All Ages Communities

Being in the school system tends to culture us into associating with people who are within a year of our own age. For a lot of people, this habit continues through life, creating generation gaps and a lack of social cohesion. There are assumptions about what different ages and life stages mean. As a consequence, most social activity is either child free, or revolves around amusing the kids. Teenagers are expected to go off and do their own thing. Older people aren’t even present, much of the time.

Some events and locations will try to get round this by providing crèches and amusements for the younger folk, freeing up their parents to do the things. This of course still means dividing people by age.

All of this is very much on my mind because I’ve just come back from Lincoln’s Asylum – the biggest steampunk gathering in the country. It’s an all ages activity, in the sense that people of all ages can actively participate (some of the evening things are 18+ but given how many things are totally  accessible to younger folk, this isn’t a problem).  Kids really get into it, with costumes, and enthusiasm for many of the events.

What really affected me, was talking to older women who were not steampunks, but who were eyeing up attendees at the event. One woman said to me, “This is amazing, I’m 60 and there are people here who are older than me, and they’re dressed up and clearly having a fantastic time.” Of course Victorian based attire looks great on older folk in a way that modern clothing doesn’t. The assumptions about what older people can and should wear, in all other contexts, are both dull and restrictive, but steampunk elders can be as punked, glamorous, outrageous, playful and innovative as anybody else.

In most contexts for women, there’s a lot of pressure to appear young (while not falling into the ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ trap). We’re supposed to be sexy if we look young enough, and to cover up if we don’t. But not too sexy, so as to avoid the ‘slut’ trap. When we are older, we are to hide sags, wrinkles, grey hair etc as best we can. We are not to celebrate our aging. I love that in steampunk spaces none of this applies. The results are varied, wild, unpredictable and deeply inclusive of all kinds of ways of being female. There’s also an abundance of space to play with gender representation and identity as well, which is incredibly liberating.

It seems mad to me that we so often have so much age-based segregation within our societies. Communities gain breadth, depth and long term stability when they can accommodate people at all life stages. It’s a very different thing being in a space you know will always have room for you, rather than being conscious of an obligation to grow out of it at some point. It’s good to be in a space that genuinely makes everyone who wants to be there welcome, so long as they uphold the one rule – be splendid. I love what happens when the default is inclusion, and look forward to the scope for getting older disgracefully.

I suspect that no matter how old I get, I will always be a filthy urchin at heart, so I‘m going to need the spaces that won’t try and shoehorn me into a twin set and a sensible haircut.


The mechanics of exhaustion and emotion

In recent months, I’ve had the opportunity to observe the effects of exhaustion on my own mind and reactions, and to learn from other people with similar experiences. This is what I’ve learned.

Exhaustion distorts reactions. It doesn’t even matter if the exhaustion came from doing a good thing that you felt really positive about, it still has the same effects. It becomes harder to control the emotions, and outbursts are likely – tears become impossible to control, most notably. Everything seems bigger and more threatening than it would otherwise be.

My first thought was that exhaustion makes us over-react. On reflection, I don’t think this is it at all. How we respond to a crisis, or even what looks like a crisis in the first place, depends a lot on whether we have the resources to deal with it. If you can deal with something easily, it’s hardly a disaster. If you have no means to tackle it, you’re facing a serious problem.

It’s not the scale of the event that shapes our responses, but whether we can deal with it. Exhaustion means having little or nothing in reserve, and no resources to tackle even small things. What can seem petty from the outside, can be unbearable from the inside because there is no way to bear it on top of everything else.

When we’re watching someone else’s reactions, the temptation can be to judge the appropriateness of their response by what we’d do when faced with the same challenge. This misses out that way we all face challenges differently, with entirely different resources and vulnerabilities. Thus we can end up thinking someone else is over-reacting or making a fuss, rather than recognising that their situation is undermined by problems we don’t have.

Yes, of course there are people who over-react and make a fuss, but this comes from factors of personality and circumstance, and is part of where they start from when dealing with a problem. If you’ve never seen a mountain, you might be more intimidated by the proverbial mole hill. The worst thing you’ve ever dealt with, is the worst thing you have had to face, regardless of how it compares to other people’s experiences. This is really noticeable watching children get to grips with setbacks.

It can be hard, when your problem looks like a mountain and the next person is wailing about what, to you, looks like a mole hill, but we all have our own hills to climb. Spending time getting cross with other people over how they deal with problems is a waste of time and energy. We will all have to make choices about what we can help with, and what we have to ignore, but in recognising how different experiences may be, we can make life a bit easier all round by not getting frustrated about it.


Reputation

Who we are in the eyes of the world is something most of us care about. How we are seen, valued, judged and whether we are accepted. In theory, a reputation should be the consequence of who we are and what we do, and thus something we have control over, but in practice it is seldom that simple.

The easiest place to point for examples is the arts. Look at any breakthrough creator who changed things radically – Beethoven, Van Gogh – they were criticised far more than they were loved in their lifetimes. Even The Beatles were considered rowdy bad boys when they first appeared, and it’s only after decades that they’ve become something more ‘establishment’. The first impressionists were mocked. The reputations of many creative people aren’t defined until after their death, and there many ‘greats’ who, during their own lives, were never recognised.

On the flip side history is also full of people who were massively popular at the time, and have faded into obscurity since. Name a composer of Music Hall songs, or the kind of gothic romance author Jane Austin was mocking in Northanger Abbey, or any of the chivalric novels Cervantes took the piss out of with Don Quixote. Ten years hence, most of the ‘pop idol’ reality TV show folk will have been forgotten. Some reputations are vastly inflated for short periods – undeserved (to my mind) attention went to Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray recently, but they’re already slipping into the shadows, and I doubt in a hundred years time, anyone will have heard of them.

Reputation, therefore, is not always deserved. It’s also not something we can control, no matter how good our PR. Most of us of course will never have PR, never have to worry about posterity, or how history will judge us, and that too is a sort of judgement. Most of our ancestors are not in the history books.

Regardless of how many people we’re dealing with, reputation is a key part of how we interact with others, and reputations can be nothing more than a web of lies with a sugar coating of sparkly misdirection. We all make up stories and myths about ourselves, and other people make their own stories about us, too. Reputation is the unnatural child of these stories.

Those in the public eye can spend a fortune trying to manage their reputations and appearance. The rest of us may be no less obsessed, but less well funded, and with a smaller audience to play to, we have to make our own fun…  Social media may have made us far more conscious of how we construct our public personas, but it doesn’t put us in charge.

There is a part of ourselves we may never truly know, and certainly can’t do much to control, but which will influence our lives and options in countless ways. That aspect is who other people think we are, what of us they latch onto, what of other people’s stories they choose to believe, what they forgive, and don’t forgive, what they think was deliberate, and what they think we did by accident, or by mistake.

Or we can do our best to meet each other without assumption, to take each other at face value, to deal with the reality of what’s going on, not second guessing based on what we think we know


Speaking your truth

We have a duty to speak our truth. It’s a thought I’ve run into from a number of sources – fabulous Kris Hughes has been talking about it, and it’s a key part of Cat Treadwell’s work.  Throw into the mix the Quaker virtue of speaking truth to power, and good old Iolo Morganwg with The Truth Against the World and it’s clear that truth, personal truth, has to matter to a Druid.

One of the things about personal truth is the implication that other people’s personal truths will be different, and just as valid. If our truth suddenly looks bigger and more important than other personal truths, we’re on the road to dogma, one true way and generally feeling a lot more important than is good for a person!

But what is personal truth? It might be a number of things – it could be the truth we experience in the moment, or the product of long hours of deep contemplation. It might be the code we live by, the way we make sense of things, our beliefs about the sacred, the divine, or what it means to be human. Our truth could be political, anarchic, all about activism. It could be driven by a sense of duty or a longing for freedom. It may come to us in a flash of inspiration, and our truth may be all about awen.

We have to do more than speak our truth in the sense of making big statements about it. We have to speak it every time we speak, and act with it every time we act. Or at least, try to. We’re all flawed and fallible, and capable of not fully manifesting the things we think matter most.

And when someone else’s truth seems to grate against our own, or threaten it, or compete or conflict or any of those other things we might feel unsettled by, that’s ok, and we need to be ok with it. Their truth is not our truth. Their path is not our path. Their difference is not a criticism of our truth, nor is it a threat to it.

What is my truth? It’s a question to ask, and ask again because the answer is bound to change. What is it in this moment, this day, this year? What have I learned that has changed my truth? Who am I becoming? Who do I want to become and what do I want my truth to be? Described like this it may sound a bit vague and woolly, but the answers are always going to be substantial and informative.

I write this at a time of both deliberate, and of unsought change. Change is thus part of my truth right now, and the scope for change and the need for it. I question my sense of self, and wonder how to know what the truth of me is. Is my truth what I think? Can I discover it in the words of the people who value me most, or the words of the people who like me least, or somewhere in between?

My truth is the joy I take pouring time and energy into good projects, supporting awesome people, seeing great things happen. My truth may be that writing non-fiction books doesn’t suit me very well. My truth is whatever’s inspiring me right now, it’s how I’m interacting with the people I love, and it is the deliberate choice to walk away from the people who bring me down and who don’t like what I do. My truth is that I need to be in spaces where I am valued, and where the work I am drawn to do has a place and is valued. My truth is that I’m more tired than is good for a person, and I need that to change. Many stories, pulled from the air today. Tomorrow, I would say something different.

What’s your truth, and what do you need to do to speak it into everything you say, and carry it into everything you do, and what happens if we do that?


Miyazaki Meditations

I’m not the world’s most visually minded person, which, I confess, makes visual meditation hard work. I’m also, sometimes, a really stressed and anxious person. When you’re lying there at night with a thousand worries rampaging across your brain, it can be hard to switch that off to go to sleep. I’ve been meditating regularly for a good twenty years, but I still find there are times when my brain is triggered into frantic and counter-productive activity.

Meditating when it’s easy is all very nice, and probably very good for us, but it tends to be when meditation is hardest that we need it most. So, how do you even start to meditate when your brain is full of angry weasels?

I like pathworking, but the trouble with pathworking is that you need something to hold the path. Lying in bed at night (where meditation in self defence is an issue) a pre-recording won’t work, and getting my stress-fest of a brain to organise anything is at best a long shot.

What I’ve taken to doing, is using journey sequences from the films of Hayao Miyazaki. I’m especially fond of Spirited Away, where you can walk down the tunnel, out into the landscape, over the river and towards the bathhouse – it’s the perfect opening for a pathworking. Miyazaki films are visually intense, and I find them to be good soul food, so making myself go over a journey sequence helps to calm the brain weasels, while being unstressful, and inherently settling.

Any strong and familiar visual imagery would of course do it. Any sequence from a game, or a film, that gives you strong visual imagery to work with can be borrowed as the opening to a meditation – whether you’re working along the edges of sleep, or not.

Inside our brains, we form pathways in a fairly literal sense. Panic, anxiety and other unhelpful things can become the paths we walk, and the more often we walk them, the more we wear those paths into ourselves. Taking a different path is restorative, it can break cycles of fear and depression, and gives us a chance to go somewhere else, in every sense.

I have a book on meditation,and there are other excellent meditation books at Moon Books – more info here http://moon-books.net/blogs/moonbooks/meditation-books/


What is poetry?

Quite some time ago, I was asked for an explanation as to what poetry is, from a man who had been taught at school that poetry means rhythm and rhyme. Being a big fan of free verse, I knew that couldn’t be it, but it’s a hard question to answer. I know when I’ve encountered it (and I feel much the same way about Druidry!) but that’s not a useful thing to offer a person. A long car journey with writer, publisher and creative writing teacher Anthony Nanson gave me chance to kick the question about and take advantage of his much cleverer mind.

Anthony suggested that rhyme and meter give you verse, but not necessarily poetry. It’s possible to say bland, empty, dull and tedious things with verse, after all.

I can see a little dog

Picking up a mouldy log

Running with it to a bog

Took its photo for my blog…

Poetry is more than this. If something is poetic, it is more than the sum of its parts. Something in the writing will create possibilities, moods, impressions that do more than the individual words were capable of.

“anyone lived in a pretty how town” – a bit of ee cummings, which I think makes the point. Everyday words, but not an everyday effect.There’s space in poetry where the reader/audience can bring something for themselves – in fact often must make this engagement for the writing to make full sense to them. The need to find your own meaning, to make something out of the juxtapositions and impressions can be very much part of the poetic experience.At a poetry book launch of Jay Ramsay’s several years ago, Jay said that poetry calls upon different parts of the brain to prose. It requires us to think differently to step out of our normal relationship with the world. It’s hard to pin this down as an experience – but that is part of what makes it itself. We are touched and changed in ways that are uniquely personal to each of us. Something gets in. Something is not the same.Granted, a beautiful piece of prose can have that effect to, but if it does, we tend to call the writing ‘poetic’ anyway.The conclusion I’ve come to, is that poetry is a little bit of enchantment.


Cycling Back to the South Pacific

I’ve read Anthony Nanson’s novel Deep Time, and can certainly recommend it. This is a fascinating blog about the prehistoric plants that are still thriving in some part of the world. Enjoy!

Anthony Nanson's Deep Time

Pacific 050One thing I always intended to blog about was my field research for Deep Time. I’ve done a post about the trip to Gabon, but not yet about the one to New Caledonia – and now I’m about to return there to research something else.

New Caledonia is a French territory in the South Pacific, about 1000 miles north of New Zealand. The reason I went there in 2007 is that its flora includes many kinds of trees similar to those which flourished in the southern continents during the age of the dinosaurs, and so travelling there would help me to picture the scenery of that distant time. For example, there are lots of different tree ferns, palms, cycads, araucarias, and podocarps (pictured: Araucaria muelleri). The story behind this is that the main island of New Caledonia split away from Australia 85 million years ago, carrying with…

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Holding up mirrors

We all hold up mirrors for each other, and use other people as mirrors. Often it’s not conscious, and often we have no idea whether the reflections we see are clear and true, or alarmingly distorted. Here are the methods I’ve been able to identify, there are probably others.

We project, and then see in the other person things we don’t like about ourselves. We don’t know that we’ve made the other person into our mirror, so we may well try to punish them for how uncomfortable the likeness makes us feel.

We assume that everyone is just like us and would naturally mirror our feelings and thought processes. When they fail to be this kind of mirror, we can get confused, upset and even angry.

We see things that, when other people do them, look terrible, tragic or otherwise uncomfortable. We may not be able to see it that way when we do all the same things to ourselves, but if we can recognise the mirroring in this situation, both parties can help and heal each other.

We can hold up mirrors made of compliments, encouragement, love and support so that the person we are showing the reflection to sees themselves in the best possible way. This can help them have faith in themselves to be that person, and more.

We see the worst in what a person does – all the flaws and inadequacies, all the scope for ghastly motives, and we reflect that back to them. We show them the worst of themselves, and undermine their sense of self with it, or make them angry and defensive. In reflecting and expecting the worst, we can push a person towards being and doing the worst that they can.

We can have beliefs about what it means to be the other sort of person – as Pagans we can still be hit with crazy ideas about what Paganism means. It can be disconcerting to be reflected back as the other person’s prejudices and unfounded assumptions. (Examples – you are not thin and therefore you are lazy. You are poor and therefore talentless. You are lgbt and therefore predatory etc).

If we’re really paying attention we can hold up mirrors that simply reflect back something true about how the other person is, but this is the least likely outcome, I suspect.

We won’t always be conscious of what we’re doing, but the more alert we can be to the idea of playing with reflections rather than reality, the more scope for spotting it we get, and in turn that means not having it take over.


Druid Community

It’s easy to waft the term ‘Druid community’ around (I’ve no doubt used it) but is it fair to say we have a Druid community? Probably not. It may be fairer to say that we have lots of smaller Druid groups, because many of us around the world are in no way connected to or affected by each other.  We discernibly have orders, groups and groves, but whether it is fair to call those communities depends a lot on what you think a community is. I thought I’d throw some not all-encompassing suggestions out there.

The aspect of community that Druid groups most reliably have and do well, is that we gather together to do stuff. Shared activity is, to my mind, key to a community. The counter example is that all living in the same place does not make a group of people into a community if they all ignore each other!

For me, community means a reciprocal process of care and support. We look after each other. Often in larger Orders, this is quite unbalanced. In OBOD, mentors look after students, and there are people who look after the mentors, but the students don’t usually know other students so can’t help them, and would not expect to be taking care of their mentors in turn. As a teaching structure, this is fine, but I don’t think it works in terms of ‘community’. In smaller groups where people live close together, there may well be this wider involvement in each other’s lives.

Community is defined to some degree by its edges. Who is welcome, and who is not? What do you have to give, pay or accept to be able to participate? Who isn’t accommodated? I don’t think there’s a clear definition here around which boundaries signify community and which suggest something else. However, the more participation depends on money, the more exclusion there is for other reasons, the less community there can be. If all we have are people who are very much the same as each other, we don’t have the diversity to create a robust community. We might think of that in terms of age, life stage, education level, financial situation, mental and physical health, mobility, ancestry, and more.

For me, what makes a community is in no small part the willingness to at least try and accommodate anyone who wants to be part of it. Community means negotiation, hearing difference, accommodating diversity of wants, needs, outlooks and intentions. It means people working together, not gurus or other forms of ‘glorious leadership’. Sure, having people in charge of one aspect or another can be productive and necessary, but in a community, that’s about getting stuff done, not an ego trip.

Communities also have to endure over time. Yes, we can come together for a weekend, or for a brief time online, or for a ritual now and then over a couple of years and feel very close to each other, but that’s not community. It has the makings of community. A real community endures. Its leadership can change. People within it can go through different life stages and still find there’s room for them. Something that is recognisably the community continues, being more than the sum of its parts, more than any one person.

It’s ok not to be a community, I should point out. Teaching, ritual, healing, and events can bring us together in wonderful ways for short-term reasons, and that’s great. We don’t have to be fully functioning communities for that to be well worth our time.


Sheena Cundy

Sheena Cundy is another of the under-sung people of whom I have been a fan for some time. I’ve met her in person – she’s lovely. I’ve heard her band twice (at time of writing this) – Morrigans Path – overtly Pagan and great to dance to. I’ve read her novel – The Madness and The Magic, and greatly enjoyed it (there’s a review here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/friday-reads/ )

Here’s a track from Morrigans Path

 

Find out more about them on their facebook page or on artist trove

Here’s a little flavour from Sheena’s novel

Sheena quote

And you can find out more about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/madness-magic

And this is Sheena’s website – http://www.sheenacundy.com/

 

 


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