A review by Maria Ede-Weaving of ‘Contemplative Druidry: People, Practice and Potential’ by James Nichol
Modern Druidry is an evolving spirituality; each of its practitioners is continually adding to the breadth and depth of this path through their experiences. What gives a spirituality its power is it practices and approaches, and these are far from static – they live and breathe, grow and change, as we do. For a path to flourish and mature, it requires that we engage, question and explore, remaining open to the possibilities of change whilst honouring the wisdom already shared. James Nichol’s Contemplative Druidry: People, Practice and Potential is a wonderful example of this process in action.
Nichols has gathered a group of Druids to discuss their experiences of contemplative practice. Fifteen Druids share their thoughts about both their solo and group encounters with contemplative meditation and how these have impacted upon their Druidry and wider lives.
The book is in three main sections: ‘People, Practice and Potential’ with contributors not only reflecting on what drew them to contemplative Druidry and how such is expressed in their spiritual practice, but also posing the question of how such approaches might manifest in the wider Druid community, should they be more readily explored.
It is clear from these accounts that sitting meditation is only one part of this approach; mindful walking, chanting, daily offices, communion with nature/the divine and creative activities also play a part in keeping contributors present and connected. There is a real sense that each – for want of an established Druid-based contemplative framework – has been quietly experimenting, acting as pioneers exploring their own frontiers in order to find what works. In doing so, they have been planting the seeds of a tradition that could potentially flourish into a valid and inspiring area of Druidry, one that until now has been rather ignored. Many have taken their inspiration from other spiritualities such as Buddhism and Christianity, however, their practices have developed a flavour that is distinctly Druidic. It’s a fascinating read and interesting to see how meditative practices give depth to Druid concepts such as the Awen and Nwyvre; how Druid contemplation and mindfulness might help to shape, transform or deepen a connection to life and self.
In the Neo-Pagan movement and the Western Mystery Tradition there has been a dominant focus on what might be perceived to be ‘active’ meditation techniques; the use of visualisation and path-working holding a dominant place. The Eastern approach to meditation has often been assumed to facilitate a removal of self from the world in an attempt to transcend its illusions. As such it might be perceived to be at cross purposes with the Druid world view where life and earthly experiences are celebrated. Most of us understand Druid spiritual practices to be a gateway to deepen one’s involvement with earthly life, as opposed to escaping it via ascetic disciplines, however, what Nichol’s book illustrates is that the contemplative approach, explored from a Druid perspective, can be a tool that moves us into a richer and deeply felt relationship with nature, community and self.
Reading through the book’s many thought-provoking accounts I had that sense of excitement you get when a long-held suspicion about something is validated by another’s experience. My first encounter with meditation came years ago via the practice of Yoga. For me, regardless of how one might interpret the philosophy of Yoga, what its practices illustrated was that these techniques of mindful movement, breath and contemplation could actually help me to feel more embodied and present on this planet. They were immensely practical and useful , not only in aiding my physical well-being but also in creating a healthier flow between my body, mind and emotions, and in doing so, opening the door to my spiritual journey. The book’s examples makes it clear that I am not alone in my view that these techniques are not ring-fenced by any religion or path but are open for all to use. I see no contradiction in including them as part of my Druid practice. It is true that each spiritual path will approach these techniques through their own spiritual lens – and even each individual within each path will bring their own unique focus to bear – but Nichol’s books suggests that there is a rich seam of spiritual nourishment to explore here, and that even if such practices are not for us, then the debate about them can only deepen and widen what Druidry has to offer.
There is much here that gives food for thought. Contemplative Druidry is a valuable springboard for further discussion and a great starting place for those who are interested in including contemplative meditation in their practice. Nichol’s book encourages us to really think about what a contemplative Druidic practice might be. What is clear from each contributor’s experience is that it is an approach that is nature and body affirming, one that offers us a means to engage more fully with self and the world around us. In time, as this discussion deepens, as more people engage with these practices and share the results, I feel sure that many more benefits will become apparent. All this can only add to the richness and diversity of the Druid path. – Maria Ede-Weaving