This is an adapted transcript of a talk given at The Druid Network Conference in November 2012.
“Had I paid closer attention to those chickens I would have known I had to let go of my head and follow my feet if I wanted to dance…” Gabrielle Roth
My name is Theo Wildcroft and I’m a reluctant druid. I’ve known I was an animist since someone told me what it meant. And if I hadn’t spoilt my census form, I would have put ‘pagan dash’ as my religion, of course. But the label of ‘druid’ has always felt like a lot to live up to.
I do know that I’m a yoga teacher, because that’s what I put on my tax return. So as I’m often a bit nervous talking to large groups, I start with something I know, and you can join in at home. If you are able to, please stand up. Humour me. It’ll be worth it, and if not it’ll all be over in a minute, I promise. Lift one leg off the floor, and place that foot against the other leg. This is known as tree pose. You can place the foot really low down on your other leg and be a sapling, or high up if you’re feeling steady as an oak. Now, can you close your eyes, even, maybe? Just for a moment? You can sit down again now – carefully. And now I know you’re awake, let’s get back to the druidry.
The truth is I have always considered my spiritual beliefs about how the universe is made to be a work in progress, honed in discussion and contemplation, rather than sanctioned by a faith. And I struggle with things like labels, with belonging, with tradition and longevity. I appreciate archaeology and ancient texts, but it isn’t the ground out of which I construct my life.
I am, nonetheless, deeply in love with nature in all its forms. I am irreverent in temperament and anarchic in my politics. I know, it shows. Anyway, over the last few years, the druid community has become the place I most feel at home spiritually. Well, parts of it, at least.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time…” T.S. Eliot
So if my beliefs are changeable and my allegiance to labels is fickle, what is left is practice. What is left is what I do. And I agree with Graham Harvey (https://www.grahamharvey.org/) that the evolving practice of our religion is its centre and anchor. The offerings, rituals and prayers; whether we practice our faith in silent contemplation or noisy celebration; when we choose to do this alone, or in a group, or in public – this is what defines what kind of druids we are.
Experience, in the end, is what brings us together and divides us. Nowhere is this more evident than at Stonehenge, where thousands of people can agree on a date and a time and a cause for celebration, but then argue endlessly about whether it is more sacred to drum and dance, to drink and toast, or to sit silently.
Over the years, I’ve watched druid communities interact, at public and private ritual. I’ve been to quiet meet ups with the Order of the Yew (https://druidnetwork.org/yew), done my duty to represent The Druid Network at the Stonehenge Round Table and returned each year to the Rainbow Futures Druid Camp. I’ve debated and laughed and fallen out spectacularly in the Druid Network’s online forums, and recently fallen into some slightly bewildering druid Facebook groups. Now here I am, blogging for the first time. Be gentle with me!
Along the way, I’ve had interactions that felt open, respectful and generous and others riven with prejudice, suspicion, even contempt on both sides, sometimes with exactly the same people. I’ve long contemplated what determines the qualities of these experiences. And I’ve come to the conclusion that it is only when we are physically present with each other that we can build the bonds of trust that forge relationships of real community. Online, we are all to some extent talking to the shadows inside our heads, to previous hurts and battles of wits. And if we haven’t spent real time together, it’s easy to forget that there are real people out there, especially when we cannot see the blushes start or tears fall.
More, it is in shared experience that our bonds are deepened into the tribal strength that establishes us as a collective force in the world. In moving together, smiling together, or just sitting together, we are able to experience each other; to meet heart to heart, with no place to hide inside our worst fears of each other. I know that the more time I spend with you in sweat lodges and circles and the less time on Facebook, the closer to our shared humanity I feel.
How often do we allow our druidry to be diminished, like here, to the width of a broadband cable? I know we are scattered across the geography of the British Isles and far beyond, and wherever we live, we are still scared of being the only pagans in the village. But sometimes it feels as if, having declared the divinity of Nature we worship her from a distance, using the icons pictured inside our houses, and inside our skulls when all the time she is immanent and all encompassing, just waiting outside the door. I’ll wait here while you go let her in, shall I?
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground…” Rumi
You, I and the great mother of the world – as druids we come together a few times a year, if I can make it, in fields and stone circles and woodlands far from our homes. It never feels enough to me. I don’t have any easy answers to this, by the way – Just a lingering sense of historical injustice about land reform, the Enclosures Act and the sense of a birthright sold for a promise daily broken. (And there’s a gold star, by the way, for anyone who gets that reference in the comments!)
I honestly feel that seeking these experiences can be revolutionary on a personal front at least, and perhaps even a social and political one. We live in a constructed, human world that is designed to distract and numb us from reality. Whether you believe that this is a deliberate repression or pathological dysfunction will determine your own personal politics. I only know that the more time I spend on practices where I, my body and the world meet the more sensitive I am to this artificial existence. Until blockbuster films and Ben and Jerry’s icecream and blogs about crocheted Cthulus stop being a guilty pleasure and become an intolerable itch; a sensory overload in my head.
I sat on our back step each breakfast at home last August, and read Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s ‘The Dance’ (https://www.oriahmountaindreamer.com/). She writes of her revelation that rather than striving to be the people we hope we can be, to be more honourable, compassionate, loving, grounded, and centred. To be the fully realised beings we long to be with every fibre of our being, and live fearlessly from our truest natures: we need only to move closer to those places, people and activities that allow us to already be all we are inside. We just need to spend more time wherever we feel the deep conviction that we are already enough.
She is not alone. In the poem ‘Wild Geese’, Mary Oliver tells us:
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”
She ends the text:
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
So then this is how we find a practice of the spirit that feels authentic. We hold to what calls to us, to what works for each of us. A few years ago I had the privilege of taking the Living Druidry course with Emma Restall Orr. It was all about experience, about touching the very heart and spirit of living; about the bones in the soil under our feet and the breath of the gods in the wind. And I realised during that course that what served that connection best for me, what got me into that place inside, where I could feel the world breathing with me; what really worked, time and again, was my yoga practice. That was a bit of a surprise.
In response, for the last few years, I’ve been on a pilgrimage inside the body, and to do that I’ve needed to put aside even further any considerations of label and tradition. I’ve played, crafted, danced, sweated, massaged, run, walked and sung whenever I could, and with many of you out there, on the other side of the screen.
Along the way, I’ve learnt that the yoga I practice in Britain is worlds away from how it was first practiced in India. In classical yoga, you exercise the body in order to still its demands on your mind; so that you can focus on the more sacred task of silent, still communion with the divine within. Whilst in Western yoga, there has been a bubbling up of a practice of sacred movement – a practice that celebrates and cherishes the physical body in a physical world. And by the way, there is hardly any reference to physical practice in ancient yogic texts. My practice and my teachers are all British, and that’s partly why I want to share this with you.
There is one other Hindu reference point that I also want to share – an image of the divine dancer that has found enormous popularity in the Western yogic world. I have a statue just like the one above, a Nataraj as he is known, on my own altar at home. You’ll have seen this icon pop up all over the place. The Indian government gifted a huge one to CERN (https://www.fritjofcapra.net/shiva.html), and it’s even on the opening credits for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You can check your box sets, I’ll wait.
I was taught that the Nataraj dances the universe into being, holds it together, still dancing, and then dissolves it again in the dance. I learnt that his dance flickers between concealing and revealing the inner divinity of all life. I know deep in my blood that this is because the pattern of that dance is in every atom, every fragment of life, and in each and every moment. I’ve been told that the fire of his inspiration is so bright that the Nataraj cannot be looked at directly. But I know I’ve seen him, and for me he doesn’t look much like a holy man.
I’ve seen that dance in crumbling warehouses and free festivals and under flickering strobes and cool UV lights. And in my dreams and journeys, the Dancer’s not Indian, he’s yet another white boy with dreadlocks, raving his heart out, wide open to the universe and all its ecstasies.
As pagans and druids, we worry and debate about the authenticity of our practices, our stories and songs, and our gods. We define ourselves by drawing boundaries around Northern Europe, or Celtic versus Saxon influence, or marker points in time. Forgive my bluntness, but I think we’re missing the point. We become overly influenced by concepts such as intellectual purity and social corruption, trying to fix our uniqueness, our difference, and our place in a world of indigenous faiths whilst another part of us reaches out instinctively to reclaim what we really need.
I think this pattern repeats itself all over, as physical practices bubble up out of the ground, taking on the names of other traditions as a way back into our lives. Mark Graham talks convincingly of how sweat lodges are just not the same in Britain as they are in the US – and I know he believes that this is a reclaiming, a bubbling up of an older British tradition.
When the much mourned Gabrielle Roth (https://www.gabrielleroth.com/) wrote passionately about her practice of ecstatic dance, she urged all of us to ‘sweat your prayers’. All across the world, the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic diaspora is expressing its love of life through theoretically foreign or brand new physical practices – practices of the body. I know that some of you use dances, songs and drum chants from other cultures; whilst others practice Nordic or East Asian martial arts. And I know why, because I’ve tried most of them too.
Some things that the body has to show and teach us may be universal, but I think that others are more specific to our environment or ancestry. In our own lifetimes, we are endlessly evolving and adapting. Due to the evolutionary accident that combines a narrow female pelvis and an oversized brain, we are each born months, if not years, immature. The human frame, brain and body is formed in response to experience. From the ages of both 0-3 and 10-13, your central nervous system blossoms, creating millions more synapses than you need, and then ruthlessly culling the ones you don’t use. But this process doesn’t end in mid adolescence. Instead, it continues at a slower rate throughout your life. What you repeatedly do, think and feel – what you practice – is who you become. You remake yourself every day.
And after all what we have inherited most clearly from our ancestors is our hearts, our hands and our voices. The legs we stand on were shaped by generation after generation walking this land. My hands just had to remember how to spin and knit and sew; how to wield a hammer or a saw; or how to pick up a child, because they were shaped by these acts a thousand times over, and that shape was written in my genetic code.
For many pagans, thousands of years of a natural, temperate, northern environment has done the most to shape your body – your nervous system, your digestion, your skin, and every other aspect of your physical existence, is still responding as if it lived in a shelter in the woods, feeling safe among the fires of your tribe. All this has changed in a historical heartbeat – in just a few generations. Are you aware that even the presence of artificial light in your evening environment can disrupt your sleep patterns so badly, it correlates to a statistically significant increase in rates of cancer?
Look at your hands right now, really look. Go ahead. Can you see just the tiniest fraction of all that they are asking to do; all that they are capable of – and all that has been handed down to you?
“Three drops of inspiration touch the tongue…
if the soul does not sing its song, the third is slow poison…” Emma Restall Orr
I want you to do something more for me. I want you to take off your shoes, if you’re wearing them. And your socks too, and place your feet in contact with the floor.
Some of you will be resisting the invitation. Just try, and stay with why it’s uncomfortable for you. Some of us will be worrying about whether the floor is safe, or warm enough, and whether the world is going to hurt us. Some of us will be worrying about whether our feet are ugly or smelly, or in other ways shameful and beastly; and unfit to be shared with others.
I spend a lot of time in alternative communities. Last summer I helped build the most beautiful hexagonal compost loo out of green larch wood at Monkton Wyld near Bridport (https://www.monktonwyldcourt.co.uk/). I’m finding that a good indicator of a person’s character is their attitude to waste – especially human waste.
And isn’t that interesting? How often do we cling on to a barrier between our physical self and the world; with all the other human and other than human people in it? There is a shame there that I share:
in my head, I criticise myself endlessly for my few extra pounds, my grey hairs and wrinkles, my scars and marks: for all the times my mind feels that my body has not been the perfect machine I somehow expect it to be. Part of me can’t stop doing it, even as I feel guilty about being so ungrateful. And yet…
I was taught, and I believe that the best offerings I can make to my gods, and to my world, are of my physical self. That this is a true sacrifice – not a grand offering crafted by another and bought with my money; no matter how finely wrought. This is an offering made out of my own hair and sweat and spit in the wind. First, foremost, this is who I am; this is Awen in its rawest form, incomplete, flawed, and therefore perfectly real.
In so many traditions, including our own is a linguistic link between breath and spirit. Each breath, tirelessly received and offered back is a tangible experience of exchange with the world. In each breath, we exchange gases, and warmth, and scent and moisture, and a thousand other subconscious intimacies. Your life depends upon each inhalation. Many other lives depend in return on the gift that you exhale.
How were we ever seduced as a culture into believing that humanity stands apart from a world Created for our dominion? In each breath we whisper the truth: that in this jewel of a world, there may be pain and violence and cruelty, but nothing is lost or wasted or irredeemably corrupted unless our thinking makes it so. And because this intimate relationship with the world our mother can never be truly broken, renewed as it is with each breath, and meal, and piss, with each life and death, this bond calls to us still to be healed.
“Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong…” David Whyte
I have learnt, over the years, that I come to my physical practice not when I have it all worked out – not when I know what ritual, what offering to make. I rarely know that.
I come to practice not when I am whole and complete, but to find wholeness and completeness – to become the being I already know myself to be: a child of the world; and for generation upon generation,
a child of this land and of my tribe, such as it remains.
When I move and practice in this way, it is rarely in a nice, neat yoga studio. It is, instead, in forests, on hillsides, under rain and storms or sunrises. In my heart I see myself crawling back, running back, laying all of my confusion, all of my doubts and my deepest confessions, at the feet of gods I cannot even name. Gods I know intimately, and who know everything I am and can be. Spirits of the air and land and sea that I move through and which move in me. Spirits that I meet in my skin and in my bone. I start out with poses and movements that I know that have worked before, and I move from there into the unknown, to the wordless, and into wholeness.
It’s less graceful than it sounds when I’m falling out of a hand balance, or scraping my feet on rocks, or just cursing the tightness of my hamstrings. But that’s important too. It’s too easy for me to float about waving my hands in the air, thinking pretty thoughts. I need a practice that grounds me in the reality of my body and my world. I need a practice that I have to work at; that I’m a bit crap at; one that leaves me with bruises and wanting more.
Because this is the only kind of practice that has begun to heal the loss of connection between my deepest self and the world I chose to be born into. It is in physical practice that I leave behind the invented, conceptual prison of material separation. I shy away from the cold, grandness of a Created world and my smallness at its indifference. Instead, I don’t just remember, I feel. From my marrow to my breath I experience the world evolving from the actions, the practices, the living and dying, of everything in it.
The animate divine is present with me then: immanent and intimate. It is built from waves moving on water, hares running from combines, with handshakes and tar sand extractions, in crows mobbing red kites, and gulls squabbling over landfill. All of it meeting with my breath in the wind, and the stretch in my muscles.
It’s a small offering I make, but healing that connection is a sacred and lifelong task for me. This is what works. And so for my current dedication for the Order of the Yew, I wrote these words:
“In this eternal moment of renewal between breathing out and breathing in,
Surrounded and overcome by the embrace of the World Tree, the ever living Yew,
I renew my dedication.
I pledge my self to the quest:
For the dark womb of potential beyond the reach of light,
For the furthest known truth beyond the reach of proof,
For the riches of expression beyond the reach of self consciousness;
To simplicity beyond the simplistic,
To creation beyond creativity,
To language beyond words,
To a single step taken in absolute awareness
Of the pulsing star in the heart of all things,
Dancing. Laughing. Dying and being born.”
And after nearly a decade of practice, I still have so much to learn about how to take that single step of absolute awareness. So I keep coming back to the mat, and the forest, and the storms and sunrises.
A very intuitive friend of mine, Suzanne Askham (https://www.suzanneaskham.com/), had a vision last year of the Roman invasion of Britain. She said she saw the British, the English as they would become, in the face of the sheer might of that invasion, giving up our souls for safekeeping. It was as if we sent them away, so that our bodies may do what needed to be done; and suffer what needed to be suffered. It was how we survived. Maybe, she says, we got really good at it, until we learned to live without that connection, and until we couldn’t even name that which was lost.
And her vision touches me most deeply, because I have lived that story in my own life. Whilst heavily pregnant with me my mother was in a car accident. She was driving, but she blames my father. Their friend’s legs were broken but no one was killed and my mother was lucky, coming out mostly unhurt.
But I wonder if that shock delivered in the heart of the womb left me viscerally ambivalent about being born into a dangerous world. I’ve lived most of my life as if I was visiting here never quite landing with both feet, if that makes sense?
And I was 10 when I first gave in to that call to separate from the physicality of existence. I left my body to its pain and violation; floating around the ceiling somewhere. All because I couldn’t fight my way out of a situation in which my sanity, and possibly my life, was at risk. Like my friend’s vision of the invasions, it’s how I survived, at least until I could leave home. But the habit of separation has been hard to break.
I spent my adolescence hiding and dreaming in books and my early adulthood in intellectual debate. My university tutors even thought I would join them in an academic life. The truth is, I was wasting away, almost literally, increasingly lost inside my head and even out of it. I’m not saying a life of the mind is incompatible with a life experienced through the body, But for me at least, it has taken me years to relearn the simple signals coming from my body of hunger, thirst and even the need for breath.
“I want to know if you can see beauty, even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence…” Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Sometimes I wonder if the great ancient monuments of this land are, in part, monuments to lost connection. Perhaps in settling down, in taming the wild, in tree felling and road building, we lost faith with the simple animal connections between breath and sky, blood and sea, body and land.
The truth is, Nature in all its beauty does not begin at the skin out, and neither should our reverence for it. You are in a very real sense a colony of atoms that chooses to be together in this moment. 98% of those atoms will be somewhere else and in someone else in less than a year (https://www.jupiterscientific.org/review/shnecal.html). You shed your skin, snake-like, once a month. Deep in the history of your evolution, you hijacked the whole idea of mitochondrial DNA from a passing mushroom (https://www.fungi.com/about-paul-stamets.html). Many of the beautifully balanced systems of your body only function because of the tireless work of symbiotic bacteria. In fact, there are so many non-human cells in your body that they actually outnumber the human ones (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080603085914.htm).
As a body worker, this colony of interconnected species and organs that you call your body unfolds new miracles every day for me. Your shoulder blades are so thin they are translucent. If you could remove them from your body and hold them to the sky, they would look like wings of light. But slump forward and allow those wings to droop, and within minutes you will start to feel depressed and heart-sick.
Your breath, heart-rate and mental activity levels are interdependent. By giving you the right practices, I can help you to gently encourage your breathing to slow down, and your thoughts will slow down and soften to match it. But it’s a delicate process, and one where your conscious mind intimately meets with an autonomic body that it cannot dominate. If you were to force your breath to the same slow rate, without giving your whole self time to catch up, you would instead begin to experience stress, and even panic, adrenaline and cortisol would flood through your body in response and your breath rate would rise beyond your conscious control.
What’s more, the electromagnetic field of your heart extends several feet from your body, and if the rhythm of your heart and breath are strong, steady and calm, they can encourage the heart and breath of people around you to be the same. If you look around you, do you know whose heart you are coming into harmony with right now?
While you’re wondering about that, there’s this organ called the Greater Omentum (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_omentum) in your abdomen, like a fleshy blanket. Its only job is to move around inside you, cuddling up to those internal organs that need a little extra support. It’s like a friendly alien. Meanwhile, your feet each contain 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than a hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments (https://www.wefixfeet.ca/images/pdf/anatomyofthefoot.pdf). When you’re standing up, your body recalibrates each of them in every moment, to keep you upright. But it’s when you move that things get really complicated.
Your whole body – every muscle, bone and organ, is held together by this soft tissue generally known as fascia. It is a constantly renewed, 3D web of hollow fibres contained in fluid. It can respond instantly to change or threat, holding tight to protect a site of injury; gathering and releasing like a spring; or stretching and melting away when encouraged to. There is interesting new evidence that it might be the body’s fastest communication system – much faster even than the bio-electrical signals jumping the millions of synaptic gaps in your central nervous system (https://www.charlespoliquin.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/649/The_Secret_Life_of_Fascia.aspx).
Lines of force run through this fascia in spirals, zig-zags and waves. There is one that connects all the way from the inner edge of your feet up your inner legs, diving deep into the psoas muscle in your hips, which is sometimes called the muscle of the soul. From there this web of fascia cradles the heart and passes up around the lungs, before ending at your temples. If you suffer from muscular tightness in your psoas you can get lower back pain, sciatica and a dozen other conditions, but the tightness in your psoas specifically will also signal to a body worker that you probably hold on to a lot of anxiety and fear.
We’ve been taught that our true Self resides in the brain; that the body is merely the agent of the mind’s desires. Please believe me: I know that your consciousness is distributed in every cell, even the ones that you are shedding in your skin and hair right now. The story of your life is written in every muscle tear and scar. There is neural tissue in your heart, and even more regulating the workings of your intestines. You really do have gut feelings (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=gut-second-brain).
I know all this in part because I’ve had good teachers. Scientific exploration of the body advances all the time and enthusiastic experts are generous with what they share with the world. There are documents, images and videos of everything from MRI scans to microscopic investigations available for free or a nominal charge online. There are videos of Gil Hedley’s truly awesome integral anatomy dissections (https://www.youtube.com/somanaut) and extracts from the fantastic live footage of ‘Strolling Under the Skin’ by Dr. Guimberteau (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6FaULbOmnE). There’s even a great range of anatomy colouring books out there.
All my reading and watching and discussion of the body’s wonders through the eyes of others is merely standing on the shoulders of giants and benefiting from their access and experience. But with each new theoretical discovery I seek to ground my knowledge in actual experience of the body both my own and my clients’. And when I’m deep at work, trying to work out how your lost mobility in one hip relates to pain in the opposite shoulder; when I remember all that I’ve learnt about the body so far and how much more I have to learn, I know that you are, each of you, a miracle in the making. That we all are.
“I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world…” Mary Oliver
The making of a life consists of being broken open, of being stretched beyond your capacities again, and again, and again. Every time you stretch a muscle, you are tearing the muscle filaments apart. We break, and breathe, and adapt and heal. My students and clients come to me saying that there’s something wrong, because they have lower back pain that won’t be soothed, or they can’t go a week without their nervous system experiencing a panic attack, or just that they can’t put their socks on as easily as they used to.
They connect with me one on one in dedicated therapy sessions, or snatched conversations after class. They’re often confused about what they’ve done ‘wrong’ to their body sometimes they’re angry or ashamed at being ‘broken’. Especially when what’s broken can’t be fixed by a pill or a treatment or an operation. I had a client once tell me: “You know, it’s just I wake up every morning and say – ‘I’ve still got Parkinson’s then.’”
My students know that I can’t fix them and I don’t pretend that I can. I just help them manage their human condition, and reassure them that they’re not alone. This is my service, my druidry if I can call it that. Their bodies are communicating, and I do what I can to find a space, physical and psychological, in which these unheard fragments of the body, heart and mind can start to hear each other again – in which they can start to feel whole, and strong and rested.
But the pain of the process isn’t wrong, it’s inevitable. Only by choosing to deal with it can suffering can be negotiated with. It takes a lot of courage to face that and not to run from the world. And yet human beings are quietly doing the same all around you.
I know their journey because I’m only two steps ahead of them. Two decades ago now, I decided that I would live, rather than just survive until a better option came along. It seemed to me a hypocrisy to profess a reverence for nature whilst rejecting my own. In each day since, I have found a new way to break the shell of my thinking, feeling self open to the world. Every day I have to make that choice again;
every day a different ‘yes’ to life, to nature and to my body.
It’s not for everyone. Every so often I get a friend or relation asking me for a quick fix. They want me to give them something simple and easy to repair back pain resulting from 15 years or more of misaligned shoulders and atrophied hip flexors. I’ve learnt to read the signs as their eyes glaze over. And whilst I’m trying to explain the evolutionary fallout from walking on two legs they’re wondering if the consultant they’ve just seen has a new, clever operation in mind.
They just know that 30 minutes of practice a day whilst really listening to their body isn’t going to make as much difference as a scalpel. In a way they’re right – I can’t and won’t compete on those terms. But they can’t understand why I won’t just give them a few quick poses to do for a couple of weeks whilst they watch the TV at the same time. They don’t want all the yoga stuff. They just want to get fixed. That’s their choice too.
But there are always surprises. Last year at the Rainbow Futures Druid Camp, where I have led morning yoga sessions for the past 7 summers, after a few years of mutual teasing, and against all his better judgements I’m sure, an old friend came to a yoga session with me, and then another, and then another. I managed not to break him too badly, which was encouraging to us both. He’s a trustee for the Druid Network, and so when he asked for submissions for a talk at their conference, I chose to return that courage, that small act of faith.
“Here are my hands
that are also my heart, my mind,
my life –
all that remains…” Thich Nhat Hanh
For some of you, I know I have been preaching to the converted. For others, I come to a confession: my aim is to seduce you: back into your bodies, and back into the natural world we all hope to honour as pagans. I do so with words and pictures and video links, over this narrow bandwidth that is our online world, but I’m appealing not just to your reading mind but to your whole being. What I really want is for you to feel, not understand.
To reach you I spent hours and days in typing, editing and refining. Knowing that what I really want with you is time, and practice and a wide open sky. With each word written I became more and more aware of the sunlight or rain on the windows the ache in my right shoulder and the twitch in my calves to put the laptop down and go for a run instead. I did it once, for the conference talk, and again, for these blog posts.
But I was told that to teach you must go to where the student is at. Then, if they take one step towards you you take another two towards them. So here I am, if you can imagine me, in heart, hands and voice – one physical being to another, to call you home. As they say – come on in the water’s lovely.
I hope your shoes are still off because right now I want you to feel both the earth moving beneath you and the movement of your own body against it, in a way that recognises that simple, sacred connection, not just from the skin out, but all the way through.
I want you to take this step every day if you can. I want you to do it in a thousand different ways: stretching and holding and balancing and twisting and folding and opening. I don’t care if you call it yoga or Stav or Five Rhythms or just a really long walk.
So I’m not going to ask you to stand again, but I am going to invite you to root your feet as well as you are able to upon the earth here today. Consider your hands, and remember the intimate connection that they have to your heart, to your ancestry and your history. Take a few moments to do this, if you would. Close your eyes, or just turn your gaze inwards for a few seconds.
And as soon as it’s next possible, I invite you to gently reach out and find another hand to connect with. If you’re feeling a little shy and reserved, just do this once. If you’re feeling more expansive, feel free to hold hands with as many people as you can today.
At the heart of so many of our rituals, is this simple act. We stand together, heart to heart and hand to hand. It’s so simple, so powerful. And if you can really feel it, from the skin in as well as the skin out, it can be enough for us to begin to heal that connection between our soul and the soul of the world.
For me, the body, our bodies, are sacred. Faith, community, druidry, and life itself is about relationship and experience. We are at our most sacred where our edges meet the world, and all the human and other than human people in it. We are in the end, what we are able and willing to experience. So I thank you for your willingness to reach out and touch this experience with me.