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Before preparing for your meditative practice, consider the spiral for a moment. It is a shape that repeats throughout nature. Our bodies are made up of the spiral double helix of DNA. We live on a planet that has spiraling storms called hurricanes and tornadoes. The nautilus shell is a spiral, as is the ram’s horn and the snail’s shell. The spiral is a motif used in the religious practices of aboriginal cultures throughout the world. Even the galaxy in which we live is a giant spiral 100,000 light years wide. The spiral is one of the most predominant, and beautiful, shapes in the universe.
Time is also a spiral.
The path that is the Way of the Druid grew out of the ancient Druids, but it is not identical to the path that the ancient Druids walked. Likewise, the path that the ancient Druids walked grew out of even older spiritual practices of pre-Celtic peoples. These spiritual practices have ebbed and flowed throughout the history of the human race. They have emerged again and again, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes of its former self. They have retained some of the flavor, history and traditions of their earlier incarnations, while progressing with the times. The path that we now call the Way of the Druid has ebbed and flowed in cycles throughout the history of the human race.
A spiral contains elements that are both linear and circular. Think of a spiral staircase. As you climb, you continue to rise in a linear fashion, yet you circle around and around the stairs in order to do so. The journey of the Way of the Druid is also a spiral, drawn in time. Druidry rose and fell nearly two thousand years ago. Druidry of that time existed in a world without electricity, industry, or modern agriculture. Life in that world was nasty, brutish and short. The Druidry of that time was quite a bit different from the Druidry of today. Some of those ancient practices, like human sacrifice and foretelling the future by reading entrails, are ones we would have no desire to revive. Other practices, such as a reverence for nature and learning, we wish to retain and honor.
As we circle the spiral staircase of time, there will always be patterns of progress and regress. This is the cyclical nature of all things. This is the cyclical nature of the Way of the Druid as well. Each time we cycle through regress and back into progress, we rise a little higher on that staircase. Many of the things we take for granted today would be looked upon with awe by the ancient Druids. Imagine how a person of the first century would react to so simple a thing as a cell phone!
So the human race has progressed technologically. But as we have progressed through technological advances, we have regressed in our way of being one with Nature. Modern Druidry is a way for the Wheel to turn once again towards progress in our relationship with Mother Earth. As we make that turn, we once again rise a little higher on that spiral staircase of time. If you have decided to walk the path and climb the spiral stair with us, you are helping to restore the planet. By restoring the planet, we restore ourselves. By restoring ourselves, we are made whole.
Imagine you met someone who had never tasted chocolate. Could you describe, using only words, the experience of eating a piece of chocolate to this person?
Now imagine you meet someone who has never been in love, or has never been loved by another. Could you describe to this person what it is like to love and to be loved?
Obviously, you can describe these experiences all you want, but until someone has eaten a piece of chocolate or has fallen in love, your description is only going to be a vague approximation of the actual experience.
The Way of the Druid is a Mystery Path. Some call it a “Mystery Religion,” but I don’t like the word “religion” because of the connotations it carries in our current society. But whatever you call it, the experience of mysteries is central to the idea of the Way of the Druid as a life path.
When I mention to my friends that the Way of the Druid is a Mystery Path, they picture dark rituals in moonlit Groves, where secrets are whispered, not to be revealed under pain of death. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
It is true that the Way of the Druid has many mysteries, but this is not because of any need to keep things secret or hidden from the general public. The mysteries are there because they are things that cannot be expressed in mere words. These things have to be experienced firsthand in order to understand them, in much the same way that the only way to know what chocolate tastes like, is to eat a piece of chocolate.
Another reason for some mysteries in the Way of the Druid is the simple fact that some of the more advanced knowledge is not easily accessible by novices. Think of it as trying to teach an infant to use a pistol. It would obviously be dangerous to do so, because the infant has not reached a point of development that would allow him to handle a handgun properly.
So there are mysteries in the Way of the Druid that are only taught when the student has reached a point of development to be able to safely handle the knowledge. This is not done out of a need to deliberately conceal anything. It is done to protect the student from progressing too far too fast into areas that could be potentially dangerous for their present level of spiritual development.
The goal of the Druid is to always seek the imbas…that source of divine inspiration that connects us on a spiritual level to all that is. It is the ultimate mystery. It cannot be described to those who have never experienced it, but those who experience it for the first time know exactly what it is. That is the essence of mystery. That is the essence of healing.
When I was a child, about seven years old, I dreamed of King Arthur and Merlin. I remember one Thanksgiving when I was awarded the wishbone from the turkey. My sister and I made a wish, and I got the winning end.
What I’d wished for was a castle. I ran outside, and in the innocence of my youth I actually expected to find a castle in the back yard. I was actually disappointed when I didn’t find one. We lived in the country back then. As I walked down the dirt road trying to hide my disappointment, I looked into the field next door to my family’s house. There was a grove of trees in the middle of the field. The grove had been covered over with kudzu. I’d seen that grove hundreds of times, but this time I saw it with new eyes. Something about the way the kudzu grew on the tallest trees looked like a castle turret. As I looked again, I began to see a fortress wall. The more I looked, the more my imagination transformed the kudzu into a castle. Right there before my eyes, my imagination had allowed my wish to come true.
To me, this is how all magic works. We don’t do magic to affect change in our external environment. We do magic to create change within ourselves. The rituals and tools of magic work to evoke change within us so that we may see things in a new way. The magic is always there, all around us. We simply have to change ourselves in order to be able to see it. If the way we’ve been seeing things is causing us to feel stress, or pain, or worry, then magic is the means by which we may heal ourselves so that we may begin to see the world in ways that do not hurt us.
Before beginning to learn about the art of meditation, it is first necessary to define what we mean by “meditation.” In essence, meditation is an exercise designed to create an altered type of consciousness for a specific purpose. Meditation involves using your will to alter your mental state by slowing down and paying attention.
Several studies have indicated that practicing meditation can actually change the physical structure of your brain. A 2011 study by Britta K. Hölzel and several other scientists revealed that meditation causes changes in the density of gray matter in areas of the brain responsible for judgment, emotional regulation, and serenity. This study demonstrated that these changes can take place in as little as eight weeks. Such studies indicate that by simply altering your consciousness, you can affect physical changes in your body. The implications of this are tremendous for those interested in healing and magic.
For the purposes of the Way of the Druid, there are two types of meditation: Active and Passive. Passive meditation involves simply paying attention to the moment by focusing on something neutral such as a candle flame or your own breathing. It has no goal other than to help you to ground and center, and to relax and calm yourself. Active meditation, on the other hand, is more of a directed meditation designed to achieve a particular purpose. Color Breathing for healing or the Druid’s Egg would be examples of active meditations (these meditations are discussed below).
To begin exploring the different types of meditation, we’ll start with the techniques of passive meditation. Passive meditation is a preliminary to any meditation activity, as it is necessary to ground and center through passive meditation before beginning any active meditation.
A passive meditation involves grounding and centering yourself by focusing all of your attention on a particular stimulus. This stimulus could be almost anything, but traditionally the breath itself is chosen, because while you may not always have a candle or a mandala upon which to focus your attention, you always carry your breath with you. Centering involves letting go of the cares of the day, setting all other concerns aside, and simply focusing on the present moment. Grounding involves getting in touch with the telluric energies of the Earth. The Tree of Life Meditation outlined in the Active Meditations section below may help with grounding.
There are five types of breathing used in Druid meditations, but all of them involve focusing as much attention as possible on nothing else but the breathing. As you meditate, notice how the muscles of your abdomen move. Feel these sensations in great detail. Pay attention to how the air flows in and out of your mouth and nostrils. See if you can detect any minute changes in consciousness when you inhale or when you exhale. Set your thoughts and feelings aside and focus only on your breathing.
Sometimes people with limited experience in meditation believe that the goal of passive meditation is to stop thinking. That’s not exactly the case. The idea isn’t to stop thinking altogether, but to disengage from the thoughts and feelings that can act as barriers to achieving higher states of consciousness. You always have a thought stream in your mind. Even your dreams are a type of thought stream. If you picture your thoughts as a river flowing through your mind, then the goal of a passive meditation isn’t to dam up the river and stop it from flowing. The goal of a passive meditation is to simply stop swimming in the river for a while, and to climb out of the river, sit on the riverbank, and watch it flow by.
By climbing out of the river, you leave doing mode and enter being mode. Entering being mode involves setting aside any thoughts about the past or the future, or any feelings that you have to do something, and paying attention only to the moment. Picture ripples on the surface of a lake. Each ripple is a thought. The goal of passive meditation isn’t to make the lake disappear. The goal is to sit quietly until the ripples calm and the surface of the lake becomes as smooth as a mirror.
This focus on the thought process teaches us that we are not our thoughts. We are something else entirely. For example, suppose, during a meditation, that you make it a goal to totally stop your thinking process. You manage to sit quietly without any conscious thoughts for several minutes, but then you gradually become aware that you have begun thinking about something. Your immediate reaction might be, “Oh no, I’ve started thinking! I need to stop that!” The question here is, “What part of you recognized that you were thinking?” It couldn’t be your thoughts, because that’s what you noticed in the first place. So it must have been something else.
This something else is what we call the True Self. It is the internal observer that teaches us that we are not our thoughts. The True Self teaches us that if we have thought or feeling processes that lead us to results that we don’t want in our lives, we have the ability to change our thoughts to something more productive. If I have a negative thought about myself, I can choose to identify with that thought, and therefore act in negative ways, or I can access my True Self, and realize that a negative thought about myself is just a thought. It isn’t who I am unless I choose to believe that it is.
So if there is any goal to a passive meditation, it is to quiet the thought stream so that the True Self can speak. It is to become a vessel that can then be filled with the quiet voice of our own divine selves.
To begin a passive meditation, find a comfortable position, free of distractions, either sitting or lying down. Align your spine so that you are free of any stress points. If you are wearing any tight clothing, you may wish to loosen it. It is best to practice this meditation at least an hour after eating, as digestion tends to interfere with relaxation. When you find your comfortable position, you may find it helpful to close your eyes. To begin, first center yourself. To center yourself, let go of the cares of the day by turning your attention inward. Focus on nothing but the sensations of your breathing. To allow yourself to just be, gradually become aware of thoughts and feelings you may be experiencing. In the being mode, we realize that just because we are having thoughts and feelings, we do not have to act upon them. The goal here is to allow the True Self to come forth.
Notice the sensations of your abdomen as it rises and falls with each breath. Turn your attention inward as you focus only on your breathing. You are not trying to go any place; you are not trying to do anything. You are simply present in this moment, observing your body as you breathe. As you continue to focus only on your breathing, you may notice that from time to time your mind begins to wander. This is only natural. It’s what minds do. Be aware that if your mind wanders, you don’t have to follow it. Simply wait for your mind to return to you by continuing to focus on your breathing. If you do notice your mind wandering, don’t consider this to be a failure. If you start judging yourself for allowing your mind to wander, such thoughts are simply more thoughts, and one of the objects of a passive meditation is to calm your thoughts so that you can just be. If you find yourself having thoughts, just return to your breathing and allow your mind to come back to you by returning your attention only to your breathing.
As you continue to breathe, remember that there is no past, there is no future. There is only this present moment. Allow yourself to be in this moment, here and now. Any time your consciousness wanders, return to the now of the present moment. To end the meditation, gradually expand your awareness. If you are sitting, allow yourself to become aware of how your body makes contact with the chair. If you are lying down, allow yourself to feel how your body contacts the bed or the floor. Continue to expand your consciousness outward until you become aware of your immediate surroundings. When you feel you are ready, slowly open your eyes and return to yourself. Conclude the passive meditation by taking with you any insights, thoughts or feelings you may have gained in your practice. As you end this meditation, open your eyes while remaining calm, yet alert and relaxed.
There are five basic types of breathing used in both active and passive Druid meditations. These are: Quiet Breathing, Deep Breathing, Fast Breathing, Breath of Fire (Dragon’s Breath), and Breath of the Sea. Instructions for each of these types of breathing are discussed below. Different types of breathing are used for different purposes. You may experiment with each type of breathing to see which works best for you. It is possible to use several different types of breathing during the same period of meditation. For example, when doing a grounding and centering meditation, I typically begin with Quiet Breathing, followed by Deep Breathing. If I am in particular need of clearing my head, I then go into a period of Dragon’s Breath, followed by more Deep Breathing. I then return to Quiet Breathing before concluding the meditation.
This is the type of breathing we do naturally when we are not consciously focusing on our breathing. It is regular and even, not requiring any effort or concentration to achieve. This type of breathing works well for starting or ending a meditation, but it doesn’t allow for the rich oxygenation of the blood, and therefore of the brain, that comes with Deep Breathing.
Deep Breathing is done by filling the lungs to their capacity. To do Deep Breathing effectively, picture a tube of toothpaste. If you were to empty a full tube of toothpaste, you’d start at the bottom, rolling it up and squeezing out all the toothpaste as you go until reaching the top. Likewise, to exhale during a Deep Breath, you would start with the lower reaches of the abdomen, pushing the air out there first, then through the lower chest, then through the upper chest. Finally expel any remaining air by rapidly contracting the abdomen muscles.
To inhale in Deep Breathing, reverse the process above. Take the air into your upper chest first, then your lower chest, then your upper abdomen, and finally into your lower abdomen. It may help to visualize the air as colored light entering your body. In fact, in the Color Breathing meditation later in this chapter, we will do just that. As the air enters and leaves your body, focus your attention on the sensations you experience along the way.
Deep Breathing is a slow and deliberate method of breathing. People experienced with this technique can slow their breathing to no more than two or three breaths per minute. This type of breathing is used to achieve clarity, serenity and calmness.
Fast Breathing is rapid, deep breathing. Extended use of Fast Breathing can lead to hyperventilation due to hypoxia. Therefore Fast Breathing is best used in short bursts of no more than thirty seconds to one minute of duration. The purpose of fast breathing is to clear the throat and nasal passages, often in preparation for Deep Breathing or Breath of Fire.
Breath of Fire (Dragon’s Breath)
The Dragon’s Breath is a special type of Deep Breathing. You begin the Dragon’s Breath by inhaling using the Deep Breathing breath. As soon as your lungs are completely full, rapidly exhale. Think of blowing out a candle. This rapid exhalation should be audible. Dragon’s Breath begins slowly, and then gradually speeds up. When done properly, The Breath of Fire should sound like a locomotive gaining speed. Do this for three sets of nine breaths, pausing briefly between each set.
The Breath of Fire charges the entire nervous system, leaving you relaxed yet energized. It should be used whenever a major undertaking is about to take place that will require a lot of energy work. This is especially useful before conducting either public or private rituals.
Breath of the Sea
Breath of the Sea is accomplished exactly like Deep Breathing, with the exception that you hold your breath at the peak of each inhalation and exhalation. Picture a wave braking; note how it hesitates for a moment before it breaks upon the shore, and you’ll see where this technique gets its name. Experiment with holding your breath for short counts at first, then gradually build up to longer counts. Try not to exceed a count of nine beats when holding your breath. When I do Breath of the Sea, I start by one Deep Breath, followed by a hold for a count of one. I then exhale and hold for a count of one. On the next breath I hold for a count of two, then three, and so on until reaching nine.
Breath of the Sea is especially useful for relaxing and meditating after a period of exertion such as exercise, walking, or doing energy work.
As you experiment with the world of meditation, try each of the breathing techniques above with each of the meditation techniques outlined in this chapter.