“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” – William James.
The early harvest is beginning to be gathered in from the fields around my village, with harvesters and tractors busily at work, and fields that were oceans of waving grain are now becoming stubble dotted with hay bales.
The wheel of the year moves on, and we turn from the high summer of the Solstice to the time of harvest at Lughnasadh or Lammas. It’s a time for celebrating all that nature gives to us and remembering that no matter how “advanced” we believe ourselves to be we still owe our lives to the earth, the sun and the rain.
It’s also a time for thinking about the metaphorical harvests in our lives: what are we gathering to ourselves? And crucially what will we cut?
I wear around my neck a small silver scythe, lovingly handmade by the amazing Darkwood Jewellery in Poland. The scythe is inextricably entwined in our culture with the images of the Grim Reaper, the anthropomorphic personification of Death. While early medieval Deaths were sometimes seen carrying swords or spears, it is the scythe that has stuck with us. A scythe is not a weapon to kill, but a tool of agriculture, it cuts the wheat only in order to give life in the form of bread. The scythe is both a memento mori and a sign of life, of our interdependence with the endless cycles of nature.
To me, it also reminds me of the need to cut.
In our ever more greedy capitalist culture of consumption and destruction, we are constantly bombarded with messages that in order to be happy and whole we need to add more: more work, more clothes, more gadgets, more social media, more more more.
But the scythe and the harvest teach another lesson; that rather than adding, sometimes we need to take away, to cut.
“Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n’y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n’y a plus rien à retrancher.” – Antoine de Saint Exupery.
This is a lesson that I routinely need to learn. I tend to take on a lot, and be driven by other people’s expectations, which then leads to burnout and has an effect on my mental health.
This year, in particular, my mental health has been consistently strained, and stretched by various demands on my time. It hasn’t been good, let’s say that.
“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” – Bilbo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien.
A growing recognition of that has led me to make some tough decisions about what to cut from my life. I’ve had to scale back on a lot of things, even those activities which I initially enjoyed but which have since become “things” added to a list of “things”, done out of obligation.
This blog, for instance, hasn’t been updated for nearly a month. I simply found that the three posts a week Sunday/Wednesday/Friday schedule was not sustainable for me in the long term. So, I took a break, cut it entirely, and now want to grow it in a more relaxed and more meaningful way. Go back to what it was for me originally – a space to think in words, without schedule or demand.
More difficult and more large in scale has been my decision to step away from my Druid College studies. With my mental health in decline, I have found it increasingly impossible to give the course the time and energy it needs, and I have not been engaging with it as much as I would want to: homework undone, study weekends missed, meaningful connection reduced to a to-do list that never gets done.
The course, the College and the people are amazing, and I have no bad thing to say about them. This is not a slight on the part of Druid College, but is a decision I have had to make to prioritise my own wellbeing and recovery at present. One day, perhaps, I may be in a place to retake my second year and go into the third year with the willingness and openness it calls for.
This is, of course, not my “quitting Druidry”. Druidry remains my inspiration, my foundation, the Awen that calls and expresses my soul. But, studying Druidry is not the same as doing Druidry. Reading about Druidry is not the same as doing Druidry. Druidry is practice, it is connection, with the land, the sea, the sky, with our kindred creatures of fur and feather, shell and scale, bark and leaf. It is the wind in the reeds, whispering ancient lore. It is the rain on the mountainside, cooling and life-giving. It is the Oran Mor, the song of the world. It is me, feeding the garden birds or walking by the river on my lunch break. It is life in all its magic and all its mundanity.
To cut is painful. The scythe has a sharpened blade, and is the tool of the Reaper. But, as this time of year teaches us, to cut is sometimes necessary. From the cleared ground, new life can grow. From the harvest gathered in, of experience and lessons learned, the alchemy of transmutation can produce bread, nourishment, sustenance.
What might you need to cut from your own life?