contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Month: December, 2014

‘CELEBRATE … MORE THAN’: SHARING A PRACTICE

Earlier in December I shared ‘Awen space’, a Druid contemplative practice from my local group. Today I’m sharing something from my solo morning practice. It’s a set of statements that originally grew out of a traditional ‘who am I?’ inquiry but have now morphed into something else. They are partly a means of scanning and personal review  – and partly a celebration or even re-enchantment of identity, supporting a gradual shift in my experienced centre of gravity.

The specific statements may look fixed but in practice they are in process: they shift and evolve over time. My rule of thumb is that they have to describe experiences I live and embody, or have at least touched into. I can borrow other people’s language, but I can’t use anything here on a purely liturgical or aspirational basis.  I find this a dynamic and valuable way of working, I think largely because tailored to my emergent experience and understanding. If taken off the shelf, as a formula, these statements might not have had so much power. I suspect that this is a form of practice that has to be customised by the individual practitioner to work well, despite (or even because of) its transpersonal direction.

I celebrate my body and my senses – and I am more than my body and my senses.

I celebrate my life energy – and I am more than my life energy.

I celebrate my feelings, thoughts and images – and I am more than these.

I celebrate my everyday self-sense and the web of story it weaves – and I am more than that everyday self-sense.

I am the song in the heart; I am the healer in the heart; I am the wisdom in the heart.

I am the space inside the breath, and the stillness in that space.

Living presence, in a field of living presence.

Already enough and already at home. Awen.

UNCONQUERED SUN

Yesterday’s post from the Antinous for Everybody blog,

Antinous for Everybody

The obscure, mysterious Mother

bears the radiant, obvious Son.

He is glorious in His self-giving,

triumphant sacrifice, but She

is the necessary ground

of His being and of ours.

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POEM: CIRCLE OF THE SOUL

A third poet from the collection ‘Moon Poets: Six Pagan poets’ published by Moon Books and edited by Trevor Greenfield. Tiffany Chaney is a poet and artist residing in North Carolina. Her poetry collection Between Blue and Grey won the 2013 Mother Vine Festival Award for Best in poetry. Tiffany can be found on http://www.tiffanychaney.com/

The collection as a whole also includes work by Lorna Smithers, Robin Herne, Romany Rivers, Martin Pallot and Beverley Price.

 

Circle of the Soul

Wake,

wake the witness,

silent Sulis

of the pond.

Pretend the nameless

are named.

Pretend the formless

are framed.

Wake,

wake the witness.

Wait,

until it is your turn

of the wheel.

Satiate

the self with

the making of souls,

until having played

pretend you can fall

asleep again.

Wake, and witness,

so we may recall.

GOOD WILL

Dissolving into the dark, in a deeply receptive state, I find myself entertaining the word ‘will’, which soon morphs into ‘good will’.

Midwinter is traditionally a season of good will. I notice that I do feel largely at peace in my personal world, though distressed by many aspects of the bigger picture. Right now I’m experiencing a state of good will and I’d like to offer my good will to anyone who reads this post.

I’m also thinking about ‘will’, including good will, in another way. After the stasis, the turn. The seed of the turn is in the stasis; an awareness and anticipation of movement even in the moment when the sun seems at rest. A part of me is already looking forward, throwing my imagination before me, consciously willing, crafting intent.

This year my Contemplative Druidry book began to map out some potentials for contemplative practice based in Druidry, as seen by the book’s contributors, and the Contemplative Druid Events blog on www.contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com is a vehicle to set out what we are offering. There will be more to come – mostly emphasising half day sessions and one-day ‘contemplative days’. Whilst this activity is growing, I want to work more deeply at mapping possible relationships between the contemplative aspect of spirituality and its ritual and magical aspects (however defined) and its ethical (and by extension political) aspects. My starting point is that they all involve the issue of where we choose to put our attention, and how we enact and sustain our choices intentionally. ‘Will’ is a key term, and what we mean by will is a key inquiry.

ELAINE KNIGHT – ESOTERIC ART AT I:MAGE

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This post is about the esoteric art of my partner Elaine Knight, and in particular her work as artist-in-residence for the I:MAGE 2014 held in October/November this year. Elaine writes:

I want to thank Robert Ansell and FULGUR ESOTERICA  for the vision and creation of I:MAGE and the opportunity to be artist in residence during I:MAGE 2014. http://fulgur.co.uk/

I:MAGE 2014 explored what it means to communicate with spirits through art. It sought to glimpse a unifying theme across different esoteric practices. I had been commissioned to produce a talismanic piece for the journal Abraxas and I used my I:MAGE residency to do this.

Here are the words given to me by my some of my fellow travellers with unfamiliar spirits at I:MAGE 2014.

MAGIC MAGIC MAGIC WILL FIRE EVOLVE WHITE FIRE CELEBRATING WOMENS WORK PERSONAL SHINING BLUE OLD COMMUNITY HISTORY COMMUNALITY  MODERN OUTPOURING BLUE CAPTIVATING EYEOPENING EXCITING MAGICAL LAYERED CHROMATIC MANIFESTATION BLOT NUMINOUS OTHERNESS ENCHANTING ILLUMINATING CROSSROADS INTRIGUING EXHILARATING TRANSFORMATIONAL PINPOINT SQUARE IMAGINATIVE VISCERAL TRANSCENDANT NORSE FAMILIAR CRENELLATION POTENTIAL DESERT SKULL

48 words.

A mere homeopathic sample from the various throngs of people who attended the I:MAGE event over these two weeks.

9 circles for these words and the central circle contains the I:MAGE bind rune.

The 9 circles are a homage to the nine worlds of Norse mythology.

The spirit of I:MAGE is a wonderful picture taken by Robert Ansell’s co curator Livia Filotico and used with her permission in the the arms of the equal and balanced cross.

I sought to gather and unify in the creation of my talismanic design generated by the event.

The Cross and the Circle.

The nine circles.

Energised from the four directions with the spirit of I:MAGE.

Gifted words to the power of three and one Rune to bind them.

Here is the heiros gamos, spirit and matter combine, each fertilises the other.

Recently I lit five candles to sit and contemplate in the fading light of a midwinter day. This arrangement was an echo of this talisman’s design.

The Concept

http://fulgur.co.uk/image/concept/

My Proposal

Here too is a link to pages 118-119 in the exhibition catalogue which explains a bit about me and what I am doing on this residency.

http://issuu.com/fulguresoterica/docs/image_2014/119?e=6507208/9770393

My dedicated residency websitewww.image2014twus.tumblr.com

My art blog at http://elaineknight.tumblr.com/

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POEM: WEPWAWET

Another poem from the collection ‘Moon Poets: Six Pagan poets’ published by Moon Books and edited by Trevor Greenfield. This one is by Robin Herne, “educator, poet, storyteller, artist, dog-owner and Druid”, whose passion for mythologies extends beyond the Celtic world to the ancient Greek and (as in this poem) Egyptian cultures. Robert’s public blog can be found at http://roundtheherne.blogspot.co.uk/

The collection as a whole also includes work by Lorna Smithers, Tiffany Chaney, Romany Rivers, Martin Pallot and Beverley Price.

 

Wepwawet

Awaken in peace

Beloved of the sun.

Awaken in peace

Follower of the moon.

 

Desert wanderer

Maker of tracks

In the pathless wastes

Grey light in a red land.

 

The door is bolted to me

Confined within my mind.

Opener of the ways,

Unlock what I cannot.

 

Let me ride besides you

In the barque of Re,

Worlds open before us.

Danger abounds, my soul yearns!

 

Howling in the darkness,

I shiver to your hot breath.

Let me be open, let me be open

And live, let me not sleep.

 

Robin Herne writes: “the Egyptian deity Wepwawet is known as the Opener of the Ways, and stands at the head of the sun god’s ship unlocking the doors that lead into Dwat, the Underworld, as the sun goes down in the west, and opening the doors back into the land of the living as the sun rises in the East. Establishing Egyptian metre is difficult owing to the uncertainty over precisely how words should be pronounced. However, surviving examples of poetry make use of frequently repeated phrases, much like musical refrains.”

THE MYSTIC SENSE

In his book on Zen Paganism (1), Tom Swiss has a chapter called The Mystic Sense. He includes Mystic, a poem by D.H. Lawrence.

 

They call all experiences of the

senses mystic, when the

experience is considered.

So an apple becomes mystic

when I taste in it

the summer and the snows, the

wild welter of earth

and the insistence of the sun.

 

Swiss notes, “one specific, wonderful deep type of beauty comes … from the perception of a relationship between our immediate subjective experience and the broader world”. He adds that depending on our social conditioning and religious training we may come to conceptualise this in terms like ‘cosmic consciousness’, ‘the presence of the divine’, ‘the perception of emptiness’, a feeling of ‘oneness with the universe’, or of ‘sacredness’ or an experience of ‘no-mind’. They are all expressions of the mystical sense, and we have entered a period in which we can let go of any residual belief that this sense is a rare possession, or the exclusive province of a few spiritual specialists and champions.

The way we make meaning and find a language for such experiences may still be heavily conditioned by culture and still be used to justify the truth of dogmas that have in reality “only provided a filter” and “determined what color glasses” we are wearing when we “behold the Clear Light”. But behold it we do, in many different ways, and “with practice we can develop this sense”. Indeed we can “even manage to perceive the mystical experience from multiple perspectives, to swap the glasses for a couple of different colors”. In this context, Swiss reminds us that “this is one of the goals of ceremonial magic, as practised by occultists and Pagans” and not at all confined to still, meditative states.

 

  1. Swiss, Tom (2013) Why Buddha touched the earth: Zen Paganism for the 21st. century Stafford, UK: Megalithica books

SWEET AWEN: A POEM

Sweet Awen

sing me a song

of direction

down hills,

over terraces,

past old mills

and factories.

Sing me a song

of poppies and bees

where the bramble

unbridled roams

hedgerows with ease.

Sing me a song

where the first fruits

are born by the light

of a sun who has never

known war.

Sing me a song

where loss no longer

beats like a smith

at her forge

in the summer’s heat.

Sing me the years

that I’ll never meet.

Sweet Awen

sing to me

my impossibilities.

A poet’s take on Awen, in the traditional sense of poetic and vatic inspiration, written by Lorna Smithers who is a poet and Druid based in Lancashire. This poem is from the collection ‘Moon Poets: Six Pagan poets’ published by Moon Books and edited by Trevor Greenfield. The collection also includes work by Robin Herne, Tiffany Chaney, Romany Rivers, Martin Pallot and Beverley Price.

AWEN SPACE

I’ve heard it said that attempting to describe actual spiritual practice is folly. It’s like pinning up butterflies for display – you retain the husk whilst losing the flight. But sometimes the endeavour seems worth the risk. I want to talk about the group practice of ‘awen space’ that forms a part of my Druidry.

My local contemplative Druid group met for two hours last Tuesday, 9 December. We connect for two hours in the afternoon on the second Tuesday of every month, except for May and November – a pattern that has now lasted for just over a year. In those months we meet for a full Saturday, sometime after the festivals of Beltane and Samhain. The days offer the advantage of time for a greater variety of practice, the presence of people from outside our local catchment area, and an introductory space for new members. 19 people are now at least provisionally involved, and we have decided to close the group. The Tuesday sessions offer a greater sense of continuity, a more intimate atmosphere, and even greater focus and simplicity. Attendance currently fluctuates between five and nine. This week eight of us were present.

Our usual structure for a two hour session tends to be

  • Pre-meeting for greetings and refreshments
  • Entry into sacred space through a brief ritual opening
  • Group check in
  • A period of silent sitting meditation (about 20 minutes)
  • A move into the awen field (for about 35-40 minutes)
  • Group check-out
  • Exit from sacred space
  • Farewells

Although our use of ritual is lean and parsimonious, it is a very important part of this process. It is the first step in making our attention intentional, and in turning a domestic hearth into a nemeton. Over time, we have tended to favour putting our personal check-ins and check-outs within the nemeton, since we are entering into sacred relationship as well as sacred space, tuning into each other as part of the practice – not just as a preliminary or warm-up. We use a talking stick process for this, to emphasise the intentional and ritualised aspect of what we are doing.

I think of the awen space as being the most distinctive part of the session. We enter the space through a repeated chanting of awen – how much, or whether we ‘cascade’, depends on our sense of the moment – and then enter silence, consciously together rather than meditating side by side as in the simple sitting meditation that precedes this practice. We may maintain this collective and relational silence or we may choose to sing, chant or say things. In this sense it is an interactive practice albeit a subtle one. It is most powerful when we can hold back from entering into actual dialogue and exchange whilst at the same time moving with the current of communication and relationship which we are generating both through our silence and our utterance. There’s a fine point of balance and tension here. When the awen space is over – it’s over, so it’s not strictly timed. There’s a person whose job it is to lead us both into and out of the space and they make the call. Usually it reflects everyone’s sense of the appropriate ending. We chant awen on our way out of this space as well as into it.

In this context we experience awen, Druidry’s subtle magic, as an energetic field in which we are inspired to be more open and receptive to each other – and at times to find authentic here-and-now language for our felt sense of co-presence and connection within an enlivened space. So it’s something within and between us when we are together, not so much a lightning flash from above. Sometimes our experience completely flows; sometimes it’s more halting. The space gives us a mirror, say rather an echo, of what we bring to it on the day. The physical space matters too – on Tuesday it was a space of wood burner glow and tiny lights in a deepening dusk, and a circle of people working gently together. For me, the feeling-tone and the imagery of this space, lodged in the shifting ever-now of memory, are my key reference point for ‘contemplative Druidry’ as a unique spiritual note. And I am made even more grateful to be able to practice in this way with a group of good companions.

 

ALREADY ENOUGH & ALREADY AT HOME: THEO WILDCROFT’S ‘WILD YOGA’ REVOLUTION

This is an extract from a piece by Theo Wildcroft, published as Wild Yoga Satsang 1 at www.wildyoga.co.uk  – Theo is both a Druid and a Yoga teacher and she is working on a ‘wild yoga’ based PhD. Project. In the extract she presents a view of hatha yoga, its history and its continuing evolution.

“I talked about the democratisation and evolution of postural yoga practice – how hatha yoga was created in a medieval flowering of practices to effect the alchemy of the physical, human (and exclusively male) body into a divine form. How there was much to be celebrated in this expansion of the idea of spiritual realisation from the elite Brahmins to (half of) the mass of humanity; and also much to be avoided, in the strange mortifications and torturings of the flesh to achieve these aims. I explained how, in the late 19th and early 20th Century, there was a deliberate and concerted campaign to revolutionise, systematise and sanitise these practices in the (re)creation of an indigenous Indian physical tradition. How a small number of men, involved in this development, drew on practices as diverse as body-building, indigenous martial arts and Swedish gymnastics; and redrew ancient Tantric and Vedantic philosophy in the light of their knowledge of modern European enlightenment thought, medicine and science. How this process of syncretism, common to all religious and cultural practice, allowed for the indigenisation of yoga as a newly authenticated ‘ancient’ practice of India; and in turn packaged and extended yoga for its explosion onto the international stage.

“All this to say: that before yoga was an internationally beloved interpretation of an Indian cultural treasure, yoga had already become an Indian response to the spread of international physical culture and philosophical thought. All this to say: the men we most have to thank for that repackaging of yoga for a ‘Western’ or western-facing population, are those Indian nationalist pioneers – Krishnamacharya, Jois, Iyengar, Sivananda, Desikachar, Yogananda and others. All this to say: the most hyped, most recent, most commercial fads in yoga today take their cue from Sivananda himself, giving out his guru’s grace in initiations and spiritual names by post to Westerners. All this to point out: that these deeply profound men, for whom we are truly grateful, claimed dubious ancient lineages, divine inspirations and direct transmission of spiritual/physical knowledge into their hands, and obscured their own roles in substantially innovating these practices, and the interpretations and commentaries on the ancient texts that underpin them. They did this as a way of infusing power, prestige, mystery, exoticism, scientific validity and thus their ongoing control over their creations. And thus here we are, at risk of calcifying ‘real’ yoga into supposed ‘ancient’ forms as a reaction against what we intuitively feel is yoga’s slide into hybridism, endless diversity, commercialism and irrelevance as a spiritual discipline.

“Authenticity is not to be found in the age of the practice; nor in the deceptively elegant principles of simple, ‘universal’ philosophies and alignment. The profound sits alongside the mundane. For a practice to be authentic, it has to be yours. Medieval yogis developed hatha yoga as a tool to render the human body divine. Early modern yogis repurposed hatha yoga as a tool to create a strong, prosperous, conservative and healthy Indian population, fit to meet and succeed in the challenges of international, modern capitalism. Later modern yogis have rewritten hatha yoga once again, in a neo-Tantra, New Age, international, commercially aware pyramid scheme of glamour, anti-aging and material success underpinned by the cult of positivity and beauty-as-truth. Align your body, and you too can perform effortless gymnastics. Align your heart, and the universe will bring you everything you need. This development of hatha yoga is both radically new and entirely in keeping with what came before it.

“What I see now, in certain circles largely outside the commercial mainstream, is yet another repurposing of hatha yoga: blending it with ecstatic dance, paganism, bhakti and Buddhism, to achieve something new again. What that turns out to be, and how it works is the focus of my research. The point is that it is still yoga.

“I am passionate about recognising the production and transmission of embodied spiritual knowledge/practice by individuals within their communities. Whilst we honour with profound gratitude each and every teacher that has held and added to a lineage to pass it along to us, what is vital is that we learn to trust our inner teacher, and that we learn with the support of each other. For decades at least, groups of (mostly) women have been sharing physical-spiritual practice this way. For decades we’ve been calling it ‘yoga’. The Wild Yoga Experiment is my way of honouring, cherishing and developing that inner teacher and that circle.

“Most of us in the circle last night admitted that we began coming to yoga for superficial reasons, and that the reasons why it meant as much as it does to us are complex, even contradictory. There are tensions around beliefs – around opening up to a spiritual aspect of practice when almost all of your formative spiritual experiences are tied to other people seeking to control what you believe. We talked about jnana yoga – the yoga of knowledge. We talked about bhakti yoga – the yoga of devotion that does not, in its modern, Western form at least, ask any belief of you at all.

“That there is a way to open your heart to the miracle and beauty of the universe without assuming the nature of what created it: this is powerful. That there is a space and a way to practice in which you can open your heart to the mystery and perfection of the universe whilst at the same time not losing sight of the certain knowledge that there is much to fight and change in the world: this is powerful. That there is a way to prepare and support each individual in being a ‘better’, more engaged, more effective person without imposing a definition of what ‘better’ means upon them: this is a community’s life-work. That there might be a way to do all this whilst at the same time recognising the permanent near-exhaustion of our lives; whilst honouring and holding and cherishing the notion that you are already enough and you are already home: this could be a revolution.”