Posts Tagged ‘essay’

From Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary:

Hospitality: : hospitable treatment, reception, or disposition

1 a : given to generous and cordial reception of guests
b : promising or suggesting generous and cordial welcome
c : offering a pleasant or sustaining environment
2 : readily receptive : open <hospitable to new ideas>

From Our Own Druidry (83)

Acting as both a gracious host and an appreciative guest, involving benevolence, friendliness, humor, and the honoring of “a gift for a gift”

(Note: I chose to use the dictionary definition of “Hospitable” as the definition of “Hospitality” was rather slim and circularly defining, and I found the definitions of Hospitable to be more in line with the way this virtue is actually practiced in ADF and in my life.)

In this, the first of the “producer class” virtues, I think we start to see the other virtues come to light as part of an active society. Where integrity and courage are virtues you define as actions you take yourself, hospitality requires interaction with others – a fundamental part of Druidry, whether you interact online or in person.

This is a virtue I try actively to cultivate, as I think it is often forgotten in our modern culture. I appreciate being cared for as a guest, and I enjoy caring for my guests. A gracious host provides for their guest, and an appreciative guest brings a token to show their appreciation, and maybe offers to help with the dishes. The relationship we have is one of mutual honor and respect, and I think it is an extremely important virtue for the internet-inclined Druid. It is so very easy to forget to be hospitable, to forget to be gracious and appreciative of others, especially those who create friendly spaces online (like blogs and forums) and take the time to moderate and run them. This virtue goes a long way towards keeping the peace, even amidst disagreements, if mutual respect is maintained.

I do not, however, think that this virtue should be seen as “becoming a doormat” – one can be a gracious host or an appreciative guest while still maintaining one’s individual opinions and living according to one’s own integrity. In fact, it could be seen as an act of courage to maintain a disagreement while still honoring that you are a guest (or a host) and should behave accordingly. One can still say “please” and “thank you” while having a debate about the nature of something or other.

In terms of ADF’s basis in the *ghos-ti relationship, hospitality is the virtue that stems directly from *ghos-ti. It defines not only our interactions with each other, but our interactions with the Earth and our interactions with the Kindreds, whereby we accept and expect to be treated accordingly to our own offerings. It is a bit like the relationship that you have between friends, where you might keep a loose running tab of whose turn it is to pick up dinner, but you are both contributing to the relationship, and it is one of balance, commonality, and respect.

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From Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary:

 : continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition : the action or condition or an instance of persevering : steadfastness

From Our Own Druidry (82)

Drive; the motivation to pursue goals even when that pursuit becomes difficult

This is a virtue that I struggle with sometimes. Many things in my life have come easily (like academic study) and so when I am met with a challenge that I can’t think my way through, solve by thinking, or quickly figure out, I tend to get frustrated and give up. I also struggle with mental illness that can make motivation a very fickle trait. I am working more toward both of these definitions, though I especially like the word “steadfastness” as a synonym. This isn’t about completing tasks, or even (or especially) about succeeding at them – it’s about sticking with things, even when they get tough or annoying or boring, because you know that they have value. As a virtue of Druidry, it’s about getting your butt on a cushion and meditating, even when you don’t feel much like it, or even when you’re anxious or worried or distracted, because you have decided this path has value, and so you’re going to do it.

In some ways, perseverance can even make a task easier – there is some level of value in something truly fought for, something you really have to put your blood sweat and tears into. I made a lot of very good grades in college, but the A I earned in my second semester of Latin is one of the grades I am most proud of, because I poured my entire being into that class, with a professor who averaged two A’s a semester. I knew it would be tough, but I knew I wanted that A, and I was going to work for it even when I felt like stabbing myself in the eyeball with a pencil because of the complicated translations. Without that drive, I would easily have settled for a lower grade.

I think Wisdom needs to temper Perseverance as well. Much like anything, it is good to know when you should stick it out and try to finish something, and when you should count your losses and move on. It is both “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and “Choose the hill you’re going to die on” – choosing the things that are most important to you, and then really sticking to them, with integrity and courage.

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From Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary:

1 : firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility
2 : an unimpaired condition : soundness
3 : the quality or state of being complete or undivided : completeness

From Our Own Druidry (82)

Honor; being trustworthy to oneself and to others, involving oathkeeping, honesty, fairness, respect, self-confidence.

For me, this is probably the most important virtue of the lot – it’s the one from which all the others branch out. Integrity is a core tenet of how I try to live my life, and it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to. I generally dislike the term “honor”, as it’s too easy for that word to be abused to mean “what society thinks you should do for the better of society”. This isn’t to say that integrity isn’t often influenced by societal norms, but that in the end, integrity is a condition of the self. It encompasses all three parts of the dictionary definition. True integrity is incorruptible (it doesn’t waver under pressure); it is conditionally sound (it is consistent within itself); and it is complete and undivided (it encompasses all aspects of life).

Of course, that’s an impossible standard for any human to live up to, but I think it’s a goal worth striving for. To me, integrity is my willingness to make a decision about what I think is right (which includes elements of the virtue of Wisdom, and also of Vision), to stick up for it when it is challenged (Courage and Perseverance), and ultimately to increase my ability to interact with fairness towards others (Hospitality and Moderation). It includes uncompromising honesty – something I strive for, even when it might have negative consequences.

For example, I was recently selected for municipal court jury duty, but I put the summons somewhere where it got shuffled into the paperwork on my desk and I flat out didn’t show up on the day I was called. Instead of making up some excuse about why I couldn’t be there (when I finally remembered about it two weeks later), I told the court administrator the truth. She was understanding, and I was given a new day to show up for jury service. But I was prepared to be told I needed to pay a hefty fine for that mistake. Still, I would rather have told the truth than lied about it (as I was encouraged to do by my coworkers).

That’s a good example of my trying to live up to integrity – but my still being “closeted” about being Pagan can sometimes cause me to not live up to this virtue, or at least, to not live up to it fully. I don’t lie about my religious beliefs, but I definitely dodge the question, and I give off the impression (knowingly) of still being Christian to my extremely Christian family (and to my workplace). This does bother me, but I don’t yet have the courage (or the desire to cause damage to my family or create weirdness at my job) to change that, so I live with an aspect of my life that doesn’t live up to this virtue as well.

Nothing bothers me more than people who are cruel in the name of honesty, however, which is why this virtue is also about fairness, and wisdom, and courage, and vision, and even (to some extent) moderation. It’s the virtue that the whole system hinges on, in my view. I’m not always very good at keeping to it, when things get very tough, but this is one of the most important virtues for me.

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“An essay or journal covering the Dedicant’s personal experience of building mental discipline, through the use of meditation, trance, or other systematic techniques on a regular basis. The experiences in the essay or journal should cover at least a five months period (800 words min).”

I began my meditation journal at the beginning of November, 2012 and am continuing to journal as of mid-April, 2013, covering my five months of systematic meditation. I was already a regular practitioner of sitting (or breath-oriented) meditation before I began journaling, so this process was one that I used as a set of experiments to see what I could add to my existing practice that would deepen and enrich it. As well, I am intending to do continuing work in ADF, and I wish to have a solid foundation from which to build.

My first meditation journaling was just a record of the meditations I was already practicing, on average several times per week. (I do breath-centering daily, several times a day, but for this exercise I only counted intentional meditation lasting more than 5 minutes.) Though my mid-week meditations are not done on specific days, I made sure to meditate at least 15 to 20 minutes on weekend days each week. Frequently I would use a 9 breath counted exercise, doing nine repetitions of nine counted breaths. I usually do this practice sitting or lying on the floor in the room where I have my altar, often after having done my daily devotions of lighting incense and short prayers. I have done some meditations outside, either in my yard or in the park, but I am plagued by lawnmowers – I have yet to find a time to do meditation outdoors where someone in my neighborhood is not operating heavy machinery within earshot. This is, I suppose, a side effect of living in a development. My meditations at the local park, which stretches out onto Armand Bayou, have been more successful, especially when I can go out onto the boardwalk and sit undisturbed.

I have found, through my practice, that I am able to more easily enter trance while lying down as opposed to sitting or standing. I think this is due to the “ease” of lying, as well as my yoga practice and finding a common thread in corpse pose. I can frequently maintain better concentration while lying down than sitting upright (though I continue to use both postures). The only point where this did not work as well was during the Two Powers meditation, where I found it much more powerful and successful to be upright in some fashion as I connected to the Sky power.

I also experimented with movement based meditation, through walking meditation and use of the “Embracing the Tiger, Return to the Mountain” movement from Tai Chi. While walking meditation was somewhat successful, ultimately it proved difficult to maintain any sort of focus, as I was too worried about getting hit by cars or running into things or tripping on uneven sidewalk. The Embracing the Tiger, Return to the Mountain meditation, which consists of a series of movements repeated several times, was more successful. At it’s very basic, it’s two full, slow breaths – Reach up, reach down, pull in, push away.

  • Standing with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent, inhale and bring your arms up in front of you, moving your hands along your midline until they reach up over your head. As you do this, straighten your knees.
  • When your hands are fully above your head (but elbows are still soft), exhale and swing your arms out to the sides and down, rotating your palms to face down once they reach shoulder level and bending your knees again. At the bottom, cross your hands at the wrists, left hand in front, so your palms are facing your body.
  • Now inhale, uncrossing your arms, and pulling your elbows back at your sides, drawing your hands to your waist, palms face up, straightening your knees.
  • Then exhale and push away from you, keeping your elbows close to your sides and your palms rotating around so they are facing away from you, knees bending again.

I usually did 9 repetitions if I was seeking a short, but very calming meditation, or (if I had more time and was looking for a deeper meditation) would allow myself to continue the practice for a certain amount of time. I find this exercise to be extremely good at creating mental balance (as well as physical balance).

I made heavy use of the iPhone app “Meditator” – which tracks meditation through use of unobtrusive sounds. Over time, I increased the space between the “reminder” sounds as well as increasing the overall time of my meditations. I usually meditate for about 20 minutes now, sometimes continuing after my timer has marked 20 minutes. I also use incense as a measure of time, meditating until the stick of incense burns out (25-30 minutes usually).

As a continuing part of my spiritual discipline, I began over time to add object focused meditation to my sitting meditation time, concentrating not only on my breath, but on deepening my understanding of the Kindreds and the cosmology of ADF. As part of this discipline, I endeavored to create a “mental grove” – a place where I could go as part of trance meditations whenever I needed to center myself. This was perhaps one of the most fruitful exercises of my meditation journey, as I now have a visualization I can turn to whenever I need to center myself and enter a light trance state. This mental grove has a fire, a well, and a tree, and while I am there I am often visited by various members of the Kindreds, especially nature spirits. I have, through this practice, deepened my relationships with several nature spirits, including Rabbit, Toad, Owl, and Stag. This is also the mental state where I had my first encounter with a spiritual being that I have come to associate with Freyr, which was extremely exciting and also a bit disorienting.

I fully intend to continue to work from my mental grove and to add more trance journeying to that work. So far I have found that spirits are willing to visit me there, but I would like to place more work on visiting them – especially because as I currently practice, I am dependent on whomever would like to visit. I would like to be able to go, via trance, and speak with specific spirits when I need them (if, of course, they are open to the idea), so more work with journeying is needed.

I also plan to continue my meditation journaling on my blog, through the completion of the Dedicant Path and forwards into more study with ADF. I’ve found the exercise of weekly journaling to be very beneficial. It helps me to keep track of what I’m doing, and serves as a reminder to stick to my practice. I write my journal entries every Sunday night, and that means I have always meditated at least once during the week, since I sit down at a specific time to write about them. It’s been a good practice of accountability, as well as one that I’ve found spiritually enriching.

Overall, in the last five months, I feel like I’ve deepened an existing meditation practice from something I did “fairly regularly” to a crucial part of my mental and spiritual life. The basic trance state of my mental grove has become a very important discipline for me, and I use basic meditation throughout my day as a way to increase focus (and decrease anxiety, something I struggle with a great deal). While I certainly can’t sustain focus for the entire duration of a 20 minute meditation, I am definitely better at not letting distractions get to me too much, and I’ve become more skilled at returning to my point of focus without much fuss. I’m also better at detecting distractions early, as opposed to following them mentally until I suddenly realize I’m no longer focused. I’m pleased with my progress and glad I had the discipline to stick with this requirement.

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“An essay focusing on the Dedicant’s understanding of the meaning of the ‘Two Powers’ meditation or other form of ‘grounding and centering’ as used in meditation and ritual. This account should include impressions and insights that the Dedicant gained from practical experience (300 word min).”

The Two Powers meditation is a form of grounding and centering used by ADF specifically as a way to create a stable platform from which to work ritual. Grounding and centering is a fairly common Neopagan practice that involves connecting with the earth energy and stabilizing your own energy – it is a form of meditation that allows the practitioner to enter a balanced energetic state from which to work ritual and magic (or just from which to continue their day). ADF’s two powers differ from many other Neopagan rituals in that they specifically call upon both the Earth power and the Sky power, pulling up energy from one and tempering it with the energy of another.

As I work within a (mainly) Norse hearth, I frequently connect to these powers via a World Tree mentality – that my body and mind become the axis of the world, through which the Earth and Sky flow freely. While this doesn’t specifically relate to any one Norse practice, I think it is reflected in the ADF cosmology of Fire, Well and Tree – where the axis is the tree, the Sky power is the fire, and the Earth power comes up from the well. I find this imagery particularly useful when beginning ADF style Core Order of Ritual rites, since I am using the images of the hallows within myself, as a tool of balance, and then using that energy to recreate those hallows as a point of ritual focus.

I’ve seen conversations on the ADF Dedicants list of people who connect with the Earth power as “hot” (due to the central core of the earth being molten and hot) and the Sky power as “cold” (from the coolness of space) but I prefer the more Earth based reflections of these powers. The Earth is cool, because when I dig my hands into the dirt it is cool and damp. The Sky is warm because the sun is warm on my face and warms my body and the land. I do not refer to either power as gendered, since I dislike the idea that “feminine” and “masculine” can be so easily matched to these powers. I think they are beyond gender, though I relate to an Earth Mother and to a Sun Goddess, so perhaps I can perceive both as female (in a way). I still prefer them to be genderless sources of power. I especially dislike the gendered orientation when referring to the powers as Chaotic and Ordering (since I don’t think masculine or feminine traits can or should be placed on that spectrum).

My personal work with the Two Powers started off very unbalanced. I had plenty of previous experience connecting to the Earth power, but had not ever tried to connect to or use the Sky power. I’ve corrected that through practice, though I still find it easier to connect to Earth. If I ever find myself having trouble with the Sky power, I can usually just step outside though – I live in a place that gets lots of very powerful sunlight! I tend to practice meditation either seated or lying down on my back, and I find it much easier to practice the Two Powers meditation when I am seated or standing upright, as it facilitates the feeling of being an axis between the powers. Adding hand motions to the Two Powers when standing before my altar was also helpful, as I used my hands to literally scoop the Earth power up into myself and then pull the Sky power down through my body. The addition of movement, especially in relation to using the mental image of a World Tree to complete this meditation, was really useful. I have also found that I do better with the Two Powers if I take time to center myself on my breath for a few moments before I begin the visualization.

My next step in using these Two Powers will be to use them as a source of direct energy for working magic in ritual. I am comfortable using them to ground and center, but I have not yet truly worked with drawing on those balanced energies as a source of magical power specifically. As I work more with these powers, I expect that my experience of opening the gates will become stronger, since I will have a better idea how to channel these Two Powers into that act of magical work.

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From Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary:

: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty

From Our Own Druidry (82)

The ability to act appropriately in the face of danger.

Courage, as a religious virtue, I see as being tied up in the idiom to have the “courage of one’s convictions” – to stick to your beliefs in the face of criticism. This is a big deal for modern Neopagans, who often face disapproval for their beliefs, and can (in some places) face active discrimination for them. But courage isn’t just sticking up for your beliefs in an outward way, when antagonized or questioned by others. It’s also having the strength to live up to what you say you’ll do. It takes courage to keep promises to yourself and your Gods. Danger can be seen in a number of ways, from outward dangers presented by others to the inward dangers of self-sabotage. It means standing up to your fear of success as much as your fear of failure. I absolutely hate the platitude “feel the fear and do it anyway”, but I think it’s an appropriate definition of courage.

As someone who lives with chronic anxiety and PTSD, I am well acquainted with fear – both rational and irrational. Courage, to me, is knowing that fear is a feeling. Danger may be real, but fear is a feeling, or a thought – and feelings and thoughts can be challenged and changed. The courageous act is the best one you can make in the circumstances, and it is courageous afterward to forgive yourself for what you couldn’t do in the moment.

This is a virtue well worth cultivating, even if we are not frequently faced with mortal danger in our daily lives. Perhaps courage can be summoned as we deal with the stresses of modern life, standing up for ourselves and what we need and believe in, even if we’re not likely to get eaten by a bear.

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Sitting (or lying down) meditation every day this week again, or almost (I may have missed a weeknight). I do these meditations at varying times of day, though most commonly in the evenings. I light cedar and sandalwood incense, do the two powers meditation standing at my altar, and then lay on the floor for 15-30 minutes and try to focus on breathing. I’m definitely feeling a good response (mentally) to the mindfulness parts of my practice.

I haven’t had any close encounters with Freyr (or Anyone else) since I started having some mental health troubles about three weeks ago. I am pretty sure these are related – though I am frequently talking to him, I don’t have the same mental space that I would usually expect to have for him to really speak up. (Also it’s possible that he just said hi, and is content to let me continue with my daily devotionals for now) Still, I’m working to get back to a more balanced mental state so that I can resume more focused meditations.

I am intending to do some focused meditations and ask to be introduced to the other Vanir at some point, but that needs to happen after I get some of my real life issues straightened out. While I can take some amount of comfort from my spiritual practice, I’m not in a place where I can really do challenging things right now.

As an aside – this post marks 5 months since I began journaling my meditation and mental discipline experiences. (My first journal entry was November 5, 2012, and today is April 8, 2013) I haven’t decided fully, but I think I may continue the practice of weekly mental discipline journaling. It both gives me some structured time to reflect on the practice and reminds me to continually think about what I can be doing to deepen my connections. Since this is both about my meditation practice and my practice of spiritual connection with the Kindreds, I think it’s valuable. I’ll be using these five months to write my mental discipline essay, but I think the journaling practice is a good one for me to continue, especially since I’m currently intending to pursue the Initiates Path after completing the DP, and that will require extensive journaling for the Trance and Divination requirements (at least).

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I did sitting meditation every day this week, as part of a re-set of my mindfulness practice and in an attempt to help with some mental health issues. I did 15-30 minute meditations, usually starting with 10 minutes seated and then moving to lying on my back on the floor. I’ve found I definitely have better luck meditating lying down than I do sitting up, at least when it comes to getting to that state of calm half-awareness.  I think partially this would be alleviated by sitting on a cushion instead of on the floor itself, so we’ll see if that helps this coming week.

I usually end my meditations with the Two Powers, which I’ve found feels very different lying down than it does standing up in ritual. Not sure that one is “better”, but I feel more grounded when I’m lying down for sure.

I continue to light incense to Freyr several times a week, and have started including a short prayer to him in my morning devotionals (beyond just saying “good morning”, as He asked).

I have also continued to see the Crane in my mental grove at night before I go to bed. In that light, I’ve downloaded some of the materials for the Order of the Crane and will be reading through them to see if this path is for me. I’d also like to do some focused meditations with Garanus in mind – he is not a Nature Spirit that I’ve worked with much in the past, though I have worked with and talked to local great blue herons and green herons in my area. The one major conversation I had was about the state of the waterway behind where I live, so it was not a devotional relationship like the Order is.

One noteworthy meditation this week had a little visitor. I was lying on the floor, in a sort of half-trance state, moving between my  breath and my mental grove, when something MOVED on my ARM. I looked down, and there was a tiny green anole lizard on my arm, apparently having let himself in through the open window. (I’m not sure how, there’s a screen) It definitely ended the meditation, as I then chased him around the room for 10 minutes before catching him and putting him outside.

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Three sitting meditations this week, plus tea with the kindreds. Nothing particularly noteworthy about any of it. I’m becoming more sure of the spirit that has been visiting during my meditations, though I didn’t feel like I made particularly strong contact this week.

I think mostly this exercise has become very perfunctory – I’m doing the exercises to complete a requirement, but I’m not getting a ton out of it right now, because I haven’t had a ton to actually put into it. This is a common thread in most of my practice of Druidry over the last few weeks, related directly to other things in my life. I’ve got some thoughts about that to post later.

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Not a lot to report this week. I did two sitting meditations that went reasonably well. I spent more time this week thinking about meditation than I did actually meditating. While this is somewhat fruitful and brings some measure of insight, I think I need to channel that impulse into actually doing more meditations.

I did not do Tea with the Kindreds this week, simply because I forgot on Sunday to sit down and do it. I remembered as I was getting into bed last night, and by then it was late, and I start work very early. I’ll be sure to do it this week, maybe more than once. I’m hoping to have a little extra time tonight after work, so I will probably do a mini-Tea then. Since I usually do my weekly rune drawing while I’m doing tea with the kindreds, I didn’t do that part either. Yesterday was just nuts! I’ll do that drawing tonight instead.

Last week’s rune was Kenaz, which I read as “pain” – which turned out to be actually pretty applicable to my week. I had an appointment with one of my doctors. It was a rather surreal sort of visit, as I was told that I should continue to do something (in this case strength training exercises) even though they caused me increased joint pain, since it would be protective in the long run. While I understand the point, it’s still pretty hard to get up the enthusiasm to exercise when I know I’ll just be taking pain medication to help deal with the aftermath (not muscle soreness, actual joint pain).

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