High summer becomes late summer, in my world, with a gentle movement into the evening of the year. In the picture above, taken a little after 8 pm, I at first feel, as much as see, a suggestion of muting light. On looking up, the blue of the sky seems influenced by a subtle greying effect that is independent of the clouds. Looking down, the buildings are shadowy and their reflections in the water are set within a gathering darkness.
The picture below was taken at 9 pm on the following day. The grey in the sky owes everything to clouds, whereas the orange and yellow are connected to sunset. The latter is reflected in the water, and electric lighting is now also present. The day is changing, but not yet into night. This is an in-between time, twilight. It is its own, extended moment, quietly shifting in the physical world, profoundly influential in my psychic world.
I feel joy with an edge of melancholy. It is a familiar feeling that stretches deeply into my early life, prior to language, older than memory itself. It seems to come from deep time, and to be pre-personal, not just about ‘me’. I am any finite being, moving from day towards night, from summer towards winter, from life towards death. Having shifted decisively away from the zenith, I find myself, for now, in a beautiful moment. The Gloucester docks provide me with a magical space for walking, standing still, experiencing and recording this time.
In my formative years, high summer presented me with a world of manicured green. Mown grass dominated both private and public spaces. Garden lawns, parks, tennis courts, cricket grounds, golf courses, bowling greens: all highly managed. Much water was lavished on their severely cropped verdure, given its enhanced tendency to dry up in hot weather.
This is still happening, but fashions have changed to a degree. The photos above and below show the grounds of the Llanthony Secunda priory in Gloucester. In line with new custom, space is now given to a limited urban rewilding. I am inspired by this small miracle of growth and abundance.
This is an odd summer for me. I am at ease in a congenial place. My wife Elaine and I have moved house successfully. I have stabilised after a period of illness. But this is a transitional period. We are not at our destination, and anticipate more upheaval in the second half of the year. I am divided between here-and-now enjoyment of my surroundings, and concern over possible futures, strategising next steps and feeling the tensions of uncertainty.
In the ABOUT section of this blog, I write of “an underlying peace and at-homeness in the present moment, which, when experienced clearly and spaciously, nourishes and illuminates my life”. That statement is a fruit of my inquiry – it wasn’t there at the beginning. That is the nature of contemplative inquiry: my understanding changes over time, in line with deepening experience.
I am finding that my peace and at-homeness have room for both my day-to-day contentment and my anxiety about possible futures, personal and collective. I don’t strip out my ‘future’-based concerns (themselves part of my present time experience) to tidy up my mental and emotional states. That seems like a superficial understanding of here-and-now acceptance. I find, rather, an invitation to embrace the turbulence too, as part of what is given. The peace arising from innermost being makes room for turbulence, for such peace is not just another passing state. In some hard-to-understand way, it has the capacity to be infinitely spacious, and present in the flux of time and events. All I have to do is trust this peace and let it in.
I do not think of myself as a person of faith. I am more of a ‘philosophical’ Druid rather than a religious one, though I don’t believe that we have to choose between the two. But trusting the peace of innermost being is certainly, in part, a matter of faith, where ‘faith’ involves harmonising with my deepest intuition rather than signing up to statements of belief.
OBOD liturgy includes the words: “deep within my innermost being may I find peace”. This resonates powerfully with me, but I have recently let go of the word ‘my’, because ‘innermost being’ no longer feels exactly personal – it seems, experientially, to be more like being resourced from a timeless, unboundaried dimension from which I am not separate. This realisation, if it is a realisation, is now at the core of my spirituality. I am reluctant to make metaphysical truth claims about it, but it is firmly implanted in my experience. The opportunity, now, is to give it the freedom to grow, within my inquiry and my life.
In recent days, living a pared down life, I have seen the strength in simplicity. Both my contemplation and my inquiry are reflecting this. I have a few simple practices adapted from a variety of sources. At first under the pressure of illness, I have moved away from the kind of system building that was drawing my attention a month ago (1). Now I have reminded myself that customising, using a light touch, and keeping practice relatively simple has been my generally preferred way of responding to influences. It helps me to avoid half-awarely ventriloquising teachers and to maintain my own discernment.
As an example (2), I describe a simple meditation. It focuses on the breath because that is something I am busy with – and ambivalent about thanks to my COPD. In it I draw on the understanding that breath and spirit share the same word in some languages (e.g pneuma in Greek). No more than ten minutes is needed for a session.
Although simple, the practice does have a liturgical framing – for instance adapting one of Stewart’s Qabalistic crossing forms from The Miracle Tree. I also draw on my OBOD background, especially the commitment to finding peace. This kind of framing helps. In formal practices like this, I am not just plunging into raw experience. I have other opportunities for that. Rather, the practice affirms an already existing perspective, developed over time, and this is what the words proclaim.
Crossing, using my right hand, I say: In the name of Wisdom (forehead), Love (pubic bone), Justice (right shoulder), Mercy (left shoulder), and the Living Breath (both hands over upper chest). I enter stillness. Then I say: Deep within my innermost being, I find peace. Silently, within the stillness of this space, I cultivate peace. Heartfully, within the wider web of life, may I radiate peace.
I do a breath exercise*, and then say: I am a movement of the breath and stillness in the breath; living presence in a field of living presence: here, now, and home.
Then, I begin slow, deep breathing, as if inviting the Cosmos to breathe through me. I may use the I AM mantra. For me it affirms the non-separation of the finite life and the Source, and the gift of a place within the ecology of being.
On completion I repeat the Crossing and say: I give thanks for this meditation. May it nourish and illuminate my life. May there be peace throughout the world.
*11x breathe in through nose, counting to 8; hold, counting to 8; out through mouth, counting to 8, hold, counting to 8.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the much loved Buddhist teacher from Vietnam, died on 22 January at the age of 95. He had been unwell for some time. He is remembered as peace activist, inventor of the term ‘interbeing’ and teacher of mindfulness practice. For him, this is the practice of being aware of what is going on in the present moment. We can be mindful at any moment, whether we are sad, joyful, angry, and whilst cooking, driving or about to send an email.
I am not a Buddhist. Instead, I feel and recognise Thich Nhat Hanh’s influence on my practice of Druidry – especially my sense of at-homeness, or presence, in the living moment. In memory and appreciation of him, I want to share a piece he wrote about aimlessness as as a ‘door of liberation’ (1).
“The concentration on aimlessness means arriving in the present moment to discover that the present moment is the only moment in which you can find everything you’ve been looking for and that you already are everything you want to become.
“Aimlessness does not mean doing nothing. It means not putting something in front of you to chase after. When we remove the objects of our craving and desires, we discover that happiness and freedom are available right here in the present moment.
“We have a habit of running after things, and this habit has been transmitted to us by our parents and ancestors. We don’t feel fulfilled in the here and now, and so we run after all kinds of things we think will make us happier. We sacrifice our life chasing after objects of craving or striving for success in our work or studies. We chase after our life’s dream and lose ourselves along the way. We even lose our freedom and happiness in our efforts to be mindful, to be healthy, to relieve suffering in the world, or to get enlightened. We disregard the wonders of the present moment, thinking that heaven and the ultimate are for later, not for now.
“To practice meditation means to have the time to look deeply and see these things. If you feel restless in the here and now, or you feel ill at ease, you need to ask yourself: ‘what am I longing for? what am I waiting for? what am I searching for?'”
(1) Thich Nhat Hanh The Art of Living London: Rider, 2017