contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Nimue Brown

EMBRACING INTERBEING

“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the trees to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can see that the cloud and the paper inter-are. ‘Interbeing’ is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix ‘inter‘ with the verb ‘to be’, we have a new verb ‘inter-be’” (1).

Thich Nath Hanh extends his proposition to include sunshine, the logger, the saw mill, the bread sustaining the logger (thus also wheat) and the logger’s parents. We are there too, because the paper is part of our perception. In fact, “you cannot point out one thing that is not here – time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. … You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is. … As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.”

I have embraced ‘interbeing’. It is the most accessible and elegant way I know of talking about non-duality: clear, workable and sensitized to an ethics of empathy. It leans into the affirmation of embodiment, of loving relationship with the Earth, and a willingness to be socially engaged. I prefer this account to ones that tend in the direction of ‘I am the One’ or union with the Divine. We each seek the language with the most resonance and integrity for ourselves, whilst also knowing that any language is a finger pointing at the moon and not the moon itself.

For some time, I have been working towards a view like interbeing through my personal contemplative inquiry. My chapter in the compilation Pagan Planet is called Living presence in a field of living presence: practising contemplative Druidry (2). There I raise questions about paths that lack a felt sense of embodiment, inter-connectedness and inter-dependence even when they do valuably encourage agency, personal responsibility, self-cultivation and independence of mind.  I specifically note two apparently contrasting effects of meditation, beyond its being a “green anti-depressant”. The first is that it “makes me very aware of my fragility … and complete embeddedness in a web of interdependence, and the narrow limits of my usual consciousness and perception”. The second is to find myself almost melting “with love and gratitude for the miracle of being alive at all”, moved too “by the world’s seeming ability to be irrationally generous as well as unfairly hurtful (3)”.

I now have an outer court membership of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Community of Interbeing and have recently begun attending a weekly meditation session with the local sangha. It seems like a good place to be. It continues, in a new setting, an aspect of what I have already been doing in my contemplative inquiry.

(1) Thich Nhat Hanh The heart of understanding: commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2009 (20th anniversary ed. Editor Peter Levitt)

(2) James Nichol Living presence in a field of living presence: practicing contemplative Druidry in Nimue Brown (ed.) Pagan Planet: Being, believing and belonging in the 21st century Winchester, UK & Washington. USA: Moon Books, 2016

(3) http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/12/rowan-williams-why-we-need-fairy-tales-now-more-ever

CONTEMPLATIVE DRUID PRACTICE: SIMPLE AND PROFOUND?

People of like intent working together. That was an early principle of our Druid contemplative retreat days, when we started in July 2012. We didn’t have to be like-minded, in the sense of having a common doctrine, or even of entering a common spiritual trance. That’s one reason for choosing plain, open and simple practices.

We have carried on in that spirit ever since, and it means that people who have otherwise diverse practices and views can comfortably share our contemplative space. My sense over the years has been that, essentially, this way of working has a restorative and regenerative role for people who live with the pressures of busy and/or challenging lives. That would include most of us, Druids or not.

Then there is the thought of being ‘simple and profound’. The ‘simple’ is easy to describe. We are very sparse in our use of ritual or mythic narrative. Rather, we enter into more conscious relationship with the space we are in and with each other. We are attentive to where we stand in the wheel of the year, what the actual conditions are like, what we notice around us and the effects on us. On retreat days we make sure of including time outdoors. We spend time side by side in solo meditative silence, turning within. We also spend time in a more outwardly attuned collective silence (Awen space), from within which we may speak or sing out. Sometimes we have specific activities like toning, chanting, meditative exercises, or contemplative drawing.

What about the ‘profound’? In Moon Book’s recently published Pagan Planet (1) I wrote a short piece called Living Presence in a Field of Living Presence: Practicing Contemplative Druidry.  For me, being ‘living presence within a field of living presence’, and living this presence more consciously, is the key to any deepening that we may find in our simplicity. It enables both the transformative potential of ‘knowing’ ourselves a little more, and does so within a context of interconnectedness.

I find that when I cut to the chase, and get to this experiential level, I need have no worries about working the Headless Way or how it fits with Druidry. My solo practices and meaning-making have indeed undergone a shift, yet Druid contemplative sessions and retreat days remain a highly appropriate and nourishing vehicle for practice and community.

(1) Nimue Brown (ed.) Pagan Planet: Being, Believing & Belonging in the 21st. Century Winchester, UK & Washington, USA: Moon Books, 2016

 

BOOK REVIEW: PAGAN PLANET

jhp55ddc04c930d1“For this reason I am doing what I do, working towards …. the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible”. Simon Wakefield is a biologist, Druid and contributor to Pagan Planet: Being, Believing and Belonging in the 21st Century. He talks about the “most profound experience of my life” when observing a nesting sea turtle on a starlit Greek beach. “Putting aside all the requirements to measure and monitor I decided just to be present, and I opened up to an experience of deep time and an ancient longing by another creature simply to be, to express its uniqueness, which has never left me”.

For me, Simon has expressed a point of unity in this diverse collection of essays edited by Nimue Brown and published by Moon Books. The authors come from a variety of Pagan traditions, though with a tilt towards Druidry. Many stand witness to a growing movement of Pagan activism, where people find themselves involved in the demanding, draining and potentially perilous work of resistance, protection and defence. The value of Simon’s words (which he attributes originally to Charles Eisenstein) is to keep an eye on the prize: “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible”. Beauty, of course, depends on our ability to perceive, name and cherish it. Reading the essays in Pagan Planet, I come away with a sense of this as a unifying Pagan commitment.

What moves me most, I think, is an overall sense of resilience and optimism – not so much an optimism of calculation as an optimism of the heart. In his piece about the foundation of PaganAid, Ian Chandler says: “I have heard people’s stories that make me cry, I have seen destruction that has brought me to my knees with despair. But I have also met people whose dedication against all odds fills me with awe. I have seen achievements that make me want to sing and dance in the street. Now is not the time for us to give up on the future – it is time for us to decide what we want and to make that future happen”. Edwina Hodkinson talks about the frontline herbalism of the Wild Sistas in anti-fracking protection camps. “We dispensed tinctures, teas, creams, cough syrups, health advice, general nurturing and lots of first aid. Protectors who had been injured from interaction with the police wanted treatment for badly bruised ribs and groins, sprained wrists, and grazes … people had great faith in what we did, compliance was good and the results of the herbs spectacular … I’ve come to believe that when we go out of our comfort zones and are prepared to make some kind of sacrifice for ourselves and the earth, the earth responds and works with us”. One of their successes was the ‘warrior drops’ created to deal with trauma, stress and anger on the front line. “Protectors said that these really made a difference in calming them down” and one said “it grounded him and reminded him why he was doing the protest”.

A number of the essays stand witness to the creative energy of Pagan vision and life practice at this moment in history. These include Lorna Smithers’ visionary evocation of Castle Hill, Penwortham, described as “a magical place, in spite of the damage”, whose “alternative story” has been passed on “by its spirits, by decree of the fay king”. Hearth Moon Rising says that “my vision for some time has been to ground modern witchcraft more completely and more concretely in the natural world, to create a deeper understanding of what it means to have an animistic practice”.  Other people are exploring roads less travelled, like Laura Perry in Walking the Modern Minoan Path or Calantirniel in Working with Tolkien, where part of the purpose is to integrate the “Christ energy” into a Pagan path. Irisanya from the Reclaiming tradition offers a piece on Lifestyle/Work/Relationships which is centred on overlapping considerations of gender and peer communication and the magic of knowing how to track the energy in a conversation, when to listen, when to speak up and how to be supportive of voices that are not being heard. There are a number of pieces about the family context, including supporting dependent elders and raising children. In The Teachings of Children, Romany Rivers reports that people ask her whether her spirituality affects her parenting; her view is that it’s the other way round – her parenting affects her spirituality. “I realised how one small person’s emotional state can impact an entire environment. I have learned more about Reiki from working with my children during times of pain and stress, peace and snuggles. I have discovered new reasons to meditate. I have reconnected with the power of imagination. I have found new creative expressions”. She concludes, “I believe that is my children who are Pagan, and it is they who raise me.”

There is much more. I’ve got a piece called Living Presence in a Field of Living Presence: Practicing Contemplative Druidry. I would certainly have thought of it as supporting “the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible” at the levels of perception, recognition and cherishing. But I didn’t think of it, and have only done so now as a result of reading the rest of this book: the value of community! Because of my involvement, I’m not going to review the book outside this blog or award points. I hope instead that I’ve been able to demonstrate something of its energy, diversity and commitment – and that the Modern Pagan movement from which it comes.

 

Nimue Brown (ed.) Pagan Planet: Being, Believing & Belonging in the 21st Century Moon Books, 2016

TOWARDS A CONTEMPLATIVE NOTE: REFLECTIONS ON 3 OCTOBER

I sense that we are finding a contemplative note in Druidry. To an extent we have had it for a while, but it’s becoming more assured. Last Saturday we had an open contemplative day in Stroud for Druids and fellow travellers willing to join us. I worked with Elaine Knight and Nimue Brown as co-facilitators. Some of the participants travelled a considerable distance for the event. Many of those present were new to each other. Some were new to this kind of event.

Yet the day felt very cohesive. For me, the group note resonated strongly though also softly. The vibration was a subtle one, interwoven with silence and stillness, whilst also clear and distinct. Building community together, and working together, we were more than the sum of our parts. We created a group identity, and sounded our note. I understand this as our small contribution and offering to the Oran Mor, the great song of what is.

I’ve been reflecting on how this happened, and on lessons to take forward. The main single factor has to be that everyone in the group understood the offer, was open to the experience, and wanted it to work. This is such an obvious aspect of a success that it can go unrecognised, like the so-called ‘placebo’ effect in healing: people engage their good will, almost unconsciously, and it has a strong positive effect.

On the facilitator side, there are several things we got right and that I want to remember. Having a record will help that.

We made a good choice of venue for the occasion, and this was supplemented by the blessing of a golden autumn day. The programme relied on activities, which someone at another of our events named as “simple but profound”. This choice is definitely part of our note. The building of our ritual container, whist still ‘lean’, was just a little bit more elaborate than in our local group. It clearly marked our sacred space and our expectations about how we would work in it.

I also found myself casting our circle in ‘the contemplative grove of druids’. This time I was careful to avoid the term ‘grove of contemplative druids’.  I have found naming ‘contemplative druidry’ to be a useful way of classifying a sub-set of interests within druidry. But I now believe that to think of people themselves as ‘contemplative druids’, a separate species within larger druid genus, is potentially divisive and doesn’t allow individuals to have inconveniently multiple interests. At the same time, when we join together in a contemplative event, we are indeed being intentional about contemplative practice. I have come to think of Contemplative Druid Events as a vehicle for a latent grove, a grove which constellates during our events and therefore deserves to be named. This grove provides space for our emerging note.

The note was considerably enriched when Nimue led a session that involved us in finding simple personal sounds and vocalising them over an extended period of time. After a while we could sense those diverse and discordant seeming sounds (our individual notes) come together as a collective sound where people spontaneously worked together. So the group note was worked for, discovered and explored in an absolutely literal way – and one which changed the atmosphere of the room. Later in the day, Elaine took the group through a version of an energy body exercise that went on to identify and reinforce the energetic connections between people, linking us as a group at subtle levels before moving into an animistic exercise. In my experience as a participant, these sections of the day were simple, profound and powerful too.

We made sure that we varied the pace of the day. Some of the work was relatively intense, but we had more leisurely and relaxed spaces as well, enjoyed time outside and made sure of an abundant supply of refreshments. For me, 3 October 2015 was a step forward in the evolution of our work. My heartfelt thanks to everyone involved.

DRUID CAMP, STROUD CONTEMPLATIVE DAY, SMALL GROUPS

I’ve just had a couple of lazy summer days and I feel all the better for them. They’ve been interwoven with a relaxed stocktaking about contemplative Druidry and my part in it. I notice that my main focus is on small groups.

As I write, I’m at peace with my personal life and practice. At the collective level, I’ve had recent good news. My friend and colleague JJ Howell has let me know the specific roles that my partner Elaine Knight and I will be playing at Druid Camp in four weeks’ time. Druid Camp – www.druidcamp.org.uk  – is a large group (200-300 people), but we’ll be working with small groups, offering contemplative sessions from the repertoire built up by our local group over the last year. Meanwhile I also know that an open contemplative day in Stroud, organised by our own outreach arm Contemplative Druid Events –   http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com  – is now viable and will go ahead on 3 October. We have seven people fully booked and three more with strong expressions of interest, with 15 being our max.

The overall position is that we have a flourishing local group, now three years old; a book largely though not exclusively based on the thoughts of its members; and an outreach arm able to offer an annual residential retreat (The Birchwood Retreat) every April and an open contemplative day in October 2015, which might become annual too. In all cases the events concerned will have no more than 15 participants. We could do a little bit more – providing small group sessions at other larger events, or offering more contemplative days either locally or elsewhere. But my sense is that we need to respect limitations in our capacity, stick to the small group approach, and make sure that all our work is experiential and not simply discursive. People need to taste it.

For me perhaps the greatest value of the small group is the opportunity for all participants to introduce ourselves and be heard. For that to work fully, we need a quality of listening which itself becomes a practice and part of our culture, and whose intention is to ensure that no one is either misrecognised or ignored. This in itself is counter to mainstream communication, including ours, and needs conscious practice. It will include mis-steps from time to time within our own groups. So it’s not about ‘getting it right’ all the time: the point is to be conscious. In a contemplative context, we can hope to go further: establishing a level of trust that opens the door to deeper I-Thou recognition and communion. It’s a different opportunity to those provided when large numbers of people become immersed together in prayer, song, ritual or formal meditation. It’s more personal, in the best sense of that term. I find it both more challenging and rewarding, whilst believing that all of these approaches have their honoured place.

Small groups have other advantages too. It is easier to be flexible on programming within the event. It is easier to offer activities which demand time for reflection and debriefing. It is easier to become aware of other people as spiritual companions, even if we have not met them before or do not know them well. I think, too, that it’s easier to learn, not least when in a facilitative role, because the style of the event can be person centred rather than goal centred. Activities are designed to support us in our human, and therefore spiritual, flourishing. They are not Everests to be climbed so we can say that we ‘knocked the bastard off’.

I think this is why we have not oriented our contemplative Druidry around long meditations or meditation training. It was one way to go, and in some ways the obvious one. It would certainly be the most traditional one and my solo practice is very much tilted that way. But the group context changes things. Pragmatically, our local group is about evenly divided between people who gain from long meditations and those who don’t. We would lose people by taking this approach. More importantly, the group is co-creating a culture in which the blessing of space and silence is received differently – through short meditations, attunement to the seasonal moment, silent walks, or activities like ‘Awen space’ in which we sit with each other, open to spirit, and can speak, chant or sing into the silence when so moved. We can also explore co-creation from silence into sound and story, or find different ways of awakening to the fields of energy and presence within us, between us, and around us. It’s a subtle and sensitive kind of work. It needs times of stillness and silence. It also needs times of movement, sound and speech. It needs times of reflection and relaxation.

In my view, we are still at an early stage of this exploration. We have a name – Contemplative Druidry – to hold us. We have literature – Contemplative Druidry and also Nimue Brown’s Druidry and Meditation – to support us. We have a dedicated group and an outreach arm. The small group approach has evolved quite naturally and I see it as a critically important aspect of how we work.

BOOK REVIEW: PAGAN DREAMING

jhp551bfc27c579fHighly recommended. Pagan Dreaming: The Magic of Altered Consciousness, to give it its full title, is an informed and thought provoking introduction to dreams and dream work. Although tailored specifically to a Pagan-oriented audience, it will be of interest to many other people as well.

Author Nimue Brown follows her familiar path of avoiding hackneyed or formulaic approaches to the subject. Instead, she draws on a rich variety of sources including her own experience of dreaming and working with dreams to ask fruitfully open questions and invite dreamers to explore this territory for themselves. She says of herself: “I am not a scientist or psychologist. I have not trained as a counsellor or psychoanalyst. … I am simply a Druid who has always worked with dreams, and I am sharing what I have. There is no dogma here, just ideas”. Whilst being clear that she is not writing as a therapist, she does indicate that dream work can have triggering (and therefore potentially therapeutic) effects, so that people doing it may want professional support in some circumstances.

The book discusses the physical, emotional and meaning-making aspects of dreams, emphasising how dreams work differently for different people – suggesting that standard schema for interpretation are of very limited use. Everyone has their own dream language and needs first to listen in to this. Only then are they in a position to interpret their own dream symbolism and develop their own dream work. The author includes a chapter on ‘Exploring a Dream Diary’ where she shares extensively from her own, and shows how to assess and draw conclusions from the material presented by the recorded dreams. She includes “daydreaming … along the edges of sleep” within the overall umbrella of dream work, and identifies this as a significant and creative state for her.

After a chapter on ‘Dreams and Magic’ (though “not the kind of magic that leads to definite outcomes”) the book concludes with ‘Into the Wilderness’, which explores the idea of “re-wilding your sleep” – physically, mentally, spiritually and socially. She moves on to speculation about where dreams come from – products of our own minds? The universe whispering to us as we sleep? The gods of dreaming as they carry us into other-worlds? Ancestral memories? She ends by saying: “none of these explanations is any less miraculous than any of the others”. That sense of an open and affirmatively questioning stance towards the ‘miraculous’ is for me the defining feature of this book: a refreshing treatment of a fascinating topic.

CALLING PAGAN BLOGGERS

Nimue Brown’s Pagan Bloggers – for those interested in book reviewing.

Druid Life

I know a lot of you who read and comment here have blogs – I see the links for the wordpress ones whenever you interact with my stuff. (WordPress would like me to stalk all of you.) Others of you are places wordpress prefers to pretend don’t exist, on tumblr and blogspot and the such. And if you aren’t a blogger, I’m prepared to bet you have friends who are, or blogs you like, so, no slinking off just yet, this could still be relevant!

As you may be aware, one of the things I do is write Pagan books for www.moon-books.net . Last year I started looking after the blog http://moon-books.net/blogs/moonbooks/ (and if you have community related content then talk to me, if I can use that space to support the Pagan community, I will). In the last couple of weeks, I also took on doing book promotion for…

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