Last week I was on an OBOD retreat. I met you afterwards and you asked me a simple but powerful question: what do you get out of it? It got me thinking, that sort of slow, gently ruminating on it for weeks kind of thinking. I’d like to answer as best I can.
The retreat I went on last week was open to members of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I’ve been a member since 2001. Membership of the order is based around a mail order course, whereby each month, for a year, members receive a package of booklets. Inside each is a mix of meditations, info on mythology and ritual, and some inspirational poetry. It is simple and magical.
I’ve been to a number of big order gatherings where two hundred order members gather in Glastonbury twice a year. I have been a part of small groups of members who get together to hold ceremonies for the seasonal festivals. I have been my own solitary druid. This was my first retreat. There were twenty five of us. It was held at my friend’s home and it was facilitated by a couple of very experienced facilitators in the order. The retreat lasted five days and the theme was Fionn mac Cumhail and the salmon of knowledge.
On the first morning, we were asked to share with the group a little something of the landscape we came from and what we were looking for on the retreat. I didn’t really know why I was there. It was an emotionally mixed up arrival for me. When I booked my place on the retreat it was as a joint adventure with a former friend and partner. So my first days were coloured with the feeling of “this isn’t how it was meant to turn out”. I felt wary, somewhat closed hearted and unsure of my place.
During the course of the five days together, we went on walks, held ritual, made little purses out of salmon skin, ate very well and generally built community together. My self appointed task was to get up early enough to make porridge for everyone.
Apart from the wonderful personal connections, the retreat had some powerful highlights for me. One was our Eisteddfod. At druid gatherings we like to have a section of the event where people perform. We place great value in creativity, and entertainment. So, on this evening, I chose to sing. I sang a song that has been massively inspirational to me in the last year. It was ‘In my mind’ by Amanda Palmer. It was a big deal for me singing solo in front of a group of people. It didn’t scare me, but it was a first. I love singing, I just never do it much in front of others. I learned that I would like to. The song itself speaks its truth in the final line “fuck yes! I am exactly the person that I want to be!”. Last week a friend sent me a card. On the cover was the sillhouette of a naked man dancing across the words “free yourself to be yourself”. It might seem trite, but the great spiritual journey of me, at this point in my life, is to fully be myself in the world, with all the self-compassion I can generate. Looking after and loving myself, and from that self love, self care, I can be more open, more alive, more giving, more creative.
The second major highlight was our visit to a rock pool beneath a waterfall on Sliabh na mBan (the mountain of the women). It was a trek across the hills, then following the mountain stream, through a forest, and down a ravine. It was worth it. Once there, without much talking about it, ten of us took our clothes off and got into the cold (cold!) waters. We held hands in circle as each new person got in. What a wondeful feeling to be completely present with no agenda other than to whoop and hollar and celebrate the truth “We are alive!” (thanks JJ for vocalising it).
In both of those experiences we were witnessed and held by the group, and the landscape we sat in, and also by our shared tradition.
When the workshop ended, and we were sharing what it was we were taking away, mine was two things: the memory of sitting in that cold water, and the feeling of being part of a tribe. I was reminded, I said, that in a very real way, OBOD is my family. I feel huge love and support whenever I am within a gathering, but also, and more and more, whenever I do my daily meditations, knowing that I am part of this. But the major thing I came away with was ‘goddamit, I am alive’. I live, I breathe, I love, I hurt, I heal, I cry, I dance, I do silly and stupid things. But fuck it, I am alive, and I am me, and I am incredibly priviledged to be able to see the world through these eyes, to sing with this voice, to dance, to bare my body and soul in joy.
So why do I do it? Why do I go to Assemblies, and retreats, and gather in small groups to praise the equinox or solstice? Because it turns up the volume on the Joy in life and (fuck yes!) it feels fantastic.