Beware the Green-Eyed Monster…

Social media can be a very good thing. It’s good at getting the word out, or for sharing ideas. It can also be a place where we can feel inadequate, where jealous feelings of other’s lives can creep into our thinking and affect how we live.

First of all we must remember that what we see online is not the 100% truth.  What people post on Facebook or Twitter or any other media or forum is not the whole enchilada. We look up someone on Facebook who doesn’t post anything negative, has beautiful photos and deep insights and feel that we are inadequate in our own lives.  What we have to remember is that this is simply a portrayal of a person and not the person themselves. To know the person, we must know them in person, spend a lot of time with them and connect, soul to soul. You can’t do that on a computer in my opinion. You can find a lot of commonalities with what you both have decided to put out there, however it is not the big picture.

Jealousy is an interesting beast.  What causes it? More often than not, it is through experiences that we have gone through that reflect upon our current and future situations.  Something may have happened to us in the past, an emotional pain that casts its pall over everything.  If we are jealous of what we perceive to be someone’s great life on the internet, what is it that is making us jealous? What is causing feelings of inadequacy, or anger, or resentment? Could it be someone in your past that you didn’t live up to, or dreams that you haven’t fulfilled, failings that have been brought to light?  Do they reflect our inner demons, perhaps of low self-esteem or external validation?

Catch yourself the next time you feel jealousy creeping in. Examine it. Why are you jealous? What is the root cause? It is not the person causing the feelings but your own inner self. Why should that be? The person is not the root of the problem – what’s happening in the mind is.  We cannot blame other people’s lives for our feelings of jealousy for they all stem from within.

Wouldn’t it feel better if we let go of these jealous feelings? What if we celebrated others’ successes instead of wallowing in inadequacy? What if we realised that others’ lives are not a reflection of our own? What if we stepped outside our narrow worldview, our egocentric perspective and honoured others for being what they are? The world does not revolve around you, so why persist in these feelings?

Letting go of jealousy is hard. It requires a lot of investigation into the darker regions of the mind but it is well worth it.  We can lead happier, more satisfying and positive lives when we are aware of the green-eyed monster and lay it to rest. So, the next time you are on Facebook and think “my life sucks compared to hers/his” remember, not only are you not seeing the bigger picture; you are also not seeing your self.

Looking inwards

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” -Henry David Thoreau

As I have begun my journey into the descent of both the self and the dark half of the year, thoughts and feelings have arisen which require acknowledgement. It has often been said that those thoughts that we are unaware of, control us. Quite.

Just as we are not our jobs, our familial roles or any other singular label, so too are we not our past, nor our future. We can only be our present.  All too often I have beat myself up about what I have done in the past. After a couple of months of looking inwards and discovering these thought patterns, I have realised that I have to let go of what I thought of myself in the past.

In the past I have been selfish. In the past I have done things I am not proud of. However, that does not mean that I am selfish now, or that I will do these things again, now or in the future.  What happened does not define me in the present moment so much as inform me of how I got here. I am only the person I am now, typing up this blog post trying to make sense of the self and how it works.

It is a season for letting go and so, every time I have a thought on how I have failed, I remind myself that this was something that happened in the past and, in truth, is not who I am now. It is extremely liberating, and enables me to be the best person I can be right now, as opposed to living in destructive and judgemental behaviour about what I have done.  I can certainly be critical of things, looking at them with detachment and learning from it, however no condemnation can be made because it no longer exists.  Often in Zen we hear of teachers asking students who bring up past faults and issues “Yes, but where is this now?”  Baffled, the student cannot answer, for it does not exist in the present moment. They are memories and lessons learned. They existed in the past. They inform us of the future.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to lose that sense of self in order to be able to look inwards critically.  Putting aside the ego and simply seeing thoughts for what they are is extremely difficult. The ego jostles for attention at any possible chance, with thoughts of “I am this” or comparisons to other people, opinions on the world at large and a deep-seated fear of annihilation. When we put all these aside we are simply left with our own personal truth.

Darkness and Mystery

milton paradise lostThe evenings draw in closer, the darkness growing as we make our way towards the winter solstice.  It is a time for deep thought, reflection and understanding – thinking and understanding so deeply you are hardly doing it at all.  In the darkness our minds are much less distracted by visual stimulation.  We can explore the darkness both within and without, as well as the great mystery of the unknown.

In Zen Buddhism, along the Eightfold Path we learn about Right Mind.  At this time of year, I apply it when journeying ever closer towards the rebirth of the light. It is in the darkness that the mind is truly explored. It is in the darkness that the world outside is truly confronted.  It is in the darkness where we find the greatest mystery of all.

Right Mind requires an understanding of the self, in order to see that the self is really not all that important.  First we must learn about our reactions to the world – how we relate to it, what is automatic and what is intentional.  By studying our selves and studying our navels, we look deep within to see where we might be able to work on living in full awareness of our actions in our daily lives.  If we have an understanding that we instantly react to the person on the social networking site who criticises us, we can then work on that so that there isn’t attachment to it.  We learn that we don’t even have to react – that it is within our power as to how we behave.  When our co-worker in the office won’t help us even when we ask for it, we learn not to instantly react and let it ruin our day. We simply get on with the job at hand, perhaps asking for help elsewhere.

We are not owed anything. Learning this lesson can be of great value in our own spiritual awakening.  People do not have to act as we would wish them to. Not everyone has to agree with us. People will have different opinions.  We don’t have to comment, criticise or even give it second thought if we do not wish to.  Our emotions, our passions should be the spark of inspiration. They should not be the raging inferno that takes over.

By looking deep within to see how our passions and emotions play through our daily lives, we come to an understanding of them. We cannot ever develop a relationship with anything, be it person, tree, mountain or deity without first understanding them to a certain degree.  We often do not understand ourselves, to our detriment.  Why do we behave the way we do? How can we live more intentionally?

Through daily meditation we can come to a greater awareness of our selves.  Once we have attained that awareness, it is best to let it go.

You may ask – why spend all that time learning about our selves, only to let it go?

If we are constantly looking inwards, we will neglect to look outwards.  Druidry and much of modern day Paganism are at the risk of becoming too self-involved, too inwardly focused.  Five words remind me of this on a daily basis. It’s not all about you.

We can become so self-absorbed in looking at our navels that the world passes us by.  There is so much out there that we need to become aware of, just as previously there was so much inside that we needed to be aware of.  Once we have achieved a level of competency in knowing ourselves, the best thing we could do is to lose that sense of self in order to understand the bigger picture.

This dropping of the ego, this letting go is not an annihilation of the self. It is not negation. It is immersion, integration – utterly being.  It shows us the boundaries between the worlds, between us and other humans, between us as the natural environment. It also shows us that these boundaries are simply illusion. We are all just energy.

We can then begin to explore the greatest mystery of all, within the nurturing darkness – that of not knowing.  After learning to understand our selves and the world, we lose understanding as well, realising that we really do not know very much at all.  In such a vast landscape, both inner and outer, how can we truly know anything at all?  Often in Zen this is referred to as Mu, or nothing.  In the not knowing we are open to everything, our minds not being closed off.  The great mystery of not knowing is where the true potential lies.  In not knowing, we are free.

Deep within the darkness, the journey continues.

Spiritually Ill

At Samhain, by sunset I was in bed, the world was spinning.  I had just gotten off the phone to cancel the evening’s ritual. I had doggedly worked through the previous two days with a headache that just wouldn’t go away, and an all over body ache that I attributed to overdoing it in yoga.  Now nausea took over; I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. This was something different.

My blood boiled and the fever took over, running for the next three days.  Then blisters began to appear, and I knew – I had chicken pox.  I had managed to elude it for 39 years, and it finally caught up with me. My immune system was already weakened from a previous virus and an unrelaxing but still enjoyable holiday.

Halfway through the night we had to get up to change the sheets.  The fire in my body was trying to be quenched with sweat. The pounding in my head was almost unbearable.  As I dragged my aching body back into bed and into the blessed darkness, I wondered how I could deal with this illness on a spiritual level.

Using meditation techniques to calm the body and ease the headache, it was pretty easy at first. But then the rash came out, and all thoughts of coping with meditation flew out the window.  The fever comes and goes, a rush of fire through the body and that is quite easy to follow along, feeling it along my body and in my bones, through my hair and rising off my body.  It’s the stillness that is difficult in these circumstances.  I thought my Zen and meditation training would help to ease this. I was wrong.

It was impossible to sit still.  It was impossible to sleep. It still is.  Lying down, you feel all the nerves reacting to the virus, sending sharp little elf shots throughout the body and into the blisters.  You twitch. Even now, the twitching doesn’t stop.  The mind is doing all it can to get away from the pain, from the discomfort. Trying to type these words and form a cohesive thought pattern is a real challenge.

So what to do? How to deal with the chicken pox virus spiritually as well as physically? I’ve found that my skin is soothed outside, by sitting in the backyard, letting the sun and the wind ease the pain.  It doesn’t last for long – when I go back inside again it returns, but I am reminded of the moments of normalcy, of nature all around me, continuing on even as the fires rage within my body.  It is a reminder that the world is bigger than you are – when we are ill, we can so easily become despondent, self-absorbed ( I know – writing a blog about this is a tad on the solipsism side, but bear with me).

I look at my cat, who has been fighting with a stomach infection for months now.  She doesn’t seem terribly bothered by it – animals deal with pain and illness, death and dying so much better than most humans. They have an innate grace when it comes to it, all things considered.  And so I take inspiration from nature to help me combat the mental and physical challenges that lie ahead this week.

I let the awen flow.

I also hit the bottle of calamine lotion, and take some white willow bark.

I feel that this is also a turning point – the Celtic New Year has begun.  My body is undergoing some serious trials right now, and I feel that at the end of this journey I will have learned something valuable.  I was not able to perform any Samhain rituals, but did light a candle for the ancestors and leave it in the front and rear windows of the home, like I do every year, to guide the dead on their journey.  A couple of days later I was able to sit in my altar room and, after trying and giving up on meditation I turned to my oldest set of cards for inspiration.  What did I need to learn from this, I asked? The card I drew was Initiation.

And so, I feel that this is telling me to stop, to slow down even, to see the new phase in my life.  To literally do nothing. To deal with pain.  To deal with suffering.  To get on and be inspired by life.  To let go of all concepts related to my looks.  To let go of all thoughts of the future. To enjoy the moment. To simply be.  There is nothing like pain to get you in the present moment, if you truly open yourself up to it.

It has showed me that even though I talk about slowing down, and not taking on so many commitments, that I need to walk the talk.  I have talked about slowing down for months now, and yet keep accepting new work, birthing new ideas and letting the awen flow.  What I need to do is to retreat, to stop for a bit, to perhaps stem the flow of awen pouring out, and focus on it pouring back in.

This illness has really highlighted that for me.  Exchange, relationship. I talk about this a lot, and yet now see how unbalanced I was in it.  And so, learning from this episode in my life, I start the new year unable to do much except sit and read, or watch the birds as the sun sets a little closer each evening.  There are books to read, sacred places to visit.  A retreat from the world in order to better engage with it – this is what the monastic tradition is all about.  It’s calling to me at the moment. Time to ponder on thoughts of the self, to chop wood and carry water.  The cool breeze from the open window beside me is so delicious on my hot and blistered skin.

Is this how to deal with illness as a Druid? Maybe – each person’s journey is different, and sacred. May yours be walked in balance and harmony, in darkness and in light with equal joy and yes, pain.

 

Reblog: The Ancestors from Moon Books’ blog

Here is my latest blog for the Moon Books’ main blog page. May the ancestors guide you well! x http://moon-books.net/blogs/moonbooks/ancestors/

Samhain is a time to think on the ancestors, as it is often said that at this time of the year, the veil between the worlds is thin.  Our ancestors can mean so much to us, and yet, how much do we acknowledge them in our lives?

If you stop to think about it, you are the result of hundreds of thousands of years of ancestors, their numbers legion.  You, right now, are the result of evolution.  Taking a moment to stop and think about this can have great impact upon our lives.  We may suddenly realise that we are not alone – that we have the songs of millions of ancestors running through our veins.  That we are part of a grander cycle of life, death and birth that makes the little dramas, worries and events in our lives pale by comparison. It also reminds us that we are connected to all living things – that if you go back far enough, we have the stuff of stars in the minerals of our blood, the water of the vast oceans in our bodies, the sunlight and storms of times gone by.  In this way, there is absolutely no way we could say that we are an entity alone on this planet, and yet so many of us feel to be disconnected from everything and everyone around us.

Why do we feel this disconnection?  Ancestor worship used to be common, and still is, among many societies around the globe.  While the word worship may prove to be difficult for some, perhaps simple acknowledgement of the ancestors would be more apt. We have the good, bad and the ugly in our heritage – we need not worship any of them. However, connecting with and knowing that they are there, with all their glory and all their faults allows us the time and space to truly see life for what it really is – a culmination of everything that has previously happened, and the potential that lies within the future, with this present moment the very real blessing that it is if we are awake enough to immerse ourselves within it.

So why have we lost this connection to our ancestors? I don’t really know – I can only speculate.  Our real, blood ancestors may have been replaced by myths from the dominant religion, or pushed aside to form the secular culture of today.  Patronymic and matronymic Names such as Svensson or Gudrunsdottir were pushed aside by governments and churches in order to identify people according to the fashion of the time.  Women were forced to give up their maiden names when they married, and whole lineages were lost in a patriarchal society.  Voices were muted, or forcibly silenced.

What we can do now is to piece together the fragments that remain, in order to connect with our ancestors.  For some this is easier than others – broken homes and families, orphans and adoptees face a very and ever increasing challenge in coming to know and understand the ancestors.  Through rising conflicts in various countries, researching your genealogy might reveal some truths best left hidden from your social peers.  There may not even be access to records available – so what is a person to do?  We must remember that it is not only the secular world we live in, but also a spiritual world, where our ancestors await us if we choose to meet with them.

And so we do, in an odd fashion, at this time of year without really knowing why.  Stories of ghosts and witches and the dead coming to life flit through the minds of children and adults alike, as they dress up in ghoulish costumes ready to tackle the dark streets with other like-minded adventurers.  I remember fondly my years of trick-or-treating with my brother and sister – roaming the streets full of children, very little adult presence, dressed up in scary or not so scary costumes, out past the normal time allowed and going onto neighbours’ properties, walking beneath the bared branches of the trees, the moon shining spookily through just like in all the pictures we’d been drawing in school, a cat running across our path.  Ghosts lurked behind every bush and darkened window, witches flew on brooms past the rounded face of the moon, skeletons danced in the graveyards.  These images of the dead, the scary, the ancestors were still so evocative and ignited the imagination of every child wandering and testing the dark streets of both their neighbourhood and their soul.

We have a very real fear of death in our society.  We do not talk about it. We go to visit dying relatives in the hospital and tell them that they will be okay.  When they do die, we send the bodies off for preparation by someone most likely not a family member – if we are lucky, the family knows the undertaker through their previous work.  On this night, the night of Samhain, Hallowe’en, we the masses are allowed to talk of death, or if not talk about it, act it out in a sugar induced high as children, or an alcohol induced platitude in our adulthood.

Taking a step back from all this and really acknowledging the season for what it is, for what it means to relate to our ancestors, is what Samhain is really about for me.  I acknowledge not only my human ancestors, but all those who have gone before, whether they be cat or tree, mountain or sea.  The tides of time and life and constantly changing, and death is always around us, as is life.  However, at this time of year, where here in the UK the leaves are changing colour and falling to the ground, the ground foliage dying back and bare earth being exposed for the first time in many months, the smell of death and decay all around – it is easier and much more obvious to honour the cycle of death.  Rebirth will happen when the sun begins to warm up the earth, when the days begin to become longer. Right now, the darkness awaits, and in that darkness, the stillness of death. Taking a moment to be still ourselves, to experience a little death on this most hallowed night, is so utterly freeing and grounding at the same time.

We are so often not human beings, but human doings. To stop, to cease doing things, to stop being active is to become old, or worse, dead.  Yet we are not annihilated when we cease to run around on the hamster wheel – instead we are immersed in the wonder of life and death, of creation and destruction.  That immersion is, for me as a Druid, what it is all about.  Dropping that sense of self to be free within the world is all important.  Knowing who you are first is essential – for when you know who you are, you can then let it go into the dark void of potential, into the cauldron of unknowing.

So this Samhain, take a moment to stop and connect with the ancestors.  Realise that the threads are always with you, shimmering along ethereal lines of connectivity in a grander tapestry of life.  Some may have faded with time, some may need mending, but we have the magic lying within our very souls to do this.  Pick up the veil that lies between the worlds, and see the shimmering lives of the ancestors on the other side – and know that there is no other side in truth.  We are all here together, but our minds create the gauzy veil between the worlds.  Lift that veil.  Look death in the eye.  Smile, and death will smile back at you.  Rejoice in the impermanence of all things, and know that one day you too will be an ancestor, your threads still connecting you to all that is within the web of existence. Dance in the present moment, with the ancestors of past the future dancing alongside you.

Sacrifice

(This is from an article that I wrote for The Druid Network a few years ago…)

Many people in the pagan community have differing ideas on the concept of
sacrifice. Here I can only offer my own view, to share with others. These words,
much as the notion of sacrifice, are a purely personal experience.

Let me first describe what to me is the difference between an offering and a
sacrifice. Offerings can be daily elements of the ritual of our lives; offerings
of incense, of songs to the dawn, food from each meal. Offerings are often given
in thanks; for the day, for the restoration of health to a loved one, for a
wandering pet’s return. For some, offerings are a return of what we have in
abundance, for example, a farmer returning a sheaf of wheat to the land, or some
of the autumn’s blackberry port that was made poured back beneath the bushes
from whence the fruit was obtained. Offerings are used to establish a
relationship, to give back for what we have received in turn from an honourable
existence. They nurture a relationship. So, in that context, what is sacrifice?

For me, sacrifice is something that you just don’t want to give up. It hurts.
Yet, to be able to move onto the next level, to deepen a relationship further,
instead of just nurturing it with an offering, a sacrifice must be made.
Sacrifice is giving up something that is sacred to you. It can’t be easy. It
can’t be something that has outlived its purpose. It can’t be something that you
don’t really care about, or that you have in abundance. It can’t be something
that can be replaced. It has to show dedication, devotion, commitment. It has
got to hurt.

When I speak of hurting, I don’t mean physical pain, although that too in a
way can be seen as a sacrifice. If something will forever be changed because of
it, then perhaps it can be deemed as sacrifice (a tattoo, for instance). To push
through barriers of pain can be a sacrifice of what we strive for as human
beings – comfort being one of the greatest drives. Yet there can be an emotional
pain in sacrifice as well. That the physical pain in sacrifice is our own cannot
be questioned – we should never harm another being in the name of sacrifice, or
for whatever reason. If we are to sacrifice our own personal comfort, then it
must be sufficient to move onto a new level of relationship. We may not always
be willing to sacrifice, however, we can be ready to.

Some argue that time can be sacrificed, yet I would argue that if one has
come to a relationship with the god of Time, then one will find that they have
all the time in the world to attain what they wish. Time, for me, can only be an
offering, even though it can be seen as irreplaceable. Time is not a sacrifice
when it means spending more time at the local soup kitchen and less time in
front of the television – it is merely a reprioritising of time, and what is
important.

Can money be a sacrifice? Again, this for me is more of an offering than a
sacrifice for most people. Money can be replaced, for instance. Yet, if one
gives all their money to another, is that not a sacrifice? Perhaps yes, perhaps
no. For me, money can always be made, yet I live in the luxury of not worrying
too much about where my next meal comes from. So, for me, money is an offering,
much as food and time.

So what constitutes sacrifice? In my own experience, an item (so far it has
always been an item) must be thought over for hours, even days, as to whether or
not I wish to sacrifice it. If I can find other things that I would willingly
sacrifice before it, then they are not worthy. Some might think of this train of
thought as merely masochistic. Again, it comes down to what is truly sacred to
one’s self, and what one needs to do in order to progress to the next level.

Recently, I spent all night in my tepee, knowing that I had to sacrifice
something in the morning before the ritual. I knew that I wanted to go deeper
into my druidry, and that the spirits of place and my gods required it of me. I
hummed and hawed over it, wondering if I had anything else in my pack that I
could sacrifice instead of my beloved and sacred bead bracelet. I didn’t. It was
either my eagle pendant or my bracelet. I couldn’t sacrifice my wooden beaded
necklaces, they were just too easy – I didn’t have a large enough emotional
attachment to them. The spirits of place would not accept that offering, as I
felt. It was not sufficient in order to attain the deeper relationship
that I craved. My eagle pendant, after long thought, was replaceable, though I
would miss it dearly in the months that it would take to find another one. My
bracelet, however, one of a kind with many dear memories attached, was not at
all replaceable. That would be my sacrifice.

I have also sacrificed a medicine bag, and a wedding ring. None of these
items I wanted to let go, but just knew I had to if I was to progress
along my spiritual journey. I miss them dearly, but the value in giving them up
makes up for their loss, in a sense. I have a deeper understanding about myself,
about what is important to me, and by sacrificing these things to the spirits I
feel that they know me better, know my intentions more clearly, and that we have
a stronger, deeper, newer and more committed relationship for it. To me, that is
the true nature of sacrifice.

Reblog from SageWoman: Samhain Approaching

My latest blog for SageWoman’s online channel: http://witchesandpagans.com/SageWoman-Blogs/samhain-approaching.html

Digital art by Ado Ceric, http://www.adoceric.com/Digital7.php

Digital art by Ado Ceric, http://www.adoceric.com/Digital7.php

As I sit here, writing this, the rain taps at the window, the wind howling down the street, carrying with it the scent of winter and the first of the autumn leaves. The sky is fast moving and furious – low dark grey clouds set amidst a backdrop of pure white/grey.  The central heating has been turned on.  The apples are juicy on the trees.  The starlings are flocking together. Welcome, Autumn.

My favourite season – as you may have guessed. From bright, sunny days where the sun shows the last of its strength, to watery, wind-filled days like these, it is a season of change like no other.  Quick, altogether too quickly, it is over, at least the Fall is, when the leaves change and drop to the ground.  After that, it seems Winter is here – only allowing Autumn a brief time of grace to shine in her beauty before all is blanketed under the dreamy cold slumber of Winter.

It is third week of October – and the hectic days of summer leading to the Equinox have long passed.  I feel I can almost catch my breath – almost.  The main bulk of the harvest is done – both agriculturally and in a personal sense.  I have worked hard this year, and the rewards have been great.  There are always disappointments – from the tomatoes that didn’t do well to the vagaries of life.  But Autumn, with her beauty, captures our hearts and our minds, our attention, and causes us to stop, to listen and watch Her before She is gone.

Samhain is just around the corner.  Time to let go of that which did not come to fruition. It is also a time to carry forth and collect the seeds of our new intentions – for we cannot throw these to the winds just yet.  We release the dross of our lives into the flames of Samhain fires, and protect the seeds of new ideas and next year’s harvest within the larder of our souls.  We cannot release everything – we must hold onto something to take us into the new year, something to sow our intentions with. It could be lessons learned, ideas that did have the time to grow, or ideas that came too late in the season to be utilised to their full potential. And so carry them over we must.

I hope your harvest has been bountiful, and that what you carry over be blessed as well. May the release of Samhain and the dreamy slumber of winter nurture you. May you find beauty and strength in this, the most inspiring and beautiful of all seasons.  May the Goddess of Autumn bring you joy as she does me. x

Reblog : Standing on the knife’s edge of the equinox

Here is a reblog of my post on the SageWoman’s channel at Witches and Pagans… http://www.witchesandpagans.com/SageWoman-Blogs/the-knife-edge-of-the-equinox.html

Now we are diving deep into the cool waters of the West, into autumn’s light.  The equinox is just around the corner, and the new moon of September passed.  This year we will be blessed by a nearly full moon over the equinox, which is at 21:44 on Sunday, 22 September (where I live in the UK).  The tipping point is near, the balance will shift, and we will enter into the fading times of restful thought, of dreaming in the dark.

This is a pivotal point of the year.  Relishing in that special moment, when day and night are equal, we can ride that wave of energy, humming with all that we bring to it, the sacredness of the time and place in which we celebrate.  Standing at the edge, looking over the horizon for a moment, maybe two; we breathe deeply before we fall forward into our lives once again, with its cycles and spirals.

As we plunge into the depths of the dark half of the year, what will we bring with us along the journey?  Now is the time to think about what it is that we wish to carry forward, and what it is that we wish to leave behind.  It is a time to think about honour, integrity, loyalty, courage and wisdom.  It is a time to look at our actions, at our lives, and see in what way we can live in a more truthful way to our own wild natures, yet still moving within the compass of compassion and awareness.

Are you living your ethical code?  Are you in tune with your moral ideal? If not, now is the time to address that.  Looking over the year, our lives, generations upon generations of souls, we see what seeds have been planted, and which are most beneficial for all.  We carefully collect these seeds, to carry them with us through the dark months, to plant again next year.  We hone our sense of ethics, we look deeply into the meaning of honour.  What actions have we made that have been dishonourable? What will we do to ensure that this does not happen again? How can we live in tune with our ideals, and support our community, our planet, and our universe?

I know I am breathing deeply of late, with prayers into the growing dusk and spending time reflecting upon what has been, what requires change.  For me, autumn is a time of reflection, the light upon the water. And as I stand on the knife’s edge, I hold close to my heart my inspiration, my awen, and laughing I will fall forward into the cool darkness of winter, knowing that the cycle continues.

Fear of Ageing

Having recently just turned 39, my thoughts lately have been turning to our society’s views on ageing.  Ageing is something that we must fight, if you listen to all the women’s toiletries marketing ploys.  Combat ageing, they say, with their Miracle Defense Cure (incidentally, I did a search on how many products contain the word “defense” in their name for creams, lotions and potions, and it was staggering…) and you will be young forever, for young is beautiful.

Now, I don’t know about you, and can’t speak for the masses, but I don’t want to look like a twelve year old girl.  Most models in fashion magazines are under 16 years of age.  They wouldn’t even be able to afford the clothes that they are modelling for the older, more affluent women who buy said magazines.  Billboards and television advertisements show us young women all the time, for everything from cosmetics to kitchens.  We have ingrained in our minds that young is beautiful, and have it reinforced each and every day.

I have recently heard that young women are also shaving themselves completely, removing all pubic hair. Why, I have absolutely no idea, but this only reiterates our new obsession with youth – they may state for hygienic or fashion purposes, but the fact of the matter remains – they still will end up looking like pre-pubescent girls.  Not terribly sexy, in my opinion.

Why do we have such a fear of ageing? Why do we consider youth to be so beautiful, at least for the human race?  Many humans see beauty in older things, such as a 500 year old tree, or a 1,000 year old cathedral. Here in the UK, the ideal home in the country would be something reminiscent of a house built in the 1600 – 1800’s.  Old, at least for some things, is aesthetically pleasing. Why not for the human body as well?

We do not venerate the old in our society; it is not an achievement anymore to reach old age, what with the wonders of modern medicine.  Old people are a burden to those still earning money, getting in the way until they are put in homes.  We do not look after our elderly anymore, but pay others to do it for us.  Out of sight, out of mind.  We fear ageing, we do not want to have to deal with it.  It’s a sickening, maddening cycle, for we will all age. It’s the one thing that we cannot avoid at any cost.  The diet industry might lose us as customers once we’ve lost the desired weight, but there’s no stopping the ageing process, and manufacturers know this, licking their lips in anticipation of our progress down the linear track of time.

Ageing for a man is still, as far as I can observe, less of a fear than for a woman.  Men with grey hair are sexy. Women with grey hair are not.  Distinguished, people say of men with grey hair.  What of women?  Personally, I cannot wait to have grey hair, or white even – I love the colour.  But society disagrees with me, and sells us harmful chemicals to put on our heads to cover up those grey hairs.  As women live longer than men, on the whole, why do they fear ageing even more?

The loss of youth equals the loss of beauty.  We need to change our perception of that in order to alleviate our fears.  It’s a silly fear in the first place, as nothing we can do will prevent it from happening.  And yet, women all over the world go under the knife to have surgery, or injections, or pay exorbitant amounts of money on products that don’t really do anything.  Why, for the love of the goddess, why?

Fear is such a grand motivator in all things.  We must embrace our fear, as we must embrace our ageing.  What is it that we fear about ageing? For some, it might be the fear of being cast aside, of not being a “productive” member of society – what will I do in retirement? For others, it means coming to terms with their own mortality.  I know that after meditating on this for some time, my personal fear is the loss of beauty – until I realised that beauty does not come with an age limit.  I look around me and find inspiration in all things beautiful and realise just how limiting it is to think of beauty in terms of age.  Step outside the human mindset and watch your world expand.

Watching my face and body change is now no longer depressing – it’s interesting, and a little exciting.  My curves are softer, my breasts larger.  I have cellulite on my thighs.  I have wrinkles on my cleavage.  Little lines around my eyes.  My hands show the hours of work that I have put them to.  My days of sunshine and laughter shown in freckles and wrinkles.  Tattoos mark life transitions, and will look amazing no matter what age I get, as they will change with my body.  Scars show life’s trials and tribulations. All these are a part of my self, and denying these, hating these, is hating myself. What a bloody waste of time.

If society tells me that I should fear ageing, I shall stick up two fingers to it and tell them to bugger off.  I’m more afraid of war, nuclear waste, fracking and the poor badgers who are being culled than I am of ageing.  I no longer fear ageing full stop. To hell with their distractions – there are so much more important things to be doing that standing in front of a mirror looking at a wrinkle or two.

I adored my youth, and have many, many fond memories of it.  Growing up in a beautiful part of the world, loving a beautiful boy for the first time, learning to play music and sing, to roam and find personal freedom.  I am also adoring my “middle years”, whatever that may mean.  Each and every day is precious, and so I will be thankful for them.  There is no battle to be fought, there is no war to be won on ageing.  Time is time, and cares not whether you try out your best wrinkle defense cream.  Be like time, and care not about that which you cannot alter. Don’t go with the flow, but be the flow itself.  Live, love and be happy, free of the fear that society tells you that you should have.  Stand tall and proud, grey hairs and saggy breasted, and know that you are goddess, that you are beautiful, if you only allow yourself to be.

Exploring the nature of criticism…

I don’t put much store in astrology, but when people say Virgos are very critical, I can’t really deny it. All the Virgos that I know are – then again, I also know a lot of people who aren’t Virgos who are…

Ever since my post on the death of Margaret Thatcher and my criticism on the subsequent behaviour of those who downloaded Ding Dong I have been thinking about the criticisms that I hold on to in everyday life, and those that I feel I need to share with others.

In order to criticise something, there must be a sense of self, someone who is standing back and commenting.  Yet in Zen, the goalless goal is to integrate completely, so that the sense of self falls away and we are completely immersed in the here and now, in the environment, in life itself.  As a Druid this is so very appealing, for I long to release into nature to become a part of it; to stop distancing myself from it with ideas and notions of who I am, which are constantly changing anyway.  Pondering on the idea of self, Zen would offer that the sense of self is but an illusion that we create and cling to, for various reasons – out of security, fear and ego-driven desires.  Therefore, holding on to an illusion is a little bit of a waste of time. Criticising someone else’s is a total waste.  If it’s not real, there’s no point.

We have this idea about our selves, that we have created throughout our lives.  What if this sense of self was just those ideas that we repeat the most, the ones that we like the best (or hate the most), the ones that shout the most loudly in our heads? Ideas are not real things – they are abstracts.  Experience is the key here, for experience is not an abstract.

So, back to criticism – in a Zen Druid worldview, is it ever right or worth the effort to criticise something?  There’s that old adage – if you’ve got nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all. For me, this is not enough, for when something needs changing, when those who can’t speak for themselves need a voice, I will speak out against it.  The key here is to do so with respect, honour and integrity. I’m still learning.

Also, offering criticism when it is not asked for is an easy trap to fall into.  Our lives are filled with it – we are inundated with television shows like Big Brother, or more importantly other reality shows such as The X Factor, Dancing on Ice, Strictly Come Dancing, etc. where we are expected to criticise, where we are voting for who we wish to win.  The judges on these shows often criticise dishonourably, mocking and offering nothing helpful. Sometimes they are offering good criticism and are right (at least, we agree with them).  (Spot the paradox – I just criticised judges on reality shows J).  At any rate, what these shows may do is to make us feel better about ourselves, with an underlying fear that we could be that person being criticised.   What I am suggesting is that maybe we need to detatch from the world of dishonourable relationship, where criticisms are just plain mean, or mis-informed.  I know I’m still working on it personally, as per my Maggie post earlier.

In Zen Buddhism Right Speech is part of the Eightfold Path.  I remind myself of this every time that I can before I now offer criticism.  Yet Right Speech does not say “do not to criticise”, but rather to reflect on whether this criticism is beneficial to anyone.  Talking about people behind their backs, offering criticism when it is not asked for, or condemning people when you have absolutely no idea what their motivations are is not altogether “right”.  Yet Zen states that we will never fully know the motivations of others, and that reflecting on this is also a waste of time.  So before you say something about someone, ask yourself – “Is this beneficial to anyone? Is this making the world a better place?” If so, then go ahead – with love and compassion we certainly need to do this in our world.  If the answer is no, then keep it to yourself, or even better, let it go, seeing it for what it is – an illusion, in most cases.  We are not omniscient – therefore our opinions on most things are subjective, and indeed flawed in that regard.

In Zen there is a saying – “Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish opinions”.  This really strikes a chord with me. It is not saying that we shouldn’t have opinions, but that we should hold to them lightly, for how often has your opinion on something changed?  My Thatcher post and subsequent discussion changed my opinion, certainly.  If we cherished opinions so highly, we could never learn new things, progress and really be in the here and now, in a state of true experience. We would be holding so tightly to things that shift and change, that are never constant. It’s like trying to hold water in your hands – no matter how tightly you squeeze, a little water always dribbles out.

So, next time I am about to criticise something, I will consider Right Speech. I will also question what or who it is that I am criticising, as well as just who I think is doing the criticising. Most likely, I will have no idea on either score, and therefore either keep my mouth shut or investigate further, delving deep into experience before coming to any conclusions.

Having a critical mind is a wonderful thing.  It can really help us to see what can be done in the world to make it a better place. How we use it is entirely up to us.  Also losing your critical mind can be a wonderful thing, being utterly absorbed into the natural world, at one with everything.  The paradox is delicious.