So I just learned about this film, which NPR reports is a contender for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature! Here are a couple of previews and you can learn more at their website…
Hello dear friends and readers!
So as I have been committing to silent meditation and spiritual practice, or rather recommitting after years of neglect and wandering off the path of practicing my Paganism, I have been giving a lot of thought to Meditation and its proper place in my practices as a Pagan and in the practice of the many forms of Paganism in general. This has led me, as I was in the midst of writing this post, into re-writing a portion of the meditation section on my main Spiritual Practice page…
Enjoy and please give me some feedback.
One of the great definitions I’ve heard over the years was to the effect that prayer is a form of speaking to the Divine, and meditation is listening to Them. Meditation is, I truly believe, an important tool in any Pagans spiritual toolbox.
Meditation is not always, or usually, about listening too/for the Deities, BUT, it can sometimes be a darn useful skill to develop as we seek our relationships with Them. Meditation can help us learn deep truths about ourselves. Meditation can also help us to set aside the everyday matters of our world and give us the clarity and focus that is right and respectful for when we are engaging in our relationships with our Gods and Goddesses.
I can’t meditate, I’ve tried
Anyone can meditate, and a lot of us do it without even knowing it. In studying meditation one will regularly run across the concept of mindfulness.
Being. Being fully present. Being fully present in the moment. Not concerned with the past or the future.
This is where, in some of my writings on meditation, (here and here for example) I have said to myself “thinking” to acknowledge that my mind is wandering away from being and being present and is getting caught up by the many shiny things of my interior world. So I return to focusing on my out-breath and let go of whatever shiny idea or thought my mind has snatched up for the moment.
Now I have this idea that in their everyday lives all of our Pagan ancestors had a LOT of opportunities to engage in mindfulness, whether or not they lived in a place or culture that recognized formal meditation. For most of them life involved a lot more physical labor than our own modern lives; there was also not the pressure of a consumer over-culture pressing into you all sorts of manipulative messages, but for right now lets focus on the labor and mindfulness….
There is a Zen proverb, often credited to the Buddha, that goes something like…
“Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.”
Think about it, have you ever mowed the lawn, or scrubbed a floor, de-boned a chicken, or shoveled snow?
You can do these things while thinking about some fight you had with your brother, or what you want to do after your done, or that really nice meal you had the other day, or that cool tv show or…or… or… BUT you will often end up doing a poor job because of distraction and you will have just done your chore and moved on to the next thing rather routinely and robotly.
BUT, if you focus on the process and simply do it… let’s say shoveling snow, an example that as a former Alaskan I have some familiarity with…
If you shovel the snow, focusing on each shovelful of snow and picking it up carefully yet efficiently, and placing it to the side of the walk or drive, either far off into the yard or by the side of the walk and drive to form a wind break. If you do this shovelful by shovelful, paying attention to how you are moving and breathing and to what you are doing; not only do you do a better job but the job seems to get done quicker and your feel really good about the whole thing. At the end you not only feel physically but mentally and spiritually invigorated.
That’s mindfulness, that’s meditation.
Chop wood, carry water.
Our Pagan ancestors had many, many opportunities to go into a mindful place and their world lacked a lot of the mental and physical distractions of our own modern life. So in learning to meditate we can actually put ourselves in a much better framework for worshiping and relating to whatever of the Holy Powers we honor in our particular Pagan path.
Like a lot of spiritual and magickal tools you can use meditation for a number of different purposes or goals, depending upon your imagination and spiritual tradition and inclination. With meditation we are sometimes simply trying to clear the mind, accepting thoughts as they come but releasing them and returning to a silence and focusing on our breathing. Sometimes we are seeking to follow these thoughts and inspirations and will allow ourselves to pursue them, or at least notice them for a bit before returning to the silence and our breathing. Sometimes we are meditating upon an image or idea or an emotion to see what comes up within us about them. Sometimes meditation is a guided affair with someone leading us in a visualization or pathworking; or perhaps we have found a meditation in a book that speaks to the truest parts of ourselves and we record ourselves and play it back.
For this page, I have focused on solitary and basic meditation techniques.
Breath Awareness & Sitting in Stillness and Silence
Breathe properly. Breathe slowly and deeply. Breathe in and out, savoring the act and the nourishment that the air provides. Focus your attention on your breath and focus only on that, emptying your mind of thoughts. Thoughts may come, but you will simply acknowledge them as thoughts and then let them go and return to your breathing.
Breathe as silently as you are able. Silencing the speech and the mind. Embrace the silence. If you need to clear your throat, or sniffle, do so, but return to silence.
Sit still. If you become uncomfortable you can mindfully and gently and quietly reposition yourself, and then return to stillness.
Sit in Stillness and Silence. Breathe in and out, in through the nose and out through the mouth if you are able, or establish an even and slow in out rhythm. If you feel the need to focus on something then gently and lightly focus on your out-breath and touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
You can set an alarm, or simply note the time before you start and when you end. Try for 10 to 20 minutes, then go for 30. Time spent in meditation is important, but not as important as continuing to engage this practice. It may seem like an eternity and only 5 minutes will have passed, or you will be sitting there in silence and it will feel as if your throat muscles are spasming with the desire to SPEAK!!… or is this just me?
Thoughts may come. No, thoughts WILL come. Our brains are kind of wired for them and we live in a society and contemporary world that really doesn’t encourage silence or stillness or being and peace or simply being. When you recognize that you are not mentally silent but are caught up in thoughts or distractions then you can simply think or even say “thinking” to yourself and return to gently focusing on your out-breath.
Confession #1 ~ I have a LOT of difficulty with Sitting in Stillness and Silence. I am happy if I can last 10 minutes, although just short of 20 is my average… IF I APPLY MYSELF! I am, as of this writing (12/14/09), wrestling with this tendency to want to do ANYTHING but Sit in Stillness and Silence… but since I have experienced its benefits I keep trying and that is the best advice I can give you if you have trouble with it, or with any of these practices is to continue to explore and engage with them.
NOTE: 02/20/2010 ~ I am getting better about this…
When you are in a situation of stress, You can take a moment and simple breathe, aware of the process of my breathing and fully conscious of the sensation and act of breathing, and gain a measure of peace to continue dealing with whatever must be dealt with. If you find Centering useful, you can breathe those conscious breaths into your Center.
I can’t meditate, I’ve tried
Did you, how long, how many times, and what were you expecting? Meditation is a practice. We have to do it and do it regularly and repeatedly before we begin to experience it”s benefits.
Sometimes we feel invigorated and energized by meditation, we slip into silence and timelessness and a moment of bliss. We focus on our out breath and suddenly the timer is going off and we are surprised at how quickly things went
Sometimes we are sitting there our back is sore we can’t seem to stop our thoughts, our nose itches and we are thirsty and it’s just not happening, BUT, we still at least TRY to sit for the 5 or 10 or 15 or whatever minutes. Even if we only sit for a portion of our chosen time we have at least tried to engage in the practice and we can return and sit again later that day or the next day…
Sometimes we wrestle with meditation. We keep finding our selves thinking and returning to our out breath, back and forth back and forth and by the end of our time we feel a measure of peace and calm and stillness and silence.
Sometimes we sit in the hands of the Gods.
Yet for any of the above to happen, we must commit, we must choose, we must return to the practice.
Dear friends and readers of all sorts,
Today’s post is, well complicated, and says some things that may be uncomfortable to read or to think about or discuss, but it’s something I have been wrestling with as of late… so here goes….
“Unitarian Universalism is a non-creedal religion.”
That’s one of the things one often hears when U.U.’s are trying to explain our religion to others. This is usually followed up by a discussion of the Principles and Sources. But the U.U. faith was born out of the complex intermingling of (very) liberal Christianity from Unitarian and Universalist streams of Christianity over the last 200 or so years, and intermingled in the 30’s through the 50’s with Humanism, then the U.U. faith was born in the 60’s and was then invigorated in the 70’s and 80’s with the influx of Paganism. We U.U.’s are a complex new people with some very diverse and ancient roots.
But, Christianity is there, sometimes waiting to be dealt with.
I am not the only Pagan to be wrestling with the big C lately, there were some rather virulent comment streams over at the Wild Hunt that led Jason to institute a Comments Policy… Cat at Quaker Pagan Reflections has mused a bit on Christian ways of viewing history through a rosy lens…. and Kayliegh at Kalisti: An Apple in Pandemonium recently mused about the persistence of ancient Paganism despite Christianity’s coming to power in ancient Rome…
For YEARS I have been decrying the knee-jerk anti-Christian bigotry one sometimes hears or sees expressed in Pagan community spaces. Over all, when it comes to those Pagans who can’t stop talking about their Christian pasts or upbringing and especially who cannot let go of or move past anger or grievance with Christianity, I have to agree with Cat Chapin-Bishop,
“But when you take the time and trouble to write, not of your encounters with the gods, nor even of your personal journey from Christianity to Paganism (for I note that most of the offenders on this one are ex- but not post-Christian) to give me news bulletins about how uniquely terrible the religion of Christianity is, perhaps I may be excused for wondering how much room you have in your spiritual life for your own gods, if you must spend so very much of your time howling at the gods of others?” ~ Cat Chapin-Bishop from her post Turning our Backs on Jesus: a humble request
Of course some of this is influenced by the fact that I wasn’t churched as a kid. My family prayed at the holidays but there wasn’t really any serious involvement with Christianity or a particular denomination. So I came to Witchcraft and Paganism with as clean a slate as it is possible to have living in a dominantly Abrahamic culture.
I was, as a Pagan and a Gay man, wary of the more radical and angry elements within Christianity but I also had dear friends who were Christians through whom I could see that there was goodness and decency to be found within the core message and practice of that faith if not in the words and actions of some of it’s loudest proponents and largest organizations. It was after reading Bishop John Shelby Spong‘s excellent books including Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, that I could acknowledge that had my life taken other directions I could have happily become a Christian. Reading that book was, at the time, a truly revelatory experience for me as it not only opened my eyes to the detailed history of the Bible as a text/tradition. It also opened my eyes and heart to a true understanding of how one could actually be a Christian and live a life of love and decency and compassion actually engaged with the Teachings credited to Jesus. Sadly, despite a number of both dear and decent friends who are Christians, I had somehow always viewed them as the rare exceptions. Especially in the face of the angry and narrow and hateful words and actions of so many many prominent Christians observed over the course of my lifetime.
Lately, I am realizing that a part of my spiritual journey in the moment is to explore my relationship with Jesus and his teachings. They from one of the Seven Sources of Unitarian Universalism after all, and have had some influence on contemporary Western culture as well.
This has been highlighted again and again for me in the last few months at moments in the services at F.U.C.O where a particularly Christian hymn is sung or where Christian teachings are being referred to in the Sermon. The need to explore and meditate on my relationship to Christ and Christian teachings was brought to the surface most strongly at the Solstice Service that the Pagan group at church Mystic Grove sponsored, it’s actually something like the 10th annual Solstice Service, but it was only recently taken up by the Grove, it was originally started by our previous minister! Gotta love a U.U. church!
Anyway, the Winter Solstice…
Somehow, in the busy rush of the Season, and with everything going on I had missed out on the fact that the Service was being held in our Fellowship Hall and not the Sanctuary. (Reasons of tradition and logistics at work there, although it’s gotten to be such a big event there is discussion of getting the Sanctuary for next year…) So I turned the corner into Gore Hall and saw that the Service was in the Fellowship hall and not the Sanctuary and at first I felt a disappointment. This disappointment kept getting deeper…
As I realized it later, that disappointment mingled with the general stress of the Holidays, and the stress of being my first Holiday season after the break up with The Big Guy, and somewhere along the way that sinking mood plumbed into some of my emotional depths… to where I have, over the years, stuffed a lot of anger and resentment over a lot of things…
At the time, all I knew was that I was seethingly angry! Full of opposition and resentment, I could not look across the courtyard to the Sanctuary without feeling a simmering resentment that Solstice was in Gore Hall (despite my later, confirmed, intellectual knowledge that there were probably good reasons of Tradition and Logistics for this…) and NOT the Sanctuary. I was in NO head space for ritual or services, and so I left and went over to the R.E. building to help set up for the potluck and the Solstice Bonfire Vigil.
I ended up having a good time that night, but I also knew I had to do a lot of thinking about that night.
Not a few days before I had thanked Reverend Roberta for her lovely sermon and how it had given Christmas to me as a religious holiday as a U.U., yet in the face of this strange dark and mercurial mood I was wrestling with I decided to forgo Christmas Eve Service.
It took some time for me to un-knot and untangle my feelings and thoughts, but I realized that I had pushed aside but not actually faced or dealt with my feelings of resentment and anger at Christianity and how some of it’s more fanatical branches attitude towards other religions and towards some segments of the population; and even more anger at how the more liberal branches don’t ever seem to me to be nearly loud enough in their condemnation of the bigotry and intolerance being perpetrated just as much in their name and their Gods name as in the name of the more fundamentalist and Talibanesque branches of Christianity….
In setting aside these strong feelings and opinions over the years, as “not fair” or “not worthy” or …something…, I wasn’t allowing myself to really feel the anger and the upset, I wasn’t really letting it go I was just stuffing it away somewhere where it could sit and fester and lurk within my mind and heart.
If there’s one lesson I have learned in the last few months as I have thrown myself back into spiritual practice and meditation like a drowning man for the shore, it’s that if something comes up, be it a thought or a feeling or whatever then you need to BE with it for a while before you can truly let it go. There can be something very important in those fleeting thoughts and feelings.
So I have been thinking about my own ambivalent feelings about Jesus and the Churches that have come from his teachings, the Unitarians and the Universalists had many things quite right even before some of them joined into this sea-changed something rich and strange that is Unitarian Universalism, in my humble opinion.
A kind a loving God would NOT send anyone to Hell.
Jesus need NOT have been divine in order to bear his God’s Message.
Christ’s teachings, of love and compassion are much more to the point of Christianity than any literal bible verse.
As far as I am concerned the only Word is Love, and everything else is a story or an allegory or a metaphor; so I guess I would have been a VERY liberal Christian had my life taken another path. If I would have gone to Christianity.
Yet still, I find myself feeling a little awkward about my own feelings and thoughts about Christianity. In a lovely and thoughtful post recently, Cat reminded folks that many if not most of those Christian ancestors of ours converted at the point of a sword. As a Pagan and a history buff and as an intelligent person I cannot deny the sad simple fact that one seldom discussed aspect of the history of the spread of Christianity is that it is a centuries long history of genocide against any and all who dissent or disagree or who stood in the way of whatever The Church and then later The Churches wanted.
Pagans and Christian Unitarians and Christian Universalists, all good heretics all in a row…
At the same time I must in fairness and honor admit that Christianity also brought us Bach and C.S. Lewis and Shakespeare and the U.S. Constitution and so many, many, wonderful things along with the baneful. One cannot, and SHOULD not, ignore the contributions of Christians in the efforts to end slavery, encourage women’s suffrage, stand up for civil rights, and to stand up for GLBT rights, to stand and fight for the separation of Church and State and Religious tolerance…
Lately, as I mentioned above, there have been some virulent and extreme and in some cases breathtakingly bigoted and hateful comments about Christianity made on some of the Pagan blog comment streams. Folks making sad and disturbing jokes about killing “ash-zombie’s” (as in Catholics observing Lent), and others who have discussed the evil and bigotry of Christianity and how Jesus and Jehovah are false Gods and Islam and Christianity are false religions… you know the exact same sort of stuff that they whine and freak out about when OTHER religions say the same sort of things about THEM?
So I spoke up…with only a touch of my usual (and in some circles and Circles infamous) zen-like calm…
Thanks ______ and ____________!
This whole comment thread has it all!
Ignorance (in behavior if not in education) and hatefulness and bigotry!
The complete dismissal of the validity of another religion.
The complete dismissal of the divinity of another religions god.
Even casual jokes about killing other people because of their religious beliefs!
Could you two PLEASE go vomit forth your hatred and bigotry elsewhere?
(Can you believe that people have called me, ME, reactionary?! I should turn the marrow in their bones to boiling lead…*)
So anyhow after a LOT of heated back and forth drama of the type that has erupted all to often on that forum lately someone asked…
“Pax, I don’t know much about you. I wonder if you’re chagrined, though, that your post opened up another of the running battles that, frankly, are getting kind of old here.”
And I responded…
“Pax, I don’t know much about you. I wonder if you’re chagrined, though, that your post opened up another of the running battles that, frankly, are getting kind of old here. ”
Yes, yes they are getting old.
Though I am not a Wiccan, I have chosen to base my faith and life as a Witch in large part on the ethical and moral teachings to be found within Doreen Valliente’s Charge of the Goddess. I strive to live a life of Beauty and Strength, Power and Compassion, Honor and Humility, and Mirth and Reverence. I strive and struggle, all the blessed time, to follow Her law “Love unto all beings…’ As She counsels in (what I personally consider to be) Divinely inspired poetry, I strive ever towards my highest ideals letting nothing stop me or turn me aside.
I would LOVE to not have this sort of thing going on here.
But when I see people making casual jokes about killing “ash-zombies” meaning Catholics and other Christians observing Lent (comment mercifully deleted, I would like to think because of my request); when I see people making casual comments about how Christians are all deluded or evil or hypocrites, or how Jesus and Jehovah are false Gods (which puts the Jewish people where exactly I wonder…), or how or how anyone who believes otherwise is also deluded or a fool…
How can I NOT stand up?
Especially believing in the power and Power of Words, to touch and transform minds, and hearts, and to touch and transform the very atoms and cells of all the worlds; when I see people wielding words of anger and encouraging the worst sort of casual bigotry… with the sort of jokes and comments that, were they directed at Pagans on a Christian forum would (and frequently do) result in outrage and apoplexy…
How can I NOT stand up against these things?
A lot of evil has been done in the name of Christianity over the centuries, and a lot of evil has been done by Christians. Does this truly balance the good done in the name of Christianity and by Christians. I believe so.
I know that even as militancy and extremism and fundamentalism run rampant in both Christianity and Islam, I know and can see that there are also Christian and Islamic people of decency and open-mindedness and tolerance and compassion and faith standing up against these tides.
There is good and bad in every faith, in every person. There is good and evil done in the name of all Gods at some point or another, people of every faith have done wrong unto another in the name of their faith or with the conviction that their faith somehow justifies it. I know these things and try my best to stand against intolerance, and ignorance, and hatred when I am confronted with them.
Yet still, there’s this guy at Church sometimes, and I’m a little weird-ed out by him…
* A fairly obscure reference, for those not familiar with him, to the improving works of Sir Terry Pratchett
There is NO knowledge that is not power.
So Tuesday’s are tricky for me I usually end up waking up early in the day and remain awake until after I get home from work on Wednesday morning. I usually try to sleep late or get a nap, but I made the mistake of catching up with one of my favorite Pagan podcasts, (sort of an online radio show for the non-geek savy out there…) The Wigglian Way.
This long-running Canadian produced Wiccan podcast has received numerous awards and is very highly regarded within the online Pagan community. Hosts Mojo and Sparrow always bring honesty and excellence and humor to their show, which is a combination of discussion and music. The last three episodes have featured interviews with Fritz Muntean and Louise Bunn. Mr. Muntean and Ms. Bunn are Witches, Elders, and co-authors (with a Kara Cunningham) of a U.U. Adult RE Paganism Curriculum.
So, episode 63 and episode 64 feature a two-part interview with Fritz Muntean which covers the history of Neo-Paganism and large chunks of Witchcraft in North America. There is also an extensive list of the books mentioned in this interview here...
This series of shows reminded me of the excellent Pagan History website as well as the Pagans for Archeology group, as well as my favorite episode of Druidcast, episode 4 which features Professor R. Hutton discussing the history of the Pagan horned god.
It also inspired me to do some re-writing and editing over on the Suggested Reading page…
So basically it is going to be another very sleepy Wednesday morning for me…