Posts Tagged wild

Outside

When people ask me what Paganism is, I always start with a baseline. Because (let’s face it) Paganism is hard to define in a soundbite. Any spiritual path is, due to inherent complexities of belief, subjective individual perspectives… stuff most people aren’t really interested in.

Interestingly, I was also asked years ago to help explain Christianity to a lovely couple of Muslim co-workers at a temp job. My friendly manager jumped in, and we ended up using a whiteboard to illustrate. The Muslims then did likewise – and it was both fun and pretty enlightening, as you try to explain something that’s by its nature pretty amorphous.

But anyway. Paganism, I tell people, is seeing the sacred in Nature. Baseline, as best I can determine. Do any Pagans not believe this? I haven’t met them yet, if so. And I’m not sure why they would call themselves Pagans, because this kind of is the foundation of the definition.

Then come the differences. What is ‘sacred’, what is ‘natural’, how do we view this, how do we practise… it’s tricky, but it’s also interesting, to me, because this is where we can explore. Why we do what we do, but also why others do it in their own particular manner. Not saying anyone’s wrong, just poking a bit to challenge and understand.

Lately, I’ve been considering the meanings behind words we use to describe spiritual connection (specifically, how they’re often misused – or is that just the word-meaning evolving? A topic for another day). And I realized how so many of our ‘modern’ ideas are almost binary: right/wrong, us/them,  black/white… Science/Nature.

Not to go into too much detail, as it’s all out there if you want to look it up, but the idea of Science VERSUS Nature seems to have come about during the Industrial Revolution. In order to understand the world better, thinkers, scientists and engineers decided to use a mechanical model. This meant that complex forms could be understood by looking at their component parts, with a view to potentially tinkering with those to help or enhance, to find answers to Why Things Are the way they are.

So came the idea of physical versus meta-physical. What is empirically real – provable by Science – as opposed to what is not.

But the answers failed to be found, as each discovery simply posed more questions. Shades of me and my whiteboard and pen, trying to define a religion within finite space and with a language that didn’t quite help.

And again… I don’t think this is a bad thing. But I can see the frustrations when the ideas of the world don’t fit into neat little boxes. We’re reminded we can’t know everything… but we can still connect with it. We have to, in fact, or we die.

We see the sacred in Nature. And not just see. We use every one of our senses – and more besides. We seek that connection… and when we get a taste/touch/glimpse of it, we realize how indefinable, immense and complex it is.

But that is ok. That’s one of the first steps on this journey.

Here’s a task for you today. Pagan or not, it doesn’t matter – if you’ve got this far, I’ll assume you’re still interested.

Step outside. Take a few minutes. Do it. No excuses. If you absolutely can’t (and I’m speaking to my lovely readers who may not be physically able here, not just those who are confined to office cubicles), then get to an open window. Trust me.

Feel the Outside, with every one of those senses. The air on your face, perhaps rain or breeze. Birds singing, people talking, dogs barking, vehicles, phones, music. The ground beneath your feet.

How does it all feel? Close your eyes if it’s safe to do so, and reach out a little. If folk give you funny looks, don’t panic – you won’t see them.

Now. Notice your thoughts. How’s your brain dealing with all of this? Feeling stupid? Looking at the time, at the commitments you have to get back to, worrying about things to do… just catch that internal monologue in the act. Tell it you’re Outside. Remind it that you’re Pagan. You’re Doing a Thing. Shut up. All of that noise can wait.

Then notice the world again. Go deeper. You’ve put aside the mundane concerns, you’re having a spiritual moment within the everyday. This is your own small ritual. Reach down, reach out… connect.

Because that binary reality isn’t an accurate depiction of life, not really. It’s a way that people chose to help them understand, and that’s fine – as a model.Not the Ultimate Truth.

You touch the natural world while hearing and feeling the human-made – concrete underfoot, tiny computer in your pocket, machined clothes, make-up, processed food.

As you stand outside, your brain may want to go back in. This isn’t right, people will think you’re weird, there’s stuff to be getting on with! Or perhaps… as they look, seeing someone who has simply stopped, pausing to breathe… they might be envious? How many have the courage to ask you what you’re up to? How many more would want to join you? Would they be able to let themselves? Just smile.

The difference between Outside and Inside is a closed portal – a door or a window. You have the power to move through it (doesn’t that sound magical, just by thinking in those terms?). Civilization creeps outside, while the natural world effortlessly sits inside: earth, air, water, fire…

If you are Pagan, seeing the sacred all around, you can step outside to better connect. But you then take that with you as you move forward with your day. As your senses have opened, your awareness has been reminded of what is there all the time, just waiting to be seen, acknowledged, appreciated. It’s all combined, part of life. City or country, wild or tame, sacred or profane… we engage through taking the time to witness it, to be part of it. Any time, any place. We should not be afraid to do this. It’s not about ‘finding time’.

And it’s up to us what we do with that, ultimately. I’ve tried to turn a huge and almost indefinable feeling into words here, to convey my thoughts and understanding. We can let it inspire us, channelling through our own personal creativity in whatever way suits us best – prose, poetry, art, music, computer code, pottery or Lego… we use the technology (as I use this laptop right now) to pin down feelings, just for a moment. There’s that model again, something that allows our human brains to come to terms with cosmic reality.

We can’t see air, but it’s there and we use it. We may not understand electricity, but it we know how to harness it. I’ve always known in my heart that flying in a huge, heavy metal box above the clouds is a very particular form of magic that I’ll never comprehend, but I’ve done it.

And so I know that feeling the particular energy of the night-time is not strange. Joy at a sunrise, the primal pleasure of a fire in my hearth… or the warmth of a nourishing drink in my hands, sharing laughter with friends or witnessing someone else’s tale on screen or page. Our ancestors have done every one of these, using whatever technology they had. We reconnect with the world and we reconnect with our selves, our families, friends, stories… the wild and the tamed, intertwined.

As Pagans, we notice. And we are grateful and glad. Marking Nature as sacred in our lives, as they are lived.

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One Week

Last Monday, I wrote about the turbulence of recent weeks. I thought it would be interesting to look back over the days that followed, just seven small spans of hours… but during which, so much has happened.

I’ve driven over 400 miles, for those who’ve asked. To minister good times and bad, celebration and tragedy. To mark once-in-a-lifetime occasions, and to honour the passing of times we hope never to face.

I’ve invited those in need into my home, to tell their tale and be heard. The medicinal value of tea and a caring arm is so simple, yet beyond price.

I’ve connected over thousands of miles with others, to chat and laugh, and be amazed by their stories. Technology lets us be heard.

I’ve walked the streets near my home, seeing familiar landscapes change and evolve. I’ve seen history marked by local children, in the Derbyshire tradition of well-dressing.

I’ve felt the sacred, tangibly, with every sense. The grass beneath my feet, a deluge of rain on my face. Warm sunlight, cool breezes. Mist-wreathed mountains, impossibly blue waters.

I’ve laughed and cried. I’ve cheered and mourned. I’ve created, given every scrap of my energy where it’s needed, and then fallen into exhausted dreams.

I’ve felt the pain of dishonour, frustration, broken promises, hurtful words. I’ve felt the joy of love, happiness, commitment, truth, inspiration. My breath has caught in my throat as words failed me. I’ve been both awed and angered at the actions of others.

I have born witness and held stories. Life is being lived – with all of its ups and downs. I walk my path.

This is my Druidry.

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Seeing

A while ago, I wrote about the topic of ‘Listening’ (here, if you’d like to read it again). The idea has been growing about a piece on each of our senses and how they help us to interpret the world…

What does your world look like? Glance away from this screen for a moment, gaze about. What do you see?

Now open your eyes again (this will make sense if you know the work of Terry Pratchett). What do you really see?

This isn’t cosmic nonsense. When I look around now, I see the small home office that I’ve made for myself, books everywhere, a futon piled with comfy blankets, a bag full of ritual gear… it’s easy to go down the path of ‘oh Gods, I’ve got to tidy up!’ But that’s not seeing what’s there – that’s catching a glimpse and interpreting it into something, based on my own expectations. My mind is adding what it ‘should’ feel on looking around, based on what I expect to see.

If I stop those runaway thoughts and look deeper, I see a small sanctuary, a place created with a certain intention, each random thing holding its own story: a much-loved book from my childhood. My first piece of knitting. My dirty running shoes. A beautiful painting on the wall, gifted to me as ‘just scribblings’.

And beneath that? The old house that contains it all, with its 200-year history, from guardhouse to home. My time here has barely scratched its surface, but I’m adding my tale to it, as I pass through.

Sherlock Holmes summed it up in one way: ‘You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.’ Holmes was able to take one look at a room and see everything in it, making connections based on logic and deduction (or induction). If something was not there… well, he might have noticed that too. Holmes is remarkable for his skill in observation. He’s certainly not the norm.

As mentioned, Terry Pratchett takes this a little further: ‘First Sight means you can see what really is there, and Second Thoughts mean thinking about what you are thinking.’

Pagan folk often talk about ‘The Sight’ (as in seeing ghosts, spirits or generally apparitions beyond the regular physical world), but how many of us even really use our First Sight correctly? Do we see, or do we assume? Second sight therefore being truly thinking about what we are seeing…?

Sight, like every one of our senses, is most keenly felt when we do not have it. In a totally dark room, or when blindfolded or ill – we suddenly realize its value when it is gone. The trick is to remember to use it well when it would otherwise be taken for granted.

I would have difficulty typing this if I could not see. As it is, I’m using reading glasses to help. But I’m seeing the words in my head before they appear on the screen – writing, composing, then transmitting in a form that satisfies me.

You are reading the words and interpreting them, based on what you’re currently thinking. If your mood is cross, they may seem ridiculous. If you’re interested, they may provoke further thought. I have no way of controlling this as I type, save for doing my best to express myself accurately. And, in this way, I’m speaking to you, encouraging you to see and feel what I am seeing and feeling.

Words connect us. Shared experience connects us. However, two people seeing the same thing may understand it entirely differently – which is why a truly shared experience is so valuable. That ‘click’ moment, perhaps ‘wow’ or other gasp to pause and reflect – is that not Second Sight? The realization that our sense of vision has brought us together – as we see a stunning sunset, for example, or even a simple amusing internet video?

As a song can touch our heart and stir our emotions, so can simply looking, truly seeing. It’s nice to touch, but we don’t have to – we can reach out by observing.

I believe I used the example once before of a long journey or commute. When I travelled to London daily for work, I would be crammed onto a busy train, sitting I was lucky, or standing squeezed in amongst other tired and hot workers. The air would be thick with those frustrations… but I used to try and distract myself by looking around, properly. The trees outside the window, flashing by. Birds racing the train. Even inside, a girl engrossed in her book, a man smiling and nodding in time to his iPod. Tiny stories playing out.

Today, in my part of Derbyshire, England, it’s raining. A lot. After a lovely sunny weekend, people are complaining. Out there on the hill, walking the dogs, I was drenched. And laughing. Seeing the rain cascading down, the clouds scudding across the sky, the incredible greenness of leaves and grass…

A couple of weeks ago, in the same place:

Park with Dogs

A playing field, at the top of a hill. Very normal, with goalposts for the local children’s football team, a pylon in the distance. Hedges keeping everything contained, nicely cut grass.

I walk there every day. The ground has been bursting with dandelions, that turn into puffy clocks to blow away before the farmer returns to cut them down. The hedges contain rabbits; the trees hold ravens, sparrows, pigeons, and even sometimes a family of kites. In the picture above, a rainstorm has just passed – if you look carefully, you’ll see the rainbow.

If we follow the easy, lazy modern encouragement to be cynical, this park could be considered boring, a place for local teenagers to hang out, a waste of space. It could be anywhere.

Or it can (and does) hold so much potential, for exploring, running, playing – being. The dogs know it. I see it through their happy eyes, as well as my own. And the wildness is just a step away, arching down the hill via the untrimmed paths, the scratchy blackthorn bushes… who knows what.

You can impose your own perceptions onto things, declare them true or false, real or imagined, valuable or worthless – or you can just let yourself see whatever is in front of you. It’s amazing what you might catch a glimpse of, if you take yourself out of the way enough to see what’s really there.

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