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" Live out of your imagination

not your history "

Stephen R. Covey

Thoughts on Spirituality at the Solstice

June 21st, 2011

Here is the substance of a talk I gave at a Transition Town Lewes event last night about what kind of spirituality might be emerging in the 21st Century. The idea of the evening was to stimulate thought, and encourage debate and reflection.

On Wednesday there was a lunar eclipse. Tomorrow the sun stands still. On the 1st July there is a solar eclipse. Whether or not these astronomical events influence us need not concern us now. Deep in our folk memory we sense a power in these moments. Astrologers tell us they signal change, upheaval, opportunity. We may fear change or we may embrace it, but the planets turn, life goes on, the Great Cycles continue.

These cycles move Nature and our lives through death and rebirth, through containment and release, through holding on and letting go. The seed pod tightens and hardens around its precious cargo, then it breaks and releases the new life into the waiting earth.

Here is the problem that confronts us – personally, politically, and spiritually:

We need to be held. We need containment, structure, discipline, tradition, focus, continuity, direction. But we also need release, freedom – we need to break away from all those things, to taste the Nameless Way: to experience no boundaries, no doctrines or dogmas, no hierarchy, even no direction.

Some of us resolve these apparently contradictory needs by opting for one or the other, because to hold the tension is too difficult. The tension between these two impulses can produce agony in personal relationships, tragedy in political circumstances, and in our spiritual or religious lives it confronts us with a major challenge.

In our personal lives we can feel torn by the desire for union and the desire for separation: the yearning to unite with someone and the yearning to be whole and complete in ourselves, being torn between wanting the containment of relationship and wanting the freedom of having no relationship: trapped in the dilemma of wanting to walk into and out of the room at the same time.

On the political stage this tension is most dramatically seen in the current situation in the Middle East where the tension between the tight grip of control and the desire for freedom and release is being played out in often tragic ways. This same interplay exists at the level of economics: too much control and it’s a disaster, no holding and it’s a mess.

On the spiritual stage the opposition is found in the need we can feel for the holding, containment and guidance of a defined spiritual path, rooted in tradition. We want to feel some sense of authority, in the best sense of that word. And that authority comes from tradition, structure, doctrine, and defined practice.

And yet we also yearn for liberation – to break free from labels, from specific religious affiliations, from everything that limits us and holds us.

If there is a new spirituality that is trying to be born it must reconcile these two dynamics. If we opt for the containment, the safety of the old, at its extreme we retrench into Fundamentalism. If we opt for liberation from containment and seek nourishment wherever it is to be found, at the extreme we end up feeling lost without an anchor.

Are we talking here about the Impossible Relationship – irreconcilable dynamics that are somehow destined to forever undermine our personal, political and religious lives?

The challenge is this: how can we take the tension and use it? How can it become a fulcrum rather than a ring-pass-knot we try to untangle or a trapeze we try to walk? We can find a clue as to how we might do this in a study of highly effective creative people carried out by a psychologist called Richard Coan. He found that at the heart of a range of abilities they possessed, lay the ability to move between two apparently contradictory modes of being. These people were able to be very open: freeing themselves of restrictions and limitations by having open hearts and open minds. But they were also capable of being highly focused, creating specific boundaries and objectives in a precise and determined way.

Here of course we have the two great dynamics: Yin and Yang, or in western symbology, the chalice and the blade, Excalibur and the grail. The chalice opens out in ever-widening circles to encompass all creation, the sword defines and protects.

The effectively creative person is able to let go, to break free of the limitations of prejudice, of definitions, of certainty; but they are also able to work with the container they have chosen: the limitations of their media.

So within creativity we can say that the trick is to learn how to move, as if in a dance embodying containment and release, between these two modes of being, effortlessly producing great works of art and beauty. How easy to say, how difficult in practice!

But to me this strongly suggests a way forward, and we can ask ourselves how we can apply this understanding to the emerging new spirituality, or perhaps less ambitiously, to our own spiritual lives: accepting our need for containment, for tradition, for structure, and a the same time recognising our need for liberation and the unbounded.

And when it comes to the question of what structure, when the old structures no longer seem to hold us, I would just like to suggest one idea. The same principle of two apparently irreconcilable forces interacting together may also apply at the level of structure too. What if we took two apparently very different, and even sometimes antagonistic, structures – the two pillars of our spiritual heritage here, the Pagan and the Christian  – and let them meet? The result might mean nothing, it might be explosive or tedious, or it might – it just might – give birth to something new.

Eclipses, the Solstice and a ‘Millennial Moment’

June 20th, 2011

On Wednesday there was a lunar eclipse, blood-red because of the Chilean volcano eruption. Tomorrow is the solstice. On 1st July there is a solar eclipse. A lot of powerful stuff is happening astrologically and there is much on the net about it, including many video clips. Here are two I’ve found that are amongst the clearest. The first on the eclipses, and what John Wadsworth here describes as a ‘Millennial Moment’ on 1st July. The second focuses on the solstice. His websites are Kairos Astrology and The Alchemical Journey.

The Oak Boulder

June 17th, 2011

Following on from the last post, here is another wonderful poem by Claire Dewey about David Nash’s boulder of oak…

“Oak Boulder “ Last Seen 2003

( A Poetic Tribute to David Nash’s 25 Years Art Project 1978 – 2003 Filming the journey of an oak boulder from North Wales to the sea)

All grown and ready,

Roots driven into riven earth,

You are scoop and ball, hauled, hewn.

An oaken boulder blundering and

Bowling the waterways in a slow tumble.

You navigate the mumbling spout and sputter

With a nod and wink.

This is unexpected.

The turn and twirl tugs at your raw surfaces

A tidal trail, a wooden snail.

Sucked in silt and stuck ashore.

Time passes, winds freshen,

You rock and roll once more.

Savouring the salt flats

The tang and taste of gritty shallows.

Rivulets of rushing jade and silver sheen

Tip and tilt you like a loaded dice.

This season sees you bobbing at dawn

Cocky as a cork and wearing an emerald shawl.

You warm to the tune of the wet and the wild.

Riding the estuaries with a stately glide,

You pause to rest on a ridge of stippled sand –

Sniff out the missing contours of the land.

Drunken dances dunk you in the splatter and splash

Of deepening channels – toss you aside.

Watery arms, sinuous with long lush weed, invite, embrace.

Rest is sweet beneath the cool cavern of a bridge.

Cattle cross, splash, graze. The heat is stifling.

Months mellow and corrugate your face.

You are a galleon now sailing high atop the rolling surf.

A solitude of snow temporarily halts your travels.

A fine artery floods and swells in glassy tubular

Curls, cresting the world with ice .

What a pudding you make!

Thaw and melt water trickle, softly whisper of wild waves –

Promise a passage on the open seas.

Claire Dewey

The Journey

June 17th, 2011

Oak’s qualities of endurance and strength are illustrated in a remarkable way in David Nash’s 25 year long art project Wooden Boulder. Back in 1978, Nash was given access to a felled oak from which he carved several sculptures. One of these was a giant oak ball which Nash attempted to transport via the nearby stream. In the process the ball became lodged down a water slide. This moment of frustration and obstacle signalled the birth of an artwork that encapsulates both patience and obsession. Roger Deakin writes about the artwork’s accidental beginnings in his wonderful book Wildwood:

At first it looked like a problem until, thinking it over in a Zen frame of mind, Nash realised it was an opportunity, a happy accident that would transform the work by enabling him to release it back to nature: to shed it like a leaf. He would let it go its own way and be a rock in a stream, with water playing about it, freezing to it, papering it with autumn leaves. From that moment on, it became ‘Wooden Boulder’, a new kind of work with its own independent life, its own story and the sculptor as its biographer.

Nash spent the next twenty five years tracking, sketching and photographing the boulder’s slow and unpredictable journey down a Welsh river to the ocean. Quite often the boulder would simply disappear and Nash would be compelled to put up wanted posters! It eventually found its way to the estuary and was last seen in 2003. Deakin writes,

I sense that perhaps ‘Wooden Boulder’ has become an alter ego for Nash: its unfolding story part of his life, the restless thing itself an embodiment of his soul. Something about it reminds me of the Irish story Sweeney Astray as told by Seamus Heaney. Sweeney, a poet king, is exiled, naked, into the wild, turned into a bird, flies about Ireland, lives in trees and roosts in the ivy, eating watercress and drinking from the rivers. There is a mythic feel to the story of ‘Wooden Boulder’. An artist turns a tree into a boulder, which miraculously floats and swims its way over many years towards the sea, where it rolls over like a seal and seems to disappear.

Nash’s boulder paradoxically speaks of both the transient and the eternal nature of being; the unpredictable passage of our life journeys; each of us propelled by the certain but often seemingly capricious nature of changing currents and landscapes. In our deepest selves we are at peace in that restless place, if we can allow ourselves to surrender to it. It carries us and shapes us. Nash’s extraordinary boulder reminds us we are a part of something that is mysteriously and magically unfolding; that we are creatures moved to search and yearn, only to ultimately find we are already home.

The Faithful Gardener

June 15th, 2011

What is this faithful process of spirit and seed that touches empty ground and makes it rich again? Its greater workings I cannot claim to understand. I only know that in its care, what had seemed dead is dead no longer, what had seemed lost, is no longer lost, that which some had claimed impossible, is made clearly possible, and what ground is fallow is only resting – resting and waiting for the blessed seed to arrive on the wind with all Godspeed. And it will.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes , The Faithful Gardener

Become a Fool for Forests

June 7th, 2011

The Indian government wants to mine coal in the last remaining forests in central and eastern India. This will displace millions of people and much wildlife dependent on these forests. The forests can be kept safe and our power needs can be met with energy efficiency and clean renewable energy.

Those trying to keep these forests safe are being called foolish by India’s ‘smart government’. If they have their way, they’ll clear all our forests. We can’t let that happen. So let’s be foolish and save these forests.

Become a Fool for Forests and join the movement to save India’s forests.

The Body of the Goddess

June 6th, 2011

Three posts back prompted this comment from Maria: ‘How beautiful! The stars remind me of the ones that are on the Egyptian Goddess Nut’s body, the sun and moon contained within her. Such a wonderful thought to think that this beautiful image lay hidden. Spiritual practice – staying open – is definitely the process of removing the whitewash. We can paint over the magic, can’t we, and lose that connection? A comforting thought to think that it is always there to be rediscovered, even if we can’t see it…’

Well, funnily enough the analogy of the Goddess’ body is very apt, because in that same crypt at Chartres they have recently uncovered this wall painting:

A Serious Thurible

June 6th, 2011

You thought you could swing a mean thurible? Think again! For those in the UK can you imagine what a local Health & Safety officer would say?

Dr Space Toad, Alain Stivell & the Moody Blues

June 6th, 2011

Paul Francis, then known as Jean Paul Dionysus, at the time he played at Druid grove meetings in London

Every so often, as we hurtle through the Space-Time Continuum we bump into old friends we haven’t seen for years. The internet has of course increased the likelihood of these asteroid collisions hugely – so with great delight Dr Space Toad and I have collided after no contact for perhaps twenty years.

Dr SpaceToad, aka Paul Francis the Troubador, used to join us for Druid grove meetings back in the late eighties, and would play for us his song ‘The Sailor and the Magician’ inspired by druid ceremony. He contacted me recently to let me know he’s planning to include the song in a new album due out soon, but in the meanwhile his latest album ‘Time Machine’ is out, and available on Amazon and CD Baby. Paul writes:  “It took years to build the Time Machine: A Psychedelic voyage through the Universe from planet to planet in a Time Machine with Dr Space Toad and his unusual crew: Captain Sensible, Captain Barrington White and Monty the Oxymoron, using the original plans for Galileo’s Pendulum Clock as a guide.” Recommended if you like Pink Floyd, Arthur Brown and the Doors, you can sample the album through this link. I particularly like ‘It’s Not Unusual to be Unusual’ – Tom Jones really letting his hair down this time!

More news when Paul’s next album with the druid song comes out. Meanwhile a piece of musical history: recently I was staying with Myrdhin the Breton harpist, a well-known Druid and author of several books on Druidry. I had met both him and Alain Stivell back in the 1970s when Ross Nichols had invited them over on separate occasions to play at events for The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids. Myrdhin told me that it was on that visit to London that Alain Stivell felt his career took off, since after the Order event he went to a pub where the Moody Blues were playing. He ended up joining in with them on stage…