Tag Archives: meditation

An Interfaith Walk for Peace

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I think it was with some trepidation that myself and fellow members of Medway Inter Faith Action (MIFA), a local interfaith group associated the The Inter Faith Network for the UK, set out for our Walk for Peace on July 2nd. Although this walk, a procession to promote peace between people of all faiths and no faiths in Medway, had been carefully planned for many months, we still had many concerns. Would anyone turn up? What if it rained? What if some kind of accident happened on the way? And what if we got attacked by racists? [Read more]

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Meeting the Green Man: A Guided Meditation

A meditation for deepening your connection with the Green Man and the environment… perfect for Earth Day, St George’s Day and Beltane. [Read more]

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October 2015 New Moon Chinkon-gyo

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Last night was the New Moon, and so I held chinkon-gyo meditation in front of my Inari altar for the second time, after deciding to do this every New Moon back in September.

Before meditation, I took a shower. This functioned as a kind of o-misogi purification, although admittedly I didn’t do it with cold water as you’re supposed to do. The days are getting colder, and a warm shower is all I want. Eventually, I hope I can pluck up the courage to drench myself in cold water – perhaps then I’ll truly understand what o-misogi is all about.

Following this, I turned off the lights and lit candles in my Inari altar room. I also put on some traditional Japanese koto music, which has the dual function of putting me in the right frame of mind as well as making me feel less self-conscious about chanting; my husband was in the bedroom not far away and he’d be able to hear me chanting if it wasn’t for the music, which I still feel a bit self-conscious about (silly I know, but…).

My local supermarket is now stocking persimmon, a traditional autumn fruit in Japan, so I bought one to offer to Inari-sama before beginning. I also refreshed the other offerings, something I admittedly don’t do often enough. Although the offerings of water, rice and salt will be fine to leave out for a week, the sake goes mouldy very quickly because the altar gets a lot of light. I really need to be a little more mindful and refresh the offerings more often. I can’t imagine Inari-sama appreciates mouldy sake on His altar…

Finally I performed the furitama, prayers and gestures of the chinkon-gyo as prescribed in Llewellyn Evans’ Shinto Norito book. The main change I made was to substitute one of the longer prayers with the Inari Okami Norito, which naturally seems more appropriate. I feel I am getting better at Norito – I can recite the HI FU MI by heart easily now, and although I have not memorised the Inari Okami Norito, I can read it a lot more fluently than when I first started and I have parts of it memorised.

Once again, this felt more like learning a new skill than a real spiritual experience, but I know that as I get better and more practised at chinkon, the spiritual aspect will come. As some consolation, when I finished and came to join my husband in the bedroom, his mobile phone was randomly playing a track by BABYMETAL – a band whose members are all devotees of Inari Okami. I can only take that as a sign that Inari-sama was listening after all!

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New Moon September 2015

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My Inari altar. The picture behind was painted for me by the art teacher at the school I used to work at in Nagasaki. It’s a view from the school window, which overlooks Mount Inasa (in the centre of the painting). At the foot of this mountain is Fuchi Shrine, which includes an Inari shrine on its grounds.

As mentioned in a recent entry, I have decided to start commemorating the New Moon by offering extra dedications to Inari Okami, and to ask Him and the other kami for help with specific things (as the New Moon is associated with wishing in Japan). And tonight I did so by practising chinkon-gyo meditation for the first time before my altar. Chinkon gyo is a form of Shinto meditation that involves both chants of norito (prayers) and gestures as a form of purification and a way of honouring the kami.

I followed the instructions for chinkon-gyo in Shinto Norito. I have to admit that looking up the instructions (and then looking up the corresponding norito) meant that I could not fully immerse myself in the spirituality of the experience, but it was my first time. I know now from previous experience that the first times you hold a new ritual or say a new prayer, you never quite feel spiritually “in tune” – it takes considerable practise before you are comfortable enough with the ritual in order to let yourself be absorbed by it, rather than focussing on simply getting it right. I therefore felt really pleased to be starting something new, and the New Moon seemed to be the perfect time to do it!

In the period of silent meditation that closes the ritual, I offered my prayers and wishes to Inari Okami. I asked Her to heal and watch over particular members of my family who are suffering health problems, as well as to aid and protect the many, many refugees and migrants who are experiencing such difficult times throughout Europe and the Middle East at the moment. I also asked Him to grant our leaders the wisdom to give appropriate help, and to give me such wisdom too.

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After my prayers to Inari-sama were over, I took the opportunity to offer some incense to my statue of Hypnos, who sits atop a wardrobe in my bedroom to promote peaceful sleep. Both my husband and I have had some troubles sleeping lately, so I asked Hypnos to make us sleep better so we could awaken refreshed the next day. The incense I offered was “Opium” scented, which seems appropriate as the classical deities related to sleep are associated with poppies.

I hope my wishes and prayers will be granted!

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Reflections on “Shinto Meditations for Revering the Earth,” Stuart D.B. Picken

ShintoMeditationsWhy did I choose to read this book?

It was another of the slightly cheaper items on my extensive wishlist of Shinto-related books. Plus I liked both the idea of Shinto-based meditation, and was hoping this book would give me more ideas about how to meditate Shinto-style.

In a nutshell, what it is it about?

It is a very, very slim volume that includes a sparse overview of Shinto as an earth-based religion, some suggested group rituals involving “Shinto” prayer, and a little information on misogi purification, and some anecdotes by the author.

What did I particularly like about it?

It’s quite nicely presented, with a pretty layout and typeface.

Was there anything I didn’t like about it?

Unfortunately, I found the entire book to be a disappointment. For those who already know the basics of Shinto, it offers nothing new in its brief summary of what Shinto is, and is more concerned with interpreting Shinto for Western readers and as an environmental movement than exploring what Shinto means the Japanese. Rankin does something similar in Shinto: A Celebration of Life, but does so far more successfully.

Then there are the “meditations,” the part that I was most looking forward to. These “meditations” actually seem to resemble group rituals (they are scripted as such), and I couldn’t see how they were really connected specifically with Shinto, as opposed to generic earth-worship. The “meditations” are all based on different elements such as earth and rivers and stones, but in fact, aside from a few small changes, they are all very much alike, copying the same wording over and over again. I have never seen so much repetition in a collection of rituals, and in such a small volume (let’s not forget it costs £11.99 from Amazon), to fill up most of the pages with repetition is unforgivable.

As for the content of the rituals themselves, they are unremarkable. There’s nothing apart from dialogue – no interactions between participants, no visualisations, no gestures or movements, and the wording is also rather dull.

The section on misogi at the end was slightly more interesting and more detailed, but this information can be found elsewhere. The final words on Shinto in North America are again disappointing – I didn’t find that I learned very much at all about the history of Shinto in America or the fascinating and important Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America.

If you want to read a book on authentic Shinto prayers and ritual, I would recommend Llewellyn Evans’ Shinto Norito: A Book of Shinto Prayers. It’s much, much better.

How has it helped my spiritual development?

In all honesty, it didn’t. It simply taught me that when it comes to books on Shinto, you very often get what you pay for.

Would I recommend this book to others?

No. If you want a book on Shinto ritual, read Shinto NoritoIf you want a book on Western and environmental perspectives on Shinto, read Shinto: A Celebration of Life.

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Reflections on the “Spiral Music” Collection

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I was really excited to learn that Spiral Music, a small, independent record company in the UK that made some really unique New Age/Gothic/Celtic music in the late 80s and early 90s, has decided to re-release four of its most popular pieces on CD! I still prefer owning physical CDs to files, so I was especially pleased to hear this.

I have grown up with Spiral Music (you could find the CDs in shops like the famous Star Child in Glastonbury) and even today, I use it for meditation and rituals (as well as just listening to it for pleasure because they’re really beautiful). They’re from very much a lost era of music – back when producing commercial electronic music was pretty hard work, and when musicians often saw electronic music as being a low-cost “substitute” for hiring real instruments, rather than being treated as an instrument in its own sake. Philip Le Breton, the producer behind the re-released CDs, certainly seems to have seen it this way – he’s tried to make lots of the electronic sounds as “natural” as possible (for example, electronic choral pieces stay within human vocal ranges), and indeed he mixes lots of real instruments into the work as well.

So I thought I’d take the opportunity of this re-release to share my thoughts on these wonderful musical works, in the hope that Spiral gets a bit more recognition!

MagicalEncounters1Magical Encounters 

This was Spiral’s first releases, and it’s a firm favourite among fans – it’s also one of my favourites as well. Inspired by Celtic legends, it’s designed to evoke images of ancient standing stones and mystic lakes. There’s a lovely pathworking text included to aid with meditation to this music.

Reflecting its early origins (like all of Philip Le Breton’s works for Spiral, it started out as a cassette first), it has two tracks – “Side 1” and “Side 2.” My favourite of these has to be Side 1 – it’s really Gothic-sounding with a bell tolling throughout the beginning. You can hear a bit of Track 1 on the Spiral Music website. The sounds of the bell and choir are coupled with birdsong, creating an atmosphere that’s both eerie and serene at the same time.

Track 2 is nice as well – the sound of running water coupled with mystical sounds, and I really like the finale, which has a dreamlike smallpipe solo.

KnightsDestiny A Knight’s Destiny

Spiral’s second release, A Knight’s Destiny, is one of the less popular releases, possibly because it’s one of the weirder ones. But that’s why I really like it! Based on the Arthurian legends, the music is really strange and dreamy. Listening to it feels like going on a strange, spiritual journey (a Grail Quest, even!), starting with the gloomy, atmospheric opening of “A Wounded Traveller” and going on to the more mystical-sounding “Merlin” and “The Unborn Child Galahad,” finally ending with wild “Dragon.” It’s accompanied by a pathworking text that’s as strange and mystical as the music, evoking both the mysticism and the tragedy of the knights of the round table. Definitely one of the more challenging CDs, but recommended for this very reason.

Special bonus – both “Magical Encounters” and “A Knight’s Destiny” have specially-commissioned artwork by renowned Celtic artist Courtney David on the cover, which is pretty special for any fans of modern Celtic art.

GreenMan The Green Man

By the time The Green Man was released, New Age music had become a pretty big industry. Reflecting this, The Green Man is a little more commercial in sound, attempting to incorporate some of the same sounds that lots of other popular New Age artists were using – pan-pipes, drumming and twinkly bells. The first track is pretty standard-sounding New Age music to me – nice, pretty, but not so distinct. However, the second track is really special – it includes an amazing drumming sequence accompanied by a dramatic bagpipe solo that I always look forward to every time I listen to it. I also really like the pathworking text in this one – it explores the possible “character” of the Green Man and has a nice environmental message. Oh, and you’ve probably seen the cover before – this painting by Aaron Gadd of the Green Man has become iconic.

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In this CD, Philip Le Breton departs away from Celtic folklore and into the legend of Atlantis. Both Atlantis and whale song were popular New Age motifs at the time, and this music incorporates both. The first track (which is the more “oceany” one) features lots of natural Humpback Whale song. I’ve listened to a lot of music incorporating whale song, and what I really like about this one is that it doesn’t stray into the over-sentimental or schmaltzy background music that you get with lots of other music featuring whales; it’s mysterious, mystical and has a “lonely” quality that really evokes the ocean depths. If you like the strange, eerie music from the old Ecco the Dolphin games, you’ll probably like this. The second track doesn’t have any whale song, but I really like it because it really seems to evoke the ancient myths of the magical Greek city of Atlantis. It has some nice, ghostly seagull calls as well. I find Atlantis the most relaxing of these four CDs, and really enjoy it.

If you want to listen to some really unique, atmospheric, magical and beautiful music from the proto-New Age era, I really recommend getting some of these CDs. Whether you want to use them for rituals or simply want to listen to them to chill out, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them if you have an appreciation for early British electronica as well as all things Celtic and mystical!

You can find out more about these CDs, listen to some sample tracks, and of course buy them at http://spiralmusic.com. Just bear in mind the Spiral won’t be making any more copies of these CDs once they’re all sold out, so get in quick!

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Candlelight Meditation with Rooted In Yoga

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By Bryan Tong Minh (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday I took part in a candlelit meditation hosted by Rooted In Yoga. I’d found out about the meditation after attending Rooted in Yoga’s “Meditation Flashmob” back in November, and enjoyed this so much I was very keen to take part again.

The meditation itself was similar to the November one, in that it was a guided meditation intended to spread light, love and compassion to others. The difference was that the focus of the meditation was the light of the dozens of candles illuminating the hall in which we were seated. We focussed on a particular candle and visualised taking in its light and warmth, and then sending that light out to the others in the room, and other people we felt needed light and healing.

While I followed the guidance to an extent, I found that I simply enjoyed focussing on the single candle for most of the time. As I’ve found with previous Full Moon Esbats, gazing at a bright light (such as a candle or the moon) for an extended period can be quite an effective way of getting into a meditative state, as eventually the surroundings seem to fade to grey leaving the light the only thing in your field of vision. As I gazed at the single candle, all the other candles in my peripheral vision seemed to blink rapidly like stars as they faded, and the other people in the room faded out of my vision entirely. It became quite an otherworldly and intimate experience.

I thought the meditation was a fantastic way to celebrate the spiritual side of Christmas for people of any or no faiths, and to bring serenity and clarity of thought after all the frenetic activity of the holidays – as the leader of the meditation Kate said, Christmas can be a sensitive and an emotional time, and I think this is very true. Being such an exciting and magical time, it can be wonderful – but it can be quite an exhausting time too. And for those who are missing family and friends, or who are experiencing other problems in their life, Christmas can be a difficult period. I think this meditation was a wonderful opportunity for participants to have a bit of peace and self-healing, while also remembering to extend feelings of love and compassion to others.

The next Sabbat is Imbolc, which is strongly connected with candles (indeed it’s known as Candlemas to Christians). I’d therefore like to try a similar candlelit meditation at Imbolc – I’ll need to look into bulk-buying some tea lights though!

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Meditation Flashmob in Rochester High Street

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The Memorial Green outside Rochester Cathedral, where the meditation took place. Chris Whippet [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

This morning I attended a Metta Meditation Flash Mob by the war memorial in Rochester high street. Organised by Rooted in Yoga, the aim of the meditation was to share love, kindness and compassion – “good vibes,” if you will.

Although not political in nature, I think that this meditation was very well-timed considering both local and national events. For one thing, it’s the day before Remembrance Sunday on the the Centenary of the First World War, and gathering by the war memorial to sit in quiet contemplation and peace seems to me to be a good, positive way to commemorate the occasion.

Secondly, Rochester has been the site of much anger and hate recently, sparked by the up-coming by-election for a local MP. To give a summary of the situation for non-British readers: The respected MP for Rochester suddenly defected from the central-right wing Conservative Party to the considerably more right-wing and eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP). Once considered a minor oddball of politics, UKIP has gained a considerable following in the UK recently – but has also come under criticism for the racist and homophobic sentiments expressed by some of its members. What’s worse, the strong possibility of UKIP winning a seat in Rochester has attracted extreme far-right parties to the local area, who have been demonstrating and distributing their literature, which is highly anti-multiculturalism (and particularly anti-Muslim) in nature. The presence of such hateful groups in Rochester has caused a lot of anger and sadness among so many of the locals – myself included.

So for me, taking part in this meditation has been a way to try and spread feelings of tolerance, love, peace and mindfulness, in a communal and public fashion. It was a form of prayer, a silent demonstration against hate, a celebration of a practice that’s been brought to Britain thanks to multiculturalism, and an expression of hope.

There were about 10-20 participants I’d say, and we all sat in a circle around the memorial. Candles were lit and placed at the foot of the memorial, and we began the meditation by intoning the sacred syllable “aum.” We were then encouraged to start the meditation by focussing on giving love, kindness and compassion to our own selves. In our mind’s eyes we then spread these feelings to those close to us, to those we feel hostility towards, and to our community as a whole. The whole meditation lasted half an hour.

I had my eyes closed the whole time, and it turned out to be quite a sensual experience. At the very beginning it was raining very lightly, and this actually felt quite nice to be sitting in the gentle rain – almost like undergoing a light “misogi” (Shinto purification ritual by water). The rain then stopped and I focussed on the feelings of love and compassion, all the while remaining aware of my surroundings yet distant at the same time. I could hear the wind rustling through the trees, the bells of the cathedral ringing every quarter hour, and at one point a busker playing the guitar.  I was aware of all the other people on the high street, but felt neither self-conscious of them or bothered by them or anything at all – they were just there, just existing as part of nature like the wind and the rain. Towards the end of the meditation, the sun came out and I could feel its warm light on my face – a really hopeful way for such a meditation to end.

I think afterwards we all felt serene and glowing from our experience. I found I got a lot out of it emotionally and spiritually, and I hope that perhaps it inspired onlookers to consider taking time to sit, think, and be at peace.

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Reflections on “Hedge Witch: A Guide to Solitary Witchcraft,” Rae Beth

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You can probably tell that I’ve been on a bit of a reading binge! Which makes sense. The Japanese say that autumn, with its colder days and longer nights, puts us in a more contemplative and nostalgic mood, which is perfect for reading.

I’d had Hedge Witch on my reading wish list for some time, and a friend’s recommendation prompted me to buy it. It is one of the more important works in Pagan-related literature, being one of the earliest works on “Hedgecraft” and solitary practise in general. What makes this work rather unique is that it’s told in a series of letters from the author to her two “apprentices” Tessa and Glyn, passing on her knowledge of the craft.

It’s this unusual format that initially put me off buying it – as a newbie Pagan, I thought it would be better for me to read something more formally instructive, something more like a guidebook than a series of letters. But as it turns out, the “letter” format doesn’t hinder the book’s clarity at all. It provides quite a nice, personal touch. Each letter has a particular topic that it sticks to rigidly, without rambling or side-tracking as you might expect from a letter – in fact, I would say the structure of this book was even better and clearer than some of the more standard guidebooks on Paganism I’ve read! Beth’s writing is concise, simple and at times rather beautiful when she goes into descriptions of the Great Goddess, the Great God and the Five Elements.

Unfortunately, it suffers from one big problem which affects so many works on Paganism. And that is, it offers very little new if you’ve already read some of the other major works on solitary witchcraft. I found much of book was extremely similar to Scott Cunningham’s very similarly titled Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, and I have to admit that I found Cunningham’s book to be a bit more in-depth, convincing and readable.

Another issue I had with Hedge Witch was its overall tone, which I found a little too earnest and solemn. For one thing, Beth cites more dubious aspects of Pagan history as absolute fact, such as claims that neolithic man most definitely worshipped a Goddess but not a God. I find the best books on Paganism and Wicca allow for an element of doubt, presenting multiple interpretations of Pagan history or at least admitting that no-one really knows for sure how our ancestors practised magic and worshipped the Gods. After all, I think most Pagans are willing to accept that how we practice Paganism now is what’s truly important. Beth’s repeated inclusions of historical “facts” about Paganism put me on my guard. Additionally, Beth’s writing doesn’t really convey the joys and wonder of Paganism and witchcraft. She seems quite keen to stress the dangers of magic, as well as the importance and dignity of the Goddess and God, which is all very well – but I’ve always been drawn to Paganism due to the exuberance and passion for life it embodies. I didn’t feel this came through so well in Hedge Witch as it does in some of the other books on Paganism I’ve read.

Finally, Wiccans should note that Hedgecraft of this sort focusses much on shamanic trances and visions, and this is the principal form of magic Beth elaborates on here. While I do like guided meditations and similar (I’ve written my first guided meditation here), I wasn’t so keen on how Beth presents them in Hedge Witch. I feel that she exaggerates the dangers of such psychic experiences just a little too much; not only does she recommend casting a protective magic circle before entering the trance (which is fine), she then suggests that every element you encounter in your vision should be checked, literally at knife-point, to make sure it is truly the thing you wish to perceive and not an imposter. I can’t help but feel that mentally brandishing an athame at everything you meet in your vision would disrupt the flow of the experience and being over-cautious in this way would stop you from becoming truly immersed in the vision. But then I have little knowledge or experience of Shamanism, so maybe I’m underestimating the dangers of these kinds of vision quests!

While it’s an interesting, concise read and a valuable piece of Wiccan literature, I found that Hedge Witch didn’t really inform my own path to a large extent. But Wiccans with a particular interest in Shamanism may find their views differ!

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Encountering Inari: A Guided Meditation

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This is a guided meditation to help the individual deepen their spiritual connection with the deity Inari Okamisama, and to gain mental and spiritual well-being. It should not be viewed as a way to “summon” Inari – rather, it is a method of relaxation and visualisation to encourage deep contemplation of Inari, as well as to offer one’s respect and prayers. The meditation can be memorised, or you can ask a friend to read it out loud slowly and quietly as you meditate, or you can read and record it and play it back.  Continue reading

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