Reblog: Bullies and Re-membering

This is a reblog from my channel at PaganSquare… to see the original, click HERE.

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“Bully Bogey” by Brian Froud, from the book Good Faeries, Bad Faeries

I was bullied really badly as a teenager. I went from being an utterly confident 12-year old, full of promise and with a “sky’s the limit” attitude to one of sheer terror and depression. For three long years I suffered physically and mentally at the hands of a few girls who were two grades above me. Those feelings never go away.

The problem with bullies is that they too never go away. You may never see those childhood bullies again in your life, but they’ll always be there, living in your head, little demons that run out and snarl at you when you least expect it. You have forgiven the childhood bullies, and done cleansing ceremonies. You’ve accepted and moved on. You’ve lived the best life you can. But they’re still there. They are a part of you, and they wait to pounce on you, grasping into your flesh with their sharp little fingers, whispering in your ear. Through acts of kindness, through living a life of compassion for others, you can keep them at bay, but they never, ever go away. A tiny crack in the fortress of love can allow these slippery little demons through. There merest tear in the fabric of your being allows them to shred their way straight through to your soul. Yet you continue, you go on, putting one foot in front of the other. Demons of the past may have been dealt with, but they re-emerge with demons of the present, a lingering army in your mind, combining forces in an assault against your very being. So how to win through?

As with any abuse, we can only take things one day at a time. Things will happen in our lives that will allow these demons a chance to take hold once again. New bullies may appear in your life, and dog you for years, trying to bring you down. You struggle and fight against the abuse with all the resources you have to hand: love, empathy, compassion, intelligence, determination. You may win a battle, but the war is a long one, and you are tired. So we carry on, one day at a time, one battle at a time, keeping those demons and bullies at bay, from both the past and present. It’s not easy. But you know that giving in to them is not an option, for then they would tear you apart, turn you into one of them. You struggle on, seeing the good in people, despite everything aimed at you, despite the unkindness in the world today. Is it sheer determination or just plain stubbornness? You don’t know, but you carry on regardless.

People can be wonderful. They can also be utterly awful. Though my life is filled with mostly beautiful folk, there are one or two that try to negate all that loveliness, with sour words and tongues, whispering into the ears of others, for whatever reason. These broken souls wend their way into your life every now and then, and there is no option but to deal with them as best you can. And when you have past abuse to contend with, the assault on the psyche is even worse, as issues from the past rise once again to the surface, and you realise that you have to deal with them all over again. I’m 42, going on 14.

But then again, aren’t we all? We are all stories, stories of our past trying to live in the present moment, without worrying too much about the future. We work and walk with nature, seeing the beauty in the sunset, the mystery in the moonrise. We know the different gods, we talk to the ancestors, we dance with the spirits of place. We find inspiration everywhere, and so do we use our spiritual path as well to help us along on our journey, no matter what demons rear their ugly heads.

We need to remember. We need to re-member. We need to take our inspiration from nature, to bring ourselves back into being. We need to recreate ourselves each and every day. By remembering who we are, we can re-member our very being, bringing together those disparate elements that we have lost at the hands of abuse, allowing the past to have happened, but not allowing it to live in the present moment. If we remember, we acknowledge the past. If we re-member, we forge ourselves anew in the light of a brand new day. By bringing the two together, we can find wisdom.

I spoke with Rhiannon, Bloedeuwedd and Cerridwen recently about the bullies in my life, past and present. They helped me to acknowledge the past suffering, as well as the present. I am unable to do anything about the behaviour of other people, foul as it may be. But I can remain open and honest, compassionate and kind. These were their words to me, along with words of caution: they also reminded me that I have nothing to prove.

Often when we are bullied, either from the past or in the present moment, we feel that “living well is the best revenge”. However, if revenge is anywhere in your thoughts, you most certainly are not living well. We can pour inordinate amounts of time and energy into trying to prove ourselves against those who would badmouth us, who would threaten us, who would try to bring us down for their own troubled reasons. But as we realise that we have nothing to prove to these people, we release them from our lives, allowing them to be blown away on the evening breeze. We can face the darkness without fear of them lurking in the shadows.

There will always be people who are antagonistic towards you in your life, for whatever reason. My advice, for myself and for all who have suffered similarly, is to not overcompensate, for in doing so those bullies still have a hold over you. We need to take a stand sometimes in our life, and we need to speak out against injustice. But when we feel that we have something to prove, then little cracks being to appear in our being. It’s the ego talking, and it’s not coming from a place of compassion or empathy. It’s almost a form of punishment, which is perfectly understandable given the amount of suffering one may have undergone. It’s a purely human response, and we can acknowledge it as such. How we act upon that feeling is what defines us.

The bullies in our life, past, present and future, may never go away. We may have to content with them again and again, privately, publicly, professionally. My advice to all who have similarly suffered would be to not fall into the trap of overcompensation. We all have little coping mechanisms to help us get through. Look deeply into the amount of time and energy that you give to a situation, and see where that time and energy might be better spent: with family and loved ones, for example. Look for the good in the world. Look for the beauty.

I remember those long bus rides home, over an hour, with name-calling, food/garbage throwing, physical abuse, etc. I remember the more recent times of bullying in my professional life. And I re-member myself. I see the beauty of the clear blue sky, and I re-member. I see my cat’s sleepy face, and I re-member. I make love to my husband, and I re-member. I laugh with my friends, and I re-member. These are the important things that require focus and attention. This is where I can find the core of my being. This is what I re-member.

And when I do, I can let it all go, slipping into the gentle stream that burbles in the sunlight, that nourishes with its very being everything it touches.

Release

p1000386-1024x666I had a lovely solo ritual last evening, to celebrate the autumn equinox. As the sun set, I meditated on the changing colours in the sky, on the harvest that has taken place, the wheat and corn crops taken in, the onions and turnips. The fields are still being tended, ploughed for winter veg, seeding with potatoes and other root crops. The sounds of work in the fields is still going on, even as the evening dog walkers pick blackberries and apples from the hedgerows. It’s a strange time of both noise and stillness, when the swifts and house martins have mostly left, the skies seeming emptier for it. The dawn chorus is softer, the evening calls less urgent.

The times of the festivals have an effect on me, physically as well as spiritually. At these strong points in the year, I often feel at odds, not quite in this realm or any other. At Beltane, my head felt like it was being pressed in on all sides as we spent time at the local tumuli. Yesterday, and the day before, I felt dizzy, sometimes faint as it seemed the energy was swirling around me yet again. Being very susceptible to pressure changes in the air, I feel I’m becoming even more sensitive to energies unseen that roil and swirl around this little sphere hurtling through space.

I love autumn. I love the energy that it brings, a quiet, soft, energy: a release. It seems that all summer long, from Beltane onwards there has been a swift build-up of energy that it seeking its release. Some of it goes at midsummer, but most of it is contained, helping to ripen the harvest fruits. It’s at this time of year, when the fruits fall, that the energy is released, the potential lying still and quiet in the seeds, ready for winter’s dreaming.

And so at last night’s ritual, I began with meditation, and then did the ritual in my usual way, scattering leaves and saying words of my appreciation for the season and the harvest around my circle. I also prayed for peace, a deep, heartfelt prayer, as well as doing five earth touchings. I then meditated again, the sun having set, feeling the balance between darkness and light. I opened my self to what I needed to learn over the long dark nights of approaching winter, widening my perspective, allowing nature to guide me. Instantly, one word rang through my head: forgiveness.

Taking inspiration from nature, I thought about forgiveness. If any ecosystem held a grudge, then it would fail. Trees continue to provide us with oxygen, despite us decimating their population. Herbs continue to grow, despite humanity’s propensity for herbicides. The rain falls, the sun shines, and we still reap the rewards that this world has to offer each and every day. If we could only do the same, if we could only learn true forgiveness, then this world would be a much better place.

I thought that I was pretty good at forgiveness. I’ve forgiven people in my life who have caused me to suffer. But taking a deeper look, my forgiveness wasn’t all-encompassing. I needed to release the anger and hate, like the leaf falls from the tree, like the leaves that lay scattered all around me in my ritual circle.

Forgiveness is one of the most difficult things to do for us humans. We often equate forgiveness with weakness, seeing it as a relinquishing of power. Those who forgive, we think, are only setting themselves up for more grief from those who would cause them to suffer. They’re doormats.

What we don’t realise is the exquisite power of forgiveness. When we can truly forgive, we can move on with our own lives. This doesn’t mean that we condone bad behaviour; far from it. We can still stand up for ourselves, speak out against injustices. We will still face struggles with people in our lives. But we can suffer less in ourselves, if we can forgive.

But we don’t want to. We want the other person to suffer, for all the hurt that they have done to us and to others. If we forgive, we think that they’ve been left off the hook. This most certainly isn’t the case. Everyone is accountable for their actions, everyone has a responsibility for their own life. We can’t force anyone to accept this, of course, but we can set the example for others. And when others don’t follow our example, we shrug and move on, knowing that we have, at the very least, stopped the suffering in ourselves.

But we want to change people. We want to stop people who are hurting others, and rightly so. So we can stand up for what is right, remembering that there is more than one right. We can also forgive, because everyone is suffering in some form or other. Whether willingly or not, when someone is causing another being harm, they are suffering deep inside from some affliction that we may never realise. They are fighting their own battles. We must set the example.

That doesn’t mean that we’re going to suddenly start liking these people. But we can allow the power of compassion to flow freely, to stop the pain in our lives, and when we do it begins to radiate outwards, like rings of water in a still pond. We’re not going to take any crap, but equally we’re not going to allow any crap that comes our way to cause us to suffer, to continue to make us crazy, hurt or bitter. We’re going to remain open, calm and filled with love for this planet, and in doing so understand the true meaning of forgiveness.

We’re also going to forgive ourselves. In doing so, we find peace. We’ve all screwed up, we’ve all caused pain at some point. We need to release that in order to function properly. We accept responsibility for our actions, and ensure that we never do it again. We strive to be better people, to make the world a better place.

Some would query whether it is truly possible for any human being to really forgive. I’ve thought about this myself. As such emotionally biased creatures, are we able to set aside our skewed perceptions of any given situation? In the attempt to do so, at the very least, is the heart of compassion. In the striving to do so, we rise to the challenge.

So my ritual last night was filled with my home environment providing me with the awen on the nature of forgiveness, compassion and love. And as I sat in the growing darkness, the cool soft breeze playing around me, I whispered these four words: I welcome the darkness.

 

Boundless

Yesterday I was able to catch up with two friends from high school – we three haven’t been together for around 13 years. Having friends that you can talk to, about absolutely anything, and know that they’re really listening, that they’re there for you, that they love you no matter what distance lies between you or how much time has passed is one of life’s greatest blessings. I am so utterly blessed in that I have made some truly wonderful and remarkable friends both where I grew up in Canada and where I have lived for the past 18 years in the UK.

Today I am also helping my Mom host a huge family reunion BBQ in our backyard. We have nearly 40 people coming, some family members I haven’t seen for twenty years, cousins I used to babysit who now have children of their own. We’ve always had a close family, spending every weekend at the grandparents’ when we were little, all the cousins playing while the aunts and uncles talked about grown-up things with my Oma and Opa. It’s so amazing that we’re all still able to get together, to laugh and to celebrate simply being alive on this gorgeous autumnal day. I’m sure my Oma and Opa would have loved to have seen everyone together again, and I shall be having a glass of punch for both of them who live on inside me, looking out through my eyes and the eyes and hearts of the rest of the family in this beautiful part of the world.

A loving family is a real treasure. Good friends are a true blessing. Never take these for granted. Breathe, smile, and be in the moment. Be present for them, and take them deep into your heart. Love and joy are boundless, and like the soul cannot be contained within the body. The soul is the container for the body, not the other way around, and the soul expands outwards as far as the horizon can see.

Today, my soul is flying high in the clearest of blue skies, riding autumnal breezes, smiling from my heart and enjoying my Mom’s delicious punch.

May your soul be free as well. x

So Happy

So happyZen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh suffered a massive stroke and brain haemorrhage last year, which left him incapacitated for many months. He is now able to move slightly, and recently managed to utter his first few words (pictured on the right). His joy for life, whatever suffering he may be going through, is an inspiration to all. He has changed some of his therapists’ lives through his example of mindfulness, one therapist even breaking down and crying when she realised just how she had never really seen the beautiful blue sky before in San Francisco. Thay couldn’t yet speak, however he did was point to the window to remind her of the beauty of the sky and the gift of opening our perception to it. It changed her world, and they were both happy.

The beauty and wonder of the present moment is there for us all. All we have to do is open our perception to see it. In the midst of great suffering there is the possibility of great compassion. In this compassion there is the power of love and beauty, two words that may be bandied about recklessly in our modern-day, but words, concepts and energies that have real power within them.

Through our suffering, we can make small steps towards awareness and mindfulness by becoming awake and aware, thereby easing our suffering and that of the world around us. We notice things that we wouldn’t otherwise notice in our suffering, as we turn our gaze outwards and perceive the world in its entirety rather than just our own suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh is a wonderful example of one who has seen and experienced the suffering of war, of exile, of persecution and physical trauma and still sees the power of love and beauty in the world around him. When I suffer, I shall breathe in and out, look at the sky, the trees, into the eyes of a loved one and know happiness and joy, there finding the deepest gratitude for my blessings.

Walking together down life’s pathways…

Jo&Family-67Today I am getting married. I am marrying the man I married nearly six years ago to the day.

Love changes with the passage of time. This change is like a fine wine, aging quietly, mellowing and creating a deeper, richer flavour to delight the palette. Things have changed between us, as we are not the same people we were six years ago. Things remain the same, as we hold many things close to our hearts as we did six years ago. Life experience has flavoured our journey together, giving it a sweetness and a spice that was only hinted at all those years ago.

We’ve been lovers for fourteen years. We’ve been married for six of those fourteen years, enjoying each other’s company, riding the currents of this river of time together, paddling together through the rapids, floundering when we’re not concentrating on working together. We’re best friends who hold many things in common, loving many of the same things. We are also polar opposites, having many differences in outlook, upbringing, ways of thinking. Having grown together, especially these last two to three years and working through various difficulties has made us see the best and the worst in each other. We don’t take certain things, like health, for granted anymore. We don’t take each other for granted anymore.

As my love for my husband has deepened, so too shall my vows today reflect that change. Nothing stays the same, life is always in constant change and flux. The impermanence of everything helps me to see the joys of life greatly, even in the deepest sorrow and pain.

I am deeply honoured to have married a wonderful man who both adores me and is not afraid to stand up to me. He loves me for who I am, never asking me to change, supporting me in all that I do even when he doesn’t really understand it. He has taught me so much about myself, about the give and take in a relationship, about what it means to nurture something and really being there for each other. Today I pledge my love for him once again, witnessed by friends, the ancestors and the spirits of place.

May love guide us in our journey.

Touching the Earth

Imagine my delight when I read how practices I am currently doing in my Druid tradition are also being done by the venerable Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh (you will notice quite a few blog posts dedicated to his teachings on this blog!). In his book The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology  he provides some lovely daily practices (gathas) to honour the earth that we can fit into our everyday life. Some of these I was doing already in various forms, such as prayers before meals, washing hands/body, drinking water, etc, and some were new and equally poignant, to be incorporated in my daily practice. But what really struck a chord with me was the Five Earth Touchings that he described after the Earth gathas and how similar they were to my daily prayers.

He recommends to Touch the Earth each and every day, to establish our deep and abiding connection with the earth and to give thanks for all that we have, reminding ourselves of who we are, where we came from, our ancestors of the future and living a life filled with compassion and peace.

He states “The practice of Touching the Earth is to return to the Earth, to our roots, to our ancestors, and to recognize that we are not alone but connected to a whole stream of spiritual and blood ancestors. We are their continuation and with them, will continue into the future generations. We touch the earth to let go of the idea that we are separate and to remind us that we are the Earth and part of Life.

When we touch the Earth we become small, with the humility and simplicity of a young child. When we touch the Earth we become great, like an ancient tree sending her roots deep into the earth, drinking from the source of all waters. When we touch the Earth, we breathe in all the strength and stability of the Earth, and breathe out our suffering- our feelings of anger, hatred, fear, inadequacy and grief.

Our hands join to form a lotus bud and we gently lower ourselves to the ground so that all four limbs and our forehead are resting comfortably on the floor. While we are Touching the Earth we turn our palms face up, showing our openness to the three jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha), and the Sangha (the community). After one or two times practicing Touching the Earth (Three Touchings or Five Touchings), we can already release a lot of our suffering and feeling of alienation and reconcile with our ancestors, parents, children, or friends.”

The first Earth Touching is “In gratitude, I bow to all generations of ancestors in my blood family.” Here we honour our blood ties, the stories that brought us to where we are today, the generations of love and suffering in our bloodlines that help to create our story today. By opening ourselves to our ancestors we acknowledge all this, and can ask for their protection, love and support. In Druidry, we honour the ancestors, and in my own tradition I state “I honour the ancestors of blood, whose stories flow through my veins”.

The second Earth Touching is “In gratitude, I bow to all generations of ancestors in my spiritual family.” Here we honour the teachers who have shared their wisdom and insight, throughout the years, whether we have known them personally or not. We can see ourselves in these people. These are the people who can help us to transform our suffering and bring about peace, both in our own hearts and in the world. In my own tradition, I state “I honour the ancestors of tradition, whose wisdom flows through the teachings.”

The third Earth Touching is “In gratitude, I bow to this land and all of the ancestors who made it available.” Here we honour the spirits and/or ancestors of place, who have made this world that we live in. They are in the soil and wind, all those who have lived and died and now exist in another form. It is the energy of the land upon which we live, that we can feel humming in our bones, if we only open ourselves to listen. In my tradition, I state “I honour the ancestors of place, whose songs flow through this land”.

The fourth Earth Touching is “In gratitude and compassion, I bow down and transmit my energy to those I love.” Here we share the wisdom and insight gained from our practice and spread that out to all our loved ones in a form of prayer. The energy we have received from the earth is given freely, and so we too give freely to those we love. We can ask our ancestors for their protection and aid in this matter. In my tradition, I state “May there be peace in the hearts and minds of all those I hold dear, my family, friends and loved ones.”

The fifth Earth Touching is “In understanding and compassion, I bow down to reconcile myself with all those who have made me suffer.” Here we learn that the earth gives of her energy without discrimination or prejudice, and we can learn to live magnanimously in all that we do. We understand that people who cause us to suffer do so through their own wrong perceptions, and we pray that they find a way to relieve their suffering. We work towards not holding any anger or hatred towards these people, instead trying to understand in order to better work in the world. Again, we can ask our ancestors for help in this matter. In my tradition, I state “May peace be in the hearts and minds of those who cause me and others around them to suffer, may they know loving kindness.

The similarities between what I currently do as a Zen-minded Druid and these Buddhist practices absolutely delight me, and could to transform much of the world’s suffering if done with mindfulness and loving kindness. Try to take some time each day to recite the Earth Touchings above, or something similar – it could change your life, or at the very least ease some of the suffering and provide a path to peace that is yours and yours alone to walk.

1,000 Oceans

Another beautiful song that spoke to me many, many years ago and still makes me weep.  Let the earth heal you, let Her into your heart, free Her and yourselves from the cages we constantly build.  Love the Earth, love yourself, love each other.  Let love rule.