Black Friday

black fridayBlack Friday – it’s upon us. The day after the American Thanksgiving, Black Friday is a consumerist holy-day that for many heralds the start of the shopping season. Yes, a season dedicated to shopping, sometimes called “Christmas”. It’s usually a four-day weekend for many, with stores opened all that time offering supposedly amazing deals. It’s a celebration of all things consumerist.

In today’s society, it’s more important to have things than to do things. We seem to be defined by our possessions, yet the term possession isn’t correctly used: for the most part, we are possessed by them, not the other way around. This is not to say that it’s wrong to have possessions, but when the desire to have them, to increase them, to fight for them is all-consuming, we need to have a rethink. When we’d rather have “stuff” than time spent with family and friends, when we work to accumulate more stuff, to buy bigger houses for all our stuff, to buy storage for our stuff, it’s gone too far. Our stuff owns us. The real kicker is, and we all know it: you can’t take it with you when you die.

Black Friday is supposed to be a consumerist’s dream, with bargain offers that are only available at that time of year. In actuality it is a nightmare of epic proportions, where many people don’t realise that the “bargain offers” are still far in excess of what the item is really worth. It only reiterates how much profit is being made on consumer goods by capitalist middlemen.

To make matters worse, Black Friday has resulted in 7 deaths and 98 injuries since it began around 2000. Yes, 7 people have died. Customers and employees crushed when doors are opened. People being trampled to death. An elderly man collapsing and everyone around ignoring him. Guns coming out at Toys R Us and shootings while waiting in the queue. Pepper spray being used on fellow shoppers. People being shot over parking space disputes. The list goes on.

What is so wrong with our society that this would happen?

People are starving, homeless, fleeing war-torn countries with nothing but the clothes on their back.

Join me tomorrow for a Buy Nothing Day. No purchasing; not online, not in person. Say NO to the sickness in society that drives people to hurt one another over a “bargain”.

We can extend it further, looking at how we spend our money, on what, why and when. Look at what are necessities, and what is not. Before buying an item, think about whether you need it. Spend 30 days before you buy something – by then you will certainly know whether you need it or not, or whether it was a whimsical fancy. Spend your hard-earned money wisely on things that will last. You worked hard for that money, don’t fritter it away on what the media tells you that you should have. Decide for yourself.

There are bargains to be had all the time. Charity shops are amazing places to find treasures of all kinds. And the money is going to charity, to actually do some good somewhere. Make every penny you spend count. Make every penny a vote for what you believe in, whether it’s buying local and/or organic food, investing in green energy, buying clothes for work. If you can, really consider the impacts of online shopping too – often items are wrapped in so much plastic, and shipped worldwide that the cost to the environment is enormous.

Our money can be our most powerful weapon against the serious issues of today’s society. We can use it for good, for the benefit of all, not just for one. We can make the world a better place. Really, we can.

Instead of shopping for presents, if you have the time, make something. Cakes, jams, a poem or song for a loved one. Spend time with your family instead of shopping for presents in the evening or at weekends. Devote yourself to what is most important.

Blessings of peace.


Excerpt from my upcoming Zen Druidry Online Course

Busy here getting the Zen Druidry online course ready, so apologies for the haphazard posting of late!

Here’s a short excerpt from the upcoming online Zen Druidry course, that delves deeper into the subject matter that was introduced in my first book, Zen Druidry as part of the Pagan Portals introductory books series. This course is quite extensive, with practical exercises, video links, audio files and more. We hope to release it by the Winter Solstice – keep everything crossed!

This excerpt is from the Wheel of the Year section, where each festival is looked at in depth and culminates in practical work that combines the elements of Zen Buddhism and Druidry.


The days are becoming longer, and though the air is still cold, the first signs of Spring emerge.

Extract from Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life with Full Awareness by Joanna van der Hoeven:

At Imbolc we welcome the lengthening days and the first of the flowers, with the snowdrops coming into season. For those that celebrate by the calendar, Imbolc occurs on the 2nd February. I prefer to celebrate when the snowdrops are out, as I find this more in tune with the seasons. This could happen anytime from beginning of January to as late as March, depending on the winter. Imbolc is also the time when the sheep begin to produce milk – ewe’s milk, which is where we get the name Imbolc from. For our ancestors, this was a celebratory time, when cheeses and butter could once again be made to replenish the winter stores. Again, the milking time can occur anytime in February onwards – it’s always a joy to watch the fields and wait to see the new lambs scampering, flipping their ridiculous tails! This is a time for preparing the seeds of what we wish to achieve in the coming year, dreamt up over the long winter nights, but not yet ready to plant – we must still keep these dreams safe. With Zen, we can apply Right Concentration to this time of year, and focus on total immersion in the present moment.

As we have been using Right Mindfulness in the time from the Winter Solstice to the time of Imbolc, we will notice in our environment when the first snowdrops come out, the increasing amount of sunlight each day, the slow warming of the earth. We will feel the energy softly changing, moving from an introspective feel outwards towards the growing light.

The festival of Imbolc is one of gentle joy. Agriculturally our ancestors in the British Isles celebrated the time of lactation, when ewes first began to produce milk. The winter stores could be replenished with fresh milk and cheeses, to last the hungry time through Spring until the land began to offer her bounty once more and awake from her winter’s slumber. Imbolc is also a Fire Festival in the Celtic year, along with Samhain, Beltane and Lughnasad. The goddess Brighid has long been associated with this festival. She is a goddess of fire and water, of healing, poetry, smithcraft and more. This festival became Christianised as Candlemas, again showing the fire aspect of this time. The growing sunlight is reflected through earthly fire and flame. There are many ways to celebrate Imbolc, including household blessings, the making of Bride dolls, Brigid’s crosses, and more.

Become aware of how fire is a central aspect of your life, in all its manifestations. Give thanks when your central heating comes on. Give thanks for the sunlight that keeps our planet from becoming an ice cube hurtling through space. Give thanks for the gas that powers your stove/cooker, allowing you to have a hot meal. Look into a candle’s flame, or a fire in the hearth, and commune with the spirit of fire. Look at how fire is manifested within the body, in energy, emotion and more.

The Druid pays attention to her surroundings. With Right Concentration (sometimes referred to as Right Focus) she can hone her skills in mindfulness. Concentrating on being fully present, little will escape our attention and we will live a more integrated life with the natural world around us. Right Concentration is a skill that can be achieved through daily meditation. We begin with focusing on the breath and the body in meditation, and keeping our concentration centred within. We then move that focus outwards, without losing the concentration that keep us from distractions, from our chattering “monkey mind“.

It is easy to berate ourselves for not having enough concentration in our lives. In fact, when we look at modern-day society, we see that we are being bombarded by things that actually lessen our ability to concentrate for any period of time. We have smart phones that allow us to stop whatever it is we are doing at any given moment (apart from driving, we hope!) and look at/think about something else. We have telephones that ring us when we are at home. We have television shows, sometimes divided into 4-7 minute segments (mostly American shows) with advertising breaks in between. Our attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter simply through the media that we use. Twitter has a 140 character length, and if you can’t communicate what you have to say in that short space then you can’t say it at all. Their Vine app makes looping videos that are only 6.5 seconds long. The list continues.

We have to relearn how to concentrate, how to bring our awareness in directed focus on a subject in order for our minds, bodies and lives to begin to settle once more. As infants, we absorbed information in rapt attention, no matter if it was a light shining overhead or our mother’s voice. Toddlers exploring the world are intensely focused, beginning with their first steps and then on their goal. We begin to lose our abilities to concentrate with the more information we have to hand, thinking that we can absorb it all without actually realising the repercussions it has on our lives. Technology has advanced so much that our human bodies simply aren’t able to cope with the information overload, and we need to take a step back and refocus.

Most of the information we are receiving is not necessary to our daily function. Reading some celebrity’s tweet will not put dinner on the table. Checking replies to our Facebook status will not get our toilets cleaned. If you’ve spent a media-free day a week during the Winter Solstice to Imbolc period, then you probably have realised the benefit of stopping the information overload.

We begin with a simple candle meditation, incorporating the fire aspect of the season and the one-pointed focus required in this meditation. Sit before a candle, and simple watch its flame. When thoughts arise, notice them by saying “lunch” or “meeting” or “cat” and then let it go, returning your focus to the candle’s flame. If you have a family, it might be better to do this meditation either early in the morning or late at night when everyone is in bed. It doesn’t matter how many times you have to bring your focus back to the candle – what matters most is that you do it. Bring your attention and concentration back however many times you need to. Concentration is a skill, and any skill is something which is developed over time. It doesn’t happen in an instant.

Now is the time to take it a step further. Literally.

Walking meditation is a brilliant way draw focus into what we are doing, and help us to integrate with our natural surroundings on the Druid path. We can think of each step we take as kissing the earth, celebrating our love for life on this planet. Walking meditation began as an interlude to zazen, or sitting meditation, to allow the meditator to continue with their meditation while easing their body from a sedentary pose to a moving one, allowing for good circulation and bringing some exercise into the practice.

Walking meditation can be done indoors or outdoors. Zendos (Zen centres) will accommodate both practices in their buildings, but incorporating the Druid path into our spirituality means that we need to engage further with the natural world around us. Remaining indoors has its benefits, enabling us to concentrate better with less distractions, however, we can practice this outdoors with great joy. We can then let this practice become part of our lives to such a great extent that we walk mindfully, aware of our movements wherever we go, whatever we are doing. It requires Right Concentration. Do what you can, whether indoors or out.

Not only will we benefit personally from walking meditation, but the land will benefit as well. If we walk with love and with joy, instead of walking with anger or suffering, the land will also share in this experience. Too often we believe that we are the only beings experiencing, however, we can walk in the rain and experience the rain, knowing that the rain is also experiencing us. Let us make this a good experience.

With the exercise and fresh air, we also release stress and anxiety, as well as developing a practice that allows us to be in the world by silencing our monkey mind and embracing the world as it really is.

If you are lucky enough to have a backyard, these are ideal places to begin. It is out of doors, and relatively quiet, safe and secure. If you don’t have a backyard, you can try a local park that you feel is safe and secure, or a botanical garden, or even a friend’s backyard (with their permission, of course!). If you live deep in the heart of a city and don’t feel that you are able to access public parks with safety on your own, ask a friend or relative to join you. If you have wild stretches of forest or heathland at your doorstep, go for it, but do ensure that someone is aware of where you are going, and what you are doing. Again, take someone along if it makes you feel more at ease. If you have a young family, doing walking meditation with them is a great way to spend time together.

Barefoot walking is a great way to bring focus and attention to each and every step. However, it depends on your circumstances and whether this is a safe thing to do. Broken glass and other debris on city streets are not conducive to good barefoot walking meditation; neither is walking through gorse-laden brush in adder country. Be safe and responsible.

Really notice the feel of movement in your body as you slowly take one step, then another. Engage your whole foot in the step, touching the ground with the heel first, then rolling all the way to the tips of the toes. Be aware of what both feet are doing at the same time. This is surprisingly difficult at first, but it will hone your concentration. Breathe mindfully as if in meditation. Feel the air on your skin, the sunlight or the rain. Notice the light or darkness, the sounds and scents. Do not become lost in these, however; simply notice. Notice without judgement. You can even say to yourself “sunlight”, “dog barking”, “snowdrop”, “icy path” and allow your awareness of everything to keep you going. When you find the mind starting to wander, or you feel you begin to judge something, bring your attention back into your feet and your breath.

Walk as slowly or as quickly as feels comfortable. Most Zen walking meditation is done slowly, but some Zen centres do practice kinhin quickly, to get the blood flowing. As with everything, mindfulness is key. Do this every day if you can, noticing how your environment is changing through the seasons.

Some things to consider from Imbolc to the Spring Equinox are:

  1. Look at how fire manifests in your life. Look at the inner fire within. See how fire can destroy as well as bring nourishment and comfort. Learn how to harness the power of fire responsibly.
  2. Do the candle meditation each day, and then begin walking meditation after you have sufficiently honed your concentration with the candle meditation.
  3. Be kind and gentle with yourself. This is a season which can be difficult, even as it was for our ancestors, who lived through the lean months of Spring until food sources became more abundant.
  4. Do a house-blessing – research various forms or come up with your own.
  5. Prepare the seeds of your intention that you kept safe over Samhain and dreamt over during the Winter Solstice. Find out what they will require to bring them into fruition, but do not plant them just yet. Wait until the sun is a little stronger, the air a little warmer, and life generally a little more forgiving. Learn the value of patience.

Reblog: Relationship

This is a reblog from my channel for SageWoman Magazine at Witches and Pagans. To read the full article, click HERE.

P1000375 (1024x768)Druidry is all about relationship, and you cannot have relationship without some form of communication. It may not always be in words, human to human, but opening those lines of communication helps us to perceive that the world is more than just our own sense of self. When we begin to see that there are other perspectives, other points of view we also come to an awareness that the world is being experienced by each being individually, in a collective state of unity dictated by space and time.

Events around the world this year have shone a spotlight on discordance, in human to human relationship, and in human to other-than-human relationships. Violent attacks, disregard for the environment, the increasing gap between the rich and the poor and more can be attributed to an “Us” and “Them” mentality. When we remove this dualist point of view, and encompass a more holistic approach, we see that what we do to others, we do to ourselves. In Buddhism, it is acknowledged that suffering exists in the world, and that this suffering is caused by the illusion of separation. If we look deeply enough scientifically, anthropologically, and even spiritually we can see that there is more that binds us together than tears us apart.

As a Druid, nature teaches me the impermanence of all things, through the cycles of birth and death, energy in constant motion. It has taught me of unity and ancestry, for in my body are electrons which have previously been in trees, in a child in Mexico, in the deer and the blackbird. The air that I breathe is the breath of the ancestors, and the shared breath of the world. We all have star-stuff within us. Not in a “hippy-dippy” sense, but in a real, visceral sense that this connection is all pervasive; we simply choose to ignore it for whatever reason…

Continued at Witches and Pagans HERE.