contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Earth spirituality

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/

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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/

‘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

INQUIRY HIBERNATION

I see a lot of bare trees now. In some ways I feel like hibernating; in some ways I feel fresh and stimulated by the relative cold. I certainly need to surrender my contemplative inquiry to the secret processes of the underworld, placing my surface attention elsewhere.

In this period, I will post the occasional poem and book review, and offer seasonal thoughts and greetings.

MODRON AND MABON: A VISION

An absence untouched by narrative. Or, perhaps, original presence as an unnameable intimacy of experiencing. Undivided, it cannot know itself as object.

As if ‘then’, there is an appearance of appearances. The knowing of a primal mist and mirk, shot through with luminous flashes. It seems to spread through a dawning space and time which are still malleable, not yet settled or regulated.

Aeons pass, and figures step out of the mist. They emerge into a pale and heart-breaking winter light, softened by gentle rain. There are evergreen leaves and tiny sparkles of light, offered as watery reflections.

The people – there are two of them – come like refugees, suitably attired for the North. One is the Mother of All, here known as Modron, the destined Kali of a cool ambiguous land. The other is Mabon, her magical child. Their purpose here is to remind people of who they really are.

The Modron will not hold her human form for long. She will dissolve into the landscape and the elements, though her energy will still move through them. The Mabon’s task, no small one, is to stand by the Mother, to enjoy her gifts, and to show the way home.

POEM: THE SADNESS OF THE GORGES

Above the gorges, one thread of sky;

Cascades in the gorges twine a thousand cords.

High up, the slant of splintered sunlight, moonlight;

Beneath, curbs to the wild heave of the waves,

The shock of a gleam, and then another,

In depths of shadow frozen for centuries;

The rays between the gorges do not halt at noon;

Where the straits are perilous, more hungry spittle.

Trees lock their roots in rotted coffins

And the twisted skeletons hang tilted upright;

Branches weep as the frost perches

Mournful cadences, remote and clear.

A spurned exile’s shriveled guts

Scald and seethe in the water and fire he walks through.

A lifetime’s like a fine-spun thread,

The road goes up by the rope at the edge.

When he pours his libation of tears to the ghosts in the stream

The ghosts gather, a shimmer on the waves.

Meng Chiao (751 – 814) in Poems of the Late T’ang Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965 (Translated with an Introduction by A. C. Graham)

GARY SNYDER: ‘WILD’

“The word wild is like a grey fox trotting off through the forest, ducking behind bushes, going in and out of site. Up close, first glance, it is ‘wild’ – then further into the woods next glance it’s ‘wyld’ and it recedes and it recedes via Old Norse villr and Old Tuetonic wilthijaz into a faint pre-Tuetonic ghweltijos which means, still, wild and maybe wooded (wald) and lurks back there with possible connections to will, to Latin silva (forest, sauvage) and to the Indo-European root ghwer, base of Latin ferus (feral, fierce), which swings us around to Thoreau’s ‘awful ferity’ shared by virtuous people and lovers. The Oxford English Dictionary has it this way:

Of animals – not tame, undomesticated, unruly

Of plants – not cultivated

Of land – uninhabited, uncultivated

Of foodcrops – produced or yielded without cultivation

Of societies – uncivilized, rude, resisting constituted government

Of individuals – unrestrained, insubordinate, licentious, dissolute, loose. “Wild and wanton widowes”, 1614

Of behavior – violent, destructive, cruel, unruly

Of behavior – artless, free, spontaneous. “Warble his native wood-notes wild” – John Milton

Wild is largely defined in our dictionaries by what – from a human standpoint – it is not. It cannot be seen by this approach for what is is. Turn it the other way:

Of animals – free agents, each with its own endowments, living in natural systems

Of plants – self-propagating, self-maintaining, flourishing in accord with innate qualities

Of land – a place where the original and potential vegetation and fauna are intact and in full interaction and the landforms are entirely the result of non-human forces. Pristine.

Of foodcrops – food supplies made available and sustainable by the natural excess and exuberance of wild plants in their growth and in the production of quantities of fruit and seeds

Of societies – societies whose order has grown from within and is maintained by the force of consensus and custom rather than explicit legislation. Primary cultures, which consider themselves the original and eternal inhabitants of their territory. Societies which resist political and economic domination by civilization. Societies whose economic system is in a close and sustainable relation to the local ecosystem

Of individuals – following local custom, style and etiquette without concern for the standards of the metropolis or nearest trading post. Unintimidated, self-reliant, independent

Of behavior – freely resisting any oppression, confinement or exploitation. Far-out, outrageous, ‘bad’, admirable.

Of behavior – artless, free, spontaneous, unconditioned. Expressive, physical, openly sexual, ecstatic

Most of the senses in this second set of definitions come close to being how the Chinese define the term Dao, the way of Great Nature: eluding analysis, beyond categories, self-organizing, self-informing, playful, surprising, impermanent, insubstantial, independent, complete, orderly, unmediated, freely manifesting, self-authenticating, self-willed, complex, quite simple. Both empty and real at the same time. In some cases, we might call it sacred. It is not far from the Buddhist term Dharma with its original senses of forming and firming.”

Gary Snyder The Practice of the Wild Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 1990

In a preface to the 2010 edition, Gary Snyder describes his path as “a kind of old time Buddhism which remains connected to animist and shamanist roots. Respect for all living beings is a basic part of that tradition. I have tried to teach others to meditate and enter into the wild areas of the mind. … Even language can be seen as a wild system”.

ORPHIC HYMN TO PERSEPHONE

An Orphic hymn to Persephone addresses her as the ‘much honoured spouse of Plouton’, who commands ‘the gates of Hades in the bowels of the earth’. ‘Queen of the nether world’, she reigns underground through four months of  winter, but the rest of the year, she is the ‘maiden rich in fruits, brilliant and horned, only beloved of mortals’. She nourishes us all, always, and kills us too. The hymn comes from a collection likely to have been compiled in the third century CE in Pergamum, a city in modern Turkey. It offers a glimpse of Greek-inspired pagan religion in what turned out to be its last phase.

Persephone, blessed daughter

of great Zeus, sole offspring

of Demeter, come and accept

this gracious sacrifice.

Much honoured spouse of Plouton,

discreet and life-giving,

you command the gates of Hades

in the bowels of the earth,

lovely-tressed Praxidike,

pure bloom of Deo,

mother of the Erinyes,

queen of the nether world, secretly sired by Zeus

in clandestine union.

Mother of loud-roaring,

many-shaped Eubouleus,

radiant and luminous,

playmate of the Seasons,

revered and almighty,

maiden rich in fruits,

brilliant and horned,

only beloved of mortals,

in spring you take your joy

in the meadow of breezes,

you show your holy figure

in grasses teeming with grass-green fruits,

in autumn you were made

a kidnapper’s bride.

You alone are life and death

To toiling mortals,

O Persephone, you nourish all,

Always, and kill them, too.

Hearken, O blessed goddess,

send forth the fruits of the earth

as you blossom in peace

and in gentle-handed health

bring a blessed life

and a splendid old age to him who is sailing

to your realm, O queen, and to mighty Plouton’s kingdom

Apostolos N. Athanasskis and Benjamin M. Wolkow The Orphic Hymns: Translation, Introduction and Notes Baltimore: MD: The John Hopkins Press, 2013.

In his introduction to this collection, Apostolos Athanassakis talks about Orphic hymns as instances of a devotional mysticism that uses “the power of clustering epithets” for the creation of “an emotional and spiritual crescendo that might raise our human spirit and help approach the divine”. They remind him of Vedic hymns, Rumi’s verses within the Islamic Sufi world, and aspects of his own Christian Orthodox upbringing. The hymns are beautiful to read – though it is worth remembering that they are designed for group practice in a charged, incense laded atmosphere, with repetition upon repetition, perhaps accompanied by swaying, movement or dance of various kinds.

The Orphic hymns date from a time of philosophical and religious change in the Roman Empire. They were popular for as long as it was possible to maintain a syncretistic religion forged of traditional pagan elements in those parts of the world (chiefly the Eastern Roman sphere) where it was practised. The hymns name specific pagan deities, yet appeal to universal spiritual powers. Devotees are not praying directly for a change in their fate, but in their own thoughts and feelings, in the hope that the energy of the goddess may assist them.