contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Contemplative Druidry People Practice and Potential

CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY: REFLECTING ON THE PROJECT

In his foreword to Contemplative Druidry (1) Philip Carr-Gomm talks about “Nature Mysticism, or Natural Mysticism” in modern Druidry. He suggests that such mysticism is grounded in changes in consciousness, and feelings of bliss or oneness, with no accompanying “separation from the physical world in pursuit of the Divine”. For me, it is especially about meeting the moment within the physical world, including our own body/mind. Sometimes the meeting comes through formal practice. Sometimes it is spontaneous and unannounced.

I built the main body of the text in Contemplative Druidry around a series of interviews with practitioners, which I designed, conducted and transcribed in the spring and summer of 2014. I then identified patterns in what people had been saying and decided on themes for chapters. I wasn’t working in an academic role, so my own linking text was a matter of curation rather than analysis. At that time the notion of a ‘contemplative’ approach to Druidry seemed weird to many people. But it was clear to me from the interview material that all the contributors had relevant experiences to talk about. They seemed to point to what PCG subsequently called ‘natural mysticism’ as a domain of personal and cultural experience readily within reach if people want it to be.

This book itself came out of a project I began working on in 2011, when I was a Bard and Ovate mentor in OBOD. I activated it in 2012, when I began to reach out to people with an offer of contemplative sessions, workshops and retreats – continuing with these until the end of 2016. 2012 also saw the birth of this blog and the Contemplative Druidry Facebook group, which I administered for the first year. Looking back from 2020, I feel that the contemplative meme is established within Druidry. ‘Contemplative’ has become a frequently used term in Druid discourse.

In the early days I thought a specific iteration of contemplative Druidry, launched by the project, might become a distinct Druid brand within and beyond the current Druid communities. From this distance it is easier for me to see that my will and energy were for initiating a conversation and modelling a set of possibilities, rather than working to establish a new sub-tradition. At the same time I continue to invite Druids and fellow travellers to be open to their ‘natural mysticism’ in ways that work for them.

(1) James Nichol , Contemplative Druidry: People, Practice and Potential, Amazon/Kindle, 2014.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/contemplative-druidry-people-practice-potential/dp/1500807206/

SEEING: CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY

There is a dance between experience and meaning. Experience informs meaning, yet the meaning given to significant experiences can change over time, in the light of later experiences. Looking back at my introduction to Contemplative Druidry (1), I now sense that my contemplative journey was triggered by a kind of Wild Seeing, long before I encountered the work of Douglas Harding (www.headless.org/ ). Here is what I wrote.

“On 22 June 2007 my centre of gravity shifted. It was late morning. I was just outside the Scottish Border town of Melrose, drawn in three possible directions. One was up the hills at the back of the town – the Eildon Hills, the hollow hills where the Queen of Efland took Thomas the Rhymer; True Thomas as he became. The second was the fine, if half-ruined, Abbey and its grounds; a place of Green Man carvings, fruit trees, and the heart of Robert the Bruce. The third was the banks of the Tweed.

“I took the third option and walked into a wholly unexpected and not at all dramatic epiphany. It was triggered simply by noticing and contemplating a wild rose, growing on the banks of the river. It lasted a few moments, just long enough for me to register it, and to experience a subtle shift of awareness in consequence. For some weeks I woke up every day with a sense of joy and connection. Months later, I wrote the verse that expressed it:

I am Rose. I am wild Rose.

I am Rose at Midsummer.

The river flows by me.

Fragile, I shiver in the wind.

And I am the heart’s core, mover of mountains.”

I was aware at the time that I was contrasting three choices in a fairy tale kind of way. The first was the path of magic (the Queen of Elfland). The second was the path of contemplative religion (Melrose Abbey). The third was the path of direct experience (wild rose on the riverbank). I chose the third. The poem best shows the import of this deceptively simple experience, especially in the last line. ‘I am the heart’s core; mover of mountains’ is more than a nature mysticism. I speak not only as the rose, but as the heart’s core, mover of mountains. I speak from the source.

During its collective life, contemplative Druidry did take its stand in direct experience. It was also very open – we talked of being of like intent rather than like mind; there was no consensus cosmology or belief. On the whole we were naturalistic, but not quite in the humanist or materialist sense. The use of terms like ‘Earth spirituality. ‘nature mysticism’. pantheism’ and ‘animism’ pointed to something more expansive. Now my experiences of  Seeing, support the view advocated by Douglas Harding and described as nondualist and panentheist. In everyday terms we can say that we have two identities, one as humans and the other as the ground of being. Ultimately, there is no separation and so only one true identity. Seeing is offered as a skilful means of learning to recognise this identity, and then to live from it.

My Sophian Way is now firmly in this territory. My challenge is to cleave to the experiential practice and its fruits whilst staying open about metaphysical claims. The intelligence of the heart is nourished by this view and is attracted by the reassurance of a clear and simple narrative. The mind wants to stay agnostic and provisional. When mobilised, it can ferret out weaknesses in the view. The Sophian Way is a way of wisdom, as well as a salute to the cosmic mother and healer in the heart. Wisdom invites me to trust the process – maintaining just enough scepticism to avoid attachment to views.

(1) James Nichol , Contemplative Druidry: People, Practice and Potential, Amazon/Kindle, 2014.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/contemplative-druidry-people-practice-potential/dp/1500807206/

WHAT IF …?

In my first post of 2018, I said, ‘I have woken from my hibernation but am not yet out of my cave’ (1). Getting out of the cave has been a slow and tentative process this year. We have reached Beltane, and I can at last say that I have done it. Gratitude to the Merry Month!

In the same post I also sensed that I had ‘reached peak inquiry’. It looked that way at the time. But now I find myself unsatisfied with the place that I have reached. I have a vision of an abundance in simplicity, reached through a closer focus on direct experience, and better ways of writing about it. I ask myself: what will happen if I identify myself as a ‘secular contemplative’, centring myself within a space of ‘bio-spirituality’?

Following on from this, I ask, ‘how much continuity will I find, and how much change? What new possibilities will open? Will a stance of ‘spirituality without religion’ support the simplicity and closeness to experience that I aim for?

There are certainly points of continuity. The Contemplative Druid Group* (disbanded early in 2017) used simple, flexible methods. These were meditative, without featuring long meditations, and modelled a minimalist approach to ritual. The project saw itself as an innovation within modern Druidry and did not claim the mantle of Celtic language speakers in ancient or medieval times. Above all, it was nature-oriented, an Earth spirituality, and followed the wheel of the year as it happened – in and out of festival times.

This blog was linked to that culture, whilst always reaching out to other traditions as well. It has been an exploration of contemplative spiritualities, where ‘contemplative’ points to practices that train attentiveness, open spaces for wonder, and provide opportunities to reflect. When I looked at posts which people were reading, I identified a universalist rather than tribal approach, and ‘a readership more inspired by poetry and parables rather than sermons and sutras. Poetry tends to be suggestive rather than dogmatic and speaks directly to the heart’.

Going forward, I will continue to give Druidry and other traditions space in this blog, drawing on their creativity, healing power and wisdom. I have thoughts about new kinds of material to include as well. I’ll be looking at the same view from a different seat and using a slightly different language to describe what I see. That is my direction for contemplative inquiry now.

(1) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2018/01/05/contemplativeinquiry-setting-a-direction/

*The story of the development of Contemplative Druidry, its views and practice, is told in my book, Contemplative Druidry: People, Practice and Potential, published in October 2014.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/contemplative-druidry-people-practice-potential/dp/1500807206/

CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY REVISITED

I experience this season as one of endings, fruitions and threads of continuity. I’m looking back at Contemplative Druidry (1), self-published on 9 October 2014, and currently with sales of just under 1200 – mostly through Kindle.

For me, the book feels true to its moment, a time when the ‘contemplative’ meme was still relatively unfamiliar in Druidry, but where we had already had two years to explore and develop it. The book drew on the experience of a local group in Stroud, Gloucestershire, England and the thoughts of the Contemplative Druidry Facebook Group in its formative period. Much of it was about people and their feelings, thoughts, identifications and values in the process of development.

The book offered no teachings or collective community line about contemplative Druidry. But it did offer a picture of who was involved, where they stood and what they did. I identified a tentative consensus that Druid contemplative practice happened in three main ways: formal sitting meditations (both ‘pathworking’ and ‘mindful’); being in nature and walking the land; and the contemplative use of creative arts. Practice could be solo or in groups, and the book itself helped to develop templates for group sessions and day retreats.

To balance this anarchic approach to spiritual development, I was lucky enough to have a foreword by Philip Carr-Gomm, who leads the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), to which I belong. Instead of the expected few words, he sent me his beautiful and inspirational essay Deep Peace of the Quiet Earth: The Nature Mysticism of Druidry. A treasure in itself, it has a deepening effect on the book as a whole.

Although the contemplative project, as a project, is finished, I am glad to know that the notion of a contemplative aspect in Druidry is no longer controversial. Within a few hours of launching the Contemplative Druidry Facebook group in 2012, I was challenged by two influential people in the Druid world. Now it has over 2,000 members and no-one turns a hair. The contemplative meme is there to stay, for its time, until it fades out again. The third anniversary of Contemplative Druidry finds me content.

(1) James Nichol Contemplative Druidry: People, Practice and Potential Amazon/KDP, 2014

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 DRUIDRY 2016

The next month is a busy one for contemplative Druidry. Our group in Stroud has its first meeting next Tuesday. Towards the end of January Elaine and I will be working with another local group that meets to explore sacred traditions. Then on 7 February we are running  a Dark of the Moon Workshop day retreat in London, at Treadwell’s Bookshop’s workshop space, 33 Store Street, London WC1 E7BS. Our specific intent is to  greet the dark of the moon at the time of Imbolc and the first stirrings of the Earth. The programme will include contemplative exercises, subtle energy work, silent sitting and Awen space group meditation. As with all of our public events, anyone willing to work within a Druid framework for the day is welcome.

The end of January also sees the publication of a new Moon Books anthology Pagan Planet: Being Believing and Belonging in the 21st. Century – see http://www.moon-books.net  and Nimue Brown’s presentation of the book. I have a piece in it on practising contemplative Druidry. Since I wrote it I have become even more convinced that contemplative Druidry is not a distinct form of Druidry, but rather a flavour, or way of working within it. We can create specific environments and practice frameworks that enable contemplative practice, and understand them as an option within a range of options.

More broadly, I think that the contemplative meme is now well recognised. My 2014 book Contemplative Druidry: People Practice and Potential is still finding new audiences. The Contemplative Druidry Facebook group, which I stopped administering in 2013, continues to thrive, now with a membership of over 1100. Elaine’s blog at http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com/ and the Contemplative Druid Events Facebook page have received increasing increasing attention in the last couple of months, perhaps in part due to the Contemplative Druidry article in the Samhain 2015 edition of Pagan Dawn. Other events are planned for later in the year.

I’ll continue writing about these and other developments in this blog.

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.

 

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.

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