Learning to Float

Sometimes life delivers such dramatic rites of passage that ahead of them, even if you know they are coming, it is hard to imagine who you will be on the far side.  Sometimes these things come along as a surprise, and the enormity of the threshold isn’t visible until you cross over it. Where these thresholds are can turn out to be very personal.

The good transformations can be just as startling and hard to process as the traumatic ones. It’s easy to forget this, and to end up flailing around a bit in the aftermath of good things.

My useful analogy for this is learning to float. Floating is very natural for the human body, we do it quite easily. But, if you’ve never let go and persuaded the water to hold your body up, floating is mystery. You don’t know how that feels until you do it. There is a line to cross between not floating, and floating.  I think floating in water is a really magical, wonderful thing, but I came to it late. I started learning to swim aged eleven and I was afraid of the water and it took a long time to learn to trust it to hold me.

Just because something is natural doesn’t mean we will find it easy and automatic. Our bodies are mostly predisposed towards movement and communication, but we still have to learn how to do those things.  We’ve evolved for sexual reproduction but dear Gods sex is complicated for many of us and does not come naturally and needs figuring out. And may be a lot like learning how to float.

If something is supposedly natural but does not come naturally to you, I invite you to remember learning to swim. And if you can’t swim, it still works because naturally floating hasn’t come naturally to you either. This is ok. I think mostly what it means is that a lot of people don’t notice their own learning processes so assume many things are easier than they really are.

It’s good to make room to honour the thresholds and the rights of passage. Our  conventions around rites of passage are perhaps too focused on pairing up, breeding and dying. Along the way there are many thresholds and life initiations, many opportunities for transformation and unimaginable change. The more attention we can pay to those, the better.


Perceiving Time

There are some interesting relationships between how our minds and memories work, and how we experience time. This seems especially pertinent at the moment. I hear from many people that lockdown is causing them to experience days really dragging by in a slow way, and yet somehow this year seems to have gone very quickly.

It’s to do with how we store memories. Our brains only store specific memories of stand-out things – this is why you are more likely to remember the first time you did something than the eleventh time. Once something becomes a generic experience, you won’t remember it as precisely. If you have routines, you’ll remember the generic routine, and only remember specific instances that stood out from it.

Time moves differently for us when we’re paying attention to it. A day with novelty in it, with different activities and experiences – some of which are not overly familiar – is a day that moves quickly and at the same time seems to last longer.

Life in lockdown has proved narrow for many people, and so time drags, but at the same time there are no stand out memories formed through recent months.

It would be fair to say that I’ve not had this experience personally – a great deal has happened for me, and I’ve had enough stand out experiences that March seems rather a long time ago.

What we do impacts dramatically on how we experience time, and that in turn can have a significant impact on quality of life and feelings of satisfaction. I find it interesting that we are encouraged from so many sources to have routines – especially around our spiritual lives.  A daily practice that is too routine will just tend to become a generic memory. A more varied approach may very well leave a person with a richer and more interesting sense of their own spiritual life and self.


Celtic Hospitality

We know that our Pagan ancestors considered hospitality a virtue. You don’t have to go that far back into human history for hotels, inns and other such accommodation not to exist. If you were on the road, you were dependant on the hospitality of strangers, so a lot of older cultures have all kinds of rules about the obligations between host and guest.

For most modern folk, taking in the stranger who knocks at your door is unthinkable. We see the potential danger, and that’s about it. That there are bed and breakfasts, hotels and so forth reduces the need for it in the first place.

I’m fortunate in that it is something I have been able to do repeatedly both as a guest and as a host. When you’re a not-especially-famous person doing events, accommodation is an issue. I used to run a folk club and book guests, and would often give that guest a bed for the night. It was normal, for some years, to have people I’d never met before turn up on the doorstep. I’ve also put up wandering Pagans in the same way – notably Pete Jennings and Brendan Myers.

Going to evens I’ve been accommodated by people I had never met before. It makes a huge difference if you aren’t being paid much, or the event is too small to afford accommodation. A free bed for the night makes it possible to come out ahead on small scale work, and that’s a huge blessing for people like me.

I’ve met some wonderful people this way, and had some fantastic experiences. I’ve never had a bad experience doing it. I think it helps that most of the time, my experiences of hospitality have been held by a wider community and culture.  When you are part of the same community, reputation matters and people tend to act in ways that will maintain theirs. If you mess up with this sort of thing, in a small community, people will hear about it. Equally, if you’re a good host you get a reputation as a safe house and people come back, or seek you out when they are in the area.

I think we’re better people when life requires us to cooperate and trust each other. We’re better people when other people can see and judge us, often. And life is more interesting with these sorts of opportunities.


The Cow Chorus

There are a number of fields not far from my home that have cows in for all, or part of the year. It’s not unusual to hear the cows of an evening. However, lockdown and reduced traffic noise have cast this in a rather different light for me.

It’s become obvious, walking in the evenings, that the cows are calling to each other. With far less traffic noise, it has become obvious that the evening cow calls are conversational. You can hear cows from one herd call and then a response from somewhere else – perhaps miles away. The sounds cows make turn out to travel well over distances when they don’t have much to compete with.

I suppose it’s possible that the different herds have been able to hear each other all along, but I suspect not. I have no idea what the hearing capacity of a cow is, but the relentless traffic noise drowns out so much that I can’t think they could hear each other over it either.

If that’s so, then the calling at evening is a pathos laden thing. That cows who may never, or seldom have got response from another herd, call out at the end of the day on the off-chance other cows are out there somewhere. I wonder what it’s been like for them finally hearing a response.

When people talk about animals, it’s common to ascribe behaviour to instinct. There’s no thought or feeling in it, just instinctive animal responses to life. ‘Instinct’ is a pretty meaningless word when you poke it. it’s a refusal to look for the mechanics – be those genetic, learned, or otherwise.  How ancient is the urge to call out to other herds? What keeps that kind of behaviour going when no response is ever experienced? What else has been lost because we make so much noise we drown it out?


Love and inspiration

I’ve always been quietly out as a polyamorous person. What this has mostly meant in practice is that I occasionally become smitten with people. There’s often a creative aspect to it – love and inspiration are words I could use interchangeably. But, my best outcome around this is usually a slightly awkward conversation about inspiration and muses.  There have also been some deeply distressing  reactions from people who were horrified by me.  The exceptions are rare and are my most important relationships.

However, when it’s allowed to flow freely, when there is connection and love between people, things work very differently.  I know Tom’s story around this runs parallel to mine with similar issues of inspiration and transformation. I think Dr Abbey’s story has a different shape, but creative relationship, love and respect run through everything that’s been happening for the three of us.

 

Re-enchanted

 

I fell in love first

With your captivating use

Of language.

I do not start these things

In any kind of conventional way.

I fell in love with

Snow on your skin

And cherry blossom

Found you unexpectedly

In my dreams, kissed you

Confessed all on waking.

I fell in love with your willingness

To love me in return

Fell for your clowning playfulness

And only then did I

Become besotted with your face.

You showed me other faces

Other selves. Complicated

Hard to keep up with

But my heart found the way

At every turn.

Falling in love with your tears

Your courage, your fragility

Your wild imagination,

Your ability to show me things

About myself I had lost

Or not known

Or not dared.

Loving your enchanted knack

For opening hearts

Watching people I love

Learn to love you in turn.

Watching the impossible

Become possible

As your magic seeps gently

And washes dramatically

Through my life.

Until falling in love becomes

Who I am and what I do

A day by day process

Re-opening to the world

To hope and soulfulness

Learning to love

Who I might be

As I grow into this

Strange new charmed relationship

With life.

I fall in love with you.

 


Learning to cry

I was bullied a fair bit as a child. I learned that mostly what bullies want is to make you cry, and that when you cry, the childhood ones soon lose interest. I learned to cry quickly, that to get it over and done with was safest. I did not cry for myself then, I was crying to placate other people with my pain and humiliation.

Somewhere in my early teens I changed tack. I wasn’t going to be humiliated any more. I wasn’t going to give anyone the satisfaction of making me cry. And so, in a determined way I became someone who mostly did not cry in front of other people. I became emotionally unavailable. There were still people intent on reducing me to tears, but I didn’t co-operate with them anymore. It didn’t solve everything, but I liked me better as someone stony and refusing to show distress.

In my twenties, the man I was married to told me that all of my emotional expressions were suspect and seemed manipulative. What tears there were he treated as emotional blackmail. I tried harder with the not crying around anyone. At this point, in my forties, I’m really good at not crying. I’m so good at it that I don’t reliably let out emotions that I need to express and I’m working to change this.

It does help to go off on my own. Making solitary physical space to cry in makes it easier to let go. Having people around me who will let me go off and deal with my feelings in this way is also really helpful.  I notice that comforting me shuts me down, so I’ve started asking the people I am closest to not to do that, and to give me the space to cry. If I need to cry I don’t really want to be soothed, which feels like pressure to stop crying.

I’m going to be working on this. Giving myself permission to cry. Giving myself space to cry. Treating my tears as acceptable and necessary, and not something to be ashamed of. Yes, emotional expressions from me may not always be comfortable for everyone else, but I’m learning to be ok with that. At the moment, I am safe, and the people around me are not going to become dangerous to me if I make them feel slightly uncomfortable. I’m also not dealing with anyone for whom making me cry is entertaining and there is no one in my life using my tears to disempower me. I can afford to cry.

Unexpressed grief is a heavy thing to carry. Letting that out of my body might be messy, but it will be better moving forward.


Singing the Trees

A guest blog by Vishwam Heckert

For some years, I have found myself listening to trees. At first it was just their presence … a feeling of someone there who had much to share. As my practice of heart meditation has deepened, more information is received and I find the trees sharing words or images with me. It is such a beautiful way to connect with nature – so direct! I’d been hearing from friends that many trees are getting sick … from the environmental strains of our times. One day in the autumn, I found myself asking a tree how we could help. She showed me the image of people in a circle around a tree, holding hands and singing together – singing with the tree. I’ve since been talking with my teacher about these things and she is telling me that every tree is a living prayer – always connected with earth and with what is beyond.
I found myself talking with an old friend, who sometimes goes by the name Frida Go, about doing some kind of work together to support people during lockdown. We have a long history of shared love for the Earth and the memory of this vision showed itself again … and so an event was born. I wasn’t sure if it was too far out for people, but we had a large group come together, each connecting with trees in different places … and even different countries. As it was so popular, and so very beautiful, we’re holding another circle of Singing the Trees a week on Sunday. All are welcome! Contributions of various kinds, including financial, are welcome but not expected. We are doing this for the trees primarily.

As so many people loved the last one, we’re coming together to Sing the Trees once again!

This is a beautiful opportunity to deepen your connection with nature and voice. In these times, we are being a bit more like the trees – staying in stillness, more rooted, getting to know our neighbours. The trees are our neighbours, our friends, our family. They produce the air we breathe and give so much more. Here’s an opportunity to give back – to honour our friends with song and prayer.

Indigenous wisdom from around the world recognises an innate intelligence in trees, as in all of life. Modern biologists are learning how trees communicate and care for one another, and increasingly even physicists suggest that consciousness is inherent in all matter. Whatever our own sense of non-human beings’ experience may be, it can be very special to take some time to stop, breathe, and connect with our always immobile neighbours – the trees.

Maybe there’s a tree you already know you’d like to sing with? Or maybe you’d like to get to know a tree before we meet? Together, online and each in our different places, we will take this time to tune in with love and kindness and our hearts’ prayers. With gentle support and guidance from your hosts, we will listen to the trees around and find the sounds or song that wants to come through where they grow. Any sounds that come may be silent and inward, gently hummed, a pretty tune may or may not emerge or even some wild sound.. you may prefer to work choose a tree somewhere you will feel relaxed should other humans hear your sounds 😉

Whatever emerges will be perfect and unique: to you, to the tree you choose and to that place and time.

The morning (or the time where you are) will include a little space to introduce ourselves, some warming up our voices and connecting with the land, with our hearts through meditation, and with the trees. We’ll turn off our microphones and cameras for a while to connect with the trees in a quiet space together and rejoin for a closing circle at the end.

We will be connecting through Zoom, so you may wish to find a tree located where you definitely have access either to phone or data signal. You might wish to use headphones so you can listen to the guidance without others being disturbed. If it’s raining or you are staying in your home for other reasons, you can connect with a tree that you know or perhaps a photograph of one. Please arrive 5 minutes early with your phone’s notifications off to settle in and relax.

Suggested contribution for the event is £10 (paying less if you have less, nothing if you need, and welcome to pay more if you have more) for you with a portion of proceeds going to support Three Streams (Scotland) https://three-streams.org/

You can send your contribution via http://paypal.me/vishwamheart

To register your place, please email vishwam@heartoflivingyoga.com

Facilitators

Frida Go is … a semi-feral adventurer, art school garden chaplain, Initiate of the Western Mysteries, Master of Fine Arts & Science

Vishwam Heckert is a gentle listener, Heart Of Living Yoga Teacher & Teacher Trainer, and Doctor of Philosophy (the wisdom of love) http://flowingwithlife.org/


Druidry and time, continued

This is my second blog post contemplating a druidic relationship with time. The first one is here – druidlife.wordpress.com/2020/06/19/druidry-and-time/

About ten years ago I had a run of experiences that caused me to focus very much on day to day life. Things that mattered greatly to me seemed unviable, or that I was threatened with losing. It was a frightening time, but, all I could do was take it day by day. Although things were hard, that day by day focus on gratitude, appreciation and making the very best I could of what I did have got me through and taught me a lot.

All the important stuff eventually worked out in the way I needed it to, as an aside.

The legacy from that time remains with me.  It taught me a lot about how to think about life. It taught me how precious the small things are, and how you never get the time back and how important it is to celebrate and honour what you have right now.

This is more of a seize the day philosophy than a live in the moment approach. It was impossible to live in the moment with the future so uncertain and so fearful. But it was possible to dig into each day as much as I could, to relish the best bits and make the best of what I had. I never lost sight of the bigger picture, but I focused a lot on the details of everyday life. And I learned that most of the important stuff is made out of those details anyway.

Whether we accept it or not, our relationships with time bring us a lot of uncertainty. You never really know how long you will have with a person, in a place, a job or anything else. I’ve found along the way that I regret things I didn’t do far more than I regret the mistakes I made. Life doesn’t always give second chances, so when I can, I jump in with both feet.  It’s important to recognise the uncertainty, I think. Important not to put off opportunities that might never come again and to recognise how brief and fragile life is. And then to engage with it as much as possible on a day to day basis. Take it as it comes, love it in its smallest parts.

I’m a big fan of doing little or nothing. Time spent on not much can be time very well spent. The one to watch for is when you’re filling in the time, or worse yet, killing time, when you aren’t really engaged with what you are doing.

I don’t think there’s any specific philosophy about time that is more innately druidic than any other, only to value what we get, to make the most of it in whatever way makes most sense to you. Whatever your relationship with time is, make it conscious. Choose it. Live it. Even if you have a wider belief that gives you all the time in the universe, this moment is precious and will never come in quite the same way again,


Walking with intent

One of the things I love about labyrinths is that you can do whatever you want with them. If I lay one out in the grass at my local park, anyone who wants to come and walk it can. They can do so in whatever way they like and for whatever reasons, with no reference to what anyone else is doing. It’s a nice way to hold magical space for people. At the moment it’s also really good as as an answer to socially distanced celebration and ritual.

Labyrinths transcend any specific tradition. They are a form that allows us to bring our bodies into the same space without having to agree about meaning or approach. They’re also a very peaceful, powerful thing to do and require no previous experience.

Usually I walk the labyrinth as a meditative process. I like to be the first one in – to test that I’ve put it together properly, clear twigs from the path and make sure the space works. My process with the space begins far earlier, when I ask permission, talk to the land and put down the first curve of fabric to mark the centre. I will later do a second walk in and will be the last person to walk the labyrinth before we take it down.

For my midsummer labyrinth this week I did some things I have never done before. I walked with intent. I walked to make deliberate magical transformation and I walked in no small part to do that for someone else.  In doing so I learned that walking a labyrinth is a good focus for prayers and incantations. If your intention is clear, you can use the slow rhythm of the walking to set the pace for your words. The labyrinth I use takes a person into the middle and then you have to wind your way back out again. It makes sense to work your way into the heart of the issue on the way in, and use the return journey to work out how you want to emerge from the situation.

My first walk into the labyrinth was about things I wanted to change for the next day. It worked, simply. Or things came out right anyway – who can say? But I was pushing for a transformation and a radical change of energy, and that came, one way or another.

For my second journey, I was more focused on the slightly longer term, and I set intentions about the next labyrinth I will make. If that comes to pass I will probably write about it.

An unexpected third intention arose from this process. I want the space to make a permanent labyrinth. This goes with a number of other thoughts I’ve been having and is a good additional focus for the future I am trying to imagine and make real.


River Severns Watery Passions

A sexy river, love of landscape poem from my good friend Robin – well worth taking some time to read this!

Stroud Walking

A few years ago I found myself writing this poem about the river Severn or Sabrina in earlier records. It is a kind of full on erotic vision of my local river which I’m sure more people would admit to if we didn’t think we would be burned as witches or wizards.

Birth is the river.

Conception is the river.

Her sticky wet banks

seeded with moon pale elvers

surging in wriggling coital urge.

Sabrina orgasms with a rushing foamy bore.

The single minded wave

tears up and boils all

into Sabrina’s sexual frenzy.

Her waters throbbing

teeming with little fishes

oozing out in wild swirls across farmland and into our houses.

Infecting Gloucestershire’s population

with Sabrina’s springtide sex drive,

it drives the obliterating surrender of every animal to procreate.

For life’s call is absolutely naked

like flowers coming out.

Men and women step outdoors

To breath the air,

Oh…

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