The Dark Night of the Soul

As the nights draw in, and the cold brings us indoors for longer periods of time, the winter months are a good time for reflection. Though we may not need to take stock of our material goods as much as our ancestors did with today’s easier lifestyle, we must pay due diligence to our emotional and spiritual well-being. For the long winter months can be the most difficult for many people, and coupled with the physical stress of lack of sunlight, fresh food and often companionship we often have a trying time ahead. We are laid upon the anvil of Brighid, to be pounded and wrought into something stronger if we are able to see it through.

Taking care of our thoughts and feelings is essential to maintain a balanced equilibrium throughout the winter months. We have to work with emotional responsibility, and take charge of our behaviour rather than letting impulses, reactionary behaviour (which is often improper), and the deluge of other destructive human emotion to rule our world. We have to come to know our shadow side, to come to terms with the good and the bad, and to feed that which will sustain us. We acknowledge the necessity of destruction, but we need not feed it through the long winter months within our souls. We do not ignore negativity, but rather work with it in order to better understand our own sense of self, and in doing so, better understand others in the process. We all have destructive and negative thoughts, but what defines us is whether and how we act upon these thoughts. Sometimes it is necessary to work with destruction, but often we do not seek the way which will cause the least amount of harm. For us Druids, we need to remember the balance of the whole, as we strive towards holistic living and becoming a beneficial and nourishing part of an ecosystem. We have to remember our place within the whole, and take responsibility for the role that we play in our life, and in the lives of others.

There are far too many people who, knowingly or not, vent their emotions, their failures, their worries, anger, stress and more upon others. Let us not be like them, let us not add to the suffering in the world. We have to take a long, deep look at blame: at who we blame for our emotions, our behaviours. Only when we do so, can we begin the on the path to emotional responsibility. Certainly, there will be external factors beyond our control, but essentially the life that we live is up to us to determine, here in the gentler West. We’re not suffering the ravages of war or famine for the most part, though in the UK the rise of poverty is accelerating at an incredible pace under our current Conservative government. Many may suffer from ill health, physical or mental or both. But in working to take the reins and guide our souls towards integration, we must first of all be willing to do so. We must want health, healing and wholeness, for it will not happen without our effort.

We not only have to look at who we are blaming, but also when we blame ourselves for our suffering. That is not to say that we give ourselves a carte blanche, and do not take responsibility for suffering that we have caused, to ourselves and others. Rather, we acknowledge and then move on from there, instead of staying stuck in the well of stagnant waters in our soul.

I’ve had someone blame me for their depression for a blog post that I wrote years ago and then suffered years of bullying and undermining behaviour in a professional capacity as a result. I’ve had a friend stop all communication with me when I provided them information on a disease that they had, which they didn’t like hearing but which I shared because I was worried about their health and their becoming re-infected (they were terribly misinformed, and I referred them to the NHS website). I’ve been ill-treated by my first dance instructor, whose jealousy and competitiveness ruled her emotions and her behaviour towards me. These are but a few examples of things I have gone through that require my own personal emotional responsibility. I cannot control how other people react to life, or to what I do, even though I do my work with the best intention in mind, and keep to a strong code of ethic. These behaviours are lamentable, and I wish that I could help these people in coming to terms with their own suffering, and alleviate the misplaced blame and anger that they have laid upon me, but I cannot. I cannot make others act as I would wish; I can only live the example that I wish to see in the world. I will not perpetuate the destruction or suffering, the anger or the legion of other emotions that are involved.

It’s not all roses and light in my world. I regularly work with my shadow, with anger and vengeance, with pain and suffering in my life, and in the lives of others. How that energy moves in my life is what I work to control, to transform. I work towards not allowing these emotions to cause further destruction around me, though I may use them to bring about certain endings in life situations, and to take stock of where it is that I am investing my time and thoughts. If it isn’t beneficial to the whole, if it isn’t nourishing, then the investment stops, and I seek to work with energies that will sustain both myself and others in my life. That’s not to say that I don’t go through dark periods as I come to terms with things happening in my life, but I know that there is transformation awaiting, if only I have the courage and the will to seek it out.

From the tide of Samhain to the Winter Solstice, I use this period for deep introspection, for reflection and spiritual work that honour the darkness both within and without. I look at where I have laid blame in my life, and where others have blamed me with equanimity. I look at the success and the failure in my life with equal measure. I take stock of what will keep me going through the winter months, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and then simply do the work necessary. Prayer, meditation, work, ritual; all these are pathways for the soul to come to terms with the self. I can seek further guidance from the ancestors, from the gods, the Fair Folk and the spirits of place. My relationship with these beings is integral to my spiritual path, and this relationship too must be nourished. Giving in return for receiving is essential to any functioning ecosystem, to the integration sought by those on the Druid path.

The world provides us with examples each and every day of how not to be: from world leaders insulting each other over social media, the bad behaviour of colleagues, the trials we endure from friends and family and more. Seek out the darkness within and without, and work with it in order to reclaim the energy that lies in the shadow. For it is in the darkness that the seeds wait for the warmth and light of spring. The darkness is nourishing, if we allow it to be, if we are able to seek the calm and centeredness necessary before transforming the energy into something that will grow and flourish. Take a long, deep look at your own self, and in doing so, come to know your own dark night of the soul.

Note: St John of the Cross, 16th-century, Spanish poet and Roman Catholic, Discalced Carmelite mystic, priest, and Doctor of the Church St. John of the Cross, OCD wrote a poem entitled “The Dark Night of the Soul” in which the human soul sees communion and integration with the divine.

dark night soul

 

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Reblog: The Soul Behind the Soul

Here is a taster of my latest blog post for SageWoman’s channel at Witches and Pagans – to read the full article, click HERE. Exploring the soul behind the soul, the boundless nature of existence, love, compassion and more, with some Carl Sagan thrown in 🙂

Hildegard von Bingen wrote: “The soul is not in the body; the body is in the soul.” (Vol XXII, No. 5). This is a concept that I’ve been thinking about all week, and how we have tried to place unnatural limitations upon the body and soul based on our dualistic way of thinking. I suppose a true Zen answer would be the body is the soul and the soul is the body, but right now I’m enjoying thinking that the soul contains the body. Next week I’ll probably veer off into a more Zennist approach.

For this to happen, the soul must accept the body, not the other way around. As I’m not entirely certain that there is even such as thing as an individual soul, it’s an interesting concept. What if the “life force” on this little ball of rock hurtling through space is all soul, all an expression of soul? What if everything is an expression of the Earth’s soul, or the soul of the universe?

In Druidry many see the gods as being many, in a polytheistic approach. Some see them all as aspects of one deity, or of nature itself as a single entity, which is a more pantheistic approach. But what lies beyond the concepts of polytheism and pantheism? I don’t know yet, I just thought I’d throw that question out there.

After many brilliant short essays on the nature of the soul in a Celtic context, Tom Cowan towards the end of his fabulous book, Yearning for the Wind tantalises us with something similar. In an exercise that he suggests, we are offered the opportunity to try to see the soul behind the soul. While Cowan seems to willingly accept a single Creator deity (which doesn’t feel right to me, I’m much more of a “everything is soul and soul is everything” without the need for any one Creator or Creatrix) he does speak of a certain “yearning” for the soul to express itself. For me, this is close to what I’m currently exploring in terms of everthing being an expression of either a collective soul or an ongoing soul that has no begninning and that has no end. I’m not satisfied with the Big Bang Theory (the scientific theory, I love the show), in that there has to be a starting point for all creation. I see the universe as constantly being in flow, things arising and falling away, matter being transformed into other things along the way. Carl Sagan said “ The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apples pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff.” I’ve no burning need to document a start point for this process, for I simply don’t see one; when does the life cycle of an oak tree begin? When the acorn grows on the branch? When it falls to the ground? When the seedling emerges from the soil? Half of me existed as an egg in my mother’s womb while she was growing in her own mother’s womb. When did I start to be?

Continued – to read the full article, click HERE.

Boundless

Yesterday I was able to catch up with two friends from high school – we three haven’t been together for around 13 years. Having friends that you can talk to, about absolutely anything, and know that they’re really listening, that they’re there for you, that they love you no matter what distance lies between you or how much time has passed is one of life’s greatest blessings. I am so utterly blessed in that I have made some truly wonderful and remarkable friends both where I grew up in Canada and where I have lived for the past 18 years in the UK.

Today I am also helping my Mom host a huge family reunion BBQ in our backyard. We have nearly 40 people coming, some family members I haven’t seen for twenty years, cousins I used to babysit who now have children of their own. We’ve always had a close family, spending every weekend at the grandparents’ when we were little, all the cousins playing while the aunts and uncles talked about grown-up things with my Oma and Opa. It’s so amazing that we’re all still able to get together, to laugh and to celebrate simply being alive on this gorgeous autumnal day. I’m sure my Oma and Opa would have loved to have seen everyone together again, and I shall be having a glass of punch for both of them who live on inside me, looking out through my eyes and the eyes and hearts of the rest of the family in this beautiful part of the world.

A loving family is a real treasure. Good friends are a true blessing. Never take these for granted. Breathe, smile, and be in the moment. Be present for them, and take them deep into your heart. Love and joy are boundless, and like the soul cannot be contained within the body. The soul is the container for the body, not the other way around, and the soul expands outwards as far as the horizon can see.

Today, my soul is flying high in the clearest of blue skies, riding autumnal breezes, smiling from my heart and enjoying my Mom’s delicious punch.

May your soul be free as well. x

Friendship

P1060444Friendship is one of the greatest gifts we can have on this planet. I am blessed, in that I have a loving family and lots of good friends. In the last six to eight years I’ve developed close bonds with my girlfriends, and it is something that I treasure deeply.

Where two souls meet, in open honesty, with no agenda there is a beautiful, wonderful, inspiring interaction of heart meeting heart. In all our gloriousness and with all our faults, we can be who we truly are and in that honesty, are accepted for who we are. My friends are there to help when I need help, to point out where I might be wrong in a situation, to advise when I might be right, and to not judge me either way. I’m filled with gratitude for having friends like these.

For me, there is a special closeness, a special bonding with my girlfriends. Perhaps it is because we understand each other, have many similar shared experiences in our lives. Maybe it’s just our souls connecting with honesty. Whatever it is, it fills me with joy and inspiration. I love being with them, hearing their laughter, sharing their tears, wrapping my arms around them and having them hold me in return. With belly-shaking guffaws, snorts, farts, burps and all, they are my best friends.

Many of my girlfriends have a love of dance – quite a few of them are fellow belly dancers. We find a freedom in movement, a sense of belonging to a tribe who love to dance, who love music, who love to be in each other’s company in that setting and in others. I believe that as a species we were meant to dance, that it opens up our hearts and souls and allows us to speak without words. It allows us freedom from fear, from inhibition, from the walls that we surround ourselves with each and every day.

And so I’m looking forward to getting back to Glastonbury with one of my best friends, who couldn’t be with us last time we all went together. Spending time together laughing and enjoying good food. Spending time together in silence. Spending time together singing along to every Taylor Swift song from every album in the car drive down. Keeping each other awake on the car ride back. Experiencing a shared boundary and having a shared experience – that is what life is all about. So many things are better when they are shared.

To all my girlfriends, I love you with all my heart. You are my sisters, my inspiration, my joy. x

Thank you!

I just wanted to say a big thank you to all who have taken the time to read this blog, and all the lovely comments, emails and messages that I have received. And a big hello to all the new followers that have come on board over these last two weeks – wow!  This is what it’s all about – sharing ideas, being open and simply travelling together on this journey called life.

As I walked through the woods today of my childhood home, I noticed that all the paths that I had made, and that others had made when I was younger, were for the most part no longer there. However, new paths had emerged, with a different focus on another part of the landscape that is equally beautiful.  The stream where I used to sit was a wide open space, with the ancient pine tree guardians waiting for me each time, whispering their secrets and allowing me entrance to The Hill when I asked for their permission.  Now that stream is fully overgrown with deciduous trees in the summer, and it has become an enclosed space, a beautiful little faery nook where the bridge is much better tended across the stream, and where I can sit and watch the dragonflies and the fish, the light dappling the leaves of the birch trees, those ancient pines still whispering behind all the new foliage.

Where I used to stand and watch the sunset over the valley was just a tiny little space off the path. Now, that space has been slightly enlarged, and reinforced against erosion (we have very sandy soil on the plateau). A single bench has just been put in this week. Now the space that I enjoyed for so many years is accessible to all who pass by, to take the time to sit and look out over the beauty that I call home.  A part of me is sad that my little spot is now public, another part glad that it can inspire so many more people who otherwise would not have seen it.  The beauty that is life is not just for me, I remind myself with a wry grin.

Things never stay the same.  And yet, some things are constant.  Like that view.

The forest and The Hill, the valley and the river are all the same, and yet they have changed, new things growing, trees where once daisies grew, new streams finding their way through to the bigger waters.  It is like that with us humans too – we have an essential self, even though we are constantly growing, changing.  That essential self can shine through if we let it – no matter how far we may have strayed, no matter how outwardly changed we may appear, no matter what people say, we are still that same self, or at the very least contain large aspects of that self.  That self is not alone, yet it is an individual.  It is a thread in the tapestry of life, a beautiful thread that crosses the warp and weft of experience. We may sometimes drop that thread, but it is up to us to pick it up and reweave it back in a harmonious pattern with the rest of the tapestry.  Together, we create something truly remarkable, yet we are all just a coming together of single threads. The tapestry is eternal, and yet always changing, new patterns forming, new images and ideas spreading.

Like the forest stream where I can retreat to, it changes and yet remains the same.

Like the view of the valley, it changes, and yet remains the same.

Like the coming together of souls, they change and yet remain the same.

A friend once said “The first prayer one should learn is Thank You”.  And so, thank you, to the awen, that inspiration, those trees and hills of home, and to all of you out there. x

 

P.S. In the last year, I have over 15,000 views on my blog, and have had people from 84 countries read my blog, from places such as Mongolia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Belarus, Slovakia, Bangladesh, Thailand, Canada, Republic of Korea, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Bahrain, USA, United Arab Emirates and so many more – thank you everyone! This is truly incredible… I am truly honoured.

Soul Retrieval and the Essential Self

In many of the works that I am currently reading, and most recently understood in Nimue’s Druid mid-life crisis blog http://druidlife.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/midlife-crisis-druid-style/#comments, I am coming across the words and the ideas of “soul retrieval” and the “essential self” more and more.

Having recently undergone a “dark night of the soul” this autumn and winter, perhaps it is fitting that I should now be coming across this soul retrieval business.  I feel a longing, a kind of hiraeth (not of Wales, but of the past) for the person that I used to be.  Maybe it is being now in a mid-life awareness (I hate the word crisis, it’s not like it’s life threatening).

At the age of fifteen and sixteen, I knew that my life would be changing in so many ways.  College was just around the corner, and I would be leaving home, leaving behind my family, the home I grew up in and the mountains in which my soul had nestled, sheltered within their softly undulating, forest-covered beauty.  I would be leaving for the city, for places with public transport and concrete, full of people and movement, filled with the songs of humanity.

Knowing that this change was fast upon me, I spent every wakeful moment I could embedding in my memory the beauty of those times.  The way the setting sunlight hit the walls in my peach coloured bedroom, the smell of our house; the sounds and sights that were so familiar to me I actively opened myself too again in order to preserve them forever. Perhaps, without knowing it, preserving them again for when I had need.

I spend as much time as I could outside in my old haunts, the woods that rolled along the mountainsides, the valley where the horses spent the summer, along the river edge watching the undines.  Walking around the house, I would talk to the trees and the plants, thanking them for what they meant to me growing up surrounded by their embrace – the cedar hedge, the birch and oak trees, the rowan and the blue spruces, the yew beneath my window.

I also recalled and burned into my mind the memory every bit of the long-haired boy that I loved, not knowing what would be in store for us in the future.

It was a time when I knew who I was, and knowing that it was all about to change made it that much more important to remember.  I was a dreamer, a writer, a poet.  I had a strong set of ethics and ideals on which I would not compromise.  I was a thinker, a fey, one who watched from the edges.  It was a time when I let my essential self shine through, without barrier, without fear. Perhaps it was in naivety, perhaps it was in courage, but it was there for the world to see.  The ego, driven by past experiences, had not yet been coloured yet by the hardships to come, the highs and the lows.  It did not know better.

Lately I’ve felt a strong sense of wanting to return to her, to that girl in the mountains with her hopes and dreams, who allowed her essential self to guide her.  Funnily enough, some of those dreams have come true.  I am a writer, but I also feel the need to return to the dreamer.  To return to a time in life when I deliberately slowed everything down, in order to savour each and every moment.  To be utterly connected with everything.   It was a wise decision then, and I am so glad to my former self that I did it, for now I have such beautiful memories.  A lot of my friends seem to be on similar journeys as well right now.  Is it because we are all of an age?  Synchronicity? Or something else?

I’m shortly going on a two week vacation back home to Canada, and feel that this trip will be encompassing all those ideas, of returning, of remembering, of soul retrieval.  I left a part of her back there, while I was so focused on my intent.  I left a part of her there when I moved to the city, then across the country, then to another country altogether.  Maybe I need her back.

At any rate, I look forward to meeting her.

The essential self is innocent, and when it tastes its own innocence knows that it lives forever. – John Updike

Druidry – What is Awen?

In Druidry, we learn often hear the word, awen, being used, but what exactly is awen?   Loosely translated from Welsh, it means flowing spirit, or flowing inspiration.  Awake to our own energy, and stretching out towards the energy of nature around us, we begin to see just what awen is.  It is an opening of one’s self, of one’s spirit or soul, in order to truly and very deeply see.  When we are open, we can receive that divine gift, inspiration that flows, whether it is from deity, nature, or whatever it is that you choose to focus on.

For awen to exist, there must be relationship.  We cannot be inspired unless we are open, and we cannot be open unless we have established a relationship, whether that is with the thunder, the blackbird or a god.  It is cyclical in nature; we open and give of ourselves and in doing so we receive, and vice versa.  Letting go, releasing into that flow of awen allows it to flow ever more freely, and we find ourselves inspired not only in fits and bursts of enlightenment or inspiration, but all the time, carrying that essence of connection and wonder with us at all times.  There is, of course, a line to be drawn, for we can’t be off our heads in ecstatic relationship with everything all the time.

But just what is awen?  It is an awareness, not just on a physical and mental level but on a soul deep level – an awareness of the entirety of existence, of life itself.  It is seeing the threads that connect us all.  It is the deep well of inspiration that we drink from, to nurture our souls and our world and to give back in joy, in reverence, in wild abandon and in solemn ceremony.

Many are familiar with the Welsh tale/myth of Cerridwen and her cauldron, the three drops of awen falling onto Gwion’s finger and bringing his wisdom in the form of poetic inspiration, shape-shifting and prophecy.  Some liken this story to a Bardic initiation, or the three grades of Bard, Ovate and Druid.  In any case, drinking from the cauldron of the Goddess is to drink deeply of awen.

Many Druid rituals begin or end with singing or chanting the awen. When doing so, the word is stretched to three syllables, sounding like ah-oo-wen.  It is a lovely sound, that opens up the heart and soul. Sung/chanted together, or in rounds, it simply flows, as its namesake determines.  Our hearts literally can open if we let them when chanting or singing the awen.

Yet I am sure that the awen is different for each and every Druid.  The connection, and the resulting expression of that connection, the Druid’s own creativity, can be so vast and diverse.  It is what is so delicious about it – we inhale the awen and exhale our own creativity in song, in dance, in books, in protest marches – the possibilities are endless, as is the awen itself.