Flame of Samhain

flmeShine, in the coming darkness. Let the spark of awen light the flame within your soul. Guard that flame, the truth against the world. Let it be your guide, let it be your light, to shine out into the world.

There will be challenges. There will be challenges against you, against the world. The flame of others may not shine so bright, for they have not discovered the beauty and promise that they hold. The flame within their own hearts has not been set alight, or has been dimmed by pain, by the past, by worries of the future. Seek to light the flame in others, even as you hold fast to your own inner flame. Support and nurture the spark within, to allow truth into the world.

Only you can allow others to dim your light, to weaken your flame. And they may try, especially when you shine so bright. For we live in a world where competition and dissatisfaction is rife, where if someone else is succeeding, it is perceived as personal failure in our own lives. Drop this illusion, and fan the flames within and without. If one succeeds, we all succeed. Two flames burn brighter than one, and blowing out someone else’s flame does not make yours burn brighter. When you burn bright, and others seek to dim your flame with their own pain, their own wounds, then burn all that much brighter, to guide the way in the dimly lit corridors of the mind, and the heartache of the soul. Know that in the action of dimming another’s flame, there lies a wounded heart, and often a frightened soul. Keep clear in your boundaries, but also be compassionate in your words and deeds.

Shine on. Nothing can take that away from you but your own self.

May we be the awen.

Moving forwards

You can’t stay stuck. You either have to move forward, sideways, or back the way you came. You have to find a way to follow the flow, to get where you need to go. This was made all the more clear to me today as my husband and I snowshoed the trails around my parents’ home.

These were trails that I had known all my life. In my youth I had spent many long hours in the forest, no one for miles around, hiking the trails in all seasons, with only the birds and the tracks of fox, deer, squirrel and rabbit to keep me company. Some of the trails I had made by my own passage, which are now no longer in existence. Things change, paths come and go.

We strapped on our snowshoes and headed out into familiar backcountry. It was beautiful, with a couple of feet of snow on the ground, heavy on the tree branches and falling lightly out of the grey sky. We followed an old trail that had a few deviances from its orginal path. When the path just ended for no reason, we decided to continue on; we weren’t forging a new trail, and others had gone before. We weren’t too bothered: we knew the area pretty well. A couple of miles up the mountain was a road, and a couple of miles below was the river. Eventually if you got too lost, you could just either head uphill or downhill. Walking parallel to the hill would either hit another road or powerlines, so you could again get your bearings pretty quickly. We had a phone if we needed a pickup from any of the roads.

Still, it was an adventure. The trail moved into unfamiliar terrain, and at one point near the top of the mountain there suddenly appeared “No Tresspassing” signs in the middle of the forest where the trail just stopped. We had been out for hours and we stopped, discussing the best thing to do. It was getting cold, we had climbed 90% of the mountain, and could either spend what little energy we had left trying to find the connecting path that should have been there (even though this meant trespassing) or go back the long way we came. Tired, sweaty and getting cold, we decided to keep going ahead, despite the signs. (Please note: this is not an endorsement to trespass on private property – it all depends on the circumstances.) The old trail used to go through this newly acquired or newly signed property, and I knew we weren’t far from the connection off towards the east. It was the best decision we could make, given our current circumstances and situation. We tried our GPS, but for some reason it had decided not to work. We had to rely on gut instinct. Ten minutes later, after walking past a dozen signs, the trail suddenly appeared again, this time with new signs and following a different path. Breathing a sigh of relief, we continued, moving forward, knowing that home was that much closer. We took out the compass and confirmed that we were indeed heading east, which is where we wanted to go.

The trail had changed, and though the name was familiar the terrain wasn’t. But eventually the trail connected to the old trail that I knew and had grown up with, for we saw some of the old signs that had been screwed into the trees. These little metal signs had been attached to the tree for so long that they were half covered by the tree, which had grown around it, and would eventually swallow them whole. I smiled, realising that these signs were new when I was younger, and reflected the growing, changing, ever flowing nature of time, and the nature of nature itself.
We found our third connection, and came out onto the road with great relief. It had been quite an adventure, physically challenging and mentally stressful, not knowing where you were, breaking the rules and hoping that your insinct is right. Some trails had drastically changed, some were the same, but moving forwards was essential in order for us to find the way home. As we walked down the road in the falling snow, I thought how much this reflected life in general.

Sometimes we work bloody hard to get where we need to go. It can be physically, mentally and emotionally challenging. What matters most though is taking those first steps, and getting out there, finding the path that works for you. It may not matter too much which path you start out on, as long as you do start. Sure, you might have to break a few rules on the way. Sure, you may seriously doubt yourself. Sure, you may find the path twists and turns unexpectedly. You may be exhausted. But at least you are trying. At least you are not stuck. Out there, in the backcountry woods, being stuck can be fatal. So you keep moving, you keep going.

We are resourceful creatures. Sometimes we just have to listen to our guts. I was so thankful when we found that connecting trail, confirming that my sense of direction had been right. We use what we have been gifted with, what we have learned, and what we are continuing to learn to help us move forward. Sometimes we may even have to move backwards for a while, retrace our steps in order to find a better path. Sometimes we may not even have a destination in mind; the journey is enough. Take pleasure in the journey, the good and the bad, the stresses and the glories. Use your wits and intelligence, your physical strengths, your intuition, your friends and family to help you get where you want or need to go. One foot in front of the other. You can do it.

All you need to do is keep moving.

Nature is in contant flux. It is never the same day twice. Everything is changing, growing and fading, living and dying. Follow that flow. Be the flow itself.

Solstice Practice

This post was originally  displayed on SageWoman’s channel, on my blog DruidHeart at Witches & Pagans.

Around the winter solstice is the time of year when many people get together, families and friends, to celebrate the holidays. If we are fortunate, we have some time off to be together, all together in one place – we may not have such an opportunity until the next solstice season rolls around. It can be a wonderful time of loving hugs, good conversation and deep, belly filled laughs. It can also be a trying time, when the bonds of friendship or family can become tested as we are all thrown together, our usual routines and habits left behind and we are faced with situations that are perhaps out of the norm.

My home is usually very quiet, filled with deep silence and stillness. In that silence I find my personal sanctuary, where peace is around every corner. I’m not a big fan of crowds or noise. However, at this time of year, I leave behind my little sanctuary and venture out into the world of lights and noise, family and friends when I’d really rather be sitting on my meditation cushion in the dark, with a candle and some incense.

It’s quite a shift to deal with. There is constant noise around me, different noise to that of my own home. It’s the noise of other people, which I am not accustomed to. Loud televisions, conversations, arguments, laughter – it’s a bit of an assault on my senses. Dealing with other people’s behaviour when there is no opportunity to “escape”. I have to confront everything that upsets me head on, or lose my temper, say something in anger as my “sanctuary” is thrown out the window.

Or is it? Yes, it’s difficult. Even as I type this blog, there are interruptions by people walking in and out of the room, asking me what I’m doing and other various questions. Nemetona, my goddess of sanctuary, has taught me that she is ever within me even as she is without – I take her with me wherever I go, and where I go she is always there.

In my Zen practice, this time of year provides me with innumerable ways to really practice. Life becomes difficult when things don’t go our way. When we realise this, and when we see that life is simply going ahead whether we like it or not, things can become easier. I have to deal with behaviour that I don’t like – this gives me a chance to practice and to try to understand that person’s behaviour. Often I can see myself reflected in it, or see that they are lost in their own suffering. I can try to ease that, when I remember to try to understand it. When it just pisses me off, I’m not trying to understand, and anger can erupt. When this occurs, I realise that I am not practicing very well, that I am not aware of my own reactions and behaviour. It’s a constant reminder to look deeply at myself, to see my patterns and to alter them in order to have peace and harmony both within and without. My goddess and my Zen practice help me with this understanding.

I have two choices when I find myself in difficult circumstances – get upset or not get upset. When people are shouting in the kitchen, or using words unkindly, or their behaviour is totally out of sync with creating harmony, I feel a tightness, a contraction within my body. Getting upset with this only tightens that contraction even further, making me miserable, or lashing out in anger in a misguided attempt to alleviate the tightness within. Seeing people mistreat each other, taking each other for granted – all of these things can cause contractions within. Passive/aggressive behaviour, words that are intented to provoke, noise levels louder than they need to be – all these things cause a contraction within my body. I want to loosen that contraction, but how?

Sitting and walking meditation practice, daily, really help me through this challenging time. By sitting, I am aware of my body, and aware of my thoughts. I see patterns in my behaviour. I see the self that is screaming for attention, for comfort, for sanctuary. I also then see the illusion of the separate self, and the inter-connectedness of all things. We are all dependent on everything else – the sunlight, the rain, our parents, the air, food. Without any of these things we could not exist. We are in them and they are in us.

When people’s behaviour challenges us, it helps to remind ourselves of this inter-connectedness. They are in me, and I am in them. It’s easy to do when out in the forest, becoming one with nature. But in challenging situations, with people we are often more directly faced with egos and personalities, with habits and the ego’s constant self-regard. When someone says something that upsets us, instead of thinking “I’m so upset that he said that” we can just realise that he said something. That’s the truth of the matter. Someone simply said something. We can act on what they said, of course, if they are saying inappropriate things. But we don’t have to act on it in anger, simply in awareness. Things happen. People behave the way they do. We can either get upset and lose our practice, or we can see the opportunities to become even more aware of our selves. In this awareness lies peace.

Slowly losing our separate sense of self, our egos begin to dissolve. We listen more. We apologise more. We find a deep well of peace to draw from, where we nourish that which brings peace and harmony. We don’t ignore our feelings, but we don’t feed those that create discord. We’ve no wish to stay in that contraction, no desire to create it in others.

Use this time of year as an opportunity to practice, to see how in nature we are all connected. See how the awen flows, how we are inspired by each other in each and every moment. Use difficult situations as the chance to become aware of your self and the world around you. It’s not easy, I’m being challenged constantly. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to fully immerse in the flow of awen, and not to be bashed against the rocks and caught in the swirls and eddies in the river of life. When life isn’t going the way that you would like it to, simply remember that. When we are angry or depressed, remember that it is because life isn’t going the way we want it to. Work with those feelings, work with others, and the practice will begin to show its rewards in less contraction, less anger and less upset. Peace begins to seep in, trickling through out insight, aware of the delicious drops of awen upon our tongue.

Isn’t that what this time of year is all about? Peace and love, awareness of the darkness and the returning light, the times and tides of life. May this time of year bring you many chances to practice, and may you find true joy in that practice.

30-Day No Plastic Challenge – The Results!

So, the last week of my “No Plastic for a Month” challenge and it’s been harder than I anticipated. I didn’t manage to get through the whole month without buying food that had been packaged in plastic: there were three exceptions. I had to make a rice dish for a wedding, and simply could not find rice that didn’t come in plastic packaging (where I live in Suffolk there are no big bulk food suppliers, sadly, not even at large food chain superstores. I shall be writing letters to them all about this.) I also had to buy some hazelnuts and sunflower seeds (vegan diet, my protein intake) and these too were unavailable without plastic.

All in all, I’ve looked at the waste that I produce, and it’s seriously overhauled. I thought I was pretty good at not having too much rubbish to collect every two weeks. I know that even the bag of rubbish that I was throwing out a week was too much, and since the challenge this has reduced to half, or even less than half a bag of rubbish a week. An eye-opener. The plastic that a lot of packaging comes in, the bendy but not stretchy plastic, is not recyclable in my area. I didn’t realise quite how much I was still using.

There is no such thing as “away”. We do not throw our rubbish “away” – it simply ends up in another place. With dwindling oil supplies and the rate that plastic biodegrades, we seriously need to re-evaluate our relationship with it. We do not live in a disposable society, no matter how much marketing in companies try to tell us otherwise. We only have one planet, one place to live, and we must treat that with utmost respect.

I shall continue in my search to find food that isn’t wrapped in plastic, and to keep my waste as low as possible, or even lower. Shopping is now not only concerned with ethical and organic implications, but also packaging to an even higher degree than before. Working on an ethical principle that asks the question, “What if everyone did the same?” is the best guideline I’ve ever come across so far.

To all those who took this challenge with me, well done, and long may you continue. If you’d like, please share your thoughts here on this blog, or write your own blog post and ping back to me – I’d love to hear from you!

Awen blessings,

Jo.x

 

30-Day Plastic Packaging Challenge

For the month of July, I’m issuing myself a challenge – to not buy any food that is packaged in plastic.

The amount of plastic in our lives is just incredible. We don’t realise it half the time – we’ve grown accustomed to it. When we do buy it, with awareness, we know that we will recycle it appropriately. But what if we addressed our need for plastic in the first place? What would the outcome of that be? This is going to be my little experiment.

The dangers of plastic to the environment are legion. When it’s not getting tangled up in the flora and fauna, it’s left to release noxious fumes in vast quantities at disposal sites. It floats in our oceans, causing litter in areas where no human has ever tread.  Two thirds of the EU’s plastic is still being burned or ending up in landfills. Greenhouse gases from these incinerators are unbelievable.

Not to mention that most plastics are made from petrochemicals.  Why support that industry when solar, wind and water could be used?

Plastic in food packaging hasn’t been around long enough to test the long-term effects that it might cause upon our health.  We may very well find that in 50 years, levels that we thought were “safe” from plastic in our food could very well be extremely detrimental to our health.

So, for an entire month, I am going to go plastic-free when it comes to food.  In fact, I’m going to try and reduce ALL packaging as much as possible.  I’ve got the month of June to use up what stock I have in my fridge and cupboards, and to also research where I can get fresh food that is plastic-free.

If you would like to join me in this challenge, please comment below and share your intention, either on your own blog or other social media. Link back to this blog if you like.  If a month is too long, try a week, or a fortnight.  Find out what impact plastic packaging in having on your personal life, and look into what it’s doing to the planet as a whole.

Good luck, and do please share with me your stories if you decide to take up the challenge!