Using Connectivity to Reduce My Stress or How Relationships With Others Help Me to Cope

There are a handful of things that stress me out to the maximum. Most people who have known me for a good bit know exactly what these things are:  over-demanding people, flying, and the so-called “Christmas season”. But knowing what things trigger your sense of being “overwhelmed” or a strong paralysis of fear (real or not) is one thing. Over the years, I have learned a handful of coping skills…mostly meant to distract my mind from such things.

The first is reading. And not just any kind of reading. Reading academic works generally has me staring off into the distance, trying to bring my mind to focus on a section of what I just read. Good ol’ fashioned story telling is where it is at for this. And I have certain writers that I have found to be quite excellent at this. They write stories that just engulf me when I read them. Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, and Neil Gaiman immediately jump to mind. As do Anne McCaffrey, J.K. Rowling, and George R.R. Martin. Though Martin drives me insane with his infinitely long writing times for the Game of Thrones books. I mean come on already man…  ::grin::  But those folks do more than just write stories; they generate a style of mythology that I enjoy. Characters that not only have life breathed into them through the combination of their words, and my own imagination of what I perceive, but these characters face issues that I would normally find in my own life. And what is even better is that these writers sometimes let us readers into the minds of these characters, as they (the characters) parse out what to do.

But this doesn’t really work in say, a crowded mall. Where you have to have some focal attention on what is going on. Well, the second is music. And I have a major ton of it in my iTunes and on my iPhone. Most of my walking is done throughout my small town here in north-central Texas. And I am not really interested in the electronic chiming of the nearby Catholic Church, or the sounds of kids playing or dogs barking at me. Nor am I particularly keen to listen to the sound of the occasional car or truck pass me by. That’s where my ear buds come in handy. I slap these in, and while it doesn’t completely drown out the sounds – and I really wouldn’t want that to happen because I still need some sense of perception of what is going on around me to remain safe – it does provide a handy soundtrack to the walk. Currently, I am typing this while listen to Al Di Meola. His guitar playing always stimulates my mind with the way he utilizes his instrument to convey feeling, and occasionally tell a story. Very few musicians have that quality.

The last one is to find a place far away from people, and just sit. I don’t need a book. I don’t need music. The sounds of the wind blowing through the bare tree limbs, and the nearby birds singing their serenade to the colder moments of Texas life are enough. Sometimes, I do this standing in my kitchen, holding a cup of coffee while I look out the window and watch the doves, sparrows and other birds devour the bird seed I scattered out by the pool. When I feel relaxed enough, I ground and center, and do some light meditation. I go back to my Inner Grove, back to a wonderful little cottage that I was shown not so long ago by a wonderful Priest and teacher. Her guided meditations helped me create this place in myself.

I can always come here and have a cup of hot tea or cocoa, and relax. My Dream Crows are always here, waiting. I tell them parts of the stories I have read, or I just talk. They don’t always listen. Sometimes they are loud, boisterous, and demanding. But they are always here, and always pleasant company. Sometimes, I get visited by Crow, Coyote or even Fliodhas. And it makes for a quiet conversation.

Certainly, being stressed out is one of the most difficult things for me to deal with. And there is far more than these three techniques. But these are my go-to ways, the first that I try. And if you noticed, all of them deal with creativity to one degree or another. To say that I am  patron of the arts and artists is an understatement. The mount of music, and recorded talks I have from various folks is vast. I have three huge bookshelves stocked with reading material from people I admire, and people that I know. On my walls, I have paintings and other creations from people I have met and gotten to know over the years. Each and every one is a fixed memory of this person or that one. Some still living, some who have passed beyond the veil, but all of whom have touched my life in one way or another.

See, the true nature of my coping skills towards stressors in my life comes from examining the connections that I have to the world. And that means marvelling at the wonderful connections that I have with other people. Sure, there are shitty people in the world. Sure, some of them I find in the aisles of Wal-Mart or in the malls around the United States. But there are beautiful, wonderful people in the world as well. Some of them are wonderful educators, others wonderful story-tellers, talented artists, writers, etc. They all have something in common: in one way or another, there is a connection that I have with them, and that connection is a wonderful, beautiful thing to behold. But its also an amazing way for me to remember that they are still there. We may not talk as much as I wish we could, or in some cases, we have never met. However, there is still that joyful connection, always there to drive back my stress levels – reminding me that each day is easily filled with them. Listening to their lectures, their music, their poetry, reading their works, experiencing the wonderful mythologies that they created, and in some cases, reading their emails detailing how their daily life is continuing – in both good and bad ways. Its that shared thread that reminds me that life is experienced in every moment. Good, bad, indifferent. And each experience is unique.

So I raise up my coffee cup to you, the individual reading this. Find what helps you get through the moments where you need to stop, ground and center, and bring yourself back to balance. Use that to help you back to focus. So that you are doing what you should be doing; what you are meant to do. Remember those experiences, examine each one to see where the connection is. Cherish that. Nurture it. Grow it. Cultivate more connections. That’s how we get through our individual storms. Together, even when we are not in physical proximity to one another.

Slainte! To your health! Now, I need another cup of coffee. ::grin::

–T /|\

Meditation and the Gods — Keeping Myself Sane in an Insane World

There has been a lot going on this week. Work-related stuff. Home-related stuff. Friends going through job issues. Other friends and family members in the middle of the Louisiana floods in Baton Rouge. All of it is enough to push one off kilter, and create a wobbly orbit. I know there have been times where I have walked out to the stone circle, looked up at the clouds in the sky, and wanted to shout “Why?”.

Two things have kept me on track, despite the shaky and bumpy ground all around me. First, has been my grounding exercises. Without these momentary points in time, where I stop, calm myself, find my center of balance, and reflect…I would likely have run down my street screaming to the skies above. Naked. Smeared in green jello. Reading a Playboy magazine. Ok. I took that cue from Edgar Friendly.  But you understand what I mean. Doing grounding meditations helped keep me in a mindset where I was able to find solutions, and work the problem. Rather than letting my emotions work me.

The second thing that kept me on track is the Goddess and Gods that I have cultivated a strong relationship. Yes, one of the calming influences for my daily Path are Fliodhas, Crow, and Coyote. Now, none of these three literally place a hand, claw or foot on me and whisper in my ear to “take it easy”. But for me, They are always there. Times may get rough (and they certainly will), times may get lean (and they certainly might), but this trio are always right there. An assuring presence that everything will eventually work out, provided I do the hard work to get it there.

See, the Gods and Goddesses can intervene, and They more than likely do in some other folks’ lives. In mine, this Trio provides me with the calm I need to find a solution, and do the work. This is how these three manifest Themselves in my life. And its a reciprocal relationship. When They have need of me to do something on Their behalf, They ask. I can always refuse. I haven’t, but I can if I wish to. And its not like They ask for something every five minutes. They don’t. They ask when They have need. Not when I feel like They have need. My relationship with Them is unique and individual. How Fliodhas, Crow, and Coyote work me is not necessarily the same as They would work with someone else. Nor should it be. When They ask me for something, its because it is something that I can do, not because its something They are asking everyone else to do as well.

For me, grounding, centering, meditation, and my individual connections with Fliodhas, Crow, and Coyote are the cornerstones to keeping my sanity in a world that gets turned upside down. There is no way that I am going to tell you that utilizing any of this will get the same results that I have. It took me a long time of experimenting with various techniques and concepts to get the meditation, grounding, and centering into something that works for me. But, I will say, its that kind of “hard work” — trying things, finding what works, removing what doesn’t — that’s what made it all eventually “click” for me. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t be afraid to step outside the “normal” – particularly when the “normal” is no longer working for you.

Two pence.  Ya’ll have a good afternoon….  –T /|\

 

Thoughts on Meditation

During the summer sessions, the college I work for likes to go to a four-day work schedule. This means ten-hour work days, and a three-day weekend.  Sounds great, right?  Unless you drive as far as I do to get to work. For those that live near the campus they work on – its a great schedule. For those who commute an hour or more to campus — it sucks. My ten-hour work day turns into a thirteen hour day. That gives me enough time to make dinner, spend an hour doing what I want to – and then its off to bed to repeat the cycle the next day. It also means that I don’t get my usual meditation times – and after an hour-plus in DFW traffic, it means I am usually not in the right frame of mind for meditation either. So what is a $Pagan (programming notation for naming a variable) to do??

My current habit has me taking short walks around the campus — when the weather permits. It takes me away from my desk, and allows me to decompress a little. That decompression allows me the chance to think about any data studies or data retrieval or (more frequently these days) any data modeling that I am undertaking. But there’s always the opportunity to sit down somewhere under a tree and just “empty” myself for a few minutes. Again, that’s when the weather permits. When its raining, I steal away to my Forester, and I sit and just listen to the rain beating on the roof. Frequently, I’ll sit in the back seat instead of the front seat – to avoid the temptation to turn the car on and have the radio spoil the mood.

My Backyard Stone Circle
My Backyard Stone Circle
But that’s only one instance. What about other times? Other places? One particular instance I am contemplating is my upcoming trip across the Atlantic ocean to the United Kingdom. Its not a particular lengthy flight – at least by my own standards. But it will take place over a pair of my usual meditation time frames. Well, in this case, its a matter of making due with what I have in hand. I can sit in one spot, I can put headphones on to remove auditory distractions, and I can close my eyes. To everyone else, I will be sleeping. For me, I’ll be taking my cleansing breaths, focusing on my intention, and entering my desired state of consciousness. Sure, I won’t have my favored setting of the backyard, with my nice tree, my stone circle, and the birds chattering all around me. But I will still have my inner grove to work with, and my Dream Crows to provide my “music”.

One of my favorite meditation techniques is walking. For this to work, you have to have your eyes open. You have to be aware of your surroundings (I walk the sidewalks in a suburban neighborhood – not paying attention can be the difference to watching a car go by, and feeling the car go over you). So how do I manage two different states of being? Well, that’s not as difficult as it sounds. I don’t go into my deeper meditations when I do this. I am not trying to focus and find my inner grove. Rather, I am trying to empty my mind of all the “noise” around me, and find my calmer center. And by noise, I mean all the thoughts that my over-worked, and over-stressed brain wants to focus on for a few seconds, before flitting on to the next topic. Over and over and over. All I am trying to do on my walks is to remove all of that noise – all those work thoughts, all those worries about this or that – for just a short while. All of that will be there once I finish my walk, but during my walk – its just stuff that can wait and be ignored for a short while.

Sadly, many people think that meditation is all about emptying your mind and thinking of nothing. That is a technique that is utilized by some. I am not one of those. I do empty my mind, but I retain one single thought through it all – whatever I decided was going to be my focus during my meditation. Sometimes, its a focus on my inner grove, so I can achieve my desired state of consciousness. Sometimes, its a focus on a particular ache or issue – so that I can sort out the tangibles versus the intangibles — healing myself, in a manner of speaking. Sometimes its just focusing on one particular thought: RELAX. That’s the usual message during my walking meditations.

In the end, meditation is a tool, a technique — something that you can utilize to achieve focus. I tend to think of it as one of the many tools I have in my spiritual practice. It works well for me — it may not work at all for you. And to be honest, that’s perfectly fine. Spell work is a great tool for others, its not something I even bother with. Same reasoning. But if you’ve never tried it before — I would say that you have. You just don’t call it meditation. Athletes have the narrow focus of the moment in their sport. Writers have that time frame, where the words flow clearly and the rest of the world just does not exist. Take a focused, and reasoned look at your daily life…I’ll bet you can find it. Sitting at your dining room table, sipping a cup of tea, watching the birds and squirrels play in the bird bath and hunt for food. A warm tub, filled with scented bath oils or just a massive amount of bubbles, waiting for you to slide beneath the surface after closing and locking the bathroom door from intrusions. In my not so humble opinion, meditation is the process of achieving an altered state of consciousness through everyday techniques of personal relaxation and/or focus. There’s no right way to do it, there’s no wrong way. There’s just YOUR way.

So ditch the sitting lotus position, particularly if it hurts your knees (as it does mine) and the pain keeps you from focusing. Lay down, sit down, stand, walk, jog, lift weights, go to the batting cage and hit softballs….whatever works. Just focus on the moment….on relaxing…and forget everything else. All that shit will be there when you return, with the same urgency as before. Just focus on the moment, forget all of that, and relax. Experience the moment. Remember that feeling of calm, focused, relaxed energy…and remember how to get back there again. Its not a one-time vacation – its that place you go to unwind. That place where the rest of the world sits in timeout…

–Tommy /|\

Stop. Center. Balance. Remember.

Yep.  Its been a while. Which means there’s been a lot going on. Some of it was good.  Other parts of it..well, let’s just say I would rather not have fallen out of the back of the moving truck and landed on the driveway face-first. So let’s get that out of the way first, shall we?

Most of you know my father passed away suddenly around a month ago. Since then, I have been out to the house three separate times to move furniture and other items out before the estate sale. Well, last weekend was the final time to move larger furniture items. Once I had movers put those items into the truck, I went about the task of tying things down with rope and bungee cord. I dropped a bungee cord on the ground, and decided to step down out of the truck to get it. I moved my foot backwards to stand on the bumper, shifted my entire weight at the same time…and missed the bumper. My entire weight shift pulled me out of the truck, and I landed face-down on the concrete driveway below. A drop of about two feet, but an unexpected one. I tried to brace myself with my right arm, and fractured the ring finger on my right hand. I also skinned up my right forearm very nicely (read: bloody), and hit my head directly on the concrete driveway. Thankfully, it wasn’t much. It definitely could have been much worse. Needless to say, typing and signing my name with a broken finger on my dominate hand is somewhat comical to watch. Anyways…

UponPaganPathI saw a news report that was pushed to Facebook by Troy Young…I’m too lazy to get it at the moment….but it alluded to the idea that walking in the woods is a great way to essentially refresh one’s soul. Or something like that. Hold on a second, let me find it and paste it in here. (Yes I talk while I type) Its actually a blog post by Tess Whitehurst over at Witches and Pagans and is called “How Simply Taking a Walk Can Activate Your Intuition and Magical Power“. The post is an interesting read – but it reminds me how far away I have gotten from something that is a major part of who I am – my daily walk.

Where I work, I drive nearly an hour one way to get there.I spend a little more than eight hours there. So added with the commute, that’s ten hours out of my day. That makes walking through my neighborhood a little dicey. When I was an adjunct and could walk at whatever time in the late morning or early afternoon that I desired, I could choose times that were a little less trafficked by vehicles. Like any neighborhood, there are a multitude of streets that I have to cross, and all are heavily populated with vehicle traffic in early morning and early evening hours. I sincerely wish that there was a walking trail on my side of the interstate (our “city” is split by the interstate). And then my weekends are sometimes very heavily populated with things that have to get done – which takes away more of the time I want to go walking with. Since I can’t seem to talk the Gods into adding a few more hours into the day – I have to literally ask myself: “What the Nine Hells is a busy Pagan to do?”

Stop. Center. Balance. Remember.

These four phrases are my gentle reminders that sometimes the Path doesn’t look the way that I would always want it to. Instead of warm, green grass or the gritty feel of sand and dirt punctuated with an occasional rock – I may have ceramic tile or industrial-brown carpet underneath my loafer-encased feet. Instead of a clear blue sky peering between the brown and green dome of tree branches above, I may have fluorescent light fixtures plastered against an anti-septic egg-shell white ceiling. I may not be able to do the awesome tree meditation in the video below…but I can easily stop, step to the side, close my eyes, and find my Inner Grove.

There’s plenty of stuff in the news, as well, that gives me a very similar “unbalanced” feeling. Police brutality. Nutball politicians on the Left and Right side of the political spectrum. Crazy legislative measures that seem to be aimed at fracturing the Constitution of the United States through thousands of small paper cuts. All of that erodes the small barriers I have put up for sanity’s sake. At some point, I can literally hit my knees, look up at the sky, and plead with the Gods to pull me into the land of the Fay, far beyond the reach of these humans that seem bent on gathering power to themselves to subjugate and diminish those that they disagree with. And when I finally feel like I am totally out of control, these four words get whispered into my hearing.

Stop. Center. Balance. Remember.

There’s another thought that comes to mind as well:  pick your battles. I can be outraged over police brutality in places like Missouri and Maryland. But I am in neither place, and its not likely going to do any good or be helpful for me to find the nearest Denton County Sheriff and get agitated with them over it. I can be outraged by whatever thing a politician may do, say or advocate. The real measure of my “voice” doesn’t come from some idiotic meme on Facebook, but rather by going to my local polling location – and voting. For instance, my city is about to elect a new mayor. I have read up on the candidates, and do not like any of them. But rather than staying away from the polling location, I will show up and vote – leaving the mayor election blank. There are, after all, other measures on the ballot too. The matter is not just getting out and doing, its also a matter of understand where your own limitations are. Finding the Center and the Balance.

So what am I about to do for my walks? Well, I can’t walk every day like I have done in the past. I will have to pick my where and when – and work more within my meditations for those times when I cannot. I might not be able to get out into the woods or even the neighborhood on as regular a basis as I have done, but that doesn’t mean that my connections to my environment are gone. And its those connections that I need to focus on and work with now.

One final thought on this. This works for me. That does not mean it will be appropriate for you to utilize. You may need to tweak parts of what I am talking about to work for you. You may find that none of it works for you whatsoever. You may find its spot-on for you. Whatever the case may be – find what works for you in those instances where you cannot get out and take your walks in the outdoors. So what if it doesn’t match what I do. What I do works for me. What works for you, works for you. No judgment whatsoever.

Book Review – Druidry and Meditation (Nimue Brown)

19251333Druidry and Meditation — Nimue Brown
Published 2012 by John Hunt Publishing/Moon Books
ISBN: 1780990286
ISBN13: 9781780990286
ASIN: B00719WGTQ

I meditate. Quite frequently, in fact. Its my way of finding my center when life tosses me an unexpected curve ball. Its my way of de-stressing after 45 minutes to an hour or more in traffic. Its my way of connecting to the world around me. Its my way of communing with the Gods and the Spirits of the Land. Meditation is a useful tool for me.

I also follow a personal Spiritual Path of Druidry. So Nimue’s book was of interest to me. I was not sure what I was expecting. A self-help book? A how-to on Druidry? A how-to on Meditation? What I found was a very useful tome on how to approach meditative techniques from a perspective of Druidry.As Nimue points out several times in the book, Meditation techniques are different for each individual. For instance, I do my very best meditations when I am walking in the forest. Not sitting, but actively moving. For others, sitting in the classic lotus position works best. And so on. But taking a Nature-based approach requires some fine tuning of the mind, and the attitude prior to starting. Nimue presents a wonderful approach to the inner Sacred Grove, as well as a splendid chapter on facilitating group ritual – which requires a far different mindset and approach. She also adds some wonderful little exercises in the book that I think are wonderful starting points for those interested in meditation techniques, but unsure of how to start.

Pressure – My Way of Dealing with the Everyday World

You have to learn to pace yourself – Pressure
You’re just like everybody else – Pressure
You’ve only had to run so far- So good
But you will come to a place
Where the only thing you feel
Are loaded guns in your face
And you’ll have to deal with – Pressure

–Billy Joel, “Pressure”

I keep looking at this month — and I realize how difficult it is to juggle a hectic schedule. I have been home two days now from a three-day conference for work that was only 24 miles away. I already have data requests stacking up at work because of those three days away. There’s also the podcast’s schedule to consider, which parallels another time frame that is coming up quickly – the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering that happens in two weeks. So I definitely can feel the need to come back to a point where I can breathe, ground-and-center, and spend a few minutes not worrying about the timing of other things. Not particularly easy, but definitely necessary.

I am sure you – my twelve or thirteen readers – have those moments too. Where you feel like life is spiraling out of control like an airplane at 40,000 feet with an unexpected loss of one of your wings. Its a rather rough feeling. And a place from where you can easily panic.  Definitely been there and done that. And that’s why I spend time in daily meditations.

I have two periods of time in my daily routine that I set aside for meditation:  sunrise and sunset. I don’t even spend a lot of time doing either one – its essentially a moment where I can ground, center, and focus on just being in the moment. And its become such an integral part of my daily routine that I have learned to ground, center and focus wherever I am at in a very quick manner. I cannot relate enough how much this has saved me from throttling a co-worker in the hallways or a meeting.  And the technique that I utilize is extremely simple (for me).

If you have not seen the tree meditation that the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids published on youtube quite some time back – here’s my direct link to it.

 

Its a very simple, under three minutes, demonstration of a technique that I utilize.  Generally put, while going through the motions of the meditation, I visualize that I am growing roots – reaching deep inside the earth, letting my roots seek deeper and deeper until I find the level of the water table beneath. Then I let myself spend a few moments reveling in the cool, satisfying taste of the water, before expending my energy upwards to let my branches grow tall – feeling the wind pull and tug at my limbs while whispering the secrets it has discovered elsewhere to me.  Now, you can’t always spend time doing the motions within the meditation…but you can spend a few moments taking a deep breath and visualizing your growth of roots and branches. Remember, the depth of your roots determines whether the wind can blow you over or not. Grow your roots deep, and then remember that whatever is affecting you at that moment — it cannot move you off of your balance point. You will stand tall throughout whatever is happening.

Remember, trees grow through all kinds of trauma throughout their lives – provided that man doesn’t come and cut them down. There’s fires, where the success of survival is determined by the depth of the roots. There’s strong winds, where your roots again pull a role. There’s drought – where again the roots play a role in the survival of the tree.  Seeing a pattern here??

As a Libra, balance is important to my everyday survival. Occasionally, I will be set off my balance point – and my world will feel like a top spinning out of control. Grounding, centering and focusing on a single point helps me take on tasks one at a time. And that singular focus allows me to take on issues one at a time. This means prioritizing those tasks into must be done now, must be done soon, can wait a while, can wait even longer, and can wait the longest. Then, you take each one on in singular pieces. Once that task is finished, spend a moment to replenish your balance and reset your focus to the next task.

Granted, I know some folks that will say that this will not work for them…and I completely grok that. Whatever technique and methodology works for one person will not necessarily work or be correct behavior for another. That’s what makes us unique individuals. I do encourage you to find techniques that work for you. In our busy, hustle-and-bustle world where deadlines are placed on nearly everything that we do…we need to develop our own methods of coping with those artificial pressures.

–Tommy /|\

 

Morning Ritual — My Perspective on a Daily Practice

My Stone Circle (28Feb2015)
My Stone Circle (28Feb2015)

For the last two days (three now that I am writing more to this on Sunday morning), I have watched the snow coming day, then turn to sleet, and hopefully come Sunday melt away a little more. As someone that enjoys being outside, its been a little tough to head outside during this weather – though I have ventured out twice to distribute old bread and some bird seed. But it has afforded me a wonderful time to spend in meditation, journal writing, and catching up on classwork. All of which have reminded me how much my daily routine has changed in the last half year’s time.

Meditation or my Inner Path workings as I have started to refer to this process, is a very important part of my Spiritual practice. As Joanna Van Der Hoeven mentioned to me in a recent chat (I am paraphrasing here), prayer is talking to the Gods, meditation is the process of listening. And this makes perfect sense to me. Though I am somewhat recalcitrant to refer to my daily moments of greeting the rising sun and seeing off the setting sun as “prayer” — those moments can certainly fall into that category.

Sunrise is my favorite part of the day. Its quiet during this time of the day. In any rural setting I have been in – this is the most likely time I have found to encounter wildlife. Their quiet, seemingly serene manner of walking through an environment that is continually interrupted by the noisy creature known as man, is a breathtaking moment of clarity for me. Every morning, I stand by my little stone circle with my Kokopelli and Iron Crow Squadron members within it, and I greet the rising sun – even when its behind the clouds. In the case of bad weather, I stand just inside the house in the kitchen, and go through my moments of preparing for the peeking of my old friend coming over the horizon.

One of the first motions I use is a tree meditation that was taught to me long ago by my first High Priestess in my initial Wicca days. I stand with my feet shoulder-length apart, and breathe deeply, trying to clear my mind of stray thoughts that are unimportant. While I do this, I also feel my feet begin to shift downwards into the earth, taking roots like a tree. Embracing the feel of the earth’s soil between my feet, the feel of the aquifer deep beneath me. The water that moves through the soil and down towards the nearby lake, the touch of water. Once I feel firmly rooted, where no strong wind will likely blow me over, I return back above the ground, feeling the air around me. Sometimes warm, sometimes cold – sometimes refreshing, sometimes raking across my skin like the scratch of an angry animal – sometimes not moving at all, the air around me embraces me with its wild emotions – like a long-lost lover. Regardless of whether there are clouds in the sky or not, I can feel the warmth of the sun as it rises above the horizon, peeking out into the world around me. Illuminating those that sought the serenity and anonymity that the darkness of twilight provides. And during all of this, I slowly empty my thoughts – one at a time – until I am focused only on my breathing – slow and rhythmic. And I listen. I open my mind to all the senses around me and just listen. Sometimes, I can hear the wind pulsing through the leaves in the tree above me. Sometimes the sound of a nearby car driving past – radio blaring loudly. And sometimes, it is just quiet. Every once in a while, I’ll hear Crow’s quiet voice – reminding me of some point or perspective i had forgotten. Other times, its the quiet roar of silence. Until I feel the need to come back, pulling up my deep-seated roots until I am a whole human being again. And ready to move along with my daily life — with that moment of solitude, the memory of those sounds in-between the worlds still within my mind. Moving forward with purpose.

Not every morning is like this. Sometimes I am rushed to get out the door and on to my job. Other times, I have a visitor over and their company is more appropriate to be in conjunction with. But many of my mornings have elements of what I have written here. And this is only one of several things that I do in my daily practice. There are moments where I ground and center, just to mutter a prayer of hope for the world around me. There is my evening lamentation as my skyward friend disappears beyond the horizon to the West – on a journey to the other side of this world – beyond my ability to experience and perceive. There are my nightly moments of meditative thought, asking the Gods to help others see the world around them as something that they interact and live jointly with – not as a resource to dominate, control, and consume.

There’s many ways to go about doing things such as these. How you approach or even don’t approach such thing – well, that is ultimately up to you. I can only relay how these particular practices help me get through each day, provide structure to my daily walk, and enrich my understanding of the world around me. After all, my walk is my own — yours will be different. In some ways it will be similar or even the same, and differ in so many others. Its the handling and processing of these experiences that make us each unique…

Looking for Balance

Feeling out of sorts. I know the feeling quite well. When I roll out of bed, slip on my house-shoes, and make it down the stairs to the living room. And the feeling hits that nothing is “right” in the world – I need to get back up the stairs, and go back to bed. And yet, when I seek that momentary explanation in my head – when I reach of for the reasoning of ‘why’ — my closed hand comes up with nothing. And the hardest part, is that this typically happens when I have to be in my classroom within an hour of that moment – to lecture on some topical point of Business administration or some salient point on how computer technology helps bolster a business’s practices towards the successful movement of their chosen product. In other words, I need my head on straight, and I need to be able to make cogent points. Or to put it in more practical terms – I need to not be speaking like I write here in the blog. 🙂

For me, its a matter of finding where I am out of balance. Easy enough to say as a simple sentence, even more difficult to describe in-depth. I usually revert to other initial step descriptors when I am at this point – I need to find a comfortable sitting point in the saddle, I need to regain my focus, I need to become grounded and centered on my daily path. All nice statements to make – and if anyone else has been in the same position – an easy way to get your point across. But, if you are trying to explain this to someone who has no understanding of these statements, it can increase the misunderstanding of what you are saying/doing – and place further conversation trying to explain the lack of balance to the neophyte individual seeking answers towards a new way of complicating that lack of balance. I have been at that particular moment many times during my time on this Path.

One of the best descriptions I have managed in trying to explain being out of balance comes from trying to get the querent to put themselves into your moccasins, so to speak. Have you ever leaned back on a four-legged chair, so that you were balancing on the back two legs? You find that position where your weight perfectly balances the chair in the impossible position of being on just the two legs and not falling forward or backward. And then, you make a tiny shift of weight, and the chair begins to fall backward – and you manage to arrest your momentum at a point where you felt where you were going to fall. Remember that feeling? That is how being out of balance feels for me. Except that it doesn’t dissipate after I catch myself – it lingers. That’s being out of balance is for me – feeling like my momentum is going to carry me forward to where the chair comes to rest in its normal four-point stance – or knowing that the chair is going to fall completely backwards and land on the ground, where I may bump my head on a hard surface (trust me – many people say that such a thing would likely not hurt me).

For me, solving this takes about ten to fifteen minutes of time for me – ten to fifteen minutes of undisturbed time. That’s even more difficult to obtain these days, particularly when I have an 8am morning class. Where I am in a rush to make it to campus, get the door opened, and get the class settled for a lecture, presentation, lab, or test. So, I try and get at least some aspect of being partially balanced. When I reach campus, I spend a few moments in the car, practicing my breathing exercises. One long breath in, two shorter breaths to expel the air. All the while, I push any thoughts out of my mind for the moment. It doesn’t always work, so sometimes I think of erecting a tall, fence around me with those thoughts just on the outside. And once I achieve that moment – I come back to remember who I am, why I am, and hardest of all what I am. I don’t need full answers – just a little reminder that my foundation is not about to crack, and that I can get this done until I can spend more time in a stronger point of meditation and reflection.

Yes, its a band-aid method. Its a short-term fix, not a long-term solution. That comes later, after I am done teaching classes, after I have finished all other commitments, and can close the door to my office, turn out the light, and turn off my phone. When that happens, I can turn my focus towards doing my full meditation and ground and centering. To be honest, I do prefer to do this outside, where my bare feet can touch the ground, but that’s not always something that can happen. When I first learned the meditation of grounding and centering, it was sitting in the classic Lotus position, which tends to bring pain to my knees very quickly. I shifted eventually to sitting on my legs with my lower legs tucked directly underneath me. However, this also started to bring me pain. Then one day, I stumbled across this video on YouTube, while searching for other videos on the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD).

Its this style of meditation that I use to focus and ground myself – in essence, bring myself back to balance. This is where I remind myself of who I am (TommyElf), what I am (Professor, Teacher, Priest, Pagan, Friend, and whatever other hat that seems appropriate at the moment), and why I am (to help others when asked, to be an example for some to follow, to be respectful of all including those who do not respect me). And once those reminders are back in place, back in primary focus…I feel balanced and “right” with my surrounding environment.

I know there’s a lot of other ways to go about doing this type of balancing method. This is the one that works best for me…and answers the question of a couple of viewers who had thought to ask.

–Tommy /|\

The Waiting is the Hardest Part…

RedRocksI am sitting here trying to come up with a way to approach one of my class discussion questions, not really sure which way my brain is going to spark on the topic. I do have an opinion on the topic, but that is the problem – it is just an opinion.  And one of many on the topic that roll around in my brain. But I do know that the Imbas will take a hold of me eventually, and I will gather a perspective together and write. And write some more.  And some more. I just need to quiet down the rest of my thoughts, and let them slide into the background – even for just a short while. But in the meantime, I sit, listen to some quiet music, and gently push those stray thoughts out of the way. Like Tom Petty once lamented – the waiting is the hardest part.

Honestly, its not the easiest thing in the world to do – finding that quiet, alone point in one’s life. Most people go through their lives not realizing how much external noise there is. And how much that can sometimes interfere with the need for quiet, focused thought. Up until recently, I always believed I had a firm grasp on how to handle this concept of stillness for myself. Then I stumbled upon a few thoughts which I felt relayed an even deeper perspective from the book “Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life With Full Awareness” by Joanna Van Der Hoeven.

In Druidry, we learn to listen – to the blackbirds singing at dusk, to the airplane overhead, to the bee buzzing amongst the daisies. So too should we learn to really listen to each other and not merely hear each other. Too often we are ‘listening’ to someone while already forming a reply in our own heads before they have even finished speaking. Engaging fully with the moment means fully listening when someone is speaking.

Druidry is all about relationship with the natural world. If we are truly mindful, that relationship will have so much more meaning. We really begin to understand that we are part of an ever-changing world, in a constant flux, with no single moment defining who or what we are – merely an endless series of moments which we all share on our journey through life.

We hear and attune, fully experiencing the earth and her rhythms. We dedicate ourselves to further understanding these, through relationship and empathy, compassion and determination. We become aware of nature’s cycles and our own cycles, encouraging those seeds that will nourish us to grow, and letting go of all that holds us back. It is living with the courage to be fully present, whatever the reality. It is connecting to ourselves, our gods, our world around us, with dedication and determination. It is letting go into the flow of awen, of satori, of truly being.

…and that is only three quotes from the book. Joanna makes excellent points – we have to attune ourselves to stopping our own notions of what we see and hear – where we continually attempt to complete the thoughts of others – and listen to everything that is being stated. Not to assume that we have already heard what we are about to hear – or have seen what we are about to see. And then to open ourselves to whatever experience is about to happen – without anticipation, without assumption. And this includes in communicating with ourselves…trying to clear that space where we can achieve the focused thought of the moment. Where we can be in the ‘now’ of the moment.

I cannot say that this technique of clearing your mind to achieve hyper-focus on an issue will work for you. It works for me. Its the manner in which I can achieve the state of being between the worlds. If it does not work for you – do not be too put out over it. It merely means that the methodology is not working for you. Keep looking for the one that will help you achieve the state you are seeking.

Now, I think I can finish clearing up what is in my mind, so I can focus on this single question for my class discussion – and provide the opinion I believe to be the most appropriate answer for me….