Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

I am a big fan of adaptation.  I have always felt that if something didn't work for you, then you just had to adjust it until you found a way that did work.  Or if you didn't have the exact supplies listed, then you found substitutes.  I definitely felt this way about timing, I almost never did rituals on the exact date, moon phase, planetary hour or any of the other specific times that were suggested for different rituals.

I feel that the essence of a practice, the heart of it if you will, is more important than the details.  I would rather do something, and perhaps it isn't just right, than try to wait for everything to be perfect and not ever actually get it done.

I sometimes wonder if we don't adapt our spiritual practice more because we don't feel that deep drive, that NEED to do the things we do.  We want to do them, we may feel a deep peace and a great sense of connection when we do, and in part of our brain we know that these things are necessary to our whole Self, but it's not the same level of need that we feel in other areas of our lives, or that perhaps our ancestors felt.

I think that many of us view our spiritual life from a symbolic standpoint instead of a literal one.  We don't approach our rituals as if they were vital to life continuing on.  We don't feel that missing an observance will stop the sun from rising in the morning, or prevent rains from watering our crops (and therefor leaving us with not enough food to get through the winter).  We may work towards abundance or joy or to increase the blessings in our lives, but we don't feel that if we don't then we will not have our basic needs met.

Interestingly enough, I think that people are more likely to use adaptation in things that feed those kinds of basic needs.  If you have an emergency and you think you won't be able to make rent this month, or you get sick and aren't sure how you will make it to work, then you will do anything in your power to try to make it right, including using whatever tools and supplies you have on hand and making something up if necessary.

Some people think of it in terms of low and high magic:  with low being practical every day applications and high magic being more spiritual and highly ritualized actions.  The more ritualized something is, the less people seem to think they can adapt it.  If you are doing a simple charm to find a parking spot, it is like it is easier to make changes than an elaborate ritual to honor the turning of the seasons that has every step laid out in detail.

I have seen and heard of some amazing adaptations.  Many of which are the children of necessity.  If you are in a dorm room and are not allowed to have lit flames, how do you honor fire?  What do you do instead of burning that piece of paper that you were supposed to burn?  If you live in the city, what do you do for rituals that suggest walking out into the woods and sitting with a tree?  How do you adjust if you don't have access to a natural stream when you are supposed to release something into running water?

I think these types of adaptations are what helps our practice grown and thrive and evolve with our modern lives.  When we start thinking of our spiritual practice as absolutely necessary, as something that we would literally wither away and die without, then we start looking for ways to figure out how to do things instead of feeling like we can't do something if we don't meet all the requirements.

I recently hurt my hand.  I did something to my thumb (sprained or strained or otherwise angered), and it's been a month now and it's not doing much better.  It's on the same arm that I have nerve issues.  I just got a brace for it, so that hopefully it will get the rest it needs and start to mend.  I definitely find that if I'm not forced to change my ways, I will forget and keep doing things the way I always have.  But the brace makes it to where I can't do some things the same way (not only does it hold my thumb rigid, it also restricts movement on my wrist, so bending that hand isn't happening much).

And while wearing the brace, I physically can't do things that I used to do.  It's not easy to wash, so I am figuring out ways to do things like wash the coffee pot in the morning using only one hand.  I've had to adjust how I type to accommodate it (which is actually not as bad as some of the other adjustments I've had to make).  Getting dressed is still extremely hard (really, you don't realize exactly how vital your thumbs are until you can't use one...it's my left thumb and I'm right handed which you would think would make it easier, but I tend to prefer to do a lot of my heavy lifting with my left hand so my right hand can stay free for other things).

But what I appreciate is not only does it force me to remember that my hand is hurt and needs to be allowed to heal, it also definitely forces me to start learning how to do the things I always do in a new way.  This is something I've sort of done all my life.  I was fascinated with survival stories when I was young, and someone is always injured in those, so when I was learning how to swim, I practiced swimming and treading water in all kinds of crazy ways:  with only my arms, with only my legs, with only one side of my body.

I think that when we only know how to do things one way, any setback completely throws us off.  We find ourselves floundering and then we have a choice:  sink or swim.  We either give up because our normal way of doing things won't work, or we adapt and come up with some new way to do things.

One thing I think helps develop this ability to adapt is to keep challenging yourself.  Think of situations where you might not be able to do things the way you normally do.  How would you practice if you couldn't use any fire?  What would your rituals look like if you had to avoid anything with a strong scent?  If there is a tool you always use, what could use use instead? 

An exercise I find fun is to pick a grouping of random things, and a situation and figure out how you would use those things to get yourself out of the situation.  Picking 'whatever is in my pockets' or 'the things that are in my car' are great starts.  The situation might be that you need to be protected or perhaps you need to get a message to someone.  Start with simple situations and common items...but as you become more familiar with the exercise, start having fun with it...get crazy!  What would you do if you wanted to get in contact with the kid who used to sit behind you in 4th grade English class if all you have is a piece of beef jerky, a broken shoe lace, the receipt from your morning cup of coffee and plastic grocery bag with a hole in it?

Another thing I think is important is to recognize that even though our spiritual life may seem like an 'extra' that it is very vital to our being.  It is one of those things that feel subtle, and sometimes feels like it can be set aside or put on hold, but it spreads out and touches all aspects of our lives.  When we are spiritually unfulfilled, it effects everything else, it makes us cranky, makes us restless, effects our health and changes how we deal with other people.  We need to really look for these invisible threads, and seek out all the ways in which our spiritual life touches everything else we do.

And once we notice it, start finding ways to adapt!  If you don't have time for big rituals....what can you do?  Are there ways to use the time you already have, time when you are doing other things, and turn those things into observations that serve as rituals?  Washing is one thing I do double duty on all the time.  Of course we wash things throughout our day, from hands to dishes to our bodies.  But we can take that time, do the physical actions and shift our focus and turn it into a moment of releasing, of cleansing or of tending our personal body-temple.

If you don't have money for supplies, look at what you have around you and what you can reuse or what you can make for yourself.  When I started, my ritual knife was a pocket knife my dad had given me.  Later I used a kitchen knife for a while.  I have used kitchen herbs for ages, working with a very limited cupboard of choices.  I use stones I find outside all the time.

If you don't have people to work with, start thinking outside the box.  I know many of us would love to find that group of people who share our exact beliefs, who walk the same path that we do.  But sometimes, when looking for that particular match, we overlook many other options that would be very rewarding!  I don't practice with people who share my path.  I share rituals with friends who are Pagan but with very different spiritual practices.  I also share spiritual time with people who aren't Pagan at all, but are woman or Goddess oriented.  I am in several intentional creativity groups, which work through art to find a spiritual connection...and many of those people have very different spiritual beliefs from me!  But I find so much from each of them, that I wouldn't have if I had been trying to hold out for a Norse aligned group that matched my own tendencies.

I don't think we need to wait for life to force us to find a new way.  I think we can light the fire inside ourselves and highlight the need that dwells within.  We can practice putting ourselves in situations where we are forced to do things differently.  And by creating new ways of doing things, we bring more spirituality into our lives!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Pop Culture Paganism

Pop Culture Paganism is something that has a strange reputation in the Pagan world.  As a community, we are still struggling for acceptance, and so many people try to distance themselves from anything that makes what we do seem silly or pushes the boundaries of make believe.

Pop Culture Paganism does exactly what many Pagan's are trying to convince people that we don't do:  treat fantasy elements as reality.  At it's base, Pop Culture Paganism takes things that exist in our modern popular culture and uses them as part of a religious or spiritual practice.  Pop Culture Paganism draws influence from tv shows, movies, cartoons, books and even real life people.  This may mean using energies that are from an Anime in a ritual, calling upon a character from a book as part of a spell, working with deities from a movie or using pictures of people on your altar.

While of course there are always people who make light of such practices, more interested in being a fan of a show than actually making a serious practice of it, there are others who really identify with and find a deep connection to the images and worlds that they have grown up with.

What I think is sort of fascinating is that if you think about it, the myths and legends that we associate with ancient cultures are in some ways the equivalent of their TV shows.  When children were growing up and hearing tales of the adventures of Hercules or Beowolf, then it only makes sense that when they need guidance or spiritual comfort those would be the figures to whom they would turn.  The stories they heard all their lives would be the ones they shaped their personal practices around.

Why then is it so strange that modern Pagans may do the same thing?  If you grew up watching Charmed, that world and it's magical rules and traditions would be not only familiar but comforting to you.  If you needed protection, you might call upon things from that world that make you feel safe.

In many ways, these Pop Culture universes are closer to us than the legends of ancient cultures.  Not only have times changed, and so the challenges and issues we face today are not the same ones faced by our ancestors, but we didn't grow up hearing those stories, so those worlds aren't as familiar to us.  If I am having trouble with bullies at school, finding advice and guidance in old myths will be much harder than thinking of episodes in a show I watched all the time growing up.  On the other side, reading a myth about the horror of a bad harvest doesn't instill the same level of dread as it did in days past, so many of the old stories are hard for modern practitioners to identify with.

I definitely understand how Pop Culture Paganism may be hard to explain to non-Pagans in a way that doesn't make us all seem like we are just caught up in a fantasy world, but there are many things we do that are hard to explain.  If we pushed away everyone who did something that wasn't easily explained, there would be no Paganism left.  I don't think the answer should be to turn on people who's practice is different from our own, but to try to understand it better, so that when we are faced with questions we can explain things more accurately in order to bring greater understanding to the world.

Personally, I have no problem with working with ideas, people or energies as they are explained in works of fiction.  I feel that the ideas are where the power is.  We empower things by focusing on them with the right intent. 

I know this gets tricking for a lot of people when it comes to deities.  I think that divinity is one of those things that we can't accurately comprehend or explain.  When it comes to the idea of worshiping or calling upon deities that originate from fictional sources, I take a bit of a multi-verse perspective.  There is a theory about reality that postulates that for every idea someone has ever had, there is a universe out there somewhere where that idea is a reality.  By this train of thought, there is a Buffy universe, where all the things we have watched on the show actually happened.  In that universe, it is all very real, and perhaps our universe is someone's creative writing project for a college English paper (how is that for something to wrap your head around!)

I also think that sometimes the beings we work with fall into the category of 'other':  they may not be deities in some definitions of the word, but they are capable of more than we are.  In this way, I take a very practical approach.  If I do a spell or ritual and call upon a character from my favorite book, perhaps wanting to draw upon some of their qualities in my own life, and it works, then I am not overly fussed about the categorization of the being I called upon. 

One theory I have heard to explain this also speaks to why older deities are seen by many as being less powerful now than they are in the stories.  This goes back to attention and energy.  During the height of their respective cultures, individual deities might have been worshiped and fed energy by so many people that they grew in power.  They were able to create more because more people believed in their power.  As the culture faded or was conquered by another, those same deities lost power because they were no longer the focus of the worship of the masses. 

By this train of thought, fictional beings could be drawn into power an existence as masses of fans obsess over them.  As more people start working with them, these beings become able to give more in return.

I think the ideas proposed by Pop Culture Paganism are much deeper than they appear on the surface.  When you start to think about how and why things work (and how and why they used to work), there is a lot to be pondered on and figured out.  Just because someone works with My Little Ponies, doesn't mean they don't have a full and viable practice. 

So the next time you hear about Pop Culture Paganism, consider listening to what the people who are doing it are saying.  Think about the implications of their practice, and make your own observations about how series they are about what they do.  There are as many ways to be a Pagan as there are Pagans, so embrace your fellows and learn about what other people are doing.  You may find yourself pleasantly surprised!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Testing your Boundaries

I think that growth and pushing our boundaries is important.  I've always been one to sort of poke the things I'm afraid of, because I don't want to be trapped by fear.  But I also know that there is a fine line between healthy growth and being shoved so far out of your comfort zone that it actually becomes problematic.

Fear exists to  keep us safe.  Fear is what prevents us from touching fire or from wandering around in the dark where we can't see danger.  But in many ways our fear responses have not caught up with modern life.  So we develop fears for things that aren't dangerous in the same way:  fear of being rejected, fear of loss, fear of failure.  Even though these things aren't deadly in the traditional sense, our fear response doesn't know this, and so we react as if it were a serious threat.

Sometimes, we can face our fears and by doing things we are uncomfortable with we stretch our boundaries and grow and our fears become diminished.  This is a very healthy thing to do.  It pushes us out past where we feel safe and we have to learn how to navigate in this new space.  We build new boundaries, but they now include areas that were once 'unsafe' to us.

But sometimes we get forced outside our boundaries and it breaks something inside us because we weren't ready.  I don't think that people can be permanently broken, but I do think that sometimes fixing the broken parts of our Self requires a ton of work...way  more than it would have taken to safely expand our boundaries and work through the initial fears that were holding us back.  I also think there is a very real danger that if we are too broken, we can't see that light at the end of the tunnel, all we can see is the broken pieces and this becomes a new cage that keeps us bound up tighter than we were before.  We might also find that we can't bear the thought of living in this new place, and this leads to a risk of doing serious harm to ourselves before we can work our way out of the dark place we are in.

I have seen a lot of cute analogies about breaking through boundaries.  One I particularly like is how a seed must break through it's shell in order to grow.  And this is definitely a good analogy for healthy growth.  Inside the shell, the little seedling is safe.  It starts to grow and soon is pressed up against the inside of the shell.  And still it grows, making the shell no longer a nice safe place, but instead a stifling restriction.  So the seedling pushes even harder, cracking open the shell and opening itself to the dangers of the greater world.

The seed will never become a plant, it will never realize it's potential, if it stays safe within it's shell.  It has to crack and break free and expand in order to become a plant.  The same way we must sometimes push through our own boundaries in order to grow into our own potential.  If we stay bound up in the safe places, we never allow ourselves to bloom.

But another analogy comes to mind that demonstrates the flip side of breaking out of boundaries.  A caterpillar enters into a cocoon as part of it's transition to becoming a butterfly.  Much like the seed, it will eventually need to break free from it's safe cocoon in order to fly.   But the struggle of cracking the cocoon and forcing it's way out is part of what makes it ready for flight.  If an outside source sees the struggle and decides to 'help' cutting away the cocoon to make the process easier, the butterfly won't be able to fly.

I think this beautifully illustrates part of why struggle is healthy for us.  Sometimes, we want to fly to new heights, but if someone lifts us up, we haven't worked our way up, and the new heights can be terrifying.  We can find ourselves where we thought we wanted to be, but because we didn't make our way there ourselves, we may not have the tools to be able to survive.  We may cower in fear, afraid of falling, because we didn't experience the climb up to where we were.

And worse, while in the cocoon, the caterpillar isn't even a caterpillar, but it dissolves into a sort of caterpillar soup:  a goo that contains all the memories of the caterpillar but can't exist on it's own.  If the cocoon is opened too soon, there isn't anything inside that can come out...no butterfly, no caterpillar...just goo.

Sometimes it feels like this when we are pushed to do things we just aren't ready for.  When someone else is trying to shove you outside your boundaries, you may not be able to cope.  The difference between being released from your cocoon as a flightless butterfly and coming out as goo is a matter of scope.  If we are close to being ready to push through, we may be crippled when we come out, but if we are no where near ready then we can be completely incapacitated.

As I said earlier, I am a big believer in the resilience of people.  I think that we can recover from pretty much anything.  But just because we 'can', just because it is within the realm of possibility, doesn't mean that we will.  Some things scar us and we bear those scars for the rest of our life.  They may be superficial scars, things that are seen but don't hold us back in any serious way.  For example, if you had a bad experience after being pushed to speak in front of a group when you weren't ready, you may always remember that moment when you go to speak in front of a group in the future, but it may stay just a memory.  You remember it and you move on.

On the other hand, scars can limit us as well.  That same type of experience could have caused you to have a nervous reaction in the future.  You may feel faint and even pass out at just the thought of getting up in front of a group of people to talk.  It may take you a lifetime to work through this.

What we don't know, and I am not sure we can ever know, is what would have happened if we were allowed to grow on our own terms.  The butterfly knows when it is ready to break free from it's cocoon, just as the seed knows when it's time to crack it's shell.  Perhaps you would always have a fear of speaking in public.  Perhaps you would never feel comfortable in front of a group.  But if we are pushed before we are ready, we never have the opportunity to see what we might have accomplished.

Some amount of encouragement is a good thing.  I personally know that there are many things I am uncomfortable doing, and some of them I would never attempt if someone else wasn't cheering (or pushing) me into them.  But ultimately the decision to do a thing should be mine.  It is one thing to encourage someone to jump into the water and learn to swim...and another thing entirely to shove them into the water when they are begging you not to.

We have to learn to gauge our own fears, to open our eyes and examine each fear.  Listen to what the fear is telling us.  Let yourself sit with your fear for a little while, and see how uncomfortable it makes you.  Sometimes, if we let ourselves experience our fear instead of immediately running the other direction, we find that after those first few moments, things start to settle down.  We start to wrap our head around the idea and no longer feel paralyzed by it.

This is how I feel when I think about teaching.  A big part of me really wants to teach.  I love sharing knowledge (which is one reason why I love blogging!), and I enjoy talking to people, so teaching should be something I enjoy doing.  But I definitely have issues about any kind of formal teaching situation.  If it is just a casual conversation and someone asks me a question, I can answer no problem.  If there is a set time and an official 'I am teaching this subject in a class' situation, then I start to freeze up.

I have to really practice, go over what I may say, remind myself constantly that I will be fine, reassure myself that I have valid information to share.  I will be nervous right up to the moment I start talking, and then most of my anxiety goes away.  I've always been this way with any kind of performance, speech, demonstration or other situation where it's me presenting to a group.

But, sometimes, when we sit with a fear, it starts to grow.  It begins to overshadow everything else, and all we can do is fall prey to the fear.  These are things that we may not be ready to face right now.  We may have to work long and hard to start to approach these fears.  They may be things we have to break into smaller chunks in order to work with, or we may need to call upon friends and allies to face them.

For a long time I have had a pretty irrational fear of falling.  Not of heights, I'm actually pretty good about heights.  But the actual falling, the sensation of falling, triggers me.  It doesn't matter how far the fall is, it's the feeling you get while falling that I can't handle.

Many years ago, while I was in a JROTC spring camp, we had different exercises and challenges to do.  One of them was an obstacle course, and one of the obstacles was a rope that was hanging over a shallow pit, and there was a log across the path on the other side of the pit.  You had to grab the rope, swing over the little pit and then get yourself over the log.  The log wasn't even that tall, perhaps chest height.

But I was having trouble with it, and when I couldn't get over the log, I would swing backwards on the rope, and get the sensation of falling.  It was only a couple of failed attempts before I was starting to have a serious panic attack.  I was shaking and just the idea of trying again made me feel light headed.

At the time, I wasn't ready to face that particular fear.  I now feel that my issues with falling stem from a greater fear about being out of control.  When I am helpless, when there is nothing I can do to make a situation better, that is terrifying to me.  Things that manifest this fear for me include falling, people being sick or injured, flying in a plane...pretty much any situation that I can't do anything to effect the outcome of. 

It is something I have worked with quite a bit, and continue to work with.  There are some facets of it I can now handle.  I went to a ropes course a couple of years ago, and every time I had to walk to the edge of the platform and jump off (while fully in a harness and strapped in), I had to face that fear.  There was that moment of falling each time before the harness caught and you slid along the rope.  That I could manage.  I did not choose to go on the 'jump off the platform and experience freefall for 20 feet' however.

The things we fear are very personal.  Our fears may not even register to someone else, and yet they are very real to us.  Never let someone else belittle you for the things you fear.  Trust your instincts and trust how you feel.  Honor your fears and work with them to understand why you feel the way you do and what you might need to do to start working through them.

We may never fully overcome our fears, but we can learn to manage them.  We can learn to push through them when we need to.  And I think one of the best ways to do this is to keep poking at them.  Find where your line is, where your boundaries are.  See where you feel safe and where you don't.  And start to approach that line.

You may not be able to cross it at first.  It may take everything in you to just get close to it and stand there.  But, over time, you may find that you can stand there for longer and longer.  Then you may take a tiny step forward.  You may be able to take a little step forward every time you try, or you may not.  Do what you can do!  Eventually, you may find that you can cross a toe over that line.  You may need to retreat from time to time, and that is okay too!  Just because one day you could stand right at the line and the next day you can't even get within arm's reach doesn't mean you are failing.  Sometimes we have to push ourselves harder and then take a bit of a rest and let ourselves acclimatize.

Let yourself remember the seedling, and how it grew and grew inside it's shell until it was pressed in so tight that it had to crack the shell.  Grow yourself until you must push on your boundaries, because then you will be ready to be bigger than you were.  Remember the caterpillar goo, and let yourself stay safe in your cocoon until you are ready to become the butterfly.  Remember the butterfly who has to push and strive and force their way out of the cocoon in order to be strong enough to fly and know that all the struggles you have along the way, every time that boundary pushes back or pinches in on you, it is only preparing you for what waits on the other side.  Poke your boundaries, and keep poking them until you have pushed them back to where you want to be.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Solitary at a Festival

For most of my spiritual life, I've been solitary.  I've had a working partner, briefly was in the process of interviewing a coven, and now I have some amazing friends that I get together with regularly and we share spiritual practices, but the bulk of what I do is on my own. 

I think this is a pretty common thing, now a days.  Many people are cultivating a private practice that my sometimes include other people, but their day-to-day workings are done alone.  And yet many of us still love to get together with others of like mind for gatherings, festivals or other events.

Going to an event can be intimidating, especially if you are going alone.  My very first event was a Pagan Pride Day gathering a couple of years after I started my personal practice.  I didn't know anyone that was going to be there, and was definitely timid about going.  Being my first public gathering, I also had absolutely no clue what to expect.

The Pagan Pride Day I went to wasn't very well organized.  There were a handful of booths, and I think that there was a ceremony or circle planned for later in the day, but I wasn't there for it so I am not sure.  I wandered about the booths, talked to the vendors and then went on my way.

Since then, I have attended other gatherings, from small meetups to larger, weekend-long camping festivals.  Sometimes I have been on my own, sometimes hubby came along for moral-support (and safety), and sometimes I have gone with friends.

While we each have our own comfort levels, I would encourage people who are interested in attending a larger gathering to drum up their courage and give it a try.  There is a wonderful energy at gatherings, and it is one thing I miss in my solitary practice.

Definitely be safe!  If you are going to a gathering alone, keep your phone and make sure people know where you are going to be and when you are expected to be home.  I don't think it is necessary to be super paranoid, but those are pretty solid cautions for anyone going to a big gathering of any kind.

Also, trust your instincts!  If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, excuse yourself from the situation.  Find someone you feel safe around, or find a larger group you can join up with.  If you have to, leave.  But I do think that there are more friendly and welcoming people out there than ones who set off our danger senses.

I am lucky that I am fairly outgoing and enjoy talking to people, but I know that not everyone is.  If larger groups make you nervous, look for people in smaller groups you can talk to.  You can ask around and find out what type of classes, workshops or events are going to take place and see which ones sound good to you.

Public rituals can be intimidating too, even if they are smaller.  Ritual space, to me, is very intimate, and stepping into ritual space with strangers takes me slightly out of my comfort zone (even if their are familiar faces in the circle as well).  If you are nervous about a ritual, ask the people in charge what you can expect from the ritual and what will be expected of you.  Some rituals may require participation, while others may let you take part without taking an active role. 

The rituals I have been a part of have always encouraged people to take part, but if someone wasn't comfortable, no one was forced to talk, or share or take any action.  For me, if I know what I may be expected to do ahead of time, it is easier for me to be comfortable than if I am asked to do something on the spot.  So finding out what to expect can help to ease you in and let you prepare (even for something as simple as stating something you may wish to release into the fire).

Gatherings may be highly organized or very laid back, or anywhere in between.  Many times a festival will at least have a rough outline and schedule, though this may be subject to change.  It is really easy to get caught up in conversation or for classes to run over, so it is a good idea to expect any time frames given to be approximations.  Keep an ear out if you have activities you really want to attend, to make sure you don't miss any changes.

I definitely find that having friends along, even if I'm not always right there with them, makes a gathering more comfortable for me.  It's the safety blanket...I know that if I am nervous or shy I can go and hang out with the people I know and don't have to be standing there alone.  But I have made wonderful new friends at gatherings, and it is definitely something that I feel enhances my personal path.

I find that medium sized gatherings are great if you aren't a very outgoing person.  Too small of a gathering and you may feel like all eyes are on you, and too big of a gathering can be overwhelming.  But in the middle, between fifteen to thirty people, there are enough people that you won't feel like the only new one or like you have to talk to everyone, but there won't be so many people as to feel smothering.

Another thing that I find wonderful about festivals is the sharing of other's paths.  I love taking part in rituals or classes that are outside of my own practices.  Many times I will find bits and ideas that will become part of my own practice.  Even if it is something I might never work into my own path, to have experienced it is a wonderful thing.

Each gathering has it's own energy, and no two will be the same, even if it is all the same people attending!  This is one of the things that makes gatherings so magical.  I think it is important to remember to just take each moment as it comes.  Enjoy what is going on and don't let your expectations sour your experience.  Find people who are interesting and talk to them (or just listen to them if you aren't comfortable talking to new people).  Take a peek into other people's paths.

And don't forget to connect with people you have met and want to remain in contact with.  So many of us have a digital presence now, it is much easier (and safer) to keep in touch with people you have met at gatherings, even if they aren't near your home.  Distance need not be a limiting factor, and you can develop rich friendships with people you may have only met face-to-face once many years ago.

So I definitely recommend attending festivals, for pretty much anyone!  If you don't feel comfortable going alone, see if you have friends who might like to go with you.  Seek out gatherings that fit your personal interests and comfort levels.  Give yourself permission to try something new!  And go with the flow.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Managing your time

Time is the one thing we have in absolute finite quantities.  Everyone gets the same amount of time, and though you can use resources (like friends or family or money) to leverage your time (and get more things done by delegating out less pleasant (but necessary) tasks, there are many things we want to do that we either must or choose to do on our own.  And so, being able to use the time we have effectively is a skill that helps you in all aspects of your life.

But I think it is especially relevant in our spiritual lives, as there are so many things that just can't be delegated out.  Meditation, prayer, ritual work...if these are part of your path, they are things that you must do personally.  And spiritual life is easy to loose track of, because we want to be in the right mental and emotional space, we want to have the perfect setting, and sometimes in the hustle and bustle of daily life, we just never get around to it.

I think the first thing that many of us come to realize is that if we wait for the 'perfect' setting, we never get things done.  I can't wait for the house to be alone, for a day where I have hours unplanned, for days where I feel calm and peaceful and innately spiritual to practice.  My daily life is a scheduling nightmare sometimes, and things pop up that I don't know about.  Between hubby and son, there aren't always times where I will have the house to myself (with peace and quiet....and there are still neighbors to deal with).  And to be honest, I have more 'not quite right' days when it comes to physical/mental/emotional well-being than I do good days (many weeks, it's a matter of picking out the best of what I've got).

I don't feel like picking the best choice out of a handful of less than ideal choices is compromising my spiritual beliefs in any way.  In some ways I think it is actually a testament of faith to keep at it when you may not feel quite up to it or when there is a lot going on.  I also don't think that there is anything wrong with adapting to meet your needs of the day, even if that means doing things very differently than your usual or from how you were taught.  If I am having a very rough day and have a pounding headache, a full ritual with lots of candles (light), chanting (noise/drums), incense (smoke) might be completely out of the question, but siting in the dark in quiet meditation and contemplating what the ritual I had planned means to me or what the deeper essence of it is might be just right.

We all have our own personal rhythms as well.  We may be aware of them, or we may need to start becoming aware of them.  I know that, while I may not particularly like mornings, I am typically very productive in the morning.  Afternoons are almost always a bad time for me, and some evenings I can call up a second wind and get a lot done once the sun goes down.  So even though I'm not a morning person, I know that if I have a busy day, I need to dive right in because if I put things off, I can end up stressing myself out and trying to work through serious mental fog (which means things take even longer and feel more tortuous than they need to!)

I desire a lot of structure, so I like to plan things out.  I do a lot of planning, both on paper and in my head.  I pretty  much always have my days planned out, even if that plan is to read a novel, watch a tv show or play a game.  I typically know what I am going to eat the day before.  I just feel more secure if I have things planned out.

Oddly enough, I am also really good under the wire.  I know that when push comes to shove I can get things done.  I am pretty stubborn about it, and have a decent idea about my own capabilities.  My big writing push in November always pushes my limits, but I have finished my goals for over ten years.  This means days of serious writing, where I write over 5k words a day (of brand new content...so coming up with enough ideas to write about as well as actually getting the words out).  So when my carefully laid out (and much thought over plan) goes out the window, I adjust it on the fly and keep on going.

This might not work for you at all.  I know the idea of planning things out or working on the same thing every day just flat out doesn't work for some people.  That is fine!  The big thing is figuring out what works for you.  Perhaps you need to pick one day a week to really dive deep into one specific project.  Then the rest of the week, you don't even think about it, but that one day you can devote yourself to it.

When it comes to our spirituality, this may mean that you plan out what you are going to do and when you are going to do it ages in advance.  Much of my daily routine I have built up over many years, and now it is just a part of my day, I don't even have to think about it.  But if I don't write things like Sabbats down in my calendar, they sneak up on me and have passed before I even start thinking about them, because they aren't an every day thing.

I have done quite a lot of virtual rituals in the past couple of years, and these can be really great.  Some are hosted live, so you can hear and talk to or even video chat with the other people who are participating.  Others have all the ritual information posted up for every participant to do at their own leisure.  It sounds a little odd, if you've never done it, but it can be quite surprising to realize how much it means to know that there are other people, all over the world, doing the same ritual with you (I definitely think of time as very fluid when it comes to ritual, and can feel the energy of other participants).

You also don't have to start with a huge ritual.  I think that often we feel like we have to do this whole big thing, but really, if you are on your own and just starting out, your rituals may be very simple.  It might consist of calling the elements and casting a circle and just meditating on what the ritual means to you or journaling about it.  You might want to think about one simple action, perhaps writing a goal on a sheet of paper and blessing it for a talisman or charging a candle with something you want to release, and have that be the center of your ritual.  As you do the same ritual more times, you can add a little more to it each time, until you feel it is where you want it to be.  That way, you can build up to the larger, more complex ritual without having to do all the work all at once.

There is a common conception that if something is important enough, you will find time for it, but I absolutely think that is a false premise.  Spirituality is important to many people, but there are other things that are also important.  And sometimes we don't get to pick and choose when to do certain things.  If we want a roof over our heads and food on the table, we have to work, and work picks what our hours are.  We may want to change jobs to find something we like better, but aren't willing to quit what we have before we find a better option.

We may have family that puts obligations on us, and we my be unable or unwilling to prioritize ourselves over our family.  I think that family is often a very tricky subject for a lot of people, and we each have to sort out where our lines are.  I very much want to spend time with my family, to do things for them and to take care of them.  But I also know that if I never take time for myself, I get cranky and am miserable to be around.  So in order to better serve my family I need to take care of myself (before I get out of sorts).

And I very much think that rest time includes recreation, which is a part of our good personal health.  If we only work or do things that we feel we should be doing (which may include some of our spiritual practice), then we aren't refreshing ourselves.  We start to get in a rut, and nothing seems as important as it used to, and we start to not do as well at things as we should.  Finding time to do things you enjoy, JUST because you want to do them is vital to our well being.  Make time for the things that you want to do.

This may mean really paying attention and listening to what you need right now.  You may have made other plans, but realize you have to change them.  Or you may be starting to plan out all the things you need to do next week and have to prioritize which ones get done and which ones get put off.  If you are constantly putting of your personal desires, you may want to rethink some of your other responsibilities.  There may be ways you can get them done quicker or get help doing them so that you can give your own desires and needs some attention.

Life is always changing, and we are always adapting to it.  When we get stuck in a routine, we may not notice that circumstances have changed, and so we keep on doing what we have always done, and either fall behind or don't make the most of what we now have.  It is always good to take a moment from time to time, to check out where we are at, to see what has changed, and to figure out if we need to make any adjustments.  The more we pay attention to the things we are doing and how our time is being spent, the better we can manage the time we have.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Working with Emotions

I actually dreamed about writing this blog.  Sometimes, when I am laying down to sleep, and I know I have something to do the next day that requires some creative inspiration (like writing a blog!), I'll ask for inspiration while I dream.  I had this dream about my mom and a sister (which I don't have...) getting into an argument, and struggling to overcome the emotions involved in order to work things out.  And I remember clearly thinking, while dreaming, that this was what I was to blog about.

I almost scrapped it when I woke up.  I thought it was something I have blogged about before (though a quick check over the last year and a half doesn't show any obviously similar blogs...I really need to get better with my blog labels).  And I wasn't sure it really fit with the stuff I typically write about.

But the more I got to thinking about it, the more I was leaning towards writing it.  As an empath, I deal with emotions all the time (both my own innate emotions, as well as borrowed ones).  I also feel that we all interact with others in many different ways, and when emotions rear their heads, being able to navigate those emotions is helpful for anyone.  And finally, if I am going to ask for inspiration I shouldn't ignore what I receive.

So, when thinking about emotions, I think there are three basic categories:  personal emotions, borrowed emotions and other people's emotions.  Personal emotions are ones that well up from inside of you, are inspired by experiences in your own life and are innate to yourself.  Borrowed emotions are ones we feel because of some outside source.  This is typically what I think of when I think of emotions bleeding over as an empath.  If I see a commercial on the tv and start feeling emotional, that is a borrowed emotion, just as if I am around another person who is deep in an emotion so I start feeling it too.  Other people's emotions are the things they are feeling and going through while you are interacting with them.  Even if you aren't borrowing their emotion, trying to work with someone who is deeply sad or caught up in anger requires separate tools.

I think it best to start with personal emotions, as they are ours.  Everyone feels stuff, and you may notice that you have certain emotions that you feel easier than others.  I definitely have my share of anger (and the deep, brooding kind, not the flash in the pan kind) as well as a sort of baseline melancholy.  Over the last couple of years, I feel like I have developed a lot of anxiety around different things.  I definitely feel happy and content a lot of the time, but I also don't feel like those emotions need dealing with.  When I have emotions I need to sort out it is almost always anger, sadness, anxiety/fear or confusion.

My basic process for working with emotions is to really express them.  For me this typically manifests in two methods:  physical expression and journal work.  Physical expression doesn't always mean that I go outside and scream out my anger to the sky (although that can work..assuming that your neighbors don't call the cops on you), but it definitely involves some kind of physical action.  Sometimes, if I know I am angry, but I also know that the thing I am angry about isn't worth making a fuss about (I do get angry for no good reason sometimes...especially when I'm emotionally off kilter and something small and trivial sets me off).  At times like this, repetitive action works very well to help me burn off that emotion.  So I clean!  I will find something in the house that needs cleaned, and really go to town on it.  But other repetitive things can work too:  sewing, sanding, folding laundry...really anything that gets my body moving and lets my mind tune out.

I also like to dance as a form of physical expression.  I'll load up a song that really fits my mood and start moving.  It doesn't have to look pretty (I do this when I'm alone mostly), and you don't have to match the beat or anything.  Just loose yourself in the music and move!  Sometimes I'll sing along if I feel the need to.

But my favorite way to work through emotions is journaling.  I've worked with quite a few different methods of journaling now, from more or less standard "write about what your feeling" to very specific techniques that use journaling as part of something bigger.

One of the first emotional journaling techniques I learned I called the brain dump.  You grab some kind of paper (something that you can destroy later), and write everything and anything, as fast as you can.  Scribble out your feelings!  Write big and angry and fierce.  Don't worry about grammar or anything like that, you can make little doodles if you need to, or just write single words.  Just write until you feel like you are done.  Once your page is written, you may want to do a little ritual of releasing.  You can crumple up your page and hold it tight in your hands and whisper to it the reasons you appreciate the emotion but don't need it controlling you right now.  You can bless the paper to transform the emotion into something else.  Then you destroy it!  Tear it into little pieces, burn it, flush it down the toilet, bury it in the back yard. 

A slightly different version of this is the 'to whom it may concern' version.  This time, you are writing a letter, to someone who is making you feel what you are going through.  It may be to a specific person (your mother, an ex-partner, your gym teacher, your boss, the guy who cut me off on the road today, my younger self) or it may be a generic letter, addressed to the universe or to Divinity.  In the letter, you pour out all the things you are feeling.  You can say those things that you wish you could say (but often don't really mean) or the things you wish you had said (but didn't).  These letters can be burnt as well, to send the message out into the world.  I find this works really well when my emotion is directly aimed at a particular person.

I am really enjoying transformational journaling right now.  I'll start by journaling about a topic, then I'll transform my journal page in some way.  I may meditate on what I need to move forward and then paint or collage a new image over the words.  Or I might tear up my journal page and use those pieces to make a mojo bag or paper mache them into a totem to further work with that emotion.  The key here is to take the thing you wrote and turn it into something new, something that helps you further your work with that emotion.

When it comes to borrowed emotions, I find that the first thing I need to do is identify the source of the emotion (especially noticing that it is NOT my own emotion).  Even if I use one of the same methods to work with the emotion, I need to be aware that it is from an outside source and not an internal one, because that changes how I respond to the emotion.  If I treat a borrowed emotion as a personal one (or vice versa....) trying to work with it becomes much harder as I am not actually working with the source of the emotion, merely treating the symptoms (which often means it will come back).

I am extremely emotionally tied to the stories I encounter, in books and tv/movies.  It is very common for me to identify quite strongly with a character, to the point of going through the emotional states they go through.  Most of the time this isn't a problem....unless I don't finish the story!  If I set a particularly moving book down when I am only halfway through, especially if the character I am identifying with is caught up in a big emotional conflict, I will find myself manifesting that emotion myself.  The easiest way for me to fix this is to finish the story.  But, if for some reason I can't, I can pick up another story and essentially overwriting the emotion with new ones (which I can then see to completion).

When borrowing emotions from other people, I definitely turn to shielding.  I like knowing what other people around me are feeling, but I don't always want to be going through it myself.  I also feel it is very important, especially when I am trying to interact with someone who is going through an emotion, that I not because lost in it myself.  This becomes particularly counterproductive.  If you have a friend who is sad and you want to help them, but instead you join in their misery, you may find yourself not able to actually help them.  If you are in an argument with someone and you let their anger overcome you, it becomes much harder to present your perspective in a way that they will understand and appreciate.

My first step when shielding a borrowed emotion is definitely a deep breath and grounding/centering.  I want to pull myself back into myself, so that I can separate what is me from what is coming from outside.  For borrowed emotions, I think of my shields like glass:  I can see what is going on outside them, but things can't get in to me.  This way I can still empathize with the other person, but I am no longer borrowing their emotions and being effected by them.

Sometimes, a borrowed emotion will trigger a personal emotion though, and you will need to work with both sources at the same time.  If you only work with one, you won't fully work through the emotion. 

I think the hardest thing for many people to work with is other people's emotions.  There is a tendency (especially with empaths!) to treat other people's emotions as you would your own.  But not only do we all often respond to the same emotion in different ways.....other people's emotions aren't truly yours to deal with!  We can work with other people and help them work out their emotions, or we can work around someone else's emotions, but the work of actually dealing with the emotion has to fall on them.

My husband and I are a great example of how emotions manifest differently in different people.  He is very much a flash in the pan anger person.  He will get set off by something (things that, to me, seem silly and inconsequential) and his anger will flare!  He will get very angry, very quickly, and rant and rave.  But two seconds later, once the stimulus is past, he is over it.  Like absolutely over it, and confused by why I am still even thinking about it.  I, on the other hand, stew.  When something makes me angry, it will be like a little glowing coal deep inside me, and it will stay there for days or months.  I may not look angry on the outside, but that anger is there, waiting to burst into flame.

If I try to treat my husband's anger like I do my own, it doesn't work.  When I am really upset about something, I often want to talk about it.  My husband, in the throes of anger, just wants to lash out and burn it off.  Trying to talk to him just fans the fire.  Instead, if I remove myself from the situation or tune it out, it passes quickly.  So what I have found is that it is important to make sure you are thinking about other people's emotions from their own perspective, and not yours.

Sometimes this means that you have to give the other person time to work things through before you try to interact with them.  I think this is especially true for both grief and anger.  Some people need to figure things out on their own, before they can deal with other people.  If you try to interact with them too soon, they lash out or close up, because they just aren't ready yet.

Other people need support, they need someone to help them drag themselves those first few steps.  They may need a shoulder to lean on (or cry on).  You may not need to do anything at all, just to be there.  In this case, you might need to resist the urge to try to help them too soon.  They may need to fully express their emotions before they can start to work on them.

Emotions are ultimately a very tricky and individual thing.  Your emotions are different from my emotions, and I need to remember that when working with someone else who is in the throes of an emotion.  But my own emotions also stem from many different sources and I need to do my best to fully understand where an emotion is coming from in order to work through it.  And all anger isn't the same, what works for one situation might not work for another. 

By figuring out your general process for identifying and working through emotions, you can have a roadmap that helps you plan out how to work with any particular emotion.  Like any plan, you may have to adjust it along the way, but it will at least get you headed in the right direction.  And the more work you do with your personal emotions, the better you will become at working with other people who are caught up in their own emotional crisis.  Emotions can be overwhelming, but they don't have to be insurmountable!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Sink or Swim

I think that a lot of spiritual practice can be intimidating, especially if it is something far from what you grew up with.  Many Pagan paths emphasize solo work, even when you have a regular group to work with, as your regular daily practice will be done on your own.  And of course practices like divination, meditation, visualization are highly dependent on your own skills and abilities.

Not only is there a lot of personal work and growth to be done, but many times there aren't clear instructions laid out for you to follow, especially if you don't have a teacher or tradition you are learning from.  You may not know which practices to work on first or even how to approach any given practice.  There may be a dozen or more ways that you have read about, and many of those may say that they are the best (or only) way to do things.

It is easy to get caught up in doing 'more research'.  Of course it is often a good idea to read up on the things you are wanting to learn, and it can definitely save you a lot of time by explaining basic methods or telling you what common mistakes you can avoid. 

But at some point you have to accept the idea that you may never feel 'prepared enough' and that you just have to jump in and get your feet wet.  There is only so far you can go through reading and researching.  No matter how many different sources you read, some things just don't click until you have done them yourself.

Spirituality and magical practice both often involve a certain amount of trial and error.  There are struggles along the way, as you figure out what methods work for you and how to overcome the natural obstacles that stand in your way.  Luckily, if you have done some amount of research, you probably are starting with simpler practices first, and so setbacks aren't as bad.  Much like how babies learn to crawl before they walk and walk before they run, you will practice the easier skills and get a handle on them before you work on harder things.  And if you stumble while crawling, you may get a bit of a shock and possibly a little bruise, but it is much safer than trying to run without learning to walk first.

I am an avid researcher.  I love to read about anything and everything I can get my hands on.  I often find myself dragging my feet at the thought of actually practicing new skills, and I feel that a big part of that is fear of failure.  I feel pretty serious stage fright and anxiety when I think about sharing my own knowledge with other people in any kind of a formal situation, which is sort of funny because I love to talk about things casually with about anyone. 

When I push myself through that fear though, and actually get on with the doing, whether it is trying a new method for personal use or actually sharing my experiences with others, I find that the fear diminishes.  I don't always succeed at the things I try, but trying and stumbling or making mistakes is still easier for me to manage than never trying at all.

I think that is a big mental obstacle that many people have to overcome when they are starting out (or at any plateau along the way).  We feel like there is something horrible that will happen if we don't get things 'right'.  And there are definitely some serious practices out there that have serious consequences when things go sideways.  But for the most part, what happens when you don't succeed is, at most, a minor setback.  Often the only thing that happens when you don't succeed is exactly that:  you don't succeed.

Take meditation for example.  Many people struggle with meditation, and put it off for a variety of reasons (they don't have time, they have little kids, there is a construction site next to their house).  But if you sit to meditate and you don't succeed..nothing bad actually happens!  And, I think that more people succeed than realize it.  Part of what I feel is the process of learning meditation is figuring out what it means to you.  Meditation isn't always hours of sitting perfectly still without a thought in your head.  It can mean different things at different times, and learning to recognize when you are meditating is as important (in my mind) as actually getting good at meditating.

Another area that I think a lot of people are quite hesitant to explore is divination.  Many people feel they need to undertake a full and complete study of the tarot, memorize the meaning of every card and know layers and layers of symbolism.  And that is a wonderful thing, if that is something that appeals to you.  But it isn't the only way to read cards, and plenty of people work with cards without knowing all of that (especially if you are reading a non-standard deck).  I feel that divination is more about figuring out how you relate to your divination tool of choice, and becoming comfortable with your own symbols and their meanings and learning to trust your readings.

And that is a huge undertaking right there:  learning to recognize your own personal take on things and accepting that what works for you...works for you!  There are lots of reasons to use the 'tried and true' ways of doing things.  Often the standard methods are standard for a reasons:  they work for the vast majority of people.  That doesn't mean that they work for everyone, nor that they are the best and most effective method for everyone.  But they are often a great place to start, and may save you a lot of time trying many different ways until you find what works for you.

The transition between trying to standard ways and really stepping into your own power is a big one, but I think it's one we all face eventually.  It isn't something that seems to be talked about a lot, and I think it needs to be.  I think that people need to understand that it is okay to be themselves, and that their personal perspective is what gives their path it's unique flavor and what works for them will create the strongest power in their practice.

So definitely read up on the things you want to learn.  See what other people have done, and listen to the warnings they have.  But don't let your fear hold you back, especially when the risks are small (or non-existent)!  Take appropriate precautions, but once you have, go for it!  Meditate, try your hand at divination, cast a circle, cast a spell!  See what you enjoy, and do more of it.  See what doesn't work for you and try something else.  Listen and be true to yourself.  Find your own way, for that will be the path that feels like home to you, the one that is truly yours!