Archive for the ‘tools’ Category

Goddess and Human

As editor of a collection of essays, The Rebirth of Druidry, OBOD‘s Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm attempts to characterize something of the appeal of the spirit of Druidry in human terms.  I quote his article at length because in its effect it is all of a piece, and because it provides a suitable introduction to some things I want to say about the Goddess:

Druidry is the perfect lover. You fall in love with her so easily because she is so romantic.  She whispers to you of the magic and mystery of the turning stars and seasons.  She loves trees and Nature above all things, and you yearn for these too.  She tells you stories of Gods and Goddesses, the Otherworld and fairies, dragons and giants.  She promises secret lore — of sacred trees and animals, of herbs and plants.  She points deep into the past, and ahead towards a future which is lived in harmony with the natural world.   But just when you are convinced you will marry her, because she is so beautiful, so tantalizing, so romantic, she turns around and there she is, with rotten teeth and hideous face, cackling and shrieking at your naivety.  And she disappears, leaving you with just her tattered cloak, made up of a few strands:  some lines from the classical authors, whose accounts are probably inaccurate anyway, a few inferences drawn from linguistic and archaeological research, which could be wrong, with the rest of the cloth woven from material written from the eighteenth century onwards, replete with speculation, forgery and fantasy.

You feel a fool.  You don’t tell your friends about your lover.  You feel tricked and defrauded, and decide to follow something more authentic, more established, more substantial — like Buddhism, or Christianity, or Sufism, or Taoism — something serious.  But then you go out walking.  You follow the old trackways, you come to the old places.  You see the chalk gods and stone circles.  You pause and open yourself to the Land, and there She is again.  But this time she is even more enchanting because you can see that she is not just a beautiful woman, full of romance and seduction, you can see that she is also a wise woman, who will provoke as well as seduce you, who will make you think as well as make you feel.  And then you suddenly know why she has been the object of fascination for so many through the ages.  She is the Muse, the Goddess behind Druidry, the bestower of Awen, of inspiration.

Obviously the imagery here from a male author conveys part of how a man may first encounter the “Goddess behind Druidry”; it may not appeal to women, who find their own powerful ways of connecting with Her.  In mythic terms, however, this account very much reflects the changeability of the Goddess — what has inaccurately been called her fickleness, and which has caused many accustomed to meeting deity in a single, invariant form to confuse variety with unreliability or untrustworthiness.  Westerners in particular have largely been cut off from experience with aspectual deity, which the Goddess so clearly manifests.  Rather than manifesting a loving and compassionate presence, “[t]he deity may appear in wrathful or challenging forms, but these should not be considered hostile.  She is the kernel of truth at the heart of everything, and if she appears in challenging forms to you, look more deeply, considering why this may be so,” suggests Caitlin Matthews in her slim but potent book, The Elements of the Goddess.  “Many of those who venerate the Goddess are unhappy with her supposedly dark aspects because they associate ‘dark’ with ‘evil.’  In order to save her child about to do something dangerous or silly, a mother will get angry, shout or scream, but this doesn’t mean to say she loves her child any less.”

My first encounter with the Goddess came unbidden, unsought, when I was 25.  (You need to know: I’m not especially sensitive  or psychic.  Friends who are say anyone who wants to reach me has to raise quite a ruckus to get my attention. If you’d asked me then I’d say — still would probably, even today — that half of what people experience in such situations is imagination.  But now by “imagination” I mean something considerably larger and more potent than I did then.  More about that later.) It was a frosty autumn day, and I was wandering the fields and scattered woods of a farm my father had recently bought in western New York, south of Rochester.  I paused in a swampy grove of trees, with several fallen and decaying trunks to sit on.  A mood or atmosphere of autumn pervaded the place, almost palpable.  The air lay perfectly still.  The musty-sweet smell of dried dead leaves filled the air, along with a tang of rot and manure from a nearby field, and a hint of woodsmoke.  Over the hills from a distance came the faint roar of some town maintenance vehicle — they were always patching roads in the area.  But distant sounds simply deepened the stillness by contrast.  As this meditative silence spread and enveloped me, I became aware of a presence that filled the grove and towered over me, fifty, sixty feet tall.  Immense.  One face of the Goddess. Conscious encounter.  Her.

She didn’t knock me on my ass, though that might have been useful too, given how dense I can be.  But though I describe it here in mild enough terms, the experience was unforgettable, not for any one detail, but for its undeniable — and familiar — quality.  This was someone I knew.  Not someone or something alien, or to be feared, or a matter of belief, any more than I need to believe in the tree-trunk I sat on.  It was like finding a limb which, when you found it, you knew had always been a part of you all along.  You just hadn’t been aware of it.  As if it had been asleep, but for its waking you finally twitched a muscle in it, and in feeling it respond you felt it.

So what’s the big deal, you say?  “He met the Goddess, in some ways it was an anticlimax though also somehow memorable, he got over it, it was years ago.  So?”

A year later I was in the throes of my first love affair (can anyone say “late bloomer”?), a tumultuous relationship in which I did get knocked on my ass.  Among all the other things this Goddess encounter was, it was preparation, or warning.  I needed greater emotional experience, insight, maturity.  I was about to get it.

In between the divine and human realms is an archetypal one — a place, often, of dream and vision, and the idealized images of Others for men and women which “haunt our imagination and often make our love-lives incredibly tortuous until we realize that these daimons will never become physical realities.  They are messengers between the divine realms and the human levels of our experience” (Matthews, 13).  This was part of what I needed to learn firsthand. No book knowledge this time.  It was an initiation of its own.

So this fall at OBOD’s East Coast Gathering, in a meditation involving an encounter with the Goddess in her guise as Cerridwen, I felt a surge of panic — again.  “Cerridwen is bad. She tricked Gwion Bach in the old Welsh tale.” But it was old programming.  Incomplete knowledge.  Fear of that “fickleness”  I mentioned earlier.  “The old, outworn, dualistic concept of the Goddess as cruel and capricious must be viewed for what it is:  a reflection of our shadow-side, a terrible polarization of social responsibility with which women have been burdened as a sex” (Matthews, 24).   But now I had more tools to begin to deal with it.  At Samhain I did specific work with the Goddess.  I needed to.  Is it any wonder I also spent 15 years working in a freshman girls dorm as a house parent?  Training up close and personal.  “The Goddess stands at the heart of life, death and further existence and she will assume the forms which are most appropriate in her dealings with our world” (Matthews, 24).  Or as a teacher in the other path I follow related, when he talked about his own experiences with inner and outer realities, “They had to get me to stop bowing every time they appeared, so they could actually work with me and get some work out of me.”

Matthews continues, in ways particularly useful for a male bard like me.  “Men experience the Goddess through their creative side.  She makes manifest their ideas by animating their dormant creativity.  There is a strong sense of ebb and flow about these energies which give men an experience of the cyclical nature of the feminine menstrual cycle.   This kind of relationship is rarely recognized for what it is, yet all men can discover and welcome this experience.  Although the effect of a Goddess upon a man is less immediately physical than in a woman, it is nonetheless potent” (15).

There is much misunderstanding of gender and sexuality, and what constitutes the self and its connection to the world, perhaps nowhere more so than in the West, with its addiction to pornography, its fear of homosexuality, its violence against women, and its frequent indifference to children.  I’ll let Matthews have her last word here.  “Every human being is a child of the Goddess … The way of the Goddess is one of natural law and natural wisdom … It is primarily the people of the West who are orphans of the Goddess.  The social and political reasons for this desolation have been documented in many books … Both women and men need to find their Mother, relating to her and her creation in fresh and balanced ways, for every one of us needs to drink of her wisdom and realign ourselves with her natural laws.”  This is not a matter of belief but of incarnation — our own — to live fully, gratefully and passionately in this world, until we leave it.

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Nano update time.  Is it any wonder, in light of this post, that I’m writing about a succubus?!  And sympathetically — as a main character?!  Must be some sort of assignment from the Goddess.  Further training.  God knows if it’s publishable.  (Goddess may know, but if she does, she ain’t tellin’.)  Reached 17,804 words:  over 1/3 of the way there.  Need to hit 20,000 today to be fully caught up, including today’s work.  Should be able to do it.  Major scene yesterday, in which Alza connected with the man she needs for her magical work, showed him her nature in a brief feed and reversal of energies to restore him, bypassing the mental level altogether, where the idea of a succubus would have completely flipped him, and left him with a medallion magically linked to her — ongoing physical contact to reinforce the dynamic.  The resulting reactions when he deals mentally and emotionally with what he already knows will be interesting to capture, but the heavy lifting for that scene is done.

I’d been including more fire imagery in description and action, since Alza’s succubus nature seemed increasingly to resemble that of a fire demon.  And then, as a break yesterday, doing some research on demons and succubi in other cultures, I happened on this quotation from the Qur’an:  “And the jinn, We created aforetime from the smokeless flame of fire” (Al-Hijr, 15:27).  And in an email yesterday from the university where I’m taking a seminar, advertising a weekend workshop for men:  “FRIDAY, 11/11/11 – SUNDAY, 11/13/11 – ON THE EDGE OF FIRE:  A MEN’S SPIRITUALITY RETREAT.” Right between the eyes — the kind of serendipity and synchronicity and happy accident one hopes for in writing.  So I’m on some kind of track.  I’m just still discovering what it is.  And that’s much of the deep pleasure of this verbal marathon.

Living in Real Worlds

“Don’t get me wrong, I like your reality; it’s way more interesting than mine. It’s just that mine seems to be the one everyone else is in.” Courtesy of

When I was in my teens, conversations with my mother about the future usually ended with her saying, “You have to live in the real world.”  This usually amused me, and sometimes annoyed me.  How little I knew at the time that her statement was loaded, that stuff was hanging off it and dripping into the reality overflow collection vat at the bottom of the psychic stairs.

1) She never once claimed that she lived in a real world.  But I had to.  Why was this?  The question isn’t as naive as it sounds.  And how could she tell I wasn’t already in the — or a — real world?  “It takes one to know one,” as we used to say. What was the give-away, I wonder?

2) Where did the compulsion to live in a real world come from?  Only from parents?  “You have to live there.”  Funny — if I hadn’t been living there, then I’d already disproved such a claim.  I didn’t have to live there, which was clear because I’d been living someplace else.  But she wanted me too.  Probably “for my own good,” which is along the lines of “this hurts me more than it hurts you.” (To their credit, my parents never said that to me.)

3) What is a real world?  How do you tell the difference between a real and an unreal world?  Is there more than one world, as this statement implies?  Sure seems like it. Then what’s the other world like?  How did she know?  And how did she decide or discover that this one is more real?  Simple majority vote?  “We live in this world, you — a single person — live in that one.  We win.”

4) Is it a whole world?  (Sometimes life seems like jumping from one to another of a subset of all possible worlds.)  There could be and probably are worlds far better, worse, uglier, stranger and more comfortable than this one.  Then again, maybe not.

It feels like we do live in several worlds, all of them real on their own terms.  Like we shift worlds all day long, moving from one to another with such ease we forget, we don’t notice, we assume reality is unitive and discrete, rather than a series of interpenetrating planes and grades and places.  Waking.  Fully awake.  Deeply focused.  Spacing in front of a video.  Lost in music.  Making love.  Eating.  Daydreaming.  Sleeping.  Dreaming. Tell me those are all identical states of consciousness, identical worlds!  I’ve had flying dreams, felt the wind rushing by around me.  Last I looked, trying to fly in this world lands you six feet under, or heavily medicated.

Judy Cannato in her book Radical Amazement observes that it’s always time for transformation.  To delay just makes the need for change more imperative and harder to ignore (though we’re pretty good at that).  Our widespread sense of dis-ease and general “stuckness” and malaise and dis-spiritedness arise from discernible causes and have discernible solutions:

Our attitudes and behaviors are rooted in a way of thinking that is no longer reflective of the real.  So much of the time we are stuck in the dualistic, hierarchical, either-or thinking that has created the very problems that threaten us.  We are not mechanisms with separate parts, but interconnected holons that are mutually dependent.  Yet far too often we cling to the individualism and dysfunctional systems that have “parented” us, molding obedient offspring carrying on the “family” tradition in a way that continues to devastate all life, others’ as well as our own.  Shifting to a new paradigm takes commitment and hard work.  It requires gut-wrenching honesty and the willingness to give up fear-filled control.  We al know what a difficult undertaking this is, but we are capable of the challenge and perhaps more ready than we think. (14)

For me one key here is that this is inner work as much as anything else.  I can start it, and I can start working on myself.  In fact, that’s the only place any of us will find a lasting and satisfying solution.  “Be the change you wish to see in the world” is not wishful thinking or unrealistic.  It’s in the copy of Life: An Owner’s Manual that was tied to my umbilical cord when I dropped in, a little over five decades ago.  Have you checked your copy recently?

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Nanorimo update!  Speaking of real and unreal:  I’ve cleared 11,000 words — over one fifth of the way there!  With 2800 words today, I’m catching up, but today’s goal is 13336, so I need to get another thousand down by day’s end to be in the ballpark and be able to catch up in another day or so.  I now find myself writing some semi-detached scenes — backstory for my FMC — Nano-speak, I learned, for “female main character.”

Her name is Alza, and she’s a Harhanu — a succubus.  Why a succubus?  I’m finding out as I write, and I’ll let you know if I arrive at a definitive answer.  Right now, though, it seems to have something to do with desire and empathy and our capacity for both deluding ourselves into disaster and enchanting ourselves into freedom and discovery. Oh, and she’s 947 years old.  But she can be really hot when she chooses.  Like when she’s hungry.  Her most recent feed was from a German tourist named Konstant.  He’s one of two humans who know her real nature.  Their relationship is reciprocal.  Sort of.  Do I believe in succubi?  I do when I’m writing Alza’s voice, when she’s draining a victim, when she searches like we all do for meaning and purpose.  In some ways she’s the most human of my characters.  Which may be a problem I’ll need to work on.

That number (of people who know her) is about to change.  She’s made an entirely accidental (hah! so she thinks!) connection with a younger man (everyone is younger when you’re 947) named Nick who she’s discovering is crucial to her plans for living. And dying. Both of which she’s seriously considering.  She’s also seduced a priest or two in her long life, and once allowed a cult to form around her.  Now she’s more interested in laughing at Cosmo and Playboy and figuring out why one human should so dominate her thoughts when she’s used to doing the dominating.  Or at least getting what she wants.  Which is what men think they’re getting from her.  OK, some of this is pretty self-indulgent.  It’s also indicative of the space you get into when you’ve been writing all day!

So how does this connect with Druidry?  Who knows?!  I started writing on Nov. 1 with the small cluster of ideas that came to me, about three days before Nanowrimo began.  You go with what you get.  Years ago I started a historical novel set in Pre-Roman Etruria.  But that’s not what came calling this time, saying “write me!”  Hence, my current work.

Look long enough

Sunlit November trees.
A scarf of woodsmoke curls between the mountains.

Look long enough at beauty, someone says.
You’ll begin to see more things as they are.

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So, Nano writing update:  was out of town at a conference yesterday, and got no writing done.  That means today’s a triple push:  tomorrow I have a class, a car appointment, and a (late) Samhain celebration with a friend, so there’ll be less time to write.  And catch up from yesterday, along with today’s 1667 words.

I’m grateful they keep coming.  You know a story is launched — and this says nothing about its quality, only about whether it’s alive for the author, at least — when characters invade your dreams and begin telling you stuff about themselves.  And while exercising this morning on our secondhand treadmill in our breezeway (45 degrees, but warmer than outside), I got another piece of plot.  Rather, more a set of questions to ask (and answer), and a couple of flashes of image-ideas.  By the end of today, I should be at least at the 10,000 word mark if I’m to stay on track.

My main character has retreated to her house in Santa Fe to take stock.  (Why Santa Fe?  I’ve no idea.  Never been there.  Would like to, yes.  Have to do some research, to see how I might use the locale.)  Now to avoid merely lengthy exposition and instead make things happen.  I might be able to get away with some flashback, dramatize bits of the past that are now relevant.  I keep picking up the stray question here and there that won’t let go, and it generates backstory — in some cases, gobs of backstory.  But no stopping to worry about whether the story should begin somewhere else.  That’s for a revision. Right now the point is to keep going, keep seeing new pieces I wouldn’t encounter any other way.  In that way it’s like any creative process.  The road rises to meet your feet as you keep walking.

Maybe you’ve had the dream version:  you’re dreaming, you come to a cliff, you’re aware enough to say, “It’s a dream — I can jump and nothing will happen!  Woo-hoo!”  So you toss yourself in complete abandon, enjoying the thrill of that reckless plunge you would never take awake, but  just as the cliff edge spins away above and behind you, you terrify yourself by asking:  what if it’s NOT a dream?!

With luck, at this point, you don’t wake yourself up, heart pounding, breathing hard.  Instead, you watch to see how you will land, and where, whether you will sprout wings and fly someplace else, etc.  In other words, you’re hungry to know what will happen next?!  Don’t let me wake up yet!

Curiosity’s one of the best tools I know.

Altar and Prayer

In her blog, Alison Leigh Lily writes beautifully about the human body as a holy thing, an altar:

So, too, my body is the altar in the nemeton [sacred grove–ADW] of my soul — that small, solid piece of world that settles down like a stone into my awareness. And that awareness in turn is carved by the spiraling torrents of the sacred world, the sun that crafts the seasons out of mud and wind, the moon that pushes the sea to its extremes, the stars that draw the eye into the great distances that yawn open between us, the deer, the jay, the badger, the rustling oak and every being and body that dances through its longing, hunger, fear, curiosity and sleep. All these things turn about the sculpted edge of my nemeton, the sanctuary my soul has made of itself, the self that calls itself “I” and reaches out into the world to touch the chaos that has given birth to it. Sitting in the center of that nemeton is my body, all surface, the appearance of skin and hair and angles and soft curves of fat and loose muscle. Like a ladder that reaches into the dark. A spine, a wellspring, a single tree, a tongue of flame. My body is the altar around which my spirit gathers itself into stillness. Not a temple, but only a simple, useful table where I sit down to do my work.

And some of the work we are called to do is to recognize that altar.  In the Bible I read, “I will go up into the altar of God” — introibo ad altare dei in Latin.  I use it as a mantra, a chant, to be mindful of the altar as a place to ascend to.  For it feels like we do actually rise up, into the body, out of thought, out of waking, out of the distractions and worries and daily obsessions, the small news that passes for important events that other people call “headlines,” but which are mostly just footnotes — out of the image and into the reality, into this body that is part of the world, not a thought or an idea or a remove from the thing itself, but the place where we experience a universe.

I strive to occupy this body, this world, as fully as I can, to be fully incarnate.  Not to forsake this great, unheralded, impossibly large opportunity to know, to dare, to will and to be silent, to listen for the voices of the Others who move all around me, chickadee at the feeder, crows scavenging a dead squirrel on the road early this morning as my wife and I drove through the dark and the fog to her weaving apprenticeship.

And Tom, who introduced himself yesterday afternoon — a neighbor, out chopping wood.  He paused from his work and called to my wife and me, walking slowly over to where we were unloading our car.  “It’s something I can still do, and it needs doing,” he said to us, as he stood before us, dressed in blue sweat pants, a gray sweatshirt, a blue hoodie, pieces of leaves and bark plastered to this clothes.  “I was just recovering  from knee surgery when I had a stroke.  And I was recovering from the stroke when I lost my job.  But I can still chop wood, as long as I don’t have to bend my legs too much.”  So I touch that friendliness, and something of the spirit in him, that brought him to our doorstep to chat in the fading afternoon light of a day in early November. Is any song more wonderful?

“Sanctuary my soul has made of itself,” Alison says — a poem, a song, a prayer for this life, this world.

“Prayer is about being hopeful,” says Sister Alice Martin. “It is not a phone call to God’s hotline. It’s not about waiting around for an answer you like, especially since sometimes the answer you’re going to get is NO!”  And she continues, “If you are going to pray, then don’t worry. And if you are going to worry, then don’t bother praying. You can’t be doing both.”  I know which one I want to choose, often as I can, prayer at this altar of my body.

How to ride an elephant

So once again I’ve signed up with National Novel Writing Month — Nanowrimo to the online community of the literarily hopeful and the creatively insane.  The goal is 1667 words per day, enough that by month’s end, you have a first draft of 50,000 words.  A decent goal, and a manageable one, provided you don’t spook yourself, or find excuses more enjoyable than writing.  Last year, working full time, I wrote 10,000 words of a novel — a solid opening week.  Then I lost it.  Teaching draws on many of the same energies as writing, and I simply didn’t have the energy to do it all.  Now, on leave and still healing, I find, a year and more out from follow-up radiation after cancer surgery two years ago this month, I’m back at it.

I’m posting this here to give myself added reason to finish this year:  peer pressure!  You’ll know just how I’m doing, because I’m letting you in on the mess and marvel of it all.

As I’ve learned repeatedly, whenever I write, I discover something worthwhile. So in one way it doesn’t matter if I “finish” because I’ll still have material to work with.  Not an excuse for not meeting the Nanowrimo challenge, but a none too shabby side benefit of committing to, and following through on, getting words on the page.

The novel I’m working on is VERY “drafty” — beyond an unusual main character, I don’t have much more than a couple of plot ideas, not enough — yet — to hang an entire novel on.  But I’m not worried.  I have an opening scene completed this morning that already introduces two characters I hadn’t anticipated. And that gave me some stuff to hang a piece of plot on that came into view as a result of the scene.  So, progress!

I’ll update you on my word count every time I post here, and let you know how it all turns out — maybe even post a couple of excerpts from time to time, as it takes shape.  Right now I’m at 676 words.  I need another thousand just to make the daily average.  So far so good!

Now to make good on the inwardness and creativity released on Samhain.  Suddenly, no surprise, I have several other things to write as well:  birthday cards to my uncle and first cousin, a thank-you note and a full length letter to colleagues, incidental email, and a monthly initiate’s report for another path I follow.

Oh, and about the elephant of the title?  Maybe it’s a symbol for writing.  Or not.  Just a title, perhaps.   Or something about memory and size and sheer bulk.  Or solidarity among writers.  Or herd instinct.  Whatever the case, since you’ve been patient, here are not one but several elephants for your pachyderm viewing pleasure:

Here‘s the URL.

Posted 1 November 2011 by adruidway in creativity, elephant, fiction, tools, writing

Gifts of Druidry

On other blogs, I’ve also looked at practices and perspectives found in many places, Druidry among them, that are forming part of new-old ways of living on earth.  The video below captures something of what I’ve found in Druidry.  It’s got a nice flute solo and some good nature images.  How were you planning to spend the next two and a half minutes, anyway?!

Questioning Our Questions

For those of us on a Druid path, Druidry comes to mean more than the pleasure most of us find outdoors under a sunny sky on a beautiful afternoon, because it has something to say to us all on dark days as well as bright ones. [For some of the ideas in the second paragraph, the quotation in the fourth, and some of the questions in the fifth and sixth, I’m indebted to an article in The Utne Reader by Larry Robinson, about the emerging field of ecopsychology.]

A range of voices — scientific, religious, societal, educational — have told us for a long time that we are individual, distinct objects in a world of other objects.  We are our bodies, and our bodies are machines — sophisticated ones, but machines nonetheless — and the problems we experience are mechanical ones:  we need tune-ups, adjustments, fixes.  We are imperfect, weak, broken, sinful, damaged by our parents, our childhoods, heredity, our own human nature or the cruelties of other people who deny us what we need.  But with the appropriate training, teaching, medication, treatment, therapy, alignment, adjustment, we can regain optimum functioning and get back “on track,” into the “grind,” the “swing of things,” the “race.”

flat rock with moss and leavesIf we look to most advertizing, we’re told that the solution to our unhappiness also lies in things.  With the right food, clothes, phone, car, drink, partner or credit card or (carefully marketed) “experience,” we ‘ll find the fulfillment we’re seeking.  The nagging malaise we feel will abate — some thing can fill it — and company X or service Y has just what we lack.  It’s quite simple.  We are things.  Our problems also lie in things. The fix is a thing; find the thing, and get fixed.

But if we dull and drug the deeper lack by treating it with the surface stimulus of a “thing,” something else happens: “when we treat only the ‘presenting problem’ and fail to address deeper existential concerns, our silence on these issues communicates that we find them insignificant.” By refusing to let the real issue emerge, we shunt it off to the side, we disguise its potency and drive it deeper.  Our “fix” just damages more, like a bad patch job when it gives way just tears a bigger hole. From such acts, whole cultures can decay. If the emperor has no clothes, and everyone follows imperial fashion instead of telling the truth, when winter comes, large numbers will get frostbitten. Such deeply embedded cultural deceptions can erupt into concrete, far-reaching physical consequences.

Thus the questions we’ve been given and told to answer are “What’s wrong with me?” and “What do I want or need?” “How can I get it?” and “Who can sell it or give it to me?” Druids acknowledge  that we must breathe and eat and drink to sustain bodily life, but pose different questions for us to consider in place of the others above:

What’s my place in the world? Not socially or economically.  We might also ask it this way: where am I–literally?  What am I connected to?  What sustains me each day?  What do I have to be grateful for?  What comes to me unasked, unsought?  How does the world around me provide air and water and food?  Who else is walking with me through the world?  What is their place in the world?  What sustains them?

I’ll discuss my own answers in a  coming post.

“Happy Hunger”

I’m picking up on Steve Schwartzman’s recent comment here for a title to this post: “happy hunger.”  We usually think of hunger as a “simple” biological drive, the body’s impulse towards food or sex or life.  Yes, as sometimes conscious beings we can override our hungers, at least up to a point, for some other purpose.  But to think of these or any hungers as “happy” I take as a prod in a good direction — a pointer, a reminder, a prompt that a shift in attention and consciousness is possible and has arrived full of benefit.

street mirrorSo what of other hungers?  A hunger for connection, a hunger for the sacred, a hunger for contact with the natural world — all of them vital hungers which we struggle to answer and fill each day.  And so many “unhappinesses” when we don’t meet these hungers — crimes and random behavior and restlessness and secondary hungers for stimulation — sugar, fat, salt, second-hand sex (porn), alcohol and drugs (to change awareness any way we can!), gossip, fits of temper, violence — these stem, I know at least in myself, from unfulfilled primary hungers, from attempts to shift consciousness out of the bland, boring, mundane, even unreal sensation of “just existing.” As if life, the most real or literally “thingly” thing we experience, could also be “unreal.”*  (Which it also is.  And that’s neither a good or bad thing, but part of the way the universe apparently works.)

Those of you familiar with psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs know that, in his schema, these other hungers, and especially the hunger for the sacred, aren’t considered the “largest” or most “immediate” ones at all.  They’re at the top of his hierarchy, most distant from Maslow’s naming of our “primary” needs for food and sex and safety.  But I’d argue that in fact the need for the sacred is our primary hunger, and that all the rest fall in line behind it.  The less we’re connected to the sacred, the more we’re just flesh machines.  Fortunately we’re always connected to some degree — that’s what being alive is.  The task is to blow the spark to fire, to nourish and feed that singular flame through and with all the others, so that eating and lovemaking and all the “daily-ness” of our lives, potentially everything, becomes sacrament, a door for the sacred to enter this instant, right here, and transform us.  It’s what Christians call the abundant life, what Zen means by satori, and what we all experience in those transcendent moments that do not last because we also live through the (potential) sacrament of time, that sweeps us ever onward to the next, the latest, the new.  A physical world can only manifest eternity as time.  And our next task is to see time our ally, to make it and to know it as a sacrament as well.  Not as endpoint — it can’t be that, in its ceaseless flow — but as ongoing opportunity for practice and reverence and worship.

So the “happy hunger” is the hunger that connects us, the hunger we recognize and welcome and honor.  As a Druid I have a tool-kit to make room for the sacred, to invite and witness it around and within me and all whom I meet, to increase its presence in my consciousness,  and then to bring more of it into my world and surroundings and atmosphere and aura and presence, so that others may encounter it, too, and access it in their own lives.  We all have access points to many ways to do the same thing.  The tools aren’t what’s lacking.  It’s the courage and love and trust and responsibility to make use of them for our own good, for the good of the whole.  This is my prayer and my goal for practice, my ritual and my path.  May you strive and realize, delight and rejoice, as you discover and find your own.

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*”real,” from Latin re-alis, “real, thingly,” from re-s, “thing, matter, affair.”  Thus the “real” means simply whatever is a “thing,” and so the “unreal” is the realm where distinct “things” disappear, where there is a whole, a network, an interplay, an eco-system, and not a collection of separate things to be counted — the “real” is whatever we can count, or assign a number to.  And so then of course we turn around and protest that we’re not just numbers to be counted, we’re not just statistics, or collateral damage, we “matter” (odd use of the “material” to point to the sacred!).  Here is our recognition that the spark in us is sacred, that it knows more that “this.”

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