Musings on the other: living in the forest

Who are we? What does it mean to be that person? Questions which probably just about everyone asks themselves at some point in our lives. And the inevitable conclusion is that we are uniquely ourselves, not any of the other beings on this planet.

And yet at the same time, we share this planet with all these other beings. And it is already an enigma to get to understand ourselves. So how do we cope with the rest of the world then? We do the only thing we reasonably can do: we start from our own experiences of life, and project these out onto others, assuming that they are probably similar enough to us for this to make some sense at least.

But what if we are wrong? What if the life experience of someone else is so radically different from ours that their reaction to a situation, their hopes and dreams, their fears and dislikes, are completely incompatible with our own? What if we completely misunderstand the world around us because we assume everyone thinks and feels like us?

How far-fetched is this fear? Everyone needs to eat, and look after their wellbeing, and so they must be similar in their reactions, right? But the first problem already becomes evident here. Everyone needs to eat, but every body has different nutritional needs and hence will naturally experience different cravings (tv commercials try to all have us want the same things, but…). That is the most innocent example of all. Wellbeing already is a veritable minefield. What is required for us to feel well?

You may want a certain type of relationship that someone else would find abhorrent. You may need your freedom and will seek solitude even within a relation, while another person craves to be with their beloved every second of every day. Wanting the same things? Really?

And right now we are only on the level of genetics. Aspects of who we are that are already mostly determined at birth.

Who are you? What is your life experience? What are your aspirations? Realize then, that this is who you are and that that shape was given to you mostly by your dreams. By those around you that inspired you, gave you chances, left you free to walk the path that life intended for you.

Do you give the people around you that same freedom? Do you dream with them, even when you do not understand their vision? Do you allow them space to grow? Think about this. The forest teaches us that the amount of sunlight available is limited, and yet we all deserve our moment in the sun. And that is why none of us were created alike.

Some of us prefer to live our life close to ground, basking in the sun of early spring, accepting that the day will come when the faster growing brambles will surpass us. But that is ok, as long as they do not forget to leave the delights of early spring to us.

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And then there are the trees. They grow large. They compete with each other in who gets to occupy which part of the sky. They are the kings of the forest. And yet they will never forget that they are part of a greater whole. Through their roots, they share with the soil, and bring some of the sunlight down for the benefit of others.

They are the mighty ones now. But immer aware that one day they will leave this world forever. And on that day, their treasures will be shared out. All the sunlight consumed in a lifetime, solidified, will turn back to soil. To feed and nourish the next generation of forest dwellers.

None of us are the same. Some of us are not even remotely similar to us, their life experience almost unrelateably far away from ours. Yet, remember that we share a forest, and how interconnected we all are.

Ailm – Finding your way home

The following ritual is a follow-up to the ritual from my previous post, finding strength within our tears. It can be useful when finishing a time of retreat, or before going back to work at the end of your holiday. Or, when you need to go and make a difficult announcement, like a sexual coming-out, or the ending of a relationship. Or, simply, when you have finally mustered the courage to do that one thing you really, really want to do but are so very afraid of at the same time. Now is your time, now is your moment. You can do it. For you are worth it.

2017-02-12 20.25.52If you are using this ritual together with the ritual of tears, be sure to leave sufficient time in between. If you felt a call to the mountaintop, probably that means that you need to spend some time up there, taking advantage of the high vantage point to get some new perspective on life. For instance, you may want to consider working with a different tree first, then come back to Ailm when you feel ready to reintegrate your newfound insights into your everyday life.

Part of the ritual is based on the observation how commercially grown pine tree forests tend to be green deserts, where almost nothing grows. This can serve as a powerful warning agains mono-culture, or the tendency we may sometimes have to impose our own ideas on other people. A society where everybody is forced to be exactly similar, and where diversity is discouraged, cannot possibly be a healthy one. Yet that is what so often happens, when those who are a bit different are forced to be quiet and hide their true colours in order to keep the peace and not upset the majority…

Ritual – returning home

  • visualize yourself standing on the mountaintop again.
  • Look out towards the view, and feel how the insight is growing within you that you cannot stay here, that it is time to return home. Take one last look at the vista below, drink in the view, and store it inside your memory, realizing that it will always be here to come back to.
  • Then, turn to Ailm, the pine tree that is growing next to the place where you stand. As you say your goodbyes, you notice a pine cone lying at your feet. As you pick it up, you hear the tree whispering:

These are the seeds of the rest of your life. Sow them wisely.

pine cone

  • Take a moment to ponder these words. Do you realize what they mean? Hug the tree to thank it, then start making your way down the mountain.
  • As you walk down, memories of the world below start flooding in. You may feel resentment, even fear. After all, you came up the mountain because you needed a time-out. Feel the pine-cone you hold in your hand, and remind yourself of what you have learned, about the world you live in, and about truly being the person you are. You are now heading down the mountain, seeking to find a life that will allow you to fully express that person, with all its beauty and imperfections.
  • Stop for a moment, and think about what such a world would look like. What would need to change? How much of that is within your control?
  • As you walk further down, you find yourself in a part of the forest that was commercially planted to harvest wood. It consists entirely of pine. Ailm is the tree we are working with at the moment, yet being here somehow feels completely and entirely wrong. See how you are standing in a kind of desert, where the trees above obstruct most of the light from reaching through to where you stand. As you look down, see how the forest floor is covered in a thick layer of pine needles, where nothing seems to grow.
  • Think back of the lush growth on the mountaintop, where despite the harsher conditions, plant life was abundant.
  • What lesson is there in this? Think back to your list of ‘things to change’. How many of the items of your list were about ‘if only other people were more like me, or had the same opinion about things like me’ ? Look around you, and realize that that is not the solution you are looking for.
  • Walk around the forest, but now pay attention to the individual trees, rather than the forest as a whole. As you take time to feel the spirit of an individual tree, you feel its spirit stir, and you recognize one of the people in your immediate environment. And you realize that they too, feel lost sometimes, and need to make a mountaintop journey like you just did. Touch the tree, and whisper ‘I love you as the person you are’. You see how it transforms, and takes on a different shape (maybe even a different type of tree, or a flower, or..) A shape that better reflects who that person is. Do you recognize them? Does it maybe teach you something about the person that you aren’t aware about?
  • Continue walking through the forest, touching trees, and transforming them. Allow each of them to represent a person, a place, an aspect of your life. Also include people or groups that you have a difficult relationship with. Does this help you to see your life in a different perspective?
  • As you are working, notice how the place becomes gradually more beautiful, more ‘alive’, and starts feeling more welcoming, more like home. Eventually, you pass by a spot where it feels like something is missing. You look at the forest floor, and see how there’s a hole there, waiting for a seed to be planted.
  • You remember the pine-cone you are still holding. As you open your hand, you see how it has transformed. It has become YOUR seed. And this is where it needs to be planted.
  • Carefully put the seed into the waiting hole, cover it with earth, and water it. Look around you to the forest, and to the sun shining above, and ask them for support to allow you to grow, to thrive in this place. Simply asking may be enough, but if you didn’t feel at home before, it might be a good idea to speak to the forest and try to explain them how and why that was. Just this once, allow them to look into your heart, and let them how you really feel about things. Listen to yourself as you are speaking. It might be that some of the things you say come as a surprise, even to yourself.
  • You sense how they are supportive of you, and it may be that some of them have a message to share.
  • When you are ready, see how all this love and warmth is allowing your seed to grow. pine-sapling
  • When the time feels right, step into it, feel yourself transform into the tree, become part of the forest, and enjoy the sunlight on your leaves.
  • You are home. Give thanks for the experience, and finish the ritual.

 

After you have finished, it may be a good idea to take out your journal and write down your experiences. Are there some ideas that have come up that you can implement in real life? What have you learned about the people in your life? And maybe, difficult and scary as that can be, you should have some of the conversations you had with the trees, with the persons who are part of your life?

In this ritual, Ailm reminds us that home is ultimately a place we co-create with the people around us. When we are feeling bad, it can be tempting to get stuck in an attitude of ‘but they don’t understand me’. Remember that they have feelings too. That, although you may have genuine reasons to feel different, or not welcome to show who you really are, that does not give you the automatic right to demand of the people around you that they let go of everything that has meaning to them and switch around to your version of the facts.

What you can, and should, demand, though, is the right to be fully appreciated as yourself. The right for the forest to thrive as the wonderful and diverse community that it is. Allowing you, and everyone around you, to grow up to be beautiful beings, together creating the forest community.

Ailm – Finding strength within our tears

Come closer, and listen to what Ailm has to teach us about life:

I am here. Winter and summer. Always present, always awake.

I do not strive to be the best, or the most magnificent. I strive to be me. I strive to find my own place in the sun.

Look for me near the mountaintop, and you will notice that I am not big. Life circumstances here are not always easy. But that is not what I seek. I seek the sun. I seek light. I seek room to breathe and be what I am. And that is enough for me.

Come close, and you will probably smell my tears. You will smell my efforts at staying alive. Take my sweat, take my tears. They are my pearls. They are a sign that I am alive. That I am here, that I am connected. So let me share my efforts with you, may my striving bring you healing.

pine-tears

When there is snow, and it is cold and wet, I do not fear it. For I know that I can survive. Look for me in the harshest of circumstances, in the darkest hard of winter, and you will find the promise of the coming spring. You will find greenery where all else has given up or has taken shelter.

Let me be your shelter. Let me show you where I find my sun. Pick up one of my tears, and hold it to the light. Do you see how it shines? It is a little flame born of my inner fire. The fire that rushes through my veins. Take it, and let it be my promise of strength, my promise that even in the darkest days, there is light to be found somewhere.

Ailm is a tree that weeps. Go into a pine or fir tree forest, and it will not be long before you spot a tree whose trunk is littered with shiny yellow tears, made of crystallized tree resin. These are the tears of the tree, but also its hidden treasure, for they can be used both as a basis for incense and for coughing syrup, helping us to honor the sacred and to bring us healing.

The following ritual is intended to help you acknowledge your own pain and fears. It is not intended as a depressing ritual, but rather as a form of liberation, helping us to discover who we truly are, to realize that we are beautiful, and to get closer to an honest appreciation of ourselves.

As always, it is highly recommended to spend some time in the forest among the pine/fir trees before engaging in any of these rituals. The ritual itself probably works best when performed in the forest, but it isn’t essential. If you are doing this indoors, try to harvest a bit of resin (remember to thank the tree!!), or something that allows you to smell the tree’s scent.

Ritual of tears – finding your mountaintop

  • Open ritual space in your own way.
  • If you are doing this in the forest, pick a tree to work with (try to find one that has wept tears of resin). Greet it, and introduce yourself to it. Who are you? Do not overthink this. Just allow words to come naturally (or, if they don’t, simply spend some time feeling present in your body). If it feels appropriate, touch or hug the tree. (When doing this indoors, do the same, but instead of working with a real tree, sing its name, call in its presence, and visualize how you are standing before a strong and solid mature pine tree.)
  • Sit down with your back leaning against the tree (real or in visualization). Close your eyes, relax, and enter into meditation.
  • When you open your inner eyes, you find yourself sitting in the same location. Before you, a pathway leads you out of the forest, towards a mountaintop.
  • As you walk the path, you pass by a number of encampments. Each of them represents a part of your life where you sometimes don’t feel entirely at home or at ease, or where you feel less able, or not entirely accepted by other people. Then walk away, allowing yourself to mourn about a kind of life that seemingly cannot be yours. Then remember that this does not represent who you are, but only speaks of who the world forces you to be. Leave it all behind, and walk on.

fir-path

  • As you walk onwards, the scenes change, and you now walk past a series of mirrors. In each of them, you see a part of yourself which you feel is an essential part of your identity. They are the bits that make you ‘you’. Take any of these away, and you wouldn’t be the same person anymore. (Note that these are not necessarily talents, or easy parts of your identity. Some will, but this can also include your sexual identity, or the fact that you secretly hate the taste of chocolate, or the fact that you are still mourning the death of your unborn child, or…) Taking some of these things away might make your life easier, but it would also diminish your unique, quirky you-ness.
  • Embrace each version of you that you encounter, and tell them that you love them.
  • Continue the walk. Soon, you arrive at the mountaintop. Sit down, bask in the sunlight, and enjoy the view. Then, allow yourself to weep. Let them be tears of joy about the wonderful, colorful person you have just discovered. Tears about all the times that you feel limited in expression yourself and showing your true colors, or speaking about your pain. Take as much time as you need, do not rush this.

fir-mountaintop

  • Then, after a while, start visualizing how your tears are flowing into the earth, nourishing and revitalizing it. Feel how you are growing roots, and these tears are what gives you strength. Then, look to into your hand, and see how some of your tears have crystallized into beautiful, shiny pearls: your gift to the world.
  • Now, end the meditation and turn your attention back to the tree. Exchange tears. Give yours as an offering to it, and accept some of the trees tears in return. If you want, you can eat them and feel the tree’s healing powers spread through your body.
  • Give the tree a final hug, then close the ritual.

You can do this before going on a holiday or retreat, or simply because you need a time-out. Of course, you cannot stay on the mountaintop together, but if you felt a call to the mountaintop, probably that means that you need to spend some time up there, taking advantage of the high vantage point to get some new perspective on life…

So, enjoy your stay, and breath some fresh air first. In a later blog post, we will suggest a ritual for reuniting with your everyday world.

A summer solstice meditation

Let me take you on a journey. Have you ever wondered what happens to the rays of the sun once they touch the earth?

Close your eyes then. Let us go back in time, back to when the sun was born, now six months ago at the winter solstice.

As you open your inner eyes, all you see at first is darkness. Darkness, and a tiny little seed, sleeping in the depths of the earth.

Now, become that seed. And dream. Dream of the world above, of what you will become once you are finally born. Dream, a million dreams.

And then.. the miracle happens: as a shaft of sunlight pierces through the darkness, you wake up. Or rather, your dreams awaken. And you sense how they are all racing out, to the light, searching for a rope, a ladder, a step-up that can help them grow.

And as the sun gradually grows stronger as the months progress, they grow. Some grow strong, others hit into obstacles, but, every time they are hit by a new ray of sunlight, they push on, and on, as high into the air as they can get.

At as they grow, these dreams begin to have dreams of their own. Dreams for the future, Dreams to share. And these also reach to the sun. And as the sun hits them, they catch the sunlight and store it for the future. They are the seeds of tomorrow.

grains

And we will need them. For today marks the moment when the sun reaches her highest point. Today tells us that the time of striving for growth is over. Now begins the time of storing up light for the future. Of taking the results of our projects, finishing them, putting on the final touches, and sharing them with the world. Of harvesting ideas, so that we will be able to hatch new plans during the long winter months.

Today gives us a warning to prepare.

But first, it ask us, these coming months, to stop focusing on ourselves alone, and enjoy the light and the bounty all around us.

And so we give thanks to the sun, for bringing us to this point. And to the grains, whose journey we have just shared, and who are now ripe for us to pick. And to all the fruits and wonders that will be ours to collect this coming summer.

And now I will ask you to take a moment to reflect: what is it that you want to harvest this summer? What is it that you have to share?

The World Tree and the Maypole: a Creation Myth.

In the beginning, there was nothing but empty space. Nothing, but a single drop of pure Awen. 

And the drop brought forth a dream, and that dream became the first seed. As the seed hatched, the first tree was born. The tree that would become known as the World Tree.

And the drop of Awen became a well, so that the tree could drink of it. And as the tree drank, it began to grow. And behold, it began to have dreams of its own. And as these dreams took shape, they became the first leaves of the tree.

And as the leaves grew, they became aware of their surroundings, and as they became curious, together they dreamt up the sun, so that there would be light. And they found that the light of the sun nourished them, and allowed them to grow even more. 

As the rays of the sun reflected on the pool, the world began to sing with awen. 

world tree

Now, the tree produced flowers, so that it would be able to better hear the song. And thus it was that, out of the union between the flowers and the song, the tree grew fruits, which carried the seeds of the tree.

Then the tree dreamed the first animals, so that they could eat the fruits and carry the seeds further away, so that new trees and plants could grow from them, and the area around the tree would become the first forest.

And the world tree loved them all, so much so that once a year, it shed all its leaves, to share his dreams with this beautiful world. And in return, we still share our own dreams with the Tree. For when we go to sleep, we return to our source, and become part of the Tree again. And as it feeds on our dreams and experiences, it becomes ever bigger and more beautiful…

And do you sometimes wonder about the nature of the gods? Well, maybe they are simply the dryad companions of the Word Tree, sent out into the world to help it curate its dreams, and to keep reminding us all of just how interconnected we are.

So, once a year, as we gather around our maypoles, let us be reminded of this. As we dance and see our strings intertwine, we are feeding the World Tree. And in coming together as a community, we are creating the seeds of the next generations.

maypole-sky

Together, let us dream a more beautiful world. For all of us, whether we are human, animal, plant or tree, together we ARE the world tree. May we dream of love, and share the beauty of diversity.

Turning to Birch for Inspiration

Following up on that vision of the fairy dance among the birches from my previous post

What birch can help you with, is making new beginnings possible, by filling you with that yearning for more. By placing that spark in your head, and intoxicating you with the dream of an adventure. By the realization of what you might achieve if only you put your mind to it.

Paper-birch-catkins

Or maybe you have been living for some time with that dreaded feeling of dissatisfaction, of knowing that you want more from life, yet not quite knowing how to even begin to change your current circumstances. How do you find your passion again? Sometimes life itself can be so exhausting that it seems impossible to relax, or the stresses related with everyday survivals and responsibilities, ‘grown-up life’, take such a toll that we simply cannot seem to make the time to dream anymore.

Beith invites you to step away from your normal world. She can help you reconnect with your life purpose. Its core message can be summarized as

‘Start following the way of your heart, and the path will be illuminated for you.’

Consulting birch doesn’t always need to be about big life missions, though: sometimes all you need is that little spark of inspiration when you feel stuck with that project you are working on (or can’t decide what would be a good way to spend your day off, or…)

5-minute ritual for inspiration

  • Close your eyes, breathe in and out slowly for a minute or two. Allow yourself to relax. 
  • Visualize how you are sitting beneath a birch tree. Feel its solidity, then look up and see its branches dancing lightly in the breeze, enjoy the sun shining through and caressing your face.
  • State what it is that you would like some inspiration for, and ask Beith if she wants to help you.
  • See how a spark seems to descend down from the sun, and floating towards you, eventually settling on top of your heart, and then seeming to enter you. Feel how its energy is re-invigorating you.
  • Say thanks, and return to the normal world.

It may be that inspiration strikes right away, but give it some time. Trust that the spark will show you the way. Remember the message of beith. Just start walking. She will be your guide.

For this ritual to be more effective, it would help if you first take some time to get acquainted with birch spirit. If possible, go to the forest, and sit with her for some time, taking plenty of time to admire her otherworldly beauty. (If this is not feasible for you, try to get a good sense of what a birch tree looks like, by looking at pictures, then, during a meditation, take the time to visualize her and just sit with her.)

Call to her spirit, maybe dance with the fairies if you happen to see them around, tell her about who you are and build a mental connection.  It is not necessary to do this every time, but she appreciates regular visitors.

A more elaborate version of the above ritual could be used as a kind of mini-vision quest. Not all of us have the option to spend multiple days out in the wilderness, after all…

Of Birch and elder, and the magic of beginnings.

And then came the challenge to write my first blogpost. 

For this first post, I would like to share some musings about what Birch and Elder have to teach us about new beginnings and the quest for inspiration.

Imagine walking through the forest. You aren’t really paying all that much attention, it’s been a long day at work, and while this is supposed to be your break from all that, you find it hard to relax. Tomorrow there’s again so much to do, and there’s this dinner party you are organizing, and you urgently need to go to the supermarket because you ran out of milk, and, and…

Thump. Hitting a stone on the path with your foot almost makes you fall. As you regain your balance, finally you take a moment to look around you, to actually SEE the forest around you. 

Birch

And your eyes are drawn towards a little clearing in the forest ahead of you, and in particular to the birch trees standing there. There’s just ‘something’ about the quality of the light that draws you in, that makes you want to be there…

And so you approach.

And as you get closer, you start to hear a faint music… And just as you reach the edge of the clearing, magic happens. It is as if a portal to another world opens in between the birches, and then a group of fairies come out, and start dancing. You watch them, mesmerized by their beauty and their joy. After a while, they notice you and invite you to join them.

And you dance, you dance…. Completely blissed out and losing all sense of time and space.

…Until the fairy queen announces that it is time for them to return back home. She asks you what you intend to do. Will you go with them to fairyland, or will you return home?

What will you answer?

Starting something new requires you to catch a glimpse of a dream first, it means having that yearning, that foolish idea that maybe, just maybe, it is possible to step out of your ordinary world and create beauty where now there exists none.

That first moment of intoxicating insight can be likened to stumbling onto a fairy dance and stepping out of this world just for a moment. And yet, tales like this usually come with a warning at the end: those who succumb to the temptation of the fairy queen are usually never seen again, or risk losing their grip on reality.

So what to do then? Let’s not leave the forest just quite yet, but go in a little deeper, to the older and darker parts of the forest.

And there you see a little tree that looks ancient, with a very gnarly bark.  She has a bit of a witchy vibe around her. But between the leaves, you notice how she’s loaded with black berries. This is elder. 

elderberries

You want to pick some to taste them, but at that moment the tree magically transforms, and you see an old wild woman standing before you, holding a basket of berries.

She warns you. I have much to offer you, my child, yet my gifts are not free. Eat these berries raw, and they will only make you sick. But take the time to transform them into wine or syrup, and they can become a powerful elixir that can heal many of your ills.

She hands you the basket of berries, and explains you what to do. You take the berries home and get to work, and discover that it is indeed hard work. For some of the recipes, you even need years of patience before the brew is finally ready!

…. And what is going to get you through that period of hard work? The realization that to start the magic, all you need to do is close your eyes to hear the fairies sing again.

Remember the lessons from these trees. Truly creating something new and worthwhile will always be hard work, and it can be very tempting to just stick with dreaming and trying to escape this world. So, let the knowledge that fairies do exist inspire you, and give you the stamina to create something really amazing and long-lasting!

And so I’ll pray to Birch and Elder that they may bless this blog-project, and that I may always remember this first lesson…