contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Month: February, 2015

POEM: PASSING SHAOLIN HERMITAGE

PASSING SHAOLIN HERMITAGE – TO FRIENDS IN THE CAPITAL

I reined in my horse below a pine ridge

and hiked to the lookout on top

the trail appeared impassable as I started out

but once I arrived I wished it were longer

from the summit I heard a chorus of winds

in the woods I bathed in a secluded stream

the sound of a bell roused me on the Way

the evening chime cleared the clouds and mist

though my visit was brief

I finally saw what caused my troubles

but when I thought about building a hut

I knew it would have to wait for old age.

 

From In Such Hard Times: the Poetry of Wei Ying-Wu translated by Red Pine, Port Townsend: WA, USA: Copper Canyon Press, 2009

Wei Ying-wu was a poet of the later 8th century CE, as we count time. It was a period when the later-remembered-as-glorious T’ang dynasty had begun to unravel. Translator Red Pine says that “Wei lived his life wondering what went wrong”, giving a melancholy tinge to many of his poems. He was distantly related to the Imperial family, a scholar in both the Buddhist and Confucian traditions who spent many years as a state official without much enjoying it.

This poem was written in 771. (In Britain, that’s 22 years before the Viking sack of the Christian monastery at Lindisfarne.) Shaolin Temple was built in the fifth century for a monk from India in a high mountain basin at the foot of Sungshan’s Shaoshih Peak. The trail from the temple to the top went right by the cave where Bodhidharma, the founder of Chan (Japanese Zen) Buddhism spent nine years in meditation.

The chime to which Wei refers was used in Chan monasteries to mark the end of a meditation period. The use of the term ‘the Way’ (Tao) wasn’t confined to Taoists – ‘Tao’ was also used by Confucians, and by Buddhists as a translation of Sanskrit ‘Dharma’. The last two lines of the poem show a tension between Wei’s Buddhist and Confucian trainings – whether to let go of worldly attachments, or whether to stay in his post and “wait for old age” before building his hut.

FUINN

Elaine and I returned from London yesterday afternoon, feeling pleased about our London venture. I’ll say more about that in a later post. Suffice it to say here that we found a ready interest in the possibilities of Contemplative Druidry and hope to return to London later in the year.

We discovered that the fourth CD of the Ceile De Fonn series had been delivered through the mail in our absence. Fonn is a Gaelic word that simultaneously means song, state of mind and the Land. The Fuinn (plural) are sacred chants which “work on many different levels, they harmonise the three parts of us that relate to the three meanings of the word itself – the spiritual, the otherworldly and the physical”. Indeed the Ceile De tradition “uses the imagery of three worlds that, when healthy, blend harmoniously: … the soulful, the spiritual and the physical and are represented here by the Sea, the Sky and the Land. When we are at one with the One we see that these three worlds are also One; our perception has changed and we have discovered ‘the Kingdom of Heaven'”.

The fourth CD was recorded earlier this month, around the time of Imbolc, and has a strong Brighid theme. I bought it in response to my own strong sense of a Brighid current in my own life and practice during the same period – one that goes well beyond the simple acknowledgement that Imbolc is widely seen as Her time. My spiritual note isn’t quite that of the Ceile De, which currently stands as a form of Celtic Christianity in which Brighid is honoured beyond the level of her customary sainthood. But many of the Fuinn, or words from them, presented here can fully support my own Pagan path through chanting, mantra meditation and contemplative prayer. I have worked with Fuinn before, and also have a paidirean (pronounced pahj-urinn) – a set of rosewood prayer beads with (in my case) an equal-armed gnostic cross bound by a circle. Now, with these new chants, I am coming back to them.

For me, experientially, Brighid is the Goddess of inner alchemy and ruthless compassion, and not quite the figure evoked by the Ceile De, though I can respond to Her gentler manifestations as well. But I feel a strong attraction to Gaelic, and Scottish Gaelic in particular, as a sacred language. I like chanting and listening to chants. I like being reminded that ‘contemplation’ in my own practice interweaves meditative, devotional and energetic elements. During recent weeks I have felt a closer connection to Brighid and I will opening myself more systematically to this connection in the coming period.

The Ceile De can be found on http://www.ceilede.co.uk

CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY IN LONDON

This afternoon my partner Elaine and I are travelling to London, and tomorrow we will be joined by our colleague Julie Bond at the Bonnington Centre in Vauxhall, the venue for our Introduction to Contemplative Druidry. It’s a landmark occasion for us, because it’s our first outing under the banner of ‘Contemplative Druid Events’. We are fortunate to have a maturing and deepening local group in Gloucestershire. We have given talks before, based around the book ‘Contemplative Druidry’. But this is the first time we have offered other people an opportunity to share our practice as well as our ideas. We are expecting ten participants as well as ourselves, a good number for us!

This is happening just as I’m experiencing significant shifts in my own spirituality, partly as a result of my personal work, and partly as a result of important moments with others in the course of this month, especially in Imbolc related activities.. I’m not yet sure where it’s going, in precise terms, but it feels rich and fecund. I find myself quite open and sensitive at this time, balancing this out with the demands of a presenter and facilitation role. The result is that I’m feeling a kind of nervous yet deep confidence about engaging with new people in this work.

Our next venture out will be our retreat from 17-19 April, described in http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com/ and on the ‘Contemplative Druid Events’ Facebook page. That will be a further step up, and a focus in coming weeks.

Elaine and I are returning from London on Tuesday, so I won’t be posting again before Wednesday next week.

 

BOOK REVIEW: ENCHANTING THE SHADOWLANDS

product_thumbnailIn formal terms, this is a five star review of Enchanting the Shadowlands, a book of numinous poems and short stories by Lorna Smithers. She describes it as “gathered from my local landscape in response to an imperative from a Brythonic god called Gwyn ap Nudd”. If you have any interest in the lingering subtle resonance of the old Celtic and pre-Celtic world in parts of England like the poet’s native northwest, you will appreciate this volume. If you have any interest in ‘awen’ as an inspirational force or creative current, and what it is to be ‘awenydd’, you will appreciate this volume. If you have any interest in poetry and landscape, or what is now called psycho-geography, you are likely to appreciate this volume. I strongly recommend this book.

More deeply, I am hoping in a small way to share something of the magic of the work as I have experienced it. I find that the best way in is to say that, for me, the resonance of the project, its feeling-tone, can be found in the first two verses of ‘A Journeying Song’, one of the later poems in the collection.

1: Horse and Hound

She will carry me

down invisible horse paths.

He will lead us

to invisible lands.

She will carry me

beyond the stolen skyline.

He will lead us

to where horizons end.

2: The Dreaming Land

The dream is not a dream

it is the life force of the land.

A living memory,

it is the dawn. It is the damned.

The dream is not a sleep.

It is a wakefulness

of past people and their dreams.

It is mistakes and shining laughter.

When I read these lines, I can feel myself riding the mare who will “carry me down invisible horse paths”, led (in my mind’s eye) by a large and shaggy hound. I can easily accept that, surrendering to the instinctive wisdom of these animal powers, I might find myself beyond a “broken skyline” at a place where “horizons end”.  I can settle into the felt apprehension of a Dreaming Land where the dream is not a dream, but “the life force of the land, a living memory” and a “wakefulness of past people and their dreams”. The words are a portal to the living reality of the experience itself. In that sense, these two brief verses stand as a microcosm of the whole book.

Peneverdant/Penwortham, the locality described, is a watery place. Its first human inhabitants are called “The Dwellers in the Water Country”, drawn by the obvious attractions of auroch and deer and also by destiny and “the dream of a bard”.

They came with the splash of oars

and the steady splash of feet

drawn by auroch, deer and destiny,

the dream of a bard

who saw the green hill rising

from a wilderness of carr and marsh.

The awenydd poet’s own seership, her own process of inspired and connected reaching back, is caught in her ‘Prayer for Netholme’.

I write this prayer for the White One

Who loaned to me a mare of mist,

Led me across the marsh of time

And granted me the seer’s gift.

For later periods, the poetry is sometimes dialogical with older texts – such as the Domesday Survey of 1086, or James Flockhart’s ‘De Mowbray:A legend of Penwortham’. The latter is referenced in in ‘St. Mary’s Well, Twilight’ – a poem that also includes finely wrought observation of nature and the meaning it makes for the observer/the observer makes for it.

The setting sun is casting his vast aura

With a majesty I never dreamt him capable of

Enflaming clouds in luminescent orange and red,

Purple like mountains behind the trees.

The birds are singing as if it is their last dusk song.

I enlist bold robin, blackbird and little wren …

As if this is the evening of all evenings

And will be their last so better make it their best.

It is hard to write freshly about sunsets, though I do think this is well-managed even in the first four lines, especially through bringing in a delighted shift in the observer’s perception, and then going on to dare purple poetry. But what makes this section of the poem for me is the succeeding lines, which create a foreground for the majestic sunset background through the activity of the birds and their commitment to Being while it lasts.

Throughout the book we are aware of the interweaving of two worlds. This is done particularly well in the stories, which are every bit as inspired as the poetry. I was especially moved by the last, called ‘The Brown-Eared Hound: Rivington, October 31st. 1917’. It concerns sudden, shocking bereavement and also a direct experience of Gwyn’s wild hunt. I could almost see a novel, or at any rate novella, in this story – bringing together the world of Wilfrid Owen, D.H Lawrence and Virginia Wolf with that of living Brythonic myth. At the same time the piece as written did everything it needed to.

I don’t think it is possible to do this volume justice in a single review. It’s hard, with poetry. So I’m suggesting that readers also have a look at Crychydd’s review in https://barddos.wordpress.com/2015/02/04 and the author’s own discussions about her work and its continuing development at: http://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/

Lorna Smithers Enchanting the Shadowlands Lulu, 2015

THE PHILOSOPHER & THE GODDESS

A story told by Sally Kempton in Awakening Shakti: the transformative power of the Goddesses of Yoga Boulder, CO, USA: Sounds True, 2013. The philosopher in question is Shankara, regarded as the founder of advaita Vedanta, which has been highly influential in theosophy and the New Age, as well as in India. But not unchallenged, though the resolution described in the story is equivocal.

“It happened like this. One day, as Shankara wandered through South India, he found himself on the bank of a river in flood. Shankara was fearless – he had faced down tigers, he had seen through the world-illusion – so what was the problem with a flood? He waded into the river and soon found himself up to his chest in rushing water. Then a weird thing happened. His body stopped working. Standing on one leg in the middle of a swift-moving river, with the other leg lifted to find his next foothold, he froze. His strength gone, his will paralyzed, Shankara panicked. For the first time in his life, Shankara knew the terror of being completely powerless. He realized that if he didn’t get moving, he could drown.

“Then he heard a cackling laugh. An old forager woman, bent with the weight of her years of labour, stood on the opposite bank. Desperately, Shankara called to her, ‘Help! Get help!’

“The crone raised her head and looked fully into her eyes. She laughed again, her laughter foaming over until it reached the sky. Then she dove into the river and in a few swift strokes swam to where he floundered. She seized him around the chest and pulled him to shore.

“’Shankara’, she said, ‘you preach that women are a trap. You say that this world is an illusion. You won’t so much as look at a woman. But can’t you see that your strength comes from Shakti? What happens when you lose your Shakti? Without Shakti you couldn’t even move your limbs! So why do you insult Shakti? Why do you insult the Goddess? Don’t you know that I everything? Don’t you know that you can’t live without me?”

“At that moment, the story goes, Shankara realized that he had been denying the obvious. He had been insulting his own life-energy – without which he would not even exist! He bowed down to the Goddess – for indeed, the old woman was the Goddess herself.

“Moreover, he became a closet Shakta Tantrika – a lover of the sacred feminine power within the world. He kept his conversion more or less secret – after all, he was an official world-renouncer. But today in South India, many officials of his orders of Indian monks worship the Goddess.”

HANES TALIESIN (THE CAULDRON OF CERIDWEN)

The Sage Ceridwen was the wife

Of Tegid Voel, of Pemble Mere:

Two children blessed their wedded life,

Morvran and Creirwy, fair and dear;

Morvran, a son of peerless worth,

And Creirway, lovely nymph of earth:

But one more son Ceridwen bare,

As foul as they before were fair.

She strove to make Avagddu wise;

She knew he never could be fair:

And, studying magic mysteries,

She gathered plants of virtue rare:

She placed the gifted plants to steep

Within the magic cauldron deep,

Where they a year and day must boil,

‘Till three drops crown the matrons toil.

Nine damsels raised the mystic flame;

Gwion the Little near it stood:

The while for simples roved the dame

Through tangles dell and pathless wood.

And when the year and day had passed,

The dame within the cauldron cast

The consummating chaplet wild,

While Gwion held the hideous child.

But from the cauldron rose a smoke

That filled with darkness all the air:

When through its folds the torchlight broke,

Nor Gwion, nor the boy, was there.

The fire was dead, the cauldron cold,

And in it lay, in sleep uprolled,

Fair as the morning-star, a child,

That woke and stretched its arms and smiled.

What chanced her labours to destroy;

She never knew, and sought in vain

If ‘twere her own misshapen boy,

Or little Gwion, born again:

And vexed with doubt, the babe she rolled,

In cloth of purple and of gold,

And in a coracle consigned

Its fortunes to the sea and wind.

The summer night was still and bright,

The summer moon was large and clear,

The frail bark, on the springtide’s height,

Was floated into Elphin’s weir:

The baby in his arms he raised:

His lovely spouse stood by, and gazed,

And, blessing it with gentle vow,

Cried “TALIESIN!” “Radiant brow!”

And I am he, and well I know

Ceridwen’s power protects me still:

And hence o’er hill and vale I go,

And sing, unharmed, what’er I will.

She has for me Time’s veil withdrawn:

The images of things long gone,

The shadows of the coming days,

Are present to my visioned gaze.

And I have heard the words of power,

By Ceiron’s solitary lake,

That bid, at midnight’s thrilling hour,

Eyri’s hundred echoes wake.

I to Diganwy’s towers have sped,

And now Caer Lleon’s halls I tread,

Demanding justice, now as then,

From Maelgon, most unjust of men.

This poem comes from The Misfortunes of Elphin written by Thomas Love Peacock in 1829. It is (very loosely) based on the last part of the Hanes Taliesin, in which the Bard Taliesin he has to free his patron Prince Elphin from imprisonment by Maelgon, the ruler of North Wales. Taliesin has to win a Bardic contest at the court of the High King, Arthur and thus be able to ask for Arthur’s support. Elphin is indeed liberated, through Arthur’s arrangement of a prisoner exchange. The poem above is presented as the Taliesin’s winning entry and concerns his mysterious birth. It differs somewhat from the version presented 20 years later by Lady Charlotte Guest, whilst being a recognisable if variant presentation of the same tale. The audience “shouted with delight” at this song, which wins the contest for Taliesin and entitles him to a boon from Arthur.

Thomas Love Peacock was a slightly older contemporary of the Romantic poet Shelley and a close friend from 1812 until the latter’s departure for Italy in 1816. Indeed they continued to correspond, in letters that have been preserved, giving us valuable information about Shelley’s life in Italy. Peacock too wrote poetry and within The Misfortunes of Elphin he offers a characteristically Romantic view of Awen as “the rapturous and abstracted state of poetical inspiration”, and also recommends the triad: “the three dignities of poetry: the union of the true and the wonderful; the union of the beautiful and the wise; the union of art and of nature”. Peacock travelled in Wales and lived in Maentwrog in Merionethshire for a time. I have used Peacock’s spellings of proper names throughout.

CALLING PAGAN BLOGGERS

Nimue Brown’s Pagan Bloggers – for those interested in book reviewing.

Druid Life

I know a lot of you who read and comment here have blogs – I see the links for the wordpress ones whenever you interact with my stuff. (WordPress would like me to stalk all of you.) Others of you are places wordpress prefers to pretend don’t exist, on tumblr and blogspot and the such. And if you aren’t a blogger, I’m prepared to bet you have friends who are, or blogs you like, so, no slinking off just yet, this could still be relevant!

As you may be aware, one of the things I do is write Pagan books for www.moon-books.net . Last year I started looking after the blog http://moon-books.net/blogs/moonbooks/ (and if you have community related content then talk to me, if I can use that space to support the Pagan community, I will). In the last couple of weeks, I also took on doing book promotion for…

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POEM: AVALLENNAU MYRDDIN (MERLIN’S APPLE TREES)

Fair gift to Merlin given

Apple trees seven score and seven;

Equal all in age and size;

On a green hill-slope, that lies

Basking in the southern sun

Where bright waters murmuring run.

Just beneath the pure stream flows;

High above the forest grows;

Not again on earth is found

Such a slope of orchard ground:

Song of birds, and hum of bees,

Ever haunt the apple trees.

Lovely green their leaves in spring;

Lovely bright their blossoming:

Sweet the shelter and the shade

By their summer foliage made:

Sweet the fruit their ripe boughs hold,

Fruit delicious, tinged with gold.

Gloyad, nymph with tresses bright,

Teeth of pearl, and eyes of light,

Guards these gifts of Ceido’s son,

Gwendol, the lamented one,

Him, whose keen-edged, sword no more

Flashes ‘mid the battle’s roar.

War has raged on vale and hill:

That fair grove was peaceful still.

There have chiefs and princes sought

Solitude and tranquil thought:

There have kings, from courts and throngs,

Turned to Merlin’s wild-wood songs.

Now from echoing woods I hear

Hostile axes sounding near:

On the sunny slope reclined,

Feverish grief disturbs my mind,

Lest the wasting edge consume

My fair spot of fruit and bloom.

Lovely trees, that long alone

In the sylvan vale have grown,

Bare, your sacred plot around,

Grows the once wood-waving ground:

Fervent valour guards ye still;

Yet my soul presages ill.

Well I know, when years have flown,

Briars shall grow where ye have grown:

Them in turn shall power uproot;

Then again shall flowers and fruit

Flourish in the sunny breeze,

On my new-born apple trees.

This is my second poem drawn from The Misfortunes of Elphin written by Thomas Love Peacock in 1829 and based (very loosely) based on the last part of the Hanes Taliesin. The Bard Taliesin has to free his patron Prince Elphin from imprisonment by Maelgon, the ruler of North Wales by winning a Bardic contest at the court of the High King, Arthur. Victory entitles him to ask for Arthur’s support. Elphin is indeed liberated, through Arthur’s arrangement of a prisoner exchange. The poem above is presented as the work of Merlin, also a contestant. The audience response is described thus: “this song was heard with much pleasure, especially by those of the audience who could see, in the imagery of the apple trees, a mystical type of the doctrines and fortunes of Druidism, to which Merlin was suspected of being secretly attached, even under the very nose of St. David”. In a future post I will also present Taliesin’s winning entry.

Thomas Love Peacock was a slightly older contemporary of the Romantic poet Shelley and a close friend from 1812 until the latter’s departure for Italy in 1816. Indeed they continued to correspond, in letters that have been preserved, giving us valuable information about Shelley’s life in Italy. Peacock too wrote poetry and within The Misfortunes of Elphin he offers a characteristically Romantic view of Awen as “the rapturous and abstracted state of poetical inspiration”, and also recommends the triad: “the three dignities of poetry: the union of the true and the wonderful; the union of the beautiful and the wise; the union of art and of nature”. Peacock travelled in Wales and lived in Maentwrog in Merionethshire for a time. I have used Peacock’s spellings of proper names throughout.

POEM: GORWYNION GAUAV (THE BRILLIANCES OF WINTER)

Last of flowers, in tufts around

Shines the gorse’s golden bloom:

Milk white lichens clothe the ground

‘Mid the flowerless heath and broom:

Bright are holly-berries, seen

Red, through leaves of glossy green.

Brightly, as on rocks they leap,

Shine on sea-waves, white with spray:

Brightly in the dingles deep,

Gleams the river’s foaming way;

Brightly through the distance show

Mountain summits clothed with snow.

Brightly where the torrents bound,

Shines the frozen colonnade,

Which the black rocks, dripping round,

And the flying spray have made:

Bright the ice drops on the ash

Leaning o’er the cataract’s dash.

Bright the hearth, where feast and song

Crown the warrior’s hour of peace,

While the snow storm drives along,

Bidding the war’s worst tempest cease:

Bright the hearth flame, flashing clear

On the up-hung shield and spear.

Bright the torchlight of the hall

When the wintry night winds blow;

Brightness when its splendours fall

On the mead-cup’s sparkling flow:

While the maiden’s smile of light

Makes the brightness trebly bright.

Close the portals; pile the hearth;

Strike the harp; the feast pursue;

Brim the horns; fire, music, mirth,

Mead and love, are winter’s due.

Spring to purple conflict calls

Swords that shine on winter’s walls.

This poem comes from The Misfortunes of Elphin written by Thomas Love Peacock in 1829.  The story is (very loosely) based on the last part of the Hanes Taliesin, in which the Bard Taliesin he has to free his patron Prince Elphin from imprisonment by Maelgon, the ruler of North Wales.  Taliesin has to win a Bardic contest at the court of the High King Arthur and thus be able to ask for Arthur’s support. Elphin is indeed liberated, through Arthur’s arrangement of a prisoner exchange. The poem above is presented as the work of Prince Llywarch, one of the contestants. It is well received: “Llywarch’s song was applauded, as representing a series of images with which all present were familiar, and which were all of them agreeable”.  It treats winter as, among other things, a period of respite from warfare. In future posts I will also present the entries of Merlin and the winner Taliesin.

Thomas Love Peacock was a slightly older contemporary of the Romantic poet Shelley and a close friend from 1812 until the latter’s departure for Italy in 1816. Indeed they continued to correspond, in letters that have been preserved, giving us valuable information about Shelley’s life in Italy.  Peacock too wrote poetry and within The Misfortunes of Elphin he offers a characteristically Romantic view of Awen as “the rapturous and abstracted state of poetical inspiration”, also recommending the triad: “the three dignities of poetry: the union of the true and the wonderful; the union of the beautiful and the wise; the union of art and of nature”. Peacock travelled in Wales and lived in Maentwrog, Merionethshire, for a time. I have used Peacock’s spellings of proper names throughout.

MIND AND LIFE INSTITUTE IN EUROPE

In a previous post on https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2015/1/02 I wrote about the Mind and Life Institute which can be found on http://www.mindandlife.org/. Founded in 1987 it was largely the inspiration of the current Dalai Lama. Its aim is to bring together contemplative practitioners and the academic community to investigate contemplative states and their value. Although it has a largely Buddhist orientation, it is not confined to Buddhists.

This post is to draw attention to a Mind and Life European Summer Research Institute on Contemplative Practice, Science and Society from 28 August to 3 September 2015 at the Abtei Fraueninsel Chiemsee, Germany.

This will explore the influence of contemplative practices on mind, behaviour, brain function and health, but are also fostering the development of new fields of research known as Contemplative Neuroscience, Contemplative Clinical Science, Contemplative Studies, and Contemplative Education (see www.mindandlife-europe.org for more details, or check out www.mindandlife.org if you wish to learn more about previous SRIs in the USA).