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.