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aloha_75 - Walk with me

In yesterday’s post on The Wild Hunt I talked about Awen and about my creative process. It wasn’t standard fare for that site, and not the most widely read and shared post that I’ve written, but it was a very natural thing for me to write about.

A song is little more than a conversation between the songwriter and the listener. The more honest the songwriter can be about her truth, the more deeply the words will connect with the listener. A song can be a testimonial, a sermon, a proclamation, a confession, or a plea, but a song is never a monologue. There is always the listener, and though the listener may not be able to communicate directly with the songwriter she is processing what she hears; translating it, transmuting it, absorbing it, becoming it or rejecting it. As the songwriter has undergone a personal transformation in the process of writing the song, so, too, will the listener undergo a similar process when she hears the final work. The more raw the former, the more impactful the latter.

I write songs. It’s my gig. For about 1/3 of every month I’m in Los Angeles writing, doing work in the ever-evolving Music Industry, and I really enjoy it.

When I started this blog I was of the mindset that there needed to be a separate space for me to do my spiritual work. I couldn’t allow overlap with the promotional work I was doing around the release of my album. That could get messy. Too many people were invested in the success of the project for me to put that in jeopardy by being transparent, I though. But what I’m coming to discover is that there is really is no way to avoid overlap.

You don’t have your “spiritual life” in a vacuum. You are all of the things that you are, pretty much all the time.

At least, that’s my experience.

For me, my creative process opens up spiritual understanding. And many times my spiritual explorations lead to creative inspiration. It’s interesting to me that I was so desperate to compartmentalize my life when I started this blog considering that many of my songs are directly influenced by different periods of my religious life. You can’t extract my spirituality from my music. Just ain’t gunna happen.

So why keep the music apart from my spiritual work?

That’s a question I’m asking myself as I think about the future of Bishop in the Grove.

Over the past few months my life has been reshaped in very interesting ways. I’m no longer affiliated with any particular tradition, although I am opening myself up to the Bardic Grade studies of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD). I’m living in a new city, meeting new people, and finding that just around every corner of this luscious, green place there is some perfectly ordinary, yet totally pagan joy to be experienced. I mean, there is street-side composting here! People know where their food comes from (see Portlandia episode 1 for proof). It’s almost as though this entire town is kind of pagan in practice, even if it isn’t Pagan in identity.

So there’s all of this newness in my life, which includes a newfound sense of presence in my creative work. When I go to LA to write I feel like I am doing exactly what I should be doing with my life. My writing feels certain. Solid. I feel in total alignment as a person when I’m in that creative space, and I won’t accept that that sense of alignment isn’t also connected to my Druidry.

It was the emphasis on creativity that first led me to OBOD. They start you on the Druid path by encouraging you to invest more in your creativity; to find the Awen and come to better know how it can move though your life; to help you become a bard.

And if there was anything I think I was made for, it’s that. I mean, I am already a bard, in a modern sense. This is what I do. This is what I have always done. I’m curious if there’s a way to re-contextualize the songwriting work as “bardic expression”; to sort of reverse-engineer my perspective about the spiritual nature of creativity.

I think this is a good way to move forward. I think this is the direction the Awen is moving, if you will. It moves toward greater integration. It moves toward a deepening of practice by way of investing in the practices that encourage feelings of love and wholeness.

This will be the direction I walk, friends. I hope you will walk with me.

Photo by Sam Howzit

tealthea on Flickr _ Portland Clouds

Today is the first day since we’ve been in Portland that the sky was completely overcast. Our bedroom was a pale blue-gray when we woke, and I found the color to be incredibly peaceful and calming. I have a feeling that there are plenty of Portlanders who do not share my adoration for this hue, but rather see it as a portend of a wet and possibly depressing time to come. I’d like to think that I won’t succumb to the Pacific Northwest Blues, but there’s no way of telling.

A few months back, on a short visit to Portland actually, I was in conversation with a few friends. We were making small talk about our lives, all of us expecting and preparing for upcoming transitions. My friends were moving out of state and we were still reeling from becoming the parents of a high school grad. At one point in the conversation I said to them,

“You know – I’m just not ok. I don’t think I have been for a while.”

I explained to them that for a good while I’d been unable to stay on top of things. My spiritual practice had fallen by the wayside. I was having a difficult time approaching the morning. I was short-tempered, easily embittered, and just not myself.

“I think you might be depressed,” my friend told me.

I didn’t really know what that meant. I had some context for depression, but only as it related to other people. I didn’t know what depression felt like from the inside-out. Or if I did, I didn’t know how to identify it as such. My friends suggested that I go visit a doctor and get an opinion, and after a few days of considering it I took their advice.

Making the choice to take an anti-depressant, which I’ve been doing now for a little over a month, brought up a number of unexpected biases  I’d been holding onto. Turns out I’ve always thought that anti-depressnats were copouts. Certainly as someone who’s been a relatively religious and spiritually-minded person for most of his life I can see how dealing head-on with the more difficult aspects of life can lead to the development of great character and fortitude. Pills shortcut valuable learning, I believed. Pills are a pass to avoid the natural discomfort of living.

I now think that is bullshit.

About two weeks into taking the anti-depressant I started to notice that I was no longer agitated over every little thing. I was able to let things roll of my back in a way that I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to do. The people around me took notice as well. It seems that people have been coping with my depression without my realizing it. They were waiting for me to get upset, to spiral into worry over the smallest thing, and for the first time in years I wasn’t doing that.

I think I’ve been depressed for a really long time and I had no idea.

Even now I find it challenging to use the word “depression,” because when I write it down it doesn’t carry the weight it should. It seems like a passing emotion, as though it can be easily fixed with a piece of cinnamon toast or a peppy pop-song. But depression, as I understand it now, is more like — well — the clouds in Portland. It changes the way everything is lit. Every aspect of your life is colored differently. But unlike these clouds, which are impossible not to notice or identify, the cloud of depression is invisible. There is no cloud to point to: there is just a different quality of light.

To say that taking an anti-depressant is like the clouds parting and the sun returning might be a bit of stretch, but only by a little. It’s more like the cloud has dissipated. The world around me doesn’t look all technicolor or surreal. It just looks like I remember it looking before I was upset all the time. It’s as simple as that.

My spiritual practice hasn’t magically returned. I still get angry about things from time to time. I still feel sadness, and I don’t feel numb. I just don’t feel like I’m walking through an emotional haze. And I’m grateful for that. I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am. I don’t know when this depression started, or how much of my religious busyness has been an attempt to cull the feeling. But I can start to examine that now in a way that seemed impossible while walking through the cloud.

One of my prejudices about anti-depressants was informed by this notion that a spiritual person shouldn’t need drugs. They should be able to meditate their way into a better state or pray their way into happiness. I believed that to take an anti-depressant was to copout on the really difficult work of a spiritual life. I think I was incorrect about that, but I’m still finding the language around why I was incorrect.

What do you think? Do you have personal experiences with depression, and did you find that taking an anti-depressant led to a better state of mental health? Was it hard for you to reconcile taking the pills with the tenets of your spiritual practice, or did you find a way to rationalize your choice?

How did you make your way through the cloud?

 

Photo by |rocket surgery|

Solitary Tree

I spent the morning catching up with an “online” friend, forging a new “on ground” relationship. The internet is amazing, really. To be able to initiate these kinds of relationship and build community having only the context of Facebook or an e-mail forum is phenomenal. I’m a transplant to this town, and yet there are people here who know me, and who are willing to show me such great hospitality.

My friend and I talked about ADF, about Druidry, and about our own personal, evolutionary spiritualities. I haven’t had many occasions to talk about my spiritual path post-ADF. My departure still feels pretty fresh. Part of what makes a former spiritual tradition feel like it’s former is having the opportunity to talk about it in past tense. There’s a great value in working through your thoughts with people who either understand directly what you’re going through, or who are simply willing to listen. I was grateful to have that opportunity today.

I heard myself speak of the things that frustrated me about ADF; things that I haven’t written about online. I’ve made a deliberate choice not to spend too much time writing publicly about what I see as problematic in the religion, its infrastructure or its practices. I have no intention of bad-mouthing ADF. I’m not that dude. I don’t think that would be productive or kind.

But bringing up my departure leads me to wonder how important belonging to a new group is at this point in my spiritual journey.

I’ve been going through a few of the OBOD gwers over the past few days and thinking about picking up my Bardic studies. There’s an OBOD seed group here in Portland, and although it isn’t incredibly active I find comfort in knowing there are a few Druid-leaning people in the area. This seed group is even leading the closing ritual at the upcoming Pagan Pride day event in Salem.

A part of me feels eager to develop some kind of religious community here in Portland, but then another part of me is hesitant. I don’t need a rebound relationship. I don’t want to find some new thing to dive into, to distract myself with, or to serve as a replacement for what ADF has been over the past few years.

I also don’t want to rush into taking on the mantle of a new tradition. This morning my friend told me that, from all outside appearances, I looked to be completely invested in ADF. And I think I was invested. Mostly. Almost completely. I think I was as invested as I could be while still holding a certain amount of space for my own doubts and uncertainties. I’m not sure I believe that any one tradition is 100% complete or correct, and because of this I always hold open just a little bit of space for the possibility that it won’t be the right thing for me.

Perhaps this works to my detriment. I don’t know.

But I think about going to PPD and introducing myself to the local OBODies, and I wonder if I can manage to do that without diving in head-first into a new group. I wonder if there’s a way for me to engage in fellowship without needing to fully become some new thing. It would be nice to place the focus on community building in a grass-roots way: slower, more deliberate, more patient.

This is a liminal space. I’m not really any one thing, and I’m in a position where I have to get to choose what I want to become. There’s something exciting about that, even if that excitement comes with a degree of uncertainty. I could become a full fledged OBOD member again, or I could look into AODA. I could hunt down something altogether different, or — perhaps the scariest choice of all — I could decide to navigate what it means to be Pagan without community. With as much work as I’ve done for solitaries, I’m not sure I know how to be a Pagan without belonging to a group, and I think it would be a mistake to rush through this process simply because the solitude feels uncomfortable.

Fast as a speeding oak always seemed like a terrible slogan. It used to bother me so much. It’s funny, though, because now it seems like sage advice for me. Perhaps the trees could have served as better teachers if I’d have let them.

I always thought that ADF moved too slowly, but I wonder how much of that was influenced by me moving too fast.

 

Photo by Jez Elliott

I am on the cusp of a new beginning.

New beginnings are terrifying. And liberating. And challenging. And not without a degree of nostalgia and loss. Things have to end in order for other things to begin.

Circle of life, and all that stuff.

My house is almost completely packed up. Our bed is on the floor, without a frame. We sold the bedroom set a few weeks back — in part because we’d grown tired of it, but also for the cash. Sleeping on the floor has been a strange, college-like experience. I feel like I’m in my early 20’s again. That is… until I see someone in their early 20’s. They all have so much hair.

My blog has been still and silent for over a month. It’s the longest hiatus I’ve ever taken from blogging since I started this project in December of 2010. (See the archives for proof.) I haven’t really known what to blog about, for one. But even more than that, I’ve been aware of the fact that what I needed most was not documentation of my life, but rather a fuller engagement with my life. Blogging, or any kind of self-reflective, memoir-esque style of writing, when done with extreme regularity, can begin to transform one’s perception of their life. Instead of it being the thing that you are doing it becomes the thing that you might be able to write about.

Life is more than just content.

So I stepped back. No need for a big announcement. The blog wasn’t expiring, nor did I have any real sense of when it would pick up again. I’m not even sure it’s picking up right now, to be honest. But the time away was necessary considering the transitions that were on the horizon.

In two days I will say goodbye to Denver, to all the people who I love, and I will drive across country with my husband, our three dogs, and our truckload of stuff. We’ll arrive in Portland on Monday and then something new will begin.

And I have no idea what that will look like.

natura_pagana - Le Mat

Image by Diego da Silva

When we first started talking about moving to Portland, I had this vision of finding other like-minded Druids and starting up an ADF grove. Oregon seems like a good breeding ground for Druids, and I romanticized the idea of fostering a small community once I arrived. This could still happen, although it won’t be with ADF. I couldn’t say which group it would be affiliated with, as I haven’t been inclined to pursue membership anywhere else just yet. I’m still very, very much a solitary.

A solitary without a regular practice, at that.

So it’s interesting to imagine what this blog could become in the coming months. How, without any religious structure or form, will I continue to reflect on or engage in a spiritual life? Have I been that dependent on belonging to a group in the past that I cannot write and reflect without one?

I don’t think so, but I don’t know.

That’s the thing about new beginnings. The are necessarily shrouded. They are not transparent. There is mystery inexorably woven into every aspect of them. We don’t know where we’ll get our food, walk our dogs, build community. We don’t know how the weather will feel, how the land will look as the seasons change, or how we will be embraced by the people of Portland. We have no clear sense of what the future will bring.

But I think that those are the conditions which make possible some real magic.

So maybe when we get to Portland I’ll start blogging with more regularity. Maybe I’ll write about what it feels like to live around so much lush greenery. Maybe I’ll write about what it’s like to live so close to a river, or in a place that’s not dry as a bone. Maybe I’ll stumble upon some little metaphysical shop and spark up a conversation that leads to a post, or I’ll meet a Witch or a Druid or a Unitarian that I’d only known on Facebook, and maybe that interaction will shed light on something that has, unbeknownst to me, been hidden. Maybe I’ll discover a spiritual practice again. Maybe I’ll find the room to try something new, or better yet, to try something old, something forgotten, underutilized, or neglected. Maybe there will be more new beginnings than I know what to do with, and I’ll have to write about all of them.

Or maybe I’ll do something altogether different.

I don’t know.

This time away from blogging has reminded me that you have to live a meaningful life first, and then write about it. You can’t write your way into happiness, or understanding, or peace, or even wisdom. You — or, more specifically, I — cannot just parse out life within the pixels. I have to get a little dirty. I need to spend some actual time being embodied.

Writing is not a substitute for living. Writing is simply a reaction to living.

 

A few added notes:

• Check out the upcoming edition of Witches & Pagans with Your’s truly on the cover and pre-order your copy here. T. Thorn Coyle asks some insightful questions, and the conversation that ensued went to places I hadn’t expected it to go.

• The good people at Belham Apothecary (aka Horn of Hern Home Arts) sent me a delightful little gift basket of incenses, soaps, perfume blends and ritual items. The owners of the shop are a delightful young couple from Georgia, and I’d highly recommend paying their Etsy shop a visit.

• In case you missed it here is my writeup of the Sacred Harvest Festival on The Wild Hunt. I have a feeling I may do more reflecting on this experience once we get settled into our new home.

• Lastly, if you’re an Oregonian and we haven’t already met on Facebook or Twitter, please say “hello” in the comments. We don’t know many people in town, and it would be great to feel like we aren’t complete strangers when we arrive.

Photo and sketch by Mike Rohde (CC)Dear Portland,

I’m moving to you in August.

My husband and I are packing up all of our things, loading up our three dogs in the car, and driving for two days across Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, a bit of Idaho, and a good stretch of eastern Oregon to get to you.

Neither of us have lived in you before. Sean’s visited more than I have, but every time I’ve been I’ve really loved you.

Part of me thinks you’re kind of a pagan who doesn’t really identify as Pagan. You don’t like labels. But you compost, and your people seem more aware of their impact on the natural world. It’s not like you’re one big coven or something, but you do have a lot of trees. You’re kind of one gigantic grove.

That sounds lovely to me.

Moving to you during this time when I’m without a defined religious identity feels like it may be a portent of some new Way on the horizon. My husband reminds me, though, that this change I’m feeling is really about me, and what’s going on inside of me.

You’re just a coincidence.

But you seem like more than that sometimes. You seem like the promise of something better; the hope of a greener, more contemplative practice. You seem like fertile soil for the kind of religious life I feel drawn to.

I’m sorry if that’s putting a lot of pressure on you. It may be unfair of me. I don’t want to create unrealistic expectations of you. You’re a city, after all. You don’t really owe me anything, and nobody asked me to move to you. We’re moving, in part, because a number of changes are lining up to make this feel like the exact right moment to leave Colorado.

For one, our kid is starting college. He doesn’t really need us the way that he did before. We’ve been prepping him for a while about wanting to leave Colorado one day, and he’s even though about moving to Oregon after he has a few years of school under his belt. He’s still got his mom here, and we’ve promised to be back for some holidays and to fly him out for other ones. We think he’ll be ok without us.

We’ve also been offered a really terrific living situation once we arrive. Our friends are moving eastward, and they’re letting us rent their house. We won’t be paying any more to live there than we are to live here. All we’ve got to do is come up with the money for the moving expenses, and I think we can cover that.

More than anything, we just really want to be in Oregon. There’s been a pull toward that state for years, and neither of us has been able to understand why.

I guess I’m telling you all of this, Portland, because I’m trying to make sense of what this move means. I’m looking around at all of my things, all of them representing some period of my life — my Christianity, my Druidry, my time with ADF and the Fellowship — and I’m considering what it means to pack all of that up and move it to you. I don’t know which of these things are still important to me, or which I will have no use for once I’m there. I don’t know if I should get rid of everything and start from scratch, or if I should cherry-pick the things that seem worth taking.

[The fact that my stuff is such a concern to me is something worth noting, perhaps something worth it’s own post.]

I have 6 weeks to prepare myself to be in you and I don’t really know how to start.

So, I’ll begin with this letter. A one-way correspondence. You won’t read it — and that’s ok — but writing it helps me start to process through all of this.

Your future resident,

Teo

P.S. Did you know that John Michael Greer lives used to live only about 4 hours south of you? I love his beard. Maybe I’ll grow a beard like that once I arrive. Maybe I’ll start looking into AODA, too.