contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Month: August, 2016

PRESENT ENCOUNTER

 

I am living a human life back-lit by the practice of Seeing. In a sense, this is relatively new and very welcome. I have a formal morning practice in which, for a little while in linear time, I stand as the “silent stillness of Seeing”. This sets the tone for my day. I taste my true nature in ways not fully matched in previous forms of meditation.

In another, profounder sense, I recognise that it has ‘always’ been this way and could not be otherwise. As J. Jennifer Matthews says: “there is clarity: luminous, still and silent clarity. It is with you and in you. It is you. It always exists. No it never takes a break; no it never goes out for just one cigarette. It is the wholeness you can never fall out of. Not in your drunkest, sorriest, most hysterical moments, not even then can you fall out of this clear and sacred perfection” (1).

Matthews is concerned to emphasise that we never really leave the clarity of the here-and-now.  She talks of the present moment as the ‘present encounter’, which for me is an apt way of talking about capacity for the world within the moment, taking a state into the realm of process and action. This present encounter is the only one there is, and so the act of recognition, our apparent ‘return’ to the mystery and intimacy of the encounter, is not to be thought of as the attainment of a goal.  For Matthews such a conceptualisation can only feed into an ‘addiction’ to self-improvement, an addiction which hooks us into distant external goals (jobs, partners, accomplishments), distant internal goals (enlightenment), and toxic relationships with teachers who, “by situating freedom in some future event that they will control … are stealing your wallet and helping you look for it”.

Yet I do feel different, speaking as a human, as the little ‘i’, than before my involvement with Headless Way teaching and practice. The entry, as an initial step, into a key reference experience I hadn’t had before, has shifted my way of being and refined my understanding. I know that I’m talking here at the level of narrative human identity, and not sub specie aeternatis where I simply AM  clear awake space, my true nature.  But engagement with spiritual teachings and movements is part of being human, and picking the healthy, emancipatory ones is part of aware (in the ‘normal’, cognitive sense) human discrimination. That the Cosmos may know itself, I and i, I and you, i and you, you and you – these complex and varied partnerships, co-create the present encounter.

(1) Jennifer Matthews (2010) Radically condensed instructions for being just who you are

 

 

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SEEING: THOMAS TRAHERNE

“Will you see the Infancy of this sublime and celestial Greatness? Those Pure and Virgin Apprehensions I had from the Womb, and the Divine Light wherewith I was born, are the Best unto this Day, wherein I can see the Universe …. They are unattainable by Book, and therefore I will teach them by experience.” (1)

‘Unattainable by Book’ was fighting talk  in seventeenth century England. What sort of person was using this language? Thomas Traherne (1636-74) was the son of a prosperous Hereford shoemaker – big house, numerous resident apprentices.  He grew up during the civil war (1642-49) and England’s  republican experiment (1649-1660) in a naturally royalist area. He entered Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1652 (16 being a normal age at the time) under a strictly Puritan head, took  a BA in 1656 and was appointed minister at the Herefordshire Parish of Credenhill by the Commissioners for the Approbation of Public Preachers in 1657. As soon as Charles II returned to England Traherne arranged to be ordained as Credenhill’s Anglican vicar, developed strong links with the renewed life of Hereford Cathedral, and also found time to be Chaplain to Sir Orlando Bridgeman, Charles’ Lord Privy Seal. A modern commentator (1) describes Traherne as “distinguished from his seventeenth century peers by the fact that he is blissfully untroubled by the tensions, doubts, anxieties that (we are repeatedly told) mark the age in general”.

Traherne is best remembered as a mystic, and his reputation has strengthened over the last century. His diction is of his time, but in the culture of the English language his note seems that of a later age, whilst ultimately timeless.

“Your Enjoyment of the World is never right, till evry Morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your father’s Palace: and look upon the Skies and the Earth and the Air, as Celestial Joys: having such a Reverend Esteem of all, as if you were among the Angels …

“You never Enjoy the World aright, til the Sea itself floweth in your Veins, till you are clothed with the Heavens, and Crowned with the Stars: and perceiv yourself to be the Sole Heir of the whole World: and more then so, becaus Men are in it who are evry one Sole Heirs, as well as you….

“Till you are intimately Acquainted with that Shady Nothing out of which the world was made … you never Enjoy the World.”

I’ve enjoyed Traherne for some years. A highly committed Christian, he breaks through formalistic theology, as if drinking directly from a Divine spring. I’ve appreciated him as a kind of Romantic panentheist, from before the time when either term came into use. Now I’m reading him as a Seer as understood in the Headless Way, and I have a clearer focus – the previous one was already fine, but a little fuzzy. Traherne’s human account of Seeing is embedded in time, place and tradition – as is mine. At another level – one awakened joy.

(1) Thomas Traherne Poetry and Prose London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2002. (Selected and introduced by Denise Inge for the series The Golden Age of Spiritual Writing)

 

 

 

 

GROUNDED

Where do I stand with contemplative Druidry, this Lammas-tide?

My recent Headless Way (1) experience has had the force of a conversion, and I have to re-draw my internal maps.  Interestingly, I now find myself grounded with tendonitis in my left heel. I probably haven’t experienced an actual rupture, and so I am likely to be grounded for “weeks rather than months”. Still, ample space for managing transformation.

One of the things I am doing is to look back at key steps on the way. For instance, in my introduction to Contemplative Druidry (2), I talked of “practices that support a fuller presence within the stream of passing experience … contemplation in its fullest sense enables a transfigured here-and-now, and the dissolving of subject/object distinctions within it”. I mentioned how the contemplation of a wild rose on the banks of the Tweed had triggered such a dissolving, and how this had morphed into a blissful peak experience lasting for some weeks. But I was also clear that such an experience should be framed as an occasional grace, pointing beyond self as commonly understood, and not accessible at will.

This perfectly illustrates why Douglas Harding’s style of Headless Seeing has been a game changer for me. The core experience is readily accessible – i can recognise my true nature, the greater I, at will, through simple Seeing. I am no longer a seeker. In a form of brief contemplative practice,  I see clear awake space and capacity for the world. Since there is no doubt or issue about what I see, the open questions concern capacity for the world. In my human life, in place and time, what capacity do I manifest? Where do I put my energy?

Here I stand, spiritually committed to a contemporary iteration of the Sophia perennis known as the Headless Way.  In terms of ancient wisdom, I’ve understood that there are two continuing lines of tradition that relevantly sustain me. Their pull is largely intuitive and emotional rather than via actual doctrines. One is Christian Gnosticism, theist and often dualist though it may be. The other is the interweaving of Taoist and Chan Buddhist culture in China. There are people and writings in other traditions that I also value, but those are ones I look at with most care.

I do not, now, expect to be in business with any kind of Shamanism, or to have a practitioner relationship with the British/Irish ‘indigenous’ spirituality of any ethnic group or from any pre-Christian period. Of course I continue to be blessed by a level of knowledge and appreciation; they are part of me, in that sense. But that’s as far as it goes. I have let go of my role as a mentor on the OBOD distance learning course (3). I could continue to understand and support people, very congruently, but for me the difference between their practitioner lives and mine has grown too great over the last six months or so. I couldn’t carry on. It didn’t seem right.

On the other hand, what we do in contemplative Druidry is different. Following our learning from Contemplative Druidry our practices support a modern (romantic? post-modern?) ‘nature mysticism’ revolving around forms of lean ritual, group meditation, being/walking in nature and creative arts. I’m entirely up for this, whether it continues under the name of Druidry or not. This is something to work through with my companions in that arena.

The time to leave an activity is when I am no longer learning or contributing. But I want to be accurate in my assessments, and to avoid errors stemming from the force of change, especially letting go of things that I would do better to keep and re-integrate into a new whole.  A time of joy and breakthrough, needing careful navigation.

(1)  Headless Way http://www.headless.org

(2) James Nichol (2014) Contemplative Druidry: people, practice and potential Amazon/KDP (Foreword by Philip Carr-Gomm Deep peace of the quiet Earth: the nature mysticism of Druidry)

(3) Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) http://www.druidry.org/