contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Month: September, 2012

CORLAN HAFREN: ENCLOSING THE SEVERN

A plan to build an 11-mile long barrage across the Severn estuary has been given a boost after David Cameron asked ministers to look at it. The scheme, according to its champion Peter Hain, would be financed to the tune of £30 billion by ‘sovereign wealth funds’ (state investors largely based in Kuwait and Qatar). It promises to generate 5% of the UK’s electricity and create 10,000 jobs. It would be expected to be operational for more than 120 years.  All the UK government has to do is signal its support in principle, provide authorization in the form of a ‘Hybrid’ Parliamentary bill, and stabilize the electricity price for 25-30 years.  Possible extra income from a road or rail link across the barrage from Lavernock Point near Cardiff across to Brean Down (fans of Dion Fortune beware) near Weston-super-Mare in Somerset would not be highlighted to investors at this stage. Corlan Hafren (Welsh for Severn Pen or Enclosure), the consortium of engineering and construction companies behind the proposal, wants to sell the plan on the strength of its electricity generating capacity alone.

My personal gut response (without trying to get grown up and political) is grief for the Severn Bore, which would pass into memory with the implementation of this scheme.  It is one of Britain’s few truly spectacular phenomena.  It’s  large surge wave can be seen in the Severn estuary, whose tidal range is the second highest in the world – up to 50 feet (15.4 metres). The shape of the estuary is such that water is funnelled into a narrowing channel as the tide rises, forming the large wave. The river’s course takes it past Avonmouth where it is approximately 5 miles wide, though Lydney and Sharpness where it is approximately 1 mile wide, and eventually to Minsterworth where it is less than a hundred yards across, maintaining this width all the way to Gloucester.

Minsterworth itself is a special place for me, an ideal spot for what I call ‘soft’ contemplation – contemplation as gentle reverie. The churchyard, very close to the river, is the home of a ‘veteran’ yew (500-1200 years old).  A church of some kind has been on the site since at least 1030.  There are remains of landing stages from a time of commercial fruit growing.  It is a peaceful setting, enlivened at both the Spring and Autumn Equinox periods by the appearance of the Bore, now often witnessed by enthusiastic crowds as the wave sweeps past, sometimes bearing surfers and canoeists, temporarily reversing the course of the river.  If the Barrier scheme goes through, we will lose the Severn Bore.  If it doesn’t go through, we will likely use the yews, the church and the churchyard.  Much of the Severn’s intertidal area (the area that is above water at low tide and underwater at high tide and famous for its diverse bird life) will disappear over the coming decades whether it goes through or not.

Whatever happens, the world will not stand still.  As we pass beyond the Equinoctial moment into the darker half of the year, I’m feeling uncertainty and disequilibrium.  I’m feeling that the ground is disappearing beneath my feet, that the same things will not come reassuringly back year after year.  So for me right now, contemplation is about living the point of tension I’m experiencing.  And it also raises issues about how best contemplation and action belong together and sustain each other.

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HOLY WISDOM

The reed beds are flanking in silence the islands

Where meditates Wisdom as she waits and waits;

‘I have kept her secret’, says the Green Man,

‘I have kept her secret’, says he. [1]

This is a dawn image for me, cool, misty, expectant, liminal.  I’m on a lake shore looking out.  I can see the reed beds and an outline of wooded islands.  It’s probably late November or early December, an in-between time, a period of latency between dissolution and awakening.  Not quite the still point at the turning of the world, yet leaning into it.  I don’t see the Holy Wisdom, and so am free of any fixed and limiting image of her.  She may manifest as she wills.  Yet even at a distance, I am aware of her presence.  Holy Wisdom is more than simple sagacity.  She is the fruit of spiritual insight and loving-kindness.  She belongs here as everywhere, connecting to this landscape with a simple English name. Holy has morphed somewhat, over time, from hāliġ or hāleġ; Wisdom has remained the same.

The reed bed image is what remains from my OBOD ‘sacred grove’ work, an active imagination practice in which I would build the core image of the grove and then develop a free-form narrative, often encountering inner world beings and/or moving out into other landscapes and connecting with them.  I began my personal contemplative inquiry when the practice lost its power as a working method for me.  What didn’t lose power was my strong felt sense of contact and guidance from a feminine higher power.  This contact had been initiated in one of the major rituals of my original Ovate grade work – though not planned for in the script.  At times I have thought of her as Sophia, but in the end this hasn’t quite felt authentic for me while practising.  I don’t feel fully engaged in the Gnostic theology and metaphysics which goes with that name.

My contact with Holy Wisdom feels simpler and She asks for a single-pointed clarity of working method – which, paradoxically, I can then relax into.  I’ve adopted an eyes open, real time form of sitting meditation, going to other traditions to get the form, yet always with Holy Wisdom as my ultimate guide.  I dedicate the whole of my morning practice to Her – body/light body work, walking, sitting, and blessing.  But my sense of connection with Her is strongest on entry into sitting meditation, where I feel supported in accessing the presence and attention I need for a free flowing communion with what is.  The reed bed image doesn’t play a direct part in this process.  Yet William Anderson’s quatrain reminds of what my practice is about, and I can slip into this imagery at any time.

[1] Green Man: the archetype of our oneness with the Earth, William Anderson HarperCollins, 1990

MARTIAN WALKING MEDITATION

I’m still walking around in circles. But since I wrote about it a week ago, the way I do it has changed.  I’ve lightened, lost density, slowed down.

And with those changes I’m shedding solemnity.  (I’ve never valued solemnity in spiritual practice, yet in truth I have sometimes been solemn.)  My arms have freed themselves to move and engage and explore.  I’m discovering myself as softer and more playful in the room. My attention has improved and shifted into the act of moving through the air around me.  I am much more aware of being held in my energy body.  And I really like it.

Why Martian?  It’s the sense of reduced gravity.  I first thought of Lunar – but that’s too far in the other direction.  So, Martian.

This change was spontaneous and body led.  But I believe I owe it to the contemplative inquiry I’m doing.  When I wrote  my first walking round in circles post, I was letting go of old Buddhist teaching and moving into a place of inner authority.   My writing let me identify and put down what is now a burden, and freed me for another experience.  And I’ve also realized more fully that contemplative inquiry as I understand the term is mostly about opening creative spaces for integrated and embodied knowing.

The inquiry continues.

OUTDOOR WALKING MEDITATION

 

“For mother, walking was much more than a physical exercise, it was a meditation.  Touching the earth, being connected to the soil and taking every step consciously and mindfully, was supremely conducive to contemplation.

“’Our Lord Mahavir, the great prophet of the Jain tradition, attained enlightenment while walking.  This was dynamic meditation.  Mahavir was meditating on self and world simultaneously, whereas in sitting meditation one is much more likely to focus on the self alone.’”

Satish Kumar You are, therefore I AM: a declaration of dependence.

This is the best summary I know of outdoor walking meditation.  Two things strike me immediately.  The first is that Satish Kumar’s mother was not setting up special walks for the purpose of meditation.  She walked a good deal in the course of the day and could be meditative in her walking. The second is a plain emphasis on mindfulness both to self and world and their interdependence.  It is less a practice than a way of life, and something to drop into consciously on any occasion.

It is something of a truism to say that the value of formal practice is twofold: firstly the experience for its own sake and second the ability to extend a meditative awareness into the rest of life.  When I go out walking I sometimes have a conscious agenda of being aware of my surroundings, surrendering a sense to and within them, which is a half-way house between formal practice and a still ‘normal’ everyday possession by the monkey mind.  At other times I slipping into an easy ‘just being’ state and experiencing the nourishment that’s in it.

Indoor walking meditation is a valuable experience for me, yet it continues to have a feeling-tone of being an exercise, though less so than formerly.  Outdoor walking meditation has a naturalness and freedom to it – and may be even better without the ‘meditative’ or ‘contemplative’ label being applied.  Just experiencing the interwoven ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ stimuli and their underlying oneness.

WALKING ROUND IN CIRCLES

I’ve been taught to walk around in circles, as a meditative exercise, by three varieties of Buddhist.  In each case the walking was partly a break within sitting meditations, allowing sitters literally to stretch their legs.  It also gave a focus for attentional training other than the breath.

 But the styles and to an extent the meanings were different.  The Theravadin Insight Meditation Society asked for very close attention to the process, a mental noting, for each step, of ‘lifting, lifting, lifting, lifting, moving, moving, moving, placing, placing, placing’.  Mindfulness to the changing action was everything.  Walking provided a context for mindfulness – without pleasure, aversion or independent purpose.

For the Tantric Shambhala Buddhists, walking was partly about stilling the mind in the service of ‘peaceful abiding’, partly (in group settings) about negotiating with other people so that a meditation group worked smoothly and partly about guru devotion, so important to all forms of classical Tantra.  Chogyam Trungpa had described it as ‘boring’ even as he asked people to do it – and there was an element of doing it for him (and his successors).

In the Western Chan (original Chinese Zen) there was more of an emphasis on the movement itself, on slowing down and getting into a physical flow. There was a view of ‘body-mind’ rather than ‘mind’ alone.  In contrast to the Theravadin approach, there was no mental noting.  Led by body and movement, practitioners found their point of flow, gliding into choiceless awareness within the moment.

I learned from this that an apparently simple activity can give rise to different states and have different meanings, and that experience flows from intent, which then flows into experiencing.

I have, as a Druid, carried a circumambulatory walking meditation into my morning solo practice, free to make my own meaning.  The main difference is willing surrender to the senses and to memory, the soft pleasure of the footfall on my woolen magic carpet, bought in the west of Ireland 19 years ago and the heart of my indoor sacred space ever since.  As I walk, I trace my egg shaped ‘circle’ around the rectangular carpet, deepening, with my human action, a physical sacred space.

As someone who has undertaken to accept suffering and joy within an embrace of life on this earth, I don’t have to cut off desire and aversion at the root as the Buddhists, especially the Theravadins, are committed to do through their allegiance to the four noble truths.  Yet I am still mindful to the gestalt of my experiencing.  In an abundant now, which finds room for pleasure, memory and anticipation, the little ‘I’ (itself a cherished navigator through 3D reality) can still dissolve into an expanded awareness of experiencing.

That, for me, is the shift from a Buddhist view of indoor walking meditation to a Druid one.  I will write about the external one another time.