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" The world is mud-luscious

and puddle-wonderful "

e.e.cummings

The Surreal Times we live in & the Dau Project

July 21st, 2018

Back in the 20th century, most of us probably thought the 21st would play out with increasingly democractic agendas being pursued around the world. After all, Apartheid had been abolished, the Iron Curtain had collapsed, surely we were edging towards a brighter future? But sadly, we seem to have entered an era in which the threat of authoritarianism is growing, not diminishing. The bullies have muscled their way to the top.
In this time when the High Weirdness of the recent Helsinki summit continues to echo, (See Rachel Maddows’ crystalline analysis here) it seems to me more important than ever to attempt to understand the deeper meanings of what is happening here. The surface details are so extraordinary it’s easy to be distracted by them. Try here and here if you want a blast of WTF distraction!
But what are the psychological and dare-we-say-it spiritual dimensions of the current surreal story we are living through? Do we accept the Buddhist idea of ‘No mud, no lotus’ and are therefore thankful that we have so much swamp to work with?
These times stretch us to the limit, and let’s learn and grow from them rather than going under with the weight of outrage that current events can provoke. This is all by way of preamble to introducing a project I’ve been invited to get involved in. It’s extremely unusual, and hard to even explain fully, but I’ve been asked to explore the idea of ‘active listening’ and helping to stimulate deep conversations about a body of work that will be displayed in Berlin, Paris and London, and which is based around, but not confined to, 13 full-length films directed by Ilya Khrzhanovsky that are set in a secret Soviet research institute.
Getting us to think about authoritarianism, about how we respond to it, and about what the experiences in this institute can teach us about human nature, and ultimately about spiritual realities, is – I believe – one of the goals of this project called just DAU.
When I first went to visit their London HQ I was a little concerned. I had heard stories. So Stephanie filmed me before we both went in. And then once we were out and back home she filmed my reactions.

I incorrectly stated the length of time the project took in the first video. I think the DAU project could represent one of the most significant and extraordinary art projects of our time. If you want to look closer see their site here.

Meditation and Sleep

July 19th, 2018

As many of you know I offer a course – The Sleep Clinic – based on Sleep Science,Yoga, Sophrology and Meditation techniques to help people get a better night’s rest. So, I was delighted to be contacted  recently by Tuck. Tuck Sleep is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. They very kindly provided a guest post for me that includes links to some very interesting studies…

Meditation and Sleep

Do you find it difficult to sleep at night? The stress of daily life can interfere with sleep quality, but meditation can help.

Most Britons feel stressed on a regular basis, with 82 per cent of adults feeling stressed at least some of the time in a regular week. And eight per cent feel stressed all the time.

Insomnia affects about one-third of adults in the U.K. People in the U.K. sleep for an average of 6.8 hours each night, but NHS recommends an average of seven to nine hours a night.

A lack of sleep can affect your daily life and make it difficult to function. However, meditation can offer relaxation, restoration, and an easier way to fall asleep at night.

How Meditation Makes it Easier to Sleep

Meditation can be used to evoke the relaxation response, which can ease stress and improve sleep. In fact, some of the changes in physiological functions that we experience during meditation are similar to the changes that happen when we sleep.

A study of adults with trouble sleeping compared the results of participants who completed a mindfulness-awareness program or a sleep education class. Participants in the mindfulness group experienced less insomnia, fatigue, and depression.

Another study, focusing on yoga and meditation practitioners, indicated that meditation could help maintain good sleep as you age. In the sleep study, yoga practitioners showed a younger age for sleep, suggesting the practice can help support slow wave sleep through middle age.

In a meta-analysis of mindfulness meditation and insomnia, researchers found mindfulness can offer improvement of sleep. In fact, it may be an option for treating insomnia.

Using Meditation to Sleep Well

Meditation can be used for relaxation and sleep improvement. Consider these tips for using meditation to sleep well.

  • Practice mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is the best type of meditation for improving sleep. Progressive muscle relaxation, mindful breathing, counting, or guided meditation are all options that can improve sleep.
  • Make meditation part of your bedtime routine. A regular bedtime routine can be helpful for sleep, signalling to your body that it’s bedtime and time to wind down. Including meditation in your bedtime routine can offer relaxation, focus, and clear your mind for a healthy night of sleep.
  • Combine meditation with yoga. Like meditation, yoga is a practice that can be used to improve sleep and relaxation. When combined, yoga and meditation can be especially helpful in offering good sleep.
  • Improve your sleep habits. Although meditation can be helpful for improving sleep, it can’t replace healthy sleep habits. You should maintain a regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine, make sure your bedroom is a healthy sleep environment with appropriate pillows and bedding, and avoid sleep pitfalls such as late night caffeine or screen time.

Practicing meditation offers many benefits, and one of the most useful is improved sleep.

The Sanctuary of the Heart: Tea with a Druid 32

July 16th, 2018

The world around us now seems particularly insane, and one of the most effective ways to prevent the stresses generated by this craziness affecting our sanity and health is to create a sanctuary. Ideally this will be both inner and outer, but if you can’t make your home, or part of your home, feel like a sanctuary, then the work on an inner sense of sanctuary becomes even more important.

In this Tea, we meditate together to enter the ‘Sanctuary of the Heart’ – a walled garden filled with a sense of peace, tranquillity and safety. And we explore other ways to cultivate this sense of safety and calm.

Fear & the Art of Nonfinishing: Tea with a Druid 31

July 9th, 2018

As a young person I developed a habit that became a significant handicap. I believed that if I started reading a book I should read it cover to cover. However boring or irrelevant it proved to be, I stoically ploughed on to the end, in the mistaken belief that it was the only way to truly appreciate the work and extract its full value. It was really only in my forties that I realised how foolish this was, and worked to cultivate the ability to ‘gut a book’ and to develop the art of nonfinishing.

But this ran deeper than just a reading style. I would never not finish a meal, not finish a conversation, not finish a relationship. I was the dumpee not the dumper. I treated life as if everything was equivalent to juice extraction. However much pain, however much ‘pulp’, was in this book, relationship, fruit, film, or spiritual exercise, if I just kept ‘grinding away’ at it, I would extract the maximum learning, nourishment, illumination from it. So in one way it was driven by greed, in another way by a sense of lack – I was always looking for more. But in another way, too, it was driven by certain ideas I had picked up. The obvious cultural ones were there: “Always finish your plate,” “Be ambitious, don’t be a quitter”. But then certain spiritual influences reinforced this idea: “perseverance furthers” the I-Ching constantly told me in my teens; the Path to Enlightenment involves surmounting obstacles, challenges, trials, was the message from reading spiritual biographies. “Carry On!” was the message everywhere in Britain: from the silly ‘Carry On’ films to the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ wartime posters with their endless variations (our fridge magnet says: “Keep Calm. I’ve got my wand!’)

And then, with an interest in psychotherapy, came the learning that our subconscious can try to sabotage us, that it’s precisely when we experience resistance to something that we should keep pushing for more insight. And so making oneself move out of the Comfort Zone became the way to go: “You’re finding this hard? Good, keep going! Break through! Don’t stop now! Don’t finish now! Just a little bit more effort and you’ll turn the corner. Redemption is just down the road. Keep walking!”

And of course this is true – sometimes, often even. But the opposite can be true too. Sometimes it makes sense to follow the opposite injuction: “Don’t go for victory, for conquest, every time. Try surrender! Stop now! Don’t complete it! Drop out! Lie down! Let go!”

When I went inside just now and asked where this drive to finish everything came from, I understood that it was often fear, and I thought of this track by Sarah McLachhlin:

The Opera Tarot

July 9th, 2018

The Tower card from The Opera Tarot of Linda Sutton showing Pavarotti in Lucia de Lammermoor

I thought you might like to see the opening words from the book that I wrote to accompany Linda Sutton’s magnificent Tarot paintings for The Opera Tarot :

Shuffle! Cut!
Good, that’s that!
Three cards here… four there!
And now speak, my beauties,
give us news of the future;
tell us who’s going to betray us,
tell us who’s going to love us!
Speak! Speak!
from Bizet’s
Carmen

Love and betrayal! In Bizet’s famous opera, Carmen and her friends are anxious to know their destiny, and as any tarot reader will know, their concerns are the ones which still preoccupy the bulk of their clients today. Relationship problems and, in second place, work or financial difficulties create the majority of business for professional tarot readers, but the Tarot can be used for another more existential end. It can help us fulfil the age-old quest for illumination, for coming to know ourselves more fully – and ultimately for finding the soul and the Deity Within that is our true nature. This is the work suggested in the carving on the entrance to the oracle at Delphi, where each pilgrim was urged to ‘Know Thyself’. This is the work, too, of the spiritual alchemists – not those who sought to turn lead into gold, but those who sought, and continue to seek, to turn the base matter of the self into the gold of self-realization.

To find out more about The Opera Tarot click here

Mystic & Magician as Subpersonalities: Tea with a Druid 30

July 2nd, 2018

Last week I talked about how we could characterise the mystic and the magician – their differing goals, and the techniques they use to achieve them. I wondered whether there might be a relationship between these two orientations and those two broad categories of personality, the introvert and extrovert. I speculated that since magic is concerned with actively engaging with the outer world, such a pursuit might attract more extroverts, while the more apparently inward-looking way of the mystic might be more appealing to introverts.

Well how wrong I was, if our small, and hopelessly uncontrolled online survey is anything to go by! From a sample of 64 responses, 56 people said they were introverts, with only 8 declaring themselves as extroverts. 25 identified themselves as introverted magicians, 21 as introverted mystics, and 10 as introverted mystic magicians!

Only a small minority identified as extroverts: 3 people as magicians, 4 as mystics, and 1 as a mystic magician.

Perhaps both the mystical and magical paths attract more introverts, perhaps there is simply no correlation, although the high proportion of introverts overall is suggestive, but other factors may be at play, like who is likely to watch these teas, or make comments.

One participant raised a fascinating question. They commented: “I’m a Magician Introvert, but I’m not convinced that there’s an important correlation between the two. A more interesting relationship is between magicians & visual artists/craftsmen — and mystics & musicians/dancers. Broadly put, don’t personalities divide between those preoccupied with form and those preoccupied with formlessness?”

If I understand this comment correctly, the suggestion here is that if you presented musicians and dancers with the two definitions of mystic and magician, they would tend to identify as mystics, whereas artists and craftspeople would tend to identify as magicians. Let’s explore this idea one day with an online poll.

Interesting comments also came in about changes people have experienced over time, like this one: “I used to be very introverted but have become more extrovert, interestingly this happened when I made the transition from mystic to magician a few years ago.”

In fact a number of people reported moving from one preference to another, and this brings me to the theme I’d like to explore with you today: the idea of Mystic and Magician as sub-personalities – as different aspects of ourselves. If you try imagining these two kinds of people as ‘inner characters’, and then engage in dialogue with them, you might find they offer interesting insights and perspectives. Ask each what they want, what they need and what they can offer you.

There isn’t much material on the topic of subpersonalities online, and its Wikipedia entry is poor. Work with it is particularly developed, though, in Psychosynthesis, and the best texts on this subject are by one of the pioneers of Humanistic Psychology, John Rowan, who died a few weeks ago at the grand old age of 93. His Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us is fascinating and comprehensive, and written for psychologists and therapists. His later Discover Your Subpersonalities: Our Inner World and the People in It is written for a lay readership and includes questionnaires and exercises.

Are you a Mystic or a Magician?

June 25th, 2018

Without thinking too hard about this, just tell me, off the top of your head, whether you feel you are a mystic or a magician. Once you’ve done that, just let that question drop away and answer another question, if you will – again don’t give this too much thought – it’s just the answer that comes to you in this moment – I’m not holding you to this as the absolute truth. In fact I’ll explain thosse terms and then ask you to answer the question again later, because you might change your mind. Here’s the next question: If you had to say whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, what would it be? Again just shoot back a comment.

In a week’s time it’s possible that thousands will have seen this video, and if everyone kindly responded we’d have a great statistical sample to work with.

But let me back up now and explain what I mean by these terms. If you’ve joined this gathering, the chances are that you are interested in magic and mysticism. But what exactly do these two words mean? Like any terms that have been around for a long time, we could spend hours debating the various meanings that have been ascribed by scholars and lay-folk to these terms. And the more scholarly we made our debate, the more ambiguities and varieties of interpretation we would discover. Now is not the time for this! We’ll avoid getting caught up in semantics or in language that is tedious. Just look at where it might take us when we first try to understand the term Mysticism: the academic Gelman writes that the mystical experience is: “A unitive experience [that] involves a phenomenological de-emphasis, blurring, or eradication of multiplicity, where the cognitive significance of the experience is deemed to lie precisely in that phenomenological feature”. Surely there are simpler ways of talking about the experience of Oneness! Let’s look at two more accessible attempts to describe mysticism and the mystical experience:

Blakemore and Jennett wrote: “the essence of the mystical experience is the encounter between God and the human being, the Creator and creature; this is a union which leads the human being to an ‘absorption’ or loss of individual personality. It is a movement of the heart, as the individual seeks to surrender itself to ultimate Reality; it is thus about being rather than knowing.”

And the mystic Evelyn Underhill wrote about the term mysticism, that it is, “One of the most abused words in the English language, it has been used in different and often mutually exclusive senses by religion, poetry, and philosophy: has been claimed as an excuse for every kind of occultism, for dilute transcendentalism, vapid symbolism, religious or aesthetic sentimentality, and bad metaphysics. On the other hand, it has been freely employed as a term of contempt by those who have criticized these things. It is much to be hoped that it may be restored sooner or later to its old meaning, as the science or art of the spiritual life.”

Here’s the definition I use: that the mystic’s main goal is union with the Divine, to experience Oneness. Whether we are talking about Christian Mystics, Sufi Mystics, or Nature Mystics, the goal is the same – to surrender the sense of the ‘little self’ and to feel at one with All Being.

The Magician might have this goal, and may therefore be a mystic, but in addition she or he has other goals. They may wish to explore other worlds, to experience altered states consciousness, to converse with any beings they may meet in other worlds. They may want to develop their powers of perception or sensitivity or intuition. They may want to transform or improve circumstances for themselves or for others. Do you see how all these goals are active? They do not require surrender, but active engagement. The mystic closes their eyes to free themselves of the distractions of this world, to return to Source. The magician opens their eyes to explore the world, to wonder and admire, to understand and grow. The magician uses certain techniques such as journeying, ritual, and divination to help them in their quest. The mystic is more likely to shun these as distractions, and will focus on meditation and prayer.

Now that I’ve given these thumbnail descriptions of the mystic and the magician, type in your answer again, and say if it’s the same as before or different!

Now why did I ask you to say whether you feel you are introverted or extroverted? I just have a hunch that there might be a correlation between this aspect of personality and the choice you have made. Perhaps introverts are more likely to be drawn to the Mystical Path, and extroverts the Magical one. Or perhaps not! If you’re not sure which is your strongest trait there are various tests you can take online now, such as this one: Extroversion Introversion Test

In a later blog post I’ll try to summarise the results of this clumsy attempt at science!

Now let’s do a meditation to connect, if we wish, with the mystic and the magician within us. Once in the Sacred Grove, sense your oneness with all around you. The earth and sky, the trees. Just let go and surrender to this sense of Union with all of Nature, with all of Being. Now become aware of being in the grove, and in your imagination, sense you are leaning forward and touching the ground in front of you with the forefinger of one hand, as you stretch your arm. As you touch the ground a flower appears. Touch another spot, and another flower grows. After doing this a few times, stop. Close your inner eyes, and then gradually let your awareness of the Sacred Grove begin to fade as you become aware of being fully present wherever you are, Here and Now.

In the first part of the meditation, when you surrender to a sense of Oneness you are opening to the Mystic Within. When you create flowers with the ‘magic wand’ of your hand, you are expressing the Inner Magician.

Solstice Blessings!

June 21st, 2018

Whether you are in the depths of winter or the height of summer, may the sun’s warmth, energy, illumination and joy bless you! Happy Solstice!

Getting more Sleep: Tea with a Druid 28

June 18th, 2018

I’ve talked before about one of the most interesting features of these tea sessions – that it’s a communal experience. I may be the one doing the talking, but somehow we’re all in this together. A participant writes that we are ‘mutual muses’ in the grove, inspiring each other in subtle ways – performing an unusual magic as we connect across space and time. And here’s a poem another tea habitué has sent in:

Children’s voices rise up through the pines
They have all the time in the world.

All magic begins here: 
The wonder of a stone
The singing of a feather
More sunlight than you could use in a lifetime
How brief a lifetime at 7
How endless a lifetime at 70.

All the time in the world.

Thank you Gary for that!
Last week we talked about time, and this week I’d like to carry on exploring that topic, but in relation to one particular area of our experience: the time we spend sleeping or trying to get to sleep.
A while back I experienced a bout of insomnia and I became interested in what would happen if we took all that we know about getting a better night’s sleep from psychology and neuroscience and combined this with a spiritual perspective, making use of any techniques that the wisdom traditions can offer.
What I discovered was that if you take methods from yoga – particularly breathing techniques and yoga nidra meditation – and combine these with all that sleep science can now recommend to help you rest well, you have a very potent and effective set of tools to help you get the rest you need.
So I’ve put all these methods together and added in some Sophrology exercises. Sophrology is a system developed by a neuropsychiatrist to enhance wellbeing and it works really well with reprogramming your nervous system in a natural way.
I’ve set this all out in a seven step programme that takes you through various exercises and includes 16 audio recordings – all designed to send you to sleep.
We’ve been talking about the great feeling that comes from meeting together in a group. Well, 140 followers of my Facebook page agreed to take part in a trial of the programme last year, and it was fantastic to work with them over a period of several months fine-tuning the material. Thanks to their feedback I was able to improve the recordings and you can read what many of them said about the programme on the website at the sleepclinic.org.uk
If you are in that third of the population who experiences sleep difficulties, do give it a go. If it doesn’t work for you, you can get a full refund straight away, and in addition I’ve created a special offer – valid until Saturday. You just have to type in TEA into the coupon field to get 20% off the course cost. I’d love to hear how you get on with the course! You can learn more about it here: the sleepclinic.org.uk

The One Tree Gathering 2018

June 16th, 2018

There is still time to get tickets for the wonderful One Tree Gathering. The One Tree Gathering is a project initiated by the ICCS (International Center for Cultural Studies) and OBOD (the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids) to explore values shared by Pagan and Hindu cultures. The aim of the annual gatherings is to provide a platform for our communities to exchange ideas and form relationships based on friendship, mutual understanding and shared values.

This year the One Tree Gathering is on 25th-26th of August at the beautiful Beaumanor Hall, near Loughborough. During the weekend we will have an opportunity to meet like minded people and take part in inspiring talks, discussions and interactive workshops as well as get to know each other around bonding activities. This year it will be based on the ‘Tree” and exploring your own ‘birth tree’ and what its values and qualities are. There will then be a tree walk to find your tree. The price for the weekend is £50 and £60 with accommodation in the bunkhouse. The website can be found here: https://www.iccsuk.org/otg and tickets can be purchased here: https://www.iccsuk.org/otg-2018/ticket-otg-2018. To enquire please email m.snopinska@gmail.com and do check our Facebook page https://m.facebook.com/events/367555513716960.

The One Tree Gathering 2016