One of the struggles that has marked my own path of druidry, and the path of many others that I know, is the challenge of being and living our authentic selves. For me, this is the act of somehow balancing a spiritual path that is largely not accepted or outwardly disdained by broader society (including many of my own loved ones) with the need to be true to my own heart and soul and walk my path openly. There is a lot of fear in the druid community, and certainly in the broader earth-based spiritual communities, about being one’s authentic self, or being “out” of the broom closet, as some may frame it. I don’t think this fear has lessened of late, but rather, perhaps increased due to a toxic political climate, where intolerance and bigotry seem to be culturally more acceptable than in the previous decade. The effects of this are that many of us feel crushed and unable to really be open about who we are. Going to any spiritual gathering, you can see this clearly: many people are just breathing a sigh of relief that they don’t have to hide who they are, what they believe, from a difficult outside world. So the question I explore today is this: How do we live our authentic selves in a world that largely doesn’t accept our paths?
Why does living as our authentic selves matter?
I think that its critical that we find some way of balancing, expressing, and cultivating our inner spiritual paths in our outer realities of life. I’m sure many of my readers have felt the tension that you feel when you are, literally, feeling like two people living two separate lives in a single body. It makes you feel small and, perhaps, inauthentic. For example, some time ago, I briefly dated someone who wasn’t on my spiritual path, but who I otherwise liked a good deal. As I tried to share pieces of my spiritual path, I found him to be a brick wall on the subject, unwilling to engage with me at all, and unwilling to really even hear what I was saying. As our short relationship progressed, the longer I felt unable to share and unable to be supported by this person, I felt myself getting smaller and smaller, shriveling up like a raisin. You can imagine how this relationship worked out! In a second example, I’ve found this same experience reflected in my relationship with my immediate family at points—how inauthentic I have felt when I’m not living my true self, when I have passively bowed my head at the meal rather than risk a confrontation with my father about my path. I don’t do this any longer, but for many years as a druid, I did because I felt it would have been too hard to change the situation without conflict. In my case, not being able to be my authentic self in intimate relationships took a serious toll on me.
Beyond our immediate relationships, it can be very hard to inhabit and see the world differently on an everyday basis. The core values of my culture (exploitation of earth’s resources) are at direct odds with my own values (nurturing the earth and helping her heal). Further, I have found it challenging to live in a culture that views my spiritual paths and practices as “crazy” or “nonsense” (a topic that I’ll discuss in much greater detail in next week’s post). On my way to work, I might commune with a tree spirit, honor the rising sun, or look for signs in the birds flying overhead. And then walk into my office and start my work—pretending these experiences and things are not part of my life. Given this, maintaining that balance and feeling authentic is difficult.
One source of the difficulty is that this path helps us to shine so well. When we spend time in nature, she heals us, wipes off the grime from us, and really helps us to feel more whole and complete. The beauty of who we are, the inner gifts that we have (that in other cultures would make us seers, shamans, leaders, healers), need to be expressed in some way that we feel matters. Failure to find ways of channeling those gifts, those passions, and that bright light that our spiritual path does leave us feeling more like the raisin than the lush juicy grape shining there in the sun.
Given all of this, I see essentially three paths forward to help cultivate more authentic selves: one of these is a “quiet” path of authentic living or what I’ll call the “Path of the Moon” and the second is a more “loud” path of being fully out about one’s tradition, or what I’ll call the “Path of the Sun.” And of course, there is the Path of the Dawn, that straddles the two I’ll present. I’ll explore the Path of the Moon in this post, and next week, I’ll explore the Path of the Sun. Both deserve treatment on this topic, but both are inherently different work.
The Path of the Moon: Cultivating Authentic Living
One way to cultivate our authentic selves has to do with cultivating actions in the outer world in a gentle yet powerful way. Those that are familiar with the Druid’s Prayer for Peace (which has a few derivations) might recognize those words in the peace prayer: “Gently and powerfully, within the circle of all life, may I radiate peace.” We can gently, yet powerfully, radiate the expression of our spiritual path without necessarily being uncomfortable with being “loud” about our paths or blazing like the sun.
You might think about this work like the quiet light of the moon—the moon reflects the sun (our true selves) but does so in a way that is subtle and intuitive. This path allows us to be non-confrontational, not to take up the path of the sun because we are either uncomfortable with the role, are private about our paths, or don’t feel that we are in circumstances that allows us to do so. Whatever the reason, the path of the moon is a quiet path of living authentically in the world yet still allows us to live our true paths.
Why the Path of the Moon?
When I think about my own trajectory of being a druid, of living my own path and finding my way deeper and deeper into the forest, a lot of it had to do with my own comfort and growing experience. When I came to Druidry, I was coming out of years of growing up fundamentalist Christian, and then several years of being a secular humanist and agnostic. I had a long road to walk, within my own heart and mind, to even take on the word “druid” in any public setting. I wasn’t ready; I didn’t really even know what I meant by druidry, so how could I explain it to anyone else? How could I defend it, if I was called to do so? This, then, is obviously one reason that you might take up the path of the moon.
A second reason has to do with life circumstances–so many of us are in places where it is detrimental, personally or professionally, to be “out” about our paths. Maybe your professional life is one that it would be severely detrimental for you to be out and openly a druid; maybe you have a very conservative family and you are worried that they won’t leave you alone if they found out; etc. The point is, at least here in much of the US, we do not live in a world that is kind to those on our path. There is good reason for taking up the quiet path of the moon, as many of us choose to do in our personal, civic, and professional lives. This is not something to be ashamed of, but rather, it is often the work of self-preservation.
But it is precisely this tension that can cause us to feel like we are living two lives–the inner life of druidry or our other spiritual practices and the outer life of your “average” person. And so, we need to find a way to balance those scales, to help us feel more authentic while still hiding away a large part of who we are. So now, let’s look at some of the work of the Path of the Moon to see how we might live quietly, yet powerfully, and express our path:
1: Quiet yet Powerful Actions: Or, Beliefs Manifest as Actions.
One of the ways that I’ve cultivated being my authentic self more quietly yet powerfully is by engaging in external expressions of druidry that are not clearly or inherently “spiritual” to the casual observer. In other words, while these activities are clearly expressions of my druid path in my mind, they are not immediately linked with such others, and may be simply seen as “hobbies” or “interests” or “causes.” In this case, the actions are the outer manifestation of my inner beliefs; and people don’t need to know the why of what I am attempting to do, just the what of actually doing it.
For example, I can teach wild food foraging and herbalism classes through a lens of reverence and respect for the living earth. This doesn’t scream to people, “look at this druid doing this stuff” but it is fully in line with my druid path and I consider it some of my spiritual work in the world. Teaching people about how to carefully and joyfully interact in the ecosystem and teaching them about nature is a key focus in my own personal druid path.
Or for another example, in the last month or so, I have been asked to come and speak on behalf of ordinances for chickens and beekeeping in my small town; I ended up sitting across from a factory farmer who was opposed to both and had to defend small-scale urban beekeeping and chicken keeping. I did so because, for me, chicken and bee ordinances mean that more people can live more sustainably, and intuitively, these kinds of practices can raise awareness and connection with the living earth.
2: Small Signs of Your Path
I remember the time I first came out as a druid in a quiet yet public way. After a powerful ceremony with fellow druids at a gathering, where I had been led by the spirits to start attending to being less “closed”, I had returned home with a beautiful flat stone. I painted an Awen on the stone, and I decided to put it in my office at work. I didn’t say anything about it to anyone but placed it there with a simple prayer. There it stood, as a symbol of my faith, in a very public setting. And when I eventually moved universities, the stone came with me, and it sits now in my new office, quietly radiating the light of my path. That was my very first step, that was my first step to being more public and out there about who I was. Every day, I would walk in my office and just say, “wow”, there I am with the symbol of my faith there on my shelf. Of course, most people don’t know what an Awen is, but that didn’t matter, because it mattered to me. Even a small act, like this one, can help us feel like we are bridging the inner spiritual realms with our outer spiritual living.
I think there are lots of subtle things you can do that are outer, yet quiet, reflections of your path. Maybe its the carefully cultivated shrine in your backyard, the symbol you wear around your neck, the quiet prayers you say before each meal in the company of others. Whatever it is, doing even these small actions can tremendously help you feel like you are living a more authentic life.
3: Shifting Daily Living Practices
The third thing that can help us live more quiet and authentic lives has to do with shifting our daily living practices towards honoring the living earth and treading gently. I’ve written a lot on this topic on the blog, from seed saving to recycling and reducing waste, to vermicompost and natural building, to reconsidering gift giving. Each small shift brings our own outer living in line with our inner spiritual practices. These kinds of shifts can make us feel much more alive and attuned with our own spiritual beliefs.
4: Cultivating Peace and Other Core Values
Even if we don’t feel we can fully be “out” about druidry while walking the Path of the Moon, we can certainly work to cultivate core values of our tradition.
For example, in druidry, one of the central values is peace. We declare peace at the start of our ceremonies and we have prayers, like the druid’s prayer for peace, that offer us as mantras for living. I have spent a tremendous amount of time meditating on this particular prayer (along with the druid’s prayer), and thinking about how I can cultivate peace each day in my own dealings with others. As a reminder, I have the painting of the Druid’s Prayer for Peace hanging in my office at work, a quiet reminder to me to always work to cultivate peace even in what can often be some contentious politics in academia. But I also work to cultivate peace with each of my relationships, and with my relationship with the living world (not killing bugs, for example).
5: The Hermitage of the Heart
In the Gnostic Celtic Church, which functions as the arm of the Ancient Order of Druids in America that focuses on clergy preparation and ordination, we have a concept called “the hermitage of the heart.” Its a simple, yet profound, concept that essentially says that we can maintain the inner joy, clarity, and peace our paths provide in a way that offers us some quiet distance from the typical everyday materialist life. In other words, it encourages us to see that distance between our culture and ourselves not as detrimental but as necessary for the preservation of a rich spiritual life. This philosophy can be useful when it seems the chasm is wide indeed and can help us realize that authenticity comes not always from outer actions, but from deep within and how we frame the interplay between the inner and outer. I find this principle is useful to use for regular meditation and reflection.
I believe there is a lot that we can do in the world that helps us live more authentically even when we don’t feel we can be fully open with who we are and what we believe. It is the quiet path of the moon that gives us some way of balancing our inner beliefs with our outer living in ways that we feel good about ourselves and our paths. I also want to stress that, ultimately, how we navigate this issue of living as our authentic selves is a very personal choice–each of us must figure out how to navigate these dark waters and find our own inner peace on the issue. Its not appropriate to judge others for the work they appear to be doing (or not doing) with regard to their own paths. I know that each of us struggles with this in our own way, and each of us is in different circumstances that may or may not allow for certain visible actions. Just because a person is walking quietly by moonlight on the path of the forest doesn’t mean he or she is not walking there–so be kind to your fellow forest path walkers. Next week, I’ll look at the Path of the Sun, or being much more open as a way of cultivating an authentic self. Blessings!