contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: solo contemplative practice

LUGNASADH 2020

Lughnasadh (or Lammas) marks an important moment in my year. I move from a season of ripening to a season of bearing fruit. At the point of transition, both of these processes are happening. My distinction between ‘ripening’ and ‘bearing fruit’ is a soft one, allowing for continuities. But I know a harvest when I see one, and I celebrate it when it comes.

The Celtic fire festivals have a stronger hold on me than the solstices and equinoxes, with the exception of midwinter. I don’t know why this is. The quarter beginning in Samhain is one of dying and regeneration. I am happy to start and end my year in the middle of it: I have moved from the dying of the year to its point of regeneration. But it is the quarters that tell the most compelling story: from the time of dying and regeneration, to one of early growth – and then on to those of ripening and of bearing fruit.

August, though very much a summer month, comes with a withdrawal of light and intensity, very noticeable to me, where I live, in the last ten days of the month. September and October continue this whilst including fine and balmy days. Throughout much of my life, this is the quarter that has especially moved me. All periods have their magic. Compared to its predecessor, the quarter beginning with Lughnasadh has, at least for me, a quality of reduced intensity and greater subtlety.

2020 specifically continues to be odd and unsettling. I have not had my usual summer. I was essentially housebound for four months. I have not left my town since February. My upside, as a contemplative, has been an unseasonable permission to turn inwards. I have refreshed my solo Druid practice and I feel re-grounded in Druid culture.

I have recently crafted three forms of sitting meditation for use within my daily practice: I describe them as Light Body, Living Presence and Wisdom’s House. I will write more fully at a later date. This development marks a return to an older contemplative approach – I have moved away from formal sitting meditations in recent years. Each meditation is based on, or descended from, a practice previously used over a long period. This work has tenacious roots yet happily feels new and fresh. I look forward to its fruits.

Photo by Elaine Knight. See also: https://elaineknight.wordpress.com/

REBLOG: ATHEOPAGANISM FOR SOLITARIES

We’re a subgroup of a subculture. Of a couple of them, actually: atheism and Paganism. So it’s not a surprise that though there are many of us collectively, we are spread thinly and may live far away from anyone else who identifies as practicing the path of Atheopaganism. Thus, this post, about practicing as a […]

Atheopaganism for Solitaries — Atheopaganism

FEELINGS AND CONTEMPLATION

“In meditation, when a wave of feeling comes to visit – a grief, a fear, an unexpected anger or melancholy – can you stay present with that wave, breathe into it, let go of trying to ‘let go’ of it, and simply let it be, let it live, let it express itself right now within you? Can you notice the impulse in you to resist it, to refuse it, distract yourself from it and move away from your experience? Don’t judge or shame yourself for that impulse either, for wanting to have a different experience that you’re having – it’s an old habit, this urge to disconnect, this impulse to flee, this addiction to ‘elsewhere’.

” But see, today, if you can stay very close to ‘what is’, see if you can actually connect with the visiting feeling, gently lean in to your experience as it happens. Instead of shutting down, moving away, denying the energy in the body, can you gently open up to it? Can you flush it with curious attention? Let it move in you? Stay present throughout its life cycle, as it is born, expresses what it has to express, and falls back into Presence, its oceanic home?” (1)

The extract above is from a piece by Jeff Foster called When We Push Feelings Away. I support his approach, though I don’t now make firm distinctions between an activity called ‘meditation’ and the spontaneous flow of attention. I can stay present with the wave of feeling, and breathe into it, whether I’m ‘in meditation’ as a defined practice or not.  Meditation, once exotic and formal, has become naturalised. My contemplative life is pared down and minimalist, holding a strong sense of the sacred in daily life, including the work of self-healing. Jeff Foster continues:

“… One day, deep in meditation, perhaps, we remember, all feelings are sacred and have a right to exist in us, even the messiest and most inconvenient and painful ones. And we remember to turn towards our feelings instead of turning away. To soften into them. To make room for them instead of numbing them or ignoring them. …. So much creativity is released, so much relief is felt, when we break this age-old pattern of self-abandonment and repression, go beyond our careful conditioning, and try something totally new: staying close to feelings, as they emerge in the freshness of the living moment, waving to us, calling to us, seeking their true home in our heart of hearts.”

Jeff Foster calls this piece Pushing Feelings Away. I like his concern with holding and acceptance within what he calls Presence. I call my overall path a Sophian Way, and not The Sophian Way, because it is a solitary path that morphs and shifts.  Jeff Foster works with personal feelings from a transpersonal, non-dual  perspective that I find very Sophian, characterised  by wisdom, contemplation and compassion. My own path brings together this approach with the Eco-spirituality – or ‘Nature Mysticism’ – catalysed by my experience of modern Druidry.

(1) Jeff Foster The Joy of True Meditation: words of encouragement for tired minds and wild hearts Salisbury: New Sarum Press, 2019

CONTEMPLATION AS SACRAMENT

Everything is sacred, but dedicated time and space provide a focus. They deepen our recognition of what is already true. Sacrare in Latin means ‘to hallow’ and I feel hallowing to be mostly about my quality of attentiveness. Although, subjectively, I am always here and always now, I can be here and now, and relate here and now, in a more conscious and loving way, when the time and space are dedicated.

Since beginning contemplative inquiry in November 2011, I have had a morning practice that has been structurally constant whilst varying in specifics. It is framed by a minimalist Druid liturgy to establish and hold the nemeton, the dedicated sacred space. It includes exercise and energy work, walking and sitting meditations, and a brief loving-kindness meditation. These activities have referenced different traditions at different times, whilst preserving a consistent outline and intent.

This practice is the heart of what I do in formal contemplative practice. Since I draw on diverse traditions, this solo practice has developed within an overall context and narrative determined by and for me. I have never worked through a simple adoption of ‘teachings’, to me a somewhat infantilising term, and a residue of authoritarian spirituality. I have always maintained an independent approach, which I find necessary to a critical and creative culture of inquiry. It necessarily includes a meta level of evaluating traditions as well as a normative one of learning their views and practices.

I will continue with the same practice structure post-inquiry. Fundamentally (in I hope a good sense) I understand my practice as a sacrament, celebrating ordinary incarnation in this world. It works on two levels. The first is the dedication and framing of the whole practice. The second, more intensive level, is within my sitting meditation. This now uses a Shaivite Tantric rather than Buddhist form. It is an eyes closed meditation, aligning the breath to a mantra – which is something I’ve quite often done over the years, including the use of the Druid ‘awen’*. Here I use ham-saa. Traditionally this invokes Shiva as the empty awareness of the Cosmos and Shakti as its energy and form. My own sense is of deepened appreciation of the miracle of being and becoming, and a sense of how this is at once personal and universal.

I sometimes find that all my attention dissolves into the mantra. Its pulse and vibration become all that exists in my awareness. The meditative disidentification from world and perception, body and sensation, feeling and thought, leaves this one reality. The experience here is of existence acknowledging itself, in a way that doesn’t seem to be about me, as such, or in any sense a personal possession. Whether or not the experience happens in full, or whether the practice simply points to it, this mantra meditation hallows my contemplative practice. It is the heart of its heart.

Paradoxically, as this practice deepens, my ‘inquiry’ energy  begins to fall away. Where I am now feels like a destination. Though I still have work to do in the integration of experience and understanding, I am no longer looking for new frameworks or resources.  On completion of the inquiry, my contemplative life will continue, but it will have a different note.

https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/awen-mantra-meditation/

SOPHIAN MYTH

“A Gnostic creation myth said that Sophia was born from the primordial female power, Sige (Silence). Sophia gave birth to a male spirit, Christ, and a female spirit, Acamoth. The latter gave life to the elements and the terrestrial world, then brought forth a new god called Ildabaoth, Son of Darkness, along with five planetary spirits later regarded as emanations of Jehovah: Iao, Sabaoth, Adonai, Eloi and Uraeus. These spirits produced archangels, angels and, finally, men.

“Ildabaoth or Jehovah forbade men to eat the fruit of knowledge, but his mother Achamoth sent her own spirit to earth in the form of her serpent Ophis to teach men to disobey the jealous god. The serpent was also called Christ, who taught Adam to eat the fruit of knowledge despite the god’s prohibition. Sophia sent Christ to earth again in the shape of her own totemic dove, to enter the man Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan” (1).

For me, Sophian myth is dream like. Consciousness experiences itself as stressed and divided, moving into the trance of duality and multiplicity. Yet there is also a strong counterbalancing drive towards reintegration and wholeness.

Culturally, Sophian stories are a cry against newly developing orthodoxies. They are a creative mythology, and affirm the emancipatory potentials of knowledge and freedom. They also maintain the strong ancient world link between Goddess and wisdom, a link that was coming under threat from the religious revolutions of late antiquity.

My personal Sophian practice has stabilized in recent months and is very simple. With the mantra ama aima, I connect with cosmic motherhood, or source, both in the sense of origin and of eternal now. This connection establishes my sense of home, and of the emptiness that becomes fullness. Sophia in the apparent world stands for an interweaving of wisdom, compassion, creativity and freedom. These can only be defined and expressed in the effort to live them. Subjectively, Sophia first came to me with the force of an inner guide or patron. Now she is more of an enabling personification – less numinous perhaps, but more firmly established in my psyche.

I no longer look back so much to the older history and literature for direct inspiration – not even as far as Jung, who met his unconscious God in dreams and felt validated by ancient gnostic texts. The Gnostics themselves believed in ‘continuous revelation’ and I like the word ‘continuous’ whilst not connecting so much with ‘revelation’. I am not a person of faith, or now part of any tradition, and I have got what I need from the myth. My inquiry focus now is with finding my own language where it helps, holding silence where it doesn’t, and learning to know the difference.

(1) Barbara G, Walker The women’s encyclopedia of myths and secrets Harper San Francisco: San Francisco, CA: 1983

GROUP WORK IN CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY

In a recent blog post on https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2015/4/26/ I discussed the first weekend retreat offered by Contemplative Druid Events. I talked three about “developing a tradition” but I didn’t say much about the kind of work we did. Here I look at group practice in Contemplative Druidry and where I see my own place and contribution.

For me the retreat confirmed an existing sense of what a Contemplative Druid group looks like, certainly as developed through Contemplative Druid Events so far.

  • We are offering something different from a collective extension of solo practice. My solo practice is fairly typical of contemplative work in any tradition: a specific ritual and liturgical framework holds long periods of sitting meditation, with shorter periods of walking meditation, exercise and energy work. The group practice we’ve developed includes these, whilst being more outward-looking and interactive – more relational.
  • Our approach is especially suited to small groups – about 8-12 people – allowing time for people to build community and to share and process experience. We also place value on formal sharing, getting to know each other through introductory and check-in processes, reconnecting each morning through a process called ‘overnight phenomena’ and engaging in specific exercises where we have the opportunity to reveal a bit more about ourselves (or not) with supportive attention.
  • We practice ‘lean ritual’, minimalist and powerful, thoroughly grounded in Druid and Pagan tradition, which holds us in a dedicated Contemplative Druid circle and marks transitions in our group process within that circle. We build periods of silent attunement, 5-10 minutes long, into our ritual and transitioning spaces.
  • As a defining group practice, we have ‘Awen space’ and we chant the Awen for a period when entering and exiting that space. We open ourselves, becoming more receptive and sensitive, more present to what is in us, between us and in the space. Whatever follows will be whatever it is. Some of the time we remain silently aware of group and space; some of the time we chant, talk or sing, surrounded by silent attention which continues into the after echo of the sound. On this retreat we had a 45 minute Awen space following directly on from a 15 minute meditation
  • We are in some sense an experimental group. We’ve looked at various ways of incorporating sound, music and movement. We have used both ‘Lectio Divina from the Book of Nature’ and ‘Animist Hermetics’ – similar activities with different pedigrees and different philosophical assumptions, and looked at the different results that they produce. We have included long silent walking meditations outdoors and are looking to add a long narratised walking meditation outdoors later this year. What difference will that make? We have had one led session of ‘belly-breathing’ meditation (actually belly-heart-head with belly first and foremost) that seems highly congruent with Earth spiritualities and Druidry in particular. It isn’t the cauldron of Poesy (being more naturalistic), but it has a certain cousinship to it: another valuable exploration.
  • We have started to build a cadre of facilitators who, amongst our many roles in life and Druidry, are able to co-lead groups under the banner of Contemplative Druid Events.

It is likely – and desirable – that we will see other people picking up the ‘contemplative’ meme in Druidry and Paganism more widely.  There will be many approaches. But I’m clear that my personal focus and fealty are to the stream of work I’ve been involved in since the first Contemplative Druid day in July 2012. The work described above has followed on from that and it is still very much a work in progress.

For information on Contemplative Druid Events, or the books Contemplative Druidry and Druidry and Meditation, please see http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com/.

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