Meditation on the Four of SwordsThe chapel for the vigil is in A wild forest, a wild stony river, bugs and birds. Heat, but the breezes are cool. The sound of water everywhere. The chapel is a stone hut by the river, right where it turns; Its window has a view of the lands downstream, very hazy now. He blesses me and leaves me here to meditate. Inside it is somewhat damp and dusty. I lie down, take a brief nap, and when I wake the sun is setting; everything is red and hazy gold. I feel the birds in the air and the fish in the stream. They speak languages I have not heard before. I feel called to go outside the hut and plant seeds in a circle around it. When the sun sets I listen to the water and the crickets. A wind picks up and tosses the trees. The night is quite dark — no stars. Silence comes and goes, following the night’s hunters on their rounds. This is wilderness, but it is full of voices.
Last night my awesome wife Ali and I joined in a set of consecration ceremonies at our Unitarian Universalist church. Along with the Reverend’s UU blessing and our friend Chris’s Wiccan consecration, we demonstrated a Druid / Animist method of connecting with an object.
I say “connecting with” an object instead of “consecrating” because in our tradition, all things are sacred. We cannot imbue an object with holiness. It is already holy. What we can do is recognize the sacredness of the object, and enter into relationship with it (or deepen our existing relationship). We do this by sitting with the object, touching it, and listening for its voice in the Song of the World.
I wrote a meditation to guide this process, and it seemed to go well, so here it is in full:
Animist Consecration Meditation
Sit and relax. Take a deep breath… and release. As you breathe out, let all your tension melt away. Relax your shoulders, relax your neck, relax your eyes. Take another deep breath… and release. Imagine that a wave of warm golden light is slowly rising in your body, starting in your feet, rising up through your legs, up into your torso. The warm golden light fills your body, down your arms and into your fingers, up to the top of your head… Let your body sink, growing heavier. Your arms and legs have become heavy and settle comfortably.
Now turn your attention gently to the object in your hands. Feel its weight there. Imagine that, like your body, it is becoming heavier. Feeling its weight and heft pressing in your hands helps you relax further. … Feel its texture. Is it hard? Soft? Smooth? How does it respond when you apply gentle pressure? … Feel the temperature of the object in your hands. Perhaps it has responded to the warmth of your body, becoming warmer as you’ve been holding it.
Think about history of the object. Where did it come from? How did it come into this room? How did it come into your possession? Do you know who else has held this object, if anyone else ever has? Was it crafted by a person, or by a machine, or is it completely natural? How long ago was it made? Where did the materials of the object come from? From an animal? A plant? If so, what do you know about those living beings, and the lives they led? Did they live nearby, experiencing the same summers and winters and rains as ourselves? Or did they live far away, in a distant land, under different stars? Has it been under the sea? Did it come from the earth, crafted from stone or crystal, formed millions of years ago?
Imagine what it must have been like to experience the history of this object — from the time of its making down to the present day. Think about what it must be like to be the object, now, today, surrounded by us in this warm and sacred space, being held and warmed by your hands.
Feel the warmth of the object again. The object has responded to the heat in your hands. The heat in the object is nothing more nor less than vibration; its atoms and molecules have begun to vibrate along with the atoms and molecules of your hand. If your ears were sensitive enough, you would be able to hear the vibration of the object in the air. Hold it tightly and feel the warmth. If it were making an audible sound, what would it be? Would it be high-pitched, or low? Would it be a single constant tone, or a chord of notes? A monotone, or a tune? …
Hear that sound in your mind. Focus on it.
Now, in a moment, when you are ready and comfortable, respond to the song of the object, in whatever way feels right. Maybe you want to hum along with it, or provide a bass or counterpoint. Maybe what is called from you is a chant, or a whisper. Sit with your object, listen to it, and respond. Sing the song of the world with your object.
I’d like to read some Montaigne — partly because it’s like 18th-century self-help, and partly in spite of it.
I have a love-hate relationship with the idea of self-help. On the one hand, it’s a genre full of charlatans, fly-by-night money-back guarantees, misguided seekers, and people looking for ways to get rich quick. On the other hand, what higher goal could there be than becoming a better person (whatever that might mean)? What higher philosophy is there than the question of humanity’s purpose? The real allure of self-help is, or ought to be, not finding out how to be “successful,” but to discover humanity’s greatest potential, and find out how one can fulfill it.
When I read an actual piece of self-help writing, I sometimes find myself torn back and forth between the love and the hate. For example, a few years ago I found out about polyphasic sleep, a way of using a rigid nap schedule to sleep just two hours per day. I was repelled by the idea of “hacking” my body’s natural rhythms, as if it were a machine that could be hotwired or supercharged. Nevertheless I tried it — not because I was trying to become more successful or productive (though that certainly was a nice side effect during the 18-month trial), but I because I was after deeper answers: what is sleep really for? And how would it feel to live one’s life in such a fundamentally different way? How much of our sense of ‘being human’ is wrapped up in the daily cycle of sleep and waking? I got some interesting results (which I won’t go into here) and eventually stopped because it was too hard to keep to the rigid nap schedule.
But it’s because of this love-hate relationship that I’m interested in learning more about Montaigne. A while back it was rather fashionable for self-help bloggers to read and discuss him (probably at least in part because of a timely book by Sarah Bakewell that they could link to and get affiliate money from Amazon). Unfortunately, most of the self-help bloggers dismissed the long philosophical tradition he drew from and focused on his cheekiness, his self-experimentation, and his productivity. But I would rather know what he thought of cannibalism, the custom of wearing clothes, warhorses, solitude, sleep (of course), and the complex notion of self (for he famously said “I turn my gaze inward… I have no business but with myself; I continually observe myself, I take stock of myself, I taste myself … I roll about in myself”). And I would rather know his place in the long philosophical tradition of the west, that strange mix of earnest seeking and personality cult.
Cutting to the chase: I’d like to read some good self-help that I don’t have to feel two ways about.
Ocean, a poem
I am in love with Ocean
lifting her thousands of white hats
in the chop of the storm,
or lying smooth and blue, the
loveliest bed in the world.
In the personal life, there is
always grief more than enough,
a heart load for each of us
on the dusty road. I suppose
there is a reason for this, so I will be
patient, acquiescent. But I will live
nowhere except here, by Ocean, trusting
equally in all blast and welcome
of her sorrowless, salt self.
On the edge of the Sea, Alison and I are getting married today. May our souls be wound round each other in joy. May Earth, Sea and Sky bless us, and may our love be as great as they, and as free, as wild, as young, and as eternal.
This trio of words — inspired by the Summer Solstice — are completely unrelated historically, but their phonosemantics are remarkably similar.
Sun derives from Proto Indo European swen or suwen, a slightly modified version of the base form saewel, which meant both “sun” and “to shine”. Old English sunne was a feminine noun, and originally all references to the sun assumed that it was female (as in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth — and you may be sure that this was something Tolkien was quite aware of). The sun only became male in English in the 1500’s, long after the noun itself no longer had gender. Phonosemantically sun indicates powerful directed energy (”s”), narrowing toward a goal (”n”), but nevertheless suffused with relaxed, thoughtful qualities (short “u”). Perhaps this reflects the paradoxical power of the sun to both bake you in its heat and lull you to sleep on a golden afternoon.
Today I’m delighted to welcome a guest author: Kara-Leah Grant, yoga publisher, editor, writer, speaker, teacher, and creator of The Yoga Lunchbox. Enjoy!
New Year’s Eve packed a powerful punch for me this year – I broke up with my partner of three and half years two days earlier.
It was two weeks before our son’s first birthday.
So it’s a brand new challenge for me, this single-mothering gig.
Today I found myself inspired to do a name analysis reading, and since Sarah Palin and her political influence have been on my mind recently, I decided to inflict her with one.
Sarah, the name which represents her spiritual guidance in the social world, is a Biblical name, and one of the oldest: the name of Abraham’s wife. Actually Sarah’s original name, according to Genesis, was Sarai, which probably meant “contentious”. Some theologians think it unlikely that Sarai was a native Hebrew name — after all, who would deliberately name their daughter “contentious”? They think it more likely that Sarai was not a Hebrew woman, and the name Sarai wasn’t Hebrew, and meant something else; it just sounded like a Hebrew word meaning “contentious”. However, given the misogynistic nature of many ancient societies, I personally wouldn’t be surprised if it really were her name.
Spinning their eternal solitary dance in the endless void, the burning stars fall forever around the galaxy, dropping, as they go, a few precious photons into our eyes. Each tiny light-droplet is thousands, or millions, or billions of years old; and it has traveled almost six trillion miles in each of those years. Today an astronomer can catch such a precious photon on glass, place it under a microscope, and know how old its parent star is, how large, what elements are burning in its core, how fast and how hot it is burning, and how many years remain before the star collapses into ash, or explodes into a galaxy-blinding supernova.
Long ago, our ancestors looked at the stars and learned different things. They learned about themselves.
Is fire a living thing? How about water?
When Bridget’s holiday comes, I always think of bright sunlight on water edged by snowy banks. She is the goddess of fire and water, fire on the water, fire that cracks the ice and brings the frozen world alive again.
The ancient Proto-Europeans apparently had two words for fire — one, paewr, an inanimate noun, for the physical manifestation in the world; and one, egni, animate, for the living force within it. Proto-Europeans would have referred to paewr as “it” and egni as “he/she”.
Paewr has descended into words such as fire, pyre, pyrite, and pyromania. Spiritually, pawer and pyr– indicate a point location of pure, expansive, creation energy. Germanic and English fire are the same, but add a sense of freedom and openness.
Egni was the root of a number of ancient gods and goddesses of fire, such as Vedic Agni; but today it survives only in ignite and derived forms like ignition. Spiritually this word focuses more on the grounding of the energy, the Source power that draws up the strength and directs it, channels it.
The name Bridget (and variants Bride, Brid, Brigid, Brighid, Brigantia) carries many of these same spiritual associations, although it is unrelated (it comes from a root meaning ‘strength’). She is a burst of power, light and tense like a laser, but grounded and guided.
Remarkably, the ancient Proto-Indo-Europeans also had two words for water — animate and inanimate, physical and spiritual.
Wed was in inanimate form, and descends today into water, wet, hydrate, undulation, Spanish aqua, Scottish whiskey, and Russian vodka. It is a word of directed willfulness, of untiring energy along a path, like a river or waterfall.
Ap was the animate form, and is the ultimate source of Latin piscis and English fish. Spiritually it might be likened to a small quiet spring, a simple point source of spirit.
Bridget’s name also echoes these watery words. The burst of power is related to the willfulness of water, and her energy is guided and directed like wed, but rooted like ap.
Some Say the World Will End in…
One thing that is striking about these pairs is how different the four words are. The two words for fire seem completely unrelated, as do the two words for water; it’s as if the spiritual and physical forms are utterly different concepts. If anything, the sounds of the words seem to group the two animate words (groundedness) against the two inanimate words (willfulness, power).
In the usual spiritual symbolism, fire and water are opposites, too. But from where I am standing in the frozen air of late January, fire and water are symbols of fluidity, flexibility, and life, while the earth is hard and dead, and air is a cold void. There is even a link between fire and frost — the words frozen and frost go back to Proto-Indo European preus, which meant both “freeze” and “burn”.
The essence of fire and water is somewhere in the intermix of the elements, not in each alone. This is no simple symbolism, but a web of interlocking words and meanings that reflect and refract each other like light on glass, like fire on ice.
Occasionally we stop and take stock of ourselves.
Is our health ok? How about our family, and the other important relationships in our lives? Our education? Our career?
And usually we find ourselves wanting in one way or another. We could be a little healthier, our family could be a little more tightly bonded, and frankly we could be making more money than we do. And so we might draw up a list of goals, or at least join a gym or try to buff up our resume. And we might follow our new plans for a week or a month, and maybe we’ll even make some hard-won progress in these areas.
Frankly, this whole process is ridiculous, from start to finish. Continue reading “Dealing With Difficult Times and Transits”