Reblog: The Solitary Path

Here is a reblog from my channel, Druidheart at SageWoman on the Witches and Pagans website, exploring a little of what the solitary path means to me.

The Solitary Path

Posted by Joanna van der Hoeven on Tuesday, 10 March 2015 in SageWoman Blogs

aloneSome people find comfort and deep learning in solitude. Others find inspiration and wisdom in the interaction with others, where the edges of our souls meet. I find a good balance between the two in my life, needing solitary reflective contemplation and the shared words, laughter and brilliance of my friends to encourage and nourish creativity. I have a strong circle of female friends with whom I share ritual practice, dance, creative crafts and good food, alongside weekends away, sometimes as “girly” weekends, sometimes as spiritual pilgrimages.

I have found ritual with these ladies deeply inspiring, and the bond that it creates reminds me of the sanctity within all our relationships. However, I mostly practice my Druidry on a solitary level, literally walking the wild paths of the heath or deep into the heart of the forest alone. In those moments I feel a deep connection to the world around me, whereas in ritual with others I feel a deep connection to them.

I think a balance is definitely required, in working both alone and with others. But here I shall speak of working alone, and the benefits that can be obtained from following a spiritual path with your own wits, instinct and inspiration to guide you.

I think that more of us need to spend quality time alone. I realise that in our society many people already feel alienated and isolated, but I wonder how much of that stems from not really being able to properly be with your self. I worry about the next generation, who have phones and tablets and a constant barrage of virtual communication that they can resort to anytime they are left alone. I remember a time when my husband was away for a work conference, and feeling the need for human company I went down to the local pub to chat with others from the village at the bar. There was conversation between the customers and the publican, but as soon as she left to go to the kitchen conversation died, and people went straight to their phones rather than talk to each other. I sat there, wondering what on earth has gone wrong with our society in that we cannot talk to each other anymore, but I digress.

The need for other human companionship can be strong, and it’s not a need that we should ignore, being a social species. However, what I would posit is that we certainly do need to learn how to be alone, to listen to ourselves, to become attuned to our thoughts and behaviour in order to better understand ourselves. I strongly feel that when we understand ourselves, we understand others and can be in the world with more empathy and compassion. Often I have taken time out away from the world in order to better understand it – in this I feel a very strong connection with monastic traditions. By removal from the world and the thoughts of others I can better hear the gods, the ancestors and the spirits of place all around me. By spending time alone with my thoughts I learn the cycles that they go through, paying attention to them and really noting them. With a little Zen, when we actually pay attention to our thoughts they don’t control us as much as they might otherwise, offering us an opportunity to live with real intention instead of leading reactive lives.

Spending time in mediation alone, learning how the mind works we can then begin to hear the songs of others as naturally our thoughts quiet down. We have paid them attention, and now that our thoughts have received the attention they desired, they no longer crave more. We hear the birdsong, we feel the sunlight on our skin, the wind in our hair where otherwise we might have been distracted by thoughts, feelings, emotions and situations. The world opens up, and we are once again reminded that the world is more than just us – that we are a part of a beautiful living, breathing system where everything is inter-related. It is an exquisite gift.

Spend more time with yourself. If you can, spend half an hour, an hour or a couple of hours each day alone, perhaps going for a walk or meditating. If at all possible, go on a weekend solo retreat, or a weeklong solo retreat in a place that inspires you, where you can really connect with what is important and with your own beautiful self. Learn to love that self for what she is, for who she is and connect with her, giving her as much time as you would your dearest friends.

When we learn to love our own self, that love will then spill out into the wider world, nourishing and sustaining others.

For more on the solitary path, see my latest book The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid, available now through Moon Books.

Solitude and Serenity

I spent a wonderful couple of days by myself, “glamping” in a yurt for my 40th birthday. It was heaven.

I love spending time by myself. I always have. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and family, but I am entirely comfortable in my own company for long periods of time. Growing up as a teenager, I didn’t have any close friends nearby – my boyfriend was about 20 miles away, and so I only saw him about every other weekend when not at school. My other school friends were over 60 miles away. After school and weekends then were spent by myself, alone in the woods or wandering the village, immersed in the songs of the place.

Turning 40 gave me the perfect excuse to hole up away from everybody for a couple of days. It was time to be entirely selfish – time to spend solely on me, on thinking about my past, present and future. Looking over the last 40 years, and thinking about where I am now, I am very hopeful and content about the future, whatever it will bring. Looking at myself from a different viewpoint as well helped to confirm my sense of self; I thought about how my family see me, my friends, my colleagues, my peers, my cats, etc. Fully grounding in my sense of self, of knowing who I was, I was then able to let that go.

Sitting vigil at night in front of the campfire, with the stars shining brightly overhead and the fire burning merrily, I was able to let go of the past, be in the present and not worry about the future. I knew who I was, and I was able to let that go as well, to simply be in the moment with the darkness, the owls, the crickets and the night air. It was wholly freeing.

We do not spend enough time alone, in my opinion. Four days without phones, television, radio or internet was lush, with time spreading out before me in a lazy spiral. I ate when hungry and slept when tired, not matter what the time of day was. I was able to allow my thoughts to slowly dissipate in the wind, and I found myself becoming more and more a part of the landscape. I no longer thought about Facebook or the emails that awaited me. I was free.

Of course now I am back, and there are business emails to deal with, blogs to be written and thoughts to be shared with friends and family. But these moments of stillness, when utterly alone I was able to let go into the world has carried with me to an even greater extent than I thought possible.

The thought of going on social media gave me a slightly sinking feeling. I had emails and deadlines to meet. I did not want the television on. But I share my life with others, with my husband and my friends, and I cannot retreat entirely from the world. What I can do, however, is to re-prioritise how my time is spent, both with others and by myself.

The monastic life is all about retreating from the world in order to better engage with it. Time spent alone is finding solace for the soul, slowing down thoughts and finding out what really matters. Put away your phone. Get off the computer. Turn off the television and the radio and simply sit, wherever you are. Be in that space. Let that space get to know you. Go outside, alone, for hours at a time and feel yourself slowing down, thoughts receding until you are simply in the present moment, awake and aware to the world around you.

It was the greatest gift I could ever have received on my birthday.

The Little Pagan Monastery Retreat

We’ve got our weekend retreat coming up! 11 – 13 April, Chalice Well Gardens, Glastonbury, UK

Experience a weekend filled with devotion to the gods, the land and the ancestors – with prayer, meditation, discussion and ritual, as well as visiting sacred sites such as Glastonbury Tor and the White Spring on this unique retreat, The Little Pagan Monastery.  Stay at Chalice Well & gardens, at Little St Michaels where you will have 24 hour access to one of Albion’s most sacred places during your stay.  Incorporate daily prayer and ritual into your life, make new friends and enjoy some time spent away in an inspirational setting with like-minded people.

To book, please visit: The Little Pagan Monastery

Little Pagan Monastery Itinerary

Friday
5pm onwards – arrivals
6pm – Welcome talk
6.30pm – Supper
8pm – Evening prayer and group meditation
9pm – Free time

Saturday
7.30am – Morning personal meditation
8am – Morning Prayers and group meditation
9am – Breakfast
10.30 am – Discussion
12 noon – Midday prayers and group meditation
1pm – Lunch
2.30pm – Glastonbury Tor walk and meditation
5pm – Free time/gardening work
6pm – Supper
7.30pm – Discussion
9pm – Evening prayers

Sunday
7.30am – Morning personal meditation
8am – Morning Prayers and group meditation, followed by ritual
9am – Breakfast
10.30 am – White Spring visit
12 noon – Midday prayers and group meditation
1pm – Lunch
2.30pm – Farewell

Little Pagan Monastery

chalicwell1So, after a lot of interest in my previous Pagan Monasticism blog posts, it looks like I will be co-running a retreat weekend this winter at Chalice Well Gardens, called the Little Pagan Monastery.  The dates haven’t been confirmed yet, but we’re looking at something between October and December 2013, and then again in the summer of 2014.

The Little Pagan Monastery will give people a brief glimpse into a pagan monastic life – the weekend will be structured around daily prayers, meditations, lectures, chores around the houses and Chalice Well Gardens, as well as outings to the White Spring and Glastonbury Tor.  It will be a weekend of the contemplative life – a time to devote yourself 100% to your gods and spirituality in the tranquil setting of Chalice Well Gardens. It is open to all pagans.  Expect to rise with the dawn! We will also have out of hours access to the Chalice Well Gardens, and will end the weekend with ritual.

Prices have yet to be determined, as we need a rough estimate of numbers first.  We are aiming to keep the cost of this weekend as low as possible, to enable everyone no matter what their financial circumstances are the opportunity to dip their toes into pagan monastic life.  We’re hoping that everyone will go away nurtured by the weekend, and finding new and imaginative ways of incorporating more spirituality in their daily lives, should they so wish.

If you are interested, please email me at autumnsong@hotmail.co.uk to be put on the sign-up list.  When we have a good idea of numbers, we will then let people know the financial costs and proceed from there. Space will be very limited, so please get in touch as soon as you can to be put on the list.

We hope to see you there!

Pagan Monasticim Part 2

eco villageEver since I read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon about 20 years ago, I’ve always been in love with the idea of a group of priestesses or priests, living separate on an island, surrounded by the mists and completely dedicated to the goddesses and gods of their choice. From the moment they wake up, to the moment they sleep, and even in their dreams, they are 100% devoted to their religion.

This lovely tale can inspire us, even if it is unattainable, in modern day society.  As well, with my previous blog post the question of segregation, of separation from the outside world comes up – would this be the right thing to do for a pagan monastery?

I’ve been thinking about this solidly for two days since I posted my short, and quite quickly written little blog on the dream.  This had grown, solidified, and I am now looking into things like the logistics of it, the ethics and spiritual pathways.  So, what would my Pagan Monastery be like?

First of all, I’d have to start playing the lottery in able to have a chance at winning it.  I would then use whatever is left from the winnings, after distributing it between those that are in desperate need of it, to create the Pagan Monastery.  This would entail buying land that either had a suitable building on it that could house several people at once, and also put up people who wanted to come on retreat, or at least have the option to build something that would suit our purposes. The land would be essential, for we would need enough to grow as much of our own food as possible.  Ideally, it would incorporate areas of woodland, or if not, then these would be planted – not in neat little rows but sown in as wild and natural a way as possible, and lovingly maintained.  Even buying land that has come under threat from developers, or perhaps held in trust, like the wonderful, magical Sinfield Trust in Suffolk – imagine a monastery on that site! (www.sinfieldtrust.org).  If we had to build, or expand upon the buildings already there, imagine eco-friendly structures, solar and wind powered.

I pondered in the earlier blog post whether I would have to give up my relationship to my husband to commit myself to my goddesses – and I’ve discovered that the answer is no.  The Pagan Monastery would include families, and provide a supporting atmosphere – a real sense of community.  People can live and love as they choose, as long as the tenets of respect, devotion, honour, integrity, discipline and community are adhered to.

The Pagan Monastery would allow for many gods to be worshipped.  There would be altars and shrines for differing deities, kept by those that love and follow the path of their deity.  Communal prayers as well as solitary prayers would be given.  The seasonal festivals and moon rites would be kept, sometimes honouring a particular deity, sometimes incorporating all, or offering a more generic version.  Private rituals and rites could be undertaken at any point by those who wish to go deeper into the vision of their goddesses and gods, the ancestors and the spirits of place.

There would be a routine adhered to.  Discipline is not a bad word in the Pagan Monastery.  People would rise at dawn where possible (ie. new mothers, fathers and children need their sleep as and when they can get it) and meditate, followed by solitary prayer.  Those that wish to would then gather for the communal meal – others who wish to continue in a solitary fashion can do so.  Chores would then be undertaken – the cooking and cleaning, either communally or solitary.  Work on the crops, on conservation, on letter writing to protest destruction of wild habitats, chopping wood, tending herb garden, tree planting, laundry, child caring, litter picking along the highways; all manner of work could fall under this banner.  Those that wish to work in the community can do so, and leave the monastery to perform their “day job”, so long as it is not against the tenets of the monastery.  Working within the community would, indeed, be an essential part of the monastery. A portion of the salary of those with day jobs would go to the monastery in lieu of physical work undertaken during the day. Those that wish to remain on site can also do so – each would perform in the best capacity that they could.

Noon day prayers would be given communally. Following that, a lunch, and then either more work for those that choose to do so or perhaps attending a lecture, talk, workshop.  In the hours between that and supper, people would be encouraged to exercise, to get out and commune with nature, or partake in journal-writing, craftwork, etc.  This would be free time.  Those that leave the monastery to work in the community then return home, and have some time to “decompress” should they so desire. Then supper, again either communally or solitary, depending upon the person.  Prayers before each meal are essential, to give thanks for the bounty.

Evening prayers would be communal for those that wish to, filled with beautiful song, chants, poems, dance, and other inspiration received during the day.  The evening would be filled with stories, or discussions, or ritual dependent upon the time of year. Then, meditation for those that wish, and also bed – for those night owls, this routine would be different.

Retreats would be offered to those who seek to learn more – weekend retreats would be ideal.  Newcomers would be introduced to the routines, and take their part in the community, to do their share and get to experience what monastic life would be like for the pagan.  These retreats would be paid for by the retreatees, and funds going to the monastery for essentials – any excess then devoted to designated charities.

The Pagan Monastery would be a place of learning.  It would welcome and organise guest speakers to come and teach the community new things.  It would be a designated holy space for all pagans to come and spend some time, in prayer, in learning, in work and in devotion.

These are just some of the things that I envision for the Pagan Monastery.  While it may only be a dream, things are falling into place for a Little Pagan Monastery – ie. weekend retreats in a monastic style, with the routine outlined above, workshops, lectures and ritual.  Held perhaps quarterly, at either the cross-quarter days or the solar festivals, these retreats would bring together those who long for that monastic feel, a retreat to recharge the batteries and inspire the individual monastic style.

Watch this space.