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
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.