contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Peace

ALBAN ELFED: A TIME FOR RECEPTIVITY?

Blessings of the season! Where I live, the sun is descending but still has a certain power. We have entered the period of the Autumn Equinox, honoured by modern Druids in the festival of Alban Elfed. Traditionally, the emphasis has been on harvest, but Dana O’Driscoll (1) suggests ‘receptivity’ as a resonant theme, “because with receptivity, rather than cultivating an expectation of what we want and expect to come, we are open to what is and what comes our way”.

She relates her approach to the changes that the world is experiencing now. “It is a counter balance to the effort-reward cultural narrative that is tied to the Fall Equinox and themes of harvest. There is one enormous problem with the effort/reward theme on a larger cultural level. It belongs to a different age. It belongs to the Holocene, an 8,000-11,000 year period of stable climate that allowed humans to develop agriculture, allowed humans to have some predictability about their surroundings, and allowed us to develop symbolic understandings like those drawn upon for the modern wheel of the year. … But we are not in the Holocene any longer, both climate-wise and culturally; we’ve moved on to the Anthropocene … characterized by human-driven planetary changes which destabilize every aspect of our lives.”

I find the call to receptivity challenging. Part of me wants the late Holocene back, in a reformed version – socioeconomically, culturally, technologically. Part of me accepts that it has gone for good but doesn’t want to acknowledge the speed and severity of the transition. Currents of anger, fear and grief cry out for recognition. These are as much part of my life-world as are the climate crisis itself, initiatives for adaptation, and the forces undermining those initiatives. I somehow have to find a receptive space for all of the above, without being overwhelmed.

The good news is that my ‘receptivity’ seems to be sourced by a deep peace at the heart of experience, a peace that grows rather than diminishes with time. In my daily practice as a modern Druid I call for peace in the east, south, west, north, deep earth & underworld [below], and starry heavens [above]. Then I say: “I stand in the peace of the centre, the bubbling source from which I spring, and heart of living presence”. These words are vibrant with life for me however often I declaim them. I experience this deep peace as a fruit of my contemplative inquiry. Perhaps there is a harvest aspect here after all.

Certainly, to stand in such peace empowers my receptivity, linking it to other qualities like reverence, delight and awe. None of this changes the world. But it allows me to contemplate it with an underlying confidence, and to face its challenges in a more resourceful way. I am very happy to mark Alban Elfed as a feast of receptivity.

(1) https://thedruidsgarden.com/ – see Fall Equinox: a Spirit Walk and its internal reference to Equinox on Receptivity

NOTE: Pennsylvania-based Dana O’Driscoll is steeped in Druidry and the US homesteading movement. She is Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) and an OBOD Druid. She is a Mount Haemus scholar, lecturing on Channeling the Awen in 1912.

See also: https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2021/06/09/book-review-sacred-actions/ )

For AODA, see: https://aoda.org/

STOPPING FOR THE ANCESTORS

“I remember one morning contemplating a mountain in the early light of dawn. I saw very clearly that not only was I looking at the mountain, but all my ancestors in me were looking at the mountain as well.

“As dawn broke over the mountain peak we admired its beauty together. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do. We were free. We needed only to sit there and enjoy the sunrise. Or ancestors may never have had the chance to sit quietly, peacefully, and enjoy the sunrise like that.

“When we can stop the running, all our ancestors can stop at the same time. With the energy of mindfulness and awakening, we can stop on behalf of all our ancestors. It is not the stopping of a separate self alone, but of a whole lineage. As soon as there is stopping, there is happiness. There is peace.” (1)

When Thich Nhat Hanh tells this story, he shows us ‘mindfulness’ as an art of living. He stops, looks at a mountain at dawn. His contemplation becomes a relationship, and the relationship is extended to the ancestors. For him, mindfulness sits together with interbeing, his word for interconnectedness. It is not a personal accomplishment, but the portal to an expanded, more inclusive, experience of life.

Thich Nhat Hanh was a great advocate and teacher of formal sitting meditation. But he didn’t fetishise it. The Mahayana Buddhist world view, and particularly its ethics, mattered more. I once heard a senior Vietnamese follower (also a psychiatrist) say that she was cautious about teaching meditation in Vietnam. She said that even in the 21st century, decades after the Japanese, French, American and Chinese wars, with elements of civil war thrown in, many people in Vietnam are too traumatised to benefit from meditation. What works best is participation in the Buddhist community and its ceremonial life, in a spirit of generosity and compassion. Mindfulness is essentially a value, not a contemplative technique.

I stop for my own ancestors, of both blood and other inheritances. I become aware of holding them in my heart. I let them in as I let in the world around me, and I experience that world with them and for them. We share a brief period of deep peace, and then let it go. For me, it feels mindful, Druidic, and very natural. Something to return to, whenever the moment feels right.

(1) Thich Nhat Hanh The Art of Living London: Rider, 2017 (Rider is an imprint of Penguin Random House UK)

REFLECTIONS IN A PRIORY GARDEN

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.

MIDSUMMER CELEBRATION 2022

The place is called Lower Parting, though it is actually a joining. The parting is 3km (just under two miles) up river. There, the River Severn divides into two channels, east and west, to flow around Alney Island. When taking the picture above, I was standing near the point where the channels meet again. It was around 9 a.m. on 22 June. I had not been there before.

Although every time and place is ultimately sacred, some times and places are easier for me to honour. In my experience this is partly a property of the times and places, partly down to culture and tradition, and partly to do with my own inner and outer availability.

On this occasion, I was within a midsummer period which for me lasts from a day or so before the solstice until around 25 June. I like to acknowledge the stasis (standstill) element within the solstice experience. It is not just about a point of time. Like its midwinter opposite and twin, my midsummer allows an extended pause before the wheel of the year turns. My walk on 22 June was an intentional celebration of the midsummer stasis, something between an outdoor walking meditation and a miniature festival pilgrimage. It was built around my first encounter with an intuited special place, now that I am fit enough once more to walk the required distance.

I can easily understand why people in many parts of the world have seen water, especially flowing water, as sacred. I am on a quiet part of a quiet island in the middle of Gloucester city. The wetland here is blissfully unfit for development, and now a nature reserve. I was able to stand here and look out at the joining of the waters, under a blue sky, and surrender to a benign spirit of place. I didn’t have to attend to my attention. In this extended, flowing, moment, nature was doing that for me. I found, here, a generous horizon, and a living peace that invites participation. I am glad and grateful to have discovered this place on this day.

In my tradition, at every seasonal festival, we are asked to think not only of the time we are celebrating, but also of its opposite. Walking back from Lower Parting, I see features in the landscape that help me. My pictures below do not evoke winter, but they do show light and shade within a single image. On planet Earth, the time of my summer is the time of someone else’s winter. These are both ways in which opposites complement each other in an interconnected world.

STRENGTH IN SIMPLICITY

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.

(1) https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2022/04/05/towards-an-integration/

(2) See text below:

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.

WISDOM AND NON-VIOLENCE

“The nature of reality is multidimensional and creative. … Our spontaneous experience is so rich and deep that we can never give a complete account of it in any language, be it mathematics, science, music or art” – Alan Drengson’s introduction to Arne Naess’ Ecology of Wisdom (1).

Arne Naess (1912-2009) was chair of philosophy at the University of Oslo, Norway, before resigning to devote himself to environmental problems and pioneer the field of deep ecology. For him, philosophy is deep exploration of our whole lives and context, “in a loving pursuit of living wisely” (1). His book Scepticism (2), is focused on Sextus Empiricus (150-225 CE), the last known known representative of a philosophy school founded by Pyrrho of Elis (c360-c272 BCE). Pyrrho himself spent time with Jains (gymnosophists = naked philosophers) and, probably, Buddhists, on an extended visit to India, and was influenced by them.

Pyrrhonists neither made truth claims nor denied the possibility of making them. Instead, they cultivated an attitude of suspension of judgement (epoche), allowing possibilities to stand open within the process of continuing inquiry. This turning away from the drive for intellectual closure enables peace of mind (ataraxia) in our engagement with the richness and diversity of experience. Pyrrhonists left questions open, without leaving the question. Naess says of Sextus: “he has given up his original, ultimate aim of gaining peace of mind by finding truth because it so happened that he came to peace of mind in another way”.

In his account of the Jains, Philip Carr-Gomm (3), shows how they might have influenced Pyrrho. Jain ethics is grounded in three principles: ahimsa, aparigraha, and anekant. Ahimsa is the doctrine of harmlessness or non-violence. Aparigraha is the doctrine of non-attachment, non-possessiveness or non-acquisition. Anekant is the doctrine of many-sidedness, multiple viewpoints, non-absolutism, or non-one-sidedness. The three principles can be seen as complementing and completing each other, with non-absolutism as the intellectual aspect of non-violence and non-attachment. The Pyrrhonist tradition, and its influence on Naess, seems to combine the Jain view of non-absolutism with the Buddhist view of equanimity and freedom from dukkha (suffering or dis-ease).

The approach – which I sometimes lose sight of myself – allows me to avoid what the Buddhist scholar Stephen Batchelor (4) calls “the language game ‘In Search of Truth'”, where “one is … tacitly encouraged to take a further step of affirming a division between ‘believers’ and ‘nonbelievers’, between those who have gained access to the truth and those who have not. This establishes the kind of cultish solidarity as well as hatred for others who fail to share one’s views. ‘When the word truth is uttered’ remarked the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo, ‘a shadow of violence is cast’. (4)

I have written on this topic at earlier points in my inquiry*. I have come back to it now, because I want to refine my understanding of ‘peace’ as a quality of inquiry. The liturgy of my daily Druid practice asks for ‘peace throughout the world’. How might I better demonstrate peace in the inquiry process itself? Inquiry processes, and even contemplative spiritualities, can include their own kinds of dogmatism and aggression. I have work to do, wisdom work, hopefully gentle to self and others, in this domain.

(1) Arne Naess Ecology of Wisdom UK: Penguin Books, 2016 (Penguin Modern Classic. First published 2008)

(2) Arne Naess Scepticism Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 1968

(3) Philip Carr-Gomm Seek Teachings Everywhere: Combining Druid Spirituality with Other Traditions Lewes, UK: Oak Tree Press, 2019 (Foreword by Peter Owen Jones)

(4) Stephen Batchelor Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2017

*See also:

https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/25/04/19/spiritual-truth-claims/

https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/03/05/19/arne-naess-as-philosophical-vagabond/

https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/11/06/19/greg-goode-and-joyful-irony/

https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/19/01/20/scepticism-openness-and-flow/

LUNAR LIGHT

Today I felt settled enough in my new sacred space to consult the DruidCraft Tarot (1). It goes with a sense of full arrival in a new home and of readiness for a psychic check-in: what possibilities are latent or emerging in my journey through life?

I was presented with a three card narrative that I found encouraging. The first, the context that I am coming from, was the seven of wands with its sense of challenges successfully faced. The third, the Lady (DruidCraft’s Empress), heavily pregnant, points to abundance and fruition. But it was the middle card, the where-I-am-now card, that got my attention most. The Moon.

For me, the Moon points in particular to the deeper rhythms and tides of the unconscious, aspects of life that have their being outside the bright light of solar awareness, too easily edited out of my narrative identity. This is a world of powerful, yet dimly remembered dreams, unquiet moods and sensations, and half-articulate intuitions. There are qualities here, in this shadowy, softly lit world, to welcome and companion. They hide a distinctive wisdom of their own, unlike that of the image-conscious, yarn-spinning ego.

Much of my focus in recent years has been on the state I call, in ritual space, ‘the peace of the centre’ – sometimes the peace of the Goddess. This is well-anchored now and allows a more panoramic view. Under lunar influence, the peace of the centre is complemented by a perturbation of the margins, also part of the ecology of being human. The process of moving house has reminded me of my talents for anxiety and catastrophising ideation: limitations, perhaps, at times disabling. But they protect me from a blind trust in the world. They generate a wary alertness, and balance my deep sense of peace.

(1) Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm The DruidCraft Tarot: Use the Magic of Wicca and Druidry to Guide Your Life London: Connections, 2004 (Illustrated by Will Worthington)

WHAT IS GIVEN

It is colder now, and gloomier indoors for much of the day. But outside, this November keeps on giving. My walking range has increased again with a walk to nearby Nailsworth, a leisurely lunch in this little town, and a walk back again: ten miles. The picture above includes both a stream beside my path and a small lake nearby.

But my attention hasn’t been all on the world around me. I have been reflecting on an old statement about my practice, currently included in my About section, and finding that it still holds. “My inquiry process overall has helped me to discover an underlying peace and at-homeness in the present moment, which, when experienced clearly and spaciously, nourishes and illuminates my life. It is not dependent on belief or circumstance, but on the ultimate acceptance that this is what is given. I find that this perspective supports a spirit of openness, an ethic of interdependence and a life of abundant simplicity.”

There is no reliance on metaphysics here. This allows me a pared down focus on experience and values. My practice has been relatively stable over a long period, whereas my thoughts about metaphysical questions are more volatile. I experience thinking as volatile by nature, and fine within its limits. Over the years this blog has found room for diverse approaches to the meaning, if any, of terms like divinity and consciousness. I have wondered about the possibility (or desirability) of establishing any foundational truth about absolute or indeed conventional ‘reality’. I notice now that when I explore these questions – especially when reading – I am more interested in seeing how people put their worlds together than I am in identifying insights or finding answers to the questions themselves. It has become a human interest rather than a philosophical quest.

I have noticed this especially over recent days when engaging with Carlo Rovelli’s discussion of the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna (1,2). My interest was in seeing how a distinguished physicist makes use of Nagarjuna’s emptiness doctrine. I have less stake in assessing the view itself, because my peace and at-homeness are the result of an experiential inquiry, and not of speculative thinking. I continue to find that this perspective supports “a spirit of openness, an ethic of interdependence, and a life of abundant simplicity”, My inquiry focus, if ‘inquiry; is even the right word, is about how best to walk the talk.

(1) Carlo Rovelli Helgoland global.penguinrandomhouse.com 2020 (Translated by Erica Segre & Simon Carnell, 2021). Carlo Rovelli is a theoretical physicist who has made significant contributions to the physics of space and time.

(2) https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2021/11/08/exploring-emptiness-carlo-rovelli-and-nagarjuna

THE COMING OF AUTUMN

Walking in the woods yesterday I saw the coming of autumn, in the sky and in the trees. I felt it too, and not just in my physical sensation of coolness. I experienced a mood of loss and ending, not limited to the summer of 2021.

The natural wheel of the year, where I live, has classically been one of soft transitions. Our seasons have merged gently into each other, with September as a modified extension of summer. Leaves gently turn, but there is not much of a fall. For much of my life I enjoyed the sense of a predictable pattern in the the turning of the wheel. That sense has eroded in recent years and has now reached vanishing point. Hence the feeling of loss.

Summer 2021 seemed to die in August, after a short and faltering life. It may be succeeded by a once unseasonable hot spell, or it may not. Considering the effects of the climate crisis in other parts of the world, this is hardly dramatic. But this weird summer season, including a background awareness of developments elsewhere, has ended my already weakened feeling of security. The phrase ‘winds of change’ comes to mind. I think, what next? And when?

I feel challenged to be open to whatever happens, without obsolete expectations to confuse me. In the state of openness, I find that an inner peace and clarity are present. They act as my guides through a shifting, changing, world.

BOOK REVIEW: LETTING GO OF NOTHING

A compassionate and discerning book, drawing on a wealth of experience and understanding. Highly recommended. Peter Russell sets the note of Letting Go of Nothing (1) with the sentence: “The call to let go lies at the heart of the world’s spiritual traditions”. He adds, “Not being attached to outcomes, surrendering desires, accepting the present, opening to a higher power, relinquishing the ego, practising forgiveness – all entail letting go”.

The book is arranged as a series of brief, accessible sections exploring different aspects of the theme. Letting go takes many forms, depending on context. Here, Russell is not primarily concerned with letting go of things, like books, houses, jobs or the grid. His focus is on letting go of fixed beliefs and being right; immutable perspectives on the past or inflexible expectations of the future; the mental/emotional weight of judgements and grievances; disabling attachment to toxic or lost relationships. “We are not letting go of things themselves as much as the way we see them. Hence the title of this book: Letting Go of Nothing. Or, as I sometimes like to put it, ‘Letting Go of No-Thing’.”

Some of the 41 sections that follow are autobiographical. A Change of Mind recalls how a change in perception made space for a change of heart in a close personal relationship. Some are more about method – Letting In and Letting Be deconstruct the widespread notion that letting go of something necessarily means getting rid of it. If we are holding on to a grievance, for example, we are advised to let the experience in and become more aware of its discomforts. Pain, including emotional pain, evolved to let us know that something is wrong. It needs our attention. There are times for ignoring it, but this is not sustainable as our only response.

What we can do is learn to distinguish pain from suffering. Much suffering stems from aversion to pain (physical, mental, emotional), creating a surplus layer of discomfort. To a greater or lesser extent, we can disperse this added level of stress and tension. The work is subtle. It includes a level of not resisting resistance itself, and always finding spaces and possibilities for a degree of inner peace and freedom. Peter Russell is not in the business of sudden transformational release, although this too is possible. His way has more to do with skilful, compassionate engagement with the stream of experience as it happens. It is the work of a lifetime. Sections on Letting Go of Feelings, Letting Go of Story, The Root of Suffering and Fall from Grace explore his core philosophy in more depth.

Some of the sections set out liberating values – Forgiveness, Kindness, Wisdom. Others describe spiritual principles and practices – Sat-Chit-Ananda, Reframing Enlightenment, The Path of No Path. Russell is committed to an understanding of the world that summons us to ‘the deep peace of our true nature’. Matthew Fox (2), in a review, sees a social-ecological dimension in this work. For him, Letting Go of Nothing is an affirmation that our species can “wake up to down-to-earth spiritual wisdom that all our religions, when healthy, call us to – keeping it simple, understandable, and effective so that we and the sacred planet we share might become sustainable once more”. This simple book offers guidance at many levels.

(1) Peter Russell Letting Go of Nothing: Relax and Discover the Wonder of Your True Nature Novato, CA: New World Library, 2021 (Foreword by Eckhart Tolle)

(2) Matthew Fox is the author of Creation Spirituality and Original Blessing. His championship of an earth inclusive spirituality and his denial of original sin led to his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church and move into the Episcopalian communion. His most recent book is Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic – and Beyond.

See also: https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2021/08/19/the-support-of-nature/

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