Finding the Balance: Wedding Discipline to Devotion

Finding the Balance: Wedding Discipline to Devotion

Our culture of “not good enough” is so rampant, that it can be terribly hard to disassociate oneself from it. I was able to come to terms with the capitalist way of life here in our Western world through Eastern means, specifically through Zen Buddhism. That led to deep meditation, of simply being in the moment, of enjoying the simple things in life while maintaining a deep discipline of distancing myself from the “not good enough life” into one where “it is enough”. This occurred on both a physical and spiritual level. Indeed, it usually does, because the two cannot be separated from each other.

The discipline aspect was hard, at first. I didn’t feel like meditating, like being in the moment. I would do so without any spiritual or religious intent, per se; it was merely to be in the moment, experiencing my body without distraction, noticing my thoughts. As I became more proficient at this, through sheer dogged determination and mule-minded stubborness, the light began to shine through the cracks that had opened up in my mind and in my way of being in the world. I could see that it was all illusion, that what my mind created was illusion, that the way we thought and acted in the world was all based on illusion. At first I was angry at the deception, then I was sad, depressed at the state of the world and not seeing a way through. But through perseverance, I came through the other side. How did I persevere? Again, it was discipline, but this time it was wedded to devotion.

Discipline itself wasn’t enough to get me through. I knew I could do it, and indeed I had. But when I dropped out many things in my life, all the illusory things, I didn’t at the time realise that I had to fill up the hole that they left with something more nourishing. Instead, it left me feeling empty, which at first was an interesting way to be, but then voracious hunger kicks in, when we’re empty, when we need refuelling. Carefully deciding on the path that I wanted to take, in order to find and maintain a sovereign sense of self, I brought devotion into my practice, in order to grasp that deep intention and give meaning to all that I did. After all, isn’t that the meaning of life? To give your life meaning?

And so I devoted myself to the gods of my local landscape, and several other “traditional” gods within the Celtic pantheon, some that I had worked with for decades, others which called to me to come and dance with them, for however long or short a while. And so I did, weaving discipline, daily discipline, with devotion, giving meaning to the work that I did, both for myself and for the wider world. When the hole was filled, through the previous emptying of my mind and soul, it was enough.

This is not a one-off process, however. Every day I am learning just what enough means. We are bombarded each and every day by media trying to create feelings of inadequacy. It brings to mind the Druid maxim: the Truth against the World. I have to hold my truth, against that of the world around me which seeks to distance myself from my truth. I have to work hard to be sovereign of myself. The hard work is worth the effort.

That’s not to say that I don’t have my bad days, that I don’t slip into despair every now and then, of my own failings and that of the world. But when I go outside, listen to the blackbird singing songs of the Otherworld, when I see the herd of deer running through the woods, or the bloated corpse of a fallow deer rotting down into the leafmould; when I see the hawk flying over the treetops, screaming in hunger or joy, or the waves of the sea gently lapping the shingle and whispering secrets of the murky depths, I come back to an awareness of the Mystery. That Mystery is that the world is more than me, that I am a part of a great web, a connecting thread in all that there is, all that ever was, and all that shall ever be. I am the awen, from the depths I sing.

It’s important to remember that human beings are part of nature. Our culture tries to create the illusion of separateness, but when we pull back the veil we see the interconnectedness of all things. The air that I breathe is oxygen created by trees and plankton, grasses and daisies. They in turn take a deep breath of the carbon I expel from my lungs, in one great harmonious intake and outtake of a World Breath. Just breathing can connect us to each other, can remind us of that connection each and every day. That was why the sitting meditation, or zazen of my earlier days, of just focusing and concentrating on breathing was such a great stepping stone in my life. From there, from just sitting and breathing with the world, I came to a sense of connection that led to a life of devotion, where I work to achieve a sovereignty of self in a world that seeks to make me its subject and slave.

We might think that we aren’t equipped to do the daily practice, to help others, much less help ourselves. But we are, if we remember. Re-member: to bring together disparate parts of ourselves. If we remember that connection, the threads of awen that connect each and every life form to each other, then we can work to know that our existence is not just a mere blight on the planet. We have destroyed so much, and we are at a tipping point, for sure. But there is also the great possibility that this is the moment where we all wake up. That humanity undergoes a revolution of its own mind, its hive mind. That we open up to the wonderful magic of possibility. That we are able to use our intelligence, discipline, compassion, empathy and more to make this world a better place. Is this altruism? Not entirely, because we also will benefit greatly from this revolution. We are doing it because we know that we are all connected. We are all related.

For me, wedding discipline to devotion helped to give my life meaning, and to put my feet upon the path towards this revolution. Working with love and compassion, for myself and for the world around me gives my life meaning. Even when I’m not feeling particularly loving, especially towards humanity, I have to remember the potential, the possibility that we can change, that we can reweave our connection to the land. It’s the basis of the work I do at Druid College, to hope to inspire people find their sovereign self, to come to know what enough really is, to work with the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place and to really understand on a deep level that we are the land. There is no separation. Lying down upon the mossy ground in my backyard, underneath the beech tree, tiny buds appearing on its ever-expanding canopy year upon year, I look up into the blue sky just beyond the tangled web and know that there is always possibility, that there is always change. Buddhism and Zen teach of impermanence; so too does Druidry, in the natural flow and cycles of the seasons of our lives. When we truly come to understand the nature of impermanence, we come to truly know abundance.

© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017

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Voluntary Simplicity

the-essence-of-voluntary-simplicity-is-living-in-a-way-what-is-outwardly-simple-and-inwardly-rich-quote-12017 is going to be the year where hopefully the words “voluntary simplicity” will be embraced by a wider range of people. I know that I have been incorporating voluntary simplicity in my own life for many years now, and that there is still many more ways in which I can follow a simpler, more efficient and ecologically sustainable way of being in the world. To do so, I am constantly informing myself, being conscious and mindful, trying to look at the bigger picture and taking personal responsibility for the world that I am leaving to our ancestors of the future. Now more than ever, we are at the crucial tipping point where we have to look beyond our own self-interest and look to the whole, to be more holistic in everything that we do.

I have incorporated Zen and Buddhism into my life for many years. For me, this brings a wisdom from both Eastern and Western philosophies that can blend together to form a holistic worldview and way of life. I feel that East and West need each other in order to understand the whole. Only when we understand the material as well as the spiritual can we bring them together to live fully in the here and now.

It’s important that simplicity, in terms of reducing consumerism, resources and living a better, cleaner more sustainable life, is voluntarily chosen. When it is not, we come across such suffering as poverty. Many people in the world do not have a choice to reduce, reuse, to choose. Here in the West, many of us can make choices, however small, in our daily lives that strive towards a more sustainable future for everyone. Where we can, we should voluntarily make that choice, in order to preserve a future for humanity. In doing so, we will also achieve a higher quality of life, and be able to truly flourish as a species. We are at that balance point, if we haven’t already gone too far, to either evolve into a higher consciousness and have that reflected in our actions, to come together as we realise that there is more to bind us together than tear us apart, or we can fall into divisiveness, fighting each other over the few differences and destroying not only ourselves, but a large portion of life on this planet in our downfall.

But what is simplicity? It is living in harmony with the world. Druidry is all about relationship, and this is also at the heart of simplicity. It is egalitarian. It sees through the illusions created by modern-day culture and society, the need to consume, the distractions of the media. It is about seeing what is really important in life: your family, your friends, your local environment. It is about living sustainably, so that our children and their children, as well as all the planet’s children, both human and non-human, have a good quality of life. It is about learning what is enough, rather than striving for more.

It is important to understand that simplicity is something that is for many of us a voluntary lifestyle. As stated above, many people lead lives in poverty and suffering because they do not have enough. We who do should learn just what is enough, and work towards achieving that understanding by informing and educating ourselves of our wants versus our needs. We must do this willingly, with an open heart. In doing so, we are also leading lives filled with compassion for all beings. It is not sacrifice, for we are only giving up the things that are unnecessary. Sacrifice is giving up the essentials. Many of thing things we consume or the activities we undertake are unnecessary. Many of them are distractions. Many of them only cause us to distance ourselves further from reality, each other and our place in the ecosystem. We are sacrificing ourselves by not following a simpler way of life.

We have to regard simplicity as a creative way of being in the world. Consumerism is not very creative. If we learn to live a simpler life, we rid ourselves of many distractions, thus enabling our own innate creativity to flourish. No longer are we kept under the pacifying drugs such a television, the media, advertising, and so on. We will embrace all that life has to offer, savouring each and every moment, willingly.

Gandhi said that we “choose to live simply so that others may simply live”. This is where we find compassion in a simpler life. This is where we see that we are a single thread among many in the tapestry or web of life. As human beings, homo sapien sapiens, the “beings who are aware that we are aware”, we understand the concept of a greater good for our species, and for the world as whole. Let’s use that knowledge wisely. Let’s create a world that we actually want to live in.

The concept of voluntary simplicity was begun by Richard Gregg, who was a student of Gandhi’s teachings. In 1936, he wrote about voluntary simplicity, stating that the purpose of life was to create a life of purpose. Let these words inspire you in your path towards voluntary simplicity. They can be a guiding beacon of light in a world of many illusory struggles and distractions. Create a life of purpose and meaning for yourself, using voluntary simplicity. It is the best way forward not only for your own life, but for the planet as a whole. Be creative. Druidry has a large focus on awen, on inspiration. Let us use that inspiration to live simpler lives filled with our creative potential to create a truly harmonious and sustainable way of life.

Mindfulness is a huge buzz word these past few years, and is a great tool in voluntary simplicity. We are living with intention, choosing our own path. We are conscious. We are aware that we are aware. Living an intentional life, as opposed to a reactive life, is one where we find a life of purpose. It really is that simple, yet is a challenging way to live. Being deliberate in everything requires us to evaluate and asses everything that we do, all our relationships: with other people, people we like and people we don’t like, with ourselves, with human and non-human animals, with the plant and mineral kingdoms. Like practicing Tai Chi, everything we do becomes a deliberate action, wholly understood and executed in a mindful manner, thus creating a beautiful flow.

Right now, we live in a world of crisis. Soon, the oil will become much more expensive, sea levels will rise, air quality will fall and the divide between those that have and those that have not will reach unprecedented proportions. We are currently living lives that sacrifice ourselves, each other and the planet. It can be utterly depressing when we view the world as such. Towards the end of 2016, an unusual pall of heaviness and depression hit me, as the weight of the suffering in the world fell all around me. I saw no hope for the future. However, voluntary simplicity has encouraged me that all is not lost. At this crisis point, we just might find profound opportunities to be creative, to be nourishing, to really change the way that we have been going the last few hundred years. This could be the unprecedented change necessary for our own survival. As the make or break point, this is where we could truly flourish as a species, to understand what has gone wrong, and to make amends right here, right now.

This requires personal responsibility. We cannot wait for governments to legislate for us. We cannot say that we will not undertake a simpler way of life until everyone else does. If we wait until everyone else decides to do this, or for it to be legislated, we could well be beyond the point of no return, where any action we undertake will already be too late. We must do this right now in our own lives, and let our lives be the example. We will not suffer because we are doing this, while others still live lives of disposable consumerism. We will not fall behind in the rat race. We will be living more intentionally, walking with a lighter footstep upon the planet, and knowing what really matters. Those who are not awakening to the benefit of voluntary simplicity are the ones who will suffer. Responsibility and duty have become dirty words in our society, and we must reclaim them for the very powerful values that they posses. We can change the world through everyday small actions. Like drops in a bucket, when we do so, even at tiny levels, it all adds up. We may not see the results straight away on a global scale, but we will see them in our own lives. We cannot wait any longer. We must take action now, in any way we can. No one will do this for us.

It’s also important to lay aside blame for the moment. If we participate in the world of consumerism, then we have only ourselves to blame. If we step outside of those bounds as much as possible, we will begin to understand the reasons why people do the things that they do, and in that understanding compassion will arise. For example, I know people whose kitchen cupboards are filled to overflowing. They don’t know what is in the back of those cupboards. There is food going to waste. But I also understand that there were many years where food was hard to come by for them, where every cent went to putting food on the table for their children. Full cupboards mean security. Though they might not be aware of this, I can certainly understand the behaviour, even if I don’t personally agree with it. I don’t blame them for creating the world that I live in, because I can change my own world in small and in large ways. If I lay all the blame for the world we live in on those who don’t share my own values, I can fall into an apathy and sense of separation from the rest of my fellow human beings that has absolutely no purpose or benefit in saving this planet or creating a new sustainable way of living. Instead, I will only live with anger and contempt, instead of working with compassion and integrity.

Every decision matters. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the jobs we undertake and more. We are not powerless. We must remember this. It is essential to living a more simple way of life. We cannot change society until we change ourselves. Our biggest and often most important vote that we have in our consumerist society is how we spend our money. Tell the companies that you don’t want their latest product induced by media to increase low self-esteem by not participating in what they are trying to create. Instead, live a life of meaning, of intentional and mindful experience. The quality of life will increase, as opposed to the quantity of material goods. You will find creative ways of living. It is possible.

When we discover the things that really matter in life, life really matters. This is my understanding of voluntary simplicity.

 

Make Tea

She lit the candles and incense, and sat down upon the cushions. Breathing deeply, she inhaled the fragrant scent, and allowed her gaze to wander over the items on the altar. She tried to focus, her gaze finally resting upon the image of Brighid, and the flame that the goddess held in her hands. As the darkness fell, both within and without, both figuratively and literally, she focused on the flame being offered. She took it within her heart, and for a brief moment it flickered, then died out as the darkness consumed it in a deep blanket of despair.

Breathe.

She focused once again on the image, this time on the watery vesica pisces symbol. Yet her mind would not focus, her thoughts filled with grief and anger, darkness and despair. She breathed through them, trying to remain in the present moment. But the darkness was overwhelming, and as she floundered, she cried out: “Help!”

The voice of the goddess spoke softly in her mind. “Make tea.”

She sat for a moment longer, determined to spend at least ten minutes at her altar. At last, she gave up and blew out the candles, allowing the incense to burn itself out. Make tea, the goddess had said. Alright. Let’s make some tea.

She went downstairs and put the kettle on. Let’s make tea, she said to herself. Mindfully. She prepared the small teapot with herbs known to lift the darkness and soothe the nerves: St John’s wort and skullcap. She also added some lemon balm, to ease tension and also for flavour. She inhaled the scent of the dried herbs, and mixed them together before placing them in the teapot. She looked out the window in the light of the setting sun, a small muntjac deer feeding alongside a magpie underneath the bird feeder.

She placed on a tray the teapot, strainer and saucer, as well as a small handmade earthenware cup. She brought these to the table, and laid them down with her full attention. The kettle had boiled, and she carefully filled her small iron kettle with the water, feeling the steam against her skin. She brought the iron kettle to the table, and placed it on a heat-proof mat. She sat down, her mind still battling the darkness around the edges, her thoughts seemingly not her own. She knew her hormones were swirling in a dance similar to that which she had experienced at adolescence, though now she was at the other end of the brilliant spectrum. She had to take care of herself, of her body as well as her mind.

She opened up the teapot and breathed. Mindfully, she took the iron kettle and filled the teapot with water, replacing the kettle with equal attention. She inhaled the scent of the herbs, and replaced the teapot lid. No other thoughts entered her mind, just these simple, small actions. Working with mindfulness, working with full attention to her actions, there was only the present moment.

She sat back and waited for the tea to brew. Slowly, she felt the darkness returning, crowding at her mind. Despair at the state of the world, at the constant struggle she faced with work, with others who could not do the simplest of tasks, with expectations from both strangers and friends, knowing that if she didn’t do something, no one would – stop. Breathe. Focus. Three minutes stretched to an eternity as the brew steeped in the teapot.

She took a deep breath, and the darkness receded an inch. She picked up the teapot, and concentrated on pouring the tea through the strainer into the small bowl. She kept up her concentration on her breath and on the pouring, and it filled her entire being. Nothing else mattered in that moment. Just pouring tea.

She put down the teapot and picked up the cup. The scent of the herbs brought back memories of a wonderful little shop called StarChild in Glastonbury. She allowed the brief memory to flicker, and then she refocused her attention on the cup in her hands. The heat radiated through the bowl, and she had to pick it up carefully, her fingers near the cooler end of the rim. Quietly, she took the first slurp, allowing the air to cool the hot water before it reached her tongue. She concentrated on nothing but drinking the tea, sitting alone in the dining room, with night falling outside.

She drank the first cup, and then brewed another in the teapot. She kept her mind focused on the present, acknowledging past wounds but not allowing them to flavour the present moment. She had worked hard to name them and transform them, and was working on it still. Three minutes again slipped past, and outside her dining room window she saw the Christmas lights from the house across the street go on.

She poured herself another cup, and drank it mindfully. A third cup was brewed and drunk, and when she finished she sat back and bowed to her tea set. She felt a little better, the darkness within relenting, though not wholly gone. She acknowledged and allowed the herbs to do their work on her body and her mind. With equally careful attention, she rinsed the kettle and washed the teapot, bowl and strainer, and then went upstairs with a lighter heart, to Skype with her mother and find even more comfort and peace, there in the moment, utterly in the moment.

Reviews for new book: Zen for Druids

Zen for Druids front coverReviews are coming in for my new book, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with Nature. This new book expands upon my first work, the introductory Pagan Portals Zen Druidry, and looks deeper into combining elements of Zen Buddhism and Druidry. Here are a few of the reviews!


I am a massive fan of Joanna van der Hoeven’s books. They are wonderfully accessible whilst still conveying a depth and clarity that helps the reader to really connect with the wisdom of the subject. Her latest offering does just that. ‘Zen For Druids’ is a companion to her earlier work ‘Zen Druidry’, exploring Zen Buddhism and Druidry by illustrating how these spiritual paths can complement one another in practice. The book is written in five parts. The first explores Druidry and the Dharma giving an excellent overview of Buddhism’s Three Treasures; The Four Noble Truths; The Five Precepts; The Eightfold Path and The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts and how these relate to Druid philosophy. The second part takes us through the Pagan Wheel of the Year and how Zen Buddhism can enrich the understanding and honouring of these festivals. Joanna includes some really useful tips at the end of each festival section, with ideas to deepen your experience of each. Part three focuses on Meditation; part four on Mindfulness and part five on Integration, each section helping to both explain the underlying spiritual meaning of these practices whilst giving practical advice, exercises and encouragement. I particularly enjoyed the section on Integration where the author writes beautifully about Awen and Relationship as a connecting, compassionate force that reveals the interconnectedness of life. In her chapter on Ego, Self and Identity the author tackles the thorny issue of the Ego. In many spiritual texts, the Ego can so easily be labelled the ‘bad guy’ but Joanna skilfully explores the difference between Representational Ego and Functional Ego, redeeming the Ego’s useful functions whilst suggesting a compassionate approach to its more challenging aspects. The concepts in this book take some thoughtful pondering but the beauty of Joanna’s writing is that it cracks open what initially appear to be very complex ideas and gets straight to the heart of each. Obviously the real work is in the dedicated practice of a spiritual path but Zen For Druids offers a wonderful foundation to build upon. In every page you can sense that the author has learned these insights through experience, that she really understands and lives these principles from a place of deep heart-knowing. We move from a purely intellectual grasping of a subject to this heart-led living of a spiritual path through the constant connection and exploration of that path; Joanna van der Hoeven’s fabulous book is both an inspiring and deeply practical aid to help you on that journey. I highly recommend this book. It is proof of how seemingly different spiritualities can enrich each other, and for those of us who are drawn to both western and eastern paths, it’s a real gem! ~ Maria Ede-Weaving, from the office of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids

Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Harmony, and Compassion with Nature by Joanna Van Der Hoeven is a look at integrating aspects of Zen Buddhism and Druidry into ones personal practices. We take a look at some of the basic principles of Buddhism such as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path and how they can be integrated with aspects of Druidry such as the sacredness for all things. There are questions which help us contemplate these concepts within the aspects of both Druidry and Buddhism. We take a look at meditation and mindfulness in both areas of practice. We are shown how to incorporate the eightfold path of Buddhism into the Wheel of the Year and Druid festivals. I liked how this book brought together both Buddhist and Druid practices to create a practice that is one with nature and enhances our spiritual practice. I learned a lot about both Druidry and Buddhism and how they can work seamlessly together to create a spiritual practice. ~ Rose Pettit, Insights into the Wonderful World of Books

In this user-friendly book, Joanna van der Hoeven further develops ideas already present in her earlier ones, especially Zen Druidry. On my reading, this book will work best for Druids committed to a modern eco-spirituality. I imagine readers already re-enchanted by their experience of the natural world, who want a harmonious relationship with that world, and to honour, protect and preserve it. Zen for Druids confirms this stance and adds something else: the interwoven ethical and attentional training of the Buddhist tradition. The author draws specifically on Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Master who founded the Community of Interbeing and is a leading model and exponent of ‘engaged Buddhism’. This cultivates personal, social and ecological levels of awareness. It recognizes the radical interdependence of all beings and a need to make ethical/political choices in line with this interdependence. Such Buddhism is not in any way world denying, in the way that Buddhist tradition has at times been in the past. I see Thich Nhat Hanh as a perfect source of influence for this book, and several of his own works are cited in the bibliography. Zen for Druids is divided into five parts. The first is a clear exposition of Buddhist basics, helped by that tradition’s own style of clear exposition and list making. It includes chapters on the three treasures, the four noble truths, the five basic precepts for lay Buddhists, the eightfold path and the sixteen Bodhisattva precepts. By age-old Buddhist design, there is a certain amount of repetition in these lists, with the same issues coming up again in slightly different contexts. Each individual chapter ends with a set of questions designed to engage the reader in their own reflections. The second part moves through the eightfold wheel of the year, frequently found as a festival year in Druid and Pagan communities. Each festival is given its own chapter, and each chapter combines traditional Druid and Pagan themes with a principle from the Buddhist eightfold path. The author starts at Samhain (right effort), moves on to the Winter Solstice (right mindfulness), Imbolc (right concentration), Spring Equinox (right intention), Beltane (right view), Summer Solstice (right action), Lughnasadh (right speech) and the Autumn Equinox (right livelihood). Each section is followed by a list of suggestions for practice. The book’s remaining three parts are shorter. They concern, respectively, meditation, mindfulness and integration. In two chapters on meditation, the first explores ‘mind traps’ – “those little prisons of our own making. We are constantly hijacked by our thoughts and feelings, attachments to them and our egos, such that we spin endlessly in circles until we fall down”. The second shows us to how do a brief meditation session in the Zen manner. The following section, concerning mindfulness in the world, suggests a practice of ‘mindful Mondays’ and explores the relationship between present time awareness and an animist world view. The final section, on integration, focuses on our integration with nature, looking at the issue of ‘ego, self and identity’ before reflecting on ‘awen and relationship’. For Joanna van der Hoeven, indeed, “awen is relationship and integration, the connecting threads that bind us soul to soul”. In Zen for Druids, one Druid shows how she has taken an iteration of Zen Buddhism into her life and practice, combining them into one path. She sets out her stall very clearly and offers the reader specific opportunities and resources for practice and reflection. This book does a valuable job well. ~ James Nichol, Contemplative Inquiry

I read Joanna’s “Zen Druidry” and it really helped add an extra layer of depth to my own Druidry. This book continues down that same path, with a lot more emphasis on how to incorporate aspects of both Zen and Druidry into one’s life. Not only does Joanna write in a way that is easily accessible, her approach to topics provides the reader with enough information to work with the topic or concept. The questions she asks throughout the book are definitely good moments of “food for thought” – and for me provide even more desire to dig even deeper into what she is presenting here. Is her book a be-all, end-all of Zen, Druidry, or the combination of the two? Not even, nor is it meant to be. Finding that kind of depth, in my opinion, is up to the individual bringing these concepts into their Spiritual practices. This book; however, is a definite strong start for those who are looking for ways to incorporate these two particular Spiritual disciplines into their lives at the same time. For me, this book is a timely follow on to the “Zen Druidry” title, providing more depth and clarity to the combination of these two Paths. Going further down that Path, will be up to the individual adherent and their own unique application of these disciplines to their own lives. If you are picking this book up first, set it down and get “Zen Druidry” and read that first. Then follow on with this one. The two flow together very nicely.  ~ Tommy van Hook, Life with Trickster Gods

Interview for Pagan Writers Community

Here’s a link to an interview that I did with Pagan Writers Community. Thanks, Piper!

Pagan Writers Community interview with Joanna van der Hoeven

cover high res

Interview for Pagan Pages

I was recently interviewed for Pagan Pages by Mabh Savage, and you can read the full article by clicking HERE.

Interview with Joanna van der Hoeven: Breathing the Ancient Breath

Mabh Savage: Pagan Portals: The Awen Alone has been an incredibly popular release. Tell us a bit about the book, and why you think it has such wide ranging appeal.

Joanna van der Hoeven: I’m absolutely delighted at the reception The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid has received. It’s a book in the Pagan Portals series, a lovely series of books that provides an introduction to a certain topic in around 100 pages or less, and which are subsequently very affordable. I’ve had so many emails from readers, from all over the world, thanking me for this work and telling me how it has resonated with them, how it’s helped them to find their own path. I feel so blessed to have been a part of their journey, to have helped in some small way. Perhaps its wide-ranging appeal has to do with the fact that Druidry is a religion or spiritual tradition rooted in nature, which is all around us, all the time, and accessible to us each and every moment of our lives. To learn to live in balance and harmony with nature can never be a bad thing! The tenets of Druidry also work brilliantly with other traditions, from all over the world.

MS: What was your biggest challenge when writing the book?

JvdH: Trying to fit it all into 100 pages or less!

MS: And what did you enjoy the most about the process?

JvdH: I think the feedback that I’ve received from readers is the most wonderful part of it, to hear their stories, to learn about them and how they have interpreted the work. To know that you’ve made a difference in someone’s life is so humbling, and so wonderful to experience. To have people take time out of their busy lives to write to you is simply heart-warming. If you’ve loved a book from an author, write to them, tell them! To have that human to human interaction, to hear that your words have been heard, can make all the difference to an author. A musician performing to an audience has instant feedback from the crowd, but authors often feel like they’re out there, writing and talking to themselves, not sure if there’s an audience out there listening or not. Writing can often be lonely. I enjoy working by myself, I enjoy solitude, but it’s still really nice to get feedback on your work.

Continued…. to read the full article, click HERE.

Remembering your story

I’ve just had a lovely two week vacation, not only from work but also from my computer. It’s essential, in my opinion, to detach one’s self from the constant noise and hub of media and communication, for however long a period, whether it’s a day or two weeks, a month or altogether. I’ve known people who have given up Facebook altogether, and been much happier for it. I can honestly say that I didn’t miss it at all on my two week vacation (no social media, no emails or online communication), and I actually dreaded going back on there today to check for messages. I know that I will be spending a lot less time on there from now on, as the pull and tug of getting into other people’s stories just isn’t all that appealing anymore. Heck, if I could give it up completely I would, but that would be marketing suicide for a mostly self-promoted, self-employed author.

Having two weeks to myself, spending time with myself and my family, has enabled me to see more clearly the stories that really matter to me. While most of social media is filled with noise, things that don’t really matter (alongside really great cat videos), it also has its benefits, such as putting us in touch with high school friends, keeping us up to date on our nephews’ first day at school, and so on. I do Facebook and Twitter, because I like to keep in touch with my family and friends that I physically can’t see, being 3,000 miles away across the Atlantic, as well as feeling obligated for business reasons. But the amount of noise on there is staggering.

We can get so lost in other people’s stories, in the noise that social media produces. Stories that are inconsequential to ours. Stories that have no relevance at all to our daily lives. Stories that have no meaning full stop. We fill our mind with them, drowning out the sound of our story, of our own life, or vainly trying to compare ours to this fictional recreation that social media has produced, which is entirely inaccurate to say the least. I am not my Facebook profile or pages, not by a long shot. Neither are my friends or family. It is a narrow window into one’s life, should one be honest about it, but only provides a miniscule view of the reality that is the whole.

My story is important, if only to myself. But I have to listen to it, in order to be able to change the story, should I so choose. While there are many external factors that help to decide how this story ends, there are also a lot that are completely within my control, if I am able to hear them. I feel an even deeper connection with myself than I had before, because I stopped filling my brain every morning with pictures of what other people had for breakfast, who’s pissed off for whatever reason, etc. I stopped the constant influx of other people’s stories. I feel more me.

I don’t have a smartphone that enable me to check emails and social media wherever I am. I have a mobile phone that lives in my car should I break down. I do all my emails and social media early in the morning, to get it out of the way so that I can get on with my work and my day. I honestly can’t imagine constantly checking on a smartphone for emails and Facebook; that thought is just too horrific for someone as unsocially mediated as myself. What little time I did spend on there, I now realised was for the most part a waste of time. And I haven’t got time to waste. There are weeds to be pulled in the garden, walks to be taken, words to be written, cats to be played with, friends to visit, life to live.

Don’t be lured into the dulling effects of social media. Don’t be pulled into other people’s stories so that your own is neglected. Stay in touch, but don’t be a slave to social media or online communication. Your life is yours to live, so truly live it, don’t let it pass you by in a blur of emails or status updates. And above all, remember and rediscover your story.