The Zen of Jeremy Corbyn

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18:  Jeremy Corbyn answers questions from the media outside King's Cross Station on August 18, 2015 in London, England. Jeremy Corbyn was launching his rail nationalisation plans today as action for Rail held protests at stations in England and Scotland against fare rises which has risen almost three times faster than wages over the past five years according to a new report.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 18: Jeremy Corbyn answers questions from the media outside King’s Cross Station on August 18, 2015 in London, England. Jeremy Corbyn was launching his rail nationalisation plans today as action for Rail held protests at stations in England and Scotland against fare rises which has risen almost three times faster than wages over the past five years according to a new report. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party in the UK, might not be the first thing someone would imagine when they think of Zen. However, this Islington resident shows us the way in focusing on important work, without letting the ego and the self get in the way, doing what is necessary without resorting to the usual slander and back-stabbing that is so prevalent in politics today.

The 66 year old has been an MP for Islington North since 1983. He has worked on the issues that matter to him with real dedication to the values that he holds dear, such as social equality, world peace and the end of nuclear weapons, just to name a few. He was able to get on with his work fairly inconspicuously, until he baffled his opponents in the leadership race and became the head of the Labour Party through his dedication to change politics, largely thanks to a grass-roots movement that supported him not unlike Justin Trudeau, the new Prime Minister of Canada who came out of “nowhere” (his party was third in the race and not predicted to win) recently to take the election by storm through voters who wanted change.

While Corbyn might not have the swooning good looks and charisma of Trudeau, they hold many things in common, including the dedication of their followers and supporters. This writer does indeed have a nerd crush on Corbyn, totally in love with his morals and ethics, his way of working. He is a Zen master, and here’s why.

In the face of public denigration by the Conservative party, who try to put Corbyn down any way they can through personal attacks, not once has Corbyn retaliated. Corbyn cares about the issues, not about his ego. He does the work and considers it important, without considering himself important. He works with the “I”, without letting the “Me” get in the way.

Even in the face out outright lies about his character, such as at the Cenotaph memorial story presented by the Conservative-backed “newspaper” The Sun, Corbyn has just gotten on with his work. In the Prime Minister’s Questions, when he is regularly personally attacked by the Prime Minister he simply reminds Cameron of the original questions, despite the boos, jeers and laughter from Cameron’s cronies. Corbyn presents the questions from the people, taking a personal step back to allow other voices to be “heard” (among the laughter and jeers from opposition in so called “civilised debate”). It’s not all about Corbyn, but about the people that he represents.

trudeau 2

Justin Trudeau

This is a real-life example of how we can live in the face of adversity with honour and integrity. Not once has Corbyn resorted to mud-slinging in retaliation to anything thrown at him. He responds with pushing forward the issues that need attention, and doing his job to the best of his ability. We can be inspired by his behaviour in order to make the world a better place. When someone is trying to take us down, we can take a step back from our egos and focus on what really matters, instead of throwing insults back and forth across some imaginary playground. When all the playground bullies can do is insult the person, not the agenda, then it becomes clear who is in the right and who is in the wrong. We’ve seen time and again how Conservative media is trying to portray Corbyn in a bad light, and we can see the desperation behind that because they’ve got nothing on him (similar to Trudeau and the Conservatives’ campaign against him: “nice hair though“). We don’t spend all our energy defending our fragile ego, but instead doing the work without letting it get in the way.

When we’re suffering the slings and arrows of those who are trying to undermine and attack us, we can let it go and focus on what’s important. What is important is the work that we are doing and the way that we live our lives. When we are able to let go of a self-centred point of view, with the “me” being all-consuming, then we broaden our perspective to encompass everyone and everything. This is compassion in its truest form.

Let the haters hate. Do the work, be true to yourself and see with the eyes of compassion. This is what makes Jeremy Corbyn Zen.

Sitting still – the joy, the suffering, transformation and impermanence

Working on my online course for Zen Druidry and putting into words a deeper exploration of Zen Buddhist concepts with Druid philosophy and way of life has opened my eyes even more to the wonder that is life, the suffering and the joy that we create and the freedom in distinguishing between the functional ego and the representational ego that causes so much unnecessary difficulty in our lives.

I think meditation is the key to unlocking these concepts, for by stilling the body we can still the mind enough to see clearly, to ponder concepts such as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path in a Druid context with a deeper insight as a result of simply being quiet and mindful. I sit in meditation for 30 – 40 minutes a day, with a large chunk of that time being spent simply being present in the moment, in all its pain and glory, up and downs, its successes and difficulties. It’s a simple thing to do, but can be quite difficult to do when we begin to realise just how our minds work, and how hard it is to let them be, to not get attached to thoughts and feelings and simply be the observer of the mind’s functioning. We love to judge, we love to recreate scenarios, we love to think, think, think about everything to the point where we leave our bodies behind. At the other extreme we run our bodies into the ground and by doing so, without stilling them for any amount of time our minds become as frazzled as our nerves and we cannot find any sense of peace.

Sitting in silence, we can feel extreme joy even as we can feel extreme pain. Our attachment to either is what causes us suffering. When we attach to joy, we want to feel it over and over again, and crave it, striving for it with all our being, sometimes living lost in the future anticipation of that joy, or lost in the past of when we had it in our lives. Our attachment to pain causes us to suffer further, again becoming lost in the future with thoughts of “when will this pain every end?” or lost in the past “this is the cause of my pain, if only…”; when we drop our attachment and simply be in the present moment, we can take care of our thoughts and our emotions with great skill, thereby being compassionate to ourselves.

When we sit with either joyful or painful feelings, when we observe them without judging them or anyone else, when we simply see them as a part of life, as an emotion, we can also begin to understand their impermanence. Buddhism talks a lot about the impermanence of everything, and this is reflected in the Druid tradition of honouring the ever-changing cycles of life. We look at a river and see that it is never the same river twice, but constantly flowing, moving downwards to the sea, being filled with rain and experiencing a cycle of existence that has no single, unchangeable part. When we see concepts of birth and death both within a Druid and Buddhist perspective, we realise that there is no such thing as a beginning or ending that is so often tied to these concepts. They are simply events in our lives that all things experience. My view is that we are all a part of nature’s soul, that everything that exists is nature undergoes changes in form through transformation, energy being patterned by conditions and environment in an endless cycle. When we see life in such a context, we see that joy and suffering are also impermanent, and we are able to sit and be with them, to take them by the hand and allow ourselves to experience them without getting caught up in their form, for we know that they are transitory, as are we.

In the quiet and stillness we are able to gain a greater perspective of the whole, rather than the chattering monologue that runs through our minds for the majority of our lives. To step outside of our minds is a great liberation. To see the interconnectedness of all things dissolves the separate ego, instead allowing us a deep realisation of the weave of each form in the tapestry of life. We understand and acknowledge the functional ego that allows us to be in this world, while letting go of the representational ego that strives for and causes separation through the illusion of an Us and Them mindset. We’re all in this together.

In the Ten Ox-herding Pictures (or The Ten Bulls)  we see the final part as being able to work in the world without that separate sense of self. I think this is very important for Druidry and for all Paganism, for if we stop at the realisation of self we are at risk of self-importance. It is necessary to find out who we are, and then to work on letting that go as we realise that self is part of another system, which is part of another system, and so on throughout the universe. Rafting the currents of human emotion become so much easier when we lose the idea of a separate self, for not only are we not hurt by others as much and are able to feel compassion to create a more harmonious and peaceful existence, but we also become a part of the flow of that current. We find that with time our meditation and contemplation allows us to let go of the raft and simply become the river, thereby not having to fight it anymore, or fight to keep our seat as we hurtle through obstacles on our journey to the sea.

It’s our choice, however, to do the work necessary in order to achieve this sense of wholeness and peace, for no one can do it for us.

For a look into how Druidry can be related to the Ten Ox-herding pictures, see my post HERE.

Silence, the Author and Freedom

This long bank holiday weekend just gone has been spent mostly listening. I’ve stopped talking, for the most part; I’ve stopped the mental chatter to gain clarity. My aid in this exercise was drawing, working with coloured pencils where the only thing that mattered was the lines, the colours, the paper. My self had fallen away, and I was better able to see clearly. Art is liberation. Art is freedom.

As a writer, sometimes it’s hard to just stop. I’m usually always writing, at least in my head. Like a musician who writes their own music, who is always composing, I am always putting into words what is influencing me, what the muses whisper. It’s hard to turn that off sometimes. Through meditation I am able for thirty minutes to an hour to switch it off. Days of mindfulness. Through trancing I am able to leave it behind. Dancing also does it – especially dancing with my professional dance troupe, where when we are improvising we have to listen so hard to each other’s bodies that our own selves don’t get in the way. But this weekend the awen came through drawing and colouring.

When we’re quiet, when we’re still, we’re able to hear the world around us. When we stop that mental chatter, when we stop telling and retelling ourselves the story of our selves then we can hear the stories of others. We can be influenced and learn from the stories of others. We learn that we are not always right. We learn that we are not always wrong. We learn that we are never the same person every morning that we wake up. We change, we grow, we recede, we die and do it all over again the next day. In this exercise we learn that it is okay to differ from the person you were yesterday, that your opinions and thoughts will change over time, else they become dogma.

But essentially we have to learn to switch off first, before we can get to that head space. We need to find the silence, the void, the empty cauldron. Only when we are empty can we be filled. Only when we’ve poured out all the contents can we refill it with what nourishes us. We can’t subsist on the same old same old each and every day. We have to let things go, we have to have new ideas, new inspiration. Living in the present moment is what this is all about. Stuck in the past, we are not open to new ideas. Lost in the future, those ideas will never come. Here and now. Perfect freedom.

Tomorrow I will be a different person. Today I am different from yesterday. I question who this person really is, and then I let the question go. It doesn’t really matter. What really matters is freedom.

Self-Governance

mudraFar too often we allow our emotions to control us, dictating how we react and respond to situations and perhaps not in the best way. Some would argue that our emotions are what gets things done, however, something done with anger, for instance, may not always be the best way forward.

Discipline has become a bad word in our society. What we need to do is to reclaim this word, along with duty (which I will elaborate more on in another blog). We need to sit down with ourselves and take a good, long, hard look at our emotions and the roots of these emotions, finding out why we react to situations the way we do, discover underlying patterns and unravel the threads that are loose, or about to snap, reworking them into something more harmonious.

If we work on a situation based on an emotion of anger, hate or jealousy, then the outcome will most likely not be conducive to creating compassion and harmony with the world. Exploring the roots of these “negative” emotions, we will realise that the underlying thread is one of fear. Anger is another expression of fear. We become angry at our partner for not behaving in a manner that we think he should. In reality, we may be fearful of losing our partner, or of changing feelings for him, of not having enough control in our own lives, etc. Hate is based in fear, as we fear that which is the Other, separate from ourselves, the unknown. Jealousy is based on fear of change, our own insecurities and fears created out of past experiences.

What we need to do it to sit down with our feelings, to better understand them and in doing so, better understand our selves. In creating a safe space to sit with our feelings, we can engage with them openly and honestly. Creating a haven, a sanctuary in which to perform this task, we can explore the deepest corners of our minds. For me, the goddess Nemetona helps in this exercise.

She is a goddess of sanctuary and sacred space. She is present in my home and in my heart. Human beings have such a craving for safety and security, and within this goddess we can find that wherever we are. Not only does it help with emotional discipline and self-governance, but the two are intricately woven together, with self-governance creating that safety. Let me explain.

If we are ruled by the tides of our emotions, we will never settle, never find a place that we can call a sanctuary. We are subject to the peaks and valleys of an emotional long hard slog, and never really find a good breathing space in which to find some respite. If we do not have that sanctuary, we have no place to breathe and to truly connect with our emotions. And so an endless cycle of repetition is created.

Finding time every day to simply sit and breathe is a great way to begin. In a safe, comfortable place, whether indoors or out, we focus on our breath, in and out, breathing in the air that our ancestors breathed, that all living things breathe. We breathe out into the world, exhaling even as the trees exhale in the deepening twilight. Sharing this beautiful moment, this sacred breath, we come to an awareness of ourselves, of our self and how we currently feel in the world at this particular moment. We can call upon Nemetona to hold this space while we simply sit and breathe, honouring Her for all that She is with a return to the stillness at our core.

It’s not easy, taking the time to simply breathe, to meditate on our breath. Our minds will try every trick in the book to distract us from this present moment and this one little act. It is with discipline that we return to our breath again and again, each time we find ourselves wandering off mentally, or shifting our bums restlessly. You have to really want to find stillness – it doesn’t just happen. You have to be disciplined enough to achieve it. It won’t simply suddenly appear out of nowhere, nor can it be spoon-fed. Discipline will not allow any passivity. We must take full responsibility for our selves and for our world.

After breathing, we can take some time looking at our feelings and emotions without attaching to them. Again, we can ask Nemetona to help us, to hold the space and to guide us to explore our feelings without getting too involved, wrapped up once again the in the emotion. She won’t do it for us, however. We can look at our fear, at our anger, our impatience, our joy and our happiness. We can find the roots of these if we don’t let them take control over our minds, and therefore live in better awareness.

For not only do we have to be careful of the negative emotions ruling our behaviour, but we must also become aware of the more pleasant emotions. Far too often we experience a beautiful emotion, and crave that emotion for the rest of our lives. We will never be able to recreate that experience, for it has happened and exists only in the past. All we have is this present moment, which is always changing, moving forwards. If we try to regain the feeling of joy that we had on our wedding day every time we look at our loved one, we disregard other emotions and feelings that will eventually come and bite us on our backside. We may not notice the present moment. Focusing only on positive emotions doesn’t work – we are human and we have negative emotions too. Those who deny them, who suppress them, will face some pretty hard demons at some point in their life.

So we sit, and we meditate day after day, breathing and coming to an awareness of the present moment. We are able to take the time to look at our feelings and get to know them better, thereby allowing ourselves the opportunity to break from negative patterns of behaviour into more purposefully led lives. Discipline and self-governance are not things to be afraid of, nor are they something to shun as not in keeping with our freedom of expression. We are better able to express ourselves when we are not ruled by our emotions, allowing us to see what lies at the root of our souls, and thereby what lies in others’ souls as well.

This is the heart of compassion. When we understand ourselves we can better understand others, and see their fears, their patterns being created. We can work with them to help create new patterns, or we can simply walk away with respect and not have their patterns reflected in our own. We can only help those who want to be helped, and this includes our own self.

So please do take the time to sit, every day, and be in the present moment. Become aware of your breathing. Call upon Nemetona or any other god to help you find that peace, that space to explore your feelings, should you so desire. Look at your feelings and better understand them for what they are. In doing so, you will no longer be ruled by them, but instead be able to respond in the world with an awareness and mindfulness that can only create harmony. We come to understand each other in a very deep and meaningful way when we take what we learn of ourselves and relate that to others. In this, we can see that we are all related.

We are not restricting ourselves with self-governance, but allowing ourselves to open to the world with the eyes of compassion and hearts that are true.

 

For more about the goddess, Nemetona, please see my book, Dancing With Nemetona: A Druid’s Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space

Offense taken, Mr Fry

*Warning – this blog post contains strong language*

 
stephen-fry-on-offenceI’ve been thinking about Stephen Fry’s little rant that made the rounds of social media a year or so back. It’s something I’ve been meaning to comment on for a while, mulling it over thoroughly, discussing it with other people and trying to understand the mindset that would provide such an opinion.

 
In short, I just can’t understand why he would say such a thing.

 
The blog Tea Leaves and Dog Ears has provided a good reply to his statement. However, there are still a lot of people who agree with Fry’s sentiment, including Ricky Gervais, who stated on his Facebook page in August 2013:

 
“We have to stop this recent culture of people telling us they’re offended and expecting us to give a fuck.”

 
Fry and Gervais’ comments are nothing short of belligerent. When someone does not care regarding the effect their words and actions have on society in general, they are also not acting in any way with compassion. Fry’s comments about taking offense are well and good if he is the one being offensive, however, as in Tea Leaves and Dog Ears’ blog, when it is his own person that is being offended, the tables turn and a double standard occurs.

 
I’ve been studying the Celtic worldview for some while now, diving in to the history and research, and have come across one perspective time and again: that of personal responsibility. In a culture, in a society, we all have a personal responsibility to behave in accordance with that society and the laws that it contains. If we don’t like them, we should be able to speak out against them in a peaceful manner, protesting using our freedom of speech. Yet every action, every word that comes out of our mouths we are responsible for, whether spoken with mindfulness or mindlessness.

 
I believe that Fry’s and Gervais’ comments were spoken out of mindlessness. In Mr Fry’s case, also taken out of context. I also believe that they would, and probably have, taken offense at something since they made those comments. It is human nature to have an opinion. We have a voice and we use it. Sometimes we do so with full intention, sometimes we do not think before we speak.

 
I simply cannot fathom walking around, saying things without thinking of the repercussions my words and actions would have on the world. My sense of personal responsibility lies too thickly ingrained in my soul. It is confirmed by my Druidry, by my spiritual path. Stating that those who are taking offense are merely having a “whine” is to diminish their point of view, their opinion as worthless. It goes against the very freedom of speech that the original rant seems to hold up.

 
Sometimes it can be hard to find the words at the exact moment the offense is being taken. We’re not all eloquent beyond belief, able to put thoughts and emotions into carefully constructed arguments on the spot. It is a talent that some people have, some do not. We should not dismiss those who cannot find the words to express their true feelings, who can only say at that moment that they’ve taken offense. We have hurt someone’s feelings. We hate it when our feelings get hurt. Why do we forget that when we are the ones that are creating the offense?

 
Acting with compassion in all things is central to Buddhism. Right Speech is part of the Eightfold Path. I personally do not believe that Fry or Gervais’ comments are made with this in mind. Speech, words and stories were very important to the Celtic ancestors. The Druid teachings up until the modern day were never written down, for various reasons – to keep it within a political and spiritual elite in Classical times, for example. Going back further than this brief point in history, the written word did not exist for our Bronze Age or Neolithic ancestors. What was said, expressed in a language either now lost or evolved into our current tongue mattered. Even before verbal language, body language meant so much. Just watch two strange cats meeting each other, eyeing each other up for the first time…

 
So, we shouldn’t dismiss someone for taking offense simply because they cannot express in words at that time what it is that is hurting them. It’s difficult for a lot of people. And what of those non-human beings that we hurt? We must act with compassion, yes – but we must also be allowed to stand up for our rights, to be able to express it in our own time without being told that we are simply “whining”.

 
Supporting Fry and Gervais’ statements can lead to all sorts of messy encounters. Sexual harassment, jokes of a sexist, racist or religious nature can lead to a culture sliding down the slippery slope of intolerance, misogyny and bigotry. The words “rape culture” are hot right now, filled with debate about what it is and what is isn’t, who is contributing to it and who isn’t. Again, here I think that personal responsibility is key to working in honourable relationship with the world at large. Not giving a f*ck isn’t.

 
There is also the argument that letting go without taking offense is the best way forward. However, this only applies to a comfortable Western point of view, where one isn’t being shot at, forced to marry their rapist, or being subjected to all manner of discrimination due to the colour of their skin, their gender or their religious beliefs.
We are a vocal tribe now, and as such we should discuss things with compassion. Simply stating that someone is whining is not taking a look at the broader picture. In doing so, one is dismissing another human being. In time, someone may find the words to express their offense – it is a matter of eloquence and language, not one of who is right and who is wrong. Dismissing the other for taking offense is, in my opinion, repulsive and incorrigible. It is bad behaviour and bad form.

 
Stand up for what you believe in. Express yourself as eloquently and as honourably as you can. Consider the impact that your words will have on the world at large. Use the tenets of Right Speech and personal responsibility to the best of your ability. It is all that we can do. We may fail, we may be brought up on it, and it is up to us to make amends. Do not let pride get in the way. No one is infallible.