I love the sky in most weathers. I especially love it when it is azure blue and feels like a high domed roof, well able to contain the movement of wispy, shapeshifting clouds. The sky is part of nature, just like the earth. It is not a detached, alienated realm, beyond the influence of what some traditions might call our little life.
Sometimes I wish it was beyond our influence, as the news about the climate crisis goes on getting worse. The moment of joy is infused with a heartache that has every right to be there. It reminds me of our interconnectedness, and the Druid prayer for knowledge and love of justice, and, through that, the love of all existences (1).
I will stay open to my simple joy at inhabiting a living world of beauty and abundance, even if sadness keeps it company. The healing pleasure of sky-gazing is a part a long, common inheritance, not to be repressed, numbed or lost. I will continue to invite it in and let it nourish me.
(1) One modest practical way to enact the love of justice and of all existences, beyond lifestyle adjustments, is to support https://www.stopecocide.earth/ – now gaining momentum.
This post follows on from my recent post on Patterns and Peace (1). There, I discussed the role of ritual patterning in a sunrise practice. Here, I discuss the role of meditation in a sunset one. In both cases I experience peace as an active energy – empowering, nourishing, and close to the Source.
In the evening I do not cast a circle. I simply sit down facing my altar and say: May there be peace in the seven directions. May I be present in this space. I say the Druids’ prayer, affirming the commitments to a love of justice and the love of all existences. I see them as the necessary context for the manifestation of true peace in the world.
I talk myself in to the meditation itself with other words customised from Druid tradition: Deep in my innermost Being, I find peace. Silently, in the stillness of this space, I cultivate peace. Abundantly, within the wider web of Being, may I radiate peace.
Starting with a focus on my heels, extended to include my feet as a whole, I tune in to my felt sense of body and life energy. Moving gradually up my body, I pay close attention to my emerging experience of a physical and energetic field, which I find to be light and spacious. I also notice the breath. Surrendering to this universe of internal experience, I can enter an awareness of deep peace, joy, and wonder at the miracle of experiencing. This is beyond ‘At-Homeness in the flowing moment’. I call it the Peace of the Goddess.
Coming out of meditation, I say I give thanks for this meditation. May it nourish and illuminate my life. May there be peace in the seven directions. May I be capacity for the world.
I do not meditate for long periods. This whole practice, including liturgy and meditation, takes about half an hour. The phrase ‘capacity for the world’ uses the language of the Headless Way (2) and indicates that if we enter into our true nature as clear awake space, we become, in our everyday lives, ‘capacity for the world’. The meditation is both the experience that it is, and a resource for life and contribution to the world.
I have done meditations of this kind for many years. Recently, this meditation has become richer and more focused. I believe this to be partly due to practice and partly to the season – I find both equinoxes enabling for meditation. But there is also the benefit of increased understanding. I am grateful to Eckhart Tolle, whose work I have begun to engage with, when he says: “What I call the ‘inner body’ isn’t really the body any more but life energy, the bridge between form and formlessness … When you are in touch with the inner body, you are not identified with your body any more, nor are you identified with your mind. … You are moving away from identification to formlessness, which we may also call Being. It is your essence identity”.
For me, the skilful patterning of experience provides a gateway to re-enchantment. It reminds me that there are multiple ways of seeing the world, some obvious and others more occluded. The early morning can be a time of affirmation through ritual patterning that makes a mark on the day.
Mine begins with a morning circle which emphasises peace. Peace, here, is an active energy, not a passive absence of overt conflict, or a blind eye to dysfunction and injustice. Peace has to struggle, in this world, through skilful means that do not compromise its essence. Ritual can be one. I describe my morning circle below.
I go into my practice space, stand in the east facing west, ring my Tibetan hand bells and say the St. Patrick’s prayer (aka 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.
Then I cast a Druid circle, calling on the four directions, each associated with a cosmic power, an element, a power animal, a quality, a time and a season.
East: May there be peace in the east, power of life, element of air, domain of the hawk, quality of vision, time of sunrise, season of spring and early growth.
South: May there be peace in the south, power of light, element of fire, domain of the dragon, quality of purpose, time of midday, season of summer and of ripening.
West:, May there be peace in the west, power of love, element of water, domain of the salmon, quality of wisdom, time of sunset, season of autumn and bearing fruit.
North: May there be peace in the north, power of liberation, element of earth, domain of the bear, quality of faith, time of midnight, season of winter, of dying and regeneration.
I also call the Below, the Above and the Centre, to make seven directions in all. Moving to the vertical dimension indicates a deepening, enacted by my spinning in place before bringing it in, and by the use of mythic names for the Below and Above.
Below: May there be peace below, in Annwn , realm of the the deep earth and underworld.
Above: May there be peace above, in Gwynvid, realm of the starry heavens.
This is followed by a further deepening into the centre, enacted through another spinning in place. Here, I am no longer calling for peace, but standing in its source.
I stand in the peace of the centre, the bubbling source from which I spring, and heart of living presence. Awen (chanted as aah-ooo-wen)
After a pause, I walk the circle, sunwise, east to east, and say I cast this circle in the sacred grove of Druids. May there be peace throughout the world. At this point I have established my sacred grove, my nemeton. All that follows is within this dedicated space until I uncast the circle on completion of my practice.
This ritual patterning, made substantial both physically and verbally, includes a celebration of sacred nature, provides a structure and a set of meanings to hold and guide me, and emphasises the commitment to peace.. Although I have personally customised this framework, most of it – anything to do with personality and external world – anchors me in modern Druid culture.
The centre is different. The centre is universal. It is the point where Oneness is recognised. “The bubbling source from which I spring” has a naturalistic feel whilst also referencing Jean-Yves Leloup’s translation of the Thomas Gospel, logion 13, where Yeshua says to Thomas: “I am no longer your master, because you have drunk , and become drunken, from the same bubbling source from which I spring” (1). ‘Heart’, as used here, is neither the physical heart nor the heart chakra, but “the Great Heart that contains All-that-is … the consciousness that underlies all forms” (2). ‘Living presence’ too points to the state of underlying conscious awareness that is here being recognised (3,4). For ritual language that honours that recognition, I draw on the mystical inheritance of the world and place myself in a wider circle of care.
At one time I tended to experience casting circles as a preliminary to practice, whilst also ‘knowing’ in a roof-brain kind of way that this was a mistake. Now I find it a powerful means of bringing me into the new day. Above all, it affirms my core understanding of world and life with every sunrise.
(1) The Gospel of Thomas: the Gnostic Wisdom of Jesus (Translation from the Coptic, introduction and commentary by Jean-Yves LeLoup. English translation by Joseph Rowe. Foreword by Jacob Needleman) Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2005
(2) Sally Kempton Meditation for the Love of It: Enjoying Your Own Deepest Experience Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2011
(3) Kabir Edmund Kabinski Living Presence: A Sufi Way to Mindfulness & the Essential Self New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, 1992
(4) Eckhart Tolle Oneness with All Life: Awaken to a Life of Purpose and Presence Penguin Random House UK, 2018 (First ed. published 2008)
Within my mandala of the year (1) Alder (2) is the fourth and final tree for the winter quarter that begins at Samhain. The overall movement of this quarter, in my world, is through death to regeneration. Alder presides from 8-31 January and links the regenerative aspect to a continuing need for protection already signalled by Holly (3). There is something foundational about protection. The late eighteenth century Druid prayer (4), which set the note for modern Druidry, begins by asking for protection, as the beginning of a journey that leads through the quest for justice to a place of universal love.
I live in a watery place and there are alders around, though – in contrast to willow – I have never been on hugging terms with this tree. But the oily and water resistant timber is well-adapted to its surroundings, and for humans has provided good timber for boats, bridges, and underwater foundations. Many medieval cathedrals were built on alder piling. Although the wood makes poor fuel, it is good for charcoal.
Round alder shields were once used as protection for warriors in Ireland, and “in Celtic myth, we read of palisades of alders that deter invasion of keep prisoners confined, and these fences are sometimes described as being decorated by a row of severed human heads” (2) . The Welsh hero Benedegeit Bran (Bran the Blessed) is reputed to have used his body to span the River Linon, forming a bridge to raise his followers above the dangerous waters, as the wood does when used as a building material. Later, when mortally wounded in a battle against the Irish, he gave them instructions to cut off his head and carry it with them. They were rewarded with song and prophecy from the head over many years.
Much more can be said about Bran (whose name means raven). My overall learning from alder is about a willingness and capacity to hold boundaries Bran adds sensitivity and openness to the larger context in which events are playing out. Placed at the end of the winter quarter, I see alder as guarding the tentative return of spring, as the light slowly returns and we find increasing signs of growth in the natural world. The weeks before Imbolc can be cold and dreary, but life is stirring both outwardly and inwardly. Alder reminds me of the need for protected spaces to nurture a latent abundance.
(1) The image is from: John Matthews & Will Worthington The Green Man Oracle London: Connections, 2003.
(2) This mandala is based on my personal experience of trees in the neighbourhood as well as traditional lore. Moving around the winter quarter from 1 November, the positions and dates of the four trees are: Yew, north-west, 1-23 November; Elder, north-north-west, 24 November – 16 December; Holly, north, 17 December – 7 January; Alder, north-north-east, 8 – 31 January. The spring quarter then starts with birch at Imbolc. For a complete list of the sixteen trees, see https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2020/autumn-equinox-2020-hazel-salmon-awen/