Many readers will acknowledge that being out in nature makes us feel better about life. Some will recognize ¨feeling better¨ as having a spiritual dimension. For me, I have long known that being in the mountains was integral to good spiritual and emotional health. However, for many years it was a fact of my life, due to the constraints imposed by both my chosen career and my spouse, that I must live in a very large urban center far from my desired landscape. Those years were a perplexing balancing act that became increasingly more difficult as I tried to maintain my spiritual and emotional equilibrium in what I saw as a hostile environment.
For those of you who recognize yourselves in my predicament, take heart for help is at hand! The Handbook of Urban Druidry, by Brendan Howlin is a useful resource that tackles the question of how to be healthy and happy in an urban environment when you feel called to be in nature. While the title might be off-putting due to the reference to Druidry, this book actually offers practical suggestions for living a more aware and intentional life in urban settings no matter your religious or spiritual orientation. And, respecting that people who live in urban settings are usually highly stressed and time challenged, the book homes in on small changes that don’t take a lot of time but that can shift the framework of one’s being in ways that are more intrinsically satisfying.
The book is organized in short chapters which are easy to dip into without the reader having to commit a large block of time. Each chapter discusses one theme (Learn to See, Learn to Relax, etc.) in clear prose and concludes with a few bullet points which suggest ways to incorporate the theme into one’s personal life. I have transcribed the bullet points on a series of notecards for my reference and find that to be quite useful.
The light tone ensures that the information is approachable. The format works well as the chapters are more effective if there is breathing space between them allowing further reflection prior to continuing on. My only complaint about the book is that there are far too many gratuitous references to bird-watching of the unfeathered kind. This attempt at humor and a light tone to counter the habit of spiritual seekers to take everything as deeply serious is understandable. Nevertheless, it comes across as inelegant and more like the musings of a 12 year old boy; or, perhaps, it irks me because there are no similar light remarks as a foil with which a woman could identify.
The specifically Druidic portion of the book is actually quite minimal but helpful if you are considering Druidry as a spiritual path. When I began to consider it for myself I found it quite overwhelming to need to learn a new spiritual vocabulary of word and symbol as well as to get my arms around what it actually meant to be someone on the Druid path. Learning new holidays, what they were about, why they were important, and how to celebrate was particularly difficult. I would get suggestions for a ritual, for example welcoming the winter solstice, but would be completely lost as to why it mattered to my life. Howlin has a chapter on ¨Living the Wheel of the Year¨ that I find to be excellent. It explains each of the 8 seasons of the calendar and gives practical suggestions on how to personally incorporate them.
Howlin has divided the book into two parts. What we have been discussing is the first part, titled ¨First Things First.¨ which makes up the bulk of the book. The second part, titled ¨The Advanced Stuff,¨ only takes seven pages and introduces the three levels of formal Druidry: Bards, Ovates, and Druids. He also provides an excellent reference list for those interested in reading further. The Handbook of Urban Druidry is a worthwhile companion on the spiritual path.