Excerpt from IPagan Druidry

I’ve written an article for a collaborative work with other Moon Books authors which is now in production and will be out in the next few months, working title: IPagan Druidry. The idea of iPagan has now evolved to produce both print and ebooks and is hoped to be expanded into a series featuring volumes on Druidry, Shamanism, Witchcraft and Contemporary Issues at discount prices so that they are readily available to all. Here’s a little taster from my essay, The Promise

Is my Lady Brighid real? I still don’t know. But I quest a relationship with her in order to understand more, perhaps not in the hopes of having a definitive yes or no answer, but because the journey is one worth taking. Does Brighid think I am real? What is the need behind the question, what is the desire to learn the answer? What are the forces that push and pull us, in our minds, our lives? Are there great directors and orchestrators of movement? What is the meaning of our lives, of life itself? Are we equipped, mentally and physically, to accept a definitive yes or no answer to any of the above?

What is the nature of belief? The root of the word, belief, stems from the late 12c., bileave, which replaced the Old English geleafa meaning “belief or faith,” which itself originated from the West Germanic ga-laubon “to hold dear, esteem, trust”.  In this previous sense, believing in something, whether it is a god or a sub-atomic particle has nothing to do with the nature of reality and everything to do with a notion of trust.  To whom or what are we going to give our trust? Do we need to place our trust in something in order to have a relationship with it? What are the bounds that we can work with when it comes to trust and relationship? Should we still investigate these past concepts alongside our modern notions in order to gain a wider perspective, or are they simply muddying the waters of clarity?

If we are to truly have a grand adventure in this present moment and in this lifetime then we are going to come across some serious questions that explore the boundaries of reality and nature itself. In our paths as Druids, these questions form a large part of our understanding, and our understanding of just how little we know. Continuing the quest, putting one foot in front of the other, exploring new mindsets keeps us in the flow that is nature.  When we are stuck, when we are mired in a concept or belief, we can become stagnant, like water that cannot flow freely.  We may, like water, bump against rocks in our journey down to the sea, cascading down great waterfalls of the unknown, slamming against canyon walls of ignorance and dogma, or floating gently and serenely on a tide of peace for however long or short a time. All that we can truly know is that everything is changing from one moment to the next, ourselves with it, and acceptance of a plurality in our worldview is the way to evolve and adapt, to work better with the world and live our lives utterly dedicated to our quest and our Druidry. It is questioning, and questing the awen. When we live our lives in this manner, things will never be dull.

As David Bowie once said, “I don’t know where I am going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring”.

Never Play to the Gallery

Today, I just lost a hero. Music, the world, has just lost a hero. A true artist in every sense of the word, David Bowie has been an inspiration and will continue to be for centuries to come.

I’ve been in love with him for nearly thirty years now.   I love his mind, his art, his music, his philosophy, his articulation. He was always one to express his art for art’s sake inasmuch as he could. Yes, he made mistakes. Yes, he picked himself back up again. He followed his inspiration, treading deeper water, finding those edges and always peering out beyond them, sometimes leaping over them into the great unknown.

My sadness is mixed with my joy that I was able to follow his work in this shared lifetime, right here, right now. My condolences to his friends and family, my heart reaches out to fans all over the world rocked by the news of his death.

May we all continue to question everything, to express our inspiration in thought-provoking ways. May we follow our hearts, think with our heads, and allow the love of this life to take us on amazing journeys. And may we never play to the gallery.

Defeating the Goblin King

Dreams
I’m a big David Bowie fan, after having fallen in love with him as a young teenager, watching Jim Henson’s film, Labyrinth. He played the Goblin King, a creature who was used to getting things his own way – he was all powerful, and the Labyrinth was his to control. Or so he thought.

It’s a wonderful tale, of a young girl coming into adolescence, of learning that life is not always what it seems, and that life is unfair. It’s also about making friendships along the way, about being kind and also familial obligations. There are so many ways to interpret the film, and I thought to look at it from a Zen point of view. It was interesting.

Our thoughts often control us, without our even realising it. These thoughts, these intangible things, have so much power over our lives. We believe in our thoughts so much, and hold to them so much. We hold on so tightly to our thoughts, and to ourselves. Who would we be without our thoughts?

Yet in Zen we try to realise the control that our thoughts have over us, by acknowledging them, by becoming the observer. Bit by bit, as we sit in meditation and go through our daily lives, we begin to see patterns emerging. We may have a thought about ourselves – I’m artistic. We tell everyone that, reinforcing that thought. Yet that is not all that we are – we may be good with animals, gardening, maths, etc. The repetitive thoughts, the ones that we say over and over again to ourselves, become a reality for us. Yet they are still thoughts, not reality. There is no substance to them.

Of course, not all thoughts are bad. We need to think, to work out problems, to get out of bed in the morning even. It is in the attachment to the thoughts that gives them a false substance, a false reality. It also can give us great pleasure, living in this fantasy land of our thoughts – it means the hardships of real life cannot affect us there. We are safe, in the bubble of our thoughts.

Most of us spend a lot of time being controlled by our thoughts – we never even realise it. Much like Sarah, the protagonist in the film, was being controlled by the Jareth, the Goblin King without her knowledge, we aren’t even aware of the power that they hold over us. They make us run around in circles, not getting anywhere, simply thinking, thinking, thinking – where is the doing? Where is the experience? We get angry at someone, and have a thought about that. Then we attach to that thought, and it can affect us for the rest of the day, week, year, or our entire lives. We all have emotional responses to situations, and thoughts about everything – but the attachment to them is where stumble and fall on each and every step. There is no progress – we’ve fallen down the oubliette of our thoughts until we are completely trapped in a small, dark and confined space.

Instead of simply experiencing the anger and then letting it go, we’ve become a prisoner of our thoughts about the situation. And all the while, the Goblin King laughs to himself, safe in his tower, loving to watch us run around in circles as the sands of time run out.

When we sit in zazen, however, we begin to notice our thoughts, our patterns of behaviour. By being the observer, we can take a step back from our thoughts and look at them without attaching to them. We can see the physical manifestations of them in our body as well – a contraction in our jaw, the hunching of our shoulders, our heart beating faster. By becoming aware, of thoughts, and indeed, of all our surroundings, we are better able to respond to situations than before. Sarah didn’t see through the illusion for a long time in the film – even though she was reminded by other characters, time and again, that nothing is what it seems. Slowly though, the illusion wavered, and the cracks in the false reality began to show. The bubble was broken, and Sarah was somewhat freed, for a time. When she finally saw through the illusion fully, and took the great leap into the unknown, literally and figuratively, that’s when she was able to come face to face with the Goblin King himself, to bring him out of hiding and face him in a final battle.

So, after much practice in zazen, after much meditation and time spent being the observer to all the thoughts that run around in our head, without getting caught up in them, we face them down. We say “enough” – we are not going to be controlled by them any longer. We see the thoughts for what they are. The thoughts fight back, with everything that they’ve got – Jareth holds out the most potent, alluring thing that we all hold so dear – our dreams. He offers them to Sarah, but Sarah now sees through the false reality. She then recites the final lines from her book back to the Goblin King, saying the powerful, magical words that will defeat him.

“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City, to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great. You have no power over me.”

Those six words – “you have no power over me” is what can release us from the labyrinth of our minds, from the traps that our thoughts can create when we attach to them. We suddenly become free, to experience, to return to our pure self, to break loose of the chains and to truly live life to the fullest.

So, the next time we fall into despair, wishing our lives were different, we can simply say those six words – you have no power over me. When our minds are rushing around as we try to meditate, we simply observe them without getting caught up in them, and repeat you have no power over me. When someone says something nasty to us, we feel the emotion, we react (hopefully with compassion) and then we let the experience go, without attaching to it, simply by saying you have no power over me.

Then and only then can the Goblin King be defeated, and we freed from the labyrinth of our minds.

Though, I must admit, I’m sure some of us would prefer to stay in there with David Bowie 😉