Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | June 21, 2011

Thoughts on Spirituality at the Solstice

Here is the substance of a talk I gave at a Transition Town Lewes event last night about what kind of spirituality might be emerging in the 21st Century. The idea of the evening was to stimulate thought, and encourage debate and reflection.

On Wednesday there was a lunar eclipse. Tomorrow the sun stands still. On the 1st July there is a solar eclipse. Whether or not these astronomical events influence us need not concern us now. Deep in our folk memory we sense a power in these moments. Astrologers tell us they signal change, upheaval, opportunity. We may fear change or we may embrace it, but the planets turn, life goes on, the Great Cycles continue.

These cycles move Nature and our lives through death and rebirth, through containment and release, through holding on and letting go. The seed pod tightens and hardens around its precious cargo, then it breaks and releases the new life into the waiting earth.

Here is the problem that confronts us – personally, politically, and spiritually:

We need to be held. We need containment, structure, discipline, tradition, focus, continuity, direction. But we also need release, freedom – we need to break away from all those things, to taste the Nameless Way: to experience no boundaries, no doctrines or dogmas, no hierarchy, even no direction.

Some of us resolve these apparently contradictory needs by opting for one or the other, because to hold the tension is too difficult. The tension between these two impulses can produce agony in personal relationships, tragedy in political circumstances, and in our spiritual or religious lives it confronts us with a major challenge.

In our personal lives we can feel torn by the desire for union and the desire for separation: the yearning to unite with someone and the yearning to be whole and complete in ourselves, being torn between wanting the containment of relationship and wanting the freedom of having no relationship: trapped in the dilemma of wanting to walk into and out of the room at the same time.

On the political stage this tension is most dramatically seen in the current situation in the Middle East where the tension between the tight grip of control and the desire for freedom and release is being played out in often tragic ways. This same interplay exists at the level of economics: too much control and it’s a disaster, no holding and it’s a mess.

On the spiritual stage the opposition is found in the need we can feel for the holding, containment and guidance of a defined spiritual path, rooted in tradition. We want to feel some sense of authority, in the best sense of that word. And that authority comes from tradition, structure, doctrine, and defined practice.

And yet we also yearn for liberation – to break free from labels, from specific religious affiliations, from everything that limits us and holds us.

If there is a new spirituality that is trying to be born it must reconcile these two dynamics. If we opt for the containment, the safety of the old, at its extreme we retrench into Fundamentalism. If we opt for liberation from containment and seek nourishment wherever it is to be found, at the extreme we end up feeling lost without an anchor.

Are we talking here about the Impossible Relationship – irreconcilable dynamics that are somehow destined to forever undermine our personal, political and religious lives?

The challenge is this: how can we take the tension and use it? How can it become a fulcrum rather than a ring-pass-knot we try to untangle or a trapeze we try to walk? We can find a clue as to how we might do this in a study of highly effective creative people carried out by a psychologist called Richard Coan. He found that at the heart of a range of abilities they possessed, lay the ability to move between two apparently contradictory modes of being. These people were able to be very open: freeing themselves of restrictions and limitations by having open hearts and open minds. But they were also capable of being highly focused, creating specific boundaries and objectives in a precise and determined way.

Here of course we have the two great dynamics: Yin and Yang, or in western symbology, the chalice and the blade, Excalibur and the grail. The chalice opens out in ever-widening circles to encompass all creation, the sword defines and protects.

The effectively creative person is able to let go, to break free of the limitations of prejudice, of definitions, of certainty; but they are also able to work with the container they have chosen: the limitations of their media.

So within creativity we can say that the trick is to learn how to move, as if in a dance embodying containment and release, between these two modes of being, effortlessly producing great works of art and beauty. How easy to say, how difficult in practice!

But to me this strongly suggests a way forward, and we can ask ourselves how we can apply this understanding to the emerging new spirituality, or perhaps less ambitiously, to our own spiritual lives: accepting our need for containment, for tradition, for structure, and a the same time recognising our need for liberation and the unbounded.

And when it comes to the question of what structure, when the old structures no longer seem to hold us, I would just like to suggest one idea. The same principle of two apparently irreconcilable forces interacting together may also apply at the level of structure too. What if we took two apparently very different, and even sometimes antagonistic, structures – the two pillars of our spiritual heritage here, the Pagan and the Christian  – and let them meet? The result might mean nothing, it might be explosive or tedious, or it might – it just might – give birth to something new.


Responses

  1. But, Philip, isn’t that what Christanity has been doing all along; however without crediting the Pagan sources they incorporated?

    • Yes exactly Hennie. Time to bring that more out into the open perhaps?

  2. I JUST WANT TO SAY WONDERFUL……………..

  3. Thank you for posting such an interesting topic, one that is very close to my own heart. To bring the two opposing forces together to create something new would be great. Practically, I’m not sure, from personal past experience very doubtful. There appears to be a lot of closed minds, elitist attitudes, suspicion of anything or anyone who is remotely different, ie, on the fringes in Roman Catholic circles. I can only speak as I find and I know that I feel so much better after leaving that church this year, with no pressure to confirm, or hold opposite views, or be viewed as some oddity not worth speaking to or even acknowledging. It has been very damaging for me,my family and my ability to cope with other pressures in my life. No support structure for me, I have been left to get on with it. I attend an Anglican Church now, and the whole feel is different, open,accepting, welcoming, it may be down to this community or the Vicar, there, but they are doing something right. So maybe we can. I fully understand why Pagans in general have no time for Christian/Christianity,my experience of Pagans/Druids has on the whole been positive. I find that they are more tolerant of others and other faiths than Christians. Maybe individul Druid/Pagan/Christian groups coming together in seed groups and helping and supporting each other in everyday life may be a way forward. A living example of community and co-operation with environmental issues taken into consideration. I for one need time to heal after my experiences. Support and very loose structure, friendships/connections that go deeper, than just shallow ties and lip service to a “common good/community”.

    • I agree with you Angie that practically it’s hard to see how any particular activity might help to birth something new. An interesting point is that, as Hennie has pointed out above, the two systems are already entangled, as the cauldron to grail tradition demonstrates. So much nonsense and harm has been perpetrated in the name of religion it is very tempting to want to reject it all…I guess it’s the usual story of trying to avoid not throwing the baby out with the bath-water.There’s just such a lot of that very dirty tepid bath-water now!

  4. Fascinating artice. I recognised a lot of my own internal struggles. The desire for someone to point towards the ‘truth’, but the automatic distrust of anyone who would have the audacity to do so. The need to listen, but distrust of those who would talk. Both the rejection of, yet need for authority. It is a difficult circle to square.

    • Ha! Exactly Neil! But actually on the internet, in forums like this, and in the way (at least liberal society) is moving there is the possibility for ALL of us to have our voice heard and for patronising, dominating authority to be replaced by a sharing of thoughts, feelings, inspirations.

  5. Right time, right place, thanks for posting this x

  6. Timely and profound piece. That eternal struggle to balance, to end up in the center of opposite ends of the spectrum. I certainly want to believe that this is possible on all levels mentioned in the speech. The world is so totally out of balance right now that most certainly Nature will take the appropriate action to send us kicking and screaming toward that point of balance. Being impatient, I want that to happen today! Within the hour, please…

  7. An interesting post, Philip.

    Regarding the Pagan/Christian question, as a follower of Brigit I’ve thought a lot about the goddess into saint issue. I’ve posted some musings about it: The Way of Brigit, Goddess and Saint: Towards a Post-Christian Paganism at: http://musingsfromgellifach.blogspot.com/2011/05/brigit-goddess-and-saint-towards-post.html

  8. Right on! I resonate with so many of your points and am experiencing many of your insights about our times. Thank you.

  9. Fabulous thoughts Philip and so much where I feel my own life is at this point in time, on the ‘hedge’ – between those two pillars. Thank you. Mark

  10. It now becomes clear … that it cannot be right to assert the truth of one faith above any other … In this way we may perhaps again open the door whose key has been lost.
    Akbar, 16th century.

  11. […] Thoughts on Spirituality at the Solstice Source: Philip Carr-Gomm […]


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