Building habits – daily meditation

Many, many spiritual paths stress the importance of stillness, focus and meditation practices in personal development and connection to the divine. Modern psychology stimulates the same practices for relaxation, to prevent stress and burn out. “If you have loads of time, meditate 5 minutes a day, if you are very busy, meditate half an hour a day”, or so the saying goes.

Meditation can help you feel more calm and centered, more physically rested and more open to the divine – however you perceive it – and/or messages from your subconsciousness. There is a catch though: you might obtain the first two with a single meditation, but attuning to deity/divinity/subconscious messages requires a regular practice or well-established habit.

My challenge right now is exactly that habit building. My days aren’t always the same and my daughter requires more attention the one day compared to the other. But I am set om making meditation part of my daily life, so how do I go about it?

Anchoring the new habit to specific moments is really helping me: I have to commute by bus three days a week and can dedicate the first part of my ride to meditation. On Wednesdays I can take some me-time and make sure to start with a meditation.

For the remaining three days, I rely on my dopamine system. I try to get a streak of days I have meditated, which gives me a huge boost. At first, I used Headspace as I love their guided basics course. But I’m not quite sure I want to subscribe just yet. Currently, I’m trying out Insight Timer, which has more free guided meditations but more importantly for me: the unguided meditation timer is not hidden behind a pay wall. I also want to incorporate other types of meditation than guided and want to be somewhat sure I am actually creating the habit before committing to a subscription.

Sometimes I get frustrated because my mind is drifing away so often. But the point of regular practice is both letting go of that frustration and getting better at focusing the attention on whatever you choose. So I am persisting. And I am happy: over the past three weeks or so I’ve only missed three days or so. So yes, I am slowly establishing my daily meditation practice and wonder what insights it will give me in the future.

Authenticity and strength

Past week I was able to attend a full moon celebration with a group of women. It was a very warm experience, as it always is, and the topic of embodied harvest of the summer and intuition proved very insightful. Using a card deck naming various positive qualities, we paired up to discuss how we did or did not recognize these qualities in ourselves or how it might bring up some tension. When I drew ‘powerful’ as my first card, tension was immediately apparent. But inspecting that tension taught me something valuable.

I have often felt powerless. I am not very tall, nor very extravert, and often feel like Calimero. Other people are tall and I’m little and it is not fair. With the card and the apparent tension forcing me to explore the concept om myself being powerful, something happened. I realised that power and strength has nothing to do with the physique, nothing to do with how well you can convince other people and most certainly nothing to do with material posessions.

No, I rather came to the conclusion that strength and power is in knowing yourself, feeling at ease with yourself and being authentic. If you have that, you radiate power for others to see, even though you might not recognize it in yourself. That process has happened to me I went through that process of getting to know and love myself and now, it’s time to let go of my outdated Calimero image of myself.

Over the past few years, I have let boundaries between my work-persona, home-persona, red tent persona and korfball persona dissolve. Meaning I am now actually talking about my spiritual path and other ‘alternative’ things that excite me at work and with my teammates, even though I find it hard sometimes to describe it in the right words. Joining two druidic orders has also connected the dots in my head between my spirituality and the more mundane actions I undertake to tread lighter on Mother Earth. I am a more compact person now, in a way, more focused and more in touch with my values and ethics. That I also live out! Or try to, at least, because convenience and habit sometimes get in the way.

I am more myself than I have ever been in my adult life. I feel that I am authentic. And you know what: I AM powerful.

Lammas 2019 – Wicker wolf @ Castlefest

Blessed Lammas! I hope you had a good time as I most certainly have. My celebration was special this year: it marked my first visit to Castlefest!

For those people unfamiliar with the festival, allow me to give an explanation of the event as I understand it. Castlefest is a three day celebration of fantasy, medieval times, craftmanship and paganism. The terrain is filled with music on stage you could classify as balfolk, Celtic, pagan or medieval and at least half of the visitors wear the most beautiful or extraordinary costumes. There is a LARP village, a kiddie field, and a steampunk place, you can do workshops with the Heathen Gang, try your hand at playing the harp, learn something new at the Academy or listen to one of the storytellers. And of course you can eat and drink and be amazed walking past all the stands with so many amazingly crafted items, intriguing books and wonderful attires and accesories.

As you can tell by my description, I had a great day. My daughter fell asleep on my back at some point, but has been really sweet and happy and amazed by people’s faces not conforming to what her nearly two-year-old brain considers normal. She kept staring at some elves, was scared to tears by a crooked-nosed witch and was offered to shoot a gun by a pirate she had been charming. She was smiling all the time, gobbled up her pancake and when we finally went to bed, she slept for 8 hours straight, which almost never happens!

Castlefest explicitly is a celebration of Lughnasadh as well and for me, that was a big reason for wanting to go. Every year the festival has a wicker, which is a large – seriously, it can be 5 meters high or even taller – statue made with willow branches. People can make offerings to the wicker, putting them in the space purposefully left open in the statue, and with lighting it on fire on Saturday all the offerings can be transformed.

The wolf constructed this year amazed me. It was huge. It struck me as both powerful and beautiful, overseeing everyone. Two priestesses from the Heathen Gang were holding the space for those walking to the wicker and making an offering. For some people I could see it was very emotional or transformative. Not so much for me. I offered a bouquet of seven daisies and a twig picked up by my daughter for happy and carefree moments every day of the week. I also made a paper butterfly in a small workshop that has been put in the wicker.

My preparation was zero, as I had no clue what to expect. Next time, I will make sure to make my offering at home already, putting my time and more importantly energy into it. Nevertheless, it was special to see this big wolf, to add my offerings to the others. It was also quite special to me to have my husband join me in watching the wicker ritual through the live stream, being part of the ritual even though we weren’t there physically. The ritual was impressive and theatrical, but the burning was amazing and was the part that actually made an impact as the flames also touched the offering I made. [As soon as the YouTube video of the ritual is placed online by the organisation, I will link it here for you]

Listening to the storytellers and seeing them perform was both entertaining and something I could learn from. Storytelling is an art I am exploring as my Bardic exploration for the AODA curriculum. And I could now see there is more to storytelling than simply telling the story. There is facial expression, use of gestures, interaction with the audience and humor. It will be great to practice this myself at some point in my exploration, when I find or create the opportunity.

With all the stands, it is no wonder I came home with more stuff than I’d brought with me, though I’ve managed to restrain myself upon seeing beautiful blank notebooks, handbound, with soft leather covers, because I still have so many notebooks at home. The jewelery at some stands was also tempting, but seeing I’m not the jewelery type woman, it was a bit easier to pass this stand by eventually.

So what exactly was my ‘Castlefest haul’? I found several small brass bells I want to put on a string in the garden. I know my daughter would love to play with them and to be honest, so would I. The stand is one I will definitely revisite next year, with bells, flutes, whistled, chimes, drums and all kinds of small instruments. Another purchase I made is white wool someone has hand-spun. My hope is to dye it green using nettles or something else. I want to collect several strands of green yarn that have meaning to me, so I can make them into a green cord eventually. I let Willemijn, my daughter, take something back form the festival as well: 4 pretty stones she hand-picked from a treasure box and that the lady from the stand put in a pretty little sachet for her. Our little one is quite happy with this! My last find is a collection of smudge sticks made from plants growing in the wild here in the Netherlands. As I like smudge sticks but do not feel comfortable using white sage that feels disconnected, growing elsewhere on earth, I was happy to find these. I now have one with mugwort, one with wild sage, ceder and lavender and one with wild sage and yarrow.

It was an amazing Lammas, despite my lack of preparation for the ritual part of the celebration. Castlefest was amazing as well, and I really hope to return to it next year, perhaps together with my husband and daughter, to make it a family celebration.

My spiritual journey

For some reason, I stopped blogging 4 years ago, even though so much happened on my spiritual journey. No, I still haven’t found a Wizard’s Manual, alas, but I have found a community of like-minded women in Leiden. And that community has become increasingly important in my life.

The first time I visited the Red Tent in Leiden was a revelation. I rediscovered the power of singing, experienced how a circle of women can raise energy and enjoyed performing magic and rituals with a group, rather than solitary. It was something I had been searching for for a long time. That first visit opened the door to monthly participation in the Red Tent. Sometimes with more mundane themes, sometimes with magic working on our inner world, sometimes with rituals such as drawing down the moon and the 13th rite of the Munay Ki.

Additionally, I started to visit a women’s group in Leiden celebrating the full moon, whenever my schedule allowed it. It provided my first experience with cleansing, calling or invoking the quarters, the earth, the moon and the Goddess out loud, with whatever words intuitively came to mind on whichever quarter or energy I felt I wanted to take initiative to call. And without feeling awkward, as I so often have experienced when speaking out loud in solitary ritual.

My practice became more centered around the monthly rhythm of the moon, with the Red Tent and the women celebratory group. It focused on community and female spirituality. I even helped organize the Red Tent for the past year or so. Outside of these circles, I took more and more individual actions to combat climate change, plastic pollution and biodiversity loss. And I came to realize that this wish to care for and preserve Mother Earth tied closely with female spirituality, with more equality in society and with my feeling it is a sacred task as all of nature and we as humans are divine and interconnected.

In the period since my last blog post, I was foolish enough to purge many of my early journals, information in my Book of Shadows and most of the books on witchcraft and paganism. I still regret doing that. Fortunately I had kept the book Druidcraft by Philip Carr-Gomm, which inspired me to take a closer look at druidry. As a practice or philosophy celebrating our connection with nature and where eco-positive actions and creative work are very important, I believed it to be a good match with my current beliefs.

I joined the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA), a more reconstructionist order leaning heavily on the symbolism of the King Arthur myths, the Golden Dawn and ownership of one’s personal path. At Ostara I performed my Candidate initiation, and I am now working on the First Degree curriculum. It has proven very inspirational so far. I also joined the British Druid Order (BDO), an order framing druidry as the local Northern European form of shamanism that focuses on ancestry work a lot. They provide a series of correspondence courses that is very rich in historical material and that challenges me with stories and exercises. If I want more or a different approach in the future, I might also join the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), who I believe focus more on the psychology of druidry and who use creative expressions as a mode of teaching. They also have the option of an audio correspondence course, which seems like an interesting and very original/ancient way to learn.

For the first time in years I have actually celebrated sabbats in ritual rather than only acknowledging the significance of these specific days in my head. It is a great addition to the moon-oriented celebrations and circles I have frequented over the past few years and will now organize myself in my new home town. Identifying as a druid and working through both curricula stimulates me to take more action for the environment, to spend more time in nature, to meditate and to explore my creativity. And I hope to take my daughter along in that as she gets older.

So this is where I now stand. I am a druid. I am a pantheist. I am a witch. My studies include storytelling and memorizing new stories, learning about my local ecology and local deities, learning to work with the Wild Women of Mother Earth oracle deck, practicing (discursive) meditation, planning my garden with indigenous pollinator attracting plants that fit the specific circumstances in the garden, keeping the indoor plants alive and letting them thrive, learning how to take cuttings from plants, learning about the reclaiming tradition and hopefully reading some books by Starhawk, book and paper folding, leading a Red Tent, becoming a sustainable business change agent, becoming a coach for the Dutch Carbon Conversations and writing poetry. I am a busy bee, which is good. We need more bees.

Blessed be.

Rule 8: Sing every day

When I was little, one of my favourite movies was Dinotopia. A movie about a Utopian society where dinosaurs are not extinct and co-exist with humans. Amazing! I loved dinos at the time, but what I came to enjoy even more about the movie was precisely the way their Utopia was shaped, the foundation of their society. The code of Dinotopia consists of 11 rules, that all make perfect sense to me and that are followed by every inhabitant of the island. Amazingly (well, not really, the writer has done this intentionally), the first letters spell out SOW GOOD SEED. Perhaps the essence of the code, and not unlike the rule of three.

  1. Survival of all or none.
  2. One raindrop raises the sea.
  3. Weapons are enemies, even to their owners.
  4. Give more, take less.
  5. Others first, self last.
  6. Observe, listen and learn.
  7. Do one thing at a time.
  8. Sing every day.
  9. Exercise imagination.
  10. Eat to live, don’t live to eat.
  11. Don’t p… (thought to mean ‘Don’t put out the light’)

Now, I said that all rules make perfect sense to me, the way I interpret them. But I had never truly realized the strength of rule 8 (sing every day) till a week ago. Let me share my experience with you.

I was visiting an open evening at the university of applied sciences to gather information about studying to become a waldorf teacher, and there was a workshop about music. Curious, I entered. What we did? Well, sing, obviously, an African song with magical words, simply because we couldn’t understand them. We also accompanied the singing with clapping, stamping our feet, pretending to cradle a baby (because I thought the song might be a nursing rhyme) and various other movements. Describing what we actually did together is kind of easy, but accurately describing what I felt? Near impossible. It was a long time ago since I sang a capella together with others. At first I felt anxious, because I wanted to get it right, especially with other people listening. But I realized that wasn’t necessary: nobody was going to judge me or keep score of how well or bad I did. We were all there to experience how it might be as a waldorf teacher in training, we weren’t there to audition for a choir or whatever. Even though it was a music workshop, it wasn’t the music itself that was important. That realization hit me so hard that it shattered my restraints. I was able to sing freely, move with the others and let go of my fear of being judged. And as I did, I felt a warm joy spread through my body, a warmth I now know to have missed for quite some time. There are other things that warm me up, such as reading a good book or having an evening off with my husband, but as these are different experiences, the warmth is also different.

I cherish this memory, and the memory of my first Red Tent, where we also sang together, around a fire. And I will find opportunities to experience this amazing warmth again, basically coming down to this one simple rule: sing every day!

Red Tent Movement

If you are a woman and you move around in pagan circles, chances are you will have heard of the Red Tent Movement. The first time I heard of it was about half a year ago, on Pagyptian’s vlog, and I instantly set out to research it (because that’s what I do with everything).

The Red Tent Movement is a movement empowering women by bringing them together at full or new moon, often in a candlelit place draped with red curtains and clothes. It is a place where no judgement is passed, and every woman is welcome to ask for what she needs at that moment. The movement is based on a book called the Red Tent, where the literal red tent was a place for women to stay during menstruation.

Often it was interpreted that women were pushed away during this time, that they were filthy in some way, but it is turned around here: women are very powerful because they menstruate and can bring forth life. I believe there are tribes where the women were taught this during their time in a red tent of sorts. That is also the power of the modern Red Tent Movement, that started in America, but has reached the Netherlands and my hometown as well.

Last week, I went to my first Red Tent and it was amazing. Yes, I was somewhat scared at the beginning, because I didn’t know any of the women, but that faded away quickly as we sang to the fire, invoking the fire spirits to help us burn away things we would prefer to be gone. And then inside the Red Tent, we each lit a candle and passed on the matches, honouring the fire inside each and every woman there. So much happened that evening, all concentrating on one purpose: to let us feel both our strengths and our needs as women and to let us experience the power of sisterhood in addressing those needs. In addition, it made me feel the power of performing rituals together, even though that might not have been the purpose.

All in all, it’s an amazing experience and I can’t wait for the Red Tent in February. If you are curious, as was I, just google ‘red tent’ and your place of residence (or a larger city nearby) and you will probably find one close to you as well. I hope you will go there and feel empowered, as do I.

Time flies…

…when you’re having fun. Or so the saying goes. Yes, looking back at fun times, they always seem to have past too quickly. But when I am in the middle of something fun, I don’t particularly feel that way. I am in the moment, and the moment is infinitely long. This is why I can remember endless summers of strolling past a nearby stream, making huts with the long grass and climbing trees. Endless, because when you are in this moment of fun, time does not fly. It rather seems to still, allowing you all the time to savour the experience. And the same thing happens to me in ritual, dancing under a full moon or meditating with a candle. These experiences, where time seems to slow and stretch, are priceless.

My goal for 2015 is to purposely try and search these experiences, even though many will just have to arise. I want to plan a day at the beach, go to a sport event, go to the Red Tent for the first time (this Friday, I’m really curious!). And I will start with a mindfulness course this Saturday, which will hopefully also teach me to live in the moment and prolong good experiences. I believe it will make my life even more valuable to me.

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 780 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 13 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Blessed Samhain

I just wanted to wish you all a very blessed Samhain and share with you this wonderful short meditation. Blessed be!

Dancing in the rain

It is remarkable how nice the weather still is, despite it being halfway October. When I cycle to work in the morning, going from the city to green pastures and forest to city again, I can really see the changes the season brings. When starting my job halfway September, I had to dodge chestnuts falling down on me and had to resist myself from picking the remaining blackberries. Now, I have to dodge falling, disintegrating leaves and am grateful for the occasional morning mist, because it shows me the spider webs before I drive through them head-first. The temperature is also dropping, but I still don’t need my jacket when cycling to work. Plants and animals show the changes, but the sun keeps shining.

Until this week. Yesterday it was raining vehemently in the morning, so I decided to go by train rather than by bike, to avoid my laptop from getting wet. No need for that today, but as I was on my way home there was a cloud-burst that can’t have lasted more than 10 minutes but left me absolutely soaking wet. I started out being really annoyed, because the raindrops down my neck startled me and were freaking cold… but as I was cycling through the rain, a grin crept unto my face. I was actually enjoying it!

The feeling of the raindrops on your body, the sounds that are suddenly muted because all you hear is the downpour of rain, your focus turning almost inward as you can only see a few meters ahead (and are keeping your head down). My mind was dancing in the rain, with the rain, jumping from drop to drop and shouting out in enjoyment. I loved it.