Tag Archives: nature

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 Blackbirds

Of course blackbirds are in the animal oracle and do come up in myths, so they weren’t on my list of creatures to consider from a Druid perspective. But, none of that content here, this post is all about personal experience.

For some years now, we’ve put bird seed on the living room windowsill and had visitations from blue tits and great tits. This year, we’ve got a couple of blackbirds. This has turned out to be much more exciting because they don’t just grab food and fly, they hang around.

Tom and I sit at the window to work, so we’re very close to where the birds might come in. The blackbirds land on the window sill – there’s a male and a female visiting, they show up one at a time. Initially they were nervous about us and if we moved or made any noise they would flee at once.

Now they’re curious, and they pause to watch us, and when we say hello, they do not fly away. I’ve had some extended periods of eye contact, watching the blackbird as it watches me in turn.

It is always powerful when a wild thing looks back at you. To feel accepted by a bird, to be found interesting and not threatening, is also powerful. I listen for the sound of their beating wings, for the scrabble of beaks gathering seed. They’ve become part of my day and I am so glad to see them.

I’m not experiencing any messages here, or any sense of the supernatural. It is however the simplest kind of magic – the kind that comes from making a connection and being affected by that. A gentle, heart opening magic.

What is curious is that the blackbirds have also tried the windows on the other side of the flat, where my son has also put out food. It’s a big enough block of flats, and you’d think ideas about human living arrangements might be a bit complicated and alien for birds, but there they are, showing up at our other windows.


Druids and Worms

Worms should be one of the beings we hold most sacred. They are essential to the life of the soil, and human life depends so much on that vitality. Worms pull plant matter down into the existing soil, and eat it, breaking it down and releasing the nutrients back into the earth. The way in which they move through the soil aerates the ground, and is part of how the structure of the soil is created.

Worms are one of the key the means by which death is turned back into life. They are engineers of this most essential process. Pagans honour the cycles of life and death so we should hold in the highest possible esteem the beings who drive that cycle. And yet, I’ve never encountered anyone celebrating worms in this way.

Worms are suffering as a consequence of human pollution. They are the creators of life, and any threat to them is a threat to us all. We need to protect them in any way we can.

An individual worm isn’t a dramatic entity. They are small, quiet, easily overlooked and living underground, are mostly invisible to us. They do not demand our attention. We don’t have famous worm Gods at whose shrines people might make offerings. We overlook their power and their magic at our peril.

The best shrine you can make to the worms, is a compost heap. Feed them, engage with them, make a home for them that you are fully conscious of. Bring them offerings every day of the food you did not want, the peels and skins and inedible bits. Offer up your rubbish to them, in recognition that they will turn that rubbish into rich food for the soil. You give them the most worthless things you have, and in return, they give you life. It is a relationship that should make anyone feel humble, and that reminds us that power is not always self announcing.


Druidry and the dormouse

I’ve never seen a dormouse in the wild – but that’s not unusual. They are shy creatures and they have an aversion to putting their feet on the ground. It means they are particularly affected by the presence or absence of green corridors connecting areas of woodland. Their cute, sleeping forms are, as a consequence, a popular image for the Woodland Trust and for other organisations trying to reconnect the fragments of our remaining wild places.

They have a great deal of power as an icon for vanishing wildlife, and as this is the way I have most experience of them, it’s the one I’m going to focus on. Activism on behalf of the natural world is something many Druids do. As individuals we may be enthused about all kinds of aspects of nature. However, most people are moved by cute things they can readily identify with.

The sleeping dormouse is adorable. Small, soft, furry, harmless, vulnerable – it pushes all the right buttons to get people caring about woods and trees. It can be difficult to get people to care, there are so many pressures to do that, and emotive content tends to have an impact. I don’t like approaches that over-play on your emotions because I think they just add to the problem. But, cute dormouse is cute and engages people without hurting them.

Dormice hibernate and my understanding is that their name comes from the Latin and that the Romans liked to eat them. However, our sense of them as sleepy creatures owes largely to Alice in Wonderland’s sleepy dormouse, and to mostly only seeing pictures of dormice having a kip. When they aren’t hibernating, they’re busily doing the things mice do, only inside hedges at night, so you won’t see them being active. The story about the dormouse is far more prominent than the reality of the creature itself.

Dormice are not available to most of us. To encounter them you’d likely need some training and the opportunity to participate in dormouse-specific projects. But, dormice are not commodities. They don’t exist to teach us, or for that matter to charm us. They may be good fluffy posterboys and girls for raising environmental awareness, but they do not exist for us. As most of us cannot engage with them directly they raise questions about the service we might unconsciously expect from nature, and our feelings of entitlement to have access to everything. Dormice owe us nothing, and perhaps the best way to honour them (aside from protecting their habitats) is actually to leave them in peace.


Spring and courting birds

I expect there are a great many birds out there right now establishing territories and seeking mates. I don’t know all of my feathered neighbours well enough to spot the changes in what they do. However, the blackbirds and woodpeckers have been really noticeable over the weekend.

The blackbirds seem – in so far as I can tell – to be squabbling. It doesn’t look much like courtship at this stage, more like figuring out who gets which spot. I’ve stepped outside repeatedly only to find them making a great deal of noise and chasing each other off. It’s not always easy with birds to work out whether chasing is about the desire to catch or the intention to move the other bird on. However, the tone seems irate to me.

The woodpeckers are simply making a lot of noise – often I don’t see the birds themselves. I hear their loud calls even through closed windows, and they’ve been doing this for some days. It’s rare to hear them normally, the intensity of calling has definitely gone up. I am inferring courtship, but this could be about territory. Most of my reason for inferring courtship is that I know they’ve bred round here in previous years. You don’t tend to get as high a population density in woodpeckers as you do in blackbirds so boundaries may be less of an issue. Yesterday I saw a pair of woodpeckers in flight – some distance from home, but possibly the same ones.

What I notice and what I infer may tell me things about what’s on my mind. I do not assume messages from any other source when I notice things in this way. The blackbirds and woodpeckers are busy with their own lives. Any meaning I take from them pertains to me, and I think it’s important to be clear about that. Nature does not exist simply to send us messages and guide us.


Seeking wildness

When we talk about wildness, in the natural world and in the human psyche, we tend to mean something uncontrolled. So a storm is wild, but a gentle spring day isn’t. Rampant lust, extravagant actions, and unguarded behaviour may be labelled wild, or feral in humans. We don’t talk about sleeping as wild, even though it’s one of those basic, mammalian activities. We’re much more alert to the wildness of large predators than we are to small birds living wild in our gardens.

Often, this means that ‘wild’ is a criticism, and the opposite of civilized. It’s a way of thinking that does not help us preserve wildness. It reserves everything tame for the human sphere, so it also undermines our sense of how much we are part of nature.

Wildness isn’t just exoticism, danger, excess and intensity. Wildness exists in the flowers growing at the margins. It’s there in a cool summer morning, and in the slushy greys of a winter day. There is wildness in our parks and gardens. It doesn’t have to be all about drama.

In ourselves, we are wild when we are sleepy and want to curl up in a sunny spot for a while. We’re wild when we’re picking blackberries, when we sweat and when we move around. We might only notice our wildness when it manifests as drama, but really it’s there any time we put our feet on the ground or expose our heads to the sky. It’s there when there’s rain on your face, and when the wind ruffles your hair. It’s there when you seek comfort from the fur or skin of another living being.

You don’t have to be running mad in a forest to be wild. You don’t have to be out of control to be wild – most wild things are not out of control. You don’t have to be extreme or unreasonable – most mammals live in cooperative groups. If we can reclaim the gentler forms wildness takes, we can stop setting up civilization as the opposite of wildness and better see how the two can inter-relate.


Resources for connecting with nature

Over the last few days I’ve started to properly notice a change in the length of the day. The evenings are opening up a bit. I’m still getting up in the dark, but I know that won’t go on for much longer.

I struggle with the short days of winter. When it starts to get dark, I get sleepy. It’s difficult to find the energy for anything much in the evenings. I am clearly the sort of creature that is supposed to hibernate. Much as I value the darkness, I definitely enjoy it more when there’s less of it!

For me, spring and lighter evenings mean more scope to get outside. I love twilight, but in the winter it’s too cold for me to be loitering about outside. There are no sheltered spaces I can use. I have no garden and no outside space of my own. I’ve been thinking a lot about how much my experiences would change if I had somewhere I could easily sit out for half an hour, wrapped in a blanket, cuddling a hot water bottle. How much access to nature depends on human resources, especially if you aren’t entirely hale and hearty.

Many of our homes and most of our urban spaces have not been built to keep us in relationship with nature. I crave permeable spaces, sheltered enough that I can be in them, open enough to the night and the sky that I can experience them. The easier it is to get warm and dry, the easier it is to chance getting cold or wet. I wonder what our living arrangements would look like if they were designed to facilitate our relationships with the wilder world, not simply to try and insulate us from it all.


Imbolc in nature

Round here, the snowdrops and catkins come out typically a week or two before the calendar date for Imbolc. So, if you go with the date, these seasonal markers aren’t the ones to focus on. If there are pregnant or lactating sheep in area, I don’t get to see them.

What does appear reliably at this time of year, are elf caps. These are a small, red fungi (see the video below for examples!). They have a much longer season over all, but where I live, they are absolutely something that shows up for the start of February.

The relationship between what the rest of nature is doing, and the calendar date varies according to where you live. Druidry can be a bit generic about seasonal celebration, which I think is a real weakness. We need to dig in with whatever we’ve got where we live, and make that the focus, or shift our dates so they match what the season means to us.

 


Green-ish, but at what cost?

It would be better for the environment if more of us travelled by train. Does this mean that destroying pockets of ancient woodland for the sake of more trains is an environmental solution? HS2 offers us just that. Trains are better environmentally than cars, but trees are better environmentally than no trees and ancient woodland cannot be replaced.

I had similar arguments more than a decade ago with an MP who thought a Severn River barrage was a good idea. Save the planet with green energy! But at the price of destroying a unique habitat. She felt it was worth the trade-off. I didn’t.

Every time we get into one of these, what we’re really saying is that carrying on as normal is worth destroying something for. If we used less energy, we wouldn’t need to mess about with the Severn River. If we didn’t travel so much, there would be no justification for destroying woodland for the sake of trains. If we tell ourselves we’re making the more sustainable choice, it’s amazing what we can justify.

We need imagination. We need the willingness to make radical change. We need to recognise that we cannot keep consuming at our current rates. We have to use less. Sacrificing some aspect of the natural world so we can carry on as usual is not a sustainable choice.


Spirituality and Selfishness

The general wisdom is that selfishness is the enemy of spirituality. This goes very effectively with transcendent spirituality that aims to overcome this life. However, if you are doing embodied spirituality, you aren’t mortifying your flesh. A little selfish thinking in the form of self care becomes a very different proposition.

There are many different forms selfishness can take, and much of it is good. We should be able to devote time, care and resources to dealing with our needs. It should be perfectly ok to want things, to act on personal desire and to pursue your own goals. Without a degree of selfishness, how are you to follow your calling, or your awen?

I’d go further and say there should be times when we get to put ourselves first. I think this is especially important for anyone who was raised female in a context that reinforced gender stereotypes. Girls are often taught to put other people first. What is read as go-getting, ambitious and desirable in a boy, or for that matter a man, is often treated as mean, selfish and unreasonable when girls and women do it.

How much scope you have to be selfish will also likely depend on your race and class, how much money you have, how much power. Who gets to put their own needs first and who is expected to serve others first is a question we should ask routinely. It’s all too easy for the person who has a lot of scope to be selfish to ignore what that costs everyone around them.

As is so often the way of it, selfishness is a question of balance and fairness. It’s not an easy thing to explore, either. For people who feel obliged to martyr themselves, looking at alternatives can be scary. For people who have never questioned their own entitled attitudes, this can be uncomfortable territory. However, if you’re serious about a spiritual path, then challenging yourself is going to be part of that.

Most mammals manage to live more selfish lives than we do without bringing each other down. Most mammals do what they have to, and then sleep, play, sunbathe, and socialise. It’s more sustainable to be selfish when you don’t need a lot of resources to do that, and often the most satisfying things we can do to answer our own needs don’t call for a lot of resources anyway.

In seeking simple bodily comfort, we work with nature as it manifests within us. Enjoying this as selfishness can help us resist the things we are sold as ‘luxuries’ to compensate for the simple animal needs we aren’t meeting. Slowing down is selfish – you aren’t powering the economy. Working less, owning less, buying less – these things often make life easier, and take us away from consumerism.