The word peace means many different things to many different people. Some see peace as simply the cessation of aggression or violence. Others see it as a way of life, a philosophy. Still again others see it as a mere dream, while others see it as the ultimate goal. But just what is peace, and what does it mean in a Druid context?
In our society, we strive for so much. Some things are worth working for, putting all our heart and soul into, such as equality, environmentalism and a better way of life for all beings. Some things we strive for are not so worthy – material wealth, social, economic and political power, fame or authority. For many in today’s society, it’s a dog eat dog world, and to get ahead you have to step over others in the race for the top. In reality, there is no top rung on that ladder – there isn’t even a ladder to begin with. All these notions of power are entirely illusionary, when looked at from a basic ultimate view that we are all just beings co-existing with each other on this little planet. Allow me explain.
The illusion of separateness has caused our world so much pain. When we see ourselves as separate, we begin to lose the notion of the sacredness in everything. There is absolutely no possible way for anyone or anything to be separate from anything else. We human beings are made up of minerals and atoms, of genetic information from all our ancestors (human and non-human), of sunlight and wind and rain. We are all star-stuff. We have not come out of nowhere, to suddenly exist and then just as suddenly depart when our earthly lives are snuffed out. The clouds in the sky have always been, and always will be. They may change their form, becoming humid wisps of cloud and ice, to larger clouds that then change into rain. That rain falls onto the earth, to be drunk by human and non-human animals alike, by the garden plants and the trees, by the birds and the bees. This water is released once more into the atmosphere through a myriad of ways – sweat, piss, moist exhalation, dewdrops. Back into the sky it goes, to once again form a cloud. We have clouds within our bodies, in the food that we eat, in the water that we drink, in our genetic makeup. We are clouds and the clouds are us.
Once we see the interconnectedness of all things, we realise that to strive for power or control over anything is as fleeting as the life of a cloud. All things are connected, and all things are impermanent. This is an essential tenet of Eastern philosophies, which is strongly reflected in a Druid’s perspective when viewed as part of the natural cycle. Nothing ever stays the same, not the river, not the sky, not the grass, not the tadpole. Everything is in constant change and flux. The key to finding peace within this constant change is acceptance of the impermanence, allowing our hearts to find ease from the fears and insecurities that arise when we fight against change.
A wave does not stress out about dying when it crashes upon the shoreline. It knows that it is water. The wave is simply the form that it took for however long a time. It knows that it is connected with everything else on this planet – there is nothing that exists outside it in a separate context. The web of life, the threads of connections are all around us. When we see those threads we lose the fear of death, instead seeing the cycles that allow us to really come to terms with the concept of changing forms. Death is not annihilation – it is simply becoming a new form, a new way of being.
The basic fact of life is that we will all die. So what is this struggle, what is this constant striving towards ideas of ownership, of power and rule, of games played with lives? To what purpose does it serve when we will all return to the earth in some form or another, when we come to an understanding that we are not separate from anything else? When can we move from concepts such as birth and death?
As humans we have developed a sense of self-awareness that actually hinders the possibility of finding a true and real sense of peace. We are often so self-focused that we are blinkered to everything else, to the entirety of existence. When we are only in tune with ourselves, how can we ever find harmony without? Stuck within the whirls and eddies of the mind, we will never notice the birdsong, or the rain upon our shoulders, the cry of a hungry child or the yowl of a cat in heat. When we look beyond ourselves is when we will be able to find peace. When we are able to work for the benefit of others instead of just ourselves, the world will know harmony. As we are all co-existing on this planet, it just makes sense to work together. However, the illusion of separateness is strong.
Peace is not just something for stoned hippies to think about and discuss – it is a very real and powerful way of being in the world. Through sensing our connection to the world we find a place of true power, power that comes from within that allows us to work for the benefit of all. This power cannot and will never be a “power over” anyone or anything else, as writer and activist Starhawk expresses often in her work. This power from within is the deep core of true expression, of a sustainable relationship working in tune with the entirety of existence.
Peace is not just a cessation to war and violence. Peace comes from a very real and deep understanding of our selves, of our behaviour and our way of being in the world. Many people within the pagan community seek to find a better way of being in the world. They focus on working on the self, through years of self-discovery, journeys, pilgrimages, workshops, training and the like. For many, the journey stops there, at the betterment of the self. What I would posit in this essay is that in order to bring about true peace in the world, we then have to let go of ideas of the self, in order to focus on the wider world. It is a letting go of the blinkers that hinder our ability to work with others compassionately, in real empathy and attunement to the natural cycles.
This is deep integration, of immersion in the world to allow for true peace to flow. Where there are no barriers of you and me, no sense of the “other”, then we can truly work together to bring balance and harmony to our world. It is often said in historical and academic accounts that Druids were the peacemakers of their world and their society. Did they have a deep understanding of the connectedness of all life, did they allow their sense of self to fall away in order to bring about peace between warring tribes, between the workings of the human race and other species, in their work with the gods? We will never know, but it is something that I think is perhaps lost in today’s Druidry.
Peace is often not the main focus for those who come to Druidry. They often seek a spiritual path that allows them to explore the true nature of their self, to affirm their beliefs in a like-minded community. This is brilliant, and of course very useful for all, however it cannot end there. In my opinion, there must be a return for the lessons that we learn, an exchange, a flow from one to the other that allows for true and sustainable relationship. When we step beyond our selves and begin to truly understand what it means as a Druid to live a life in service to the gods, the community and the land then we are really coming to terms with the concept of peace within a Druid context.
Too many are living a reactionary life, caught within the trapping of their minds and unwilling or unable to see the world around them and their part in the weave that is the tapestry of life. They cannot sense all the other threads around them, or if they do sometimes they feel competition, or aggressiveness towards them. It is a sickness in our culture and society that we are brought up in such an environment. Instead of supporting each other and rooting for each other, if we have an issue with someone we do the exact opposite, for whatever reason. In sacred relationship, especially within a Druid context, we don’t have to like everyone we meet or interact with. However, we can see them for what they are: a part of the sacredness in all life. As Bobcat once wrote many years ago, it’s all about sacred relationship – when we walk through the woods we avoid the nettles. We don’t have to cut them all down in order to continue, yet we can still honour their existence and their place in the web of life. Essentially, we don’t have to hurt others who may even have hurt us – if we do that, we are simply living reactionary lives. Let’s live active lives instead, claiming full responsibility for our actions and in doing so achieve peace. Even if others hurt us, we don’t have to continue the cycle of hurt – we can walk around the nettles.
Peace must first come from within. If we are hurt or angry, we are not at peace. We must take some time to look at our hurt and our anger, and see where they really stem from. As Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh states, we must take care of our anger in order to transform it. When we finally sit with our emotions, we open the doors to empathy and compassion. Compassion is as mis-interpreted as the concept of peace is: compassion is simply looking at the bigger picture, attempting to understand the whole. It doesn’t necessarily mean unconditional love for all beings, though if we are truly and utterly open in our hearts that will ultimately be the outcome. It’s a tough call for most to make – in fact, only the Buddha himself has done it so far. However, we can take the wisdom of wider learning to help us understand others and thereby finding peace. If someone hurts us, we can sit with our anger and hurt, looking at it relating to our self. We can then extend that investigation – this is where most contemplation ends in day to day life. However, working through an entirely self-focused view, we can then begin to look at the person who hurt us, seeing that they too suffer. It’s not pleasant to cause suffering – not unless there is something severely wrong with the brain and a mental fissure stops that basic understanding and empathy. Have you ever betrayed anyone or said anything unkind? Did it make you feel better? Have you ever intentionally said something to hurt someone? Did you ever believe in the illusion that to being someone down raises you up? We all have. What we can do now is stop that cycle and truly live a life filled with intention, instead of reactionary living.
The Druid looks to nature for inspiration on how to live a live immersed and integrated with the whole. When we see the complex web of existence, when we bring our focus to an ecosystem, we see how everything works with the other in some shape or form to bring about the continuation of existence. We can look to ideas from permaculture, from biology, from ecology in order to grasp that sense of working together to create a beneficent environment. As Druids we don’t look to humanity for authority – we seek that from nature instead.
In gaining the wider perspective we can allow room in our hearts for a deep and abiding peace. We can still work actively in the world to bring about peace – we needn’t suddenly find peace and sit back while the world struggles on around us, our environment is destroyed and people are attacking each other. It means that from a very deep well we can work to nourish our communities, bringing a much-needed draught of inspiration or awen. In doing so, we are Druid.