Author Archives: Nimue Brown

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings.

10 things meditation can do for you

It’s normal to see meditation described as a calming, soothing activity to reduce stress and anxiety. While it certainly can and does deliver these things, there’s so much more that is available.

1) Increased self awareness. If you regularly pay attention to your breathing, your thoughts and the general state of your body then your awareness the rest of the time will also increase. This can help you change your lifestyle to better match your needs.

2) Self control. If you learn how to drop into calmer states, how to calm yourself and direct your thoughts in very specific ways, this will be more available to you when not meditating as well.

3) Visualisation and pathworking meditations stretch and develop the imagination so that your mind becomes more flexible and creative at all times.

4) Consciousness shifts. Meditation is not just about being calm, it’s about deliberately being able to change the way in which your mind is working. Once you can change the way in which you are thinking and experiencing, you open up all kinds of other possibilities.

5) Self discovery. Find your own still, quiet voice, the voice of your insight and wisdom, which is very probably waiting for you on the other side of all the busyness, anxiety and routine mental clutter. This knowledge changes things.

6) Once you can slow down and shift your mental states, whole other perspectives on your life and its issues will emerge, allowing you to think and act differently.

7) Spiritual depth. Turn up to any kind of spiritual activity with a head full of everyday clutter and fretting, and you will have a fairly limited experience. Know how to focus your mind and hear your own voice and you become much more open to spiritual experiences. It can also impact on what you do in those routine situations too, once you are more relaxed and open, all options shift.

8) By changing the ways in which you think for a while, you open the way to other things getting in. You have room for new ways of thinking and for flows of new ideas and inspiration. You make room for creative thoughts that have the potential to inform and enrich any aspect of your life.

9) Spiritual experience. Meditation paves the way to trance. Pathworking and visualisation enable journeying and more shamanic modes of working. As you go further into these practices you open the way for more spiritual experiences.

10) You can’t do all of these things and remain unchanged. The more in control of your mind you are, the more open you are to ideas and experiences, the more likely you are to discover your authentic self and figure out how to live in accordance with your own nature and the callings of your own soul.

 

If you want more about my takes on meditation, I have written a book… Paperback AMAZON US AMAZON UK eBook  AMAZON US AMAZON UK


Being Important

For all that authors are often shy and reclusive people, authoring comes in no small part from a desire to be heard, paid attention to. It’s probably not just an author issue – any activity with the potential to bring fame and fortune carries the attraction of our being important. Being a parent makes you a god in a small person’s life for a while. Status, in all its various forms, is something humans tend to care about. But how much status? How important do we need to be?

At the other end of the scale there’s the issue that if we aren’t important at all, we may be excluded. There will be no room for us at the table. There are a lot of practical reasons to fear this, as well as the social implications of being outside the tribe.

So here I am, with a pile of books I’ve written, and this blog, waving myself about on assorted social media. Much of it comes from a desire to be useful, some of it may have more to do with a desire for importance. This is something I’ve thought about a lot, not least because I’ve noticed that my desire for importance is reducing, not growing, and this I find interesting.

I think the hunger for importance and feelings of insecurity go hand in hand. At the times in my life when I’ve made the most effort to take on roles that would give me a veneer of importance, I was not in a good place. The more insecure I’ve felt, the more deliberately I’ve sought the attention and affirmation of others. It’s not a mad or unreasonable response to try and sure up what feels fragile and unstable. It’s when the books aren’t selling that I watch the blog stats. Some of this is because ‘importance’ has a value. Important Druids are more likely to be offered paying gigs, more likely to sell books. We exist in a culture that values celebrity and equates fame with worth, and therefore to appear important is to have a worth that often brings direct financial benefits. It’s easy to get really caught up in this kind of thing, especially when you’re struggling for money and feel close to the edge of viability.

My life has changed a lot over the last few years. I’m more financially secure now than I have ever previously been. I’m more emotionally secure than I have ever previously been. The core of my life is a stable home and family unit where I feel safe, valued, and mostly on top of things. It matters less that I’m a long way down most other people’s priority lists. It matters less that other people sell more books and get more attention. Being viable, not being hard pressed and anxious, it is easier to think about how I can be of value and not worry about what comes of that. It’s easier to focus on the few people who enjoy what I create rather than get distressed at a lack of worldly success.

This process has made me think somewhat differently about how other people approach opportunities to be important. There’s the desire to lead, guide, give and nurture on one side, but on the other there’s the need to prove something, a hunger that comes from trying to offset a lack. From the outside it can be hard to work out which is which, but it’s worth considering that people who seem most interested in their own importance can have all kinds of things going on that would be perhaps better dealt with through kindness than by taking them down a peg or two and so making the underlying issues that bit worse.


Druidry is not democratic

Druidry is not democratic, and generally speaking, this is a very good thing. When people ask of Druid groups that they be more democratic, this tends to be a problem. Here is why.

In a group, grove, order, camp, or event, someone holds legal and financial responsibility. Whatever happens, that person, or those people, bear the consequences. No one should be asking for a democratic say when they are not sharing in the legal or financial risks, and the people taking the risks have to be able to make the decisions.

Similar things happen around work. If people do not have an equal responsibility for doing the work, they should not have an equal say in what happens. When plans are made by committee and implemented through the labour of a minority, this can easily become exploitative, the demands for work can be unreasonable. Generally speaking, people who are doing the work, especially when they do it as unpaid volunteers, have better morale when they are able to do it in their own way and on their own terms, than when they are being told what to do by people who are not doing the work.

If there is sharing of legal, financial and working responsibilities, then, and only then can people speak democratically to each other about what should be happening and how to do it.

Unlike a country, Druidry offers us other ways to vote – principally that we can vote with our feet. If you don’t like how a thing is run, go to another thing, or set up your own. If you don’t like a teacher, go to a different one, or undertake to learn without guidance. The multitude of Druid Orders, authors, blogs, groups, groves etc means that no one has to stay where they feel ill at ease, and anyone can start something. This is also a good thing.

On the flip side, those who run things do have a responsibility to listen. If you aim to serve the community, not your own ego, then you’re going to have a vested interest in finding out what that community wants and needs. We need to look hard at who we enable and who we exclude, who we flex for and who we give no ground to. If we assume car use and gather in places inaccessible without a car, we’re making some very troubling choices about who is welcome and who is not. Equally if the venue isn’t disabled friendly, excludes children, has no toilets to hand, then we’re making decisions about excluding some people.

Druidry is not democratic. However, the idea that Druidry is about relationship is a recurring theme, and this is a much more productive way of thinking about how we organise ourselves. How do we support those who serve? How do we interact with those who lead? Why do we want people following us? Who are we listening to? Who do we have space for? There are power imbalances in the Druid community. Some of us are more privileged than others. Needs vary, as does ability to participate.

There are always people who want to talk about what they think someone else should be doing. Or not doing. This soaks up a lot of time and energy and tends to achieve very little. Supporting people who are doing, undertaking to do what we can, listening to those who are limited and need our care and support, communicating openly with each other and treating each other even handedly while recognising that there is seldom an equality of responsibility… that would seem like a better way of approaching things.


Owning the time

Time is the most precious thing we have. We only get to use it once, and what we throw away is never available to us again. It’s so easy to go through life thinking about what we are going to do when we have the time, while failing to notice all the time we’re not using in the ways we really want to.

Some of this is about what it takes to survive and pay the bills, and our duty of care to others. We also get sucked into feeling that we need things, and the appearance of status and this keeps us working rather than living, and consuming rather than enjoying.

Last year my work patterns were awful. Some of the work I was doing tended to turn up at no notice with tight deadlines, which meant on any given day I had no idea what might be coming, or when. It’s really hard to have a work-life balance in that sort of situation. It’s hard to plan anything when you can’t figure out ahead of time when you will be working or what you might be earning. As this kind of work becomes ever more normal and the government wants to re-brand zero hours contracts as ‘flexible’ we need to be alert to what this means in practice. If you get to decide when you work or how much you work, that’s flexible. If you can’t plan your child care, social life, home life as much as a week in advance, that’s a problem.

People died for the 8 hour working day, and when working days are longer (as they were a hundred years ago and more) people get sick more, die younger and have a far lower quality of life. This time is all we get, and it should not be considered ok to rob someone of all scope for good time in their lives. We all need rest, we all need time off, and we all need some idea of what we will be doing when, in order to have sane and balanced lives.

My work life has changed significantly in recent months. It’s getting to the point where I can look at the shape of my work over weeks if not a whole month and work out how I want to spend my time. This has meant I can reliably have a day off every week. Before, I was working at least a part of most days, because I couldn’t afford to do otherwise, and I had to say yes to everything. A day off in a week confers rest, peace and also a degree of dignity. It is easier to say no to things when I want to. I’m pushing it further, having got ahead with what needed doing and having the luxury of some days off all in a group – something closer to a holiday. I haven’t had an actual holiday in about five years, and two days off together is a revolutionary thought, but I’m trying for a week of not working much most days, having me-time, down time, adventures, lie ins… I’ll check emails intermittently.

It makes so much difference, feeling that I can do this, having the means, and the support. I can say that working flat out, and working sporadically with no control over the time, are not good things, and we need to hold these lines because they matter, and not be sold the lie that a loss of control over your life is somehow a good thing.


The revealing powers of anger

When and why a person becomes angry is incredibly revealing, as is what they feel entitled to do, and to whom, once anger has taken hold. It’s a very exposed emotion, often defensive in nature and as likely to make apparent a vulnerability as to protect.

It’s not unusual for anger to confer a sense of entitlement. The experience of the emotion justifies lashing out, with words, or physically. How responsible the whipping post was, can vary greatly but I often observe angry people taking it out on whoever is nearest, shooting the messenger, or picking an easier, less threatening target than the source of the problem. Domestic violence increases around sporting events as (usually) men feel moved to beat up their women because their team lost.

If we say ‘they made me angry’ and act on that, we’ve lost a degree of self determination, lost power over ourselves. Someone else can provoke us into acting in ways we do not wish to act. Rather than seeing it as a justification, we might equally see being made to do something by an angry response as a loss of power and identity.

Most of my anger has been going inwards. I’ve started watching for this, seeing how I collude with anyone else who is angry with me, and take that inside. I blame myself and judge harshly for shortcomings and I allow the loss of control into rage to be an excuse for violence towards myself. This is a pattern I am trying to break. I’m trying to notice when anger begins in me, and to see what triggers it, and there’s an interesting list.

My own powerlessness is certainly an issue. I get angry in the face of authority. Good leadership is fine, and welcome, but when someone tries to force their authority onto me to make me do things their way or submit to their worldview, I get angry. Until recently there was just a tiny window of perhaps a few minutes when I’d be capable of feeling anger with the other person but then I would rapidly start to collude, accepting their right to push me around, tell me off, put me down or whatever else it turned out to be. I’d ingest the bile until it made me ill.

I’m learning how to hang on to that initial anger, and to hold it as gently as I can inside me so that I can see what it is and where it comes from. I get angry about double standards, and being asked to do impossible things. I get angry when people are careless with my time, energy and other resources. I get angry when people are unkind, unreasonable, unfair. As a list, it seems a reasonably fair set of things to get cross about. I should be as entitled to that as anyone else is. What I have to disconnect from that process, is the idea that how I am treated is a fair measure of what I deserve. I have to recognise that not everyone gets angry fairly, and that it is not proof of wrongdoing or failure on my part. I do not have to default to taking it inside.

Some people get angry because they feel vulnerable. They take something personally that was not personal. They are too aware of their own shortcomings and trying to mask them. They need to be big and important and taken seriously and failure to do so elicits a really vulnerable kind of rage. They have poor boundaries, a lack of perspective, no self control, and a hundred other things that are wounds in their sense of self, bleeding out as anger into a world that probably isn’t as kind as they would like it to be.

Not my circus. Not my monkeys. I can be sympathetic, but I don’t have to be responsible.

Perhaps if I can learn to not take these situations personally, not assuming guilt and responsibility, I can do something better for myself. I think I can learn to hold my own boundaries and not get so damaged by other people’s anger. It is my hope, that by stepping back and holding these experiences in a different way, I can also be something that does not co-operate with other people’s stories about why they need to be so angry and why they are so entitled to express that in unpleasant ways. It’s worth a try, at any rate.


Daydreaming as a spiritual practice

Daydreaming tends to get a bad press, as a trivial, time wasting lazy sort of activity. ‘Daydreaming’ is what you’ll be accused of if you didn’t get the useful thing done fast enough. Indulgent, castle in the cloud building, of no use… this is something I want to challenge. I want to recast daydreaming as a profound, spiritual, life enhancing activity.

How do you know what you want from life, who you want to be, how you want to live? If life and mental activity are focused on being busy and useful, there’s simply no room for these questions. You do what you always do, what you are told to do. The daydreamer has room to imagine other lives and outcomes, to build imaginary castles and people them with possibilities. If we are going to do something, we need to dream it first, testing out the implications, picturing the challenges and building the idea that we could.

Daydreaming allows us to develop and hone empathy. Once you start wondering what would happen and how other people would react, you are in the business of empathising. To see how your fairy tale schemes might play out, be they ever so farfetched, you end up thinking about what other people might think or feel in response. Perhaps you find space to wonder how other people, and non-human people live and feel, what the world looks like from their perspective. Even if you are totally wrong in your surmises, just considering that other beings see the world differently opens you out. You cease to be trapped in your own narrow perspective in the same way.

When do we have time for ideas? When can we be inspired, put together new thoughts, have Eureka moments? The daydreaming mind is open, experimental, playful, pondering. New things can arise from it. It’s not always the most serious, grounded, reasonable thoughts that go on to change the world. Wild, outrageous thinking is needed the challenge the status quo, and overturn systems of government. You don’t cast off slavery without first thinking radically. You don’t travel to the stars if you haven’t first dreamed of reaching them. An idea only seems ridiculous if no one has dared to dream it properly.

When might spirit or deity try to talk to us? When we are closed and focused down on being busy with a thing, or when our minds are open and free ranging?

If you’re properly daydreaming, you aren’t consuming. You aren’t using resources or being a useful little unit of production. You aren’t hurting anyone. You aren’t bored. Even if the daydreams themselves are of no use to you or anyone else, you are exploring your creativity. For the person bent on utility, it’s worth noting that the creative ‘muscle’ generated by daydreaming is there for more deliberate problem solving and inspiration seeking as well.

From the smallest dreams of a better life to the most spectacular and complex alternative realities, we are richer for our dreams, and for our daydreaming.


Meditating with depression

As a short term measure, any self-awareness orientated form of meditation is not an easy experience for a depressed person. Working with an approach that takes you out of yourself can be calming, but any looking inwards means staring into the face of your own distress. As a short term consequence, it tends to result in feeling worse. But that’s not the whole story.

A couple of months ago I decided to try and break the cycles I have lived with, where falling into burnout, despair and destructive levels of self-hatred have been a routine part of my life for years. Normally I fight my way out of these patches and back to ‘normality’ and just keep going until it all happens again. To stop doing that, I have to deal with the underlying issues. As meditation is a big part of my life, it seemed like a tool I could work with, and so I started doing the thing it is generally advised you don’t do. I started sitting in a state of awareness with my own depression.

At first, it was just stepping into a world of pain, much of which offered no sense. There were some really tough days. What kept me at it was the absolute determination that I wasn’t going back again into a state of being dangerous to myself, and that while sitting with it was hideous, it wasn’t a wanting to die kind of hideous and therefore something different was happening. I trusted my intuition and I stayed there.

Slowly, memories and other emotions started to surface. Shame, humiliation, suppressed anger, resentment, a whole array of really dark, generally considered negative emotions. Up they came, from wherever I had been hiding them. It was like pulling out barbed wire for a while, the process of getting these things out acutely painful and often disturbing. Once they were out, it was possible to look at them, to ask where they came from and what they meant, what they wanted and what they were afraid of. I cried for things that happened years ago. I recognised things that had pained and shamed me which I had not been able to deal with on those terms when they happened.

It has been a bloody awful process. It has been a long, dark journey full of hurt, the memory of old hurt, the painful recognition of things I have not previously been able to be honest about.

In the normal scheme of things, eight weeks is a reasonable turnaround for another burnout and collapse into self-loathing and despair. So far, there’s been no sign of it. I am discernibly suffering from depression, my mood is often low and I am short of energy, but this is a liveable-with sort of depression and the other thing is not. I have a degree of calm and self acceptance that was not available to me before. My dreams are strange, and suggest some very deep shifts taking place, and what I need to do is keep my nerve, keep sitting with this and let the process roll.

I know the general wisdom is that this sort of journey should be steered by a trained professional. Given that professional scrutiny makes me deeply uneasy, it seemed better to go it alone. I have total ownership of what I am doing, and total responsibility and control and because of my history, this matters. I need ownership and control of myself; the loss of those things is part of the problem. I need space to sit with what isn’t ok – not being allowed to do that is also part of the problem. I need to let me be a priority for a while, because I’ve not had time or space to do that before, either.

And so, on a regular basis, I sit down with my fears, my shadows, and with the black dog and I ask them what they want. Gradually, they’ve started trusting that I could take them seriously, that I am no longer part of the problem in trying to deny them. Slowly, and occasionally they speak, and out of that process comes both the need and the opportunity to change who I am, how I think about my past and what I do with other people. It’s not easy, it’s a slow, troubled process, but it works.

Don’t meditate with depression as a one-off thing. That just makes you feel worse. If you’re willing to step into it for the long term as a process, other things can happen, and they will be challenging at least for a while, but if you need to make radical changes, then there are no smooth and easy ways of doing that. I’m not especially recommending this as an approach unless, like me, you just don’t have many options left, at which point, it is discernibly an option.


The Stroud Elms

At about this time last year I found some seeds in a stream. I thought I recognised them, but having not seen them outside of a book before, wasn’t sure. On further checking it became evident that I had found evidence of a wych elm. This year I’ve found perhaps a dozen of them, some close to where I live. This year they have all seeded, last year they didn’t, and the fine green snow of their early summer seeds, fills me with awe. Because by all accounts, this is an unlikely state of affairs.

The British elms are gone, destroyed by Dutch elm disease before I was born. The Forestry Commission reckons some 60 million trees were wiped out in two epidemics, in the 1920s (my grandmother’s childhood) and 1970s (I caught the tail end). She talked of beautiful, stately trees, destroyed forever. I wonder with hindsight if this gentle haunting by the ghosts of departed trees shaped my love of lost thing. Lost forests. Lost mammals (aurochs especially). I have a heightened sense of the fragility of life, the ease with which something precious can be lost. Perhaps that’s entirely down to my grandmother mourning the elms.

To find elm seeds in a stream in 2014 was a magical, unreal sort of moment for me. The people with me on that day did not believe what I thought I’d found because they, like me, thought the elms to be gone. There is a little part of me that just plain refuses to see ‘lost’ as ‘gone forever’ and sometimes that holds true. There’s Project Tauros, using DNA from an auroch tooth to figure out a breeding program. Aurochs are not entirely gone, their DNA remains in domesticated large hairy cattle, and something a bit like them could yet come back.

The elms are not gone forever. There are elms in Stroud.

At the moment, humans are destroying habitats and species at an obscene rate. This, simply, has to stop. There are so many precious and beautiful things hanging on at the edges. It is a wonder that they can and do hang on, and make comebacks and refuse to be driven into history, but we should not count on their tenacity alone to solve the problems we create.


Daydreaming and meditation

With thanks to Rachel Patterson, who caused me to sit down and think properly about what I’ve taken to doing over the least year or so.

Daydreaming is a very specific skill, and an essential one for any kind of creative work. To daydream well is to be able to open the mind to loose associations and possibilities, while crafting enough coherence around that to come up with something usable. It is the fine art of ‘what if’ and it can be used as much to figure out where we are emotionally, what we want to be doing and other life issues as well as being the jumping off point for art.

I’ve been meditating for a long time, such that I drop into contemplative states of mind readily. While I use very deliberate meditation practices sometimes, they have limited appeal to me because I know what I’m going to get. While deliberately calming the mind is useful, I get bored easily and am also more interested in trying to open up my options, rather than narrowing them down.

What I’ve been doing for the last year or so, is sitting out – how long depending on weather and what my body can tolerate, usually. Sometimes there’s a view, sometimes I’m just working with the shorn grass outside the flat – and both are equally workable. I take time to settling myself, to slow my breathing and be aware of my body. I focus on being aware of the place I’m in, and then I ask of the place, or of the awen, or perhaps something else, to share with me. I sit and wait, not trying to focus or control my thoughts thereafter, seeing what comes up.

Where this takes me, varies. Sometimes it results in insight into my emotional state, some making sense of my life as those loose and free flowing associations bring something up or clarify something. More often, by being very present I witness something that is happening and as my daydreaming mind has space to play with those experiences, some kind of wider insight emerges.

Over the weekend I sat with a stream, and became aware of how light and water combine in an incredibly generous and forgiving way, turning building detritus into little sparkling gems at the bottom of a stream. I saw that currents within the main flow of water are only visible when something is caught up in them, and that life is most evident when you notice it moving against the flow. Deliberateness, and self determination being important to me. I sat on the hill and saw the ancient sea bed that made the limestone and held some tenuous awareness of time, of how brief and irrelevant humans really are, and this thought consoled me. I saw that for the bird or the fox, what we build has no meaning as a human construction, it is just potential resource, habitat and challenge, while for the ant in the grass we do not exist at all. This also comforted me.

To adapt to human environments does not make a good or a bad fox. There is only the fox, doing what it can with what it has, and I take something from this about my own relationships with wild and urban spaces. There may be no inherent virtue or failure in how I relate to either.

For me, inspiration (awen) is at the heart of my Druidry, and much of what I do involves seeking it, and working with it. Using meditation to hold a space in which my daydreaming can be inspired, and can allow me insights and respite, has become really important to me over the last year. I hadn’t really thought about what I was doing, but a recent comment from Rachel Patterson about the relationship between daydreaming and meditating caused me to sit down and really think about this, and recognise that for me, there are some important relationships between daydreaming, meditating and inspiration.


Interviewed and reviewed

Recently I did an interview with Annika Garret, who has a youtube channel where she talks about all manner of things. It would be fair to say that I was less than perfectly awake, and apparently ‘Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids’ is not an easy thing to say when less than perfectly awake, but there we go.

I created a strange echo so it sounds like I did some of this interview from inside a cave. I didn’t, but feel free to picture me amongst the stalactites and bats anyway.

 

If you’d like to see her entire video list it’s https://www.youtube.com/user/AnnikaGarratt/videos and she also blogs http://annikagarratt.blogspot.co.uk/


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