The Self and the Middle Way

I’ve just been introduced to a wonderful concept, a very different view of the Middle Way by Vietnemese Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, Beyond the Self: Teachings of the Middle Way.

So many people interpret the Buddha’s teachings of the Middle Way as walking between two extremes, of finding a middle ground between points of view. However, Thay talks about how we need to throw out all duality in order to truly understand the Middle Way. We do not walk between two extremes, but instead we throw out the concept of the extremes. We let go of dualistic points of view, and in doing so we are further able to release notions of the self in order to fully integrate with the world.

This has resonated so deeply with me, as for the past couple of months I have been exploring the release of the self and integration with the natural world as a result. To walk the middle way, we must, as Thay suggests “throw out” instead of letting go – as letting go still concedes to a dualistic nature of existence, and a self that is separate from nature. If we throw out all these ideas we are left with nothing but possibility.

The idea of the Middle Way, of changing the way that you think by throwing out dualities, has some other very interesting concepts to chew on. What happens if you throw out anger and joy? What happens when you throw out pain and bliss? Walking the Middle Way is not about never getting angry, or upset, or joyful, or blissful. It is about releasing ideas of opposites, and seeing the potential that is created in doing so.

How does this work then? If we throw out ideas of birth and death, we are simply left with manifestation of existence in all its forms. This reaffirms my belief that life does not begin when we are born, nor stop when we die: we simply change form, decomposing into the soil, molecules breaking down, chemical reactions occurring. We are released into the air through the plants growing around us, released into the water table, we fall as rain or snow, we are in the wind. There is no beginning and no end. When the conditions are right we manifest in different forms, whether that be human, water molecule, etc. When we strike a match, the flame does not come out of nowhere: the right chemical reaction must occur. When the flame is blown out, it does not disappear into nothingness, but simply ceases in that manifestation. When the conditions are right, it can appear again. As Thay puts it – clouds cannot die.

For me, this is the concept of reincarnation, exquisitely explained.

With regards to the self, we can take this further, realising that there is no separate self. We are beings that, like everything else on this planet, require the existence of other things in order to manifest. We are entirely co-dependent, there is nothing on this planet that can exist without other things. A cloud needs water and other elements in order to be. Humans needs water, food, shelter, oxygen and a host of other things in order to exist. Everything is interconnected. We cannot separate one thing from another – it is simply impossible. When we realise the interdependence of existence, we see that there really can be no separate sense of self – we are made up of millions of other human and non-human elements.

Thay goes further into describing all these other elements as having their own vitality, their own purpose, their own consciousness. Each thing is equally important in the manifestation of all existence.

For me, this is animism, exquisitely explained.

It is so wonderful when concepts that you hold so dear to your heart, concepts that you regularly meditate over, are expressed within a different religious path so eloquently. It shows a shared human experience, and a shared global manifestation of consciousness.

Thay is currently in hospital, aged 88 having suffered a brain haemorrhage. He is making progress, and we all wish him the best in his recovery, should that happen. Whatever may happen, we wish him peace and love. His teachings have made him a true hero of our time.

The Curse of Self-Awareness

As homo sapien sapiens, the beings that are aware that we are aware, we have a great gift in terms of our species title (though personally I’m not sure that this is pertinent only to human beings). We also suffer from a great curse: the curse of self-awareness.

Being self-aware can help us to achieve wonderful, beautiful things, striving towards peace and harmony with all creatures with pure intention, awake and aware of how you respond to situations and seeing where you “fit”. It can also lead down the slippery slope of becoming drowned in your own sense of self and of not being able to see beyond that. We can get lost in our heads in a made-up world instead of actually being in reality. We can create situations, linger on emotions and situations that are no longer relevant, and simply be too self-focused, missing out on the beauty, wonder and magic that life can offer us at any given moment.

Much of Paganism and Druidry begins by looking at the self, of finding where we fit within nature. Locating that sense of self is important. However, it shouldn’t end there – we must look outwards as well, otherwise we are missing out on everything that nature is communicating with us in relationship. Druidry is, after all, all about relationship, a two-way flow of energy.

Lift the curse of self-awareness, and look beyond the self to be inspired by the beauty and wonder of the world around you. Finding where you fit, and then listening and being inspired by others, in whatever form they may be – that is the greatest gift.

The Awen Alone reaches new milestone…

The Awen Alone Joanna van der Hoeven

This morning I came in to the good news that my latest book, The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid is currently rated 3,888th out of over 400,000 UK titles on Kindle in the book’s first 4 days of being released.  This is an amazing achievement for me and for my publishing company as it puts the book currently in the top 1% of all Kindle UK sellers, and we are so thankful to you all for your support.

This book would never have happened were it not for this blog, and the lovely supporters whose kind messages have always inspired me to write more, to share my personal experience and awen.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the very depths of my heart.  Big love to you all.

Jo. x


Note: As of 4.20pm today Amazon have switched back to Pre-Order mode, but don’t worry, it will be back ASAP – must be a glitch in their system that they’re working out!

Staverton Thicks – Suffolk’s Ancient Oaks

Just back from a truly beautiful experience – a guided walk around Staverton Thicks (ancient oak woodland in Suffolk, with trees over 1,000 years old) and an improvised concert at Butley Priory based on what we saw during the two hour walk. I wish every Sunday could be like this…

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The Awen Alone is now available!

The Awen Alone Joanna van der Hoeven


Today is the day!!! The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid is now available in stores!

Throughout the ages, people have withdrawn from the world in order to connect more fully with it. This book is an introductory guide for those who wish to walk the Druid path alone, for however long a time. It is about exploration and connection with the natural world, and finding our place within it. It covers the basics of Druidry and how, when applied to the everyday life, enriches it with a sense of beauty, magic and mystery.

This book is for those people who feel called to seek their own path, to use their wit and intelligence, compassion and honour to create their own tradition within Druidry.