Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Confidence in your own path

There is so much of what I do that is based on my own experiences, my own perspective and my own associations.  My path may share many things with other people's paths, but ultimately is is my own and no one else will walk the same path as I do.

It can be very scary to step out into the world and to share what you do with others.  Especially when you do things a little differently.  What works for other people might not work so well for you and vice versa.  And yet it is a very empowering process to step into your own, to claim what you do and to give your experiences to those around you.

While other people might not walk the same path, they may find great benefit from your experiences.  How you do things could open them up to practices they weren't able to connect with before.  You may introduce them to deities they had never even heard of.  Or you help them claim their own methods and interpretations of something they were afraid to branch out into because they couldn't connect with the standard way of doing things.

I am a great book lover.  Books have always been my go-to for learning.  And yet, in many ways books have been a hindrance to my path.  There have been many places along the way where I didn't grow at all until I was ready to make the plunge and leave what I was reading behind and forge out on my own.

I think that one of the areas where this is the greatest pitfall is in divination.  So many books and resources offer up their perspective without pointing out that it is just one way of looking at things.  Even when the explanation is written by the creator of the symbols being used (for example, the creator of an oracle deck), what they drew into the cards might not be the only messages that you receive from those cards.

Art is a great example of this.  Art hits people on a very emotional level.  The artist who created a work might have made it as an expression of love and tenderness, but you might see loss and pain.  Both perspectives are real, and as a viewer of the art piece, you can even see both yourself.  But knowing and seeing the vision of the artist doesn't make your own reaction to the piece any less important.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that your perspective is more important to you than the artist's intention.

Part of walking your own path is being open to these personal connections.  But a great deal can also be learned from seeing how other people approach the same thing.  There is a lot of wonderful information out there, and the more you know about a thing the deeper your understanding of it will be.  The more perspectives you can comprehend, the more complex your reaction to a thing will be.

It can be very easy, especially when just starting out, to not want to trust your own reactions.  Especially when they are not in agreement with what everything else you are learning is saying.  Even for those who have been working for a long time may struggle with breaking free from the general consensus.

So how do you develop this confidence?  The first step is admitting it to yourself.  Be aware of the ways in which your personal experiences differ from what other people are saying.  You don't have to tell other people at first, you can just keep your thoughts to yourself, but whenever you find your reactions differ, acknowledge that difference and remind yourself that it is not only perfectly normal but also very empowering!

When you are comfortable with admitting things to yourself, then think about the people around you.  Start by sharing your experience with people who are supportive.  Many of us know someone who always feels that they are right and their way is best.  This is not the greatest person to start sharing your experiences with.  Instead, look for the people who show an interest in your life and your interests.  Typically, people who ask you questions about how things are going for you are more likely to be open to listening and supporting your opinions!

A discussion group can be a great way to help people to open up, to share their thoughts on a thing and their personal experiences.  Picking an outside source to discuss (such as a book or article not written by anyone in the group) can be an excellent starting point.  It provides a neutral perspective that everyone can then talk about what works or doesn't work for them. 

Another thing that can be helpful in sharing your opinion and speaking with confidence is keeping to 'I statements'.  This puts your language into a personal perspective.  You are giving your opinion on a thing and this makes people less likely to try to discount your experience.  If I were to say that red aura's mean anger, that would be received more like a fact that could be true or false, where as if I were to instead say that I see anger as red in an aura, a listener would be less likely to feel like my opinion negates their own experience.

I also think that being confident doesn't always mean having all the answers.  As contradictory as this sounds, I can be confident in my own path and perspective and still admit that I don't fully understand a thing or that I may not know what the meaning of something is.  Much of what I do works through symbolism, either through interpreting symbols or using symbols to communicate.  I don't always know every detail of a symbol.  I am always looking to refine my comprehension of the symbols I use.  I do think that part of being confident in my path as a whole is being honest about the parts that I am unclear on.

I feel more confidant, when talking to people, when I admit that I am unsure about a thing, than I do when I try to explain something I am unsure about.  For example, if I am reading the runes, and one comes up that I just am not getting a clear message from, sometimes pointing out that the rune is not fitting well for me in that reading works better than trying to force what I do know into a situation that doesn't resonate with it.  Often, in situations like this, the other person may have input that will make sense to me, or I may come back to it later and realize why it wasn't speaking to me.

Ultimately, I think we all have to pave our own path.  No matter how much we draw from others, there will always be points where we have to step into our own and claim our personal point of view.  You do you, and I'll do me, and we can work together by exploring where our paths merge and where they diverge!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Breathing into fear

This past week, I listened to a wonderful talk on Productive Creativity by Amber Kuileimailani Bonnici, who leads the Woman Unleashed group and retreats that I have enjoyed for several years now.  And she brought up a quote that really resonated with me, so I went and found it after the talk was over. 

This is from The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks.  And it is a quote within a quote!

There's only one way to get through the fog of fear, and that's to transform it into the clarity of exhilaration.  One of the greatest pieces of wisdom I've ever heard comes from Fritz Perls, MD, the psychiatrist and founder of Gestalt therapy.  He said, "Fear is excitement without the breath."

 Fear is something that I struggle with on a regular basis.  And it particularly irks me because it is a pretty recent development for me.  I remember being fearless as a child.  And more than fearless, when something was considered scary or intimidating, I tended to run right towards it and poke it with a stick!  I was definitely operating out of a very tomboy need to prove myself, not only to the world, but to myself.  I had to know that I could do anything I set out to do, and that I was stronger than all those dark things that other people ran from.

Somewhere, over the years, fears started to creep in.  Some of them I know where they are rooted, and some I am not quite so sure.  Most of my fears I know, in the thinking parts of my brain, that they are not worth stressing over.  This isn't to say they aren't real, but rather that my being controlled by fear doesn't make the situation any better.  My fear isn't making me more cautious or stopping me from making reckless decisions, it is only making my life miserable when I am faced with certain things.

So here is where the quote comes in!  Fear creates a state of anxiety and panic in the body.  It is a heightened state of nervous energy.  Excitement creates a similar state of energy, but instead of the energy trying to pull you away from a thing, it is pulling you towards it!  Fear and excitement are two sides of the same coin. 

I've tried to use deep breathing before, to combat my fear.  I took long, deep breaths, trying to settle myself, often using a mantra or chant to further enhance my calm.  I drew my breath deep into my belly, like I would when doing deep meditation.  And while it helped a little, it really didn't work.


Thinking about this quote and the idea it represents, I think this is because I was trying to take this fear/excitement coin and turn it into a flower...instead of flipping it over!  Because fear and excitement are so similar in their energy, it is much simpler to transmute fear into excitement than it is to turn fear into calm. 



So how does it work to breath fear into excitement?  How is that different from what I had tried before?  One article I read talked about how we often hold our breath or take shallow breaths when we are afraid, but when we are excited, we take deeper breaths.  The suggestion given was to imagine blowing out a birthday candle.  Take a deep breath and then exhale deeply as well.  Not only does this help you focus on breathing, but it also anchors the breath with a positive visualization!

I love breath work.  I have worked with many different types of breathing, and when I tried this, and also thought about how I breath when I'm excited about something, I realized that I breath deeply, but into my chest!  When meditating and enhancing calm, I breath into my belly, my chest barely moves, while my lower belly fills out like a balloon.  However, when I am gearing myself up for something or building energy, I will often breath into my chest...so my whole rib-cage expands while my belly actually draws in at first.  Even a few breaths like this, I feel supercharged of oxygen.  It is a technique I have seen divers use, to prepare for diving underwater without any type of air tank.

I can definitely feel a difference in my body after breathing this way.  Several articles suggested other advice to go along with the breathing.  Embrace the sensations in your body, but keep steering them towards excitement.  Feel that jittery energy building in you, and think about a time that you were so excited you couldn't even sit still (or imagine yourself as a toddler who can't wait to do something super fun).  For me, as silly as it sounds, widening my eyes helps build that feeling up too. 

Notice any negative self-talk that tries to butt in, and acknowledge it, thanking your mind for pointing things out, but then reword that information into something that you can feel excitement about.  This might take a lot of work!  It might not be something that you can do at first.  You may need to just start with acknowledgment and gratitude for the warning, then turning back to your breathing.  But keep at it!  Keep looking for those positive perspectives!  Ask your inner voice how you can benefit from the situation.  Any little thing can work!

One of the things that really triggers my fear recently is flying.  I used to love flying when I was little, and I've flown a lot over my life.  I have probably flown an average of 2 times a year (well one round trip, so two days of flying).  I know, in my logical brain, that flying is not overly dangerous, and that traveling by car is more worrisome.  I also know that some of it is knowing that I can't get off the plane (though I'm not claustrophobic in other places).  And I do get motion sick, so turbulence causes anxiety too (and feeds into my other fear of getting sick...lol).  None of those fears really has an upside, or at least I haven't figured out how turbulence is a good thing.  What I can focus on, however, is why I am flying.  For the past decade or so, I have flown to visit my family in the summer.  My son flies with me.  I definitely don't want him picking up my anxiety, so I focus on trying to remain positive and upbeat for his sake and on my wanting to spend time with my family once I land.  On the way home, the desire to be in my own home is a huge motivator as well.

I am actually really excited to put this technique to the test.  I am a firm believer in the power of breath.  We breathe every minute of every day of our lives.  And we can breathe in so many different ways!  Breath is such a simple tool with so many uses.  So embrace the fear, transmute it and breathe on!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Virtual circles

Technology changes everything!  The world we live in today is so much bigger than the one of my childhood, some three decades ago.  The internet has absolutely changed not only how we learn and share information, but also how we interact with others.

When I was first learning, it was hugely emphasized that you should join a coven.  This was how you learned.  You found a group that practiced near you, and applied to join.  If that absolutely could not happen, then you hoped to find a book that would hold you over until you found actual people to learn from, but this was still considered an inferior way of learning.

It was seen as a sign of dedication to your craft to be willing to travel, sometimes hours one way, to meet with a group.  Often groups would want to meet at least every month and a half (for Sabbats), but some had monthly Esbats or even weekly learning groups.  And I have been flat out told that if you couldn't make that commitment then you obviously didn't want it bad enough (which in my opinion is a very horrible attitude and is very exclusive and discriminatory to people with lesser means or with a family).

Today, there are so many more options!  There are tons of resources for learning, from books and websites to online schools (some which are free and open to all and some which charge and function more like a coven or college in structure).  In fact, most of the newer Pagans I have met (newer as in only practicing for say five years or less) take book/online learning as the standard.  Some have attended classes or workshops here and there, but the bulk of what they have learned comes from books.

I adore book learning.  I definitely value face-to-face learning (and experiential!) also, but as someone with lots of personal time, having a book to learn from means I can advance along at my own pace, and that I can connect with other people who have read the same book and discuss anything within it and we have the same context to relate to.  I also find books to be timeless.  A book can be a hundred years old, I could have read it twenty years ago, and someone else could have just read it yesterday and still the information remains the same.

Websites to me are a lot more fleeting.  I started keeping copies of really good information on my own computer many years ago, after several instances where I had tagged a website for reference or to read later only to have it disappear, never to be seen again.  But, websites also offer voice to those who might not be heard otherwise.  Things like this blog, where anyone can create content from their own perspective, and put it out for the world to see.

The internet also allows instant communication between people from all over the world.  I can 'sit' down with people from anywhere in a chat room, on a forum or on social media, and have a discussion in real time.  This really opens doors, not only for people in remote areas, but also for people who might not want their interests known to their family or work.  People who might have otherwise never reached out to anyone out of fear, can now speak to people who they identify with!  And, you can be exposed to ideas and practices that are common in other areas of the world that you might never have heard of otherwise...and from someone who practices them as part of their daily life instead of from a textbook or other reference/historical document.

Virtual covens are something I have seen for decades.  And the concept is expanding today.  There are lots of groups that cater to Pagans that offer different levels of community.  There are huge groups open to anyone who wishes to join and small select groups of friends who wish to share private things.  Virtual classrooms allow students to come together and share their studies, benefiting from the experiences of the other people taking the class as well as feedback from instructors.

And there are lots of options for virtual rituals!  I have participated in some that are sent out by email, where the ritual structure is sent to everyone, and each participant does the ritual at the same time, but on their own.  Or where everyone may even do the rituals at different times, but still tap into the group dynamic and energy through mutual focus. 

I have also been a part of rituals done in chat rooms, where the ritual leader will type out descriptions of what they are doing, and then invite everyone else to join in, typing their own responses.  This works best with smaller groups, and if everyone is very comfortable typing (it can easily become slow and clunky if there are too many long pauses as everyone is typing).

Another option is with video or phone chat.  Often in this case, the ritual leader will be the one on video or the one who is speaking, while everyone else listens in.  Sometimes there is a chat box where participants can type and be heard, or can key in and speak, but mostly it is one speaker leading the group, and the rest following along.  While not quite as interactive as a traditional ritual, they can be absolutely lovely, and really immersive with a great leader.  Plus, it can be less intimidating for people who are just starting out as there is nothing they have to do besides listen.

Finally, some people have utilized the potential of video games (especially mmo style ones where everyone can create a character, move about and even place objects) to host even more immersive virtual rituals.  This may not appeal to some people, but with the technology breaking into 3-D gaming, there is the possibility of fully virtual rituals in the fairly near future.

There are a lot of pros and cons to virtual communities.  It can sometimes be hard to connect as deeply to people you only know online.  For all that they are used so much, many social networking sites or other virtual ways of interacting are quite clunky and not really great for true conversations.  On the flip side, it can be a lot easier for many people to engage in a discussion online, at their own convenience, when they might never actually be able to make a physical meetup (or the physical meetup might only be able to accommodate half a group because of scheduling issues).

Ultimately, there are lots of tools for us modern Pagans to make use of.  It all comes down to how you choose to use them!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Jediism

In honor of the date, I thought I'd delve a bit into Jediism!  Today is May the Fourth, also known by many in the Star Wars Fandom as Star Wars Day ("May the Fourth" be with you...).  Though I have watched Star Wars since I was a little child, I don't actually consider myself part of this fandom.  I do enjoy the movies, they just aren't on my top list.

So why do I want to write about Jediism, the faith that grew out of the Jedi from Star Wars?  Firstly, I think that the tenets of Jediism are quite worthy of discussion.  And secondly, I am endlessly fascinated by any system of philosophy or faith that grows out of a fictional source and becomes something real and usable.  And I think that Jediism does just that.

What exactly is Jediism?  While  many consider Jediism to be a religion, I think it is more of a Philosophy (but I also consider Buddhism in it's truest form to be a Philosophy).  From what I understand, there is no deity worshiped by the Jedi (and yes, followers of Jediism are called Jedi).  The Force is acknowledged, but not as a divine source, rather an underlying energy present in all things.

The biggest theme of Jediism seems to be to do service to the world.  A Jedi should strive to do their best in all things, not to benefit themselves, but to benefit others.  Justice is very big, and doing the right thing is something that is quite important.  In order to know what is right, a Jedi is expected to have a clear mind, and to approach things from a non-personal perspective, not letting their own motivations sway their decision.

In a lot of ways, Jediism shares many tenets with other religions.  I definitely feel that it has a more monastic approach than is common for lay people.  There is a definitely call to rise above, not other people, but your own past self. 

I definitely see a lot of focus on peace in Jediism.  Not only peace on earth (between people) but inner peace as well.  And I definitely think that both are very admirable goals.  It is really easy for people to get so caught up in their own perspective and desires that they cease to notice when their actions are hurting other people.  I honestly believe most people would like the world to be a happy, peaceful place.  I just think that sometimes we loose sight of that bigger picture...or we forget that happy doesn't mean the same thing to everyone.

Though practicing Jedi maintain that Jediism is only inspired by the Star Wars universe and the ideas contained within, they point out that they do not view the movies, books or other fictional sources as religious material.  I think this speaks not only to the author and director, that their world became so real as to inspire people to want to live up to the ideals they learned from them, but also to the creators of Jediism, for having the bravery to take a concept from a fictional source and refine it into a working, living path to follow.

I think that it takes a lot of courage to do something like this.  Many people will look down on Jediism as a 'made up' religion, not worthy of anything but ridicule.  I don't agree with that at all.  In fact, when I was reading through the Temple of the Jedi Order's Doctrine of the Order, I found that I agreed with pretty much everything I read.  I could see myself walking a Jedi path. 

I have seen a lot of discomfort in the Pagan world before when belief systems crop up that are rooted in fiction.  And I understand where the fear comes from.  It is still a fairly common belief that Pagan people believe in made up things.  And so systems that are actually inspired by made up things can be used as 'proof' that what we do isn't legitimate.  However, instead of discounting such systems simply because they have fictional origins, perhaps it is time to actually look and see how they function.

Jediism not only gives a pretty solid guidelines for living a good life, but it also encourages Jedi to create a better world.  And that, to me, is a pretty worthy goal.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Giving back

The first actual spell I ever cast was one that was meant to send healing energy back to the earth.  I picked it because I was still a little timid about doing spells, and I thought that trying to heal the earth was fairly harmless....I wasn't sure how I could mess it up!

But over all the years I have been reading books and spells (and reading spells is something I love doing, I love seeing all the different ways people approach spellwork), that is one of the few spells that I have seen that is focused on giving back.

It's not that I think that Pagan's don't give back.  Offerings are often a big part of many people's paths.  But I think that sometimes we forget that there are more ways of giving back than just offering.  And depending on your path, offering may not be a part of your daily practice.

Giving of one's self is a wonderful thing.  We give of ourselves all day long, we just aren't always paying attention to it.  When you offer to do a favor for a friend, or help a family member with something, you are giving back. 

I think that giving back can become a very meaningful spiritual practice.  Many people who volunteer feel that it benefits them as much as the group or person they are volunteering to help.  I very much believe that by helping other people, we enable everyone to reach greater heights.  It is through working together, through encouraging everyone to achieve their highest potential, that we make these amazing discoveries and advancements. 

And thinking on a global level, when we consider the impact of our actions and how we can give back to the world as a whole, then we are building up a global community that will see us all benefit.  Imagine the world where every person was able to have their basic needs met and therefor contribute whatever gifts their spirit has instead of focusing all their energy on simply making it to the next day alive.

And not just people.  We, as the human race, haven't always considered the animals, plants or resources of our planet.  We sometimes act as if we have no limits and can just pluck whatever we see with no consequences.  As a species, we are starting to wake up to the fact that we are not treating our global home with respect and care, and that if we keep going in the manner we are, that we are headed for ruin.

As spiritual people, I feel that we sometimes overlook the energetic landscape.  We can tap into and harness energy from a myriad of sources.  And yet giving back to these energies isn't often discussed.

Gratitude practice is a big thing right now.  And it is definitely wonderful!  But let's take gratitude a step further.  Let's start considering how we can give back to the things that make our lives fantastic.

Many Pagan's already support Green causes and do their part to give back physically.  Many are also involved in volunteer work for organizations that they feel are important and worthy. 

It doesn't have to be hard to start giving back spiritually.  Many paths involve regular offerings to deities you work with.  Keeping a shrine or altar and performing regular cleansing and offerings is one way to give back to the energies you work with regularly.  Along these lines, consider the spirit and energy of your home and surroundings.  Many ancient civilizations had household altars or recognized guardian spirits of the home and regularly offered to them in gratitude for their work at helping things at home run smoothly.

Another way is to add energetic blessings to your seasonal rites.  If you honor the Sabbats, you can dedicate some of the energy you raise at ritual towards healing and nurturing the earth.  This could be a general thing, just directing energy back to the earth to be used as needed.  Or you could work to heal a specific thing that you feel appropriate, either locally or globally. 

Service is often talked about in terms of Priestessing (or Priesting!).  But I think a lot of times we are prone to wait until someone asks for help, and then we are happy to lend a hand.  Consider how you can offer of yourself or what you can give of yourself everyday, no matter if anyone asks.  Perhaps you have a message to share, and you spread your word so that other people can hear it.  Or, perhaps you simply make the conscious decision to be open, to listen to whoever needs to speak to you, to hold space for the people who can't speak.

Giving back doesn't have to be huge and flashy.  In fact, I think that the truest gifts are often the quietest.  Look around you, notice what needs a boost and share what you have.  Give without thought of what you might get in return.  Bless the world!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Goals, self-scheduling and acountability

It is said that the most successful people in life set goals and look at them daily.  This seems like such a simple (or tedious depending on your personality) thing, and yet the more I have worked with regular setting and tracking of goals, the more I see the truth behind this.

It is so very easy to get caught up in life, especially for anyone who has a busy life.  Most of the time, I have the opposite problem.  I have so much available time that I feel like I can do a ton of things.  But I also have quite diverse interests, and if I don't pay attention to where I am spending my time, the day zips by and half the things I intended to do don't get done.

I think the phrase 'spending your time' is very important.  Time is definitely a resource and we should pay as much attention to it as we do to money (time is money after all).  Time is a currency we have a limited amount of, and we use to pay for the things we want to do.  Sometimes we have things we need to do, and these take away from our time too.

What goals and planning do is help you manage your time.  When you set goals, you are prioritizing the things you spend your time on.  You are making a deliberate decision to focus on this one thing, and setting aside a time to do it.

Goals can be intimidating for a lot of people.  Some take to goal setting like a duck to water, while for others it's like pulling teeth.  What you need to do is realize that goal setting doesn't work the same way for everyone, and you need to figure out what works for you.

I like structure, but I also don't want my days ordered to death.  I am going to outline what I have been doing this year, as it's been working really well for me, as well as talk about some other options, in case one of them might be more appealing to you.

The first thing I did this year, at the turn of the year, was make a vision board for the coming year.  I spent some time, thinking about what I wanted to accomplish this year.  Not in terms of specific things (though I definitely did more specific things on last years vision board, so that is a fine choice if that appeals to you), but more the feelings and experiences I wanted to have.  I flipped through magazines, clipping out pictures and words that jumped out at me.  Then I used some paint to put colors on my little canvas board...nothing fancy, I just grabbed a brush and some colors that looked nice and swirled them around so the board wasn't really white anymore.  Most of the board will end up covered with clippings, so you could do anything you want underneath.  You could write out your goals, then paint over it with a single color that symbolizes what your theme for the year is.  You could splatter pain or let it drip in any direction.  Or you could leave it white!

Then I laid out my big pictures...no words yet.  I picked pictures that spoke to me.  This year it was pretty abstract, there is a picture of a sunset/sunrise, some swirling water, a flower, a compass and a tea set among other things.  Some of them I couldn't tell you why I wanted them on my board, I just knew I did, so they went on.  I placed them around until I liked what I saw, then pasted them onto my board.  Then I did the same with words, looking for phrases or single words that jumped out at me.  One of my main focuses this year is on mindfulness...on being in the now.  And almost all those 'in the now' terms end in -ing, so there are a lot of -ing words that I clipped, and the best ones made it to the board...plus I clipped a lot of interesting looking "ing" endings from words to add in to remind myself to just be in the moment.  I pasted the words on, then added a bit more paint, some silver and gold metallic paint I have, to add a bit of accent.

This vision board sits on my desk, where I can see it pretty much all day long.  I try to consciously look at it at least once a day.  It helps remind me of what I want to work on, the energy I want to call to me, and just to take a moment to breathe (that is on my board!)

The second thing I started doing this year is a daily calendar.  I do a daily rune pull, and last year I tried to use the calendar to jot down things I learned or inspiration I got during the day as well.  That didn't work so well for me (I am more productive in the morning, so things that require reflection at the end of the day aren't well suited to me).  This year, I am using my daily squares on my calendar to schedule what I want/need to do each day. 

Some things are written down every day:  meditation and self-joy (things that I do just for me).  Not only does this remind me to keep up with them every day, but it also helps me track if I need to adjust my goals..which I have.  The year started out with yoga every day, but while I love yoga and definitely need to keep active daily, I have found that I keep running into blocks that I think I need to work through (I have been working on regular exercise for years now....I'll go along good for a couple of months and then hit a block and not do much of anything for months).  So now I have adjusted from daily yoga to daily meditation...and still trying to get that to where I want it to be.  I wrote a previous blog post about how self-care became self-joy (which can be found here if you are interested).  I don't schedule everything I do every day, just the things that I want to be aware of.

I also don't schedule every task I have for every day.  It's sort of a loose thing.  Today for instance, I have blog on my schedule as well as out of the house errands I need to run.  I don't always put down errands, it really depends on whether or not I think I might forget to run them.  I also don't always put down things that I do on a regular weekly basis.  I am in a group that helps with goal-support, and I haven't been scheduling my posts there in my calendar, but if I start slipping up on doing them, then I will add it to my calendar until I get back on track.

That is the big thing I like about the calendar.  I can write things down, and refer to it several times a day.  It lets me not have to think constantly about what I have to do that day.  It also lets me tick things off as I get them done, which for me is very rewarding.  I choose not to put times for any of my tasks, as I don't like having that regimented of a schedule, but if you like or need to, that is a great way to help keep on track as well.  I know quite a few people who will absolutely schedule specific times for things (even lovely self-joy actions like having a bath or reading a novel) because when they put it on their calendar, it sets that time aside for that action, and they can schedule all the other things that have to be done that day around the things they want to do...and seeing it all on the calendar allows them to take the time they need for themselves, and still feel secure in knowing that all the other things will get done.

My other main goal-setting tool this year is moon tracking.  I have been working with the moon cycles and phases since the start of the year.  This gives me a monthly cycle of planning, work and reflection aimed at different areas in my life.  I have definitely enjoyed working the cycles, and am thinking about how I might continue it in the future.  It gives me a chance to work on specific things, over a shortish period of time, with dedicated steps along the way.  It has both structure and openness (as I can use each phase in the way I feel appropriate for my goals).  And, because I am using the full moon energies to guide my path this year, I have a theme for each moon that I can pick a goal to work on, so that also gives me a bit of structure.

Finally, I am in a lovely facebook group that is designed to support us all on any goals we are working on or struggles we find along the way.  A lot of people find facebook a very toxic place, but I absolutely think it can be a great thing if you surround yourself with great people.  I have lots of great groups, but this one is specifically geared to help all the members accomplish whatever they set their mind to.  We recently started doing weekly goals, a mid-week work in progress check in and an end of the week reflection. 

This weekly structure is really nice.  I find myself really thinking ahead as to what kinds of things I want to do over the course of the week.  Plus, with a group structure, I always find more motivation to stick to my goals....having other people to cheer me on makes me want to stick to things more than just on my own (even when the other people will never think poorly of me for not reaching a goal...just them being there motivates me). 

I think that outside support is something that is very individual as well.  Some people really thrive under a drill-sergeant type of hard push, while others would find that horrible.  I don't really like when people are on my back constantly, but I definitely know I perform better when there are other people involved.  Some people need more regular encouragement (especially at the start or when things get rough).  You should always find the right group for you, the people who drive you to do bigger and better things.  If you have people who are not supporting you in the right way...find ones who will!

Looking at all the different tools I use to keep on track, I will also say that having multiple size goals and tasks is definitely important.  Using just a daily calendar, I don't look at larger goals, I am so focused on what needs to be done that day.  It is very hard, just working daily, to reach those bigger goals, because you don't have a larger timeline.  With just the vision board, I have a lovely tool for the greater picture of my year, but absolutely nothing that helps me work in a concrete way towards it.  The moon cycles and weekly checkins help tie things together, but they are less effective without the larger picture (where do I want to be a year from now...or five or ten years, it can often be helpful to do big long term goals as well).  And without the daily tasks, it can be easy to loose track of where you need to be focused today, and find yourself at the end of the week/month with great intentions and no progress.  And whether or not you involve other people in your goals, you should always check in with yourself.  If you aren't tracking whether you are accomplishing your tasks, you won't know if you need to change your process.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Ritual visualization

I am a HUGE visualization fan.  I really started when I was in middle school, just daydreaming in the car.  But my daydreams were very vivid, and I began deliberately creating scenarios to daydream about.  When I first was introduced to visualization as a practice, specifically guided style visualizations, that is what it reminded me of.

One of the things that I find really useful about visualization is it's versatility.  Not only can you do it anywhere, but you can visualize anything.  You are only limited by your own creativity.  So many other practices build upon or utilize visualization, I really think it is useful for everyone, no matter their spiritual path or life's journey.

I think the first myth I wish would be dispelled about visualization is that it's not all about seeing stuff.  Some of my strongest visualizations aren't really 'visual'.  I've recently heard the term 'feelization' which I think is a much more useful term when it comes to using visualizations to set intentions, as the feelings that a scene evokes will bring a stronger connection than just imagining what the scene might look like.  But still, the deepest visualizations I have had aren't really any sense or even a combination of senses.

I'm working through "Runes for Transformation," by Kaedrich Olsen, and he uses the phrase Ginnic reality to talk about the underlying core energy of a thing.  It is tapping into that pure essence of something, and that is what I feel is at the heart of visualization.  When you open yourself to an experience, you may notice sights, sounds, smells, feelings or tastes.  But you might also just 'know' a thing.  All of this is visualization!

So almost anyone who has a spiritual or magical practice has probably run across visualization.  It has also become quite popular in the sports world, in the field of medicine and in the business and self-improvement fields.  Visualization is no longer something that is considered something that is outside of the realm of the average person.

Often, visualization is taught as a way to not only get in touch with our inner thoughts on a thing, but also to start to create change in our inner world as a way to create change in the outer world.  Visualization is used to help lift moods and change the way we think.

As a Pagan, I have used visualization as a part of my magical and spiritual practice from the start.  One of the first circle castings I learned included visualizations of glowing pentagrams and flame.  When I work on a spell, I will use visualization to help set my intent.  I use visualization in meditation all the time.  

But I think that visualization can take us so much further.  Instead of being just a part of a ritual, it can be the entire ritual.  I often use visualized rituals when I am away from home and don't have either privacy or tools/supplies.  I know a few people with physical limitations who use visualized ritual when they can't physically do the things they want to do for a ritual.

One of the great things about visualized rituals is that you can visualize whatever you need.  If you wish you could hold ritual on the top of a windswept mountain or in a secluded cove by the sea...you can!  If you wished you had ornate and fancy tools...visualize them!  The more you work with a visualization over time, the more energy it will hold for you when you come back to it.  The more detail you put into your visualizations, the more real they will be to you.

And even more than that, you can use visualization as a layer on top of a physical ritual to change the energy and feel of the ritual.  I live in a pretty small apartment, and I don't always have a car.  Our backyard is a field that belongs to the neighbor, and has absolutely no privacy.  So my physical location is often quite limited.  I can do the physical actions of a ritual in the privacy of my own home, and visualize a different location while I do it.

This can be hard at first.  It can be easy to remain locked into the world around us and not be able to tap into that visualization while we are interacting with physical things that are right there.  This is definitely something that becomes easier as you practice it.

But there are also things you can do to help yourself along.  Play up to your senses!  If you are visualizing a forest, play nature sounds from the forest.  This also helps drone out any sounds from your neighbors or your household that might distract you.  It doesn't have to be natural sound either, if you have a song that really suits the mood of your ritual, use that!  Find a scent that helps evoke the scene to you, and have it handy.  You can find pictures that inspire you and put them around to help make it easier to visualize or to bring you back in when you loose your focus.  If there are things you can touch who's energy helps your visualization, make them a part of your physical ritual.  When you touch them, close your eyes for a moment and really sink into the feeling.

I wear glasses, and I often take them off for ritual.  I can see well enough to not bump into things, and can even read (with effort), but it does make the world a little blurry which helps me to pay attention to what my mind is seeing instead of what my eyes are telling me.  You can also dim the lights or use low candlelight to help bring that soft focus to bear.  If you have ever tried those 'magic picture' 3D images that pop into shape only when you shift your focus, that kind of focus works to pull you out of really 'seeing' the world around you as well.

A big benefit of being able to visualize like this, with your eyes open, is that it really lets you visualize anywhere.  My mind can be in another world, and it will just look like I'm staring off into space.  But, if someone comes up toward me, I will be aware of them, so I can use this technique when I am waiting in a waiting room without completely loosing touch with the world around me.

And you don't have to only use this method on full rituals!  You can apply this to any kind of action that fits!  So, when cleaning the house, visualize something in your life that you want to remove scattered all over where you need to clean...then vacuum/dust/sweep it up and get it out of your house.  If you are washing dishes think of an emotion you want to let go of or a memory you want to have less impact on you.  Let it flow down into your hands and then out through the water.  If you are working out or doing some kind of physical activity and you want to change your physical image or impact your health, visualize yourself in the form you want, doing the exercise...and really think about how it would feel to be able to do that action when you achieve your goal!

It doesn't all have to be super serious either!  Have fun with it.  Schedule play-dates with yourself, and visualize something fun just for relaxation.  Toss on your favorite music and visualize a dance party, with lots of people to dance with and let loose!  Have a bath and visualize floating in a beautiful pool or the ocean.  Instead of just sitting on the bus/train on the commute home, visualize riding a horse across the countryside or zipping around in a sportscar.