Preamble: Now that I’m the Grand Archdruid of AODA, starting in 2020, I will be doing one AODA Druidry-based post a month. A lot of my posts are already tied with AODA practices as it is my core spiritual practice, but I wasn’t always as explicit about it as I will be now! 🙂 All of these posts, while framed in the context of AODA druidry, will be applicable to many different kinds of nature-based spiritualities and druidries.
The Wheel of the Seasons offers us many lessons and one of the core principles in AODA is the principle of the Cycle and Season. In Western Pennsylvania, where I live, we have a growing season that runs from May to late October. That us, from Beltane to Samhain, during the light half of the year, we can grow vegetables, forage berries, and be in an abundant and lush landscape. Then, the first hard frost hits in late October. In less than a day, the land withers and the annual plants die. The leaves drop from the trees and grow bare. The landscape literally changes overnight and we steadily move into winter. As I write this, its late January and we have a snowstorm coming through. The withered husks of last year’s plants still line the fields and forests. The sun hangs low in the sky, seeming not to have enough energy to rise. Other than the conifers, the land looks completely dead. But deep within the soil, the roots rest. Within the trunks of the maples, birches, hickories, and walnuts, the sap starts to run. The seeds that were scattered in the fall lay dormant, waiting for the warmth to burst forth. But I know that spring will return—it is just a matter of time. Without this fallow period, the plants here would not be healthy and grow. The land needs its rest so it can return to abundance once more.
This lesson is a critical one for our own lives. Here in the US, there is an “always-on” culture such that people have to work constantly, even when they are sick, when there is a snowstorm, or when we have national holidays. People themselves perpetuate this culture by the glorification of busyness. If you aren’t busy and overwhelmed, you are somehow lazy or unproductive. In a culture that is defined by its productivity and continual growth, this is a price that must be paid. The problem is, this is not sustainable, healthy, or reasonable for any of us. Our culture operates like it is always in high summer, requiring us to constantly be productive. But this is how a landscape grows exhausted, how fields fail to produce yields. And just like an over-farmed field, most people you see are beyond exhausted, balancing too many things and doing none of them well.
When people start working on a degree in a druid order, such as the first degree in AODA, the always-on culture can have a detrimental effect. Some people go full steam ahead, eventually burning themselves out. Others find it difficult to make progress because there is no room in their lives for these practices. Still others make good progress, then have something with life get in the way, and then can’t get back on track. When any of these things happen, the guilt sets in. I have heard many newer druids describe their own shortcomings and shame for not finishing a course in a particular amount of time. I think a lot of this guilt and such comes from the “always-on” culture that makes us think, even for our own spiritual practices, that we need to always be moving forward. But as John Michael Greer has said on multiple occasions, “Growth at all costs is the ideology of a cancer cell.”
The reason I started this piece with the wheel of the seasons is that it provides us an alternative way to think about our own path of spiritual development. Spiritual development works a lot more like the wheel of the seasons than a straight linear path of productivity (like we may have experienced in our formal education). Depending on what is going on in our lives, our spiritual practices may need to respond in different ways. Fallow periods are as necessary to us and our development as periods of high growth and harvest. As an example from my own life: I’ve been a druid for almost 15 years. I’ve completed the courses of both OBOD and AODA in that time and have studied and grown through other projects and practices. I regularly take fallow periods where I allow myself not to do anything and just fall into the basic nature-based spiritual practices—being out in nature, doing some light meditation, and allowing myself to regenerate. This fallow time, this unstructured time is not when I’m checking items to do off my list, but rather, where I’m simply allowing my spirit and body some rest. This fallow time often leads to very rich understandings and a deeper sense of self. Because just like in nature, the fallow periods have function and purpose—they allow our subconscious to work. When the land goes into slumber, the roots grow deeper. When the human body fasts, within 24 hours, the body is making tremendous amounts of cell repair and regeneration. When we go fallow for a time, our spirits do that same kind of work.
Sometimes fallow periods in our spiritual life come because we choose not to plant anything in the soil. But sometimes they come because life sends us a curveball, something painful or wonderful that we did not expect but that takes up a good amount of our energy. Our attention, for a time, may be diverted from our own spiritual development. I think anyone who has been on this path for a period of time has had a fallow period—or several—happen And for those who haven’t yet or those who are going through this now—to you I say—it’s ok. It may be a necessary part of your path. Given time, this fallow period will end and you will find yourself once again in the place of high summer. At the same time, I think it’s important to recognize the difference between a fallow period that is temporary and is healthy vs. never accomplishing what you set out to do. That’s a different kind of problem, almost like a multi-year drought.
The other thing that happens to well-meaning people is thinking that there is some kind of “gold standard” of spiritual practice and trying to measure up to that standard. Again, our own cycles and seasons vary, and these practices thus need to be adapted to each of us. Meditation is a really great example of a practice that is quite varied and one in which many people struggle to establish. For example, a common suggestion in AODA is to meditate while sitting on a straight-backed wooden chair. For most people, this is an excellent suggestion as it keeps them focused and not too comfortable. But, I have a fairly sensitive body and some back issues, and after trying and failing to use multiple chairs comfortably for almost two years, I gave up and started meditating laying down on a yoga mat. What a difference that made! After making the change not only was I more inclined to want to meditate (as opposed to forcing myself), but my meditations also became much longer, more rich, and more focused. As another example, some members of AODA with ADHD have found it impossible to sit still long enough to meditate in any stationary position, and thus, have made walking meditation their core meditative practice. The key here is that while meditation is a core practice of AODA, how you fit this into your own life and make it a workable and regular practice for you may vary. This is *particularly* true in a flexible and self-directed order like AODA, where we encourage you to take the basic practices and adapt them to your ecosystem, local culture, and individual lives.
As you are thinking about how to adapt AODA’s practices to the cycle of your own life, some questions you might ask yourself are: Who are you? How do you function? How can these spiritual practices support a better functioning version of yourself? When is your energy the highest? How can you fit these practices into your own cycles of your life? When I look at these questions, I recognize a few things: first, I have a demanding job, and I know at the end of a long day, I can’t to deep spiritual work. Thus, I do most of my deep spiritual work (such as seasonal celebrations or ritual work) on weekends when my energy is highest. Second, because we have a homestead and lots of animals, tending our outdoor flocks in the morning is a regular part of my daily cycle. Thus, I do early morning spiritual practices with our flocks as a movement meditation and I always take about 10 minutes to engage quiet and stillness in our gardens and on our land after I finish tending them. This 10-minute daily practice never fails me because every day, regardless of the weather or my own energy, I have to tend the birds. It is fully built into the cycle of my life. At the end of the day, I perform the Sphere of Protection and use discursive meditation to help focus and quiet my mind before bed. I have found that bookending my day with my spiritual practices has been most beneficial in my life. It took me a while to find this particular approach to my spiritual practice. I also recognize that while this system works for me in my life now, if something radical about my life circumstances were to change, it would likely no longer work and I’d have to find a new routine. At my former job, my cycle was very different. A challenging work environment meant that the first thing I did every day when I went to work was to ground myself, do some deep breathing, and do the sphere of protection. My current work doesn’t require such activity, so I’ve used the SOP in my life for a different purpose. This example, I hope, also teaches another lesson: there are times when adapting our spiritual practices can offer us benefit in our lives. There are also times when we need to adapt part of our lives to our spiritual practice.
The last metaphor of nature’s cycles that I’ll touch on today is the role of a regular period of growth. In our homestead each year, we understand that a yield takes effort. If we want tomatoes, we have to start the seeds in about March, water them each day, shelter them until they can be planted out, and finally plant them. As they grow, we make sure they have a healthy and rich soil to grow in, have adequate light and water and are properly supported. We need to keep an eye on pests and things that would damage the tomatoes and respond appropriately. If we’ve done all this, within 5-6 months, we will get our first yield. This is a slow process. It requires us attending to our tomato plants daily, putting a small amount of effort each day so that we can eventually reap bountiful rewards. This lesson, part of nature’s cycle, is also tied to our own spiritual development. Spiritual development, like any human development, is a gradual process. People often think that it’s the big events, the big breakthroughs that define us as people. But if you aren’t putting in the work regularly (like watering, weeding, and fertilizing those tomatoes) the big breakthroughs won’t come as readily because you won’t be cultivating that spiritual life. Regular cultivation of a spiritual practice is the true way in which we grow over time. You can’t have tomatoes without planting them first!
To conclude, looking to nature’s cycles can help us understand our own spiritual development and give ourselves the benefit of the doubt when we aren’t “progressing” as we think we should. Also, we can use the lesson of nature’s cycles to make the most of our own cycles for spiritual practice—recognizing that we have them and working with them, rather than against them. Look at the cycles of your own life and think about when you have time, energy, and built-in existing activities that may benefit from one or more of AODA’s regular spiritual practices. I think there is much to reflect and meditate on here concerning the principles of cycles and seasons—both those in the broader landscape and the lessons they hold, but also how our own cycles and seasons contribute to our spiritual paths.
PS: I am indebted to my fellow Archdruids of AODA, Adam Robersmith and Claire Schosser, for planting the seeds of this conversation and encouraging me to write on this topic.
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Congrats on becoming the grand archdruid! “And just like an over-farmed field, most people you see are beyond exhausted, balancing too many things and doing none of them well.” I see this vividly every single day. Everything you say here makes sense to me and I think you can expand on it (if you so choose to, haha, no pressure!). People are burned out or well on the way. I very much like the “high summer” analogy you drew. Since the roots of American culture began with the Puritan/European value of labor/production, we’re stuck in this mode, seemingly. Americans are conditioned to overschedule themselves and it’s making them sick. Depression is epidemic but it’s also related to a sense of futility in the system that won’t stop for breath, the economic chaos, looming climate change etc. I have seen/witnessed people drive themselves until the body shut down into a state of depression to make the person stop pushing themselves. Sometimes they had no choice, ie working several jobs to keep the bills paid. However, it leaves little time for spiritual practice, as you say. The nonstop political overdrive is adding to our malaise, as is the constant browbeating of every commercial holiday being flogged months ahead of it, until one is sick of it already (hello Christmas in July!). And children are loaded down with play-dates and supervised within inches of their lives, and later pushed to attain advanced degrees and rack up enormous student loan debt in hopes of some nebulous job offer that may never materialize. I am a bit older than the “millenial” generation, so I could see it coming; their generation having the awareness to also see through the illusion is somewhat reassuring. it may be that the purpose of all this is to turn people off so that, lacking any alternative, they decide to tune in and discover the inner world awaiting them. We’ll see.
Thanks for your comments, Kieron! I took the position at the Fall Equinox of 2019, and am now finding my footing with it :).
Yes to everything you have written. “Overdrive” is a good way to describe where we are at culturally. Its overwhelming. Yet, I don’t get overwhelmed when I go to the forest and my gardens, so I make it a point to tune in there more often than anywhere else, haha!
I am really rejecting this whole notion of fast culture and fast society as much as I am able. Work really makes it hard (I work in academia where the glorification of being overworked is literally foundational to people’s scholarly identities…) but I still do my best. I work to schedule as much unstructured time as I can, and keep my work life in balance (not more than 40 hours a week, for real) so that I have time for spirituality, my family, my friends. I like to “go dark” as I call it, usually in January for a few weeks, and not respond to people’s messages or answer my phone. I think attending to it today, and recognizing it for what it is, can help us see through the facade.
Because there are two pieces to it. One is the facade, the more you jack into the culture, the more busy and miserable you seem to be. But the other is real–the increasing demands on people because of low-paying wage slave jobs, the reduction or elimination of full-time work and benefits, and so on. There is no getting around having to work more for less.
I hope at some point the pendulum swings in the opposite direction!
Concerning your comments about speed and time, I wrote a series on time a while ago that expands on that concept a bit. Here are the links to it:
Thanks for the series links, and I would venture to say being the Archdruid, you’ll be in a good position to counsel and coach the initiates and ovates (and whoever else) that fallow periods are necessary in any life. I like to compare them to the Yin half of the Tao, the receptive/feminine/intuitive side that we keep suppressing or ignoring in this “high summer” Yang culture we’re immersed in.
“… to you I say—it’s ok.” ~ Thank you. I needed that.
You are most welcome. Thanks for reading and your comment, Mark!
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Dear Dana, you have so many wonderful thoughts here. I have often thought myself that the work/productivity ethic in our culture is very overdone and unhealthy. I make sure I have downtime to enjoy nature, nurture my spirituality, and do things I enjoy. I have one volunteer activity related to preserving a healthy natural climate/environment (which is critically important): to other things people ask me to do I say no, and I never take work home from my job unless there is a crisis. Nurturing my spiritual self and spending time in nature with plants, birds and other life are, to me, the things that make life worth living. Work (peoples’ jobs) all too often does nothing to make life worth living, but mostly pays the bills. I find fallow time, rest time to be invaluable. I really like AODA too. I have Michael Greer’s book. I’ve started the OBOD course but I’d like to be an AODA member too. I think it’s wonderful you are now the grand Archdruid!
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Although written from an AODA perspective, this a wonderful post for anyone on a spiritual or creative path. It’s one reason I cycle my life around the Wheel of the Year. Nature knows best!
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Such an important message for me, in my personal busiest time of year. It’s also been a time when I’ve firmly implanted a full daily meditation and other grounded touch points during the day. I’ve truly found it creating my space in my mind, heart, and also frankly time! I’d long regularly meditated but the true daily practice is a blessing that is a bit different every day.
Glad that you found the message helpful 🙂