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

 

 

 

Reblog: Bless the Water Thrice by Alison Leigh Lilly

A brilliant blog post by Alison Leigh Lilly 🙂

In the days of the ancient Celts, a devotee might have honored the gods of her people with a votive object — a torc, a piece of intricately-wrought jewelry, a small statue of a god or goddess, a bent silver coin — given in offering to the clear-running waters of a river or wellspring, or deposited in the murky waters of a marsh at a dedicated sacred site. In the same way, a warrior might have offered up his sword or shield, ritually broken to render it useless or perhaps forged specially to be a sacrifice, never to be used in battle.

But those days are gone.Blessing the Waters, An Environmentally-Safe Method for Making Offerings, by Alison Leigh Lilly  Read more HERE

Interview with Emma Restall Orr, March 2014

Photo courtesy of emmarestallorr.org

Photo courtesy of emmarestallorr.org

Below is a fairly recent interview (March 2014) with Emma Restall Orr, author, founder and director of Honouring the Ancient Dead, and former Head of The Druid Network. Here, she is talks about Druidry, labels, the priesthood, anarchy, understanding the self and the importance of earth-based religions. Enjoy!

Listen HERE.

The Sacred Landscape

Most, if not all Druids, see the land is utterly sacred. Even if there is no belief in deity, the sanctity of nature is still understood in a way that inspires reverence and respect. Each Druid has his or her own landscape that they live in, whether it is wild heathland and moor, or on the edge of a forest, in the heart of suburbia or in the downtown area of a major metropolis. What each Druid can do is find the sacredness of that landscape, and relate it to their own life, their path and their journey. In effect, this is creating a sacred landscape that is also a soul-map, onto which we can identify areas where we can go to help solve a problem, to be inspired, to celebrate the seasonal festivals, to make love under the stars.

Simply getting out there and discovering this landscape is wondrous enough. You may have to do a little research in your area to find wonders such as water flows that may be hidden underground, beneath city streets or where they surface in beautiful springs out in the countryside. See if there are any tumuli in the area. Look into ley lines, or street names. You may look into the history and geology of a place, to become even more acquainted with it. Once the knowledge is gained, the experience brings an intimacy that can provide a constant flow of awen into our lives.

Find these sacred spots in your landscape. You may identify them with the chakras of the human body, or Celtic myth. See yourself reflected in the landscape in which you live. Then allow the beauty and inspiration to fill your soul, and give back to this land accordingly.

It is what makes the Druid path so utterly gorgeous and inspiring.