Review: Zen for Druids

Here is a review by Maria Ede-Weaving on Philip Carr-Gomm’s blog for my upcoming book, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with the Natural World (due out this October, and now available for pre-order). Thank you, Maria, for your lovely words!

Zen for Druids front coverI am a massive fan of Joanna van der Hoeven’s books. They are wonderfully accessible whilst still conveying a depth and clarity that helps the reader to really connect with the wisdom of the subject. Her latest offering does just that. ‘Zen For Druids’ is a companion to her earlier work ‘Zen Druidry, exploring Zen Buddhism and Druidry by illustrating how these spiritual paths can complement one another in practice.

The book is written in five parts. The first explores Druidry and the Dharma giving an excellent overview of Buddhism’s Three Treasures; The Four Noble Truths; The Five Precepts; The Eightfold Path and The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts and how these relate to Druid philosophy.

The second part takes us through the Pagan Wheel of the Year and how Zen Buddhism can enrich the understanding and honouring of these festivals. Joanna includes some really useful tips at the end of each festival section, with ideas to deepen your experience of each.

Part three focuses on Meditation; part four on Mindfulness and part five on Integration, each section helping to both explain the underlying spiritual meaning of these practices whilst giving practical advice, exercises and encouragement. I particularly enjoyed the section on Integration where the author writes beautifully about Awen and Relationship as a connecting, compassionate force that reveals the interconnectedness of life.

In her chapter on Ego, Self and Identity the author tackles the thorny issue of the Ego. In many spiritual texts, the Ego can so easily be labelled the ‘bad guy’ but Joanna skilfully explores the difference between Representational Ego and Functional Ego, redeeming the Ego’s useful functions whilst suggesting a compassionate approach to its more challenging aspects.

Joanna van der Hoeven

The concepts in this book take some thoughtful pondering but the beauty of Joanna’s writing is that it cracks open what initially appear to be very complex ideas and gets straight to the heart of each. Obviously the real work is in the dedicated practice of a spiritual path but Zen For Druids offers a wonderful foundation to build upon. In every page you can sense that the author has learned these insights through experience, that she really understands and lives these principles from a place of deep heart-knowing. We move from a purely intellectual grasping of a subject to this heart-led living of a spiritual path through the constant connection and exploration of that path; Joanna van der Hoeven’s fabulous book is both an inspiring and deeply practical aid to help you on that journey.

I highly recommend this book. It is proof of how seemingly different spiritualities can enrich each other, and for those of us who are drawn to both western and eastern paths, it’s a real gem!

Zen For Druids is now available on Moon Books for pre-order. 

Major milestone: huge love and thank you!!!

Well, May’s sales figures have come in from my publishers, Moon Books, and we have reached a new milestone – over 10,000 copies of my Pagan Portals books sold! (And The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid is still an Amazon No. 1 Bestseller!) I just wanted to thank everyone for their support in my writing, for your lovely emails, your encouraging words, and for being so awesome. May we be the awen!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Inspiration for a Zen Druid

What drew me into Zen Buddhism was the fact that it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from when it came to learning the wisdom of the tradition. The same goes for Druidry as well. Yes, there can be an ancestral link to the tradition that you might find will perhaps deepen either practice for you personally, but you don’t have to be from a particular place in order to practice either tradition. Zen Buddhism and Druidry may have common roots in India’s Vedic tradition, which goes some way to explaining the many similarities, however one does not need to worry about cultural misappropriation when following either tradition. They welcome one and all to their path, as long as it is walked with respect.

Both Zen Buddhism and Druidry are all about what you do: not who you are or where you came from. Working with compassion, deepening the connection to nature and the world around you, there is a holistic healing of the soul that happens when this is embraced, allowing an integration that just seems to flow easier, where the awen shines and peace of mind and body are attainable. Being utterly awake to the present moment, seeing the Buddha-nature of everyone, and remembering that Buddha-nature within our souls can help us to ease the pain of separation that modern culture and society seem to promote in a theology/philosophy of duality. When we realise that we are part of an ecosystem, systems within systems, we work better, understanding our part and working for the benefit of the whole rather than the self. It promotes a thinking where one doesn’t think less of the self, but rather thinks of the self, less.

The magic and wonder of Druidry and the natural world, and the philosophy and practice of Zen Buddhism have allowed me a deep sense of peace and wakefulness to the world. They complement each other beautifully, each tradition having its own wisdom that is there for everyone to discover. If you’d like to learn more about either tradition, I’ve put together a reading list below from my upcoming book, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with Nature. These are the tools that helped me on my journey (with some of my previously written books thrown in there too), and I hope that should they be of interest, you might also find them of some benefit as well.

Blessings on your journey, wherever your path may take you!

Bibliography and Suggested Reading

Adamson, E. & McClain, G. (2001) The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zen Living: Alpha

Allen, R. (2002) Zen Questions London: MQ Publications Limited

Beck, C.J. (1997) Everyday Zen London: Thorsons

Beck, C. J. (1995) Nothing Special: Living Zen New York: Harper Collins

Carr-Gomm, P. (2002) Druid Mysteries: Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century: Rider

Hanh, T.N. (2001) Anger: Buddhist Wisdom for Cooling the Flames: Rider

Hanh, T.N. (2012) Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice: Parallax Press

Hanh, T.N. (2015) No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering: Parallax Press

Hanh, T.N. (2008) The Miracle of Mindfulness: Rider, Classic Ed Edition

Hanh, T. N. (1993) Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism: Parallax Press

Hutton, R. (2011) Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain: Yale University Press

Kirkey, J. (2009) The Salmon in the Spring: The Ecology of Celtic Spirituality: Hiraeth Press

Lama, D. (2005) Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama’s Heart of Wisdom Teachings: Wisdom Publications, U.S.

MacEowan, F. H. (2002) The Mist-filled Path: Celtic Wisdom for Exiles, Wanderers and Seekers: New World Libray

Matthews, C. (2004) Celtic Devotional: Daily Prayers and Blessings: Gill & Macmillan Ltd

Talboys, G. (2002) Way of the Druid: Rebirth of an Ancient Religion: O Books

Tzu, L. (2002) The Complete Works of Lao Tzu: Translation and Elucidation by Hua-Ching Ni: Sevenstar Communications U.S.

Restall Orr, E. (2004) Living Druidry: Magical Spirituality for the Wild Soul London: Piatkus Books Ltd

Restall Orr, E. (2007) Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics O Books

Restall Orr, E. (2000) Ritual: A Guide to Life, Love & Inspiration London: Thorsons

Restall Orr, E. (2012) The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind and the Self in Nature: Moon Books

van der Hoeven, J. (2014) The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid: Moon Books

van der Hoeven, J. (2013) Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life in Full Awareness: Moon Books

 

Internet Resources

Order of Interbeing http://www.orderofinterbeing.org

The British Druid Order http://www.druidry.co.uk

The Druid Network http://www.druidnetwork.org

The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids http://www.druidry.org

Zen Buddhism http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/zen/index.htm

Zen Guide http://www.zenguide.com

Excerpt from my upcoming book, Zen for Druids

This is an extract from my upcoming book, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with Nature. It is the follow-up to my introductory book, Zen Druidry, which is part of the Pagan Portals series with Moon Books.  This book delves deeper into incorporating Zen philosophy into a Druid tradition, allowing us to find deep integration with nature, flowing along the currents of inspiration, of awen.

Chapter One

The Three Treasures

The Three Treasures (sometimes called The Three Jewels) are what all Buddhists can take refuge in, in order to alleviate suffering. They are:

  1. That everyone has a Buddha nature: taking refuge in the Buddha
  2. The dharma reflects ultimate truth: taking refuge in the dharma
  3. There is a community (known as sangha in Buddhism): taking refuge in the community

In today’s society, we often take refuge in that which causes us harm: drugs; alcohol; high fat foods and so on. We take refuge in violent or mind-numbing television shows. We may even take refuge in abusive relationships. All of these do not help to alleviate suffering, but only increase suffering. We need to re-evaluate what it is that we take refuge in. Let us look at the Three Treasures that Buddhists take refuge in, and see how they are reflected in modern Druidry.

Taking refuge in the Buddha: Everyone has a Buddha nature – In this teaching, we see that everyone has the essence of the Buddha within them. This means that everyone can achieve enlightenment. When we recognise the Buddha nature of a stranger, for example, our behaviour and attitude towards them will shift. We will act with more compassion, because we see that which is in ourselves, our own Buddha nature, is also within them. Within Druidry, as mentioned above, the sanctity of all nature is at the heart of its teachings. There is no hierarchy within Druidry; we are aware that we are a part of an ecosystem, part of a planet, part of the universe and part of the whole. Through the wonders of science, we know that we contain star stuff within our blood and bones. When we realise that we are made up of so many different elements, non-human elements, we are able to recognise the greater pattern that makes up life, and our part within it as a strand of the web of creation. We have rivers and oceans within us, for we drink water every day. We have the sun within us, in the food that we eat, the light upon our skin. We realise that the illusion of separation is just that: an illusion. When the boundaries of this illusory divide fall away, we can become fully integrated into the world around us. There is no human and nature, there is only nature.

There is a Zen story that states: “If you see Buddha on the road, kill him!” This means that anything that we conceive as being external to ourselves is only an illusion, for the Buddha is within. The Buddha is our potential to live our lives in our own perfect truth, awake and aware to life all around us, fully participating in life rather than being passengers on the journey. By recognising our own Buddha nature, we see it in others. The sanctity of life and all creation directs us to live our lives accordingly.

Buddha was/is a great teacher. He exists today as he existed thousands of years ago. He is an inspiration to all who honour the Buddhist tradition. In the Buddha we are inspired to great healing, great peace. We can honour our teachers from all traditions that speak to our soul. In Druidry, we work with the ancestors: ancestors of blood, ancestors of place and ancestors of tradition. Buddha can be a great ancestor of tradition – so can the Dalai Lama, or Zen Buddhist monk and activist Thich Nhat Hanh just as much as Taliesen, Boudicca or modern-day writers and Druids such as Emma Restall Orr or Phillip Carr-Gomm.

Taking refuge in the dharma: The dharma reflects ultimate truth – Truth is a tricky word in modern-day society. Yet it is central to both Buddhist and Druid teachings. In Buddhism, we drop the illusion of separateness; we step beyond suffering created by duality and merge into our own truth. Within modern Druidry, there is a saying: “The truth against the world”. The truth is our own self, our true self, without the conditions and restrictions placed upon it by the ego and others. This self works in the world to create peace and harmony, for it is at peace and harmony. The world is that which tries to impose illusions of duality or conditions of existence upon us. We are told that we need this or that in order to be happy. We are told what to eat, wear, what car to drive. We are told that we are superior to others, human and non-human. We often believe that we will be happy in the future, as we set a condition upon our lives for our own happiness. When we drop these conditions and really pay attention to life, we find out what we really need in order to have peace and happiness. When we follow our own nature and listen to the truth within, we are able to find our place in the world. We are better able to hear our own soul’s truth, and that is the truth against the world. We find wisdom in the teachings, in the dharma, and we know that through experience of the teachings we can understand the truth for ourselves. Within Zen Druidry we realise that there is no monopoly on wisdom. By combining the teachings of both Druidry and Zen Buddhism each are complemented and enhanced.

Taking refuge in the dharma, we recognise for ourselves that the real cause of suffering stems from within, as does the real cause of joy and peace. Taking refuge in the teachings of Druidry, we learn about integration with the world, and how to live our lives as a reflection of our love and devotion to the natural world around us. Both lead us to living lives fully awake and aware, lives that are filled with responsibility towards everything that exists on our planet. It guides us to live in harmony and in peace, mindful of sustainability and honour.

Taking refuge in the community: There is a community – In Buddhism, the community (known as the sangha) is there for one to take refuge in, providing support through shared ideals and goals. They are fellow Buddhists, people you meditate with, perhaps even a monastic community. They are like-minded people, on the path to enlightenment, trying to ease suffering. They are people who can help you on the path, and people that may come to you for help.

This community has been taken further in modern Buddhism to incorporate the planet, seeing and knowing that the earth is our home, our community, and therefore we must take better care of it. Within Druidry, the community is our environment. Not just the land upon which we live, but our homes, our workplaces, the Druid community: everything that we are working with in the world. Druidry knows that life is all inter-connected, that we are all parts of a whole. Ecosystems function because everything knows its place in the wider context, fulfilling its role (living its truth) and thereby contributing to the benefit of the whole. We support the community and the community supports us. We can take refuge in this community, knowing on the most basic level that we are all in this together. It engenders a deep respect for the community, for the whole.

There is a Druid community throughout the world, as there is a Buddhist community. It may be difficult to find other Druids in your particular area, however, there are groups and groves, festivals and camps, Orders and organisations you can join in order to connect with other people following the Druid path, to find support in a community, or to support others within the community in a Druid context. Druidry also recognises the community as a whole, on this little rock we call planet Earth, hurtling through time and space.

 

Questions

  1. What is it that you currently take refuge in? Does it cause further suffering? If so, what can you do to change?
  2. Think about the concept of everyone having a Buddha nature, or seeing the sacredness of all things. In Druidry and in Animism there is no division, no one thing being holier or more sacred than another. Everything is simply a part of an ecosystem, part of a whole. Where do you place any dividing line within your own life? Is a grain of sand less sacred than a desert? A drop of water to a lake?
  3. What is truth? What do you feel to be your personal truth? Stripped away of ego and conditions, what would your true self feel like?

© Joanna van der Hoeven

 

Happy Anniversary!

It’s been four years today that this blog has been going, and I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for reading, following, commenting, supporting and generally just being lovely!

I received a letter yesterday from a lady in India who runs a school influenced by the teachings of Krishnamurti and many Buddhist concepts.  She also has a great love of Celtic theology and music, and took the time to write to me telling me how much she loved my first book,  Zen Druidry. It’s so wonderful to receive letters like these, and I’m continually both surprised and delighted that so many people have taken the time to get in touch.  I feel really connected to the readers of this blog and my books, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your words, your suggestions, your reviews, your letters, your support and more.

And the timing of that letter was brilliant; there is some good news to share as well! It looks very much like a follow-up to my first book, Zen Druidry will be published this year! Taking the ideas from Zen Druidry in the Pagan Portals series by Moon Books (this is a series of books that offer an introduction on  subject in around 100 pages or less), these ideas are further expanded in this new book, as well as offering more ways to blend Zen and Druidry, Eastern and Western traditions to create a holistic worldview based on reverence for the natural world, utterly awake and aware to the present moment.

I’ll keep you all posted on updates, and once again, thank you all so very much!

Zen Druidry Online Course now available!

zen druidryIt’s finally here: the Zen Druidry online course! An extension of my first Pagan Portals book, Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life in Full Awareness, this 75 page online course delves deeper into the subject matter with practical exercises, links to videos and talks, provides questions to help the practitioner develop a broader level of understanding and more. A basic meditation audio file also comes with the course, to help beginners and the more adept alike in furthering their meditation practice. For more information on this course, please email autumnsong@hotmail.co.uk. £40

Excerpt from my upcoming Zen Druidry Online Course

Busy here getting the Zen Druidry online course ready, so apologies for the haphazard posting of late!

Here’s a short excerpt from the upcoming online Zen Druidry course, that delves deeper into the subject matter that was introduced in my first book, Zen Druidry as part of the Pagan Portals introductory books series. This course is quite extensive, with practical exercises, video links, audio files and more. We hope to release it by the Winter Solstice – keep everything crossed!

This excerpt is from the Wheel of the Year section, where each festival is looked at in depth and culminates in practical work that combines the elements of Zen Buddhism and Druidry.

Imbolc

The days are becoming longer, and though the air is still cold, the first signs of Spring emerge.

Extract from Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life with Full Awareness by Joanna van der Hoeven:

At Imbolc we welcome the lengthening days and the first of the flowers, with the snowdrops coming into season. For those that celebrate by the calendar, Imbolc occurs on the 2nd February. I prefer to celebrate when the snowdrops are out, as I find this more in tune with the seasons. This could happen anytime from beginning of January to as late as March, depending on the winter. Imbolc is also the time when the sheep begin to produce milk – ewe’s milk, which is where we get the name Imbolc from. For our ancestors, this was a celebratory time, when cheeses and butter could once again be made to replenish the winter stores. Again, the milking time can occur anytime in February onwards – it’s always a joy to watch the fields and wait to see the new lambs scampering, flipping their ridiculous tails! This is a time for preparing the seeds of what we wish to achieve in the coming year, dreamt up over the long winter nights, but not yet ready to plant – we must still keep these dreams safe. With Zen, we can apply Right Concentration to this time of year, and focus on total immersion in the present moment.

As we have been using Right Mindfulness in the time from the Winter Solstice to the time of Imbolc, we will notice in our environment when the first snowdrops come out, the increasing amount of sunlight each day, the slow warming of the earth. We will feel the energy softly changing, moving from an introspective feel outwards towards the growing light.

The festival of Imbolc is one of gentle joy. Agriculturally our ancestors in the British Isles celebrated the time of lactation, when ewes first began to produce milk. The winter stores could be replenished with fresh milk and cheeses, to last the hungry time through Spring until the land began to offer her bounty once more and awake from her winter’s slumber. Imbolc is also a Fire Festival in the Celtic year, along with Samhain, Beltane and Lughnasad. The goddess Brighid has long been associated with this festival. She is a goddess of fire and water, of healing, poetry, smithcraft and more. This festival became Christianised as Candlemas, again showing the fire aspect of this time. The growing sunlight is reflected through earthly fire and flame. There are many ways to celebrate Imbolc, including household blessings, the making of Bride dolls, Brigid’s crosses, and more.

Become aware of how fire is a central aspect of your life, in all its manifestations. Give thanks when your central heating comes on. Give thanks for the sunlight that keeps our planet from becoming an ice cube hurtling through space. Give thanks for the gas that powers your stove/cooker, allowing you to have a hot meal. Look into a candle’s flame, or a fire in the hearth, and commune with the spirit of fire. Look at how fire is manifested within the body, in energy, emotion and more.

The Druid pays attention to her surroundings. With Right Concentration (sometimes referred to as Right Focus) she can hone her skills in mindfulness. Concentrating on being fully present, little will escape our attention and we will live a more integrated life with the natural world around us. Right Concentration is a skill that can be achieved through daily meditation. We begin with focusing on the breath and the body in meditation, and keeping our concentration centred within. We then move that focus outwards, without losing the concentration that keep us from distractions, from our chattering “monkey mind“.

It is easy to berate ourselves for not having enough concentration in our lives. In fact, when we look at modern-day society, we see that we are being bombarded by things that actually lessen our ability to concentrate for any period of time. We have smart phones that allow us to stop whatever it is we are doing at any given moment (apart from driving, we hope!) and look at/think about something else. We have telephones that ring us when we are at home. We have television shows, sometimes divided into 4-7 minute segments (mostly American shows) with advertising breaks in between. Our attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter simply through the media that we use. Twitter has a 140 character length, and if you can’t communicate what you have to say in that short space then you can’t say it at all. Their Vine app makes looping videos that are only 6.5 seconds long. The list continues.

We have to relearn how to concentrate, how to bring our awareness in directed focus on a subject in order for our minds, bodies and lives to begin to settle once more. As infants, we absorbed information in rapt attention, no matter if it was a light shining overhead or our mother’s voice. Toddlers exploring the world are intensely focused, beginning with their first steps and then on their goal. We begin to lose our abilities to concentrate with the more information we have to hand, thinking that we can absorb it all without actually realising the repercussions it has on our lives. Technology has advanced so much that our human bodies simply aren’t able to cope with the information overload, and we need to take a step back and refocus.

Most of the information we are receiving is not necessary to our daily function. Reading some celebrity’s tweet will not put dinner on the table. Checking replies to our Facebook status will not get our toilets cleaned. If you’ve spent a media-free day a week during the Winter Solstice to Imbolc period, then you probably have realised the benefit of stopping the information overload.

We begin with a simple candle meditation, incorporating the fire aspect of the season and the one-pointed focus required in this meditation. Sit before a candle, and simple watch its flame. When thoughts arise, notice them by saying “lunch” or “meeting” or “cat” and then let it go, returning your focus to the candle’s flame. If you have a family, it might be better to do this meditation either early in the morning or late at night when everyone is in bed. It doesn’t matter how many times you have to bring your focus back to the candle – what matters most is that you do it. Bring your attention and concentration back however many times you need to. Concentration is a skill, and any skill is something which is developed over time. It doesn’t happen in an instant.

Now is the time to take it a step further. Literally.

Walking meditation is a brilliant way draw focus into what we are doing, and help us to integrate with our natural surroundings on the Druid path. We can think of each step we take as kissing the earth, celebrating our love for life on this planet. Walking meditation began as an interlude to zazen, or sitting meditation, to allow the meditator to continue with their meditation while easing their body from a sedentary pose to a moving one, allowing for good circulation and bringing some exercise into the practice.

Walking meditation can be done indoors or outdoors. Zendos (Zen centres) will accommodate both practices in their buildings, but incorporating the Druid path into our spirituality means that we need to engage further with the natural world around us. Remaining indoors has its benefits, enabling us to concentrate better with less distractions, however, we can practice this outdoors with great joy. We can then let this practice become part of our lives to such a great extent that we walk mindfully, aware of our movements wherever we go, whatever we are doing. It requires Right Concentration. Do what you can, whether indoors or out.

Not only will we benefit personally from walking meditation, but the land will benefit as well. If we walk with love and with joy, instead of walking with anger or suffering, the land will also share in this experience. Too often we believe that we are the only beings experiencing, however, we can walk in the rain and experience the rain, knowing that the rain is also experiencing us. Let us make this a good experience.

With the exercise and fresh air, we also release stress and anxiety, as well as developing a practice that allows us to be in the world by silencing our monkey mind and embracing the world as it really is.

If you are lucky enough to have a backyard, these are ideal places to begin. It is out of doors, and relatively quiet, safe and secure. If you don’t have a backyard, you can try a local park that you feel is safe and secure, or a botanical garden, or even a friend’s backyard (with their permission, of course!). If you live deep in the heart of a city and don’t feel that you are able to access public parks with safety on your own, ask a friend or relative to join you. If you have wild stretches of forest or heathland at your doorstep, go for it, but do ensure that someone is aware of where you are going, and what you are doing. Again, take someone along if it makes you feel more at ease. If you have a young family, doing walking meditation with them is a great way to spend time together.

Barefoot walking is a great way to bring focus and attention to each and every step. However, it depends on your circumstances and whether this is a safe thing to do. Broken glass and other debris on city streets are not conducive to good barefoot walking meditation; neither is walking through gorse-laden brush in adder country. Be safe and responsible.

Really notice the feel of movement in your body as you slowly take one step, then another. Engage your whole foot in the step, touching the ground with the heel first, then rolling all the way to the tips of the toes. Be aware of what both feet are doing at the same time. This is surprisingly difficult at first, but it will hone your concentration. Breathe mindfully as if in meditation. Feel the air on your skin, the sunlight or the rain. Notice the light or darkness, the sounds and scents. Do not become lost in these, however; simply notice. Notice without judgement. You can even say to yourself “sunlight”, “dog barking”, “snowdrop”, “icy path” and allow your awareness of everything to keep you going. When you find the mind starting to wander, or you feel you begin to judge something, bring your attention back into your feet and your breath.

Walk as slowly or as quickly as feels comfortable. Most Zen walking meditation is done slowly, but some Zen centres do practice kinhin quickly, to get the blood flowing. As with everything, mindfulness is key. Do this every day if you can, noticing how your environment is changing through the seasons.

Some things to consider from Imbolc to the Spring Equinox are:

  1. Look at how fire manifests in your life. Look at the inner fire within. See how fire can destroy as well as bring nourishment and comfort. Learn how to harness the power of fire responsibly.
  2. Do the candle meditation each day, and then begin walking meditation after you have sufficiently honed your concentration with the candle meditation.
  3. Be kind and gentle with yourself. This is a season which can be difficult, even as it was for our ancestors, who lived through the lean months of Spring until food sources became more abundant.
  4. Do a house-blessing – research various forms or come up with your own.
  5. Prepare the seeds of your intention that you kept safe over Samhain and dreamt over during the Winter Solstice. Find out what they will require to bring them into fruition, but do not plant them just yet. Wait until the sun is a little stronger, the air a little warmer, and life generally a little more forgiving. Learn the value of patience.

The Zen of Jeremy Corbyn

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18:  Jeremy Corbyn answers questions from the media outside King's Cross Station on August 18, 2015 in London, England. Jeremy Corbyn was launching his rail nationalisation plans today as action for Rail held protests at stations in England and Scotland against fare rises which has risen almost three times faster than wages over the past five years according to a new report.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 18: Jeremy Corbyn answers questions from the media outside King’s Cross Station on August 18, 2015 in London, England. Jeremy Corbyn was launching his rail nationalisation plans today as action for Rail held protests at stations in England and Scotland against fare rises which has risen almost three times faster than wages over the past five years according to a new report. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party in the UK, might not be the first thing someone would imagine when they think of Zen. However, this Islington resident shows us the way in focusing on important work, without letting the ego and the self get in the way, doing what is necessary without resorting to the usual slander and back-stabbing that is so prevalent in politics today.

The 66 year old has been an MP for Islington North since 1983. He has worked on the issues that matter to him with real dedication to the values that he holds dear, such as social equality, world peace and the end of nuclear weapons, just to name a few. He was able to get on with his work fairly inconspicuously, until he baffled his opponents in the leadership race and became the head of the Labour Party through his dedication to change politics, largely thanks to a grass-roots movement that supported him not unlike Justin Trudeau, the new Prime Minister of Canada who came out of “nowhere” (his party was third in the race and not predicted to win) recently to take the election by storm through voters who wanted change.

While Corbyn might not have the swooning good looks and charisma of Trudeau, they hold many things in common, including the dedication of their followers and supporters. This writer does indeed have a nerd crush on Corbyn, totally in love with his morals and ethics, his way of working. He is a Zen master, and here’s why.

In the face of public denigration by the Conservative party, who try to put Corbyn down any way they can through personal attacks, not once has Corbyn retaliated. Corbyn cares about the issues, not about his ego. He does the work and considers it important, without considering himself important. He works with the “I”, without letting the “Me” get in the way.

Even in the face out outright lies about his character, such as at the Cenotaph memorial story presented by the Conservative-backed “newspaper” The Sun, Corbyn has just gotten on with his work. In the Prime Minister’s Questions, when he is regularly personally attacked by the Prime Minister he simply reminds Cameron of the original questions, despite the boos, jeers and laughter from Cameron’s cronies. Corbyn presents the questions from the people, taking a personal step back to allow other voices to be “heard” (among the laughter and jeers from opposition in so called “civilised debate”). It’s not all about Corbyn, but about the people that he represents.

trudeau 2

Justin Trudeau

This is a real-life example of how we can live in the face of adversity with honour and integrity. Not once has Corbyn resorted to mud-slinging in retaliation to anything thrown at him. He responds with pushing forward the issues that need attention, and doing his job to the best of his ability. We can be inspired by his behaviour in order to make the world a better place. When someone is trying to take us down, we can take a step back from our egos and focus on what really matters, instead of throwing insults back and forth across some imaginary playground. When all the playground bullies can do is insult the person, not the agenda, then it becomes clear who is in the right and who is in the wrong. We’ve seen time and again how Conservative media is trying to portray Corbyn in a bad light, and we can see the desperation behind that because they’ve got nothing on him (similar to Trudeau and the Conservatives’ campaign against him: “nice hair though“). We don’t spend all our energy defending our fragile ego, but instead doing the work without letting it get in the way.

When we’re suffering the slings and arrows of those who are trying to undermine and attack us, we can let it go and focus on what’s important. What is important is the work that we are doing and the way that we live our lives. When we are able to let go of a self-centred point of view, with the “me” being all-consuming, then we broaden our perspective to encompass everyone and everything. This is compassion in its truest form.

Let the haters hate. Do the work, be true to yourself and see with the eyes of compassion. This is what makes Jeremy Corbyn Zen.