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.

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Prayer

This morning I attended another minute of silence, this time for those who died and who are currently suffering from the devastation of Grenfell Tower in London. As I stood in the little shop (Rainbow Apothecary) with Claire and a new shop assistant (sorry, I didn’t catch her name) I opened my soul out towards those who have been devastated by this latest tragedy. I could feel a wave of grief, rolling across this nation, across all these islands as yet more lives have been lost, this time due to utter negligence. The anger that was felt on Friday night as people took to the streets was muted, and here was a space for quiet mourning, for healing and for prayers.

I also thought of the man who was killed outside of the mosque at Finsbury Park last night, as a man in a van drove up the pavement and started hitting people, with an agenda that he stated which was to “kill all Muslims”. I pray for strength for his family, and for those who are in hospital, and for the human spirit to be healed, so that terrible events like these stop happening in this country, or in any country.

I prayed for those in Portugal, whose homes and lives have been destroyed by forest fires. I prayed for the 17 year old girl in the US who was killed on her way home from the mosque. I pray for the 65.6 million people were displaced in 2016, (more than the population of Britain, and half of them children), and even more this year.

I prayed for all who are suffering.

I prayed to My Lady for healing for all those affected by disaster. I prayed to those who are still looking for loved ones, who are in hospital, who are confused and don’t know where to turn. May they find the help that they need, and may they find strength for the coming days. I prayed to My Lord to help guide souls across, who may be wandering in the devastation and ruin. Most of all, I prayed for peace.

Prayer and silence are necessary, for the emotions and trauma of the events to find a place within your soul, a place where they can be felt and expressed with understanding and respect.

May there be peace in our hearts and minds, and towards all fellow beings.

 

Compassion on a Tuesday Morning

22 people died last night in a bombing of a pop concert in Manchester. The first thing I saw on my Facebook newsfeed this morning was a post from a friend, who had said that they had reached compassion capacity, and that they simply shrugged and got on with getting ready for work, as there was nothing they could do anyway.

I hope never, ever to become this way.

It is my firm belief that we only allow ourselves to be de-sensitised. No one can de-sensitise us in today’s easy, modern world (I’m talking about people who have decent jobs, put food on the table, have a place to live and also have money left over for some nice things, like socialising). It is a choice that we make to turn ourselves off to the world.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who are seriously hurting right now. They can’t shrug it off and go to work. They have lost children, parents, brothers and sisters. Those who survived are in pain, undergoing or awaiting surgery at one of the six hospitals in the area that took these emergencies. If these people can’t turn off, then I certainly can’t.

There is no limit to compassion. Let me repeat that: there is absolutely no limit to compassion. We can have compassion for anyone. That doesn’t mean we tolerate bad behaviour or condone violence in any way. It means that we do not turn off that very essence of what makes us human, that ability to feel, to empathise, to look deeper into an issue and to offer healing, support, prayers and love where and when we can. There is no limit to that.

Yes, there are some cases in our lives when we have to walk away from a bad situation. But we don’t have to turn ourselves off in the process. People have been horrendous to me, and I have needed to walk away. In doing so, I have not turned myself off, but sought compassion for myself, and gotten out of a bad situation so that my compassion for others would not be compromised. And the people who were horrendous to me, well, I only hope that they truly find the healing that they need, so that they stop doing it to others, and themselves.

It is all about the choices that we make. I was going to write a blog post today about choices, but that will follow in a consecutive post later this week or next week. This morning, I needed to focus on the events of last night, and my friend’s reaction to them. It saddened me greatly, and also angered me that people could make the choice to turn themselves off. We live in such a narcissistic society, that we only focus on ourselves. We often use the excuse that the only thing that we can change is ourselves, however, for me in that context it is just that: an excuse. When we see suffering in the world, if we only focus on ourselves, then how do we stop the suffering of others? Yes, we need to heal ourselves, but we also need healing for the world at large. If we are always looking inwards, then we are ignoring the outer world that is very much a part of our reality and existence. Just because we choose to ignore it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

If everyone ignored the suffering in the world, then there wouldn’t be organisations dedicated to helping others, when human or non-human. Greenpeace, The Red Cross, Amnesty International; these would not exist. We have to look beyond the scope of our little world and realise that we are very much part of the whole. We co-create the world that we live in. We co-create our reality.

What do I mean by that? Well, I often hear the saying that “we create our own reality.” This isn’t true, because there are many factors in life that aren’t under our control. The child in Aleppo did not create the reality of a war-torn city. We are responsible for what we bring into the world, and we also have to realise that we share this world with others who are bringing their own stuff into the mix, and therefore into our reality. Ignoring this does not make it go away. If I ignored what happened last night and simply got on with my day, then this blog post would not be written. I would not be sharing my words and thoughts with you. I would not be exploring the themes of suffering and compassion, and how to make this world a better place for everyone.

I will not turn myself off to the suffering in the world. Sometimes, there may not be much I can do about it, but if I turn myself off then I will bring that into my own little world, my local environment, which leads to a de-sensitivity to that area. It will trickle down into my everyday life, from my relationship to my husband, to my friends, to the lady at the post office. When we de-sensitise ourselves at a national or global level, we are fooling ourselves if we think that doesn’t seep into our everyday life, our everyday interactions with people, with the world.

My thoughts and prayers for the families of last night’s tragedy may not have an immediate or direct affect upon them personally. The children who are orphaned in Syria, with no place to go, are again not immediately affected by my thoughts and prayers. Neither are the badgers being culled, or the battered woman seeking a place to sleep for the night in a non-government funded women’s shelter. But I am affected by this, and so is everyone around me. I will not lose my compassion, and open my heart to everyone who I do come into contact with. I will try to make this world a better place, to live in harmony and to promote peace. If I turn myself off to the suffering, how can I promote peace?

We are making a choice, when we ignore the suffering. Sometimes there is a line, where we have to walk away from a bad situation because we ourselves are at risk. That is usually because we are suffering to a large extent, due to myriad factors, most of them beyond our control. We all need to retreat every now and then, to lick our wounds and to heal. On my darkest days, when the suffering in the world overwhelms me, when the aching in my bones and joints moves from the dull to the sharp, I need to take a step away. But that doesn’t mean I shut myself off completely. I still have compassion for others. I need to take care of myself, certainly, but I do not forget others. I do not forget that the world is more than just me.

Compassion is all about choice.

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand
“Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away”
It’s a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting it’s shroud
Over all we have known
Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud
On the wings of the night
As the daytime is stirring
Where the speechless unite
In a silent accord
Using words you will find are strange
Mesmerised as they light the flame
Feel the new wind of change
On the wings of the night
No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
It’s not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away   – Pink Floyd

A Druid view of peace, justice and permaculture

Conflict resolution are two words that very much need to be taken into consideration in today’s political, social and economic climate. I would like to add a third word, which is honourable. When we are taking into consideration the bigger picture, the benefit to the whole, changing our perception to a more holistic one, then we are on the path towards honourable conflict resolution. Where each part matters, where each part has value, much akin to the animist’s view of the world wherein all of nature has inherent value, this worldview can help us to provide the solutions necessary in order to solve some deep problems. Too often it is easy to criticise; we often forget we must also offer solutions.

I spoke to my apprentices a couple of weeks ago at one of our Druid College sessions about ethical leadership. Leading on from that discussion, in the next weekend we will be exploring ways in which groups with differing opinions, mindsets, politics and worldviews can still operate co-operatively. Many aspects found within permaculture are a brilliant source of inspiration. Druidry is all about relationship, and relationship is also at the heart of permaculture. Nature works co-operatively in order to provide a functioning homeostasis. Yes, there are brief flashes of competition here and there, but for the most part every aspect of nature works with others in order to survive.

If we look at mycorrhizal fungi, those tiny filaments of connecting threads that run underground, connecting tree to tree in a forest, connecting many other plants and fungi, we see in a microcosm paradigm that everything is connected. Furthermore, there have been studies wherein it was found that through these connecting threads plants could help other plants, working co-operatively instead of competing for the best space and light. Trees that were in the sunlight could and did collect nourishment and nutrients that were then sent to trees in the shade that had little or no access. They did not even have to be of the same species: trees and other plants simply helped each other.

Unless we are hermits, we will have interaction with other humans. What we need to relearn is how to do so in a beneficial way, without falling into modern day society’s obsession with competition. It’s not a dog-eat-dog world out there. Much of patriarchy revolves around this idea of competition, and we need to let that go in order to find more balance in society as a whole. So how do we work with people whose perception is so different from our own? How can be bridge the gap, find the language, work honourably and sustainably with one another?

If we are working with a group, and that group begins falling apart, with bickering or power struggles, we need to look closely at how that situation came about in the first place. If we are in the role of leader, then it is up to us to communicate with all involved, and find out just what is going on, getting different perspectives on the matter. We then need to look at the situation from a different perspective altogether, which is where permaculture can help us to widen our perception further, outside the human element, allowing the authority to come from nature.

If there is a problem in a garden, a proponent of permaculture would look deeply into the issue. If there is a mould or damaging/invading insect in the garden, the solution would not be to just tackle the mould or the bug. Instead, one would look at the conditions that allowed such a thing to occur, looking deeply into the issue without any bias. Only then can more than one solution be offered, and perhaps one that is more effective.

If we relate that to group dynamics, we could be more successful in addressing more than one problem at a time. If there is conflict within the group, we could solve a single problem by kicking out the ones who are perceived to be creating the conflict. But then another person might take their place, doing the same amount of damage. If we took a permaculture perspective, we would also look at the reasons why such a thing was allowed to occur, and the reasons could be many and varied. We may find that if we address the climate and conditions that created the tension in the first place, it would all stop and no one would have to leave. Only when all issues are addressed will there be any honourable conflict resolution.

As a Druid, I take my inspiration and my authority from the nature. Nature is my teacher. Through nature I learn how to function in my environment, and how to take the lessons that I have learned in my own locality and apply or adapt them to any location that I find myself in. Talking to the spirits of place, the ancestors, the gods, I can get a feel for what it is that I owe in return for what I have been given. I can work towards balanced, reciprocal, sustainable and inspired relationship.

That doesn’t mean that there will never be conflict. But when there is, we can see them as challenges and opportunities, to learn more about ourselves and about the world. We don’t have to have everyone like us, and we don’t have to like everyone, but we can learn how to operate in a society where we want or desire very different things. And where honourable conflict resolution is unobtainable, perhaps through continuing abuse or damage to our own well-being in any shape or form, we can learn to extract ourselves from the situation and find a new path forward. Much as when I am walking in the forest, if I see a patch of nettles, I will not walk through them trying to find a relationship with them; I can honour them for what they are, but still avoid them. Some things simply will not work together, no matter how much we would like them to. Acceptance is a large part of permaculture, and of peace of mind.

When we are working in such a manner, we will find peace not only for ourselves, but hopefully for others as well. Justice only arises when we have found some semblance of peace, in ourselves and in the world. Working holistically, honourably, in a desire to be utterly integrated then we truly walk the path of the Druid.

Cover 1For more on finding peace in a world of unrest, you can buy my little e-book, The Stillness Within: Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World from Amazon. All royalties from books sales go to charity: The Orangutan Appeal UK and The Woodland Trust.

Druid College has a couple of places left on the Year 1 course starting this October. Please see the website for more details.

Fundraising success!

Thank you to everyone who has bought my little e-book, The Stillness Within: Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World. All royalties for this book go to charity, and since it’s release in May we’ve raised £65.97 for The Woodland Trust and Orangutan Appeal UK. Well done! They were both very appreciative of our donation. Let’s keep it going; please spread the good word about this project, and let’s raise even more money in the next six months for these fabulous charities.

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.