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.

All About Ego

Ego is a funny thing. We can get so wrapped up in it without even noticing it. Differing from our functional self, which helps to get things done on a day to day basis, ego is a large part of the representational self, the story that we tell ourselves and the world around us.  Is it true? Probably, for the most part. It is from a biased perspective? Absolutely – everything that we perceive is.  Is it something that is worth having? I’m not so sure…

Our society fuels the ego like no other.  Social media is a great place where one can either be puffed up or dragged down by people they have never met. (Yes, the irony/hypocrisy of writing this on an online blog is not lost on me.)  People can use social media to help fuel the ego, and not in altogether productive ways. Sure, expressing your creativity is great: put up that piece of artwork that you’ve worked so hard on.  Give us an excerpt from your latest book. Tell us of the charity work that you are doing in India. This is an expression of your self that is not separated from your functional self. It’s not all representational – unless you are totally attached to it.

I am a conduit. I am an interpreter. I am not the thing itself.

When it becomes all about the representational self, that’s where the problem comes in.  We begin to live inside our heads, inside our stories and do not seek alternative points of view. We can become deluded by our story, confirmed by people we may have never even met. We can react viciously to things that upset us, through online comments, blog posts, etc.  Why would we want to do this? Why would we want to hurt another? Why should this be? Is it because the ego is such a fragile thing?

The ego seeks to reaffirm itself in everything that it does. It’s based on its own self-preservation, fuelled by an erroneous concept that one would lose their identity with the loss of ego. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are plenty of people out there with a very strong sense of identity and purpose, yet who are not fuelled by their ego. These people are inspiring, for they know that the work they do and how they live their life is more important that who they are.

No one is perfect. Everyone succumbs to their ego every now and then. But when we live entirely through the ego’s whimsy, then we are in big trouble. We may see other people’s success as our failure. We may take slight at something because we haven’t been included in it. We might want to make someone look bad and undermine everything that they do because they have hurt us in some shape or form. We cease to see with the eyes of compassion, instead only seeing through the eyes of “ME”.

Where does this all lead?

Is it worth it? What will be the outcome of living in your ego?

I don’t think it will be happiness. We will rage against those who argue against us. We will delude ourselves with notions of grandeur, or delusions of all shapes and forms. We will spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about things that don’t really matter.  We spend all our time reinforcing the ego. What really matters in life? Your ego, or living well?

These are questions that I have asked myself, as I quest inspiration to live an integrated life. For me, integration cannot happen without the falling away of the ego’s hold on our reality. It’s about realising that I am not important, that no one is important; what is important is the work we do, not so much the words we say (though speaking honourably is a good thing). Our actions are important. Our walk, rather than our talk is important. It’s all about getting the work done, through the functional representation of the “I”, without the representational “Me” getting in the way.

Is this all semantics? Quite possibly.

The Song of Amergin is not an ego-boost. It’s about integration, realising that one is not separate from nature. It is about seeing the universe in yourself. It is about knowing that you would not exist were it not for everything else. It is about relationship.

At this time of year, when darkness fills my life, fills my soul, when the songs of winter flood through this land I see the little spark of ego, clinging desperately onto its belief systems and self-affirmations. And I smile to it as I watch it go out, letting the darkness and silence of integration fill my mind and my world. I am reminded of the Zen saying “hold lightly to your opinions”, because they will change. Impermanence is the nature of the world, the nature of nature.

This blog post was inspired by a Guardian article I read today about the backlash from the pagan community on Alex Mar’s latest book, as well as our government’s reaction and bombing in Syria. It’s not entirely about these things, but about these things and more.