Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A Journey of Protection and Knowledge

You may wish to grab some paper and a pen, etc., to write down notes at the end of this journey.

Breathe with me. Breathe in and feel your lungs expanding with fresh, clean air. Exhale and feel yourself letting go of the worries and concern you’ve been holding. Feel your shoulders relax, feel your body sink deeper into your chair, feel yourself at peace as you continue to breathe.

In your mind’s eye, you see a path before you. It is a path you’ve walked before, and you know it leads to your inner nemeton, the place within the otherworld where you meet with your spirit allies. As you begin to follow this path, you notice the signs of wildlife and new growth. This place smells of wildflowers and damp, cool earth. You breathe in these smells, filling your heart as you fill your lungs, with memory.

When you reach the nemeton, you notice a fire in the center of the clearing, right where you’ve kindled it many times before, and you know others have been here, tending and caring for this place as is your bargain. You walk to the altar where fresh flowers have been strewn about the shrine of the Earth Mother, grain spilled onto the ground in her honor. You add your offerings to this shrine with reverence and respect. You feel her gratitude in the bottom of your feet—a deep heart-beat pulsation in the earth.

You take up the solid incense and oil and move to the fire. You take your seat before the hearth and make offerings, calling to those who would guide you in this work. You speak their names into the aether within and feel their echoing reply.

Now, rest deeply into your seat before the fire and allow your mind’s eye vision to blur. Close your eyes, if you would like, and follow the path of your breath to your center. Create a sphere of protection within yourself, and enfold your heart within it, protecting you from emotional pain and suffering. Breathe in and as you exhale, enlarge the sphere to include your mind, protecting you from painful thoughts and psychic harm. Breathe in and as you exhale, enlarge the sphere to encompass your entire body, shielding you from that which means you ill. And as you breathe in once more, enlarge the sphere to encase the clearing where your nemeton lies, protecting all those you allow within from outside harm.

Seated, safe and protected, within your sphere, you open your mind’s eye to see the shimmering boundary of your orb, swirling and pearlescent in the firelight. You see a shape approaching the orb which resolves into a familiar one—your guide and guardian, come to stand sentinel in your space, admitting those who pass scrutiny for good intentions.

Now, open your awareness to take in your surroundings. You feel animal and plant spirits going about their business in the clearing and beyond. You see others, beings you know, appearing, drawn by your Good Fire. They come before your guardian ally.  They nod to one another and the first being enters. You gesture for them to sit opposite you across the hearth and wait. When they are settled, you ask why they have come and listen to their words intently, making note of them in your waking mind to recall later. *pause*

They thank you and rise to depart with the council you have given them. You look toward your guardian ally to see if anyone else comes, repeating the hospitality and sharing as others arrive, noting their requests and concerns. *pause*

You sit mindfully with the fire when all the guests have gone, reflecting on what you have learned. *pause*

After careful cataloging of the experiences and requests made of you, you rise, and thank your guardian for their work. You begin to retract your sphere, slowly shrinking the orb until it encompasses you alone and becomes one with your flesh, a protective layer that shimmers, brightens, and fades into you.

You wave your hand over the fire, which dims, smolders, and finally goes out, trails of smoke leaving the spent logs like incense in a censer. You begin walking away from your nemeton with a final nod in thanks to the Earth, Mother of all, who witnesses and holds your every journey.

Once you have reached the place where you began, you turn your mind’s eye back to your physical body. Become aware of your heartbeat. Feel your breath in your lungs. Feel your body in your chair and begin to stretch and awake yourself once more. When you have fully arrived, take a moment to recall your exchanges, preparing to share what you can with us.

Write a few notes, if you wish, to remind you of what you have learned today.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Leadership Tip 8: Everyone Leads

Leadership Expectation: Promote Team Mentality

The dominant leadership paradigm in the United States is one in which few lead and everyone else is expected to follow. As we all know, this approach works in crisis moments, but for general operation, expecting everyone to be a follower will not result in a strong team. Part of building or re-building a team lies in our ability to promote the strengths of every team member in a way that shows each person how important they are to the team. When done successfully, everyone is a leader, and the team will flourish even when management is not physically present.

Here are the five core values of building a team where Everyone Leads:

Focus on Assets. Instead of focusing on what you think your team needs to get in order to be successful, focus on what assets they already have. Everyone is both “half-empty” and “half-full.” We all have strengths and areas for improvement. Recognize and leverage the untapped array of assets as the building blocks that make the foundation of your team.

Diversity and Inclusion. In addition to our differing strengths and areas for growth, we also have differing perspectives. Part of making the team strong is including these differences in the way we view the world. Welcome and encourage constructive disagreement and ensure those who have the courage to Speak Up are included and not socially ostracized for their discourse. It is too easy to hold those who are different to standards that differ from those with whom we agree. Honor AND include diverse people and points of view.

Collaboration. As our working styles assessment shows, we also differ in how we engage our work. Knowing ourselves (including our own strengths, weaknesses, and biases) teaches us how best to work with one another. Give introverts time to reflect and extroverts time to discuss. Hold neutral space for those who need time to process, especially when big decisions or changes are on the table.

Continuous Learning. Remember that “half-empty” part? We all have room to grow. Continually seeking new lessons in our everyday world ensures we are always learning. Being open to learning requires us to be truthful about our shortcomings. As leaders, developing these areas in others not only adds to their individual skillsets but strengthens the trust and solidarity of the team.

Integrity and Accountability. Integrity is being true to ourselves. Accountability is being true to one another. Leadership requires a strong inner core where our sense of purpose and values lie. If everyone leads, then the inner cores of all team members must be aligned in terms of the purpose and values of the team. Only then can we achieve the integration we need to truly be a high-functioning team where everyone leads.

Tip #8: Everyone has the potential to add value to our teams. 

Schmitz, P. (2012). Everyone leads: Building leadership from the community up. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Divinity Beyond Monotheism

Polytheism has long been defined as a multiplicity of divinity, though modern beliefs range from the singular to the non-existent and everything in between. The early cosmotheologians of the Indo-Europeans were hard polytheists, believing in a set of distinct, individual deities as evidenced in the Hellenic Greek, Germanic, and Vedic religions. After Aristotle’s ponderings of an “Unmoveable Mover” in his Metaphysics, the idea of a creator God with a hierarchy of lesser beings underneath took root, making it easier to accept the notion of a monotheism, and several previously polytheistic peoples were converted to faiths such as Christianity. We see similar changes in the east involving the early Indians and Islam. Today among pagans, we still see a varied approach to the nature of divinity from the “All is One” seen in Universal Spiritualists societies to dualism (two opposite gendered deities) and aspecting (a mostly singular entity that can appear in any form) in Wiccan practices to the hard polytheism held by Druids and some eclectic pagans. Humanist pagans even argue for a non-existent or at least divinity-within/universalist perspective.

Pre-axial Hellenic, Germanic, and Vedic practices are all considered part of the Indo-European family of religions due to their similarities, one of which is the belief that there are multiple and separate beings known as deities, gods, or “Shining Ones.” Though the evidence for such a concept is not recorded verbatim in the recorded lore, this can be deduced from anthropological examination of their religious behaviors. For example, each deity had separate rituals, received their own offerings, and often had their own shrines and/or temples (Armstrong, 2006, p. 4). Their understanding of the cosmos was a reflection of their own world, meaning individual deities as plentiful as individual people in the middle realm.

Personally, while open to continued learning and growing in this area, I am a hard polytheist. I have “met” many beings, and after the work of the Court of Brighid with Rev. Ian Corrigan, I do not foresee any other way of viewing the world for me. Divinity is the collective of all the beings, as divinity lives within us, AND we are all individual beings.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Leadership Tip 7: Facing Fear

Leadership Expectation: Lead with Courage

The idea of “Transpersonal Leadership” was introduced in 2011 by John Knights, championing emotional intelligence as a counter to the traditional ego-based leadership styles. He poses the question, “What do I need to do differently myself to become a better leader?” During his research, he noted many people are promoted into positions of power (i.e. management positions) based on qualities that have nothing to do with their ability to lead. The “Invisible Elephant” in the room has always been that the way a leader treats others influences their performance more than any of the tasks they complete, greatly influencing the culture and overall success of the organization.

A key to moving away from managing people to leading people lies in incorporating emotional awareness into every aspect of our roles. One of the most influential emotions is fear. According to Knights (2018), “fear is the most important and destructive emotion for a leader to understand” (p. 60). Our lizard brain tells us we are at risk of life-threatening harm, but in the absence of predators, how does fear play into our reactions to the world around us? Of what are we afraid?

Fear, in short, is an ego-based response to our desire to stay the same. Fear arises for us when we are presented with a potential change. Change has become the new predator. We fear what we may have to let go, we fear what others will think of us, we fear judgement and criticism, and we even fear how we will feel about ourselves. As that last one is the easiest to hide to keep status quo everywhere else, we often choose courses of action aimed to mitigate the risk of change in our place among our coworkers at the expense of our relationship to Self.

Fear is an inhibitor, a barrier that holds us back from being our best selves, and the only way we can counter that fear is to find our courage. Courage is a virtue, one that Aristotle called the virtue that makes all other virtues possible. A lack of courage prevents us from acting with integrity, keeps us from obtaining wisdom, and inhibits our ability to maintain justice.  Leadership often means making decisions that others don’t like—mostly because of their own fear of change. Fear is an opportunity. Without fear, we do not have the opportunity to experience and cultivate our courage. As leaders, allowing others to see us face our fears and do it anyway will inspire them to find within themselves the ability to be courageous.

We must cultivate the courage of initiative and action, making the first attempts, pursuing new ideas, and stepping up. We must cultivate the courage of confidence in others, letting go of the need to control situations and outcomes and allowing others the space to achieve. And we must cultivate the courage of voice, raising difficult issues, providing tough feedback, and calling out the invisible elephants in the room. (Treasurer, n.d.)

Tip #7: Cultivate courage in yourself to cultivate courage in others in the face of fear.

Knights, J., Grant, D., & Young, G., Eds. (2018). Leading beyond the ego: How to become a transpersonal leader. New York: NY: Routledge.

Treasurer, B. (n.d.) Courage is the key to great leadership. Entrepreneurs’ Organization. https://www.eonetwork.org/octane-magazine/special-features/courageisthekeytogreatleadership

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Deity and Natural Disasters

“Magic” is simply the way humanity has always explained scientific phenomena we don’t yet understand, and what can be more magical than divine intervention (or retribution, depending upon whether we view the results as positive or negative)? This is an age-old question upon which the bulk of the pre-axial religions were formed. Early cosmotheological religions such as those practiced by the Proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE) were sacrifice-based systems operating in cyclical time. At the appointed times throughout the year, various sacrificial reenactments were performed in order to literally hold up the cosmos. Evidence of this still exists in the early Vedic works in the Rig Veda.

The scientific revolution has illustrated how much of what we previously held as evidence of divine intervention is fueled by naturally occurring and explainable phenomena. The more we have found the mechanisms to be reproduceable in our laboratories, the less we have allowed ourselves as a society to assume a divinity is involved. Once, a solar eclipse would send everyone scrambling to hide and find ways to appease whichever divinity was offended. Now, we all go outside and take photographs with special lenses on our lunch breaks at work.

In our modern sensibilities regarding religious beliefs, we have less evidence of divinity in the mundane in a tangible way. Prayers and offerings made on someone’s behalf can help soothe the wounded spirit, but they will not bring about direct change.  Instead, offering our prayers to those who are in need helps create a sense of hope and community in a time of helplessness and isolation. As a community, offering our prayers to others is a form of emotional support that creates the conditions for the disenfranchised to be empowered to take action. ADF’s role in larger-scale events such as fires, earthquakes, and floods, begins with statements of support and community. Formal intervention, in my opinion, must take the shape of humans finding the resources for those in need. Other churches pass the plate to take donations for their congregants in difficult situations and still call the collective pool of assistance divine aid. The spirit has moved the generosity of the congregation to come to the aid of one of their own. ADF must do the same, if we are to bask in the glow of community. Afterall, it is during trials and stressful times that our character as an organization will be shown to the outside world.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Goal of ADF Druidry

Among the world’s religions, the practice of Neopagan Druidry, particularly those of Ár nDraíocht Féin, A Druid Fellowship, Inc., is not widely known. Though the bulk of the world’s religions stemmed from practices similar to the practices in this new path, mainstream religious monotheistic faiths such as Christianity and Islam overshadow them all. Societal beliefs transitioned from the universal pre-axial tribal views in the differing tribal societies to become the religious practices in existence today. These practices are relevant to the modern polytheist in several ways, including relationship-building, examination of the self, and virtue ethics as a way of life.

The Mountain Ancestors motto, for me, speaks to what I believe is the ultimate goal of ADF: A liturgy of offerings, a practice of relationships. We are tied as one organization by our Core Order of ritual (shared orthopraxy) built on the foundation of reciprocity in feeling (orthopathy) and the exchange of gifts (sacrifice) with the divine. In other words, the ultimate goal of ADF is to make offerings in the right way with the right intent to the right beings.  This very basic function of our religious path stems from the pre-axial cosmotheology of the earliest Indo-European peoples, as mentioned above, tying us to a truly unbroken current. This current may have existed beneath all things without our knowledge for sometimes generations at a time, but we have tapped into the same energies our Ancestors did to fuel their spiritual endeavors. While our Ancestors shared some beliefs (the Gods were real, the cosmos required specific types of actions to maintain itself, and any misstep in performing these actions could potentially bring devastation to the entire tribe, to name a few), they had a well-defined system of what needed to be done for whom and when. Today, we have a common calendar of events and shared way for upholding these holy days that is consistent with that of our forebears.

Taking a deeper dive into how this manifests in the greater community reveals several places where ADF has room to grow into this vision of our ultimate goal. The most current debate lies in the different ways we treat with the Outdwellers. Some groves and individuals still view the Outdwellers as any spirits who purposes are “cross” to ours who also possess the desire to disrupt the work of our Druidry. Others are taking a different approach and using this space to bring healing to the native peoples of their lands, those who honored the spirits of place and the Earth Mother before our Ancestors settled here.

As an othropraxic faith, the idea of “right” is not one easily defined without creating an accidental belief system. The way forward for ADF as I see it relies on a coming to together of opposing “rights” to build understanding and practice the right relationships we seek with the divine with one another.



Thursday, March 19, 2020

Pandemic

During times of crisis, when life is hard and leaves us sad or afraid, we often find ourselves turning to our authors, our singers, our artists, and our musicians. We turn to those who produce works of inspiration to lift our spirits and bring us the gift of perspective that is the very seed of hope. During this time, when the whole world seems to be shutting down, we need these people more than ever to remind us of our humanity.

As an author and a singer, a writer and a composer, I feel a great sense of expectation. As a priest, it feels more like an imperative: I should be writing *something* to help others find their center and be at peace as best they can in this uncertain and unsettling time. I've been noting my own silence on social media and email and whatnot. I'm not writing! Where are my words of encouragement for my loved ones? Where is my drive to create during this time when creation is the balance to all this seeming destruction? Why am I not writing???

But I am.

I am a healthcare worker, specifically laboratory medicine. I am in the place where your nasal swab goes when they want to test you for COVID-19. I am on the front line of ensuring we keep the tools available and follow all the rules to get you diagnosed, cared for, and restored to health. This is my work right now. This is my mission. This is where my words are.

I am writing. I write responses to doctors and nurses, providing information they need to answer questions from their patients. I participate in group chats almost continually to coordinate with other departments and make sure they have the supplies and receive test results in a way they understand. I reply to other healthcare workers with facts and kindness to ensure those doing this work are in the best headspace possible to make decisions that may save your life.

I also make phone calls and have tea with those precious few who have a moment and are allowed the face-to-face contact, holding space for their fears, their stories from their experiences, and their big emotions surrounding the future.

I may not be posting prayers or hosting online services, and that's okay. There are others carrying that torch. I am holding a different torch in my hand, and I am where my skillset is needed most. I am in the laboratory.