Respect and Conduct at Public Sacred Sites

When visiting a sacred site, we can get carried away. We can often forget that at public sacred sites there are others there who are on their own quest, pilgrimage, whatever. We want to rush in, to do the work, to perform ritual, to connect, to sing, chant and celebrate. But we have to think more carefully about shared space.

I recently went to the White Spring with my Druid College Year 3 apprentices. I adore the White Spring; it’s such a lovely site. However, after about 15 minutes various people and groups piled in to temple, and the words “Pagan Circus” comes to mind…

At one point, we had some Druids chanting the awen softly one corner. Lovely. But then another woman began singing in another corner. In a third corner, a man was standing and singing at the top of his lungs (which in that space is really, really loud). Trying to get away from all this noise, I made my way the quietest part of the Mirror Pool in the middle of the temple. I gazed into the water, slowly collecting my thoughts and meditating upon the sacred water, when suddenly three women, two naked and one clothed, clambered into the Mirror Pool, stood in the middle of it and held hands, performing some sort of ritual between themselves. Needless to say, my meditation was, by then, a hopeless cause.

We have so little opportunity to be who we are, especially at such sacred sites as the White Spring. But we also have to bear in mind that this is a public space. There are other Pagans there who are attempting to commune with the energies, the gods and goddesses, the spirits of place, and who don’t need others crashing in on their precious few minutes in that area. These sites are not a Pagan free-for-all. We must respect others and the place. You would never see a group of monks from an abbey in the south of France rock up to Ely Cathedral and suddenly perform Mass, or chant their evensong while the resident monks and visitors alike are doing their thing. We have to bear this in mind, that other people’s experiences are just as important and valid as our own.

And it’s not just Pagans visiting these spaces. The White Spring is open to everyone, from groups of nuns visiting from Spain to families from Yorkshire on a weekend getaway. There are very practical things we need to bear in mind at such places. For one, it’s still illegal to be naked in a public space. For another, not everyone wants to see naked people, for various reasons. Imagine the Catholic nun trying to connect with St Brigid, and then having a group of naked priestesses splashing her habit as they clamber in and out of the sacred pool (there is, indeed, a separate plunge pool for people to dip in, should they wish!). Imagine a primary school teacher asking the young girl what she did on the weekend, and her reply was “Daddy and I went to visit a spring, and watched naked ladies.”

Many of these sacred sites have special out of hours timings for those who wish to hold private ritual. Both Chalice Well and the White Spring offer this, and it should be borne in mind by those who wish to hold ritual at these sites. That way, you won’t be intruding on anyone’s time spent at these sites, or offend anyone who’s beliefs are not your own. It requires advance planning and commitment, but it’s not that hard. I’ve done it myself, and had private time at the White Spring to plunge my naked self in the icy waters with a couple of friends, or visited the Red Spring after closing hours.

Let’s bear in mind other people’s experiences, which are just as valid as our own. Let’s not turn our sacred sites into spaces of competing rituals and rites all happening at the same time. Let’s honour the sacredness of the site, and remember that it’s not just there for us. The energy of these spaces is not only for our own spiritual nourishment. We take, take, take all the time. Receive healing, inspiration and more at these sites, by all means. But remember to give back, by respecting the site, and other people visiting it.

Make it an enjoyable and memorable experience for all.

Druid College and Earth Day

Well, another brilliant weekend of Druid College has come and gone. We’re nearing the end of our Year 2 programme, and getting ready for the apprentices to declare their Chair, their work for Year 3. It’s an exciting time for me, to see what direction each person will take in their path to being a priest of nature, and to help guide them on their personal journey.

Some of the elements that we covered this weekend really stand out for me: crafting sacred ritual and exploring the ecstatic in ritual. As the Saturday of our weekend also coincided with Earth Day, we decided to create a ritual using the energy of the day, alongside the millions of other intentions the world over for peace, harmony and respect for this planet we call home. As Druidry is all about crafting sacred relationship, we used the time and tide as an opportunity to ride the waves of energy and, hopefully, the winds of change.

In the morning we got together and discussed the intention of the ritual, and how we could go about manifesting that intention. We hadn’t used ritual drama before, and so I suggested that Robin (our other course leader and a brilliant storyteller and actor) take on the role of someone who has lost their connection with nature, with the earth, with the fact that we are all related. In sacred space, we invited the personification of this energy, and Robin played the part to the hilt. It was difficult to hear the words he spoke (rather, yelled) in the peaceful setting of the woodland where we stood, the scent of bluebells surrounding us, the mallard ducks flying in and out of the pond next to us. Word of racism, environmental destruction, classism and more were flung into our space from the voice of a wounded individual who had lost that sense of connection, who represented everything that we work in our daily lives to heal. We had heard these words in the media, from people on the street, perhaps even from family members, words of the uselessness of nature except as a resource, words of nationalism and “foreigners”, words of the necessity of cheap manufactured goods despite the cost to human and non-human lives and more.

Then we created a container for that energy. Like an oil spill, we contained the negativity by creating a circle around the energy, holding it and stating that we will not allow it to infiltrate into our lives, and do everything we can to change and transform that energy. Circling Robin, we held hands and took in that energy.

We then needed to transform it, and so in a cauldron filled with water from the Red Spring in Glasbontury (Chalice Well) we spoke words of how we will transform that energy in our own lives.  Aware of what we can and cannot control, we decided how best we can transform and create a counter-balance to the destruction of the sacred and the values of sustainable relationship that we hold so dearly. We can change ourselves, first and foremost, and that energy will ripple outwards. And so, bringing our lips close to the cauldron we spoke, of loving friends and family despite their flaws, of working on how to heal ourselves, of how we can affect our local environment, community and more. Changing ourselves, we change the world.

We then used an elixir of vervain, created by the waters of the Red Spring and White Spring, blessed by the light of the full moon, and added three drops to the cauldron filled with holy water and our intention. Through the magic of herbs and intention, the water was blessed and transformed to heal and nourish all.

We then created a circle once more, holding hands and feeling the energy of community strong. We then opened our circle and allowed a space for Robin to join us, should he so wish. In his character, he was unsure of whether he wanted to join us or remain as he was, and so we simply stated that the circle was open to him when and if he was every ready to join. There was always room at the table.

A healing sound bath followed, where we each took up an instrument with beautiful vibrational energy, and the air was cleared with the soft sounds we created, mingling with the songs of the robins and blackbirds, the wind through the new leaves in the trees, the glow of the bluebells bright in their basking in the warm spring sunshine.

All in all, it was a wonderful ritual, created by the group and one in which everyone had a part to play, both in the ritual circle and afterwards in their own lives. A very transformational ritual, to say the least.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all involved in Druid College over the last two years, who have shared in this wonderful journey. I look forward to many more years to come.

Living a Charmed Life

While the winds howl outside as winter lets us know that just because we have celebrated Imbolc, it doesn’t yet mean Spring is here, I have taken the last two weeks to rest in solitude. Staying home, organising and having a big clear-out, cleaning and simplifying has been a challenging fortnight. After the big family gatherings and the busy pace of the Yuletide holidays, Imbolc is often a quiet time for reflection. Being thrust into solitude after weeks spent with happy, noisy family members can be quite a shock to the system, but there are lessons to be learned with everything in life.

I give thanks that I have a home, a beautiful home that shelters me from the winter’s rages. As I lie in bed and hear the wind whipping around the house, the rain lashing against the window panes I remember that there are many who do not have this luxury, both human and non-human. As I walk outside in my garden, seeing the snowdrops and the crocus, the daffodils and the hellebore in flower I am reminded of the quiet, elegant beauty that exists even as the torrential storms pass overhead. The white serpent energy is slowly stirring in the ground beneath my feet, connecting all the areas of these sacred isles in a web of existence upon whose threads we can travel, if we dare. The hearth flame is utterly sacred, whether it is candles burning upon the mantlepiece or a cozy fire crackling in the evening. Being utterly awake to all these things reminds me of the constant stream of blessings and the sacredness of everything. There is nothing mundane in this world.

Chanting prayers to Brighid upon rising, giving thanks as the sun shines upon a new day, singing songs to the land as I dig into the earth of my garden, I know that there is no separation between what is sacred and what is not. I have come to realise that reciting little chants and prayers throughout the day helps to remind me of the sacredness of each and every moment, from preparing and eating food to cleaning the floors and windows, to laying myself down each night in the shelter of my home, my husband and cats with me. Inspired by the charms and chants, blessings and prayers found in works such as the Carmina Gadelica has led me to create my own, which is an incredibly fun thing to do in and of itself. But when applied to everyday life, singing my prayers throughout the day I really feel an ever deeper connection to the gods, the ancestors and the spirits of place. I can’t take them for granted anymore.

It brings a whole new meaning to living a charmed life.

Sacrifice

barley stubbleSacrifice – it’s one of those “old” words, like honour and duty. Many who have read Roman accounts of the Druids associate the word, sacrifice, with the priest caste of the Celtic people at that particular time. However, the word goes even further back into the beginnings of time for the human animal, when the importance of relationship with nature was everything, when we knew that to disconnect ourselves from the natural world meant death. Today, we must remember this, remember each and every day how much we are a part of the world, how much our everyday actions count, no matter how small. Each day is also an opportunity to give thanks for the blessings that we have. At Lammas, however, just giving thanks doesn’t seem quite enough. When the first crop is harvested, and the land lies stark and naked, shaved and shorn from under the combine harvester, giving thanks and saying words over the field doesn’t feel adequate. This, for me, is where sacrifice comes into play.

It’s hard as the line keeps shifting between giving thanks and the notion of sacrifice. What might be an offering to one person might be seen as a sacrifice to another. I can only speak from my own personal viewpoint, as I may value things differently from my neighbours, my family, and members of my pagan community. So, what is the difference between an offering and a sacrifice?

For me, sacrifice is something of significant value. This is not necessarily a monetary value, but could be something that is cherished, prized, something that is utterly loved and which has a representative value of the threads of connection we hold with the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place. What is it that I have which I value? What am I willing to give back in return for the flow of awen, that spark where soul touches soul and is inspired? What am I willing to do to achieve that?

When the barley in the field by my house is cut, the energy of the land drastically changes. Between the homes and the heathland there are two arable fields, one which was harvested in the spring for green barley, and one which still has the golden, bowed stalks waiting to be harvested. Acknowledging the change isn’t enough, for when we hear the songs of the ancestors, I feel how important these crops were for them, how important their relationship with the land meant their survival and success. In a field of growing barley, there is potential, a shimmering energy waiting to be harvested. When that field is cut, the potential can be scattered if the land is not honoured. The ancestors knew this, but we have forgotten. Modern farming depletes the soil of essential nutrients that must be replaced, often by less-than-natural means. The barley is cut, and the field then stands, barren and forgotten for weeks, until the farmer and his tractor are ready to plough in the winter or spring crops.

The land isn’t respected, isn’t acknowledged anymore. As an animist, I find this appalling. When the land has been used, has given us so much in a beautiful field of barley, and we don’t even give thanks, much less sacrifice then there is dishonour. As with any relationship, if one side continually gives and gives, and the other continually takes and takes, the balance will shift, the relationship will crumble and great suffering will ensue.

What can I give that will honour the lives that this crop will feed, that will honour the land that grew it, that will honour the ancestors that worked it, that will honour the spirits of place who live there? What will be a significant gift for all we have received?

The sacrifice will change year upon year. What matters most is the importance of the sacrifice to me personally.

Offerings represent a more daily interaction, little gifts and niceties that you would present to any friend that you meet: a cup of tea, a biscuit, some of the fresh-baked bread you just made, or your home-brew mead. Finding out what the local spirits of place would like is as polite as asking your guest how she would like her tea: with or without milk, honey or sugar? When it comes to sacrifice, however, the shift of focus changes to become more introverted rather than extroverted.

I’ve previously in earlier articles described sacrifice as something that is not only of great value, but also as something that can help you “get to the next level”, so to speak. No, we’re not playing at Druids on World of Warcraft, but we are seeking to deepen our relationship with the land. Sacrifice is key in this regard, helping us to go deeper, to give more of ourselves in order to understand more of the land.

Many within the Pagan traditions see the Sun King as offering himself as sacrifice at this time of year, to be cut down as the grain is cut, to be reborn at Yule. Yet are we comfortable allowing the Sun King to do this each and every year, or should we also take our part in the sacrifice, participating rather than simply watching the cycles of life unfold?

And so I will spend the next few weeks walking the land, finding out what I can give, what I can do to deepen my relationship with it, to be an active contributor instead of a passive spectator. Some aspect of my self must be willing to die alongside John Barleycorn in order to understand the cycles of nature. Some sacrifice must be made.

Reblog: Harvest-Time

Here is my latest post for SageWoman Magazine’s blog channel at Witches and Pagans…

Every day at this time of year, either morning or evening, I do some gardening, keeping back the riotous growth that excels in this season. If I didn’t, many plants would simply take over the garden, crowding out some other favourite plants. Though these crowders may be near the end of their cycle, in their death they will still smother those that have great potential, as their time is arriving. It’s a hard time of year to keep on top of things, as the sun is so hot in our south-facing garden, and time is limited to mornings and evenings when we won’t burn to a crisp or keel over from heat exhaustion. Jack in the Green is running riot, uncaring, reaching for the sun, drinking in the rain.

Yet if I want my irises and lilies to survive, I must release them from the choking hold of ground creepers/covers that threatens their existence. I must carefully weed out and try to keep under control those plants whose vigorous growth would otherwise overwhelm others. In this, I feel a kinship to my ancestors, not only my recent ancestors whose work with plants runs in my blood, but also ancestors of this land who depended upon agriculture to survive. Both physically and metaphorically, this is the ideal time to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Even as I hear the tractors and combine harvesters rumbling in the fields on the other side of the street, so too do I look both within and without to see what needs harvesting, and if the harvest has been good. Getting out in the garden brings it all home, showing that if you take on the responsibility of growing things, of nourishing them, then you must do your job well in order for your harvest to be good. Walking out in the fields after supper, running my hands over the tops of the wheat and barley that grow around here, I make my prayers for the harvest to go well, for the people to be nourished and for the land to be treated well. The time nears for when we give back in great gratitude as Lammas, Lughnasadh, Harvest-time arrives…

To read the full article, click HERE.

Happy Canada Day

Today is Canada Day, 1st July. Back home in Canada there will be fireworks, music and celebrations from backyard barbeques to city-wide parties and festivals. Days like this I miss my homeland, my mother country. As today has approached, I’ve been giving some thought about what it means to be a Druid in a land that is not “your own”, living in a foreign land.

A Druid’s relationship is with the land, first and foremost. It is the defining part of our spiritual tradition, religion and philosophy. We deepen that relationship through working with the ancestors, deities, the three worlds, etc. However, at the heart of the matter is the land upon which you live. Establishing a deep and sacred relationship with it is the main part of our work as Druids. But what is this relationship?

We have to know the environment we are living in, in order to live well in it. If we live with ignorance, we might cause damage. If we run against the currents of energy that are flowing through our land, say for example spending inordinate amounts of energy during the winter holidays when the darkness is actually calling us to rest a moment, to get in touch with the depths of winter, then we become exhausted, ill, suffering from diseases and dis-ease. We have to dance with the land, and when dancing with another it is of utmost importance to acknowledge the other’s movements, in order not to cause injury or step on anyone’s toes. We have to be aware of what is going on, each and every day in our landscape. It is not enough to celebrate the eight festivals of the modern pagan Wheel of the Year – to be a Druid requires much more than that.

It is a relationship that is not one way. Singer/composer/pianist Tori Amos once described her relationship to the land through her Cherokee grandfather’s guiding words: “We are either caretakers, or takers. It’s your choice”. While as Druids we don’t really have a sense of stewardship of the earth, for that would place us in a hierarchal order of being that doesn’t really make any sense, we do know that taking too much is damaging and so we work to live in harmony, in balance. Inspired by the ecosystems around us, we see how to fit in, to work with each other, whether that be human or beetle, stinging nettle or oak tree.

My relationship with the land began in Canada, where I was born. I drank from the rivers and lakes: that water is in my body. I grew up in the Laurentian mountains: those granite hills are also in my bones, in my foundation. The wild thunderstorms of summer are in my blood, the cold crisp air of winter in my lungs. They are a part of me and I am a part of it. We are inseparable, the land and I. The conditions manifested at the right time to bring me into being in that space and in that time, and I cannot disengage with it any more than I can wilfully cut off an arm or a leg.

But I live in the UK now. I am a resident of this country, and have been for many, many years. I have been here almost as long as I have lived in Canada. I have learned to dance to the rhythms of this land, with its differently beating heart, its slower pulses and island mentality. I have felt Brighid’s serpent rising and falling with each passing year, deep within the earth, dancing in the light of the sun in summer and retreating again, curled up within the depths of winter’s darkness and at the base of my spine. I have seen different gods of thunder and lightning, of seas and oceans, rivers and deep, cold lakes. I have felt and honoured the ancestors of this land, feeling their stories sung in the evening breeze, feeding from their bodies in the food grown on this land, breathing the air they breathed. I have walked many, many miles all across this land, coming to know its vast and intricate landscape, from craggy sea cliffs to heather moorland, from the Scottish Highlands to the White Cliffs of Dover. I have danced in this energy, so different and still similar to that of my mother country.

The questions remains: to whom do I belong?

I have roved many parts of this world, been in many places on this beautiful blue planet. I belong to this planet, I would say, first and foremost. Though I still carry a Canadian passport, I am a citizen of Earth more than a citizen of any country. Those lines on a map really mean nothing to me, spiritually. A land defines its spirituality, for sure, but there is a shared spirituality as well, as we are all part of this huge ecosystem called Earth. The energies run differently here in the UK than they do in Canada, on the surface, at least. But delve deep enough, in to the core of this spherical mass hurtling through space and it’s a shared centre, with sacred fire holding it all together.

I feel equally at home here in the UK as I do in Canada. There are other places on this planet that I feel at home – Sweden is one. I cannot date my ancestry back to either Scandavian or Celtic roots, but I know that I did come from the same basic ancestors as we all did those many, many years ago. It matters not what more modern root I come from in my Druidry. I was baptised and confirmed a Protestant, but I am a Pagan Druid. I honour different gods from all traditions, and still question the existence of all of them. I quest the awen daily, searching for inspiration, looking for answers, searching for the right questions, sitting in silence and dancing in delight. It doesn’t matter where I came from. What matters most is what I do now, in the land that I am in, whether it is the UK, Norway, France or USA. What matters is that deep connection to the spirits of the land, to the essence of nature wherever I am, and in that connection an honourable, sacred and sustainable relationship. I am not a tourist anywhere.

Yet still I call myself Canadian for the most part. My accent, though much bastardised, is still different and people will ask me where I’m from. Legally I am a Canadian who is resident in the UK. Yet I vote on UK policies, not Canadian ones. I follow deities that are from this land. I honour the deities of Canada and North America, those different energies moving along swifter currents and wilder ways. But I work with the land beneath which I walk, barefoot on the grass in my backyard, the ash trees whispering ancient secrets to me beneath a mackerel evening sky. Perhaps I am not a Canadian. I am not British. But I am Druid.

Reblog: Experiencing the Sacred

This is a reblog of my latest post from my channel at SageWoman’s blog, on Witches and Pagans.

Friend and fellow colleague, Kevin Emmons, once described the sacred as “A simple thought that isn’t so simple. What we see and experience as sacred is what allows us to glimpse the eternal through cracks in consciousness caught in the field of time.” I love it when people say things that really make you think. You can find links to other inspiring writers on my personal blog at Down the Forest Path.

As a Druid and animist, to me everything is sacred. Everything is sacred, and yet everything is also mundane. As author and Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck once said “Nothing is special. And when nothing is special, everything is”. She wrote an entire book, called Nothing Special. I highly recommend it.

Kevin’s words are beautiful, evoking an image of eternity in which we can only catch glimpses. My Zen Buddhist tendencies lead me to question whether anything is eternal, as the main tenet of Buddhism is the impermanence of everything, and yet there is a certain paradox in that the energy of life is never-changing: it only changes in the forms that it takes. Energy manifests itself as different forms of matter dependent on circumstances such as environment, genetics, etc. So yes, the energy is eternal, but the manifestation is not.

Catching glimpses of this energy, of the sacred through cracks in consciousness is an absolutely delicious concept. It reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, when she speaks of nature as in XCII:

To my quick ear the leaves conferred;    

The bushes they were bells;      

I could not find a privacy             

From Nature’s sentinels.            

In cave if I presumed to hide,            

The walls began to tell;               

Creation seemed a mighty crack              

To make me visible.

We cannot escape life. It is always there, always around us, and we are always a part of its flow. There is no separation, only integration. We live with each other; we live because of each other in a beautiful dance throughout the ages. These cracks in our consciousness allow us to break through our perceived reality, and move beyond perceptions, beyond subjectivity into the entirety of being.

Our senses are so beneficial to us, and yet they also are the cause of our subjectivity. We see the world through our own eyes, feel through our own fingers, listen with our own ears. Everyone is different, yet everyone has a shared experience. When the species is the same, there is a deeper shared experience, an understanding and knowing where the Other is not so “other”. Transcendence is moving beyond the senses, moving beyond the boundaries and definitions into pure understanding, pure experience. Then there is no “I” or “Me”, there is no “You” or “Them” – just life, glorious life.

Our consciousness is a blessing, a gift. It is also the greatest hurdle to overcome, for it shouts aloud and above the songs of the earth, drowning out the consciousness of other beings in our own minds. Cracking open our consciousness we allow those other songs to come through, to inspire us, to nourish us, to blend with our song in a wonderful symphony of energy manifesting, over and over again.

These cracks of consciousness are caught in the field of time (however you may view time, whether it be linear, circular, etc.). Energy manifests, for a time, and then changes its form. Time is what creates the impermanence that is so vital to life. Without time, there would be no conception, no materialisation, no death and no decay. Within the moveable boundaries of time we see a progression of the eternal processes of birth and decay. Time is a gentle sanctuary, an indiscriminate boundary that allows these processes to occur.

And so, the sacred is that which allows us to glimpse the eternal. The sacred is anything and everything, if only we open up our senses and move beyond our perceptions. Through the cracks of consciousness within the fields of time we perceive this sacredness, flowing and changing, manifesting and decaying, a boundless stream of energy moving through the cosmos.

May you see through the cracks to glimpse the sacred.

The Novice

noviceWhilst on holiday in Brittany the past week (blog and photos to come!) I read Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s novel, The Novice. It is his first novel, that tells the story of a young woman who has become a legend in Vietnam for paving the way for women to be nuns in the Buddhist tradition. It’s a short book, eloquently written and filled with wisdom throughout.

Kinh Tam is a beautiful young woman who has always felt a calling for deep learning through Buddhist enlightenment. As there were no temples for nuns at the time, she felt that her only option was to do what women did back then – marry and have children. However, her marriage failed as her in-laws falsely accused her of trying to kill her husband one night. Kinh Tam goes back home then, cuts off her hair and disguises herself as a boy, wandering for five days until she comes to a temple where she asks to be taken in as a novice.

She shows an aptitude unlike any other monk in her devotion to the Zen Buddhist teachings and carrying them out. She lives the perfections of generosity, mindfulness, magnanimity, diligence, patience and insight. She has already been through much, after the false accusations of attempted murder, and yet she holds true to her path, holding no malice to those who have wronged her through their own false perceptions.

A young noblewoman who visits the temple falls in love with the young “boy” monk, seeing in him such beauty that only an open-heart can radiate. Kinh Tam avoids her, with as much compassion as possible, as her secret cannot be found out else she faces expulsion. After Kinh Tam turns down the noblewoman’s request for a private meeting, the noblewoman woman becomes enraged, filled with her own anger and wounded pride, accusing the young novice of impregnating her when it was really a servant boy from her household whom she took to bed in anger and despair of not being able to sway the young novice from his devoted path.

Kinh Tam faces the dilemma of choice: tell everyone that it’s not possible, as she is a woman, or face beatings for her “transgressions”. Her love for her path is so strong that it sees her through the beatings, and yet again she never holds any malice towards the young woman (Mau), those who believe her false accusations and even those who beat her. She knows it is only their wrong perception of her that makes them act as they do, and the strength of loving kindness overcomes all the pain she endures.

Kinh Tam goes through further hardships, yet always with the endurance of a loving heart and the deep well of forgiveness. I won’t tell you the ending, but I was in tears as I read it – it was just so beautiful.

Kinh Tam’s story is one that can help anyone going through a rough time. It doesn’t matter what it is that you are enduring, whether it is being shot at, beaten, false accusations or someone trying to undermine you and your work – the open heart of compassion and seeing the unity of all things is stronger than any of these. Anyone can relate to Kinh Tam’s story. As a woman, I felt a deep bond with her struggles and an empathy for her trials and tribulations. I felt deeply the tug of sadness as one woman falsely accuses another (albeit unknowingly regarding the disguised gender, yet with an intended malice in any event). As a practitioner of Zen I found deep wisdom in the teachings that lay like little stars filled with light across the pages, twinkling with their insight into living a life of less suffering. We all suffer, for various reasons, but we can lessen that suffering through the open heart of compassion. Those who try to hurt us, physically, emotionally, intellectually, who undermine our person and our work, who tell lies and allow their pride, anger and other emotions to overwhelm their reason and the ability to see clearly the heart of the matter – these are things we all go through at some point in our lives. Whether it is through war, office/work politics or family issues, the cause is the same: wrong perceptions. Because they have a wrong perception of us, they act out, lash out, are ruled by the monkeys riding on their backs.

Yet we don’t have retaliate like for like. We can see their suffering, and still send them our love and compassion, even from afar. Because they perhaps have not seen that there is another option, they have no way out. Living through our actions, of opening our eyes to all possibilities and the reality of the present moment we can hopefully provide an example for a peaceful way of life that benefits the whole. We can forgive these misjudgements from others, as they are easily created. Through diligence we can work to dissolve these false perceptions within ourselves, through meditation, deep insight and the other teachings of Zen Buddhism.

I always doubted whether humans were truly capable of forgiveness. When explained through the words and story told by Thich Nhat Hanh, it makes so much more sense; it is so easy. There are three appendices to the story, one describing further the legend of Kinh Tam, the second describing the legacy of Kinh Tam by Sister Chan Khong of Plum Village monastery, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s own addendum about practicing love. These appendices are just as important as the story itself, for it shows “Engaged Buddhism” in action as Sister Chan Khong and Thich Nhat Hanh both relate how the practice of compassion helped them through the suffering of the Vietnam war, exile and more. We see first-hand how the Zen Buddhist precepts are put into practice, actually lived out in the lives of those who worked in the DMZ, offering wisdom and deep insight into how suffering is different for each individual and yet can be overcome when held in the arms of compassion.

In the UK, you can buy this wonderful little book from as little as £1.04 second-hand; do try to read it if you are at all interested in Zen Buddhism, mindfulness, compassion or loving kindness. If you feel you are suffering in any shape or form, this book might be able to help you find the way to transforming suffering into something that instead brings peace and harmony to your world, and thereby to the world at large.

May we be peace. x