Monday, December 10, 2007

Global Warming: Some reasons not to care

I had a conversation today with a young man. The topic of global warming came up, and it seemed to me from his facial reaction that he was not convinced that it was anything to be concerned about. So, I noted his apparent skepticism to him. He affirmed my suspicion: as far as he could see, there was no reason to be concerned.

I pointed out that the fact of global warming was reasonably established by various scientific communities. I also acknowledged that to what degree human effort could turn it around, more, to what degree human activity was causing it, was still being debated within the scientific community.

His first response to that was: what difference does it make? It won't affect me.

I am a bit older than this young man. I told him, rather passionately, that I planned to live a long time and that even though I'd be a very old man in the 50 years predicted to be our frame of reference for global warming unchecked to kick in, it would indeed affect him. It would affect my children who would be in the prime of their lives at the time (I like to think that middle ages are prime of life!).

On this score, he said something that left my jaw hanging open: None of it mattered. God would take care of global warming, because, god has a plan.

To my question of "just what if you are not right about this and spending some time doing the 15 or 20 things that any of us can do to have positive effect on the environment is the thing to do" his reply was simple and final. "I'm not wrong."

He's got the whole wide world, in his hands.

So, we don't need to care. It won't affect us. God has a plan and will take care of global warming.

Most disturbing to me? I don't think this young man is terribly alone in his attitudes.

Not convinced by his attitude? I hope not. Here's a place to find easy, practical steps that can make a huge difference in the human impact on the environment.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

My Working Philosophy

It hit me in the gym today. A sudden kind of realization.

I am not sure why it should have been while I was at the gym today working out that I realized that over the course of the last 28 years my own way of navigating life has taken a particular shape. And, today, right now, I can tell you what it is. I don't know if 28 years (or maybe it's 48--my 48th birthday is just a few days away) means that I am a slow learner or that this is hitting me at about the right time ( which is what I suspect), or that I am hitting enlightenment really early (nah).

I say 28 years, because I recall that the first part of this working philosophy hit me "out of the blue" when I was 20. I was about to graduate from college, and I was being interviewed by the university in a kind of "exit interview". It was tape-recorded. I was asked: what is the most important thing you have learned while being at the university. (Perhaps this is the place to mention that I was graduating from Oral Roberts University with a major in biblical literature--that means Hebrew and Greek--and that my alma mater has supplied me with regular reasons to want to forget that I ever went there ever since then. However, I must say, I got a superb liberal arts eduction despite religious scandals, then and now, and went on to more liberal climes).

So, I was asked: what is the most important thing you have learned at the university? I think they were waiting for some religious answer, and, in retrospect, I would say that it was for me, deeply spiritual, but not what they were looking for. It came right out of my mouth, and I did not have to ponder it. It's the first leg of my working philosophy of life. So, here we go. I said: I have learned that questions are more important than answers. What follows is what I can articulate today, straight from the sweaty gym where it congealed for me today, about my working philosophy of life.

1) Questions are important.
This really requires little explanation. The questions that arise from with me as an individual are what set the course for my own persona life--this life--the one I am sure that I have. Other people's questions may fascinate me, may cause me to ponder, may bore me, may leave me untouched. Only those questions that rise up out of my own being, my own life are the ones that I can live with, work with, and build a life with. My own questions, especially the ones that challenge me and frighten me and which I want to pretend are not there are EXACTLY the juiciest ones, the ones that will produce the "best results" for my own single life. As a result, they are also the ones, once I have worked with them, that will touch others around me, in whatever ways that others are "touched" by me. Being touched by my life may feel like a blessing, a curse, a horror, a shock, a miracle, or a passing breeze. Whatever. It will have arisen from my questions for me.

2) Structures can support our questioning.
Or, structures can shut down our questioning. "Structures" can be anything. It can be family. It can be a teacher or an educational system. It can be any community that one belongs to. It can be a patterned way of thinking, and shared patterns of thinking are the most powerful. So, "structures" can be religion and spiritual traditions. When structures encourage my questions, respect and honor my questions they support my journey, my life as I am working it out. When structures judge me for asking question in first place, they are deadly. When structures try to supply me with answers to questions I am not asking, they are patronizing me. When structures try to supply me with ready made answers to my questions, they disrespect me. In short, structures that don't support my questioning are trying to shut me down. My own response to such structures has been to shut them down--that is, to disengage from the structure and find others that are supportive. Hence, these days, I am a practitioner of Druidry through structures like OBOD and AODA, and I am an Unitarian-Universalist and a memberin our local CUUPS group. All of these groups are structures that support my questioning.

3) Answers are personal.
First, I should say that "answers" are not required. That is, the questions that arise out of my own life are what shape my life and how I live it. I may find some answers to some questions. I may find partial answers. I may never find answers to some, but that's okay. The very arising of questions and working with them, honoring them, observing them is what moves me in my life. However, when I do find an answer to a question that arose out of my own life, it can only be personal. It cannot be the answer for other people. It is not a means of discrimination or judgment when looking at others. It is a means of making decisions about my path. It's personal. I can share my answer to my question with others, but I owe it to others to tell them that it is a personal answer to a question that arose out of my own life. If they find analogous help there, that is fine. If they do not, that is fine, too.

4) Beliefs create judgments.
This is a real hot spot. We love to "believe" things. I decided a few years ago to give up beliefs. I don't find them healthy. Belief requires me to take hold of a position for which there can be no evidence. Why should I do that? Instead, why not just observe and report what I experience? I cannot find a situation in which believing is useful to me. I can find plenty where it is harmful. I find, in my own experience, that beliefs (see definition above) give us a means by which we judge--others and ourselves. Judgment means saying, in so many words: you are not acceptable to me because you don't measure up to this belief. It's that simple, and that deadly. Beliefs create separation, division, hurt, harm, and alienation between people. And, what's worse, they aren't necessary.

5) Questions can be shared, and they can create dialogue.
If I refuse to hold beliefs and therefore having nothing to judge others with, what to do when I encounter another human being spouting an idea that I find troubling? (that is, besides asking myself what secret belief I am clinging to that makes this troubling?) This last piece of my working philosophy takes me full circle. I can always ask questions of this other person. Mind you, I am not talking about judgments disguised as questions. I am talking about taking a moment and allowing the other person's position to sink in, and allowing my own personal question to arise. By sharing my genuine question with the other, I invite a dialogue with him/her. I open the door to community. I take a step on my path. I shape my life in the present moment afresh. I risk learning something.

There is a real sense in which this whole "working philosophy" is simply one of my personal answers to a question that has been rising up from within me for a long time: how do I go about living this one life that I have? Here's how I do it. It's personal to me. It works for me. It may not work for anyone else. But, oh how liberating to be able to say--this works for me.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Earth Spiral

A friend of mine and his wife just welcomed their first child into their lives, and it has me musing over our own child raising. It strikes me over and over again that tending our children is very much an earth spiral activity, and that tending changes as they grow. My son, our youngest (13) said to me the other night as I was preparing to take him to his soccer practice—you know dad, you could stay and watch my practice tonight.

I had not planned on staying—just dropping him off, which I usually do. And, honestly, the thought of standing out in the cold for 2 hours was not high on my list. But, my son was saying in so many words that he wanted me there. No reason in particular. He wanted me there, close by, on the ground, while he participated in this physical, earthy activity. So I did. 13 years ago, tending to my son was changing diapers and getting up several times in the night. Sunday night it was cooking a big vegetable and cornbread dinner as our 20 year old was coming home for dinner (and to do laundry), and all three of our kids would be there together. Cooking. Soccer. Diapers. Earth stuff. On my Druid path.

My inclinations are towards the Sun Path and the Moon Path, creative, heady, intellectual, artistic, magickal stuff. But I learn over and over again that it's the Earth stuff that keeps me sane, keeps me healthy, and quite honestly that keeps me in touch with my life, my self. I imagine (which is the best that I can do right now) that if reincarnation is the way things work, that I have had some lifetimes in which I have cultivated my intellect and artistic interests, and that I have brought those things with me into this life. I enjoy them. They seem natural to me. I am inclined toward them. But, this life's lesson seems to be about grounding, about touching the earth as sacred work. The mundane, the telluric, sparkles with a hidden divinity that only appears when I touch it. Tending. Cooking. Weeding. Sweating. These are the elixirs and the spells and the incantations of the earth path.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Samhain and the Veil

As we enter into the triad of days for Samhain, I am aware of the gifts that I have received while working on two different Samhain ceremonies that I will help lead this week. Most of what I have gained has been around the issue of "the veil". We say at Samhain that the veil thins so that we can more easily communicate with our ancestors. I approach this thinning of the veil with an attraction, a personal experience, and even a skepticism all of which lead me to reflect. Here are the things that have become apparent, to me.

First, for most of my life, I have had this experience on a particular day in the fall and in the spring when I can see the light change. It is very specific. In the fall, the heavy, hazy, hot, orangey warm light of summer shifts--almost like a cosmic "click--and it becomes light, clear, cooler, yellowish-white. Colors seem sharper, and the air feels, well, thinner. So, I think I have an experience that I would like to think my Celtic ancestors identified as the "thinning of the veil". When I see the light change, other things trigger in me. I shift psychologically and emotionally. I recall the last time the light shifted like this--a year before, and I begin to notice that a year has passed. My life has made the cycle. My ancestors called the year's end and years's beginning. The earth, and her light, signal that for me and my body understands the signals. The psycho-emotional shift moves me more inward as I begin to reflect on what has happend over the last year, what I have learned, mostly from my foibles and unexpected events.

Second, the "veil" are those experiences that set up boundaries around us. The veil defines the present moment. There are events that call me forward. There are events that call me back. But I live right here, right now. Buddhist and Taoist meditation over the years has made this so clear to me. In fact, I am learning that when I am feeling a huge drain on my energy, it is often because I have been working through the veil into the future or back into the past too much. A little of that is okay. A lot of that is exhausting. I am a creature of the present moment. Which leads me to the last point.

Third, we are healthier in the present moment. And we live in a culture that does not teach us to value living in the present moment. Think about all the things that pull you toward tomorrow or which drag you back into the past. I sit writing this on Sunday, but I have nagging in my background mental music the lesson plans that I need to have in place for tomorrow, the conversation I had last week that may have been misunderstood. And those are immediate examples. There are psychological patterns of existence that have been handed down for generations to me that in some sense bind me into ways of living that don't help me. The list of anxieties about the future are limited only by the time it takes me to name them. And so it goes. None of these make me healthy. I am healthiest when I pull back from the veil of past and future and choose to live right now, in the present moment.

Druidry helps me do this. Druidry reminds me to look at the moon, the sun, to stand in awe of the tree, to touch the earth. All of these exist only in the present moment. All of these transcend the veil when needed, but they are present, here and now. And in these days of Samhain, the veil drops and allows us to consider: where we have been this last year; what wisdom has arisen within us; what our ancestors might teach us. Then, the days move one. The veil returns, and we, if we are paying attention, return to the present moment. This is our time. Now. And we don't have time to waste seizing it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Triad of the Little Oak

Three conditions for the little oak to become grand: a conspiracy of imagination, the audacity of a beginning, and a tenacity through time.

Commentary: As it might be obvious, I wrote this triad after planting this tiny little oak in my yard recently. There is a story. My wife and I have been working for weeks on reclaiming a garden space left rather overrun by previous owners. The transformation has resulted in an area devoted to flowers, to vegetables, and to herbs. In the process of clearing, cleaning and preparing the space, we came across a few baby oaks planted, no doubt, by industrious squirrels. This created a bit of a dilemma for the tree-loving Druid.

It would have been easiest to pull them up and compost them with the rest of the weeds, and that's not a bad option. The trees, if left in place, would have grown far too close to our house, and ultimately would have caused damage to the house, and made the gardening space un-gardenable.

So, the second choice, of leaving them there, was out of the question. The third choice was to try and relocate them. The first such relocation was a failure. A combination of a baby oak that was really too old for good relocation, a poor job on my part of digging deeply enough to get all the roots, and our now serious Georgia drought resulted in a transplant that only lasted about two weeks.

The picture above, though, is one such transplant that I have considerable confidence may just make it. And so, after transplanting this tiny baby last week, I've spent some time reflecting on it. What would it take for this little baby to one day make for marvelous, grand oak shade in our front yard (away from the house and garden)? The same three things, it struck me, that are required for any life effort to have some significant effect.

A conspiracy of imagination: The Latin roots of "conspiracy" mean to breathe together. A significant life effort requires that we breathe together with some other creature in the field of imagination. Can we see where this just might lead? Can we see it together?

The audacity of a beginning: This is just deciding to use the nerve one can muster to start. I'd already lost one oak, and felt badly for it. Did I dare try it again? This little one was growing right where it was (and that it would not ultimately be a good place only complicated this). In one solitary moment, I got the shovel and made the move.

The tenacity through time: it means showing up. In this case, during this serious Georgia drought, it means show up with a watering can, regularly, tenaciously, persistently. Over longer time, it means keeping the base clean, mulched, composted, watching for invasive insects or unobservant traffic through the yard.

This little oak has the potential for teaching me a lot, and reminding me often. Just so that you can see how tiny it is, compare it to my hand.

Robert Patrick © 2007

Friday, June 1, 2007

Triads of Any Task

The Triads of Any Task

Three motivations within any task: compulsion, blame, and delight. Wise is the one who knows what moves him.

Three perceptions in the midst of any task: the one completely cloaked, the one in the shadow, and the one completely in the light. Wise is she who constantly seeks them all.

Three experiences within any task: the experience of the slave, the experience of the condemned, and the experience of the creator. At any moment, both the slave and the condemned may become the creator, by a choice.

Three rivers of feeling run through any task and leave their mark on those involved: the feeling of fear, the feeling of shame, and the feeling of joy. Wisdom thrives swimming in only one.

Three choices within any task: To see it as an obligation, to see it as a punishment, to see it as an occasion to dance. Wise are they who can find the inner music in any task.

Robert Patrick, © 2007


I wrote this triad after having one of those (for me) significant dreams where I wake up, remember the details, experience strong emotional content with the dream, and know that it is speaking to me. I spent several days reflecting on this dream, listening to its message, and then wrote this triad over another several days.

Part 1: for me, I have come to realize that any task I engage in, whether daily and routine, or huge and life changing, if I consider it, I can find lurking there these three motivations. I say "lurk" because one of these is usually obvious. The other two, though, are always there, hidden, perhaps, to my ego. The significance of noticing that "compulsion" or "blame" or "delight" is a motivator is that I can notice which is moving me at the time, and then I can choose which one I really want to work with. In reality, I am finding that compulsion and blame, vestiges of the culture and family I grew up in, often are the initial and obvious motivators, delight is the one I choose to work with.

And the great joy of this is discovering, so far, that there is no task, however difficult or trivial or overwhelming or boring--in which I cannot find a delight.

Part 2: I have alluded to this already. Compulsion, blame and delight are all already present in any task I undertake. One might be obvious--in the light. Others may be lurking in the shadows, barely perceptible, or completely hidden to me. Regardless of which is where, I do better to find them all and see how they are moving me, and then, am free to make my choice for how to proceed.

Part 3: The slave is the extension of compulsion. When I do a task because "I have to", then I am slave to the compulsion. Likewise, when I do a task because not doing it will leave me "guilty" of some judgment, I must ask whose judgment this is I am walking around with. I stand, in the task, already condemned. The point of observing these experiences of slave and condemned is that I can then choose, rather, to work from the delight involved in the task. When I choose to work from delight, I become creative, fluid, dynamic. I become the creator--I who moments before was the slave or the condemned.

Part 4: The feelings, too, are extensions of the motivators: fear of the compulsion, shame of the blame,and joy of the delight. This is just another angle on any task: the emotions that are running through me will color my world and will leave a mark on those I am "tasking" with and for. Suppose I am cooking food for my family, am doing it under some compulsion (I have to do this), am feeling anger and fear around having to do this task--fear that I won't get to do other things that I'd prefer to be doing, for instance. Does the food not become filled with the emotion I am running? Will not my family then "feast" on my fear at some level?
Imagine the same meal prepared with the choice to cook in and through the delight of the task. Fact is, I love to cook, and if I can settle down and observe what is moving me, I can choose to cook with delight.

Part 5: The word "choice" should be obvious by now. No great coincidence that I am also re-reading William Glasser's Choice Theory: A New Psychology for Living right now.

About Triads

Littered throughout this blog, you will find some of my triads.

What are triads, you ask? In short, they are one of the few written forms left from ancient Celtic and Druidic communities. Triads express what today we might call spirituality, psychology, sociology and just plain human wisdom in sometimes pithy, sometimes truncated, but most often dense sayings, expressed with three aspects. Reading a triad, and better, reflecting and ruminating on it, is like walking around a three legged stool. You view it from three different points of view, but you are viewing the same stool in each view.

There are collections of ancient Triads. I find some as fresh and powerful as anything I've ever read, and those I often commit to memory. They begin to salt my thoughts, my writing, my view on the world. In other words, they help me make sense of things. They become companions, wise companions, on the journey. The clearest example of this type I learned while working through Bardic grade with OBOD. It goes:

"Three foundations to success: bold design, frequent practice, and frequent mistakes."

That triad so clearly and succinctly and deeply expresses for me what the journey of life and learning is about that it is has become a personal and professional motto of sorts. I teach it to my students, and it effectively becomes my classroom motto each year.

Others of the ancient Triads clearly need a great deal of cultural and linguistic excavation to make sense, or they sound "good" on the surface, but are difficult to make much sense of. Consider this one:

"Three tendencies of a persons lifetime: hope, love, and joy."

Who wants to argue with hope, love and joy? And yet, how is it that these are three tendencies of a person's life time? We could all take a stab at that, and many might disagree. I simply don't find enough here to work with. And so it goes.

After this post, I will from time to time post some of my own triads. Unless indicated otherwise, the Triads that I write here are my own creation based on reflections of my personal experience. They may or may not be useful to someone else. So, the wisdom is--read, try it out, decided for yourself. I am not claiming to be adding to the ancient store of triads, but I am claiming that this way of reflecting on and distilling my own experience is very helpful to me. At least, this is a writing exercise. For me personally, it is also an exercise in the practice of my path, my life journey.

I will also at times give comment to the triads that I write. And, as always, comments to any of this are welcome from those who read them.

I have created links to some online sources for ancient triads.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Beltane 2007

I delivered the following reflection at the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett, where I am a member. We had the service outside, and followed with an arts and crafts fair--the first of what we hope may become an annual event.

The Song of Amergin

I am a stag: of seven tines,

I am a flood: across a plain,

I am a wind: on a deep lake,

I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,

I am a hawk: above the cliff,

I am a thorn: beneath the nail,

I am a wonder: among flowers,

I am a wizard: who but I

Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?

I am a spear: that roars for blood,

I am a salmon: in a pool,

I am a lure: from paradise,

I am a hill: where poets walk,

I am a boar: ruthless and red,

I am a breaker: threatening doom,

I am a tide: that drags to death,

I am an infant: who but I

Peeps from the unhewn dolmen, arch?

I am the womb: of every holt,

I am the blaze: on every hill,

I am the queen: of every hive,

I am the shield: for every head,

I am the tomb: of every hope.

Song of Amergin translated by Robert Graves, from The White Goddess, Faber and Faber Limited, 24 Russell Square London WC1. It appears here under the principle of Fair Use.

These words are considered to be the oldest recorded poem in Irish and from Ireland. They are said to be the words, the incantation, the wisdom spoken forth by the Druid, Amergin of the Milesians as he and his people landed on Ireland and prepared to drive the Tuatha de Danaan (The Fairy People who were considered gods or spirits) from the land. These words, the story goes, broke the power of the spirits over the land, and allowed the Milesians to take up residence in Ireland. This occurred some time about 1500 years before the Common Era, and so, more than 3500 years ago from our time, at this time of the year, the beginning of Beltane, the Irish marking of the beginning of summer, the beginning of the flowering of the earth.

So, are these magick words that have a power of their own? If I want to take my neighor’s car, should I walk over and proclaim these words over his car at night and watch it magically appear in my drive way? Likely not. Or should I stand in my neighbor’s driveway shouting: I am a stag; I am a flood; I am a wind; I am a tear; I am a thorn; I am a wonder; I am a wizard . . . likely my neighbor will simply think me a fool, or someone who has lost his mind, and call for someone to take me away.

There is, in fact, some real magick going on in these words, and I’d like to take just a minute to observe the line of magick that runs through them. And then, I’d like to stop talking about the magick and invite you to practice a little of the magick with me, because it’s actually real, practical magick.

Notice the venue of these “I am” statements. Amergin claims that he is a stag (an animal who lives out its life in the woods, under the trees, on the earth. Amergin claims that he is a flood (a phenomenon that requires a great deal of water, as he says here, washing over the earth). He claims that he is a wind (a vast amount of air moving and gusting, and he notes that it moves across the water). Before I go any further, do you see what he is weaving? He is identifying himself with what will become the three most basic building blocks of the ancient Irish world view: the earth, the sea (water), and the sky (air), and he demonstrates them working in and over and under each other, separate but joined, touching, weaving, inter-working, inter-being. In every other Druidic and ancient Irish piece of wisdom that we have left in writing (most of it was NOT written down) these elements of earth, sky and sea are the building blocks, the starting places, and the sources where people find energy to work with. And why not? They are all around, abundant, and at this time of year, bursting forth with life.

Amergin goes on: he is a tear that falls from the sun (water from the sky). He is a hawk soaring above the cliff (air over the earth). He is a thorn under the nail (earth under the earth). He is a wonder among flowers (imagine the gasp of human breath “ahhhhh” as it catches sight of a field of flowers—air over earth). And now the claim to transformation: not only is he earth and sky and water and all three working in and over and among each other, but he is wizard! He is the weaver of magick, working with these energies who can bring a fire and smoke out of a cool head (which, by the way, in many ancient literatures, is always an auspicious sign, and usually the sign identifying a wise person or a leader).

In each stanza of this poem, Amergin continues to weave the three elements of Earth and Air and Water together with symbols of the very land that is before him, and in each stanza he comes to a moment of transformation. In the second stanza, for instance, it is not a wizard that he is weaving all of this mighty stuff together. No, after claiming that he is a spear, a salmon, a lure, a hill, a boar, a breaker, and a tide, he then becomes the transformer—an infant. Who else can look from inside of the earth and peer out on all of these things—who else can look from the inside of the womb out and see that vision?

And so, of course, in the last stanza, Amergin makes the journey, and the claim to work with these mighty energies is complete. He is the womb of every creature giving birth. He is the blaze on every hill that lights the dark nights of celebration and of protection. He is the queen of every hive, directing the life of the community of bees, and producing sweet honey. He is a shield for every head. Earth and sky and air. And finally, he knows, he is the tomb which holds every hope.

What is this wisdom that leaves his hopes in the tomb? What is this wisdom that has a man claiming to be a womb, a queen bee, a stag, a flood, the wind, a wizard, an infant? It is the wisdom of knowing oneself in the-right-now-ness of things, in this world, the world composed of earth and sky and sea, which allows the energy of Summer time to burst forth inside of him. It is the wisdom that recognizes that I am not separate from you; that we are not separate from that sky above us; from this earth we sit and stand on; from the water that falls from the sky (hopefully not until our May Day Fair is finished today). We are that. That is who we are. I am that. That is who I am. And I am birth. I am able to open myself to earth and sky and air and become a wizard working with those energies for transformation. I am the infant who once looked out from inside a womb, and I can still be that, if I allow it. And I am death. I am letting go, dying, and laying down hopes. I lay down hopes in exchange for what is right now. And I realize that I am both birth and death in the same life, in the taking in of a breath and the letting go of a breath. In every moment I am both birth and death. On this day of Beltane, I can claim that; I can celebrate that; I can work and weave with that. It is no accident that on this celebration of the beginning of Beltane that we have moved our worship out of doors to be in direct contact with these elements. And it is no mistake that we have filled our usual place of worship with the creative arts of many, many artisans. Those arts and crafts are the produce of the hands of men and women who have found the words of Amergin for themselves: I am the sky, I am the earth, I am the sea. And as wizards, they have crafted air and earth and water together into beauty. As we look around this place, we are witness to the produce of men and women, some of whom sit right here with us today, some of whom are no longer among us—who heard the call of this land, these trees, this sky, and made a place here called UUCG, who as late as yesterday were out on this land, pulling weeds and encouraging flowers and pruning trees and picking up debris, and tending the land. They, like the infant, really can look from inside the earth out and see the vast beauty that is here. They can sing the song of Amergin.

And, so, we can stop talking about Amergin and his song and his magick as a thing of the past, about what he might have experienced, and invite us to weave a little of this magick for ourselves.

Let’s take a moment as we sit here under the sky and the trees, with the wind blowing around us. I am going to be quiet. Let’s look around. Really see what is above and below and around you. Identify with something that you see. And claim to be it, to be one with it, and name it out loud. Yes, I am going to ask us to see the things around us, and claim them, claim to be them, and so, claim the energy that they hold as something that we want to celebrate and enjoy today on this day of Beltane.

Here’s an example: I look down right now, and I see an insect crawling through the grass. So, out of the silence I say: I am a bug crawling on the grass!

See how easy that was? So, I am going to be quiet now, and you are the end of this reflection. As you feel so moved, claim I am ___________, and we will do this until we fall silent again, and the choir will lead us in The Chant for the Seasons.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Planning With the Grove

A few months ago, I gave a talk at our UU congregation about Earth-centered spirituality and focused on my own experience with trees. I described as best I could how it feels to have a conversation with a tree. After the service, I was approached by about 6 or 7 different individuals who wanted to "confess" (really confirm and affirm) that they, too, had these experiences. Most were men. Most seemed terribly relieved, delighted even, to have someone mark out loud an experience they had known personally for some time.

Today, I went out into the grove behind my house, having been drawn there, as I understand it, by the space itself. A few days ago, while jogging, the grove suddenly came to mind, and in particular, the space at the back of the grove where I had been considering a Druid's garden, this image came to me. The space is an oblong circle (or an oval) set off by pine or oak trees at the cardinal positions (pine at east and south, oak at west and north). The pines are 25-30 feet tall and about a foot at the base. The oaks are youngish and I think "water oaks" which are not always very large anyway, more like 15-20 feet tall and 5-10 inches at the base. The image that came to me was a classical labyrinth set in that oval with Druidic herbs planted in and among and around the labyrinth--so a garden labyrinth. The space would become at once a garden and a place for walking meditation.

I went to the space just now to tell the space of my idea, and to listen for its permission and direction. This kind of "talking for me" is a combination of images and words which I use very quietly. I think the words are mostly for me, and the images are the energy form that trees and plants communicate with.

I sketched the space and made notes about trees, etc. And then, I began asking the plants and trees for permissions. The space within the oval is filled with blackberry bramble, honeysuckle vines, and small saplings and other scrub that has grown up in what had been once open space within the grove. (I mentioned in the earlier post that this seems to have been farmed at one time, and I suspect that opening may have resulted from that. The opening in the grove is also about 30-40 feet from the stream that runs at the back boundary of my property.

Specifically: I asked blackberry if I might cut and remove the bramble in the oval, but that I would want her to relocate through her roots to the outer edges. I love blackberry and would not want her to disappear. She gave permission as long as I do this before spring sprouting begins. Honeysuckle gave an immediate nod of approval for the same. I asked all of the trees for permission to remove small saplings and small trees that are in the oval. Honestly, if they all grew, they would crowd each other terribly. The message I got back was an affirmative, but where possible, I should dig saplings up and relocate them toward the stream. Finally, I asked the space about placing the garden-labyrinth there. The image I got back was that this space had inspired this from the beginning and had called me to this image. In other words, the idea of the labyrinth garden came from the space itself. In a sense, I already knew this.

I started to leave, and then realized that I need to ask one more permission: of poison oak, ivy and sumac. I knew they were there, but I could not see them. I asked them if they would locate outside of the oval and be our guardians, not our enemies. The reply: yes, if you will do the same for us.

This space, from the day I began working in it draws me as space for human beings, perhaps only this human being, but I sense others, to find new and deeper communion with the earth, with nature, and with the particular trees of this grove.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

In the Grove

I'd like to share an experience and an adventure that I began this past
week, one that has been taking shape interiorly for some time now.
When my wife and I bought this house, (metro Atlanta) we knew that based
on our jobs as teachers, we would have certain areas that we needed to
try and find housing in--largely for school zones for our children and transportation/fuel concerns in our commutes. Most of our affordable options were in
subdivisions-not very high on our list of priorities. So, we insisted
that the real estate agent show us only subdivisions where trees had

been left alone as much as possible. The short of it is that we found
this house in a very large subdivision built by one architect who wove
the subdivision in and around the small river and large tract of what I
am sure had been untouched woods 20 years ago. The home owners'
association contract, which all owners must sign, requires a
neighborhood approval on the removal of all trees. In other words, we
don't cut down trees!

Our property runs long behind our house into the woods and all the way
to the river (stream). This past week, I began a project that, as I
say, has been taking shape in my imagination. I want to create a living
relationship with those woods, with the grove behind our house, and in
that relationship find spaces where I can spend quiet, meditative time and
where I can have a garden. There is a space in the heart of the
grove between our house and the stream that is fairly encircled with
large trees (mostly oak), and closer to the stream, there is an open
area-open to the sun-bounded in the cardinal directions by trees whose
type I have not identified yet. They are hardwood, it seems, and one
may even be a pear tree.

So, last Wednesday, I began. Beginning meant standing at the edge of
the grove and talking for a while with the nature spirits of the grove,
and sharing with them the dream that I had inside me, and asking if they
would work with me, help me, guide me in 1) making a walking, safe path
through the grove to the stream and potential garden site. The path
would need to be cleared of accumulated twigs, fallen trees, leaves,
vines, etc so that humans could walk without fear of unseen snakes,
holes and poison oak/ivy. 2) establishing a circle at the center of the
grove within which I could sit, meditate, reflect; 3) cultivating the
open space within the trees as a garden with herbs and perhaps some fruit/vegetables for my family's use.

And then, I listened. What I received was this kind of message/wisdom
and direction. 1) They would work with me, but there was some
skepticism on the part of some of the nature spirits about whether I
would listen, so in a sense, I am being tested. They want to know if
they can trust me. 2) They insisted on removing no trees (except for an
occasional small one for which I would need to stop and receive
permission). Vines could be clipped and pruned as their underground root
network is vast, and they are free to put up shoots anywhere they like.
So, I was told, pruning vines (largely the vines I face are cat's paw-an
invasive thorny vine, wild muscadine, wild blackberry, and poison ivy)
for the purpose of making the path was acceptable. 3) They showed me
where they wanted me to lay the path-along what was already a a series
of natural openings along a very old fence that had once been there for
animals. More on that in a minute.

And so I began. I did ask them to protect me from poison ivy (I am
increasingly allergic, and with all the other vines that we have in the
grove, it's not always obvious, especially this time of year with most
leaves are gone). With my rake, I began sweeping out the path and with
my pruners, removing vines that fell in the path. I only worked a
couple of hours that first day, and the path took shape all the way to
the garden spot. It passes just by the western edge of what will be the
meditation circle and approaches the garden spot from the south-west. Along the
way, I found where stone and brick had been piled (how long ago I don't
know), but as I removed the pile, using the brick the line the path and
the stone I piled at the food of the oak that borders the western edge
of the circle, I asked the earth to tell me about what had gone on
there. I began to get mental images of a farm that had been there and
that this part of the wood had once held a pen for animals. I kept
seeing pigs.

When I left the grove at the end of that first day, I scattered cornmeal
as an offering to the nature spirits. I had done this at the opening of
the grove when I started my conversation earlier that day, and I ended
by scattering cornmeal all along the new path.

And that's where I am in this adventure. What I found, true to other
experiences, is that when I attempt to speak and listen to nature
spirits (I love JMG's phrase in several of his books-patterns of
energy), I find that what is communicated is not words, but impressions
and images. In other words (using words to try and describe non-verbal
experiences) patterns of energy use non-verbal patterns of energy to

We shall see how this unfolds, and I will post here and
keep journaling about what is happening in the grove.. I am excited that this interior vision
is taking shape.

I think that the garden
spot is going to be a bit more challenging for me to listen and work
simply because, while it is largely open with respect to trees, it has
quite a lot of smaller undergrowth that has clearly grown up there over
the last 10 or 15 years. This includes invasive blackberry. Wild
blackberries are delicious, but the plants are a thorny nightmare. I am
at this point, thinking that they qualify under the "vine" rule I was
given, but I will talk to them, and ask them to relocate through their
root system. Also, I'll ask for their assistance in clearing the space
for a more formal herb garden.