Earth, Air, Fire and Water

Some years ago I was asked to give a talk on the four elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water, to people who may not know anything about them. So I put on my thinking cap and looked at things we did every day that if done with mindfulness especially, were a way of working with the four elements.

Each person was given a small booklet about these elements. It contained some information about the element and some exercises that could be done anywhere at any time, and also four small crystals, one for each element.

I was thinking about the Earth element the other day when I was working in the garden. I was doing some dead-heading and pulling out weeds. What a wonderful way to work with the earth. I found it very healing and therapeutic. It was a physical and practical act and to me this was so much an Earth element way to work. It renewed my connection with the earth too and made me more determined to do what I could to stop pollution and other things detrimental to our planet.

So now let’s look at the element of Air. If we were outside on a windy day my mother used to say the wind was blowing the cobwebs away from around us. Cleansing the aura as I now know. Air is connected to inspiration, new ideas, messages, movement, breath of life and new beginnings. Standing outside on a breezy day is a good way to connect with Air. Imagine yourself flying and see how that feels. Did you ever climb trees or walls when you were young, and then jump off? How did that feel? Just imagine that now though not do it practically!

I’m leaving the Fire element until last so now what about the Water element. I love to be near running water. I see it cleansing the earth as it moves along. It is receptive to my thoughts and I link it with compassion, trust, love and wisdom. When you take a shower, your are cleansing yourself and the aura around you. Think about it as you shower. You always feel better after a shower, or after walking by water especially running water or the sea. We often say ‘go with the flow’ when talking about problems in our daily lives. So flow like the water. You can imagine yourself floating on calm water with a night sky above. Then write down how you felt.

So lastly, the element of Fire. Fire can transform things as you can easily see if you burn something like a sheet of paper. So it changes things and cleanses. It is also about purpose and growth and rebirth. I like to think of our inner fire, the force that enables us to do things, to accept ourselves and to transform our lives when needed. I like to watch the flame of a burning candle. Try it and see how you feel .

Of course, this is a simple way of looking at the elements but it is a good place to start. The druid path takes you deeper into the elements and deeper into yourself but if you know nothing about them then start simply.

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Spring – cleaning time

There are signs of spring around me. I have seen lots of hazel catkins and the snowdrops and anemones are in flower in my garden. I love this time of the year. The hours of daylight are getting longer and there seems to be much more sunshine. Everything seems brighter too. I can see the birds pairing off and singing to each other getting ready for mating later on.

But this brings me to the cleaning bit. I have been busy, with help from a friend, doing a spring clean around the house. Cobwebs and dust have been banished, furniture polished and the windows cleaned. The old stale energy has been replaced with new clean energy and everything feels so much better. I have a spring in my step too. I feel energised and ready to do lots of things.

But it is also a time when you can declutter and get rid of things you no longer need. But where do these things go? In the UK we have shops runs by various charities who will take your used clothes, ornaments, books, CDs and some will take furniture. This is one way of recycling. Something you no longer need might be just the thing someone else wants. I like to call these items preloved.

Many of us have items that are broken. Can you repair these or know someone who can? Even if you no longer need that item if it is repaired it will be of use to someone else. We have a throw-away society now. Earlier this week I overheard someone asking if anybody knew of a person who would repair a washing machine. The various answers followed the lines of repairs would cost far more than the washing machine was worth and it would be cheaper to buy a new one. This is the world we live in and it is not good. Items such as washing machines should be made to last and be repaired if necessary. There are large scrap heaps full of electrical items such as cookers, washing machine and fridges. What happens to them?

I was reading the other day about the rare ‘minerals’ used in mobile phones and how they are becoming hard to find. Yet we throw old phones away when a new one comes on the market to buy. Spring is a time to think about what we are doing, how we can stop polluting our earth by repairing items, giving to charities and not being persuaded to buy the latest gadget.

So Spring is in the air energising us, please use that energy wisely and think about what you buy and what you throw away.

Saving the planet – some random thoughts

I keep seeing adverts for doing things to save the planet. One I saw was about becoming vegetarian as that will save our planet. There are many others around as well. But it is much more complex than that. There are many things that we can all do to save our planet. It’s not just about plastic pollution either.

Here are some of the things that everyone of us, in the western world at least, can do to help:

we can look at the way we use water, washing clothes, in the toilet and shower or bath, buying bottled water to drink (why not use a filter for tap water);

we can use energy efficient light bulbs;

we can recycle things we not longer need that cannot be repaired and we can compost;

we can repair items that can be repaired, we have become a throwaway world and keep buying new items when we could repair the old ones;

we can look at the ways in which we produce food, how far we transport it and how we cook and consume it. Do we really need to import so much food from afar which costs so much in fuel and air pollution?

we can moderate our meat consumption and buy locally not just meat but other food items.

we can walk or cycle to places and leave the car at home, dry the washing outside, and use paper wisely.

These are only a few random thoughts and I am sure you will have many more but what I want to mention now is to me a very important part of saving our planet. We are all human but we are all unique and we need to learn to respect each other and to love each other unconditionally. We need to learn to work together and not be divisive. Co-operation is a good word. I know of areas where people have come together making a co-operative and buying, selling and making produce to sell. There are shops which sell preloved items which people find they no longer need. There is nothing wrong with buying used items. We also need to look at our clothes. The fashion world keeps changing ‘fashions’ every season and many feel they have to buy the latest type of clothes. Is this necessary? Keeping up with the Joneses has long gone. This also applies to gadgets. Do you really need the most up-to-date mobile phone?

There are a lot of things we can think about and if we look at what we eat, wear and use in our daily lives, maybe we can make some changes that will be of benefit to the planet. Choose wisely, our earth is precious to us and keeps us alive and also those that live on it, plants and other animals. Bear in mind also that plants too are sentient.

A new year

I have been looking at the dates of New Years in different parts of the world and in different faiths. New Year here is January 1st although centuries ago it was at the beginning of April or end of March. The Inland Revenue still uses April 5th as the start of the financial year.

Many other countries have a different date for the new year. Chinese New Year is between January 21st and February 21st, for example. A quick look at Wikipedia will give you lots more examples.

Many pagan faiths take Samhain as their New Year. The Samhain festival is celebrated on 1st November. Others take the Winter Solstice as the start of their New Year. I used to feel that that date was quite appropriate as it is when the days begin to get longer again. But then I started to look at how I felt during those months after the Winter Solstice, the months of January and February for example. January is still cold, after all it is winter time here in the UK but there is a glimmer of Spring on the horizon. We are now getting towards the end of January and I feel that I am now starting my New Year. I see bulbs sprouting through the earth, There is generally more sunshine and everything seems brighter.

February 1st is the festival of Imbolc. It is also known as St. Brighids Day. For me Brighid symbolises the advent of Spring so I am going to claim February 1st as the start of my New Year. I am feeling more awake and ready to do things. I have started to create more music and art work and am getting ready to work on other projects. So yes, I am starting my New Year soon. How do you feel about this? Do you have different dates for your New Year?

The Air around us

As a druid I love the element of Air. I love to be outside breathing deeply of the air around me. Of course that air needs to be clean not polluted and that brings me to my blog today. I am continuing the theme of life before pollution. Or was there no pollution in the air when I was young? Actually the air was more polluted then where I lived in my childhood than it is today but a lot of the pollution was different. I lived on the edge of a very industrial area, potteries, mines, steel and brick making plus many other types of manufacturing. The smoke was horrendous and you did not put your washing out on the line when the wind was blowing the wrong way bringing the smoke into your garden. Bronchitis was common as was asthma. Then the Clean Air Act came into force and things changed.

Now we have different kinds of air pollution. Farmers spray chemicals on their fields and a lot of it stays in the atmosphere. Even liquid manure gives off ammonia, a poisonous gas. But what about the silent polluters, the radio waves and other electromagnetic waves of our mobile phones, their masts and the electricity pylons. I am sensitive to such things in the air. I can’t walk by an electricity pylon as it makes me ill. The same with mobile phone masts and there are many of them now. They seem to spread like wildfire.

Many years ago Rachel Carson wrote the book ‘Silent Spring’ mainly about the effects of the insecticide DDT. A recent book has been written about the electronic silent spring, the pollution of our technology. But there is also air pollution in our homes caused by things like scented candles, not all of which are natural, and those air fresheners which many people love but which cause me to cough and splutter for a long time. Many of the fumes from these are toxic and affect our nervous system. We need to think about the items we use in the home and outside in the garden and be aware of what happens to our bodies when we breathe in these toxic fumes.

There are many more ways of polluting the air but I am sure you know most of them. So let’s think about how to make our air cleaner as well as our seas, rivers and streets. A big job but if we all did our bit then it would improve. One last thought, many of us have central heating. What is in the steam that is emitted when the boiler is on? That steam goes out into the air we breathe. What effect does it have on that air?

Before cling film, aluminium foil and most plastics

There is so much in the news nowadays about our overuse of plastics and similar items. So today I am going back in time to my childhood and early adulthood to see how I lived without cling film, foil and plastic.

First of all I’ll look at the way my mother and I shopped for food. We had a shopping bag that was only for the use of vegetables and when we visited the greengrocers each item was placed directly into the bag. Potatoes went first as they were generally dirty, followed by carrots, parsnips and then other veggies and fruit. At the butchers, meat was wrapped in greaseproof paper and then other paper. This applied to such things as cheese and butter as well. There was no margarine around at that time! Sweets were weighed out and then put in a paper bag as were many other things.

I remember the large brown stewpot we had for stews. There were no casserole dishes around then, no slow cookers or microwaves either. There was no foil for cooking so any roasted items made a mess in the oven which was my job to clean as a teenager. But we were never ill! Sandwiches were wrapped in greaseproof paper and then perhaps placed in a tin. Cakes and pies were cooked and saved in large tins. I do remember the days before refrigerators. We had a larder, a small walk in cupboard which had a marble slab in it for keeping food cold. We also had a smaller cupboard with a mesh door in which we kept meat, covered with a dish or plate and other items. In hot weather, milk stood in a bucket of cold water in the larder.

We bought soap in bars and had one kind for the kitchen and another for the bathroom. The bathroom soap came wrapped in a thin roll of cardboard and some paper. Soap powder for laundry purposes was just that, soap powder and it came in a cardboard box. Milk was brought by the milkman with his ‘float’ or cart and horse (in my childhood) and the milk bottles were washed and returned to the milkman. Bottles of beer and lemonade could be purchased from the local pub outside sales and the empty washed bottles returned. We often had to pay a deposit on the bottle but got it back when we returned it.

Recently I have seen some large supermarkets start to use paper bags to put veggies and fruit in instead of using plastic bags. This is a good start. In the UK too much packaging is used. I know of a cake manufacture who places two slices of cake in a plastic tray, covers the tray with more plastic then puts three of these, covered in more plastic inside a cardboard box. This is far too much packaging.

So what can we do about all of this. We can start by refusing to buy products with too much packaging, work on persuading more companies to protect their products with reusable or recyclable packaging. I have been told that some larger supermarkets will also take from you items such as bread wrappers, plastic potato and other vegetable bags and recycle them. I am sure you will have plenty of other ideas but I find that as a druid I must protect our planet as much as I can. It’s not easy but we can all do our bit and then maybe others will follow and we will get rid of all the pollution we have.

Death and Loss

I wrote about dealing with loss in August last year but loss has been uppermost in my mind for several months now as people I know have passed over. Losing someone close to you is hard to deal with and I feel that we don’t talk enough as a nation about death and how it affects us all.

Death is something that happens to us all. After all, we are born, grow up if we are lucky and then die. The natural world around us shows us death on a regular basis as plants grow and bloom and then die. Birds and other small animals are often killed on the road or as prey so death is part of our natural way of living.

I am not afraid of dying although I am not ready to go yet. As a druid I know that there is life after death but somewhere else and on a different level. So my approach will be different from that of many others. I also have that feeling of when it is time to go I won’t have any other option. I remember my mother saying during the war, that if the bomb had her name on it then there was nothing she could do about it.

But how do we deal with it? Grief has many forms and my feelings are that we never get over a death of someone close but that we learn to manage it whatever we believe. I know from experience that each time someone I know dies, then the feelings of grief also bring back the feelings from my first experience of death. When my father died suddenly I had to deal with everything as my mother was unable to cope and this did not give me time to grieve. Time to grieve is important but you know that the spirit of the one who died will always be with you. The time between the bad days and the good days get longer as you learn to live with the loss and eventually you look back on the good memories that you have not the bad ones.

The words of Kahlil Gibran always come to mind when death appears and I will finish this blog with those words: ( you can replace the word ‘God’ with whatever word you wish such as ‘Spirit’)

‘For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.’

Thoughts for the end of the year

This year has had many happy parts but also many sad parts too as friends and family have travelled to the Summerlands. Some themes have been strong in my life though and I have tried to help others to think about the way they live their lives. I have written about the wonders of nature and how I appreciate it. I have written about complacency and uncertainty recently too.

During this festive season gratitude has been foremost in my mind. I am so lucky to have a roof over my head, to have enough food and clothes and also to have a few good friends and family around me. I think about refugees from tsunamis and those feeling oppression in their country and I am thankful that I do not have those kinds of things to deal with.

I have also been thinking about how some people seem to want more and more material things and rush off to the sales to get as much as they can carry whether they need it or not. There is a big difference between wanting something and needing something and I always try to think if I need something before I buy it. Of course I do buy some things I don’t really need as we all do but I try not to do this often.

Over the last few days I have seen posts on social media about the amount of food and drink people have partaken of recently. Is this necessary? Does an excessive amount of food and drink do your health any good? Why not give the excess food to those in need.

Then there is the pollution debate. Plastics, air pollution, water pollution are all there up at the front. I try to do as much as I can about all of these. I try to only buy plastic that can be recycled or reused, I try to keep the air around me clean, I don’t have a car and I stopped flying to other countries many years ago. There is so much we need to think about in the world of today if we are going to make the world a better place for everybody. Next year gives us 365 days of challenges to do this. Think of something you can do each day to make the world a better place for at least one person. That is my plan.

Random acts of kindness

It is that time of year when people think more about helping others than they do for the rest of the year. I have seen many recent examples of this on social media, people buying much needed items for the homeless and others doing secret Santas where gifts of food and other items are packed and given to those who need them but done secretly.

Random acts of kindness though are things that should happen every day. ‘Small everyday needs, small acts of kindness and love’ are important. These can be as simple as a smile for someone or helping someone to get something from a higher shelf in the supermarket. I have always been one of those people who hold doors open for those coming after me even though I struggle myself with some heavy doors. It is about helping others, giving up your seat on the bus or helping someone to get on the bus with their shopping trolley.

I have also noticed that saying ‘Good morning’ to people as you walk down the street means they respond in kind. For some who live alone that might be the only conversation they have that day so it is important to greet them. Telling your friend how nice they look is also a good act of kindness. It makes them feel better too. It is good to let people know that you care about them. I often send cards to friends who I have not seen for a while so they know I still think about them. There are thousands of ways to give random acts of kindness so please try this and try to do one act everyday. It makes a difference not only to that other person but to you yourself.

Complacency

Some thoughts and questions today on complacency. What is it and are we complacent? I always understood complacency to mean that someone was satisfied with what they had and was not interested in making any changes. The dictionary gives various definitions of complacency but here is one of them. Complacency is ‘ a feeling of smug or unethical satisfaction with oneself or ones achievements’.

I often hear people say ‘I’m alright Jack, so what!’ Is this being complacent? I also know  those who sit back and let the world go to pieces around them because they think it does not concern them. Is this also complacency? Are we ever in a position where we can sit back and say we are satisfied with what we have and what we are doing? I am satisfied with what I have but that does not stop me from trying to make the world around me a better place for others to live in.

I look at the problems in the world today, the air pollution, the sea pollution, the land pollution, the way we have desecrated the land and ill-used it and much more. Has this happened because we have been complacent and could not see the threat to our planet and our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren? Did we just want more and more material goods without understanding the cost of these to the environment? Have we got used to cheap items which need replacing quite soon instead of the sturdy well made items that lasted for years and could be repaired? Have we become a throw-away society? And is this all because we have become complacent about how things are made and want more of them because they are cheap?

I could go on and on here but I think I have made my point. Being happy with what you have and not seeing the broader picture is not necessarily a good thing. I am happy with my current living situation and don’t need more gadgets or furniture or clothes but I am not just sitting here being smug about it, I am looking for ways to make manufacturing and the environment a better place to be. I am aware that time is running out for human life on our planet. What are you doing?