contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: stillness

EMERSON: ‘IMMORTAL BEAUTY’

“Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth.

“Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, – no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair.

“Standing on the bare ground, – my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, – all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am a part or particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, – master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of an uncontained and immortal beauty.” (1)

In the first paragraph above, I hear my own experience, described in a mid 19th century American voice. I share the sense that the exhilaration comes partly from the land, woods and sky themselves and partly from the continuing life of the child within us.

In the second paragraph, I feel at home with with the overall sentiment, whilst having to work a little with Emerson’s terminology. At the beginning I am not sure what he means by ‘God’. I do understand that ‘plantations of God’ restores innocence, as well as wildness, to the term ‘plantation’. (Emerson was a notable abolitionist.) I also note that the woods are a domain where reason and faith are brought together, in a time and culture where they seemed to be in conflict. Nature isn’t just a word for material reality. Nature is a source of protection and healing that goes beyond the mundane.

The third paragraph makes Emerson’s transcendentalism clear, and with it the true power of contemplation. ‘Standing on the bare ground … uplifted into infinite space – all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball. I am nothing: I see all”. God and Nature become Universal Being, from which ‘I’ am not separate. To be simply present in this space, with no agenda and nothing in mind, is to be “the lover … of an uncontained and immortal beauty”. The nature of our experience is a living nature we perceive, are part of, and relate to – not a reified externality. An open, enlivened receptivity to this reality can allow a deeper awareness (for Emerson, that of the Divine in us) to declare its presence.

(1) Ralph Waldo Emerson Nature Boston, Mass: Thurston, Torry and Company, 1849

NOTE: According to Wikipedia, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) “was an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, abolitionist and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century” who gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of transcendentalism in his 1836 essay Nature”. He wrote most of his important essays as lectures first and then revised them for print. “Emerson’s ‘nature’ was more philosophical than naturalistic. … Emerson is one of several figures who took a more pantheist or pandeist approach by rejecting the view of God as separate from the world”.

MIDWINTER CONTEMPLATION 2022

The picture above, taken in the mid-afternoon of the recent Winter Solstice, shows a local water meadow after heavy rain. My eyes are drawn downwards, to the reflections in the water and beyond. But height is there too, with trees and an early sunset sky. All with a sense of stillness. I felt in touch with the unknown within and beyond me, and open to the world.

Earlier in the day I had already been profoundly moved by the live-streamed funeral of John Heron, an elder for me in the field of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, and also in what he called ‘participatory spirituality’. This describes a ‘spiritual animation’ that occurs ‘between people, between people and place and other kinds of beings in place’. He saw this as a spiritual inquiry process, largely outside the traditions.

Over the last several days, I have been contemplating words, not by John himself but by Carl Rogers, the originator of person-centred counselling, about this kind of openness and its power. He wrote them in continuous prose, but I have re-arranged the spacing to help with my contemplative process. I find that they help me to better understand both my failures and my successes. They are a kind of direction for me. Although they are about being with people, they have become linked also with this landscape, because of the openness I felt there, in this liminal space.

“I find that

when I am closest to my 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 a part of something larger.”

MEDITATION, AND A BILLION-YEAR-OLD SENSE OF BEING

I enjoyed a recent piece on meditation by poet and spiritual teacher Jeff Foster. He is not talking about a traditional practice regime – whether of a mindfulness, pathworking, or energy-focused kind. Rather, he describes an encounter with the sacred in everyday life. Initially, this meditation attends to the flow of ordinary, embodied experience. It is informal, and not dependent on a dedicated environment or special conditions. As it develops, it sets free a healer in the heart, who stands by and resources the meditator rather than fixing their problems.

Meditation becomes as a ‘field of love, an ever-present ground of safety, presence and stillness’. It is personified through references to a ‘loving friend in the breath’, a ‘mother in the motherless places’, and a ‘billion-year-old sense of Being’. This is not meditation as generally understood. But I notice that I am nourished by Foster’s recommended approach, and I find myself responding to his impassioned language. Part of me wants to resist such intensity, but then happily melts on immersion in the process. Here is his piece in full:

“Meditation is not about getting yourself into altered states. Altered states do not last. It’s about becoming intimate with this state – this present moment, this day, this Now, its textures, tastes, vibrations, contractions and aches.

“Meditation is not an out-of-body experience. It’s the opposite. It’s a full experience of the body and its ever-changing sensations, its amorphous clouds of shivers, tickles, undulations and pulsations, throbbings, fizzles, its pain and its pleasure, its opening and closing, its ever-changing form.

“Meditation does not always make you feel ‘good’. In meditation, you feel exactly as you feel, and you learn to love that, or at least to allow it, or at least to tolerate it a little more than you did yesterday. Meditation makes you feel more like… you.

“Meditation is not about getting anywhere. It’s about discovering that there is nowhere to get to. That you are already home, and your body is the ground of all grounds. It is about discovering true safety in the feet, in the hands, in the pit of the belly. It is about finding a sanctuary in your chest, a sacred shrine between your eyes, a loving friend in the breath, a mother in the motherless places.

“Meditation is not something that you do with your mind. In meditation, the mind relaxes into the heart, seeking relaxes into finding, and even the most intense anxiety finds its home. You cannot make it happen, but you can fall into it.

“Meditation is not for experts, or the ones who know. Meditation is for absolute beginners, those who are willing to face their present experience with wide open, curious eyes.

“Meditation is a field of love, an ever-present ground of safety, presence and stillness, that you remember, or forget, or remember again.

“Meditation never leaves you. It whispers to you in the stillness of the night. And even in the midst of an activated nervous system, a full-on panic attack, suffocating claustrophobia or the urge to get out of your body… meditation is right there, holding you, loving you, gently kissing your forehead, willing you on.

“It will not abandon you, and ultimately, you will not abandon it.

“And closing your eyes to sleep at night, meditation is there, snuggling right up to you.

“Your soft pillow, the rising and falling of your own delicious breath, a light breeze coming in from the window, that billion-year-old sense of Being…

“You are safe in your own body, my love. You are safe.”

– Jeff Foster http://www.lifewithoutacentre.com/

FLIGHT FROM THE SHADOW

“There was a man who was so disturbed by the sight of his own shadow and so displeased with his own footsteps that he determined to get rid of both. The method he hit upon was to run away from them.

“So he got up and ran. But every time he put his foot down there was another step, while his shadow kept up with him without the slightest difficulty.

“He attributed his failure to the fact that he was not running fast enough. So he ran faster and faster, without stopping, until he finally dropped dead.

“He failed to realize that, if he merely stepped into the shade, his shadow would vanish, and if he sat down and stayed still, there would be no more footsteps.”

Thomas Merton (1965 & 2004) The Way of Chuang Tzu Boston & London: Shambhala, 2004. (First published 1965 by New Directions Publishing Corporation.)

Chuang Tzu, one of the great figures of early Taoism, lived around 300 BCE. The frontispiece of this edition says: “He used parables and anecdotes, allegory and paradox, to illustrate that real happiness and freedom are found only in understanding the Tao or Way of nature, and dwelling in its unity. The respected Trappist monk Thomas Merton spent several years reading and reflecting on four different translations of the Chinese classic that bears Chuang Tzu’s name. The result is this collection of poetic renderings of the great sage’s work.”

SURFACE AND DEPTH

I took this picture some time ago and kept it as an image of tranquillity. Now, when I contemplate it for any length of time, the ripples on the water seem to be alive and moving. The vegetation, also alive, is still.

Although the scene presented here contains both stillness and movement, I identify strongly with the moving ripples in the background. Despite all my contemplative inquiring, movement continues to be my default setting, albeit now less agitated and turbulent than in the past. The phrase ‘stream of consciousness’ comes to mind. The natural flow of this stream includes spaces freed up from cogitation and narrative. But the stream flows on.

I am glad of this. Some traditional teachings, when emphasising the non-separation of ‘ocean and wave’, lean towards invalidating the individuality of the waves even whilst their brief distinctive identities last. But for me, the purpose of being human is to live a human life, knowingly embedded within a rich natural and cultural history. This is why I have stayed with modern Druidry as my main point of spiritual reference.

I have also found a liberating expansion of my human life in realising my non-separation from the living presence of the cosmos. It has busted me out of a certain kind of prison, one of neediness and dependency on surface satisfactions. Just as well, in an age of – increasingly surreal – ‘capitalist realism’ (1). Eckhardt Tolle has offered me the most convincing strategies for standing in the larger life – in particular through his recognition that ultimate satisfaction is inseparable from the present moment, and his account of what is really meant by that much abused term (2). He is currently a second point of reference in my spiritual work.

My photograph continues to offer an image of tranquillity. It is just that, at least for me, tranquillity isn’t as straightforward as it may look.

(1) Mark Fisher Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Winchester, UK & Washington. USA: O Books, 2009

(2) Eckhardt Tolle A New Earth: Create A Better Life London: Penguin Books, 2016 (Rev. ed. First edition 2005)

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’S HOUSE

Two people hold each other in mutual gaze. Both their mutuality and their individuality are very clear. The space between them defines a chalice, or grail. In stillness they are present to each other, within a dynamic field of I-Thou relationship. The gestalt is one of communion. Their world has come alive.

Eckhart Tolle speaks of a wisdom that is not the product of thought, and which comes with the ability to be still. “Just look and listen. No more is needed. Being still, looking and listening activates the non-conceptual intelligence within you. Let stillness direct your words and actions” (1).

He goes on: “wisdom is not the product of thought. The deep knowing that is wisdom arises through the simple act of giving someone or something your full attention. Attention is primordial intelligence, consciousness itself. It dissolves the barriers created by conceptual thought, and with it comes the recognition that nothing exists in and by itself. It joins the perceiver and the perceived in a unifying field of awareness. It is the healer of separation”.

I think of wisdom, in this sense, as the healer in the heart. Not the organ that continues to pump at a not-too-elevated rate when my blood oxygen declines, and therefore a resiliency factor for my physical health. It is, rather, the heart of awareness – personified again as it has been before by a Goddess of Wisdom. She came to me, at night, at a wakeful time when my breathing was particularly laboured and I felt like a freshly landed fish. She acted as a discreetly background presence, pointing me to the vision of a radiant grail, palpably emanating the energy and resources of all four elementary powers.

Pragmatically I felt empowered to weather a challenging experience. Beyond that, the Goddess invites me to let go of identification with the mind-made ‘little me’ as a limited and confining construct. The reward is an expansion into love, joy, creativity and inner peace. I have bounced back from my COPD flare-up in the last few days and will do what I can to rebuild my physical capacity. But the lesson, that healing is not the same as being physically fixed, and asks for a different kind of commitment, applies both in bad times and good.

(1) Eckhart Tolle Stillness Speaks Novato, CA, USA: New World Library & Vancouver, BC, Canada: Namaste Publishing, 2003

STILLNESS IN A TURNING WORLD

Late on Christmas morning, I went out for a midwinter walk. It was relatively warm outside (8C/46F). The world seemed static and still. Yet I had the sense of a new year quietly being born, somewhere under the surface. Ripples in the water seemed to me to confirm this.

The midwinter season that I observe in nature can be like that – superficial dullness masking dynamic transformation. Life is strong in this watery place. The wheel continues to turn. There may be harsh weeks ahead, but the overall movement of time is already leaning towards regeneration, rather than the seasonal dying of late autumn and early winter.

At times like this I sense the presence of an ancient cosmic motherhood that gives me hope for the coming year. May all beings be blessed.

POEM: THIS STILL CENTRE

Here, indeed, is no ordinary spot:

no place on the map, in the cosmos,

is anything like it.

This still Centre is the one spot

where energy is actually discovered

welling up out of Nothing.

All the irresistible torrents

which swirl and roar through every other place

rise silently in this place,

never ruffling its perfect calm.

Douglas Harding Everyday Seeing: daily meditations on the One within. London: The Shollond Trust, 2019 (Quotations selected by Richard Lang)

TOWARDS THE SEASON OF HARVESTS: 2021

In the northern hemisphere we will soon be entering a quarter of harvests and waning light, starting with Lughnasadh/Lammas. In the south there will be the energy of rising light and growth. In the manner of the yin/yang symbol. a taste of that energy is present here too. As I approach Lughnasadh/Lammas this year, I am living largely day-at-a-time, and sense only the faintest outlines of what might be coming into my life. I intuit change, but not its nature, scale. or specific form.

So I look to harvesting possibilities that are within my power. I wrote recently that Druidry and the Eckhart Tolle Community are currently my key points spiritual reference. This invites a new synthesis and integration of spiritual practice and understanding. Druidry remains primary. It is the container. But there are two areas in which the Tolle work has strongly influenced me.

The first is through reframing my understanding of meditation. Instead of being a specialist activity, it has become the gateway to living from what Tolle calls ‘stillness’, ‘presence’ and the ‘Deep I’. These simple terms are pointers to a way of experiencing the world that cannot be accurately languaged but is easy to recognise if we are open to it. Meditation, here, is a state of openness and availability. It does not require extended time or any specific form.

I still value formal daily practice. It is a way of keeping fit in this domain. But while, in the past, I have seen meditation as a specific activity, I now see that anything can be a meditation if it is a gateway to stillness, presence, or the Deep I. Tolle tells a story about his early days as a teacher, when he would sometimes make presentations to the Theosophical Society in London. The first time he showed up with a set of notes virtually amounting to a script. His eyes were frequently on it and although he was received respectfully, many of his listeners’ eyes were glazing over. The next time he abandoned this approach, faced his listeners and simply waited, open and trusting, for the words to come. They did. He connected. Energy levels in the room were high, and the presentation was successful.

I’ve been taught versions of this lesson a number of times in my life, but I clearly needed to hear it again with a new and different language. For my second Tolle influence concerns ‘awen’. As a Druid I might want to use ‘awen’ in the context of Tolle’s story. But it doesn’t feel right. I love the awen chant and the awen symbol. I love the alchemy of the Hanes Taliesin and the way it points to possibilities of human transformation. But it belongs in a world that is not my own, that of Brythonic bardistry and seership. I feel more connected to my own experience when I use Eckhart Tolle’s language. It holds more possibilities for me. I do not count myself as among the awenyddion. But I can speak from stillness. I can speak from the Deep I.

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