A large part of what my Druidry is…for me…comes from two perspectives I have held for a long time in my life. Be kind. Be helpful. I admit, I’m not always successful in either approach. I’m human, after all. I make my own share of mistakes. I miscalculate the odds (never tell me the odds!). I sometimes even have bad perceptions of people and provide more than I should in the way of trust. Like I said, I’m human. I’m fallible. But I do my best to be kind and helpful to others.
Part of this notches into an arena that I’ve learned to call “service to others.” I can’t help or assist everyone with everything. Some things, I just can’t do anything about. But I’ve found, over time, that there’s a fine line between being “of service” and “being used.” More than once, finding that line has been painful, particularly emotionally. Some of those moments have caused me to relearn who I am, what I can be, and what I am willing to stretch myself thin for. After all, if I do too much for others, how can I do for others when they have need, and I have the capability and capacity to do so…were I not already stretched thin.
A few months ago, a military front-line paramedic that I served with back in the early 1990s found me via a military group that I am a part of. He imparted to me that he had looked into Paganism after I had left Germany, ending my military service career. He had heard rumors about my part in various Pagan efforts around the Kaiserslautern area and decided to take a look into all of that. Just curiosity for him. Through that, he found Ceremonial Magick and wanted to touch base over all of those changes in his life. As we caught up on almost three decades of time, I lamented the above point. That I had made my own mistakes within my own personal life recently and found myself stretched too thin emotionally to help a few OBOD Bardic grade members who just wanted to talk with someone about their struggles. I told him I had been flattered over their decision to approach me but felt terrible when I told them that I couldn’t offer them much help, considering the chaos I had self-inflicted within my own life.
“You’re doing what we were taught about the battlefield, Tommy,” he started in with me. “We’re always told to triage the casualties on the battlefield into groups: those that need immediate help and will likely survive, those that can wait for medical attention, and those we comfort as the end draws near. But before we can do any of that, we have to triage ourselves. We have to make sure that we can assist those that need help by ensuring that we are “ok” to a degree that we can make those decisions. Battlefield medical tech 101,” I could hear him smiling over the speaker as he finished.
He’s right. We do have to be sure that we are ok…or at least ok enough to be helpful. I felt bad for turning those three folks that asked to just talk, but the reality was that my life was a fscking wreck at that moment. Even if I did listen to them, I couldn’t help without mixing in my own fears of the moment. In retrospect, I only wish I had pointed them (and introduced them to) another OBOD member that could have had the ability to be there for them at that moment.
Sometimes, our desire to help can make things worse – or even wrong. We never meant any harm in what we said. We didn’t even mean to spoil things. But we did. I’ve made it through my Bardic grade. That means that I know about the Bardic initiation, the Bardic Gwers work, the Ovate initiation, and parts of the Ovate Gwers that I have worked through. I have had new initiates, Bardic grade members trying to finish their grade, and Bards getting ready for their initiations come to me asking for advice on many things. How to get through a specific Gwers. What are the initiations like? What are the sekrit handshakes? Trying to answer questions like these is not an easy task.
First off, every member is assigned a tutor in both grades. These questions are typically best asked there, rather than through me. But remember…I see my Druidry as a part of being in service to others. So, while I tell them this – I also want to be helpful beyond just shoving them to their tutor. If I can, I’ll take a walk with them, and let them talk…what are they afraid of, what have they read, how are they feeling emotionally at this moment…and then I sit back and let them talk. I’ve found that if I stay silent, they will fill that void with what there are feeling. Eventually, instead of worrying about what exactly the initiation is about, they usually speak about fears of what MIGHT happen. It’s a matter of calming them down and getting them to center and focus on what their Gwers have brought them to at this point. My experiences don’t and won’t matter. This is THEIR initiation, not mine. What they pull from the experience is for them – and them alone. But if its possible for me to be there physically for the initiation, I always offer to be there. I can’t lead them to their experiences, but I can be an anchoring presence for them.
The same happens within the Gwers work. I ask them what they are doing, how they feel they should be approaching the material, and let them talk. I have yet to offer more than a “does that sound like it might work for you?” after such talks. Trust me, I was there too. But I am not going to let on how I resolved the issue or figured out where I needed to be going…because that worked for me. That’s not necessarily the same thing for anyone else. In my case, I resolved these issues by talking to myself in a mirror. My reflective self never answered, so I filled the void by suggesting solutions. Sometimes, that’s all that’s necessary.
It would have been easier to just answer their questions out-right. Provide them the moments that would happen, how it happened to me or even the solution to what they were trying to do. But if I did that, I would be giving away the parts of the mystery that would hold enlightenment for them. And it might not even be the same thing that did that for me. It might be something that just didn’t “click” for me in that particular moment. The journey through the mysteries of a Mystery Tradition will always be a different experience for each individual. Being helpful is a good thing, except when you’re giving away an experience that may have changed that individual.
Whenever I get approached by someone asking for help or knowledge about stuff within OBOD, a part of me kicks in that is part of my core principles of being a Druid. I want to be helpful. I want to do so with kindness. However, I also must balance that urge with the knowledge that being too helpful can be far more harmful than I intended. For much of this, I must let my college professor personae kick in. Let the student talk their way through it. Many times, with a lot of effort and encouragement, they will work their way through the issue and carry on in their own way. In this manner, they learn. They retain. The experience changes them as it needs to. They did it. Not me. The same holds true when I am dealing with my own life issues. I have to make sure I have a good base for where I stand, how I feel, and how I am. I can’t help other when I am dealing with my own wounds. Battlefield medical tech 101, indeed. Maybe Battlefield Druid tech 101….Druid, heal thyself first.
Humorously, I reminded of when Londo Mollari walks away from a negotiating session on an episode of Babylon 5. He leaves his bumbling assistant, Vir Cotto, to handle the rest of the negotiations. His final instructions to Vir were “Don’t give away the home world!” Indeed. We can be helpful and kind without giving away the mysteries that others will find for themselves, even if those weren’t the mysteries as we experienced them. However, before we can help or be kind, we must be sure that our own selves are in a position to do so…where we aren’t compromised by our own chaotic moments within our own lives. Being in the right place, at the right moment, for the right person, in the right frame of mind – doesn’t always happen. but we can do our very best to be the right person at that moment…its a part of being who we are. We all do the best that we can. The hard part is knowing when to bow out because you need to tend to your own injuries first….