Make Tea

She lit the candles and incense, and sat down upon the cushions. Breathing deeply, she inhaled the fragrant scent, and allowed her gaze to wander over the items on the altar. She tried to focus, her gaze finally resting upon the image of Brighid, and the flame that the goddess held in her hands. As the darkness fell, both within and without, both figuratively and literally, she focused on the flame being offered. She took it within her heart, and for a brief moment it flickered, then died out as the darkness consumed it in a deep blanket of despair.

Breathe.

She focused once again on the image, this time on the watery vesica pisces symbol. Yet her mind would not focus, her thoughts filled with grief and anger, darkness and despair. She breathed through them, trying to remain in the present moment. But the darkness was overwhelming, and as she floundered, she cried out: “Help!”

The voice of the goddess spoke softly in her mind. “Make tea.”

She sat for a moment longer, determined to spend at least ten minutes at her altar. At last, she gave up and blew out the candles, allowing the incense to burn itself out. Make tea, the goddess had said. Alright. Let’s make some tea.

She went downstairs and put the kettle on. Let’s make tea, she said to herself. Mindfully. She prepared the small teapot with herbs known to lift the darkness and soothe the nerves: St John’s wort and skullcap. She also added some lemon balm, to ease tension and also for flavour. She inhaled the scent of the dried herbs, and mixed them together before placing them in the teapot. She looked out the window in the light of the setting sun, a small muntjac deer feeding alongside a magpie underneath the bird feeder.

She placed on a tray the teapot, strainer and saucer, as well as a small handmade earthenware cup. She brought these to the table, and laid them down with her full attention. The kettle had boiled, and she carefully filled her small iron kettle with the water, feeling the steam against her skin. She brought the iron kettle to the table, and placed it on a heat-proof mat. She sat down, her mind still battling the darkness around the edges, her thoughts seemingly not her own. She knew her hormones were swirling in a dance similar to that which she had experienced at adolescence, though now she was at the other end of the brilliant spectrum. She had to take care of herself, of her body as well as her mind.

She opened up the teapot and breathed. Mindfully, she took the iron kettle and filled the teapot with water, replacing the kettle with equal attention. She inhaled the scent of the herbs, and replaced the teapot lid. No other thoughts entered her mind, just these simple, small actions. Working with mindfulness, working with full attention to her actions, there was only the present moment.

She sat back and waited for the tea to brew. Slowly, she felt the darkness returning, crowding at her mind. Despair at the state of the world, at the constant struggle she faced with work, with others who could not do the simplest of tasks, with expectations from both strangers and friends, knowing that if she didn’t do something, no one would – stop. Breathe. Focus. Three minutes stretched to an eternity as the brew steeped in the teapot.

She took a deep breath, and the darkness receded an inch. She picked up the teapot, and concentrated on pouring the tea through the strainer into the small bowl. She kept up her concentration on her breath and on the pouring, and it filled her entire being. Nothing else mattered in that moment. Just pouring tea.

She put down the teapot and picked up the cup. The scent of the herbs brought back memories of a wonderful little shop called StarChild in Glastonbury. She allowed the brief memory to flicker, and then she refocused her attention on the cup in her hands. The heat radiated through the bowl, and she had to pick it up carefully, her fingers near the cooler end of the rim. Quietly, she took the first slurp, allowing the air to cool the hot water before it reached her tongue. She concentrated on nothing but drinking the tea, sitting alone in the dining room, with night falling outside.

She drank the first cup, and then brewed another in the teapot. She kept her mind focused on the present, acknowledging past wounds but not allowing them to flavour the present moment. She had worked hard to name them and transform them, and was working on it still. Three minutes again slipped past, and outside her dining room window she saw the Christmas lights from the house across the street go on.

She poured herself another cup, and drank it mindfully. A third cup was brewed and drunk, and when she finished she sat back and bowed to her tea set. She felt a little better, the darkness within relenting, though not wholly gone. She acknowledged and allowed the herbs to do their work on her body and her mind. With equally careful attention, she rinsed the kettle and washed the teapot, bowl and strainer, and then went upstairs with a lighter heart, to Skype with her mother and find even more comfort and peace, there in the moment, utterly in the moment.

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Darkness, the Self and Release

I wept this morning, over a photo of a man fleeing his Syrian homeland with his two children, stepping out of the boat, clutching his loved ones close to him and weeping himself. What uncertainty faces this family, along with the other refugees arriving on the islands of Greece? What could it possibly feel like to leave all that you know, out of fear for your life and those that you love, hoping that your decision will be the right one?

This is probably not a decision that I shall ever have to make in my lifetime. It is moments like these that remind me to step beyond myself, to get outside of my head, to stop thinking in the context of “me” and move forward into integrated relationship. Doing this keeps things in perspective, and keeps my own troubles, pains and dark wolves at bay. When the weight of the world seems to push me under, I get beyond myself and into the wider web. It is something that I’ve been writing about for months now, about deep integration, about dropping the illusion of the self, about seeing the interconnectedness of all things.

I look out my window and see a leaf on the beech tree. That leaf is not separate from the other leaves. That leaf is not separate from the branch, or any part of the tree. The tree is the leaf and the leaf is the tree. Even when the leaf falls in the autumn, it lands on the ground at the base of the tree, decaying into the soil, feeding the roots and is still a part of the tree. Watching this cycle, witnessing it from a Druid perspective I see how the illusion of separateness causes us so much suffering. There is no “Us” and “Them”. There is only life.

Deep integration and dropping the sense of self. Seeing beyond the “me, myself and I” keeps my head above the water, rafting the currents of life. When things are at their darkest, I can release into that darkness, dropping the edges and boundaries and allowing a greater perspective than could ever be achieved thinking that I am confined to this body and this mind. When the sheer stupidity of the human race threatens to drag me down, when my body is in great pain, when I see others suffering, I release into the darkness and there find the potential that awaits, like the seed in wintertime. If I fail in that endeavour, then there is always a back-up, words spoken by someone whose name I cannot remember, but goes something along the lines of:

“When I am in pain, show me someone who is in agony. When I am hungry, show me someone who is starving…”

Again, this lets me step beyond my self, to allow me a greater perspective. Pain and suffering, cruelty and bad behaviour all stem from misperceptions. If we can get past that notion of the self, that self-centredness, then we can dance with the divine in a beautiful, graceful round surrounded by the stars, galaxies and all life as we know it. In doing so we are free.

Dealing with depression and despair…

Dealing with depression and despair…

Being kind isn’t all that hard. Being jolly and upbeat all the time is – and is a denial of our emotions and bodily responses to certain situations.

 
I woke up yesterday in a bad mood – which has spilled over into today. The reasons for it are numerous: tiredness, frustration, a lack of compassion in the world amongst others. The Zen thing to do would be to be present in the moment, for in this moment there is all that we need. There is nothing but this moment. Feelings of despair arise when we separate ourselves from the moment, and think about the past or the future, dwelling on certain aspects and perhaps not seeing the bigger picture (or perhaps even seeing the bigger picture, which can cause us to despair even more).

 
Yes – I am quite comfortable in this present moment as I write this. I am not being shot at. I am not in fear for my life. My loved ones are safe. I have a cup of tea, and enough food to eat. My body is clean, my clothes warm. Compared to many, what on earth am I doing feeling despondent?

 
Humanity’s blessing, and curse, is the ability to see the bigger picture. This can lead to glorious ideas about the direction we should take; it can also lead to despair when we take into consideration the negative aspects of our lives on this planet. Focusing on just the positive isn’t balanced – neither is focusing on the negative. As a Druid, I am constantly seeking balance and harmony, to find my place in the world and to serve this world in the best capacity that I can, being true to my nature and honourable in my deeds.

 
I sometimes fail at this. I sometimes succeed. In this, there is balance. Of course, I aim to look at things from a balanced perspective, but on the whole we are conditioned throughout our lives to try and look at things positively. However, when looking at things negatively, we need to remember that negative does not equal apathy. If there is something we do not like, we can seek a way to change it. It’s in our hands.

 
This is not denying the negative. It is living a life with intention. Creating peace is damned hard work. It requires a person to see all sides of a story and work with the ideals of compassion and empathy. If we only acknowledged the positive things in our lives, our compassion and empathy would be seriously diminished.

 
I sometimes find myself thinking that Buddhist monks have got it pretty easy, secluded away in their monasteries, not engaging with the real world. Some do. However, I remind myself that other monks have engaged with the world in ways that I probably will never be able to – think Thich Nhat Hanh helping to rebuild villages during the Vietnam War, not taking sides with anyone and simply helping people as best he could. I’m sure at some points he too despaired, seeing children dying, homes destroyed and his country torn apart. My despair pales in comparison to this.

 
This is not to say that I should not acknowledge my own despair, however. If I did, if I pushed it to one side to focus on the positive, I’m sure that it would return to bite me on the ass at the most inopportune moment. We don’t have to give in to feelings of despair, but neither should we push them aside. We normally don’t push feelings of joy aside – we like to experience these. All feelings should be felt – and then we can move on.

 
So, tired after dance rehearsals and depressed by the amount of litter that I see along the roadsides that I will have to clear (again), apprehensive about coming engagements and a workload that was supposed to be lighter this year being heavier than ever, I am feeling my despair, my depression. I am allowing it to move through me, so that I can come out the other side having had the experience, which will hopefully transform into some sort of wisdom.

 
This despair will be self-contained – I will not be taking it out on others. I will try not to snap at people even though my emotions and reactions feel more “on edge” than normal. You can despair at the world and still be kind. You can reach out a hand to friends or family if you need to. You can write about it in a blog.

 
Above all, you are allowed to feel it, in your bones and in your soul.

The Present Moment

mudraThe present moment – it is a gift, and that is why they called it the ‘present’.

This quote is true on so many levels.  When we are awake, when we are aware to the present moment, we can see it for the very real blessing that it is. For the majority of people who aren’t living in fear through war or famine, who aren’t suffering from chronic pain or disease – simply being in the present moment is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves. Being aware of the present moment, even when faced with such conditions, may help to alleviate suffering.

When we wake up in the morning, we can become fully aware of that moment upon waking. We can lie in bed, feeling our selves in our bodies, listening to any sounds around us. We can do a mental body scan, to see how we feel, if there is any pain or stiffness, any tightness held through residual stress. We can consciously work to try and let that go, in order to start the day right.

We get up, we go to the bathroom.  We can do this with full awareness. When brushing our teeth, we hear the water flowing through the tap, we give thanks that we have clean water at our disposal when so many others do not.  We brush our teeth while concentrating on the simple task of brushing our teeth. So often our minds are already in a meeting at work, that when we brush our teeth, the whole meeting is there brushing our teeth with us!

Concentrating on one task at a time not only does a better job at the task itself, but can also help us to overcome areas in our lives when we are not at the best we can be – say, due to stress perhaps, or depression. If we focus on one task at a time, taking it and really being in each moment, we do not have the opportunity to be stressed, for to be stressed we need to be thinking ahead.  We alleviate our own suffering by being fully aware – in the case of depression, we may not see an end to the suffering, which brings it about in a continuous cycle. By being in the moment, we are not looking forwards or backwards, inwards our outwards – we are simply being.

By being, we are not mindless zombies – we are, in fact, more fully aware than most people by using concentration and focus in order to move about our daily existence.  We will make less mistakes, we will be less clumsy. We will brush our teeth so much better. We will be mindful of each step we take, and so we will trip less, stumble less, walking in total awareness to wherever it is that we need to go.

We eat our breakfast mindfully, thankful for having food to eat. We close the door to our houses, thankful  that we have a home, a sanctuary from the elements in which to live.  We drive our cars mindfully, thankful that we have such luxurious modes of transportation. We work, thankful that we have a job to provide us with the means for food and shelter, as well as the opportunity to work with others, be creative, make the world a better place – whatever it is that your job entails. We do our work with full attention, whether it is sweeping a floor or updating a database. We are mindful of our posture during the work, of our breathing – we take moments to simply be, to assess our bodies and our minds.

Try doing this for an hour or so a day, then a full morning.  Try to maintain awareness for as long as the sun is shining, or the rain is raining.  Become more aware not only of yourself but of your environment. By doing so, you will find that life may flow more easily and that you see where you can fit in more harmoniously.  Your actions will become more graceful, your movements filled with awareness and intention. Let your thoughts follow your body, flowing gracefully and with intention instead of running rampant through the mind.

Notice how this makes you feel – and if it feels good, keep doing it! May you all be gifted with the present.