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.

The Curse of Self-Awareness – The Oka Crisis 1990

As the 25th anniversary of the Oka Crisis is upon us, there is a new Indeigogo film project underway that seeks to recount what happened during that year-long struggle, and how it has impacted upon the First Nations people ever since.  Here is a video about the project, and an essay that I wrote many years ago now on what began that summer of 1990. You can contribute the project by clicking HERE (url doesn’t work in youtube video).

The Curse of Self-Awareness         by Joanna van der Hoeven (originally posted on The Druid Network)

As I sit here, looking out the window, watching the clouds float by in a pale blue sky, I am reminded that the fights and troubles of humankind matters not to them. Still they float past, unrattled by humanity, simply being. The forsythia is in bloom, the sun is out and casting shadows upon the ground. The curse of self-awareness is not upon them. They know nothing of land ownership. They all share in this world, living where they can, with no knowledge of property deeds, legalities and borders. On this bright afternoon, I am reminded of Kanasetake, and the Oka Crisis that began on March 11, 1990 in Quebec, Canada. Why? Because I am human. I carry these memories and cannot forget them. The curse of self-awareness.

Land ownership. The concept is entirely human. The wolf knows its territory, but once the wolf has died, the concept of any claim on land is lost. It cannot be handed down to others through a Will, or any legal documents. You cannot take your land with you when you die. The concept of territory to a wolf is to ensure a sufficient food supply for a hunter and predator. It will share this with the pack, should it be part of one. The wolf does not own its land, it merely claims the right to live on it. With writing these words, I am reminded of Chief Seattle’s words in a letter to the US government, “I never said the land was mine to do with as I choose. The one who created it is the one who has a right to dispose of it. I claim a right to live on my land, and accord you the privilege to return to yours.” Are these words creating a boundary, or defining a territory? In this global village, can we truly live in a land without borders? Where walls and fences do not exist? Can we ever return?

The fight for land ownership, or defending a territory? Are they one and the same? I think there may be a difference between the two, which essentially always ends up merged into the former. The Oka Crisis, spring 1990. The snows were receding, the air beginning to soften with the call of the season. I was sixteen, just graduating from high school and moving on to college later that fall. The news on the television came through as we sat down to our evening meal. The Mohawk people of the Kanasetake reservation had put up roadblocks, to stop anyone from entering land they held sacred. A year previously, the mayor of Oka, Jean Ouellette, decreed that the pine forest, which included a native burial ground next to the reservation, was to be cleared to expand a golf course from nine to eighteen holes. Ouellette was also a member of the golf club. The golf club stood to make a profit for this expansion.

The ownership of the land had been in dispute for 260 years. The governor of New France in 1717 granted the lands to a seminary priest to hold on trust for the Mohawks. The Church then expanded on this agreement, to enable them to have ownership of the entire land, and began selling off the resources. The Mohawks rose against the missionaries but were imprisoned by the police. The remaining land was sold by the missionaries, who then left. In 1961, a nine hole golf course was built. The Mohawk nation legally protested but to no avail, the land was already being cleared right next to their burial ground. Through much red tape, the Mohawk demand was finally thrown out, “failing to meet criteria”.

And so, in 1990 the roadblock was erected. For years the natives and their European descended counterparts had shared the land, though not in fair and judicial proportions. This was not the golf club’s fighting for territory from which to live. It was not necessary to its survival. It stood to profit in excess of what it needed. Land ownership and greed, hand in hand. Respect for the territory of another pack, lost. Self-awareness leading to selfishness.

The Sûreté du Québec, the Provincial police force, were called in by order of the mayor on July 11. The warriors at the barricades turned to the matriarchs for advice, asking whether they should keep the amassed weapons. The women replied that they should not be used unless the SQ opened fire first. Tear gas canisters were thrown in by the SQ along with concussion grenades. CBC reporter Laurent Levigne was live on the radio at the time, and said that he heard the first shot of gunfire sound. When asked from which side, he replied he thought it came from the SQ police. The reporter could no longer continue with his report, and had to retreat due to the teargas. Corporal Marcel Lemay of the SQ was shot and killed during the brief gun battle. After the funeral, flags from both opposing forces were raised to half mast.

The idea of land ownership did not stop there. Racial hatred had begun to show it’s ugly head, fanned by radio host Gilles Proulx and echoed by the federal member of parliament for the district of Chateauguay, who spoke of exiling natives to Labrador, “if they wanted their own country so much”. The new wolves were attacking the forced roadblock where before there had been none. Divides were perhaps not created between people, but solidified that summer. The Mohawks fought to defend their land from the awaiting bulldozers and golfers. They recalled their previous entreaties to grant them the land that they lived on, and the many refusals. The land became a tool of war. Blood lay upon it. I pause here, to ask myself – did the land care? Did the pines weep as the guns shot across the barricades? The dawn continued, regardless of the attack. Did the land care? Was the self-awareness of the humans provoking this encounter? Did the mourning cries of the ancestors at that sacred site awaken the hearts of the warriors and the women? Or did the wind blow through the boughs as it always had, heedless of the humanity beneath its green canopy?

On August 29th, two days after my 17th birthday, the negotiations came to an end after the army had been called in. The stand off had lasted for three months. The army came through the barricades and the women ordered their warriors back. The guns were slowly put away. By 25th September the fights were with hoses and water balloons.   On 26th September, the warriors threw their guns into a septic tank and surrendered, with the ceremonial burning of tobacco lingering in the air. The First Nations Policing Policy was developed, and Canada listed on Amnesty International’s list of human rights violators. A year later, the mayor was re-elected, and when asked if he could have done things differently, he said that he would not have changed a thing. For nine holes in the ground, a man lost his life.

The fight for land ownership or the fight for territory. The right to live on your land or the right to own the land upon which you live. On 1st April 1999 a new territory, Nunavut was created in Canada. In Inuit, it means ‘Our Land’. 85% of the population are Inuit. To me, this raises another question though. Is this simply another way of claiming land to own? Of setting up borders? Is this an answer to the problems? Our global community, should it even know any boundaries? What would happen if land ownership simply ceased to be?

Memories flood through us every day. The curse of self-awareness. And outside my window, the sun is still shining.

Bibliography

  1. CBC archives, online (http://archives.cbc.ca/IDD-1-71-99/conflict_war/oka/) [accessed 5 April, 2006]
  1. Wikipedia, The Oka Crisis, online, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oka_crisis) [accessed 5 April, 2006]
  1. Wikipedia, Nunavut, online, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nunavut), [accessed 5 April, 2006]

THE HAUDENOSANEE (IROQUOIS) THANKSGIVING ADDRESS

“Ohenton Kariwahtekwen”

GREETINGS TO THE NATURAL WORLD

THE PEOPLE Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people. Now our minds are one. THE EARTH MOTHER We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.

THE WATERS We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms-waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water. Now our minds are one.

THE FISH We turn our minds to the all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.

THE PLANTS Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come. Now our minds are one.

THE FOOD PLANTS With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks. Now our minds are one.

THE MEDICINE HERBS Now we turn to all the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines. Now our minds are one.

THE ANIMALS We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so. Now our minds are one.

THE TREES We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life. Now our minds are one.

THE BIRDS We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds-from the smallest to the largest-we send our joyful greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.

THE FOUR WINDS We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds. Now our minds are one.

THE THUNDERERS Now we turn to the west where our grandfathers, the Thunder Beings, live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We are thankful that they keep those evil things made by Okwiseres underground. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers. Now our minds are one.

THE SUN We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun. Now our minds are one.

GRANDMOTHER MOON We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night-time sky. She is the leader of woman all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon. Now our minds are one.

THE STARS We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as one, we send greetings and thanks to the Stars. Now our minds are one.

THE ENLIGHTENED TEACHERS We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers. Now our minds are one.

THE CREATOR Now we turn our thoughts to the creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator. Now our minds are one.

CLOSING WORDS………. We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way. Now our minds are one.

Resource: Peace for Turtle Island website: http://www.peace4turtleisland.org/ [accessed 5th April 2006]

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

 

 

 

The gift of the present

1780993900Going through my old gwers (small course books) from the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids’ online correspondence course that I did many years ago, I found a section of a few gwers that made me smile, as it resonated with me then and still does, on so many levels and is also a major part of the way that I live my life. It focuses on the here and now, on the beauty and wonder of the present moment, and how important the present moment is. Leaving the past to the past, and the future to the future, these gwers really highlighted the importance of focus on the here and now. I did this through incorporating elements of Zen Buddhism into my life (see my first book, Zen Druidry) which has helped me to fully actualise the present moment, to not take it for granted and to learn to simply be, wherever I am and whatever I am doing.

Being comfortable in the present is key to finding lasting happiness. Knowing that the past exists, but that it serves only as a guide to the present moment helps us to release many things that can have a negative effect on the present moment, such as anger, grief, fear or hate. Knowing that the future exists only as a flexible plan helps us to not get too stuck in our ways and habits, and can also alleviate feelings such as fear. Our focus should always been on the now, to live life fully.

But what if the “now” isn’t all that great? What if in the “now” we are stuck outside in the pouring rain without an umbrella or coat, waiting for a bus that never turns up? Yep – that’s all part of it. Buddhism teaches in the first noble truth that all beings suffer. You can’t escape it. That might sound like one helluva downer, but the upside is that the other noble truths help us to alleviate that suffering. One of the ways to do so is the fully be in your self, in your body and mind (there is no separation) and in doing so, the suffering eases. That doesn’t mean you won’t get soaked to your knickers, but at least you spent the time feeling the rain upon your body, smelled the earth responding to the rain and smiled to your own heart rather than get angry at the bus driver, or grumpy about the wetness, wondering why this sort of thing always happens to you.

For some people who are living in extreme conditions, say in the middle of a war zone for instance, the above may sound trite. However, Vietnemese monk Thich Nhat Hanh experienced the horrors of war first hand and learned how to be in the present moment, to help alleviate the suffering. (See the Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh .) When we are in the present moment we will know how to respond to any situation better than if we were responding from the past or future. Our clarity sharpens and we respond in a manner that is wholly and utterly relevant to the situation at hand rather than drudging up issues from the past or worries about the future.

I have had to deal with uncomfortable situations and difficult people. Being in the present helped me to not drudge up the past to project it onto a particular situation in negative ways, but to enable me to deal with the issues as they are, up front without any extra baggage. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we enjoy dealing with this sort of stuff, but we can get through it with a lighter heart, finding our peace more quickly and able to spread that out to the world. It helps you see reality, as it really is. Eventually you may find that your inner peace becomes less and less disturbed, no matter what life throws at you, and that peace and calm will radiate out into the world in beautiful and positive ways.

May you enjoy the present moment for all that it is. Remember the old saying, “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present”.