“How has your religion changed your daily, everyday life?”
In my original post on the essence of Druidism, I wrote about how gratitude was the essence of what drew me to the religion — gratitude for our ancestors, our teachers, and our gods. I have found, though, that since beginning my practice, my whole experience of gratitude has changed.
I was not raised with gratitude at the center of spiritual practice. The first fundamental truth of Buddhism, the religion I was raised with, is that the world is afflicted with suffering; and a fundamental truth like that does not engender much gratitude. One of the famous sayings of Zen is “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”. Again, not much gratitude there. This is in no way intended as a criticism of Buddhism — I know that many Buddhist meditations are very effective in encouraging the development of gratitude, and it is an important part of many kinds of Buddhist practice. My point here is simply that the practice of gratitude per se was not part of my personal Zen-influenced upbringing. When I grew older, and abandoned Buddhism in favor of atheism and agnosticism, I was removed even further from gratitude.
Of course, I did feel gratitude for being alive, and for the forests and the sunsets and so forth. But I had nowhere to direct that gratitude. I was grateful, but there was no one available to say “you’re welcome”. It was a sort of unrequited gratitude; it was like being in love with someone who doesn’t even know you exist, except of course it was really being in love with someone whom you don’t even know exists.
As I entered into Druidism, I began to use visualization techniques to make contact with those I was thankful to. I was able to thank the gods and ancestors specifically, by name, for their blessings, and I saw them smile and acknowledge the thanks. Having your thanks recieved with love is a wonderful thing — it is an additional blessing on top of everything you’re already thankful for.
It particularly transformed the Winter Solstice. I always enjoyed that time of year, and the evergreens and gift-giving and so forth spoke to something inside me. In the past, we have always put a Santa doll at the top of the tree — mostly because it was quirky and cute and Santa was not an angel. But this past Solstice was the first time it was really meaningful for me. When I put Santa up — and him wearing the traditional red, white and black colors of the Celtic Otherworld — I knew I was giving proper reverence for a real spirit that was coming into my home. This was probably the happiest Solstice season I’ve had in my life, simply because I was really celebrating something I believed in. (Well, that one time when I was five and I got a Lone Ranger doll — that was pretty awesome, too.)
This changed experience of gratitude has opened a door. Somehow, all the things I’ve been grateful for — my family, the sky, the earth — are brighter, more colorful, and more real. I feel more alive and present. I’m going to close with a quote from C.S. Lewis’s “The Last Battle” which describes the change in my daily life most vividly:
“Perhaps you will get some idea of it, if you think of it like this.You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among the mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different — deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know…every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there, you will know what I mean.”