contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Contemplative Druidry

PANPSYCHISM: A NOTE

Non-dualist author Peter Russell is happy to use the Western terms ‘panpsychism’ and ‘panexperientialism’ when discussing what he calls the “mystery of consciousness”. These terms are both modifications of ‘pantheism’ and the ideas have a kinship with those of modern animism. From a Druid perspective, I find it valuable to see this kind of connection being made with the non-dualist systems of Indian origin – whether Tantric, Vedantic, Buddhist or Jain. Challenging our modern mainstream culture’s assumptions about consciousness, Russell says:

“The underlying assumption of the current meta-paradigm is that matter is insentient. The alternative is that the faculty of consciousness is a fundamental quality of nature. Consciousness does not arise because of some particular arrangement of nerve cells or processes going on between them, or from any other physical features. It is always present.

“If the faculty of consciousness is always present, then the relationship between consciousness and nervous systems needs to be rethought. Rather than creating consciousness, nervous systems may be amplifiers of consciousness, increasing the richness and quality of experience. In the analogy of a film projector, a nervous system is like having a lens in the projector. Without the lens there is still a light on the screen, but the image is much less sharp.

“In philosophical circles the idea that consciousness is in everything is called panpsychism, from the Greek pan, meaning all, and psyche, meaning soul or mind. Unfortunately, the words soul and mind suggest that simple life forms may possess qualities of consciousness found in human beings. To avoid this misunderstanding, some contemporary philosophers use the term panexperientialism – everything has experience.

“Whatever name this position is given, its basic tenet is that the capacity for inner experience could not evolve or emerge out of entirely insentient, non-experiencing matter. Experience can only come from that which already has experience. Therefore, the faculty of consciousness must be present all the way down the evolutionary tree.

“We know that plants are sensitive to many aspects of their environment – length of daylight, temperature, humidity, atmospheric chemistry. Even some single-celled organisms are sensitive to physical vibration, light and heat. Who is to say that the do not have a corresponding glimmer of awareness?

“According to this view, there is nowhere we can draw a line between conscious and nonconscious entities; there is a trace of experience, however slight, in viruses, molecules, atoms and even elementary particles.”

Peter Russell From Science to God: a Physicist’s Journey into the Mystery of Consciousness Novato, CA: New World Library, 2002

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COMPASSION FIRST

“KING: Venerable teacher, I have summoned you here to teach me non-dualism.

“TEACHER: Very well, Your Majesty. But first, please allow me to teach you compassion.

“KING: I want to learn non-dualism first, then compassion.

“TEACHER: Your Majesty, I heard that you weren’t happy with your previous teacher and that you had him put to death. If I teach you non-dualism first, you might do the same to me. And then you wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn compassion. But if I am able to teach you compassion first, you will learn both.”

Greg Goode After Awareness: The End of the Path Oakland, CA: Non-Duality Press, 2016 (Non-Duality Press is an imprint of New Harbinger Publications, Inc.)

THE ART OF TRAVELING AND SIGHTSEEING

“Lieh-tzu used to love to travel and to see the sights. When his teacher Hu-tzu asked him what he found so enjoyable about traveling, Lieh-tzu said, ‘While other people travel to see the beauty of sights and surroundings, I enjoy seeing the way things change. To other sightseers, it may seem that I am like them, but the difference between us is that they see things whereas I see changes.’

“Hu-tzu said, ‘You think you are different from other travelers, but actually you are not. Although they are amused by sights and sounds, and you are fascinated by things that always change, you are both occupied with what is out there rather than what you experience inside. People who are attracted to the external world are always looking for something new and wonderful that will satisfy their senses. However, only people who look into themselves will find true satisfaction.’

“After this conversation, Lieh-tzu stopped traveling because he thought he had thoroughly misunderstood what it means to travel. Seeing this, Hu-tzu said to him, ‘Travel is such a wonderful experience! Especially when you forget you are traveling. Then you will enjoy whatever you see and do. Those who look into themselves when they travel will not think about what they see. In fact, there is no distinction between the viewer and the seen. You experience everything with the totality of yourself, so that every blade of grass, every mountain, every lake is alive and is a part of you. When there is no division between you and what is other, this is the ultimate experience of traveling.’”

Eva Wong Lieh-tzu: a Taoist Guide to Practical Living Boston & London: Shambhala, 2001

Eva Wong grew up bilingual in Hong Kong, is a practitioner of the Taoist arts and a well-known translator of Taoist and other Chinese texts. She writes, “before I had even heard of Taoism, the stories of the Lieh-tzu were familiar to me from my childhood readers … although my family was bilingual, I grew up in Chinese culture, and the Lieh-tzu gave me and my schoolmates kernels of wisdom packed in fables and proverbs. Even at age six and seven, we knew about the Old Fool who tried to move the mountains, the man who worried that the sky would fall, and the man who tried to chase down the sun”.

The Lieh-tzu is less well known to Westerners than Lao-Tzu’s Tao-Te-Ching or the work of Chuang-tzu. But for Eva Wong the voice of the Lieh-tzu is a friendly one, not that of an all-knowing sage or master. “It is the voice of someone who gives advice not because he is an expert, but because he has made mistakes and learned from them. It comes from a person who allows us to listen. He speaks, he pauses, and when we respond, he speaks again”.

Comparing the three great representatives of early Taoism, Eva Wong says that “Lao-tzu speaks as a sage”, and “when the lecture is over, there is no question period. It is up to us to understand him”. Chuang-tzu “is an eccentric who chuckles to himself and is not concerned about being understood. He “wanders in a world different to ours”, where “the ground of reality is always changing”. But “the Lieh-tzu is different. Lieh-tzu lives in our world. He talks about experiences we can understand … life and death, fortune and misfortune, gain and loss … friendship, human communication, dreams, reality and learning … it is as if someone gently shook us and woke us from a deep sleep … I am awed by Lao-tzu, baffled by Chuang-tzu, but I am never afraid of Lieh-tzu”.

WHAT MATTERS?

“People and relationships matter. The earth matters. Life, yours and mine, matters. Art, music, culture, science, justice, knowledge, history, peace and any other similar thing that enriches your experience of life and your relations with the world, also matter. The extent to which life is worth living matters. Death matters. And thinking about these things matters, too.” (1,2)

These words, from Pagan philosopher Brendan Myers’ Reclaiming Civilization, resonate for me. After some years of inquiry, I feel grounded in a version of non-dualism that maintains a primary focus on being human in this world. This is a world of multiplicity and interconnectedness, and of opportunity for I-Thou relationships. It is where things happen.

In an early post for this blog (3) I discussed Satish Kumar’s recollection of his mother’s walks around their family farm in India. “For mother, walking was much more than a physical exercise, it was a meditation.  Touching the earth, being connected to the soil and taking every step consciously and mindfully, was supremely conducive to contemplation.” She was not setting up special walks for meditation.  She walked a good deal during the working day and could be meditative in her walking. She was being mindful to self and world and their interdependence.  It was less a practice than a way of life.

As the distinction between ‘practice’ and ‘life’ continues to blur, with contemplation and inquiry as aspects of living rather than a defined project, I feel very open about the future of this blog. Rather than planning a new direction, I will let it evolve in its own way.

(1) Brendan Myers Reclaiming Civilization: a case for optimism for the future of humanity Winchester, UK & Washington, USA: Moon Books, 2017

(2) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2017/08/24/book-review-reclaiming-civilization/

(3) Satish Kumar You Are therefore I Am: A Declaration of Dependence Totnes: Green Books, 2002

(4) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/outdoor-walking-meditation/

RESTING IN BEING

Last autumn I worked with two on-line resources developed by Peter Russell (1). The first was a brief meditation course, which nudged me into a particularly easeful and surrendered meditative style. The second was a webinar series under the Science and Nonduality umbrella (2), Resting in Being. From this I picked up a helpful definition of nonduality (a translation of Sanskrit advaita). Going back to the time of the Upanishads (3), it invites us to think of ourselves as clay pots. If we look at two pots together (or any number) we find only one clay. Peter Russell describes the clay as ‘mind stuff’. Older Vedantic tradition uses the language of divinity, whilst Tantric Buddhists speak of ‘primordial nature’ (4). Russell is careful to distinguish nonduality from union, unity, or complete identity. My human relationship to the clay (mind stuff, primordial nature) is one of ‘not I not other than I’ (5). I am distinct but not separate.

This ground reality is ever-present and pervasive, yet oddly hard to recognize. No recognition is necessary for a successful human life, yet without it many people experience a sense of loss and alienation or intuit that something of consequence is missing. We invent grail quests and ladders to heaven, strategies for enlightenment or redemption, to address the perceived deficit. These in turn tend to become displacement mechanisms, deflecting us from the very goal we seek. The direct approach points us back to our immediate experience. Peter Russell uses words like ‘being’ and ‘awareness’ – suggesting indeed that that latter might also be turned into a doing word: ‘awareing’. Process terms better express both the movement of experience and the stillness within it. Ursula Le Guin does the same with ‘Taoing’ (6).

As a term, I find ‘resting in being’ useful in guiding me into contemplative awareing. I feel opened, energized and expanded. My centre of gravity shifts. I feel porous, spacious, held within the whole: here, now and home. The years of contemplative inquiry have boiled down to this. It is the stance I am taking away. My remaining sense of inquiry concerns the influence of this stance on the rest of my life and I will look at this in another post.

(1) Spirit of Now website peterrussell.com

(2) https://www.scienceandnonduality.com

(3) The Upanishads Introduced and translated by Eknath Easwaran Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, CA: Niligri Press, 2007 (2nd  ed.)

(4)  https://www.dharmaocean.org/

(5)  https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/book-review-not-i-not-other-than-i/

(6) Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching: A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way Boston & London: Shambhala, 1998 (New English version by Ursula K. LeGuin with the collaboration of J. P. Seaton)

IMBOLC ADVENT

Erin nighean Brighde* has recently written about ‘Imbolc Advent’. I like this term. Where I live, mid-January could feel cold and dull and flat. It could be a time of post-festive blues, and a very long way from spring. My cure, from the early 1990’s, has been the eight-fold wheel of the year, now lived by many groups within and beyond the modern Pagan community. It has enriched me enormously.

For the last week or so I have been leaning in to Imbolc, the festival that, at the beginning of February (Northern hemisphere), celebrates the return of the light, the appearance of early flowers and traditionally also the birth of lambs. In Druidry, it is strongly linked to the Goddess Brigid. My leaning in to Imbolc this year has been interwoven with the transformation of three initially parched hyacinth bulbs (a late seasonal gift) in a pot of dry earth. The change began when I saw them draw water from a saucer. Its rapid disappearance was like watching a speeded-up film. Within a couple of days, stalks had burst almost alarmingly out of the bulbs, and it was not long before the scented bell-like lavender blue flowers emerged from the spikes. I realize that this was a contrived indoor event, but I have experienced it over the last week as a stunning display of life and growth, and hence an image of Imbolc Advent.

During the life-time of the Druid contemplative group, we tended to meet outside the festival times, partly to avoid clashes with other commitments, and partly to practice tuning into the year at other times. We could do this by taking the previous or following festival as a reference point and notice the mid-term difference, or we could more simply pay attention to the world we were in at the time of meeting. Over time, we developed a greater sensitivity to the rhythms and tides in the year as nature’s unfolding processes, since we were not focusing on the festivals themselves as events. Nonetheless, they remained important markers for our experience. They helped to provide us with a common language and orientation. That being said, I remember something special around Imbolc, out of all the eight festivals. The fire in the hearth, the arrangement and decoration of the space (snowdrops in particular) gave us a powerful experience of Brigid as a presiding energy, making Imbolc one of our most resonant times.

*Erin nighean Brighde https://hereternalflame.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/imbolc-advent-2018/

CONTEMPLATION AS SACRAMENT

Everything is sacred, but dedicated time and space provide a focus. They deepen our recognition of what is already true. Sacrare in Latin means ‘to hallow’ and I feel hallowing to be mostly about my quality of attentiveness. Although, subjectively, I am always here and always now, I can be here and now, and relate here and now, in a more conscious and loving way, when the time and space are dedicated.

Since beginning contemplative inquiry in November 2011, I have had a morning practice that has been structurally constant whilst varying in specifics. It is framed by a minimalist Druid liturgy to establish and hold the nemeton, the dedicated sacred space. It includes exercise and energy work, walking and sitting meditations, and a brief loving-kindness meditation. These activities have referenced different traditions at different times, whilst preserving a consistent outline and intent.

This practice is the heart of what I do in formal contemplative practice. Since I draw on diverse traditions, this solo practice has developed within an overall context and narrative determined by and for me. I have never worked through a simple adoption of ‘teachings’, to me a somewhat infantilising term, and a residue of authoritarian spirituality. I have always maintained an independent approach, which I find necessary to a critical and creative culture of inquiry. It necessarily includes a meta level of evaluating traditions as well as a normative one of learning their views and practices.

I will continue with the same practice structure post-inquiry. Fundamentally (in I hope a good sense) I understand my practice as a sacrament, celebrating ordinary incarnation in this world. It works on two levels. The first is the dedication and framing of the whole practice. The second, more intensive level, is within my sitting meditation. This now uses a Shaivite Tantric rather than Buddhist form. It is an eyes closed meditation, aligning the breath to a mantra – which is something I’ve quite often done over the years, including the use of the Druid ‘awen’*. Here I use ham-saa. Traditionally this invokes Shiva as the empty awareness of the Cosmos and Shakti as its energy and form. My own sense is of deepened appreciation of the miracle of being and becoming, and a sense of how this is at once personal and universal.

I sometimes find that all my attention dissolves into the mantra. Its pulse and vibration become all that exists in my awareness. The meditative disidentification from world and perception, body and sensation, feeling and thought, leaves this one reality. The experience here is of existence acknowledging itself, in a way that doesn’t seem to be about me, as such, or in any sense a personal possession. Whether or not the experience happens in full, or whether the practice simply points to it, this mantra meditation hallows my contemplative practice. It is the heart of its heart.

Paradoxically, as this practice deepens, my ‘inquiry’ energy  begins to fall away. Where I am now feels like a destination. Though I still have work to do in the integration of experience and understanding, I am no longer looking for new frameworks or resources.  On completion of the inquiry, my contemplative life will continue, but it will have a different note.

https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/awen-mantra-meditation/

‘CONTEMPLATIVEINQUIRY’: SETTING A DIRECTION

I have woken from my hibernation, but am not yet out of my cave. My sense is that I have reached ‘peak inquiry’ in my contemplative work. Wondering where to take this blog, I asked myself, ‘what niche does it fill?’ and checked out popular tags and posts. The story they tell is hardly scientific, but does give some guide to how the blog is connecting.

Since August 2012, I have published 361 posts and accumulated 1,355 tags. For some time, the following nine tags (here presented in alphabetical order) have consistently appeared in the top ten: contemplation, contemplative Druidry, contemplative inquiry, contemplative poetry, contemplative spirituality, Druidry, nature mysticism, poetry and spiritual inquiry. The tenth most popular tag fluctuates between spirituality, Earth spirituality and Buddhism.

For me this shows that the ‘contemplative’ meme has established itself well, and that its linkage in this blog with Druidry and nature pathways has been maintained. At the same time, the use of generic terms like ‘spirituality’, and the specific reference to Buddhism, indicate a universalist rather than tribal leaning. The appearance of ‘poetry’ in two of the tags, though a minority thread in the posts overall, is in line in line with Druid culture and my own Druid training. It suggests a readership more inspired by poetry and parables than by sermons and sutras. Poetry tends to be suggestive rather than dogmatic, and speaks directly to the heart.

Four of the top ten posts are poems, showing that poetry is disproportionately favoured by readers. These are: The Moon in Dewdrops by Dogen, often seen as the founder of Japanese Zen (1); The Breath of Nature by the early Taoist Chuang-Tzu, re-rendered in modern English by Thomas Merton (2); Brief Reflection on Cats Growing on Trees by the Czech poet Miroslav Holub, and published in an English translation in 1984 (3); and Gravity’s Law from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours (4). These pieces, from different cultures and with different views, draw strongly on nature imagery, whilst, perhaps, pointing to something more.

Book reviews are another popular category, and two appear in the top ten. The first is Pagan Planet: Being, Believing and Belonging in the 21st Century (5), a diverse collection of essays edited by Nimue Brown. The authors come from a variety of Pagan traditions, though with a tilt towards Druidry. Many stand witnesses to a growing movement of Pagan activism. For me, the overall note is set by biologist Simon Wakefield, who writes: “For this reason I am doing what I do, working towards …. the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible”. He talks also about the “most profound experience of my life” when observing a nesting sea turtle on a starlit Greek beach. “Putting aside all the requirements to measure and monitor I decided just to be present, and I opened up to an experience of deep time and an ancient longing by another creature simply to be, to express its uniqueness, which has never left me”. The second top ten book is Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge and Healing Well (6) by Morgan Daimler who – in my view accurately – describes it as “a resource for seekers of the pagan goddess specifically”, offering “both solid academic material and anecdotes of connecting with Brigid in a format that is accessible and designed to be easy to read”. The two together show how the re-visioning and updating of ancient wisdom is supporting resilient and creative responses to current conditions.

This leaves only four of my top ten posts, and none so far where my personal experience or inquiry are featured. Indeed, one of the remaining four is Buddha Failed (7), the late Tantric teacher Osho’s take on Gautama Siddhartha’s awakening.  My personal three are Paidirean (Pahj-urrin) (8), Paidirean (Pahj-urrin) II, (9) and Ancestors (10). The first two concern the Ceile De (Celtic Christian) rosary and what it meant in my life and practice at the time of writing. Paidirean is my all-time top post, still widely read.  The remaining post, Ancestors, is my response, “both addicted and depressed”, to the BBC TV series The Celts: Blood, Iron and Sacrifice. This view clearly struck a chord with readers in the period following the broadcast.

This exercise gives me a better sense of what Contemplative Inquiry  offers from a reader’s perspective. As I move into a period of lower intensity inquiry, I can use this information in shaping the blog. Your comments are also welcome.

(1) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/poem-the-moon-in-dewdrops/

(2) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/poem-the-breath-of-nature/

(3) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/poem-brief-reflection-on-cats-growing-on-trees/

(4) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/poem-gravitys-law/

(5) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/book-review-pagan-planet/

(6) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2016/03/12/book-review-brigid/

(7) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2016/10/07/buddha-failed/

(8) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2012/12/30/paidirean-pahj-urinn/

(9) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/paidirean-pahj-urinn-ii/

(10) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2015/10/30/ancestors-2/

 

POEM: A WINTER EDEN

Warmest wishes to everyone for the festive season and the coming year. Here and now I don’t have a ‘deep midwinter’ feeling, despite the short days. I’ve been walking by my local canal in a largely green world, with a defining image of sunlight on ivy. Alders are growing catkins. Midges abound. Robert Frost’s poem below, in a snowy New England setting, celebrates the exuberance of life whenever it gets a chance.

A winter garden in an alder swamp,
Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.

It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead,
And last year’s berries shining scarlet red.

It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feat
On some wild apple tree’s young tender bark,
What well may prove the year’s high girdle mark.

So near to paradise all pairing ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud-inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.

A feather-hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o’clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life’s while to wake and sport.

Robert Frost

SHADOW

“We identify our shadow … with that visible shape we see projected on the pavement or the whitewashed wall. Since what we glimpse there is a being without depth, we naturally assume that shadows themselves are basically flat – and if we are asked, by a curious child, about the life of shadows we are apt to reply that their lives exist only in two dimensions.

“Suppose, however, that on the same afternoon a bumblebee is making its way from a clutch of clover blossoms on one side of the road to another cluster of blooms in an overgrown weedlot across the street, and that as it does so the bee happens to pass between me and the flat shape that my body casts upon the pavement. The sunlit bee buzzes toward me, streaking like an erratic, drunken comet against the asphalt sky, and then it crosses an unseen boundary in the air: instantly its glow dims, the sun is no longer upon it – it has moved into a precisely bounded zone of darkness that floats between my opaque flesh and that vaguely humanoid silhouette laid out upon the pavement – until a moment later the bee buzzes out the opposite side of that zone and emerges back into the day’s radiance.

“Although it was zipping along several feet above the street, the bumblebee had passed into and out of my real shadow. Its visible trajectory – gleaming, then muted, then gleaming again – shows that my actual shadow is an enigma more substantial than that flat shape on the paved ground. That silhouette is only my shadow’s outermost surface. The actual shadow does not reside primarily on the ground; it is a voluminous being of thickness and depth, a mostly unseen presence that dwells in the air between my body and that ground. The dusky shape on the asphalt touches me only at my feet, and hence seems largely separate from me, even independent from me – a kind of doppelganger. The apparent gap between myself and that flat swath of darkness is what prompts me, now and then to accept its invitation to dance, the two of us then strutting and ducking in an improvised pas de deux wherein it’s never very clear which one of us is leading and which is following. It is now obvious, however, that that shape slinking along on the pavement is merely the outermost edge of a thick volume of shade, an umbral depth that extends from the pavement right up to my knees, torso, and head – a shadow touching me not just at my feet, but at every point of my person.”

David Abram Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology New York: Vintage Books, 2011