Exploring Awen: seeking connection

If you have read my previous posts, then hopefully you have tried the suggested exercise and tried to connect to your deep self through writing. In this post I would like to explore that method a bit more.

We are all familiar with our conscience, probably most strongly with that nagging feeling of unease you get when you ignore it, when you neglect to do something, or push through with a plan of action, even though deep down you know that it probably isn’t such a good idea. We all cry out for guidance at least occasionally, and so it is worth entertaining the notion that that guidance is there, that it is somehow a built-in feature of being human. For no matter how often we ignore it, most of the time that gut feeling actually turns out to be right.

There’s a lot we humans disagree on, especially relating to spirituality. But I have never ever heard anyone, even the staunchest atheist, deny the existence of the inner voice of our conscience. And so a question that is worth asking, is: can we teach ourselves to listen better? If we were to pay more attention to it, would that voice have more to teach us? And of course, by asking that question, a second one arises: who is speaking? Is it our higher self? Our inner guides? Maybe the gods? Or possibly all of the above?

I am not going to tell anyone what to believe. My personal opinion is that it is probably all of the above, but if you are not comfortable with that, then just see this as a method of connecting to your subconscious. The technique is the same. Use it as it speaks to you.

Meditation – seeking guidance and inspiration

  • Close your eyes and relax. Breathe in and out deeply and slowly.
  • when you are ready, open your inner eyes.
  • You find yourself on a vast, empty, moonlit plane. Focus on the moon shining above you. 
  • Who do you want to connect to? Whisper their name. Continue whispering until the whole plane around you reverberates with that name (if you don’t have a specific connection in mind here, chant the awen instead)
  • State your intention. What is the project that you need help with, what question do you need advice on? Both state your question, and commit to honouring the inspiration that you may receive.
  • When you are done, see how a pathway opens before you. As you walk along it, you come to a pool of water, that looks somewhat like a giant cauldron. Step into the water, and immerse yourself in it. As you do that, feel how you become one with the liquid. Feel the spirit of the power you called to merging with yours.
  • Then, take a notebook. For the next ten minutes, let go of all preconceptions, and simply write down everything that comes to mind. Don’t worry about coherence. Don’t worry about relevance. Simply write, and keep writing. Give spirit a chance to speak to you. You are the cauldron carrying it, now allow it to flow.
  • When you are ready, climb back out of the pool, and walk back to your starting point. Give thanks, and end the meditation. In the coming days, continue to keep an eye out for signs. It might be good to carry a notebook, and write down any further inspiration that may arise. Especially be aware of little, stray thoughts and sudden unexpected urges. 

As you do this more often, you will find that it gets easier after a while. Personally, I find it to be a great method to connect to deity (or when I need inspiration for topics to write on the blog!)

awen1

The druid notion that fits here is ‘awen’. Inspiration, flowing spirit, … whatever you call it. Experiencing awen is being ‘in the zone’, having a moment of peak consciousness, where it feels, almost literally, as if something flows through us and it seems that, as if by magic, we can suddenly find the perfect words, we suddenly ‘just know’ how best to approach our art project, and so on.

I suspect that this mystery works on the same principle as our conscience, and that we can train ourself to be more susceptible to it. Once again, opinions may vary as to what this mysterious awen is, exactly. Do we just happen to pick up on ideas that are floating around, is someone maybe whispering something in our ears, or is it just that magic happens when we stop trying to hard?

The keyword here is learning to be open.

How do you capture wind or water? Try to grab it and you will find that it eludes you. But, having a cauldron ready (and remembering to take the lid off, and you might just be able to catch the drops of this precious liquid when they fall.

Meditation – dancing with the awen

  • Close your eyes and relax. Breathe in and out deeply and slowly.
  • When you feel ready, open your inner eyes.
  • You find yourself on a vast empty plane, under a moonlit sky. You are sitting cross-legged on the floor, holding an empty cauldron. Notice how, the more you focus on filling the cauldron, the more you become aware of its emptiness.
  • Instead, decide to BE the cauldron. As you make that decision, feel how it merges with you, how the area around your gut becomes the cauldron. 

cauldron

  • Start singing. Chant the Awen, or whatever music feels right. Look around you, and see how a wind starts to blow around you. It is not just air, but a whirlwind of colour and sound. As it swirls around you, it invites you to a dance.
  • Take the invitation, get up and dance. Dance with the awen until you forget why you came here, until all that is left is just you, being at one with this dance of colour and light. In this moment, there is no distinction. You are the awen.

You may either stop here, or you can take it one step further (if you do this, it might be good to have some writing and/or craft materials ready):

  • Open your eyes, and focus on your breathing again. With every breath you take, feel how it is not just air, but the awen that you breathe. 
  • Continue breathing the awen until you start to feel how, in fact, it breathes you. The awen is what moves you, and you are simply the vessel that happens to contain it, to give it physical form. Allow it to control you. Give in to any creative ideas that come to you at this moment (write, draw, paint, dance, do whatever feels right. )

Probably the most important thing to remember when you do this exercise, is to get out of your own way. If you go in with the thought of I want to write a fabulous poem now/ create the best art in my life, then it is unlikely that this is going to work. Let go of all thoughts of results, and simply decide to enjoy.

Repeat as often as you like.

Sometimes, however, you will have a specific goal, a specific question, maybe even a specific power or spirit that you want to connect to. In that case, you may want to try the following version of this exercise:

 

 

A solitary ritual for the autumn equinox

Harvest time. Warm days, for the last time this year. 

harvest-fruit

Are you prepared? Bring in your final harvests now, for the time has come to face the fact that summer is over. Darkness creeps in, almost unnoticed at first, but bit by bit, the light is disappearing.

This is the tipping point. The point of balance. Now is the time to ask yourself what you have learned and achieved this year. Have your efforts payed of? Or have you used your energy inefficiently? It is too late to change things now, but remember that experience is worth harvesting as well. A lesson well learned has value, as it will no doubt ensure a richer harvest for the year to come.

This is not a time to be harsh on yourself, but a time for celebration. The year draws to a close, and you have seeded and grown. No matter what happened. So, harvest your experiences. For even if it doesn’t always seem like they are bearing fruit,  the only harvest that will serve you in the future is the one that you bothered to engage with, and made sure to preserve.

Here is a ritual to help you look back on the year that has past and to harvest your experiences for later use, and putting out the first tentative seeds for the future.

 

Autumn Equinox ritual

What you will need for this:

  • three stones
  • A candle
  • Something you harvested yourself
  • A glass of wine, beer or mead

Open ritual space in your usual way. Cast a circle, and call to the elements. When doing so, try to pay special attention to what you have learned this year in terms of air, fire, water and earth. As you call in the elements, give thanks for the ways in which they continue to enrich your life.

Then, take up the stones, and place the candle in the center of your circle. Light it, then circle around it. As you do so, think of the sun circling the earth. How has your year been? Which revolutions happened for you? In circling the sun a single time, how much has your life changed? No matter what the answer, focus on where you are NOW.

earth-rotation

Put down a stone on your current location. It is both a fixed point on your journey, and a marker to remind you of the cyclicity of life.

What are the things for which you need another go? Lessons which you haven’t learned fully enough, or challenges you did not dare respond to. Know that it is never too late to start. Make resolutions for the coming year, should you feel called to do so. 

When you are done, walk to the other side of the flame. Now put down the second stone. Look at your year from the perspective of your spring self. Congratulate yourself on successes gained. Note what went different than what you expected. Could you have foreseen that? Remember these lessons. How could you use them to ensure a better harvest next year? Also look at things that are outside your control. What is a way of circumventing such obstacles next time (if at all possible – this is not about casting blame)?

Then, enter the center. Put down the third stone. What are your goals should you have total control of things? Allow yourself a moment to dream. Then touch your heart. These can stay dreams for now, but it is good to have some light to focus on when entering the darkness. Simply acknowledge them, and allow them to incubate during the coming winter. For it is from your dreams that new light will eventually be reborn. Bless the sun, and realize how you have power over its eventual return.

Sunflower inflorescence with ripe seeds

Now step away, and look at your three stones. They represent past, present and future, and the way they are related. Remember that this process is not linear. May that give you hope for the future. Take the three stones and rearrange them in a triangle. This is your harvest. Place the harvested fruit you brought in the center, and ask your gods and spirits to bless it. Eat a bit of it, enjoying the sweet fruits of the year that has passed.

Finally, take your cup and take a sip. Then, pour out the rest in gratitude to the land that has sustained you through another year.

Spend some time in silence, then finish the ritual.

Daring to exist : Asexuality and Paganism

My previous post came with a challenge attached to it: taking the decision to stop hiding, and standing in the world as fully and unapologetically yourself.

And so it is only fair that I take up that challenge for myself. One of the areas of life where people tend to struggle with the idea of coming out, is sexuality. My personal experience is no different.  As this is a pagan blog, my intention is to use this as an opportunity to investigate the relation between my sexual orientation and my druidry.

First, the facts. I am asexual. In short, that means I do not experience sexual attraction to other people, whatever their gender. As a result of that, I have never had sex.

Yes, that is right, I am still a virgin. A common question at this point is: how do I know that I do not want sex, if I’ve never even tried it? Because I just know. Ask any gay person, and they will probably tell you that they knew they were gay before ever having had sex with a man. It is precisely the realization that they wanted it, that drove them to start engaging in sexual acts. As for me, I have simply never felt the urge. For myself, I am happy this way, as I don’t feel I am missing anything. (Whereas, if you were to tell me now that I can never eat chocolate again, now that would be another matter entirely, gasp :-). I mean, even the simple act of writing this sentence makes me want to drop everything to go and find some chocolate.) So yes, I understand quite well what attraction and desire are.  But I simply do not feel attracted towards sexual activity with anyone.

Why am I writing about this? Because I think it is important that the world begins to be aware about the fact that people like me exist, and that we do not need fixing. This is simply the way we are wired.

And I hear some of you thinking -what’s the big deal? If you don’t want sex, then how is that anybody else’s problem? For sure you are not facing any of the kinds of oppression gays or trans people are? Which is partly true (I think trans people are some of the bravest people on the planet actually, for that matter), but only if you discount the kind of issues that are caused by the experience of invisibility.

In popular culture, the idea is extremely pervasive that love and sex are the same thing. In almost every movie, at some point there will be a scene where a person tells another that they love them, followed by them kissing, and maybe having sex. If one person wants this sexual intimacy and the other doesn’t, the conclusion may well be let’s just  be friends instead. So, when growing up, what you are told is that at some point, you will fall in love with someone, which means you’ll want to have sex with them, and maybe because of that you’ll want to marry them. And those are the relationships that apparently are supposed to matter most, as friendships (the relationships without sex) are often portrayed as being of lesser importance (or how else am I supposed to interpret sentences like ‘lets just  be friends’, when a relationship request is turned down?)

If you are gay, lesbian, or bisexual,  this general narrative will probably still makes sense, except of course for the major complication that you may end up falling in love with what some would call ‘the wrong kind of person’. I am in no way discounting the very real pain caused by that (and yes, in some ways you DO have it harder than us), but at least for yourself, you still understand how the world works, and what sexuality is.

Now, what does it feel like to grow up asexual? To explain that, I would like you to first consider the story of the Selkie women for just a moment.

Many tales are told of selkies,  seal women who come to live in the human world for a time, either by choice or because someone has stolen their seal skin, and so they cannot now transform back to seal form. Have you ever tried to look at this tale from the side of the Selkie? Wondered what it is like to live in a world that is mostly familiar, yet so different from your own in so many ways? 

The Selkie will have moments when she sees people do certain things, where she has no idea why. Which nobody bothers to explain. Because without her skin, she looks just like them, so it simply does not occur to anyone that they might need to explain things. Because everybody knows about this, right? This is simply the way things are…

Selkie

Growing up asexual is very much like this in some ways. Quite a number of basic facts regarding sexuality are never spoken of or explained, because it is assumed that everybody knows or will be able to figure it out on their own anyway. Because everyone experiences sexual attraction, right? If you want to know what it is, you will find out when you meet the right person…

But there are some of us who actually never experience this feeling. And since it is rarely spoken off, this feels very much like being blind, while not even realizing that other people are able to see. And sure, you hear them talk about colours, and you even think you understand what they are talking about, yet your interpretation couldn’t have been more wrong…

Still, during puberty you cannot fail but start noticing more and more that you are somehow different. If you are like me, the conclusion you draw is that it must be you that is to blame, that it must be that you are somehow incapable of normal human relationships, because you fail at dating. Or, I also know of others who do decide to play the game, and have sex even though they don’t want to, because they think that is what you are supposed to do in order to be in a relationship (essentially allowing themselves to be raped voluntarily).

So, it may be a struggle that is much less visible than those of most other LGBTQIA people, but it can still cause very deep psychological wounds, many of which could be avoided if asexuality were a universally known sexual orientation, so that teenagers would at least have role models to understand who they are. (And, it would also help us if the taboos of talking about sex were lifted: more explicit education about the technical aspects of sex would make it much easier for us to become aware of the fact that we are missing a sensitivity that others do have.)

So, how does all of this connect to Paganism? To put it crudely: where sex-positivity is something that attracts a lot of people to Paganism, for asexuals, it is often the other way around, where we may risk feeling even more misunderstood than in regular society. For surely, the fact that you choose not to have sex must mean that you are unevolved and unspiritual, right? (At least in some circles, that seems to be the narrative.)

There’s so many ways in which my asexuality has influenced the way I engage with Paganism, and it has coloured my ideas about some very common concepts within it. This is one of the topics that I want to begin exploring on this blog. However, there’s so much to say that I will split this up over a number of future blog-posts:

To appear over the coming months

Beltane and the need to celebrate diversity

Struggling with the Goddess: in search of self

– Maiden-mother-crone: exploring the divine feminine from an ace point of view

– Exploration on the connection between sexuality and mysticism: could mysticism be a sexual orientation?