Many of us have heard the saying “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”. Like all sayings, they can be misinterpreted. Love is one of the most powerful gods. Love is so much more than romance, than warm fuzzy feelings for another. Love can be an unshakeable force, it can inspire us to greatness or tear us apart.

Never having to say sorry with regards to love has been misused by many as an excuse to behave badly, to not care about the feelings of others, to live in a purely self-centred state. It is also often implied that if we really love someone we should always be willing to forgive their behaviour. In Buddhism, it is widely regarded that we are all Buddhas, that we all have the ability for true compassion. However, we are also all human, with all the wonderful implications, limitations and foibles that it entails.

We have all known people whose behaviour has been less than glowing, who are so entrapped in their own worlds and minds that they often create a reality which is completely and utterly different to the one that you may experience. As humans, we have a shared reality and shared human experience, but as beings that are supposedly self-aware we become trapped in this self-awareness to the point of it spilling over into less than glowing behaviour. Love accepts the humanity of everyone. Love accepts reality. Love is compassion.

Compassion, however, doesn’t mean we have to take everyone’s crap. Compassion is understanding, trying to see the bigger picture, to understand why someone behaves the way that they do. In this attempt, we step outside of our “small selves” and out into a greater reality. We open up our perception. We may never truly understand, but at least in the attempt we see that the world is more than just our experience, our perceived reality. We recognise the experience and reality of others.

When that reality hurts us, when people do or say things to undermine us for whatever reason, should we simply forgive and move on? I’m not entirely sure it’s within human capacity to truly forgive, though people like Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh are real-life inspirations for this way of being. We may find that the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. Perhaps we need to focus less on “us” forgiving “them” and simply focus on living our own lives in way that means that we will never have to say “I’m sorry” to another. This, in my opinion, is the real interpretation of the saying “Love means never having to say I’m sorry”.

We may fail, and there is nothing wrong with saying “I’m sorry”, however.

When we come against people we simply cannot be with, we can still try to understand them, to look beyond our self. It can often put us into the bigger picture, allowing more of a peripheral vision of the world that encompasses everything and in doing so, allowing the self to fall away in integrated living. Sometimes we simply have to walk away from that relationship in order to work compassionately with our selves, for we simply suffer too much at that given time to be able to function properly. We can do this with partners we’ve been romantically involved with – when it no longer works, we can bow to each other and walk away with respect, and hopefully a little compassion for both them and ourselves.

What we have to focus on most though is our own life, and our own behaviour. We have to live our lives in a way that means we will hopefully never have to apologise for our behaviour. It’s not an easy path, but it’s one that is worthwhile. In doing so, we will walk lightly upon the earth, loving the earth with every fibre of our being, loving everything on the earth with eyes wide open and a heart filled with compassion. We can love life, the power of the gods moving through us and around us, and live our lives in celebration of this.

As the first snowdrops bloom here in the UK, and the songs of the birds change to love of each other, of the warming sun and the greening of the land, may our hearts too be filled with love.


Happy New Year!

The end of another calendar year, and a time to reflect. What a fabulous year it has been. The ups as well as the downs, all of it has been a great experience. Life certainly is the best teacher.

So, what are the plans for next year? Well, I shall be continuing to write, a much longer book than those of the Pagan Portals series for Moon Books. This new project is called “Hedge Druidry”, and is basically an extension of The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid.

I also plan to start a much bigger vegetable garden next year, and go on a mushrooming course so that I am able to identify more mushrooms than just the parasol ones we munch on here that grow in the beautiful sandy soil.

I also have a wonderful new project that will hopefully start up in the autumn of 2015, but I can’t tell you about that just yet – I will hopefully have news for you very shortly! Hint – it’s about learning Druidry…

Lastly, I aim to simplify even more. This year I already reduced the time spent on social media, cleared the clutter in my house and spent even more time in meditation. I hope to continue on this path, making more time for the people that I love, the places that I love and the things that I really love doing.

In this time of reflection, don’t feel bad about the things you didn’t accomplish. Instead, reaffirm your resolve to try again, and persevere with a good heart and a pure mind. Make resolutions for the New Year, but for yourself and not for anyone else. If you want to lose weight, that’s great – but do it for your own health, with a doctor’s or nutritionist’s advice. Don’t do it to make yourself more beautiful – you already are beautiful. Likewise, quitting bad habits such as smoking or drinking are equally good resolutions to make, as long as you are truly willing to go the distance, for your own health and well-being. If we can do such things for ourselves, then we see that we can serve others as well. We have to take care of ourselves as well as each other.

And so I wish you a very Happy New Year. May you love one another, may peace fill your hearts. Love and peace are there, seeds waiting to be nourished by you and only you, not anyone else. Give them the attention that they need, and watch them bloom. Only you can do this.

With peace and love, and many thanks for following me down the forest path,

Jo. x

Food for Thought

food_for_thoughtWe’ve all heard the term, “you are what you eat”. We know that if we put bad things into our bodies, we’ll end up feeling pretty poorly. Equally, if we put good, wholesome, nourishing food into our bodies, we will feel much better. How much different is it to take this idea over to our thinking minds?

Our minds need nourishment too. All too often, we overload it with media and television, with constant thinking, worrying and getting stuck in our emotions. These things also help us to distract ourselves from our true self, from our true or “pure” thinking and emotions. We can get so wrapped up in them that we can’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak.

We all have things like fear and anger within our minds and within our bodies. The key is to not nourish these things, but instead nourish more positive things like compassion and love. This isn’t a rejection of our anger or our fear – they will always be there. It’s only human. We simply don’t have to engage with them, dance with them so much in order to live our lives fully. If I am angry, sitting with that anger, meditating with it helps me to see the underlying cause of it. I can see that the root cause of anger lies within me, and not another being that has ’caused’ it. Often it is through past experiences that we relate the anger to the present moment. If I can let my anger go, if I truly experience it and then let it go, what am I left with? The same can be said of fear. Fear is pretty much always based on change, and once we realise that all life is impermanent, the fear no longer lies within us and simply falls away. We will have to sit with these emotions time after time, but as long as we are practicing with them, we will get better at understanding them both within ourselves and others.

If we feed fear or anger, they will only get bigger and bigger. Have you ever punched your pillow? Did it make you feel better? Have you ever crawled under the duvet and feared coming out? Did this make anything better? Most likely not – acting on the anger and misplacing it on your pillow solves nothing, and also means that you have acted out aggressively and with violence to a mere pillow. If we keep feeding this sort of behaviour, how long until we act that out on another human being? Equally so with fear, if we constantly act on our fears they do not go away, but rather take control of our lives until we become so tied up within them we cannot move.

It’s not just a case of switching over to ‘positive thinking’ either. Thinking only good thoughts will not make the bad ones go away – they will be there. We have to acknowledge them first and then deal with them. Sitting with them helps us to understand them. Then we can nourish more positive thoughts. If we see that fear is keeping us immobile, if the root of our fear lies in past relationships and experiences, we can then look at it objectively and apply that reasoning to our current situation, in the present moment. We might fear that we will lose our job, but fear lies in change, something that we humans hate. We seek stability and reassurance constantly, it’s our nature. If we look outside ourselves, however we see that in nature nothing is ever constant, things are ever flowing and changing, never the same twice. Every morning we wake up a different person.

We will always have fear, we will always have anger. How we engage with them is what is most important. Friends might say something that sets off anger within ourselves, but if we sit with it and look at it, we often realise that this is based on how we think they should behave. People are never going to behave exactly as we want or expect them to – they are their own person, with their own experiences. We cannot get inside their head. All we can do is see that they share the same sufferings along the path of human existence as we do, and can see also where we have failed. When we see that, we don’t have these expectations of others, and we don’t have the anger when the expectations aren’t met, or the fear that things are changing.

Find what nourishes you most, and work with those thoughts while being in touch with those that don’t nourish. Try not to engage with the thoughts that don’t nourish – simply notice them and be aware of them within yourself. Nourishing things like love, compassion, creativity and acceptance will make the road of life a lot easier to manage.

Take a look at your food for thought. What is nourishing you?

Awen blessings. x

Unconditional Love

In the Goddess Temple in Glastonbury this June, as I sat down to find some space after an interview with Philip Carr-Gomm for Druidcast, a lady approached me and asked if I would write a blog post about unconditional love. She said she was having trouble with this concept, and I said I would do my best. I have been thinking about this matter for a few weeks now, mulling it over and letting it settle in my mind before putting words to paper (or a computer screen, as it were – it just seems less poetic).

First, we have to define just what love is. The Oxford English dictionary defines it thus:
• A strong feeling of affection
• A great interest and pleasure in something
• A person or thing that one loves

A difficult one; look at several other dictionaries and you’ll notice that even they cannot seem to agree on what love is first and foremost. It is such a widespread and subjective concept that changes depending upon culture, religious or philosophical points of view. In an Eastern tradition such as Buddhism, love is more than affection, pleasure or something that one loves. Indeed, in most traditions it is more than that: love is peace; love is understanding; love is compassion; love is life itself.

For me, love is all these things. That is why it is so difficult to define. When considered in this context, love is, in itself, unconditional – or is it? Can you put a condition on the notion of peace, of understanding, of compassion, of life itself?

In a way, yes. Throughout the world, peace, understanding and living are kept under certain conditions in order to benefit the greater good. Laws and customs in every society are created for the supposed benefit of all – is this love? Laws and customs are a condition for keeping the peace, yet when we consider things such as genital mutilation, are we acting on a condition that brings about love?

Reining it back in for a moment, in most Eastern traditions love equals compassion. So, what is compassion? I’ve talked about the nature of compassion for years on this blog, considering it from every angle possible. Compassion is trying to see the bigger picture, to see that everyone suffers, and to alleviate suffering, both yours and the world at large. This compassion does not mean that you then become a doormat, however. The Dalai Lama states in his essay on “Compassion and the Individual”:

“[w]hen a problem first arises, try to remain humble and maintain a sincere attitude and be concerned that the outcome is fair. Of course, others may try to take advantage of you, and if your remaining detached only encourages unjust aggression, adopt a strong stand. This, however, should be done with compassion, and if it is necessary to express your views and take strong countermeasures, do so without anger or ill-intent.”

In this quote, compassion comes about with a concern that the outcome is fair. Fairness is, in itself, yet another subjective concept that means so many different things to so many different people. It would appear that we’re already on shaky ground before we’ve even gotten through to the concept of unconditional love. However, in the “without anger or ill-intent” there seems to be a key.

If we do not harbour anger or ill-intent towards anyone, is this the gift that unlocks the door to unconditional love? It just might be. I may disagree with political parties, companies, individual persons, but I do not wish them harm. I may hate most of David Cameron’s policies, but I would not wish him personally to come to harm. I may write petitions, raise money or volunteer, protest his policies; I may express my point of view with words and conviction, strong in my personal belief of what is right. I can do all of this without ill-intent. Without anger? Sometimes, but not all the time. For me, anger and ill-intent are two very separate issues.

So what is unconditional love? Is it living in a world without ill-intent towards other beings, human and non-human? I’m not sure that quite covers it – loving someone and not wishing them harm are not exactly the same thing. Is anger here the key to unlocking this further mystery?

What is anger? I’ve pondered this one for years, and have come to the conclusion that anger has its roots in fear. I become angry because I fear my personal rights are compromised. I become angry because I fear for the safety of a bluebell wood. I become angry because I fear for the well-being of a friend who suffers. This anger is directed, focused into non-violent action and activism. It is fear that is transformed into energy for what I perceive to be the greater good. Like everything, it is subjective. Is this anger all that bad then, considering the focus? Looking and understanding fear helps me to use anger and to understand anger in others. When someone shouts abuse at me, I understand their fear. It doesn’t mean I have to like it, but I understand it. With Thich Nhat Hanh’s concept of “Engaged Buddhism”, one can work to counter that fear and anger and stand up for what they believe is right, while maintaining an awareness of the whole.

There is a saying, “love means never having to say you’re sorry”. This is not to mean that one should behave badly, without thought or care for others – quite the contrary. It means that one should live a life that causes the least amount of suffering for others, so that you will never have to apologise in the first place. It’s a nice thought, and one to work towards. It carries the notion of personal responsibility for all actions.

In my opinion, it is all that we can do to become aware of our emotions, of our fears and our passions and work for the greater good in all that we do. I can look to my gods for inspiration.
With regards to Druidry, it is often said that we do not submit to our gods, for to do so would destroy us. In Druidry, anger is a god. Love is equally a god. Should we therefore not submit to love, either? More questions…

We may have to take a strong stand in our convictions at times. We have to look at the nature of love, of anger and of fear and understand the currents of these energies to better understand their influence in our lives. Thinking about these energies more often than not brings up more questions, making us quest ever deeper for the awen that will show us the way to peace.

Perhaps love is more akin to the concept of animism, which Emma Restall Orr defines as seeing the inherent value in all things. We do not need conditions to make this idea work. We value everything, no matter what, and work with our gods to better understand the nature of all being and all beings, questing the awen that will allow us to tap into that well and drink deeply.

So is this unconditional love? Or is it a case of only if when there is absolutely no fear, can there be unconditional love. Is that humanly possible? I’m not so sure yet – I’m still thinking about it. Is animism the inspiration that will unlock the mystery of unconditional love?

The Power of Love

I dreamt the other night that I was on a bus, and we were driving up a hill. I was sitting up front, behind the driver, and as we rounded a corner I knew that we were going too fast – we skidded off the road and then off the cliff.

We plummeted through the air, the fall foliage from the treetops skimming the bottom of the bus. I decided to try and make my way to the back of the bus, where I might stand a slim chance of survival when we hit the ground. Fighting against gravity, I pulled myself up two, three, four rows. By now, I realised that we would soon hit the ground, and so I thought to myself “It’s time to turn around, and see death as it approaches”. I turned to face my impending doom.

The ground rushed up to meet us, but we just managed to miss – it was an outcropping of the same cliff. So we continued our plummet, the wind rushing around us. I made my way further to the back of bus, hoping to survive the final crash. At about halfway, I turned once again to meet my fate. I watched the ground come closer, and just before we hit, I said “I love you”. I pictured my husband’s face, but it was not only for him that the words were meant; I felt love also for my family, my friends, and the entire planet. I felt love for ALL life. It was the most extraordinary feeling.

No sooner had those words escaped my lips, and the feeling of love filled my heart, that the bus caught a thermal updraft, and we swooped inches above the ground, rising softly to land as lightly as a feather upon the ground.

I woke up, completely astounded.

That was the power of love.