Falling down is an inevitable experience for anyone who thinks they are on some kind of upward spiritual journey. Perhaps ultimately what any spiritual path is for is some kind of growth, progress or ascension into a better and more enlightened state of being. The trouble is that as soon as you get into the idea of working really hard to become a more elevated, more enlightened sort of person, the slippery slope down into something else is also always really close.
In ‘The Gospel of Falling Down’ Mark Townsend talks about these issues with a degree of personal honesty and humility that really challenged me to look at what I do and what I think about myself. He’s absolutely right. There are things that all too easily take over from doing the work because they look like being important. Once you start thinking that being important is the measure of your path, the spiritual journey ceases to be the driving force in what you do. If you’re lucky, you fall from this, or something pushes you out of it and you have to reconsider and start over. The unlucky ones who continue unchecked may become smug, self important, dogmatic, egotistical and keep pushing away from the heart of what was once their spiritual journey.
Unlike some faiths, Druidry doesn’t hand out titles, but we can get very obsessed with giving ourselves titles and fretting about who is entitled to call themselves what. How big is your Grove? How many students have you got? How many books did you sell last year? Where are you on the billing? Did you get radio play? Are there enough 5 star reviews? How many people follow you on social media, follow your blog and how does that compare to the followers a more famous Druid has? Once these things start to become important, and you pay attention to them and pour energy into them, rather than the Druidry, it all starts to go awry.
I went through some of this earlier in the year, my third year booked for Druid Camp with no suggestion initially that I was worth putting on the fliers. It’s tough, being worth booking but not being worth mentioning, and I took it badly. However, the decision was made to include more of us who are not ‘big name Druids’ on the publicity, and so I managed to sneak in after all. A long way down the list. What smarted was the sense of not being able to break through. I do all the things – I blog and write books, I teach, I offer talks, I go to events if asked, I write articles and review books… but I can see no way at all of getting from where I am as a one of the many small and obscure Druids to being a headline act, a bestseller.
I realised I could pour more energy into feeling bitter and thwarted, in questioning my validity, in pushing myself forward and demanding attention. I was lucky, as much as anything, because I had nothing to support me in doing that outside of my own desires. I was also lucky in that Mark’s book turned up and reminded me of all the reasons that chasing fame is not what a spiritual path is all about. How many fans and followers and book buyers do I need to validate my path? And why would I imagine any of these things could validate my path? That it is meaningful to me should be the key thing, and if what I do helps someone else that’s great, and the rest really should not matter. I want to be a Druid more than I want to be an author or a big name.
Mark’s book is written from a largely Christian-centric position, but as Mark has also studied with OBOD, it’s a Pagan friendly sort of text. His subversive take on Jesus is something I find immensely cheering. If you’re feeling lost and out of sorts, the gentle humanity of Mark’s writing might be just what you need. This is a companion book for people groping about in the dark and wondering what they’re supposed to be doing. If you’re feeling smug and superior and sure that you’re better than all of this, you definitely want to read Mark’s book some time very soon.