contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Spirit

PNEUMA: THE DIVINE BREATH

Some years ago, this phrase suddenly appeared during a breath meditation: the movement of the breath and stillness in the breath. Meaning has developed gradually. The movement of the breath feels entirely natural, and a comfort to attend to mindfully. Stillness signals another dimension within and behind the movement. In a world like ours, it is a great thing to experience stillness, however fleetingly. There is something healing about it, and it is not dependent on formal meditation. A brief time out can be enough to make a difference.

Going a little deeper has offered more. The quality of stillness cues me in to the ‘not-I-not-other-than-I’ experience. From a Sophian standpoint, traditionally a Gnostic one, I think of the Greek word pneuma which means both ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’. Gnostic teacher Stephan Hoeller says: “in Gnosticism pneuma is a spark sprung from the divine flame, and by knowing the pneuma the Gnostic automatically knows the spiritual source from whence it has come … to know one’s deepest self is tantamount to knowing God”. (1)

In my discussions of non-duality, I have generally held to non-theistic language, using terms like ‘Awareness’, ‘Being’, ‘Emptiness’, ‘Fullness’, ‘Openness’, ‘Original Nature’, ‘True Nature’ or ‘Tao’. I have avoided ‘God’ or ‘Spirit’, though in the context of non-duality all these terms point the same way. Yet I have worked with an Ama-Aima breath and mantra meditation, where Ama is the transcendent aspect of the Divine Mother and Aima the immanent aspect. In the myth of Sophia, Ama-Aima is her name as Mother.

I feel more urgently drawn into the orbit of Sophia. C.G Jung, important to modern Gnosticism as well as analytic psychology, believed that we can find ourselves held – almost possessed – by an image of the Divine that calls to us. The call is from beyond our personal will. How we respond is up to us, with consequences attached to any choice. Gnosticism speaks through intuition, imagination and metaphor: in this current, imagery matters. My image is that of Sophia. It is not new, but it is becoming more vivid.

It is as if everything I have learned on my hitherto eclectic journey needs to be brought together – and that I can best achieve this within a distinctive Sophian Way. My recent post –  https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2018/06/07/embodiment-and-at-homeness/ ‎ described an aspect of it even whilst referencing Focusing and Tibetan Tantric Buddhism as influences. The essence of this Way is simple. The movement of the breath, and stillness in the breath, properly recognized, open me to the experience of pneuma. Everything else, directly or at a remove, flows from that.

(1) Stephan A. Hoeller Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing Wheaton, ILL & Chennai (Madras), India: Quest Books, 2002

 

NEW DIRECTIONS: FOCUSING

I am working through a spiritual shift strong enough to need a new language and practice. I am moving towards a spirituality without religion, which is simpler and more deeply rooted in experience. I have recently connected with the Focusing movement (1,2,3), as a potential source of support.

A Focusing text (4) speaks of “the process of listening to your body in a gentle, accepting way and hearing the messages that your inner self is sending you. It’s a process of honouring the wisdom that you have inside you, becoming aware of the subtle level of knowing that speaks to you through your body”. The term ‘bio-spirituality’ was coined for it by two Catholic priests who took up this practice. They called it a “sacred inward journey”, wrote a book about it (5) and developed their own network (6).

I do not see Focusing as a spiritual path in itself, but as a means of integrating what we conventionally call mind, body and spirit. The process can be run either solo or with a partner. I am already beginning to find it useful in a meditative state where I sit with loving attention and curiosity. Using this approach, I can establish a relationship with my ‘felt sense’, however it manifests, rather than just noticing it. I can work with the strains and tensions, issues and concerns, or the neglected joys in my life. I can extend this exploration in my journal writing after sessions. I have now had a session with a teacher and completed a week of daily meditations. They are already having a catalytic effect.

From the standpoint of continuity, this is an affirmation of embodied spirituality. It enables me to access ‘Wisdom’ as a living process with change-making power. The Sophia (Wisdom) of Gnostic tradition is often seen as a celestial and indeed super-celestial figure: yet she also embodies the re-visioned Earth – ‘the Kingdom’. To inhabit this space I need the vulnerability of openness. Such work reconnects me, with a new understanding, to an earlier time in my life and my involvement in co-counselling and psychotherapy.

For me thus far, focusing practice finds the seeds of action in contemplation itself. In stillness and silence I engage creatively with my life and world. Everything is held in the loving presence of a contemplative core. My inquiry moves forward in a new way.

I am taking a break from this blog for at least the rest of this month. On my return, I will explore this and other new directions more fully.

(1) focusing.org/

(2)  focusing.org.uk/

(3) https://www.livingfocusing.co.uk/

(4) Ann Weiser Cornell The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide To Emotional Self-Healing Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 1996

(5) Peter A. Campbell and Edwin M. McMahon Bio-Spirituality: Focusing As A Way To Grow Chicago, Il: Loyola Press, 1985

(6) https://www.biospiritual.org/

 

CONTEMPLATING SOUL

What do we mean by soul? Why does it matter? For me, soul is a bandwidth of experience rather than a detachable entity. James Hillman described it as “a world of imagination, passion, fantasy, reflection, that is neither physical nor material on the one hand, nor spiritual and abstract on the other, yet bound to them both. By having its own realm psyche has its own logic, psychology – which is neither a science of physical things nor a metaphysics of spiritual things”. As Jung’s successor, he believed that “psychological pathologies also belong to this realm. Approaching them from either side, in terms of medical sickness or religion’s suffering, sin and salvation, misses the target of soul”.

As a champion of soul, Hillman is contrastingly a bit grumpy about spirit, another bandwidth of experience, which according to him “always posits itself as superior, operates particularly well in a fantasy of transcendence among ultimates and absolutes … strait is the gate and only first or last things will do … if people choose to go that way, I wish they would go far away to Mt. Athos or Tibet, where they don’t have to be involved in the daily soup … I think that spiritual disciplines are part of the disaster of the world … I think it’s an absolute horror that someone could be so filled with what the Greeks called superbia to think that his personal, little, tiny self-transcendence is more important than the world and the beauty of the world: the trees, the animals, the people, the buildings, the culture”.

Hillman’s sense of soul is deeply intertwined with “a style of consciousness – and this style should not even be called polytheistic, for, strictly, historically, when polytheism reigns there is no such word. When the daimones are alive, polytheism, pantheism, animism and even religion do not appear. The Greeks had daimones but not these terms, so we ought to hold from monotheistic rhetoric when entering that imaginative field and style we have been forced to call polytheistic”. Then, he says, soul can show its patterns through imagery, myth, poetry, storytelling and the comedy and agony of drama – releasing “intuitive insight” from the play of “sensate, particular events”.

A universe of soul is a pluralistic universe, a world of Eaches rather than the One or the All. For Hillman oneness can only appear as the unity of each thing, being as it is, with a name and a face – ensouled by and within its very uniqueness. He quotes William James as saying: “reality may exist in distributive form, in the shape of not of an all but of a set of eaches, just as it seems to be … there is this in favour of eaches, that they are at any rate real enough to have made themselves at least appear to everyone, whereas the absolute (wholeness, unity, the one) has as yet appeared immediately only to a few mystics, and indeed to them very ambiguously”.

For me this is where the terms Oran Mor (Great Song) and Web of Wyrd – from the Celtic and Northern traditions respectively – come into their own. The diversity and uniqueness of every note in the song, of each position within the web, are fully honoured and acknowledged. But these metaphors do also speak of a song and a web. Their unity is a unity of interconnectedness and relationship. Our current scientific metaphor of the Big Bang is a bit similar, in giving us a vast universe (or multiverse) bursting from a point at which time and space themselves originate. This image will doubtless change and may come to be seen as a ‘local’ presence/event (?) within a yet ‘larger’ system (?) ‘beyond’ our knowledge. But it offers a sense of being of the same stuff, and having a common source which in time bound 3D terms we come from and in eternal terms we simply are. Some non-dualists make much of this second aspect and frame it as an affirmation of divinity. But I see such an ultimate unity-at-source as a weak aspect of any identity I can usefully lay claim to and I’m agnostic veering sceptical about any evolutionary teleology or ‘as-if’ intentional drive. The gift  – a gift, certainly, evoking deep gratitude even in the absence of a discernible giver – is my precious, vulnerable, fleeting human life, time and space bound though it is. That’s why I value Hillman’s lens of ‘soul’, whilst also choosing to incorporate ‘spiritual’ disciplines into my own life.

  1. Hillman, James The Essential James Hillman: A Blue Fire London: Routledge, 1990 (Introduced and edited by Thomas Moore)

JOHN HERON AND ‘FOURTH WAVE’ HUMANISM

Western Humanism, in John Heron’s view, comes in waves. The first began in 5th century BC Greece, when the Sophists and Socrates “called philosophy down from heaven to earth” by introducing social, political and moral questions. The second began in the Italian Renaissance, which affirmed the worth and dignity of human achievement over against the Christian pre-occupation with sin. The third began with the Enlightenment of the 18th century and became the rational scientific, secular and atheistic humanism of modern times. For Heron, there has also been a fourth wave, distinct in many respects from the third, which began in the domain of humanistic psychology.

The two primary protagonists of humanistic psychology, which emerged in the USA in 1961, were Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. At that time they were clearly aligned to the humanism of the third wave. Maslow was concerned to demonstrate that “spiritual values have naturalistic meaning; that they are not the exclusive possession of organized churches; that they do not need supernatural concepts to justify them; that they are well within the jurisdiction of a suitably enlarged science.” Rogers had a more experiential and phenomenological approach: “It is to experience that I must return again and again; to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me. Neither the Bible nor the prophets – neither Freud nor research – neither the revelations of God nor man – can take precedence over my direct experience.”

Over time, both Maslow and Rogers shifted their views. Maslow and other colleagues like Stanislav Grof, became increasingly concerned that they had left out a ‘spiritual’ element within the human psyche and wanted a psychology “that would honour the entire spectrum of human experience, including various non-ordinary states of consciousness”. So they invented a new discipline of ‘transpersonal psychology’ that over time came to be supported by existing, in some ways more traditional, psychological movements with a spiritual dimension – such as the successors of Carl Jung (including the archetypal psychology of James Hillman) and the psychosynthesis tradition initiated by Roberto Assagioli. Carl Rogers was slower to embrace spirituality within psychology and didn’t involve himself in the transpersonal movement. But towards the end of his life he spoke increasingly of presence, inner spirit and self-transcending relationship. “I find that when I am closest to my inner intuitive self, when I am somehow in touch with the unknown in me then whatever I do seems full of healing. Then simply my presence is releasing and helpful to the other. When I can be relaxed and close to the transcendental core of me it seems that my inner spirit has reached out and touched the inner spirit of the other. Our relationship transcends itself and becomes part of something larger”.

John Heron draws on Rogers for his understanding of a fourth humanist wave. The core precept of fourth wave humanism concerns animation through reaching out and connection: an animism of process rather than ideology. It differs from the doctrinally naturalist view of the third wave by suggesting that our reality exists within a field of what might be called divine potential, or becoming: “the self-determining capacity of humans … presupposes a dynamic context of spiritual animation/inspiration [NB reminiscent of imbhas/awen in Druid tradition] in which persons can actively participate”. In Carl Rogers’ terms, inner spirit reaches out, touches the inner spirit of the other, thereby transcending itself and becoming part of something larger. In Heron’s language, spirit exists within us, between us (named by someone in one in one of his groups as “the band of golden silence”) and beyond us, where an ‘I am’ statement can bring us to a threshold “where personal consciousness is open to consciousness that is anywhere and everywhere”.

Fourth wave humanism, though grounded in human experience, moves on from the exclusivist human centric stance of the third wave. Spiritual animation occurs between people, between people and place and other kinds of beings in that place, or between other kinds of beings independently of humans – the “deep resonance” between trees in the forest is one obvious example. Indeed, like the second wave humanism of the Renaissance, fourth wave humanism makes provision for (but does not insist on) an Otherworld within an extended view of nature/spirit/reality – one with denizens who may be available for animating connection. It is understood that different people – indeed beings – are gifted with different bandwidths of perception, which they will then give an account of in different ways in the light of both personal and cultural factors.

Fourth wave humanism has a strong view of personhood, but one with an alert sense of the tension between the individual and universal. “The spiritual animation between people appears to have a basic polarity, a radical and dynamic complementarity: there is the impulse to realize the individual distinctiveness of being and the impulse to realize interactive unity within wider fields of being … it is a subtle balance: too much individualism leads to egocentric narcissism; too much universalism leads to spiritual fascism, authoritarianism and oppression.” Sometimes, as an alternative to fourth wave humanism, Heron uses the term ‘participatory spirituality’ or a ‘participatory paradigm’ as his world view. This is supported by various co-operative endeavours involving a delicate dance of hierarchy, peer co-operation and personal autonomy and by the discipline of spiritual inquiry.

There is much more to be said, and Humanism: the fourth wave, can be found in full on http://www.human-inquiry.com/hum4.htm I spent many years teaching co-counselling, the peer and reciprocal support system at the heart of John Heron’s work, and also (against my career interests) undertook both Masters and Doctoral degrees using co-operative inquiry, his other major working method, as my methodology. So in a sense this kind of understanding is an embodied part of me – inevitably not in quite the way presented by John Heron himself. I don’t now use either co-counselling or co-operative inquiry as working practices. But I do see my current direction as one of synthesising the best of ‘fourth wave humanism’ with the best of modern Druidry: I discern fruitful synergies between them. My view and practice of Contemplative Druidry (both personal and group based) have already incorporated aspects of this approach. This can be taken further.  For me, embodied and lived ideas inform our stand in life and influence its effectiveness. They have consequences in the wider world.

CONTEMPLATIVE INQUIRY, THE ORAN MOR, AND FARE-WELLING DEITY

I want to say three in things in this post. The first is to clarify what I mean by contemplative inquiry, the name of this blog, and outline the implications of calling it contemplative inquiry rather than contemplative Druidry. The second is to describe my recent contemplations on the Oran Mor, or Great Song, the metaphor which has become central in how I experience my world. The third is to explain my decisive shift to a non-theistic spirituality.

Contemplative inquiry, for me, is a living process and the heart of my spiritual identity. My Druidry itself is subject to the inquiry, and in consequence my contemplative life doesn’t work through marinating me in a received tradition and leading me into experiences that are declared to be the appropriate fruits of the practice. That’s why I’m glad to be in a young tradition, where the jelly still hasn’t set. I work with feelings, thoughts, insights and intuitions arising from my practice and reflection. I’ve abandoned the high language of ‘gnosis’ because it suggests pre-mapped attainments, privileged cosmic knowledge already somehow present and waiting to be discovered in the experience of the practitioner. That’s not what happens for me: everything is tentative and provisional and the aim, if it is an aim, is to sit within an expanded story of being, one that has integrity and can frame abundant life.

How does this apply to the Oran Mor, an auditory metaphor which takes in all my senses and synaesthetically extends them? I can enjoy the sound of a sunrise, the felt resonance of trees, and the lingering note of a caress.  All are encompassed in the Oran Mor. My experience of the Oran Mor confirms for me the felt sense of not being separate or alone. Behind the Oran Mor, and interweaving it, is a silence – not a cold silence, but a warm silence of fecund latency. The Oran Mor points beyond itself as a sensory experience to that underlying substrate of energy, that pulse and vibration of the cosmos, whose fruits include the privilege of our time-bound 3D being. I am the Oran Mor, currently a distinct though passing note within the greater pattern of the Song. So are you. Many forms of communion are available within the Oran Mor.

The invitation to us is to sing our own note within the Song. For all that we are interconnected and interdependent, the way in which we sing the note involves something distinct and individual, a personal existential choice: this at least is the human experience. It works best if we are awake to the rest the Song, as manifested in other notes, in the greater patterns, and the silence. This is why I’ve started to use the word ‘attunement’, despite its hackneyed New Age ring: it’s an accurate description of something I want to do.

As I’ve deepened into this sense of the Oran Mor and how it shapes me, there are certain words that are becoming more pertinent and powerful. In my morning practice I have for some years used the words known either as St. Patrick’s prayer or the 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.’

I experience this as a summarising the Oran Mor – that which is – in a way that has a contemplative and prayerful aspect, makes good liturgy, and is not a petitionary prayer. I do not pray to the Oran Mor. I do not think of the Oran Mor as our Celtic ancestors did, as a name for God. I do not use it a translation of what is often meant by ‘Spirit’. The ‘I’ who arises is as much included in the Oran Mor as the sun, moon, fire, lightning, wind, sea, earth and rock. In the experience of the Oran Mor, there is no distinction between ‘Spirit’ and ‘Nature’. There’s a sense in which, despite their pragmatic value in everyday use, both terms become redundant.

I’m also continuing to work with the Ceile De fonn A Hu Thi (ah – hoo – hee), using simple breath and silent sounding, first described in an earlier post at https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2015/3/6/. For me this continues to describe and enact the eternally-co-creative aspect of the Oran Mor. I find in my world that the A sets up a sense of latency, a subtle pulse and vibration on the brink of becoming. I feel it in the quality of my inbreath, as a kinaesthetic song. Hu the outbreath feels more vigorous and intentional; there’s a real sense of movement, expressed as exhalation – the breath moves out from my body, through my nostrils. Thi breathed in feels like the delighted expression of a new reality, the world born again in every moment.

The last effect of my continuing engagement with the Oran Mor concerns Brighde as Goddess and it is very recent. Essentially, the Goddess dissolves into the Oran Mor and I find myself fare-welling deity in my poetry of practice. The sense of the Goddess (under different names) as both cosmic birther and mentoring intermediary, which I have had throughout the whole period of my association with Druidry and Paganism, has died. This is not a matter of ultimate belief, where I have always had a form of non-dual view, but rather in a sense of a shift in archetypal poetics and psychology, of imaginal perception. It gives me a sense both of mourning and of release, of loss and of spaciousness.

I am aware of talking about language and imagery, about subjective experience. I do not presume to make statements about the cosmos or recommend ‘beliefs’ to others on the strength of my work or its evolution, or to use it either to question or to validate anyone else’s path. I’m in the throes of letting go a profoundly significant image and concept, one that has had a defining role in my spirituality, and I find it a very considerable attachment to let go of. I did not expect this. It will take a bit of getting used to, actually a lot of getting used to. It is a very significant change. Yet it is the fruit of honest inquiry – of meditative and contemplative practice, and reflection thereon. My trackless path, it seems, is wholly non-theistic.

BOOK REVIEW: THE SALMON IN THE SPRING

41-SK1+8TrL__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX324_SY324_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA346_SH20_OU02_This is the review of Jason Kirkey’s Salmon in the Spring which I wrote for Amazon in 2010 (and for Touchstone, the OBOD in-house journal). It was the book that introduced me to The Great Song/Oran Mor – earlier explored in Frank MacKeown’s The Celtic Way of Seeing and The Mist-Filled Path. MacKeown wrote the foreword for Kirkey’s book. Kirkey revises the traditional sense (in the Christian centuries)  of the Oran Mor as a name for God. He says, rather, that “immanent in material processes is the implicate order of the cosmos: spirit, divine ground, Oran Mor (Great Song)”. I will say more about what this has meant both experientially and conceptually for me in future posts.

The review was a 5 star review and I strongly recommend it, as a book that manages both to be clear and to accommodate complexity.

“At the age of 12, Jason Kirkey had one of those ‘light bulb’ moments that can set a direction for life. A relative told him ‘nature does not require our belief. It is right there for us to experience’. Jason is from Massachusetts, of partly Irish ancestry and over time his new found awareness lead him to discover the ‘interplay of nature, story and ancestry’ as a practitioner of ‘Irish Earth-based spirituality and shamanism’.

“Jason presents personal story a thread within a larger, collective story; one in which spiritual traditions are moving through a process of re-imagination – of integration into the new story of the 21st century’. He describes going through a ‘dark night of the soul’ when an over-identified ‘attachment’ to his own tradition became narrow and constraining. He found resolution through the practice of sitting meditation and study at the Naropa University in Colorado. It wasn’t a matter of moving from one tradition to another, but of integrating the qualities of both.

“The Salmon in the Spring explores traditional stories – including the second battle of Maigh Tuireadh, Connla’s Well and the Song of the Silver Branch – in a process of creative revisioning for Celtic spirituality. It is a pioneer’s book and I recommend it to anyone interested in the possible futures of Celtic spirituality, Druidry and other paths in which the old stories are coming alive in new ways.”

Jason Kirkey The Salmon in the Spring: the Ecology of Celtic Spirituality San Francisco, CA, USA: Hiraeth Press, 2009

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