There’s always work to do on yourself and in the world – ways to improve, to heal, to change. But one of the gifts a spiritual approach to life can give us is the recognition, and hopefully the experience, that at the deepest level, all is well – you are ok – there’s nowhere to go, nothing to do, because you’ve already arrived. When this idea works for us, there can be a fantastic sense of relief: the constant striving for improvement and transformation ceases for a while. It’s like sensing all your muscles relaxing deeply when you didn’t even know you were that tense. After bathing in that ‘Heaven Within’, at some time you switch to feeling that something needs ameliorating: the state of the world, the state of your emotions, or perhaps just the state of your hair. Whatever it is, your focus changes and here we go again: our life of moving and thinking and doing in the world. This is normal. The art of learning how to live well, as far as I see it, is to encourage that sense of sinking down into a state of okayness, of ‘good-enoughness’, of not needing to get something, whether an idea, a feeling or an object, and to do this as often as feels helpful to us. This is the value of meditation because it can get us to that state of awareness.
I have been asked to contribute to a book that explores Britain’s relationship to Europe that will be published at Samhain, with all profits going to refugee charities. It will be called ‘A Love Letter to Europe’ and published by Hodder & Co. Here is my contribution:
Love seems to work best when we cannot fully understand what is going on – that delicious sense of mystery, of irrationality. My falling in love with Sofia was like that – drawn to the shabby chic of the buildings, the complete lack of ‘customer care’, the simplicity of the food, the warmth of the people once you gained their trust. And from that first visit in 1974 the love grew, and I would go every spring, when the cherry blossom filled the streets, and Mt Vitosha shone white with snow on the horizon. And I would go with my friends on the ski lift up on to the mountain and look down on the city, or I would sit in the crypt of the Alexander Nevsky cathedral bathing in the golden glow of its icons.
It was all impossibly ‘Other’ – so near to Europe and yet so different: the Iron Curtain, the sullen policemen, the stories of life under the dictator Todor Zhivkov. Drawn to this strangeness, flirting with learning the language, even with eventually living there, I got closer to a world of people yearning for Western freedoms, but also often loyal to their Russian friends who had saved them from 600 years of Turkish domination.
The darkness of this world that I had been enjoying as a visitor, amused and intrigued by its otherness, reared its head brutally when a friend was suddenly arrested in the summer of 1981. Months later, the doorbell of his apartment rang, and his wife and daughter were handed his clothes by a soldier. On the top of this neatly folded pile was one bullet, the one that had been used to execute him as a ‘traitor’.
At that time it seemed impossible that the regime in Bulgaria would ever change. But it did, in 1989, and since 2007 it has been a member of the European Union – not freed of all its problems, but freed of the repression of a regime that killed its detractors.
The Bulgarians have a long tradition of mysticism. It was here that the Bogomils, precursors of the Cathars, challenged the theology of Constantinople. It is in its southern mountains that the ancient city of Perperikon, the ‘Machu Picchu of Europe’, lays claim to being the legendary Oracle of Dionysus. And still today the Bulgarians’ passion for the mystical can be found in their love of another kind of oracle: reading the coffee grounds.
And so, when I drink a Turkish coffee on the streets of Sofia, and eat a banitsa – a national delicacy, a sort of croissant made with feta – I can look up at the cherry blossom and further on to the snow on Mt Vitosha, and still enjoy the uniqueness, the otherness of this place. But I can also do something I couldn’t do before: I can enjoy the feeling that the people here are at last free, and are part of the wider community that is Europe today. And I can look down into the coffee grounds in my empty cup and try to divine the future of my own divided country, caught as it is between dreams of past greatness and the fear of irrevocable loss.
The house of ‘Brother Boris’ on Boulevard Vitosha, where I used to stay in Sofia.
There is still time to book your place on the fabulous Wild Women Retreat Autumn Gathering! Details below:
This November, join the Wild Women Retreats sisterhood and deep-feminine activist Rooh Star to get earthy. In the evening of the year, energy returns to the hidden places – where it continues to nourish and transform from the depths. At this time we choose to honour the ground, our planet, and the cycles that sustain us.
Through songs, soil, celebration, and ceremony we will share a day of connection with spirit, self and community.
Tickets are £50 per person and include welcome refreshments, and a percentage of ticket sales is donated to the Bursary Fund. To get yours, contact us at email@example.com www.wildwomenretreats.co.uk
We are thrilled to welcome ‘The Hobbit Priestess’ Rooh Star as our special guest. Rooh says…
“To my wild women sisters , a little about myself………I’m a hedge dweller, living on the wild edges, living in community , in (mostly) self built Hobbity homes. I’ve turned aside from the well worn path and found my own way, a way blessed by nettles and silvery mugwort, ancient oak trees and blooming hawthorns. This path has taken me wandering through England with a handcart, dedicating myself to Love and the Earth, tickling riot cops with feather dusters, starting an oﬀ grid community, defying a judge and getting sent to Holloway prison, building a turf roof roundhouse and living in a cider barrel. All the while I’ve been unpicking the bad spell of patriarchy that winds through my body, patching back together the pieces of my tattered heart and remembering how to love myself and my woman’s body. At present I’m living in a small low impact community in South Devon, dreaming of more travelling adventures and learning how to pull a wagon with my handsome moustached pony Winston. Along my way I’ve been writing songs , for pleasure , for medicine and for remembering. I’m excited to be sharing some of these songs with you, along with tales from my journey.’
As the weather changes to Autumn and the news is often gloomy, every so often Steph & I need to watch a feel-good movie that doesn’t tax the nerves. Last night we really enjoyed This Beautiful Fantastic. Sure you could criticise it for being about privileged people and perhaps for romanticising being OCD, but the colour, the humour and the magical elements in it make it a very pleasing film to watch. And we’re looking forward to seeing Blinded by the Light when it comes out soon. Here are the trailers for them:
Here we explore together the first principle in the triad: “”Three sources of comfort: knowledge of the Divine Origin of all Creation, inspiration in the teachings of mystics and sages, support in the fellowship of like-minded souls.”
This week we continue our exploration of the triad “Three sources of comfort: knowledge of the Divine Origin of all Creation, inspiration in the teachings of mystics and sages, support in the fellowship of like-minded souls.” Last week we looked at the support community can offer us, today we’ll look at how teachings can guide and comfort us in these turbulent times.
Being inspired and uplifted by spiritual teachings may be incorrectly interpreted by some as taking a position of passivity: the teaching or teacher is ‘top dog’ and the taught is ‘underdog’ in Gestalt terms; or the teacher is the parent, the taught the child. While that may be the case in certain contexts, spiritual teachings – I believe – are designed to educate in the true sense of term, which derives from ‘e’ meaning ‘out’ and ‘ducere’ meaning to draw or lead. Education involves drawing out understanding, exitement, illumination from within us – so it is empowering not disempowering. The best teaching results in the student learning for themselves – in the depths of their experience rather than being simply told what to think. It becomes a conversation – that great art beloved of the American Transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau. (Do look at this contemporary project that works with this: The Innermost House).
What are the vehicles for these conversations, these teachings? Here’s one list: texts, people, places. And you could say there are the obvious messages they can give us – the understanding texs can offer, the warmth people can give us, the beauty places offer, but their gifts can be subtle too.
To access the subtle levels of meaning in texts we can use a process similar to ‘Lectio Divina’: taking small sections of text, entering into the scene if described, entering meditation to let its meaning sink deeper, even using the words as mantra.
To access the subtle levels of learning that is possible when we are with one or more people we can share silence, and we can share our thoughts and feelings as deeply as we can. We can revive the art of conversation.
To access the subtle levels of teaching available in certain places – usually sacred places – we can think of the concept of ‘terma teachings’ – the magic mysteriously embedded in the land. In our meditation we travel to a sacred island to experience this for ourselves.
Learn more about the story of this picture from innermosthousefoundation.org
In this session we explore the third principle in the triad: “Three sources of comfort: knowledge of the Divine Origin of all Creation, inspiration in the teachings of mystics and sages, support in the fellowship of like-minded souls.”
I mention Damh the Bard’s song ‘Time Machine’, which you can hear here:
Seated in the Grove: a photo taken a few years ago in a Yew Grove in Leicester, at the One Tree Gathering
Current world events – the fires in South America and the Arctic, the ecological and political situation in many parts of the world – evoke in us feelings of hopelessness, wounding, and despair. They make us feel like victims – or like children overwhelmed in a world of adults acting destructively and out of control.
In feeling this way today, I remembered a quotation we use in the Order’s training (I can’t find the exact quote because we have so much training material, but if it’s familiar to you, do please remind me.) It says something like: “When you feel lost, take a child by the hand, and you will no longer feel so lost.”
This is the way I assuage those difficult feelings – not by denying them, but by allowing them into my awareness and then reaching out to others from a place rooted in what I believe is good and true – rooted, essentially, in my sense of soul and of the values it is guided by. You know when someone is ill or in a crisis and you succeed in ‘rising to the occasion’? You are no longer thinking about yourself, but about others, acting like those in the caring professions who do this every working day of their lives.
So this is the strategy I’m adopting: I’m accepting my feelings of despair and vulnerability and powerlessness, but then I’m trying to be a good, caring person who tries to make decisions and live in a world that is constantly challenging.
Well this is all very well – and rather trite you might say – but how do I act the adult, how do I act mature, anchored, responsible, amidst all this turbulence? I think there are many things we can do, but for today let’s focus on just a few ideas, about how we can ‘resource ourselves’ to use that awful phrase! I’ve put them into a triad:
Three sources of comfort: knowledge of the Divine Origin of all Creation, inspiration in the teachings of mystics and sages, support in the fellowship of like-minded souls.
This is what helps me keep going – what helps me offer my hand as we all walk through the difficulties of this world: my belief in and experience of the Divine helps to anchor me; the teachings of mystics help to inspire me and give me hope; being with like-minded souls, fellow seekers on the Path nourishes me with a sense of community. And from there I can act in whatever way I can to help make the world a better place. If I can shift my centre of gravity from a sense of childlike helplessness to a sense of adult responsibility I think I can be of more use.
Below is a photograph from our recent One Tree Gathering – an annual event where members of the Druid and Hindu community come together. At the end of each weekend a participant offers to accept the statue of Ganesha to keep safe until the next meeting.