Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Advent Holidays!


When we think of Sabbats, or of other holidays, we often think of them as a single day.  Some people get even more specific, and think of them as a particular time within a day (especially for Solstices and Equinoxes, where there is a moment at the tip of the fulcrum).  But the idea of celebrating a Solstice on a particular day (often marked from either sundown the previous day or sunup the day of) is something that is ingrained deeply in many people. 

And yet, this is a very common question and concern that pops up for many people:  is it okay to honor the Sabbat on another day?  There are so many reasons why holding to a strict time for a holiday might now work well for someone.  Perhaps they have to work that day, or they have family stuff going on.  If it is for a group ritual, not everyone might be able to make a day.  Middle of the week might mean there is a conflict with children, or you may need to get up early the next day for work.  You might be sick, or just not have energy that day.

Now, group work is a bit more complicated, because for most people, finding time to meet with their group is hard enough, but extending a celebration over several days is virtually impossible.  So, for group work, holding one ritual, on a day that is most convenient for the group as a whole is the best thing. 

But for your personal practice, there is nothing that says you have to do all your holiday activities on just one day!  In fact, I'm finding that only spending one day on a holiday leaves me feeling like I am not fully appreciating all it has to offer.  It serves to separate that celebration, and makes it feel disconnected, like "Oh, I'm going to honor this thing, and now I'm done."

If I think back to my childhood, taking Christmas for example, while we did most of our big Christmas celebrations on Christmas morning (opening gifts), we started doing Christmas stuff pretty much when Thansgiving was over. 

There was a lot to do, and I wouldn't consider us huge celebrators of Christmas.  I don't remember us having Christmas parties, though we did attend a few church services (normally we'd get invited to someone's church nativity play, so we'd go, watch the kids act out the Christmas story and sing carols).  But we listened to Christmas music, decorated the tree and house (which was at least one day's worth of activity!), and we always read the advent story.

I loved the advent!  Even when it wasn't a chocolate advent (but of course those were the best!), but we had a reusable advent calendar, with little windows that we could open every day, and a book to read alongside it.  I enjoyed that daily build up.  I felt like it heightened my appreciation of the season.

And we always baked cookies, to leave out for Santa.  We would open one present on Christmas eve, and then the rest in the morning.  I always had rules for how early I was allowed to wake up my parents (and that's a rule we kept with our son....7am was when Christmas started lol).  We would open presents, have a nice breakfast and enjoy the day.

Looking at the Wheel of the Year as an ongoing cycle, I really think the perspective of one Sabbat naturally turning to the next makes more sense than having eight points around the wheel that we recognize, but kind of ignore the whole rest of the wheel.  I also think that extending our holidays, spreading out our activities over a span of time, not only deepens our connection with them, but it lets us do more in little chunks....it makes our celebrations more manageable, even when we are busy.

My practice has evolved a lot over the years.  When I was starting out, most of my ritual work was done in purely temporary space.  I had an altar that was always set up, but it was more of a small bit of sacred space.  When I wanted to observe a Sabbat, I would break out all my stuff, go to the largest chunk of floor space we had (so the living room), lay out a blanket and then set up my circle and altar for that specific ritual.  So my Sabbat altar was only up for the ritual itself.

Somewhere along the way, I started adding seasonal bits to my main altar.  But I wasn't very organized about it.  I didn't always remember to change my altar to match the Sabbats (and I didn't have things for all of them...actually I still don't, though I make do with what I have). 

Then, this past year, it was part of my year long goal to not only honor every Sabbat, but to keep up with my altar and changing it every Sabbat as well.  Being the first year that I've actually done this, I had altar set up as part of my 'right around the Sabbat' practices.  Typically I'd swap altar decorations a few days before the Sabbat.

So, while this did help give my actual rituals less set up, it didn't have the flow that I wanted.  I think next year I'm going to swap my altar a week or two after the Sabbat, so that I have a more fluid changeover.  The same for my computer/phone backgrounds (I've been noticing this a lot this week....my computer is still set for Samhain, and it feels sort of weird and disjointed).

Since I've been thinking about extending holidays, I've encountered some really lovely ideas for putting this into practice.  And I think a lot of people still like having that proper Sabbat ritual (even if it is a day or two shifted to fit your life), but taking some of the preparations and other activities and spreading them out in the weeks before and after.

Crafting is one thing that I think can definitely be spaced out.  Many Sabbat rituals include both recipes for seasonal foods, but also ideas for things you can make and include in your ritual:  decorative brooms, wreaths, dollies, wands...the list is endless.  But you don't have to actually wait until your ritual to make your crafts!  You can take a day or days, earlier in the season, to work on making things to use or bless in your ritual. 

If you are doing solitary rituals, like I do, you may not do ritual food for Sabbats (I don't).  But that doesn't mean you have to miss out!  Most ritual foods honor the things that are in season, or the spirit of the season, so why not look to Sabbat recipes for meal inspiration throughout the Sabbat season!  This is especially great if you need to bring a dish to a gathering.  And since many Sabbat recipes aren't obvious, you can bring these dishes to any gathering, not just a witchy one!

I love dressing for ritual, but this is another thing I don't do in my regular practice.  Most of the time, it's just me, and I don't have a lot of ritual clothing, so I do ritual in whatever I'm wearing.  Even for group ritual, I may try to dress to match the season, but sometimes weather or other concerns will be more pressing.  I will wear what I need to in order to stay warm, or to be protected from sun and bugs, and then try to dress around that.

I do try to add seasonal touches with jewelry though.  I love jewelry, and I have pieces that speak (to me) to the different seasons, and so I'll often pick seasonal jewelry to wear, which really helps me to stay in the spirit of the season.  I also like to match my nail-polish to the season, so I will pick colors based on what part of the year we are in.

To take a note from the advent calendar, you can create your own advent calendar for any of the Sabbats!  You might find lovely quotes or images that really speak to you about the Sabbat, and make a beautiful calendar that lets you open up a window each day.  Or, perhaps you have a list of activities you want to do, and you can write them on slips of paper, and tuck each one in an envelope, so you get to surprise yourself with which activity you will be doing on a given day.  You may even include small gifts for yourself, things you have found that embody the season.

Breaking free from the idea that a Sabbat is a single moment in time can really expand your experience of the Wheel of the Year.  It can help you to weave your practice into your life, and to find ways that work best for you.  It can spread out the celebration, so you don't feel stressed or like you can't find time to do what you want to do.  And it can make you more mindful of what is going on, both in the world around you, and within yourself.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Creating Cozy


I love winter, I always have.  I think part of my enchantment with the season was my love for snow as a child.  It changed the world.  There was something really magical about waking up and seeing familiar places transformed.  This delight has never left me.

I have always loved the cold to.  Now, don't get me wrong, I kind of hate being cold, that bone-deep chill that doesn't seem to go away.  I chill easily (and overheat easily....I'm all kinds of wacky with temperature lol), and it takes me forever to warm back up once I get cold.  But I think that is why I love cold weather...because the process of warming up is so much fun!

When you are cold, and you surround yourself with something warm, it's absolutely magical.  I don't think there is any feeling like it.  No matter how refreshing standing in front of the air conditioner is when it's a million degrees, that is relief, not cozy.  Bundling up and feeling warm after being cold is something entirely different. 

I'm a blanket gal, but I am sort of picky about blankets.  I like blankets that are big, there is nothing worse than trying to snuggle under a blanket and not being able to get both your shoulders and feet under (which at 5'10 is a very real struggle!).  I like soft blankets, I want it to feel nice against my skin (and I've found that soft is often warmer...).  As nifty as those color changing sequins are that are all the rage right now, the blankets with them make me cringe. 

And when I say I'm a blanket person, I have blankets everywhere.  There are three on my side of the bed, two in the living room, one on my computer desk chair.  And when I'm really cold (which happens a few times a month), all of those will get piled on the bed or I can't sleep.

This time of year is steeped in cold, and because of that, we spend less time outside.  There is less light in the day, and we are out in it even less than we could be.  It is a stressful time for many people, with family obligations, gift-giving and busy schedules.  It is a time that many people struggle with feeling down.

The thing with cozy is that it embodies the feeling of home.  That happy, safe, loved sensation, where everything is right in the world.  And we can create this feeling by infusing more coziness into our lives.

Cozy can mean different things to different people.  Take clothing for example.  Many people think of big, warm sweaters as being cozy, and I do as well.  I love finding sweaters that swallow me up, that dangle past my fingertips, and well past my waist.  But I also find fuzzy leggings cozy.  It's the stretchiness, which is like being surrounded by a hug.  Kind of like those thunder jackets they sell for pets.  It's a fine line, it has to be tight enough that you can feel it, but not so tight that it starts pinching. 

I love spicy food, but only certain spicy foods are cozy to me.  Chili is one of them.  I love having chili in the winter, when it's cold.  Soups are also cozy, but they have to be hearty.  Chicken and dumplings, with a nice thick broth, or beef marrow with barley...yum!

Hot drinks are great for calling up cozy.  Many of us have favorite hot drinks from childhood, whether it was hot chocolate with marshmallows or spiced apple cider.  As adults, we may add tea or coffee to that list.  I actually loved instant chicken noodle soup (the kind with almost no chicken or noodles, that comes dried in a packet).

That soup was my favorite when I wasn't feeling well, and I think that's another time we naturally seek out cozy things.  Whether it is a physical illness or an emotional one, when we aren't feeling our best, we want to sink into a big puddle of cozy.

One thing that really makes me feel cozy is watching a favorite movie.  This is a tradition for many families over the holidays, and it brings up so much nostalgia and memories.  But your cozy shows might just be a personal favorite, that you've watched so often that you know all the words, but it always makes you happy.

I have books that fill this need as well, and I know that when I'm feeling certain ways, I can turn to them.  I can loose myself, for a while, in their pages, and it's easy and will make me feel better.

We can also share cozy!  Snuggling with a child, a loved one, a friend or a pet...these can all be wonderful ways to embrace being cozy.  I love when our cats come and lay on me.  There is something super peaceful about having a little warm, fuzzy, purring body draped bonelessly across your lap.  It makes me feel calm and loved, knowing they feel that safe with me.

I don't always wait until I'm feeling down to turn to cozy.  Sometimes, I just feel like spending an evening doing something nice and indulgent.  I'll pick out some favorite snacks, pull up a show or movie on the tv, grab a blanket and nest.  Which is quite literally now, because our living room furniture is giant bean bag chairs (which is awesome!).

You know you've embraced the cozy when you don't want to get up.  But it's not just being lazy or dreading doing whatever you need to do once you get up, instead it's that sensation of being so content right where you are that you don't want things to change.

Coziness is one of the reasons I loved winter as a child.  It gave me an excuse to come in, cheeks and hands cold, take off all my cold (and often wet) cloths, put on something warm and dry, get something hot to drink and snuggle in front of the tv with a blanket.  I still love that transition, from cold to cozy. 

So, when the weather is biting and your feeling frazzled with all the holiday rush, take some time to find your own cozy!  Use it as a reward, and keep the image of cozy in your mind, as you go about your tasks, knowing that when you get done, cozy is waiting for you.  Sink into cozy, and let it renew you. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Taking stock


Between Thanksgiving and the end of the year (with New Year signaling new goals for many people), this time of the year is often when we check in and see how we've been doing.  We may have set goals that we are measuring our progress in, or we may just be looking at our life in general and seeing where we might want to set new goals.

Either way, the tendency is to undervalue our own progress and actions.  It's a 'grass is always greener' kind of outlook, and it's crippling.  We look at the world around us, and we think that everyone else is doing 'more' or 'better' than we are.  We tend to gloss over our own successes and we see the obstacles we've overcome not as triumphs but rather as reasons why we aren't as far forward as we think we should be.

This belief that we are somehow failing at our own life is very belittling.  It makes us feel inadequate, and puts us in a very unhealthy mental space.  Being able to truly evaluate where we are at, not only lets us appreciate how far we have come, how much we are actually doing, but also to be able to really tune into what we want to improve upon.  Without having an accurate starting point, we find ourselves intimidated by the scope of what is before us, and are more likely to shy away from it all together.

I am a list maker, and I really believe that lists are powerful things.  But they don't have to be a physical list, with checkboxes or numbers, written on paper.  You can create a list in collage form, adding pictures to represent different parts of your life.  You can list with art, adding color or symbols for different aspects of different goals.  You can list with physical representations, adding beads or slips of paper as you go along.

The strength of a list is it is a way to physically see how much we are doing.  The process of building the list really encourages you to examine different ways in which your goals are manifesting, things that you might be tempted to overlook if you are just idly thinking about them.  And it can be really motivating to see, whether you are progressing well or not.

And while we shouldn't rely on other people for our validations, it can be very helpful to use other people as a mirror with which to examine ourselves.  The trick here is to not compare our life to their life, but rather to use them as a way to look at ourselves more objectively...to see our life as they might see it.

Sometimes, I don't feel like I am doing so much.  I feel like my life is just trundling along and I'm sort of just here, not really engaging.  But then, someone will ask me a question, or I'll go to explain myself to someone else, and in trying answer their question, I'll realize what all I actually do.

Questions that always make me realize just how much I have going on:  What is your morning/evening/daily routine like?  What kinds of crafts have you done?  What is your writing schedule like?  What books are you reading/have you read?

Checking in doesn't always have to be about things you do either.  I often struggle with feeling like I need more stuff in my life.  The concept that we need things to be complete is one that has been trained into us since we could understand the idea of owning things.  And sometimes, I get caught up in the new and shiny stuff, and it creates this very real sense of lack in my life.

It's not that I don't have things, but rather like I forget that I do (how crazy does that sound?) and that I feel like the lack of things makes my life bare.  This can make things like feeling gratitude much harder, especially if you are in groups where people are constantly sharing their new stuff (and in a group it is easy to loose track of who is sharing what, so it may feel like everyone is getting tons of new things, while in reality, lots of different people are getting one new thing).

Recognizing the abundance in our lives, and embracing how much we have is one of the ways to be grateful.  This doesn't mean that you won't want (or deserve) new things, simply that you acknowledge the lovely things you have, and feel blessed by their presence in your life.

Sometimes, this is as simple as talking about what you have.  Perhaps someone will ask about your tarot decks, and you realize that you have quite a list to share.  Or you might feel like a social outcast, but then your birthday comes up and people you didn't even realize thought about you are wishing you a happy birthday.  Sometimes it means getting out all of your dice (or whatever it is you are feeling a bit of envy towards) and putting them all in one place and just seeing them all together (especially if you tend to keep your things spread out all over).

Seeing what you have also lets you better decide what you need.  I have very particular tastes when it comes to things like art styles I like, so there is a tendency with me to have divination cards that clump together.  I know I want a variety in my decks, so that I can use decks to speak to any topic I may want to look into, and often I don't really think about what I don't have until I really want to use it.  If I check in regularly, however, I can better think about where the holes in my collection are, and what I might want that fits those spots, instead of only buying whatever the newest shiny is, even though I already have a handful of decks that work in that realm.

When it comes to goals and plans, checking in lets you see where you are doing really well (and should celebrate) and where you are struggling (and might need to adjust).  It may be tempting to not look at your progress, especially if it is something you are really struggling with.  I have been fighting with my weight for...decades now.  And I am not nearly as diligent as I should be with paying attention to this area of my life.  I tend to just sort of let it slide, and do things when I am feeling particularly low/sluggish (I know I feel better when I am more active, but that doesn't mean I always want to workout!), but I also avoid things like tracking my progress (weighing in or measuring myself), because I know it will be a harsh reminder of just how far I have to go, and how little effect my actions are having.

It can be demoralizing, when you feel like you are working hard, and you aren't getting anywhere.  To me, this indicates one of two things:  either you need to really be honest with yourself, check in hard and see if you maybe are crediting yourself with more effort than you are really putting in, or you need to look to see if there is something you aren't seeing that is changing the outcome.  Always check in first, because that is the most common way that things aren't working.

I know I often over-exaggerate things, even to myself.  I will think that I am 'eating healthy' but I'll ignore the seconds I have at dinner that make me miserably full for hours or the nights I sit watching a show and don't realize I've eaten half a bag of chips.  Or I'll say, "but I'm doing my exercise every day" and just pretend that a few minutes of playing with hand weights is enough to make me actually loose weight.  But when I sit down, when I write it out and really look at what I'm doing, and how often I'm doing it, I can see that I'm letting myself be blinded by what I want to be, and not seeing what actually is.

Sometimes, however, when you sit down, and you look at things, you realize that you were doing really well.  You may have cut your food intake, been really mindful about your snacking, changed your meals so you were eating more fruits and vegetables, and not only done 20 minutes of cardio 5 times a week, but also regular strength training workouts.  And you still are not seeing any change.  This is a clear indication that something else is going on and it's probably time to get a second opinion.  There is nothing more frustrating than doing all the right things and not getting your results.  Finding out what the issue is lets you change what you are doing to something that works better for you.

But all these things require you to really focus on what is actually going on in your life.  It means you have to stop telling yourself little white lies, stop allowing your mind to make excuses, and really see what's going on.  It might mean calling on a trusted friend, and asking them what they think of your situation.  You might find it helpful to ask strangers, who don't know you at all, because they won't be trying to avoid hurting your feelings by skirting the truth.  In all honestly, a combination of all of these is probably the best approach.  The more different angles you look at the situation from, the better and more clear a picture you will have (and the more obvious it will be if one of the angles you looked at was biased).

Seeing where we are in life lets us move forward, not only with a real sense of appreciation, but also with clear sight.  We aren't floundering around in the dark, hoping that we are making progress, but rather we are able to acknowledge both our strengths and our weaknesses...and plan accordingly.  We can adjust as needed, because we can see what is working and what isn't.  And, at the end of the day, we will find more satisfaction in ourselves, because we know that our perspective is valid.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Pre-emptive (Holiday) Self-care!


Holiday season is a wonderful time of year.  We get together with family and friends, we have lovely food, we exchange gifts, and we celebrate!  But, for many people, it can also be extremely stressful.  There are many reasons why the holidays can be draining, but one of the main ones is that we don't take proper care of ourselves.

There is a tendency to overextend ourselves, to want to do things bigger and better than last year, and to say yes to everything.  And many times, this comes from a deep place in our hearts, because we want to do nice things for people we care about, we really do want to attend all the parties, and we saw that really cool idea that looked amazing and we can't wait to try it out (even though it looks like it will take forever to actually do).

I've said it before, and I'll say it again (and probably keep saying it...forever...because we all need reminding!) that you can't do for other people if you are exhausted.  Our time and energy are limited, and we have to start with ourselves, we have to make sure that we are devoting proper attention to our self-care...so that we can do all those things for other people that we really want to do!

I think this really starts with good, basic self-care.  You know, the kind you should be doing all year long, but tend to 'forget' when you get busy.  Making sure you get enough sleep, eating foods that nourish your body, drinking plenty of water, listening to your body.  There is a tendency to try to do more as the holiday's approach, thinking that if we 'just get all the prep work done, then we can relax and enjoy the holiday'.

But this can end up being a flawed plan, as we may end up so tired (or worse yet, we may fall sick) that we actually can't enjoy anything.  It's a bit counter-intuitive, but if we stop and take breaks when we need them, if we actually take care of ourselves, we will have more energy and be able to do SO much more than if we keep trying to push through on pure will and end up running on empty.

Now, as I said, this is not so much special holiday advice as just a reminder that we need to keep our regular self-care going over the holidays.  For many of us, holidays bring additional challenges, and this may require more thorough self-care.

I have done a 'back to the routine' spell for many years now, to help recover from the holiday season.  It is natural to take some time to recenter after a busy or stressful time, but we don't want to only rely on after care.

One thing that many people struggle with is crowds.  This might be crowds in the stores while shopping, crowds at a party you are going to, or crowds at a family gathering.  Crowds might mean something different for everyone too, or even different things depending on who they are.  I am pretty comfortable with a group of 20 friends, but a party with 20 strangers would not be so fun for me.  Large crowds while shopping are normally okay, but highly charged holiday shoppers are another story!

I know that when I'm going out to a particularly busy place, I may need to prepare.  For me, this means taking a moment to accept that I'm going to be uncomfortable, but to remind myself that I will make it through.  I have pieces of jewelry that make me feel safe, and I often wear them.  I have clothing that makes me feel more 'me', and that is often worn too (clothing can be my armor!  even underclothing, that no one but me will know about...).  If I am going out on my own, I'll typically use headphones to help create space between me and other people (and block out the ambient noise which can bother me). 

I still sometimes need some recovery time when I get home, depending on how crazy it was, but things go a LOT smoother if I take the proper precautions.  I do the same for big family gatherings.  Part of my preparation for family gatherings is going through the questions I think I'll be asked, so that I am ready with appropriate answers. 

Now, I am fairly out of the broom closet, though I do try to not shove a bunch of witchy information in my family's face (unless they directly ask me about something).  Beyond my faith and practice, there are other topics that often lead to less than enjoyable conversations with family (video games being a big one).  Even something like someone asking me what books I've been reading puts me on the spot depending on who's asking (I read some books that touch on pretty adult topics, so if one of my teenage cousins asks, I don't necessarily want to share all of that with them).

If I plan ahead though, I can come up with honest and true answers, that still let me avoid talking about things that neither I nor my family necessarily want to talk about.  If I don't prepare, then I end up frantically trying to come up with something appropriate on the spot and typically just saying something like "Oh, I've just been doing stuff around the house..." (which even in my head sounds a little lame)

I am definitely lucky though, the absolute worst I might have to face is a lecture about how I could be 'doing so much more' with my life, but I know that many people have to worry about dealing with people who will physically or mentally abuse them.  In that case, you may need to have a more thorough plan in place.

First, you need to really consider if you want to go to something that you know someone abusive will be at.  If you are ready to talk about it, you might inform the people hosting that the person in question is not someone you feel safe around, and if they are going to be there, that you won't be able to attend.  If you aren't ready to talk about it, you might find another reason to not be there.  Remember, self-care is the most important thing!  If you don't feel safe, don't go!

Sometimes, things aren't quite so cut and dry.  You may feel that the good outweighs the bad, and the person or people you aren't comfortable around can be managed.  Your self-care might include making plans with other people there, so that you aren't ever alone, or even more active interference, so that if someone tries to start acting in an inappropriate manner, someone you trust will be there to let them know that it's not okay.

Holidays also tend to be super busy, even if you have a plan and lots of helpers, so make sure that your self-care plan includes time for relaxation and unwinding.  I start all my days with a bit of meditation, but I also think that doing more when you know you will have a busy day, is extremely helpful. 

Find the organization plan that works for you!  I love lists, but I tend to prefer paper ones, versus electronic reminders.  I know that lots of people like using apps to keep everything on track.  You may prefer to do the big things yourself, or you may ask other people to do things to help out. 

Don't be afraid to set proper boundaries as well!  If you really want to attend two parties in one weekend, you may want to plan on heading home at a reasonable hour from the first, so that you aren't overtired the next day. 

These boundaries can extend to monetary matters as well.  It can be helpful to set a budget, so that you can stay on track.  If you know that you are going to be attending several parties, you can plan to set aside money for food you are going to bring.  I try to plan out holiday gifts several months in advance.  Not only does that mean that the cost is spread out over a longer period, but if something goes awry, I have plenty of time to get it fixed.  And if I am hand making things, I have lots of time to get them done!

Holidays are wonderful, and can be so much fun.  Even more so, when we take proper care of ourselves so we can fully enjoy all they have to offer.  So do yourself (and everyone around you!) a favor, and really tune into what you need to do for yourself first, this holiday season.  Make yourself a priority, so that you can do all the things you want to do for other people, without worry.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Friendsgiving


Let me start out by saying, that no matter how cute I think the name Friendsgiving is, I also kind of actively dislike it.  I think it sets a bad precedent for prioritizing families during the holidays.  Now, as I've said before, I am blessed to have good relationships with not only my own family, but also with my in-laws.  Holidays were never bad for me (no matter how much we may joke about wishing we could just stay home and lounge about in our pajamas....we really didn't mind doing family holiday dinners).

But not everyone is that lucky.  Some people just don't get along with their family.  Perhaps family doesn't approve of your religion, your partner, your life choices...or who you fundamentally are (orientation etc...).  Some people aren't invited to family holiday events, while others are invited, but know that if they go, they will really feel bad before the night is over as they will get nothing but attacks, both subtle and overt.

I did a little looking into the whole Friendsgiving thing, after having the stray thought that maybe it came from the tv show Friends.  Well, that may be why it gained in popularity, but it is believed to have been around a while before that.  The basic idea is that the friends weren't able (or wanting) to go home for Thanksgiving, so they did their own dinner.

Now, like I said, I love parts of this.  I love that friends bond together, celebrate holidays and create family.  But I don't think it needs it's own designation.  I think holidays are meant for more than family, and I think that chosen family (which is your very dear friends, you know which ones, the ones who you actually love being around, all the time, the ones you want to share everything with) can mean more to many people than their actual relations.

Of course, I am not saying turn your back on your family.  But if it's not healthy for you to be around them, then don't!  I don't care if it's Thanksgiving, Christmas or your Great-grandmother's 100th birthday.....if you are diminished or hurt by spending time with your family, then don't do that to yourself.  You don't owe them anything.

Thanksgiving itself has a fair amount of controversy these days (of course, what holiday doesn't anymore???).  The whitewashing of the origins of the holiday leaves a bad taste in many people's mouths.  So, I do understand the idea of trying to remove yourself from the name and any associations with it.

But, what is the true heart of the holiday, as we celebrate it today?  It is giving thanks, for the wonderful things in our live, and sharing a meal with people who make our lives better...or at least that's what it means in my mind. 

And who you invite to your Thanksgiving meal is your business!  Ask yourself who are the people who enrich you?  Who brings you joy, and who do you want to be around?  Those are the people you should invite!

While we're at it, let's reclaim the dinner too!  It has become sort of a running joke that people can't just be with each other anymore, they have to be on their phones or devices.  With Thanksgiving, so many stores have taking the whole Black Friday thing and blown it out of proportion (I swear, I won't go on a whole rant....I promise....I'll just say it's Black FRIDAY, not "Black whenever-we-want-we're-just-calling-it-this-to-get-you-in-the-door-stuff-isn't-even-really-on-sale"). 

We stopped going to Black Friday sales quite a few years back.  We came to the realization that it just wasn't worth it.  The amount we saved wasn't worth the time invested, let alone having to deal with crazy shoppers!  But, if you enjoy Black Friday stuff, then enjoy it!  Just don't let it ruin other engagements because you are so caught up in the fever.

It's okay to unplug now and then.  The world isn't going to come crashing down if you don't see that text right away, or don't check your social media every five minutes.  You won't ruin your year if you miss one sale.  If you are going to spend time with people who you care about, especially for a dinner to honor what we are grateful for, let's really tune in and be present.

You know, this thought could apply to so many things, not just holidays, and not just Thanksgiving.  We are so busy, so much is going on, all the time, but we need to set aside times where we can unwind.  Where we can just BE, with the people who bring us joy.  Where there is no agenda, nothing to get done. 

Find the things that you love doing, and share them with people who also love doing them.  Don't worry about what people might say.  If you wanna have friends over to watch a sports game, have at it!  If you wanna play board or video games with your peeps....game on!  If you wanna just chill with some music, rock on!  Maybe you just wanna have snacks and talk all night....do it! 

Let's stop trying to do what we think we 'should' be doing, especially around the holidays.  It's not about trying to recreate those Hallmark moments (which are totally photo-shopped anyways....), holidays are about celebrating life.  And you need to celebrate YOUR life, in whatever form it may take.  Celebrate the things that make your life better, the things that make your life uniquely yours.  And if someone else doesn't like it, that's really none of your business, so just let it go.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Redefining warrior


We have two big holidays where we honor our soldiers:  Veterans Day and Memorial Day.  Veterans honors those soldiers who are still living, while Memorial focuses on those who are dead.  The brave young men and women who have fought, throughout the ages, in wars, to defend their country, to protect the ideas and values that they cherish, these are definitely people that deserve our recognition and respect.

But I think this is a good time of year to also remember the many other people, both living and dead, who fight in ways that may not be obvious.  I think that warrior is not always a title of violence or physical prowess.  A warrior is someone who fights, someone who pushes through, someone who perseveres, someone who survives.  And there are many ways to do these things, many fronts on which these 'battles' might take place.

We are living in a time of strife, a time when there is SO much wrong in the world, so many different ways in which the things we believe in are getting attacked.  People around the world are being threatened for their religions, their lifestyles, their choices, and even for just being who they are.  It feels like we were progressing, like things were getting better in the world.  We were making steps towards a brighter future, and there was starting to be acceptance and understanding.

And then everything began to crumble.  It's like the ground is being pulled out from under us, like all that hard work to move forward is being ripped away and we are being thrust even further back than where we started.  The people who are making these attacks are getting bolder, are feeling justified and supported, and are gaining leverage.

We may be afraid, and we may be hurting, but many people are also fighting back.  Warriors of all shapes and sizes are stepping forward and drawing lines and saying, "NO, we won't take this any more."

I think that the defining quality of a warrior is that of action.  A warrior takes action, when other people stay still.  This action can take so many forms!  It might be organizing a group, to speak out and educate the masses about what is really going on with a hot topic issue.  It might mean opening your home, your heart, and your shoulder, to someone who is out of hope, building them up so that they don't feel like their world is gone.  It might mean telling your story, when it is so painful that it breaks your heart to even think about it.

Everyone fights in their own way.  Sometimes, the most warrior thing you can do is get up, and just keep moving forward.  No one else may even know the struggle you are going through, but you know.  You know that it took EVERYTHING to get yourself moving that morning, to not just lay in bed and do nothing.  You know that it is all you can do to go through the motions, that the bare minimum is the absolute most you can do today.  But you do it, and you make it through the day.  Never let anyone tell you that your inner struggles are any less than someone else's!

Sometimes, being a warrior means feinting...pretending to be docile, to give in, to go along with whatever crazy thing is going on, because you know that pushing back in that moment would just make things worse.  So you batten down your hatches, you put yourself back into that horrible situation, because you know you are just waiting for your moment.  You know, that if you can just make it through, if you can just hold on long enough, your time will come, and you will have the opportunity to break free.

A warrior also knows that sometimes retreat is necessary.  Retreat doesn't mean giving up, it means taking a step back and planning how you will regain what you have lost.  It means acknowledging when you are at a disadvantage, and recognizing when fighting would only hurt you more.  Sometimes we face such overwhelming odds that we simply have no hope of wining.  Sometimes it's better to let one battle go, so that we can focus on how to win the war. 

But other times, a warrior knows that sacrifice might be the only way for the cause to win.  Sometime's it's just so much bigger than you, and you throw yourself onto the swords, knowing that you won't make it out whole, but also knowing that your sacrifice will be a catalyst for the change that you so desperately want to see.  We may not live to see the war won, but we may decide that our personal loss is worth it, just to know that future generations will not have to go through what we did.

It is easy to get distracted by the people who are the loudest, the most in your face.  And many of these people are warriors too, and are fighting to create change.  But we mustn't forget the quiet ones, the behind the scenes warriors, the ones who tend to go unnoticed. 

When you look at a pivotal moment in history, there are typically a few big names that pop out.  But if you keep looking, you will start to see the countless warriors that surround those big names.  The people who were fighting, right there along side the ones who became famous.  Look a little further, and you will see the people who fought in support roles, the ones who made it possible for the ones on the front lines to be there.

There are people who gave everything they had to support a cause they believed in.  There are people who cry themselves to sleep every night, because they have nothing more to give.  There are people who have lost pieces of themselves, not obvious ones, but deep, inner pieces of themselves, that they can never get back.  They are forever changed, because they fight against the things that they can not stand.

We must remember the people who fight, the people who push for change, the people who sacrifice...so that tomorrow might be a little easier, a little better, a little brighter, for us all. 

I think it fitting, that here in November, we take a moment to remember all the fighters in our lives.  Think about the people who have stood up for you, the ones who have fought for you, the ones who have sacrificed, so that you can be where you are today.  Think about the people you have known, and then look further back, and look for the forgotten warriors in history, who fought to create the world we know today.  Think about the people who have fought the exact same battles we are fighting today!  And think about the people who are fighting so those battles might never be fought again.

Remember them.  Honor them.  Respect them.  Warriors don't just fight in wars, they don't all wear a uniform.  You might not notice them, if you pass them on the street.  But if you look for them, you will find them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Exchanging gifts


It is Halloween, which sort of marks the start of gifting season.  Pretty much, from here to at least February feels like one gifting holiday after another (for me, it lasts until May, because of birthdays and anniversary!).  Now, don't get me wrong, I adore gifting.  But I think we have lost some of the spirit of gifting.

Society tells us that the gifts we give represent how much we care about another person.  It's sort of become this contest of who can get the 'better' gift...and better has come to mean more expensive.  We have begun to treat a gift like a representation of how much we feel the other person is worth.  The more expensive the gift, the more you value the other person.

And it's not a sliding scale either.  It doesn't matter if you only have one dollar to your name and the other person is a millionaire.  If they give you a gift that has a retail value of a hundred dollars and you spend your last dollar to buy a set of colored pencils and then spend a hundred hours drawing them a picture, many people will still value the more expensive gift more.

I like the meaning of the Futhark rune Gebo when it comes to the idea of gifting.  That the 'gift' is an exchange.  I have talked before about how I don't think there is such a thing as truly selfless giving, and I still believe this.  But I think there is absolutely such a thing as heartfelt giving.  And that is what giving should be:  felt in the heart.

When we gift, even if the gift isn't being reciprocated, or is anonymous, we are sending out energy.  And there is energy being received!  This might be a thank you, it might mean catching a glimpse of the person using the thing they were gifted, or even our own visualization of how a stranger might appreciate our gift.  Part of what makes gifting so special is that feeling we get when we truly give from our heart.

Now, you might remember that I mentioned Halloween as the start of gifting season.  I think that we have lost sight of what gifting means in many areas of our lives, because we are taught to expect being given things.  I think Halloween illustrates this really well.

Many of the roots of trick-or-treating have a much more direct exchange in the gifting.  Children would offer to pray for the house, or show them a 'trick' (recite a poem, sing a song, perform a skit) in exchange for their treat.  Now, this isn't something that we do today, but in a way you could consider the child's costume and their pure joy of the holiday their trick being offered when they ring your bell and ask for a treat.  You can always tell the ones that are really into it, the ones who delight in putting on the costume, whether it is a store bought one or handmade.  And those are typically the ones who don't even look at what they get in response, they are just happy with the whole process.

Christmas is another gifting holiday that has become so commercial.  My favorite example of the bad spirit of Christmas is Dudley from Harry Potter, who gets upset because he has one less present for his birthday (yes I know it's not Christmas, but the same idea) than the previous year, and throws a fit, even though is father explains that some of this year's presents are bigger.  I don't think that gifting should be a competition, either with each other or with previous gifts. 

I like to think of gifting as sending a message.  What is my gift saying to them?  I have always tried to find gifts that I think someone would really like.  It's not about me, it's about what would delight them.  Part of my joy in gifting is finding something that really makes the other person light up. 

Gifts don't have to be physical things either.  We can gift other people with many things that don't cost us a dime.  We just have to look at someone else, and think about what we would want, if we were them.  If you know someone who is always busy, and never has time, they would probably appreciate a gift of service:  helping them take care of some kind of task.  Many older people really appreciate gifts of companionship:  taking the time to really visit with them. 

One important thing, when contemplating gifts, is to remember to separate your own desires from what you honestly think the other person would like.  And this can be hard, especially if you get really excited about things!  I constantly have to remember that, while hubby and I share a lot of common interests, we approach those interests in different ways, so I have to make sure that I'm not looking for gifts that are more aligned with my own tastes instead of his.

On the flip side, when we receive a gift, especially from a child, we need to think about how the gift is being given.  Children are very good at giving from their hearts, but they also tend to give gifts that they would love.  They often haven't quite figured out how to see things from other people's perspectives yet.  And it can be heart-breaking when they give something, especially when they are very excited about it, and it isn't received with the same joy.

But this applies to everyone, not just children.  When you receive a gift, especially if perhaps you were expecting something different, or if the gift isn't quite to your tastes, think about what the other person is trying to say with their gift. 

I have received my share of 'not my thing' type of gifts.  Family is especially notorious for gifting you what you think they need or what they want you to want.  And that last one is particularly tricky.  Because they love you, and they often think they know, better than you do, what is best for you.  So they try to give you what they think you should want, instead of what you actually want.  And again, their feelings get hurt if you aren't properly appreciative.

I think the bottom line, when it comes to gifting, whether you are giving or receiving is to remember that it is an exchange and a message both.  Gifting is a conversation, and you have to look beyond the surface, and see what lies underneath.  Whichever side you are on, it may fall on you to make that stretch, to see the gift in the light it was intended. 

But when you do, when you start to experience that exchange as one heart speaking to another, the rewards are so much more than the stuff that is being given.  Gifting becomes a true spiritual act, and receiving a gift is a blessing...no matter what the gift itself actually is.