Tag Archives: meditation

Making headspace for Druidry

Often, the first stage of a spiritual activity is to clear your mind. Get rid of the inner chatter before meditation, change your inner state for ritual, show up and be present in nature. Certainly none of these things work as well if your head is full of noise.

However, rather than just silencing the noise, I find it pays to discover what the noise is, first.

There are days when I can slip easily into a meditative headspace without having to make any effort at all. There are days when I get out amongst the trees and I barely know how to be present. Forcing myself to be more present often doesn’t give me a sense of the sacred any faster, it’s just effort and discipline. If there’s a lot of noise in my head, I tend to find it’s there for a reason.

So, what’s going on? It varies from day to day. There will be things I genuinely need to think about – actions to review, plans to make, important things to keep track of. If I’m trying to do a lot of things, especially if some of them are unfamiliar, I may be overthinking. If I’ve tried to do a lot of thinking, I may feel stressed and anxious. Critically, trying to just turn it off can add to the anxiousness. It really doesn’t help if I start feeling like I’m a bad Druid for being unable to easily still my mind. It isn’t Druid-fail, it’s overload.

It may also be that I’m trying to develop an idea. What happens if I sit with that is that a few grains of thought can be transformed into substantial inspiration. Making space for ideas is a vital part of the creative process. In the early stages, creative ideas don’t always stand out from other head activities. They need finding, noticing and giving permission to continue.

What works best for me, is to make time for those thoughts I’m having and give them my full attention. If there are things I need to track, a careful process of going through them in turn will help me feel more on top of things. If there are problems to solve, it’s better to solve them. If I am worried, I need to asses those worries and see if they are realistic and in need of attention, or just a reaction to overload. If my brain is full of noise, rather than doing anything structured, I’ll deal with the noise – meet it, unravel it. Then if there’s time left, I can look at meditating.

The business of everyday life is not the enemy of your spiritual path. It isn’t something to push away to get to the good stuff. The everyday life is your life, and it may well need more attention than you’ve been able to give it. Giving attention to your thoughts and feelings is key to developing self awareness and making good and conscious choices. Take it seriously. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the noise in your head – what’s wrong is that you haven’t felt able to give it the time it needs. Sit with it, listen to it, ask it questions, and find answers. Contemplate whatever’s on your mind, and the stilling and slowing comes naturally, and does something much more enduring.

The discipline to turn off your thoughts at will has its uses. The daily practice of working through your thoughts and dealing with them offers a lot more benefits.

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Magic, illness and discipline

Most forms of magical and spiritual practice depend to some degree on concentration. It is feasible to do contemplative meditation when you can’t concentrate – by having an object that you return your thoughts to, for example. It is feasible to undertake prayer or ritual with an unfocused mind, but it is probably less effective.

Spell based magic is all about your will. There’s nothing like pain or illness to reduce the power of your will, and to make that kind of focused intensity difficult to maintain. All of us will go through times when we don’t have what it takes to act magically. Some of us will be like that most of the time. So, what do you do if you want magic in your life, but can’t rely on having the attention span, the concentration, the focus or the willpower to work it?

Aim small. Ignore the useless advice that if you can’t meditate for half an hour you should meditate for an hour. Better to have five minutes of quality engagement than a longer stretch full of frustration and misery. Look for acts of magic and spirituality that operate on a scale you can handle. Look for ways of working that allow you to come back regularly and do a small thing. Don’t tie yourself to fixed times because you might not have the clarity at those times. Work when you can.

People who are hale and hearty can be very comfortable telling people who aren’t to try harder. If you are ill, the limits of what you can do are often a simple fact. Trying to push for more can often result in a backlash that lets you do even less. Only you can judge this. Experiment on your own terms and don’t feel pressured into doing things the way other people think you should.

Look for opportunities for magical experience and transformation rather than acts of deliberate change. Being in a ritual can be transformative. So can sitting out with access to trees and birds or water or sky. Having an altar and spending some time with it can make room for things to come in. So can creativity.

Pain and illness can make it hard to think that good things of any shape can happen. The longer it goes on, the more it can lock you down and make you feel limited. Looking for small moments of beauty and wonder can be a way to offset this a little. Sometimes there are blessing amongst the miseries. There don’t have to be, and it isn’t your job to be relentlessly cheerful or to find shiny blessings in a shit storm. But at the same time, there’s much to be said for making the best of what you’ve got in whatever way you can.


Pain and meditation

Most meditation practices seem to start by centring you in your body. Breathe deeply. Be mindful of your physical presence. Gently relax your muscles. You know the routine. The trouble with pain is that being aware of it is the last thing you want. I’ve yet to experience a pain that I can’t suffer from more by paying it close attention.

Some pains I can soothe with the awesome power of my mind, but the truth is that the awesome power of my mind is fairly limited, and sometimes of no use at all. It’s especially useless if the pain is in my head or face to begin with. It’s also a lost cause if I don’t have the concentration to meditate, and there’s nothing like pain for wrecking my concentration.

(As an aside, this is not a request for pain management advice of any sort, there’s a lot of specific detail missing here, as there often is when people talk about pain. This is not a thinly veiled request for guidance about how to deal with pain. I am dealing with my pain, these are observations arising from what I’ve been doing. Onwards…)

Unfortunately, sleeping calls for a period of just being alone in my head with whatever pain I’m feeling. So, while often the solution to meditation not helping with pain is not to meditate, on the edge of sleep, I really need all the help I can get. A meditation practice that can take me away from the pain and into some other head space can really help.

I visualise the pain itself as being like a big door surrounded by flames. My challenge is to get through the door and into the headspace where I don’t feel the pain. Now, normal meditations encourage us to be calm, to feel gentle, peaceful emotions. I have found that doesn’t help me deal with pain. However, if I set up a visualisation or a pathworking that evokes really strong emotions, I can become sufficiently involved with it to take me out of my bodily awareness. This creates the weird situation that being in pain may be the best time for me to try and work on difficult emotional things. I stay away from things that cause too much fear, because panic is not conducive to sleep.

I can’t say how or if this would work for anyone else, but it might. You need to plan what you’re going to work with and pick things that you personally will find emotive in intense and powerful ways. You can’t use any of the normal settling in techniques because they’re all too body centred. I tend to picture the fiery door, gather my wits and dive headlong into the most intense meditation I can think of. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but when it does work it allows me, eventually, to go to sleep, and that’s quite some blessing.


Presence and process

Spiritual activities call for presence. They ask us to be fully there, in the moment, mind quiet, heart open, totally engaged. In practice, this can be difficult to achieve. My experience of running rituals, vigils, and meditation groups, as well as my own firsthand experience suggests that presence is a challenge sometimes.

When you turn up to the thing – be that public ritual or private practice, your mind may be full of stuff. Issues from the day, worries for the next day, deeper ongoing problems, things you need to remember, things you regret… the conventional wisdom is that to do the spiritual stuff, you need to switch this off. The older I get, the less convinced I am of this.

The noise in your head probably isn’t trivial. It likely pertains to the real things going on in your life. Turning the noise off changes nothing, solves nothing. It’s a neat skill to be able to do it, and it can be handy in the short term, but doesn’t help in the longer term.

Our lives can be very fast, information dense, over stimulating, problem laden and stressful. We need to deal with that. It is easy enough to do – it just requires some time when you aren’t massively stimulated or required to interact, and you can unpack your brain. Let those thoughts run. Investigate them. Find solutions where you can. Write down things that need doing. Work out what you can safely let go of.

I do my best processing either walking or sitting. I do my least helpful processing if I have to do it in bed at night. If the issues are too large and emotional to tackle directly, I process them by drawing, or dancing, or singing. I have learned that hefty positive experiences need as much processing time as apparent problems. If I don’t make deliberate space for processing, my head is a mess and I get stressed and don’t sleep well. If I make deliberate time to process things, my mind clears naturally, and it much easier to find the mental space for engagement with other things. Not just spiritual things, either. Life is easier when you clear your brain out regularly.

It doesn’t feel very spiritual to have a head full of the stuff that was on twitter, what the cat did, why the colleague said that and what to cook for tea. But this is life, and life is not separate from spirituality and not the enemy of it. The problem is not that we’re stuck in the mundane stuff, the problem is that we’re not giving ourselves enough time to deal with the mundane stuff properly. It merits having time spent on it. Lessons can be learned, plans made, answers and strategies figured out.

If you find calming your mind to meditate difficult, consider that you may need more processing time, and try doing that instead. It will confer the benefits of a calmer body and a clearer head. Developing a clearer view of our lived experiences brings all kinds of gifts, and will in time help a person slow down, cope with stress and make better choices.


Druidry and meditation

Here’s something from the opening of my first non-fiction book – Druidry and Meditation.

When I first came to Druidry, there weren’t a great many texts to be had explaining how to be a Druid. I read what I could find, and while that gave me broad brushstrokes, I wanted a much more precise guide on how to go about doing ‘it’. I wanted someone to tell me what to do. What does it mean to be a Druid? How do you live as a Druid? I wasn’t only interested in ritual practice, but in the detail of ordinary life, in Druidry as integral to every day existence.

Over the years, studying with OBOD, attending talks and workshops, lurking about on forums and listening to others, I picked up a great many different and not always compatible ideas about what Druidry is and means. Once
I started participating in rituals, I learned by doing and observing. On occasion, people tried to tell me what to do and I found myself irritated by them. I learned that I did not want to be told exactly how to go about being a Druid after all.

I have lost track of how many times someone has written, or said in my presence that Druidry cannot be found in books. It has to be experienced. Which makes the idea of writing a useful book about Druidry seem like a bit of a nonsense. But in much the same way, a book cannot make you a kitchen cupboard either. It can tell you about tools, materials, potential problems and show you pictures of other people’s cupboards to inspire you. Making the cupboard remains your responsibility.

So where do you go to experience it? Where does the path begin? I learned, in frustration, that Druidry isn’t really a thing one person can teach another, because it is unique to each of us. But that still doesn’t answer the question of where to start and how to search for it. Then some years ago, I started acquiring people who wanted to learn, and who thought I had something to teach them. That was a surprising process, but sharing what I know
has taught me a great deal. No, you can’t teach Druidry and you can’t put it in a book. Anyone who wants to be a Druid, must, in the end, find their own way, that’s part of the nature of the thing. What you can do is put tools in people’s hands and tell them how to use them, much like the cupboard making metaphor. You can share techniques for exploring, and stories of how you found your own path. You can wave to other folk when you see them
roaming along some other route through the great forest that is Druidry. I can pass onto you the things I’ve picked up, as you will no doubt pass along anything that seems useful or relevant. We can’t turn each other into Druids, but we can share around maps and tales from the road.

Therefore, this is another book that won’t teach you how to be a Druid. But hopefully it won’t be teaching you, in ways you’ll find helpful and productive as you figure things out for yourself.

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/druidry-and-meditation


Panic, breath and meditation

I’d been aware of the theory that panic and breath-orientated meditation doesn’t always go well, but until recently, I’d never encountered it. The experience of what was probably bronchitis coupled with several days of intense panic from stressful things, did things to my body. I found that so long as I wasn’t thinking about my breath, I was fine, but if I became aware of it, I couldn’t do it. Cue gasping frantically.

This was especially bad on the edge of sleep, because there aren’t many things a person can do with their brain. At that point, not being aware of my body proved very hard indeed, and the panicked bouts of fighting to breathe, and fighting to convince my body that it could breathe, were many. It made me realise how much my meditation practice is underpinned by breathwork. I had no real tools to deal with a situation where I needed to focus my mind on something other than my breath. However, necessity is a great teacher.

What I discovered is that I can go from cold, straight into a visualisation or pathworking. I have to plan it carefully in advance, and to make the leap straight into a deep meditative state, the subject matter has to be emotionally engaging. And then, it’s like making an enormous, perilous jump, but I managed it repeatedly. An arrowshot of intent and concentration, taking the mind away from the body so that the body could keep on with the breathing, untroubled.

I also learned that this kind of trick can be pulled when sharp and clever, but that an exhausted, sleep deprived mind can’t do it, and at that point, valerian is the better answer, or anything else you might use to knock yourself out of a night.

I’ve never felt so at odds with myself as I did during the week of not being able to think about breathing. Body and mind were functioning as two distinct systems, very much at odds with each other. It was an unnerving experience in all kinds of ways, and I hope never to have it again. It’s another example of how you can’t use meditation as a quick fix – this only worked for me because I have a long history of working with visualisation and had a skill set to draw on. Quite possibly this also went wrong for me because I have a long history of breathwork.


Staring at birds

One of the things I like about art, is how it makes you look at things. This is why my other half – artist Tom Brown – runs art sessions in a meditative context sometimes. Most of the time our looking can be fairly superficial, with much of what’s around us reduced to little more than backdrop and scenery. It’s god to change that.

Taking up colouring in the last year, I’ve had to pay much more attention to what things look like. How colour, and light and shape interact. What things look like, and what I can do with a pencil that might represent and suggest what things look like.

As I mentioned last weekend, I’m having a go at Inktober over on twitter. Every day I stick up an ink drawing. I’ve chosen birds as my theme. It’s already being a serious learning experience.

I sit down with a nature book, a pencil and a pad and I try to draw a bird from its photo. Something specific, and something striking enough to be recognisable – heron, avocet, kingfisher, curlew was where I started. They have shapes and colours that help them stand out from other birds. Of course every type of bird is unique, and there will be things that make it especially itself, but some of those are easier to represent than others. Some birds – like the kingfisher – can be expressed by their colours.

However, I’ve been pushing into the ink work more, and all my ink is black. Could I make a Canada goose look like itself without putting some brown pencil in the mix? Maybe.

Fractions of a millimetre in the length or curve of a line can turn one bird into another. I found it recently where working on a bear image that the differences between bear, dog and badger weren’t that big. A slight mistake on the face and the wrong animal would look back at me. And yet, we can look at these images and say dog, badger, bear where only a tiny fraction of difference exists.

For me it raises all kinds of questions about how we perceive and remember, how we sort shapes and use abstracts. How many lines do I need on the page to clarify which one is a duck, and which one a crane? Not many.


Meditation for mental health

Meditation can seem like an excellent tool for tackling mental health problems. So much so that if you go to a GP, you may find that mindfulness is suggested as the answer to your problems. Here are some of the things meditation helps with, and things it doesn’t.

Using meditation to calm panic attacks. You have to be an experienced meditator to be able to make your brain switch gear in face of panic. If you are learning to meditate to control panic, do not expect rapid results.

Using meditation to reduce anxiety. It can work if the panic is all inside your head. However, the odds are good that there are external stressors involved. You can learn to be calmer through meditation and thus cope better with stressors, if the stress isn’t too much. If you are under constant pressure, it is only by dealing with the external problem that you can sort out the anxiety. It isn’t all about what goes on in your head – not if you are bullied, forced to work in inhuman conditions, not getting enough rest or sleep and so forth. Trying to meditate your way out of it can make you feel more responsible for a problem not of your making.

Working alone and meditating in a way that makes you more aware of what your brain is doing (ie mindfulness style approaches) can work if your faulty thinking is most of the problem. For most people, anxiety has been caused by something. Sitting mindfully with your traumatic memories will do you more harm than good. Resolving trauma without the support of a counsellor is a long, hard, painful road. It can be walked, but I feel no one should have to do this alone.

When a person is depressed, the world appears in certain ways. I’ve never found meditation helpful for changing my outlook, not if all the meditation does is send me inwards into my own personal hell. Distraction is much better – pathworkings and other guided meditations, meditating on something simple and uplifting – a plant, a cloud, a nice oracle card… Getting out of your own head in this way can bring considerable relief. Sometimes, just getting the headspace is enough to help move things forward. Sometimes it isn’t.

There’s every reason to use meditation techniques for immediate relief and for coping with problems. If you find you can use it to tackle larger problems – all power to you. However, if you find meditating makes things worse, it is not a personal failing. If you find no respite, and that it sends you further down your own rabbit holes, don’t do it. If your problems are out there in the world and caused by other people, don’t make yourself solely responsible for fixing things.

Meditation is not a magic bullet, it is not a salve for every ill. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either trying to let themselves off the hook, or save themselves money, or wants to diminish your problems for their own comfort. It may be that they’ve only experienced very mild depression and anxiety – the sort meditation can definitely help with – but they don’t know what a minor brush they’ve had.


Contaminated headspace

How many things need thinking about in a day? Meals and family time tables, the laundry, social commitments, other people’s needs and timetables… It’s an issue I first became aware of a while ago through a feminist blog. Like emotional labour, this kind of holding all the things in your head is work that falls disproportionately to women. I raised it at the time with the chaps of my household, and we changed some things.

However, headspace contamination is also a work issue for me. It means trying to plot social media strategies in my time off. It is writing blog posts in my head when I wake up in the morning, and things of that ilk. Sorting out the way in which my own poor boundaries leave me with an over busy head has been an issue. The over busy head does not rest well, stresses a lot, and doesn’t have space for wonder or imagination all too often.

I replaced my never ending to-do list with a diary. I noticed (thank you other bloggers who helped me see this) that a to-do list easily becomes a thing to beat yourself up with. With a diary, I have to think carefully about what I’m going to do when, and it is easier to budget in time for non-workish things too. I don’t overload my days, and at the end of the day I’ve usually worked through the list, so it helps my morale. When I get an idea, rather than obsessing over it, I write it down for the day I’m going to tackle it. It’s very rare now that I try and write blog posts in my head.

I’ve put down work that doesn’t suit me. The things I do well, I seldom have to sweat over. I need small patches of time here and there to reflect, ponder and speculate about my work, but I don’t need to do it every day, mostly I can crack on. Jobs where the remit wasn’t clear enough or where I wasn’t a natural match at all have had me trying really hard to overcome that. I hate doing a job badly. It took me a long time to recognise that if all I do is bang my head against a thing, it is better to put that thing down and move on. There’s no shortage of things I could be doing, I need not do things that tie my brain in knots and leave me feeling low and exhausted.

Clear communication is a good antidote to contaminated headspace as well. No second guessing, no dances of imply and infer, just straight, clear, expression and open negotiation. Increasingly, I’m not willing to invest in people who need to make every social exchange into a complicated set of manoeuvres. Intellectual hide and seek is not my idea of fun. Emotional snakes and ladders I can cheerfully miss. If I know where I am with people, I don’t get into wearying speculation.

Taking control of my headspace has been a process, but as I get better at it, more time and energy becomes available to me. It also becomes apparent as to who and what is a good use of my time, and what just sucks the life out of me to very little effect. Yes, I can use meditation in short bursts to quieten my mind, but it is a good deal more effective to tackle the busy issues at a life level, and save my meditation time for more creative and soul nurturing things.


Forgiveness Meditations

Trigger Warning: Body shame and body dysmorphic disorder type issues. These are meditations designed to help with this, but I didn’t want anyone to wander in unawares.

 

I’ve never had a good relationship with my body, and have a great deal of internalised guilt, shame and hatred around how I look. I’ve been working with a meditative approach for a while now, and I’ve found it helpful. This is a broad explanation, you will likely need to fine tune it to suit personal needs and issues. Be really alert to not letting words in that reinforce the problem rather than easing it.

I find this is easiest lying down, but again, adapt as makes sense. Pick a quiet, safe environment. Do whatever you do to enter a calm and meditative state. If you can, put a hand on one area of yourself that you have a problem with. Just stay there for a while, and breathe slowly with it. Focus on being calm.

I started this process simply being repeating the words ‘I forgive’. Inevitably this can cause memories and feelings to come up, so I took to creating a longer stream of thoughts. “I forgive, I accept, I let go,” works for me. I’ve found if I try to use really strong positive words ‘love’ for example, I am more likely to panic myself. “You are ok, you are good enough, you are acceptable” is more effective for me than anything I cannot accept. I don’t do well with conventional affirmations, suggesting to myself that ‘I am beautiful’ makes me feel panicky and sick. It’s not a good idea to try and run when you can’t walk.

The nature of your relationship with your body will inform the kinds of words you need to use, and if you explore this, you may find things emerge for you that you can work through in this way. It is essential to be able to hold clear intent around self-acceptance, and not let abusive, corrosive language slip in. You don’t have to make excessively enthusiastic statements about yourself, and you may find it easier not to, certainly at first. “This is my body and I accept it and am ok with it” is a very powerful, affirmative statement if you have a lot of trouble owning and accepting your physical form.

Ideally, you need to think about what would be helpful without getting too bogged down in the problems themselves. I find that one body area in a session is plenty to be working on, and that moving around different areas of shame and discomfort over different sessions is helpful. It can bring things up so I only do it when I feel equal to dealing with what emerges. I usually work quietly, but saying things out loud is also powerful and worth exploring.