The proof of having mastered a thing, is frequently unconsciousness. By this I do not mean lying prone on the floor, but an inability, or lack of necessity to think in detail about what you are doing. I think this as applicable in Druidry as other places, but to explore I’m going to play compare and contrast with music.
No one could hope to play an instrument automatically and without thought. The process involves learning where the notes are and how to make them, how to pull out the best sounds, and getting a few tunes under the fingers. In just the same way you wouldn’t expect to wake up one morning able to unconsciously act as a druid in all things, improvising exquisite ritual and so forth. The measure of transition from learner to master is the ability to do beautiful things without needing to be fully conscious. In fact, at a certain point, trying to think consciously about the process can be a handicap.
The route to this point involves total, considered, conscious involvement with the thing you mean to learn. It’s estimated that it takes about ten thousand hours of serious work to master an instrument. To that end you would devote an hour or more every day. There are some practical advantages with Druidry, because that music practice, or art practice can be part of it. And as druidry is not a specific art, but a spiritual approach to life, it can be attached to anything you are doing. What you need is a conscious approach, every day, to living. As the musician learns the instrument, so the Druid learns life. We study the shape and nature of it, we find out where the particularly druidy bits might be, and how to make the best sounds, and we get life-tunes under our fingers – we learn ritual forms and prayers, we learn ideas and philosophy, correlations between seasons, elements, times of life. The aim of Druidry is to master life as one might a musical instrument, and then to be able to play it exquisitely.
Of course, life pictured as a musical instrument is not the most precise of metaphors. Life as a musical instrument might be more like a sentient bagpipe that sometimes felt hostile towards you.
When I go walking, I don’t have to stop and think about what I should be looking for and picture the idea of spirits of place in the hopes of them communing with them. I have a keen sense of what’s around me and will interact with it without needing to shift gears any more. This is a consequence of having been doing it for a long time, and there was a time when I would step out more consciously and deliberately to look for spirit.
In music, there is no point of finishing. Even when you’ve got to the point of being able to play unconsciously, that’s not the end. I can pick up my violin and jam in on a tune I’ve never heard before, finding harmonies in the moment. That still feels a bit uncanny to me, a bit like magic. But there are also times when I will deliberately deconstruct my own playing, working in a conscious way because I want to improve something. It’s an inevitable part of learning any new tune. If I hear someone else do something I want to be able to copy, I’ll go through the same process. I’ve recently been changing how I use the bow. It means for a while that I don’t play with the same smooth ease, that I become conscious again, but I will return to the unconscious playing when the new technique is mastered, or the tune grasped fully.
I see reasons to approach Druidry in the same way. It is not my aim to disappear into total unconsciousness. Mostly because I don’t imagine I would ever get to the point of being able to do everything with perfect grace and no conscious consideration. There will always be tunes I do not know how to play. Just as I step back now and then to analyse my violin playing and ponder where it could be worked on, so I ponder my druidry. Which part of my life could I make more creative? How could I be more green? Is there anywhere that I’m not acting to the best of my abilities? Is there something I might be able to do now that I could not do before? Experimenting and exploring are conscious processes, from which things can be taken into less conscious use.
I know this blog may have sounded strange to anyone who has been following my work. I talk a great deal about the importance of being fully conscious and knowing what we are doing and why. But unconscious Druidry is no different from unconscious violin playing. You still have to pick up the violin and intend to do it. You still have to engage deliberately. I’m far more able to play the music than I am the druid life, which is also a consideration. Druidically speaking, I am still learning the tunes.