Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Giving back

The first actual spell I ever cast was one that was meant to send healing energy back to the earth.  I picked it because I was still a little timid about doing spells, and I thought that trying to heal the earth was fairly harmless....I wasn't sure how I could mess it up!

But over all the years I have been reading books and spells (and reading spells is something I love doing, I love seeing all the different ways people approach spellwork), that is one of the few spells that I have seen that is focused on giving back.

It's not that I think that Pagan's don't give back.  Offerings are often a big part of many people's paths.  But I think that sometimes we forget that there are more ways of giving back than just offering.  And depending on your path, offering may not be a part of your daily practice.

Giving of one's self is a wonderful thing.  We give of ourselves all day long, we just aren't always paying attention to it.  When you offer to do a favor for a friend, or help a family member with something, you are giving back. 

I think that giving back can become a very meaningful spiritual practice.  Many people who volunteer feel that it benefits them as much as the group or person they are volunteering to help.  I very much believe that by helping other people, we enable everyone to reach greater heights.  It is through working together, through encouraging everyone to achieve their highest potential, that we make these amazing discoveries and advancements. 

And thinking on a global level, when we consider the impact of our actions and how we can give back to the world as a whole, then we are building up a global community that will see us all benefit.  Imagine the world where every person was able to have their basic needs met and therefor contribute whatever gifts their spirit has instead of focusing all their energy on simply making it to the next day alive.

And not just people.  We, as the human race, haven't always considered the animals, plants or resources of our planet.  We sometimes act as if we have no limits and can just pluck whatever we see with no consequences.  As a species, we are starting to wake up to the fact that we are not treating our global home with respect and care, and that if we keep going in the manner we are, that we are headed for ruin.

As spiritual people, I feel that we sometimes overlook the energetic landscape.  We can tap into and harness energy from a myriad of sources.  And yet giving back to these energies isn't often discussed.

Gratitude practice is a big thing right now.  And it is definitely wonderful!  But let's take gratitude a step further.  Let's start considering how we can give back to the things that make our lives fantastic.

Many Pagan's already support Green causes and do their part to give back physically.  Many are also involved in volunteer work for organizations that they feel are important and worthy. 

It doesn't have to be hard to start giving back spiritually.  Many paths involve regular offerings to deities you work with.  Keeping a shrine or altar and performing regular cleansing and offerings is one way to give back to the energies you work with regularly.  Along these lines, consider the spirit and energy of your home and surroundings.  Many ancient civilizations had household altars or recognized guardian spirits of the home and regularly offered to them in gratitude for their work at helping things at home run smoothly.

Another way is to add energetic blessings to your seasonal rites.  If you honor the Sabbats, you can dedicate some of the energy you raise at ritual towards healing and nurturing the earth.  This could be a general thing, just directing energy back to the earth to be used as needed.  Or you could work to heal a specific thing that you feel appropriate, either locally or globally. 

Service is often talked about in terms of Priestessing (or Priesting!).  But I think a lot of times we are prone to wait until someone asks for help, and then we are happy to lend a hand.  Consider how you can offer of yourself or what you can give of yourself everyday, no matter if anyone asks.  Perhaps you have a message to share, and you spread your word so that other people can hear it.  Or, perhaps you simply make the conscious decision to be open, to listen to whoever needs to speak to you, to hold space for the people who can't speak.

Giving back doesn't have to be huge and flashy.  In fact, I think that the truest gifts are often the quietest.  Look around you, notice what needs a boost and share what you have.  Give without thought of what you might get in return.  Bless the world!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Goals, self-scheduling and acountability

It is said that the most successful people in life set goals and look at them daily.  This seems like such a simple (or tedious depending on your personality) thing, and yet the more I have worked with regular setting and tracking of goals, the more I see the truth behind this.

It is so very easy to get caught up in life, especially for anyone who has a busy life.  Most of the time, I have the opposite problem.  I have so much available time that I feel like I can do a ton of things.  But I also have quite diverse interests, and if I don't pay attention to where I am spending my time, the day zips by and half the things I intended to do don't get done.

I think the phrase 'spending your time' is very important.  Time is definitely a resource and we should pay as much attention to it as we do to money (time is money after all).  Time is a currency we have a limited amount of, and we use to pay for the things we want to do.  Sometimes we have things we need to do, and these take away from our time too.

What goals and planning do is help you manage your time.  When you set goals, you are prioritizing the things you spend your time on.  You are making a deliberate decision to focus on this one thing, and setting aside a time to do it.

Goals can be intimidating for a lot of people.  Some take to goal setting like a duck to water, while for others it's like pulling teeth.  What you need to do is realize that goal setting doesn't work the same way for everyone, and you need to figure out what works for you.

I like structure, but I also don't want my days ordered to death.  I am going to outline what I have been doing this year, as it's been working really well for me, as well as talk about some other options, in case one of them might be more appealing to you.

The first thing I did this year, at the turn of the year, was make a vision board for the coming year.  I spent some time, thinking about what I wanted to accomplish this year.  Not in terms of specific things (though I definitely did more specific things on last years vision board, so that is a fine choice if that appeals to you), but more the feelings and experiences I wanted to have.  I flipped through magazines, clipping out pictures and words that jumped out at me.  Then I used some paint to put colors on my little canvas board...nothing fancy, I just grabbed a brush and some colors that looked nice and swirled them around so the board wasn't really white anymore.  Most of the board will end up covered with clippings, so you could do anything you want underneath.  You could write out your goals, then paint over it with a single color that symbolizes what your theme for the year is.  You could splatter pain or let it drip in any direction.  Or you could leave it white!

Then I laid out my big pictures...no words yet.  I picked pictures that spoke to me.  This year it was pretty abstract, there is a picture of a sunset/sunrise, some swirling water, a flower, a compass and a tea set among other things.  Some of them I couldn't tell you why I wanted them on my board, I just knew I did, so they went on.  I placed them around until I liked what I saw, then pasted them onto my board.  Then I did the same with words, looking for phrases or single words that jumped out at me.  One of my main focuses this year is on mindfulness...on being in the now.  And almost all those 'in the now' terms end in -ing, so there are a lot of -ing words that I clipped, and the best ones made it to the board...plus I clipped a lot of interesting looking "ing" endings from words to add in to remind myself to just be in the moment.  I pasted the words on, then added a bit more paint, some silver and gold metallic paint I have, to add a bit of accent.

This vision board sits on my desk, where I can see it pretty much all day long.  I try to consciously look at it at least once a day.  It helps remind me of what I want to work on, the energy I want to call to me, and just to take a moment to breathe (that is on my board!)

The second thing I started doing this year is a daily calendar.  I do a daily rune pull, and last year I tried to use the calendar to jot down things I learned or inspiration I got during the day as well.  That didn't work so well for me (I am more productive in the morning, so things that require reflection at the end of the day aren't well suited to me).  This year, I am using my daily squares on my calendar to schedule what I want/need to do each day. 

Some things are written down every day:  meditation and self-joy (things that I do just for me).  Not only does this remind me to keep up with them every day, but it also helps me track if I need to adjust my goals..which I have.  The year started out with yoga every day, but while I love yoga and definitely need to keep active daily, I have found that I keep running into blocks that I think I need to work through (I have been working on regular exercise for years now....I'll go along good for a couple of months and then hit a block and not do much of anything for months).  So now I have adjusted from daily yoga to daily meditation...and still trying to get that to where I want it to be.  I wrote a previous blog post about how self-care became self-joy (which can be found here if you are interested).  I don't schedule everything I do every day, just the things that I want to be aware of.

I also don't schedule every task I have for every day.  It's sort of a loose thing.  Today for instance, I have blog on my schedule as well as out of the house errands I need to run.  I don't always put down errands, it really depends on whether or not I think I might forget to run them.  I also don't always put down things that I do on a regular weekly basis.  I am in a group that helps with goal-support, and I haven't been scheduling my posts there in my calendar, but if I start slipping up on doing them, then I will add it to my calendar until I get back on track.

That is the big thing I like about the calendar.  I can write things down, and refer to it several times a day.  It lets me not have to think constantly about what I have to do that day.  It also lets me tick things off as I get them done, which for me is very rewarding.  I choose not to put times for any of my tasks, as I don't like having that regimented of a schedule, but if you like or need to, that is a great way to help keep on track as well.  I know quite a few people who will absolutely schedule specific times for things (even lovely self-joy actions like having a bath or reading a novel) because when they put it on their calendar, it sets that time aside for that action, and they can schedule all the other things that have to be done that day around the things they want to do...and seeing it all on the calendar allows them to take the time they need for themselves, and still feel secure in knowing that all the other things will get done.

My other main goal-setting tool this year is moon tracking.  I have been working with the moon cycles and phases since the start of the year.  This gives me a monthly cycle of planning, work and reflection aimed at different areas in my life.  I have definitely enjoyed working the cycles, and am thinking about how I might continue it in the future.  It gives me a chance to work on specific things, over a shortish period of time, with dedicated steps along the way.  It has both structure and openness (as I can use each phase in the way I feel appropriate for my goals).  And, because I am using the full moon energies to guide my path this year, I have a theme for each moon that I can pick a goal to work on, so that also gives me a bit of structure.

Finally, I am in a lovely facebook group that is designed to support us all on any goals we are working on or struggles we find along the way.  A lot of people find facebook a very toxic place, but I absolutely think it can be a great thing if you surround yourself with great people.  I have lots of great groups, but this one is specifically geared to help all the members accomplish whatever they set their mind to.  We recently started doing weekly goals, a mid-week work in progress check in and an end of the week reflection. 

This weekly structure is really nice.  I find myself really thinking ahead as to what kinds of things I want to do over the course of the week.  Plus, with a group structure, I always find more motivation to stick to my goals....having other people to cheer me on makes me want to stick to things more than just on my own (even when the other people will never think poorly of me for not reaching a goal...just them being there motivates me). 

I think that outside support is something that is very individual as well.  Some people really thrive under a drill-sergeant type of hard push, while others would find that horrible.  I don't really like when people are on my back constantly, but I definitely know I perform better when there are other people involved.  Some people need more regular encouragement (especially at the start or when things get rough).  You should always find the right group for you, the people who drive you to do bigger and better things.  If you have people who are not supporting you in the right way...find ones who will!

Looking at all the different tools I use to keep on track, I will also say that having multiple size goals and tasks is definitely important.  Using just a daily calendar, I don't look at larger goals, I am so focused on what needs to be done that day.  It is very hard, just working daily, to reach those bigger goals, because you don't have a larger timeline.  With just the vision board, I have a lovely tool for the greater picture of my year, but absolutely nothing that helps me work in a concrete way towards it.  The moon cycles and weekly checkins help tie things together, but they are less effective without the larger picture (where do I want to be a year from now...or five or ten years, it can often be helpful to do big long term goals as well).  And without the daily tasks, it can be easy to loose track of where you need to be focused today, and find yourself at the end of the week/month with great intentions and no progress.  And whether or not you involve other people in your goals, you should always check in with yourself.  If you aren't tracking whether you are accomplishing your tasks, you won't know if you need to change your process.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Ritual visualization

I am a HUGE visualization fan.  I really started when I was in middle school, just daydreaming in the car.  But my daydreams were very vivid, and I began deliberately creating scenarios to daydream about.  When I first was introduced to visualization as a practice, specifically guided style visualizations, that is what it reminded me of.

One of the things that I find really useful about visualization is it's versatility.  Not only can you do it anywhere, but you can visualize anything.  You are only limited by your own creativity.  So many other practices build upon or utilize visualization, I really think it is useful for everyone, no matter their spiritual path or life's journey.

I think the first myth I wish would be dispelled about visualization is that it's not all about seeing stuff.  Some of my strongest visualizations aren't really 'visual'.  I've recently heard the term 'feelization' which I think is a much more useful term when it comes to using visualizations to set intentions, as the feelings that a scene evokes will bring a stronger connection than just imagining what the scene might look like.  But still, the deepest visualizations I have had aren't really any sense or even a combination of senses.

I'm working through "Runes for Transformation," by Kaedrich Olsen, and he uses the phrase Ginnic reality to talk about the underlying core energy of a thing.  It is tapping into that pure essence of something, and that is what I feel is at the heart of visualization.  When you open yourself to an experience, you may notice sights, sounds, smells, feelings or tastes.  But you might also just 'know' a thing.  All of this is visualization!

So almost anyone who has a spiritual or magical practice has probably run across visualization.  It has also become quite popular in the sports world, in the field of medicine and in the business and self-improvement fields.  Visualization is no longer something that is considered something that is outside of the realm of the average person.

Often, visualization is taught as a way to not only get in touch with our inner thoughts on a thing, but also to start to create change in our inner world as a way to create change in the outer world.  Visualization is used to help lift moods and change the way we think.

As a Pagan, I have used visualization as a part of my magical and spiritual practice from the start.  One of the first circle castings I learned included visualizations of glowing pentagrams and flame.  When I work on a spell, I will use visualization to help set my intent.  I use visualization in meditation all the time.  

But I think that visualization can take us so much further.  Instead of being just a part of a ritual, it can be the entire ritual.  I often use visualized rituals when I am away from home and don't have either privacy or tools/supplies.  I know a few people with physical limitations who use visualized ritual when they can't physically do the things they want to do for a ritual.

One of the great things about visualized rituals is that you can visualize whatever you need.  If you wish you could hold ritual on the top of a windswept mountain or in a secluded cove by the sea...you can!  If you wished you had ornate and fancy tools...visualize them!  The more you work with a visualization over time, the more energy it will hold for you when you come back to it.  The more detail you put into your visualizations, the more real they will be to you.

And even more than that, you can use visualization as a layer on top of a physical ritual to change the energy and feel of the ritual.  I live in a pretty small apartment, and I don't always have a car.  Our backyard is a field that belongs to the neighbor, and has absolutely no privacy.  So my physical location is often quite limited.  I can do the physical actions of a ritual in the privacy of my own home, and visualize a different location while I do it.

This can be hard at first.  It can be easy to remain locked into the world around us and not be able to tap into that visualization while we are interacting with physical things that are right there.  This is definitely something that becomes easier as you practice it.

But there are also things you can do to help yourself along.  Play up to your senses!  If you are visualizing a forest, play nature sounds from the forest.  This also helps drone out any sounds from your neighbors or your household that might distract you.  It doesn't have to be natural sound either, if you have a song that really suits the mood of your ritual, use that!  Find a scent that helps evoke the scene to you, and have it handy.  You can find pictures that inspire you and put them around to help make it easier to visualize or to bring you back in when you loose your focus.  If there are things you can touch who's energy helps your visualization, make them a part of your physical ritual.  When you touch them, close your eyes for a moment and really sink into the feeling.

I wear glasses, and I often take them off for ritual.  I can see well enough to not bump into things, and can even read (with effort), but it does make the world a little blurry which helps me to pay attention to what my mind is seeing instead of what my eyes are telling me.  You can also dim the lights or use low candlelight to help bring that soft focus to bear.  If you have ever tried those 'magic picture' 3D images that pop into shape only when you shift your focus, that kind of focus works to pull you out of really 'seeing' the world around you as well.

A big benefit of being able to visualize like this, with your eyes open, is that it really lets you visualize anywhere.  My mind can be in another world, and it will just look like I'm staring off into space.  But, if someone comes up toward me, I will be aware of them, so I can use this technique when I am waiting in a waiting room without completely loosing touch with the world around me.

And you don't have to only use this method on full rituals!  You can apply this to any kind of action that fits!  So, when cleaning the house, visualize something in your life that you want to remove scattered all over where you need to clean...then vacuum/dust/sweep it up and get it out of your house.  If you are washing dishes think of an emotion you want to let go of or a memory you want to have less impact on you.  Let it flow down into your hands and then out through the water.  If you are working out or doing some kind of physical activity and you want to change your physical image or impact your health, visualize yourself in the form you want, doing the exercise...and really think about how it would feel to be able to do that action when you achieve your goal!

It doesn't all have to be super serious either!  Have fun with it.  Schedule play-dates with yourself, and visualize something fun just for relaxation.  Toss on your favorite music and visualize a dance party, with lots of people to dance with and let loose!  Have a bath and visualize floating in a beautiful pool or the ocean.  Instead of just sitting on the bus/train on the commute home, visualize riding a horse across the countryside or zipping around in a sportscar. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Life and the pursuit of Happiness!

What is the meaning of life?  What are we here for?  What makes a life well lived?

These are questions that major religions and philosophies have been trying to answer for years.  And, like many other things, I don't think there is a single 'right' answer...except for this:  do what makes you happy.

I'm not talking about momentary happiness or pleasure or any of those types of things.  I'm talking about that deep sense of contentment, that inner joy of being exactly where you need to be at any given moment.

And that is another part of it:  start where you are.  We all have dreams that are still beyond our reach.  We hope and plan for the future.  But we are all somewhere right now.  And step one to living a good life is making the most of where are you are. 

We all face setbacks.  We all have times that aren't so fun.  Sometimes it's not about chasing the joy but seeking the meaning and through the lessons we learn, finding a purpose that helps us make the moment worth it. 

Worth is a very subjective thing.  No one else in the world can tell you what something is worth to you or what will make you happy.  We all have our own personal challenges and triumphs.  What might be bliss for one person could be another person's personal nightmare.  When someone else talks down about something you are enjoying, acknowledge their perspective, but don't let it cling to you.  It is okay to enjoy things other people don't like.

I like the idea of following your bliss, but I would caution to really dig deep and see what your heart and soul desire, not just your mind and body.  There are a ton of things that I enjoy, that I can spend hours doing and have a blast.  Some of these things are but momentary pleasures...they don't feed my soul in any lasting way.  And while I definitely indulge, I find that if I do them for too long, I will have killed a lot of time and walk away feeling empty.  The thing that was supposed to be bringing joy to my life instead robbed me of it.

This is because I wasn't listening deep enough.  Lack of deep attention can also mean that we miss the joy that is beneath the surface when things are hard.  Work is hard.  Many people are not working in a field they would do as a hobby.  They have a job in order to fulfill their needs.  Many people pick their jobs, not because of the work itself, but because of the benefits (pay, time off, other perks).  The work can be seen as an action that is giving those benefits, and when you stop thinking of it as X hours in the day that you are stuck working and instead try to find little joys throughout your day, your job becomes less of a chore and more of an opportunity.

This is one place where my stubbornness becomes a two-edges sword.  On the one hand, I get a sense of joy by doing a good job.  I like putting myself to a task and seeing progress.  I personally don't really enjoy cleaning, but sometimes I will see something and it will bug me until I get it clean.  Last night, this was our stove.  We have a glass-top stove, and though I clean it after every time we cook, spills and splatters still happen (plus we weren't the first to use it).  Over the years, residue has built up and burnt on.  And last night I had enough.

At first, I was really into it.  I was seeing big results, and had this image in my head of a brand new looking stove top!  But thirty minutes in, my fingers and back were sore, and I couldn't see progress anymore.  There were still black marks on the glass, and I could still feel rings when I ran my fingers across the glass.  But enough was enough.  I realized it was time to let that last bit go (at least for now). 

I believe this balance, between momentary pleasure, duty and deep bliss, is important spiritually.  I think there is a perception that being spiritual is hard work.  And I do think that it is!  But there comes a point when you aren't working towards something anymore, but just working to work.  And then it sort of becomes 'work to show how spiritual I am'.  And I don't think that is beneficial to anyone.

Look within, and see where you are called to.  Listen to your heart to see what will bring the most joy into your life.  And do the work that will get you there.  While you are doing the work, find ways to see the joy in the moment!  And when the moment passes, when the work becomes a burden, set it down for a bit.  Do something else to refresh yourself, and go back renewed!  Find what makes your spirit sing and move in that direction!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Hearth Priestessing

I was introduced to this term a bit ago by Molly from Brigid's Grove.  It was part of a discussion about being present, and how service to the family and home can be a part of one's spiritual path.  I really love the idea of Hearth Priestessing (and the term itself!)

I think that the word Priestess comes with a lot of connotations.  There is definitely a strong connection to spirituality and the divine.  But I think there is also a sense of service:  that the Priestess works not only for themselves, but to serve others (whether that service is to the Gods, Nature or the Community).

One of the things that first drew me into Paganism was the idea that every person could be their own Priest/ess.  While many groups do have leaders, each person is still often responsible for their own spiritual growth and work.  I love that I can build my own connections and walk my own path without needing someone else to show me what to do or work on my behalf.

There is a tendency to think in exclusive terms, when we talk of Priestessing.  I think that most people work spiritually within their own group.  And that is only natural!  I am more likely to take my spiritual concerns and questions to other Pagans than I am to consult a Priest or member of another faith.  But I think that some of the aspects of Priestessing definitely reach beyond our own circles and out into the greater world.

One of the things that many people do, and that I consider part of Priestessing, is that they present a picture of 'what Pagan's do' to the greater world.  In a way, we are sort of ambassadors of our faith.  So many people either don't know much about Paganism or they have wildly inaccurate perceptions, and the more we speak up about what actually goes on and what we believe on, the less I believe people will fear or mistreat us.

But I also think that words carry much less weight than actions.  While we need words, we also need examples of the work we do, within our own communities and without.  There are a lot of Pagans who are very active in a wide variety of public works, from activism to simply showing up and letting people see that we aren't so very different at all.

And while all of this is great and necessary, I think that many people overlook the home and family aspects of life (not only in terms of Paganism and spirituality, but also just in ordinary life as well).  I think that the perceptions of taking care of the home have changed dramatically over the years.  Society often downplays the role of the caretaker or makes out house-work to be some kind of horrible chore to be done as quickly and minimalistically as possible.  And a much greater emphasis is put on work outside the home, as if doing work within the home is somehow less.

And yet, I think that it is a really huge thing to do work within one's home.  You don't have to be a full time home-maker (I love that term...so much more than house wife/husband), to practice Hearth Priesthood.  What makes the difference is your focus and attention.

There are a ton of things that make a house a home.  And there is a huge difference in the feel of a place that is a home versus a place that is 'just a house'.  They say home is where the heart is, and I definitely believe this to be true.  When you shine your love, even through everyday actions, you create energy that spreads out to everyone it touches.

Some things are pretty necessary for everyday life.  We must eat and we must sleep.  We will be healthier if our house is clean and in good repair.  Some things are necessary for emotional health:  we need to find times to relax and times to laugh.  These are the places where we can step into our Hearth Priesthood!

I love the term hearth too.  Though most modern homes don't have a traditional hearth, I think that hearth energy is definitely present in a home.  Hearth brings to mind comfort, safety, warmth and food.  In my mind, it has a very similar feel to the energy of home.

But I also think that Hearth Priestessing extends beyond the traditional concept of one's house.  When I think of Hearth Priestessing, the concept of being a good hostess comes in as well.  I was raised to treat people who came to my house as guests.  Whether they were a door-to-door salesperson, a worker providing a service or an actual guest.  My mother always asked people who came through our door if they wanted something to drink, and treated people as if they were welcome (even though we might not need a new vacuum!)

I think that the concept of hosting is something that is sort of lost in modern life.  Part of it is that I think we don't gather in homes as often as we used to.  Everyone is so busy, and there are plenty of places to go and meet.  Even traveling, many times it is easier to rent a room at a hotel than to find a friend or family member to stay with.

When people come into my house, I want them to feel at home.  My mind is definitely in hostess (or Priestess!) mode when I have guests over, whether I had planned on guests or not.  I want people in my home to feel comfortable, and I want to tend to their needs if I can.

For those that don't know, I'm a home-maker, and have been since my son was an infant (over a decade ago).  There was a book I read a long time ago, called Love Languages, which talked about the different ways in which we all receive and show our feelings of love.  My mother was definitely a service person, and I learned a lot of that from her.  In my mind, one of the most common ways I express my love for my family is by doing things that make their lives better or easier.

I do most of the cooking, cleaning and maintenance of the home.  And while the primary goal of what I do is to keep things running smoothly, I definitely feel that I enhance what I do by adding to it energetically.  When I clean, I also cleanse, so that any stagnant energy is broken up and moved along.  When I cook, I bless my family's health.

Not only does this help the overall energy of our home, but I find it definitely helps turn those routine chores into something more.  I don't mind folding my husband's work clothes (even knowing he is likely to toss them in a corner until he needs them) because it is a little thing I can do to make his life better.  If my son has had a long weekend or lots of homework, I will do some of his household chores, even though he rarely notices.  It's not always about the recognition for me (although of course it is lovely when they appreciate what I do), but about being able to provide for them in my own way.

I may not do a lot of community Priestessing, but I definitely consider myself a Hearth Priestess!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Mudras: Yoga in your hands (book review)

 by:  Gertrud Hirschi

I have been interested in mudras for many years. Meditation is a huge part of my path, and I love the idea of being able to add a hand position into my meditation practice to call forth specific energies. But I had never really done an in-depth study of them, only picked up a few of the more common ones here and there along the way.

This book was fascinating from start to finish and definitely not only gave me a great foundation for adding mudras into my practice, but also for further study into the topic as well as associated ideas presented in the book.

I really like that the book starts off with an explanation of mudras, a brief history and some general suggestions for how to use mudras. There is an emphasis, throughout the book, on approaching mudra work as an ongoing practice and not expecting instant results (although it definitely mentions that it is possible to have immediate effects). I think this is an important point, and am glad to see it presented here. Just like meditation, mudras can have both short term and long term effects, and I agree with the author that when practicing these things, patience and openness are great qualities to apply to your practice.

As mudras are but one system that works through the hands, the author also includes several other systems that revolve around the hands such as reflexology and palmistry. These examples are provided as a way to appreciate how complex our hands are, and how many different cultures and approaches have worked with the hands. Each system is given a very brief explanation to go along with a picture of the hands and how the system applies to them. I found this to be really interesting and definitely something that can lead to further research. But even with just the tiny amount of information in the book, I thought it was a great inclusion as it helped demonstrate how much connection could be found in our hands and gave many different examples of how we can use those correspondences towards different means.

I absolutely loved the included meditation exercises for each of the fingers. They are simple exercises, but offer up a great experience. Each finger is simply held, and a visualization is given to help open you up to the energy of that particular finger. I definitely feel that these exercises will give a lot of depth to any other mudras as well as being great exercises on their own.

The meat of the book is the 52 mudras presented in detail. Each mudra has a couple of pages which include a lovely hand drawn picture of the hands holding the mudra. The illustrations are quite good, and I only had trouble figuring out a couple of them based on the picture and accompanying text description. The text then talks about what the mudra is used for, often including additional information that can be used to better understand the mudra and it's effects. There is also a suggested herbal remedy to enhance the mudra. Finally, each mudra is accompanied by a visualization to be used while holding the mudra and an affirmation.

I adored the meditations. I thought they were a really great addition, and one of the things that I appreciated most in this book. I find that I always learn best when I have a bit of a story behind why things work, and I found that in these meditations as well as in the supporting text. Some of the visualizations are quite simple. You might be holding a color or a feeling in your mind. Others are more complex and guide you through several mental actions over several breaths. But I found all of them quite relatable to the mudra they accompanied. And I think that using the visualization and affirmation with each mudra will help me to remember individual mudras better.

The book wraps up with a short section on whole body exercises that are also known as mudras. These are illustrated and explained, and are also accompanied with an affirmation, though they are not given a visualization or herbal remedy.

Finally in the appendix, a few more associated topics are briefly discussed. Much like the earlier hand systems, these areas are not looked at in depth, but more included as an example of related ideas that the reader might find interesting.

The book also has a very nice index, which you can use to search for mudras by the areas they effect. So if you are experiencing sinus trouble, you can look up 'sinus' and easily find mudras that are appropriate. Which is really handy as many mudras cover multiple things.

I really enjoyed this book. The way it approached the topic of mudras, from many angles and with multiple examples and suggestions along the way gives me a lot of things to think about, which I love. I know I will be coming back to this book time and time again, to re-read sections and deepen my understanding of particular mudras. And that deeper understanding is something I have found lacking in other things I have read about mudras previously. While many sources will talk about how to do a mudra or what it might address, I haven't run across many that give you tools to understand the mudra beneath the surface.

I finished reading the book, excited to start working with mudras. Even while I was reading it, I was constantly trying out the mudras as I came to them. My biggest issue now will be deciding which mudra to work with first!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Self-joy!

I have been consciously working with the concept of self-care since the beginning of this year.  I definitely believe that devoting time, every day, solely towards doing things that speak to your soul is of great benefit.  I love the saying that you should give from your saucer not from your cup, indicating that you must fill yourself up to overflowing and give from the overflow.  I firmly feel this should be the way you approach life.  If you always give to others before yourself, you will end up too exhausted and drained to help anybody.

But I also find that I sort of balk at the term 'self-care'.  I know in my head that self-care includes more than just caring for one's self...at least to me it does.  I included doing things that I enjoy or pampering myself for no special reason, just because I deserve good things!  I think we all deserve good things, and even though some days I do have a bit of a struggle in my head with doing things purely because I want to (even indulgent things like eating chocolate or lounging in my chair watching tv), those are the days where I think I need to pamper myself the most.  I am really trying to step into a place of honest self-worth, where I don't feel like I need to deny myself things that I desire because I don't feel like I should want them or am good enough to have them.

When I write the word 'self-care' in my calendar, sometimes it feels like a chore.  Something about the combination of the word and putting it on a schedule reminds me of taking vitamins.  It might be good for me, but they aren't something I enjoy the process of, so it becomes tedious.  And I don't feel like self-care should be tedious.  It should be something we do because we love and honor ourselves and we want to celebrate that fact!

I was thinking about this last night, as I am working through the moon phases, and this month is the sap moon...all about health.  For me, health is a very self-centered thing...in a good way!  Health includes body love and mind love and soul love.  When we are healthy, we are balanced, we feel good and we are the best us we can be!  Today is the full moon, which makes it a good time to celebrate and be immersed in the energy of this moon.  So it seemed fitting to delve into this concept of self-care.

And the more I thought about it, the more I felt that the word self-care just didn't speak to what I was wanting to celebrate at all.  Instead, the word self-joy popped into my head.  I also thought about self-love, but that has it's own set of associations.  I like the idea of self-joy:  not only of taking joy in one's self, but in bringing joy to one's self.  It kind of mirrors the idea that you can't love other people until you love yourself.  I am responsible for my own happiness.  Other people can and do bring joy into my life, but ultimately, I am the one who is in charge of ensuring that my everyday life is full of joy.

I think that making self-joy a focus in my life is a step towards leading a fulfilled life.  I also think that by putting the focus on joy instead of care, the assumption is that I will do things that I need to care for myself so that I can bring joy into my life.  If I am not getting enough sleep, it will be hard to be joyful in my day.  If I am stressed out and overwhelmed, I am not going to be joyful.  But I also feel that self-joy takes the idea of self-care to the next level.  Instead of just saying "I am going to do something to take care of myself today" you are saying "I am going to do something special for myself today!"

There are so many ways to bring joy into your life.  Every day brings a new opportunity to examine your life and to find a way to make it more joyful.  Some days, your self-joy action might be a self-care action...but by thinking of it as self-joy, you will be more likely to approach it from a place of indulgence.  Instead of just taking a few minutes to mediate and get yourself centered, you might give yourself a little meditation break, light a candle and really make it something special.

I think that in order to be truly happy, we need to be content in the three major spheres of our self:  body, mind and soul.  There are tons of self-joy actions you can take for each one.  Some actions might speak to multiple areas, while others might focus on just one.  Listen to yourself, tune in and see what type of joy action would best serve you today!

I started my self-care with body centered actions.  For me, when I think of caring for myself, the body is the first thing that comes to mind.  And I think it is the area I struggle most in.  I don't always love my body as unconditionally as I might like.  But I still have plenty of things I find enjoyable.  I love giving myself a foot massage, or taking the time to put lotion on before bed.  A hot soak in a tub is very relaxing for me, and I have several options for ways to make the bath more luxurious:  bubbles, scented salt, herbal mixes. 

I also love chocolate, chips and other food, so a mindful snack can be great.  I definitely specify mindful, as food is also one of my weak points.  If I am not mindful, I tend to eat more than I should, or eat things that aren't actually appealing for me in the moment.  However if I am making a snack special, and really focusing on what and how I am eating, my body will tell me when it has had enough, and I can eat without feeling guilty for having that food that isn't necessarily on the 'health food' list!

Mentally, I have a pretty broad range of things that bring me joy.  I am an avid learner, so reading up on a new topic is very invigorating for me.  I like non-fiction, I like learning new things, and in fact I feel stagnant if I don't broaden my horizons regularly.  But I also love cheesy romance stories, supernatural action stories and fanfiction.  I find that a nice balance of things that make my brain work and things that I can easily enjoy is the most fulfilling.  TV falls into this category too, I like some shows (especially cooking shows) where I can learn something, but I also watch other shows just because they bring me joy.

I think that soul is the category that is easiest to forget about.  I also think that it is the hardest to notice when you are not fulfilled.  When I don't take care of my body, I get tired or fall sick.  When I don't take care of my mind, I will be overwhelmed with the need to either learn new things or let my mind relax into something easy.  But when I am not doing things that speak to my soul, it just makes me not want to do anything at all.  I'm not specifically tired, but I will be completely unmotivated.  And that lack of motivation will make it hard to move in any direction.

I personally find art to be very soul pampering.  And not just traditional art, any kind of intentional creativity.  For me this includes:  painting/drawing, making origami, singing, dancing, cooking, weaving, making jewelry, writing.  The list is really endless.  And I also find that it is absolutely not about the end product.  I have spent hours before, working on something that I didn't end up liking when it was done, and yet I still feel refreshed and more myself afterward.  I think that everyone has creativity in them, you just have to find the thing that works for you!

And that ultimately is what it comes down to...doing what makes YOU feel amazing.  Start small, especially if you are busy, and perhaps pick one day a week to take some time to do something just for you.  Don't think about what anyone else will think of it.  Don't let yourself feel shame for whatever you want.  Just open yourself up to what sounds fun or relaxing or exciting in that moment and run with it.  As you get used to carving a little time out for yourself, you can start adding more, until you find that you have made self-joy a priority in your life.  And when you are full of joy, you will have that much more to share with the people you love!