Archive for 4 October 2020

The Other Three Corners

[Part One]

Getting into nature if you can at all will go far to restoring balance and harmony. It can just set things right. For that reason I’ve illustrated this post with images from a recent walk my wife and I took along the Pinnacle Trail, part of a 35-mile (56 km) community-built system of trails in our area here in southern Vermont. With closures because of the virus, we had to walk 2 miles from where we parked in a neighbor’s drive in order to reach the trail-head. During the four-hour, six-mile hike we met just three other people.

Pinnacle signpost 1/4 of the way along the trail.

One thing that distinguishes much of Druidry — or at least many Druids, which isn’t always the same thing — is a way of responding to times of stress and crisis. I should be more accurate: deploying a widened range of ways to respond. Of course the same holds true of any spiritual path. The widening comes about through direct experience, and through something else we often forget: We’ve survived before. We can do it again. And maybe even — this time — thrive.

[When I first encountered Old English, some decades ago now, one particular proverb stuck with me: Þæs ofereode — þisses swa mæg. It appears as the refrain in a poem called “Deor“, and means literally, ‘That’s passed over; so can this’. We run into modern versions of it everywhere: Takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’ goes one example. When the going gets tough … (you know the rest) is another.

Yes, I’ll admit that like you sometimes I want to reach through the phone or computer screen and throttle the blithely casual writers who toss such sayings about, as if words alone can fix things, as if I never would have thought of courage or persistence, or decided to push on without such helpful reminders, but would have resigned myself to despair and conveniently expired on the spot.

Of course, invocations of fortitude and perseverance have their place. Our ancestors doubtless knew their own variations on such themes, and probably felt much the same way about overusing them. We might consider what the present love of memes and gifs with inspiring (or despairing) sayings has to tell us about our capacity to hold larger and smaller goals and energies in our consciousness in times of change like this one. Survival first happens spiritually, and then our bodies follow.]

Check out Druid forums online and it’s our individual uniqueness that stands out: a remedy or strategy that sometimes works for one works wonderfully for another person and not at all for a third. And that’s no surprise. The tree in your front yard, the same species as the one down the road, still grows in its own way, with a unique spread of branches, because your yard is different, unique in its light and shadow, in any neighbouring trees and buildings that surround it, in rainfall and earth, and in any care or pruning that land-keepers think to give it.

A Druid respect for uniqueness feels almost built in to our inescapable experience of encounter in nature. Bear or bug or beech or bass, no matter the species, right now it’s the individual in front of me that matters. Bear-in-the-abstract isn’t this bear, plumping itself on fruit in preparation for hibernating, or peering at me quizzically from across the meadow, or as surprised as I am when we meet in the woods behind our house.

So when something like this “one corner out of four” quotation courtesy of an old Wisdom-Teacher like Confucius plops down in front of me, I may resort to a different tool-kit than you will in my response. And that’s a good thing.

100-million year old bedrock exposed along the trail

A dear friend uses an “inventory of the bodies” technique when life turns hard. Like all of us do, she uses a particular map of reality to clarify experience. Her map divides the human self into five parts: physical, astral, causal, mental and soul. Knowing where events and experiences are clustering is a step toward working with their energies. Her partner often works with her map as a couple’s meditation, checking in with her and asking: “How’s your physical body? How are your emotions? What memories are stirring?” with pauses between each gentle inquiry.

Whatever my own map, just the act of stepping back and looking and listening to the movements of experience across my consciousness can bring needed clarity. If I can track a sour mood to a morning back-ache or to an uncomfortable memory surfacing, I’m halfway toward taking responsibility for my state of consciousness. Literally — my ability to respond, rather than merely react. It’s another practice, which most often means recognizing where my attention is right now, and then deciding if that’s where I want it. Likewise with a positive state — what does it empower me to do?

Yes, much may well lie beyond my control. (Longing for control is another issue to explore. I need only look at today’s headlines to see power-plays in abundance, with so many centers of power — people and institutions, spirits and egregores — demanding my attention and assent to nourish them. There’s a reason aboriginal peoples speak of “soul retrieval” — how often do I give it away?) But where my attention rests, and how I’m attending, are two potent keys for change and transformation. To echo the previous post, if I’m tired of the same old story, I can turn some pages. Like all practices, this one takes time, but I can (1) start right now, (2) start small, and (3) keep going.

stump near the Pinnacle ridgeline

There’s a triad that lies close to the core of much that I value in this life: timing, size and continuity. Size matters, it’s true, but most things that matter to me aren’t the big ones that roll in just a few times in any life, but the small daily experiences of joy, wonder, love. That’s mostly what I have to build on, or dismiss, each day. And, my friends, so do you. A practice of once during one day has an effect that’s usually small. But it’s a start. Make it small enough that’s it’s too easy not to do. Then keep going. Check in after a week. Then a month. A year, and then a life, and you will see changes, guaranteed. In the end, we can prove it to ourselves by the doing of it.

We’ve been conditioned, it’s true, for astonishment. Movies market it. Think for a moment what a “blockbuster” is designed to bust. (The military imagery continues in expressions like “blowing my mind”. Unless I’m so stiff and rigid I need such explosions, rather than blowing it, let me collect and assemble the pieces.) Love stories trade on astonishment, and every advertiser promises a piece of it, if I only buy buy buy. Religions depend on it, too — if promises of joy and salvation grow old, there’s always hell and damnation for the lurid thrills they offer.

Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” offered hell as entertainment. Up to a point, a superficial reading of Dante’s Inferno offers the same thing. Firsthand accounts of Edwards’ preaching report people shrieking with fear, even as they lapped it up. We might call it disaster porn — a version of the same thing promised by both sides in the partisan charade that’s taking place in the U.S. right now. We deny magic, even as we live half- or wholly be-spelled and enchanted by others every single day of our lives. Time to exercise some of our own craft on our lives, even if it’s just to explore what happens with our particular flavor of magic. It will fit us better than any one’s, because it comes from us. Let us surprise ourselves for once. Then make it a habit.

“Follow the Yellow-Leaf Road”

In that original quotation, it’s true, Confucius seems unconcerned. He seeks willing students — but then who doesn’t? All he’s both offering and asking from us is one corner — 25% — a flash of recognition that what he’s offering has value, that it might be worth a try. Twenty-five percent is a decent-sized sample, a good taste of the merchandise. It’s taking the car for a test-drive, looking under the hood, checking the under-carriage for rust, kicking the tires, and peering down the exterior for tell-tale dents and ripples in the fenders.

Many of us are already operating above 25%, give or take. Given that percentage, our lives can resemble a baseball game, a few home runs along with more than a fair share of strikes and fouls. “Two out of three ain’t bad” goes the saying, but one out of three is already a very respectable baseball average.

A lot of what we need is already in place, waiting to be activated. You can feel that from time to time, if you’re anything like me, in the mortal restlessness that creeps up on you. Some of the time, we really do “get it”. Moments of clarity illuminate the outlines of the path. Glimmers, snatches, fragments. We may lose sight of it again for a while, a month or a decade or — gods help us — an entire life. (“Better luck next time” at that point is just cruel).

All of this is — or can be — useful data, material for making a change, spending time with the pieces till they form a recognizable outline we can understand. We’ve done much of the necessary work already, or we wouldn’t even know this much.

Together with the inertia inherent human affairs that can seem at times like “malevolent forces out to get us”, and less dramatically as “one step forward and two steps back” is a parallel protection from “going off half-cocked, on a wild goose-chase”, etc. These old proverbs and expressions are both useful cautions and reminders of the status-quo mindset.

So let us meld them into a missing whole. Together — the synthesis, the third element of the triad that begins with thesis and antithesis, joy and sorrow, argument and counter-argument — they point toward a path that moves with a rocking motion, a rhythm that draws from both, as one way forward. Try it out — you’ll recognize it when you do. It’s the rhythm of waves, of horseback-riding, of sleep and waking, death and birth, of sex — the movement of spirit in these worlds of time and space and matter, the Old Magic always waiting for a consciousness (yours! mine!) to activate it and deploy it to make new forms of possibility and joy and love.

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Mist rolling in around the 50-mile view from the Pinnacle Ridge.

Posted 4 October 2020 by adruidway in Confucius, Druidry, spiritual practice

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