Prayer

This morning I attended another minute of silence, this time for those who died and who are currently suffering from the devastation of Grenfell Tower in London. As I stood in the little shop (Rainbow Apothecary) with Claire and a new shop assistant (sorry, I didn’t catch her name) I opened my soul out towards those who have been devastated by this latest tragedy. I could feel a wave of grief, rolling across this nation, across all these islands as yet more lives have been lost, this time due to utter negligence. The anger that was felt on Friday night as people took to the streets was muted, and here was a space for quiet mourning, for healing and for prayers.

I also thought of the man who was killed outside of the mosque at Finsbury Park last night, as a man in a van drove up the pavement and started hitting people, with an agenda that he stated which was to “kill all Muslims”. I pray for strength for his family, and for those who are in hospital, and for the human spirit to be healed, so that terrible events like these stop happening in this country, or in any country.

I prayed for those in Portugal, whose homes and lives have been destroyed by forest fires. I prayed for the 17 year old girl in the US who was killed on her way home from the mosque. I pray for the 65.6 million people were displaced in 2016, (more than the population of Britain, and half of them children), and even more this year.

I prayed for all who are suffering.

I prayed to My Lady for healing for all those affected by disaster. I prayed to those who are still looking for loved ones, who are in hospital, who are confused and don’t know where to turn. May they find the help that they need, and may they find strength for the coming days. I prayed to My Lord to help guide souls across, who may be wandering in the devastation and ruin. Most of all, I prayed for peace.

Prayer and silence are necessary, for the emotions and trauma of the events to find a place within your soul, a place where they can be felt and expressed with understanding and respect.

May there be peace in our hearts and minds, and towards all fellow beings.

 

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Communication Breakdown: The EU Referendum

We need to change the way we communicate. Right now. Here in the UK, everyone is reacting to other people’s reactions, in an insane run of events that has led to unprecedented turmoil and upset. People aren’t talking to each other. Germany refuses to talk to the UK parliament until they begin the leave negotiations. Labour ministers refuse to talk to their leader about the best way forward. The Prime Minister is resigning, leaving the talking to whoever takes up the difficult role. Friends are attacking and “unfriending” each other all over social media. This sort of behaviour is based in punishment: an eye for an eye. We have been hurt, we will hurt in response. We are emotional creatures.With the lines of communication closed, we are stuck here in limbo, everyone reacting instead of acting with intention. Reactive behaviour is, for the most part, usually not the best behaviour.

Emotional responsibility is something that is seriously lacking in our society. In fact, any responsibility is met with apprehension, especially personal responsibility. Far too many are eager to find power under the guise of responsibility for others, but when it comes to perhaps changing their own behaviour they will never even consider it. It’s everyone else’s fault, people are stupid, people are ignorant. We will not even talk about changing our own behaviour, lest we admit to something that needs improvement. Sure, we’ll criticise the hell out of others, for don’t we see that every day in the media, from television entertainment shows to the PM’s questions every Wednesday lunchtime? And yet, where is the real communication?

If we are emotionally responsible, we won’t simply unfriend someone on Facebook because they didn’t vote the same way we did. So what if a friend voted for Leave? So what if a Remainer said something stupid in response? They are reacting. We can stop, see their pain, see their fear, try to see why they are reacting in such a way. In that stopping, in that attempt to understand, there is compassion. And where there is compassion, hopefully the lines of communication can reopen, and respectful behaviour ensue. Hopefully then, we are acting with intention, not in reaction.

Sometimes it just isn’t possible, and I understand that. Sometimes someone hurts us so bad, has just been so horrid that we will simply not put ourselves in that position ever again. This is something that has usually happened over a longer period of time, where the behaviour has been repeated again and again. We give them a second chance. And maybe a third. And then, if there is no value, if there is no respect, if there is no honour then we can walk away, in peace. And wishing them peace. But if walking away in anger, without first trying to establish the lines of communication: if this is the first and only thing we do, then there is very little chance of reconciliation, of compassion, of communication. Maybe we just have to accept that humans will be humans, that they will do and say stupid things, that they have opinions, both good and bad, and we will also have ours, good and bad, stupid and brilliant. But if we stop talking to them, we lose all chance of hope for a future together.

There is so much divisiveness right now, in this so-called United Kingdom. There has been blood shed, a life lost, and more death threats to others because of fear, because of lack of communication, because of ignorance, because of poor communication, because of misinformation and manipulation. There is a growing blatant and overt racism and prejudice, fuelled by ignorance, by fear. If we are talking to each other, then maybe this can be overcome. Where we are no longer talking, there is no hope for change.

We need to change the way we communicate. Right now.

 

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.

Sitting still – the joy, the suffering, transformation and impermanence

Working on my online course for Zen Druidry and putting into words a deeper exploration of Zen Buddhist concepts with Druid philosophy and way of life has opened my eyes even more to the wonder that is life, the suffering and the joy that we create and the freedom in distinguishing between the functional ego and the representational ego that causes so much unnecessary difficulty in our lives.

I think meditation is the key to unlocking these concepts, for by stilling the body we can still the mind enough to see clearly, to ponder concepts such as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path in a Druid context with a deeper insight as a result of simply being quiet and mindful. I sit in meditation for 30 – 40 minutes a day, with a large chunk of that time being spent simply being present in the moment, in all its pain and glory, up and downs, its successes and difficulties. It’s a simple thing to do, but can be quite difficult to do when we begin to realise just how our minds work, and how hard it is to let them be, to not get attached to thoughts and feelings and simply be the observer of the mind’s functioning. We love to judge, we love to recreate scenarios, we love to think, think, think about everything to the point where we leave our bodies behind. At the other extreme we run our bodies into the ground and by doing so, without stilling them for any amount of time our minds become as frazzled as our nerves and we cannot find any sense of peace.

Sitting in silence, we can feel extreme joy even as we can feel extreme pain. Our attachment to either is what causes us suffering. When we attach to joy, we want to feel it over and over again, and crave it, striving for it with all our being, sometimes living lost in the future anticipation of that joy, or lost in the past of when we had it in our lives. Our attachment to pain causes us to suffer further, again becoming lost in the future with thoughts of “when will this pain every end?” or lost in the past “this is the cause of my pain, if only…”; when we drop our attachment and simply be in the present moment, we can take care of our thoughts and our emotions with great skill, thereby being compassionate to ourselves.

When we sit with either joyful or painful feelings, when we observe them without judging them or anyone else, when we simply see them as a part of life, as an emotion, we can also begin to understand their impermanence. Buddhism talks a lot about the impermanence of everything, and this is reflected in the Druid tradition of honouring the ever-changing cycles of life. We look at a river and see that it is never the same river twice, but constantly flowing, moving downwards to the sea, being filled with rain and experiencing a cycle of existence that has no single, unchangeable part. When we see concepts of birth and death both within a Druid and Buddhist perspective, we realise that there is no such thing as a beginning or ending that is so often tied to these concepts. They are simply events in our lives that all things experience. My view is that we are all a part of nature’s soul, that everything that exists is nature undergoes changes in form through transformation, energy being patterned by conditions and environment in an endless cycle. When we see life in such a context, we see that joy and suffering are also impermanent, and we are able to sit and be with them, to take them by the hand and allow ourselves to experience them without getting caught up in their form, for we know that they are transitory, as are we.

In the quiet and stillness we are able to gain a greater perspective of the whole, rather than the chattering monologue that runs through our minds for the majority of our lives. To step outside of our minds is a great liberation. To see the interconnectedness of all things dissolves the separate ego, instead allowing us a deep realisation of the weave of each form in the tapestry of life. We understand and acknowledge the functional ego that allows us to be in this world, while letting go of the representational ego that strives for and causes separation through the illusion of an Us and Them mindset. We’re all in this together.

In the Ten Ox-herding Pictures (or The Ten Bulls)  we see the final part as being able to work in the world without that separate sense of self. I think this is very important for Druidry and for all Paganism, for if we stop at the realisation of self we are at risk of self-importance. It is necessary to find out who we are, and then to work on letting that go as we realise that self is part of another system, which is part of another system, and so on throughout the universe. Rafting the currents of human emotion become so much easier when we lose the idea of a separate self, for not only are we not hurt by others as much and are able to feel compassion to create a more harmonious and peaceful existence, but we also become a part of the flow of that current. We find that with time our meditation and contemplation allows us to let go of the raft and simply become the river, thereby not having to fight it anymore, or fight to keep our seat as we hurtle through obstacles on our journey to the sea.

It’s our choice, however, to do the work necessary in order to achieve this sense of wholeness and peace, for no one can do it for us.

For a look into how Druidry can be related to the Ten Ox-herding pictures, see my post HERE.

Choosing your battles

We often spend so much of our energy needlessly. Disputes, arguments, feuds, grudges, long-held anger and frustration are just some examples. We need to choose our battles wisely, for they are not all worth fighting.

Sometimes there is nothing we can do. When faced with ignorance or denial, we are often facing an impassable wall upon which we can either hurl ourselves time and again, or simply shrug and walk away. It is not our duty to make the ignorant wise, or to force someone into changing their mind. That can only change from within. Our energy is a precious resource that must be used wisely. There are many fights that are worthy of our time, but we don’t have to attend every argument that we are invited to.

Think about the energy used in holding a grudge against someone, for a few days, a few weeks, a few months or a few years. How could that energy have been better spent? How much energy is involved in a family feud, from all sides involved? How much time is wasted arguing on social media, trying to prove your point and making a stranger change their mind? How much energy is spent talking behind people’s backs, trying to get people “on your side”? Is it really worth it?

Even if it’s something you truly believe in, proselytising the issue doesn’t really do much. In fact, it can even have the adverse effect of pushing away those who are either in agreement or disagreement: they’re simply tired of the hearing of your message over and over again. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have opinions, and that we shouldn’t share them, but when we spend so much energy shouting into empty space then maybe it’s time to rethink the situation.

People fall out with each other over the silliest of things sometimes. Letting ego get in the way, they don’t want to listen to anyone’s version of events other than their own. To do so would compromise their reality, the story that they have told of themselves. People often don’t want to change their story, for it may put them in an unflattering light. We have to evaluate the situation and say, “Right. I can offer my version of events, I can try to communicate with compassion, but I will only spend X amount of time of this. I’m not here to change anyone, because I know that true change must come from within. I can walk away at any time, for there are no “winners” or “losers” in this situation, only wasted time”. When we set these parameters, we can work with others without losing our minds.

People are going to behave in any number of ways. We can’t change their behaviour. What we can change is our response to their bad behaviour. We can let them know that we do not approve, and then we can walk away, wishing them well and focusing on the things that really matter in our own lives. Let it go. Walking away is not losing. It is opening up a new path for you to find better things to spend your time on.

I have seen ridiculous grudge matches and people trying to save face on all manner of social media. I have known families who don’t talk to each other for reasons which are entirely inaccurate, the transgression being entirely made up in their own heads. I have seen people treat others very poorly in face to face interactions. We need to find the balance point between standing up for ourselves and learning when we are expending energy needlessly.

Some battles are worth fighting for. We just need to have the right goals in mind when we are fighting. If we are trying to change all our friends’ eating habits to match ours because we are vegan, what really is our agenda here? Instead of spending time arguing or posting social media comments about it, why not spend time volunteering at an animal shelter if your ultimate goal is to help ease the suffering of other animals? If we are spending time trying to undermine someone’s work or persona, what is the real agenda there? Why would we want to do that? Wouldn’t the time be better spent focusing on yourself? Blowing out someone’s candle does not make yours burn any brighter. If we refuse to speak to a family member because they did something wrong in the past, shouldn’t we look to our own lives and remember the ways that we too have failed or wronged someone? These are only a few examples, and some may be rather simplistic. They all have multiple ways of dealing with the issue at hand.  What matters most is our intention.

We don’t have to put up with anyone’s crap, if you’ll pardon my vernacular. But we don’t have to start slinging our own either. Either way, you’ll just end up with a stink in the air.

I’ve walked away from people and situations in order to focus on what really matters. Even when I was totally “right”. It has saved me a lot of time and trouble. I could have spent months trying to change other people’s minds, but instead I worked on what really matters to me. I can say with all honesty that the energy was well spent, and the outcome even more positive than I had dreamt of in terms of benefiting myself and my work/goals/life. I can’t change other people, they’ll do what they will do, with their own demons to fight, their own achievements and successes to encourage them. I have to live my life, not try to please or fit into theirs. I can walk away into better experiences.

Choose your battles wisely. This present moment is what really matters. Live it, instead of losing yourself in a battle that doesn’t or shouldn’t even exist. Life has difficulties enough already. Be kind, be compassionate and be mindful. You may find the battles beginning to lessen, and a peace of mind settling deep within. Enjoy that, for that is what life is all about.

Druid College, Year 1 this October!

HF2We’re getting all geared up for Year One this October at Druid College UK!

In Year One We will be looking at core principles and teachings of Druidry, Living with Honour, Rooting in the Earth, Working with the Ancestors, Animism and the Spirits of Place, Listening and Druid meditation, Awen and the cycle of creativity, Working with the Nemeton, Developing Authentic Relationship, Inspiration and the Poetic arts, Storytelling and cultural heritage, The Cycle of Life and the “Wheel of the Year”, Working with the Gods/Deity, Anarchism and the end of Submission, Emotions and “riding the energies”.

Your tutors are me (Joanna van der Hoeven) and Robin Herne, and there are still places available: for more information visit www.uk.druidcollege.org

Re-blog: Weaving a Stronger Web

This is a preview of my latest blog post on SageWoman Magazine’s blog channel at Witches and Pagans. To read the full article, please click HERE.

Taking time to become aware of the self is a large part of the modern Pagan movement. In the last twenty years, exploring the psychological aspect in many of the traditions has been as important as the metaphysical and the spiritual work. Many have done this, as part of a training course or in their own deep learning, but perhaps subsequently allowing it to fall by the wayside; once it’s been studied, that’s it, let’s move on. Being aware of your emotions and behaviour is a never-ending quest in self-awareness. In order to live as Pagans it should be a lifelong exercise, in order to ensure that we are living honourably and respectfully within nature and the natural cycle.
Indeed, it is our responsibility to be aware of what we put out into the world, emotionally and physically, as Pagans. We know that we are a part of a greater web, therefore when one strand is tugged, all the others shiver all the way down to the core. We need to be able to see when we have failed to act with honour, in our human relationships, in our relationships with the natural world, in our relationship with the gods and the ancestors. And in doing so, we can work to make amends, to reweave those threads that have been pulled apart…

To read the full article, click HERE.