Zen and the Cello

The world-famous cellist, Pablo Casals, was once asked why he practiced eight hours a day, considering his already incredible skills. His reply? “Because I think I’m beginning to make some progress.”

In meditation, these are words to live by. No matter how many hours, days, weeks or years we’ve spent meditating, each and every day is brand new, with different situations affecting our mind. Just going to sit down and do some zazen (sitting meditation) every day, even if it’s only for ten minutes, is a great act of courage.

Why courage? Because you are taking the time to dedicate to your own mental health, and through helping yourself you are better able to help the world. And it takes courage to help the world, alongside resilience and inner strength.

Every time we sit down to meditate, we are performing an act of devotion. We are devoting ourselves to our practice, and in this case, practice does not make perfect; it makes for continual practice. There is no permanency in life; nothing is the same as it was a moment ago. Everything is in constant change, and sometimes those changes are too miniscule for us to see with our eyes. But it is still there, flowing, changing, moving in a world of impermanence. Even the insight that you may gain while sitting down in meditation is impermanent.

It may come as a flash, that brief moment of enlightenment. But then it’s gone, and we are left to carry that tiny insight with us into the rest of our lives, to help us learn and cultivate new insights. That moment where we realise that all is one, that we are all connected, where our ego drops away and we know; that moment of insight is impermanent, like everything else. You will not forever be at peace once you have gained this insight, nor will you become some enlightened being. What that flash of insight brings is more practice, so that you can understand and cultivate that awareness more and more into your daily life. Practice makes practice.

We might like to think that once we have gained some insight, that we have had some sort of “awakening”. But here’s the thing: when we go to sleep every night we still awaken every morning. We don’t just wake up once and have done with it. We constantly need to go through the cycle of sleep and wakefulness. It is so with our minds as well.

Someone who thinks that they are enlightened, that they know all that they need to know, is perhaps one of the most ignorant people on this planet. I’ve been there. We all have, at some point or other. And then we wake up and realise that it is a continuous process of awakening to our lives and to the world. We learn, we grow, we change each and every day. Sometimes we regress, sometimes we progress, but it is still work of some kind.

I like to think that with age, I have developed some sense of being no more than who I am in the moment, right now, and that’s enough. And as soon as I have that moment, it’s gone, and I’ve changed, we’ve all changed. There is nothing special about gaining this information or insight. It’s just me, it’s just you, it’s just how things are right now at this point in time. And that’s all that we can do. As Martin Luther said, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

Except maybe to practice the cello.

For more on Zen and especially in relation to Druidry, see my book: Zen for Druids.

A Devotional Practice

Having a devotional practice can be just what you need to keep on track each and every day on your own personal path. In my own Druidry practice, I have a daily devotional set up to honour the goddess Brighid. Though most devotional practices are centred around deity, this is not absolutely necessary, and indeed one can set up a devotional practice around the spirits of place, for example. If working with deity is not your thing, then this might be a good alternative. However, for the most part, devotional work means working with deity.

Every morning I light a candle and say prayers, followed by a short meditation on a different aspect of the season that I currently find myself in. So today, for example, I meditated for a couple of minutes on “the cauldron”, whereas yesterday is was “winter”. Later on in the week it will be community, silence and other concepts that for me relate to the winter season.

The prayers are fairly short, and written by myself. They might be inspired by other prayers, such as those found in the Carmina Gadelica. I begin my opening my soul to Brighid, and then seeking an aspect of the soul, or of personal growth (or both) that is repeated throughout the season (winter being wisdom). Previously last season was about cleansing, preparation for winter’s reflection and working with emotions.

I also include a prayer for others as well, for the wider world in general. This season it is about those who suffer under the duress of winter, and also helping people to find peace within the stillness and silence that can be found in this season, if we know where to look. It is about connecting to what is happening in the natural world, and hoping to shift the threads of the warp and weft of life into something that runs more smoothly, more naturally, with the rhythms of nature in mind and the benefit of all held in the heart.

All in all, my morning devotional takes around five minutes, and the candle is left to burn until it burns out. (It is an ethically sourced soy tealight candle, placed in an enclosed lantern). I try to do another meditation session for a longer time in the afternoon, if my schedule permits. In the evening, I say devotional prayers again, this time as the sun sets. These prayers help me to wind down, to think about the day and where I am going, as well as for a final blessing on hearth and home, friends and family, and the world at large. It allows space to simply be, to sit in silence, to be with Brighid and to come home to myself.

I had a good time creating my own personal devotional, and it is something that really keeps my soul connected to Brighid throughout the day. If you are interested in creating your own devotional, I can highly recommend it. If you feel you need some inspiration to get started, try by Caitlín Matthews’ Celtic Devotional.

If you find that you aren’t as connected as you would like throughout your everyday life, then having your own devotional practice may be just what you need.

Blessings!

Series Two of Witchy Ways!

Wow – so many episodes of Witchy Ways, that I decided to start a new series 🙂 I’ve also now got the drone and new editing software, so I think the quality of the videos has improved immensely. What do you think?

New video about Imbolc is now up!

Learn about the festival of Imbolc, and how to incorporate it into your magical life 🙂  Subscribe to my Youtube channel to keep up to date with all my new videos! Blessings of the coming gentle time of Imbolc to you all. xoxo

New Weekly Podcast!

_MG_9433I’m starting up a weekly podcast on my Bandcamp page! Every week I aim to discuss an aspect of Druidry and Paganism, which will be available to download or stream through the site. To listen to all the podcasts you will need to be a subscriber, though I will offer one podcast a month for free. By being a subscriber, you will also have full access to the entire back catalogue, including the audio version of bestselling book, The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid.

To listen to the first podcast, click here: https://joannavanderhoeven.bandcamp.com/track/the-importance-of-daily-practice

Subscribe now to my Bandcamp page, for weekly podcasts, audiobooks, meditations, music, talks and more. Until January, this will only be £10 for a yearly subscription (a year from the date you joined). After that, the price will be going up, so subscribe now for the best deal!

Ten little seconds…

Meditation can be done for many different reasons. Some use it to find inner peace, others to help find a focus in their lives and their work, others to increase compassion in their lives and for others. But for the most part, I think an aspect of meditation that is often over-looked is the simple aspect of it being nice to just stop every once in a while, sit down and enjoy the moment.

I use meditation for all the reasons given above, and more. But it’s in the simple pleasure of stopping where perhaps it is of most use. Taking the time to light some candles and incense, get some cushions out and just simply “be” is a great gift that I can give to myself at the end of a busy day or week. As I sit in front of my altar, I allow all the thoughts that are running through my head to make themselves known to me, rather than just being background stress and noise. Eventually, the thoughts slow down, quieten and then comes that exquisite moment when all is still. No more mental gymnastics. No more body twitches, itches or squirming trying to find a comfortable, relaxed position. Everything settles, even if  this feeling lasts for just ten seconds, and it is good. Better than good. The heart opens, the mind and body are one. There is nothing but myself and the world, here and now, sitting, breathing, peaceful.

Having even ten seconds to still the mind, to allow it to take a break from all the thoughts has an enormous effect on you for days afterwards. Taking the time to allow you to set aside the cares and worries, the reminiscing and the to-do lists, the work and the family issues has a profound effect not only on your mind but also on your body. Have you ever just sat on the couch after a busy day, flopped onto the sofa and just stopped for a minute or two? Meditation is the same thing, for your mind and your body, allowing it a moment of rest.

In that deep silence, when that moment is achieved, we can have some profound realisations as well. When we stop the mental chatter, we allow ourselves to refocus on what really matters in our lives. Just a few seconds of that blissful silent state can alter our perception and allow us to put things into perspective. What really matters? Not what the guy said to you in that social media group. Not the office gossip or your infuriating work colleague. We find that spending a little time in the quiet of our homes or meditation space, whether inside or outside, allows us to see that it’s in the joy of being alive right now, and the people that we actually physically share our lives with that really matter. Our family and friends. Our home. Our gardens. Our religion or spirituality. The Earth. Our perspective can get so skewed by what is happening in the world around us. Allowing us to stop and refocus changes everything.

It’s amazing what ten little seconds can achieve.

Cover 1To find out more about meditation, stillness and finding peace, try my little e-book, The Stillness Within: Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World.

New free dowload from my Bandcamp page!

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Hiya! Just a quick note to let you all know that there is a new free download on my Bandcamp page. It’s an audio version of a  journeying/meditation from my upcoming book The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices. To receive or stream all material available, please subscribe! New material is added each month. I hope to make The Crane Bag an audiobook as well, as I have done for The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid (available for subscribers only).  May we be the awen!