contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: contemplative Druidry book

AWEN AND CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY

A Contemplative Druidry (1) reader has asked me to say more about Awen, which had a chapter in the book. Introducing interview extracts in my Awen chapter, I wrote, “Awen is classically seen in Druidry as the power of inspiration, and in particular the creative force for poetry and prophecy. It is what transformed the boy Gwion – though not before further trials and transformations – into Taliesin, the radiant browed Bard. Many of the participants in this work uphold this tradition in its conventional form. Others seek to extend the traditional meaning better to express their own experiences and aspirations. Some don’t connect with Awen experientially and treat it as a convention – mainly as a shared chant, which brings Druids together”.

My self-criticism here is that the chant is itself an experience, frequently state-altering for both the chanters and in a sense for the space. I might have done better to say, ‘some don’t connect with it conceptually’. I see from my interview questions appendix that the Awen question was about meaning. If I did this work again, I would start with the sound, the feeling, and senses of occasion, and work out from those.

Pondering Awen afresh, I find myself drawn to deep human ancestry, and especially the early emergence of speech and music. These brought a new kind of identity: new experiences, new awareness, new feelings, new understanding, new forms of connection and solidarity – new worlds. Unsurprisingly, many cultures have subsequently developed creation stories linking origin with sound. In India, the phrase Nada Brahma tells us that God is sound/the world is made of sound. OM is the primordial sound form, the vibratory essence from which the universe emanates – and the universe needs to emanate only the smallest step (if any) to get to us. Kabir said, “if you want the truth, I’ll tell you the truth. Listen to the secret sound, the real sound, which is inside you” (2). A major philosophical school, Kashmir Shaivism, is referred to as ‘the doctrine of vibration’ (3). It talks of ‘spanda’ as “the primordial vibration at the root of all manifestation, a form of Shakti” (a term equally meaning ‘power’ or ‘goddess’).

Welsh Bardistry gives us Awen and the Taliesin story, which can be read as working with related themes, whilst diverting our main attention to the Bard as trickster/hero. In the old Gaelic world, we have the term Imbhas, equivalent to Awen, and a more touching story about the eating of the salmon of wisdom, in which the old Bard (as I read it) sets himself up to pass on the true nourishment to a promising youth. We also have the notion of the Oran Mor (Song of the World). Frank MacEowan (4) writes: “a conscious knowing of the ancient ‘music behind the world’ has always been woven into the daily awareness of the adherents of various Celtic traditions. In the words of Stuart Harris-Logan, a Gaelic healer, scholar, and author of Singing with Blackbirds, ‘out on the Isle of Barra, the people have long spoken of the Oran Mor as one of the old names of God. The Oran Mor is the Great Song from which all things have arisen’”.

Jason Kirkey (5), an associate of Frank MacEowan, treats ‘Oran Mor’ and ‘Divine Ground’ as synonymous both with each other and with David Bohm’s ‘implicate order’, in which the world of space, time and individual particles are enfolded into an undifferentiated wholeness that provides the holographic pattern (each part contains the pattern of the whole) by which reality unfolds. In Ireland, a sense of the Oran Mor could legitimately continue into Christian times. St. John’s Gospel begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (6) This greatly moved John Scotus Eriugena, the great Irish philosopher/theologian of the ninth century – the time of Viking invasions in north west Europe. In his commentary on the Gospel he says, “John, the theologian – ascends beyond all visible and invisible creation, passes through all thought and intellect, and deified, enters into God who deifies him … John, the observer of the inmost truth, in the paradise of paradises, in the very cause of all, heard the one Word through which all things are made … Therefore, most confidently he cried out, ‘in the beginning was the Word.” (7) True knowledge and experience of the primal Word are divinizing – a remarkable statement for a western Christian of the day. John Scotus had learned Greek at a monastic school in his native Ireland (then not an available option elsewhere in western Europe) and was familiar with neo-Platonist thought. Perhaps that and his indigenous culture together allowed an understanding that the Word calls us to recognize our own divinity.

Modern Druidry was Universalist before it was Pagan, and retains a willingness to learn from other traditions. I believe that we can use the wider cultural history I’ve identified to inform our sense of what we are invoking when we chant the Awen. This chanting is something which Druid contemplative practitioners share with other Druids. Our unique practice is the ‘Awen space’ that follows the chant. Like other Druids, we do not require people to gather together under the umbrella of a common cosmology. It is OK to have different understandings, and it is OK for us to change and develop our personal understandings over time. That said, I end this piece with a reflection about the broad intentions behind our inherited Celtic spirituality, to provide a cultural context for Awen/Imbhas and where they might fit. It’s from Frank MacEowan (8): “The ancient Celts … were … ever yearning to connect with divine inspiration (imbhas), and ever longing to live a life of beauty imbued with connection and spirit. We are also on this path, and the fulfillment of our collective task as a human community lies in the process of actualizing a deeper communion with these same life-affirming powers. Celtic spirituality is an ongoing initiation into a life of beauty and a mindful preparation for the passage of death. The ancient spirituality of the Celtic peoples has always been a dynamic orientation to the ebb and flow of the seasons, daily practices that foster an awareness of the passage of our lives and of thanatology (a vision and study of our death and dying). This vision is of a life ending in a wondrous death journey to a home we have all been away from. When death is really an experience of going home, what is there to fear?”.

(1) James Nichol Contemplative Druidry: people, practice and potential Amazon/KDP, 2014 (Foreword by Philip Carr-Gomm)

(2) Sally Kempton Meditation for the love of it: enjoying your own deepest experience Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2011 (Foreword by Elizabeth Gilbert)

(3) Mark S.G. Dyczkowski The Doctrine of vibration: an analysis of the doctrines and practices of Kashmir Shaivism Delhi, India: Divine Books, 1987

(4)Frank MacEowan The Celtic way of seeing: meditations on the spirit wheel Novato, CA: New World Library, 2007 (Foreword by Tom Cowan)

(5) Jason Kirkey The Salmon in the spring: the ecology of Celtic spirituality San Francisco, CA: Hiraeth Press, 2009 (Foreword by Frank MacEowan)

(6) Holy Bible (authorized version)

(7) The voice of the eagle: John Scotus Eriugena’s homily on the prologue to the gospel of St. John Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, 2000 ed. (Translated by Christopher Bamford, foreword by Thomas Moore)

(8) Frank MacEowan The mist-filled path: Celtic wisdom for exiles, wanderers and seekers Novato, CA: New World Library, 2002 (Foreword by Tom Cowan)

GLASTONBURY REMEMBERED

I am five or six years old, the year 1954/1955. I live in Yeovil, Somerset. My mother wants me to have proper shoes. When my feet are measured up in the local Clark’s shop, we find that I need a broad fitting (E) and they don’t have quite the right shoe for me in stock. After talking to the manager, who makes a phone call, my mother decides we are going to the factory shop in Street.

A day or two later, we walk to the Yeovil Town railway station and board a train for Glastonbury & Street. We are going to make a half day of it. So leaving the train  we first take a short bus ride from the station to Street and get the shoes. Then we take a longer bus ride to Glastonbury and I get my first glimpses of the Tor and Abbey. Somewhere in town, we stop for tea and cake, possibly ice cream. Then a brief bus ride back to the station and the journey home. I remember liking the visit. It was a bit special, but I don’t remember it being particularly magical or numinous.

Two years ago I gave a talk in the Glastonbury Assembly Rooms to the OBOD Winter Gathering about contemplative Druidry and my book of that name. Later in that day I found myself in the car park in town. I remembered childhood visits to the town and, looking up, I saw the railway station roof. And I thought, ‘how did that get here?’ (I have since discovered that it was moved there as a means of conservation).  I  felt a pang of loss for industrial age Glastonbury, with its good railway connections and neighbouring Street with its solid manufacturing base. (Yeovil Town was closed in 1962. Glastonbury & Street went in 1966.) Clarks shoes were a highly respected local employer, with a national and indeed international name. They are still around, still respected, but no longer a local (or national) manufacturer.

It’s happened before of course. For many centuries, the Abbey, as landowner and pilgrim destination, was the economic centre of the town as well as the spiritual one. Henry VIII’s re-arrangement of his own and the nation’s life ended that at a stroke. But the Abbey will always be remembered. Glastonbury is a pilgrim’s town again, though after another fashion. I just wonder if the culture of my childhood, of easy local train rides and proud local shoe making, will be remembered in quite the same way. At least the station roof is something.

DRUID CONTEMPLATIVE DAYS

 

On 1 October Elaine Knight and I will be holding our tenth Druid contemplative retreat day since we began in July 2012. Over the years we have also offered shorter sessions and a weekend retreat (in April 2015). Yet by and large we find that day retreats are the best format for our offer to the community.

Shorter monthly sessions work fine for our local ongoing group, in a context of experience and continuity. But when new people are coming in and meeting each other, we want the spaciousness of a day. A day is enough to build the kind of experience we are aiming at. We are not offering complex teaching that needs extended time to unfold, and we don’t need the dynamics of residential community for our focused and limited purpose.

It looks as though we will have 10-12 people on 1 October and we have reached the point at which we know the day will pay for itself. This is within the ideal range for our kind of day – two or three more or less is also fine. Elaine and I will be co-facilitating this event with Nimue and Tom Brown.

I look back and see ‘contemplative Druidry’ as a project. Retrospectively, I find project a better word than ‘inquiry’, though an inquiry element has been present. I began the project by testing the word ‘contemplative’ itself. Was it going to be resonant or even meaningful in Druidry? I wrote articles in the OBOD membership publication Touchstone asking for people to contact me with their views and, subsequently, describing our early ventures. I created the Contemplative Druidry Facebook Group in August 2012. This is still going strong with nearly 1700 members (as at 12 September 2016), though I have not been involved in moderating it for over three years. Over time it became clear that the term does mean something. Although it caused some confusion and questioning at first, it has been taken up. As we developed our practical work, it became easier to explain and discuss.

With the help of a considerable number of other people I was able to publish the book Contemplative Druidry in October 2014. It is still selling and still witnesses the life experience of real people exploring Druidry (frequently among other traditions) and explaining why a contemplative thread matters to them. As time has gone on one of the outstanding questions has been whether there is a particular group of people who can be marked out as ‘contemplative Druids’. I think at this distance the answer is a qualified ‘no’, qualified, because some are clearly contemplative in emphasis. But Druidry is such an extensive field, or interlocking set of fields, that only a few people cover everything. In the end I decided for myself that ‘Contemplative Druid’, as a description of particular people, was a splitting and otherising kind of term (potentially in both directions) and so best avoided. This is why we now talk of ‘Druid contemplative days’ rather than ‘Contemplative Druid days’.

My sense of project is coming to an end. My personal contemplative inquiry, which has always had a degree of separation from the project, is continuing with a different emphasis. But we have a group, and we have the days. Our capacity to provide days is proportionate to the demand for them: no problem there. So I expect this work to continue. For me, it will be my one active role in Druidry. It doesn’t contradict anything else I am doing or likely to be doing. So I look forward to this day, and the continuing life of the group.

Further information on the days can be found at http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com/

James Nichol (2014) Contemplative Druidry people, practice and potential Amazon/Kindle (Foreword by Philip Carr-Gomm

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Contemplative-Druidry-People-Practice-Potential-ebook/dp/B00OBJAOES/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1

 

GROUNDED

Where do I stand with contemplative Druidry, this Lammas-tide?

My recent Headless Way (1) experience has had the force of a conversion, and I have to re-draw my internal maps.  Interestingly, I now find myself grounded with tendonitis in my left heel. I probably haven’t experienced an actual rupture, and so I am likely to be grounded for “weeks rather than months”. Still, ample space for managing transformation.

One of the things I am doing is to look back at key steps on the way. For instance, in my introduction to Contemplative Druidry (2), I talked of “practices that support a fuller presence within the stream of passing experience … contemplation in its fullest sense enables a transfigured here-and-now, and the dissolving of subject/object distinctions within it”. I mentioned how the contemplation of a wild rose on the banks of the Tweed had triggered such a dissolving, and how this had morphed into a blissful peak experience lasting for some weeks. But I was also clear that such an experience should be framed as an occasional grace, pointing beyond self as commonly understood, and not accessible at will.

This perfectly illustrates why Douglas Harding’s style of Headless Seeing has been a game changer for me. The core experience is readily accessible – i can recognise my true nature, the greater I, at will, through simple Seeing. I am no longer a seeker. In a form of brief contemplative practice,  I see clear awake space and capacity for the world. Since there is no doubt or issue about what I see, the open questions concern capacity for the world. In my human life, in place and time, what capacity do I manifest? Where do I put my energy?

Here I stand, spiritually committed to a contemporary iteration of the Sophia perennis known as the Headless Way.  In terms of ancient wisdom, I’ve understood that there are two continuing lines of tradition that relevantly sustain me. Their pull is largely intuitive and emotional rather than via actual doctrines. One is Christian Gnosticism, theist and often dualist though it may be. The other is the interweaving of Taoist and Chan Buddhist culture in China. There are people and writings in other traditions that I also value, but those are ones I look at with most care.

I do not, now, expect to be in business with any kind of Shamanism, or to have a practitioner relationship with the British/Irish ‘indigenous’ spirituality of any ethnic group or from any pre-Christian period. Of course I continue to be blessed by a level of knowledge and appreciation; they are part of me, in that sense. But that’s as far as it goes. I have let go of my role as a mentor on the OBOD distance learning course (3). I could continue to understand and support people, very congruently, but for me the difference between their practitioner lives and mine has grown too great over the last six months or so. I couldn’t carry on. It didn’t seem right.

On the other hand, what we do in contemplative Druidry is different. Following our learning from Contemplative Druidry our practices support a modern (romantic? post-modern?) ‘nature mysticism’ revolving around forms of lean ritual, group meditation, being/walking in nature and creative arts. I’m entirely up for this, whether it continues under the name of Druidry or not. This is something to work through with my companions in that arena.

The time to leave an activity is when I am no longer learning or contributing. But I want to be accurate in my assessments, and to avoid errors stemming from the force of change, especially letting go of things that I would do better to keep and re-integrate into a new whole.  A time of joy and breakthrough, needing careful navigation.

(1)  Headless Way http://www.headless.org

(2) James Nichol (2014) Contemplative Druidry: people, practice and potential Amazon/KDP (Foreword by Philip Carr-Gomm Deep peace of the quiet Earth: the nature mysticism of Druidry)

(3) Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) http://www.druidry.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NATURALLY INQUIRING

Recently I reviewed Godless Pagans: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans (1) which I enjoyed very much. There’s a growing community of Pagans clearly identified as ‘humanistic’ and/or ‘naturalistic’ – see https://humanisticpaganism.com – and I am wondering about how I sit with this approach.

I am dedicated to contemplative inquiry. I see it as naturalistic. But I am also aware of the way in which terms like ‘empiricism’, ‘science’ and even ‘humanism’ can be mobilized for a certain type of fighting talk. This says that valid knowledge can be based only on third-person, objectifying inquiry conducted on a hypothesis-experiment-results model. I am engaged in a first person inquiry, which also extends to community and culture, as in my Contemplative Druidry book (2), so for me this is a potential problem.

In response I pick up a book off my shelves, and dust it off. The title says Qualitative Research in Counselling and Therapy (3). A half-remembered store of magic words is laid out before me in the accessible form of chapter headings: qualitative inquiry, hermeneutics, phenomenology, ethnographic approaches, grounded theory, conversation, narrative and discourse analysis, bricolage. I used to work in the field of public health and health research, with sexual health, mental health and ageing as my main focus at different times: all areas where lived experience and issues of culture, meaning and value are of great importance.  So I’ve long had a concern with an extended epistemology, which takes these areas into account.

There have been many attempts to bring different pathways to knowledge together and identify what the togetherness might look like. One of the most recent is Ken Wilber’s Quadrants model (4), which sits as the Q in a larger system called AQAL. The quadrants look like this:

 

INTERIOR/INDIVIDUAL: ‘I SPACE’

 

The subjective life world – thoughts, feelings, meanings, meditative states

Explored in the domains of literature, arts, therapy and spirituality

 

An exemplary text would be: In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust

 

EXTERIOR/INDIVIDUAL: ‘IT SPACE’

 

Atoms, brains, bodies, behaviours, organism

Explored in natural science, scientific medicine, philosophy of science

 

An exemplary text would be: Consciousness Explained, Daniel C. Dennett

 

INTERIOR/COLLECTIVE; ‘WE SPACE’

 

Shared meanings, relationships, mutual understanding, the influence of culture, media, community

Explored in the domains of literature, arts, therapy and spirituality; also philosophy and ‘qualitative’ social science

 

An exemplary text would be: The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault

EXTERIOR/COLLECTIVE; ‘ITS’ SPACE

 

Systems, environments, technology, cosmology

Explored in the domains of natural science, philosophy of science and ‘quantitative’ social science

 

An exemplary text would be: A Universe from Nothing, Lawrence M. Krauss

 

 

The basic outline above is Wilber’s. I have added the bits that suggest subject domains and key texts which I know well enough to put in the boxes – in both of the multi-volume works on the left, the first volume makes to point on its own. I value all the quadrants, whilst having a clear bias towards the left hand. My contemplative inquiry is in the upper left quadrant, though my beliefs in no separate self and interdependence push me out, especially towards the lower left hand but to an extent over to the right as well. In this perilous Anthropocene era, how could they not?

Contemplative inquiry in the narrower sense is about consciousness and conscious being. Here I follow James Hillman in suggesting “suggesting a poetic basis of mind and a psychology that starts neither in the physiology of the brain, the structure of language, the organization of society, nor the analysis of behaviour, but in the processes of imagination” (5). Hillman places himself in a western lineage going back from Jung, “through Freud, Dilthey, Coleridge, Schelling, Vico, Ficino, Plotinus and Plato to Heraclitus”. All I can say is that from a subjective lifeworld perspective this makes complete sense to me, though in my reading I’d emphasize the term ‘starts from’ – the third person perspective also matters and all the other factors mentioned clearly have their role.

In taking this stand I have recently gained comfort from an unexpected source, the neuroscientist and consciousness researcher Sam Harris. A friend and associate of the philosopher Daniel Dennett, Harris is not persuaded that Dennett’s Consciousness Explained (6) albeit a brilliant and fascinating book, has fully lived up to its title, or could be expected to. Harris says (7):

“We know of course that human minds are the product of human brains. There is simply no question that your ability to decode and understand this sentence depends on neurophysiological events taking place inside your head at this moment. But most of this mental work occurs entirely in the dark, and it is a mystery why part of this process should be attended by consciousness. Nothing about a brain, when surveyed as a physical system, suggests that it is a locus of experience. Were we not already brimming with consciousness ourselves, we would find no evidence for it in the universe – nor would we have any notion of the many physical states it gives rise to. The only proof that it is like something to be you at this moment is the fact (obvious only to you) that it is like something to be you.”

Harris is well versed in both contemplative practice and scientific investigation, and so is at ease both with the exterior and interior approaches to consciousness. He has experience of the self-less state and is also clear about describing selflessness as “not a ‘deep’ feature of consciousness, but right on the surface. And yet people can meditate for years without recognizing it”: no need to invoke divinity-as-subject or traditionally mystical views of ‘enlightenment’ as heroic attainment. I for my part experience Headlessness, very available in the Douglas Harding method -see website at headless.org  – as perfectly containing the poetry of mind. It’s ‘only’ natural. How miraculous nature is!

(1) Halstead, J. (ed.) (2016) Godless Paganism: voices of non-theistic Pagans com (Foreword by Mark Green)

(2) Nichol, J. (2014) Contemplative Druidry: people, practice and potential Amazon/KDP (Foreword by Philip Carr-Gomm)

(3) McLeod, J. (2001) Qualitative research in counselling and psychotherapy London: Sage

(4) Wilber, K. (et al) (2008) Integral Life Practice: a 21st century blueprint for physical health, emotional balance, mental clarity, and spiritual awakening Boston & London: Integral Books

(5) Hillman, J. (1990) The essential James Hillman: A blue fire London: Routledge. (Introduced and edited by Thomas Moore)

(6) Dennett, D. (1990) Consciousness explained London: Penguin

(7) Harris, S. (2014) Waking up: searching for spirituality without religion London: Transworld Publishers

 

 

RE-DEDICATION

bcf2c26ec7720ed734fccc2b13534310Early this morning, I re-dedicated my contemplative inquiry. Yesterday was my 67th birthday. It seems like a good moment for re-visioning and renewal.  I recently received my Sophia icon from Hrana Janto* and finally understood that my contemplative inquiry is itself my Way of Sophia. I don’t see this as a project – more as an ongoing life practice. My contemplative Druid work and exploration of the Headless Way are aspects of inquiry, and this re-dedication is an integrating move.

The original dedication was at Samhain 2011. It assumed a Druid and specifically OBOD context, and I did see it as a project. I didn’t give it a timescale, but later I thought in terms of 5 years. The re-dedication comes a few months short of that, at a time when – amidst many continuities – there has been a clear shift in focus.

Today I made use of the icon, entered into a reflective space, before deepening into an Innerworld journey. Working with imagery puts me in a realm of what James Hillman (1) understands by ‘soul’ work. For him, soul (or psyche, or anima) is “a perspective, rather than a substance, a view point towards things rather than a thing in itself … by soul, I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image and fantasy – that mode which recognizes all meanings as primarily symbolic or metaphorical”. For Hillman, soul makes meaning possible and turns events into experiences. It is communicated in love, and characteristically has a religious concern.

In my morning ritual, I open my heart to the wisdom of Sophia and gaze at my icon.  I remember and appreciate the initial inquiry – writing articles for OBOD’s member journal Touchstone; gradually bringing people together, holding the first events, launching the Contemplative Druidry Facebook Group, connecting with people in other Druid bodies (The Druid Network and Order of the Sacred Nemeton in particular); developing a monthly meeting cycle for the home group; writing the Contemplative Druidry book, offering contemplative Druid events to the wider Druid and fellow-travelling public, including both day retreats and a residential. This feels good to recall, because sometimes I think that the project hasn’t spread very far or been widely understood, mostly through my own limitations and relative reclusiveness. Here I can focus on what has been achieved, and allow myself to recognize that there is something to appreciate.

Completing this period of reflection, I close my eyes and slip into Sophia’s Innerworld nemeton, which takes the form of a walled garden. At the centre is a fountain surrounded by four rose beds separated by run-offs. Two of the beds hold white roses, and two hold red. There are seats around the fountain, big enough for two people, on all four sides. The rest of the garden is more of an orchard with many kinds of fruit tree, including some trained up the garden walls. These walls are brick, and have an eighteenth century feel.  The orchard isn’t over-manicured. It might indeed be described as slightly unkempt, though not with any sense of neglect. When I visit this garden, the Sophia of the icon may sit opposite or beside me. But she may also take different forms – a dove, a rose, a tree, the fountain itself. She may be another bird or creature that turns up in the space. She may be sunlight in a drop of water. I may also experience her as all of it, so that goddess and nemeton are one. She is always a friend and guide.

This time she is in her icon form, though the dove is in a tree and the chalice by her side as she sits opposite me, in the late May dawn, east facing west. I go into my headless state and know that the same is true of her. But the context (the Innerworld, in this garden, with Sophia) changes the state, making it more intimate, relational and local. I like it. In my heart, I have more care about the particularities, indeed vagaries, of the writing than the pristine emptiness of the paper that holds them, though both perspectives matter and they do belong together. If form is nothing but emptiness, and emptiness nothing but form, then what we always have is paper being written on, and it is the story writing itself that mostly draws a storying monkey like me.

As this thought, within my living dream of the garden, passes through, Sophia comes to sit beside me. We are simply companionable, watching the fountain, as the clear fresh water bubbles up. It is from an inexhaustible spring. In this archetypal garden setting, Sophia renews an eternal pledge – that wisdom’s commitment is to extend and transmute knowledge, and not to repress it. And in this moment the garden, the fountain and Sophia begin to fade …

I came away from my ritual of re-dedication feeling encouraged and refreshed, and a new cycle begins from here.

 

*http://Hrana.Janto.com

(1) Hillman, James The essential James Hillman: A blue fire London: Routledge, 1990. (Introduced and edited by Thomas Moore)

 

 

 

WESTERN WAYS II: MOVING TOWARDS SOPHIA

In my earlier Western Ways post I talked about a distinction between a ‘Native’ Tradition and a ‘Hermetic’ one, acting as “complementary opposites”. The first was said to be concerned with “ancestral earth-wisdom”, whilst the second was described as a “path of evolving consciousness”. (1)

I am influenced by this idea and the distinction that is being drawn. But I have a different sense of the detail, and a different experience of how these themes have played out in my life. My original choice to ground myself in Native tradition resulted from an experience in the Orkney’s. I was allowed to hold an ancient eagle claw necklace and an extraordinary energy shot through me – ancestral power, certainly, and a lesson in taking the heritage of land and ancestors seriously. However my current  of Druid doesn’t directly follow on from this experience, but is, rather, a contemplative nature mysticism. This is spacious and gentle and from my perspective generally works well in both its personal and collective versions. I feel satisfied with what I am doing and, in a good way, my inquiry energy for it is waning, even as my practitioner energy is present and available..

For me, now, the call of Sophia is more dynamic. It is a call from the other half of the Western Way – though not strictly Hermetic, because not concerned with the Greek-Egyptian figure Hermes Trismegistos. So I have decided to make my Way of Sophia the focus of a new  personal inquiry cycle. It is not like starting something new. It is more about making this aspect of my spirituality more focused and specific.

In my private sacred space I will establish a Temple of Sophia and this will be separate from from my involvement in Druidry. Ultimately there will be an integration and unity, but I’m aiming to craft a coherent overall Way. I’m not happy to treat pick’n’mix eclecticism and pluralism as more than a staging post. I want to give the Goddess her due and discover for myself how these apparently diverse approaches fit together. I hope that this may be of interest to other Druids, since many of us have a simultaneous engagement with other traditions.

I will report developments in this blog, and I will also continue to write posts outside the inquiry, including book reviews, poems, Druid contemplative developments, and other news and events.

  • Caitlin & John Matthews (1986) The Western Way: A Practical Guide to the Western Mystery Tradition: Volume 2 – the Hermetic Tradition London: Arkana

CONTEMPLATIVE INQUIRY IN ACTION

For me, active spirituality is based on inquiry rather than faith. Formal inquiry moves in cycles, and in my experience each cycle has a number of phases:

  • Intuitive musing, gradually distilling into a sense of direction
  • Crystalizing intent, and refining it with the work of preparation
  • Actualizing the intent
  • Relaxing after the intent is achieved
  • Reflection/review on the process and harvesting its fruit
  • Wondering whether the inquiry needs another cycle, which may move me on to more intuitive musing …

I’ve just had a period of down time from intensive practice. For a few weeks I let it go, my attention elsewhere. I’m just beginning to pick the work up again, at a reduced level of intensity. My sense of things after the break is not quite the same as my sense of things before, even though there is a great deal of continuity. Now as I return to the work, I would describe my Druid contemplative inquiry as being in the reflection phase of a long cycle.

Late in 2011 – specifically at Samhain – I was sufficiently prepared and intentional to launch an inquiry into contemplative practice within a Druid setting. This launch was fully ritualized and dedicated to the Goddess in her wisdom aspect. It was both a personal and collective inquiry from the beginning, and in this post I’m thinking mostly about the collective work. From the beginning of 2012 I was reaching out to and involving other people, with the first retreat day in July of that year.

Along the way we have co-created specific forms of group work. By the Spring of 2014 I had enough sense of the work and its direction to devise the questions for the interviews in Contemplative Druidry: People Practice and Potential and in this period I began the interviews themselves. The book was published in the following October. Two years later we have an available and tested means of doing Druid contemplative practice in group settings. Speaking for myself, this has made contemplative Druidry easier to talk about as a community practice, because I have a point or reference which involves things that people do and ways in which we benefit. This helps to keep the conversation grounded.

I now feel confident to let the process evolve by itself. I expect change and development and I expect to have a role in them. I want to reflect on how the process went and draw some conclusions. I will continue to integrate the work into my life. But I don’t think I need another inquiry cycle.

I’m in a parallel process in my personal contemplative practice – also at the reflection/review stage, but I’m not as far on with that and not yet clear about further cycles. More of that later. If there is another cycle I’m not sure that it will be either entirely contemplative or entirely Druid, though it will certainly incorporate elements of both and the learning from them.

CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY IN 3 SENTENCES

Elaine and I were recently asked by a non-Druid local group to define contemplative Druidry in 3 sentences.  This is what we came up with.

“Contemplative practice in Druidry supports what has been called ‘the Nature mysticism of modern Druidry’. Our understandings of what this means are provisional and inquiring – those of us who follow the Druid way are encouraged to craft our own practices in accordance with our inner guidance, our needs and wishes. Practices in the Stroud-based group include group meditation, personal sharing, outside walking meditation, chanting and contemplative arts.”

This mix of practices also forms the basis of our retreat days for the wider Druid and fellow-travelling community. This year we are running two such days – one in London on Sunday 7 February and the other in Stroud on Saturday 1 October together with Nimue and Tom Brown. See also http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com

We owe the phrase ‘the Nature mysticism of modern Druidry’ to Philip Carr-Gomm, who leads the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), who used it in his foreword to Contemplative Druidry: People Practice and Potential. He also pointed out that the Druid way as a whole is one where we take responsibility for crafting our own practices. We see this a something we need to emphasise, since this approach is still unusual in spiritual movements as a whole.

 

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.

 

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