contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Month: April, 2015

CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY: DEVELOPING A TRADITION

It’s now been a week since our residential retreat at Anybody’s Barn. For me it marked a shift from an awareness raising phase to a tradition building one. In a way, the key moment was after the retreat itself, when we agreed to make this retreat an annual event. ‘We’ are the four co-facilitators of the retreat – Elaine Knight, JJ Middleway, Karen Webb and myself. We decided to stay together as a team, stay with the same venue, and book the equivalent weekend next year. These are all decisions that lean on the side of continuity and stability as important features of tradition building. We will continue to inquire and innovate: inquiry and innovation are essentials components of the tradition as we see it. But we now also have the opportunity to refine and develop the residential work within an established framework. We call this framework The Birchwood Retreat, linking it to the land we are on rather than a building.

The Gloucestershire contemplative group has been around for nearly three years and has developed its own tradition, which certainly influenced the retreat since all the facilitators are members. Quite a number of our members will be involved in Druid Camp 2015 – see http://www.druidcamp.org.uk –  our input to the larger event will reflect our tradition as well.  We have a Contemplative Day in Stroud on 3 October which will both reflect existing practice and provide new material. The facilitators on this occasion will be Elaine Knight, Nimue Brown and me – see also http://contemplativedruidevents.tumblr.com/ where information will be updated as the programme develops.

All of the above have been in development for some time. None of the above is new information. And yet something has changed for me. It’s a move from primarily inquiring, exploring, sharing ideas (e.g. through the Contemplative Druidry book) and trying things out in groups, to a place of a primary concern with co-creating a Contemplative Druid tradition in which inquiring, exploring and innovating have an honoured place. It’s a subtle difference, but a significant one. The agreement to hold an annual Birchwood Retreat marks this shift for me.

POEM: BOATING THROUGH A GORGE

Here turtles fish and turn back,

and even the crabs are worried,

But for some reason poets risk their lives

to run these rapids and swirl past these rocks.

From Yang Wan-li Heaven my Blanket: Earth my Pillow: Poems from Sung Dynasty China New York & Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1975 (Translated and introduced by Jonathan Chaves)

LINES WRITTEN ON CONTEMPLATIVE RETREAT, WHEN THE BLUEBELLS APPEARED

BLUEBELL

Growing –

green growing

viriditas

virilitas

I have pushed up through the earth

nurtured by her nutrients

and her moistures,

fuelled by the fires of her core.

I have pushed up through the earth

and out of the earth

out of the earth

skywards

a green stalk

a green stalk in the joy of being

the potency of becoming.

I have pushed up

I have bathed in the sun rain and wind

In the light, open world

pushed up from the nurturing dark below

and am now, in my own being,

the grace of the blue flowers

a profusion …

some open

some opening

some yet to open

some never to open.

All mine. All me.

And in the heart of these abundant

reachings-out,

I am waiting.

BRIGHID AND THE ORAN MOR

Truly inspiring! I am greatly moved by Joanna’s  eloquent and powerful piece. It’s great when someone else in in the current of a similar yet distinct inspiration.

Down the Forest Path

This is a reblog from my latest blog post at Moon Books. I hope you enjoy it, and do let me know if you’ve had similar experiences. 🙂

I had meditated and tranced for nearly an hour before my altar, to the sounds of the birds outside and Heloise Pilkington on my cd player. http://www.heloisepilkington.com/index.htm  My cats joined me, sleeping in their respective spots, their purrs vibrating along my spine.  As the incense burned out, I came back to myself, having danced with my goddess, diving in her mysteries and those of my own soul.

I was ready now. Time to go out, to seek her, to seek the awen.  I packed a small bag with more incense and some water and made my way out of the house and onto the heath. Taking my time, walking slowly, I feel more graceful after my time spent at my altar…

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POEM: THE OLD PEONY STALK

Seeming old dry stick

and yet …

a whole ecology

of

moist earth

tiny insects

a little live stem

whiskers and bones

whiskers and bones

dying back to the earth

without fuss

and not too fast

enough life left to feel/hear its

resonance

… a  subtle one.

Stillness allowing movement

permitting earth, moisture, fragmentation

in slow process

easy not to notice

yet, in softened, mutated from –

Part of the Song.

One of the cultural values of the Druid path is that those of us who are not dedicated, specialised poets and artists are encouraged to write poetry and to practise in the arts. I wrote this yesterday after participating in a ‘Lectio Divina from the Book of Nature’ practice with my partner Elaine. This practice was first introduced to us by our colleague Julie Bond and Elaine has adapted it. She will be offering it at our Contemplative Druid Retreat this weekend (17-19 April). I enjoyed rehearsing the practice with her very much, and am glad to have this record of its fruits.

POEM: SUDDEN FOG

Setting out at dawn, I gaze at the distant mountains;

I can count the peaks in the clear air.

But the budding hope in my heart

arouses the jealousy of the Mountain Spirit.

Swiftly he exhibits his divine powers

in a startling display of transformation.

He fills the air with cotton clouds

then tears them into sheds of silken mist.

They enfold the earth from everywhere

and hide the sky from view.

The sun, like a plate of rose quartz,

hangs at a height beyond calculation –

it shines down through the haze, red beams penetrating the white fog.

In the fog are human forms

coming and going in great confusion.

Each of them is holding some implement

but I cannot see clearly what they are.

Next, as if this weren’t strange enough,

there appear even stranger sights:

a roadway lined with pearl-studded banners;

mountains covered with trees of jasper.

A golden bridge arching across the sky;

a jade pagoda surging up from the earth.

But while I stare in astonishment

everything is suddenly swept away.

Amazed, I rub my eyes,

and finding myself standing on the same old mountain road.

Who can say if this was fantasy or reality,

whether I was dreaming of awake?

Once I travelled to Mountain Omei in my imagination

And laughed at Buddha for deceiving the ignorant.

Laugh at deception and be deceived –

Then Buddha will have the last laugh.

From Yang Wan-li Heaven my Blanket: Earth my Pillow: Poems from Sung Dynasty China New York & Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1975 (Translated and introduced by Jonathan Chaves)

According to our reckoning Yang Wan-li lived from 1127-1206. Mount Omei in the western province of Szechwan was a holy place for Buddhist devotees, particularly associated with the bodhisattva P’u-hsien, or Samantabhadra, to give his Sanskrit name.

Of this poem the translator says: “Yang may have been influenced by Ch’an Buddhism” (i.e. a purist, philosophical kind, parent of Japanese Zen) “in his discussion of poetry and his perception of the world, but ‘Sudden Fog’ refers to a different kind of Buddhism, a popular, devotional religion in which the devotee can hope to experience visions of his favourite Buddha or bodhisattva. Certain mountains in China were associated with these apparitions, and Buddhists would make pilgrimages to them seeking visions or mystical experiences.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: JOHN HERON

The notion of being present, here-and-now, is very influential in current contemplative discourse.   I think it needs some clarification and extension. John Heron is a humanistic psychologist, facilitation theorist and teacher, and  co-founder both of Co-Counselling International (CCI) as a peer support system and Co-operative Inquiry as a democratic research methodology in the human sciences. Here he explains ‘abundant time’.

“Living in abundant time is more than living in present time.  It is possible to be very here and now in terms of immediate sensory awareness yet to be dissociated from past and future.  Living in abundant time means being aware of what is present, with an openness to and a sense of the re-evaluated past, and with an openness to and a sense of the emergent possibilities that are pouring into the present … The present lived out of the future through a restructuring insight into the past – some such aphorism as this comes close to the concept of living in abundant time.”

John Heron Catharsis in human development, London: British Postgraduate Medical Federation, 1977

GWYN, GWYTHYR AND CREIDDYLAD: A STORY FROM THE OLD NORTH

This post reblogged from Peneverdant looks at the traditional stories of the northern British (especially in north west England and southern Scotland) and surviving material from these stories in later Welsh literature.

Signposts in the Mist

Cherry BlossomCulhwch and Olwen is one of the oldest and most fascinating repositories of ancient British mythology. It originates from two texts; a fragmented version in The White Book of Rhydderch (1325) and full version in The Red Book of Hergest (1400). The main narrative centres on Culhwch’s quest to win Olwen for which he enlists the help of Arthur and his retinue; a medley of historical and mythological characters.

Embedded within it we find fragments of other tales which may be of older origin and have stood alone. These include the hunt for the legendary boar Twrch Twryth and release of Mabon from imprisonment in Gloucester. Most significantly for me as someone who venerates Gwyn ap Nudd, we find the story of his rivalry with Gwythyr ap Greidol for the love of Creiddylad and their battle for her every May Day.

This story is central to understanding Gwyn’s mythology. Because…

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ORAN MOR THE MAGIC OF SKYPE

Last night (my time) I had a Skype conversation with a group of people mostly in Nova Scotia (their early evening) and a person from Washington State, USA (early afternoon). I had been invited by Alix Sandra Huntley-Speirs of Alba Nuadh: the Druid Arts of Nova Scotia, a group which can be found on http://www.albanuadh.com

The topic was the Oran Mor, including its relationship to the contemplative thread in Druidry. As it happens I’ve been quite recently re-alerted to the Oran Mor, and it wasn’t a topic within my book Contemplative Druidry: People Practice and Potential which we also discussed a little bit. Additionally, the Nova Scotia group are wanting to incorporate their sense of the Oran Mor into their work together. So this made for a dynamic and flowing conversation. From my point of view I certainly needed to respond and think and talk on the spot. So I believe did everyone else.

I felt that I had been privileged to enter an authentic space of co-creation. I had a certainty that something of significance will come of this, both for the group and also for those of us who were in (literally) different places. I can’t ‘know’ that of course, yet I feel it strongly. Speaking for myself, I moved on in an important way. I moved from a space in which I was focused on early meanings and subsequent interpretations of Oran Mor, and how they might guide me, to one where my inquiry has become more visceral. How will The Oran Mor live through me, in my body, heart and mind. How will it shift my experience, my life world?

I appreciate all the people who made this conversation happen, including myself, and to the technology. I know that Alba Nuadh want to continue the practice of Skype conversations and I recommend others to experiment with this medium for Druid conversations.

ABOUT THE ORAN MOR (GREAT SONG)

In my last post, I presented my Amazon review of Jason Kirkey’s The Salmon in the Spring prefaced by his view of the Oran Mor (Great Song), itself somewhat indebted to earlier work by Frank MacKeown.  This followed on from my recent reading of a post involving the Oran Mor by Alison Leigh Lily at Q&A: What is the Song of the World, which I picked up through a reblog on Joanna van der Hoeven’s Down the Forest Path, and reblogged myself on https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2015/4/2/ . Kirkey essentially sees the Oran Mor as something like the Divine Ground, or the Tao of Chinese mystical philosophy, something that includes all beings whether they be mountains, salmon, humans, midges, wolfhounds, gods or sidhe.

Soon after I read the book I discussed my take on the Oran Mor in a local radio interview, which can now  be found in the OBOD website on http://www.druidry.org/druid-way/other-paths/druidry-dharma/. Those interested can scroll down to AUDIO Druidry & Buddhism Stroud FM 141210.mp3.  At that time I was more involved in Buddhism than I am now, but generally I still stand by the things I said.

Concerning the Oran Mor, I focused on implications for the personal spiritual path rather than wider issues of cosmology. I suggested that we are invited to do three things:

  1. Learn to hear the Song. This is another way of talking about re-enchantment, the beginning of the conscious journey in paths like Druidry.
  2. Find our unique note, or sound, and sing it. Whilst each note is meaningless, indeed impossible, without the Song, the Song is itself dependent on our individual contributions.
  3. Learn to hear the silence behind and within the Song. For without that the Song, in our perception can become just a noise, even if a beautiful one. To awakening to a full awareness and appreciation of the Song, we need the dimension of silence and stillness as well as sound.

I have noticed one strange thing. When interviewed for Stroud FM (and about half-way through the piece), I confidently attributed these last sentiments to Jason Kirkey. But I’ve looked through the book again and I can’t find them there. So it seems to have been my way of inwardly digesting his book and in a sense the emergence of my own note in relation to the Oran Mor itself as concept, image and inspiration. Still, a mystery, and quite startling when I listened to the interview and then went through the text again. My self-image is one of being careful with attributions and acknowledgements. Perhaps that’s why I felt such a strong energetic pull when the Oran Mor was brought to my attention again.