contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: contemplative group practice

CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY

Yesterday we closed down the Druid contemplative group in Stroud,, Gloucestershire, England launched in 2012. It’s not easy to judge the life-cycle of a group. In this case, people (including me) were beginning to move on in their various directions. We made an intentional ending at the right time. I celebrate that group, it’s members and its life, and take many riches with me.

Druid Life

I first joined Contemplative Druidry as a facebook group, but by happy chance I moved to Stroud, which was the location for physical meetings, so about four years ago, I started going to those as well. It brought me into contact with many likeminded people locally. The monthly opportunity to sit in contemplation with others was a tremendously valuable experience. The habit of looking at where I am in my life and being witnessed in a held space has been good for me too.

Yesterday was the final session. It struck me how rare a privilege it is to close something with care and attention. How often the last time we do something, we only know in hindsight. Consciously and deliberately bringing something to an end, honouring its history, and letting it go is a beautiful thing to get to do, and very much in keeping with my experience of…

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STOCKTAKING

Golden SeedIn 2014 The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD) celebrated its 50th anniversary. It’s now just over 22 years since I first joined. Where am I now?

I remember being reassured by the way in which OBOD was able to hold a point of tension between two seemingly competing narratives. The first was the sense of living relationship with the land and the inheritance of ancestral stories. The second was an open and generous universalism. Without the first, the second could be vague and vapid. Without the second, the first could become culturally inward-turning and defensive. I’ve always been grateful for this balance.

As part of the 50th anniversary year, Sharon Zak and Maria Ede-Weaving put together The Golden Seed: Celebrating 50 Years of OBOD as “an anthology of prose, poetry, images and crafts” (including a DVD) created by OBOD members and friends. It is still referenced at http://www.druidry.org though currently unavailable. In my own entry I said I was more comfortable with a language of “practising OBOD Druidry” than “being an OBOD Druid”. That’s how I still see it and I would now want to add that this practice itself sits within a (for me) larger framework that I would name as the Way of Sophia. This has been true for quite a while, and I will write about it more in the future. Here I just want to say where my Druidry continues to fit.

There are two huge lessons that I draw from Druidry. The first is about how to do solo practice. I can’t now imagine a core solo practice that doesn’t take place in a sacred circle, woven of ritual and liturgy. Allowing a slow evolution of movement and liturgy, I gain insight into my purpose and intent in a way that offers both clarity and embodiment. Within that circle, I include body and energy work and also some form of sitting meditation: the precise forms vary. There’s also an aspect of healing and blessing. Thanks to the OBOD distance learning course, this approach to practice has become second nature. Someone could have given me a list of instructions to this effect on the back of an envelope and I might have had a go with different aspects from time to time before coming across something else on the back of another envelope. But I had the chance to build an evolving practice over an extended period, in a way that was both self-directing (I have an allergy to gurus) and within a tradition that made support and guidance available (I also don’t operate brilliantly if unwitnessed and alone). This combination is quite rare in spiritual education, and it’s a great privilege to have a continuing relationship with this work on the mentoring side. The course covers a lot of other ground as well. But this was the piece that was transformational for me.

The second lesson concerns two intertwining challenges. Both are connected to the contemplative inquiry I’ve been involved in for just over four years. One is the challenge of responding to the Order’s invitation to members to take initiatives and offer varying forms of leadership, whilst still (if we so choose) being held within the collective and feeling part of it. The other is the contemplative journey itself. This has involved the further evolution of solo practice, but more importantly to the co-creation of an innovative house-style in group work and in particular of Day Retreats for small groups. I and my colleagues seem to have a good handle on this now, both within our own local group and in the wider community of Druids and fellow travellers.

These lessons are my guide as to where to put my energy within Druidry, offering contexts of connection, service and nourishment.

 

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.

 

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/.

THE ROSE SANCTUARY

It is two years since the Stroud based Druid ‘contemplative’ group first met. On 7 July 2012 six Druids met for a day of meditation and personal sharing in sacred space and began a tradition in which 16 people are now involved. As reported in an earlier post (‘A Brief and Luminous Tea Time’, 15 January 2014) we currently have monthly meetings, mostly for two hours on the second Tuesday of the month. In two months – May and November – we meet for a whole day, so far always on a Saturday. We had 11 people on 10 May this year.

Today was one of our Tuesday meetings, held in a dedicated space called the Rose Sanctuary, a new environment for us. We sat there through a summer storm, seeing flashes of lightning through the windows, hearing the thunder rolling in the distance, and then listening to the rain falling on the roof – first hard, then soft. The scene outside, insofar as it was visible, was lush and glistening, albeit a little dusky for the time of day. Inside, the space was one of elegant simplicity, a natural container for contemplation and reflective sharing.

There were seven of us present, two from the original group and five others who have joined since. The group reconstitutes itself at each meeting, building its culture a little more each time, developing its sense of what a Druid contemplative group looks and feels like. This time we began with an extended check-in and a five minute shared silence for attunement, rather than a long meditation. Then we chanted together, finding our shared resonance and the resonance of the space, sensing the pulse and vibration of the Awen in this place and time. We entered a period of intermixed silence and creative sharing, which this time included song, chanting, and accounts of numinous experiences in both outer and inner worlds. Every meeting finds its own note.

For me, it felt like a good second anniversary.

A BRIEF AND LUMINOUS TEA TIME

Last March I talked about a Druid contemplative day in Gloucestershire, England, and the way in which “our meeting grew out of the still simplicity of the space and our shared contemplative intent”. We now have a regular group, which meets for two hours in the afternoon on the second Tuesday of every month, except for May and November.  In those months we meet for a full Saturday, sometime after the festivals of Beltane and Samhain. These days offer an introduction to new members, and also attract people from outside our local catchment area.  Sixteen people are now at least provisionally involved, about half of whom attend our Tuesday sessions.

I feel very blessed to have a group of ‘like intent’ for contemplative practice.  It supports and extends my solo practice, without simply replicating it at a collective level.  I feel recognised and nurtured by the presence of fellow travellers and the strength of a commonly held intent.  I also feel more confident in my note and in the value of sounding it

Our Tuesday pm gatherings – which do include a slot for tea and cake as a very English soul food – have so far had a very simple structure.  We have a personal check in, make an unfussy entry into sacred space and sit in meditation together for about 20 minutes. After that (and this is the Druid bit) we tune into our individual and relational presence within awen. Traditionally awen has connotations of divine inspiration, especially in the fields of poetry, music and prophecy. For modern Druids awen can be also seen as the manifestation of the immanent divine, the breath of the Goddess (Shakti, Shekinah), the enlivening presence of spirit or more simply the way in which space can be palpably and numinously enlivened by people of like intent.

In terms of the practice, we discover ourselves, touched or inspired by awen, in an enlivened relational field with each other, as well as in the space and within ourselves.  Sometimes we share it in silence and sometimes we are moved to speak, finding an authentic here-and-now language for our felt sense of connection. I can see a possibility of moving on to other expressions of this connection – chanting, toning and movement as the group develops.  The practice is open-ended, but tends to go on for 35-40 minutes.

We then exit sacred space, celebrating and also grounding ourselves with tea and cake.   These meetings have prompted me into a greater intentionality about my wider inquiry, which includes sharing it through this blog.

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