Of Awen and Imbas – My Perspective

As I sit here on a Monday night, pondering what to write, I have put a favorite album of mine into the shuffle slot on my iTunes. “Misplaced Childhood” by Marillion was one of those albums that really touched me. The music is the perfect backdrop to some of the most evocative lyrics I have ever heard. It was this album that led me to find the poet buried deep inside of me. To dip my hands into the thick, sweet liquid of the river of creativity, what I would later in my life come to know as the “Awen” of my life, and the “Imbas” of my life.

For those not familiar to Druidry, its probably a good idea to do some explaining here. Awen, as noted by Penny Billington in her book The Path of Druidry, is “…understood as the flowing spirit of inspiration…” For me, this comes in the form of serpentine river of an unknown type of liquid that is nearly gel-like and has a distinct hue of reddish-gold. Now, that’s my mind’s eye creating an image I can work directly with, I’m quite sure your mileage will definitely vary. This is where I tend to put my hands when I meditate and seek inspiration, usually to solve some coding issue I have run across, or even to write an occasional poem. The point is not what it looks like or the consistency I find it to be in my mind’s eye, but finding it and utilizing it to help my mind find solutions or words I had not thought of before. Sometimes it is a full river of liquid, and sometimes I have to search hard just to find the slightest trickle. Even inspiration can run dry from time to time and force you to dig further and deeper than you thought was necessary.

Imbas or Imbas Forosnai, sometimes know as the “Fire in the Head” is somewhat the same, but its also not. I hope I can do a good job explaining this concept. Imbas forosnai is an odl Irish term that translates to “inspiration” according to Wikipedia. I’ll accept that for the moment, and include that this inspiration was gathered through a means of sensory deprivation, which I have never red or heard of an exact manner of doing so. Once the poet was in this particular state, it is stated that the poet would have the gift of prophecy, stating things without being aware that he or she was doing so. Now, my perception of this is a little different…its the point where the poet, the writer, the musician, the orater plies their craft without knowledge of what they say, write or play until the geas is removed from them. It can last for any period of time. The results can be jumbled or deeply inspirational, depending on the individual hearing or reading the work(s) in question.

Now, my meaning may be different than what is accepted and I absolutely understand that. I still stick to my understanding of what “fire in the head” is – that state of being the tool through which wording, music, or whatever is channeled through you into the physical world. It is a state where you have one foot in this world and one foot in the Other World and you serve as the conduit between the two. And yes, the danger of doing this is that the prolonged connection (whatever time frame that might be) could drive the individual, serving as the conduit, mad. One might even describe this state as a form of possession, but regardless of all that – it certainly does exist, and can be induced in many different manners (or even using no method at all).

Do I strive to find these two states? I seek Awen constantly. When I need to see things from a different perspective, seek a different direction, or even to change a prolonged mood – I reach for Awen. A momentary surge or push towards what I am seeking. That nudge that I need, no more.

Do I seek Imbas forosnai? Not really. I have experienced this state twice in my life. Once, while writing a research paper for a college class. The results were unusable, though I did find bits of information in what I did manage to write. The other time was around an ADF fire during a ritual. There was a moment where individuals were invited to step towards the fire and say something, anything. Most were offerings and thanks to the Gods. I had already mentioned to someone else that I probably did not have anything to say. Yet, I still strode to the fire and offered a statement, asking the Gods to protect the water-protectors at the Dakota Access Pipeline site. I knew nothing of what I said, only that I had said something. I asked several people what it was that I said…and I felt so stupid asking that question. I’m sure someone thought I was high on something. Except that I don’t do drugs, and had not a sip of whiskey to that point in the night.

Most folks will say “yeah, sure” in regards to all of this. I’m happy to end the conversation there and push off to a discussion on how their favorite baseball team is going to do this coming season. I don’t need to argue with people over what I experience. If someone is unwilling to be open to the idea, its far better to move on to another topic than to try and dissuade them from knowing what I did or did not experience. I don’t need to prove myself right or wrong – I am aware of what I experienced. I have no desire to argue the merit of what I had tried to convey.

As I finish this and try to find some way to close this post, I am confronted with my favorite lyrics from “Misplaced Childhood”:

A penny for your thoughts my dear
A penny for your thoughts my dear

“Lavender”, Misplaced Childhood, Marillion

Essentially I share this to convey some of my own experience with the “Fire in the Head”, and the manner in which I hold Awen within my life. Indeed, a penny for your thoughts, but I certainly hope you will pull back and ask for more. Its worth that…

  1. The Path of Druidry, Penny Billington. p205.

My Imbas. My Awen. My Inspiration…

Rainbow near Divide, ColoradoMy morning routine has been fairly consistent over the past year. Up around thirty minutes prior to the dawn, make a cup of coffee and some breakfast (typically a bowl of oatmeal). Then outside to be near the stone circle and watch the sun peek over the rooftops here in Suburbia in north Texas. I do not always get the chance to be outside though – sometimes there’s rain – and believe it or not, sometimes there’s snow. Sometimes its just too bloody cold to be outside as well. On those days, I stand at the patio door, peering outside of the glass waiting for my daily companion to start that ascent to the heights of the sky. Sunrise has always been a fascination of mine. I love watching the sky change hues just before the Sun peeks beyond the horizon. The soft blues, oranges, and the egg-shell whites that permeate the sky remind me of an artist’s palette with little blobs of paint dotted all over it, just before the artist starts to mix colors to get the correct hue for their visual moment.

For me, artistry is everywhere. The beauty and color of the skies, the landscape in its natural formations, the people that dot the entire day in their chosen hues and style of dress, even the cars that we drive. Everything has a tinge of inspiration behind its creation, a hint of Imbas just vaguely perceived but there nonetheless. I am reminded of the lyrics to the song “Mission” by the band Rush from their 1987 album “Hold Your Fire”:

Hold your fire
Keep it burning bright
Hold the flame ’til the dream ignites
A spirit with a vision is a dream
With a mission

I hear their passionate music
Read the words that touch my heart
I gaze at their feverish pictures
The secrets that set them apart

When I feel the powerful visions
Their fire has made alive
I wish I had that instinct
I wish I had that drive

Spirits fly on dangerous missions
Imaginations on fire
Focused high on soaring ambitions
Consumed in a single desire

In the grip of a nameless possession
A slave to the drive of obsession
A spirit with a vision is a dream
With a mission

I watch their images flicker
Bringing light to a lifeless screen
I walk through their beautiful buildings
And I wish I had their dreams

But dreams don’t need to have motion
To keep their spark alive
Obsession has to have action
Pride turns on the drive

It’s cold comfort
To the ones without it
To know how they struggled
How they suffered about it

If their lives were exotic and strange
They would likely have gladly exchanged them
For something a little more plain
Maybe something a little more sane

We each pay a fabulous price
For our visions of paradise
But a spirit with a vision is a dream
With a mission

I used to be quite envious of painters, graphic artists and musicians – each have a talent I only wish I had. When I was younger, I doodled around the Bass Guitar. I never was very good at it. I could replicate a handful of bass lines from Chris Squire of Yes, but when the complicated riffs and runs started – I was out of my element very quickly. I have always been envious of the gorgeous pieces of work that people can create with a little color and a set of tools. Pencil, pen, water colors, oils – the medium did not matter – its the glorious creation that they brought about that mystified me. Like the song implies, I could feel the Imbas of their creation – I could sense the creative juices flowing through me as well, but would be unable to create anything remotely on a scale of anything beyond “amateur”.

I turned to poetry as an outlet. I have always been fairly good with the written word. In high school, I took the song “Black Sabbath by the band Black Sabbath from their self-titled album (odd how that all worked out), and turned that into a short story of my own for an English assignment. My teacher loved it, even though I was too lazy to put it into the appropriate format. In my senior year of high school, I discovered the joy of writing poetry. That carried over into the next seven years of my life – where I shared my work on a local Bulletin Board Service called “Renaissance BBS”. Sadly, much of that work is no longer in my possession, and I have no idea where else it might be.

Then, for a few years, I wrote nothing at all. I had just left the US military, and life was not an enjoyable one as I struggled to survive in the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism and greed I found myself dropped into. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get my head above water. Eventually, I went back to school for a degree. Soon enough, I re-embraced my love of writing and have never let go.

I have always had the dream of being a writer. Being able to make a meager living out of my words and inspiration. And yet, I am an adjunct professor at my local junior college. I may not be able to bring my words to the classroom, but I do try and bring my inspiration and love of technology to the classroom. I try to show the students that creativity is not limited to the musicians, artists, and writers. That the computer that we use are also works of inspiration. That each piece of software originated as someone’s quest to quench the mad fire within their spirit. Admittedly, not everyone wants to “hear” what I have to say. In three-plus years of teaching students, I have encountered more than my fair share of students that see the class as a hurdle that they have to jump. A topic that they have to finish to get a credit of some sort towards their graduation. Not everyone enjoys the madness of what Imbas can bring to them.

As I said, I love to write. My many journals (I keep three and am about to add a fourth one today) are a testament to this. I still have the dream about making my writing earn me a meager living. I realized long ago that having millions and millions of dollars may solve some of the issues of living, but all of the responsibility that comes with such large sums of money can also snuff out the joy of living. I merely want enough money to live comfortably and not worry day-to-day about my bills or where my next meal may come from. As I sit here writing this, I find myself seeing my feet stepping on to that Path, for the first time. Where that will take me, I have no idea – but this looks like the possible start of an interesting journey. I am looking forward to the adventures, pitfalls, and lessons that are likely to come my way.

My Imbas. My fire in the head. My inspiration. My Awen. May the Muses be kind, but firm in the lessons they will provide….

 

A Few Thoughts on Awen…Inspiring and Being Inspired

Awen
Awen

I am completely intrigued with folks that not only embrace their creative side, but are completely consumed by it. Growing up, I had my own areas of hero worship. My love of technology had me completely absorbed with anything that Steve Wozniak had a hand in creating. On my home office wall, I have an Apple ][ motherboard that I mounted to a piece of wood. Its there because I see not only the technical side of its setup, but I also am enamored by the sheer beauty of its simplistic design. I am also very much drawn into the musical side of things as well. During my latter high school years, I had two individuals I looked up to – Randy Rhoads and Cliff Burton. I played bass, and really wanted to be able to play like Cliff Burton – and had wanted to play on stage with Randy Rhoads.  Just once. Each of them died in accidents while on tour – Randy in Florida in a single-engine plane crash, and Cliff in Europe in a bus accident. I still look at their contributions to music as a major inspiration in my life.

Back in my late teens and early twenties, it was really easy to look and see the beauty in someone else’s playing of a musical instrument or the creation of some piece of technology. As I got older, I found inspiration in other areas through the creative of others. The movie Dead Poet’s Society left a lasting impression on me in many ways – the creative in the written word, the creativity of the spoken word, the beauty of inspiring others to reach deep within themselves to find who they truly are. And I find myself being able to do just that with some of the students I encounter in my classroom.

I teach a fairly boring subject – Business Information Systems. To be completely honest, there’s not much you can do to excite someone’s passion about finding patterns in data that can be exploited for the increase of a company’s profit margin. I do my best to try and keep the students focused on the material – but I do attempt to inject some other information into the material as well. I try to show them where the information comes from, how much of it is them just freely giving away pieces of their lives in the Social media platforms, and how companies try to draw these patterns into a series of relationships and assumptions of them as consumers. I spend approximately seventeen weeks with the students in a normal semester. And over that course of time, I learn more about them. I eventually find out where they are trying to aim themselves in their lives, what their goals and ambitions are – and most importantly, I eventually get to know what it is that drives them in their lives. I have had students that are writers in my classes, students that want to get into the medical professions so that they can help others, and students that are just trying to find a way to make as much money as they want. I don’t always agree with their dreams and desires, but I always try to help point them in directions where they might get more knowledge to achieve those dreams and goals – or encourage them to take chances by submitting their writing somewhere – and encourage them to look at rejection in the light of

Its not a ‘no‘ – its ‘not yet‘.

And watching them accept a new way of seeing the world, watching them learn how to don their armor against a world that may reject them outright, and in some cases, getting the chance to see them succeed beyond their wildest imaginations – that inspires me. I will be honest, I get paid shit wages for the time I put into the students. With money running tight, I am now seeking a part-time job that will help hold off some of the bills going into the future. I am not looking for a job that will replace my teaching, but rather something I can do to augment what I make as a teacher – so that I can continue to do what I have come to love.

I have said it numerous times before – I never viewed myself as a teacher or as a leader. I am now entering my fourth year of teaching – and have discovered a job that I enjoy doing, and something that inspires me to take chances in areas I had never dreamed of trying. Earlier this year, I submitted one of my poems into the Literature contest put on by the English Department. I not only won first place in my category, but I also won the award for Literary Excellence – a sort of “best in show” award. I have never won any award for my poetry before – but I have never considered my poetry to be that good. I was inspired to take a chance – and its shed light into an area of my world that I had never considered to be more than outlet for my own emotions.

I’m aware that not every single student I have is inspired by the things I say or the material that I show to them. Not everyone finds my teaching style to be engrossing or fun. Everyone sees the world differently – I am merely glad that I can get some people inspired enough to chase their dreams – and am completely excited when I am contacted by former students who have made their dreams into reality. Every semester, I run into former students who are excited to see me in the hallways or in my old classroom – and they want to tell me how well they have done. And I listen, smile and laugh with them over their triumphs. Inside, I am humbled to the point of being on my knees and shedding tears for their joys, their triumphs, and their personal discoveries. There are days that I will stand in my classroom and see disinterested students staring into the distance – and wonder to myself what the fuck am I doing in here? And all of that melts away, when I met students that I managed to touch that strain of Awen within them – and I see how much they smile when they see me. And that’s the moment that I remember – this is what I am doing. This is why I teach. No curriculum will ever approach that. No set of quizzes, tests or Case Study will measure this outcome. And for me, this Outcome is far more important than any letter-grade or number-grade I could ever give to a student’s submitted assignment.

And walking to the window
He throws the shutters out against the wall
And from an ivory tower hears her call
‘Let light surround you’
-‘Surrounded‘ by Dream Theater