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Mindfulness or Presence?

My mentor, Bobcat, once described Druidry as the path of cultivating perfect presence. When I teach about presence, inevitably, someone equates this concept with mindfulness practices. I see a difference. They are not one-in-the-same. Mindfulness is an essential practice that can help us find presence. Mindfulness is the tool. Perfect presence is the goal.

My understanding of mindfulness is, bringing conscious attention and focus to what is immediate. We are learning to stop our mind from wandering to the past, future, or other place. We train ourselves to stay engaged in the current relationship. And since Druidry is all about sacred relationship, mindefulness is vital to the path. Without it, I think we remain dysfunctional human beings, stumbling through life without a sense of grace. Druidry however, isn’t defined by the practice of mindfulness. It is about presence. So what is the difference?

Presence brings in an element of our humanity that the practice of mindfulness does not. While some mindfulness practices do touch on it, emotion is a key component of presence. I need to be more precise by saying, feeling is a key component. There is a difference between feelings and emotions. Alberto Villoldo once said, “an emotion is a feeling that last more than twenty minutes”. That may seem strange or humorous but it is straight forward. Emotion is where the energy of feelings gets caught up in our belief system, our behavioral patterns, our history, our story. Feelings arise naturally – someone cuts you off in traffic and you feel fear and anger. A few minutes later, the feelings have dissipated. That is unless they get caught in your personal story, your emotional programming. In this example, if one is still experiencing fear and anger hours later, it speaks to something deeper than our natural ability to feel. It speaks to the past, to old trauma or behavioral programming we haven’t truly dealt with. One is carrying fear and anger from the past into current relationships where those emotions are not appropriate. They are guiding our action and responses, and those may not be relevant to the present.

Let’s define “perfect presence”. This is when we have brought the totality of our being to the moment. We are soul present. We have processed our past so that we aren’t caught in cycles of belief or behavior that aren’t completely relevant to the present relationship. In perfect presence, when a feeling arises, it moves through us without getting stuck. Our response is appropriate and not necessarily based on what has been. While many mindfulness practices speak about appropriate response, with perfect presence, it isn’t willful. It isn’t a decision or discipline. It is authentic. I think this is the key difference between the reaching for perfect presence in Druidry, and the discipline of mindfulness practices. We are more than our mind. Perfect presence is something happening on the soul level, not just our conscious mind or intellect.

Perfect presence is something we strive for. It is a goal, an ideal. Being human means we will almost assuredly have some hook from the past still embedded in our emotional body, in our psyche, in our soul. As such, a key practice of Druidry is dealing with our own beliefs, patterns, and emotional baggage. We dive right in. It isn’t easy. It isn’t fun. It’s messy and painful. But progress happens. And sometimes we experience just being present, without a need to respond based on the past. These are lovely moments, sacred ones. We can build on those. But first we have to unpack it all and see where those hooks are and where they come from. We have to learn how to release these emotions, how to get the hooks out. No one can teach you exactly how to do this, only that it is vital to do so. Druidry can give us some tools, but we have to do the work.

I write about this because I’ve seen people use the discipline of mindfulness to avoid having to deal with the past, to avoid looking at their own patterns of behavior, and to refrain from questioning their own belief systems. Remember, the biggest addiction on the planet is that of ‘being right’. And of course, I’ve experienced this in my own being. As a friend once said to me, “if you think you’re enlightened, just spend an hour with your family” :>)

So consider when you’ve responded to a situation where the response wasn’t authentic or appropriate, perhaps where it wasn’t so honorable (remember avoidance and not responding can be inauthentic and dishonorable as well). Recall when a response was charged with the energy of old wounds that never really healed – we’re all carrying the past around. Dive in and see what pattern is in your being that caused your response. Make a decision to release this pattern and begin the work of doing so.

I said earlier, emotion was a key element to presence. It is one of several we will explore. In my next post, I will give you an anecdotal experience of how we can do some of this challenging work of freeing ourselves from the hooks of the past.

Many blessings,

Kevin /|\

What is your role?

I haven’t written in some time. I hope this post is one of many to follow…

During a recent conversation, I was asked what do I see as my role in our local community. I had to take a moment to really consider this. I see my role as two-fold, each one supporting the other.

The first role is that of building culture. I feel like we don’t have a real culture, one of a shared story, one that crafts an identity and a sense of place in the world. We just have consumerism, chasing careers, and supporting our favorite sports team (not much to hang one’s hat on :>). Even within the Pagan community, there is no real shared culture. So I see myself working to build something for our community to share – connection to the land, a spiritual/philosophical/religious common ground, traditions and stories. I think animism is the key here.

The second part of my role is connected to the first, it is to seed the next generation with traditions, rituals, and spiritual practices that support them having their own direct experience of the divine in Nature. It isn’t my role to tell them how they should experience the gods, only that it is important to do so. Part of accomplishing this is passing on a language of the sacred. Part of it is working to find what works and what doesn’t serve us. And finally it is the work of navigating a relationship with the spirits of place, with the land here, so that we walk supported, in accordance, and in peace with the beings that dwell here, so we are supporting them in turn – in other words, that of crafting sacred relationship with our natural home.

I have been reading Stephen Jenkinson’s excellent book on elderhood, called, Come of Age – The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble. He speaks of us as being elders-in-training. This hums with truth for me. We are in training because we don’t actually know what an elder is. Elders are not part of our broken culture. We’ve never had role models that demonstrate a community mindset. I’ve encountered a few people in life that are elders, but they were not part of my community. I didn’t grow up under their influence. They haven’t helped guide my community. They do this in their own community, but not the one I dwell in. So I see my role as being willing to be an elder-in-training – to work out what that means and to do the work.

One aspect of this journey as we work toward being an elder is to realize, we will not see the fruits of our labor. And we have to be okay with that. That is what loving the next generation is all about. We plant trees that may not bear fruit in our lifetime. We work to cultivate a humble selflessness and really listen to the next generation. We need to meet their needs. I think of my life work as being in service to eternity.

We are part of a flow. We are moving in time. Too often we think and view the world in only two or three dimensions. We forget about time. And recognizing the function of time is essential for the integration into place, into community, into being an ancestor. So I see my role as a gardener, planting and tending a garden that will feed those yet to come. The journey has joy in it. And I hope to share in the abundance should the garden hum with fecundity while I am here. If I am not here in the flesh, I hope I am one of the ancestors that come to circle when the fires are lit, the prayers voiced, and the songs sung as part of the traditions we are crafting now.

So I invite you consider the generations to come. What you are building for them? How are you lifting them up? And consider this question that was posed to me by an elder, “What songs to you want your bones to sing from the Earth when you have passed on?”

In the past two years there have been two significant deaths in my family. Being the only Pagan in the family, much was revealed regarding the world view of Pagans to those of Christians. I will outline what I think those views are, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic and suggestions for bridging the gap. Keep in mind, everyone involved are passionate Christians with the exception of myself.

Scene One:
My stepmother is in her final moments. After a long exhale, a family members shouts, “Hurray, she’s in heaven with Papa!”. Then my stepmother takes another breath.

Scene Two:
My stepbrother is on life-support due to a terrible motorcycle crash (head on with a truck, no helmet, died at the scene and was revived). Everyone is praying for a miracle. I see his spirit floating about his body, only attached due to the body being kept alive. I see his body is broken beyond healing. The family takes comfort in knowing he was “saved” and would be going to heaven. I wondered about all the unresolved emotional conflicts and issues within his family. These will not simply disappear when he passes.

Scene Three:
My stepmother takes her final breath and everyone hugs and leaves the room after a few minutes. I sit by her body for another hour or more while she is dying.

Scene Four:
We disconnect my stepbrother from life-support. He is violently gasping for breath. Everyone is horrified. This goes on for twenty minutes. His wife comments, “This is horrible”. Everyone concurs. An injection is finally giving and he gasps less violently and stops breathing in another ten minutes. The family is traumatized from the harshness of the experience.

Each one of these scenes is an accurate retelling of what happened. And each of these scenes reveal diametrically opposed world views. Let’s look at each one.

Scene One:
In the view of the Christians in the room, as soon as the body stops breathing, the saved soul goes to Heaven. The human being is distinctly individual, autonomous. The body is just a vessel for the soul and of no value except as a container. Death is a single moment, a black and white distinction, on or off, like a light switch. She is here and then she is gone.

The Pagan view is totally other. The soul is entwined with all the souls it has touched. The body is spirit as well as flesh. There is no line drawn between the physical and the spiritual. The body is a living ecosystem of billions of microorganisms. It is built with living elements that are shared, not owned by us. What is us is indefinable outside of being part of the living Earth and the sum of our relationships. We are the creativity of our ancestors. Death is process, not an either/or dynamic. Death is a spectrum.

Scene Two:
The Christian point of view is the soul is distinctly embedded in the body. It is a ghostly version of the body and the personality of the person. It is not something one can engage with directly. As soon as the body stops breathing, the soul instantly leaves the Earth for judgment and just reward of heaven or hell.

The Pagan view is, the soul is expansive, more complex and not limited to being a shade of personality. Some of us are able to see the spirit essence of a person. We know the actuality of the universe isn’t limited by what we see as reality. It is much bigger than our limited view. Time has little, if any, meaning to the soul. When a Pagan relates soul to soul, much can be divined, such as, this person is ready to pass on and life-support is an unnatural interruption with a sacred process.

Scene Three:
The Christian view is the soul is gone. The body doesn’t matter anymore. It isn’t sacred.

The Pagan view is the soul has a process to go through when death comes. The bones of our loved ones and ancestors are sacred. They tell a story of which we are part of, the story of Life, evolution, humanity, and our engagement with the Earth. The bones continue to tell a story so remain part of life. We need to attend to the death process until it is complete – which has nothing to do with clocks and mechanization.

Scene Four:
The Christian view – Life is good. Death is bad. We must do all that we can to prolong and extend life. “The wages of sin is death”. Death is punishment. If you aren’t “saved” you will suffer eternal torture. And since we are going to be judged at the end of life, prolonging the inevitable is right thing to do. The prevalent culture is one of a cult of life. Interfering with the dying process is sin and goes against the will of God.

The Pagan view – Death is not the opposite of Life. The opposite of Death is Birth. Life has no opposite. Life is the creative impulse of the universe. It is built on destruction, disintegration and reintegration. “Death is the crucible of Life”  as Stephen Jenkinson put it. There is no judgment awaiting in Death. What matters is how we live. Are with living with honor? Are we crafting relationships filled with sanctity and empathy? Death is essential (in the true meaning of the word) for life to exist. It is understood that life is “unlikely” and is a precious gift that is only possible through death. Each day is a miracle and we should live each moment fully awake and with gratitude. We do not wait for “life after death” for our reward. Seeing the world as sacred and walking a path based on honor and gratitude is at the core of Paganism. The experience of Life itself is the reward.

Honoring the sanctity of community members (human and non-human) means treating the dying with compassion. The last moments of my stepbrother’s life were cruel and unnecessary. It traumatized him and our entire family. We treat our pets with more compassion and love than was given to my stepbrother. It was the Christian world view that stopped the hospital staff from euthanizing my brother. There was zero chance of recovery. It was his last dying moments. Having these be ones of violent gasping was inhumane and utterly cruel.

Finally, a word on “life-support”. My brother’s brain was torn apart by the accident. He was never going to recover. He was “brought back” at the scene of the accident. He was flown in a helicopter to the hospital and spent eight days on life-support (where was the Death-support!). Eight days of people praying for a miracle when the miracle was that we got to have him as a member of our loving family for 60 years.

The energy and resources put into extending his life for eight days, only to end with suffering and cruelty needs to be assessed. The cost was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not to reduce to this to money, but what if we had dedicated that time, money, passion, knowledge, and emotional energy to helping the suffering, the poor, the hurting, the children who need help but there aren’t resources to meet the need? This is a difficult topic, but one that needs to be explored. With the Anthropocene, climate change, geopolitical destabilization, opioid crisis, environmental devastation, etc., where do we focus our energies and resources to maximize peace, to minimize harm?

Please note, I am aware that many Christians embrace a differing philosophy and ethos than the one’s I mentioned above. It is just my experience the prevalent cultural ethics and ethos are as I have encountered. Christianity has become a cult of life where euthanasia is sin; abortion is sin; fertility clinics are a gift of God. Death is to be driven away at all cost.

So I share this not to be critical, but rather invite dialogue as to how to bridge the gap between differing world views. One where the world is enchanted and sacred, a living ecosystem that is a continuity of ever-shifting tides of living and dying. The other view is the world is debased, fallen, and all that matters is life after death and the heavenly reward. One places us squarely in sacred relationship to the world, one we have direct experience of spirit and are an integral part of the whole. The second places us in a dynamic where we are born into sin and death is our reward. Escaping eternal torture is only possible through a belief in Christ. And we won’t know our reward until we die. At the heart of it all, I think most people agree with the Pagan perspective. It is the fear of death that binds them to belief in heaven. Which I would say is fine, but it is this belief system that is allowing the utter destruction of our sacred mother, our beloved home we call Earth. How do we begin to shift this culture? How do we bridge this gap?

Blessings of peace,
Snowhawke /|\

As Donald Trump is being sworn in this morning, I am thinking about the annual Weaving ritual we hold here in Maine. This is a ritual of community vision. What came out of the rite this past October was the immense grief people are experiencing from seeing the destruction of the Earth and the mass extinction of her children in all their wondrous forms. I read a quote from Stephen Jenkinson that gives clarity to what I have been trying to express in my local Pagan community. Stephen’s quote was in response to a question about climate change. It applies to any situation though. Here it is:

“Grief requires of us that we know what time we’re in. And the great enemy of grief is hope. The basic proposition of hope is: you hope for something that ain’t. You don’t hope for something that is. It’s always future oriented, which means, hope is inherently intolerable of the present. The present is never good enough. Our time requires of us to be hope free. To burn through the false choice between hopeful and hopeless… it’s the same con job. We don’t require hope to proceed. We require grief to proceed.”

Our communities needs to become very adept at holding space for and processing the pain emanating from the death, destruction, and desecration of our home. The consequences of climate change and Geo-political destabilization is crashing down hard. The Earth is in crisis. While it is necessary to hold a vision, to begin to dream a better future, it is vital we learn to deal with the immediate. This situation is no different than dealing with the gods, for they are one in the same. We have to first honor the gods beneath our feet and all around us, honor the spirits of place, before we work with those from away or work with abstraction. We need to deal with immediate before we look to the future.

Indeed, we have to “know what time we’re in”. This is the gift of working with our ancestors. They ground us in time. And this is our time, our moment, our heritage writ large.

During the last half of the 20th Century, Paganism experienced a rebirth. There were daring and visionary people who realized the divine feminine had to be given voice, honored, and listened to, people who recognized Nature as sacred. Patriarchy was killing us and destroying the planet. A new paradigm needed to come forward. This rebirth was the beginning.

Now we begin to witness the backlash. With the election of an unstable misogynistic reality TV star as President, consequence will escalate. Destruction will escalate. Does anyone doubt this? Climate change deniers heading the EPA; people heading departments they vowed to destroy; a cabinet whose net worth is more than the budgets of many States (this is literally true). With Capitalism and exploitation as our modus operandi, this destruction was a matter of course. As with all structures, collapse is inevitable. The more complex and energetic that structure, the more catastrophic the collapse. So the question for me is, “how do we respond?”

What comes to me is, the need to express my own grief and hold space for those who need to grieve. Death is coming. And we have better honor the gods of death, become intimate with them. If we don’t have ourselves grounded in the Earth, if we don’t approach death with a wholeness of being, we will be overcome with the power of grief the collapse will bring. We need to stop looking towards the future and deal with the present.

To that end, I have made my preparations for my own death so it minimizes the stress when it comes. Outwardly, I am offering regular circles for moving grief, for making magic, for rituals honoring all those who die due to the harm brought on by our culture of desire and disconnection – the wild creatures going extinct, the coral reefs, the starving children, the women being subjected and discarded, the poor being exploited, those who die in war, those who die from drugs because the pain of reality is too much to handle, and on and on. I want to hold space for those who feel the pain of these deaths in their bones. These voices need to be heard. And I ask that others step up and do the same.

My teacher once said to me, “Peace is the lack of need”. We have to meet the needs of everyone in our ecosystem, all the spirits of place, or there will never be true peace. Holding space for grief, honoring the gods of Death, honoring the dead and the dying, these are places with great demand for those willing to be in service. We need people in our Pagan communities willing to be in service to gods of Death. This will plant the seeds for peace.

To be perfectly honest with you, I am filled with doubt. My instinct is to stop caring, to be in denial, to go shopping and to get drunk. Fight or Flight. I want to flee but I know there’s nowhere else to go. So that leaves fighting. To bring sanctity and honor to our participation in this bigger story, that is fighting the good fight. Giving the choice, I choose honor. I choose seeing the sacred in the whole of this catastrophe.

Some thoughts to share with you on this dark day.

Peace and more peace,
Snowhawke /|\

Ecstasy is essential to living a healthy life. Our bodies require experiencing ecstatic states of consciousness. From getting lost in music to dreaming without limits, from beautiful sexuality to having visionary experiences, we need moments of ecstasy to remain in balance. Ecstasy is part of what makes us human. Did you know the same chemicals that allow plants to communicate and create a thriving ecosystem, are the same chemicals our brains create when we are in the ecstatic states? These states are the vehicle for our reintegration back to Nature.

Currently we have a deficit of ecstasy in our culture. People find endless substitution for it such as, the use of drugs and alcohol, adrenaline filled videos, cell phone addiction, and in violence based on religion. What are we seeking in these behaviors is a state of feeling connection to something greater than ourselves. Our soul is longing to know it has a place in life. And in the case the suicide bomber, through death they seek to feel the presence of God. All of these things speak to profound feelings of isolation and our disconnection with Nature.

Our most useful tools for finding the ecstatic states are listening and trance. These can lead us back into connection with Nature, where we live in a magical animated world.

When we listen with our whole being, all our senses, we are trying to feel the nature of the other (for me this is the practice of meditation). Inherent in this practice is the softening of cohesion of the self. Trance is simply a deeper state of the same dynamic where the self and the other dissipates altogether, leaving only that which is. Trance can seem like an abstraction, or a practice for the fringe people, or something beyond the potential of the average person. This is nonsense. It is profoundly simple. Trance is simply soul deep intimacy. The feeling you get in your body when you hear your favorite song, that is trance. The wonder you feel when you hold a newborn, that is trance. The awe you feel when you look up in the night sky and see the same stars dancing that prompted your ancestors name them, that is trance.

Ecstasy is our birthright and the denial of it is killing us. We need to reclaim ecstatic practices and shared visionary experience. We need daily ecstatic practices as part of our spiritual pursuits. We can experience divinity when we get out of our personal story and become part of the bigger story of life on Earth. Let’s sing and dance and make love. Let’s find vision again. This is what we were made to do. Ecstasy and vision are what Nature created us for. This is our part to play in the scheme of life.

Blessing of connection,
Snowhawke /|\

Last night I went to the local prison where I volunteer to mentor a pagan group of men. During the past six months or so, I have been bringing a rattle to use during ritual and meditations. Working with the rattle has brought some uncanny synchronicity between what I experience in my journeys and what the men experience in theirs.

When I rattle, I hold sacred space and I listen with all my being to all the spirits of place, to the men, to the air, to the light, and to the entities that come join our circle. As an animist, I see my rattle as a living being, minded and filled with intention. I am in relationship to it. And together we are in relationship to the greater external reality. When I rattle, I set an intention to call out to all that is unseen and ask those willing to come engage with us, to do so in peace and in a manner we can understand. Poetically speaking, I am calling to the spirit world.

Here are a few examples of synchronicity that brings a sense of wonder. I am rattling. In my minds eye I see a Native American couple wrapped in blankets come stand behind an African American man who has joined us for the first time. I am seeing his ancestors. After the journey session he tells me he is 1/2 Penobscot Indian. Also during the journey I see a stag come in and stand beside a young man. An owl also comes and sits on a branch behind that same man. After the journey, unprompted he tells me in his journey he was in a pine forest and a stag came to stand beside him and an owl landing on a branch behind him. I had said nothing about what I had seen come into the room. So is this just coincidence? Last night the only spirit I saw was a black winged creature come down from above and fly past me. I could physically feel a breeze from its wings. We didn’t have time to talk about the journey at all. On my way out, a man asks me if he can tell me about his journey. He tells me he was in a high tower and a huge raven came flying down to give him a message. Are these “real” or is it just coincidence and imagination?

By the traditional definitions of “God”, I am an atheist. But I also live in an enchanted world filled with spirits I can craft relationship with. The spirit world for me is simply that which is unseen. I do not draw a line between imagination and “reality”. Intellectually I know air is gas molecules moving. I can feel them. I can see their effect as they move through the forest shaking branching and making the leaves dance. I make relationship to it, breathing it in and exhaling it out again but in a different mixture. I can feel the wind and it responds to my engagements (wrapping around my body, messing my hair, moving through my cardiovascular system). The wind is gas. It is also spirit.

So what are these spirits I encounter in my journeys? They are simply things of Nature that I cannot normally see. And that is explanation enough for me. I don’t see them with my eyes, yet I feel their presence. They in turn respond to my engagements. Are they real? I pose that question isn’t relevant. If we try to reduce everything we encounter to an explanation, we lessen the human experience. I am naturally a skeptic and fully support scientific research and the scientific method. Science is beautiful, powerful, accurate. It leads us deeper and deeper into wonder as we discover just how mysterious the universe is. It helps eliminate superstition and fear. But intellectual understanding is not the same thing as experience. I understand ice cream. The experience of eating it is what really matters to me. As science reveals more and more about the nature of Nature, it is important for us to remember, it is the living that matters, not the thinking about living.

There is so much more going on than what our limited senses tell us. It is human hubris to think the tiny spectrum we are able to perceive, constitutes a deep understanding of the actuality of Nature. The important thing is to stay engaged with the unseen, feel the wonder of it and realize we are utterly blessed to live in an extraordinary enchanted world filled with possibility for delicious relationships.

We seemed surprised when there is a response to such a call as my rattle makes. The dance between skepticism and surprise is delicious as well. Let’s keep dancing.

Peace and wonder,
Snowhawke /|\

One of our key roles as druid folk is to bring the Awen. We cannot do this and not be changed by it. We cannot “control” it. We don’t get to demand it on our own terms. To find it, we have to craft relationships so intimate awen flows. We have to surrender to the river of awen and ride the currents or it is shut off immediately. To have such an intimate relationship, we have to identify with the other. We have to shapeshift.

Another key role of the druid is to be the bard, to give voice to the that which needs to be heard. We don’t do this as a computer translating input. We instead swallow it whole and feel every nuance, every pain, every bit of chaos or pattern of sorrow that comes with “bringing the spiritual news” (reference to one of the questions asked in “The Colloquy of the Two Sages”). We interweave our soul with that which we give voice to, whether it a story, a song, or the raw rage and grief that screams out from the land where blood has been spilled or toxic chemicals dumped, transforming a living landscape into a wasteland of ugly and endless consequence. To give voice in a powerful inspired manner, we become one with the poisoned land, war torn village, dying species, the myth, or the song. Finding the story requires true intimacy. Through intimacy, it becomes “our” story.

How do we do this and get through the experience unscathed? We don’t. We don’t get out of life alive. And we don’t live life without acquiring scars. To do this work is to be changed, hurt, broken, and killed (as well as healed, inspired, and ecstatic). The self will not survive. And there is a 100% chance our physical bodies will not survive. It is really just a matter of how long we can dance with the currents of change and still hold our identity. When it comes to being in service, the question really is how far are we willing to go to bring the awen to our people and the land, forging a better world for our progeny? In other words, how much intimacy can we manage?

In our culture, I see tendencies (myself included) to try to have our cake and eat it to. So many spiritual pursuits are controlled through and through. We go to church. We meditate overlooking the beach. We gather in our pagan circles in beautiful forest far away from Fukushima, abattoirs, and the crime ridden inner cities where oppressed people are still reeling in generational trauma from slavery and colonization. We celebrate the beauty of Nature, but rarely touch the destructive aspect of her. We do everything but get dirty, broken, changed and scarred. We do everything but become that which we try to give voice to. Even though we have our spiritual practices, deep inside we feel stuck and separated. We long for freedom. Yet without soul deep intimacy, we will never find it.

The power we carry as priests is completely dependent on just how much of our self we are able to set aside and move into sacred relationship. It is the most simple thing in the world and yet one of the most challenging. Doing this work changes one. It will break you open and add wrinkles and scars over the years. It is the price one pays to bring the spiritual news.

What news do you bring?

Blessings of the harvest,
Snowhawke /|\