Dealing with Bullying

1902780_825582470792076_380046463_nBullying in any shape or form, whether in person or online, is a very difficult thing to deal with. I’ve had my fair share of it, with trolling on my social media sites and the occasional personal attack/character defamation (mostly from people whom I’ve never even met). This has again happened to me very recently, and thankfully it’s only the second personal attack that I’m aware of using myself as the subject.  It’s a slog to get through it all, and can make you despair at the human race entirely, but I’ve come up with some ways to deal with bullying, which may help you if you ever find yourself in such a situation. If you are in physical danger, please contact the authorities at once. Here are 10 ways you can work through this situation, should you find yourself being bullied in any shape or form.

  1. Don’t take it personally. Though you may be the subject, actually, it’s not about you at all. It’s about them, and their own insecurities, fears and suffering. When you can see that, you can also develop compassion for them. They are not faceless entities, even though they may have piled on you as such. These are real, living human beings, who are someone’s son, daughter, lover, mother, father, brother, sister. They have their own difficulties, their own lives, their own past experiences and suffering. They have some very large misperceptions about you, and that’s all. You are not the cause, but the subject of their misperception and subsequent projections and personal suffering.
  2. Don’t lash out emotionally. Disengage. Hurting someone who has hurt you only prolongs and increases the suffering in the world. Define your boundaries, so that you do not hopefully have to undergo something like this from the person again. If this means blocking someone on social media or email, or avoiding them in public, then do so. If the circles you work or live in don’t allow for a full disengagement, then do what you can to not allow their misperception into your physical space or your mind.
  3. Talk to and find a support network, whether that is your family and/or friends. Don’t encourage people to take sides, and turn it into a “flame war”. Simply find support from them, allow them to remind you of who you are in their eyes, what they mean to you and the difference that you make in their lives. We can often forget this when we are going through bullying, and can easily get sunk into a pit of suffering and wondering, “why me”. Allow these people who are a real part of your life to rekindle your sense of self, and your life’s meaning for them. Then find out what your life’s meaning is for yourself.
  4. Work with gratitude. After you have disengaged and hopefully have found some support, take a moment to remember all the good things in your life. These will usually far outweigh the bad things that are currently happening, which can seem overwhelming at the time (thanks Kris for this one). Take some time to yourself, make a cup of tea, and sit down in a comfortable, cosy room, taking time to remember everything that you can be grateful for: a loving family, good friends, a roof over your head, your snuggly cat, the beautiful sunshine, the nourishing rain, your heroes and heroines, the delicious cup of tea. You can even make a collage with photos of all these things and hang it in a prominent area of your home, to provide you with a visual reminder each and every day.
  5. Talk to respected people in your community. Chances are they’ve gone through something similar. If you poke your head above the parapet, expect to be shot at. So, they may have some good advice to give you on getting through, as they’ve been through it themselves. You don’t even need to give them the full details, just ask for their advice on bullying in general, and how to overcome the horrible feelings that it invokes.
  6. Have compassion for yourself, as well as for everyone involved. Acknowledge your feelings, your sadness, your anger, your despair. Don’t try to push them aside, for they will most likely come back in some shape or form that is totally inappropriate. Sit with your feelings, allow them to move through you, and then you can let them go. Water needs to flow in order to not become stagnant. So too does energy, in my opinion, and energy needs to flow. Emotions are a form of energy, and so let them flow, in a safe and responsible way. Be emotionally responsible for your own feelings, and know what belongs to you, and what does not. When you can let go of what does not belong to you, you are well on the way to your own personal sovereignty.
  7. Everything is impermanent. This is pretty much the first and foremost Buddhist teaching. What you are currently going through may seem like hell, but in a few days, weeks or months, where will this all be? If it helps, remember past difficult times, and how you survived those (without engaging in the suffering from these past experiences – look at it like a scientist would look at data, and make a conclusion based on that). Look to your family tree, and find out how your ancestors struggled, and made it through. Again, your friends may help in this regard as well. Next year, where will all this be? Where will this episode be? Most likely far, far away, remembered as an experience from which you learned how to become more resilient and compassionate.
  8. You are not better than them. Often, the advice given to you can be “you’re so much better than them”. While you may not cause suffering the way that they do, you are not better than anyone else on this planet. As soon as you think this, you have elevated yourself above someone else, which means that you have de-humanised them or turned them into a faceless “other”. We are all in this together. Do not let ego interfere in the process. Remember who you are, without any ego inflation tactics, which are only temporary, and which in the long-run can lead to very poor behaviour on your part.
  9. Integration. This is at the heart of all the Druid teachings for me. Remembering that we are all part of an ecosystem, and that everyone has a role to play. This correlates to the point above. Everyone has something to contribute, and from everyone a lesson can be learned to help us become better in ourselves. Not better than any other person, but better in ourselves so that can positively contribute and make this a truly flourishing, functional ecosystem.
  10. Endurance. Treat it like an athlete treats endurance training. See it as good practice for holding on to your principles. See it as an excellent workout for the mind and the soul. But remember to take breathers when you choose not to engage or think about it. Do not think ‘this is ill fortune’, but ‘to bear this worthily is good fortune’. (Thanks to Katie, and her Stoic studies for this one!)

I hope that this helps, if ever you find yourself in such a situation. If you do, remember that many people have experiences this, and that you are not alone. Get outside, look at the birds flying overhead, the bees in the garden, and notice nature all around you. You are never alone. You are part of something truly beautiful, so do try to focus on that. And have a big, virtual hug from me.

The Threefold Law

threefold lawLately I’ve been thinking about this concept, as I am doing a lot of reading and researching at the moment, and keep coming across this concept is a lot of Wicca/Witchcraft books. While I know that there are many traditions in Witchcraft that do not follow this concept, some do, as well as most (if not all) Wiccans, and it’s got the brain going, considering this concept more deeply and not just taking it for granted.

I don’t think I’ve ever really believed in this concept in the way that most believe. In the threefold law, in many, many sources it states that whatever you do will return to you threefold. In a very simplistic sense, if you do good things, good things will happen, and if you do bad things, bad things will happen. Many sources state that this is rule of karma.

karma dilbertI feel that this is a very odd Western misinterpretation of karma, for starters. As well, I know of plenty of instances and people who do good things, who go through the ringer, and plenty of people who do bad things, and don’t seem to suffer any consequences. (Trump, anyone?) Karma is not a system of reward and punishment. As well, the Hermetic principle of like attracting like can work in this instance, but not in the way that most people would believe. It’s not that simplistic. Note that I use the word simplistic, rather than simple, because there is a huge difference, at least in my opinion.  Let me explain.

A lot of magic uses correspondences in order for success, according to the principle of “like attracts like”. This can also work in our daily lives, but it doesn’t mean that doing good things will make good things happen to you, or vice versa. We can’t control reactions to actions on that level. We can try and use magic to persuade a favourable outcome, and when combined with a good ethical stance this would be for the benefit of the whole. But there is a correlation.

I feel that when we do magic, or perform any sort of action whether on the physical or metaphysical level, we affect energy. This for me feels like a more appropriate definition of correspondence. That energy is not only external to us, but will affect us on three levels. Those levels are:

Physical

Mental/Emotional

Spiritual

Let’s take an example of cursing someone. If we curse someone, we must be pretty pissed. That anger will have an effect on us at each of these three levels. We know that emotion, memory and other things can get stored in the body, creating tension, stress, high heart rates and more. As well, when we are angry our mental and emotional levels change, and we become the anger if we are not careful. When we become anger, we have lost our sense of self, our authentic being, and have allowed anger to take control. On a spiritual level, anger does not help us to commune with the world, the ancestors, spirits of place, deity or anything in a deeper level. In fact, it can be a great hindrance to it, as integration is at the heart of most spirituality and religion. In an earth-based tradition such as Wicca, Witchcraft or Druidry, where we believe that deity is immanent, this means that when we are angry and curse someone, we do not recognise the divinity within others. When we curse others, we are, in effect, cursing the gods too.

The popular interpretation of The Threefold Law to me feels more like a reward/punishment system to keep people in line, in an overly simplistic fashion. It requires people not to think too much about all the areas in between the concepts of “good” and “bad”, or even how those concepts are so relative to each person and their own experience. It also doesn’t acknowledge the deeper levels of meaning that can occur if we ponder this “rule” more closely. To me, it just seems too close to a heaven/hell concept, which I find too simplistic to give much attention to. Others may disagree, and I honour their perspective, but it just doesn’t work for me.

suffering mark levineSo, looking more deeply at The Threefold Law, if we do something bad, like cursing someone, then it could be said that on a certain level it comes back to us threefold, but not in the sense that seems to be very popular, ie. do good and good things happen, and vice versa. But if our actions are not honourable, and if we do things to harm other people, we are in turn harming ourselves, our environment, our gods: everything. Harming others causing suffering, both externally and also within in a threefold pattern: we harm our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. We’ve lost that connection to everything else, that sense of integrity and integration.

If we curse someone, we affect ourselves physically by holding on to that anger. That affects us mentally, and if our curse does indeed work, might even lead us down the road to more cursing. This leads to a reinforcement of such behaviour, and also reinforces the anger within us, which will make us physically and mentally suffer more and more. We can often fall into a deep depression by holding onto this anger and feeding it, instead of seeing the positive in the world around us. We will become angry people. This all has an effect on us spiritually as well, for we have denied the existence of deity outside of ourselves. This severely limits our perspective of the world, and just continues an ever increasing downward spiral of behaviour that causes suffering both within and without.

So, the Threefold law can affect us in three different ways, but it’s not as simplistic as some would have you believe. It’s simple, yes, but not simplistic. Let’s not get the two muddled!

And, if in doubt, you can always follow this great maxim: don’t be a jerk.

jerk jude

 

Policing or Punishing Lush?

LushYou may have heard of the backlash that Lush are currently suffering due to their most recent campaign, which highlights the invasion of privacy from a police squad set up by the government to spy on British activists. On Friday I read an article in the Guardian of how many on social media are taking to giving the company a one-star rating as a result. Lush are being heavily accused of being “anti-police”, which is absolutely ridiculous to anyone who actually reads the campaign article.  LUSH UK are not anti-police. They are simply defending basic human rights. (Read the essay, “Exposing the Spy Who Loved Me“.)

The media took the anti-police spin and ran away with it. The Home Secretary accused Lush of the same, and condemned them. Obviously, no one had read the literature. 30,000 one-star reviews suddenly appeared on Lush’s Facebook account overnight, by people both opposed to Lush and its campaigns, and also those who were previously Lush customers.

This whole episode greatly saddens me, that mob behaviour can act so rapidly, destructively and without thought even in today’s society. Former supporters of Lush who have rated them so poorly and slammed them in social media apparently do not realise that by doing so, they are only supporting those who would silence people and companies like Lush for speaking out. It would be far better to write a thoughtful letter to the company if you disagreed with a policy or a campaign, in order to enable a) dialogue and discussion, and b) a response direct from the company itself.

This form of behaviour on social media is, in my opinion, simply another form of bullying. It’s a different kind of bullying from the norm: it’s more a punishment for someone we may like or dislike, for acting in a certain way.  This punishment behaviour is becoming rampant in our society, and I think we really need to look at the reasons why.

When someone acts in a way that we disagree with, we can often wish to stop this behaviour as quickly as possible. I’m seeing a growing trend towards punishing those who don’t act in line with what we desire, lashing out on the easily accessible and rather faceless mass that is social media. One can do so without much repercussion, dialogue or thought. I worry that this behaviour will seep out into face to face interactions as well, where if someone is acting in a way that we disagree with, we will shut them down rather than engage respectfully and honourably with them. We need to be able to see the broader perspective in everything, and to allow someone else’s point of view into the discussion in order for it to not be denigrated into a mere life of solipsism.

But why is there this desire to punish someone who we think is acting out of line, or contrary to our desires? Who made us judge and jury of the world? What elevated power was bestowed upon us that we feel we have every right to punish those who do not agree with us, or whose opinion differs from our own? This is a question which I have pondered these last few days, and to which I’m still forming an answer. I am as guilty as others are of this behaviour in the past, and it’s been a real eye-opener into how to not continue down this path of destruction. When we feel hurt, we lash out and hurt back, creating a never-ending cycle of suffering. We have to break this cycle, somehow, but lately it seems that the odds can be overwhelmingly stacked against us, especially with the ease of social media’s rating system, pressure and bombardment with hashtags, the anonymity of those lashing out and a host of other factors.

It’s my personal opinion that what Lush do in all their campaigns is to be applauded. They are hard-working human and animal rights activists, as well as selling lovely products (some of which I find are far too expensive for a large majority of people, I must admit. Lush are not perfect, but then again, no one is). The fact that the Home Secretary spoke out against this campaign and jumped on that media-spin bandwagon so clearly seems to demonstrate to me the fear behind the exposure of the government’s creation and support of this squad that has invaded people’s privacy, destroyed lives and gone against some basic Human Rights. Lush has a very valid stake in speaking out against this, as many within the organisation are animal rights, women’s rights and human rights activists.  The fact that the government are encouraging this false perception makes me think that they are under pressure from their fox-hunting friends, to say the least.

I would very much like to see a world where intentional and thoughtful behaviour becomes the norm, rather than reactive and often damaging, crossing the line into bullying behaviour is actually quite acceptable. It’s far too easy to lash out, and cause a lot of damage to someone, especially on social media. People who have never shopped at Lush have bought into a false media spin, and severely reduced their ratings on social media. Surely this is an abuse of the system, for rating a company should be done by those who actually engage with and have used the company? Social media can be a wonderful tool, but it also has horrendous oversights that seriously need to be addressed.

Let’s not become judge, jury and executioner of those whom we disagree with. Let’s not seek to destroy someone for having a differing opinion. Instead, let’s engage in dialogue so that we can better understand each other. We don’t have to agree with each other, but we can at least step beyond our own limited perspective and allow for discussion, which may lead to understanding, to develop. Without dialogue, there can never be understanding, and without understanding, there can never be compassion. Let’s not see compassion fall by the wayside, in real life and in social media.

A new perspective

P1070241 (2)What gets you through the hardest times in life?

The last two weeks have not been easy. The death of a beloved member of the family, combined with a breast cancer scare has led me to a new perspective on life, one that is filled with content and gratitude, even in the deepest moments of grief and fear.

I’ve always been grateful for my many blessings. But it’s really only upon reviewing each and every one, in a quiet and dark space, that you realise just how much you have, and how wonderful life is, even if you should die tomorrow. As I sat before my altar, the candles flickering and the incense curling around flames, I spent over twenty minutes going over all the amazing things that had happened in my life, all the experiences and people, the wonderful moments that make life worthwhile. Not knowing what the hospital appointment in two days’ time would bring, and stricken with grief over the death of a loved one the day before, still all these beautiful revelations filled my soul as the rain pattered against the windows in the darkness outside.

Some of these were:

I have walked with the reindeer herds in the Scottish Cairngorms.

I have watched the sun rise over the North Sea in ritual with friends.

I have watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean while the wind sighed amongst the pines.

I have skied in -29 degree weather, with icicles on my eyelashes.

I have been canoeing in Sweden with my husband, with only our provisions for the week, a tent, the canoe and an arranged rendezvous point and time a week in advance.  I have seen the burial mounds and carved stones and watched Freya’s falcon soar over the water and mountains.

I have felt the burning fire of Brighid in my heart, in my head and in my belly.

I have faced a blizzard in Trollheim, Norway, and been forced by the wights and jotun to turn back to safety.

I have known the comfort of a safe home, loving parents, patient husband and a good family.

I have loved and been loved by many cats, and given them good homes.

I have climbed the mountains of the Lake District, and watched the crows dive and dance on the thermals as the water glimmered below.

I have walked back in time in the stone circle of Avebury.

I have walked the woods of my childhood home, and know the paths and where they go, the eyes of the seen and unseen upon me.

I have swum in lakes that are filled-up volcanoes, and in rivers that tumble between the ancient granite mountains of the Laurentians.

For all these things and more, I am utterly grateful, amazed, filled with awe and wonder. If I should die tomorrow, at least I have done and known these things, and I am content.

My perspective has not changed, even with the all-clear from my hospital appointment on Monday (it was a cyst). In this time of deepest darkness, I can review what I have experienced, what I have known, and be glad for it. It makes all the small things pale in comparison, all the niggles and troubles that I may have had, with people and life in general. All these things really don’t matter at all. What matters are the things that bring on the contentment, the sense of fulfilment.  All else is just the dross which can cloud judgement and perspective. No longer will I sweat the small stuff.

As we head into the darkest depths of the Winter Solstice, I wish you all very many blessings. Thank you so much for your support over the years, and I look forward to sharing, discussing and reviewing more of life’s wonderful moments with you. Please feel free to comment below, on what helps you get through the darkest times, and peace be with you all.

Ten little seconds…

Meditation can be done for many different reasons. Some use it to find inner peace, others to help find a focus in their lives and their work, others to increase compassion in their lives and for others. But for the most part, I think an aspect of meditation that is often over-looked is the simple aspect of it being nice to just stop every once in a while, sit down and enjoy the moment.

I use meditation for all the reasons given above, and more. But it’s in the simple pleasure of stopping where perhaps it is of most use. Taking the time to light some candles and incense, get some cushions out and just simply “be” is a great gift that I can give to myself at the end of a busy day or week. As I sit in front of my altar, I allow all the thoughts that are running through my head to make themselves known to me, rather than just being background stress and noise. Eventually, the thoughts slow down, quieten and then comes that exquisite moment when all is still. No more mental gymnastics. No more body twitches, itches or squirming trying to find a comfortable, relaxed position. Everything settles, even if  this feeling lasts for just ten seconds, and it is good. Better than good. The heart opens, the mind and body are one. There is nothing but myself and the world, here and now, sitting, breathing, peaceful.

Having even ten seconds to still the mind, to allow it to take a break from all the thoughts has an enormous effect on you for days afterwards. Taking the time to allow you to set aside the cares and worries, the reminiscing and the to-do lists, the work and the family issues has a profound effect not only on your mind but also on your body. Have you ever just sat on the couch after a busy day, flopped onto the sofa and just stopped for a minute or two? Meditation is the same thing, for your mind and your body, allowing it a moment of rest.

In that deep silence, when that moment is achieved, we can have some profound realisations as well. When we stop the mental chatter, we allow ourselves to refocus on what really matters in our lives. Just a few seconds of that blissful silent state can alter our perception and allow us to put things into perspective. What really matters? Not what the guy said to you in that social media group. Not the office gossip or your infuriating work colleague. We find that spending a little time in the quiet of our homes or meditation space, whether inside or outside, allows us to see that it’s in the joy of being alive right now, and the people that we actually physically share our lives with that really matter. Our family and friends. Our home. Our gardens. Our religion or spirituality. The Earth. Our perspective can get so skewed by what is happening in the world around us. Allowing us to stop and refocus changes everything.

It’s amazing what ten little seconds can achieve.

Cover 1To find out more about meditation, stillness and finding peace, try my little e-book, The Stillness Within: Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World.

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