Archive for July, 2012

Dreams of Space

J.M. Barrie had a wonderful turn of phrase. “You know that place between sleeping and awake, that place where you can still remember dreaming?”

Sometimes dreams are so vivid, you wake up not knowing where you are. The world’s turned upside down as you’re forcibly pulled from one world to another. Sometimes you fight to return to a wonderful dream; others, you’re fighting to escape.

Last night, I had a nightmare so vivid that I woke up utterly confused, the realness of it so complete that I was almost bereft – at the same time as feeling glad, in the way of children repeating ‘It was just a dream, it was just a dream.’

I was searching for a place – my place. In the dream, this was a room that I had the key for, but which I kept being misdirected to. Rather than trying to escape from anywhere, I was sent wandering in circles through many different places, continually questing to find my place, where I could rest. Frustrated and tired, I found the room, turning that key in the door. It was beautiful, I was awed. But there were others there. It wasn’t actually mine at all.

Now, I have no doubt that psychologist-types out there will be making of that what they will. But the sense of that dream stayed with me long after I’d awoken. How often are we searching for our own space in life, whether this is a quest for freedom or just safety? Can any physical place be truly ‘ours’ – or is this just a state of mind? Or even nothing more than a dream?

The question of whether we can truly be ‘free’ is a philosophical debate that has run for many years, and will no doubt run for many more. Sartre’s ‘Hell is other people’ (from ‘No Exit‘) deals with it in terms of society and claustrophobia; the modern thriller movie ‘The Cube‘ unpacks the question of why we are here at all. Both are nightmarish, forcing the audience to face difficult concepts, but ones that we live with every day.

‘Freedom’ may be subjective, but I’m thankful for the fact that in the society in which I live at this time, I have enough freedom to be living more or less as I wish, with those I love, in a home of my own. And that I’m free to be writing this without fear of censure. Each of those things is a gift, which it’s easy to take for granted.

But our own ‘space’ is a little harder to define – for me, anyway. For some folk, it’s simple – demarcate with your ‘Stuff’, preferred decor, clear boundaries. Yet if you live cheek by jowl with family members, in a small apartment, in a loft, on a boat, or even in prison, personal space is brief and precious. It can be as necessary as locking oneself into the bathroom for a few minutes, or closing a door while housemates have gone out for a while. But such space is temporary. Energies inevitably ebb and flow, like strong-smelling cooking or loud music through a thin wall. That physical area may be ‘yours’, but others will intrude (knowingly or involuntarily). This may drive us to varying levels of crazy, but it still happens and we have to deal with it.

Being aware of boundaries is fairly crucial to Druidry. Where ‘you’ end and someone/thing else ‘begins’ – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, politically, energetically…

The ground inside a ritual circle is approximately of the same composition as the ground outside – except when we set the intention of that space through our work. And that circle isn’t just a circle at all: it’s a sphere, demarcating ground above, ground beneath and air around. Within which we stand – alone, and/or working with the combined energies and presences of others. That’s a lot of balls to juggle, yet that’s one of the basics of Pagan practice. No wonder beginners get overwhelmed easily.

But this, I think, illustrates personal and shared space. I may have ‘cast’ the circle, but that space is not truly ‘mine’ in terms of possession. I don’t ‘own’ the earth or the creatures in it, the trees around, birds, insects. Those innocently passing by have no idea what I’m doing. One fellow blithely wandered right through a ritual circle I was working on recently – with a cheery “hello”, but entirely ignorant. I had to laugh and carry on, factoring this in. No space can truly be ‘yours’ (nor truly ‘clean’), nor should such an impossibility be attempted.

But the space can be set for purpose. If that purpose is peace, safety, security, somewhere you can breath out and rest; or a workplace, designed to inspire thought and ideas. You cast your intention, pattern it with physical items that help (including such sensory tricks as incense or lighting), and voila – a cosy living room, inviting kitchen or sensual (yet restful) bedroom.

As humans, as individuals, we need to express ourselves and feel comfortable in places where we spend our time. Notably, our workplaces: a Dilbert-style office cubby-hole can be made personal and inviting (despite the best efforts of Health & Safety!). Our cars reflect our music tastes, or even our spirituality with rear-view mirror ornaments. I have a tiny Hedwig soft-toy under the dash, given to me as a ‘safe travel’ blessing.

And of course, there’s our bodies themselves, adorned with chosen clothing and jewellery, tattoos and perfumes. Exactly the same as our ancestors did, and our future ancestors will. We set our bodies as our own space, yes – but even this can be ‘shared’ (as anyone who’s allowed themselves to be ‘ridden’ by Deity will confirm). We rarely face the world naked; when we do, that in itself is a powerful statement, of both vulnerability and strength.

I think that my dream was reflecting my current concern about my work-life balance – or lack thereof. While I have set out ‘office-space’ in my home, what I do necessitates long hours, which is wonderful when inspiration hits in the small hours of morning or evening. But it’s very hard to walk away from. Conscientiousness goes too far – I find myself fretting over jobs not done, making it difficult to switch off and truly relax. My energy suffers, and I end up easily depleted and fatigued.

Ultimately, I need to reaffirm my boundaries. This does not mean panicking when others ‘invade my space’, whether physically or via telephone or email. I love what I do. But I need to reclaim my own space to recharge, reconnect, remember. Or I won’t be any use to anyone at all, let alone myself.

We can’t lose our sense of selves if we wish to be effective energy-workers – or workers at all. If we are truly aiming to help others, we need to be strong and fuelled, yet flexible and ready for anything. Because the Universe will throw it at us, if it thinks we need that wake-up challenge.

So I woke up. I will again tomorrow. With those I love, in my home, working within my community. I have the key to my space. Now to honour myself as I honour you all.

Questing & Magic: Painting inspired by my book (copyright Kenneth Walker 2012, may not be reproduced without permission)

 

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Alternative Cat-Musings

It strikes me that some of my lovely regular readers may not be aware that I’ve been asked to contribute a weekly column to the American ‘Witches & Pagans‘ website (in connection with their excellent international magazines), with specifically focused pieces on Druidry in the UK.

So, if you want to read more about what I’m up to, check it out here – and feel free to share!

As always, I’m still taking topic requests, if there’s anything you’d like to read more about… get in touch, comments are very welcome.

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Walking Your Own Path

This week, I have mostly been exhausted. It’s a busy time of year, my diary is crammed, I knew it would be happening. But that doesn’t stop me about worrying – about the work I’m not doing (while I’m resting), how tired I am, the ever-present To Do list…

I suppose this is symptomatic of the modern age. We’re encouraged to always be Getting On, doing something worthwhile, answering our emails within 24 hours (at most!), always being on-call.

I’ve never liked such a demanding life – I doubt many do. From having to answer questions via mobile from my boss while on holiday in the middle of a field, to explaining that no, I’m not ignoring someone because I haven’t answered their message, I’m just not getting a telephone or internet signal while away. We’ve all become very needy, with this constant (time-saving?) connection to each other.

While the positive is that we’re living as an ever-widening community, the negative clearly is that your own self can get lost, subsumed in the noise. I hear parents say this all the time. They’d love to do certain things but can’t, because of the demands of the children. I understand that to some extent (not being a parent myself), and certainly honour their choice to give up their life for the rugrats. But I can’t help thinking that we then grow up with those expectations, of someone being there for us as soon as we need them to be. A child, tugging on its parents’ cuff, whining ‘Mum, Mum, Mum’ – like the incessant ring of a mobile phone.

My parents gave things up for myself and my brother. But then when they needed to do something, go somewhere, we were taken along as well. We learned from an early age to be polite in public, sit quietly (I still always carry at least one book with me wherever I go), or amuse ourselves without being naughty. Yes, of course we got bored – but we made up games to keep ourselves amused. I vaguely remember some sort of ‘hide and seek’ in the furniture department of a large store, and discovering early video games with an original Atari display in a shop (yes, I’m dating myself – it was the early ’80s, if you must know).

Now, as an adult, I see children running almost out of control in shops and restaurants, with parents uncertain how to deal with them, how to set boundaries. This isn’t the norm, though, despite what some tabloid newspapers may have us believe – it’s simply that the louder children are more annoying and incessant, so more visible in their obvious demands. I see smarter, abler, more responsible youngsters regularly in the streets near me, but fortunately, the parents here are more inclined to the old ‘good telling off’ method of discipline than wrapping the little darlings in cotton wool.

But then we see it with adults as well: demanding, shouting, raging in public when something hasn’t worked out to their liking. That expectation, the sense of control being lost and subsequent crying like a child – I find it rather scary. I’ve felt it too, the frustration of being treated like a number by those apparently trying to help – but these are systems that we have agreed to live within, as they rise around us. Anger isn’t going to change that. Acting like a mature adult dealing with another, however…

One of the most common excuses I hear for not following a spiritual path is ‘I don’t have time.’ I understand, but it still frustrates me (when I do it too, by the way – I’m not immune!). But as I’ve often said, Druidry is a lived spirituality. We are living it, all the time.

In this mad connection of busy-ness, calling to and being called on by others, we are speaking, listening, thinking, seeing… or are we? How often do we find ourselves lapsing into the easy laziness of absolved responsibility? Like a child, allowing others to take over, and then complaining when things don’t work out as we’d like? It’s far easier to laugh at mistakes when they’re your own, that you should have realized but didn’t – because you know your own thought processes. Did you cock up because of enthusiasm, ignorance, distraction, or all three? That’s ok. Now you know, you can fix it.

Or if we’re working as part of a team, are we doing our bit well, or spending all our time worrying about others? Are you frustrated by those workmates’ own laziness, allowing you to pick up the slack while they hang back? How far are you letting them do so? How much easier is it to blame others, bitching from a remote moral high ground where nothing will ever change? Or are you really seeing the whole story?

We all need time for ourselves. All of us. Whether it’s to recharge, or just to simply breath out and take stock, that ‘Me Time’ is crucial to our sanity. From the classic sit-com image of a husband relaxing in his greenhouse, to a busy mum closing her eyes as she lies back in her bubble bath. We all know it – the difficulty is ‘fitting in’ that time amidst everything else.

But the truth is, like our spirituality, we are always in our Me time. How could we not be? We are each ourselves, an individual, walking our path in a larger world but ultimately ME. So what are you doing with that time?

We aren’t encouraged to stop, to rest. Try it now. Pause. Take a breath. Look around, really look. Smile at what you see (I hope). This is your life. You chose to be there, doing that, reading this. I chose to type these words.

I chose this path. I avoided it for a long time, before listening to that Universal voice telling me to get on with it. I can’t complain about my busy-ness, because ultimately I’m doing something that I love, which brings happiness to others, or at least helps them out a little. I’m not just doing this to massage my own ego or to be ‘needed’ – I’m here because people keep calling on me. I’m fulfilling a role, one which is flexible based on each individual and their circumstances. Connection, but each time entirely unique.

I’m truly not trying to be some sort of ‘guru’ or ‘leader’. At best, I’m a guide – noter of the possibilities, kicker-up-the-bum to action, deflater of complacency and provider of tea in times of crisis. But I need that too, from time to time. Of course I do.

This is where we learn to stop, to stand, to take stock and breath. To take responsibility. Even if that means saying ‘no, I’m sorry, I can’t do that’. To see, listen, investigate, understand; or if not understand, then either walk away or find an alternate route. To be part of the flow, which helps you to ride it more effectively rather than push against the tide.

We need to find what recharges us, fuels us. To maintain our personal practice. Yes, I do firmly believe that you can find time to set aside for this, but if you absolutely feel you can’t no matter what, do so when waiting for other things – a bus or train, a kettle to boil, while running a bath or washing up. Those are good times to think, to consider, to connect. After all, each one is a ritual act in itself…

Try it. Live your life, your responsibility, your spirituality. And, as always (both actively and passively): What are you doing?

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To Live Your Story

Stories have always been at the heart of my life. From the earliest days of having them read to me, to learning to read myself… and then I was off and running! I’ve often been accused of being a ‘book addict’, but my argument is that it’s at least a non-lethal addiction, and certainly less expensive than some alternatives.

Image taken from here (used without permission but with grateful thanks).

As a species, we have always told stories. The camp-fire tale is one of the oldest, and most fundamentally thrilling fiction (maybe) out there. It developed into the ballad, the urban myth, the mass-marketed best-seller. And from time to time, great stories are told that really make an impact on the wider world – whether re-telling the Hero’s Journey (eg Harry Potter) or reflecting society back at itself in the form of entertainment: almost a subtle satire, as the Ancient Greeks knew.

The Druids were famed for their storytelling. The Bard, wandering the land carrying the tales of the tribes, as well as forming new histories based on current events. From intentionally formal anecdotes to mythological allegories, he (or she) held the secrets of land and people, and was valued accordingly. The Bard would be welcomed at hearth and table from ancient times up to the middle ages, until the advent of the printing press. And while books are my passion, an imaginative experience inside my head, nothing compares to having a tale told – as live theatre can/not compare to a movie. It’s a skill that is as rare in the modern world as it ever was – true inspiration cannot be taught, it must be experienced and developed.

The popularity of different themes in modern children’s storytelling comes in waves. The ‘Choose Your Own Adventure‘ books of the 80s, I recall, as well as  Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl; Diana Wynne Jones in the ’90s. Then, of course, the aforementioned Potter deluge, itself performing the minor miracle of getting otherwise apathetic kids back into bookstores and libraries. Recently, however, an altogether different trend has been forming.

I’m not sure if it was the first, but when I encountered ‘The Hunger Games‘, I was, like so many others, both shocked and drawn in. From the ancient tale of Theseus, combined with the popcorn, throwaway soundbites of reality television, this story (and now movie) is no magical Potterverse. There seems to be a new wave of books for Young Adults (a relatively new genre in itself) looking at dystopian futures… and, in the process, performing the original role of a ‘viral’ story that passes from mouth to mouth: that of the learning experience.

An ancient tale is pushed into the future, by way of a satire on modern habits. We are forced to ask ourselves what we would do in a given situation – this is hardly a true children’s book, but it carries a clear moral, like any good fairytale. I do wonder if parents know what their youngsters are reading – and I’m amazed (and very glad) that the movie was made at all!

Because these books are teaching young people to THINK. They’re encouraging the ‘outsider’ to take pride in themselves, to use their skills to survive – something that every kid learns early on in the schoolroom, with its political cliques and strange ‘norms’. It may be considered escapist fiction, but these tales are actively encouraging the questioning of authority, the importance of individual thought, and the strength to speak up and act against a failed system. This is almost revolutionary. Not the punk kicking-out of the ’80s, but articulate and active anarchism, in its truest sense.

The news often speaks to us these days of young people in gangs, getting shot or stabbed for trivial reasons, but rarely goes into detail as to the reasons behind it. Far easier to blame ‘society.’ But writers – notably John Wyndham and Roald Dahl again – have always known that in each generation, adults who have distanced themselves from their children (not always by choice) can feel afraid, threatened by the strangeness of these curious, active, questioning strangers in their homes. The Childcatcher still scares us – that somehow warped adult whose specific function is to Shut Children Up (we never do find out what he does with those he’s caught, do we?).

Children challenge, in their quest to make sense of the world. Adults should, but many seem to forget how. Sometimes it may be easier to allow the television to become a nanny, but that won’t be enough. Censors have never understood that banning something, or allowing it to be omitted, simply encourages folk to go looking for what they’re not permitted to see.

Many parents I know today delight in teaching their youngsters, encouraging them to explore, read, play. If you’re old enough to ask questions, you’re old enough to hear answers – but they must be conveyed in a way that enables understanding. Television is a mass-market medium, and cannot always provide this.

But while advertisements and a certain type of children’s television seems to actively encourage being ‘one of the herd’ – having the latest style of clothes, make-up, trendy toys, shoes and so forth – there are these quietly subversive texts appearing. Very well written indeed (far removed from the insipid, unquestioning escapism of a certain glittering vampire series), their voices are being heard.

What stories are we telling, then? With our cynical whingeing (look at any national News broadcast), sense of doom rather than optimism, lack of encouragement to do anything because everything is depressed – in mind, body, spirit and bank account.

Or are we following the example of these children who live in worlds far worse than we could ever realize (I hope)… and discovering our own skills, our priorities, what we need to know and do to actively survive? It’s not about greed, acquisition, consumption – it’s about discovery, true friendship, inner truth, and living life well against adversity.

The world may have gone mad, but the storyteller still walks among us. Are you listening? And what is your  tale adding to that of those around?

Further reading:

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The Hunt, by Andrew Fukuda

The Mall, by S.L. Grey

Wither, by Lauren DeStefano

The Iron Thorn, by Caitlin Kittredge

And general dystopian fiction of the moment to choose from at Goodreads.

Image found on random search on pInterest (if source available, please let me know to update)

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