Finding the Balance: Wedding Discipline to Devotion

Finding the Balance: Wedding Discipline to Devotion

Our culture of “not good enough” is so rampant, that it can be terribly hard to disassociate oneself from it. I was able to come to terms with the capitalist way of life here in our Western world through Eastern means, specifically through Zen Buddhism. That led to deep meditation, of simply being in the moment, of enjoying the simple things in life while maintaining a deep discipline of distancing myself from the “not good enough life” into one where “it is enough”. This occurred on both a physical and spiritual level. Indeed, it usually does, because the two cannot be separated from each other.

The discipline aspect was hard, at first. I didn’t feel like meditating, like being in the moment. I would do so without any spiritual or religious intent, per se; it was merely to be in the moment, experiencing my body without distraction, noticing my thoughts. As I became more proficient at this, through sheer dogged determination and mule-minded stubborness, the light began to shine through the cracks that had opened up in my mind and in my way of being in the world. I could see that it was all illusion, that what my mind created was illusion, that the way we thought and acted in the world was all based on illusion. At first I was angry at the deception, then I was sad, depressed at the state of the world and not seeing a way through. But through perseverance, I came through the other side. How did I persevere? Again, it was discipline, but this time it was wedded to devotion.

Discipline itself wasn’t enough to get me through. I knew I could do it, and indeed I had. But when I dropped out many things in my life, all the illusory things, I didn’t at the time realise that I had to fill up the hole that they left with something more nourishing. Instead, it left me feeling empty, which at first was an interesting way to be, but then voracious hunger kicks in, when we’re empty, when we need refuelling. Carefully deciding on the path that I wanted to take, in order to find and maintain a sovereign sense of self, I brought devotion into my practice, in order to grasp that deep intention and give meaning to all that I did. After all, isn’t that the meaning of life? To give your life meaning?

And so I devoted myself to the gods of my local landscape, and several other “traditional” gods within the Celtic pantheon, some that I had worked with for decades, others which called to me to come and dance with them, for however long or short a while. And so I did, weaving discipline, daily discipline, with devotion, giving meaning to the work that I did, both for myself and for the wider world. When the hole was filled, through the previous emptying of my mind and soul, it was enough.

This is not a one-off process, however. Every day I am learning just what enough means. We are bombarded each and every day by media trying to create feelings of inadequacy. It brings to mind the Druid maxim: the Truth against the World. I have to hold my truth, against that of the world around me which seeks to distance myself from my truth. I have to work hard to be sovereign of myself. The hard work is worth the effort.

That’s not to say that I don’t have my bad days, that I don’t slip into despair every now and then, of my own failings and that of the world. But when I go outside, listen to the blackbird singing songs of the Otherworld, when I see the herd of deer running through the woods, or the bloated corpse of a fallow deer rotting down into the leafmould; when I see the hawk flying over the treetops, screaming in hunger or joy, or the waves of the sea gently lapping the shingle and whispering secrets of the murky depths, I come back to an awareness of the Mystery. That Mystery is that the world is more than me, that I am a part of a great web, a connecting thread in all that there is, all that ever was, and all that shall ever be. I am the awen, from the depths I sing.

It’s important to remember that human beings are part of nature. Our culture tries to create the illusion of separateness, but when we pull back the veil we see the interconnectedness of all things. The air that I breathe is oxygen created by trees and plankton, grasses and daisies. They in turn take a deep breath of the carbon I expel from my lungs, in one great harmonious intake and outtake of a World Breath. Just breathing can connect us to each other, can remind us of that connection each and every day. That was why the sitting meditation, or zazen of my earlier days, of just focusing and concentrating on breathing was such a great stepping stone in my life. From there, from just sitting and breathing with the world, I came to a sense of connection that led to a life of devotion, where I work to achieve a sovereignty of self in a world that seeks to make me its subject and slave.

We might think that we aren’t equipped to do the daily practice, to help others, much less help ourselves. But we are, if we remember. Re-member: to bring together disparate parts of ourselves. If we remember that connection, the threads of awen that connect each and every life form to each other, then we can work to know that our existence is not just a mere blight on the planet. We have destroyed so much, and we are at a tipping point, for sure. But there is also the great possibility that this is the moment where we all wake up. That humanity undergoes a revolution of its own mind, its hive mind. That we open up to the wonderful magic of possibility. That we are able to use our intelligence, discipline, compassion, empathy and more to make this world a better place. Is this altruism? Not entirely, because we also will benefit greatly from this revolution. We are doing it because we know that we are all connected. We are all related.

For me, wedding discipline to devotion helped to give my life meaning, and to put my feet upon the path towards this revolution. Working with love and compassion, for myself and for the world around me gives my life meaning. Even when I’m not feeling particularly loving, especially towards humanity, I have to remember the potential, the possibility that we can change, that we can reweave our connection to the land. It’s the basis of the work I do at Druid College, to hope to inspire people find their sovereign self, to come to know what enough really is, to work with the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place and to really understand on a deep level that we are the land. There is no separation. Lying down upon the mossy ground in my backyard, underneath the beech tree, tiny buds appearing on its ever-expanding canopy year upon year, I look up into the blue sky just beyond the tangled web and know that there is always possibility, that there is always change. Buddhism and Zen teach of impermanence; so too does Druidry, in the natural flow and cycles of the seasons of our lives. When we truly come to understand the nature of impermanence, we come to truly know abundance.

© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017

Enough Already!

How often you do say “enough already”?  Mostly, when you’re sick of something, and really don’t want anything more, or anything more to do with it.  These past few months I’ve been applying the “enough already” to my life, though with different connotations.

What are our needs, as human beings? Food, shelter, clothing and something of a sense of security go a long way to making our lives happy.  Social interaction, music and literature also go a long way to making our lives better.  Yet in our culture, we just can’t seem to get “enough”.  Our economy, if it isn’t growing, is in recession – if our GDP isn’t constantly on the up, then we’re seen as failing.  We need more news, faster, and through all kinds of media.  We need bigger houses for all our possessions, multiple cars and swimming pools.  This is the measure of success in our culture, not happiness.

I would pose that we need to relearn just what enough is.  We’ve got things galore, but do they make us happy?  Looking up the word galore, I came across with an interesting little find – galore also means enough.  Irish go leor  enough, plenty ( Scots Gaelic gu leòr, leòir ).  To have enough is plenty.

Some 20th century modcons make our lives much easier – the telephone, for example.  We can talk to people and distance is no longer a factor, though money still is – you must be able to afford that phone call (though I would say that even this is a stretch, for I know people with mobile phones who manage to pay their mobile phone bills but not their rent).  However, do we really need phones that do everything, with all the latest apps?  I have a mobile phone that I have for emergencies, ie. if my car breaks down on a lonely country road, I can call for help. This phone is 10 years old.  If people want to reach me, they have my landline. If I’m not home, they can leave a message.  It’s not life or death if I can’t be reached 24/7. It rarely is for most people.  (I often wonder if this 24/7 reachability gives people a sense of self-importance – and if so, that’s something that saddens me terribly).

I don’t need to wait in line outside a store for hours for the latest IPhone release.  Why on earth would I want to do that?  I have a life to live, in all honesty, that does not revolve around bowing down to the gods of consumerism.  My phone is enough for my needs, which are pretty basic when it comes to phones.

A computer is also a necessity in my line of work.  For writing, for my other jobs, I just couldn’t do without one.  Social media is also a necessity for me, to share ideas and get feedback, to promote events and subjects that I feel are important, to keep in touch with my family who are thousands of miles away.  But I don’t have a Twitter account, or pininterest, or the host of other things that create an online presence – I have what I need in my line of work – a blog, a website, a Youtube account (for my dance company, visual is the most important form of media) and a Facebook account.  This already seems like a lot to me, and I don’t want to expand this any further – so much time is already spent on all of these, and there are, after all, other things I need to be doing for my work, like writing and choreographing to say the least!

When is enough plenty?  When we can find something to wear that doesn’t take more than a few seconds to think about.  When we eat until we are 80% full, knowing that we will feel full in a few minutes.  When our grooming habits take less than 20 minutes for a usual day.  When we don’t feel the need for the latest “thing”.

A good exercise – take a look around your house, maybe just one room, and note all the things you absolutely need.  Write them down. Now make another list of everything that isn’t essential, and then compare the two.  A few items, such as a gift from someone that you love and want to display on your mantelpiece, for instance, shouldn’t really count against you.  But all the things that you don’t love, that don’t have meaning, that you could just as easily do without – these are the things we need to think about.

Before each purchase, I always ask myself – do I need this? If the answer is no, then I won’t buy it.  It’s that simple.  I made a vow last year (the second time I’ve done this) to not buy any new clothes for a year.  I still have license to buy whatever I would like from charity shops, but even then I always ask myself – do I need this? If the answer is still no, even if it is only £2, then I won’t buy it. I have enough. I have plenty.