Shamanic Journeying

How to access your unconscious.

The speaker said as much, actually, the Underworld is both under our feet and under our conscious minds. He is eclectic: we journeyed for a Spirit animal, which is “Indian”, and took it into a chakra of our choice, which is, well, Indian.

But it is a brilliant way of accessing the unconscious. You lie back and relax, and there is the drum going regularly. I lay down in the tent, under a net with coloured strips hanging from it and woven through it, and he came over and sat by my head.

-I’ll try not to deafen you.
-Do what you must, I said, happily. Loud drumming is fine.

Then there is the story, and the voice giving it, hypnotically. We are in a meadow, and see a tree, with a hole to the Underworld. We go down into a garden, filled with beauties of my choice. I find myself anticipating, and choosing. After, when we talk about what our animals were, and what our experiences were, a woman worries that she is just finding what she imagines, or what she feels she ought to find. How would I know, whether my animal is proper, like, Inspiration, or just my thoughts?

Well, I don’t, though by its fruits I may know it. I had a dog, and that may just have been because a woman nearby was talking of her labrador, beforehand. It looks lovely, and knows it, and loves attention from people, asks for it, and always gets it, even when wet, with its big, brown eyes. Talking after, I widened the metaphor, thinking of that dog; a lap dog, which never touches the ground; that terrifying security dog; and working dogs. Dogs are extremely versatile. One woman had a cheetah, the other a badger, which she questioned initially, inwardly, but it stayed a badger. She did not know what to make of it. Perhaps the badger will come to her in dreams, and tell her.

Deep down, in the darkest depths of the Subconscious, dwells-


It could be a message from that. Then again, it could just be a useful metaphor. Anything, any magic, any spell to craft and call forth my courage.

Also at Buddhafield: Singing in the big top. A woman divided us into SATB, and gave us four part harmonies to remember, singing each line separately with each group. I alternated between Soprano and Bass, sometimes in the same song. Then we walked round the tent, mingling the voices. Doing this when younger, I could not hold a line, but changed to sing the tune rather than the harmony; now I sing my own line,  Goddess looking gorgeous singing your soul out- you touched my heart wrote a friend.

Slippery slope II

“Legalising gay marriage will start us down a slippery slope to legalised paedophilia and bestiality.”

Oh! The poverty of the mind that could argue that! He imagines his disgust for lovemaking is a moral good, and a justification for legal penalties for those who do it. He imagines that once that disgust is no longer a basis for law, everything which disgusts him will be legalised. He sees other people as lacking the proper disgust which he feels and therefore broken in some way, and needing moral guidance and social control to come round to his way of thinking, or at least conform outwardly to it, from fear. Comparison to bestiality shows quite how much I disgust him.

There will be no slippery slope to paedophilia, which has a victim. But here I found myself debating bestiality– as you do on blogs, well, I could not sleep because of the heat. I started from the position, no, of course there will be no slippery slope to bestiality.

But- how do I argue against it? It disgusts me, I cannot comprehend the desire, but my disgust should no more be a rule for the world than the homophobe’s.

Animal cruelty is a possibility. Animals cannot properly consent to bestiality. But, while I deprecate battery farming and experimentation on animals, I tolerate these things, and profit from them; and all farming ends in slaughter. We use animals for our benefit. Can bestiality morally be distinguished from other uses of animals, apart from via the disgust perhaps a majority feels?

Natural law is another possibility. Sex has the purpose of uniting two human beings as one, and in gay LTRs it does so, just as in straight relationships. Bestiality is so much less. But, such an argument equally opposes masturbation, and I would not ban that, even if anyone could.

So. Legalising gay marriage will put us on the slippery slope to bestiality.

Well, not exactly. Even if they cannot create an internally consistent moral argument for current law, legislators may want to ban bestiality. We improve, steadily: the UK parliament banned hunting of foxes with hounds, as a measure against animal cruelty. Just because we cannot abolish animal cruelty with the stroke of a legislator’s pen does not mean we should not take action to reduce it.

And bestiality will remain a minority taste. It disgusts most people.

But at the end, I am confronted with the bestialist. He does not find it disgusting, but sufficiently attractive to make the effort to do it. I imagine, there are better ways of pursuing human flourishing, even sexual release, and he does not. I do not set myself up as a judge over him, and reach out with tendrils of empathy and love- what is it like to be this man?

I cannot say, there are better ways of being, because that is the position of the homophobe judging the gay couple. If I believe that the route to progress is to enable people to seek their own flourishing in their own way, as long as it harms no other person, then I cannot forbid bestiality.

Here is a man who bases the slippery slope on the US concept of civil rights: and also includes an extract from an “animal sex advocate”. Here is a gay person who finds bestiality “creepy as hell”. I should say that I seek empathy with the person, and not with the act, which I find incomprehensible. Here is a person who finds sex funny. Well, duh.

Added: I am delighted that C. Scott Fowler has reblogged this. If you come from his site, please do comment here. I am interested in other perspectives, and you may even persuade me to modify my view.

Worship at Buddhafield II

Meditation space after the Puja

ShrineOn Saturday evening, with time to spare before the ceilidh, I sat under a sign saying Meaningful Conversation. I had little, though we established that Meaningful Conversation must have meaning for all the conversationalists. The woman invited me to worship in a small tent in the Dharma Parlour. Here we chanted a simple mantra for half an hour. Chanting links us to the Power and its gifts. Oh, OK.

Sitting comfortably is difficult for me. I need to stretch my thighs, to kneel in postures which seem so natural in others. That is on my mind. And- the sound of the singing bowl, and its shape, are beautiful.

Worship should be beautiful. Worship should feed souls. Contact with others, shared experience practice and aims, are all lovely, and the sound of the bowl adds to that.

There are seven of us, with a worship leader aware that some of us are campers, and do not do this “in real life” as we dismissively say. Or I am projecting. We chant, we hear the bowl, we open ourselves to Higher Things, and we kneel or sit in silence for a time, after.

Sunday morning, I did the “awareness of breathing for beginners” session. I did not do the “Metta for beginners” session. First, we count breaths: in, out, 1. In, out, 2. So on, to ten, then back to one. We do this for seven minutes.

Shrine 2Continuing, we count breaths: 1, in, out. 2, in, out. So on to ten, then back to one. We do this for seven minutes. Third, we are aware of the sensation of the breath. We do this for seven minutes. Fourth, we are aware of the breath in the nostrils and the tip of the nose. We do this for seven minutes.

The seven minutes could be ten, or shorter, or longer. Two minutes would be too short. The counting is to give the conscious mind something to do: if we lose track, or think of something else, we go back to one. Sometimes people forget to go back to one after ten: “The record is 32”. If you do this, go back to one. If in the third or fourth sessions you find your attention drifting, it may help to count breaths for a minute. Breathing may become shallow or deep: notice it, do not force it. Breathing happens, all the time, mostly without being noticed (though I notice it now, as I write of it)

It makes us still, and away from the conscious mind. This has advantages, I understand, in clarity of thinking, reducing worrying and ruminating (going round in circles). It is a practice I could adopt, easily, at home.

I had to go to the loo at 3am. I walked through the dark silent campsite in pyjamas, loving the brightness of the stars and the Milky Way: with light pollution, and clouds, I have rarely been aware of it before.

Questions for sharing in workshops:
-What is Peace?
-What are you sensing, right now?
-Can you get closer to the sensation?

At 11, as I am going to bed, I find a group playing. I join them, and play their keyboard.

Worship at Buddhafield

shrine at night

shrine at night 2Many people here are new-age hippy types, but many are Buddhist. Some of them have a visible case of Believer’s Pity- they know the stuff, you don’t, how crap that must be for you! Whatever, I wanted to worship with them, to see what I might gain from it.

If Ariabandhu, whose Sanskrit name means “Noble friend”, feels such pity I do not notice. He lives in a semi-monastic community and tells me something of his worship. After chanting, they share something of their feelings or experiences. For example, in Cambridge he had been irritated by all the fences and keep out signs along the river. He does not like being controlled- who does- and they shared about that.

The opening ceremony, full of singing and dancing, had Buddhist content. I spoke to one of the Rituals Team as we queued for dinner. How do you design rituals? Well, myth speaks to the subconscious, and they use elements of myth. She let me choose a card with a saying on it: Dave got “Walk a mile in my shoes”, which tickled him, as the cards are left in people’s shoes, outside the workshop spaces. I got “May all blessings be yours”, which I burned in the ritual fire at the closing ceremony. Spread the love, and make no idol of the physical object.

Lying in the meditation tent, I found, All that makes me one is a story. Let that story be compassion. I left the card behind, though I make sure to squirrel away the sentiment here. Going outside, I found a Rumi quote tied to my sandals: Love said to me, All is Me. I tied it to Lucy’s guy rope.

Someone said you can lose yourself in the singing, in a crowd. I am pleased to sing, but I am always present, watching myself.

At the opening, a woman with a loudspeaker and entourage processed through the camp, with instruments and singing, pausing to shout (we followers echoed) Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, and All sentient beings, We invite you to the opening ceremony. Join the parade! I did. We processed to the Ritual Space, where we danced and sang, and processed through gates to a central fire pit.

I wanted to worship, and on the Friday evening there was the Dakini Puja. A Dakini is a fire spirit, born out of the charnel grounds at the edge of towns- something of the phoenix in this story- which can “cut off your head” and leave you in your heart. We crowded into the meditation tent, where we learned two mantras. Then a woman chanted an account of the Dakini Vajra, and we repeated her words. As we chanted the mantra, we could go up to the altar, to make an offering, or just kneel.

I went up, and followed the way of kneeling and prostrating. By kneeling to the power, I gain its gifts. By offering obedience, I gain its instruction. I am never carried away, but I am buoyed up by this. Click to enlarge:



Women’s space

meditation space

12 stepI was excluded from the women’s space.


I was excluded, but that was a different place, three years ago. And now I walk in, wondering if there will be some confrontation. I asked various people who all said there would be no problem, some know trans women, but it only takes one. So I walk in, nervous, and perhaps people pick up on my nervousness. If I am claiming to be “genderqueer” here, going without the wig in the heat, I have less of an argument why I should be entitled to be here. Oh, stop anticipating problems!

Here, I start conversations easily over tea. One woman, Canadian, works at a Buddhist retreat centre, of which there are dozens in the UK, and would consider marrying to get indefinite leave to remain. Well, the government is so nasty about immigrants to gain votes, and as they cannot stop EU migration they have to pick on someone many of their voters would not object to. Why should she not marry a friend? Romance is overrated. Er, because marriage is usually intended at its inception to be until death.

I drift into the workshop on non-violent communication. Here is a striking criticism of it: you can learn that the use of an empathic statement can get what you want from another person, sadly it’s surface empathy, the sort of behaviour that is associated with narcissism. One could see it more positively.

handcraftedThe group leader talks of how from Christianity we have the ideas of Original Sin and Judgment, so everything is either good or bad, in or out, and we judge ourselves and others continually. I challenge this, in a way: I say that there are other strains in Christianity, of love and acceptance, but that is a strong strain.

Therefore, there is a great deal of anger and unmet need, and people act as if what they wanted were obviously right, but do not state the emotions behind. If you can frame the outburst differently, state the emotion behind it, they feel heard and a lot of the pain vanishes.

Also, if you can state your desire more precisely, it might be met. The other women talk of their partners: one’s does not take enough notice of her. If you say, “I want connection”, he might get frustrated: “I give you connection”. If you are specific: “I want your full attention for two minutes without you checking your texts and emails” he might give it.

I start to weep. I have managed to create a space where I do not have these problems with others, I say, retreating from contact. It is an achievement, actually, it is me getting what I have wanted first, though it is not the whole way. Part of me is frustrated and angry: I see what I should do, and I do not do it. Part of me is wounded and frightened. She sees that I feel I have not been heard- perhaps it is that early childhood experience that really matters, friends listen to me.

Perhaps I could create a non-violent dialogue within myself, between these warring parts. It has been so difficult to value both, get each to value the other, through the anger and fear.

Later, I see her at the ceilidh, and she says hello distantly. My empathic statement is that well, you have empathised as a task, so deeply, you do not want to give more, now. Or perhaps she had someone else to talk to.

Encounters at Buddhafield III


healing areaQueuing is wonderful. I stood in the queue for the hot shower, and got chatting to a woman who had just arrived the night before. She will check out the twelve-step tent later. I tell her how unsatisfying I find alcohol, and she said it’s not giving up, because there is nothing to give up– it is embracing sobriety. Next day by the cold shower I found myself discussing original sin and Bishop Berkeley’s Idealism.

-You know, Bishop Berkeley, the Idealist philosopher?

I quoted Boswell. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — “I refute it thus.”

Except actually, I said, “Didn’t Dr Johnson say he would refute Berkeley by kicking his backside, or something?” Oh well. I imagine someone being irritated by Doctor Who fans talking of The Doctor, and meaning an alien.

In that cold shower, in the shade at 8am, I went in thinking it would be difficult and resisting, tensing up, and then I consciously relaxed: yes it is cold, but not more than I can bear. Staying in long enough to rinse properly became much easier. Or in that workshop. What do you sense now? I sense my thigh telling me that sitting on the ground in this posture is uncomfortable, and it is OK now but not bearable indefinitely. Relax into the pose. It is OK. Oh, that workshop was heart-opening, moving in the tent to the promptings of emotions and sensations.

wicker buddhaThis is something I have noticed- relax into the pose, relax into the difficult situation, and would like to notice more. Relax into the human encounter? Yes, oh, yes- yet that is far more complex. “What do you sense now?” I sense the beauty of the man I am paired with, I smile.

I am a little embarrassed, cleaning my teeth, spitting into the long grass at the edge of the site. What if everyone did that? thunders my Inner Critic. Well, I am not walking all the way to the single handwash-basin by the loos. So when a man passes from the tents under the trees I flinch away, ready for an argument about it. “Hello,” he says, then notices my attitude- “Oh, you’re cleaning your teeth-” perhaps anyone would not want disturbed at ablutions. I notice it is the beautiful man from that exercise, and am abashed at my confrontational attitude. Yet I am nervous of human encounters, expecting judgment: like a puppy, wanting to play but expecting a kick.

Breakfast again. Oh, it’s Paul! I go over for a hug. I have not seen him since March last year, and it was his suggestion of the Cuddle Workshop that got me into camping at, well, this sort of thing in the widest sense, anything even vaguely hippyish. And if you go to this sort of thing you will meet lots of people you have met at this sort of thing before. I had a longer conversation with R, of queer sensibilities and her experience of herself as queer even though she is in a relationship with a man. He finds her inner male a bit frightening.

Encounters at Buddhafield II


figureThe gender binary oppresses everyone. Our enforced ideals of “man” and “woman” limit the expression of both. I said this in the workshop, and after a woman came up, eyes shining, to thank me for it.

-I have read that all LGBT issues are T issues. It is all about gender. And we liberate everyone: first us, who are really oppressed by gender ideals, but also everyone else who can just about rub along with them, and is only a little oppressed.

She nods, agreeing, and we hug. So wonderful to express this, which I find Radical, and be completely understood.

Another woman comes to thank me and agree. I am feeling so affirmed, I want to continue the conversation, and let out some of my feelings. Do you mind if we prolong this encounter? She assents- she is very easy to be with- and I expatiate on the differences between same sex and opposite sex marriage enshrined in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act- just passed last week, amazing and wonderful and yet not quite enough. Pension funds, for example, are protected from not having known that gay couples may officially be couples: for contractual rights for “spouses”, only contributions after 2005 when Civil Partnerships were enacted apply. They are not protected from the fact that in 2005 we were all told there was an end to boom and bust and growth would continue indefinitely, but they are protected from the around 1% of their members who may get a same sex marriage, and whose contributions for perhaps thirty years before do not count towards spouse rights. I go into great detail on medico-legal pathways to transition, and nullity of marriage.

She did not know any of this, and loves to hears what impassions people, because she is a story-teller. She takes people’s stories, and tells them in a folk-tale style with elements of myth. This fascinates me: how do you get gigs? Do you have jokes? No, she involves people in other ways, and she finds it difficult to extol her wonderfulness, as you have to; though she was pleased to have stood up for herself. She applied to lead a workshop in time, but Buddhafield lost her application, and then when she checked the date had passed. So she told them they had lost her application, and they fitted her in.

She is a leading light in the Transition Towns movement, and her workshop told stories of it and then led discussion of how we might meet the challenge of peak oil. I don’t think subsistence agriculture is the answer- even if people had the gifts for it, England is not big enough for us all to be peasants- but she says my belief that technology will provide the answers is a stage people go through before realising transition is the way.

A woman there talks of how Socialist ideals for the liberation of the masses are outdated, and how her parents and grandfather were disheartened by 1989 and 1991, the fall of the Wall and the end of the Union and the socialist experiment. I hope Socialism may inspire new ideas for living together, but am unsure how.

Encounters at Buddhafield


After a hot and sweaty ceilidh,Tara I am standing outside the marquee with my wig in my hand, and a small girl approaches me. She could not be more than six.

-Is that a wig? I say, yes, it is.
-Why do you wear a wig? I show my pate- very little hair grows there.

“Put it on,” she says, definitely, imperatively. “Now, a boy might kiss you.” She turned away, leaving me, well, awestruck.

“41 is a prime number” announced a high, clear voice. How old is he? I asked his aunt Lucy, whose tent was near mine. I had approached her for a chat, and we had chatted easily of life and stuff. She spent days cycling here. “Five in three months’ time,” she said. “His father’s a mathematician.”

When I told that to R, she disapproved: we pump children so full of information, nowadays. Though she was reading very early. I was impressed at his ability to take in such a complex concept. Earlier I had watched him climb onto the canvas of the bell tent, stretching the guy ropes. Initially he was leaning on the guy, then straddling it, then finally climbing on the canvas, looking over at Lucy and me, three yards away. When he was lying on the canvas, feet off the ground, she told him authoritatively not to climb on it. She explained she needed to sleep there, and did not want the tent pulled down. And when he reached out to touch the guy rope, later, looking over at her, she told him not to. “I wasn’t climbing on it,” he said. No, but we need to sleep there.

Boundaries tested, boundaries stated, all beautifully done. How difficult to raise a child! I still don’t feel ready for that effort. It feels that my emotions would be too quickly engaged in the No. As I had breakfast at my tent, I listened to a man tell his son The Truth, addressing him as “Son”- the fatherly fount of wisdom- and then saw that the boy had indeed gone to lie in the sleeping-place as threatened, and the father had to tell his wife The Truth. And she told him The Truth.

Then there was Finch, whom I saw in his sling, and wondered at how small he is; then we knelt in the women’s space tent for a workshop, and cooed over him. Hands! Toes! Face! He was seven days old when the camp started. So tiny! He was eight pounds when he was born, a good weight- but babies grow so quickly, one rarely sees one that young.

They’re all boy, aren’t they? I said, admiring, and we talked of how difficult that can be. In a workshop, the facilitator referred once to choosing a partner and working with “him or her”. At the end, when she asked for “challenges”, I said this challenged me, as it excluded me. I am both, and neither. We talked of it, after. I think I let her off too lightly- gender binary is all-pervasive in our culture, and I was at pains to point out that it was not her I objected to, but the cultural assumption, and that her workshop was wonderful. I did not make clear enough that dividing people into “man” and “woman” oppresses both, and that anyone may choose to distance self from it.


I am back from Buddhafield, and will write about it shortly. As I schedule in advance, it is too darn hot, and I hope it is still as I camp. So here is the Adoration of the Magi. More artwork for our delight follows:

File:Adoration of the Magi Tapestry.png

Here is Allan Ramsay’s portrait of Lady Susanna Campbell, nĂ©e Bernard. I am less sure of my old pedantry that the style of “Lady” with her Christian name, as opposed to her husband’s, is only correct for the daughter of an earl.

Here is Charlotte of Mecklenburg, by Allan Ramsay.

Here is the Princess of Wales in 1902, later Queen Mary, for a little Imperial splendour:

Here are two women reading together:

Here is Charity relieving distress, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1727-1788. Is that the Holy Spirit flying overhead? And what is going on with the man on the stairs?

And here is Mrs Thomas Graham.