Compassion on a Tuesday Morning

22 people died last night in a bombing of a pop concert in Manchester. The first thing I saw on my Facebook newsfeed this morning was a post from a friend, who had said that they had reached compassion capacity, and that they simply shrugged and got on with getting ready for work, as there was nothing they could do anyway.

I hope never, ever to become this way.

It is my firm belief that we only allow ourselves to be de-sensitised. No one can de-sensitise us in today’s easy, modern world (I’m talking about people who have decent jobs, put food on the table, have a place to live and also have money left over for some nice things, like socialising). It is a choice that we make to turn ourselves off to the world.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who are seriously hurting right now. They can’t shrug it off and go to work. They have lost children, parents, brothers and sisters. Those who survived are in pain, undergoing or awaiting surgery at one of the six hospitals in the area that took these emergencies. If these people can’t turn off, then I certainly can’t.

There is no limit to compassion. Let me repeat that: there is absolutely no limit to compassion. We can have compassion for anyone. That doesn’t mean we tolerate bad behaviour or condone violence in any way. It means that we do not turn off that very essence of what makes us human, that ability to feel, to empathise, to look deeper into an issue and to offer healing, support, prayers and love where and when we can. There is no limit to that.

Yes, there are some cases in our lives when we have to walk away from a bad situation. But we don’t have to turn ourselves off in the process. People have been horrendous to me, and I have needed to walk away. In doing so, I have not turned myself off, but sought compassion for myself, and gotten out of a bad situation so that my compassion for others would not be compromised. And the people who were horrendous to me, well, I only hope that they truly find the healing that they need, so that they stop doing it to others, and themselves.

It is all about the choices that we make. I was going to write a blog post today about choices, but that will follow in a consecutive post later this week or next week. This morning, I needed to focus on the events of last night, and my friend’s reaction to them. It saddened me greatly, and also angered me that people could make the choice to turn themselves off. We live in such a narcissistic society, that we only focus on ourselves. We often use the excuse that the only thing that we can change is ourselves, however, for me in that context it is just that: an excuse. When we see suffering in the world, if we only focus on ourselves, then how do we stop the suffering of others? Yes, we need to heal ourselves, but we also need healing for the world at large. If we are always looking inwards, then we are ignoring the outer world that is very much a part of our reality and existence. Just because we choose to ignore it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

If everyone ignored the suffering in the world, then there wouldn’t be organisations dedicated to helping others, when human or non-human. Greenpeace, The Red Cross, Amnesty International; these would not exist. We have to look beyond the scope of our little world and realise that we are very much part of the whole. We co-create the world that we live in. We co-create our reality.

What do I mean by that? Well, I often hear the saying that “we create our own reality.” This isn’t true, because there are many factors in life that aren’t under our control. The child in Aleppo did not create the reality of a war-torn city. We are responsible for what we bring into the world, and we also have to realise that we share this world with others who are bringing their own stuff into the mix, and therefore into our reality. Ignoring this does not make it go away. If I ignored what happened last night and simply got on with my day, then this blog post would not be written. I would not be sharing my words and thoughts with you. I would not be exploring the themes of suffering and compassion, and how to make this world a better place for everyone.

I will not turn myself off to the suffering in the world. Sometimes, there may not be much I can do about it, but if I turn myself off then I will bring that into my own little world, my local environment, which leads to a de-sensitivity to that area. It will trickle down into my everyday life, from my relationship to my husband, to my friends, to the lady at the post office. When we de-sensitise ourselves at a national or global level, we are fooling ourselves if we think that doesn’t seep into our everyday life, our everyday interactions with people, with the world.

My thoughts and prayers for the families of last night’s tragedy may not have an immediate or direct affect upon them personally. The children who are orphaned in Syria, with no place to go, are again not immediately affected by my thoughts and prayers. Neither are the badgers being culled, or the battered woman seeking a place to sleep for the night in a non-government funded women’s shelter. But I am affected by this, and so is everyone around me. I will not lose my compassion, and open my heart to everyone who I do come into contact with. I will try to make this world a better place, to live in harmony and to promote peace. If I turn myself off to the suffering, how can I promote peace?

We are making a choice, when we ignore the suffering. Sometimes there is a line, where we have to walk away from a bad situation because we ourselves are at risk. That is usually because we are suffering to a large extent, due to myriad factors, most of them beyond our control. We all need to retreat every now and then, to lick our wounds and to heal. On my darkest days, when the suffering in the world overwhelms me, when the aching in my bones and joints moves from the dull to the sharp, I need to take a step away. But that doesn’t mean I shut myself off completely. I still have compassion for others. I need to take care of myself, certainly, but I do not forget others. I do not forget that the world is more than just me.

Compassion is all about choice.

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand
“Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away”
It’s a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting it’s shroud
Over all we have known
Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud
On the wings of the night
As the daytime is stirring
Where the speechless unite
In a silent accord
Using words you will find are strange
Mesmerised as they light the flame
Feel the new wind of change
On the wings of the night
No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
It’s not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away   – Pink Floyd

Reblog: Bullies and Re-membering

This is a reblog from my channel at PaganSquare… to see the original, click HERE.

bf fully

“Bully Bogey” by Brian Froud, from the book Good Faeries, Bad Faeries

I was bullied really badly as a teenager. I went from being an utterly confident 12-year old, full of promise and with a “sky’s the limit” attitude to one of sheer terror and depression. For three long years I suffered physically and mentally at the hands of a few girls who were two grades above me. Those feelings never go away.

The problem with bullies is that they too never go away. You may never see those childhood bullies again in your life, but they’ll always be there, living in your head, little demons that run out and snarl at you when you least expect it. You have forgiven the childhood bullies, and done cleansing ceremonies. You’ve accepted and moved on. You’ve lived the best life you can. But they’re still there. They are a part of you, and they wait to pounce on you, grasping into your flesh with their sharp little fingers, whispering in your ear. Through acts of kindness, through living a life of compassion for others, you can keep them at bay, but they never, ever go away. A tiny crack in the fortress of love can allow these slippery little demons through. There merest tear in the fabric of your being allows them to shred their way straight through to your soul. Yet you continue, you go on, putting one foot in front of the other. Demons of the past may have been dealt with, but they re-emerge with demons of the present, a lingering army in your mind, combining forces in an assault against your very being. So how to win through?

As with any abuse, we can only take things one day at a time. Things will happen in our lives that will allow these demons a chance to take hold once again. New bullies may appear in your life, and dog you for years, trying to bring you down. You struggle and fight against the abuse with all the resources you have to hand: love, empathy, compassion, intelligence, determination. You may win a battle, but the war is a long one, and you are tired. So we carry on, one day at a time, one battle at a time, keeping those demons and bullies at bay, from both the past and present. It’s not easy. But you know that giving in to them is not an option, for then they would tear you apart, turn you into one of them. You struggle on, seeing the good in people, despite everything aimed at you, despite the unkindness in the world today. Is it sheer determination or just plain stubbornness? You don’t know, but you carry on regardless.

People can be wonderful. They can also be utterly awful. Though my life is filled with mostly beautiful folk, there are one or two that try to negate all that loveliness, with sour words and tongues, whispering into the ears of others, for whatever reason. These broken souls wend their way into your life every now and then, and there is no option but to deal with them as best you can. And when you have past abuse to contend with, the assault on the psyche is even worse, as issues from the past rise once again to the surface, and you realise that you have to deal with them all over again. I’m 42, going on 14.

But then again, aren’t we all? We are all stories, stories of our past trying to live in the present moment, without worrying too much about the future. We work and walk with nature, seeing the beauty in the sunset, the mystery in the moonrise. We know the different gods, we talk to the ancestors, we dance with the spirits of place. We find inspiration everywhere, and so do we use our spiritual path as well to help us along on our journey, no matter what demons rear their ugly heads.

We need to remember. We need to re-member. We need to take our inspiration from nature, to bring ourselves back into being. We need to recreate ourselves each and every day. By remembering who we are, we can re-member our very being, bringing together those disparate elements that we have lost at the hands of abuse, allowing the past to have happened, but not allowing it to live in the present moment. If we remember, we acknowledge the past. If we re-member, we forge ourselves anew in the light of a brand new day. By bringing the two together, we can find wisdom.

I spoke with Rhiannon, Bloedeuwedd and Cerridwen recently about the bullies in my life, past and present. They helped me to acknowledge the past suffering, as well as the present. I am unable to do anything about the behaviour of other people, foul as it may be. But I can remain open and honest, compassionate and kind. These were their words to me, along with words of caution: they also reminded me that I have nothing to prove.

Often when we are bullied, either from the past or in the present moment, we feel that “living well is the best revenge”. However, if revenge is anywhere in your thoughts, you most certainly are not living well. We can pour inordinate amounts of time and energy into trying to prove ourselves against those who would badmouth us, who would threaten us, who would try to bring us down for their own troubled reasons. But as we realise that we have nothing to prove to these people, we release them from our lives, allowing them to be blown away on the evening breeze. We can face the darkness without fear of them lurking in the shadows.

There will always be people who are antagonistic towards you in your life, for whatever reason. My advice, for myself and for all who have suffered similarly, is to not overcompensate, for in doing so those bullies still have a hold over you. We need to take a stand sometimes in our life, and we need to speak out against injustice. But when we feel that we have something to prove, then little cracks being to appear in our being. It’s the ego talking, and it’s not coming from a place of compassion or empathy. It’s almost a form of punishment, which is perfectly understandable given the amount of suffering one may have undergone. It’s a purely human response, and we can acknowledge it as such. How we act upon that feeling is what defines us.

The bullies in our life, past, present and future, may never go away. We may have to content with them again and again, privately, publicly, professionally. My advice to all who have similarly suffered would be to not fall into the trap of overcompensation. We all have little coping mechanisms to help us get through. Look deeply into the amount of time and energy that you give to a situation, and see where that time and energy might be better spent: with family and loved ones, for example. Look for the good in the world. Look for the beauty.

I remember those long bus rides home, over an hour, with name-calling, food/garbage throwing, physical abuse, etc. I remember the more recent times of bullying in my professional life. And I re-member myself. I see the beauty of the clear blue sky, and I re-member. I see my cat’s sleepy face, and I re-member. I make love to my husband, and I re-member. I laugh with my friends, and I re-member. These are the important things that require focus and attention. This is where I can find the core of my being. This is what I re-member.

And when I do, I can let it all go, slipping into the gentle stream that burbles in the sunlight, that nourishes with its very being everything it touches.

Reviews for new book: Zen for Druids

Zen for Druids front coverReviews are coming in for my new book, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with Nature. This new book expands upon my first work, the introductory Pagan Portals Zen Druidry, and looks deeper into combining elements of Zen Buddhism and Druidry. Here are a few of the reviews!


I am a massive fan of Joanna van der Hoeven’s books. They are wonderfully accessible whilst still conveying a depth and clarity that helps the reader to really connect with the wisdom of the subject. Her latest offering does just that. ‘Zen For Druids’ is a companion to her earlier work ‘Zen Druidry’, exploring Zen Buddhism and Druidry by illustrating how these spiritual paths can complement one another in practice. The book is written in five parts. The first explores Druidry and the Dharma giving an excellent overview of Buddhism’s Three Treasures; The Four Noble Truths; The Five Precepts; The Eightfold Path and The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts and how these relate to Druid philosophy. The second part takes us through the Pagan Wheel of the Year and how Zen Buddhism can enrich the understanding and honouring of these festivals. Joanna includes some really useful tips at the end of each festival section, with ideas to deepen your experience of each. Part three focuses on Meditation; part four on Mindfulness and part five on Integration, each section helping to both explain the underlying spiritual meaning of these practices whilst giving practical advice, exercises and encouragement. I particularly enjoyed the section on Integration where the author writes beautifully about Awen and Relationship as a connecting, compassionate force that reveals the interconnectedness of life. In her chapter on Ego, Self and Identity the author tackles the thorny issue of the Ego. In many spiritual texts, the Ego can so easily be labelled the ‘bad guy’ but Joanna skilfully explores the difference between Representational Ego and Functional Ego, redeeming the Ego’s useful functions whilst suggesting a compassionate approach to its more challenging aspects. The concepts in this book take some thoughtful pondering but the beauty of Joanna’s writing is that it cracks open what initially appear to be very complex ideas and gets straight to the heart of each. Obviously the real work is in the dedicated practice of a spiritual path but Zen For Druids offers a wonderful foundation to build upon. In every page you can sense that the author has learned these insights through experience, that she really understands and lives these principles from a place of deep heart-knowing. We move from a purely intellectual grasping of a subject to this heart-led living of a spiritual path through the constant connection and exploration of that path; Joanna van der Hoeven’s fabulous book is both an inspiring and deeply practical aid to help you on that journey. I highly recommend this book. It is proof of how seemingly different spiritualities can enrich each other, and for those of us who are drawn to both western and eastern paths, it’s a real gem! ~ Maria Ede-Weaving, from the office of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids

Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Harmony, and Compassion with Nature by Joanna Van Der Hoeven is a look at integrating aspects of Zen Buddhism and Druidry into ones personal practices. We take a look at some of the basic principles of Buddhism such as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path and how they can be integrated with aspects of Druidry such as the sacredness for all things. There are questions which help us contemplate these concepts within the aspects of both Druidry and Buddhism. We take a look at meditation and mindfulness in both areas of practice. We are shown how to incorporate the eightfold path of Buddhism into the Wheel of the Year and Druid festivals. I liked how this book brought together both Buddhist and Druid practices to create a practice that is one with nature and enhances our spiritual practice. I learned a lot about both Druidry and Buddhism and how they can work seamlessly together to create a spiritual practice. ~ Rose Pettit, Insights into the Wonderful World of Books

In this user-friendly book, Joanna van der Hoeven further develops ideas already present in her earlier ones, especially Zen Druidry. On my reading, this book will work best for Druids committed to a modern eco-spirituality. I imagine readers already re-enchanted by their experience of the natural world, who want a harmonious relationship with that world, and to honour, protect and preserve it. Zen for Druids confirms this stance and adds something else: the interwoven ethical and attentional training of the Buddhist tradition. The author draws specifically on Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Master who founded the Community of Interbeing and is a leading model and exponent of ‘engaged Buddhism’. This cultivates personal, social and ecological levels of awareness. It recognizes the radical interdependence of all beings and a need to make ethical/political choices in line with this interdependence. Such Buddhism is not in any way world denying, in the way that Buddhist tradition has at times been in the past. I see Thich Nhat Hanh as a perfect source of influence for this book, and several of his own works are cited in the bibliography. Zen for Druids is divided into five parts. The first is a clear exposition of Buddhist basics, helped by that tradition’s own style of clear exposition and list making. It includes chapters on the three treasures, the four noble truths, the five basic precepts for lay Buddhists, the eightfold path and the sixteen Bodhisattva precepts. By age-old Buddhist design, there is a certain amount of repetition in these lists, with the same issues coming up again in slightly different contexts. Each individual chapter ends with a set of questions designed to engage the reader in their own reflections. The second part moves through the eightfold wheel of the year, frequently found as a festival year in Druid and Pagan communities. Each festival is given its own chapter, and each chapter combines traditional Druid and Pagan themes with a principle from the Buddhist eightfold path. The author starts at Samhain (right effort), moves on to the Winter Solstice (right mindfulness), Imbolc (right concentration), Spring Equinox (right intention), Beltane (right view), Summer Solstice (right action), Lughnasadh (right speech) and the Autumn Equinox (right livelihood). Each section is followed by a list of suggestions for practice. The book’s remaining three parts are shorter. They concern, respectively, meditation, mindfulness and integration. In two chapters on meditation, the first explores ‘mind traps’ – “those little prisons of our own making. We are constantly hijacked by our thoughts and feelings, attachments to them and our egos, such that we spin endlessly in circles until we fall down”. The second shows us to how do a brief meditation session in the Zen manner. The following section, concerning mindfulness in the world, suggests a practice of ‘mindful Mondays’ and explores the relationship between present time awareness and an animist world view. The final section, on integration, focuses on our integration with nature, looking at the issue of ‘ego, self and identity’ before reflecting on ‘awen and relationship’. For Joanna van der Hoeven, indeed, “awen is relationship and integration, the connecting threads that bind us soul to soul”. In Zen for Druids, one Druid shows how she has taken an iteration of Zen Buddhism into her life and practice, combining them into one path. She sets out her stall very clearly and offers the reader specific opportunities and resources for practice and reflection. This book does a valuable job well. ~ James Nichol, Contemplative Inquiry

I read Joanna’s “Zen Druidry” and it really helped add an extra layer of depth to my own Druidry. This book continues down that same path, with a lot more emphasis on how to incorporate aspects of both Zen and Druidry into one’s life. Not only does Joanna write in a way that is easily accessible, her approach to topics provides the reader with enough information to work with the topic or concept. The questions she asks throughout the book are definitely good moments of “food for thought” – and for me provide even more desire to dig even deeper into what she is presenting here. Is her book a be-all, end-all of Zen, Druidry, or the combination of the two? Not even, nor is it meant to be. Finding that kind of depth, in my opinion, is up to the individual bringing these concepts into their Spiritual practices. This book; however, is a definite strong start for those who are looking for ways to incorporate these two particular Spiritual disciplines into their lives at the same time. For me, this book is a timely follow on to the “Zen Druidry” title, providing more depth and clarity to the combination of these two Paths. Going further down that Path, will be up to the individual adherent and their own unique application of these disciplines to their own lives. If you are picking this book up first, set it down and get “Zen Druidry” and read that first. Then follow on with this one. The two flow together very nicely.  ~ Tommy van Hook, Life with Trickster Gods

Release

p1000386-1024x666I had a lovely solo ritual last evening, to celebrate the autumn equinox. As the sun set, I meditated on the changing colours in the sky, on the harvest that has taken place, the wheat and corn crops taken in, the onions and turnips. The fields are still being tended, ploughed for winter veg, seeding with potatoes and other root crops. The sounds of work in the fields is still going on, even as the evening dog walkers pick blackberries and apples from the hedgerows. It’s a strange time of both noise and stillness, when the swifts and house martins have mostly left, the skies seeming emptier for it. The dawn chorus is softer, the evening calls less urgent.

The times of the festivals have an effect on me, physically as well as spiritually. At these strong points in the year, I often feel at odds, not quite in this realm or any other. At Beltane, my head felt like it was being pressed in on all sides as we spent time at the local tumuli. Yesterday, and the day before, I felt dizzy, sometimes faint as it seemed the energy was swirling around me yet again. Being very susceptible to pressure changes in the air, I feel I’m becoming even more sensitive to energies unseen that roil and swirl around this little sphere hurtling through space.

I love autumn. I love the energy that it brings, a quiet, soft, energy: a release. It seems that all summer long, from Beltane onwards there has been a swift build-up of energy that it seeking its release. Some of it goes at midsummer, but most of it is contained, helping to ripen the harvest fruits. It’s at this time of year, when the fruits fall, that the energy is released, the potential lying still and quiet in the seeds, ready for winter’s dreaming.

And so at last night’s ritual, I began with meditation, and then did the ritual in my usual way, scattering leaves and saying words of my appreciation for the season and the harvest around my circle. I also prayed for peace, a deep, heartfelt prayer, as well as doing five earth touchings. I then meditated again, the sun having set, feeling the balance between darkness and light. I opened my self to what I needed to learn over the long dark nights of approaching winter, widening my perspective, allowing nature to guide me. Instantly, one word rang through my head: forgiveness.

Taking inspiration from nature, I thought about forgiveness. If any ecosystem held a grudge, then it would fail. Trees continue to provide us with oxygen, despite us decimating their population. Herbs continue to grow, despite humanity’s propensity for herbicides. The rain falls, the sun shines, and we still reap the rewards that this world has to offer each and every day. If we could only do the same, if we could only learn true forgiveness, then this world would be a much better place.

I thought that I was pretty good at forgiveness. I’ve forgiven people in my life who have caused me to suffer. But taking a deeper look, my forgiveness wasn’t all-encompassing. I needed to release the anger and hate, like the leaf falls from the tree, like the leaves that lay scattered all around me in my ritual circle.

Forgiveness is one of the most difficult things to do for us humans. We often equate forgiveness with weakness, seeing it as a relinquishing of power. Those who forgive, we think, are only setting themselves up for more grief from those who would cause them to suffer. They’re doormats.

What we don’t realise is the exquisite power of forgiveness. When we can truly forgive, we can move on with our own lives. This doesn’t mean that we condone bad behaviour; far from it. We can still stand up for ourselves, speak out against injustices. We will still face struggles with people in our lives. But we can suffer less in ourselves, if we can forgive.

But we don’t want to. We want the other person to suffer, for all the hurt that they have done to us and to others. If we forgive, we think that they’ve been left off the hook. This most certainly isn’t the case. Everyone is accountable for their actions, everyone has a responsibility for their own life. We can’t force anyone to accept this, of course, but we can set the example for others. And when others don’t follow our example, we shrug and move on, knowing that we have, at the very least, stopped the suffering in ourselves.

But we want to change people. We want to stop people who are hurting others, and rightly so. So we can stand up for what is right, remembering that there is more than one right. We can also forgive, because everyone is suffering in some form or other. Whether willingly or not, when someone is causing another being harm, they are suffering deep inside from some affliction that we may never realise. They are fighting their own battles. We must set the example.

That doesn’t mean that we’re going to suddenly start liking these people. But we can allow the power of compassion to flow freely, to stop the pain in our lives, and when we do it begins to radiate outwards, like rings of water in a still pond. We’re not going to take any crap, but equally we’re not going to allow any crap that comes our way to cause us to suffer, to continue to make us crazy, hurt or bitter. We’re going to remain open, calm and filled with love for this planet, and in doing so understand the true meaning of forgiveness.

We’re also going to forgive ourselves. In doing so, we find peace. We’ve all screwed up, we’ve all caused pain at some point. We need to release that in order to function properly. We accept responsibility for our actions, and ensure that we never do it again. We strive to be better people, to make the world a better place.

Some would query whether it is truly possible for any human being to really forgive. I’ve thought about this myself. As such emotionally biased creatures, are we able to set aside our skewed perceptions of any given situation? In the attempt to do so, at the very least, is the heart of compassion. In the striving to do so, we rise to the challenge.

So my ritual last night was filled with my home environment providing me with the awen on the nature of forgiveness, compassion and love. And as I sat in the growing darkness, the cool soft breeze playing around me, I whispered these four words: I welcome the darkness.

 

Review: Zen for Druids

Here is a review by Maria Ede-Weaving on Philip Carr-Gomm’s blog for my upcoming book, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with the Natural World (due out this October, and now available for pre-order). Thank you, Maria, for your lovely words!

Zen for Druids front coverI am a massive fan of Joanna van der Hoeven’s books. They are wonderfully accessible whilst still conveying a depth and clarity that helps the reader to really connect with the wisdom of the subject. Her latest offering does just that. ‘Zen For Druids’ is a companion to her earlier work ‘Zen Druidry, exploring Zen Buddhism and Druidry by illustrating how these spiritual paths can complement one another in practice.

The book is written in five parts. The first explores Druidry and the Dharma giving an excellent overview of Buddhism’s Three Treasures; The Four Noble Truths; The Five Precepts; The Eightfold Path and The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts and how these relate to Druid philosophy.

The second part takes us through the Pagan Wheel of the Year and how Zen Buddhism can enrich the understanding and honouring of these festivals. Joanna includes some really useful tips at the end of each festival section, with ideas to deepen your experience of each.

Part three focuses on Meditation; part four on Mindfulness and part five on Integration, each section helping to both explain the underlying spiritual meaning of these practices whilst giving practical advice, exercises and encouragement. I particularly enjoyed the section on Integration where the author writes beautifully about Awen and Relationship as a connecting, compassionate force that reveals the interconnectedness of life.

In her chapter on Ego, Self and Identity the author tackles the thorny issue of the Ego. In many spiritual texts, the Ego can so easily be labelled the ‘bad guy’ but Joanna skilfully explores the difference between Representational Ego and Functional Ego, redeeming the Ego’s useful functions whilst suggesting a compassionate approach to its more challenging aspects.

Joanna van der Hoeven

The concepts in this book take some thoughtful pondering but the beauty of Joanna’s writing is that it cracks open what initially appear to be very complex ideas and gets straight to the heart of each. Obviously the real work is in the dedicated practice of a spiritual path but Zen For Druids offers a wonderful foundation to build upon. In every page you can sense that the author has learned these insights through experience, that she really understands and lives these principles from a place of deep heart-knowing. We move from a purely intellectual grasping of a subject to this heart-led living of a spiritual path through the constant connection and exploration of that path; Joanna van der Hoeven’s fabulous book is both an inspiring and deeply practical aid to help you on that journey.

I highly recommend this book. It is proof of how seemingly different spiritualities can enrich each other, and for those of us who are drawn to both western and eastern paths, it’s a real gem!

Zen For Druids is now available on Moon Books for pre-order. 

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.

Rafting the currents of emotion

Tomorrow my students and colleagues gather round for our second weekend of Druid College in the lovely Essex countryside. During this first year, we are introducing and exploring the three realms of land, sea and sky, as well as sacred fire at the centre for the final weekend. This coming weekend, we move from the realm of the land to the realm of the sea.

A part of working with the realm of the sea is learning to work with emotions. As living creatures, we experience all sorts of things and transmute that experience into thoughts and memories, forming our worldview. We are creatures that feel, and feel very deeply, with a wide range of emotions. What I will be exploring with my students this weekend is the current of emotion that runs through humanity, and how we can better work in the world by rafting these currents with skill and compassion.

I’m sure we all know people whose emotions seem to rule their entire world: people who lead reactionary lives. If they are upset or experience any sort of negative emotion, they lash out, immediately trying to hurt another in response to a hurt that they have experienced themselves. This is a cycle that is self-perpetuating, but only if we engage with it. When we become actively involved in our emotions, rather than reactionary, we are better able to deal with situations that could otherwise cause harm both to ourselves and to others.

As Druids, we understand that we are part of a wider functioning of the world, that we are part of an eco-system. We know that in order for us to survive, we must work towards the benefit of the whole rather than just our own well-being and satisfaction. We must work together to create a cohesive, sustaining environment in which to live, and that will continue to ensure the survival of the whole. We know that there is no separation.

If we allow our emotions to rule us, we disassociate ourselves from this integrated perspective, and become self-centred in our point of view. Often it comes in the form of “saving face”, or seeking to undermine others, all the variants that our brilliant minds can come up with or order to justify bad behaviour. We are such intelligent creatures that we are able to delude ourselves in order for our egos to remain intact.

When we step away from this ego self-preservation in its abusive context, we are able to raft the currents of emotion with much better skill. We are not ruled by our emotions, but rather allow them to inform us of our experience in life, and then take the useful information and use it without prejudice in order to provide our lives with a balance and harmony that any healthy ecosystem enjoys. We know that this doesn’t mean that we don’t feel emotions, but rather we feel them even more deeply, because we are thinking about them as well as feeling them. We are able to put them into a context, seeing the reason why we do the things we do, and better able to understand others in the process. Even in the face of an emotional storm, we are able to see the situation more clearly, feel the emotion more deeply, and work towards a resolution that is not self-destructive or that perpetuates abuse in any shape or form.

It takes time, energy and skill to be able to do this, but the key component is compassion. When we see in others all that is negative in ourselves, we are able to understand and in understanding lies the heart of compassion. When we are able to see all that is positive in another being, we are inspired and in that inspiration lies the heart of the quest in Druidry: awen.

We think deeply, we feel deeply. Yet we are responsible for our actions, our behaviour. We take this responsibility very seriously, and work to stop destructive habits and emotions that threaten the wellbeing of the ecosystem in whatever shape or form it takes.

Being aware of your emotions is not something easily done. It’s so easy to think that we are self-aware, but even thinking that can be a delusion. What we can do is work to the best of our ability to be self-aware, and remember that the integration, the part of being a whole is at the heart of Druidry, enabling us to create long-lasting, deep sustainable relationships. We put aside our self-centredness and see the vast perception of a holistic worldview that is truly and deeply inspiring, allowing us a freedom that we never thought possible.