Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Constant Vigilance

Fair warning:  today's blog will be a bit more rambly than usual!

I have an obsessive mind.  I ruminate on things, long after they should be well and done, and I get caught up in anxiety loops.  At any given time, my mind is probably either hashing over something that has happened in the past, something I feel I did wrong or how someone reacted to something I do, or I am worrying about the future, about the horrible things to come (because of course it wouldn't be anxiety inducing if I thought about the good things).

My mind naturally goes to the darker places.  It's funny though, I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a pessimist.  I actually most of the times really expect things to turn out well....I just fret and fuss in my head about the million 'what if???' possibilities.  The good ones I skim over, because however wonderful they would be, they don't require preparation.  The bad ones, those are the killers.  Those are the thoughts that bang around in my head long after they should be gone, and create problems.

There is a quote, in a Laurell K. Hamilton novel that always reminds me of this.  It's kind of long, and not completely related, but in essence, it is a conversation between two psychics, both people who can 'feed' off of other people's memories and emotions.  And the question one poses to the other is:  do you ever get tempted to take more than you should.  The other person responds that being tempted isn't really the issue or heart of it.  That of course everyone is tempted to do those naughty things that they know they shouldn't do.  Even if you aren't truly considering it, even if it's just that random thought that flies through your head and is immediately discarded, the possibility has entered your head, and it can make you wonder if you are a good person or not.

But the response, that the other character gives is this:  it's not about being tempted, it's about making the decision, every second of every day, to do the right thing.  To make the choice to be the good guy, and to not fall prey to those thoughts that are floating about in your head.

This distinction, between being tempted and making the decision to always choose to do the right thing, is one that I think applies to a ton of areas in our lives.  Of course, it easily applies to ethics and morality.  I have said, many times before, and will probably say many more times, that I don't hold magic to different standards of right and wrong than I do any other part of my life. 

But right and wrong can be full of grey areas and tricky situations.  Most people agree that stealing is wrong, but if you or your family are starving, most people would probably steal to stay alive, especially if they can steal from someone else's bounty (and not from another starving person).  On the flip side, if two people are trying for the same job, most people don't feel it wrong to promote themselves or talk themselves up.  Many people would consider it less right to talk down their opponent, even if the things you are saying are accurate and true.

Being a good person and acting morally is constant work.  We must keep our eyes open, and always check in with our actions.  It is very easy to be motivated by what we are feeling in the moment or by our past experiences.  We may not always have the luxury of stopping and taking the time to consider what we are doing and why, but when we do have the time and ability, we should!  And, when we notice that we may have taken an action that wasn't on the side of right, we owe it to ourselves to consider how we might correct our mistake.

This might mean making a proper apology or some kind of restitution to the wronged party.  It can be really easy to think that little things like this aren't important, but simply admitting you are wrong, can be a very powerful act.  It can mean a lot, both to yourself and to the other people involved.  You never know how the simplest thing can completely change another person's life.  I am constantly reading feel-good stories about this kind of thing, either a kind word or a small gesture, that dramatically alters someone's day, sometimes turning into a ripple effect that changes their entire life!

But it might also mean adjusting your attitude for the future.  We may not be able to go back and make things right, especially if it was a chance encounter with a stranger.  What we can do, is change how we will act if a similar situation were to occur.  The more we think about how to behave, and how to respond to different situations, the more likely we are to follow our intentions and act in a way that aligns with our inner truth.

So how does all this cycle back around to my obsessive thoughts?  Firstly, let me tell you, from experience, that having someone else say a kind word, express their appreciation of a thing I have done, or even apologize for something they did (no matter how minor) can help break my cycle of obsessive thoughts.  Instead of being caught up in this loop of continually asking myself what I might have done differently, or what I could have done better, now I have this outside input that tells me that what I did was okay. 

In a more direct way though, the approach of being continually vigilant about how we respond to things can help combat obsessive thoughts and derail the viscous cycle before it truly begins.  When we focus on what we might do better, instead of how we messed up, we are turning that negative thought into a positive one, and better still we are putting our focus on the outcome, on the positive things that we can turn any situation into.

This type of vigilance is a habit that can be built up just like any other habit.  The more we practice taking even half a second to think about what we are doing, and to deliberately make the best choice we can, instead of reacting without thought, the more this becomes our default action.  Instead of simply taking action, we will find ourselves automatically thinking, "What does this mean to me?" or "What are the ramifications of this choice?"  Even when we are faced with bad options, we will feel better about our choice because it was a deliberate choice, not just our way of grasping at straws and taking whatever is thrust at us.

And if you are like me, if your thoughts spiral around and cause you problems, perhaps you will find that taking notice of your obsessive thoughts as soon as they begin allows you to direct them better.  Instead of them swirling all around you, trying to drown you, perhaps you will be able to send them in a better direction, or at least slow them down enough that you can keep your head above the water.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Loving yourself through change

There is a lot of conflicting emotions running wild at this point in the year.  We feel the pull of the brand new year, the need to make big goals and to set our sights on change and growth.  Spring has come, calling us to break free from our shell, to stretch and challenge ourselves.  And now, Valentines day has come!

Valentines day is hard for a lot of people.  Whether you are in a relationship or not, it the day of the year when focus is most on how lovable we are.  We often find ourselves questioning our own self-worth, especially in the light of the recent focus on changing the things we don't like about ourselves.  If we have a partner, we may feel insecure and wonder what they see in us.  If we don't perhaps we worry that we are unlovable and fear no one will want us. 

This is reinforced by the pure amount of media pressure to constantly improve, to want to be perfect and to need to cover up any and all faults "So that someone will love you."  And yet, many of us do a lot of inner work.  We focus on learning to love ourselves, to accept the parts of our being that we may wish were different, and to be happy where we are...and who we are.

So how do you reconcile those two sides?  The part of you that wants to grow and improve and the part that wants to love yourself, as you are, flaws and all?  Can you truly love parts you find undesirable?  And is it somehow a betrayal to yourself to want to change and to let go of the parts of yourself that aren't exactly as you want them?

It may sound bizarre, but I recently read an article about this very topic, specifically in regards to weight.  It brought to light the juxtaposition that many people feel, and I think especially women.  We are told that to be mentally healthy and happy, we need to learn to love ourselves, where we are at today, and not not put our sense of self-worth or acceptance on some desired weight or aesthetic.  And yet, at the same time, we are told that in order to be physically healthy we need to meet a certain level of weight and fitness (and media tells us that if we aren't skinny, we can't be beautiful).

Part of setting a goal to change often involves recognizing a dissatisfaction with the current state.  Most of the time, when I want to change and grow, it's because there is a part of my life that I don't like or that I think could be better.  Of course, sometimes I am driven by seeing something wonderful that I want to have (or be!), but I think that I am motivated more by my dislike of things than by my desires.

It is a very fine distinction, to be able to love yourself, to be happy with where you are...and still want to change things you might not like or grow and become more.  I think the common misconception is that you have to completely love all aspects of a thing to love it as a whole...and I think that is so untrue!

Think about a young kitten.  When a kitten is young, it hasn't yet learned how to do certain things:  use a litter-box, not scratch up the furniture, that people don't have fur and are fragile to little teeth and claws.  But we love the kitten!  In fact, it is that very love that often makes us more patient and more gentle when we teach the kitten all the things we want it to learn.  We show it the litter-box over and over, so it knows where it is and what to do with it.  We take away things we don't want it to chew on or play with and replace those with toys or treats.

We need to learn to treat ourselves with that same kind of consideration!  We can love ourselves, truly love ourselves, and still want to correct bad habits or things that we may not care for.  This type of change in perspective doesn't hold us back from changing, in fact you may find that it is easier to grow and change when you are approaching change from a perspective of love instead of hate.

We are often kinder to others than we are to ourselves, and when we remember this, we can use it to our advantage.  If you struggle finding things about yourself that are lovable, try describing yourself as if you were someone else...literally pretend that you were someone else, specifically someone you care about.  If they were having a bad day, what might you tell them to make them feel better?  What could you say to show how much you cared about them?  If you aren't used to thinking about yourself in positive ways, this might be very hard at first.  Start small!  Pick one thing about yourself for each category (body, mind and soul), and give yourself a single compliment. 

You may find, at first, that you really struggle with this.  Remember, every time you do this, you are building up your capacity for self-love.  Even small things, like telling yourself you love the color of your eyes or how you are really good at math or that you can remain calm when other people get angry, these are all tiny love notes to your soul.

As you get better at finding things you like about yourself, start to challenge yourself.  Each time you do this exercise, add one more compliment to each category!  Try to find things to love about the parts of yourself that you are unhappy with.  Even kind of odd compliments are fine!  For example, I may not like my belly area, or the stretch marks that live there...but they remind me of being pregnant with my son, which I am proud of, and they kind of look interesting (when I look at them up close and you can't really see what they are, just the shapes and textures).

This leads me to my next exercise:  finding ways to turn negatives into positives.  This is a bit more tricky than the first one, but definitely rewarding!  The idea is to find things that you don't like, and find some aspect of it that you can re-frame as a positive.  This works especially well for things you may not have any option of changing (like your  height or age).  I may not like getting older, but I definitely appreciate being in a more stable place in my life.

But, you can also use this technique for things that you dislike and are wanting to change.  With things you are wanting to change, your positive might be something more elusive, like how your current state motivates you towards that very change you want to have.  I don't like how sedentary I am, or how it makes my body feel when I am not active enough.  But I love how my body responds to exercise, how it literally yells at me when I don't do enough, and how doing physical things (even simple stuff like a few core exercises) can make me feel better.

And I think this definitely helps shift your mental outlook from a "this OR that" to a "both" standpoint when it comes to contemplating loving yourself as you are and wanting to change.  When we start to see ourselves as both positive and negative, as a complex and amazing person, we can find love and joy in the moment and still desire growth and change.  We can set our eyes on where we want to be without judging who we are now.  Everything we are, right now, in this moment, has brought us to the start of our journey forward, and it will become part of our transformation.  We can be tender and kind with ourselves, we can embrace our faults as if they were necessary, because in a way they are.  We wouldn't be complete without all of our rough spots and all of the places we shine.

So, start looking at yourself with new eyes!  Don't judge harshly because it's you, but practice being loving and being kind and find those things that are nifty and special about yourself!  Know, really know, that you can be flawed and perfect at the same time, because you are!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Nurturing new projects

At the start of the year, we are often drawn to new, big projects!  As spring rolls around, another surge of energy hits, as the world is waking and starting to grow, we are also called to grow and change.  Getting the energy to actually start a new project, figuring out the details and getting the gears moving takes a lot of work.  We spend a lot of time preparing to start new projects, and thinking about them in the long-term:  how we will handle problems, how we will stick with them, and what will happen at the end.  But what often gets overlooked is that fresh, tender beginning.

Much like seedlings and babies, our new projects need special care.  We may need to be more attentive to them, create nurturing environments or get help.  It is very easy, at this stage, to completely kill (or at least put into a long dormancy) a project, by not giving it proper care at this crucial stage.

Thinking back to the idea of new year's resolutions, a lot of people like to hit the ground running when they start a new project.  They burst in with all this energy and enthusiasm, and work furiously. And sometimes this is a great approach.  It really builds some good momentum and you can ride that wave to continue moving forward.

But not all projects are the same, and sometimes, this full frontal assault can have the opposite result.  Instead of building momentum, you crash and burn.  I think this is especially true when it comes to diet and exercise.  It is very easy to set these really huge goals, to get a little crazy with them, and then to fail utterly because it is not a pace that we can maintain in the long term (not without proper conditioning).  And so, all your work has the opposite effect of what was intended.  You push too hard and end up hurting yourself (or starving yourself..which is also hurting yourself), and find it virtually impossible to continue at your current pace.

Not only do you get set back, but you build this expectation in your head, that "this is what happens when I work on my goal."  Logically, you may know this isn't true, but your subconscious keeps throwing it back in your face.  Every time you go to work on your goal, even at a slower and more reasonable pace, you are reminded of what happened when you failed, and you start to self-sabotage.  While it is definitely possible to course correct, it can be a long, uphill battle to remove those blocks.

Another place in which new projects need special consideration is their environment.  Kind of like some seedlings need to be started inside while others need a good hard frost in order to grow properly.  Your new project might need to be something you don't share with other people.  This is very common, magically.  In fact, quite a lot of traditions suggest keeping silent about your work until it has come to pass.  While there are many practical reasons for this silence, one thing that it does is it keeps you from hearing any doubts or worries from other people, even if they have only your best intentions in mind!

It is very easy, when you hear about someone's new interest, to want to remove the obstacles that might pop up for them.  Often, this means we talk about all the things that might go wrong.  While our ultimate goal is to help them overcome or bypass these things, if you tell a bunch of people about your project and keep hearing the same warnings, over and over, they start to weigh heavier on you.  Things you may have already considered, figured out a plan for, or dismissed, might now start to haunt you.  You may find yourself second-guessing your ideas, and creating problems where there were none.

On the other hand, you may be inclined to keep your new project to yourself, out of fear.  You may worry about what other people will think, or if they will support you.  These fears may start to grow and multiply, simply because you don't have the support you need!  You may find that you need people to cheer you on, to bounce your ideas off of and who will help you brainstorm solutions when you are coming up dry. 

It seems like these two sides of the coin are contradictory, and in their extremes they are.  But since every project and every person is different, it is up to you to determine what type of environment each of your projects requires.  Some projects you may want to keep to yourself until they are much further along, while other projects you may want to announce right away, so that everyone can add their energy in to yours and help lift it off the ground.  I find that most fall somewhere in-between. 

Most of the projects I work on, whether they are big ones like my "Year of..." projects, or small ones like my weekly goals, get shared with select groups of people.  Not only do I not share all my projects with everyone I know, different types of projects will get shared with different groups of people.  I have writer friends, gamer friends, Pagan friends, women's spirituality friends, and of course family.  I have lots of different types of people that I interact with!  Based on what the project I am working on involves, I may announce it to any or all of these groups.  Typically, I announce projects to only groups that share an interest, so I don't typically share my gaming goals with my (non-gaming) Pagan friends.

But I also share my projects at different points in their development.  I make a lot of plans, and I start a lot of projects.  I have quite a lot of interests, and I know that I have the tendency to start things that I may or may not finish.  I also know that the more people I share things with, the more motivated I am to actually follow through on them.  If lots of people know about a goal or project, I feel almost obligated to finish it (on time, if there is a time frame involved).

This can be a two-edged sword for me.  I absolutely use this to my advantage, and when I know that, deep down, I really want to do a thing, I will work up the courage and start telling everyone about it.  I know some very supportive people, who will give me encouragement on anything I do.  I also know some very pushy people, who tend to prod me to step out of my comfort zone, to do things that I normally wouldn't...which can be very good on some of these more uncomfortable projects.  The downside is that, knowing I will feel compelled to work on a project (and will feel back if I fail to complete it), I may hesitate to announce it, and therefor not get the help I need to bring it to completion.

The amount of attention new projects need can also be challenging.  If you think about different types of babies, human babies require quite a lot of attention, while some animal species have babies that are quite self-sufficient only hours after their birth.  I think this is one thing I often don't think about, when I am planning new projects:  how much attention they will need at the start.

And it's not just a reflection of how much work the actual project will entail, rather, it's an indication of how much work it will take you to do the work of the project.  For example, if your new project is to meditate for an hour a day, that pretty much takes one hour a day.  It doesn't require a lot of attention beyond that.  There isn't a lot of preparation or after-care that you need to do.  If, your new project is to go to the gym for an hour a day, that project will require more attention.  You still have the hour commitment, but now you also have driving time involved.  And, you may need to spend time working out a good schedule, so that your gym time works with the rest of your commitments (and the gym hours).  And finally, you will probably want to shower afterwards, so that is one more thing to take into account...and plan for. 

Now, both of these things don't actually require a lot of attention throughout the rest of your day.  I don't tend to spend a lot of time thinking about an upcoming workout or meditation.  But sometimes your projects have unexpected preparations that come in the form of mental attention as well as preparation.  Take my Year of Magic.  I am quickly learning that this requires a LOT more planning and attention than I had thought it would.

Two years ago, I did a Year of Moons, where I wrote about the moon phases all year long.  That means, coming up with something to write about that particular moon and phase every 3-5 days.  I thought this prepared me for a Year of Magic, after all, I'm already doing magic throughout the year, so it can't be that much more, can it?

But, I forgot that I am a discovery writer.  Which means that I barely plan out what I am going to write, and mostly write off the top of my head.  Before my Year of Moons, I had done my homework.  I had looked up (and made basic notes) on each of the full moons throughout the year, and of course about each of the moon phases.  So each new one, it was simply a matter of looking at my notes, picking the theme (from the full moon, like family or gratitude) and seeing how it related to the type of energy (from the moon phase, such as facing challenges or releasing).  With those two basic prompts, I could easily write the rest of my thoughts out.

What I didn't consider, with a Year of Magic, is that I would have to plan and think about a lot of my activities, as I went.  So even knowing that I wanted to work on feeding my hungers this moon cycle, and knowing that Imbolc was coming up, I still had to sit down, plan my actions for the day (and look at the upcoming days, to make sure everything got done in time).  On top of this, I found myself thinking about my plans throughout the day.  I had to keep coming back to my project, to my plans, to my ideas, so that I could actually work on them when the time came.  Without all this thought and attention, I wouldn't be prepared when the Sabbat rolled around, or when it was time to set goals or reflect back on what had already happened.

New projects can be exciting, and it is really fun when we start to see the changes happening.  But we need to stay mindful of the health of our new project!  Tend to it, like we would a newborn.  Watch it's vital signs, to see if we need to adjust our actions to better suit it's needs.  The more we tune into this state of a project's growth, the easier the rest of the project will go!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Fighting against Fake News

We live in an era where we can't trust news sources.  A big part of this is because so many people share 'news' stories that aren't actual news at all.  Anything at all can be stated, video'd, photo'd or written, and so many people believe everything they encounter, and pass that information along as if it were Truth. 

But worse (in my opinion) is when people or companies deliberately publish fake stories to push their own agenda.  There are so many sources that we expect to be accurate that simply aren't, and this is creating a very real problem in our society.

Because many people base their ideas and opinions on what they think are facts, and it makes them have a very skewed perspective of what is actually going on in the world.  I think this is becoming much more apparent in the past couple of years, as fake news is being called out, and more people are starting to realize that just because a source claims to be a 'news' source (be it paper, digital or video), doesn't mean that the news they are reporting are accurate and unbiased.

Sadly, this is not a new phenomena.  We have been the subject of fake news pretty much as long as there has been news.  Sometimes, this is as simple as a reporter putting their own spin on a story...they may report the facts, but they flavor them in such a way as to imply a completely different meaning.  But sometimes it is flat out changing the facts. 

As Pagans, I think we have been aware of this effect because of how our own history is often remembered.  We have learned to go digging, to seek out multiple sources, and to question how things are remembered and recorded.

These are skills that serve us today!  As we encounter the many different news stories and information sources, we need to put those critical thinking skills to work.  Even when the news reports accurately, there may be other facts, other information, or other sides to the story that aren't being reported.  I believe we owe it to ourselves, and to each other, to not only determine if the news we are hearing is true, but to try to see the bigger picture surrounding it.

I've seen quite a few reminders, in this past week, to fact check before sharing things on Facebook.  Let's face it, memes spread like wildfire.  If someone posts a sensational image or headline, it gets shared by hundreds of people who just hit that share button without even considering checking to see if it is even remotely true.  I've seen some really crazy stuff being spread as if it were Truth!

But I think that it is also important that, once we determine that a particular meme or piece of news is fake, that we spread that, just as we might have spread the fake news.  We are all in this society together, and the more people who are seeing only fake news, the worse off we are, as a global community.

Think of the vast numbers of people who firmly believe all the things that this or that politician are spouting off on their podium!  The amount of crazy that is being passed around as Truth boggles my mind.  And I think a big part of why this spreads the way it does is because we don't have the same intensity for disproving things as we do for just getting angry at things that push our buttons.

It is much easier to see something, become inflamed by it, and pass it along.  Not only do we like to share things that rile us up, but we often have to pipe in our two cents as well.  We are coming from a place of anger or frustration, so we aren't being very logical.  If someone comes up with an opposing viewpoint, we may be inclined to not want to listen, to just shout and rant louder, because we perceive the situation to be dire.

I feel like uncovering and then sharing the truth is a form of magic and a form of resistance.  Words have power, and the less we let our opponents use their lies and propaganda to keep the masses blinded, the more we can work towards true change!

And I am not just saying this from a "I want my side to win, and I think Truth is on my side..." perspective.  I would much rather live in a world where I know what is real and what isn't, even if the reality isn't my idea situation.  Because when everyone's eyes are open, it is much easier to explain our perspective.  If people can't see what is actually going on in the world around them, it is almost impossible to change their mind and perspective, because they literally don't believe that what you are saying could be true.

I am guilty of this, just like the next person.  I often see things that I know aren't true, but I might not feel like doing anything about it right then.  Or I wonder if posting an alternative perspective would make other people think less of me.  But I try.  I try to shine light into the darkness, to illuminate the illusions that corrupt people are hiding behind and to share a little more understanding and truth into the world.

If we live in a culture of memes and headlines, perhaps we need to fight fire with fire!  Make memes that express your truth.  When you fact check something, find the best headline you can that represents what is actually going on, and share that.  When you find yourself start to go on a rant....stop and examine the opposite perspective from yours...does it have any validity?

Sometimes we can be brave and share our story.  But sometimes we aren't ready or aren't safe enough.  If you can't share your own words, find someone else's words who echo what is in your heart and share those!

So many times, it's been said that social media is just a cesspool of negativity, and that in order to be healthy we should avoid it.  But we don't have to!  We can instead fill it with positive images, uplifting words, heart-touching stories.  I work very hard to keep more beautiful things in my news feed than ugly ones.

But I don't think we need to shy away from the Truth, because sometimes it is hard, ugly or painful.  Truth has it's value, and needs to be shared, but we don't need to only focus on the rough places.  Traditional news sources spend almost all their time reporting tragedies.  The front page or headline story is typically something gut-wrenching, because that is what grabs your is sensational.  We have been trained to look for the bad things, and to stop and stare when we see them.  And yet there are lots of wonderful and amazing things going on every day, all around us!  Imagine what a different world we would live in if we gave as much attention to the positive as we do to the negative.

I think we need truth.  I think that we need transparency.  I firmly believe the world would be a better place if all the facts were out on the table and people could start to agree on what IS....and from there we can work on how we want things to be.  Because we can't create the world we want if we don't first start from where we are.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Magic: the Art of acting with Intent

Sometimes, I have moments where my brain gets stalled out by an idea.  It can be the strangest things or the most basic.  Yesterday, I was sitting down to plan out my First Quarter moon, and I knew I wanted to do some kind of magic to help with my goals, and I had one of those moments.

I didn't want to do the 'same old, same old' basic things that it feels like I am always dong:  candle magic, sigil magic, talisman bag, visualization.  I think it can be easy to fall into a rut and to have our default types of actions that we rely upon.  But I also think this can lead to stagnation, and to disinterest.  I personally find that the more times I have done something, the exact same way, the more likely I am to just go through the motions, and not actually devote the proper attention to it.  Which, in the case of magic, means I'm not actually doing it.

It was fairly early in the day, and I wasn't quite awake yet, as I was sitting to plan.  So when I decided I wanted to DO something, but not the things I typically do, I froze.  I sat there, staring off into space for some time, and it was like I couldn't think of what I could possibly do.

Which made me really stop and think.  It's not like I don't know all kinds of things that I could do, spells or rituals that could be used to aid my pursuits.  But in that moment, my mind was questioning what magic really was.

This is a question I don't think is explored enough.  I've mentioned before, that when I was first learning (about two decades ago now...) this was a topic that was explored more.  Books that I read talked about why actions were done, and not just explaining why certain things related to other things and were therefor used in a particular spell, but really the basics of why we did spells at all.

And it all comes back to acting with intent.  This concept has been put into different words by many different people.  It has been explained as Will (with a capital W), when we are acting in accordance to our true Will (and not just our whim of the moment).  It has also been called inspired action, where we are listening to the inspiration of the divine and acting with that guidance. 

But I think it's less about why you do things and more about how.  Both of these other explanations imply that if you aren't acting for some higher good (or guided by a higher power), then your actions are some how less worthy.  And while I definitely feel that we need to listen to what our deeper self is telling us, in a purely functional sense, magic doesn't care what your intention is, just that you have one.

And this is where action with intent comes in.  When we do magic, we are doing some kind of action, with the conscious intention that it will work towards whatever our goal is.  What makes magic such an amazing art form is that it doesn't matter what action you use, or what intent you have, you can create magic that will work for you.

I think there is a tendency to want all the bells and whistles.  We are drawn to drama and to production.  We tend to put a higher value on things that look fancy.  But in our day to day lives, it's just not practical to always need that kind of high ritual to get things done.  There are tons of things we can do, with intent, to further our goals.

And this kind of low magic, the everyday simple stuff, becomes the backbone of our practice.  Because it is the stuff that we do all the time, the things that start to become second nature to us, so that soon more of our life is magic than isn't.

As I was thinking this through (over a day, because I tend to ruminate over thoughts as I am doing other things), I realized that I was definitely over-complicating things for myself.  My intention, for this moon cycle, was to explore the things I really crave and hunger for in my life, and to work on making sure those hungers are being met.

After spending several days thinking about (and journaling on) different areas in my life where I feel these cravings, I decided the main place I want to focus on is my writing, specifically in editing and self-publishing the moon cycle work I started several years ago.  I had made a basic plan, deciding to do a set amount of both editing and formatting work each week, towards getting this book into a publishable format (which I am now realizing I may have over-extended, so the amounts I intend to do each week might get adjusted), but during this first-quarter phase, I wanted to take those basic plans and flesh them out.

One thing that I find works very well for me is not only laying out a full plan (with lots of concrete steps), but also tracking how I am progressing along this plan.  I thought about how to magic this intention up, possibly creating a piggy-bank style fetish that I would then feed pieces of paper (on which I had written the tasks I needed to do) after I had completed each one, along with other items that energetically supported my intention.

But, as I have been working with habit trackers, I thought a simpler way would be to create a tracker that I would then charge with my intent.  The great thing about trackers is that every time you check in with them, or mark something off, you are reinforcing your intention, and you have an opportunity to recharge your tracker to support fulfilling your goal.

I had intended to create the tracker yesterday, but got busy and forgot about it until late at night.  I did make a tracker, but not one that I was very proud of.  It was literally just small boxes to represent each of the months of the year (as the writing I have done already for it is organized by moon cycles for each month), and a second track for each of the moon phases (one thing I really need to double check is that I don't have a lot of repetitive information in the specific moon phase, so I want to look at all my crescent moon sections, and make sure they are individualized enough).

While what I created would work, it really wasn't something I would consider to be done with proper intent.  It was absolutely a hold-over, an action I took just to keep moving.  This isn't something that I like to do often, but I fully believe that any action is better than no action, so when I find myself having put off or forgotten something, I try to make sure I do something, anything, to keep moving forward, even if it's just a very basic thing that will later be redone.

So, now I am going to remake my tracker, but I have also decided that I don't need it to be fancy, like some of the very pretty and artistic trackers that I see in Bullet Journal Pinterest posts, but a very nice and well thought out list will work better for me.  It's sort of funny, because when I write, I very rarely use outlines, but I find them super useful for planning.

I'll need to add things to my list that will turn it into an outline, a plan of action that will get me from where I'm at to where I need to be.  In addition to the editing that I need to do (which I can lay out as a checklist, each month and phase can be checked off when I have gone through and edited it to my satisfaction), but also, I need to add in a few other tasks, like creating an introduction to the book as well as a gratitude page.  And, I can further break down my formatting research into specific things I need to learn how to do in order to publish an ebook (like formatting a table of contents, and how to translate my file into the type that can be published on the Kindle).

I almost scrapped this idea as my magic work for this phase, because it felt too mundane, to analytical.  Our minds work best with symbols and play, and this is neither of those.  But it can be an excellent base for those, and by working with this outline in a magical sense, it becomes a launching point and focal pivot for other work. 

If you think about many basic spell types, there is often a written component.  This might be key words (like names or dates), affirmations, rhyming phrases (traditional spell chants and the like), or even longer pieces of journal work.  These written components are often charged in some way, through repetitive action, through blessing or consecrating them with other ingredients or through transforming them (by burning or burying them).

I can do these things with my plan!  I can add key words to the page it is written on, specific words that will trigger emotions in me to help me achieve the success I desire.  I can bless my plan with sacred water, run it through the smoke of incense or bless it with fire (though I don't want to actually burn it up or bury it....until it has come to pass!), and I can chant over it with appropriate words.  All of these actions will be charged with my intent, and will in turn charge my plan with that energy so that when I work with it, I am tapping into that energy.

If we take this idea, that magic is simply acting with intent, we can apply it to any action we wish to take.  Sometimes we will want to take special actions to create our magic, rituals or spells that are entirely devoted to making magic.  But other times, we can imbue our ordinary actions with magic by infusing them with intent.  Everything we do can be imbued with intent, from cooking to cleaning, dressing to washing, working or playing.

And when we start to look for ways to act with intent in different areas of our life, we realize how much magic there is around us, always.  We start to notice more ways we can mindfully take action to create the life we want to live, both in our microcosm (or personal life) and the macrocosm (the world we live in).  We create the energy we want to surround ourselves with, and that energy ripples out and changes the people around us.  Like a stone, creating waves in a pond, which alters the ground at the edge, we can effect so much more than we think we do, by simply changing our focus and acting with intent.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Calendar juggling!

So, it's become somewhat of a tradition now, for me to talk about calendars at the start of the year.  Calendars have become a pretty big part of my daily routine, and even in the larger world, I am seeing planners and planning systems getting more attention. 

I used a planner in high school, we got one every year, a student planner printed by the school, to help us keep up with homework and projects.  I didn't make very good use of mine, but I did like to scribble in it.  Then, for many years, I only used a wall calendar.

In 2015 I bought a monthly desk calendar.  My intention was to use it as a chronicle of my year.  I was going to write down my daily rune draw (which I did), as well as a thing or two I learned each day (which I only did for a month or two).

I have found, that if I don't plan my life, I get very little done.  When I don't pick and choose what I want to do in a day, I tend to fiddle around with stuff, and at the end of the day, I will look back and won't feel like I accomplished anything.

So, in 2016, I bought another monthly calendar, but this time I decided I needed to take more charge of my life, and I was going to plan my days, writing down things for me to do each day, to help me stay on track.  I did okay with this, but some days there just wasn't enough space in those tiny boxes to write down all the things I wanted to do!

I was trying to plan all aspects of my life:  my writing, my community building, my spiritual life, my home life, my exercise plan and even my leisure time.  I wanted to keep track of everything, to keep myself on point with all my plans.  I had been looking at all these different ideas for planners, and one that fascinated me was Bullet Journaling.

It's a really interesting system, that includes both a lot of flexibility and a lot of room for creativity.  Best of all (for me), it embraced lists and checking off boxes...both of which are things I adore!

My calendar for 2017 was a grid composition book, that I used in my own take on Bullet Journaling (also known as BuJo).  But I knew I wanted a longer look too, so I bought a basic monthly desk calendar, clipped the pages out and taped them into my planner.

What I learned last year was that I am not so great at actually planning long term.  I would wake up in the morning, and sit down at my desk to decide what I needed to do that day.  When I thought about things that were coming up later in the week, I would add them to those days, but I rarely remembered to look any further than that!  I also wasn't as good at checking back in with my calendar throughout the day, so some days I was really on task, and some days I didn't get to check a lot off, because I didn't check to see what I was supposed to be doing.

This year, I am using two planners, which is creating another layer of complication!  I bought the "Planner for a Magical 2018" so that I could keep all of my Year of Magic plans together in one place.  I considered a couple of different planners, but I really liked this one as it has nice amounts of space for daily stuff, as well as a monthly calendar.  And, it has pages for each of the Sabbats and magical inspiration for every month of the year.  Plus coloring!

Then I have my catch-all planner, another grid composition book (because the dot-grid fancy planners that are suggested for Bullet Journaling are quite pricey, where I can get a composition book for a buck...the blue lines really don't bother me much at all).  I do decorate my composition books with Washi tape, because it's addicting stuff!  And it helps keep the book together with all the daily usage.

One of the big things I like in my planner is divination for the year.  I do both a moon cycle based divination with WomanRunes, but also a tarot spread for the year.  I keep this in my planner, so that I can refer back to it throughout the year and see where I am at.  This year, I am also choosing a WomanRune each new moon, as my focus for the upcoming moon cycle, so I add that in as I pick it.

I have been very good so far this year, at grabbing my planners in the morning, after I have done my morning routine, and planning out my day as I drink my coffee.  I haven't been doing this at my desk, for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, my desk is devoted to my computer, and there just isn't enough space to write comfortably in my planners.  And secondly, when I am sitting at my desk, I am too temped to try to do other things (like check Facebook or watch videos on YouTube) while I am planning.  Instead, I sit at the kitchen table, where I can focus on what I want to do that day.

One of the first things I have found that I struggle with, in this new system, is my daily divination.  I draw a rune every morning, as well as a WomanRune card.  I always draw my rune before my morning meditation (as I use it as part of one of my meditations), but I used to draw the WomanRune as I was planning.  Now, I have to remember to draw it when I pick my rune.  And interestingly, I have to remember to add my rune to my daily planning page (as I have been forgetting).

Not only am I juggling two physical books to plan in, I have several different ways in which I am tracking and planning.  I do work with a traditional calendar month, as most of my family stuff falls by the weeks of the month.  But I have been working with a Moondial for several years now too.

This is one of my Moondial pages.  I have a template that I trace each moon cycle, to add the wheel to my planner.  The outer part of the wheel tracks the calendar date, and the moon phase, while the inner part of the wheel is my own personal cycle.  It is very interesting to me to see how these two interact, and I am wanting to pay more attention to my energy levels and how I feel based on how they line up (because, of course nothing is ever simple, and every full moon cycle, I shift about a moon phase backwards in my personal cycle).

One of the things I am also wanting to work on this year is planning my work load based on these two cycles, so trying to look at where I'm at on the wheel and either be more focused on rest and self-care or on action and getting stuff done.  This is something I've been wanting to work on for a while, but last year I only remembered when a deadline was due, and I was in a low energy place and only wanted to nap!

On the opposite page of my Moondial,  I do a divination spread for that moon cycle.  Last year, I did a monthly divination, but this year I decided to use it as part of my moon work, so during the new moon, when I am opening myself to the energy of the coming moon and letting inspiration fill me, I do a reading to help me sort out where I want to go.

The workhorse of my long term planning is these monthly pages in the Magical planner.  I haven't put a proper monthly page in my BuJo planner.  I felt that having two monthly pages would be just too much, and way to repetitive.  As the Wolf moon, the full moon of January, started it's cycle in December, I didn't start my full moon planning until the second moon cycle, the Hunger moon.  But I used that first couple of weeks to try out how to mesh these two calendars. 

I ended up writing the same thing three different places at first!  I was using these monthly pages to plan what I wanted to do with moon phase work, which would then get transferred over to the daily pages in both the magical and BuJo planner!  And that just felt very clunky.  So, when this new moon came about, I instead used this monthly page to plan the moon phase in broad strokes:  what kind of things did I want to do, and then the daily page turned those broad ideas into specific actions.  This is working much better for me!

You can see my monthly page is color coded, which is one way I keep the moon phases tidy in my head.  I like them outlined like that, so I can easily see, at a glance, where each phases is.  I made a little key, in my BuJo, a quick reference of the phases and how I work with them, and I colored it, so when the new moon comes about, I will mark out all the phases in my monthly page.  Then I can look ahead through the current phase, and see what I want to do and when.  Plus, I really like how the color adds to my monthly page!

This is an example of the daily pages in my Magical planner.  I use little bubbles here, that I fill in when a task is done, and also have been writing down an affirmation for the day, related to what I am working on. 

Once I have picked my actions for the day, I will sit and color something on the page (or on one of that month's pages, if the daily page is already done).  If I am struggling with figuring out what I want to do on a particular day, I will color first, letting my mind chew on the problem while I color.  This has been working out quite well for me.

From there, I head back to my BuJo planner, and lay out the regular tasks.  This year I have gone much simpler, with just big open boxes for each day, and one at the end for weekly tasks (which is anything I know I want to do that week, but don't know which day I want to do it on yet).

I like lists and order, and ticking things off, so my rules for tasks are pretty much anything that takes more than five minutes should get written down.  Definitely anything that I absolutely need to remember to do.  But even simple stuff, things that I am not in danger of forgetting, that only take a small chunk of time, I write down.  I do this for two reasons.  Firstly, it gives me the sense of accomplishment to tick it off.  And secondly, even those little things add up, and if I have a day where I have a dozen little things that need to be done, I may need to lay off of other things, to avoid getting overwhelmed.  I even write down 'cook dinner' if it is going to be a meal that will take more time than usual to prepare.

This is a nifty little tool that I just started using this year.  It's a habit tracker, and it does exactly what it says:  tracks things you want to make a habit of.  I used to write most of these things down on my daily pages, but it took up so much space!  Things that I aim to work on every day, now get put here instead of on the daily page. 

There are a couple of exceptions.  My writing, I will schedule specific tasks or scenes that I want to write in my daily planner, because those are particular things I want to write, where the habit tracker I count any writing at all for it.

I also use my habit tracker to watch for patterns.  I want to see how often I do things that I don't do every day, like my freelance captioning work or posting to Patreon.  I also am interested in seeing how things like whether hubby is working or not effects my sticking to my plan (hint:  I am much more likely to play more when he's now that has become part of my planning).

It sounds like a ton, but it really doesn't take me that long to do in the morning.  And I am really liking having this time to set my intentions for the day.  When I carve out the time to mindfully plan in the morning, I am much more likely to get all the things done in the day that I wanted to.  This includes not only the things I feel I should be doing, but also the things I want to do.  When I want to play a game or read a novel, that gets added in, so that my brain knows that the time is there for me to do these things, and that I should be doing them!  Self-care is very important, and planning on doing things that I want to do is a big self-care thing for me.

My calendar and planner system has been constantly evolving, for years.  And I expect it to continue to evolve.  I have some books that I am planning on reading (which is of course being tracked in my BuJo planner!), which I feel will deeply impact how I plan.  And that, to me is highly exciting!  I love that I can remain organized, but also change that system as I need to, or as I uncover new information that changes me!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Working with Ebb and Flow

One of my big goals for this year is to work better within the cycles of my life.  There are so many cycles!  When we think of how time moves, culture tells us it is a line, but ancient wisdom focuses on the cyclical nature of time, not the linear one.

Old calendars were more tuned to the cycles of nature, of the moons and the sun, of the seasons and the stars.  But even in the very modern world, we have cycles:  daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.  We just don't pay attention to them in the same way.

My life is made up of a number of cycles, which all effect me in different ways.  Of course the daily cycle of waking and sleeping, and I have learned that if I don't allow myself enough time to sleep, my waking day will be wasted.  The weekly cycle of days where I get up early and days where I sleep in.  I may not have this cycle for much longer, as son is about done with school.  I haven't really thought deeply about how I will cycle my weeks once I no longer wake with him to see him off to school.

I will probably shift my wake schedule to mostly match my husbands work schedule, which is another crazy cycle.  Yes, crazy.  He swaps days and nights every six weeks, and works 12 hour shifts, 3-4 days (plus overtime) a week.  So it is a very fluid cycle, one that I have realized effects me greatly.

See, I do some things much easier when I am alone.  It is easier for me to stick to my plans, to write and work and just embrace that freedom that comes from having no one else here, no one else I have to adjust around.  When hubby or son is home, we all adjust so that we do certain things together, like eating, cleaning or running errands.  When I am alone, some things are much less rigid (I find that I eat whenever I want, not at a particular time). 

There is a beauty to this balance that I have been fighting for a while.  I was scheduling my days, irregardless of who was home, and this led to me being frustrated by my own plans.  So, I am trying something new!  This was something I had intended to do, working with the moon cycle and my own hormonal cycle, but I have realized I can benefit from working with my family cycle as well.

This comes back to the idea of energetic ebb and flow.  This is something many people feel from the moon cycle, that there are times where the global energy is lower, and times where the energy tides ride high.  When working with the moon, you tune your actions to the energy of the moon, following the waves as they feel the pull of the moon.  There is time for rest, time for growth, time for opening wide and time for releasing.

As a woman, I have a similar hormonal cycle, and learning to be kind to myself, to work with my own biological peaks and low points means that I can really nurture myself in a way that doesn't involve fighting where I am at. 

I think this is where it gets complicated though.  Even just trying to figure out the best way to plan so that I can get everything I want to get done in a way that meshes with the moon cycle and my personal cycle creates a complex pattern that is hard to wrap my head around.  This is one thing that I can see a bit better with the moondial I keep (which tracks both the moon and my personal cycle), but I am not very good at really stopping and looking ahead, to try to prepare for those low tides in both cycles, and make sure that I'm not hitting 'crunch time' when my energies will be low.

Right now, I'm pretty lined up.  The rest times in both cycles are synced up.  But this is not a constant for me!  I tend to loose about 3-5 days, each moon cycle, so my personal cycle keeps going back a moon phase each month.  Sometimes the energy tides will be at complete opposite times, which makes for a little mental puzzle:  what do you do, when the inner and outer energies are in opposition?

It takes a little creative thinking, but I feel like most of us have different things that refresh us.  So 'rest' doesn't always mean the same thing!  I definitely have days where I need to fill my cup, and what appeals to me is sitting curled up with a blanket and a book.  But other times, what I need is to do something, to dance or paint or write furiously. 

Thinking about the external energies, if the moon is calling me to rest, but my personal energy is high, I can devote that energy towards more behind the scenes things.  Instead of writing something to be sent out into the world, I can journal and go deep.  Instead of creating magic to work on family issues, I can create an altar or other container to hold the work I will do later.

One of the first steps, in figuring out a plan based on the cycles of our lives, is to start paying attention to the things we crave at different times.  When I was first introduced to the idea of working with our energetic ebb and flow, the suggestion was to make a list of things you can do when your energy is low versus when your energy is high.  And also, to make a list of things that you crave when your energy is low, but also I think when it's high.

For me, when I am just all worn out, I can do little things but don't want to do stuff that feels like it would take more than five to ten minutes.  I'm reading a SARK book right now that talks about micro-movements, which are basically that:  small steps that can be done quickly.  What I love about these micro-movements is that it helps break up that really heavy energy that I can get when I'm low.  The kind of stasis that makes you just sit and do nothing.  I don't like being in that space, because it is oppressive.  Being able to do something small, and feel like I've done something, helps break up that energy into something more restorative, so that I can then do something that will help build me up instead of bring me further down. 

My micro-movements might be as simple as getting up and washing the coffee cup that I left in the sink, or opening my current writing project and writing one line.  It can even be opening up my calendar and seeing if I can check anything off.

I actually have to watch myself when I'm running on full as well though.  Because I can bite off more than I should be chewing and exhaust myself.  When I'm really energetic, I have the urge to do all the things, all at once, right now.  And trying to do multiple things at the same time makes me a little crazy.  I don't really do any of them well.  It is much better when I slow down a tiny bit, pick one thing to work on, and decide how far I am going to go with it when I start...and stick to my plan.  I might think I want to clean the bathroom, and if I don't set my limits, will find that has grown into washing down all the doors in the house, which leads me to washing the outsides of the doors, then the columns out front. 

Picking one thing, working with it until it is finished, and then stopping, lets me get a lot more done, in a way that doesn't deplete my resources.  I also try to make sure that I plan on something to relax, especially on days where I am on a roll.  Setting the intention to stop at some point and do something fun, helps me stay balanced and reminds me to not over-extend.

It's definitely a work in progress, but realizing that I can plan my days differently based on what is going on in my house was like a weight being lifted off my shoulders.  I had always fought the changes in my daily schedule, and felt guilty that I wasn't sticking to my 'plan' for the days.  In the end, I usually tried to push through and sort of go through the motions of what I had intended to do, which made me a little resentful.

Making it a conscious decision to change my plan, to align my tasks when I can do them the easiest, means I can do more with less, leaving me more time in the end, and with less stress!  I still have to pay attention, because of course we sometimes have days that we are either up or down, irregardless of the many cycles we have going on in our lives.  And this is when those lists (of things that you do/need during your ebb or flow times) come in handy.  When your intended plans need to be adjusted, you can check in with your lists and see what you can do instead, and then change your plans in the future to accommodate your current energetic mood.

It will definitely take some getting used to, being more fluid like this.  But I think it's time.  I will always have some things that I have 'hard' deadlines on.  My blog gets posted on Wednesdays, I write a story by the end of the month, I set goals on Mondays, but with son finishing school this year, my main time block will no longer exist.  I'm excited to see where this will lead me.