Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Practice when you just don't feel like it

I think we all have days where we are tired, drained, out of sorts, sick or for whatever reason just can't find the energy to do the things we may want to.  And especially when it comes to our spiritual path, we want to be able to commit ourselves to our actions, to really be present and fully centered in our actions, but sometimes we just don't feel up to it.

We each have our own rhythms and some people may have more up days while others may have fewer.  You may have these great and wonderful ideas in your head about how you would like things to be, but when you think about actually doing them, you can't seem to get yourself moving.

I have my fair share of days that I just want to sit around, toss something meaningless on the tv and do absolutely nothing.  Sometimes it's a physical thing, I'm under the weather, didn't get enough sleep or am run down for some other reason.  Sometimes it's an emotional thing and I'm just sort of in a dark place where nothing seems worth it.

I don't think there is anything wrong with taking days off, even with forgoing your regular daily practice, whatever it may be.  I have skipped days of my regular routine.  Sometimes it's because life got in the way...if I need to be out the door at 6:15, I am not likely to do my regular stretching and meditation when I wake up (because boy would I be cranky to have to get up early enough to do it!).  Sometimes it's because I just can't drag up the desire to do it. 

I do know that almost always, if I do manage to get myself motivated and do something, even if it wasn't the full thing I had planned on doing, I'll feel better and more balanced.  The trick is finding the things that you CAN do, the things that work for you, and letting your practice build from there.

One of the things that hasn't always been a formal part of my practice is Sabbats.  Being a solitary practitioner who has had a family for the bulk of my personal practice, as much as I would love to have big, fancy rituals every month and a half, with a full circle cast, themed feast and drink and seasonal personal work.....realistically it just doesn't happen.  I do try to keep my altar refreshed for each Sabbat (though I am still working on collecting items for all the Sabbats), even if all I do is give it a thorough clean and change out my altar cloth to a more seasonally appropriate color.

I love candles and lighting them.  There is something intrinsically magical to me about candles, and flame has always been a beautiful thing to me.  I also adore the smell of a candle that has just been blown out (one more reason why I love to light a candle for prayers right before bed).  But I have cats, who aren't very smart about candles.  I used to leave them burning while I went about my day, but popped out one day to check the mail, and came back to the smell of burning fur and one of my cats standing with her back to the candle....and her tail hovering close enough over it to be singing!  She didn't seem to notice....I was very relieved to see that she only lost a little fur and didn't get hurt, but that was the end of me burning candles when I wasn't sitting right in the room with them.

I also don't like burning candles too close to my computer...which is where I spend most of my day.  I am sometimes quite clumsy, and the last thing I need is to smack a candle and spatter hot wax all over my keyboard.

So what does all this have to do with practicing when you are down?  The act of burning a candle might lift me up, but having to manage the candle while it is burning (so that I make sure it's not dangerous) isn't always something I want to be bothered with.  It has changed what kind of candles I tend to stock up on.  While I still have lots of pillar and tea candles, I prefer to light them when I know I'm going to have them burn for at least half an hour...otherwise they just burn a hole down in the middle by the wick.

Instead, I like taper candles for my prayer candles...I can burn them for short periods and blow them out and they burn down just fine.  When I am worn out and not able to do full prayers, I can still light a candle, bow my head and sit in silence for a breath or two.  Or even just talk about how I am not feeling right (my prayers are highly informal, conversational style).

I also always have birthday candles on hand for quick spellwork.  Plus, they are small enough that I can easily burn one in a small bowl and keep them contained!

I run into a similar issue with incense.  I have a ton of incense sticks, both full sized and the little mini size, as well as cones and loose incense.  Incense can be a double whammy for me.  Sometimes, it is too strong inside, especially as our apartment isn't huge and is not open.  While I feel less concerned about the safety of the burning incense, I still prefer to be nearby as it is burning.

I've come to love burning bay leaves as incense.  The smell reminds me of some of the Asian temple incense that I love.  They flare up and crackle and burn up about a half inch of the leaf before the flame dies, then you can watch the little embers consume the burnt part.  Even with a large leaf, having to relight it about five times to burn the whole thing, it still only takes a minute or two, and it is a sort of entrancing practice.  I light a candle (so I don't have to hold a lighter or match to burn it), and use a metal spoon rest to catch the ash (and so if I need to drop the burning leaf, it's not going to scorch my table...)

I also love the very simple practice of lighting a match.  Much like I love the smell of candles that have just been extinguished, I also like the smell of a match being lit.  I like matches for quick banishing.  You can write a single word on the stick, or just hold it in your hand and think about what you are releasing.  Then light it up and watch it burn!  (I think I just like burning stuff, but this always makes me feel slightly better)

I love to meditate, but this is definitely something that if I am in an off mood I can't always do.  Or at least I can't do in my normal way.  Some days, I'll just lay on the floor...often on my back, with my arms stretched out, but sometimes on my stomach with my arms folded and my head resting on them.  I don't actually DO anything...I just let myself lay there.  It's a grounding and meditative practice, but it's entirely passive. 

Another thing I do is listen to music.  I'll find a song that fits my mood and let myself just listen to it.  Normally I'll close my eyes, I may or may not sing (sometimes I mouth or whisper the words....that often feels more tuned in to me for some reason).  If I had wanted to do a larger ritual but wasn't up to it, I might pick a few chants that fit what I wanted to do and play them. 

Ultimately, I don't feel that there is any shame in not doing full ritual or regular practice when you aren't up for it.  I have never felt that spirit is disappointed when I am in a low place and don't do something (even if it was something that I had made a previous commitment to doing).  Some days, just thinking to myself, "Well, I had wanted to do a ritual today, but there is no way I can, I'm sorry," makes me feel better and reassures me that I am okay.  For me, showing up and doing anything, even just acknowledging that I can't do something, is better than beating myself up for not doing a bigger thing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Familiars and totems and guides, Oh My!

Whether you have a pet or not, animals feature quite prominently in many people's paths.  Almost everyone feels some connection to certain animals, and many of us have animal companions that share our daily lives.


When you speak of a witch, you often also think of a witch's familiar.  According to legend, a familiar is an animal or spirit which serves as an aid to the witch.  Depending on the legend this spirit can be demonic or even a humanoid shape, but most of the time it is an animal.  Often the animal is depicted as having human-like intelligence.  Sometimes there was something 'off' or unusual about the animal.  Some legends suggest that the familiar must feed from the witch in order to sustain itself.

While many of these concepts have faded with time, the idea of a familiar is still something more than your regular adoring pet.  Many people feel that a familiar should take some kind of active role in your practice, either joining you in circle or meditation or otherwise participating in your magical workings.

There are a lot of varying theories about animals and magic.  It is a common belief that animals can see things that we typically can not (like:  fae, ghosts, energy).  Some people find that their animals will not cross the edge of a cast circle while others feel their pets slip in and out of the circle without breaking the circle.

I have had several cats over the years, and while I have been close with them all, one definitely stood out.  None of my cats have shown much interest in most of my practice, they don't care about the circles I cast and they are more likely to want to sleep on my tarot cards or bat at my runes than they are to be helpful.  One of my cats does like to sit in my lap in the mornings when I meditate (that is the only time she comes up and wants to be on me when I'm sitting on the floor....which is quite often). 

I do consider my cats familiars, even if they don't fit the traditional concepts.  They are my companions in life, are with me all day long when I am in the house alone.  They follow me into whatever room I am in and get upset when I go somewhere they can't go (like the bathroom).  I talk to them, and they meow back at me.  When I am upset, they will come and snuggle with me.  All of them sleep in the bed around me (one up right next to my pillow, where I can tuck one hand against her while I sleep).  The one that I formed the closest connection to passed over this year, but I still feel her around from time to time.

Some people think that you shouldn't call your pet a familiar unless they 'do' familiar things.  I am not in that camp.  My cats make my life better, which makes me happy and content.  They bring joy and peace to my house and my family.  They raise the energy of our home.  I don't need them to fetch me bits and bobs or pick cards from my deck for me. 

Another way many people connect with animals is through the concept of totems.  This is a controversial topic with some people.  It is a well known enough concept that it is one of those buzz phrases that often gets asked (along with:  what's your sign and what element are you).  Some feel that it is a misused term, though the concept of an animal that you are connected to (either personally or through a group you belong to) is one that is found around the world and throughout history.

Totems often befall the same fate as Past Lives:  everyone wants the glamour.  If you ask people about their Past Lives, you will find many famous people or important people....rarely do you find farmers or common people.  With totems, you will find way more people who identify with the big ones (for example:  wolf, bear, eagle) than with less powerful or beautiful animals (like:  mouse, cockroach, sea cucumber).

Totems encompass both the idea of teacher and of guardian.  Some might consider them to be your own spirit in animal form.  This is how I personally think of the term totem:  it is a reflection of your inner self.  Your totem might represent qualities about yourself that you love or ones you hide from the world.  Understanding and connecting with your totem helps you notice patterns in how you interact with the world around you.  Many animals will approach the same situation in completely different ways, just like people do.  Turning to your totem for advice and help you see the best way to do things for you.

Now I know what I just said about people tending toward the powerful and beautiful totems, so bear with me a moment here.  I have felt Wolf has been my totem since grade school.  I have always been an animal lover, and predators in particular, but Wolf has been with me since I can remember.  I am a huge reader, so I saw more than just the image that is popular in media.  Wolf is a predator, but Wolf is also a pack animal (and sometimes a loner).  Social structure is important to Wolf, and the pack works together to hunt and survive.

Ultimately, when you feel you have found your totem, it doesn't matter what animal it is.  But be prepared to accept both the good and the bad, to look at the whole animal and not just the face it shows to the world.  Wolf is territorial and wide ranging.  Dominance and submission plays a big part in their social structuring.  While they can exist without a pack, the survival rate is much lower.  I see both the good and the bad of Wolf in me.

The other thing about a totem is that it typically doesn't change.  Your totem is with you for life.  A group that has a totem has it as long as the group is formed.  A family that has a totem will carry that animal throughout generations. 

When we have animals that pop into our lives for shorter periods, they are often functioning as guides.  Animal guides can act as teachers or warnings.  They have messages for us, and can stick around as long as needed, but may depart once their voice has been heard.

Pay attention to things you see in the world around you.  Not every animal is an animal guide, but if you notice a particular animal popping up a lot, it might be wise to pay attention and to really listen to what it is trying to tell you.  And animals don't have to show up in person.  You might start seeing penguins everywhere:  stuffed animals in a store, in advertisements on tv, as icons on webpages. 

I also think that animal guides can be any animal:  real, fantastical or domestic.  I think that they all have different messages to teach us, and sometimes those messages might not be what we expect.  Much like totems, when you are working out what an animal guide is trying to tell you, look at all their aspects, not just the good and dominant ones.  Dragon might be telling you to be fierce and face down all your opponents....or it might be telling you to stop hoarding your gold.  Cat may be saying you are self contained and independent or that you need to take more naps.  Horse may be telling you to run free and wild or to accept your blinders and pull the cart where you are directed to.

We can also call upon animal guides when we need to learn a particular lesson.  Deliberately connecting to an animal can be considered a form of shape shifting:  we are trying to take on the characteristics of behaviors of the animal.  This can be a very powerful tool!  And like many practices, it is something that becomes easier and stronger the more you do it....and the more you connect to a particular animal, the more solid your connection will be.  

We share this world with animals, and they can share our path as well.  Whether you want to invite them into your home or just into your practice energetically, animals bring a wealth of knowledge that is outside of our normal realm.  Animals can teach us all kinds of things, from serious life lessons to the value of play and the pure joy of existence.  We just have to let them in.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Getting started with chanting!

I love chanting....but I really didn't know much about it until my friends at Wyld Garden introduced me to chants around five years ago.  I have always loved songs and poetry...and I enjoy singing, so it's a perfect mix for me.

But I also know it can be very intimidating for a lot of people!  Especially if you don't feel comfortable singing or are worried about messing up the words.

That first night, I knew no chants.  I don't think I'd even heard "We all come from the Goddess."  And there I was, with my friends, but there were only four of us (or possibly 6, I can't remember exactly who was there, but it was a very small group, I know that).  I knew none of the words, I just had to jump in and follow along.


In the time since then, I have chanted in small groups and larger groups.  I have chanted as part of big rituals, in small social gatherings...and of course in the shower (which totally confused my hubby one day, because I was doing the high and low parts of a chant and he couldn't figure out how I had gotten a radio in the bathroom)! 

And let me reassure you....in all that time, no one has EVER commented when I flubbed words, did the wrong line or cracked my voice trying to hit notes I probably shouldn't.  Even when there were only a couple of us, and I was sharing a new chant...and completely forgot the words!  We just looked them up and started over.

It is actually easier in a larger group, because the more people you have the less one voice stands out. 
And even better if you have someone on a drum or other musical instrument....or have a recording of the chant to play and sing along with.

There are a ton of beautiful chants out there that are really easy to learn.  The majority of the chants I know are in a voice range that is accessible to most people...whether you think you are a good singer or not!  There is a huge selection of chants that are between 4-6 lines, so not a lot to remember.

I also keep a chant book...it has pretty much every chant that I've come across that I like or want to learn.  I often take it with me to rituals or to gatherings where I think there might be chanting.  If I feel rusty on a chant, I can pull out my book and follow along until I am comfortable.  I can also share my book with people who might not know a chant at all!

I learned a lot of my first chants from people....we would do a chant, and I'd jot it down to practice on my own.  But I have also looked up a lot of chants online.  While many chant sites list the words, I like to find ones that also have audio clips so I can hear the tune.  Here are a couple links to sites I really like.

Ky's Pagan Chant Library   (the name is coincidental!)  This has a lot of the more common chants, with both lyrics and audio for most.  It also includes additional notes and info on some of them, which can be neat to read.

Panpipe's Pagan Chants  This one has a lot of unique chants, with both lyrics and audio.  I really enjoy a lot of these chants, they range from very simple to more complex.

The Singing Witches  I just found this one recently, but it has some lovely chants, with lyrics and audio.

I have also just browsed on YouTube.  I often do this for chants that I have lyrics but no audio for.  Often you can find a chant by typing in part of the first line (or I Google it first to see if the chant has a name)

I think chanting is an amazing tool, both for personal use and for group work.  It is really fun to chant with a group, and adds a lot to rituals.  We've used chanting as part of the meat of a ritual, to raise power or otherwise direct the energy.  We've also used chanting to create appropriate ambiance...chanting while we entered circle or while other things were going on to create atmosphere.  We also often chant after ritual or when just hanging out!

So how do you get started?  Well of course, you can always learn chants on your own.  I have playlists of chants on my computer to listen to.  When I am first learning a chant, I like to put it on loop for a while (especially while I'm doing stuff like housecleaning...then I can chant along and practice).  Writing it out not only helps me learn the chant (copying stuff by hand helps your brain retain the information better), but as I keep my chants all in a nice little book, it makes it handy to brush up on chants when I need a reminder. 

You can also suggest chanting as a group project!  If you have a group that meets regularly, everyone can find one chant they really like, and teach it to the group (you can spread them out too, adding just one new chant each time you meet to help people feel more comfortable with it).  For a group, it can be helpful to share the chant ahead of time, that way everyone can hear it and write out the lyrics if they want.  Or, if you don't know ahead of time who will be there, print out copies of the words and have a recording of the chant to play. 

I would definitely recommend learning 'We all come from the Goddess'.  Not only is it probably one of the most well known chants, it also has several verse variants, though the basic verse is the most often used.  And it's basic rhythm and tune are shared by a lot of other chants.  So once you are familiar with this one chant, it makes it easier to learn a lot of other chants as well.

And never be afraid to create your own chants!  You can pick a chant you like the tune to and make new words.  Or you can find a bit of song that you like and that fits your need and use it as a chant.  You can adapt poems or bits of poems as a chant.

I highly recommend giving chanting a go!  Try it on your own, and try it in a group (really not trying to go all Seuss on you here...lol).  There is a different feel to chanting by yourself in different environments.  If I am outside, chanting by myself, I feel very connected to nature.  If I am in the shower, chanting by myself, it feels more divinity oriented.  If I am chanting as part of my prayers or personal rituals it brings different flavors of power.  Chanting in a group can be haunting or celebratory, depending on the chant!  The same chant, done in different places or with different people can feel completely different, which is sort of amazing!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Everyday Magic: Whats in your Wallet (or Purse!)?

A lot of times, when we think about magic, we think about lofty spiritual goals or very goal-oriented "I need a thing" type of workings.  We think about beautiful tools, elaborate or simple rituals, and setting aside time to 'be magical'.

But there are a ton of things we do everyday, that can either be enchanted to bring things we want in our life, or to repel things we don't want, or they can become triggers to remind us to take specific actions.  The great thing about this kind of everyday magic is it uses things we have on us or around us every day, things that we interact with in our regular, daily life.

Today, I'm going to focus on stuff you carry around with you when you leave the house:  stuff that goes in your wallet, pockets or purse (or whatever bag you might cart about with you).  Some stuff is things that pretty much everyone has, and some stuff might be new to you.  So take a trip with me, into my purse...and lets see what magic we can dig up!

First I'm going to mention keys.  They are something we all use, in a variety of forms, and almost always something you take with you when you go places.  But I've already done a whole blog post dedicated to keys!  So, I'll add that link right here:  Keys and invite you to check it out.

I will talk about key rings though.  Most of us put our keys on something...whether it is just a simple split ring, or something more elaborate.  I personally have a leather loop on mine, that I can hook them onto my belt or to a strap.  I also often have a D-ring on my bags that can be used to hold my keys.  I tend to loose things that aren't attached to me, so making sure my keys are hooked onto something makes me feel more secure.  Whether you have an attachment on your keys or not, your keyring is a great thing to enchant with the intent that they stay with you.  If you want to be really thorough, you can also add a charm or secondary trigger that if they do happen to be misplaced that they will find their way back to you (and you can use this charm as a symbol to focus on if you loose them so that you can figure out where they went to).

Speaking of charms, that is a great way to add any kind of spell you want to your keys.  Think about all of the times a day you use your keys...now imagine if every time you used your keys, you saw the charm and said a prayer, sent energy towards your goal, or said an affirmation.  That is a LOT of reinforcement, and comes with a handy reminder to do it!  Make the charm something that stands out from your keys and something that reminds you of your goal.  When you add it to your keyring, set your intentions and decide what you are going to do every time you see the charm.  If you happen to forget, don't fret!  Just do your action when you remember that you forgot to do it.

My keyring also houses a small collection of store membership cards (grocery, bookstore, office supplies, gas, department).  You know, those little cards they scan to give you discounts or what have you.  I prefer to have mine on my keyring, but you might have the card ones in your wallet.  Each little card has the potential to be blessed in order to help whichever area of your life it pertains to.  Consider the gas station card:  why not empower it to keep your car from running out of gas (of course you will still have to stop and buy gas...but we have all had times where we needed a little bit of extra luck finding a gas station with good prices, or making it to the next station on a long trip).  Bless your grocery card so that you can find the foods you want to purchase for a price you are willing to pay (and so they are in stock when you need them!)  Just think about what you buy at the stores you are using your card for, and then think about either what you want when you go there or what you don't want.  So the office supply card I might charge with the goal of never needing to have emergency computer work done.

Many of the cards in your wallet can follow the same concept:  bless your insurance cards to keep you in good health, bless your driver's license to keep you safe on the road (or off police radar *grin), bless your credit/bank cards to always have money in them.  In fact, if you are like me, you probably get credit card applications in the mail from time to time.  If you need more money in your life, why not fill them out, and do a ritual to seek more abundance in your life (you can then burn the application, put it in your wallet to encourage the money to come there or keep it in your altar for further blessing).  Or, if you already have a lot of debt, why not use those fake cards that get sent with the application to absorb some of your debt..then destroy them!

It is my custom to always keep some kind of money in my wallet.  This is an old Chinese tradition:  empty wallet leads to scarce money.  Even if it's only a penny tucked somewhere, I never spend my last coin.  I also make sure that any extra wallets/purses always have a penny tucked somewhere in them too....don't want to be holding on to empty money traps!  If you want to know more about coin symbology, check out my other post on Coins

Most wallets have little slots for cards.  This is a great place to tuck any spells or paper charms you want to always have with you.  If you have symbols of protection, safe travel, prosperity or anything else you want, tuck them behind your cards or in those hidden slots.  Remember to recharge them from time to time (when you clean out or organize your wallet is a great time....otherwise you can recharge them once a month, using the moon phases to remind you!)

We almost always take our phone with us too nowadays.  Many of us have phone cases, which are another great place to slip in a little paper charm or spell.  You can set your wallpaper or lock screen to an inspirational message or picture that fits the season or a goal you are working on.  I've used my lock screen as a reminder to take a breath, say an affirmation (I've written them right on the lock screen picture) or even just to smile. 

There are tons of apps you can add to your phone that can be useful when your on the go.  Add some meditation tracks of spiritual music to listen to on your commute.  Play a mindfulness app when waiting in line.  Check in with a tarot or divination app when you need a bit of guidance.  Use a zen game to bring you back into your calm mind when life gets you frazzled.

One neat thing to do is to add blessings or protections in your phone address book.  You can add them as notes under people's names.  Or you can set their picture to a symbol or picture of what you want (this is especially good for people who call you a lot...when they call you, their picture pops up and reminds you of what you want to send or block).  If you don't want it to be obvious to people who might look at your phone, write out your spell longhand before you add it, then drop all the vowels and write it out as just a string of consonants.

I keep a paper calendar in my purse.  Calendars are great places to set intentions for upcoming events.  If you have a doctors visit you are particularly worried about, when you add it to your calendar, bless the notation.  Think about the news you want to receive and send that intention into the calendar.  You can anoint the date with an oil and add symbols to enhance the effect, or write the appointment in a special color.  Calendars are great for setting reminders for other things too.  I am highly time oblivious, so I like to mark things down like moon phases, Sabbats, Holidays, planned rituals....anything that I have coming up really.  I also like to leave myself reminders of prep-work.  If I know I want to do a big ritual on Saturday, I might leave a note on Friday to check and see if I have everything I need all gathered up.  If I am writing my ritual out ahead of time, I may make a note even earlier in the week to work on the ritual writing.  If you are like me (and often forget to do things), you may like to do a ritual with your whole calendar, blessing it to help you keep on track and to remember to check it.

I always have a pen in my purse as well, and I like to have the kind that screws apart.  You can easily slip papers into the pen (and still have it function) to bless anything you write.  This is especially great if you write a lot of checks, but also I often use my pen to sign receipts or other documents.  Since the signature is a major identifier for many people, consider blessing your pen to protect your identity (you can also bless your id, your wallet or any of your cards for this).  Or, you can bless your pen to draw wealth to you (bless the ink to be a magnet for wealth, so even as you are spending your money, you are drawing new money back to you).  If you tend to write yourself a lot of notes or journal on the go, bless your pen for inspiration!

I also like to carry wetwipes in my purse.  Mostly for purely practical reasons (sometimes you just need to clean something!), but I think they have a lot of magical potential as well.  Definitely, if I am going to set up a little ritual somewhere on the go, I would like to be able to clean the stuff I'm using.  The wipes let me cleanse myself as well, washing my hands.  In a pinch, they make a nice little disposable white altar cloth (or white paper to wrap a bundle in...)  I definitely use them for getting rid of unwanted energy or a situation that is trying to stick to me.

I also carry dental floss...again, partially for it's intended purpose, but also because it is waxed cordage.  The stuff is amazingly strong and easy to work with, comes with it's own cutter, and I get the mint kind, which for me is cleansing and uplifting.  I use knotwork a lot, so having string of some kind is pretty mandatory for me.  I will use knots to bind a working (not just for binding, but to symbolize the finalization of any work).  Things can be tied together to bring their properties into union.  You can 'draw' a symbol with the string as a focus for a ritual (and then use the floss to make a bundle with your ingredients if you want to carry it with you).  You can make temporary (or permanent...I've used floss to make beaded necklaces before) jewelry by stringing on found objects, or just tie an appropriate amount of knots and then wear it on your wrist as a reminder.

Chewing gum is another great medium for spellwork.  Again, it can be used to bind things together, and the wrapper can be used to make bundles or to draw symbols on.  It can also be used as a focus, you set your intention before you pop it in your mouth, and then reinforce your intention as you chew.  If you have something you want to be rid of, find something to symbolize it (you can always write out what you want rid of on the wrapper, or smoosh the foil into a basic effigy), then chew the gum, thinking about softening up your problem, and finally encase your symbol in the gum, surrounding it entirely and then toss it in the trash.

Well, I hope I've given you a few ideas about how you can use the things you have on you all the time, the things you use every day, to bring more magic into your life!  Take a look through your own wallet, purse or pockets and challenge yourself to find new ways to use them in your path!  Just because something has a mundane purpose, doesn't mean it can't also be a powerful magical tool!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul is a phrase used to describe a period of time where it feels like you have lost your connection to light.  While often used to refer to a spiritual crisis where one feels like they have lost their connection to the divine, it can also be a more general period in one's life where things feel hopeless or unbearable.

Dark Nights may happen multiple times in your life, or you may never experience them.  They may last for short periods or they may stretch on. 

But Dark Nights also often function as a Guardian at the Gates.  They are a final purge of the negative thoughts and emotions we have born before we pass through to a new awareness or inspiration.  You can think of them as a last ditch effort of the 'old you' to keep you from growing.

Even knowing what you are going through, it can be very hard to navigate a Dark Night.  You may find you have no motivation, or it feels like everything you try ends poorly, or that you are all alone.  Each Dark Night is different, and each person faces their Dark Night slightly different.

Always remember that though the Dark Night process might lead you back to the light, if you every feel completely overwhelmed, definitely seek outside help!  Talk to a friend, a loved one or your doctor, especially if you feel any inclination to harm yourself through action or inaction (if you stop feeling motivated to do basic self-care).  Just because a Dark Night is a deeply personal thing, it doesn't mean you can't have allies along the way!

Sometimes, you may feel the need to turn inward.  To really allow yourself to be with the feelings you are going through.  You may feel called to sit in meditation, to spend time alone and dreaming, to journal or create art to express the dark feelings you are having or the need to scream and vent your frustrations.  As you do these things, pay attention to how your feelings change.  Do you feel like you are going deeper into them or are you releasing them?  Take some time and write about how you felt before, how you felt during and how you felt after.

In the depths of a Dark Night, many times the things that used to bring joy and happiness into your life don't seem to shine as brightly.  Even when you are exploring your own darkness, make sure to keep a little light shining.  Take a moment or two, every day, to focus on something beautiful, something that is uplifting or joyful (even if you aren't quite feeling it).  You may look at pictures, listen to a song or smell some flowers.  Think of it as a little reminder of the joys in life.

I often have times where I feel hollow inside, like I am nothing but a shell.  For me, at these times, I really need to nourish and replenish myself.  It is the time that I focus on self-care in a very tender way.  It is almost as though I feel there is something broken inside me and I need to fix it.  I may take long baths, spend more time with personal grooming (like brushing my hair or putting on body lotion) or give myself a foot massage.  I almost always move slower, so I will make sure to take extra time for everything I need to do.

I find nature very soothing when I am distressed.  To me, nature is neutral.  Nature doesn't want something from me, it doesn't judge me, it just IS and this lets me just BE as well.  I don't always have transportation, so sometimes spending time with nature means sitting on my back porch and watching the field behind our apartment.  Sometimes it means laying on the floor and petting my cats.  Sometimes it's going out at night, staring up at the stars and the sky and just breathing.

Breathing is definitely another thing I do.  Getting in touch with my breath is very primal for me.  It is something we can consciously control that is vital to life.  When I focus on and control my breathing, taking slow, deep, deliberate breaths, it is like the first step in taking back control of my life.  In one tiny way I am directing how my life is going.  When I am in a really dark place, this is extra soothing for me.

Crying can also be very cathartic.  I cry often, but not always when I want to.  Sometimes, when I am feeling especially emotionally wrung out, I sort of know I need to cry, but I can't.  I will either turn to music that is especially moving to me, or to videos.  I have a couple videos that are pretty much guaranteed to move me to tears.  No matter how empty I feel inside, some things seem to always touch me.  Shared loss, or sacrifice (especially stories that are heart-wrenching but have a happy ending) really gets to me.

I think one of the worst things about a Dark Night is it makes you feel alone.  You feel like no one could understand that emptiness inside.  Or that no one cares about you.  Or that you just aren't good enough.  Or that the things you do have no meaning.  It is like sitting in the dark, and you can't see that there are other people sitting in the dark with you.  You can't see that other people are battling their own darkness and their own loneliness and their own feelings of inadequacy.

But if you reach out, you can feel them.  If you close your eyes, you can hear them breathing in the darkness with you.  You can feel the heat of their bodies, and smell their skin.  We are never truly alone!

So anytime you are facing your own Dark Night, explore the darkness, search for your light, and battle your Guardian at the Gate...and never forget that you are not alone.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What makes a ritual GREAT!

Ritual comes in all shapes and sizes.  We can do ritual by ourselves, with our family, with our social group, with the larger community or (with the many digital options) with people across the globe!  And yet I think there are some qualities that make rituals great that are often overlooked.

It is lovely to attend a ritual where everything goes smoothly, where everyone who has a part plays it perfectly, and where the group meshes together towards the common focus seamlessly.  And yet, I absolutely don't feel that is necessary to have a great ritual.  I've been to quite a few rituals where a lot has gone 'wrong', but I walked away deeply moved and had a great time.

So what is the purpose of ritual?  I think that rituals can have many different goals, but ultimately they all help renew us.  They touch a part of us deep inside, that connects to the sacredness of life, and help us to keep that spark nourished and healthy!  Even when the ritual is exploring our darker aspects or perhaps it is a light and humorous ritual that encourages silly play, both can replenish our inner resources that get drained through the stresses and activities of life.

I think one of the very basic 'rules' of ritual is that it is a safe place.  Everyone at the ritual should feel that they are safe, not only on a purely physical level, but also on an emotional one.  This isn't to say that deep and serious topics can not be touched, but simply that the other people at the ritual are there to support you and not to tear you down.  It can not be a great ritual if people are mocking or judging others, especially when sharing personal details.

Ritual is often a place where we push our own boundaries, and sometimes we need other people to help us, but ultimately, we should feel like we can say no to the things we are truly not ready for.  We should never feel pressured at ritual to do something we are not comfortable with, no matter how simple that act may be.  I actually haven't been a pure participant at a lot of rituals.  I've often been asked to take a role in the ritual, and sometimes I was uncomfortable stepping into that role, but I have never felt like the person asking me would judge me for saying no.  In fact, it was that level of support that allowed me to say yes, to do things that made me uncomfortable, and to slowly raise my comfort level in ritual.

And as much as we do want things to run smoothly, a great ritual can adapt.  Life happens!  Sometimes the person you thought would do a thing at ritual can't make it, or has to drop out at the very last moment.  I truly believe that when we gather for ritual, our hearts are what shape the experience and when everyone is open to the ritual experience, it becomes beautiful no matter how horrible the bugs are, if it starts raining, if it is bitterly cold or blisteringly hot, if someone completely messes up their role, or if the candles won't stay lit.  We have the choice to focus on what is going wrong and spiral out of our sacred space into focus on all the things that have happened, or we can shift that energy into moving forward!

One of my very early ritual flub experiences was when I was just learning and me and a friend were trying to do a ritual, but something struck us as funny and we ended up just lost in laughter for several minutes.  Once we could compose ourselves, we got back into it, and finished our ritual.  Afterwards, we were talking about it and came to the conclusion that it was one of those things that was just part of the human experience.  Neither of us felt that the gods or the spirits we had called to our circle felt slighted in any way.  We weren't making light of the ritual, and once we had settled down, we were able to refocus and complete what we had started.

And I think that is a very important thing:  to finish, even if you have to drastically alter what you had set out to do.  A great ritual has a start and an end.  If you start ritual, you need to also close it.  If something happens in the middle that calls you away, whether it is something from within the ritual, like a participant doing something unexpected, or from without, like a natural disaster, the ritual should be attended to as soon as possible.  You may be able to pick it back up and continue on.  Or you may have to do a quick ending to allow everyone closure.  Even with something as simple as saying, "We thank all who have come this day to our ritual, but due to unforeseen circumstances we need to close this circle and end this ritual.  Be blessed as you go forth!"

Ritual is an amazing thing and it is the simple stuff that makes rituals great.  It is the heart and soul of the participants, the willingness to drop into the moment and to work towards whatever the focus of the ritual is.  Ritual does not need fancy tools or perfect conditions to be great.  So never fret if your ritual takes an unexpected turn or two.  That doesn't mean that it isn't still a fantastic ritual!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fixing your Facebook Feed!

Yes, I'm back to talking about Facebook.  It's sort of all pervasive, and I have quite a few friends that I care about who I am not able to see regularly, and it is how I keep in touch with them.

There is so much talk about how toxic Facebook can be, especially after a big tragedy (or string of tragedies).  Whatever is the hot topic of the moment will be plastered all over.  It is an easy way for people to express their horror, frustration and fear. 

And yet, when I go to Facebook, it isn't to be inundated with that kind of negative energy.  I've seen a lot of studies about how Facebook can be emotionally undermining. 

But it kind of reminds me of Pandora's box...the box has been opened, and we have been flooded with all this bad stuff.  There really isn't a good way to put it all back in the box...so what do we do about it?

First, I definitely understand the need to have our opinions heard.  Stuff happens, and we have strong feelings about it.  We want to express those feelings so they don't remain bottled up inside.  That is all fine and good, but think about how often we are sharing the same frustrations and anger.

The problem isn't that we are talking about this stuff.  In my eyes, the problem is that we never go from talking to doing.  And even our talk doesn't transmute into discussion.  It is like the internet has us all stuck in troll-mode:  never-ending rant's!

It's like we get stuck in a complaining loop.  Someone will post a link and their thoughts on it, and people will comment, and everyone just goes around agreeing that it is horrible and that something should be done.  This kind of negative energy feeds itself:  the more you focus on it, the more it clings to you.

The good news is that there are lots of ways to transform this energy into something that makes things better.

One of the simplest ways I think is to find non-verbal ways to express our feelings and reactions to a thing.  Images and music are both readily available (and sharable!).  I know that both sometimes have words, but I feel that the words are almost secondary in these cases.  Try finding an image or a song that embodies how the event makes you feel, and share that!

But I am Pagan, so I have another whole world of things I can do!  First and foremost, when I encounter something that really upsets me deeply, I consider my need to do inner work on the subject.  I think that when we rant or complain about something, we are often just venting what is on the surface without really delving into the deeper roots of what is wrong.  By going inward, by really searching out the tendrils that are supporting our reaction, we can start to unravel our own true responses...and that is the first step to healing!

From there, we can start to work towards creating change.  I definitely feel that change starts with me, so whatever I uncovered in my inner work, I can now work to heal it.  It may mean that I do work with associated emotions or memories.  Or it may mean that I work with my own failings to fight off the fear that I may be a victim (or that I may share some blame...)

Once we have done the personal work, we can start to reach out.  So many times we stop before this point, but we have an amazing global connection through Facebook, and that means that we can organize people towards making actual change!  I think the first step is to turn the conversation from what is wrong to how things can improve.  The more people we can get involved in this conversation, the more that ideas will start to shift.  Until ideas shift, people will continue to act from the flawed concepts that society has taught us.

Connection is a HUGE key.  We toss around so many catch phrases about this issue or that cause, but what really moves people, what really makes them stop, listen and start to change, is when we make the people real.  Words and ideas come later....feelings come first!  If you have a story, a personal story, that is relevant...be brave and share!  That is one thing that I absolutely love reading in my feed:  stories about people helping other people.  Or people connecting to people and finding out they weren't what they thought they were (stereotypes).

It is so very easy to judge by a first impression.  But that is only a split second of time..and from your perspective!  Often, when we look deeper and longer, we find that the other side is full of people too.  People who feel very deeply about things.  Sometimes, when we look we find that we misunderstood their motivations entirely.  And sometimes that makes us wonder if perhaps they are misunderstanding us as well.

Of course, there will always be situations where even after you look and see what is behind the hype, you can not stand by and support a situation.  And we must stand up for what we believe in!  Again, we start at home, start within, and do what we can.

But let's start talking about what we are doing!  Share the magic you are making to create a new and better world!  Band together and weave your workings into bigger things!  Imagine a world where social media becomes a tool to bring people into harmony...all resonating on the same frequency and all shining that light out into the world where it can lighten someone else's life!

The hatemongers are already spreading their filth everywhere.  They are posting and yelling and talking and ranting and that is what we see in our feed when we check in.  That is what the people who are struggling with these issues in their personal lives see:  all that hate and anger.  When we share our frustrations, we are feeding that feeling of helplessness!

Instead, let's share the love!  Let's create a new way of doing things...where when bad stuff happens we start looking for ways to make it better.  To show the victims that they are not alone, and their issues are being heard, and there are people who are willing to do something about it.  Just imagine, if your words, if your telling your story, about how you met a person, or lit a candle, or did a spell or said a prayer, what if those words were enough to keep just one person looking forward.  Now imagine if everyone you know on Facebook did the same....what would the internet be like then?