contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Gnosis

GUANYIN IN NOVEMBER

Six months ago I re-oriented my sacred space around an image of Guanyin, an eastern Sophia of Silk Road origin. She hears the cries of the world beyond sectarian boundaries, being equally at home with Buddhists, Taoists, Pagans and Gnostics.

In the dominions of Mahayana Buddhism, she takes on the guise of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. But for me she is not fully defined by that identity. She is also a dragon lady, reflecting ancient beliefs in divine animal powers, “still with us in dreams and visions as representatives of the source of life … movers of the world”. She is the sacred mare, great mother goddess, roaming the wild fields of the earth. Arriving in China, she links with and transforms other goddesses, “the sea-goddesses of China’s many port cities, the tribal and mountain mothers who protect birth and children, and the dark female, valley spirit of the Taoists”.

On the evening of 2 November, I consulted the Guanyin oracle. I was given verse 81, ‘The Weary Travelers’ (1).

In late fall

Leaves fall from the oaks

And weary travelers leave like migratory birds.

Heaven will protect their journey.

It seems very suited to place and time. In the commentary, Guanyin asks me to “turn away from the busy world” so that “a new spring, blessed by heaven, emerges within for you and your loved ones”. I am offered the image of another journey – seemingly in company, metaphorically on wings – at a time of physical lassitude. There is a promise of blessing, or regeneration, that will also impact on my loved ones.

Guanyin cherishes and helps to awaken her devotees, always challenging us to return to the source and the way. “Her compassion and wisdom offer an exit from the compulsive worlds of greed, lust and power and a return to the true thought of the heart.” In my life, she forms part of a poetry of practice, a poetry that the heart demands, not linked to any external truth claim. As I wrote when I began this phase of my work (2), this is a matter of feeling and imagination, not of cosmology or belief. In this respect, I feel like Soren Kierkegaard, the religious existentialist who talked about loyalty to a ‘subjective truth’ of his own existence, facing the uncertainties of the world with passionate commitment to a way of life.

Throughout my six months of sitting before this altar and exploring Buddhism, the image of Guanyin has kept me both devoted and free-spirited. I have found a Buddhist sangha that I can be part of, but I am not a Buddhist and have no aspiration to make a formal commitment to Buddhism. As an Existentialist, I am a kind of doubting Gnostic, and the ancient Gnostics were people who attached themselves “to various symbol systems and ‘deconstructed’ them in order to orient us toward the gnosis”. My centre is my contemplative inquiry, over which the goddess of wisdom and compassion imaginatively presides. I continue to sit at her altar, and I will consult her oracle from time to time.

(1) Stephen Karcher The Kuan Yin Oracle: The Voice of the Goddess of Compassion London: Piatkus, 2009.  (NB I use the form Guanyin. Stephen Karcher uses Kuan Yin.)

(2) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/sophia-and-guanyin/

 

HELD

This post is the first after a one month break. It begins a new direction in the blog, though one with many points of continuity. I have also revised the ‘About’ section of the blog, to explain the shift.

I am a mouse in the talons of a great owl, who is obviously Sophia. Dull winter afternoon. Cloudy and windy. No sun visible, so darkening though not yet the twilight hour. Getting colder with intimations of storm. We are flying over water.

The world seems less than solid, as if half-made. To distract myself from my apparent predicament, I wonder about this. But origin and destination are not the point. What matters is experiencing. As mouse, I am not comfortable up here and I am somewhat prone to fear.

I know myself held, and carefully too. I won’t be dropped. I hope not to fall, and that falling would not be terminal. Then I let go of hope.

Focusing on the protection of these talons, I cannot forget them. Inside my anxious, racing heartbeat, I am still.

ICON

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This is my icon of Sophia. It was created by New York based artist and illustrator Hrana Janto and I am using it with her permission. More of her work can be found at http://hranajanto.com

I like this image. It is both traditional in symbolism and somewhat naturalistic in style. There is an energetic balance of belly, heart and head. Sophia’s gaze is present and level. She has – beautifully – the accoutrements of a celestial being, whilst powerfully suggesting the stance of the realized, self-recollecting human.

Currently I am working with a small print-out pasted on card, but I have arranged to buy a full-sized print from the artist. Since I have been connecting with this image, and working a Sophian practice, my experiential understanding of who she is continues to change and develop.

I encounter Sophia within, as both a voice and a silence, the movement of the breath and a stillness in it. She makes herself known as an access of energy, an opening in the heart, a steadiness at my back. She inspires my glimmers of insight, and nudges my intuition. She calls me to the recollection of my true nature. That is her Wisdom. She will provide a theatre of fall, struggle and ascent if I forget myself and need reminding. She guides me to places where remembering is easy, if I am but willing to allow this.

As such she inhabits, in my subjective life world, what western tradition describes as psychic space, a middle ground between the physical realm of the everyday and the causal realm of luminous emptiness. All of these are known to me and experienced as One when I am truly awake.

CONTEMPLATIVE INQUIRY, THE ORAN MOR, AND FARE-WELLING DEITY

I want to say three in things in this post. The first is to clarify what I mean by contemplative inquiry, the name of this blog, and outline the implications of calling it contemplative inquiry rather than contemplative Druidry. The second is to describe my recent contemplations on the Oran Mor, or Great Song, the metaphor which has become central in how I experience my world. The third is to explain my decisive shift to a non-theistic spirituality.

Contemplative inquiry, for me, is a living process and the heart of my spiritual identity. My Druidry itself is subject to the inquiry, and in consequence my contemplative life doesn’t work through marinating me in a received tradition and leading me into experiences that are declared to be the appropriate fruits of the practice. That’s why I’m glad to be in a young tradition, where the jelly still hasn’t set. I work with feelings, thoughts, insights and intuitions arising from my practice and reflection. I’ve abandoned the high language of ‘gnosis’ because it suggests pre-mapped attainments, privileged cosmic knowledge already somehow present and waiting to be discovered in the experience of the practitioner. That’s not what happens for me: everything is tentative and provisional and the aim, if it is an aim, is to sit within an expanded story of being, one that has integrity and can frame abundant life.

How does this apply to the Oran Mor, an auditory metaphor which takes in all my senses and synaesthetically extends them? I can enjoy the sound of a sunrise, the felt resonance of trees, and the lingering note of a caress.  All are encompassed in the Oran Mor. My experience of the Oran Mor confirms for me the felt sense of not being separate or alone. Behind the Oran Mor, and interweaving it, is a silence – not a cold silence, but a warm silence of fecund latency. The Oran Mor points beyond itself as a sensory experience to that underlying substrate of energy, that pulse and vibration of the cosmos, whose fruits include the privilege of our time-bound 3D being. I am the Oran Mor, currently a distinct though passing note within the greater pattern of the Song. So are you. Many forms of communion are available within the Oran Mor.

The invitation to us is to sing our own note within the Song. For all that we are interconnected and interdependent, the way in which we sing the note involves something distinct and individual, a personal existential choice: this at least is the human experience. It works best if we are awake to the rest the Song, as manifested in other notes, in the greater patterns, and the silence. This is why I’ve started to use the word ‘attunement’, despite its hackneyed New Age ring: it’s an accurate description of something I want to do.

As I’ve deepened into this sense of the Oran Mor and how it shapes me, there are certain words that are becoming more pertinent and powerful. In my morning practice I have for some years used the words known either as St. Patrick’s prayer or the cry of the deer:

‘I arise today through the strength of heaven, light of sun, radiance of moon, splendour of fire, speed of lightning, swiftness of wind, depth of sea, stability of earth and firmness of rock.’

I experience this as a summarising the Oran Mor – that which is – in a way that has a contemplative and prayerful aspect, makes good liturgy, and is not a petitionary prayer. I do not pray to the Oran Mor. I do not think of the Oran Mor as our Celtic ancestors did, as a name for God. I do not use it a translation of what is often meant by ‘Spirit’. The ‘I’ who arises is as much included in the Oran Mor as the sun, moon, fire, lightning, wind, sea, earth and rock. In the experience of the Oran Mor, there is no distinction between ‘Spirit’ and ‘Nature’. There’s a sense in which, despite their pragmatic value in everyday use, both terms become redundant.

I’m also continuing to work with the Ceile De fonn A Hu Thi (ah – hoo – hee), using simple breath and silent sounding, first described in an earlier post at https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2015/3/6/. For me this continues to describe and enact the eternally-co-creative aspect of the Oran Mor. I find in my world that the A sets up a sense of latency, a subtle pulse and vibration on the brink of becoming. I feel it in the quality of my inbreath, as a kinaesthetic song. Hu the outbreath feels more vigorous and intentional; there’s a real sense of movement, expressed as exhalation – the breath moves out from my body, through my nostrils. Thi breathed in feels like the delighted expression of a new reality, the world born again in every moment.

The last effect of my continuing engagement with the Oran Mor concerns Brighde as Goddess and it is very recent. Essentially, the Goddess dissolves into the Oran Mor and I find myself fare-welling deity in my poetry of practice. The sense of the Goddess (under different names) as both cosmic birther and mentoring intermediary, which I have had throughout the whole period of my association with Druidry and Paganism, has died. This is not a matter of ultimate belief, where I have always had a form of non-dual view, but rather in a sense of a shift in archetypal poetics and psychology, of imaginal perception. It gives me a sense both of mourning and of release, of loss and of spaciousness.

I am aware of talking about language and imagery, about subjective experience. I do not presume to make statements about the cosmos or recommend ‘beliefs’ to others on the strength of my work or its evolution, or to use it either to question or to validate anyone else’s path. I’m in the throes of letting go a profoundly significant image and concept, one that has had a defining role in my spirituality, and I find it a very considerable attachment to let go of. I did not expect this. It will take a bit of getting used to, actually a lot of getting used to. It is a very significant change. Yet it is the fruit of honest inquiry – of meditative and contemplative practice, and reflection thereon. My trackless path, it seems, is wholly non-theistic.

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