Archive for June, 2013

The Joy of Inspiration

I consider inspiration: what it means and how it’s key
To so much of our own heritage, to my own Druidry.
A tricky word, it holds so much, and yet hides so much too
Inspiration doesn’t rhyme well, so the old bards thought that through!

Inspiration is a joy because it tells us what to do…

Except…

It doesn’t really, does it? It’s a bit more of a guide
An incitement, an incentive – a sneak peak to look inside.
To go just a little deeper, really forage and explore
To ask ourselves those questions, to find what we’re looking for.

We call out to the Awen, those three rays that reach so far
From deep inside our tiny minds, out to the furthest star.
Go back through time, through stories, through the blood that holds our land
Inspiration is our joy because it helps us understand.

Except…

Well, no, that’s not quite true, is it? It’s as much a mystery
As any of those spirit paths, down which we hope to see.
Small words can only touch the song, the greater melody
And yet how potent is the tale, what is and what can be.

Inspiration is my joy because it sings TO and OF me.


(And sometimes, it flows out in a quick burst, formed in 20 minutes between household chores! A bit of doggerel to brighten your day, folks – hope it made you smile.)

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Living Connection

Perhaps it began with that British urge to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’. During the Second World War, I believe – when things were so bad that it was just beyond comprehension. How on earth were we doing these things to each other? How were we supposed to respond? Stiff upper lip. Keep buggering on. It’s almost a joke on the British, that stoicism and determination. A sign of strength.

Then, in the 1990s, I remember the concept of the ‘New Man’ began to creep in. It was now, apparently, allowed for men to cry, to take on ‘un-manly’ jobs – such as housework, or being a stay-at-home father. Post-natal stress was also found to be real.

As the Millennium turned, we suddenly realized what a mess things had become. And in the chaos and confusion, we still didn’t know how to handle things – what we’re doing to each other, and how to deal with the consequences of our own decisions. Buggering on was no longer an option… and statistics began to come out of how many people were on some sort of anti-depressant medication. Or children being treated for ADHD. We tried to deal with it by quantifying it with data, making goals for treatment to show that we’re doing something. Even if it wasn’t necessarily healing.

Lately, it seems that sneering is the next stage – denial, perhaps. Showing emotion is passe now, depression a ‘trend’, a band-wagon to jump on. That awful phrase, ‘just seeking attention’, used to trivialise another person’s pain. Physical ailments such as allergies are acknowledged as real, but then sniffed at by cynical non-sufferers – after all, the coeliac, asthmatic or epileptic is probably just being awkward. There’s a hint that the disabled are viewed in a similar manner (just consider the attitude of ATOS, or even public transport providers). But we can’t talk about that, because it would be Rude. Politeness leads to Political Correctness (not at all the same thing), which leads to disregard. Back to Stiff Upper Lip again – on both sides. ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ has become a buzz-phrase.

None of these responses even gives a nod to investigation or understanding. Nobody really listens to the deeper story.

I’ve always been confused by this. Early in life, it was power-games – one person asserting themselves by abusing or taking advantage of another. Then it was the disregard for what certainly felt like a very real emotion or situation:

“I’m in pain, help me.” “Oh, no you’re not, pull yourself together.”

“I don’t understand.” “Well, you should, you must be stupid.”

I never understood what made one person’s opinion more valid than another; why one truth was somehow truer. And, for a long time, it seemed that I was always the one who was wrong, presumably because of this lack of understanding.

This isn’t self-pity, by the way. As a child (and a teenager) I spent a good deal of time just honestly confused. There appeared to be rules for life, and nobody had let me know what they were. School cliques, in particular, seemed to have the monopoly on ‘how to behave’. This then turned into ‘Workplace Policy’ – put in place, apparently, to help everyone… except those who needed it.

I’m aware, from my working life, that a lot of the Systems that are now in place were originally set up with good intentions. Doctors actually do want to make people better. Teachers want to instil joy of learning in pupils. Scientists want to explore and discover.

But the Systems have trapped us. Because we’re so aware of what we should be doing, what boxes we need to tick, what goals to hit… We’ve become an Orwellian or Swiftian nightmare; the satire has become real. Real People have been subsumed by dehumanising Systems.

What our hearts tell us is right is not considered important. Anything subjective, unquantifiable, emotional, is somehow invalid. How do you make a statistic out of happiness, health or pleasure? What is an appropriate level of inspiration or love? Too little isn’t sufficient; too much is inappropriate. I’d love to see how such things are charted.

As Orwell predicted, language is being turned against us. Forms must be filled in correctly, situations described accurately; if you can’t work those Systems, you’re practically useless, and so fair game. Punishment: benefits cut, medication increased, even home taken away. Never mind that you don’t have the skills (physical or mental) to even approach those Systems at basic level. Double-plus ungood – reject.

People often ask me if I think more people are returning to the ‘Old Ways’ as a response to modern life. I’m not entirely sure. I can see what they mean – but, in all honesty, I think we’re looking back to the past now in an effort to find something that we feel we’ve lost, which contemporary life is not providing. We’re not literally seeking ‘Old Ways’ – modern conveniences are rather nice, especially hot food, clean water and flushing toilets. Nor are we seeking Secret Hidden Knowledge about the Absolutely Infallible Way to Live (although some are always claiming to have this). We’re seeking to reclaim our truths as human beings. Or even as animals, living creatures sharing a planet.

This is where my Druidry strikes a chord. For me, it’s always been about those truths, you see – things that I know to be right, both personally and at a fundamental human level. What works for me should work for you too – not in a fascist manner, but simply as the same species, part of a (theoretically) like-minded tribe, at the point where we connect. We’re all seeking the best way to live our lives, a fact that’s very easily forgotten when we start behaving as Us/Them. Our relationship with each other is being lost, and we need to find it again, to explore and to (re)learn.

Studying Environmentalism, I read about how eco-lawyers are seeking to recognise the rights of non-humans. How? Well, while we can’t understand them linguistically, we can safely presume that all living things have the desire to go on living. The next step is the quality of that life. Not luxuries – basics. Nourishment. Happiness. Love. You know, those unquantifiable things. Which some folk feel they have the right to take away or devalue.

OK. Now, presumably we, as living, (apparently) intelligent and articulate human beings, have those same desires? We all eat, sleep and breathe. We have more in common than we do difference.

Life can sometimes seem like a movie – but perhaps one where we’ve lost our script. Everyone else seems to know what to do, and we lose ourselves in the rush to keep up, find our place, do what we’re supposed to. We’re appalled by news stories about the world around, but don’t know how to react. We’re encouraged to have opinions, but not to actually take any action (beyond ticking ‘Like’ on a Facebook page). We feel that our power has been taken away.

Yet we’re still part of that world. We’re starting to see through the filters, the Systems. We don’t want to ‘bugger on’, we want to battle on, to change and to put right. We need to see clearly, to understand the individual stories that make up the general picture.

Remember – or reforge – your connectedness. Whatever you’re doing, whoever you’re looking at, imagine that they are a friend or close relative. Look more deeply into their story; sometimes the most important information is what the news, or the first impression, is not saying. See past the spin, the cynicism, the ‘appropriate level of understanding.’

We each live our story. We write our own script. We connect with everyone else, doing the same. What’s important to you is probably just as important to them. Ask ‘Why?’ Then, when you don’t agree, say ‘No.’ Find alternatives.

Every day has little victories, tiny acts of heroism. For some, just making it through is a huge achievement. Let’s stop the cynicism, the disregard. Let’s celebrate each other a little more, recognising and providing help when needed, congratulations when deserved, and questioning of what we’re told. See variety and potential in our different levels of ability. Be brave and battle on. Learn from our ancestors.

Live.

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Work and Self

I’ve written of this before to some degree, but it’s been relevant again to me lately, so I’m hoping that these words help to tease the thoughts out a little.

I’ve never been good at resting. I’m a terrible patient when ill, as well – I always want to be doing something. Knitting is a wonderful option, as it involves doing while (potentially) watching television or chatting to someone else. Reading has always been my drug of choice, and I’m never far from a book (or several).

But in terms of actually resting my mind, stopping the busy-ness of thoughts running through my head… that’s been harder, lately.

Some of it could be considered self-induced pressure. The difficulties and delays around Book 2, work and home life with their inevitable ups and downs… generally, life is good. I have been taking days out ‘for me’. But if anything, those times are worse – the feeling of ‘you should be doing‘ takes over, making my thoughts frenetic, desperate, seeking occupation: “You’re being lazy, you don’t have time to stop…” This, of course, makes things still worse, as then it’s impossible to focus. Not a pleasant experience.

Burning out from sheer doing is seen as a modern affliction. There are news stories about it all the time, plus an entire industry of self-help books telling people how to slow down. But, like anything of such importance (and intangibility), true rest isn’t something that you can buy.

From a Druid perspective, this lack of focus means lack of connection. You’re too frazzled to really engage with anything, which means that nothing gets done well. Your To-Do list might slowly be ticked off, but are the results really of value, or just ‘good enough?’ Has your doing really been the best that you can do? Is the Universe telling you something, but you just can’t hear over the noise of your own activity?

We all feel driven in some way, I think. We have families to care for, jobs to do, responsibilities and cares. None of these are bad, not at all. It’s when we lose ourselves in the morass of obligation and ‘To Do’ that things become difficult.

I was told years ago about the importance of separating Work time from Home time. This was when I worked essentially from 7.30am until 7.30pm (at least), with gym before and other commitments after. Home time was a bit of reading or television before bed.

Then I found tricks to help me change from one ‘mode’ to another. Shedding work clothes for my comfortable jeans. Stepping out into the garden, or getting my hands stuck into bread dough. Yes, I had time. See? My time.

Recently, working from home has made that difficult. I can’t really change clothes, but I’ve made space that is specifically ‘work’, which encourages that attitude and allows me to focus on writing, for example. But there’s no way I can hold a routine, a 9-5, because of my partner’s shift work, and the simple demands of what I do.

The error here, however, is something that I have to keep reminding myself of. You can’t really separate your time in this way. One hour may be for ‘work’, one for ‘family’… but you’re still you. The goal may be different, but you’re still using up your own energy, modifying your own perspective as needed but with the same subconscious thoughts going on. You’re still you.

As I said above, the difficulty is not losing your Self in whatever it is you’re doing. While putting your own needs aside for those you really care about is one thing, losing your life to lesser demands just makes you feel even worse.

I used to submit my annual holiday request form in January (for Druid Camp in July). Two weeks before Camp, my boss in London – a kind and generous man, but incredibly driven – would ask if there was any way I could put the holiday off, to stay in the office, because he needed me. I always said ‘No’ and tried to laugh it off – but it made me both sad, that he was asking, and guilty, because I said no. One year, I was actually on the field at Camp when a friend’s phone rang – it was her boss, asking for her help with something which he couldn’t do himself. That is life subsumed by work in the worst of ways.

When work is seen as more important than life – than your own well-being (expectations of coming in while sick), than that of others (sharing that sickness), or simply for the bottom-line – you are contributing to a system that is itself very sick. Sometimes saying ‘no’ it itself a revolutionary act. I remember my supervisor’s face when I told her that no, I couldn’t come in on that May Bank Holiday, because I was performing a wedding at Stonehenge. If I didn’t go, it didn’t happen. She gaped like a fish – there was simply no way to argue that office needs were more important. I was more than just another worker; I’d just marked myself out as an individual.

But I didn’t start by talking about ‘work’ (ie a salaried job), did I? That’s because doing – as in, doing something of value – is virtually synonymous with work. ‘Real’ work. Which, it was suggested recently, is not what I do. Is it?

Let’s leave aside the issue of remuneration. Let’s suggest that tasks undertaken, no matter what they are, have value concurrent to the effort put in. So, if you rush something and do a half-arsed job, the result won’t be as valuable/good as if you had given your all. The result may actually be indistinguishable, but you, in your heart, will know the difference.

I don’t want to be doing that anymore. I want my doing to be worth something – to others, maybe, but certainly to me. If I can’t do something properly, that’s the time to take a break. I need to resume the habit of realizing that focusing on my pleasurable activities is just as valuable as those big events on weekends.

Returning to focused daily practice. To times when the ever-present internet connection is put aside. To simply following the words on a page, or the clicking of needs, or kneading of dough. What do I have to show for those actions? Bread, a shawl, and inspiration. Food, warmth and ideas.

What am I doing, indeed.

I may have obligations and responsibilities. I will fulfil them, honourably rather than half-heartedly. I try my best. Those who truly know me will understand that. Those who criticise without thought or truly seeing, those who attempt to take advantage… well, yes, it hurts, but consider that lesson learned. Give and take has to be on both sides, and if I’m treated badly for my efforts, that will inevitably colour our relationship in future.

Part of this is fearlessness. Not feeling terrified of messing up, of getting something wrong, of missing deadline, of an anticipated look of disappointment (real or imagined). Part of it is rising to a challenge – to remember that what you are doing in life is for you as much as anyone else. Not selfishness, just personal truth.

At the end of the day (not metaphorical – actual bedtime), can you look back and be happy with what you did? Likely good things and bad, but that’s life. Can you sleep well with that? Because there’ll be more tomorrow.

Are we ready for whatever we’re doing next?

We step forward. A constant challenge.

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