Taking a Breath: Spiritual Care for Intense Times

The spirit of New England Aster - from the Plant Spirit Oracle

To say that this hasn’t been an easy week for anyone in North America, Europe or in many places around the globe is an understatement. Between what is happening in work life, school life, and political life, the situation is difficult to navigate.  I’ve talked to many friends and family who are feeling overwhelmed, lost, panicked, and fearful about the near future. So today’s post is about taking a breath.  Its times like these that I am thankful for my druid practice, thankful for the healing nature provides, and thankful for the lessons of spirit.  Let’s take a breather today, now, in this space and time, and talk through a few spiritual self-care practices that can help in times of high stress, anxiety, and intensity.  I have three kinds of suggestions that have helped me get through this week–embracing nature, embracing spiritual practices, and embracing the bardic arts.

Embrace Nature

Regardless of what is happening in the broader world, the nature that embraced you last week still is there for you today.  While everything is going crazy in the social sphere, the natural world has not changed. Embracing nature, letting nature heal, calm the spirit and soothe the body is critical in this time.  Nature is the great healer and nurturer of the human soul, a place that we can always return to as a refuge, to seek healing and strength.  Here are three suggestions for this time:

  • Visit a tree.  If at all possible, go to nature for your healing and strength. As this week’s situation was unfolding, particularly with my work and family, a tree in our yard–a beautiful Norway spruce friend that I can always see from my window and that I walk past every day– kept calling to me.  Come closer, sit, stay awhile.  Each day, 10 or 15 minutes of time with this tree.  This was extremely beneficial.  So spend some time in a natural area, sitting with your back to a tree, and just let nature calm you.

    Connecting with plants and trees
    Connecting with plants and trees
  • Sit with a plant.  Perhaps you are practicing self-isolation and social distancing and live in an urban environment where you can’t or don’t want to get out. A house plant is very much a friend in these times.  Sit with the plant.  Stay awhile.  Simply quiet your mind and observe your plant–observe how the sunlight comes in and plays off of the leaves, how the leaves grow, how the plant smells.  Be in this moment, here and now, and recognize that nature is a great healer.  Practice gratitude.
  • Connect with the energies of life. In a pandemic situation, the fear is fear of sickness, ill health, and death.  Counter that larger cultural narrative and personal fear by focusing on things that bring in the energies of life.  Start some seeds (spring equinox is right around the corner) for your garden.  Be with them each day as they grow.  Start some sprouts on your counter.  Sit in the sun, the vital bringer of life.  Find ways of connecting with life and the energies of life each day, and especially in moments where you feel overwhelmed and panicked.

Embrace Spiritual Practices

Keeping in mind simple spiritual practices during this time can help calm the mind, body, and spirit.  Part of this is bringing ourselves to a place of calm but also attending to not letting others’ fears/uncertainty cloud our judgment.

  • Daily meditation and breathwork.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, take a few deep breaths.  Sit with a candle or simply with your eyes closed for a few minutes.  Let the thoughts rise and fall, not hanging onto them, simply notice the thoughts, and let them pass. Keep breathing.  If you can do this kind of work with your plant or in nature, all the better. A hot bath with candlelight also is a nice compliment for the simple breathing and mind quieting techniques.
  • Daily protection.  Part of what daily protective work does is help keep everything external to you away from you–and hence, during these times, daily protective work can be very beneficial.  It helps you get less caught up in the fever that is happening right now. I highly recommend the AODA’s sphere of protection ritual for this, as it does multiple beneficial things: balances the elements around and within you, summons the positive qualities of the elements, banishes away the unbalanced qualities, and finally, protects you.  You can learn more about this ritual here.
  • Attending to thoughts and feelings (e.g. the social media purge).  By its very definition, magic is the direction of the will.  Magic can be intentional and conscious, and it can also be unintentional and subconscious.  Right now, the entire world is essentially directing their will in a fearful and panicked manner.  The fear just picked up this week here in the US, but this situation is unfolding everywhere. Yes, this is a serious situation, a situation, unlike anything many of us have ever experienced.  Yes, it is dangerous for many. But panicking and allowing emotions to overtake us will cause even more anxiety and stress and essentially allow oneself to get swept up in the panic and fear wave.  Recognizing that the creation of these emotions is literally a magical act can help you protect yourself from it.  The more of this that you consume of this situation (via social media, news, etc) the more than your own physical and emotional selves will take on that which this collective is generating.  Find ways to both limit your consumption and protect yourself from others’ emotions.  I’ve limited myself to looking at social media only once a day, as its too easy to get caught up in the collective intensity and fear. What is being said now is no different than what is being said 30 minutes ago–and checking in more often than that can catch you up, physically, emotionally, and even spiritually.
Lots of opportunities for spiritual journaling!
Lots of opportunities for spiritual journaling!

Embrace the Bardic Arts

Create your way into a place of peace, calm, and balance.  If you are struggling to process this experience, create something that helps you do so.  The bardic arts have many benefits, especially for healing.  Also, while many of us are hunkered down, the bardic arts can be a place of discovery, creativity, and refuge.

  • Journaling.  Acknowledging your feelings, giving them space and voice, can help you move beyond them. Write about your feelings as a way of processing what is happening. After you’ve written, you might choose to keep it or, ritually burn what you have written.
  • Ugly art and healing art.  I’m a big advocate of ugly art–art that has a healing purpose.  If you want the feelings and thoughts out of you, express them in some ugly way, a way that nobody else has to see or know.    Scribble on a page, cry, laugh, throw paint around.  Make ugly art till you no longer feel overwhelemd/panick/etc–the act of creating helps bring your feelings forth.  Once you have finished your ugly art, I suggest finding a way to ritually discard it (e.g. burn it, tear it up, bury it).  I don’t recommend keeping these pieces long term; they serve a purpose and that purpose is generally fulfilled at the completion of the work.
  • Sing, Dance, Create, and Make Merry.  Obviously, this situation is a major disruption to life–so why not make the problem into a positive thing? Perhaps it’s a good time to pick up a new bardic art, to learn to sing or dance, or otherwise do movement that can help you release tension.  Learn something you always wanted to, make something you always wanted to make, or work on honing a skill.

One of the axioms of permaculture is “the problem is the solution”.  We can see this same wisdom in the “hanged man” card from the Tarot, where it’s about looking at a problem from a different angle.  I think there is tremendous power in reframing a problem into something that is good, is beneficial, and that helps us grow in some way. Yes, our lives are being radically disrupted and what is happening is happening. But how could we turn that disruption into a good thing? Does it give us more time to spend at home, with family, with ourselves?  Does it give us a break from the “grind” of modern living and give us time to be in a new space?  Does it help us connect with nature or ourselves in a new way?  I hope it will, for many of us.

I hope these suggestions will bring you some opportunity for peace during this challenging time. Dear readers, I would love to hear more about your own spiritual self care practices and what you are relying on during this time–please feel free to share in the comments!

Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for almost 20 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice (REDFeather, 2021), the Sacred Actions Journal (REDFeather, 2022), and Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Approaches for Healing the Earth (REDFeather, 2024). She is also the author/illustrator of the Tarot of Trees, Plant Spirit Oracle, and Treelore Oracle. Dana is an herbalist, certified permaculture designer, and permaculture teacher who teaches about reconnection, regeneration, and land healing through herbalism, wild food foraging, and sustainable living. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart. She also regularly writes for Plant Healer Quarterly and Spirituality and Health magazine.

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  1. Thanks Dana — perhaps you’d like to share my parallel meditations of today: —


    Unwittingly, and certainly unintentionally, inestimable damage has been wrought upon the undeveloped childhood mind by forced education. In order to explain this extremely radical assessment of how education has harmed – instead of enhanced – the development of the mind it will be useful, if not essential, to acknowledge what has been scientifically measured as a generous estimate as to how much of the mind’s latent and dormant potential is accessed by the intentionally designed creative rationale of the conscious mind.

    The Guardian Newspaper (UK Edition) reported, “In rare cases, brain damage has unlocked prodigious mental abilities in patients. Now researchers are exploring the hidden potential in all of us”; this writer agrees with the idea of hidden potential, and not only in how it may be released, but by what means it was hidden, and how its obscurity has been sustained.

    An important premise, upon which to base research investigation, is that the original design, and intended use of the means of realising our potential (e.g. the human mind with its capability of unlimited imagination), has been compromised (at some point or points) in the past, and that the state-of-consciousness, still present and available (but imprisoned as it were by emotional constraints), has lain dormant and seemingly inaccessible, except by accident or some fluke-of-nature that produces genius.

    After millennia of existing in a virtual dream state, it’s become customary to imagine and accept that the war-torn world in which mankind struggles valiantly to survive, is the only option available to us, which in turn becomes its own self-fulfilling prophesy.

    A ‘savant syndrome’, which was brought to the public eye by Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of an autistic savant in the Rain Man film, in 1988, (Guardian article) “has led some researchers to argue that there is a hidden genius within all of us – and also to look for ways in which this latent potential could be unlocked.”

    If some people don’t resonate with logic-and-reason – and there are many who can’t or won’t – it is because of an accumulation of colossal static in their content-of-consciousness that Buddhists have identified as ‘the three poisons’ of hatred, greed, and ignorance.

    I’d add ‘fear’ to the Buddhist trio of poisons, because it is fear that instigates the other three. Fortunately, perfect love casts our fear, so, with the expulsion of fear the other poisons will die of starvation.

    Yes indeed, the truth-of-perfect-love makes free, not necessarily from the suffering and problems associated with the mankind-made world, but primarily from the prohibitive constraints in the content-of-consciousness – the poisons – that have, over many millennia, caused problems, instead of Paradise, to manifest as an accurate reflection of the distorted state of fear-imbued human consciousness.

    As our content-of-consciousness is duly restored to sanity, then our individual and collective unified and harmonised creativity will in turn restore our extended environment in ratio to the extent of the purification of consciousness. Since purification of consciousness must precede a restoration of Earth’s environment to stability, it is of primary importance to allow the filter of common-sense eliminate the cumulative poisonous toxins, which is, of course, a matter of personal diligence and integrity, in allowing what doesn’t belong in consciousness to pass away.

    Let it be suggested here that our potential of perfection was never locked away from us, but that it has been obscured by the idea that the human mind is worthless without education, and so all the seemingly important bits information it can absorb have been crammed into this wondrous capacity we have (for interfacing the realm of creative thought), and instead of releasing the dormant potential, we’ve largely relied upon imitating and improving past experiences. That’s right, isn’t it! In any case, it’s a valid stance to take in order to afford us an opportunity of reversing the condition, utilising the ability to forget, and discovering what life-beyond-memory has in store.

    Not only is the mind contaminated by toxicity from the racial subconscious, it is then added to, with compound-interest, by each subsequent generation’s contribution of toxic history. That vicious cycle must stop now, in this generation, while it is still relatively easy to swallow false pride and admit the innocent reality of childlike humility. Despite our considerable accumulation of knowledge and learning, we obviously don’t know better that life how our evolution should and would unfold, according to the design and control of life, instead of the manipulative aspirations of education in the comatose state.

    With infinite love, Peter


    1. Hi Peter, thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Dana, I teach at a university in Montana, and some of your posts are on our reading lists because we’re doing a course on rhetoric and plants — thinking and talking about the ways different peoples relate to plants and communicate with and about them. I’ll be online with them in the coming weeks when they read your druidic perspective, and so this post is especially meaningful for them and me. Thursday I told them to go home and self isolate and sit with a house plant or get out in the woods away from people. We talked about not panicking and not being stupid, among other things. They are a delight. Be well. Thank you for the practices and healing you offer.

    1. Rhetoric and plants? That sounds like my kind of course. Tell me more about it. I love that you are using the sit with the plant or be in the woods as an assignment for your students. Fantastic! 🙂

    1. Thank you for the reblog! 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on Laura Bruno's Blog and commented:
    Excellent advice from Dana! I, too, feel “the problem is the solution” is a good way of navigating life.

    1. Hi Laura! Nice to see you around. Thanks for the reblog~!

  4. Reblogged this on Blue Dragon Journal.

    1. Thank you for the reblog! 🙂

  5. Thank you, there is plenty of sound advice in this article. I live on a rural property so I am ‘far from the madding crowd’ of the city. Yet we have the microcosm in our little country town. My way of keeping the fears at bay is calming meditation and mindfulness of the moment my mind wanders into that garden of fear. I simply switch my attention to something else. I am doing a self imposed art challenge of painting or drawing something each day as a focus to settle my spirit. And of course my spiritual practice of connecting with the trees and local crows. Blessings to you.

    1. Hi Forestcrow, I like the phrase “garden of fear.” It leads you in, just like a different kind of garden does! I love the self-imposed art challenge! Great idea :).

  6. I am so grateful for this post. It took me two long days to process the fear that I knew was not just coming from this mind but also the collective. I can still feel the collective but I have found my way back to peace. I would wish the same for us all.

    1. Yes, this is exactly it. The power of the collective right now, particularly panic and fear, is really quite intense. I am so glad to have these practices for shielding.

  7. Hi, Dana!

    Thanks for this. Permaculture has been part of our navigation tool kit for longer than regular magical practice has, and I couldn’t agree more with your sentiment about “the problem being the solution.” It’s almost always true.

    Right now I’m counting down the minutes I have left to use the computers at our public library. As of COB tonight it will be closed to the public until further notice. This place is our second home. My wife works here (fortunately she gets to keep her job until further notice too, but..) It’s really just hitting how big a blow this will be to our routine and our homeschooling efforts. Though, thankfully we’re stocked up on TP…

    But I appreciate the reminder to breathe and focus for sure. I’ve been doing Regardie’s life force circulation, in addition to my normal GD practice, over the last few days, and it’s been a great big boost.

    I’ve just passed your advice on to my inner circle. Not sure whether our Ostara gathering is going to happen or not. Crossing my fingers. And going outside.

    Best wishes,

    1. Grover, blessings as you and your family weather this storm! Our ostara gathering has been cancelled due to the distance many of our grove members travel.

  8. Thank you

  9. […] Dana offers spiritual self care practices to ease the stress. […]

  10. […] via Taking a Breath: Spiritual Care for Intense Times — The Druid’s Garden […]

  11. […] from A Druid’s Garden has a wonderful blog this week Taking a Breath: Spiritual Care for Intense Times about reducing stress. These ideas can also be used in conjunction with Alban Eiler celebrations, […]

  12. Greetings from a fellow Druid! Nice reminders. They echo my own recent post that shares words along the same lines. You might enjoy it too: https://indigenize.wordpress.com/2020/03/13/covid19-as-shabbat/.

  13. […] Taking a Breath: Spiritual Care for Intense Times […]

  14. Great tips. I’m not panicked, and I see this as an opportunity to start helping to heal the planet in earnest. There are already environmental improvements. Wouldn’t it be great if we could purposefully give the earth a break 4 weeks of every year, until new ways become healthy habits.

  15. Thank you for this. Being in the garden, taking the dog for long walks, playing fun music, reading, listening to funny podcasts and watching amusing films; all have been healing for me and my family. This is a good time for us to do a hard reset, a good time to take stock. The world has been moving at a frenetic pace and now it has come to an abrupt halt. I think everyone feels a bit like they’ve been slapped across the face. There is a lesson in humility to be learned here and I can’t help but think powerful forces of a metaphysical nature are at work.

    1. I like the idea of a “hard reset”. That’s a great metaphor for what is happening. I hope that this pandemic changes us, as a culture and individuals, for the better. I think it has some powerful lessons to teach about slowing down, being with family, etc.

  16. Thank you for this wonderful article. Actually, meditation, breathwork, and journaling are the three things that keep me sane and calm in these tough times. I’ve been suffering from a panic/anxiety disorder for a really long time now and a crisis like this is super overwhelming for me. But I do my best to resist panicking and your advice really helps! I wish I had a garden with a tree, but all I have is a balcony with an old flower pot full of clover and any other weeds. Maybe I should plant some flowers in that pot again. But I’m afraid that I’d kill them sooner or later – as I don’t have a green thumb at all. 😛 I hope that the lockdown will be over soon, then I can take a walk in the forest again. I love trees and the forest is one of my “places of energy” where I can recharge my batteries.

    Peace & Love,

    1. Hi Mika! Thank you so much for reading and sharing your experiences. Your flowerpot full of clover sounds like a great way to connect with nature–just water it and see what happens.

      Around here, we are locked down but are still able to go out in nature, thankfully. A lot of people are going out to local parks, etc.

      1. Thank you for your reply, Dana. Yes, that’s true – the flowerpot full of clover is nature in its purest form. Unfortunately, there’s no park nearby where I live, but a river so I’m sometimes strolling along the riverside. Water is another source of energy for me.

        Have a nice day!
        Peace & Love,

  17. Your knowledge and wisdom Speak to me so deeply. Synchronicity. 💚Thank You

    1. You are most welcome! 🙂

  18. So much resonance here. Thank you, Dana. I’m curious if you and others have also felt the powerful presence of corvids in this awakening/challenging time. When all of this was so new (before I knew how to spell coronavirus), I kept thinking people were saying CORVID-19. Since then, I’ve found a particular connection to magic in the daily through the intelligence, mischief, and wisdom of these beings (especially ravens and crows) as teachers of this evolutionary time. I’ve always spent time observing and listening to the crows and their patterns in my area – and doing so even more now! Grateful to the word slips and my poetic brain 🙂

    1. Hello Leah, thanks for reading and your comment. We have a lot of crows around our property here, and they are always a welcome sight because they keep the hawks away (and we have chickens, so the hawks aren’t very welcome). I find them to be a wonderful messenger bird!

  19. First of all..thank you very much for the insights that you have shared.. i really feel connecting with tree really heals…i love that !! ♥️♥️😊

    And also, one of my practice is to focus on my nostrils for inhale and exhale of breathe…it reconnects me to present moment ! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
    Lots of love.. thank you😊

    1. Hi Viraj, thanks for your comment and reading! I agree–focusing on the physical aspect of the breath coming in can be very helpful :).

      1. Yes Dana..😊 I have written some techniques here for loving in the present moment.. Do share with me how do you manage to do so..🙏🏼♥️ will be glad to learn..

  20. Great post enjoyed it greatly

    1. Thank you, Zita! 🙂

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