The days are long and hot. The bees, butterflies, and fireflies are claiming the horizons. Mornings are hazy and afternoons are bright. Local rivers and streams are slow and gentle, and fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market are succulent and juicy. Summer is fully here, and it’s lavender season in North Carolina.
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Most people would call what happened to me a “near-death” experience, I suppose. Afterall, I am alive to write about it, three and a half months later.
When I think of what it is like to nearly die, I think about the time that crazy person driving the semi nearly ran me off the interstate at eighty or so miles an hour....
Meditation is a huge part of my spiritual life. It is something that I try to do every single day, in various shapes and forms. I find that sitting meditation, or zazen is the best way for my self to refocus on what’s important, to stop the chattering ego and really get deep down to the issues at hand. So much clarity is gained from simply stopping, from allowing the silence to fill your soul. In that deep pool of quiet, in that dark heart of Cerridwen’s cauldron, lies transformation.
You have to be willing to do it, though. It’s difficult, as many of us don’t really like spending time alone, much less sitting still and “wasting time”. However, I would posit that this could very well be the best use of your time, realigning you to the present moment, grounding yourself in the reality of the here and now. We can get so carried away on our emotions, on our problems with the world, on our own sense of self that we become blinkered to the rest of existence. Life is constantly happening, all around us, and we hardly notice it. Sitting meditation is a great way to pay attention to it, to our selves, our bodies and our minds, to see how they work, to get in touch with them once again, thereby allowing us to get in touch with the rest of the world on a much clearer, positive level.
Like a deep pool, the waters may become disturbed, but if we stop the mud will eventually settle to the bottom, the clear water rising to the top to perfectly reflect the sky above. We can become as this pool, reflecting with clarity the present moment in all that we do, in all that we say and in all that we think. It’s not easy, but it’s well worth it.
At the moment I’m reading a biography of Tori Amos that she wrote with journalist Ann Powers, entitled Piece by Piece. Within the first few pages Tori mentions inner sovereignty, something that cannot be taken from her by anyone. They can do what they like, say what they like but she knows who she is, and is queen of her own self. I’ve been thinking about sovereignty, how we can come to an understanding of it and really see it manifest in our own lives.
I see sovereignty and peace as being inextricably entwined. We cannot have one without the other. When we know ourselves, when we understand why we do the things that we do, when we can control out thoughts and feelings, living lives of intention instead of reaction, then we are truly sovereign of our life. This comes from a deep well of peace, wherein we find that inner core of our selves that is silent and still, that sings our soulsong in its purest form. It is our personal truth. Neither sovereignty nor peace can be conferred from without – both must begin from within.
Peace is related to truth. We have to be willing to be open and honest with our selves, to see through our many layers of delusion, in order to understand our very being. We have to see the good and the bad, acknowledge all these within our selves and through this acknowledgment, gain some control, some sovereignty over our behaviour. Too often we run from the truth, whether it is the truth about ourselves or the truth about climate change. To face these truths requires us to change, to possibly suffer in order to bring about that change. We don’t like change. We don’t like suffering. Yet we cannot escape either of these things. To live means to live a life that has good and bad within it; let’s transcend those notions of good and bad and just live. When we do that, we move beyond suffering. We face our truth, and in facing our truth we find peace.
Peace is achieved when we manage to step beyond our selves, to switch off that inner chatter, that constant thinking instead of being. This does not mean that we become robots, with no thoughts, feelings or emotions. Rather, we do not attach to them, we do not spend so much time with them, entertaining them as they go round and round in our minds. We step outside of that, moving beyond our own story in order to see the story of the world around us as it unfolds in every moment. This peace can be achieved with discipline, with daily meditation, with time spent out in nature. There is no limit to our ability to learn each and every day what this means. Little by little, we come closer to joy. When we realise the world is more than just us, we find peace.
We cannot control how others behave. We only have control over how we behave in the world, how we act and react to others. We can lessen our reaction to others to a more intentional way of being, through mindfulness of our thoughts, our bodies, the world around us. When things like pride or anger are not getting in the way, we can see things for what they really are. We have no need to threaten others, to undermine others, to make them suffer. We realise that in doing so we are only doing that to ourselves, through the inter-relatedness of nature. Letting go of the ego’s need for validation, for constant chatter, for endless self-centred thinking we can dive into the still, calm pools of reflection where peace is found. We find that we can contemplate the self without recrimination or judgement. When we can do that with our selves, we are able to do that with others. In that doing is compassion and understanding.
It can be difficult when others deliberately try to shatter our peace, who try to shake our foundation and inner sovereignty. But we cannot control them, and can only have compassion for them as they are so caught up in their suffering that they feel it necessary to spread it out into the wider world. We can instead find our true sense of self worth, our inner sovereignty, and let that light shine out in the world. We are our actions as well as our words. Our deeds are what is lasting in an impermanent world.
We can be at peace even in world that seems to going to hell in a handbasket. We can be at peace when others are trying to cut us down. We can be at peace in a world that is so materialistic and consumer driven that it is making itself extinct. That peace is the core of our being. That peace is within each and every one of us, if we are willing to see it. Through the opening of the eyes and the soul, we find that still, deep pool of being and of knowing, and there we reign supreme.
To find out more about mindfulness, meditation and peace, see my first book, Zen Druidry: Living a Life of Natural Awareness. This book combines Easter and Western philosophies, techniques and spirituality to create a path that is focused on the here and now, awake to the beauty of the world and its rhythms of nature that flow through and around us each with each and every breath.
Still Pool Print by Jennifer Oakley-Delaplante
Around the winter solstice is the time of year when many people get together, families and friends, to celebrate the holidays. If we are fortunate, we have some time off to be together, all together in one place – we may not have such an opportunity until the next solstice season rolls around. It can be a wonderful time of loving hugs, good conversation and deep, belly filled laughs. It can also be a trying time, when the bonds of friendship or family can become tested as we are all thrown together, our usual routines and habits left behind and we are faced with situations that are perhaps out of the norm.
My home is usually very quiet, filled with deep silence and stillness. In that silence I find my personal sanctuary, where peace is around every corner. I’m not a big fan of crowds or noise. However, at this time of year, I leave behind my little sanctuary and venture out into the world of lights and noise, family and friends when I’d really rather be sitting on my meditation cushion in the dark, with a candle and some incense.
It’s quite a shift to deal with. There is constant noise around me, different noise to that of my own home. It’s the noise of other people, which I am not accustomed to. Loud televisions, conversations, arguments, laughter – it’s a bit of an assault on my senses. Dealing with other people’s behaviour when there is no opportunity to “escape”. I have to confront everything that upsets me head on, or lose my temper, say something in anger as my “sanctuary” is thrown out the window.
Or is it? Yes, it’s difficult. Even as I type this blog, there are interruptions by people walking in and out of the room, asking me what I’m doing and other various questions. Nemetona, my goddess of sanctuary, has taught me that she is ever within me even as she is without – I take her with me wherever I go, and where I go she is always there.
When I was about nine, my grandfather took a welding torch and created for my church a tall stand on which to set the Advent wreath in the sanctuary. We had magnificent holly bushes in our yard, so my mother and I each year cut piles of dark, prickly leaves and red berries, then built the wreath ourselves. None of my friends seemed to have ever heard of Advent, so I thought it was just for Lutherans. The sermon each of the four weeks before Christmas kept our minds trained on the spiritual significance of the season, and a paper Advent calendar at home with little doors to open each day made me think maybe I should pay attention to it all.
Nowadays I ponder the iconic maternal images of Mary and Isis, seasonally superimposed one on the other. Each of them experienced difficult transitions to motherhood. Each struggled to hide her son away from those who would snuff out his life. Each had enough protective magic to earn them the titles Queen of Heaven and Mother of God....