Letting Go: Beware the Children of Anger

Letting go is truly a difficult thing to do, and yet seems so simple. Human beings, with their human consciousness, are just not that simple.

I’ve written before on how letting go is a process we have to repeat over and over again; it’s not a one-time event. We have to continually make the choice to let go, in order to truly live our lives in the present moment, in the here and now, emotionally responsible for ourselves and finding an ethically sound way of being in the world. I haven’t discussed the finer process of letting go, however, in any great detail and here are a few words from my own experience.

People are going to hurt us in one way or another, based upon expectations, behaviour, upbringing, environment and a whole host of factors that we simply have no control over. Our response to this is what is most important: our response-ability. When we have the ability to respond in a thoughtful, compassionate way then we are truly working to be a part of the world, a weave of the web that strengthens the whole.

Yet it is so hard to be compassionate when people deliberately hurt us, and sometimes even when it’s not deliberate but perhaps uncontrolled aggression from their past experience, current physical pain or more. But the ability to understand that there are more factors involved in any given situation that you are simply unable to perceive is at the heart of compassion. Compassion is a willingness to understand.

People have hurt me in the past, willingly and unwillingly. Colleagues and co-workers, lovers, strangers; there is no telling where the next experience will come from. However, noticing the stages that we go through when we are being hurt can help us on the path to letting go with an awareness that will allow us to not slip into the easy patterns of denial, whether that is of our own behaviour or that of others.

When we are hurt, usually our first response is anger. For most people, anger is something that time heals, though the length of time is relative to the person and their situation. Anger isn’t the most difficult thing to move through, as we can recognise anger much more easily than its children: pity being one of them. Often when we move through anger towards pity, we don’t know that we are still dealing with anger, with an abstract notion of the other person. Pity does not have empathy. Pity does not have anything to do with compasssion. Pity is the result of dualistic thinking, of an Us and Them mentality. We pity someone because we are separate from them. Pity is so often tinged with bitterness and anger that they are almost inseparable. When we have finished being angry with someone, we move on towards pitying them, in a passive/aggressive way of still attacking them. Pity the poor fool.

When we bypass pity through working around our anger, we find empathy instead, which holds no judgement of the individual.

Sometimes pity is replaced with its older sibling: contempt. We have been a victim of someone’s abuse, and though we realise we are no longer going to take their crap, we hold them in high contempt for putting us through that. They may have spent months trying to hurt us in various ways; we are so over that now and could they just get in with their own lives, please? So trapped in their little world, so lost…

Contempt is just as easy a trap to fall into as pity. Again, contempt has absolutely no compassion, no element of trying to understand involved in its process; it seeks only to make us feel better about ourselves. In the web of existence, we can’t just work on ourselves: we have to work on the whole.

We don’t have to stick around for further abuse, but we do have to be on our guard for feelings such as pity and contempt to flag up the fact that we haven’t actually moved on, we haven’t let go of our anger, we’ve only put a new hat on it and deceived ourselves with its shiny new appearance. When we find ourselves dancing with the feelings of contempt or pity, we can stop, untangle ourselves, bow and walk away, breathing into the wild winds of change. We know that we can choose our dance partners, and in that choosing find glorious freedom and self-expression. We know that we are part of an eco-system, part of a whole, where every part is acknowledged and sacred. The flows of the gods of humanity that we choose to dance with, however, it entirely up to us.

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.

Boundless

Yesterday I was able to catch up with two friends from high school – we three haven’t been together for around 13 years. Having friends that you can talk to, about absolutely anything, and know that they’re really listening, that they’re there for you, that they love you no matter what distance lies between you or how much time has passed is one of life’s greatest blessings. I am so utterly blessed in that I have made some truly wonderful and remarkable friends both where I grew up in Canada and where I have lived for the past 18 years in the UK.

Today I am also helping my Mom host a huge family reunion BBQ in our backyard. We have nearly 40 people coming, some family members I haven’t seen for twenty years, cousins I used to babysit who now have children of their own. We’ve always had a close family, spending every weekend at the grandparents’ when we were little, all the cousins playing while the aunts and uncles talked about grown-up things with my Oma and Opa. It’s so amazing that we’re all still able to get together, to laugh and to celebrate simply being alive on this gorgeous autumnal day. I’m sure my Oma and Opa would have loved to have seen everyone together again, and I shall be having a glass of punch for both of them who live on inside me, looking out through my eyes and the eyes and hearts of the rest of the family in this beautiful part of the world.

A loving family is a real treasure. Good friends are a true blessing. Never take these for granted. Breathe, smile, and be in the moment. Be present for them, and take them deep into your heart. Love and joy are boundless, and like the soul cannot be contained within the body. The soul is the container for the body, not the other way around, and the soul expands outwards as far as the horizon can see.

Today, my soul is flying high in the clearest of blue skies, riding autumnal breezes, smiling from my heart and enjoying my Mom’s delicious punch.

May your soul be free as well. x

So Happy

So happyZen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh suffered a massive stroke and brain haemorrhage last year, which left him incapacitated for many months. He is now able to move slightly, and recently managed to utter his first few words (pictured on the right). His joy for life, whatever suffering he may be going through, is an inspiration to all. He has changed some of his therapists’ lives through his example of mindfulness, one therapist even breaking down and crying when she realised just how she had never really seen the beautiful blue sky before in San Francisco. Thay couldn’t yet speak, however he did was point to the window to remind her of the beauty of the sky and the gift of opening our perception to it. It changed her world, and they were both happy.

The beauty and wonder of the present moment is there for us all. All we have to do is open our perception to see it. In the midst of great suffering there is the possibility of great compassion. In this compassion there is the power of love and beauty, two words that may be bandied about recklessly in our modern-day, but words, concepts and energies that have real power within them.

Through our suffering, we can make small steps towards awareness and mindfulness by becoming awake and aware, thereby easing our suffering and that of the world around us. We notice things that we wouldn’t otherwise notice in our suffering, as we turn our gaze outwards and perceive the world in its entirety rather than just our own suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh is a wonderful example of one who has seen and experienced the suffering of war, of exile, of persecution and physical trauma and still sees the power of love and beauty in the world around him. When I suffer, I shall breathe in and out, look at the sky, the trees, into the eyes of a loved one and know happiness and joy, there finding the deepest gratitude for my blessings.

Meditation and Acceptance

meditation 3I found this good article on meditation by Chad Foreman, and this paragraph especially struck a chord within me:

“You have probably heard all this sort of thing about accepting and letting go before, but here is the secret to accepting and allowing to truly be able to relax:- You do not have to actually accept the present moment or actually let go of anything because that would imply effort, and that would imply things are not already perfect just the way they are. trying to accept would require you to do something with will power and subtle aggression, the secret is to simply FIND that part of yourself that is already allowing and accommodating the present situation. Neither accept or reject anything. This is the key instructions of Tibetan Buddhist Masters.”

To read the full article, click HERE.

The Curse of Self-Awareness – The Oka Crisis 1990

As the 25th anniversary of the Oka Crisis is upon us, there is a new Indeigogo film project underway that seeks to recount what happened during that year-long struggle, and how it has impacted upon the First Nations people ever since.  Here is a video about the project, and an essay that I wrote many years ago now on what began that summer of 1990. You can contribute the project by clicking HERE (url doesn’t work in youtube video).

The Curse of Self-Awareness         by Joanna van der Hoeven (originally posted on The Druid Network)

As I sit here, looking out the window, watching the clouds float by in a pale blue sky, I am reminded that the fights and troubles of humankind matters not to them. Still they float past, unrattled by humanity, simply being. The forsythia is in bloom, the sun is out and casting shadows upon the ground. The curse of self-awareness is not upon them. They know nothing of land ownership. They all share in this world, living where they can, with no knowledge of property deeds, legalities and borders. On this bright afternoon, I am reminded of Kanasetake, and the Oka Crisis that began on March 11, 1990 in Quebec, Canada. Why? Because I am human. I carry these memories and cannot forget them. The curse of self-awareness.

Land ownership. The concept is entirely human. The wolf knows its territory, but once the wolf has died, the concept of any claim on land is lost. It cannot be handed down to others through a Will, or any legal documents. You cannot take your land with you when you die. The concept of territory to a wolf is to ensure a sufficient food supply for a hunter and predator. It will share this with the pack, should it be part of one. The wolf does not own its land, it merely claims the right to live on it. With writing these words, I am reminded of Chief Seattle’s words in a letter to the US government, “I never said the land was mine to do with as I choose. The one who created it is the one who has a right to dispose of it. I claim a right to live on my land, and accord you the privilege to return to yours.” Are these words creating a boundary, or defining a territory? In this global village, can we truly live in a land without borders? Where walls and fences do not exist? Can we ever return?

The fight for land ownership, or defending a territory? Are they one and the same? I think there may be a difference between the two, which essentially always ends up merged into the former. The Oka Crisis, spring 1990. The snows were receding, the air beginning to soften with the call of the season. I was sixteen, just graduating from high school and moving on to college later that fall. The news on the television came through as we sat down to our evening meal. The Mohawk people of the Kanasetake reservation had put up roadblocks, to stop anyone from entering land they held sacred. A year previously, the mayor of Oka, Jean Ouellette, decreed that the pine forest, which included a native burial ground next to the reservation, was to be cleared to expand a golf course from nine to eighteen holes. Ouellette was also a member of the golf club. The golf club stood to make a profit for this expansion.

The ownership of the land had been in dispute for 260 years. The governor of New France in 1717 granted the lands to a seminary priest to hold on trust for the Mohawks. The Church then expanded on this agreement, to enable them to have ownership of the entire land, and began selling off the resources. The Mohawks rose against the missionaries but were imprisoned by the police. The remaining land was sold by the missionaries, who then left. In 1961, a nine hole golf course was built. The Mohawk nation legally protested but to no avail, the land was already being cleared right next to their burial ground. Through much red tape, the Mohawk demand was finally thrown out, “failing to meet criteria”.

And so, in 1990 the roadblock was erected. For years the natives and their European descended counterparts had shared the land, though not in fair and judicial proportions. This was not the golf club’s fighting for territory from which to live. It was not necessary to its survival. It stood to profit in excess of what it needed. Land ownership and greed, hand in hand. Respect for the territory of another pack, lost. Self-awareness leading to selfishness.

The Sûreté du Québec, the Provincial police force, were called in by order of the mayor on July 11. The warriors at the barricades turned to the matriarchs for advice, asking whether they should keep the amassed weapons. The women replied that they should not be used unless the SQ opened fire first. Tear gas canisters were thrown in by the SQ along with concussion grenades. CBC reporter Laurent Levigne was live on the radio at the time, and said that he heard the first shot of gunfire sound. When asked from which side, he replied he thought it came from the SQ police. The reporter could no longer continue with his report, and had to retreat due to the teargas. Corporal Marcel Lemay of the SQ was shot and killed during the brief gun battle. After the funeral, flags from both opposing forces were raised to half mast.

The idea of land ownership did not stop there. Racial hatred had begun to show it’s ugly head, fanned by radio host Gilles Proulx and echoed by the federal member of parliament for the district of Chateauguay, who spoke of exiling natives to Labrador, “if they wanted their own country so much”. The new wolves were attacking the forced roadblock where before there had been none. Divides were perhaps not created between people, but solidified that summer. The Mohawks fought to defend their land from the awaiting bulldozers and golfers. They recalled their previous entreaties to grant them the land that they lived on, and the many refusals. The land became a tool of war. Blood lay upon it. I pause here, to ask myself – did the land care? Did the pines weep as the guns shot across the barricades? The dawn continued, regardless of the attack. Did the land care? Was the self-awareness of the humans provoking this encounter? Did the mourning cries of the ancestors at that sacred site awaken the hearts of the warriors and the women? Or did the wind blow through the boughs as it always had, heedless of the humanity beneath its green canopy?

On August 29th, two days after my 17th birthday, the negotiations came to an end after the army had been called in. The stand off had lasted for three months. The army came through the barricades and the women ordered their warriors back. The guns were slowly put away. By 25th September the fights were with hoses and water balloons.   On 26th September, the warriors threw their guns into a septic tank and surrendered, with the ceremonial burning of tobacco lingering in the air. The First Nations Policing Policy was developed, and Canada listed on Amnesty International’s list of human rights violators. A year later, the mayor was re-elected, and when asked if he could have done things differently, he said that he would not have changed a thing. For nine holes in the ground, a man lost his life.

The fight for land ownership or the fight for territory. The right to live on your land or the right to own the land upon which you live. On 1st April 1999 a new territory, Nunavut was created in Canada. In Inuit, it means ‘Our Land’. 85% of the population are Inuit. To me, this raises another question though. Is this simply another way of claiming land to own? Of setting up borders? Is this an answer to the problems? Our global community, should it even know any boundaries? What would happen if land ownership simply ceased to be?

Memories flood through us every day. The curse of self-awareness. And outside my window, the sun is still shining.

Bibliography

  1. CBC archives, online (http://archives.cbc.ca/IDD-1-71-99/conflict_war/oka/) [accessed 5 April, 2006]
  1. Wikipedia, The Oka Crisis, online, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oka_crisis) [accessed 5 April, 2006]
  1. Wikipedia, Nunavut, online, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nunavut), [accessed 5 April, 2006]

THE HAUDENOSANEE (IROQUOIS) THANKSGIVING ADDRESS

“Ohenton Kariwahtekwen”

GREETINGS TO THE NATURAL WORLD

THE PEOPLE Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people. Now our minds are one. THE EARTH MOTHER We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.

THE WATERS We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms-waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water. Now our minds are one.

THE FISH We turn our minds to the all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.

THE PLANTS Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come. Now our minds are one.

THE FOOD PLANTS With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks. Now our minds are one.

THE MEDICINE HERBS Now we turn to all the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines. Now our minds are one.

THE ANIMALS We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so. Now our minds are one.

THE TREES We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life. Now our minds are one.

THE BIRDS We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds-from the smallest to the largest-we send our joyful greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.

THE FOUR WINDS We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds. Now our minds are one.

THE THUNDERERS Now we turn to the west where our grandfathers, the Thunder Beings, live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We are thankful that they keep those evil things made by Okwiseres underground. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers. Now our minds are one.

THE SUN We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun. Now our minds are one.

GRANDMOTHER MOON We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night-time sky. She is the leader of woman all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon. Now our minds are one.

THE STARS We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as one, we send greetings and thanks to the Stars. Now our minds are one.

THE ENLIGHTENED TEACHERS We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers. Now our minds are one.

THE CREATOR Now we turn our thoughts to the creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator. Now our minds are one.

CLOSING WORDS………. We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way. Now our minds are one.

Resource: Peace for Turtle Island website: http://www.peace4turtleisland.org/ [accessed 5th April 2006]