The power of New Year’s Resolutions

P1070010Many people here in the West have made New Year’s resolutions. I for one think that this tradition is a good one, for I’m always seeking to improve myself, to live in better harmony with the world around me. I know that I can’t change others, only myself, and lead by example. And so, a resolution or three can help me to achieve that goal.

Why are resolutions so important? Well, simply put, it’s vocalising an intention. In much of Western Paganism and Heathenry words, especially spoken words, have deep meaning when applied with intention, and most magic (but not all) relates to words, spells, chants, invocations and more. Think of the many sayings that relate how important words are to us. We take people by their word, and our word in our bond. Sadly, this is all too often forgotten in today’s society. We have to take back the sacredness of our words, thereby sanctifying also our intentions.

There is a deep power when we say what we mean, and mean what we say. Not hiding behind pretension or illusion, we will do as we say and we will be truthful and honest in our actions. We will sometimes fail to come through, as we are all fallible, but still the power is not only in the result, but in the attempt to live in this manner. We can ask for help when needed, for we know that everyone needs help every now and again.

When we take the importance of our words to heart, we can also look at how we take the words of others into our lives. How much do we validate our life based upon the words of others? Are these words spoken with an honest intention that is in correlation to your own, or is there a hidden agenda within them? Many people seek to abuse trust, sadly, and feel that only they hold a real reflection of others’ self-worth. Only you know your own value, your own worthiness, and if you are true to your word you then need not seek external validation. Criticism, honest and valid criticism can and should be useful in everyone’s lives. Bitter, angry, mocking criticism, filled with contempt, is not helpful in any way, and is only a reflection of the person who delivers such words, not you. We live in a world where many feel that their own flame burns brighter by blowing out others’, but we know that this is not the case.

By being true to your word, you are also being responsible for your actions. This again is something that I feel is lacking in much of today’s society. All too often we can blame others for our misfortune, or sink into the abyss of apathy rather than taking an active role in our lives. We have to define for ourselves how we wish to live, and take a participatory role in achieving that goal. None other can walk this path for us.

Taking on resolutions can help us to give voice to the sovereign self that we wish to be, that idealised self that we can indeed become, should we have the courage to walk the path towards that end. They can clarify what it is that we wish to achieve, and even ask for help along the way, from the gods, the ancestors, friends and family. We need not seek their validation, but only their help should we need it, for we know our own self-worth. Hold true to your resolution, as much as you can. Use it to remind you of the sovereign self, that self that states that YOU are in control of your own behaviour, that state of integration with the rest of the world where you realise that you are a part of a great weave in the tapestry of life. We may falter, we may even fail, but at least we tried. And next year we can try again, or make new resolutions to help us find and achieve that truth that we seek within our souls through the power of our words.

 

Non US Self-Publishing and Tax

Here is some tax information that I discovered when enquiring about printing a book through Amazon’s Create Space platform. As a US company, non-US authors will have to get around the 30% withholding tax issue. It can be tricky, if you don’t know quite where to go and how to do it. So, here’s the best way that I found, which takes around 15 – 20 minutes.

  1. Don’t bother with an ITIN (International Tax Identification Number). Go for an EIN (Employer Identification Number) instead.
  2. To get your EIN, call the IRS at +1 267 941 1099. Do not call the international number on the IRS website – this number is always engaged, and will just hang up on you. The number above is a direct line to the dedicated unit in Philadelphia that deals with foreign entities (that’s you) who need an EIN.
  3. Tell them you need an EIN, as you are an author who wants to publish on the American Amazon’s Create Space platform. Then, give them all your details, and they will then give you your EIN number. Keep this number safe!
  4. When you’ve gotten as far as you can on the Create Space site in uploading the files of your work, etc., you will need to fill in tax information through Create Space before you can continue any further. Go to that page, and tick the “I have a Foreign/Non US tax number” (currently the third option on the list).
  5. Continue with the forms, and you will get to an online version of the W8BEN. Fill in your details, and in the box marked “Foreign tax identifying number enter your own EIN like so:  EIN-12-3456789
  6. You will be asked to review all your details, and then submit the forms. Do so, and voila, hey presto, you’ve done it! You can now carry on with uploading files and creating that brilliant piece of work.

Note: Some countries have different tax treaties with the US, so for example the UK has 0% tax payable. Other countries may differ. The online form through Create Space (W-8BEN) will automatically go to the right country code on the form and show the appropriate percentage of tax for you.

The information in this blog post is correct as of the date published – it may change in the future.

Adventures in Stoicism – Week 1

'News gets out that the Stoics' annual party has been cancelled.'

‘News gets out that the Stoics’ annual party has been cancelled.’

So, as readers of this blog may be aware, I’m doing a course in Stoicism, giving some Western philosophy a go, taking a break from my studies in Eastern traditions. The basic premise behind Stoicism really intrigues me. It all boils down to “living in agreement with nature”. The course describes it as thus:

“Stoicism is a complex philosophy in some respects and it’s beyond the scope of this training to go into it in much detail. However, the central teaching was summed up fairly concisely. Stoicism teaches that the goal of life is “living in agreement with Nature”. The Stoics took that to mean, not retreating to a quiet life in the countryside, but rather living “in accord with virtue” or excelling as a human being. Living in agreement with our own nature means flourishing and fulfilling our potential, by cultivating reason and thereby achieving strength of character and practical wisdom. The outcome of our actions, whether we achieve external “success” or “failure”, is therefore less important than the nature of our own character.”

Being a Druid, the whole idea of living in agreement with nature I find highly appealing. It is, after all the goal of the Druid, is it not? For this course, I am taking the Stoic goal word for word here, and not adding on the extra interpretation that so many seem to use, that being, living in accordance with our own nature, or living in accordance with human nature. To me, that seems an unnecessary addition, and not quite in tune with my religious beliefs. It seems to separate the human from nature, where in my mind human nature is a part of nature, just we humans are a part of an ecosystem. To separate the human from nature, to create any lines of division are completely illusory; mental constructs created by human beings for whatever reason: superiority over other beings, separation from the material and the spiritual, and so on. I’m taking the Stoic goal word for word here, because it makes much more sense to me on my quest for integration.

The next aspect of the course that should be interesting is as follows:

“Your overall goal in this four-week training program is to learn to live more consistently in accord with traditional Stoic values, or with “virtue” and practical wisdom, and to evaluate the results for your quality of life. The most important aspect of this will be training yourself to consistently place more importance on your own character and actions than upon external events. You’ll also be training yourself to cultivate mindfulness so that you avoid going along with any thoughts, actions, or feelings, that may interfere with that goal.”

Having studied Eastern traditions, namely Buddhism for so many years, this both makes total sense to me and also presents a different point of view from which to operate. Within Buddhism, we are taught very similar concepts, cultivating mindfulness so that we do not fall into the traps of bad behaviour, allowing our thoughts and feelings to control our lives. As Lao Tzu said, ““Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” That makes perfect sense, and is a very noble thing to do. The difference in Stoicism lies perhaps in the cultivation and support of your own character, identity or self. Within Buddhism, we are taught not to transcend the physical or the material, as so many people wrongfully assume, but to transcend the notion of a separate self to the rest of existence. By living mindfully, wholly within our bodies, aware of our actions, thoughts and so on, we see that the illusion of separation is just that, an illusion. There really is no self.

In Stoicism, there is indeed a more defined sense of self, one that must be cultivated in order to live in accordance with nature. It goes without saying that placing more importance on your own actions rather than external events is the way forward to creating a life of harmony, but the difference lies in the importance of your character as well. Maybe Lao Tzu’s quote above bridges the gap between Buddhism and Stoicism, for it mentions the importance of character. On the other hand, maybe I’m misinterpreting the whole thing, and confusing “character” with “self”. It will be interesting to see if I can make that distinction as the course progresses, in accordance with the principles behind Stoicism.

What I love, and what works with the philosophies that I have previously studied, but perhaps doesn’t stress as much as Stoicism does, is the following from the course:

“Some things are “up to us”, or under our direct control, whereas others are not up to us.

  • Encheiridion, 1

 

In the next sentence, Epictetus explained that Stoics mean what is “up to us” in the sense of being completely voluntary and within our sphere of control. In a word, as he puts it, this means our actions. That includes our external behaviour but also certain mental acts, such as voluntarily judging something to be desirable or undesirable. Everything else is only under our control indirectly, as a consequence of our actions, which means that other factors can always intervene to thwart our intentions. Those things, which are not our actions, are referred to as “externals” or “indifferent” things. The Stoics often sum up the most significant and problematic externals as: health, wealth, and reputation. Pain and pleasure are also “indifferent” in the sense of being things that happen to us, rather than things we do. When our voluntary actions are good, that’s called “virtue”, and when they’re bad, that’s called “vice”. So acting with virtue rather than vice, in this sense, is the main thing that is “up to us”. Indeed, we’re told the Stoics sometimes defined the fundamental goal of life as “living in accord with virtue”.

Epictetus goes on to say that the root cause of most emotional suffering is placing too much value on these external things, on things beyond our direct control. Becoming overly-attached to externals makes us all the “slaves” of our passions, he says. That’s definitely something worth thinking about, isn’t it? The Stoics therefore repeatedly advised their students to notice when they were experiencing unhealthy emotions or desires, feelings they might want to change. When this happens we’re to pause for a moment and try to grasp very clearly what aspects of the situation are entirely within our sphere of control.”

Focusing on what is under our control, and what is not, is indeed a part of Buddhism. However, the stress that the Stoics put on this concept in relation to living in virtue is much stronger. Attachment to our thoughts and emotions is very similar within the two traditions, and mindfulness of when we are acting out inappropriately is a key concept. However, within Stoicism the difference lies in that we perhaps don’t detach from all emotions or passions, but instead cultivate virtue over vice. I am hesitant in this regard, worrying about cultivating a sense of pride that might impede the Stoic sense of being. Buddhism states that all attachments, to the good or bad, are impediments on the way to enlightenment. The goal of integration is to move beyond attachments into a pure moment of utterly being. Stoicism doesn’t ask us to move beyond striving to do good, to excel in virtue, to perhaps in a sense attach to these ideals. There isn’t the “goalless goal” in Stoicism that there is in Buddhism. It’s fascinating.

With these goals and concepts in mind, working them with my Druidry is, I think, going to be an enlightening experience. I’m eager to see if it truly does lead towards a life in accordance with nature. After working this week with the course, already some things are starting to “click”, and work easier than with some of the Eastern concepts. Then again, it may simply be my interpretation of these concepts that is the greatest challenge towards understanding and integration.

A Stoic Druid?

We all feel inadequate at times. We can’t help it – in modern Western society, with media and social media all around us, we are constantly looking at each other’s lives and making value judgements not only about them, but in comparison to ours. We often forget that we are only looking at a tiny fraction of the truth, of the facts, of the life being lived in that present moment.

People raised in capitalistic societies learn to compete from a very young age. Not all competition is wrong, but we have to take a deep look at just why we feel the need to compete in the first place. Life is not a competition, after all. We’re all gonna die, end of story. No one wins. We perhaps need to realise just what is important in our lives, and what is irrelevant. Maybe then the desire to compete will lessen, and we can free ourselves from such restrictions, supporting instead of competing, making the world a better place. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try our best; far from it. However, we might lessen our feelings of inadequacy.

Having studied Eastern philosophy for many years now, I’m trying something new. After a wonderful conversation with a very dear friend, the concepts found within Stoicism intrigue me. Already I can see how similar they are to, say, Zen Buddhism, and also how they differ. I should imagine it will be a great journey of discovery.

We spoke of value, and the importance of judgement, not externally but internally regarding our perception of self-worth. She explained that in Stoicism, it is in the striving, in the living, in the journey towards being the most awesome human being you can be that is important. This related on so many levels to what I already understood from many Eastern traditions, but also clicked in various different ways that I am excited to explore. I liken it to creating a work of art: it’s not the finished product that is important, but the creative process of making it that is the most important (and the most exciting). Relating this to my Druid path could open up possibilities I have never explored. How wonderful!

I am keen to explore the value judgements others make upon me, and how I respond to them. I am intrigued to understand more about how to listen to my own value judgements on a deeper level. This differs from Eastern philosophy, where we learn to let go of all value judgements. What is our worth? How do we value that worth? I am reminded of the root of the Saxon word, weorthscipe (worship), how we deem something to be worthy. What are the tools, the philosophy, behind this?

We never stop learning. I’ve always had a keen desire to learn history, art, biology, theology and philosophy. Indulge in your passions, for life is far, far too short. The steps on the journey are what makes the journey worthwhile; not the destination.

Grace

Most of us hope that when we die, we are able to pass on with a little grace and dignity. However, what is important to me right now is living in the present moment, awake and aware to the flow of life, of awen, hearing the songs of the ancestors and truly finding the meaning of the word, grace, within my own life.

Grace is a brilliant word that has so many meaning: to favour, to honour, elegance or beauty in form, ease, fluidity, mercy, clemency and pardon, just to name a few. If we look to the Latin languages’ use of the word, we find echoes in the Italian grazie or Spanish gracias, or in the French merci.  The Latin root is grātia, meaning:  (1) a pleasing quality, (2) favour or goodwill, and (3) gratitude or thanks. All three of these I find are essential to living honourably in today’s world.

To have a pleasing quality can have a myriad of meanings, from being aesthetically pleasing to simply being kind. The key word in this description is please in a verb form, which is something that makes one happy, whether it is the self or another.  Why would we not want to make another happy?  As long as it isn’t at our own expense, or hurtful towards ourselves, it seems a wonderful way to live. When we are hurtful towards another person, it doesn’t make us feel very good – or if it does, there might be something rather wrong with the brain’s chemistry.  This doesn’t mean that our lives are not our own, and that we have to make others happy first – finding happiness within the self should come first, as should love for the self, in order to spread it around a little bit.  Finding a peace and contentment within helps us to bring that to others.  When we are not at peace with our sense of self, we cannot bring peace to others.

To have goodwill for others is at the heart of living with compassion, and also living with grace. The moment we wish another being harm, we have stepped outside of grace and into a hellish world of anger, retribution, revenge, bitterness and so on. We will not always immediately have good will for another being, especially if we have been hurt by someone in the past.  Sitting with our own hurt, and then recognising the other’s pain helps us to open up our perspective from just ourselves to the wider situation.  People who hurt others are often very hurt themselves.  Those who try to pick-apart, to undermine, to speak unkindly to/about, who cause emotional pain – we can work with this with grace. We can see their hurt, empathise with it (though we don’t have to engage it, especially if it means further hurt or abuse from them towards ourselves), and feel compassion for them. We can wish them well, wish them love and peace, which feeds our own inner peace and peace throughout the world.  The compassionate being is one who lives gracefully. (Please note: If you are being physically or psychologically abused, please do talk to someone about it right away and seek help.)

For me, perhaps the most important part of grace and its root word is to give thanks. To have gratitude is one of the key components of my Druid path, along with reverence, honour and compassion. When we have gratitude, again we step outside of our “small self” and enter into a way of being in which everything is part of everything else.  No longer separate from the world, we are able to experience a deep gratitude for the world, our experiences, our loves and our lives.  Our ancestors have brought us to where we are today, and it is through their strengths and weaknesses that we walk upon the earth.  Our future ancestors are the ones to which we will be accountable for our actions in the present moment.  Having a deep gratitude for our ancestors, not only human but also other-than-human ancestors helps us to see the inter-connectedness of all existence. Again, it shifts the perspective away from the self and into a broader, more integrated view.

This is the essence of grace – widening our world and our views, and in doing so living with kindness and compassion. It is something that is achievable for all, and something that will lead us to lives with more peace and harmony.  Listening to the notes of the Great Song, the Oran Mòr, we are able to move with grace, to live with grace and to extol grace upon others.

Darkness, the Self and Release

I wept this morning, over a photo of a man fleeing his Syrian homeland with his two children, stepping out of the boat, clutching his loved ones close to him and weeping himself. What uncertainty faces this family, along with the other refugees arriving on the islands of Greece? What could it possibly feel like to leave all that you know, out of fear for your life and those that you love, hoping that your decision will be the right one?

This is probably not a decision that I shall ever have to make in my lifetime. It is moments like these that remind me to step beyond myself, to get outside of my head, to stop thinking in the context of “me” and move forward into integrated relationship. Doing this keeps things in perspective, and keeps my own troubles, pains and dark wolves at bay. When the weight of the world seems to push me under, I get beyond myself and into the wider web. It is something that I’ve been writing about for months now, about deep integration, about dropping the illusion of the self, about seeing the interconnectedness of all things.

I look out my window and see a leaf on the beech tree. That leaf is not separate from the other leaves. That leaf is not separate from the branch, or any part of the tree. The tree is the leaf and the leaf is the tree. Even when the leaf falls in the autumn, it lands on the ground at the base of the tree, decaying into the soil, feeding the roots and is still a part of the tree. Watching this cycle, witnessing it from a Druid perspective I see how the illusion of separateness causes us so much suffering. There is no “Us” and “Them”. There is only life.

Deep integration and dropping the sense of self. Seeing beyond the “me, myself and I” keeps my head above the water, rafting the currents of life. When things are at their darkest, I can release into that darkness, dropping the edges and boundaries and allowing a greater perspective than could ever be achieved thinking that I am confined to this body and this mind. When the sheer stupidity of the human race threatens to drag me down, when my body is in great pain, when I see others suffering, I release into the darkness and there find the potential that awaits, like the seed in wintertime. If I fail in that endeavour, then there is always a back-up, words spoken by someone whose name I cannot remember, but goes something along the lines of:

“When I am in pain, show me someone who is in agony. When I am hungry, show me someone who is starving…”

Again, this lets me step beyond my self, to allow me a greater perspective. Pain and suffering, cruelty and bad behaviour all stem from misperceptions. If we can get past that notion of the self, that self-centredness, then we can dance with the divine in a beautiful, graceful round surrounded by the stars, galaxies and all life as we know it. In doing so we are free.

Reblog: Ancestors and Integration

© Photography by Emily Fae, www.photographybyemilyfae.com

Here is a taster from my latest blog post at SageWoman – I’ve also got an article coming up in the next print edition of SageWoman magazine, so keep an eye out!

I learned something fascinating this weekend. I learned that as women, when we are in our mother’s womb, we already have all the ovum (eggs) that we will release during our fertile years. So, to put that into context, when my mother was in my grandmother’s womb, I was also there, partly, as one of the eggs that would be fertilised by my father. This link only occurs in women, and it just blew my mind. I was in my grandmother’s womb.

Our lines of ancestry can be glorious and transformational journeys of discovery. Not only in a historical sense, exploring records and genealogy, but also connecting spiritually with our ancestors. As the darkness creeps in and the days get shorter, in the cooling air with the harvest being taken in the fields all around me, my thoughts turn to my ancestors and to the self, releasing into the approaching autumn and finding great comfort and joy in the letting go.
In order to release that sense of self, however, we must first come to know our self.

Exploring who we are, where we came from, what makes us “us” is key to this work. Understanding circumstances, experiences, lines of ancestry can enrich our lives and help us to uncover depths of our own soul that may have previously escaped our notice.

To read more/full article, click HERE.