Session: Slowing Down to the Speed of Nature, Slow Living Summit 2013, Brattleboro, VT

Thursday afternoon breakout session by Ivan McBeth, Shamanic and Druidic Teacher

Written by Elizabeth Mathai

What does gazing at the feet of someone across the room from you have to do with the speed of nature?  That is one of the things I found out at Ivan McBeth’s session entitled “Slowing Down to the Speed of Nature” where he talks about the necessity of balancing body and spirit, and he takes us through exercises intended to slow us down and be mindful of our body, our senses, our surroundings, and nature.

As I enter the room I notice that unlike other sessions I had attended at the summit, chairs were arranged in a large circle.  No wonder then I could not spot our teacher Ivan McBeth right away.  He was part of the circle and had merged in with the participants.  The benefit of this, Ivan explains later, is that it enables everyone to see everybody else’s faces, as opposed to conventional classroom seating where the teacher is at the front, and students sitting in rows are required to be able to see the teacher but not necessarily each others’ faces or expressions.

I choose a seat and settle in.  I feel a little uncomfortable—I am the only one with an open notebook.  Not surprising.  Who’s ever heard of taking notes at a meditation or yoga session?

According to Ivan, the spirit cannot handle the hustle and bustle of modern life.  We need to slow down to welcome the spirit and make space for it.  The spirit is essential to happiness; thence a balance of spirit and body is what we strive to attain.  But what does it mean to slow down and how can we do it?  Ivan suggests that we start by going though simple exercises that remind us to notice ourselves and our surroundings.  Through each one of these exercises we learn to be a little more mindful, and to slow down a little more each time.

The first one: We close our eyes and relax as Ivan reads us a poem about the spirit.  As usual my mind wanders when my eyes are closed; this time however I am also listening to the poem and trying to grasp its meaning.

Reality check from Ivan: Do you consider yourself spiritual?  If you are awake sixteen hours a day, how much of it do you devote to spirituality?

If we go about our daily lives in a hurried manner without noticing, appreciating, or absorbing our surroundings or nature, we are not in the present, Ivan tells us.  To be present is to use our senses and take in what we feel.  Druidry teaches us to be here in body and spirit by using our five senses; the sixth is intuition which develops as we practice the first five.

Our next exercise is to explore the five senses.  Ivan guides us by gently coaxing us to move our focus from one part of our body to another, all the while giving us the opportunity to use each of our senses.  This is a wonderful experience for me.  Even though I can hear Ivan’s voice in the background and am following his instructions, I am completely relaxed and come out feeling as though I actually took a nap.  This is refreshing.

Next, we practice soft vision.  According to Ivan, tunnel vision is akin to a laser beam.  It cuts and dissects.  It does not allow us to see anything else near or around us.  It is not friendly.  Walk into the woods with tunnel vision and you will scare away the little animals he declares.  Soft vision on the other hand is not intense. It allows you to notice what’s in your periphery, a bit like day dreaming.  So we try this.  I gaze at the feet of the person across the circle from me.  Then I allow my gaze to soften; this makes matter in my peripheral vision come alive.  The image I see reminds me a little bit of Escher’s painting on a sphere, except I seem to be looking at it from within the sphere.  At the end we take turns recounting our experiences.

The next level takes us to face gazing, again done softly without being invasive.  I find this more difficult while some others seem to have success.

According to Ivan, you get hung up when you try to focus on what you see.  What is important here is the ability to move deeper into the spirit.  There are infinite layers and depths when working with spirits, he says.  Ivan reiterates the need for practice, and assures us that at some point it will click.  The goal is to merge physical reality with spirituality.  He likens it to liberating the magical creative child from within, just as Bards do.

Also present was Abby, a young student of his, who kindly agreed to spend a little time with me after the session.  She is in her first year training which is the Bard level.  The other two levels are the Ovate and the Druid.  Abby seemed enthusiastic about the teachings and her community of Bards.  Graduated Druids often come back as mentors she said.  Through the three-year training she is hoping to learn much more about herself, and then to go out into the world and do whatever it is she’s passionate about.  By doing so she is convinced that she will affect people and things around her in a positive way.  I wish her all the best.

Ivan McBeth is the founder of the Green Mountain Druid Order located in Worcester, VT. Together with Fearn Lickfield its co-creator, they run the Druid training and the Order.  More information may be obtained from the following websites:

Elizabeth Mathai resides in Central Vermont. Her interests include mathematics, dance, and learning more about slow living.