridge, Nr. Malvern, Worcestershire WR13 5EZ. is now fully booked. However anyone interested should still contact us as there is a waiting list and there is the possibility of future residential retreats.

Looking ahead, we will have a presence at Druid Camp (29 July – 2 August 2015) and we will also be  holding an open Contemplative Day in Stroud on 3 October 2015, from 10.30 a.m. – 4.30 p.m. at the St. Luke’s Medical Centre, 53 Caincross Road, Stroud Gloucestershire GL5 4EX. This will be facilitated by James Nichol, Nimue Brown and Elaine Knight. We will work with a maximum of twelve other participants, continue to build on the working methods we have developed in our local group over the last three years..

Contact grovelight@hotmail.co.uk for further information or to make a booking.

See http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com for fuller events information, including the Stroud day on 3 October. For Druid Camp information see www.druidcamp.org.uk and www.facebook.com/groups/druidcamp/

CONTEMPLATIVE DRUID RETREATS

Following the publication of ‘Contemplative Druidry’* I have been working on a residential retreat programme.  It is likely that three of us from the Gloucestershire group (discussed in the book) will be offering a pilot next April, sponsored by OBOD (the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids).  The proposed venue will take up to 20 people, which will allow us to do some real relationship and community building as well as sharing some of our practices. We don’t simply want to roll out a programme. Indeed, we hope to enrich our own work by learning from participants and extending our circle to include them if they wish it.

For me, the only way to strengthen the contemplative thread in Druidry is to build our work in a spirit of open inquiry and sharing, as well as holding a space for tranquillity and renewal through the practices themselves. This is why we are extending the work cautiously. We also hope to offer something at Druid Camp, Lughnasadh 2015, since many of the people in our local group and in the book are involved in The Druid Network. It’s not just an OBOD thing. Samhain this year will be the third anniversary of my commitment to a contemplative inquiry within Druidry. I’m looking forward to what the fourth year may bring.

*Contemplative Druidry is an Amazon CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing venture, involving me in learning a variety of new skills, and is mostly based on interviews with people involved in Druid contemplative practice. It includes a foreword by OBOD’s Philip Carr-Gomm.

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