Treat others as you would like to be treated. Such a simple phrase, yet so hard to comply with when we've been hurt or wounded in any way. Our first reaction is to hurt back, to wound in return. Yet is this how we would like to be treated? What if the person who hurt you didn't even know that they had? What if it was completely intentional? Is it then justifiable to perpetuate the cycle of hurt? How do we, as Druids, work with anger and wounding in today's society? How do we work with honour?
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2017 is going to be the year where hopefully the words “voluntary simplicity” will be embraced by a wider range of people. I know that I have been incorporating voluntary simplicity in my own life for many years now, and that there is still many more ways in which I can follow a simpler, more efficient and ecologically sustainable way of being in the world. To do so, I am constantly informing myself, being conscious and mindful, trying to look at the bigger picture and taking personal responsibility for the world that I am leaving to our ancestors of the future. Now more than ever, we are at the crucial tipping point where we have to look beyond our own self-interest and look to the whole, to be more holistic in everything that we do.
I have incorporated Zen and Buddhism into my life for many years. For me, this brings a wisdom from both Eastern and Western philosophies that can blend together to form a holistic worldview and way of life. I feel that East and West need each other in order to understand the whole. Only when we understand the material as well as the spiritual can we bring them together to live fully in the here and now.
It’s important that simplicity, in terms of reducing consumerism, resources and living a better, cleaner more sustainable life, is voluntarily chosen. When it is not, we come across such suffering as poverty. Many people in the world do not have a choice to reduce, reuse, to choose. Here in the West, many of us can make choices, however small, in our daily lives that strive towards a more sustainable future for everyone. Where we can, we should voluntarily make that choice, in order to preserve a future for humanity. In doing so, we will also achieve a higher quality of life, and be able to truly flourish as a species. We are at that balance point, if we haven’t already gone too far, to either evolve into a higher consciousness and have that reflected in our actions, to come together as we realise that there is more to bind us together than tear us apart, or we can fall into divisiveness, fighting each other over the few differences and destroying not only ourselves, but a large portion of life on this planet in our downfall.
But what is simplicity? It is living in harmony with the world. Druidry is all about relationship, and this is also at the heart of simplicity. It is egalitarian. It sees through the illusions created by modern-day culture and society, the need to consume, the distractions of the media. It is about seeing what is really important in life: your family, your friends, your local environment. It is about living sustainably, so that our children and their children, as well as all the planet’s children, both human and non-human, have a good quality of life. It is about learning what is enough, rather than striving for more.
Hope can be a double-edged sword. It can lift our hearts, rally us towards a cause, or it can lead us to the depths of despair when it dies. I've often wondered whether it is better to have hope or not, whether hope is a carrot dangling in front of us, or whether it is that very real need to invest our emotions into the belief that we can change our world. Back in 2012, I wrote about the Zen approach, in a piece entitled "No Hope". The words that I wrote four years ago still resonate strongly within me, even as my relationship to hope has changed.
When we are at our lowest, we might still have some hope that things will get better. This hope may be the only thing that gets us through those long, dark nights of the soul. Then again, that hope may be what is preventing us from achieving things in our own right. Hope may cause complacency. If we work without hope, without expectation, then we may be even more motivated to make a positive change in the world in our own right, for the benefit of all.
With hope comes expectation. When we have expectations, we can be thrown against the rocks of frustration, anxiety, anger and despair when those expectations are not met, when things do not go the way that we would like them to. We want people to behave the way we think they should, for the benefit of all. We want our politicians to think of the people that they represent instead of their own agendas. We want colleagues to pull their own weight, spouses and partners to be there for us, children to love us. When things don't go according to our plans, or according to our expectations, we might crash and burn. We might dive into darkness at seeing a new President-elect, we might look at the environment and realise that perhaps we have simply gone too far, and there is no remedy for what we have done. When this happens, we can lose momentum, we can get stuck. Hope might be the thing that brings us out of this stagnation, or it might leave us altogether, so that we are in an even worse state than before.
So how do we work with hope? I've found it useful in the last couple of years to work with Hope as a god. I've worked with Time in the same context, and it has been illuminating for me in so many ways. Working with the gods, we learn to create a relationship with them, one that is nurturing for all involved. There is a give and take, a sustainable and reciprocal feeling to it that means that we cannot rely on them to do everything for us, and vice versa. It is in mutual respect where we meet, where we realise that we are part of an ecosystem, and where we need to strengthen the bonds of relationship so that it functions for mutual benefit. We learn from permaculture that diversity is key, that edges are where things happen. We learn to work with both, and in doing so can make this planet a better place. If we give up Hope in this context, if we give up Hope as deity, then there will be a very real feeling of bereavement in our lives; we will be bereft. That relationship will be gone, and when it is gone then to whom do we relate?
Others would say that this might be preferable, and in giving up Hope as deity we then become more self-reliant. But self-reliance is a myth. We are all co-dependent upon everything else on this planet. We do not exist in a vacuum. We need others in order to exist, let alone thrive. We are not separate. Without the innumerable other factors in our lives, beings seen and unseen, we simply could not be. I think that this is why I believe in the gods. The gods are all about relationship, about relating to our world through a means which is personal to each and every being. This is why I'm starting to work with Hope on a new level, when it seems perhaps that all hope is lost. Otherwise, I fear I might spiral into apathy, or depression. If I work with Hope, if I talk to Her and connect those threads of sustainable relationship, then I might be inspired to solve a problem, mend something that is broken, reweave the threads of connection in the best way that I can.
Hope can be the spark of inspiration, the awen that sings to us in the dead of night when all seems lost. Hope can also be a force that keeps us from changing our lives for the better, hoping someone else, someone more powerful or intelligent will do it for us. But when we work with Hope as deity, then things begin to change. Hope will not save us from ourselves. But Hope may inspire us to do better, to be better, to be the change that we wish to see in the world.
Or so one can only Hope.
© Joanna van der Hoeven 2016
Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid and author of several books, including the best-seller The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druidand her most recent release, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with the Natural World. Find out more at www.joannavanderhoeven.com
A television show that I enjoyed, which originally aired in the late 90’s through to 2002, is Dharma and Greg. It is about a free-spirited woman with two hippy parents who is very spiritual, very loving and very funny. She marries a conservative born and bred lawyer, and the exchange, dynamic and growth between the two is what makes this such a great show.
At one point Dharma is praying in a hospital chapel, and her spirit guide, a Native American named George whom she connected with personally before he died, comes to her aid and offers advice in her time of need. He hears her praying, trying to have a conversation with whatever deity will listen in the multifaith chapel, and offers these very poignant words which I remember to this very day.
Dharma is feeling remorse because of harsh words she had about her mother, and now her mother is in danger of losing the child that she is carrying.
"George, my Mom might lose the baby."
"And you feel like you made this happen."
"It feels like it."
"Well if you did, they should put your picture up here on the spinning God Wheel", he says, indicating the multifaith prayer icon on the altar.
"Whether I did it or not, I was thinking it."
"Because you were angry."
"So what should I do now? Do you think I should stay here and pray?"
"What do you mean by praying?"
"I don't know - talk to the universe, to God, the Great Spirit, whatever It is."
“Huh. So, you’re having a conversation with the Great Spirit, the Maker of All Things, and you’re doing the talking?”
This, indeed defines for me the nature of what prayer is seen as today. Even if we are not asking for anything, a lot of prayer in our culture and society consists of a one-way conversation between the individual and the deity/spirit in question. Prayer is a relationship, for me, and as such necessitates a give and take in everything, including both spoken and unspoken words. Too often in prayer, we forget to listen. When we speak and then listen, then we are communing. Otherwise, we are just talking.
Altars can have a very significant role in daily practice and worship, providing a focal point in establishing relationship. I try to highlight this importance with my students, explaining the benefits of have a focus within an area in which to open up communication with the spirits of place (or land, sea and sky), the ancestors, and the gods. Communication is essential to good relationship, and finding a spot to come back to again and again helps us to not only strengthen the bond between the person and the place, but also gives it a ritual context within which to commune. Often this ritual context is held within a temple, whether it is a building or creation of stone and/or timber, or a sacred circle cast with energy around the practitioner. The importance of the altar and the temple should not be taken for granted, though neither are exactly essential.
Druidry is all about relationship, and you cannot have relationship without some form of communication. It may not always be in words, human to human, but opening those lines of communication helps us to perceive that the world is more than just our own sense of self. When we begin to see that there are other perspectives, other points of view we also come to an awareness that the world is being experienced by each being individually, in a collective state of unity dictated by space and time.
Events around the world this year have shone a spotlight on discordance, in human to human relationship, and in human to other-than-human relationships. Violent attacks, disregard for the environment, the increasing gap between the rich and the poor and more can be attributed to an "Us" and "Them" mentality. When we remove this dualist point of view, and encompass a more holistic approach, we see that what we do to others, we do to ourselves. In Buddhism, it is acknowledged that suffering exists in the world, and that this suffering is caused by the illusion of separation. If we look deeply enough scientifically, anthropologically, and even spiritually we can see that there is more that binds us together than tears us apart.