Looking Ahead to 2020

Globally we face some very challenging times. Whether it’s politics, climate change, religious persecution, war, famine, poverty and homelessness, we know that across the world things are moving in a direction which to many increases the fear for our future. The uncertainty, for ourselves, our loved ones and our planet makes us feel like we’ve lost hope, or that the rug has been pulled out from under our feet. Generations of people are pitted against other generations, the old against the young. The blame game is heavily underway, and there are many casualties. Tempers are high, the stretching point is at near maximum. We head into a new decade filled with uncertainty and anxiety.

So what can we do about it? Here in the UK, we’ve been rocked by a recent Trump-esque election result. We’ve seen it happening across the world, with a swing to the right in other countries. There’s a lot of anger and blame raging across the political world. However, it’s not just in the UK and America: in India, in Australia, in Brazil, Hungary, Turkey and the Philippines, the hard right is winning. If we simply blame one leader or political party such as Labour in the UK or the Democrats in the US, we miss the main point that we need to address. We are working with a very unfair system, ruled by media oligarchs and the billionaire press that use lies and sleight of hand to win elections and the votes of those who would previously never cast their lot in that direction. We need to look to countries that are framing the model that we wish to achieve, such as Finland with their new Prime Minister and their resistance to fake news through a very effective digital literacy campaign that has been underway for the past few years for people of all ages. George Monibot explains this very well in his video for the website, Double Down News.  He also offers up the beginnings of a solution, at a grassroots level that seems to be emerging worldwide.

From my perspective, we also need to remember to close the ranks when it comes to our progressive, left-wing allies. In the UK, the Tories are extremely good at closing ranks when it comes to opposition, and on the other side, the opposing leftist or centrist parties are just too busy trying to bring each other down in order to take the Tories place. Instead of working together, they’re too busy fighting each other. It’s utterly ridiculous. No one will win against those odds.

So we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with everyone who opposes the status quo. We need to support each other in order to succeed in creating a progressive, fair and equal system that works for everyone. How do we do that?

With our everyday words and deeds. It’s not just our vote in elections that matters. It’s how we live our lives. And yes, our lives will be altered and framed within the current political context, for sure. We’ll be worse off unless we’re part of the 1% that are receiving tax breaks and sending their money to offshore accounts. We’ll be fighting to put food on our table to feed our children, to keep our houses warm while receiving a tiny state pension, combating those who say that despite disability people need to return to work and then suffering the consequences horrendously while having their benefits cut or removed.  It’s not going to be an easy decade. But we can start at home, with each other, with our everyday words and deeds.

We can be kind to one another. We can support one another, despite political views, religion, race or creed. We can stand in solidarity for everyone in order to make this world a better place. It all starts with us, on a personal level. It means engaging in dialogue instead of closing it down because someone’s opinion is so different from our own. We have become so used to policing each other that it has led to a culture of echo chambers, where we just won’t listen to any other point of view or tolerate a different opinion. We know that We Are Right and that They are Wrong. We are creating such division from this perspective. We become good guys vs deplorables. How can we ever create unity when sowing the seeds of such discord?

Instead of looking out for number one, we look out for each other as well as ourselves. We see this working in Scandinavian countries, with a healthy social welfare system and free healthcare. It is a more egalitarian society than what we are currently witnessing in the UK and in the US. In Sweden, they have a wonderful word that encourages balance in everyday life. It is known as lagom, which means understanding the right balance. Not too much, not too little, but just enough. The word lagom has two potential origins: one from the Viking era, when a communal horn filled with mead was passed around and everyone took a small sip in order for there to be enough for everyone, and another possible origin, which derived from the Swedish word lag, meaning law. Both show an understanding of community and how rules and standards, both spoken and unspoken, can help us achieve the task of no one being left out or left behind.

And this is what I will personally be working with in 2020. I’ve already started, but I will be bringing the concept to the forefront of my consciousness in everything that I do. I might even start blogging about my adventures with lagom here, in order to keep my words and thoughts in right order, and to share them and receive feedback.

At the moment, I’m just beginning with a lagom attitude towards 2020. I know it will be tough, and for many people exceptionally difficult. I know I am blessed in many areas of my life. I will accept these blessings and return them to complete the cycle. There may be good luck or back luck ahead. There will be ups and downs, challenges and achievements. But working with lagom means that I work with balance. I’ve done so for many years with eastern philosophies, and so I’m experimenting with a different approach here.

It begins at home. It beings with daily interactions with people. When someone is railing at your political views, for instance, with lagom you can see that there is anger and misunderstanding, and that you can either get upset back or work towards the benefit of the whole. You can support those who need support, and get support back when you need it. It’s very similar to Druidic philosophy, of being a functioning part of an ecosystem, working for the benefit of the whole in a holistic sense. It’s not taking too much, and giving in return. Looking out for everyone.

So, my resolution last night was to incorporate more lagom into my life. In my relationship with my husband, my family, my friends, my community and the wider world. To meet the challenges that are coming with this balanced frame of mind, and to help to make this world a better place for all. To understand lagom in terms of running a household, a marriage, a business. To understand lagom in politics, culture and religion. To live lagom and not just think about it. I may disagree with someone, I may want different things out of life and for my community, but I will learn to work with people in a lagom manner in order to benefit the whole. To find lagom in the raging hormones of my menopausal, 45-year old body. To find lagom in work, and in fundraising and charity. To find lagom in the food that I eat. To find lagom in my environment, and spend as much time as I can ensuring that it’s not just the human community that I am applying this philosophy to, but to the entire sphere of my own shared existence.

I look forward to this journey, even though I know that the challenges are there, waiting for me and for everyone. But I have hope, coupled with a good dose of reality, in a very lagom kind of way.

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Right, Wrong and the Self

Working with thoughts on the self, and release of the self these last few years (even more so since the publication of my first book, Zen Druidry) has been the focus of my studies and journey on the path of Druidry, yet has lately become the centrepoint in my vision of my own personal Druidry, ethics and the act of living with awareness.

We can appear, online at least, to be very focused on our individual selves, even to the point of megalomania. Social media comes from an individual’s personal viewpoint, or a company’s, a philosophy – it is an entity in and of itself. As an author it can appear even worse – we write, constantly, sorting out issues, celebrating life in all its glory with words spread across the screen if we decide to share those ideas and inspiration into the wider world.

Yet in my personal, living practice it is quite different. Yes, I do think a lot – but it is thoughts on the dissolution of the self in order to greater experience the world around me. Ironic, writing a blog post about it, but there you go.

Considering ethics within Paganism, there are many levels of “rightness” and “wrongness”, both morally, legally, socially and culturally. What matters most in our current culture here in Britain is legality, with social and cultural repercussions following the legal ones in order of importance (in secular circles) to consider. Morality can kind of get a back seat on this ride, all too sadly. However, what I’ve been thinking about is right and wrong and the ego, the sense of self that is always grasping to have its own expression heard, justifying itself and seeking validation any which way it can (yes, this blog is an irony in that, as well).

The most poignant thing that I have realised is that even though there is right and wrong, it doesn’t actually make anyone better if they are right, or worse if they are wrong. Just because someone is right doesn’t make them a better person, a better human being, nor vice versa. Even in a legal context, even if someone is found wrong, guilty of whatever transgression, it doesn’t make us better – it just makes us legally right.

Legally right may not even mean morally or ethically right. As a species, I don’t think we can actually live without a concept of right and wrong, as it is so ingrained into our psyche. That spark of human consciousness overrides the concept with the constant striving of the ego, the neocortical part of the brain laying down all manner of experience, assumptions, judgements, memories, possible outcomes etc. It’s often said that we instinctively know right from wrong, but does right and wrong have anything to do with instinct, or it is a purely human construct?

I know when someone is doing something wrong in my own social context, in my culture and society. I can condemn their behaviour as wrong, as something that needs to be addressed in order to fulfil our social contract with each other. I can report abusive behaviour, I can write letters of protest to local planning authorities, I can sign petitions and raise money to benefit those in need. All of these things do not make me a better person. They just make me, me.

The man who kicks his dog, I can report to the RSPCA. That doesn’t make me better than him though. The woman who abuses her child, I can also report to the authorities – that doesn’t make me better than her in any way. I may be right in thinking that these things are wrong, but it doesn’t make me a better person for not doing these things.

Ideas of right and wrong often include a judgemental factor that makes us feel that we are better than others. That is the striving of the ego for validation in any form, its screaming claws inside our head hoping for some sort of recognition. What we need to do is to be right, but not have the need to feel right, to feel better for being right.

In taking my inspiration, learning from the natural world around me, I am currently seeing things from a very different perspective. In a world where there is no human notion of right or wrong, and allowing my sense of self to dissolve slowly into that environment, whole new ideas on the nature of the human existence come blazing to the fore.

Stopping that chattering, self-centred mind to actually be in the world is time very well spent. Each time you do, you hear and learn more about the world, thus better defining your place within it. If you begin to lose even that, your sense of self, you come back less and less – the ego becomes smaller and smaller, and the true self has the opportunity to shine through.

Eventually, I hope to never come back at all.


Right Livelihood

autumn leavesDuring the time around the autumn equinox, in my particular path of blending Zen and Druidry I focus on the Buddhist aspects of Right Livelihood within a Druid context.  I do this throughout the year, blending the Buddhist Eightfold Path into the eight seasons of modern Paganism, and have found it spiritually inspiring and enlightening. (For further reading into Zen Druidry, please see my latest book, Zen Druidry, available on Amazon and through Moon Books).

Right Livelihood, in essence, means taking on a way of living and working that does not compromise the other principles within the eightfold path, or indeed any of the Dharma Principles. However, it is much more than ensuring that your occupation is not harmful to others – for me, this accords to everything I do, my entire life.  My livelihood is not just my office job, or my dance company, my writing or my work as a Druid priest. My livelihood is the way in which I live my life – my whole Druidry as a way of living, not just as a practice.

I have ensured that the traditional view of Right Livelihood is upheld in my life – all my jobs do not create harm in others, abuse others or the environment inasmuch as is humanly possible.  Yes, three out of my four jobs require that I drive a car, and that is a compromise that I have to make, which I try to offset in other areas of my life.  I used to work as a legal secretary, but was slowly having my soul destroyed by helping the rich dodge inheritance taxes.  It took the universe to give me a great kick up the bum to get out of that job and dive into something more meaningful for my own self – other similar legal jobs may work for some people, it just wasn’t in accordance with Right Livelihood for me personally.  I quit, went back to university and got a job straight away working for a music company and charity, got writing again, started a dance company and began in my priest work.  I felt much more at ease with myself, knowing that I was partaking in Right Livelihood (or Livelihoods!).

Some of us may feel trapped in jobs that we do not like, but we need the money to support our families, or ourselves.  However, that doesn’t mean that we cannot be on the lookout for something that would sit better within our hearts and souls, and it also doesn’t mean that we can’t offshoot this, say perhaps by doing some volunteer work, donating to charity, etc.  I personally don’t have much spare time, but the time that I do have I try to use wisely – though this year I haven’t succeeded as well as I may have, having run myself a little too ragged.  Organising charity events, performing wedding ceremonies, on top of my other jobs left too little time for me and my husband, and in that regard I failed at Right Livelihood, as there was harm and neglect on that front.  I have worked too hard, and now physically and emotionally see the repercussions. Now, in the autumn of the year, when I can see the results of what I have sown in the springtime of the year, I can also reflect on how to do better next year.

Right Livelihood means living right – it’s not just your job.  For me, within Druidry, it means establishing a life that has as little impact ecologically as is possible at the time for me and my family.  It means investing our savings in solar panels, recycling and composting everything, using cruelty and chemical-free toiletries, working towards creating peace and inspiring others.  It means walking the walk instead of just talking the talk.  It’s bloody hard to do. It means being aware of everything around you, of the impact that you have on the world, from the interaction I have with my co-workers to how many kilowatt hours our household has consumed in the last year.  It means sacrificing ignorance for knowledge, and the practical application of such.

Druidry teaches us about creating honourable relationships with the world around us, with all things if you are an animist like myself. Seeing the inherent value in all things means that no single thing can be taken for granted.  Incorporating Zen means bringing awareness of my own self and how my brain works, as well as working on an awareness of the world at large by living as mindfully as is possible.  Sometimes I am hugely successful at both – other times I fail spectacularly.  At any rate, it’s a learning curve.

Throughout the darkening days until Samhain, my focus on Right Livelihood is a constant reminder to live well.  Taking inspiration from nature, I learn not to take more than is necessary, or at least I am inspired not to – succeeding in this regard is damned hard in a fairly affluent Western society.  I breathe into the growing twilight, the longer nights and learn how to simply be in the world, leaving behind barriers of separation as much as I can, within myself and nature, humanity and the universe.  The rich scents of autumn tingle in my nose, the decaying leaf mould and woodsmoke, the chill winds and starry skies above inspiring me to continue. It is  Inspiring me to create a life that is worthwhile, and in doing so, following a path of Right Livelihood.