contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Earth spirituality

THE VIEW FROM HOME

This, now, is our view from home. It helped to sell a compact apartment to us. It is a place of light and sunshine for much of the time, and allows us to see beyond the perimeters of our small historic city. Looking out, I see an expanse of energised space, providing room for the fecundity of nature. A wonderful gift for an old Druid.

Tilting my gaze a little downwards, I have more sense of our neighbourhood and the inevitable presence of cars. There was once an elegant square here, now somewhat sacrificed for a modest amount of parking space. But I do like the sense of an outlook on everyday life. I don’t want to be cut off from it. I’m glad that it’s there.

Elaine and I have not fully moved in as yet. This is a transitional moment. There’s still much work to be done. But there seems to be a shift in gravity now, and the promise of a benign base. As I se it, human flourishing enables the spiritual path too. It supports our capacity to be present in and to the web of life. At times in the journey, deprivation may need to be faced. But it is not a virtue, and in this moment I am glad of a space where the heart can easily open. Feeling gratitude, I wonder how this adventure will unfold.

ALNEY ISLAND IMAGES

Alney Island is surrounded by the River Severn at Gloucester. It is mostly a water meadow and largely free of ‘development’. I have written about it before. I took the pictures on 15 January, greatly moved by this landscape, the water margin feel, and the energy of the river, whose ‘left channel’ flowed past me close by. I’m short on words, today. So I’m letting the pictures speak for me. In a certain light, they are a kind of visual hymn.

JANUARY FEELINGS

My sense of January this year is one of bleakness qualified by promise. I spent the first week of the year grounded by back pain. So it was a pleasure, when the time came, to walk once more among trees. Their very bareness has a certain majesty. Their simple presence suggests the prospect of transformation as the year goes on.

Here, at 3.30 pm on January 9th,, I am noticing the slow lengthening of the day. It would have been twilight at this time three weeks ago. The change has an expansive note. A new lightness and colour are suggested below. They lead me further from the lassitude and brain fog of recent days. They make the world a genuinely felt privilege to be in.

Yet a taste of disenchantment does have its value. More than once, I have experienced it shortly in advance of a creative shift in energy and direction. My wife Elaine and I will soon be moving to the long=term home we have been working towards for some time. We will be setting it up, not just chasing after it, over the coming weeks. Without quite seeing the future, I do feel a returning zest and optimism.

A DIRECTION FOR 2023

I am writing on the last day of 2022. My very best wishes for 2023 to all readers. Many blessings for the year ahead!

The picture above was taken on 26 December (in England called Boxing Day/St. Stephen’s Day) – this year a chilly day of bright blue sky. The truncated spire* of St. Nicholas Church, Gloucester, reaches up towards the vivid sky, despite its history of damage. For me, this image of spire against sky is one of clarity, definition and spaciousness. It is a breath of fresh air.

I don’t know what 2023 will bring. I do want to bring clarity, definition and spaciousness to whatever unfolds. As my contemplative inquiry continues, I find that it subtly modifies its purpose. Discovering and re-discovering the purpose involves an element of divination, since my thinking personality is not exactly in charge.

It is as if authentic clarity and definition come out of the spaciousness itself, not out of cognitive review or ‘brain-storming’. These may be aids, but I have also to wait for signs. When I began this blog, I surprised myself by calling it ‘contemplative inquiry’ rather the ‘contemplative Druidry’. I see now that contemplative inquiry is the root description for my path.

For me, contemplation is a yin quality, an open and receptive engagement with experiences – most especially, with forms of relationship. Inquiry is a yang quality, actively deepening knowledge, refining understanding and seeking meaning. Together they support my path. Druidry is a vehicle that supports spiritual self-direction, and also challenges disastrous social norms concerning both nature and culture. Today I have revised the ABOUT section of this blog, on the eve of 2023, and my key statements are below:

“My contemplative inquiry began in 2012. It is grounded in modern Druidry, though not wholly defined by it. I acknowledge the influence of other sources, especially the wider turn towards an eco-spirituality that meets our historical moment. The inquiry process itself is my core practice, from which others radiate out.

“Over my inquiry years, I have found an underlying peace and at-homeness at the heart of experience. Here, it is as if I am resourced by a timeless, unboundaried dimension from which I am not separate. I find myself guided towards a spirit of openness, an ethic of interdependence and a life of abundant simplicity.”

*NOTE ON ST. NICHOLAS’ SPIRE: the church was first built in 1190 and added to over the centuries. A 200 ft. spire was built in the fifteenth century, but received a direct hit from cannon fire in 1643, during the English Civil War. The final repair waited until 1783, when the spire was reduced in height and capped.

ACCEPTING THE ARRIVAL OF WINTER

It was 26 November 2022, 11 a.m. I was at the Gloucester end of the Gloucester-Sharpness canal. I found myself accepting the arrival of winter. I was observing three cygnets, now without their parents but still keeping company with each other. The underlying temperature was around 7 C (44.6 F) and good for walking, But I was feeling the pinch of a cold wind. In memory I am feeling it now. The water and sky looked grey. The trees were starting to feel skeletal, whilst still retaining some leaves. My lingering sense of autumn had finally drained away.

To accept winter’s arrival in the presence of swans felt numinous. Swans are otherworldly birds in Celtic tradition. The three together, not yet in their full adult plumage, seemed auspicious. They suggested coming opportunities for creativity, love and celebration. Winter can be a preparation for renewal, both as season and as state of mind. My acceptance goes with a faith in winter’s regenerative darkness, and the riches this can bring.

BOOK REVIEW: THE CIRCLE OF LIFE IS BROKEN

Highly recommended. Brendan Myers’ The Circle of Life is Broken (1) is subtitled “an eco-spiritual philosophy of the climate crisis”. Myers is a Pagan identified author and a professional philosopher who teaches at Heritage College, Gatineau, Quebec. His Paganism is naturalistically oriented, and animist in a sense that “the things of the natural world are in some hard-to-express manner alive and spiritually present”.

The book begins with an view of the Earth from outside, through the loving eyes and words of astronauts. “It is as if the Earth as a whole was only discovered in 1968, when Apollo-8 astronaut William Anders shot the famous Earthrise photograph; the image of the Earth coming out from behind the edge of the moon”. This ‘overview effect’ is balanced at the end of the book by an invitation to immerse ourselves more fully and awarely within the world, through the practices of a weekly green sabbatical and an annual ecological pilgrimage.

Between this beginning and ending there are three main sections, each addressing a ‘root question’. Each question is rigorously explored, before receiving a carefully formulated answer.

The first question asks: what is the circle of life? A key understanding is that ecologists today do not see the Earth as “an aggregate of individuals competing for resources and survival”. Rather, they “are teaching us to see the Earth as a complex system in which everything is directly or indirectly involved in all the life around it, and in which symbiosis and cooperation, across multiple levels, keep the system as a whole flourishing”. This is the circle of life that is now breaking down. “It isn’t simply changing form. It is also short-circuiting; it is falling apart”.

The second root question asks: who faces the circle of life? This concerns humans and how we deal with realities of a higher order than our own. The exploration includes a look at how people see the world at different life stages. Myers wants to know “what becomes of the human reality when cast in terms of the encounter with the Circle of Life as the ultimate reality?” He notes that the Circle goes almost unmentioned in the history of Western philosophy, and also explores a perceived a tension between our ‘being-ecological’ and our ‘being-free’.

The third root question asks: can the circle be healed? Myers quotes a saying of the philosopher Hegel: “the owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering”. When things are bad, new ideas and possibilities can emerge and philosophers especially are challenged to think big. Myers looks at the political and cultural obstacles to any healing process, with good sections on ‘eco-fascism’ and the ‘gatekeepers of human nature’. He also makes a number of specific positive proposals.

Although written in plain English as far as possible, The Circle is Broken is not a book to read in one sitting. Myers’ thinking is holistic, with room for scientific information, complex argument, deep feeling, contemplation and engagement. It is written with love and a sense of wonder, generously drawing on personal experience. I think of it as a long-term companion, a gift to anyone concerned with the climate crisis and creative responses to it.

(1) Brendan Myers The Circle of Life is Broken: An Eco-Spiritual Philosophy of the Climate Crisis Winchester UK & Washington USA: Moon Books 2022 (Earth Spirit series)

(2) For other posts about Brendan Myers’ work, see:

https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2015/05/22/the-worship-of-the-gods-is-not-what-matters/ (Reblog from Naturalistic Paganism)

BOOK REVIEW: THE EARTH, THE GODS AND THE SOUL

BOOK REVIEW: RECLAIMING CIVILIZATION

ETHICS AND ‘CIVILIZATION’

BRENDAN MYERS: A FOREST ENCOUNTER

BRENDAN MYERS: A FOREST ENCOUNTER

“Over the last twelve years I have walked every trail, every hillcrest, every stream-edge within a two hour walking radius of my house: everything between Lac-Des-Fees and Pink Lake, and a little beyond. …. I still encounter things I never saw before. Last year I saw a Great Horned Owl in the park for the first time. Its swift yet stately flight above my head caught my eye; a dark shadow in front of the sun, silent, and powerful in its silence.

“It rested on a tree branch not more than twenty meters away, and regarded me. I regarded him in turn. I had known for years that there are owls in the area: I’ve heard their hooting, and seen their pellets on the ground. But until that day and for ten years, I hadn’t seen one here before. Further, and I think more importantly, since I had entered the forest that day for no particular purpose but to enjoy a warm afternoon, to reaffirm my love of for the park’s landmarks and vistas, and to experience a few hours of pure human freedom, in simpler words to play, the encounter with the owl could take on a magical meaning.

“In the light of such magic, what a magnificent animal he was! How proud he seemed, as though in charge of the world, as though I required his permission to take another step. How unpretentious too: this owl had no need to pretend to be something he was not. The size of his claws, the laser-focus of his eyes meeting mine, was proof enough that he was a predator. No need to flex his weapons or brandish them. And what a delightful conversation we might have, if he were to speak. How much he could tell of the places he had seen, the adventures he had while hunting, and the pleasure of flight… Much as I would have loved to stay and hear him speak, I decided to move on after a few minutes. I did not know whether meeting his eyes might be provocative. And much as I might enjoy telling the story of how I got owl-claw scars on my face, I would certainly not enjoy getting them.

“…. Such is the magic of the forest. It can mean what you want it to mean under the aspect of play, yet at the same time it can surprise, and threaten and reveal itself, in ways no human artifact can do. It can suggest a kind of magic no human artifact can adopt: the dramatic discovery of a world not made by human hands. Thus it participates in the play, bringing its own contribution to the emergence of meaning.” (1)

(1) Brendan Myers The Circle of Life is Broken: An Eco-Spiritual Philosophy of the Climate Crisis London UK & Washington USA: Moon Books (Earth Spirit Series)

NOTE: Brendan Myers is a Canadian philosopher and author currently living in Quebec, where he teaches philosophy at Heritage College, Gatineau. He has written extensively on Pagan themes from a philosophical perspective, and his most recent book takes them further through an exploration of the climate crisis. I will review the book in my next post.

AN EARLY WINTER TWILIGHT

Winter shows itself though early twilight. The pictures above and below were taken at about 5 pm (GMT, now, with summer time a fading memory). The sky retains a certain diversity of colour – clouds are still visible. But there is a leaning towards indigo. St. Mary le Crypt sits in stillness and tranquillity.

For me, the artificial lighting behind the stained glass is just right for supporting these qualities. It illuminates but does not glare. It feels homely and welcoming. The heavy stone of this medieval church is softened by dusk. Christmas is coming – a friendly period in the church calendar.

Twilight makes space as well for another, more carnival mood. Gloucester holds a lantern procession and Christmas light switch-on every year at approximately this time and date (19 November). It winds through the old town, lights switched on overhead as it passes, to the Cathedral where a carol service is held. This year’s event was very well supported, with large numbers of people either following the procession or lining the route. It was as if everyone was ready for a festive moment, a chance for celebration and fun in a generally tough time.

Local artists had teemed up with local schools to work on an Alice in Wonderland theme for 2022. Hence the Mad Hatter in the shifting and slightly out of focus picture below. I think the makers have successfully created a Tricksterish image for him. Not entirely safe or bland.

In Lewis Carroll’s 1865 book, Alice is annoyed by the twilight zone of the Mad Hatter’s language. It seems to have “no sort of meaning” and yet be “certainly English”. He boasts about the great concert given by the Queen of Hearts, where he sang: “twinkle, twinkle little bat/How I wonder what you’re at/ Up above the world you fly/ Like a tea tray in the sky”.

What is the Mad Hatter bringing to the streets of Gloucester on this early winter’s evening? He is certainly a presence here, if hard to read, for the brief time it takes him to pass through. Winter twilight offers spaces for healing and festivity. As a liminal time, it is an arena for Tricksters too. Many possibilities are latent under this enigmatic sky.

THE ALBION SAILS ON COURSE (NOVEMBER 2016)

“The Albion sails on course. Black script on white wall. The spill-zone around Corbridge Crescent, the painted devil heads and hybrid monsters, the bare-breasted pin-ups from naughtier times mouthing Situationist slogans, are captured and made fit for purpose by film crews and television set-dressers, lighting technicians and catering caravans, responding to dissent as exploitable edge.

“LOADED WITH/ MEMORIES/ I WAS NOT AFRAID/TO SET OFF/ AN ADVENTURE/ ANY MORE.

“14 November 2016: the words I copied into my notebook yesterday are painted over with white undercoat, so that professionals can create rebellion suitable for television. For example, a Worholist head of Che Guevara – CHE GAY – inflated to cover an entire wall, with fake yelps about eating the rich to replace the groundwork of RIP and the Secret Society of Super Villains and Artists. NO PIGS ….

“The outlaw in his shack on the ledge by the canal sleeps through the entire fuss. He learnt his lesson after the first Immigration Enforcement raid. Now his shelter looks like the detritus of a lumberyard. ….

“A young boy cycles uncertainly to school, in the wake of his mother, wearing a silver skull mask. Welcome to the comic world, Hackney. At the base of the image swamp we find the sinister clown: child-catcher, grinning molester. The public joke, the big-haired politician who dissolves into the Joker of DC Comics.

“Extinguish fire with petrol. One of the latest Andrews Road defacements is a poster: SILENT BILL MUSE WANTED. Silence against the noise of imagery? The meditation of a hooded man sitting all day on a bench? Or another who dreams the fading city through all the hours in an Arsenal-branded sleeping bag? ‘Be silent in that solitude,’ said Edgar Allan Poe. ‘Let them come. The restless spirits of the dead are in death around thee’.” (1)

Iain Sinclair has a reputation as a leading figure in the practice of psychogeography, though he has now somewhat distanced himself from the word itself. He is quoted as saying (2) that “I buy into a union of writing and walking” and identifying with “the kind of writers who very definitely have, within their writing, this rhythm of journeys and walks and pilgrimages and quests”.

Sinclair’s work often celebrates London’s neglected and overlooked spaces, and draws on a visionary tradition of London writers from William Blake to Arthur Machen as well as the French situationists who developed psychogeography as a concept. His early reputation rests on the prose poem Lud Heat (1975) which was also influenced by Alfred Watkins and the earth mysteries school that followed in his wake. This work describes lines of force between Hawksmoor’s London churches to reveal the hidden relationship between the city’s financial, political and religious institutions. Peter Ackroyd drew on these themes for his later Hawksmoor (1985).

Last London (2017) is grittier and more concerned with a November 2016 witnessing of social breakdown in Hackney, a London borough that is being simultaneously gentrified. In the UK, it is also the year of the Brexit referendum (the Albion sails on course?) and in the US the month, November, of Donald Trump’s election as president (“at the base of the image swamp we find the sinister clown”).

Why am I drawn to this work? I lived in London for 17 years, from the late 1970s to the mid 1990s: there’s an element of nostalgia, and also of grief. Beyond that, my contemplative inquiry has led me in recent years to a practice of walking and writing. Are there lessons for me in Sinclair’s tradition?

My contemplative inquiry is not just about resting in the eternal moment – it also concerns life in place, time and culture. I’ve always liked walking meditation, mobile and open-eyed. Ideally, the still point and the moving line are both present, together as one. Often I stumble around between them, but that’s part of the journey: learning to be present in a field of living presence. I have a lot to learn.

(1) Iain Sinclair The Last London: True Fictions from an Unreal City London: OneWorld Publications, 2017

(2) Merlin Coverley Psychogeography Harpenden: Oldcastle Books Ltd, 2018 (first edition 2006) In his last chapter, Psychogeography Today, the author devotes a section to Iain Sinclair and the Re-branding of Psychogeography.

ON THE CUSP OF SAMHAIN: A NEW MOON

You can just see it, above the buildings, at the last breath of sunset. A sliver of light over murky cloud, the slender crescent of a new moon has appeared. I took the picture just after 6.45 pm on 28 October, still inside British Summer Time. I chose this time on this day because it was not yet dark. The sky is making room for a variety of effects, not just the stark duality of darkness and light. I stand at the cusp of the year’s endarkenment, before the festival of Samhain.

At this time of this year, I find myself tuning in to the lunar cycle as much as the solar one. To me, now, it feels subtler and more nuanced. Anne Baring and Jules Cashford describe its significance in a way I find illuminating:

“The moon was an image in the sky that was always changing yet was always the same. What endured was the cycle, whose totality could never be seen at any one moment. All that was visible was the constant interplay between light and dark, in an ever-recurring sequence. Implicitly, however, the early people must have seen every part of the cycle from the perspective of the whole.

“The individual phases could not be named, nor the relations between them expressed, without assuming the presence of the whole cycle. The whole was invisible, an enduring and unchanging circle, yet it contained the visible phases. Symbolically, it was as if the visible ‘came from’ and ‘returned to’ the invisible – like being born and dying, and being born again.” (1)

When out walking, I noticed that Christmas lights had started to appear. The ones below, at Gloucester Quays, seemed suitable for a new moon. They shifted on and off in a flowing, liquid kind of way, at slightly different times. They did not dazzle or glare or demand my whole attention. They illuminated the space without dominating it. They did not claim that their light was all that mattered.

If I tune in the another cycle, the wheel of the day, I remember how much to thank the sun for. Barely half an hour before I took the pictures above, I experienced the very different colours of the two immediately below. In the first, there is the pink of sunset cloud and some draining of blue from the sky – but, still, a sense of vivid green in the grass. An autumn evening in what is still the light of day.

The second shows a tree-lined street, with full autumn colours, fittingly sundown colours, against a misty looking autumn sky.

It seems that I am saying farewell to one season whilst welcoming another, and that my evening walk on 28 October, partially shared with my wife Elaine, somehow enabled this. There is a starkness and wildness in my last image from that walk, below, which draws me in, despite the remarkable contrast with what has gone before. Just to notice, to fully experience, and make meaning of, the cycles of moon, sun, day, year and life itself gains importance for me year by year, as the wheel turns.

(1) Anne Baring Anne and Jules Cashford The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image London: Penguin, Arkana Books, 1993

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