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

Black Friday

black fridayBlack Friday – it’s upon us. The day after the American Thanksgiving, Black Friday is a consumerist holy-day that for many heralds the start of the shopping season. Yes, a season dedicated to shopping, sometimes called “Christmas”. It’s usually a four-day weekend for many, with stores opened all that time offering supposedly amazing deals. It’s a celebration of all things consumerist.

In today’s society, it’s more important to have things than to do things. We seem to be defined by our possessions, yet the term possession isn’t correctly used: for the most part, we are possessed by them, not the other way around. This is not to say that it’s wrong to have possessions, but when the desire to have them, to increase them, to fight for them is all-consuming, we need to have a rethink. When we’d rather have “stuff” than time spent with family and friends, when we work to accumulate more stuff, to buy bigger houses for all our stuff, to buy storage for our stuff, it’s gone too far. Our stuff owns us. The real kicker is, and we all know it: you can’t take it with you when you die.

Black Friday is supposed to be a consumerist’s dream, with bargain offers that are only available at that time of year. In actuality it is a nightmare of epic proportions, where many people don’t realise that the “bargain offers” are still far in excess of what the item is really worth. It only reiterates how much profit is being made on consumer goods by capitalist middlemen.

To make matters worse, Black Friday has resulted in 7 deaths and 98 injuries since it began around 2000. Yes, 7 people have died. Customers and employees crushed when doors are opened. People being trampled to death. An elderly man collapsing and everyone around ignoring him. Guns coming out at Toys R Us and shootings while waiting in the queue. Pepper spray being used on fellow shoppers. People being shot over parking space disputes. The list goes on.

What is so wrong with our society that this would happen?

People are starving, homeless, fleeing war-torn countries with nothing but the clothes on their back.

Join me tomorrow for a Buy Nothing Day. No purchasing; not online, not in person. Say NO to the sickness in society that drives people to hurt one another over a “bargain”.

We can extend it further, looking at how we spend our money, on what, why and when. Look at what are necessities, and what is not. Before buying an item, think about whether you need it. Spend 30 days before you buy something – by then you will certainly know whether you need it or not, or whether it was a whimsical fancy. Spend your hard-earned money wisely on things that will last. You worked hard for that money, don’t fritter it away on what the media tells you that you should have. Decide for yourself.

There are bargains to be had all the time. Charity shops are amazing places to find treasures of all kinds. And the money is going to charity, to actually do some good somewhere. Make every penny you spend count. Make every penny a vote for what you believe in, whether it’s buying local and/or organic food, investing in green energy, buying clothes for work. If you can, really consider the impacts of online shopping too – often items are wrapped in so much plastic, and shipped worldwide that the cost to the environment is enormous.

Our money can be our most powerful weapon against the serious issues of today’s society. We can use it for good, for the benefit of all, not just for one. We can make the world a better place. Really, we can.

Instead of shopping for presents, if you have the time, make something. Cakes, jams, a poem or song for a loved one. Spend time with your family instead of shopping for presents in the evening or at weekends. Devote yourself to what is most important.

Blessings of peace.