contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: embodied spirituality

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

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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/

 

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/

ARE WE LIVING THROUGH A CRISIS OF TOUCH?: AN ARTICLE FYI.

I am re-blogging this post about a suggested ‘crisis of touch’because I like its balanced approach.

Sophia's Children

In intrapersonal reflections and personal conversations, I’ve been thinking and exploring an observation for quite awhile now: we’ve slowly been moving, on some level, to a fear-centered culture-norm of depersonalization, desensitizing, and “high-tech, low-touch” — or, as this article suggests, no touch.

At the same time, research shows increasing levels of isolation, social anxiety, depression, and disconnection, with all of their associated costs and effects.

Smiling faces, loving touch. PD image courtesy of Pixneo.

A no-brainer, right?

Because humans (and other beings) need touch, as it turns out.

We know, for example, that infants can actually die without loving touch — even if they’re receiving adequate food nutrition (1).

But the needforcompassionate, healing, loving touch isn’t just for babies. We know this, too.

Believe me, I’ve always been one to appreciate having healthy boundaries respected, particularly when it comes to someone being all up into…

View original post 558 more words

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

AUTHENTICITY IN MODERN DRUIDRY

“Contemporary Druidry is a flourishing creative spirituality that is inspiring people the world over. Is it a closed system that was only open to new inputs several thousand years ago? Or is it an open system that allows for development and evolution?” Philip Carr-Gomm, Chosen Chief of OBOD (1) explores these questions in his foreword to ‘Contemplative Druidry’ (2) adding, “Scratch the surface of any religion and you find that it is made up of a number of influences and elements. Examine a ritual text or liturgy and you can see the bricolage at work.” Moving deeper into the world of Celtic spirituality, he goes on to say:

“Mgr. Mael, the founder of the Celtic Orthodox Church in Brittany … received a series of meditative physical exercises in a vision and taught these as a system of ‘Celtic Yoga’. Are such attempts valid? … And are they not ‘fake’, having been so recently invented, while the Eastern systems are clearly genuine having been around for centuries? As regards validity, a method that is valid is one that works, however young or old it is. As regards inauthenticity, if a method is pretending to be one thing, while in reality being another, then that is indeed inauthentic. If Mgr. Mael had pretended his system of Celtic Yoga was practiced by the ancient Druids, this would have been inauthentic. But since he clearly stated he had received the exercises in a series of dreams, his system is what he authentically stated it to be: a method received in an altered state of consciousness. A false claim to an ancient lineage made for a system that has only been recently created renders it inauthentic, but if no such claim is made, can we use the term Druid to describe it?

“… Modern Druidry has been growing and evolving for the last three hundred years and if we were to throw out any additions to its body of teachings and ritual practice made during this time, we would be left with a small and unworkable set of conjectures. If we didn’t allow ourselves to call something Druidic that has only recently been created, we would have no Druidry to practice. But this shouldn’t mean that we can simply call anything Druidic. Druidry has specific features which help to define what it has become and how it is evolving. … Druidry has developed into a spiritual and philosophical approach that embraces embodiment and does not deny the gifts of the physical world and the body. In addition, it cultivates both inwardness and outwardness – an appreciation of the inner and outer worlds that fosters an engagement with the Earth and with community as much as it encourages an exploration of the depths of the soul and merging with the Divine. The evidence of the centrality of this approach can be found in Druidry’s love of Nature, its reverence for the Earth, and its cornerstone ritual observance: the Eightfold Wheel of the Year. These characteristics define Druidry and they also tell us what it is not.”

Specifically on contemplative Druidry he suggests:

“When it comes to the subject of this book, contemplation and meditation within Druidry, it seems perfectly reasonable to me to talk in terms of ‘Druid meditation’ or to describe techniques and approaches as Druidic, if they fall within the ethos of Druidry, because that ethos is specific: it does not try to subjugate, transcend or deny they body. There is no emphasis on the illusory nature of the physical world. The goal in Druidry, and hence in meditation for Druids, is to enhance our engagement with our embodies life, not to distance or separate ourselves from it.”

  • Order of Bards Ovates and Druids druidry.org/
  • James Nichol Contemplative Druidry: People, Practice and Potential Amazon/CreateSpace, 2014 (Foreword Deep Peace of the Quiet Earth: The Nature Mysticism of Druidry by Philip Carr-Gomm)

THE VERY EARLIEST TIME

The words of Nalungiaq, an Inuit woman interviewed by the ethnologist Knud Rasmussen early in the twentieth century.

In the very earliest time

when both people and animals lived on earth,

a person could become an animal if he wanted to

and an animal could become a human being.

Sometimes they were people

and sometimes animals

and there was no difference.

All spoke the same language.

That was the time when words were like magic.

The human mind had mysterious powers.

A word spoken by chance

might have strange consequences.

It would suddenly come alive

and what people wanted to happen could happen –

all you had to do was say it.

Nobody could explain this:

That’s the way it was.

Quoted in: David Abram The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World New York: Vintage Books, 1997 & 2017

 

MINDFULNESS AS A WAY OF LIFE

According to Thich Nhat Hahn’s Community of Interbeing (1) “mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply.” This approach turns mindfulness from a set of practices into a way of life, and this view of mindfulness has helped to draw me in to the local sangha of the COI as a fellow traveler.

That said, we have five formal practice arenas: mindfulness of breath, mindfulness of eating, mindfulness of walking, mindfulness of the body and mindfulness of bells. A lot of this is familiar to me. For the last seven years my daily practice has included some form of sitting meditation, walking meditation and body/energy work. I already include outside walking meditation and exercise. I use bells in my dedicated sacred space at home, and love the liminal after echo as they pass out of hearing. But bringing things together within this community encourages me to refine and deepen this work.

Checking in with myself, I notice that I have been only half-conscious about eating. In this community, eating mindfulness is not just about slow and appreciative eating. It is also about the global context, “reflecting deeply on what we buy and what we eat”. The COI gold standard is to be vegan. This is a hot button topic in Druidry and Paganism too. It’s an area that I feel nudged to look at again.

I also notice that I’ve done less conscious relaxation than I would like. Yet I know its softening, opening, and enabling effects – a balance to rectify there, I feel. Mindfulness may sound like an effortful regimen, but it doesn’t have to be that way. On sitting meditation specifically, the COI website approvingly quotes Matsuo Basho, the seventeenth century Japanese poet, when he writes:

Sitting quietly

Doing nothing

Spring comes

And the grass

Grows

By itself.

 

(1) https://coiuk.org

 

SPIDER

I’ve been busy with spiders over the last few weeks, noticing their variety both indoors and out. There’s one outside my window as I write. Some of this attention has involved removing spiders from the house. As I become more sensitized to their sentience, I’ve grown somewhat ambivalent about this. Yet from a wider household perspective, it does need to be done. The extract below is from David Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous and looks at the life of a spider.

“Consider a spider weaving its web, for instance, and the assumption still held by many scientists that the behavior of such a diminutive creature is thoroughly ‘programmed in its genes.’ Certainly, the spider has received a rich genetic inheritance from its parent and predecessors. Whatever ‘instructions’, however, are enfolded within the living genome, they can hardly predict the specifics of the microterrain within which the spider may find itself in any given moment. They could hardly have determined in advance the exact distances between the cave wall and the branch that the spider is now employing as an anchorage point for her current web, or the exact strength of the monsoon rains that make web-spinning a bit more difficult on this evening.

“The genome could not have explicitly commanded the order of every flexion and extension of her various limbs as she weaves this web into its place. However complex are the inherited ‘programs’, patterns or predispositions, they must still be adapted to the immediate situation in which the spider finds itself. However determinate its genetic inheritance, it must still, as it were, be woven into the present, an activity that necessarily involves both a receptivity to the specific shapes and textures of that present and a spontaneous creativity by which every animate organism necessarily orients itself to the world (and orients the world around itself), that we speak of by the term ‘perception’”.

David Abram The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World New York: Vintage Books, 1997 & 2017

This book has been an inspiration to many people over the last 20 years, including both naturalist and animist Pagans. The extract comes from a section entitled The Mindful Life of the Body.