Contemplative Practice

This list is an updated version of the list I compiled in 2016 for the My Polytheism project. I’ve found Maia Duerr and Katya Lesher’s Tree of Contemplative Practices (pictured above) useful in putting together a contemplative practice that works for my path. I’ve taken up at least one practice from every branch of this tree. Julie Bond of the Order of the Sacred Nemeton has also put together a wonderful guide to Lectio Divina for Druids, and has graciously given her permission for the Hermitage to share it here.

Here are my current contemplative practices at the Hermitage:

  1. Deep listening
    I listen to dark ambient music in a space that is as acoustically immersive as I can make it, and I allow myself to be deeply drawn into the inner journeys the music inspires. Through my Chthonic Cathedral Project, I also provide custom themed playlists of dark ambient music for rituals, events, and yoga classes; this is a service project designed to help foster music-based contemplative practices in the communities I work with.
  2. Geomancy
    The word geomancy is used for both a system of divination (and a very under-appreciated one, if you ask me — there are many Tarot readers, but few geomancers) and a form of working with Earth energies through methods such as dowsing and “solar geometry”. I study and practice both of these. Dowsing relies on developing awareness of body sensations as a reference point and as feedback, which to my mind makes it a contemplative practice. I also consider dowsing with L-rods to be a form of deep listening to the Earth, so this overlaps with #1 above.
  3. Sacred space building
    Through my Black Tent Temple Project, I design and build incubation spaces, shrine rooms, and other endarkened spaces using intuitive and contemplative methods. I combine visual, architectural, auditory, spatial, and olfactory elements to construct emotionally engaging religious spaces. Placement of objects, selection of colors, and use of space are all guided by embodied awareness, geomancy, and deep listening. When I find an appropriate space, I plan to build a full darkroom retreat using Andrew Durham’s DIY plans.
  4. Lectio Divina
    I have a special space set aside in a corner of the Hermitage for a polytheist version of lectio divina (sacred reading) practice. I usually use Heathen devotional writings, prayers, or folk tales in Swedish for this purpose. I am learning the Swedish language in preparation for a pilgrimage to the lands of my Swedish ancestors, and I can’t help but read this material at a leisurely pace because I’m still at a beginner level of reading comprehension in Swedish.
  5. Writing
    I consider writing  to be one of my most important contemplative practices. Sometimes I combine writing with deep listening and work in a light trance state, since I’ve found that dark ambient music facilitates my creative flow beautifully.
  6. Manual labor
    House cleaning is excellent work for a monastic, and on good days it can even be meditative. (Gardening could also fit this bill, but sadly I have no space and time for gardening at the moment — not even container gardening!)
  7. Meditative practices
    I do two daily meditations: Kirtan Kriya, a 12-minute meditation (colloquially referred to as “sa-ta-na-ma”), and a tea meditation of my own design, accompanied by dark ambient music and a set of prayer beads I made for Skaði. The Hermitage also has an official tea consultant, David Galli, with whom I plan to work eventually to improve the tea service offerings for visitors. There are good reasons so many monastics drink tea! It’s a leisurely and meditative brew that promotes clarity of mind and deepens the inner vision.
  8. Movement practices: dark fusion dance and dark drone yoga
    I’ve been a dancer for most of my life. I have two devotional and ritual dance projects (Shrine of Skaði and Drinking the Tears of the Earth) that function as contemplative arts, and embodied ways of knowing. In addition, I practice what I call “dark drone yoga” —restorative yoga and Scaravelli-inspired “do nothing” yoga accompanied by dark ambient music (sometimes with guided meditations). I consider some form of movement practice to be essential for monastic life.
  9. Prayer and worship
    In addition to my ancestor work, regular prayers, and small daily devotions, I perform a full devotional worship service on an occasional basis for Skaði — dressed and anointed candles, a thurible filled with spruce resin incense, offerings, prayers, petitions. In October I perform a devotional service for Móðguðr as well. In recent months I’ve begun chanting with prayer beads regularly as well, and developing a breviary for structured prayer.
  10. Incubation and ‘dark retreat’
    I maintain a Black Tent Temple space at the Hermitage which I use for incubation. Due to the limitations of the space, I do not have room to build a full dark retreat, but I do have a walk-in closet that is completely draped in black velvet curtains; it can be made pitch black. I shut off my phone and computer and stay in there for extended periods of time when my schedule permits.

Future hopes, plans, and dreams for expanding my contemplative practices include studying kyudo (contemplative archery), working with conifers to make wildcrafted aromatics and incense, and building an enclosed sacred garden (including statuary) with a labyrinth for meditative cloister walks.

Other things I do at the Hermitage that facilitate my contemplative practice:

  1. Keep things clean and organized.
    I maintain cleanliness and order. Clutter and disorganization are drags on my attention, which is detrimental to my practice. Besides, being well organized is the only way I can fit a library of 900 books, a Black Tent Temple space including a tiny darkroom meditation retreat, and several large shrines into the same 550-sq-ft space I use to live and work.
  2. Experiment with monastic garb.
    Bit by bit, as I gather ideas from nuns and monks of other religions, I am trying to put together a nun’s habit and other forms of clothing that would work for me as a polytheist monastic. Being mindful of what I wear and dressing modestly is more than a preference; it helps me focus on contemplation. It accentuates the commitment I’ve made to making inroads toward this way of life, and it serves to encourage me in my practice by providing a tangible reminder of that commitment.
  3. Reduce cognitive load and emotional labor whenever possible.
    Modern life often feels like an onslaught of competing demands for my attention, which makes it that much more difficult to even maintain a basic contemplative practice, let alone deepen it. When things like social media fatigue or other forms of overwhelm set in, I disengage or do whatever else I need to in order to preserve sufficient physical and emotional energy for my practice. Solitude is an excellent way to reduce external demands for emotional labor, too.
  4. Engage in activism for social and economic justice.
    Through my project The Anticareerist, I encourage critical thinking about “earning a living” and the Protestant work ethic, and encourage leisure both for its own sake and as a form of resistance to capitalism. Why is this sort of activism relevant for contemplative monasticism? Well, for one thing, it’s a whole lot easier to devote your time to study, prayer, service, and meditation when your needs for housing, health care, and food are met in ways that don’t require 40+ hours a week of wage labor just to survive.