How to perform a simple 5-minute mindfulness meditation 🙂
Zen and the Cello
The world-famous cellist, Pablo Casals, was once asked why he practiced eight hours a day, considering his already incredible skills. His reply? “Because I think I’m beginning to make some progress.”
In meditation, these are words to live by. No matter how many hours, days, weeks or years we’ve spent meditating, each and every day is brand new, with different situations affecting our mind. Just going to sit down and do some zazen (sitting meditation) every day, even if it’s only for ten minutes, is a great act of courage.
Why courage? Because you are taking the time to dedicate to your own mental health, and through helping yourself you are better able to help the world. And it takes courage to help the world, alongside resilience and inner strength.
Every time we sit down to meditate, we are performing an act of devotion. We are devoting ourselves to our practice, and in this case, practice does not make perfect; it makes for continual practice. There is no permanency in life; nothing is the same as it was a moment ago. Everything is in constant change, and sometimes those changes are too miniscule for us to see with our eyes. But it is still there, flowing, changing, moving in a world of impermanence. Even the insight that you may gain while sitting down in meditation is impermanent.
It may come as a flash, that brief moment of enlightenment. But then it’s gone, and we are left to carry that tiny insight with us into the rest of our lives, to help us learn and cultivate new insights. That moment where we realise that all is one, that we are all connected, where our ego drops away and we know; that moment of insight is impermanent, like everything else. You will not forever be at peace once you have gained this insight, nor will you become some enlightened being. What that flash of insight brings is more practice, so that you can understand and cultivate that awareness more and more into your daily life. Practice makes practice.
We might like to think that once we have gained some insight, that we have had some sort of “awakening”. But here’s the thing: when we go to sleep every night we still awaken every morning. We don’t just wake up once and have done with it. We constantly need to go through the cycle of sleep and wakefulness. It is so with our minds as well.
Someone who thinks that they are enlightened, that they know all that they need to know, is perhaps one of the most ignorant people on this planet. I’ve been there. We all have, at some point or other. And then we wake up and realise that it is a continuous process of awakening to our lives and to the world. We learn, we grow, we change each and every day. Sometimes we regress, sometimes we progress, but it is still work of some kind.
I like to think that with age, I have developed some sense of being no more than who I am in the moment, right now, and that’s enough. And as soon as I have that moment, it’s gone, and I’ve changed, we’ve all changed. There is nothing special about gaining this information or insight. It’s just me, it’s just you, it’s just how things are right now at this point in time. And that’s all that we can do. As Martin Luther said, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”
Except maybe to practice the cello.
For more on Zen and especially in relation to Druidry, see my book: Zen for Druids.
A Pure Moment
Have you ever had a pure moment? A moment when there is nothing to worry about, no future, no past, just this present moment, now?
These past two weeks, I’ve had many of the beautiful moments, out on the heath with the deer. Making the effort, despite the rain, the mud, the cold wind and mist that gets into your bones has paid off in an abundance of these moments. It takes a while, sometimes, for them to happen, as you walk and think and think and walk and lose yourself in your turbulent mind. But then you spot a deer, or the sunlight on a mushroom, or a leaf twirling on a spider’s strand, and suddenly it all stops. You stop. You are caught in the moment, where all thoughts have ceased and you are just held by the beauty of the present moment.
It’s important to have these moments. For they are the reset button of the soul. When I gaze into the eyes of a doe, or a stag, the world falls away and all that matters is right now, this very moment. My troubles are later put into perspective, when thought returns. My body pauses, utterly motionless, in an otherworldly rest. My soul opens, and a true connection is made with the world, without thought, without bias, without prejudice.
No matter where you are, you can have these moments. Watching the sun move across a wall, or the shadows of a tree branch in the moonlight. Standing in the night breeze, listening to the sounds in the darkness all around you. Smelling the scent of woodsmoke on a country road, or hearing the song of a robin in the bush next to you. Stop, and take this moment, a pure moment. Reset your soul. And gaze into the eyes of the universe.
Review of my 2018
What a year it has been! Despite all the depressing and, quite frankly, rage inspiring bollocks from politics around the world, and the growing problem of plastic and climate change around the world, etc., etc., here in this little part of the world, at my home on the edge of the heath near the North Sea, it’s not been a bad year.
I finished the Big Book of Druidry (as I like to call it) and it was a labour of love. So much work went into that volume, and I hope that it reaches people like The Awen Alone did. I received so many emails from people about The Awen Alone this year, so many wonderful and life-changing stories, and I am so grateful that people took time out of their busy lives to write and share their story.
I also started on another book, veering away from Druidry and into the realms of the Hedge Witch. Stay tuned!
All this writing, combined with an incredible heat wave over this summer, meant that I was much more sedentary that usual, which has resulted in a sluggish body and a few extra pounds that I can feel in my joints. So, this last month I’ve already started to be more active, doing yoga and going for 5k walks as often as I can, and already I can feel my strength returning. I will be teaching intermediate belly dance classes beginning the second week of Jan, so this will also add to my physical activity. I resolve to keep this up over the next year, to be a healthy and as active as I can be, and to enjoy the beauty of nature right outside my doorstep no matter what is on my plate, or whatever the weather.
While writing the new book I’ve felt a shift in my own practice as well. I feel a returning to the path of the witch, where it all started for me 25 years ago at Melange Magique when I was a 19-year old investigating the book shelves of that wonderful shop, in between fussing the cats that freely roamed the aisles and lay upon the counters. With a lot more experience and knowledge behind me, it has given it an entirely new flavour. I have always been a witch, but I had to study to become a Druid. This is the basis for the current work I am writing, which I hope to finish next year.
It’s also led me down side paths that again were explored many years ago, but never fully completed. I’ve felt a call to honour the Germanic and Scandinavian deities that are a part of my heritage, and so my research and practice into the culture, folklore, mythology and more has been re-awakened. While looking at some witchcraft practices for East Anglia to use as examples in my new work, I realised just how similar some of these were to those of north and western Europe, such as the practice of a high seat in seidr. In fact, the art of seidr has intrigued me greatly, and I feel that this will complement my own practice of hedge witchcraft nicely.
Druid College continues to be successful, and due to a high demand for online courses, next year we are putting Year 1 on hold in order to create an online course. This will consist of video and audio material, a downloadable book and online meetings with others on the course. We hope to have this available by 2020, fingers crossed! Our current Year 2 students are doing so very well, and it is indeed a great pleasure to be working alongside such people. After each weekend session, as soon as I get in the car with Robin, we both say how wonderful the people are that have chosen to work with us, and how blessed we are by those that have chosen to join. They bring so much, and I am eternally grateful that these first four years have been as good as they are, which is to say, brilliant!
There have been a few bumps in the road this year, which have given me lessons of experience to work from in the rest of my life. Having to say goodbye to my 16-year old cat last December was so very hard, to make the decision to end her life rather than have her suffer days or weeks of pain as her chest was filled with water due to congestive heart failure and she had trouble breathing, eating, walking, movement of any sort. That was the first time I had to make that kind of decision, and although I doubt it will be any easier should there be a next time, and it took a long time for me to get over it even though my baby girl passed quickly and painlessly, I know it was the right thing to do in that situation. I suffered all winter long from having to make that decision, and my new boy Barnabus was a ray of light during that troubled time.
As well, I had a difficult experience of another sort, when a peer decided to attack me on social media after I had contacted her to request permission to use two verses of an Irish poem she translated. To this day I still have no idea what set her off, but the vitriol of the attack was shocking, and the attempt to destroy me and everything I do quite mind-boggling. It brought back old pains of bullying when I was a child, and affected me on a physical level as well as mental. I realised this when I was walking down my street to the village shop, and in the middle of the street my heart started pounding and I felt very unsafe, like bullies were just waiting around the corner. I had to remind myself that I was 43 years old and no longer a young teenager, and no one was going to physically hurt me. It opened my eyes to the old scars that never truly heal, and I have learned how to better deal with such experiences. Namely, don’t read posts like that on social media, don’t get involved and don’t read all the uninformed comments either! Let the haters hate, there’s not much I can do about their behaviour anyway. As long as I am physically safe, and emotionally okay with a good support network of family and friends, that is what really matters, not what strange people say. I’m still working on compassion for people like that though. It’s not easy.
Back to the creative front, I hope to add more to my Bandcamp page over the next year. I started an album called Seidr, which will contain the songs and chants that come to me in my work over the next year. Perhaps there will even be a blog post or two about the practice of seidr, but in the meantime there is an excellent video by Professor Jackson Crawford on the subject. (I have a total nerd crush on this guy!) There are also some good books, such as The Nine World of Seid-Magic by Jenny Blain, and The Norse Shaman by Evelyn Rysdyck. I also hope to record more podcasts for the page and its subscribers, as well as record the audio book for The Hedge Druid’s Craft. The Awen Alone and The Crane Bag are already on there as audiobooks, so do take a look if you’re interested. All of these will be/are available to subscribers, as well as any new material in the coming year, so you really do get your money’s worth!
So, for this winter I shall be investing heavily in hygge, being more physically active, exploring new paths and learning from past experiences. I hope that 2019 will be a good year for you all, and see you all in the New Year!
Ten little seconds…
Meditation can be done for many different reasons. Some use it to find inner peace, others to help find a focus in their lives and their work, others to increase compassion in their lives and for others. But for the most part, I think an aspect of meditation that is often over-looked is the simple aspect of it being nice to just stop every once in a while, sit down and enjoy the moment.
I use meditation for all the reasons given above, and more. But it’s in the simple pleasure of stopping where perhaps it is of most use. Taking the time to light some candles and incense, get some cushions out and just simply “be” is a great gift that I can give to myself at the end of a busy day or week. As I sit in front of my altar, I allow all the thoughts that are running through my head to make themselves known to me, rather than just being background stress and noise. Eventually, the thoughts slow down, quieten and then comes that exquisite moment when all is still. No more mental gymnastics. No more body twitches, itches or squirming trying to find a comfortable, relaxed position. Everything settles, even if this feeling lasts for just ten seconds, and it is good. Better than good. The heart opens, the mind and body are one. There is nothing but myself and the world, here and now, sitting, breathing, peaceful.
Having even ten seconds to still the mind, to allow it to take a break from all the thoughts has an enormous effect on you for days afterwards. Taking the time to allow you to set aside the cares and worries, the reminiscing and the to-do lists, the work and the family issues has a profound effect not only on your mind but also on your body. Have you ever just sat on the couch after a busy day, flopped onto the sofa and just stopped for a minute or two? Meditation is the same thing, for your mind and your body, allowing it a moment of rest.
In that deep silence, when that moment is achieved, we can have some profound realisations as well. When we stop the mental chatter, we allow ourselves to refocus on what really matters in our lives. Just a few seconds of that blissful silent state can alter our perception and allow us to put things into perspective. What really matters? Not what the guy said to you in that social media group. Not the office gossip or your infuriating work colleague. We find that spending a little time in the quiet of our homes or meditation space, whether inside or outside, allows us to see that it’s in the joy of being alive right now, and the people that we actually physically share our lives with that really matter. Our family and friends. Our home. Our gardens. Our religion or spirituality. The Earth. Our perspective can get so skewed by what is happening in the world around us. Allowing us to stop and refocus changes everything.
It’s amazing what ten little seconds can achieve.
To find out more about meditation, stillness and finding peace, try my little e-book, The Stillness Within: Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World.
Some people are just jerks. And we have to accept that.
In our lives, we will come across a multitude of people, some good, some bad, some indifferent. Realising that we have no control over how they behave, we come to the conclusion that the only thing we can control is how we in turn behave towards them. This is the true measure of our integrity.
In Zen philosophy, it’s often stated that everyone is perfect for where they are in their lives. Even if they are being a perfect jerk. What that essentially means is that we have to allow them to be a jerk, because we can’t really change them anyway. A person has to want to change themselves, and no one can do it for them. We might be able to perhaps point a finger in the direction we would wish them to go, hopefully in the direction of being less of a jerk, but in the end it’s up to them to do the walking. And it’s up to us to do the accepting that they may or may not take those steps.
This is awfully hard to do. Acceptance of the fact that some people are jerks, and that there is nothing we can do about it is tough. We’re so often coming across slogans and maxims such as “you can change the world” but really, all we can do is influence our own lives, work on our own behaviour, and if we’re lucky, some of that will ripple outwards into our community and into the wider stream of being. We can inspire others. But we can’t change other people, much as we would like.
We will come across jerks in our working life, in our home life, in all spheres of living. We will also come across some beautiful people, inspiring human beings that can help us to continue in our own journeys with a self-reflective quality that is not self-centred or self-obsessed. However, we often allow the jerks the most time, living and re-living our experiences with them over and over. We need to stop this cycle and focus on the important things.
It’s not easy, as I’ve said before. I do it, and have to consciously stop myself from doing it. I could have twenty lovely people support me and my work, and then have one work colleague who is a jerk about it. I can let that one person monopolise my thoughts, when they’ve been outnumbered twenty to one in real life. What I really should be doing is not seeking any external validation for the work I do, but hey, we’re all human and a little interaction and validation can go a long way. I suppose there’s a difference between support and validation, but that is another blog topic post!
I’ve had trouble with work colleagues: bullying, incompetence and outright lying just for starters. I’ve done all that I can in those situations that should have been done: reporting the problem, asking for assistance and calling people up on their actions. Some outcomes have been acceptable, some not, others just left unresolved. So what is one to do? Just leave it? Let them be incompetent? Let them continue lying and deceiving others? Let them be jerks?
Hard as it may seem, especially to someone who holds concepts of honour and integrity so highly, to allow others to be horrid, awful, wilfully mean or just plain inept is all a part of maintaining my own sanity. I do what I can in each situation, but at the end of the day I’ve done what I can, and it’s not in my hands anymore. Sometimes there will be a resolution that I agree with, but for the most part it won’t be satisfactory in the least.
This radiates outwards in all aspects of life. People will cut you off on the motorway. People will be rude to you down the phone. People will jump in front of you in line. People will take out their own troubles in life while you stand behind the counter wondering what you have done to deserve this. People will talk crap about you. People will say one thing and do another. And the only thing we can control is our own response to these situations.
Will we replay it again and again in our heads, allowing them all that time to make us angry, hurt or depressed? Or will we turn our thoughts to that which nourishes us, strengthens us, makes us want to share the inspiration that we’ve in turn been inspired by in the endless cycle and flow of awen?
The choice is yours. Just like it’s their choice whether to be a jerk or not.
Can we accept that?
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Finding the Balance: Wedding Discipline to Devotion
Our culture of “not good enough” is so rampant, that it can be terribly hard to disassociate oneself from it. I was able to come to terms with the capitalist way of life here in our Western world through Eastern means, specifically through Zen Buddhism. That led to deep meditation, of simply being in the moment, of enjoying the simple things in life while maintaining a deep discipline of distancing myself from the “not good enough life” into one where “it is enough”. This occurred on both a physical and spiritual level. Indeed, it usually does, because the two cannot be separated from each other.
The discipline aspect was hard, at first. I didn’t feel like meditating, like being in the moment. I would do so without any spiritual or religious intent, per se; it was merely to be in the moment, experiencing my body without distraction, noticing my thoughts. As I became more proficient at this, through sheer dogged determination and mule-minded stubborness, the light began to shine through the cracks that had opened up in my mind and in my way of being in the world. I could see that it was all illusion, that what my mind created was illusion, that the way we thought and acted in the world was all based on illusion. At first I was angry at the deception, then I was sad, depressed at the state of the world and not seeing a way through. But through perseverance, I came through the other side. How did I persevere? Again, it was discipline, but this time it was wedded to devotion.
Discipline itself wasn’t enough to get me through. I knew I could do it, and indeed I had. But when I dropped out many things in my life, all the illusory things, I didn’t at the time realise that I had to fill up the hole that they left with something more nourishing. Instead, it left me feeling empty, which at first was an interesting way to be, but then voracious hunger kicks in, when we’re empty, when we need refuelling. Carefully deciding on the path that I wanted to take, in order to find and maintain a sovereign sense of self, I brought devotion into my practice, in order to grasp that deep intention and give meaning to all that I did. After all, isn’t that the meaning of life? To give your life meaning?
And so I devoted myself to the gods of my local landscape, and several other “traditional” gods within the Celtic pantheon, some that I had worked with for decades, others which called to me to come and dance with them, for however long or short a while. And so I did, weaving discipline, daily discipline, with devotion, giving meaning to the work that I did, both for myself and for the wider world. When the hole was filled, through the previous emptying of my mind and soul, it was enough.
This is not a one-off process, however. Every day I am learning just what enough means. We are bombarded each and every day by media trying to create feelings of inadequacy. It brings to mind the Druid maxim: the Truth against the World. I have to hold my truth, against that of the world around me which seeks to distance myself from my truth. I have to work hard to be sovereign of myself. The hard work is worth the effort.
That’s not to say that I don’t have my bad days, that I don’t slip into despair every now and then, of my own failings and that of the world. But when I go outside, listen to the blackbird singing songs of the Otherworld, when I see the herd of deer running through the woods, or the bloated corpse of a fallow deer rotting down into the leafmould; when I see the hawk flying over the treetops, screaming in hunger or joy, or the waves of the sea gently lapping the shingle and whispering secrets of the murky depths, I come back to an awareness of the Mystery. That Mystery is that the world is more than me, that I am a part of a great web, a connecting thread in all that there is, all that ever was, and all that shall ever be. I am the awen, from the depths I sing.
It’s important to remember that human beings are part of nature. Our culture tries to create the illusion of separateness, but when we pull back the veil we see the interconnectedness of all things. The air that I breathe is oxygen created by trees and plankton, grasses and daisies. They in turn take a deep breath of the carbon I expel from my lungs, in one great harmonious intake and outtake of a World Breath. Just breathing can connect us to each other, can remind us of that connection each and every day. That was why the sitting meditation, or zazen of my earlier days, of just focusing and concentrating on breathing was such a great stepping stone in my life. From there, from just sitting and breathing with the world, I came to a sense of connection that led to a life of devotion, where I work to achieve a sovereignty of self in a world that seeks to make me its subject and slave.
We might think that we aren’t equipped to do the daily practice, to help others, much less help ourselves. But we are, if we remember. Re-member: to bring together disparate parts of ourselves. If we remember that connection, the threads of awen that connect each and every life form to each other, then we can work to know that our existence is not just a mere blight on the planet. We have destroyed so much, and we are at a tipping point, for sure. But there is also the great possibility that this is the moment where we all wake up. That humanity undergoes a revolution of its own mind, its hive mind. That we open up to the wonderful magic of possibility. That we are able to use our intelligence, discipline, compassion, empathy and more to make this world a better place. Is this altruism? Not entirely, because we also will benefit greatly from this revolution. We are doing it because we know that we are all connected. We are all related.
For me, wedding discipline to devotion helped to give my life meaning, and to put my feet upon the path towards this revolution. Working with love and compassion, for myself and for the world around me gives my life meaning. Even when I’m not feeling particularly loving, especially towards humanity, I have to remember the potential, the possibility that we can change, that we can reweave our connection to the land. It’s the basis of the work I do at Druid College, to hope to inspire people find their sovereign self, to come to know what enough really is, to work with the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place and to really understand on a deep level that we are the land. There is no separation. Lying down upon the mossy ground in my backyard, underneath the beech tree, tiny buds appearing on its ever-expanding canopy year upon year, I look up into the blue sky just beyond the tangled web and know that there is always possibility, that there is always change. Buddhism and Zen teach of impermanence; so too does Druidry, in the natural flow and cycles of the seasons of our lives. When we truly come to understand the nature of impermanence, we come to truly know abundance.
© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017
2017 is going to be the year where hopefully the words “voluntary simplicity” will be embraced by a wider range of people. I know that I have been incorporating voluntary simplicity in my own life for many years now, and that there is still many more ways in which I can follow a simpler, more efficient and ecologically sustainable way of being in the world. To do so, I am constantly informing myself, being conscious and mindful, trying to look at the bigger picture and taking personal responsibility for the world that I am leaving to our ancestors of the future. Now more than ever, we are at the crucial tipping point where we have to look beyond our own self-interest and look to the whole, to be more holistic in everything that we do.
I have incorporated Zen and Buddhism into my life for many years. For me, this brings a wisdom from both Eastern and Western philosophies that can blend together to form a holistic worldview and way of life. I feel that East and West need each other in order to understand the whole. Only when we understand the material as well as the spiritual can we bring them together to live fully in the here and now.
It’s important that simplicity, in terms of reducing consumerism, resources and living a better, cleaner more sustainable life, is voluntarily chosen. When it is not, we come across such suffering as poverty. Many people in the world do not have a choice to reduce, reuse, to choose. Here in the West, many of us can make choices, however small, in our daily lives that strive towards a more sustainable future for everyone. Where we can, we should voluntarily make that choice, in order to preserve a future for humanity. In doing so, we will also achieve a higher quality of life, and be able to truly flourish as a species. We are at that balance point, if we haven’t already gone too far, to either evolve into a higher consciousness and have that reflected in our actions, to come together as we realise that there is more to bind us together than tear us apart, or we can fall into divisiveness, fighting each other over the few differences and destroying not only ourselves, but a large portion of life on this planet in our downfall.
But what is simplicity? It is living in harmony with the world. Druidry is all about relationship, and this is also at the heart of simplicity. It is egalitarian. It sees through the illusions created by modern-day culture and society, the need to consume, the distractions of the media. It is about seeing what is really important in life: your family, your friends, your local environment. It is about living sustainably, so that our children and their children, as well as all the planet’s children, both human and non-human, have a good quality of life. It is about learning what is enough, rather than striving for more.
It is important to understand that simplicity is something that is for many of us a voluntary lifestyle. As stated above, many people lead lives in poverty and suffering because they do not have enough. We who do should learn just what is enough, and work towards achieving that understanding by informing and educating ourselves of our wants versus our needs. We must do this willingly, with an open heart. In doing so, we are also leading lives filled with compassion for all beings. It is not sacrifice, for we are only giving up the things that are unnecessary. Sacrifice is giving up the essentials. Many of thing things we consume or the activities we undertake are unnecessary. Many of them are distractions. Many of them only cause us to distance ourselves further from reality, each other and our place in the ecosystem. We are sacrificing ourselves by not following a simpler way of life.
We have to regard simplicity as a creative way of being in the world. Consumerism is not very creative. If we learn to live a simpler life, we rid ourselves of many distractions, thus enabling our own innate creativity to flourish. No longer are we kept under the pacifying drugs such a television, the media, advertising, and so on. We will embrace all that life has to offer, savouring each and every moment, willingly.
Gandhi said that we “choose to live simply so that others may simply live”. This is where we find compassion in a simpler life. This is where we see that we are a single thread among many in the tapestry or web of life. As human beings, homo sapien sapiens, the “beings who are aware that we are aware”, we understand the concept of a greater good for our species, and for the world as whole. Let’s use that knowledge wisely. Let’s create a world that we actually want to live in.
The concept of voluntary simplicity was begun by Richard Gregg, who was a student of Gandhi’s teachings. In 1936, he wrote about voluntary simplicity, stating that the purpose of life was to create a life of purpose. Let these words inspire you in your path towards voluntary simplicity. They can be a guiding beacon of light in a world of many illusory struggles and distractions. Create a life of purpose and meaning for yourself, using voluntary simplicity. It is the best way forward not only for your own life, but for the planet as a whole. Be creative. Druidry has a large focus on awen, on inspiration. Let us use that inspiration to live simpler lives filled with our creative potential to create a truly harmonious and sustainable way of life.
Mindfulness is a huge buzz word these past few years, and is a great tool in voluntary simplicity. We are living with intention, choosing our own path. We are conscious. We are aware that we are aware. Living an intentional life, as opposed to a reactive life, is one where we find a life of purpose. It really is that simple, yet is a challenging way to live. Being deliberate in everything requires us to evaluate and asses everything that we do, all our relationships: with other people, people we like and people we don’t like, with ourselves, with human and non-human animals, with the plant and mineral kingdoms. Like practicing Tai Chi, everything we do becomes a deliberate action, wholly understood and executed in a mindful manner, thus creating a beautiful flow.
Right now, we live in a world of crisis. Soon, the oil will become much more expensive, sea levels will rise, air quality will fall and the divide between those that have and those that have not will reach unprecedented proportions. We are currently living lives that sacrifice ourselves, each other and the planet. It can be utterly depressing when we view the world as such. Towards the end of 2016, an unusual pall of heaviness and depression hit me, as the weight of the suffering in the world fell all around me. I saw no hope for the future. However, voluntary simplicity has encouraged me that all is not lost. At this crisis point, we just might find profound opportunities to be creative, to be nourishing, to really change the way that we have been going the last few hundred years. This could be the unprecedented change necessary for our own survival. As the make or break point, this is where we could truly flourish as a species, to understand what has gone wrong, and to make amends right here, right now.
This requires personal responsibility. We cannot wait for governments to legislate for us. We cannot say that we will not undertake a simpler way of life until everyone else does. If we wait until everyone else decides to do this, or for it to be legislated, we could well be beyond the point of no return, where any action we undertake will already be too late. We must do this right now in our own lives, and let our lives be the example. We will not suffer because we are doing this, while others still live lives of disposable consumerism. We will not fall behind in the rat race. We will be living more intentionally, walking with a lighter footstep upon the planet, and knowing what really matters. Those who are not awakening to the benefit of voluntary simplicity are the ones who will suffer. Responsibility and duty have become dirty words in our society, and we must reclaim them for the very powerful values that they posses. We can change the world through everyday small actions. Like drops in a bucket, when we do so, even at tiny levels, it all adds up. We may not see the results straight away on a global scale, but we will see them in our own lives. We cannot wait any longer. We must take action now, in any way we can. No one will do this for us.
It’s also important to lay aside blame for the moment. If we participate in the world of consumerism, then we have only ourselves to blame. If we step outside of those bounds as much as possible, we will begin to understand the reasons why people do the things that they do, and in that understanding compassion will arise. For example, I know people whose kitchen cupboards are filled to overflowing. They don’t know what is in the back of those cupboards. There is food going to waste. But I also understand that there were many years where food was hard to come by for them, where every cent went to putting food on the table for their children. Full cupboards mean security. Though they might not be aware of this, I can certainly understand the behaviour, even if I don’t personally agree with it. I don’t blame them for creating the world that I live in, because I can change my own world in small and in large ways. If I lay all the blame for the world we live in on those who don’t share my own values, I can fall into an apathy and sense of separation from the rest of my fellow human beings that has absolutely no purpose or benefit in saving this planet or creating a new sustainable way of living. Instead, I will only live with anger and contempt, instead of working with compassion and integrity.
Every decision matters. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the jobs we undertake and more. We are not powerless. We must remember this. It is essential to living a more simple way of life. We cannot change society until we change ourselves. Our biggest and often most important vote that we have in our consumerist society is how we spend our money. Tell the companies that you don’t want their latest product induced by media to increase low self-esteem by not participating in what they are trying to create. Instead, live a life of meaning, of intentional and mindful experience. The quality of life will increase, as opposed to the quantity of material goods. You will find creative ways of living. It is possible.
When we discover the things that really matter in life, life really matters. This is my understanding of voluntary simplicity.
She lit the candles and incense, and sat down upon the cushions. Breathing deeply, she inhaled the fragrant scent, and allowed her gaze to wander over the items on the altar. She tried to focus, her gaze finally resting upon the image of Brighid, and the flame that the goddess held in her hands. As the darkness fell, both within and without, both figuratively and literally, she focused on the flame being offered. She took it within her heart, and for a brief moment it flickered, then died out as the darkness consumed it in a deep blanket of despair.
She focused once again on the image, this time on the watery vesica pisces symbol. Yet her mind would not focus, her thoughts filled with grief and anger, darkness and despair. She breathed through them, trying to remain in the present moment. But the darkness was overwhelming, and as she floundered, she cried out: “Help!”
The voice of the goddess spoke softly in her mind. “Make tea.”
She sat for a moment longer, determined to spend at least ten minutes at her altar. At last, she gave up and blew out the candles, allowing the incense to burn itself out. Make tea, the goddess had said. Alright. Let’s make some tea.
She went downstairs and put the kettle on. Let’s make tea, she said to herself. Mindfully. She prepared the small teapot with herbs known to lift the darkness and soothe the nerves: St John’s wort and skullcap. She also added some lemon balm, to ease tension and also for flavour. She inhaled the scent of the dried herbs, and mixed them together before placing them in the teapot. She looked out the window in the light of the setting sun, a small muntjac deer feeding alongside a magpie underneath the bird feeder.
She placed on a tray the teapot, strainer and saucer, as well as a small handmade earthenware cup. She brought these to the table, and laid them down with her full attention. The kettle had boiled, and she carefully filled her small iron kettle with the water, feeling the steam against her skin. She brought the iron kettle to the table, and placed it on a heat-proof mat. She sat down, her mind still battling the darkness around the edges, her thoughts seemingly not her own. She knew her hormones were swirling in a dance similar to that which she had experienced at adolescence, though now she was at the other end of the brilliant spectrum. She had to take care of herself, of her body as well as her mind.
She opened up the teapot and breathed. Mindfully, she took the iron kettle and filled the teapot with water, replacing the kettle with equal attention. She inhaled the scent of the herbs, and replaced the teapot lid. No other thoughts entered her mind, just these simple, small actions. Working with mindfulness, working with full attention to her actions, there was only the present moment.
She sat back and waited for the tea to brew. Slowly, she felt the darkness returning, crowding at her mind. Despair at the state of the world, at the constant struggle she faced with work, with others who could not do the simplest of tasks, with expectations from both strangers and friends, knowing that if she didn’t do something, no one would – stop. Breathe. Focus. Three minutes stretched to an eternity as the brew steeped in the teapot.
She took a deep breath, and the darkness receded an inch. She picked up the teapot, and concentrated on pouring the tea through the strainer into the small bowl. She kept up her concentration on her breath and on the pouring, and it filled her entire being. Nothing else mattered in that moment. Just pouring tea.
She put down the teapot and picked up the cup. The scent of the herbs brought back memories of a wonderful little shop called StarChild in Glastonbury. She allowed the brief memory to flicker, and then she refocused her attention on the cup in her hands. The heat radiated through the bowl, and she had to pick it up carefully, her fingers near the cooler end of the rim. Quietly, she took the first slurp, allowing the air to cool the hot water before it reached her tongue. She concentrated on nothing but drinking the tea, sitting alone in the dining room, with night falling outside.
She drank the first cup, and then brewed another in the teapot. She kept her mind focused on the present, acknowledging past wounds but not allowing them to flavour the present moment. She had worked hard to name them and transform them, and was working on it still. Three minutes again slipped past, and outside her dining room window she saw the Christmas lights from the house across the street go on.
She poured herself another cup, and drank it mindfully. A third cup was brewed and drunk, and when she finished she sat back and bowed to her tea set. She felt a little better, the darkness within relenting, though not wholly gone. She acknowledged and allowed the herbs to do their work on her body and her mind. With equally careful attention, she rinsed the kettle and washed the teapot, bowl and strainer, and then went upstairs with a lighter heart, to Skype with her mother and find even more comfort and peace, there in the moment, utterly in the moment.
Thank you to everyone who has bought my little e-book, The Stillness Within: Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World. All royalties for this book go to charity, and since it’s release in May we’ve raised £65.97 for The Woodland Trust and Orangutan Appeal UK. Well done! They were both very appreciative of our donation. Let’s keep it going; please spread the good word about this project, and let’s raise even more money in the next six months for these fabulous charities.