Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Should Witches (and/or Pagans) celebrate Halloween?

Halloween has become a holiday that is known across the globe, though not every country celebrates it in any form.  When people think of Halloween, they think of scary movies, dressing up in costumes and children trick-or-treating.  There is a general frivolity that is associated with this holiday, more so than probably any other holiday.  It is very much about having a good time.

And yet, as Pagans and Witches, we celebrate Samhain at this time of year.  An observation of the thinning of the veil, a time to honor our ancestors.  We not only recognize those who are long gone, but also those who have crossed over in the past year.  It can be a very solemn time, and for many can be a time to mourn those we have lost.

At this time of year, I always see discussion about whether or not partaking in Halloween traditions makes our observance of Samhain somehow less.  And I get that we are still fighting to be taken seriously, and that, for many people, they look at Halloween and wonder how anyone could have serious religious associations with such a light hearted holiday.

But what I think a lot of people forget is that there are LOTS of other, mainstream religious holidays, that have quite frivolous secular holidays at the same time...and no one worries about observing both of those.  Sure, around Christmas, if you live in a very Christian area, you will see some amount of "put Christ back in Christmas", but I very rarely see people saying that if you put up stockings for Santa than you obviously aren't 'really Christian'.  And the same goes for Easter, I've never seen an attack on Easter baskets and egg hunts because it might mean that you aren't serious about the religious holiday.

So why do we feel that celebrating Halloween might somehow diminish our Samhain observation?  I think that sometimes we get so caught up in how other people might perceive or judge us, that we forget that often the best way to show people that we are serious and legitimate in what we do is to practice in the way that is meaningful to us and let that sincerity show through!

And I also think that it is an unfortunate assumption that 'serious' religious practice has to be somber and lacking any type of levity or fun.  Especially in a faith like Paganism, where we have gods of all sorts, and deities who embody fun, partying or laughter are common.  Looking at Samhain as an ancestor or passing over holiday, we also should consider that many cultures don't mourn their dead in the traditional way, but do celebrate and send them off with great parties!

Our ancestors were people, and some of them probably would get a great kick out of a rowdy party in their honor.  How we honor our dead is a very personal thing, and how I honor each of my ancestors might vary depending on who they were and my relationship with them.  I don't feel that death needs to always be treated like a horrible and sad thing.  I have watched people I care very deeply for waste away, and in the end, death was a kindness.  No matter how much I will miss them, or how much I wish they could have stayed in this world, I would not wish the life they had at the end to linger.  And I hope that they find joy and laughter and happiness in whatever comes after for them.

Our practice is what works for us.  And there is no reason to limit yourself and your practice based on what other people might think.  In fact, I feel that just gives what you do a feeling of falseness that many people can pick up on.  Do what is true for you!

I also think it really crazy that just because the two holidays land on the same day and share some similar iconology, that we feel we have to pick one or the other.  I see no reason why, as a Witch and Pagan, I can't attend a Samhain ritual and go to a Halloween dress up party!  And, if the group I am hosting ritual with is willing, why those two can't even be combined.

I love Halloween.  I love all the silly witch things, even the very stereotypical 'green skin hag with warts and a big crooked nose' ones.  I love skull everything (even the neon pink ones that really aren't my style).  I always get excited about the possibility of new clothes, and probably do the bulk of my clothes shopping around Halloween (and that's not just the old goth inside me...).  I scour stores for their post-Halloween sales, looking for interesting decorations that might be used throughout the year or on altars.

One of the things I love most about Halloween is that I think it helps break some of the barriers and fears about Witches and the Occult.  Sure, some people still take it as an 'evil' holiday, and warn innocent children about the dangers that might lurk about (when really, kids just want to dress up and get candy).  But so many more are open to things around this time, in the spirit of fun, that they might not ordinarily be.

Halloween was always the time to break out the Ouija boards, to talk about seances and ghost stories, and to play games like light as a feather.  It was a time when all things spooky and supernatural were accepted.  And sometimes those experiences translated into a better understanding of what we do and believe throughout the rest of the year. 

Dressing up has always been something I loved (and I still think it would be a wonderful world if we could all wear whatever we wanted every day...costume or not).  And for Halloween, I can embrace my inner child, dress however I want...and not feel judged.  I trick-or-treated until high school...not for the candy, just to dress up.  I loved taking my son out trick-or-treating, because I could dress up!  The other thing I love about dressing for Halloween is that it's not about the accuracy of your costume, it's about the spirit of it.  I can use plastic props or draw things on old clothes with markers and still have a fun costume...and it's all good!

And on a final note, I think that sometimes we need to have a good laugh at ourselves and at how people view us.  It helps take the sting out, helps to let us let go of resentment at being judged or not being taken seriously.  Life is too short to be serious all the time.  If you enjoy something, embrace it!  If you love Halloween....celebrate it!  And invite me!!!!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Creative costuming for everyday magic

One of the things I have always loved about Halloween is that it is a time of year dedicated to creating characters and dressing up.  As a writer and an RPG gamer, creating characters is a big part of what I do!  I love making up characters, giving them unique personalities and fully fleshed backgrounds.  And a big part of creating characters, for me, is knowing what they look like, including what they are wearing.

This, of course, makes dressing up for Halloween a ton of fun.  You can literally step into someone else, and be them for a night!  But there is a lot more potential for this when you think about applying it to other areas of your life.

I have written before about stepping into different personas in order to enhance different areas of your life, and how you can pick clothing or jewelry to enhance qualities you want to bring to your day.  But if you go beyond just picking clothes that evoke different emotions, you can build up characters that you then step into when you need to.

There are a lot of situations that I don't feel fully comfortable in.  Sometimes, it's a matter of wanting to be more of what other people expect of me, such as when I visit family.  Other times, it's just that I am not strong in certain social situations, and the anxiety creeps in, like when I have to talk to a group of unfamiliar people.

Some of these situations I can handle by just building up my shields and enhancing with clothing or jewelry that makes me feel stronger or more capable.  Much like putting on armor helps protect you, certain things I wear make me feel 'more' of different things.  But sometimes I need even more than that.

I think about creating characters for everyday use like playing 'what if' with my own history.  Who would I be IF I were comfortable in this situation?  Who would I be IF I were the type of person who matched my family?  Who would I be IF I was skilled at that thing that I feel like I struggle with?

If I start with that question, I can build up a character, who is me, but who is also subtly different....a tweaked version of my self who can handle whatever it is that I struggle with.  It's the combination of sameness and difference that makes this really effective.  I am not stepping completely outside of myself, so I don't feel as awkward.  Sort of like wearing someone else's clothing, the closer it is to something you might actually wear yourself, the less uncomfortable it will feel to wear them.

I think that our outlook (both clothing and how we carry ourselves) plays a huge role in how other people perceive us.  When we dress differently, or speak in a different manner, we may be treated differently.  This is especially true if people don't know you as well.  So changing your clothes really can make you a new person!

Not only that, but clothing that isn't necessarily part of your regular wardrobe is a signal to yourself to keep in character.  Much like how a costume helps an actor (and the audience) buy into the character they are playing, you can use your own wardrobe as a dressing room for costumes to help you step into the characters you need to portray.

Characters can be subtle.  One of the situations that I don't typically feel comfortable in is school events, where I am with other parents.  Hubby and I aren't typical parents, whatever that means.  It is quite possible everyone feels this way, but I definitely feel like I don't fit in with other somewhat polished adults.  My personal style of dress runs more towards witchy tee-shirts (which actually fit in this month!...but I wear them year round...) than blouses, and definitely leggings or shorts over any kind of skirt or dress.  So I always feel like the oddly dressed teen in a group of adults.

Just putting on my more dressy clothes could make me feel out of sorts, but I have worked at developing a character of 'me who is a responsible parent'.  The type of parent who doesn't forget engagements and might volunteer for things (which I pretty much will never do for school...I don't think I can take other people's kids in that kind of frequency).  The type of parent who knows other parents (I know exactly one other parent at my son's school.  I know way more of his friends than I know parents).  The type of parent who doesn't find most of the 'school spirit' as lame as her son finds it (seriously...pajama day..in high school...in October....who comes up with this stuff?).

But I can dress for the role, and become that type of person, for a few  hours, when I need to.  And a big part of it is practice.  It is building up that character, and having an image of her, fully fleshed in my head.  It's knowing how she would feel when she is sitting in the auditorium waiting for that school performance (probably not wishing she could be home playing video games..).  It's knowing that she would be perfectly comfortable talking to the people sitting next to her, or asking that question she needs the answer to (instead of wondering if she is the only one who doesn't know the thing).

And your costume doesn't have to be an exaggerated thing!  In fact, I find that the more subtle the better.  It is also a very personal thing.  I pick clothing that I feel looks polished, but that also makes me feel polished, even if it's to pay attention to what color my socks are.  I choose jewelry that looks nice, and that may have symbols that represent professionalism or competence to me.  It doesn't matter if anyone one else knows what the different things mean, what matter is that they help me stay in the character I have chosen.

It can be hard to work on new characters, especially for situations that you feel the most anxiety or fear about.  Troubling situations can break you out of a character, and put you back in the throes of that emotion that you are trying to overcome.  But, if you can start yourself thinking about the character, and you keep asking yourself 'what would that character do now?' and 'how would they feel about this?', it can actually help distract you from the overwhelming emotions and help you get yourself back on track.

When working with characters like this, practice definitely makes, if not perfect, then at least better.  The more you work with a particular character, the more you will be able to call upon them when you need to.  You may find, that eventually, you don't even need any costuming to be able to embody a particular character, it is just always there, at your disposal, when you need it.  And, eventually, you may find that you have taken on some of the qualities of the character that you didn't feel you had before!  You may end up not needing that character at all, because you have become more confidant or more capable in the situations you needed it for.

So take a note from children...playing dress up and make-believe can not only be fun, but also useful!  When you don't feel that you can handle a situation, become someone who can!  Practice with your different characters, play with them, see what they would do in different places or when talking to different people.  This can be a fun and rewarding exercise.  And don't forget your costume!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Every Day Magic (Book Review)

365 Magical Ways to Observe the Cycle of the Year

I was really excited to start reading this book, and I wasn't disappointed! There is something really captivating about books of days. I am endlessly fascinated by holy days and sacred time from all cultures. I find that even when it is a celebration I am unfamiliar with or for deities I have never worked with, I learn so much by reading about how different people honor and celebrate the sacred.

One of the things I love best about books of days is that they give a framework for developing your personal practice. By having entries for every day (the best ones do, and this one is one of those), no matter what day it is, you can turn to your book of days and find inspiration for your spiritual life.

Not only does Every Day Magic have daily entries, each month starts with a brief description of the moon that falls in the month and the astrological signs that rule the month. This gives a great overview of the energies that will be experienced throughout the month. I appreciate their addition into this book, as I feel it helps tie together the theme of each month.

One of the advantages of having many different contributors is that you get to see how different cultures celebrate the same (or similar) holidays. New year is a great example, as the start of the year is marked at different points in time depending on where you are from. This book includes not only information about the New Year in January, but also in March (for the Aztec calendar and Elvish) and also in October (with the Celtic New Year).

I personally like the inclusion of Elvish celebrations (based on Tolkien's writings), though this may be unappealing to some. I think that the mythology created by fiction writers can be fully formed and deeply moving. Sometimes, it has the advantage of being more complete (as the author can fill out all the details, where a historical account may have things that have been lost to time).

Some days have more general, seasonal ideas. These ideas may be sparked by something in nature that is happening at this time (like a plant blooming) or it may have cultural roots (like a modern holiday). But not only do these entries tell you what might be going on in the world, they also include a simple activity to bring that energy into your own life.

I really love all the little activities. It may be something super simple, like wearing a particular color, or it may be a little ritual or spell you can do to bring blessings to your life. I find this makes this book really approachable. Unlike some books of days, where they tell you a brief tidbit about something that is tied to the day, but don't give examples of practical things you can do, in your own life, to honor that day.

Sprinkled throughout the book are also quite a few recipes, both for food and for magical blends (like incense or baths). I found it really interesting that many of the recipes were written as vegan recipes, so could be used by a wide range of people. I got a little bit of a chuckle, as a non-vegan, I would probably adjust the recipe using ingredients I typically have on hand...a bit of a role reversal!

There are also days that feature a poem as the day's offering. Sometimes the poems include a thought prompt as part of the poem itself, but even those that don't could easily be used as a jumping point for a journal entry or as part of a ritual. The poems ranged from lovely and elegant to tongue-in-cheek, which I loved.

And of course there is information on a handful of deities, either tied to a feast day in their honor or just an entry devoted to them. This is a great way to get to know deities you might not have worked with before, or spend more time with ones you already know. I love having special days, throughout the year, where different deities are honored, and having those included in the book of days is a lovely addition.

All in all, this is probably one of my favorite book of days that I've read, for it's variety and ease of use. I think the entries are well written, to spark your interest in so many different areas. If you are busy, it won't take long to read the entry for that day, but if you have more time, you could easily use the entry as a starting point and do more research or expand upon the suggested activity and use it as inspiration for your own workings.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The ghosts of your past selves

One of the tarot decks I picked up last year is called the Ghost Tarot.  And the images are lovely, with ghostly figures playing a big role, but the book clarifies that ghosts can be seen as the memories of the past, of emotions or experiences as much as people.  And I think that is a really interesting perspective.

Thinking about Samhain and getting in touch with ancestors, made me think about my own inner ghosts.  The parts of me that I have out grown or have moved beyond.  We all have ghosts of our former selves, the people who we were at different places in our lives.  There is a lot of talk about our inner child, but we may have many child selves, stuck like insects in amber, frozen at the moment of their purest experience.  Each one can effect us in different ways, and may continue to 'haunt' us if we haven't fully resolved the issues that surround them.

But I don't think our ghosts are always forged in bad experiences.  We may have ghosts of our self when we were at peak moments, those special times where everything is perfect, and in that moment we loose a part of our Self because that person who is fully immersed in the bliss can't accept what happens when the moment passes.  Reaching out to these ghosts lets us tap into that pure innocence and absolute belief that everything is wonderful. 

Past self ghosts remind me a little of archetypes, and yet they aren't really the same thing.  The maiden archetype may encompass the ghost of our teenage self, but our ghost is a specific being.  While anyone can connect with the maiden archetype, and we may even see her in the guise of our teenage self, she isn't who we were, at that time in our life.  Our ghosts are unique to us, because they ARE us, at a point in our past.  Trying to interact with them as if they were an archetype can lead to frustration, because our ghosts have particular needs and desires.

If you think about the definition of a ghost as a spirit who has unfinished business, that can be helpful in figuring out how to work with your own ghosts.  Think about the person you were, when you were the ghost.  What lies unfinished from that point in your life?  What can you work on to help bring peace to this ghost?  I don't think our ghost selves ever truly leave us, but I do think they can be appeased so they don't haunt us.

It's also interesting to think about ghosts of future selves.  I think we can easily create ghosts of what we fear may happen to us in the future.  If we are struggling to find love, we may summon a ghost of our future self where we never found 'the one', and were forever alone.  This ghost can create even more insecurity as it will constantly remind you that you could grow up and become the ghost you fear. 

I see this a lot in my own life, in the fear of 'becoming my mother'.  Don't get me wrong, I love my mother, but she isn't me, and I don't want to be her.  But there are moments where I feel the presence of 'her as me' in my life, where I see ways in which I am acting more like her than like me. 

Another ghost we may find is that of the forgotten one.  There may be times in your life that you don't find remarkable, and the ghost self who lived those times may feel neglected.  I feel like all of our life, even the less memorable parts, shape us into who we are.  There may be whole years where you feel like you didn't accomplish anything, or that you just went about your daily business trying to 'get by'.  It is well worth seeking out those ghosts and spending time with them.  Find out what they have brought to your life and how you can honor them.

I think that most of the traditional ways of dealing with ghosts can be used for our past self ghosts.  If you are being seriously haunted by a past self, then you can absolutely set protections to keep their influence limited.  But I see protections as a bandage:  they  may help in the moment (which can be very necessary!), but ultimately you need to deal with the ghost and find a way to come to terms with it, or you will be forever casting protections trying to keep it at bay (while it constantly tries to get your attention).

The method I like most for working with past self ghosts is kind of like a seance.  I think that what causes our ghosts to interfere in our lives is their unfinished business, and the best way to help them resolve their issues (and thus help our lives move forward with their help instead of their hindrance) is to spend time getting to know them.  This might mean doing dream work, letting the ghost 'possess' you in your dreams (or meditations) and stepping back into that phase of your life and seeing what is important to your ghost self.

You can also sit and talk with them.  Depending on what methods work best for you, this might mean a meditation where you see them sitting next to you and you have a conversation.  Or you might use oracle cards or some other divination method to let them answer you.  It may help to have the full ritual structure, with a circle cast, especially if the ghost is particularly troublesome.  Some Ceremonial workings with spirits involve summoning them into a particular space (traditionally a triangle from what I understand).  This way the spirit (or ghost in this case) is limited in how they can effect your space.  If you are working with a ghost that is bringing up issues in your life, be sure to send them away once you are done working with them!

Once you start building relationships with your ghosts, you can start to work with them, like other spirit allies.  The peaceful ghosts my be the easiest to work with, but remember that the other ghosts are forged in hardship, so when a similar situation comes around, they may be very well suited to help you deal with it.  If you are comfortable with it (and them), consider letting them take charge during such situations, or at least asking for their advice.

Our ghosts may have been us, at different points in our lives, but they are not who we are today.  And yet, they will always be connected to us, and we will always carry a little bit of them inside of us.  Being able to work with your ghosts can help you solve problems that they would otherwise bring to your life, and it gives you a new set of allies to work with, and new tools for sorting out issues in your life.  No matter how intense the memory might be, it is worth facing our fears and getting in touch with our inner ghosts, so that we can get to know them and embrace them instead of running away.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The magic of falling leaves

I love fall, I always have.  There is something in the air:  it's cool but not cold, often breezy but not super windy, and there is this smell that I just adore.  And a huge part of this is the leaves falling off of the trees.  I think that is where the scent is rooted...in the drying leaves.  They come in all colors of the rainbow, and the wind makes them dance across the ground.

Even when I was little, and had to rake leaves as a chore, I loved fall.  And of course, part of the process of raking leaves involved jumping into the piles you had made (which meant more raking...but it was worth it)!  There is something very satisfying about feeling the leaves crunch around you.

This time of year brings a rainbow of fire colors.  The leaves turn all shades of yellow, orange and red.  There is something fantastically beautiful about seeing one tree with a healthy mix of colored leaves, and a carpet underneath of fallen ones. 

I'm also a fan of unconventional beauty.  I appreciate monochromatic themes, and leaves that have fallen to the ground often come in shades of brown.  But there is still something about the different shades and the variance of shapes that creates an intricate landscape.

Beyond simply taking in the splendor of the season, there are many ways to work with falling leaves.  They speak to me of transitions and of letting go.  The leaves must transform, changing their color and very essence from living receptors of sunlight to dried bits that will become fertilizer, returning to the soil to enrich it and helping new growth.  The tree must let go of what had been a vital part of itself, in order to make itself ready for the coming winter.

One of the simplest ways to work with fallen leaves is to find one, and imbue it with something you wish to release.  You can cup it between your hands and send the energy of what you are letting go of into it, or blow your intention into it.  If you want a more elaborate ritual, consider painting your release onto the leaf (you can even paint one side to represent what you are letting go of and the other side for what you are making space for by letting it go).  You can also sew your focus into the leaf, just like you might sew a word into cloth.  Once your leaf is infused with your intention, you simple release it to the wind, and let it get blown away from you!

If you have a lot of things to release, or something that is made up of a lot of little parts (like clearing your house of unwanted junk, or letting go of a bunch of Facebook friends who you don't resonate with), add this clearing to your physical clearing of leaves.  Find a spot outside, with at least a handful of fallen leaves. 

First, you will name the leaves as things that you want to release.  You can name them specifically:  the person who always posts hateful memes on Facebook or the stack of old magazines that has been growing in your living room corner. You can also name them in a more general way:  anyone who will bring conflict to your news feed or things that serve no purpose in your future.

Then, gather up all the leaves, keeping your focus on pulling together the things you are wanting to be rid of.  If you have a yard, you can rake up all the leaves in your yard, but if you don't have a yard that isn't a problem either.  You could sweep together leaves on your front porch or on a balcony.  If you don't have either of those, you can also go to a park or public place, and gather up a handful of leaves to use. 

Once your leaves are gathered, you will want to dispose of them.  If you have a large yard and typically mulch your leaves, feel free to do that!  When you have added them to your mulch (even better if you shred them first...), visualize them anchored to that place now (instead of free to return to you).  Another great option is to burn the leaves.  If you gathered a small pile (like from a park), you can burn them in a cauldron (or other fire safe container), or even one by one in a candle flame.  If you have quite a lot, you can pile them into a fire pit!

When you are burning the leaves, you are not burning them as representations of the things you named them...but as the connections between you and the things named.  So don't worry if you named leaves after people!  Your intention isn't to cause harm to them, simply to cut the ties between you so that you can each go your own separate ways.  The same holds true for items named.  It is perfectly fine to donate, give away or otherwise share the items you no longer need!

Another fun project with fallen leaves is to use them for a transformation goal.  If you are working on creating change in your life, you can harness the energy of the fallen leaves to not only enhance your work, but also serve as a reminder and reward!  You will want to gather a selection of leaves, so that you have one for every step you are working on.  For example, you might be working on studying runes, you you can get a leaf for each rune. 

You can mark your leaves however you like, either simply writing on them, painting them or sewing on them. Once you have marked them, you can display them somewhere that you will see them (and thus be reminded of your goals).  If you were lucky enough to find some fallen branches with leaves still attached, you can put them in a vase as a centerpiece.  Or you can find some nice branches and use glue or florist tape to attach loose leaves to them.  You can also make a garland with them, fixing the leaves onto a string.  Alternately you can create a collage or painting representing your goal, and then stick the leaves on top of it.

But as you complete each step, you remove the leaf from your display!  This leaf can be released to the wind, buried or burnt, giving thanks as you do for the progress you have made.  This becomes quite a visual reminder, either making your display more sparse (great for goals that involve letting go or reducing something) or revealing the picture underneath (wonderful for transforming).

You can also use it for building habits, either having several leaves for the same thing or using each leaf to represent doing the habit for a set period of time.  So if your goal is to improve your physical health, you may have a leaves for eating healthy portions, working out or getting enough sleep.  If you have one leaf for each time you do it, plan out how long you want to work on your goal, and make sure you have enough leaves for each step!  Then, every day you do a workout or feel you ate an appropriate meal, you can pull a leaf off!  If you want your leaves to represent periods of time, then you can remove a leaf when you go through an entire week without indulging in guilty snacks or when you workout three times that week.

The flipside of this practice is to have your leaves represent bad habits that you want to let go of.  You set a goal date, for example you might want to avoid posting negative thoughts on social media, and you want to work on it for the next month.  You would make your leaves represent those negative thoughts, and make your display, but this time, every time you falter, you remove a leaf.  When you do, pause for a moment, and remember why you want to stop this habit.  Thank the leaf for reminding you to keep strong in your focus, and then release it.  Whenever you see your display, take a moment to appreciate how many leaves are still up there!  And, when the time has come to an end, you can bury, burn or throw away the remnants, offering up your gratitude for the progress you have made!

Falling leaves are a wonderful tool, that are plentiful this time of year!  They teach us to not only see the beauty in the changes all around us, but also to be able to transform when we need to and that letting go of things that don't serve us helps us make room for new growth.  So take some time, this fall, to work with the falling leaves, and see what changes they can bring to your life!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Celebrating Accomplishments

I just got back from a luncheon, held to honor high school seniors for their outstanding academic achievement.  My son is being scouted by colleges, and though there was definitely a pitch in there for the kids to go to the school that was hosting the luncheon, it was also a nice little recognition of the work they had done in school.

I am not a fan of participation rewards.  I don't think every kid should get a trophy just for showing up.  I do think that recognizing accomplishment is a big thing though.  And it's personal.  What is a big deal for one person (kid or adult), may not be to another.  Everyone should get recognized for the things they excel at, and the things they have worked hard for.

There are a lot of people who go through life without being acknowledged for the things they do, and to me this is sad.  Someone may be a super hard worker, put everything they have into the things they do, but because their job is menial or because they aren't the top seller or the name that everyone recognizes, they go unseen.

My son does really well in school, often without trying.  While I do congratulate him on that, we both also know that it's something that just happens for him.  The things I choose to acknowledge more often are the things that I know don't come easy for him.  When he suggests changing when we do the housework, because he has other plans, instead of putting it off and then complaining because he has chores, I let him know that I'm proud of him. 

I also try to make sure the people in my life know that I not only see the things they do, but that I appreciate them.  I think sometimes, that recognizing the little things can carry more weight than celebrating the big ones.  I've expressed this idea when it comes to things like Valentines Day and Anniversaries:  by all means celebrate them, but don't let that be the only time you let the other person know how much you mean to them.

Even something as little as a thank you can make someone's day.  As much as I love cooking for my family, it can sometimes be a long, tedious process.  I don't always feel like doing the prep work, or taking the time to make dinner.  But it always makes me smile and feel glad I did when hubby or son tell me it tastes good.  Even if it's something simple.

One place that we may find it hard to honor our accomplishments is in the spiritual realm.  Not only are many of us solitary, but it feels sort of counter-intuitive to more or less brag about our spiritual life.  Or we may even feel silly being proud about something that we feel like we should have mastered ages ago, but we really struggled to get a handle on.

I don't think there is anything wrong with wanting to recognize making progress in your spiritual path!  In fact, I think that pausing to honor our path and the steps we are taking along it, can be an important part of our growth.  Sometimes, it doesn't feel like you have actually gotten anywhere until someone else tells you that you've done a good job.  It's like we're programed to not trust our own judgement.  Having someone else (or many people!) congratulate you, really helps it sink in that you did it!

I also think that if I am struggling with something, then there is also someone else out there struggling.  If I share my store, really being open about how hard it was for me to learn or get good at something, not only does it let other people help me celebrate my victory, it helps let other people who may not have figured it out themselves see that they aren't the only one who has struggled with it...and that there is hope for them too!

So many parts of our life have markers for different levels of accomplishment.  In school you may earn awards, and there are graduation ceremonies.  In many clubs you earn badges or stamps or collect stickers for passing different benchmarks.  Your job my recognize numbers of years served, a set amount of sales made or a certain number of successful projects.  Why not have a similar plan for your spiritual life?

Some of my favorite books include a plan of study.  I like having things laid out in a logical order.  But this also gives me goals and benchmarks.  Many times, if there is an exercise given, there is either an amount of time you are supposed to dedicate towards it (once a day for a month, or until you can do it for 30 minutes straight), or some other tangible level of 'being done'.  This makes for easy places to celebrate your progress.

But it is also something you can come up with on your own, for whatever it is you are studying, working on or working through!  Whatever your path is, think about where you are at right now and where you are headed.  Come up with both long and short term goals, and break those down into steps.  You may set dates for when you want those steps to be done by, or you may leave it undated and go with a more fluid "it will be done when it's done" approach.  But think about different places along the way that you might consider celebrating.

And then plan some sort of celebration...and sharing that celebration with at least one other person!  How you celebrate may change depending on what type of goals you had.  If you wanted to finish a year and a day study of your chosen path, you might have a big celebration planned at the end.  If you want to do a daily draw every day for a month, you might plan a smaller recognition of making your goal.  You may even feel like inviting other people to join you on your challenge and make it a group celebration!  This works really well for group study, whether it is a group that meets in person or only online.

Some accomplishments may be so very private that you may feel you don't want to share at all.  I would challenge you to still share, at least in part, with someone who is very dear to you and who you trust.  You don't have to tell them all the nitty-gritty details, but you can at least tell them that you were working through some stuff, and that you feel you have made real progress and that you want to honor that. Just having someone there, to hear and support you, can be a huge booster.

And if you are really struggling, you may want to honor that as well.  Sometimes our accomplishments aren't that we won, but that we persevered!  If you have been really working on something, and it's just not turning out the way you thought it would, you might gather together some friends, especially anyone who has been through something similar, and honor your experiences by sharing what you have been struggling with.  You may find that, by talking it out, you walk away with a new approach.  Or at the very least, with a new resolve to keep trying...and people who are cheering you on!

Lots of things in life are hard, and it is easy to get discouraged or to feel like you are just lost in the shuffle.  Taking the time to stop and acknowledge what you have been doing, and celebrate yourself and the people around you helps lighten the load and gives you energy to continue onward and upward!  Celebrating other people can bring surprising benefits to our own lives.  And allowing other people to celebrate us, gives them that same opportunity!  So look at your life, see what you have been up to that deserves a little spotlight...and celebrate it!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Honoring your Elders

I think that there are many ways in which modern life has lost things.  Community is definitely one of these areas.  I don't think we have as tight of a community as we used to, before people started moving and traveling and becoming so busy.  And while technology does help bridge some of those gaps, some things seem to get lost in the cracks.

One of these places is our relationship with our elders.  In days gone by, if almost everyone in your village was born, grew up, married and died there, you were in close contact, not only with your own familial elders (grandparents and what not), but also you knew the other elders in the village, because you grew up with them your whole life.

I have lived fairly far away from my own grandparents for most of my life.  I was lucky enough to see them pretty regularly though, typically once every other summer (we would visit one side of the family one year, and the other side the next year).  I was also expected to write letters as a thank you anytime I was gifted money, and they had to be more than just a thank you, I had to talk about what was going on in my life.  When I was little, I didn't appreciate writing the letters, but now that I am grown, I am glad that I did, because I have always felt like I knew my grandparents fairly well.

I was also expected to spend time with my elders (whether it was my grandparents or other older relatives).  I have spent many hours talking with my grandparents, and even with my great-grandparents (when they were alive).  I grew up talking with people and listening to their stories, so I never learned to think that older people weren't interesting.

I have had other opportunities, in my life, to talk with elders, both those related to me by blood and those who aren't.  And some of those experiences have been deeply moving.  I think there is a lot we can learn from people (of all ages), and that sometimes the elderly get overlooked.  Sometimes it is because they do things at a slower pace, or because they have trouble communicating, or even perhaps because they like different things.

What I find really telling though, is that connection with another person, and learning from them, bypasses all these barriers.  It doesn't matter if you personally enjoy the same things as they do, when you listen to them, if you open yourself, you can often learn things.  That thing might be "wow, I'm glad I didn't grow up having to do that....", but it lets you appreciate the other person more for what they have experienced.

Language may feel like a huge obstacle, but many things transcend the spoken word.  When one of my great-grandmothers was living in a nursing home, there was another old lady there, who bonded with my great-grandmother.  Her name was Mary, and her family didn't come visit her, so we always included her when we visited with my great-grandmother.  Mary didn't speak, and it wasn't always obvious if she fully understood what we were saying.  But she was always smiling, obviously liked my great-grandmother, and she would gesture if she wanted something (she collected can tabs) or wanted to give you something (she gave me some plastic beads, which I still have).

And though I am a big fan of actual face time, I know it's not always possible.  If you have elders in your life, it may mean you need to slow down and take a different path to connecting with them.  Facebook and texting might work for some of your elders, but others might prefer a phone call.  Or consider actually writing them a letter and mailing it.  There is something really elegant about mail (and you can include pictures or other things that might mean something special).

I also find it sad that sometimes elders have no family left to care for them.  Even if they are in a facility that sees to their needs, and even when the staff is wonderful and cares for them on an emotional level too, I think that when people choose to spend time with elders for no reason other than to spend time with them, that says something and it can be felt.

When I was in high school, we had to do community service.  Though technically I didn't have a choice, I really enjoyed my community service.  I worked with the humane society, and they had a special set of animals that volunteers took to different places (like the hospital and nursing homes) to visit with people in long term care.  The care facility I visited had several people who had been there for a long time (we were told that there was one bird that was a particular favorite, and if we didn't bring her, people would be disappointed).

Watching people interact with the animals was wonderful.  There was such a delight and fascination.  We brought two rats once, and many people wouldn't touch them, but they were interested in them...as long as one of us was holding them!  And while the animals were there, people talked.  I got to hear all kinds of stories about their lives.  It didn't matter that I didn't know them, there was still sharing and connection going on.

There may also be elders who are not near us or who have already passed, but we can still learn from their wisdom.  I think that often we tend to look to vital, young people when we look at history's heroes, but there are lots of people who had huge contributions later in life.  Being able to read about these elders lets us partake in their wisdom and experiences, even if we didn't have the opportunity to meet them in life.

The one thing I don't agree with is the idea that all elders are worthy of respect JUST because they are old.  For me, respect is a thing that is earned, and you earn it by how you act.  I have known horrible, cranky, mean old people.  And while they may have their reasons and justifications (just like horrible, cranky, mean young people might), it doesn't mean they are automatically somehow better, just because they are old.

What I do think is that our elders can be powerful messages about how our own future might turn out.  If you see someone who has become someone you would never want to be, look to see how they got that way.  Sometimes they just start out mean, but sometimes they respond to the things life threw their way and their choices forged them into who they are.  If you don't want to become them, you can learn from their journey and make different choices.

I feel elders are a precious resource, and that we need to honor them in the way that they deserve to be honored.  I have lost some of my own elders and know that there are things that I missed having the opportunity to do.  Time with our elders is precious and we should treat it (and them) as such!