contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Earth spirituality

PSYCHIC GARDEN: BLACKBIRDS

My wife Elaine and I have a blackbird pair, now with two fledglings, almost at our back door. They have created a precarious nest in a jasmine bush just outside. We have halted all clipping for the time being. Blackbirds have also appeared in Sophia’s garden, my Innerworld sanctuary and space for insight and healing.

The garden, which shifts over time, is now a place of midsummer twilight. It has a fountain at its centre. Water jets high into the air before cascading through a succession of bowls into a wide and shallow pool at the bottom. In the twilight, I find it hard to see clearly, though easy enough to hear. The perpetual movement of water makes its music. Otherwise, the garden is at first quiet.

I hear the blackbirds, two of them, without seeing them. This follows a visit in August last year, when there was only one. At that time, I wrote a post about blackbirds as birds of Rhiannon and other aspects of their place in Welsh mythology and modern Druidry: https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/a-bird-of-rhiannon/

Shortly after writing the post, I discovered that Jean Markale, the sage of Broceliande, links the blackbird with Merlin, since merle is the French for blackbird and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s spoken language was French. (It was he who introduced the world to the name Merlin.) Without wanting to debate this derivation, I enjoy the sense of this common, plebeian bird, having such resonance and capacity. It contrasts with the image of the noble, highly trained predator – the merlin hawk – which I grew up with.

Somehow, through this discovery, I feel confirmed and affirmed as a civilian, rather than saint or sage, monk or magician. Those paths are fine, but not my own. Blackbirds are anchored in ordinary life. Yet they do sing at twilight, in ways that move and inspire us.

I take my seat, on the bench that’s offered, recognizing my entry into the fourth quarter of my life, with this lesson in mind.

(1) Jean Markale Merlin: Priest of Nature Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions (Kindle edition) Translated by Belle N. Burke

 

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LIGHT VERSE 2: ALL HOP IS GONE

In the canal zone,

Talking walls.

No through road suitable for vehicles

Keep clear

Legalize THC

SPLINTA

∞ Infinite

Be aware

This is an ecology area

Chelsea ♥ Jamie

Security surveillance in operation

All hop is gone

EMBODIMENT AND AT-HOMENESS

In a previous post, (1) I told the story of Jill Bolte Taylor’s severe brain haemorrhage. For her, the experience contained a hidden blessing. As her ability to think disintegrated, Jill Bolte Taylor “felt enfolded in a blanket of tranquil euphoria … As the language centers in my left hemisphere grew increasingly silent and I became detached from the memories of my life, I was comforted by an expanding sense of grace … a ‘being at one’ with the universe, if you will.” Jill Bolte Taylor subsequently made a complete recovery from her stroke. Indeed, she was able to integrate the positive aspects of the stroke experience, leading to a fuller and richer life than she had had before.

In a gentler way, the proponents of ‘bio-spirituality’ are seeking a similar result. “The beginning of bio-spiritual awareness … is finding a way through to some larger At-Homeness written deep within bodily knowing.” (2) In ‘Focusing’, bio-spirituality’s recommended working method, practitioners address what they see as three critical issues in spirituality. The first is the “perennial problem of getting out of the mind”. The second is “the challenge of being drawn into an awareness of some Larger Process”. The third is the way in which “body knowing” helps with the first two. I have started using this approach as an active solo meditation, and so far I find the results promising. The core of this practice, when a solo meditation, is to hold an aware, enabling and loving attention to the body its processes, so that the felt sense of At-Homeness  has a chance to ripen.

For me, At-Homeness has become another way of describing non-duality as an experience. At-Homeness asks for a deepened embodiment, though for me ’embodiment’ is a more expansive term than is conventionally accepted. I work with a sense of three layers of embodiment, which I call physical, subtle and cosmic. The physical body is confined to the envelope of skin, whilst the subtle body extends further and is porous. The cosmic body is an emptiness body without boundaries. I believe that all are involved in body knowing and At-Homeness, and they are not ultimately separate. Reginald Ray has a good account (3) of how this works in his teaching and practice of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism. In this, extended view of embodiment, I reach out beyond, and then further beyond, the strictly personal into a not-I-not-other-than-I territory. Yet I continue to stand on the Earth, a distinct sentient being interconnected with other sentient beings and the sentience of the world itself.  It is all my Home, and all needed for a full sense of At-Homeness.

(1) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/stroke-of-insight/ 

(2) Peter Campbell & Edwin McMahon Bio-Spirituality: Focusing as a Way To Grow Chicago, Ill: Loyola Press, 1985

(3) Reginald A. Ray Touching Enlightenment: Finding Realization in the Body Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2009

NEW DIRECTIONS: FOCUSING

I am working through a spiritual shift strong enough to need a new language and practice. I am moving towards a spirituality without religion, which is simpler and more deeply rooted in experience. I have recently connected with the Focusing movement (1,2,3), as a potential source of support.

A Focusing text (4) speaks of “the process of listening to your body in a gentle, accepting way and hearing the messages that your inner self is sending you. It’s a process of honouring the wisdom that you have inside you, becoming aware of the subtle level of knowing that speaks to you through your body”. The term ‘bio-spirituality’ was coined for it by two Catholic priests who took up this practice. They called it a “sacred inward journey”, wrote a book about it (5) and developed their own network (6).

I do not see Focusing as a spiritual path in itself, but as a means of integrating what we conventionally call mind, body and spirit. The process can be run either solo or with a partner. I am already beginning to find it useful in a meditative state where I sit with loving attention and curiosity. Using this approach, I can establish a relationship with my ‘felt sense’, however it manifests, rather than just noticing it. I can work with the strains and tensions, issues and concerns, or the neglected joys in my life. I can extend this exploration in my journal writing after sessions. I have now had a session with a teacher and completed a week of daily meditations. They are already having a catalytic effect.

From the standpoint of continuity, this is an affirmation of embodied spirituality. It enables me to access ‘Wisdom’ as a living process with change-making power. The Sophia (Wisdom) of Gnostic tradition is often seen as a celestial and indeed super-celestial figure: yet she also embodies the re-visioned Earth – ‘the Kingdom’. To inhabit this space I need the vulnerability of openness. Such work reconnects me, with a new understanding, to an earlier time in my life and my involvement in co-counselling and psychotherapy.

For me thus far, focusing practice finds the seeds of action in contemplation itself. In stillness and silence I engage creatively with my life and world. Everything is held in the loving presence of a contemplative core. My inquiry moves forward in a new way.

I am taking a break from this blog for at least the rest of this month. On my return, I will explore this and other new directions more fully.

(1) focusing.org/

(2)  focusing.org.uk/

(3) https://www.livingfocusing.co.uk/

(4) Ann Weiser Cornell The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide To Emotional Self-Healing Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 1996

(5) Peter A. Campbell and Edwin M. McMahon Bio-Spirituality: Focusing As A Way To Grow Chicago, Il: Loyola Press, 1985

(6) https://www.biospiritual.org/

 

THE NOTION OF INTERBEING

“I am made of earth, water, air and fire. The water I drink was once a cloud. The food I eat was once the sunshine, the rain and the earth. I am the cloud, the river and the air at this very moment, so I know that in the past I was also a cloud, a river and the air. I was a rock; I was the minerals in the water. This is not a question of belief in reincarnation; this is the history of life on Earth. We have been gas, sunshine, water, fungi and plants. We were single-celled beings. The Buddha said that in one of his former lives, he was a tree, he was a fish, he was a deer. This is not superstition. Every one of us has been a cloud, a deer, a bird, a fish and we continue to be these things today.

“The notion of interbeing, though it is a notion, helps to lead you to the ultimate truth… Interbeing means you cannot be by yourself alone; you can only inter-be. Interbeing can connect the conventional truth to the ultimate truth, so it can lead you gradually to emptiness…. On this level, there is no beginning and no end, no birth and no death.

“When we speak of the ultimate truth, we use words like ‘emptiness’, and emptiness, when used like this, has no opposite. At first, we think emptiness is the opposite of fullness but, as we saw earlier, emptiness is fullness. You are empty of your separate self, but full of the cosmos.”

Thich Nhat Hanh The Other Shore: A New Translation of the Heart Sutra with Commentaries Berkeley, CA: Palm Leaves Press, 2017

POEM: FIELD AND SKY

At the sallow’s* gap

we step through the hedge

and are nothing but field and sky.

Hares race, lurching

to a tussle,

their frenzy printed in the soil.

The kestrel soars –

pausing, head down,

to sew with the finest needle.  (1)

I like this poem for two reasons. The first is as a beautifully written nature poem. The second is the experience it triggered for me in the second and third lines:

we step through the hedge

and are nothing but field and sky.

It is as if the hedge is a portal, and stepping through it takes us into another world, changing us into field and sky. Yet it is the same world, experienced differently. In this version we contain the natural world, holding the lives of hare and kestrel.

Contemplative moments like this – whether directly in nature or evoked in poetry – can take me out of my  boundaried sense of self and place me more fully in the flow of experience and relationship. In their afterglow, I feel a certain poignancy at the fragile, ephemeral, not-to-be-taken-for-granted quality of such connections.

*salix caprea, also called pussy willow

(1) Colin Oliver High River Sudbury: Downstream Press, 2006 (Available from poetry section of the shop at http://www.headless.org/ )

 

WHAT IF …?

In my first post of 2018, I said, ‘I have woken from my hibernation but am not yet out of my cave’ (1). Getting out of the cave has been a slow and tentative process this year. We have reached Beltane, and I can at last say that I have done it. Gratitude to the Merry Month!

In the same post I also sensed that I had ‘reached peak inquiry’. It looked that way at the time. But now I find myself unsatisfied with the place that I have reached. I have a vision of an abundance in simplicity, reached through a closer focus on direct experience, and better ways of writing about it. I ask myself: what will happen if I identify myself as a ‘secular contemplative’, centring myself within a space of ‘bio-spirituality’?

Following on from this, I ask, ‘how much continuity will I find, and how much change? What new possibilities will open? Will a stance of ‘spirituality without religion’ support the simplicity and closeness to experience that I aim for?

There are certainly points of continuity. The Contemplative Druid Group* (disbanded early in 2017) used simple, flexible methods. These were meditative, without featuring long meditations, and modelled a minimalist approach to ritual. The project saw itself as an innovation within modern Druidry and did not claim the mantle of Celtic language speakers in ancient or medieval times. Above all, it was nature-oriented, an Earth spirituality, and followed the wheel of the year as it happened – in and out of festival times.

This blog was linked to that culture, whilst always reaching out to other traditions as well. It has been an exploration of contemplative spiritualities, where ‘contemplative’ points to practices that train attentiveness, open spaces for wonder, and provide opportunities to reflect. When I looked at posts which people were reading, I identified a universalist rather than tribal approach, and ‘a readership more inspired by poetry and parables rather than sermons and sutras. Poetry tends to be suggestive rather than dogmatic and speaks directly to the heart’.

Going forward, I will continue to give Druidry and other traditions space in this blog, drawing on their creativity, healing power and wisdom. I have thoughts about new kinds of material to include as well. I’ll be looking at the same view from a different seat and using a slightly different language to describe what I see. That is my direction for contemplative inquiry now.

(1) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2018/01/05/contemplativeinquiry-setting-a-direction/

*The story of the development of Contemplative Druidry, its views and practice, is told in my book, Contemplative Druidry: People, Practice and Potential, published in October 2014.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/contemplative-druidry-people-practice-potential/dp/1500807206/

BEING IN TRANSIT

If I ask myself, ‘where is my spiritual centre?’ I do not find an answer within any named tribe. Spiritual friendships, communities of practice and generic webs of connection can all help, and I hope that I give something back. But my path is fundamentally solitary. Perhaps even the notion of having a centre is limiting.

I’ve learned a lot from Druidry. Partly thanks to Druid practice, I experience myself as more fully alive on a living Earth. I honour the wheel of the year as it turns in my locality. In Druidry, I’ve been enabled to explore a contemplative dimension within Earth spirituality. I have also connected with ancestral threads I might otherwise have neglected. But I’m not a polytheist Pagan and I have never felt attracted to Shamanism. I’ve learned from Buddhist tradition too. I’m a meditator. I have a deepened sense of interconnectedness and the call to kindness that goes with it. But I have not adopted the four noble truths as the basis of my path, and I do not seek refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. I am grateful for my connections to Druidry and Buddhism and will continue to take an interest in their literature. I also sense that, with certain understandings and practices now ingrained, their active roles in my life are over.

My creative edge has for some time been elsewhere. I have been working with the insight that perceptions, apparently of the world, do not establish the existence of a world, but only of perceiving (or awareness, or being). Sensations, apparently of a body, do not establish the existence of embodiment, but only of sensing (or awareness, or being). Thoughts, apparently of a mind, do not establish the existence of a mind, but only of thinking (or awareness, or being). This can seem destructively sceptical, even solipsistic. Yet for many people it signals the possibility of a ‘more than’ (or awareness, or being), rather than a dissociated ‘less than’. Mind, body and world can return enhanced rather than diminished by this kind of exercise, with a sense of a ‘not I not other than I’ connection with primordial awareness or being.

This is the basic stance of nondualist traditions, ancient and modern. In Indian culture, the stripping down and reduction to nothingness is sometimes identified as Vedantic, and the subsequent return and flowering in everything as Tantric. In the Gospel of St. Thomas, a Christian Gnostic text, Yeshua (Jesus) says: “I come from the One who is Openness” and the aspiration of disciples is to make themselves “the abode of Openness, a house that welcomes the breeze, a body that has become transparent, like a crystal flooded with light”. Here, a metaphor concerned with transparency emphasizes power and energy rather than vulnerability and exposure.

I am not a member of a nondualist group, or a Christian Gnostic. But I am moved by these spiritual currents. I am in dialogue with them. I think that ‘being in dialogue’ is a good place to be. For me, certainly now, it has more integrity than formal membership or adherence to a system.

(1) Jean-Yves Leloup The Gospel of Thomas: The Gnostic Wisdom of Jesus Rochester, VA: Inner Traditions, 2005 (English translation and notes by Joseph Rowe. Foreword by Jacob Needleman)

BOOK REVIEW: AUSTRALIAN DRUIDRY

Highly recommended. Australian Druidry is a great introduction to modern Druidry in Australia. It describes the author’s journey to develop a Druidry for her needs. It shows all of us how to deepen into the wheel of the year, looking for cues in natural shifts rather than our calendars. As part of Moon Books’ Pagan Portals series, it is clearly and succinctly written.

For author Julie Brett, “modern Druidry is a path of nature-based spirituality being walked by many people over the world today. It centres on an understanding that is the ‘wisdom of the trees’ as the messengers of the natural world that can help us find guidance in our lives for peace, learning and personal development”. These principles can be taken to every part of the world, including the huge diversity of Australia itself, and customised to work any specific landscape.

Druidry is also a spirituality of recognition of our ancestors. Describing the people of Australia as “diverse as the landscape”, she defines the ancestors as “all the people who have come before us whether in our family or the lines of teachings we have received in our lives, or those who came before us in the land we live on”. This being the case, Australian Druidry is a not only a path “applicable to the Australian landscape and its inhabitants” but also an “invitation to explore and create”.

The author’s story shows a deep personal commitment to this path. This included ten month’s living in the UK, and particularly Glastonbury, England, where she tuned into the traditional landscape of Druidry, and apprenticed herself to local practitioners, before going on to develop her own distinctive practice in Australia. Returning home, she immersed herself in her own landscape, eventually creating a ‘coastal Sydney wheel of the year’. It is based around eight festivals, but with a distinctive resonance, not just up-ending the North European ones: Fire Festival, Storm Festival, Peace Festival, Moon Festival, Hardening Festival, Flower Festival, Wind Change Festival, Barkfall Festival.

The book includes sections on keeping a nature diary, animal symbolism, tree and plant symbolism, and forms of ritual practice. The emphasis is on offering possibilities rather than laying down a new template for people in the coastal Sydney area, or anywhere else. Having unleashed her own creativity, Julie Brett wants readers to unleash their own. At the end of the book, she invites us into the Druids Down Under Facebook group in the belief that sharing experiences inspires us. Australian Druidry is an inspired and inspiring book.

Julie Brett Australian Druidry: Connecting with the Sacred Landscape Winchester, UK & Washington, USA: Moon Books, 2017 (Pagan Portals)

SACRED ACTIVISM IN A DARK TIME

Book review of Savage Grace: Living Resiliently in the Dark Night of the Globe, by Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker. The book has a U.S. centre of gravity and was written in the early months of 2017, triggered by Donald Trump’s assumption of the presidency.

The ‘dark night of the globe’ refers to an increasing risk of a wrecked biosphere (including human extinction) through runaway climate change or nuclear war. In such a scenario, resilience is a key quality demanded of us. They authors define this as a ‘life-giving ability to shift from a reaction of denial or despair to learning, growing and thriving in the midst of challenge’. The emphasis of this book is as much on essential psycho-spiritual resourcing as it is on direct political action. The authors see these as belonging together, recommending a staged strategy of reconnection, resistance, resilience and regeneration to its readers.

‘Reconnection’ is much like the ‘re-enchantment’ we talk about in Druidry. It is a response to disconnection from “our sacred inner wisdom, from all other living beings as a result of our delusional belief in separation, and from Earth and the reality that we are not only inherently connected with Earth, but, that in fact, we are Earth”.

‘Resistance’ is, first, about discerning “the nature of the myriad enemies of the mind, body and spirit with which we are being confronted in the current milieu” and to learn how to stand for “transparency and integrity in the face of massive assaults on our fundamental humanity”.

‘Resilience’ needs to be cultivated physically, emotionally and spiritually as an “essential life skill” in the face of increasing dangers and uncertainties in our communities and world.

‘Regeneration’ is about committing “to living lives of regeneration in all stages, even in what could be the terminal one”. If humanity is destined to vanish, “what matters most is not the outcome of our efforts, but rather, our inmost intention”.

Savage Grace is built around five main chapters. The first, Kali Takes America, explores the image of a country archetypally possessed by the dark side of the destroyer/creator goddess. Here ‘reconnection’ is about finding transformative possibilities within this predicament. The adoption of Savage Grace as the title owes something to this. Here the authors cite the work of Vera de Chalambert, which can also be found on https://youtube.com/results?search_query=vera+de+chalambert+kali/

The second chapter, Resisting the Modern Face of Fascism in the Age of Trump contains most of the social and political analysis offered in this book. It usefully draws on a 14-point list, devised by Umberto Eco in the 1990’s. on what ‘Fascism’ can be usefully thought to mean, and what makes it dangerous and wrong, given that it will look different in every incarnation, depending on time and leadership. (Eco grew up under Mussolini.) For strategies of resistance, they draw on Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough*, already published by the time Savage Grace was completed.

The remaining chapters are entitled Living Resiliently Amid Global Psychosis; Regeneration: the Legacy of Love in Action; and Celebrating Reconnection, Resistance, Resilience and Regeneration. These explore the building of psycho-spiritual resources at the personal, interpersonal and collective levels, and can be successfully accomplished only by looking at our own shadow sides. Otherwise we simply project them on to our opponents.

Savage Grace is written with urgency by authors who have been addressing its core themes for many years. I highly recommend it to anyone who acknowledges the personal and political, inner and outer, mundane and spiritual realms as facets of one interconnected life. No convenient compartmentalizing here. Savage Grace is a document for our historical moment. It asks readers to reflect on where we stand and how we are responding.

 Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker Savage Grace: Living Resiliently in the Dark Night of the Globe. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2017 . (Foreword by Matthew Fox)

For further information about the authors see: www.andrewharvey.net/sacred-activism/  and https://carolynbaker.net/

*Naomi Klein No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics Penguin Random House UK, 2017