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.

The Blame Game

I’ve recently watched Dan Snow’s latest expedition, to travel down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in three boats from the late 19th century, just as Powell did. It was a really interesting show (not just because of the equally gorgeous and intelligent Mr Snow) that not only demonstrated the awesome power of the elements, but also those of human nature.

Each boat has three people in it – an experienced helmsman, an experienced boatman and a novice. The three novices were Dan, Mike (you may know him from Springwwatch) and another chap whose name eludes me – historian, ecologist and geologist respectively. They all had to work together as a team to see it through to the end – 18 days of incredible physical and mental challenge amidst one of the world’s most beautiful and dangerous environments.

Each person had to pull their own weight, despite their experience, and each person did so without fail.  They all tried their hardest and it was inspiring to see. What was not so inspiring was another aspect of human nature that arose from one of the boats – namely, the blame game.

In one of the three boats, Mike was having a harder time than the other novices. Whether that was simply his lack of skill and learning, or insufficient support and teaching from his colleagues, is up for debate – we could not see everything that happened in this edited television show. What I did see however, was an aspect of human nature that really opened up my eyes not only to how other people treat each other, but how I’ve treated others in the past as well.

It started with the “expert whitewater kayaker” beginning to complain to the camera about Mike and his lack of ability. It would seem that instead of taking extra time to help the novice and support him, he would rather complain to the camera away from the group.  He blamed Mike for the difficulty their boat was having in the rapids. However, what we all saw was at the first set of rapids, the kayaker falling out of his seat pretty much at the first bump. Whether this started off something in his mind that needed to help him save face, changing the focus from his own inability, mistake or accident, and blaming someone else for it we can never know for certain. It certainly appeared that way to me.

Since then, he complained on several occasions to the camera in isolation.  Then his helmsman made a mistake, taking the boat down backwards in the hopes of having better steering in one section of rapids.  The boat that went through before managed it. I’m not an experienced boatman, but I could see in those churning waters that the oar would snap like a twig if caught on a rock, which it did. After that, the helmsman began to complain to the camera as well about Mike, who was simply doing his best to row and keep the boat going straight and bail when he needed to – there really was nothing else he could do. At one point we saw the helmsman shout at Mike to bail, and Mike’s pail got caught up in part of the boat’s rigging – not that it would have mattered, for bailing in the middle of those rapids was, to me, pointless – the boat was already full at and the mercy of the river. Mike began bailing as fast as he could, but another wave just crashed right in. He would have been better off rowing, but he still got yelled at.

This all made me very uncomfortable.  I hate seeing people getting picked on when they are trying their best. But I was also inspired by Dan’s boat, which seemed to have some sort of Zen Master at the helm.  This chap was brilliant – he was so calm, so peaceful, never shouting orders and seeming at one with the river – when he took his boat down the rapids, he steered it down the path of least resistance, without effort. A beautiful thing to witness. Soft spoken and mild-mannered, and an accomplished musician, his calming influence was a gentle reminder to me to keep my Zen on and have compassion, even for those who were irritating the hell out of me on the show.

That’s not to say that the Zen Master Helmsman’s boat didn’t make any mistakes.  His boat came the closest to capsizing in one of the most difficult rapids.  They didn’t make the line they were going for down between the rocks, and got swept away down a fast sluice heading straight towards the canyon’s rock walls. His oar got ripped from his hands in the roiling water, and they were at the mercy of the river.  The other helmsman would have shouted his head off at this point, but Zen Master Helmsman kept his cool – it was a beautiful thing to behold.  He had lost his oar, all manner of steering, and the boat swept into the curve of the canyon (you can see it on the video).  The boat kept to the curve, the water sweeping it close but not up against the canyon wall. Then the boat began to tip over on its right side. Dan lost his seat and fell into the right side wall, nearly out of the boat. ZMH calmly reached for the left side of the boat, push against it with his body weight, counterbalancing the tipping boat, and it righted itself. You can’t hear it on the video, but he was also calmly talking and encouraging his fellow crewman throughout, saying “Stay calm, just stay in the boat, take it easy”. They made it through, without yelling, without panic, without blame.

Everyone makes mistakes. With three people in a boat, you cannot blame one person for the boat going wrong. Everyone is in it, working together to try and go in the same direction.  There are so many variables that to blame one person it pointless. Staying calm, looking out for your crew members and acting with compassion is the way forward. By observing this, the three simply followed the river’s flow. There was nothing else they could do, so why increase suffering?

Compassion is all about reducing your suffering. The two complainers in the other boat did not seem to grasp this.  Instead of helping they made things worse. I hate to think what would have happened had it been their boat that nearly capsized. However, their boat did not escape unscathed of a terrifying experience.

On the next section of these last, and most dangerous rapids, Mike’s boat lost their helmsman as he was washed away in a giant wall of water that hit the boat.  No one’s fault – you cannot blame crew or wave or river any more than you can blame the sun for shining.   The helmsman managed to hang onto his oar under the water, and pull himself back to the boat, floating down the rest of the rapids with it, finally being pulled back into the boat at the first opportunity.  This was the changing point for that crew.

The fragility of human existence hits hard when confronted with the very sudden realisation that you or someone you know could have died in a certain experience or circumstance.  This realisation did indeed hit Mike hard, as we saw when the camera was on him when they were on the beach after these rapids – he was brought to tears by the whole experience.  It also brought the crew together – the kayaker who originally tried to blame Mike for everything saw Mike’s suffering, and came up to give him a hug.  Petty blame games mean nothing when you realise just how precious and precarious life really is. Alleviating suffering is much more conducive to peace than creating more suffering in this lifetime.

What I realised from this show is that blaming people does not solve anything. It does not even make you feel better – it increases your own suffering, because everything that person does upsets or annoys you from then on. Also, when you blame someone, you instantly block out any form of objectiveness in the situation.  You have established a truth for yourself that blinds you to seeing the bigger picture. Believing in this truth is dangerous. Believing that one person is wrong and that you are right is what has caused innumerable amounts of suffering in the world. Opening your heart and mind in compassion, in trying to see the bigger picture and in trying to make the world a better place would be far more beneficial to all.

I looked back at the times in my life when I had played the blame game, making others the culprit for everything that had gone wrong. Like those boats in the river, there were so many variables that one person could not be responsible for everything.  The only thing we can be responsible for is ourselves in this life.  If we try to help others instead of break them down, if we see our own failings before we blame others, we might change our behaviour into something that is more compassionate.

Driving to the RSPCA today to visit a cat that I am adopting, I was cut off by a car speeding in a residential area.  My reaction to it was simply to keep driving, and hope that the person in the speeding car finds peace within him or herself that could be reflected in their driving.  Getting mad at the other driver would not solve anything except to make me suffer. (On the way home, I did see that they are now installing speed cameras along that stretch of road, for which I am glad).

We all make mistakes.  We can blame others for what we perceive to have gone wrong with our lives.  Or we can simply get on with making this world a better place, communicating with compassion towards everyone, even our enemies. We may then realise that we do not have enemies in the first place.  We can even wallow in guilt, blaming ourselves for everything that has gone wrong instead of working out best to improve the situation – I know which I would rather engage with.  We stand strong, we act responsibly – like ZMH we have the ability to respond to a crisis situation with calmness and grace, even when faced by enormous odds and potential life-threatening situations. We are all simply boats on a river, either working together or alone to stay afloat, at the mercy of the elements and each other.

I am taking a leaf out of Zen Master Helmsman’s book.  He was a total dude.

(To see more videos and read more about the expedition, see the BBC Blogs here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/posts/Operation-Grand-Canyon-with-Dan-Snow)

Right Livelihood

autumn leavesDuring the time around the autumn equinox, in my particular path of blending Zen and Druidry I focus on the Buddhist aspects of Right Livelihood within a Druid context.  I do this throughout the year, blending the Buddhist Eightfold Path into the eight seasons of modern Paganism, and have found it spiritually inspiring and enlightening. (For further reading into Zen Druidry, please see my latest book, Zen Druidry, available on Amazon and through Moon Books).

Right Livelihood, in essence, means taking on a way of living and working that does not compromise the other principles within the eightfold path, or indeed any of the Dharma Principles. However, it is much more than ensuring that your occupation is not harmful to others – for me, this accords to everything I do, my entire life.  My livelihood is not just my office job, or my dance company, my writing or my work as a Druid priest. My livelihood is the way in which I live my life – my whole Druidry as a way of living, not just as a practice.

I have ensured that the traditional view of Right Livelihood is upheld in my life – all my jobs do not create harm in others, abuse others or the environment inasmuch as is humanly possible.  Yes, three out of my four jobs require that I drive a car, and that is a compromise that I have to make, which I try to offset in other areas of my life.  I used to work as a legal secretary, but was slowly having my soul destroyed by helping the rich dodge inheritance taxes.  It took the universe to give me a great kick up the bum to get out of that job and dive into something more meaningful for my own self – other similar legal jobs may work for some people, it just wasn’t in accordance with Right Livelihood for me personally.  I quit, went back to university and got a job straight away working for a music company and charity, got writing again, started a dance company and began in my priest work.  I felt much more at ease with myself, knowing that I was partaking in Right Livelihood (or Livelihoods!).

Some of us may feel trapped in jobs that we do not like, but we need the money to support our families, or ourselves.  However, that doesn’t mean that we cannot be on the lookout for something that would sit better within our hearts and souls, and it also doesn’t mean that we can’t offshoot this, say perhaps by doing some volunteer work, donating to charity, etc.  I personally don’t have much spare time, but the time that I do have I try to use wisely – though this year I haven’t succeeded as well as I may have, having run myself a little too ragged.  Organising charity events, performing wedding ceremonies, on top of my other jobs left too little time for me and my husband, and in that regard I failed at Right Livelihood, as there was harm and neglect on that front.  I have worked too hard, and now physically and emotionally see the repercussions. Now, in the autumn of the year, when I can see the results of what I have sown in the springtime of the year, I can also reflect on how to do better next year.

Right Livelihood means living right – it’s not just your job.  For me, within Druidry, it means establishing a life that has as little impact ecologically as is possible at the time for me and my family.  It means investing our savings in solar panels, recycling and composting everything, using cruelty and chemical-free toiletries, working towards creating peace and inspiring others.  It means walking the walk instead of just talking the talk.  It’s bloody hard to do. It means being aware of everything around you, of the impact that you have on the world, from the interaction I have with my co-workers to how many kilowatt hours our household has consumed in the last year.  It means sacrificing ignorance for knowledge, and the practical application of such.

Druidry teaches us about creating honourable relationships with the world around us, with all things if you are an animist like myself. Seeing the inherent value in all things means that no single thing can be taken for granted.  Incorporating Zen means bringing awareness of my own self and how my brain works, as well as working on an awareness of the world at large by living as mindfully as is possible.  Sometimes I am hugely successful at both – other times I fail spectacularly.  At any rate, it’s a learning curve.

Throughout the darkening days until Samhain, my focus on Right Livelihood is a constant reminder to live well.  Taking inspiration from nature, I learn not to take more than is necessary, or at least I am inspired not to – succeeding in this regard is damned hard in a fairly affluent Western society.  I breathe into the growing twilight, the longer nights and learn how to simply be in the world, leaving behind barriers of separation as much as I can, within myself and nature, humanity and the universe.  The rich scents of autumn tingle in my nose, the decaying leaf mould and woodsmoke, the chill winds and starry skies above inspiring me to continue. It is  Inspiring me to create a life that is worthwhile, and in doing so, following a path of Right Livelihood.

Reblog – How Druidry Relates to the Environment

This is a reblog from my latest offering for this month’s Moon Books’ Blog – please note that in my opening sentence, I say “perhaps” with regard to Druidry taking the environment into deep consideration in the spirituality.  I am aware that those of other faiths hold it as dear as I do, but I am speaking from what I have seen and experienced within the pagan community in general…  For me as it is for many, many Druids, the environment is at the heart of everything that we do.

This article first appeared on The Druid Network’s website which I submitted few years ago.  The website is currently undergoing an overhaul, but there are still many articles on there to inspire! http://druidnetwork.org/what-is-druidry/ethical-living/environmental-awareness/environmental-articles/

Awen blessings!

Druidry, perhaps more than any other strand of Paganism in the wide weave of spiritual traditions, takes the environment into consideration on so many levels.  Druidry – most commonly believed to be from the old Irish words dru and wid meaning “oak knower”, or even the  Proto-European deru and  weid “oak-seeker” acknowledges this communion with nature in the very roots (pardon the pun) of the word.  Heathenry – one from the heaths, or Wicca (most commonly believed to be from the Saxon wicce, to bend or shape, as a willow branch can be bent or shaped into something quite beautiful) have similar nature-orientated origins, however, the communication between the natural environment and the Druid of utmost importance in the path.

How do Druids view their environment?  Many, if not most Druids are animistic, believing in the essential spirit of everything, whether it be rock or tree, raindrop, beetle, horse or the sea.  There is a sense of consciousness in everything.  When I use the word consciousness, I don’t mean in the scientific sense of the last two centuries, where it was used to differentiate between humans and other animals and also “non-sentient” beings.  Consciousness, to me, is a part of the greater whole web of life, where threads are woven together, separate but still connected.  It is what makes something what it is – whether it is the rose, a cloud or the moon.  It is its own inherent identity, or, more poetically, its own song that makes it what it is.

With that sense of consciousness in all things, it is much harder for the Druid to disregard any aspect of the environment.  No longer are wildflowers plucked for their beauty, to die within days on our dining room table.  No longer is it an option to squash the spider in the living room who seeking warmth from the coming winter. Our entire perception is changed once we view the environment both as having its own consciousness and as we do so conscientiously.  We gain both a greater and broader view of the web of existence, at the same time as finding our own place within it.  How wonderful is that?

That world view brings with it a responsibility.  No longer are we allowed to remain ignorant in the ways of our own environment. If we are to view it as a whole, then we must truly see every part that we also play within it.  If the whole of nature has a spirit, then issues arise such as the taking of a life for food.  Many within Druidry are vegetarian, if not vegan, and yet there are still many others who eat the flesh of an animal. Some do so, claiming that ethically raised and slaughtered animals for food are perfectly acceptable to put on our plates. In my own vision of Druidry, the damage caused to the environment by the raising of animals for food does not allow that luxury of thinking.  It takes much more energy and resources to raise animals for food than it does to plant in the same amount of land a sustainable, organic crop for food.  In giving up animal meat and animal products for both food and other commodities, we are caring more for our environment and also, at the same time, sacrificing our ignorance of the weighty issues behind such matters to become fully aware.  We must accept responsibility for our part.

The word environment has many meanings, however. Our immediate response to the word is the natural environment – nature.  There are many other environments, however – little worlds created by human consciousness. We have our work environment, our home environment, our villages, communities and cities.  There is the issue of human to human interaction as well as interaction with nature (though as humans are a part of nature, I realise that I am contradicting myself in some ways, but please bear with me).  Our own sense of self, or self-awareness, creates a thorny path through which we must navigate carefully, in order not to injure ourselves or others.  Unless one lives as a  hermit, the Druid will have interaction with other human beings, some Druids, some not.  As with the Druid relationship with nature, sensing the inherent consciousness within it, Druidry teaches us that same sense of consciousness in human interactions.  I admit – it is a lot easier for some people to respect an old oak tree than most human beings, however to be fully aware of our relationship with others we must act with a certain sense of honour, that same sense of honour, in fact, that we give to nature. We may not like some human beings, much in the same way we may not like broccoli, but we still acknowledge and respect their place in the wider web.

So how do we relate to our environment?  Within Druidry, there is a beautiful Welsh word, awen.  Various meanings range from flowing water to divine inspiration.  I prefer the inspirational route, however, this is not an “out of the blue” inspirational experience, but one that is crafted through time and dedication to one’s environment to develop a rapport with both nature and inspiration itself, until they both work hand in hand.  To the Druid, inspiration lies all around us in the environment, whichever environment that may be.

The word – inspiration – to inspire, breathe in.  Breathing in must, of course, be followed by breathing out – exhalation.  Breathing is the most primitive and simplest way we relate to our environment, and the most effective way of remembering that we are a part of it.  The air that we breathe is also the air our ancestors breathed 50, 100, 1000 years ago.  It is also the air that the willow, alders and yew trees exhaled 50, 100 or 1000 years ago.  The wasp breathes in the same air, the grasses and wildflowers exhaling into the deepening twilight.  We can relate to our environment by simply remembering how to breathe, what we breathe and how it is all connected.  From that, we literally gain inspiration, as well as being inspired by it.  The inspired Druid then exhales that inspiration, whether it be a song to the darkening skies before a thunderstorm, giving thanks before partaking in a meal, writing a symphony, throwing paint at a wall or dancing in the light of the moon.  This establishes a communication between the Druid and the environment – speaking to each other, even if it is without words.

We relate to our environment though inspiration, and we are all related, as the Native American proverb says.  It isn’t simply communication with our environment, but a soul-deep sense of relativity – we are all related.  By being related, this instills within us a sense of responsibility, of caring for the environment, whichever one it may be.  If we see that we are related to the badgers living in the brown-land area soon to be re-developed, then we also see that we must take action to ensure that they are safe.  If we see that we are related to the food that we eat, we will ensure that we eat organically and, if possible, grow our own food as much as we can to develop that relationship even further. If we see that we are related to our neighbour next door, we are more likely to establish an honourable connection to them and the rest of the community. It creates a sense of caring for the environment and all within it, and it is no easy task.

The challenge that faces the Druid is to see clearly these relationships, and to act honourably in all regards.  If this challenge is accepted, then the worldview is broadened considerably, as is the environment.  The web of life will shimmer with inspiration along every thread.  May it do so for you, all my relations.

http://moon-books.net/blogs/moonbooks/druidry-and-the-environment/

 

How Druidry Relates to the Environment

(from an article I wrote for The Druid Network)

Druidry, perhaps more than any other strand of Paganism in the wide weave of spiritual traditions, takes the environment into consideration on so many levels. Druidry – most commonly believed to be from the old Irish words dru and wid meaning “oak knower”, or even the Proto-European deru and weid “oak-seeker” acknowledges this communion with nature in the very roots (pardon the pun) of the word. Heathenry – one from the heaths, or Wicca (most commonly believed to be from the Saxon wicce, to bend or shape, as a willow branch can be bent or shaped into something quite beautiful) have similar nature-orientated origins, however, the communication between the natural environment and the Druid is even closer simply in the name…

How do Druids view their environment? Many, if not most Druids are animistic, believing in the essential spirit of everything, whether it be rock or tree, raindrop, beetle, horse or the sea. There is a sense of consciousness in everything. When I use the word consciousness, I don’t mean in the scientific sense of the last two centuries, where it was used to differentiate between humans and other animals and also “non-sentient” beings. Consciousness, to me, is a part of the greater whole web of life, where threads are woven together, separate but still connected. It is what makes something what it is – whether it is the rose, a cloud or the moon. It is its own inherent identity, or, more poetically, its own song that makes it what it is.

With that sense of consciousness in all things, it is much harder for the Druid to disregard any aspect of the environment. No longer are wildflowers plucked for their beauty, to die within days on our dining room table. No longer is it an option to squash the spider in the living room who seeking warmth from the coming winter. Our entire perception is changed once we view the environment both as having its own consciousness and as we do so conscientiously. We gain both a greater and broader view of the web of existence, at the same time as finding our own place within it. How wonderful is that?

That world view brings with it a responsibility. No longer are we allowed to remain ignorant in the ways of our own environment. If we are to view it as a whole, then we must truly see every part that we also play within it. If the whole of nature has a spirit, then issues arise such as the taking of a life for food. Many within Druidry are vegetarian, if not vegan, and yet there are still many others who eat the flesh of an animal. Some do so, claiming that ethically raised and slaughtered animals for food are perfectly acceptable to put on our plates. In my own vision of Druidry, the damage caused to the environment by the raising of animals for food does not allow that luxury of thinking. It takes much more energy and resources to raise animals for food than it does to plant in the same amount of land a sustainable, organic crop for food. In giving up animal meat and animal products for both food and other commodities, we are caring more for our environment and also, at the same time, sacrificing our ignorance of the weighty issues behind such matters to become fully aware. We must accept responsibility for our part.

The word environment has many meanings, however. Our immediate response to the word is the natural environment – nature. There are many other environments, however – little worlds created by human consciousness. We have our work environment, our home environment, our villages, communities and cities. There is the issue of human to human interaction as well as interaction with nature (though as humans are a part of nature, I realise that I am contradicting myself in some ways, but please bear with me). Our own sense of self, or self-awareness, creates a thorny path through which we must navigate carefully, in order not to injure ourselves or others. Unless one lives as a hermit, the Druid will have interaction with other human beings, some Druids, some not. As with the Druid relationship with nature, sensing the inherent consciousness within it, Druidry teaches us that same sense of consciousness in human interactions. I admit – it is a lot easier for some people to respect an old oak tree than most human beings, however to be fully aware of our relationship with others we must act with a certain sense of honour, that same sense of honour, in fact, that we give to nature. We may not like some human beings, much in the same way we may not like broccoli, but we still acknowledge and respect their place in the wider web.

So how do we relate to our environment? Within Druidry, there is a beautiful Welsh word, awen. Various meanings range from flowing water to divine inspiration. I prefer the inspirational route, however, this is not an “out of the blue” inspirational experience, but one that is crafted through time and dedication to one’s environment to develop a rapport with both nature and inspiration itself, until they both work hand in hand. To the Druid, inspiration lies all around us in the environment, whichever environment that may be. The word – inspiration – to inspire, breathe in. Breathing in must, of course, be followed by breathing out – exhalation. Breathing is the most primitive and simplest way we relate to our environment, and the most effective way of remembering that we are a part of it. The air that we breathe is also the air our ancestors breathed 50, 100, 1000 years ago. It is also the air that the willow, alders and yew trees exhaled 50, 100 or 1000 years ago. The wasp breathes in the same air, the grasses and wildflowers exhaling into the deepening twilight. We can relate to our environment by simply remembering how to breathe, what we breathe and how it is all connected. From that, we literally gain inspiration, as well as being inspired by it. The inspired Druid then exhales that inspiration, whether it be a song to the darkening skies before a thunderstorm, giving thanks before partaking in a meal, writing a symphony, throwing paint at a wall or dancing in the light of the moon. This establishes a communication between the Druid and the environment – speaking to each other, even if it is without words.

We relate to our environment though inspiration, and we are all related, as the Native American proverb says. It isn’t simply communication with our environment, but a soul-deep sense of relativity – we are all related. By being related, this instills within us a sense of responsibility, of caring for the environment, whichever one it may be. If we see that we are related to the badgers living in the brown-land area soon to be re-developed, then we also see that we must take action to ensure that they are safe. If we see that we are related to the food that we eat, we will ensure that we eat organically and, if possible, grow our own food as much as we can to develop that relationship even further. If we see that we are related to our neighbour next door, we are more likely to establish an honourable connection to them and the rest of the community. It creates a sense of caring for the environment and all within it, and it is no easy task.

The challenge that faces the Druid is to see clearly these relationships, and to act honourably in all regards. If this challenge is accepted, then the worldview is broadened considerably, as is the environment. The web of life will shimmer with inspiration along every thread. May it do so for you, all my relations.