I’ll be honest here – prayer and meditation are not my strong suit when it comes to Druidry. Quiet, wordless contemplation of nature while watching a sunrise or a flowing river, sure. Sitting at a shrine and focusing on my breathing, or praying to some Great Unknown, not so much.
Prayer in particular is something I struggle with. My concept of the Divine is that of the indwelling Spirit in all things and the soul of the Universe itself: this is a hard thing to pray to. For one, it is by definition ineffable, unknowable and beyond language and comprehension. To give this Sprit a name, to anthropomoprhise and speak as if to a human, is to reduce Spirit, to make the vastness of All That Is small. For another, why should I believe that the soul of all Nature cares about my wants and wishes?
Druid and writer Nimue Brown has an excellent book, When a Pagan Prays, that looks at prayer from a more agnostic, nature-centred viewpoint, which resonates more with me than the prayers of more literal belief. In this interpretation, prayer is less about petitioning some god or other to do things for you, and more about changing your own internal sense of values and purposes to be more loving, more open, more awake and aware. This is prayer that I can get behind.
The Druid’s Prayer, created by Iolo Morganwg back in the 18th century, is most often left pleasantly open in modern Druid ceremony as to whom or what, exactly is being prayed to. I’ve stood in Druid gatherings and heard the joyful hubbub that occurs when people begin the prayer, some saying “God” or “Goddess”, others “Spirit”, others specific named deities. I like that – it doesn’t erase our differences but reinforces that we stand together in diversity.
Meditation is perhaps more easily digested in a secular, agnostic context than prayer. Meditation is made very complicated sometimes, but in principle it is just about becoming aware of the present moment, the now, without worry about the future or thoughts of the past.
Formal meditation doesn’t work too well with my brain. I have depression and anxiety and when I’m alone in my head, thoughts are – not of the good kind. And they are hard to control, and hard to simply observe and let pass, because overthinking, ruminating and catastrophising are symptoms of my mental health. Meditation has been shown to have some benefits for some cases of depression, but the idea that meditation is a panacaea for mental illness is damging in its simplicty. People are different and brains are different.
Guided meditations are different: I can listen to a person, or an audio file, guide me on a meditation or visualisation journey without a problem, probably because the guidance gives my mind something to focus on other than itself. The Anglesey Druid Order do a wonderful audio Full Moon Peace Meditation every month, available on their Facebook page. Of course with guided meditation, you are letting someone else direct your thoughts, so do be careful that you know and trust the person who is guiding you.
For me, the meditation that works best is simply being outside. Walking or simply sitting in nature allows for me to enter a state of present awareness without much difficulty. The soft fascination of nature does a similar thing to guided meditation in that it provides something to focus on: the wind in a tree, a flowing stream, waves on the beach, birds flying by, clouds overhead. Becoming tuned in, aware of nature in all its immediacy and presence, is to open your own spirit to the immensity of Spirit, to feel paradoxically both very small and as large as the cosmos, to be filled with life and love, in the present moment. It’s profoundly uplifting and peaceful.
And that, to me, is meditation, and prayer. Awake, aware, alive, in the living world.
What else is there?
[Prompt from Alison Leigh Lilly’s 30 Days of Druidry]