contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

POEM: A WITHERED TREE

Not a twig or leaf on the old tree,

Wind and frost harm it no more.

A man could pas through a hole in its belly,

Ants crawl searching under its peeling bark.

Its only lodger, the toadstool which dies in a morning,

The birds no longer visit in the twilight.

But its wood can still spark tinder.

It does not care yet to be only the void at its heart.

 

By Han Yü (768-824)

From: Poems of the Late T’ang translated from the Chinese with an introduction by A.C. Graham Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965

BOOK REVIEW: NOT I NOT OTHER THAN I

Not INot I, Not Other than I is an inspiring story of spiritual awakening. For me, the book has a skilful balance of biography and wisdom in which each throws light on the other. Highly recommended to people involved or interested in contemplative spiritualities.

Russel Williams left school aged 11. Both of his parents were dead and he was too old for Barnado’s.  So he was licensed to work for a living, though in 1932 and the years that followed it was hard to make ends meet. He describes himself in his teenage years as existing but not living. He was angry and aggressive, with no empathy, a quick temper, and prone to getting into fights. What frustrated him most was a sense of his own ignorance.

In 1939 war broke out and Williams joined the British army. He recalls that being a soldier “saved me from a bad end, kept me out of trouble – and most importantly it took away the worry of keeping myself alive. I had regular food and shelter for the first time since my parents died. It was easy, compared me to the life I had before. It also taught me self-discipline to control my emotions”.

After the war he went “walking, walking …” until he making contact with another man, who was starting up a small circus. Williams accepted the job of looking after the horses, and he began to feel a strong connection with them. He wanted to understand them better. “I set my mind to watching and observing every detail, every moment of the day, for days on end”. This process became “more and more concentrated”. He was “not thinking any more”. His mind had “gone quiet”. He was experiencing states of “spontaneity” and “living in the moment”. He began to “look through the horses’ eyes”, as the boundaries fell away, and he became notable for his calming and healing presence when working with them.

Still in his 20’s, Williams began to discern a path in life. Later he framed his life with the horses – 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 3 years – as a naturally occurring education in mindfulness meditation: his life a continual service, “with no thought of myself”. He still experienced frustration and disappointment, because he couldn’t find anyone to talk to about this who seemed willing to treat him seriously. But eventually he ran into a small number of kindred spirits, people with whom he could enter into close rapport, and this led to his joining the Manchester Buddhist Society in 1957.

Although the Society made a connection with Thai Buddhism in 1954 (one of their members trained as a monk) Williams himself has kept a distance from formal Buddhism. He has been President of the Society for over 40 years and he still doesn’t call himself a Buddhist. His life and work has included esoteric Christian influences and a resonance with Ramana Maharshi. One of his sayings is that whereas “Buddhism is a belief system … the way of the Buddha is a recognition system”. Acknowledging that Buddha didn’t go beyond dealing with suffering, never mentioning spiritual worlds as such or communicating with other entities, he added “but we do”. Williams’ way of the Buddha is also a way of the free spirit.

Russel Williams is now 93. He is still going strong. My contemplative Druid companion Rosa Davis mentioned this book at our last group meeting. Williams says that his life experience and practice have led him to a “natural state” of oneness with everything, and with the universe itself. “We are part of the unmanifest. We are part of the pure consciousness which has given rise to the whole universe. That consciousness is our true nature, and, when we rest within it, we feel a powerful sense of ease and contentment”. He believes that this is the only meaningful way of understanding the term ‘God’, and what Jesus of Nazareth meant when declaring “I and the Father are one”. This kind of experience, “stillness, pure consciousness, emptiness of being” is the inheritance of us all, and potentially available to us all. It is based on sense-feeling, and on filling the emptiness with loving-kindness.

Williams doesn’t support long meditation practices, though he does believe in frequent ones. He saying “once you get the process going” 10 or 15 minutes should suffice, and recommends doing it 7 times a day. For him, the way in to a full meditative state is through the realm of subtle feeling, and he invites us in with him about a third of the way through the book:

“Feel down here, a little bit above the navel you’ll find the right place. Centre yourself there, in feeling. Observe your breathing, in the sense of the expansion and contraction of the outer part of the body, as if it were a balloon …” From here we are guided to notice the calming and peaceful effects of this “gentle movement, this comfortable gentle movement … absence of agitation, peacefulness … a kind of heartfelt warmth of feeling … it feels homely, as though you belong there … And as though it were a light”.  We then move outwards from the “balloon” to include the whole physical body and then go beyond it. “It reaches out in all directions … and begins to feel at home with all its surroundings, whether it be animate or inanimate … of the same nature” …. And so on into silence for a few minutes. At the end of the meditation the practitioner is asked to draw back into the “very centre”, making sure it is “still peaceful and warm” before returning to normal consciousness.

What I learned from this was the flavour of ‘sense-feeling’, a specifically located warmth, a sense of quiet movement, qualities of gentleness and peace. Nurturing is another favourite Williams word. These qualities fill the body-mind and move beyond it, filling emptiness, engendering loving-kindness. In a group meditation, they can create a deep rapport and subtle meeting place between participants. The aim is to develop “such gentle perception that you could compare it to a finger, soft and warm, touching a snow flake, but so delicate that the flake doesn’t melt”. From there, we begin to see into the nature of things, becoming aware of a different reality, expanding into it until we become “boundless”. This is achieved not by any great effort, but by simply letting go.

‘Sense-feeling’ has already helped me in my own practice. It enriches my experience of ‘presence’ (a key word for me), placing it more clearly beyond witnessing awareness as normally understood. The meditative experience becomes participatory and nurturing in a more complete way, yet one that also seems easy, obvious, almost remembered rather than newly learned. I’m grateful for the recommendation and glad to be passing it on.

Russel Williams (2015) Not I, Not Other than I: the Life and Spiritual Teachings of Russel Williams (Edited by Steve Taylor) Winchester & Washington: O Books

 

CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY IN 3 SENTENCES

Elaine and I were recently asked by a non-Druid local group to define contemplative Druidry in 3 sentences.  This is what we came up with.

“Contemplative practice in Druidry supports what has been called ‘the Nature mysticism of modern Druidry’. Our understandings of what this means are provisional and inquiring – those of us who follow the Druid way are encouraged to craft our own practices in accordance with our inner guidance, our needs and wishes. Practices in the Stroud-based group include group meditation, personal sharing, outside walking meditation, chanting and contemplative arts.”

This mix of practices also forms the basis of our retreat days for the wider Druid and fellow-travelling community. This year we are running two such days – one in London on Sunday 7 February and the other in Stroud on Saturday 1 October together with Nimue and Tom Brown. See also http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com

We owe the phrase ‘the Nature mysticism of modern Druidry’ to Philip Carr-Gomm, who leads the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), who used it in his foreword to Contemplative Druidry: People Practice and Potential. He also pointed out that the Druid way as a whole is one where we take responsibility for crafting our own practices. We see this a something we need to emphasise, since this approach is still unusual in spiritual movements as a whole.

 

BOOK REVIEW: PAGAN PLANET

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

POEM: DAWN’S ROSE

Dawn’s rose

Is melting an old frost moon.

Agony under agony, the quiet of dust,

And a crow talking to stony skylines.

Desolate is the crow’s puckered cry

As an old woman’s mouth

When the eyelids have finished

And the hill’s continue.

A cry

Wordless

As a newborn baby’s grieving

On the steely scales.

As the dull gunshot and its after-râle

Among conifers, in rainy twilight.

Or the suddenly dropped, heavily dropped

Star of blood on the fat leaf.

 

Ted Hughes, in Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow London & Boston: Faber and Faber, 1972

 

THE GOLDEN FLOWER

 

“Naturalness is called the Way. The Way has no name or form; it is just the essence, just the primal spirit.” (1)

The Secret of the Golden Flower is a lay manual of Buddhist and Taoist methods for clarifying the mind. It was first published in China towards the end of the eighteenth century. It is the product of the ‘Complete Reality’ School of Taoism (2), which synthesized the internal alchemical arts of longevity, the meditation techniques of Chan (Zen) Buddhism and Confucian ethics. Its key texts included the Tao Te Ching (3) the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra (4) and a later Taoist work which translates as Cultivating Stillness (5).

The golden flower itself symbolizes the quintessence of the paths of Buddhism and Taoism, as understood by this school. Gold stands for light, the light of the mind itself; the flower represents the blossoming, or opening up, of the light of the mind. Thus the image evokes the awakening of the real self and its hidden potential. Primal spirit is a mode of awareness subtler and more direct than thought or imagination, and it is central to this blossoming. The Secret of the Golden Flower is devoted to the recovery and refinement of primal spirit in the practitioner.

“The beauties of the highest heavens and the marvels of the sublimest realms are all within the heart: this is where the perfectly open and aware spirit concentrates. Confucians call it the open centre, Buddhists call it the pedestal of awareness, Taoists call it the ancestral earth, the yellow court, the mysterious pass, the primal opening.”

In 1920 a thousand copies were reprinted due to a demand by an “esoteric circle” in Beijing according to Richard Wilhelm, who brought it to Europe in a German edition a few years later with a foreword and commentary by C. G. Jung (6). An English edition translated from the German by Cary F. Baynes appeared in 1929. These editions included fragments from a second work, also from the Complete Reality School, called Hui-Ming Ching (7). This adopted the Chan idea that there is no separation between original nature or wisdom-mind (hui = Sanskrit prajna) and stillness (= Sanskrit Samadhi). At the same time hui-ming means uniting wisdom-mind with the energy of life (ming). Contemplative stillness is to be complemented by a system of energetic movement, drawn from Chinese energy arts (chi gung) – an approach consistent with the Taoist understanding of the Tao as simultaneously the underlying permanent reality and the changing flux of things in transformation.

Modern translators recognize the importance of the pioneering Wilhelm/Jung  work, whilst expressing dismay at its level of inaccuracy and misrepresentation. In relation to the Hui-Ming Ching Eva Wong, who was able to translate a complete copy with illustrations, says: “Baynes’ translation is severely biased by Jungian psychology and does not present the work from a Taoist spiritual perspective … the historical and philosophical connections with its major influences … [are] … ignored … we cannot appreciate the spiritual value of a text if we impose a particular perspective, especially one that comes from a different culture … we need to yield to the text and let it speak on its own terms”. Thomas Cleary is equally unhappy on behalf of The Secret of the Golden Flower, using his own notes on the text to compare the older version unfavourably with his own and asserting that “Wilhelm was not familiar with even the most rudimentary lore of Chan Buddhism”.

In a way, Wilhelm and Jung suffer from the downside of being pioneers. Their successors are bound to know the territory better, partly thanks to them. But they were also men of their time in other ways, in their view of the mystic orient. Jung’s introduction began with a section on Difficulties encountered by a European in trying to understand the East. He expressed admiration for Chinese recognition of the “paradoxes and polarity inherent in what is alive. The opposites always balanced each other – a sign of high culture. One-sidedness, though it lends momentum, is a mark of barbarism”. He also used the opportunity to express pleasure that the West was now learning to value feeling and intuition and thereby widen Western consciousness and culture beyond a narrow “tyranny” of intellect. But he also made (to us) embarrassing statements like “measured by it [Western intellect], Eastern intellect can be described as childish … it is sad indeed when the European departs from his own nature and imitates or ‘affects’ it in any way”.

We are now in a globalizing 21st. century where large numbers of Westerners are working with Buddhist meditation and Chinese energy arts and finding them entirely accessible and transforming. China and its place in the world are also very different. We can let go of any residual notion that East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. I’ve had a personal involvement with Buddhist meditation and Tantric traditions that have incorporated chi gung exercises.  I do not find them alien. My Western Way is a result both of a personal choice, and perhaps of a personal call. It could easily have been different.

I can learn directly from the East and I find that Taoism has a particular attraction – both that of the early classics and of the much later Complete Reality School: its attempts at inclusivity, its dialogue with Chan, its cultivation of the energy of life, and a Taoist/Chan sensibility in poetry and painting all speak to me. I am aware of a cultural note that is different to mine, yet I can incorporate key lessons directly into my practice. When working with breath, I have become increasingly conscious of a simultaneous movement of the breath and a stillness in the breath. For me this is both an experience and a metaphor. In my terms it feels very Sophian, and I believe I owe the insight to my acquaintance – however superficial – with Taoist tradition.

 

  1. The Secret of the Golden Flower: the Classic Chinese Book of Life (1991) Translated by Thomas Cleary, with introduction, notes and commentary New York: HarperCollins
  2. Eva Wong (1997) The Shambhala Guide to Taoism Boston & London: Shambhala
  3. Lao Tzu (1998) Tao Te Ching: a Book about the Way and the Power of the Way New version by Ursula K. Le Guin, with the collaboration of J. P. Seaton Boston & London: Shambhala
  4. The Heart Sutra: the Womb of the Buddhas (2004) Translation and commentary by Red Pine Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint
  5. Cultivating Stillness: a Taoist Manual for Transforming Body and Mind (1992) Translated with an introduction by Eva Wong Boston & London: Shambhala
  6. The Secret of the Golden Flower: A Chinese Book of Life (1962) Translated and explained by Richard Wilhelm with a Foreword and Commentary by C. G. Jung, and part of a Chinese meditation text The Book of Consciousness and Life with a foreword by Salome Wilhelm. London & Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul (revised edition)
  7. Liu Hua-Yang Cultivating the Energy of Life (1998) A translation of the Hui-Ming Ching and its commentaries by Eva Wong Boston & London: Shambhala

WESTERN WAYS: DRUIDRY AND SOPHIA

In my world, Druidry and the Way of Sophia are linked, though not the same. In The Western Way (1,2) authors Caitlin and John Matthews made a distinction between a ‘Native’ Tradition and a ‘Hermetic’ one, which act as “complementary opposites”. The Native Tradition is “the inward spiral of a maze which leads into the heart of ancestral earth-wisdom”. The Hermetic Tradition is the outward spiral of the same maze: a path of evolving consciousness which is informed by the inner resources of our ancestral roots, “augmented in a macrocosmic way” (2).

My original interest in a ‘Celtic’ spiritual thread, developing from the 1980s, wasn’t specifically Druid or Pagan. It came mostly through Celtic and Celtic influenced literature. Although a long tradition in its own right, it post-dates the demise of institutional Druidry and Paganism in Celtic speaking regions. Most of it has been written with at least an element of Christian reference and influence. So we get verses like this from the medieval Welsh Book of Taliesin:

I was at the cross

With Mary Magdalene.

I received the Awen

From Ceridwen’s cauldron. (3)

 

What I intuitively liked about this was the sense of a culture working to integrate diverse influences rather than attempting to be ‘pure’. Pure culture (or the attempt at it) narrows horizons and banishes possible resources, becoming limited and inflexible in my view. Sophia is both an image of the divine and expresses a blending of Jewish and Greek wisdom traditions. She came to prominence in Alexandria, the largest city of Roman Egypt. She is cosmopolitan. In the verse above Mary Magdalene (an incarnation of Sophia in some gnostic traditions) and Ceridwen (not a traditional Celtic goddess from Pagan times) both have Sophian roles in relation to male figures seen in different ways as light bringers.

Some of the Celtic-derived stories from the medieval period are clearly breaking new cultural ground whilst using resources from the Celtic past. They belong to a realm of creative mythology, as Joseph Campbell called it, whose purpose is “the opening … of one’s own truth and depth to the depth and truth of another in such a way as to establish an authentic community of existence” (4). Twelfth century Western Europe sought to renew itself by drawing on its classical heritage (native in Italy) and Geoffrey of Monmouth drew on it in his Mystic Life of Merlin (5), for example by dedicating a contemplative ‘Observatory’ to the owl deity Minerva, Roman Goddess of Wisdom. It also drew on Celto-Germanic heritage, with the Arthurian mythos – the matter of Britain – taking a prominent place. This mythos does not name Sophia. But it does have the image of the grail and the story of the grail quest. For me the grail represents the presence and energy of Sophia, and Caitlin Matthews has described it as “a prime symbol of Sophia” (6).  Perceval, the grail winner, has to encounter the divine in a new way for himself. At one level his role is to honour and heal the land, renewing its tantric energy. But the Grail Goddess, whilst enabling that traditional collective healing, adds a new and more individuated depth of wisdom and compassion. So although I have always been moved by the scenes and images of the more archaically oriented Peredur (7), I have found a more compelling narrative in Parzival (8). It is the innovative aspect of the story that engages me and the grail image that nourishes me.

In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, (9) Jesus of Nazareth asks three leading followers to say what they think he is like. Peter, traditionally Jewish, says “you are like a just messenger” (or righteous angel in other translations). Matthew, familiar with Graeco-Roman ways, says “you are like a wise philosopher”. Thomas says, “my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like”. The teacher responds, ‘I am not your TeacherBecause you have drunk, you have been intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended’.  As I read this text, it is a confirmation that a lived spirituality is beyond packaging.

In this sense, terms like Druidry, Way of Sophia or Western Way have only a limited use. Joseph Campbell said “the best things cannot be told; the second best are misunderstood; after that comes civilised conversation”. The problem is real yet I believe he overstates his case. I think it is worth the effort of finding words, making distinctions and enabling affiliations in full awareness of the difficulties. Civilised conversation with moments of … something more … feels like an honourable pursuit.

  1. Caitlin & John Matthews (1985) The Western Way: A Practical Guide to the Western Mystery Tradition: Volume 1 – the Native Tradition London: Arkana
  2. Caitlin & John Matthews (1986) The Western Way: A Practical Guide to the Western Mystery Tradition: Volume 2 – the Hermetic Tradition London: Arkana
  3. John Matthews (1991) Taliesin: Shamanism and the Bardic Mysteries in Britain and Ireland London: The Aquarian Press (with additional material by Caitlin Matthews)
  4. Joseph Campbell (1976) The Masks of God: Creative Mythology Harmondsworth: Penguin
  5. R. J. Stewart (1986) The Mystic life of Merlin London: Arkana 
  6. Caitlin Matthews (1986) Sophia Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God Wheaton, IL: Quest Books
  7. The Mabinogion (1976) Harmondsworth: Penguin (translated with an introduction by Geoffrey Gantz)
  8. Wolfram von Eschenbach, W. (1980) Parzival Harmondsworth: Penguin (translated by A. T. Hatto)
  9. The Gospel of Thomas: the Hidden Sayings of Jesus (1992) San Francisco, CA, USA: Harper San Francisco (translation with introduction, critical edition of the Coptic text and notes by Marvin Meyer; with an interpretation by Harold Bloom)

POEM: THE SHELL

This post is a poem by Vernon Watkins

 

Who would devise

But the dark sea this thing

Of depth, of dyes

Claws of weed cling,

Whose colour cries:

‘I am of water, as of air the wing’,

Yet holds the eyes

As though they looked on music perishing.

 

Yet the shell knows

Only its own dark chamber

Coiled in repose

Where without number

One by one goes

Each blind wave, feeling mother of pearl and amber,

Flooding, to close

A book all men might clasp,

Yet none remember.

 

Too far away

For thought to find the track,

Sparkling with spray

Rose, green and black,

The colours play, strained by the ebb, revealing in the wrack

The myth of day,

A girl too still to call her bridegroom back.

 

There falls the weight

Of glory unpossessed;

There the sands late

Hold the new guest

Whose ponderous freight

Draws the pool’s hollow like a footprint pressed.

Its outcast state

Suddenly seems miraculous and blest.

 

Turn it. Now hold

Its ancient heart. How fair

With lost tales told

In sea-salt air

Light’s leaf-of-gold

Leaps from the threshold up the spiral stair,

Then lost, is cold,

Bound in a flash to rock with Ariadne’s hair.

 

Vernon Watkins New Selected Poems Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2006. (Edited with an introduction by Richard Ramsbotham. Foreword by Rowan Williams)

 

CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY 2016

The next month is a busy one for contemplative Druidry. Our group in Stroud has its first meeting next Tuesday. Towards the end of January Elaine and I will be working with another local group that meets to explore sacred traditions. Then on 7 February we are running  a Dark of the Moon Workshop day retreat in London, at Treadwell’s Bookshop’s workshop space, 33 Store Street, London WC1 E7BS. Our specific intent is to  greet the dark of the moon at the time of Imbolc and the first stirrings of the Earth. The programme will include contemplative exercises, subtle energy work, silent sitting and Awen space group meditation. As with all of our public events, anyone willing to work within a Druid framework for the day is welcome.

The end of January also sees the publication of a new Moon Books anthology Pagan Planet: Being Believing and Belonging in the 21st. Century – see http://www.moon-books.net  and Nimue Brown’s presentation of the book. I have a piece in it on practising contemplative Druidry. Since I wrote it I have become even more convinced that contemplative Druidry is not a distinct form of Druidry, but rather a flavour, or way of working within it. We can create specific environments and practice frameworks that enable contemplative practice, and understand them as an option within a range of options.

More broadly, I think that the contemplative meme is now well recognised. My 2014 book Contemplative Druidry: People Practice and Potential is still finding new audiences. The Contemplative Druidry Facebook group, which I stopped administering in 2013, continues to thrive, now with a membership of over 1100. Elaine’s blog at http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com/ and the Contemplative Druid Events Facebook page have received increasing increasing attention in the last couple of months, perhaps in part due to the Contemplative Druidry article in the Samhain 2015 edition of Pagan Dawn. Other events are planned for later in the year.

I’ll continue writing about these and other developments in this blog.

KEY WORDS

My very best wishes for 2016 to all readers of this blog. May your year be blessed with peace and loving-kindness.

Like many people I find the change of calendar year a good moment for revising and re-framing what I do. This includes my personal contemplative inquiry.  I remain strongly engaged with my Sophian Way and I am finding means of strengthening it.

At the beginning of contemplative practice I’m now saying: “I open myself to the divine breath: the movement of that breath and the stillness in that breath. I open my heart to the grace of Sophia”.  The key words are breath, movement, stillness, heart, grace and Sophia.

‘Divine breath’ translates the Greek word pneuma which could mean either ‘breath’ or ‘spirit’. It was a favourite with the Gnostics of late antiquity. For me, the divine breath is ordinary breath transformed through practice, awareness and understanding. I feel and taste the knowledge that breath enables life, and that it does so through transcending  the boundary between me and not-me. It allows me an individual life, embodied yet not sealed off. It also connects me to a larger system.

When I follow the movement of the breath, I am  attentive to its inhalation and exhalation. I breathe the cosmos; the cosmos breathes me. The movement of the breath is inherently active, life-giving and relational. There are practices in both Gnosticism and Tantra involving breath exchange with another person which emphasise these aspects of breathing.

The stillness in the breath, in my experience, is held within the movement of the breath. They are not polarised. It is the still point at the heart of being, always present as the activity of breathing is going on. It’s like an inner silence inside a context of sound, or an inner calm inside a context of energetic or emotional arousal. Truly to become open to the divine breath involves a simultaneous awareness of both dimensions.

Opened up to the experience of divine breath (rather than breath awareness as an arbitrary attentional focus) I can open my heart, in the sense offered by Cynthia Bourgeault: “In the wisdom traditions of the Near East, the heart is not the seat of one’s personal emotional life, but an organ of spiritual perception … its purpose is to stay in alignment with the Image of one’s true nature.” (1) Here, the grace of Sophia is Her presence and energy in support of that alignment.

The words cue me in to the experience, though not as a formula, for true contemplative experience is not formulaic. They represent a sensibility of practice, or a culture of practice, rather than a road map. The value of these words, as I continue to use them, will be in what emerges as a result of using them in the coming weeks and months.

 

(1) Cynthia Bourgeault The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2010

 

 

 

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