Integrity & Emotional Responsibility

It’s very important, especially when working with others, to develop a strong sense of emotional responsibility. By this, I mean that when people disagree with us, or when life throws us a curve ball, we are able to deal with it from a place of centredness and intention, instead of a purely reactive response derived from past hurt and trauma.

People will disagree with us all the time. This is especially true if you put yourself out there, in the public sphere. What we have to learn to do, as Pagans, is to convey our message responsibly, without seeking to increase the suffering that already exists in the world. What do I mean by that? Well, not everything is sweetness and light, and we do have to come to an understanding of our own shadows, of what places exist in our psyche and our souls that carry deep emotional wounds from previous suffering, but not carry that forward and perpetuate suffering, both in ourselves and in others.

We have to be aware of the manipulations that our culture invests in and regurgitates regularly as “fact”, such as “we live in a dog eat dog world” or the idea that there is some ladder we’re all climbing, and we have to beat others to the top. As Pagans, we look to nature for guidance, and when we do we discover an incredibly beautiful web of shared existence, where things are working together. Looking at a healthy ecosystem, we discover and can be inspired by the way that things work, collectively, rather than competitively. I truly believe that we have placed far too human-centric and capitalistic a view on ecology, with such absurd concepts as “the food chain”. When we work together, we are stronger. It’s as simple as that.

Not everyone will want to be part of that worldview, however, so we have to learn how to deal with this in our lives. Some people are so wounded in our society, and in our Pagan community, that it can be completely random or by design that you suffer from such terrible acts as bullying, trolling, undermining, character assassination and more. Many people now think that blowing out someone else’s flame makes theirs burn brighter, when in fact it does not. Social media makes this a great place to do so anonymously. If we are strong and emotionally responsible, we can respond to such horrid behaviour from a place of integrity. We can stand up for ourselves, without trying to destroy the person or persons involved. We may or may not have a resolution in every situation that is satisfactory, but at least we know that we have acted from a place of sovereignty in our own self.

When we are working as priests or priestesses, it is imperative that we own what is ours, and understand what is not. When people project their wounds on to us, we can realise that this is not ours, and that it is their own wounding that is causing this behaviour. We may not be able to change this behaviour, but we also don’t have to take it to heart and let it ruin us emotionally. If we are truly strong, we can send them compassion in various forms, if possible, or we can simply be compassionate with ourselves if the former is too difficult, and know that this is something that we do not own. Likewise, when we react to people’s behaviour, we have to realise that this may be coming from an emotion or experience that is ours, and ours alone, and that we need to deal with this in order to work with integrity.

We also need to keep the ego in check. We have to be careful with notions of power. I’ve always said that being a Druid is a verb; it’s what you do that counts. If you are working as a Druid priest, or a teacher, you must remember to work with power in a way that is filled with honour and integrity. The renowned author and Pagan activist Starhawk coined three different types of power in her work, which are Power Over, Power With and Power from Within. We have to let go of notions of Power Over, and instead work with the other two, for empowering others is really what working in a Pagan priesthood is all about.

We need to inspire others, first and foremost. May we be the awen.

 

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Revenge of the Druids

This is a reblog from my channel, DruidHeart, at Witches and Pagans for PaganSquare. To read the full article in its original form,  click HERE.

Treat others as you would like to be treated. Such a simple phrase, yet so hard to comply with when we’ve been hurt or wounded in any way. Our first reaction is to hurt back, to wound in return. Yet is this how we would like to be treated? What if the person who hurt you didn’t even know that they had? What if it was completely intentional? Is it then justifiable to perpetuate the cycle of hurt? How do we, as Druids, work with anger and wounding in today’s society? How do we work with honour?

We don’t really know how the ancient Druids worked with the concepts of honour or revenge. We have an account of how the Druids stood on the shores of their sacred isle at Anglesey, just before the Romans invaded, and called down their magic and their might, black-robed women with wild hair brandishing torches and running between the Druid ranks. What those men and women were doing we just don’t know, but we can be fairly certain that they were protecting their land from invaders. Whether or not their magics would have been invoked without provocation is a total unknown, but here we have an example of defence, rather than offense. Boudicca wiped out Colchester and London in retaliation for the rape of her daughters by the Romans. Whether or not that great queen in history was a Druid or not, or advised by them, is debatable.

But that is ancient history. How do we, as Druids today, work with concepts of revenge? How do we deal with people hurting us, with our rights being taken away? How does the word honour factor into our everyday lives?

It’s difficult, especially when we have such a quick means of communication in our world. Emails and opinions can be shared without a second thought. People can comment, cut down, undermine, say whatever they feel like in the virtual realm and not really suffer very many consequences in the real world. Government lie to us outright, and have been caught out in their lies, and still there is no justice. Even the most kind-hearted person begins the feel the anger and rage boiling within, battling with compassion and love for the world that they live in, for the world they would like to see. How can we deal with these emotions? If someone is attacking us, how do we as Druids protect ourselves and yet find justice? How can we ensure that the balance is maintained?

The first idea that we need to let go of is the idea of revenge. We do not need to hurt someone when they’ve hurt us. We would like to, we desire to hurt them in response, but we don’t need to in order to continue in our daily lives. We have to work out the difference between our desires and our needs, as with so many other aspects of our lives. It’s perfectly human to want to hurt someone when they’ve hurt us, or upset us, or someone we love. It’s up to us how we act on those feelings, however. We have to be emotionally responsible.

Pride is an oft maligned trait in the human race. Pride can be the reason many people seek out to hurt others, trying to “save face” or in an attempt to not to face those aspects of themselves that they so dislike, instead waging a war outside of their inner worlds so that they don’t have to own up to their own shadow selves. Yet pride can also be a good thing. Our pride can be part of our self-respect. In this way, pride will not allow others to walk all over us, but neither does it seek to destroy others who don’t agree with us.

As Druids, we work in service: to the gods, to the ancestors and to the community. We know that we have to give back, that we have a responsibility in this world to ensure that the ecosystem in which we live is functioning well. A balanced, diverse, healthy ecosystem is where there is a give and take, and where relationship is the key matter of the discussion. Those relationships must work together, must find a way to honour each other in order to flow smoothly, to be efficient and benefit the whole. It is this whole that concerns us, as Druids, the most. The whole is what we work in service to, rather than the self. When we heal the whole, when we work holistically, then we also benefit the self. It’s not altruism, it just is.

When we are in positions of power, acts of anger and revenge can be even more devastating to the whole. We must learn how to work honourably with our power, out of self-respect and out of respect for the rest of the world. Without all those relationships, whether it is other humans, the bees, the mountains or the rivers, we would simply not exist. We don’t live in a bubble or a vacuum. We need others in order to survive. We must learn to work with others, even if we disagree with them. When others hurt us, we need to ride the currents of emotion and keep the bigger picture to hand, in order to work honourably. We need to let go of our destructive sense of pride and ego, and build on the better aspects of both. We need to work from a strong and balanced sense of self, and yet be able to let that sense of self go into the light of utter integration for the benefit of the whole.

Author, activist and Wiccan Starhawk write in her book The Twelve Wild Swans: A Journey to the Realm of Magic, Healing and Action:

“We let go of vengeance out of love and concern for our larger community. To be a true leader, we must be able to look at each of our acts and say, “How will this affect the community? Is it worth dividing the community for me to be proved right? Would I not be destroying the very source of support and healing that I most need?

“And we relinquish revenge because we hold a vision of healing, for ourselves and for the world. Magic teaches us that the ends do not justify the means. Instead the means themselves shape the ends that follow. We cannot achieve healing through vengeance. We cannot serve a broad vision by being petty and spiteful.”

If we are to be leaders in our community, allowing our actions to speak as loudly, if not more than our words, we need to relinquish forms of revenge and focus instead on healing. We don’t need to make someone look bad, to punish someone, to destroy them or perform character assassinations. We can’t push out people simply because they disagree with us. People will be annoying, will try to pick fights, will be aggressive or antagonistic. We don’t have to respond like for like. If we are to work as Druids in the community, we need to let go of our desire for the above when we are hurt, and instead focus on the need for healing in the community as a whole.

This doesn’t mean that we allow people to walk all over us. Whether it’s an individual, the government, whatever, we can still stand up for what we believe in. We can speak out against injustices, we can march in protest or start a campaign, raising money and supplies to help those in need. When it becomes personal, we can simply ignore it and get on with our lives, doing the work that needs to be done, having compassion both for ourselves and for the person who is antagonising us. We know that the work still needs to be done, and getting distracted because of false pride or ego is not helping the whole. We can work with our feelings of anger and injustice, and then see where they fit in the grand scheme of things. Will this benefit the whole?

It requires us to look deeply at ourselves first and foremost. When we are able to do that, we can begin to work honourably. We see our own failings, and we have compassion for ourselves. We see those same failings reflected in others, and we have compassion for them. We know that we live in an extremely damaged world, and that perpetuating the hurt and anger will only damage it further. We will stand up for what we believe in. We will speak out against bullies and those who would tout their privilege. We will seek political and social reform. We will endeavour to find the balance, to find a fairer system where the term justice actually means something. We will work to nourish and strengthen this planet that we live on, even as it nourishes us. And we will focus on working in relationship with everyone around us, deeply immersed in our own sense of self-respect and honour.

And in doing so, we relinquish the notion of revenge, and instead focus on healing for ourselves and for the world. That is the power of the Druid.

© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017

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.

 

 

 

 

The Zen of Jeremy Corbyn

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18:  Jeremy Corbyn answers questions from the media outside King's Cross Station on August 18, 2015 in London, England. Jeremy Corbyn was launching his rail nationalisation plans today as action for Rail held protests at stations in England and Scotland against fare rises which has risen almost three times faster than wages over the past five years according to a new report.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 18: Jeremy Corbyn answers questions from the media outside King’s Cross Station on August 18, 2015 in London, England. Jeremy Corbyn was launching his rail nationalisation plans today as action for Rail held protests at stations in England and Scotland against fare rises which has risen almost three times faster than wages over the past five years according to a new report. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party in the UK, might not be the first thing someone would imagine when they think of Zen. However, this Islington resident shows us the way in focusing on important work, without letting the ego and the self get in the way, doing what is necessary without resorting to the usual slander and back-stabbing that is so prevalent in politics today.

The 66 year old has been an MP for Islington North since 1983. He has worked on the issues that matter to him with real dedication to the values that he holds dear, such as social equality, world peace and the end of nuclear weapons, just to name a few. He was able to get on with his work fairly inconspicuously, until he baffled his opponents in the leadership race and became the head of the Labour Party through his dedication to change politics, largely thanks to a grass-roots movement that supported him not unlike Justin Trudeau, the new Prime Minister of Canada who came out of “nowhere” (his party was third in the race and not predicted to win) recently to take the election by storm through voters who wanted change.

While Corbyn might not have the swooning good looks and charisma of Trudeau, they hold many things in common, including the dedication of their followers and supporters. This writer does indeed have a nerd crush on Corbyn, totally in love with his morals and ethics, his way of working. He is a Zen master, and here’s why.

In the face of public denigration by the Conservative party, who try to put Corbyn down any way they can through personal attacks, not once has Corbyn retaliated. Corbyn cares about the issues, not about his ego. He does the work and considers it important, without considering himself important. He works with the “I”, without letting the “Me” get in the way.

Even in the face out outright lies about his character, such as at the Cenotaph memorial story presented by the Conservative-backed “newspaper” The Sun, Corbyn has just gotten on with his work. In the Prime Minister’s Questions, when he is regularly personally attacked by the Prime Minister he simply reminds Cameron of the original questions, despite the boos, jeers and laughter from Cameron’s cronies. Corbyn presents the questions from the people, taking a personal step back to allow other voices to be “heard” (among the laughter and jeers from opposition in so called “civilised debate”). It’s not all about Corbyn, but about the people that he represents.

trudeau 2

Justin Trudeau

This is a real-life example of how we can live in the face of adversity with honour and integrity. Not once has Corbyn resorted to mud-slinging in retaliation to anything thrown at him. He responds with pushing forward the issues that need attention, and doing his job to the best of his ability. We can be inspired by his behaviour in order to make the world a better place. When someone is trying to take us down, we can take a step back from our egos and focus on what really matters, instead of throwing insults back and forth across some imaginary playground. When all the playground bullies can do is insult the person, not the agenda, then it becomes clear who is in the right and who is in the wrong. We’ve seen time and again how Conservative media is trying to portray Corbyn in a bad light, and we can see the desperation behind that because they’ve got nothing on him (similar to Trudeau and the Conservatives’ campaign against him: “nice hair though“). We don’t spend all our energy defending our fragile ego, but instead doing the work without letting it get in the way.

When we’re suffering the slings and arrows of those who are trying to undermine and attack us, we can let it go and focus on what’s important. What is important is the work that we are doing and the way that we live our lives. When we are able to let go of a self-centred point of view, with the “me” being all-consuming, then we broaden our perspective to encompass everyone and everything. This is compassion in its truest form.

Let the haters hate. Do the work, be true to yourself and see with the eyes of compassion. This is what makes Jeremy Corbyn Zen.

Tori Amos and Terrorism

Working on my new book, The Stillness Within – Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World has really given me the opportunity to delve deep into my own soul. This book is taken from writings on this blog and updated, collated and revised into a little book that will hopefully be a guidepost on the roads we travel to a place of peace.

I apologise if my posts here the last few weeks have been a bit scarce – I’m in full-on editing mode, and sorting out the cover this week too. One thing that I am exploring deeply this week, however, which may or may not make it into the edit of this book (time restrictions) is the notion of how much we fight ourselves, as well as each other. Watching some interviews with music artist Tori Amos the other day, she spoke of how we find our own personal power, which can defeat notions of terrorism. This terrorism is not in the conventional sense, however, but a personal terrorism that comes from within that seeks to obliterate rather than negotiate.

She stated that the song The Power of Orange Knickers, that deals with the theme of terrorism, kept drawing her in, deeper and deeper into different meanings of the word. “It’s easy to see the enemy in another country, it’s easy to see the enemy in another culture: find the enemy in your own culture, then find the enemy in your own being… we all have this part of ourselves that would choose to obliterate an idea instead of negotiate, because it takes a lot of skill to negotiate, but it doesn’t take a lot of skill to obliterate.”

Her words struck a chord with me. How often do we not allow for understanding to bring about a resolution to a conflict? In my book, I talk a lot about how compassion is understanding, trying to see the other side, trying to see the bigger picture. But in doing so, we may have to admit that we have a limited viewpoint, and worse still, that our viewpoint may actually be wrong. Our egos get in the way all the time, trying to save face, with bitter, hurtful words, bad or destructive behaviour or any other myriad ways which we employ to ensure that the façade that we are “right” is kept intact. But what happens when that is happening from within, not only doing it to others, but when we are doing that to ourselves?

For the most part, when we have been hurt, we often try to obliterate the person who has hurt us, punishing them in some way to make ourselves feel better. In severe cases of abuse this may not be the case, but in our day to day interactions with others, when someone does something we do not like, when they say something we disagree with, when we allow past events to influence the present moment, perhaps even dredging up old hurts and projecting them onto the current situation, we seek to annihilate the person whom we believe to be the current source of all our pain.

But what if that person is ourselves? What if we do as Tori states, and look to find this person within? We all have aspects of ourselves that are less than glowing, “darker” aspects that we would rather not face. We spend so much time deluding ourselves, our egos constantly chattering inside our heads convincing us that we are right, that they are wrong, that they are the enemy. The enemy is often lying within, silent and deadly, slowly and steadily killing all chances of peace and compassion.

We have to learn to negotiate with that aspect of ourselves, to talk with it, to try to understand it. In understanding this aspect, we find compassion, for ourselves and for others. In seeing the demons in our own soul we can better understand the demons in others. We have to become skilled negotiators, finding the right words that will cut through the pride and the ego, that will get to the heart of the matter in kindness and in love. We can’t just wade into our psyches and try to obliterate that aspect of ourselves; when we do that, we are just perpetuating the suffering in ourselves and in the world. We have to learn the deep art of communication, to open up the pathways of resolution. There are many choices we can make, if only we are able to see them.

Work towards an ending of the war within. Learn the arts of negotiation and communication. Take the time to look deeply, past the walls of the ego and through the memories of the past and the worries of the future. Look to the person you are right now. Find how you can heal her. Stop the cycle of hurt, pain suffering within and you will also stop that cycle without. It’s never too late.

For the full interview in which Tori Amos discusses the different songs on her album, The Beekeeper, please see below.

The gift of the present

1780993900Going through my old gwers (small course books) from the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids’ online correspondence course that I did many years ago, I found a section of a few gwers that made me smile, as it resonated with me then and still does, on so many levels and is also a major part of the way that I live my life. It focuses on the here and now, on the beauty and wonder of the present moment, and how important the present moment is. Leaving the past to the past, and the future to the future, these gwers really highlighted the importance of focus on the here and now. I did this through incorporating elements of Zen Buddhism into my life (see my first book, Zen Druidry) which has helped me to fully actualise the present moment, to not take it for granted and to learn to simply be, wherever I am and whatever I am doing.

Being comfortable in the present is key to finding lasting happiness. Knowing that the past exists, but that it serves only as a guide to the present moment helps us to release many things that can have a negative effect on the present moment, such as anger, grief, fear or hate. Knowing that the future exists only as a flexible plan helps us to not get too stuck in our ways and habits, and can also alleviate feelings such as fear. Our focus should always been on the now, to live life fully.

But what if the “now” isn’t all that great? What if in the “now” we are stuck outside in the pouring rain without an umbrella or coat, waiting for a bus that never turns up? Yep – that’s all part of it. Buddhism teaches in the first noble truth that all beings suffer. You can’t escape it. That might sound like one helluva downer, but the upside is that the other noble truths help us to alleviate that suffering. One of the ways to do so is the fully be in your self, in your body and mind (there is no separation) and in doing so, the suffering eases. That doesn’t mean you won’t get soaked to your knickers, but at least you spent the time feeling the rain upon your body, smelled the earth responding to the rain and smiled to your own heart rather than get angry at the bus driver, or grumpy about the wetness, wondering why this sort of thing always happens to you.

For some people who are living in extreme conditions, say in the middle of a war zone for instance, the above may sound trite. However, Vietnemese monk Thich Nhat Hanh experienced the horrors of war first hand and learned how to be in the present moment, to help alleviate the suffering. (See the Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh .) When we are in the present moment we will know how to respond to any situation better than if we were responding from the past or future. Our clarity sharpens and we respond in a manner that is wholly and utterly relevant to the situation at hand rather than drudging up issues from the past or worries about the future.

I have had to deal with uncomfortable situations and difficult people. Being in the present helped me to not drudge up the past to project it onto a particular situation in negative ways, but to enable me to deal with the issues as they are, up front without any extra baggage. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we enjoy dealing with this sort of stuff, but we can get through it with a lighter heart, finding our peace more quickly and able to spread that out to the world. It helps you see reality, as it really is. Eventually you may find that your inner peace becomes less and less disturbed, no matter what life throws at you, and that peace and calm will radiate out into the world in beautiful and positive ways.

May you enjoy the present moment for all that it is. Remember the old saying, “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present”.

 

 

Peace in Druidry

The word peace means many different things to many different people. Some see peace as simply the cessation of aggression or violence. Others see it as a way of life, a philosophy. Still again others see it as a mere dream, while others see it as the ultimate goal. But just what is peace, and what does it mean in a Druid context?

In our society, we strive for so much. Some things are worth working for, putting all our heart and soul into, such as equality, environmentalism and a better way of life for all beings. Some things we strive for are not so worthy – material wealth, social, economic and political power, fame or authority. For many in today’s society, it’s a dog eat dog world, and to get ahead you have to step over others in the race for the top. In reality, there is no top rung on that ladder – there isn’t even a ladder to begin with. All these notions of power are entirely illusionary, when looked at from a basic ultimate view that we are all just beings co-existing with each other on this little planet. Allow me explain.

The illusion of separateness has caused our world so much pain. When we see ourselves as separate, we begin to lose the notion of the sacredness in everything. There is absolutely no possible way for anyone or anything to be separate from anything else. We human beings are made up of minerals and atoms, of genetic information from all our ancestors (human and non-human), of sunlight and wind and rain. We are all star-stuff. We have not come out of nowhere, to suddenly exist and then just as suddenly depart when our earthly lives are snuffed out. The clouds in the sky have always been, and always will be. They may change their form, becoming humid wisps of cloud and ice, to larger clouds that then change into rain. That rain falls onto the earth, to be drunk by human and non-human animals alike, by the garden plants and the trees, by the birds and the bees. This water is released once more into the atmosphere through a myriad of ways – sweat, piss, moist exhalation, dewdrops. Back into the sky it goes, to once again form a cloud. We have clouds within our bodies, in the food that we eat, in the water that we drink, in our genetic makeup. We are clouds and the clouds are us.

Once we see the interconnectedness of all things, we realise that to strive for power or control over anything is as fleeting as the life of a cloud. All things are connected, and all things are impermanent. This is an essential tenet of Eastern philosophies, which is strongly reflected in a Druid’s perspective when viewed as part of the natural cycle. Nothing ever stays the same, not the river, not the sky, not the grass, not the tadpole. Everything is in constant change and flux. The key to finding peace within this constant change is acceptance of the impermanence, allowing our hearts to find ease from the fears and insecurities that arise when we fight against change.

A wave does not stress out about dying when it crashes upon the shoreline. It knows that it is water. The wave is simply the form that it took for however long a time. It knows that it is connected with everything else on this planet – there is nothing that exists outside it in a separate context. The web of life, the threads of connections are all around us. When we see those threads we lose the fear of death, instead seeing the cycles that allow us to really come to terms with the concept of changing forms. Death is not annihilation – it is simply becoming a new form, a new way of being.

The basic fact of life is that we will all die. So what is this struggle, what is this constant striving towards ideas of ownership, of power and rule, of games played with lives? To what purpose does it serve when we will all return to the earth in some form or another, when we come to an understanding that we are not separate from anything else? When can we move from concepts such as birth and death?

As humans we have developed a sense of self-awareness that actually hinders the possibility of finding a true and real sense of peace. We are often so self-focused that we are blinkered to everything else, to the entirety of existence. When we are only in tune with ourselves, how can we ever find harmony without? Stuck within the whirls and eddies of the mind, we will never notice the birdsong, or the rain upon our shoulders, the cry of a hungry child or the yowl of a cat in heat. When we look beyond ourselves is when we will be able to find peace. When we are able to work for the benefit of others instead of just ourselves, the world will know harmony. As we are all co-existing on this planet, it just makes sense to work together. However, the illusion of separateness is strong.

Peace is not just something for stoned hippies to think about and discuss – it is a very real and powerful way of being in the world. Through sensing our connection to the world we find a place of true power, power that comes from within that allows us to work for the benefit of all. This power cannot and will never be a “power over” anyone or anything else, as writer and activist Starhawk expresses often in her work. This power from within is the deep core of true expression, of a sustainable relationship working in tune with the entirety of existence.

Peace is not just a cessation to war and violence. Peace comes from a very real and deep understanding of our selves, of our behaviour and our way of being in the world. Many people within the pagan community seek to find a better way of being in the world. They focus on working on the self, through years of self-discovery, journeys, pilgrimages, workshops, training and the like. For many, the journey stops there, at the betterment of the self. What I would posit in this essay is that in order to bring about true peace in the world, we then have to let go of ideas of the self, in order to focus on the wider world. It is a letting go of the blinkers that hinder our ability to work with others compassionately, in real empathy and attunement to the natural cycles.

This is deep integration, of immersion in the world to allow for true peace to flow. Where there are no barriers of you and me, no sense of the “other”, then we can truly work together to bring balance and harmony to our world. It is often said in historical and academic accounts that Druids were the peacemakers of their world and their society. Did they have a deep understanding of the connectedness of all life, did they allow their sense of self to fall away in order to bring about peace between warring tribes, between the workings of the human race and other species, in their work with the gods? We will never know, but it is something that I think is perhaps lost in today’s Druidry.

Peace is often not the main focus for those who come to Druidry. They often seek a spiritual path that allows them to explore the true nature of their self, to affirm their beliefs in a like-minded community. This is brilliant, and of course very useful for all, however it cannot end there. In my opinion, there must be a return for the lessons that we learn, an exchange, a flow from one to the other that allows for true and sustainable relationship. When we step beyond our selves and begin to truly understand what it means as a Druid to live a life in service to the gods, the community and the land then we are really coming to terms with the concept of peace within a Druid context.

Too many are living a reactionary life, caught within the trapping of their minds and unwilling or unable to see the world around them and their part in the weave that is the tapestry of life. They cannot sense all the other threads around them, or if they do sometimes they feel competition, or aggressiveness towards them. It is a sickness in our culture and society that we are brought up in such an environment. Instead of supporting each other and rooting for each other, if we have an issue with someone we do the exact opposite, for whatever reason. In sacred relationship, especially within a Druid context, we don’t have to like everyone we meet or interact with. However, we can see them for what they are: a part of the sacredness in all life. As Bobcat once wrote many years ago, it’s all about sacred relationship – when we walk through the woods we avoid the nettles. We don’t have to cut them all down in order to continue, yet we can still honour their existence and their place in the web of life. Essentially, we don’t have to hurt others who may even have hurt us – if we do that, we are simply living reactionary lives. Let’s live active lives instead, claiming full responsibility for our actions and in doing so achieve peace. Even if others hurt us, we don’t have to continue the cycle of hurt – we can walk around the nettles.

Peace must first come from within. If we are hurt or angry, we are not at peace. We must take some time to look at our hurt and our anger, and see where they really stem from. As Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh states, we must take care of our anger in order to transform it. When we finally sit with our emotions, we open the doors to empathy and compassion. Compassion is as mis-interpreted as the concept of peace is: compassion is simply looking at the bigger picture, attempting to understand the whole. It doesn’t necessarily mean unconditional love for all beings, though if we are truly and utterly open in our hearts that will ultimately be the outcome. It’s a tough call for most to make – in fact, only the Buddha himself has done it so far. However, we can take the wisdom of wider learning to help us understand others and thereby finding peace. If someone hurts us, we can sit with our anger and hurt, looking at it relating to our self. We can then extend that investigation – this is where most contemplation ends in day to day life. However, working through an entirely self-focused view, we can then begin to look at the person who hurt us, seeing that they too suffer. It’s not pleasant to cause suffering – not unless there is something severely wrong with the brain and a mental fissure stops that basic understanding and empathy. Have you ever betrayed anyone or said anything unkind? Did it make you feel better? Have you ever intentionally said something to hurt someone? Did you ever believe in the illusion that to being someone down raises you up? We all have. What we can do now is stop that cycle and truly live a life filled with intention, instead of reactionary living.

The Druid looks to nature for inspiration on how to live a live immersed and integrated with the whole. When we see the complex web of existence, when we bring our focus to an ecosystem, we see how everything works with the other in some shape or form to bring about the continuation of existence. We can look to ideas from permaculture, from biology, from ecology in order to grasp that sense of working together to create a beneficent environment. As Druids we don’t look to humanity for authority – we seek that from nature instead.

In gaining the wider perspective we can allow room in our hearts for a deep and abiding peace. We can still work actively in the world to bring about peace – we needn’t suddenly find peace and sit back while the world struggles on around us, our environment is destroyed and people are attacking each other. It means that from a very deep well we can work to nourish our communities, bringing a much-needed draught of inspiration or awen. In doing so, we are Druid.