Sunday, 2 September 2007
The Nature of Mind
Bo and I have been talking a lot recently about how, as 'post pagans', ritual fits into our lives. I love ritual; sadly it's often the only chance I get to spend any real time out in nature. Feeding the ducks or walking in the woods with my 5 year old son is sacred in its own way, but, not surprisingly, there isn't any time for being able to sit silently and just let nature in. Ritual gives me a sense of connection and direction I just haven't found in any other spiritual practice. (I must put a note in here to say, at the risk of sounding like a terrible old snob, I am talking about good ritual, filled with poetry, music and silence - see Bo's other blog for examples of how this isn't done). Ritual is often connected with pagan practice, and we do still meet whenever possible at the natural turning points of the year (equinoxes, solstices, and the ones in between), and with other members of our little group we still mark the circle by calling quarters, though we no longer call specific deities. I have been questioning that now I no longer label myself as a druid and certainly my daily prayers and practice aren't recognisable as pagan, then where does ritual fit into my life?
Tibetan Buddhist teachings talk of the 'nature of mind'; this is our inner most essence that is not touched by change or death. It is immune to the thoughts, plots, desires and emotion that we experience in our daily lives - the part of the mind Buddists call sem. It is our true essence, what others might think of as our soul or God within us.
Buddhists believe that at our death when all our wordly illusions fall away this boundless, 'sky-like' nature of our mind is revealed. However they also believe that under some circumstances glimpses of our nature of mind may be seen. Sogyal Rinpoche describes it "just as clouds can be shifted by a strong gust of wind to reveal the shining sun and wide open sky so some inspiration may uncover for us glimpses of this nature of mind". This is the understanding found in the heart of all religions -that there is a fundamental truth and that this life is an opportunity to recognise it and evolve. What the sufis would describe in terms of the hidden essence, the process of becoming a Lover and allowing the rest of your life to be burnt away by Love.
The Direct Path by Andrew Harvey demonstrates exercises and meditations from many different paths and religions, showing the underlying truth that connects them all. He recomends before starting any meditation to read a poem or piece of text that inspires and awakens awareness of God. To me, this is 'blowing the clouds away' to reveal the true nature of mind. Some of the times I have felt this most strongly has been in ritual with Bo. We have learned over the many years that we have been writing and practising ritual what type of poetry, text and music works for us to assist opening to that hidden essence. We have a full-moon ritual once a year during the June/July moon. This year, despite having both learned reems, the ritual, as they are often wont to do, took its own form, and we perfomed the whole thing in silence, with just some beautiful inspirational music to meditate to. It was probably one of the most powerful moments of my life, and there felt absolute connection between me, the summer night sky, the meadow we sat in, and the rabbit that came to sit with us and Bo. To me, that was definitely a moment of experiencing the nature of mind. Obviously Bo will have his own view on this, but I think it is this connection with God, the nature of mind, the hidden essence, that keeps us continuing to have a deep need for (good) ritual, despite being post pagans.
Songyal Rinpoche: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
Andrew Harvey: The Direct Path