Tag Archives: wisdom

Light, mist and intuition

Walking across the hills on Christmas day, the light was unusual. There was a thin mist or low cloud, with the sun coming up. The light was diffuse. Everything around me seemed quite colour intense while things further away had a washed out quality. There weren’t many shadows, and what there was served to emphasise what was nearest. This kind of lighting creates a strange, otherworldly feel.

What struck me, was this is how I’ve been colouring Hopeless Maine landscapes since the autumn. When I made the decision to approach colouring this way, it was about what I thought would work for the storytelling, and what I could consistently do. When it comes to conscious thinking, I have a really poor visual memory. Unless I concentrate on something, I won’t consciously remember what it looks like. However, I’ve clearly seen that misty light effect before. Some part of me probably knew and remembered.

For me this is an example of how apparently magical intuition often isn’t so inexplicable after all. We take in so much data, we can’t process all of it consciously. What comes in unconsciously will act upon us without our knowing it. This is part of how our environments shape us. When it happens this way, it is a blessing. We turn out to know more than we thought we did, we have inner reserves of wisdom and experience to draw on that come out as a feeling or an idea, not something we can immediately explain and evidence.

However, what else gets in, to inform our feelings and shape our responses? It depends a lot on what we expose ourselves to.

When to give up

Often, the only way to be absolutely defeated is to give up. Where there is life, there is always scope for trying again – however long it takes to do that. There is something heroic about refusing to give up in face of all setbacks – but only if you come out on top at the end. At what point is it wiser to admit defeat and turn your energies elsewhere?

At what point do you say ‘this is never going to work’? I’ve blogged before about the question of what our dreams cost other people. Chasing your dreams can really take it out of those around you, and if someone else has to pay against their will for something you want to do, pushing on is a lot less heroic and a lot more toxic.

Sometimes, admitting defeat can be a beautiful, liberating thing. We tend to treat failure as something awful and to be avoided, but I’ve come to think of it as a much more interesting thing. As an aside, I must thank Mark Townsend for The Gospel of Falling Down, which re-framed the notion of failure for me. Sometimes, giving up is wonderful, releasing energy into other areas of life.

This weekend, the Stroud Five Valleys walk will take people on a gruelling hike around the area, raising money for a good cause. I’ve managed it a couple of times. This year, I’m not trying. I’ve given up. I feel good about that. It feels like a wise choice, putting my bodily wellness first. I don’t need to do this. I don’t need to prove anything by trying to do it.

It’s when we admit failure that we make room for other people to get in and have a go – and quite possibly do better than us. It’s when we admit defeat that we stop pouring energy into things we can’t make work, and might start looking at what we can do more effectively, instead. When we give up, we’re giving ourselves permission to acknowledge that we are tired, worn out, under resourced or otherwise unequal to the task. Owning your limitations can bring great emotional relief. We all have limits, and we won’t know where those are until we’ve tested them. Once tested, we can make informed decisions.

The dreams we have when we don’t know what we can do, or how anything works, might not be our best dreams. Plugging away at a dream we can’t manifest may be stopping us from finding a better dream. Using experience to inform our intentions is a good idea. Going back to the planning stage and rethinking can give us a better plan with better prospects. There is nothing inherently magical or sacred about our ideas that mean we have to hang on to them no matter what.

There are so many forces that are so much bigger than us. Ultimately, life is a journey towards death. It does us good to learn when to yield and accept. Sometimes there is more grace, more wisdom and more benefit in knowing that you are beaten and letting it go.

Do without Doing

The idea that you do without doing and all shall be done comes from the Tao Te Ching. This concept fascinates me, and I’ve been exploring it for some time, trying to understand it. I’ve read various translations of the Tao Te Ching now, and the impression I have is that the person who has entered into the Taoist way isn’t just sitting around meditating, they are present in the world and the things that need doing, are done, but effortlessly.

I am currently experiencing what may be the illusion of understanding something here. So, I’m sharing it.

We can be really invested in looking busy, looking like we’re working hard, really sweating for our results. This is because there is a myth that hard work is a virtue, and another myth that hard work is what brings success. Your background, and your parent’s wealth remain the best indicators of your likely worldly success, not how hard you work, but it is a comforting lie to think we can make it to the top. Put that lie down, and appearing to work hard may seem less attractive.

There is wisdom in knowing what actually needs doing, what matters, what is truly essential. Doing the things that need doing rather than the things we think we should be seen to be doing saves a lot of time and effort. Not worrying what people will think if we aren’t working hard all the time, really opens things up.

I have noticed in my own work that if I am stressed, panicking and flailing then a job takes more time and effort than it does if I come to it calmly. Panic takes energy. If I can avoid situations that panic me – tight deadlines, uncooperative colleagues, being asked to do jobs and not given the resources to do them… it’s easy. If I spend my time doing the things I can do, for people who don’t make life harder for me, the work is simple and almost seems to do itself. If I am happy in my work, and inspired by the work, then the work seems to do itself.

Currently, I think that’s what ‘do without doing’ means. It means doing things in a relaxed and natural way because these are the things that make sense and need doing. No extra arm waving, no stress, no work for the sake of appearing to be working. The more I move in this direction, the happier I am and the easier my work is. Not being time pressured turns out to be especially important for me. I suspect we will each turn out to have things that particularly trip us up and things that are less of an issue and that there’s not a one size fits all solution here.

I’m increasingly interested in my quality of life. It is something I have to seek on my own terms, and worrying what other people will think of me, and what I’ll look like from the outside is clearly something to let go of.

Dog Wisdom

Walking regularly for both leisure and transport, I see a lot of other people who are walking dogs. The mood of the people often appears to be defined by the weather and temperature. In the rain and cold, people hunch their way dutifully through the dog walking.

With the dogs themselves, it’s invariably a different story. Rain or shine, hot or cold, dogs go out into the world in a state of excitement and enthusiasm. They’re poised to be delighted, curious, playful and happy. They are easy to please – a smell, a stick, a squirrel – you can watch them engage with the world and find things to enjoy at every turn.

Dogs are far better than people when it comes to being happy. They forgive quickly, too, and forget, and move on. A dog has to endure considerable mistreatment before it becomes wary, anxious and unhappy. I run into those dogs, too. They’re a lot more like most people, keeping a safe distance, watching for signs of threat, trying to second guess gestures, tones of voice, actions. It makes me wonder about people.

Children are more like dogs, more willing to bounce out into the world each morning to embrace the day and delight in whatever it gives them. If we don’t lose that as we grow up, we’re encouraged to voluntarily give it up. Too much enthusiasm, I have been told, suggests emotional immaturity. It troubles me that jaded cynicism, dispassion, disinterest, are considered good adult states of being, and playful delight is treated as a bit suspect.

I’ve been watching dogs for some time now, trying to learn from them. I often find when I’m out and about that dogs want to interact with me, far more than ever their humans do. I find solace and comfort in a sniffing nose and wagging tail. Tactile comfort too, with those who rock up demanding ears be scratched behind. Dogs are more sociable than people, not least because they’re so willing to enjoy being sociable, to enjoy other dogs, other people and anything else that comes along.

On the whole, I wish I could be more like a dog. Unfortunately, I don’t have the grace of a dog – the grace of feeling entitled to follow your own nose and acceptable and just being able to rock up, tail wagging, to do your thing. I can quietly practice the delight, but the more tactile forms of engagement remain beyond me.

Body wisdom

When I make head-based decisions about people, those decisions are all about keeping said people happy. Head decisions keep me calm, neutral, co-operative and generally easy to be around.

The responses that come from my body are a whole other thing. Most people I prefer to have at least three feet away from me. People who are welcome to stand and stay in my personal space are few. These are also the people I’m happy to be touched by.

I’ve made head decisions all too recently to stand still and silent while people I did not want touching me insisted on doing so. There comes a point when you establish that someone just won’t take no for an answer, and that the easiest way out seems to be to acquiesce. It’s not a logic I like, and I know full well where its logical extremes take a person.

Then at the other end of my range there are the other people, and there aren’t that many of them. People where my body reaction is to want to hug fiercely. I make head decisions not to follow through on this, sometimes – because it might be too much.

There’s a handful of Mary Oliver lines I keep coming back to. “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves’. I don’t actually like the head decisions I make about people, most of the time. When I have acted on those felt reactions, and either backed off or moved closer accordingly, of late the outcomes have been good.

What is called for, is some kind of negotiation, where both parties are taking the time and care to find out what’s available. No assumptions. No demands. One soft animal body paying careful attention to another.

What the body knows

We’re encouraged to think of body ailments as symptoms to be managed, and as a nuisance to fend off. We have a vast array of pain killers, stimulants and tranquilisers available to make our bodies behave in prescribed ways. What we’re not encouraged to do is to assume that if something is awry with our bodies, there may be a perfectly good reason for this. We are not encouraged to seek those reasons out, much less tackle them.

Sleep deprivation is widespread, with many people not getting the 8 hours minimum our bodies need each night. Many of us have stressful, sedentary jobs but don’t have the energy to release that in physical activity. Stress gnaws away at us, creating anxiety symptoms that crop up randomly, to be drugged into submission, or ignored. Exhaustions breeds depression symptoms as our bodies try to reduce energy output. Missed meals, poor diets, lack of food education and the greater availability of poor quality food, all contributes to reducing health.

Then there are the issues of what the body knows. We take in a vast amount of sensory information all the time. We filter out most of it because it is more than we can consciously handle. Sometimes less conscious bits of our brain are still chewing on that input, and eventually respond to it. Our bodies learn to throw up if we eat something we’re allergic to. Sometimes they also learn to throw up in response to people who are emotionally toxic as well.

There are patterns of behaviour that cause me bodily panic. At first I felt uncomfortable about this. It was socially awkward. What panics me is people whose words and actions manifestly don’t fit together. Historically, this has been a danger sign for me. Having taken the time to pin down why I panic, I realise that serious emotional dishonesty is not something to take lightly. People who make grandiose statements they do not mean are not emotionally safe for me to be around. I will be forever mislead, always having to second guess, never able to trust and that’s no kind of relationship. I eventually concluded that my body is right, and where I get those reactions in future, I will quietly step away.

Some of it is less rational. The sound of footsteps on the stair in the flat makes me edgy. Rather than ignoring this, I worked out it stems from a time when the sound of footsteps on the stair really was a thing to be edgy about. A warning of impending unsafety. These days it isn’t, so when I feel that fear I remind myself that things have changed, and my body calms. It is becoming less of an issue. Sometimes we hang onto triggers long after they are relevant, but its only by taking them seriously that we can find out what they mean and then gently unpick them.

If we do not take ourselves, and our bodies seriously, we are easily manipulated. If we are not allowed to trust gut reactions, or to draw breath and figure out why we are uncomfortable, if we have to keep calm and carry on, we are vulnerable to mistreatment. Our bodies know things. Millions of years of evolution have shaped our fight and fight responses to help us stay alive. Those tap into office politics as readily as they do to possible tiger attacks. There is wisdom in our bodies, but only if we take it seriously, and listen to it.

Contemplation in Druidry

Contemplation is one of my favourite methods of approaching Druidry. It’s a big, umbrella sort of a term covering a number of ways of working, and one that I’ve found fellow Druids increasingly interested in. Contemplation needs very little, if any training. Pointers can be nice, but its available to anyone at any level, including children. It does not require special gifts, magical whatevers, you can be as muggle as you like and the path remains open. As we don’t all hear the voice of spirit, or walk in otherworlds, this is an important consideration. Contemplation does not lend itself to hierarchy, dogma, or forming powerbases. I like this aspect. It can be solitary, or shared, or both.

Contemplating can be a purely intellectual process, all about asking questions. We can ask questions of anything we encounter in life. Politics, science and culture are full of potential material to contemplate. We can ponder all manner of things with a view to deepening our understanding, seeking our own place, figuring out how we want to live. It’s not unlike philosophy, only without claiming (necessarily) the language, history and habits of philosophical thought. As a topic, ‘philosophy’ can seem daunting to the ‘unqualified’ where contemplation does not imply the need for a knowledge base.

We can contemplate our own emotions, spend time sitting with our feelings, being present in our bodies and deepening self awareness.

We can set ourselves specific exercises, contemplating an object, image, concept, experience and so forth. This approach takes us more into the realms of meditation.

Finally, we can approach any action with a contemplative mindset that allows us to think deeply about what we are doing, while we are doing it.

Thus contemplation can be a part of all aspects of our lives. It enables us to deepen relationships and further our own understandings. Coming back from long, inner journeys, we then have the option of sharing what we’ve found. This, I think, is always a good thing. While I’m much in favour of solitary working, the person who never touches base with anyone else can become separated from consensus reality all too easily. Sophilism, that perspective where we become the only thing of value in our own universe, is not conducive to good Druidry. Of course we may disagree over the outcomes of our ponderings, but this is good and healthy, it helps to keep us questioning. The person who dedicates to contemplation should not be dedicating to always thinking they are right, or getting too comfortable and smug. This is a path of questioning, and above all else, we have to keep questioning ourselves as well.