Category Archives: Magic

Singing Bowl

An Oestre Ritual

Leaving my house, I feel the breeze whip my hair across my face. In the treetops, a gusty wind plays, spinning leaves through the air like dangerous thoughts. What on earth did we invite, when we said we would do a ritual for grief?

I’ve been feeling out of sorts all day. Activated. Unable to focus. As though something is stirring in my deep self. When I finally get to speak to Cheryl, my co-host, she says she has been thinking of cancelling, so great is her own sense of disturbance. But as well as being a little scary, it is exciting. What’s the worst that could happen? That we might feel sad? Shed a few tears? And what is the best thing that could happen? Some form of liberation? We choose liberation over comfort.

Creating a Space

Over Cheryl’s garden, the sky hovers gray and foreboding. We consider gathering our circle inside and begin to move the chairs around, but I am drawn back to the trees. To the green grass and the billowing clouds. Nature is a part of this show and will not be excluded.

We set blankets on the cool ground and our centrepiece statue in place. Recently acquired, it is a sculpture of people standing together, holding each other in circle. Flat hands against each other bodies, they touch the heart chakra where it opens in the back of the body. It will be our emblem for this evening.

Statue circle of friends
Statue circle of friends

As women arrive, I find myself making my singing bowl sound a long, mournful note. Mentally, I am calling in the ancestors. Calling in the spirits of this place. Calling in all those who need to witness this happening. They float in silently, taking their seat in the circle.

Gathering with Intention

The details of this ritual ceremony are unimportant. We made them up, suiting them to our purpose. For we are orphans of spiritual practice. We have grown up in traditions depleted of meaning and have sought out significance in different places, different religions, in cultures other than our own. No matter. Our intention is to gather in service of our own inner path. To give voice to that which needs to speak. To listen faithfully to what is said. These intentions are what guides hand and heart.

At the end of the evening, we stand for a moment, mirroring the statue, holding each other in a sacred circle of trust and care, before heading inside to drink hot tea and eat cake. In this way, we follow the path of witches and shamans as they ground the energies of their practice and feed life, but really, don’t all good gatherings end with food and drink? The wisdoms we seek are grown within human bodies and cannot be known outside of our embodiment. About this simple fact, the Buddha was clear, but we are not only Buddhist, not only pagan. Following the Christian tradition of Maundy Thursday, we make an offering to charitable causes and I feel a profound awareness of the cycle of giving and receiving. Without opening to give, we remain closed to possibilities of receiving.

In bed that night, I feel my heart settle into a peacefulness that comes from knowing I have been met well. I have connected. With my own deep self, with my friends on this inner path and with Mother Nature herself. The wind has dropped. The trees are still. I sleep the sleep of the blessed.

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Almond Blossom

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. T.S. Eliot

Almond blossom in January marks the beginning of Spring in Catalunya and today it shows itself, just as we come to the end of The Omen Days. Looking ahead to December, we see the cycle of the year laid out, beginning and ending catching the tail of one another in a cosmic spiral.

And so it is with our little sangha as we end this time-out-of-time together, but not exactly as we planned. Our nine-year old teacher is in bed with flu, so we set up an online meeting, some gathered in one place, some in another. This ending, successfully and joyfully executed, proves to be a way forward. A way to keep supporting each other during the coming year and a way to bring in other sangha friends, both near and far. Perhaps one day you will join us…

In December, may we look back on the year gone by and appreciate the cycle of life, the spiral of spiritual process and the strength of community.

Calçots a la brasa
Calçots a la brasa

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Winter Trees

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas

Today is a free day, meaning that our little group chose not to meet on the beach together, but to have an unscheduled day. It’s a well-known phenomenon that too much discipline makes us rebel, so it’s wise to build in some free time before the pressure builds. In Thich Nhat Hahn’s Plum Village, for instance, once a week they have a Lazy Day, where the community is encouraged to rest and focus on being, not doing. So how is it, after my ‘free’ day, that I feel less free?

The Buddha is clear that the only ‘freedom of mind’ is a worthwhile goal for our spiritual practice. Not ‘gain or honour or fame, nor the attainment of virtue, meditative concentration, knowledge or vision.’ (From the Discourse on the Simile of the Heartwood – thanks to Ulla Koenig)

At the end of the day, other members of our group report that they have had an ‘off’ day, that they have missed the gathering of sangha, that the day has been ‘ordinary.’ On this, at least, we are in sync!

What does it take, then, to make our days extraordinary? What does an ‘on’ day feel like? And what is so special about the gathering of sangha? This is a question I will take into #nature… A question I will discuss with the group when we meet tomorrow… And a question in which I invite you to take part…

In November, I may feel a little lost. Can I remember, then, to reach inside and outside of myself for understanding, to turn to my sangha for answers, and to open to the wisdom of my tribe?

(See previous posts for more info about this practice of The Omen Days.)

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Clear Sea on Sitges Beach

On the Eighth Day of Christmas

As we head towards the finish line, there can be a loss of concentration and we can lose the flow. Climbers are more likely to fall on the descent. Drivers more likely to have an accident near their destination. Creative practitioners make more mistakes as they reach the final stretch of a project. And today, we find our minds wandering off into the coming year, more planning than meditating. Along with some anxiety, tension creeps into my body and I have to concentrate harder to bring myself back to the resting place of presence.

There’s a chilly wind, though the sun is shining as it has been throughout The Omen Days. On the beach, we huddle together, a bigger group of us this morning, offering each other shelter from the harsher elements. Come August, will we be glad of the protection of community?

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New Year Dip

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

New year. Warm fire. Cold air. Cold sea. Warm sun. Elements balanced as we summit the midpoint of The Omen Days. It suddenly seems appropriate that New Year is the climax of the Twelve days of Christmas. That we begin on twenty-sixth of December and end on sixth of January. Today, this Celtic practice feels ancient.

Sustained practice brings results as insight emerges. The biologist experiencing oneness as he contemplates how the atoms and molecules of people and places are universally shared. How plant growth depends on both darkness and light – on soil and on sunshine.

Beetroot Seedlings
Beetroot Seedlings

Seeds planted now will likely be harvested in July, but we shouldn’t worry if they need a little more time. In my garden, I have chili peppers planted last January that are still fruiting!

Retreats are a wonderful time out of time, but daily meditation adds magic to ordinary life. Diving into wintry water, members of our community emerge joyful into bright sun. We are thankful for deep connection. To ourselves, to nature and to each other.

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Panther/Cat

On the Sixth Day of Christmas

Here’s Shanti the cat, doing his impression of a panther stretched out on a jungle tree. Moments later, the cat is in my lap, purring, a picture of domestication. Cats never seem to lose that sense of wildness, whereas we, in the process of civilisation, have disconnected from our wild selves. Connecting to nature puts us back in touch with the animal in us, and perhaps, with the human. In the cycles of nature, we see the cycles in ourselves – the ebb and flow of inner moons and tides.

Does our wild nature show more in the shadow self? Primitive emotions like rage and fear would once have saved our lives, but in the absence of mortal danger, the emotions we feel often fail to find their place. One channel for the expression of darker emotions might be through creativity – writing, dancing or painting as a way to understanding.

In June, can I find space and time to give voice to the shadow self through creativity?

(Not sure what this is about? Click through to read more about The Omen Days series of posts – a Celtic tradition of using the  twelve days of Christmas to make predictions for the coming year.)

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Water Diviner

On the Fifth day of Christmas

“‘Ratty, please, I want to row, now!’ The Rat shook his head with a smile. ‘Not yet, my young friend,’ he said – ‘wait till you’ve had a few lessons. It’s not so easy as it looks.’ “

On the fifth day of Christmas, a nine-year old encourages our practice by reading from ‘The Wind in the Willows’, while a man in full wet suit and wearing headphones listens intently for sounds of treasure on the sea bed. Lessons come from anyone and anything, if I take time to hear them. There are so many ways to tune the attention.

Deepening into the retreat, dreams speak loudly and the world is alive with synchronicities, but also, the shadow self shows up in all her hurt and brokenness. Am I brave enough to draw close, so she can also be a teacher?

In May, I might need courage to stay open to learning from life in unexpected ways.

For more information about this thread, visit my post on The Omen Days.

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Why is the sky blue?

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

“When I am with you, we stay up all night.
When you’re not here, I can’t go to sleep.
Praise God for those two insomnias!
And the difference between them.”

Last night, awake with the stars and the moon, I was reminded of this Rumi poem about sleeplessness. Then this morning on the beach, a question arises in the group.
“Why is the sky blue?”
I’ve been told the answer many times, but fail to retain the information. The scientist amongst us tells me again, yet after descriptions of particles and light and wavelengths, still his words land on “just because.”

I like “just because”. I like the mystery of it. I don’t have to understand the is-ness of everything, but I do love to experience it. It pleases me, this falling off the edge of logic, into, I suppose, pysche. Falling off mind into soul.

The space that opens up in these inbetween days can be either scary or freeing, depending on view, current inclination and perhaps beliefs. In essence, Buddhists might call it emptiness, but it is anything but empty. The unknown is full of potential. Perhaps is it our lack of control that is troubling? Mystery demands that we surrender and, as Rumi points out, our ability to do this can be the difference between comfort and distress, between heaven and hell.

In April, in order to find comfort I may be asked to surrender deeper to the mystery.

#twelvedaysofchristmas
#meditation
#divination
#theomendays

 

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Fishing Boat

On the Third Day of Christmas

The tree outside my window waits patiently for the dawn. It welcomes the rain, stands quiet while the snow falls. Today, I want to be this tree, calmly accepting what comes. It is the third day of retreat and time to turn even more inward.

As we head to the beach to meet with our small group, I’ve forgotten what day it is, something familiar to many people during this time out of time. Together, we ponder the nature of time – described beautifully by Satish Kumar as the clock time we adhere to in order to make our appointment, and the dream time we can sink into once we arrive. These holy days are an opportunity to explore more deeply the dream time.

I stand waist high in the sea, legs slowly numbing to the cold, face turned up to the sun. Gesturing to the shore, I call, “take a picture!” In my mind’s eye, there’s an image of calm water and human forebearance, but the photo that intrigues me most is of a fishing boat, backlit against a clear horizon. I don’t eat fish, but somehow this small vessel tells of the same endurance as the tree as it waits, nets outstretched, open to the elements.

March 2019 will have the watch words patience, endurance and forebearance, but inspiration may come from unexpected places.

 

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Pilgrims

On the Second Day of Christmas

As soon as I wake, I’m looking for signs, but outside the window is still and quiet. Ordinary. Just the distant sound of a tractor breaking up stony ground, reminding me that Spring comes early here. We’re heading out on a hike and I stretch my calf muscles in preparation, but there’s no stretch I can do for the tightness in my mind. Not grumpy, exactly, but wound up and in. The sun holds promise on top of hills, but for ages we walk in a valley, still and quiet and cold. Camino pilgrims three, we fall into easy rhythm.

We all want a bit of magic, don’t we? But clinging so hard makes it difficult for magic to appear. I have a vision of grabbing the throat of somebody whilst begging them to speak. Rounding a corner, I spy white feathers on the ground and next to them, a pool of black feathers. It feels significant, but how?

The day unfolds and just at our destination, a restaurant. Portuguese, like our camino. A moment where life shows herself to be not only precise, but amusing! Back in town, we bump into a friend, then two more, to whom we offer a lift. After a long day out, the cat is pleased to see us home.

Don’t be in a rush to force #February to give up her secrets. Stay balanced, putting one foot in front of the other. Trust that what you need will show up – perhaps with a sense of humour! Know that you have friends and support, should you need it.

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