Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Bring back conversation!

I've written quite a bit about how technology is good and how it can be incorporated into your practice.  But I think that technology has the potential to tempt us into behaving badly.  There is a lot of evidence to support the fact that people are more likely to speak rashly or act in a way that they would never act when face to face with someone.

Beyond that, however, much of the purpose of technology is to make our lives easier and do things quicker.  I feel this is having a negative effect on the way we interact with people, especially in regards to social media.

First however, let us consider cell phones.  When I was little, cell phones weren't a thing.  It wasn't until I was in high school that pagers and cell phones started being a viable option.  So communicating with people in my childhood was still often done in letters (again, email didn't happen until about middle school) or phone calls.  But long distance phone calls were still a thing, and of course the time difference had to be taken into account.

The thing about letters was that they took time, on all fronts.  You first had to write the letter, which if you were like me and have abysmal handwriting most of the time means that you had to slow down and really put in the effort to write in a manner that would be legible (boy do I love that I can type stuff out now.....much quicker than I can write longhand!)

Then, you had to mail it, and it would take time to be delivered.  The person receiving the letter would read it, and if they wanted to respond, they would have to write their own letter and have it delivered....this whole process could take weeks!

Today, we can fire off an email, send it, and get a response in the same day!  And that is one of the slower methods of electronic communication.  We can post on a forum and seconds after we hit post someone on the other side of the world can read what we have written and respond.  We can use social media and send a message out to the world, or join a chat room and have a group video conference with dozens of people from anywhere!

In fact, many people consider a phone call to be sort of outdated in favor of texting.  Texting has some distinct advantages.  You can text without worrying how loud it is where you are.  You can text and if the other person is busy right then, they can still get your message and respond to you at their leisure.  For many people, reading/writing is less likely to be misunderstood, especially if there is a bit of a language or accent barrier.

But texting has also encouraged quite a lot of behaviors that might not be conducive to true communication.  We have all sorts of contractions that are popping up, and people make up new ones all the time.  While some have achieved mainstream status (like lol, rolf or brb), no one can actually know them all.  Many devices also feature auto-correct, which creates lots of frustration by changing what you are writing to what it thinks you want to say.  I fight with my phone all the time because it doesn't want to accept what I am typing.  And many people don't read over what they have typed (or they just miss small errors), so that can create even more confusion for a reader.

The worst offender, in my opinion however, is social media.  We have sites like Facebook or twitter, which really encourage (or out right force) people to communicate in tiny snippets at a time.  Or to bypass words entirely.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of images (and stickers *grin), but I also often miss words!

Sometimes it is really frustrating, to make a post or try to share an idea, and all you get is a handful of likes.  Sure, it is great to know that people like what you are posting, but I crave conversation!  If I post something that makes you think or react, share what went through your mind! 

I feel there is a time and place for simply hitting the like button.  I understand that often people check their phone when they aren't really in a place to respond well.  Or perhaps you see a lovely image or meme and it makes you smile but you don't truly have anything to add.  I have hit like sometimes when I am really at a loss for what to say (though I am much more likely to find a sticker to use as a response when I have nothing to add). 

But I feel that we are loosing our voices.  We are forgetting what conversation is.  We are no longer thinking and truly reacting to things.  We are just watching the world around us pass us by as we click like and follow and add emoticons.  We are surrounded by all this input, and yet often feel so lonely because there isn't actual interaction going on....if your response could have been automatically generated by a yes/no program, maybe it is time to think about whether you are actually showing up for the other person or not.

Perhaps it is time to really examining how we are spending our time.  If I spend an hour scrolling through Facebook, and only use the like button, have I truly reached out to anyone?  If I read an article or watch a video that brings me to tears and all I do is post a sticker, have I actually expressed what went on in my heart?  If I don't stop and think about what I am experiencing, is it really worth my time to read/watch it?

This is one of those slippery slope issues that I think can slide by your awareness without you even thinking it is a problem.  We have become trained to act in this way, to value information dump and knee-jerk reactions instead of actually connecting with people.  But that doesn't mean you can't realize what is going on and made a decision to change!

It is time to bring back discussion!  Take a moment to type a response to things that really touch you!  If you see someone trying to start a discussion, chime in!  If someone asks a question, answer it!  If someone shares a bit of their soul, honor it with a response.  If someone is having a bad day, words will be more soothing than seeing that 5 people 'liked' their trouble (I always thought that was an odd response.....)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

We are not our labels!

Wow, It's shaping up to be a political month!  I'm not normally one to speak on current events or the like, but I do often find myself sparked by an event to talk about something it brings up in my life.  The recent events at Pulse, and the storm of emotions it has unleashed definitely has lit some sparks in me.

In some ways I'm 'mainstream'.  I don't think my neighbors think I am anything out of the ordinary, nor would you necessarily notice anything different about me if you passed me on the street.  I am whitish (half-Chinese, but I don't think I necessarily read as Oriental), married and don't have an overwhelming amount of tattoos (yet).  I don't run around shouting Pagan blessings at people or ranting at folks for wearing crosses or the like.

And yet, I do wear my pentacle ring every day.  I am pretty open about things that I believe in.  And as a Pagan, it is not outside of the realm of believable that someone might find out about my personal life and decide to come after me in some way.

I think that a lot of people don't spend enough time really thinking about what their beliefs and morals mean.  They listen to whoever is standing on a soap box and sounds most like what they identify with.  And when that person starts sharing disturbing thoughts, they don't stop and really think about what those thoughts mean in the real world, they just jump on board.

I know a lot of lovely people of many faiths.  And some have thrown their support behind people who suggest horrible acts against minorities (whether those are religious, racial or sexual minorities...or any other category of people who "aren't like us").  They often make excuses for their spokespeople, saying that "they don't really mean that" or "that isn't meant to be taken literally".

Sadly, we live in a world where many people do take statements at face value.  If their religious book or idol says that X group should die....well there is always someone out there who will act on that thought.  And it is a very slippery slope from treating people like they aren't equal in small ways (like dictating who can get married) to treating them like they aren't equal in big ways (like who has the right to live).  It seems like a HUGE difference, but in actuality the distance between the two is much smaller than it appears.

Not only that, but this kind of fight escalates very quickly.  Of course, when someone is attacking me I will want to fight back.  And that is a fact that many people completely overlook when thinking about these issues.  Throwing the first blow almost guarantees that there will be a response in kind.  No one should be expected to take this kind of abuse and just roll over and submit.

I think it is very important to be honest about motives as well.  Not every person acts on behalf of some greater group or organization.  And even if they are a fully devoted member of a group, their actions do not necessarily represent the desires of the group as a whole.  People are people, and individuals are never JUST one thing.  I am a Pagan, a woman, an Asian-American, a mother, a daughter, a wife, and a million more things.  I have never acted from purely one is flat out impossible.  Even when my main motivation is one thing, I will be influenced by the other facets of my life.  As a person, I can not be an ideal....I can only be a person.

And I think there is great value in looking at other people that way.  We are all people!  At the end of the day, we are not our race, our gender, our political affiliation, our economic status or any other number of classifications we can be sorted into.  We are a uniquely blended individual, that has bits and pieces from all over.  The more we can start looking at the individual, and seeing the person, instead of seeing the label we have applied to the person, the less likely we are to judge them for things that don't actually apply to them.

Open your eyes, and open your hearts.  Don't let your ideas about what a person might be blind you to the truth of what they are.  We are all so many things, that one label can never fully capture us!  Let yourself really listen and see what other people are saying, instead of thinking that you know how they are may find that they surprise you!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Paganism and PR

There is a big news story that is blowing up my social media.  This blog post is inspired by that story, but it's not really about the story itself.  Suffice it to say that some people did some stuff and many people feel they are not being appropriately punished by our legal system.  So there was a public Pagan response to take up the mantle and hex the offending parties. 

If you've read my blog for a while, you probably know that I'm not opposed to taking a darker path.  I'm definitely not a 'turn the other cheek' kind of person.  You hit me, expect to be hit back.  I am not going to roll over and let people take advantage of me without resistance.  However, I'm also not someone who turns to the most harsh response as my first reaction.  I will always try to reach some sort of compromise, or to try to get the other person to see how they are causing trouble and get them to change their actions themselves.

This instance, and it's very public nature, troubles me.  I don't agree with what was done, nor do I agree with the consequences levied upon the offenders.  But I also don't agree with the way that the community has chosen to respond.  This is a community that I identify with.  I call myself Pagan, and I know that by doing such, any public action taken by people under the Pagan name is therefor associated with me.  Whether they intend it or not, the people who are calling for a public hexing are creating the image that Pagans support this kind of action.

What I find most distressing is that the suggested hex isn't focused on helping the offenders see what they did wrong, or encouraging the system to uphold the laws to which we are all subject.  But rather, it calls for a very extreme judgement upon them, invoking the Gods to bring punishment directly to them, in words that, if taken at their literal face value, will lead to death.

I think it was a horrible situation, and I feel like those in question do deserve to be punished...but I am not sure that death is the answer.  I am not opposed to death as a punishment, but in this case, I don't think it is the right punishment.  Especially not for all the individuals being targeted by this proposed hex.

Furthermore, I don't think that it is my place to work towards such a punishment.  I have seen some people suggest that by casting this hex they are taking up the mantle of Karma.  Whether one believes in Karma or not, I don't think it is my place to try to enforce it.  If the universe wishes to use me to help other people learn, so be it.  But who am I to decide that I know best how to judge other people..and how to punish them.

I have said before, I don't view magical morality as different from mundane morality.  If I don't feel it is right to take physical action towards a thing, I won't take magical action towards it.  In this particular case, I might definitely work (both physically and magically) towards seeing that the law was upheld, that truth was brought to light, and that justice was served.  But I would never consider taking a gun and hunting down and shooting the people why would I do the magical equivalent?

But, if individuals do feel this hex is the right action to take, that is their choice and their right as free-thinking individuals.  What I wish that they would remember is that the greater world will not see this as an action of justice but an action of hate.  They will see only the word 'hex' and their minds will fill with the images that history and media have provided, and Pagans will be feared.

This was a very public issue, and a fully public response.  I didn't have to join any groups or talk to anyone at all in order to find out the nature of this hex.  I read a news article that had a link to the Pagan event, which was a public Facebook group and therefor open for anyone and everyone to see.  The suggested hex was right there, with its unfortunate wording and post upon post of people sharing their participation.

Sure, there were people who focused on healing the victims or changed their focus to seek justice and not vengeance.  But we all know that when someone wants to see an enemy, they don't see the good, they only see the bad.  Anyone who wanted a reason to hate or fear Pagan's would look at that event and those posts and see nothing but a group of people using magic to harm others.

That is not the reputation I want for Paganism.  For so many years I think we have been fighting this perception that Paganism is about devil worship or black magic.  I am not denying that there are people out there who follow a darker Pagan path.  But it is hard to change public opinion when responses like this are what catch the public eye.

We all have both dark and light in us.  I do not shy away from my dark side or the darker parts of me.  I have talked about them freely, here in my blog, and in conversation with people in public mediums (such as Facebook).  But I am always mindful of my audience.  I try to make sure that I present myself as a thoughtful individual who is aware of the consequences of her actions.  I am also mindful of first impressions.  I do not open a conversation with new people by taking about the deeper, darker parts of myself.

As a community, I feel that we sometimes forget that the public doesn't always see all the good that goes on in our groups.  I know of a ton of healing groups that do regular work, people who do offer prayers for those in need every week, and lots of Pagan's who promote greater understanding and compassion towards the world at large.  But many of these are not announced to the public.  Many Pagans are still very private about their spiritual life.  We don't all want to face opponents every day, and there are many out there who will take every opportunity they are given to cause strife and sew discord.

So, I just want to remind everyone, in light of this recent event, to think about the words and actions you share with the world.  And not only in terms of you, but also in terms of everyone that you are representing when you take up a label like Pagan (or Witch, or Heathen, or whatever you call yourself).   Remember that your actions reflect on us all.  And take a moment to think about how other people will view what you are saying and doing, and ask yourself if that is how you want to be remembered.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Harnessing the power of technology

I've written before bout incorporating modern things into your practice, as there has always been a sort of technophobic attitude from many on the Pagan path.  And while I definitely feel that there are many ways to weave together mysticism and technology, I think that is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are many ways we can use the technology we have access to that will enable us to practice in ways that weren't viable before.

Many of these technological tweaks aren't going to be the preferred way of doing things for a lot of people.  I almost always prefer to be able to take my time, to do things the old fashioned way, or the manual way.  I think there is a lot of power in slowing down and doing things by hand.  However, I would also much rather add a bit of tech and make a compromise than to forgo my practice entirely.

One of the big struggles for many people is time.  We are so busy, that it can be very hard to find time to dedicate to our practice.  And yet there is quite a lot of time during our day that we could add a bit of spirituality in on top of what we are already doing.

Commute time is a big one.  If you have a long drive to work, take the bus or subway or even bike, you may have up to an hour of time that you can enhance.  Even if you are driving your children somewhere, if they are going to be listening to an ipod, watching a video or playing a game on a device, you can also make use of your time.  One of the easiest ways is to find music that speaks to you on a spiritual level.  I love chants, but there are also a lot of really beautiful songs that I find spiritual (whether that was their intention or not).  Music really helps to make a long, tedious commute more pleasant.  You could also check out the many books on tape.  Many libraries now have audio books as part of their lending library, so you can check them out like you would a book and have access to a much broader selection for free.

Speaking of virtual books, while I am very much in love with my paper books, I have also come to love my virtual books.  I have the Kindle app on both my phone and tablet, and that opens up a huge amount of material.  While I have and do buy books, I have also found a ton of books for free, in a huge range of topics (including Pagan and Occult books).  With a quick web search, you can find many sites that will give you lists of free books (you can even search Amazon directly for free books).  Again, most libraries now have a virtual lending library, so you can borrow virtual books also.

The great thing about virtual books is they are handy.  I can load a book to my phone, and if I suddenly find myself having to wait for an appointment or unexpectedly with some downtime, I have that book at my fingertips.  My tablet has a ton of books downloaded on it, which is great for vacations, as I can take a variety with me (where as before, choosing my book for a trip was an agonizing procedure...trying to find something that would not only interest me, but that I wouldn't necessarily breeze through before I got off the airplane).

If you have a smart phone or tablet and access to app stores, there are lots of really neat applications out there that can be a benefit for adding sacred time in or helping you to keep up with your practice.  There are lots of lovely meditation apps that will give you a soothing music as well as keep time for you.  These can definitely be used on public transportation, but also, if you have a busy home and just need to be able to tune out the household noises and tune inward, having the headphones in helps you to focus.  I definitely find that not having to keep time myself helps me tune in deeper and I am less distracted...I am not constantly trying to decide how long it's been.

For convenience, there are some nice divination apps as well.  When I have access to my own tools, I much prefer to use a non-digital deck or rune set, but again, these technological alternatives make great choices for on the go.  With a digital deck, no one else needs to know what you are doing (which is also an advantage of virtual books, if you might not want random people to know what you are reading about) and you can keep it on your phone and have it wherever you go.

There are even apps that let you simulate a candle burning.  I've used similar websites before, as a way to set up a simple virtual shrine or light a prayer candle.  There are even some more elaborate virtual shrines (mostly for Hinduism from what I can find, but these things change so quickly, you never know what you will find!) where you can do virtual temple devotions and prayers.

I have several apps and sites that I use that encourage me to set my own personal goals and work on them daily.  These goals can be whatever I want, so I can easily use them to give myself reminders for daily meditation, prayers or practice.  I can also set up reminders for more long term things, like full moons or Sabbats.  It is easy to get so caught up in day to day life that the bigger observances sneak up on you!  There is nothing shameful about having a reminder about these things.

One final, and very simple but lovely thing I like to do is to change my backgrounds on my devices to match the season or my personal goals.  I have set an affirmation into my phone lock screen, so that every time I turn it on, I see my affirmation.  My tablet often has pictures I've taken of workings as my backdrop, so that they are fresh in my mind.  And my computer wallpaper is always seasonal, often about the closest holiday.  I spend a lot of time indoors, so bringing that touch of the seasonal change into the things I use every day helps keep me from living in this sort of nebulous 'indoor' space.

Ultimately, technology is just one more tool in our toolbox.  It has it's strengths, mostly involving ways to either add to what we are already doing or remind us of things we want to keep track of.  It's become quite the catch phrase to say, "there's an app for that," but really there often is!  You just have to decide how you want to enhance your life and look for the tools that let you do what you want to do. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Confidence in your own path

There is so much of what I do that is based on my own experiences, my own perspective and my own associations.  My path may share many things with other people's paths, but ultimately is is my own and no one else will walk the same path as I do.

It can be very scary to step out into the world and to share what you do with others.  Especially when you do things a little differently.  What works for other people might not work so well for you and vice versa.  And yet it is a very empowering process to step into your own, to claim what you do and to give your experiences to those around you.

While other people might not walk the same path, they may find great benefit from your experiences.  How you do things could open them up to practices they weren't able to connect with before.  You may introduce them to deities they had never even heard of.  Or you help them claim their own methods and interpretations of something they were afraid to branch out into because they couldn't connect with the standard way of doing things.

I am a great book lover.  Books have always been my go-to for learning.  And yet, in many ways books have been a hindrance to my path.  There have been many places along the way where I didn't grow at all until I was ready to make the plunge and leave what I was reading behind and forge out on my own.

I think that one of the areas where this is the greatest pitfall is in divination.  So many books and resources offer up their perspective without pointing out that it is just one way of looking at things.  Even when the explanation is written by the creator of the symbols being used (for example, the creator of an oracle deck), what they drew into the cards might not be the only messages that you receive from those cards.

Art is a great example of this.  Art hits people on a very emotional level.  The artist who created a work might have made it as an expression of love and tenderness, but you might see loss and pain.  Both perspectives are real, and as a viewer of the art piece, you can even see both yourself.  But knowing and seeing the vision of the artist doesn't make your own reaction to the piece any less important.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that your perspective is more important to you than the artist's intention.

Part of walking your own path is being open to these personal connections.  But a great deal can also be learned from seeing how other people approach the same thing.  There is a lot of wonderful information out there, and the more you know about a thing the deeper your understanding of it will be.  The more perspectives you can comprehend, the more complex your reaction to a thing will be.

It can be very easy, especially when just starting out, to not want to trust your own reactions.  Especially when they are not in agreement with what everything else you are learning is saying.  Even for those who have been working for a long time may struggle with breaking free from the general consensus.

So how do you develop this confidence?  The first step is admitting it to yourself.  Be aware of the ways in which your personal experiences differ from what other people are saying.  You don't have to tell other people at first, you can just keep your thoughts to yourself, but whenever you find your reactions differ, acknowledge that difference and remind yourself that it is not only perfectly normal but also very empowering!

When you are comfortable with admitting things to yourself, then think about the people around you.  Start by sharing your experience with people who are supportive.  Many of us know someone who always feels that they are right and their way is best.  This is not the greatest person to start sharing your experiences with.  Instead, look for the people who show an interest in your life and your interests.  Typically, people who ask you questions about how things are going for you are more likely to be open to listening and supporting your opinions!

A discussion group can be a great way to help people to open up, to share their thoughts on a thing and their personal experiences.  Picking an outside source to discuss (such as a book or article not written by anyone in the group) can be an excellent starting point.  It provides a neutral perspective that everyone can then talk about what works or doesn't work for them. 

Another thing that can be helpful in sharing your opinion and speaking with confidence is keeping to 'I statements'.  This puts your language into a personal perspective.  You are giving your opinion on a thing and this makes people less likely to try to discount your experience.  If I were to say that red aura's mean anger, that would be received more like a fact that could be true or false, where as if I were to instead say that I see anger as red in an aura, a listener would be less likely to feel like my opinion negates their own experience.

I also think that being confident doesn't always mean having all the answers.  As contradictory as this sounds, I can be confident in my own path and perspective and still admit that I don't fully understand a thing or that I may not know what the meaning of something is.  Much of what I do works through symbolism, either through interpreting symbols or using symbols to communicate.  I don't always know every detail of a symbol.  I am always looking to refine my comprehension of the symbols I use.  I do think that part of being confident in my path as a whole is being honest about the parts that I am unclear on.

I feel more confidant, when talking to people, when I admit that I am unsure about a thing, than I do when I try to explain something I am unsure about.  For example, if I am reading the runes, and one comes up that I just am not getting a clear message from, sometimes pointing out that the rune is not fitting well for me in that reading works better than trying to force what I do know into a situation that doesn't resonate with it.  Often, in situations like this, the other person may have input that will make sense to me, or I may come back to it later and realize why it wasn't speaking to me.

Ultimately, I think we all have to pave our own path.  No matter how much we draw from others, there will always be points where we have to step into our own and claim our personal point of view.  You do you, and I'll do me, and we can work together by exploring where our paths merge and where they diverge!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Breathing into fear

This past week, I listened to a wonderful talk on Productive Creativity by Amber Kuileimailani Bonnici, who leads the Woman Unleashed group and retreats that I have enjoyed for several years now.  And she brought up a quote that really resonated with me, so I went and found it after the talk was over. 

This is from The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks.  And it is a quote within a quote!

There's only one way to get through the fog of fear, and that's to transform it into the clarity of exhilaration.  One of the greatest pieces of wisdom I've ever heard comes from Fritz Perls, MD, the psychiatrist and founder of Gestalt therapy.  He said, "Fear is excitement without the breath."

 Fear is something that I struggle with on a regular basis.  And it particularly irks me because it is a pretty recent development for me.  I remember being fearless as a child.  And more than fearless, when something was considered scary or intimidating, I tended to run right towards it and poke it with a stick!  I was definitely operating out of a very tomboy need to prove myself, not only to the world, but to myself.  I had to know that I could do anything I set out to do, and that I was stronger than all those dark things that other people ran from.

Somewhere, over the years, fears started to creep in.  Some of them I know where they are rooted, and some I am not quite so sure.  Most of my fears I know, in the thinking parts of my brain, that they are not worth stressing over.  This isn't to say they aren't real, but rather that my being controlled by fear doesn't make the situation any better.  My fear isn't making me more cautious or stopping me from making reckless decisions, it is only making my life miserable when I am faced with certain things.

So here is where the quote comes in!  Fear creates a state of anxiety and panic in the body.  It is a heightened state of nervous energy.  Excitement creates a similar state of energy, but instead of the energy trying to pull you away from a thing, it is pulling you towards it!  Fear and excitement are two sides of the same coin. 

I've tried to use deep breathing before, to combat my fear.  I took long, deep breaths, trying to settle myself, often using a mantra or chant to further enhance my calm.  I drew my breath deep into my belly, like I would when doing deep meditation.  And while it helped a little, it really didn't work.

Thinking about this quote and the idea it represents, I think this is because I was trying to take this fear/excitement coin and turn it into a flower...instead of flipping it over!  Because fear and excitement are so similar in their energy, it is much simpler to transmute fear into excitement than it is to turn fear into calm. 

So how does it work to breath fear into excitement?  How is that different from what I had tried before?  One article I read talked about how we often hold our breath or take shallow breaths when we are afraid, but when we are excited, we take deeper breaths.  The suggestion given was to imagine blowing out a birthday candle.  Take a deep breath and then exhale deeply as well.  Not only does this help you focus on breathing, but it also anchors the breath with a positive visualization!

I love breath work.  I have worked with many different types of breathing, and when I tried this, and also thought about how I breath when I'm excited about something, I realized that I breath deeply, but into my chest!  When meditating and enhancing calm, I breath into my belly, my chest barely moves, while my lower belly fills out like a balloon.  However, when I am gearing myself up for something or building energy, I will often breath into my my whole rib-cage expands while my belly actually draws in at first.  Even a few breaths like this, I feel supercharged of oxygen.  It is a technique I have seen divers use, to prepare for diving underwater without any type of air tank.

I can definitely feel a difference in my body after breathing this way.  Several articles suggested other advice to go along with the breathing.  Embrace the sensations in your body, but keep steering them towards excitement.  Feel that jittery energy building in you, and think about a time that you were so excited you couldn't even sit still (or imagine yourself as a toddler who can't wait to do something super fun).  For me, as silly as it sounds, widening my eyes helps build that feeling up too. 

Notice any negative self-talk that tries to butt in, and acknowledge it, thanking your mind for pointing things out, but then reword that information into something that you can feel excitement about.  This might take a lot of work!  It might not be something that you can do at first.  You may need to just start with acknowledgment and gratitude for the warning, then turning back to your breathing.  But keep at it!  Keep looking for those positive perspectives!  Ask your inner voice how you can benefit from the situation.  Any little thing can work!

One of the things that really triggers my fear recently is flying.  I used to love flying when I was little, and I've flown a lot over my life.  I have probably flown an average of 2 times a year (well one round trip, so two days of flying).  I know, in my logical brain, that flying is not overly dangerous, and that traveling by car is more worrisome.  I also know that some of it is knowing that I can't get off the plane (though I'm not claustrophobic in other places).  And I do get motion sick, so turbulence causes anxiety too (and feeds into my other fear of getting  None of those fears really has an upside, or at least I haven't figured out how turbulence is a good thing.  What I can focus on, however, is why I am flying.  For the past decade or so, I have flown to visit my family in the summer.  My son flies with me.  I definitely don't want him picking up my anxiety, so I focus on trying to remain positive and upbeat for his sake and on my wanting to spend time with my family once I land.  On the way home, the desire to be in my own home is a huge motivator as well.

I am actually really excited to put this technique to the test.  I am a firm believer in the power of breath.  We breathe every minute of every day of our lives.  And we can breathe in so many different ways!  Breath is such a simple tool with so many uses.  So embrace the fear, transmute it and breathe on!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Virtual circles

Technology changes everything!  The world we live in today is so much bigger than the one of my childhood, some three decades ago.  The internet has absolutely changed not only how we learn and share information, but also how we interact with others.

When I was first learning, it was hugely emphasized that you should join a coven.  This was how you learned.  You found a group that practiced near you, and applied to join.  If that absolutely could not happen, then you hoped to find a book that would hold you over until you found actual people to learn from, but this was still considered an inferior way of learning.

It was seen as a sign of dedication to your craft to be willing to travel, sometimes hours one way, to meet with a group.  Often groups would want to meet at least every month and a half (for Sabbats), but some had monthly Esbats or even weekly learning groups.  And I have been flat out told that if you couldn't make that commitment then you obviously didn't want it bad enough (which in my opinion is a very horrible attitude and is very exclusive and discriminatory to people with lesser means or with a family).

Today, there are so many more options!  There are tons of resources for learning, from books and websites to online schools (some which are free and open to all and some which charge and function more like a coven or college in structure).  In fact, most of the newer Pagans I have met (newer as in only practicing for say five years or less) take book/online learning as the standard.  Some have attended classes or workshops here and there, but the bulk of what they have learned comes from books.

I adore book learning.  I definitely value face-to-face learning (and experiential!) also, but as someone with lots of personal time, having a book to learn from means I can advance along at my own pace, and that I can connect with other people who have read the same book and discuss anything within it and we have the same context to relate to.  I also find books to be timeless.  A book can be a hundred years old, I could have read it twenty years ago, and someone else could have just read it yesterday and still the information remains the same.

Websites to me are a lot more fleeting.  I started keeping copies of really good information on my own computer many years ago, after several instances where I had tagged a website for reference or to read later only to have it disappear, never to be seen again.  But, websites also offer voice to those who might not be heard otherwise.  Things like this blog, where anyone can create content from their own perspective, and put it out for the world to see.

The internet also allows instant communication between people from all over the world.  I can 'sit' down with people from anywhere in a chat room, on a forum or on social media, and have a discussion in real time.  This really opens doors, not only for people in remote areas, but also for people who might not want their interests known to their family or work.  People who might have otherwise never reached out to anyone out of fear, can now speak to people who they identify with!  And, you can be exposed to ideas and practices that are common in other areas of the world that you might never have heard of otherwise...and from someone who practices them as part of their daily life instead of from a textbook or other reference/historical document.

Virtual covens are something I have seen for decades.  And the concept is expanding today.  There are lots of groups that cater to Pagans that offer different levels of community.  There are huge groups open to anyone who wishes to join and small select groups of friends who wish to share private things.  Virtual classrooms allow students to come together and share their studies, benefiting from the experiences of the other people taking the class as well as feedback from instructors.

And there are lots of options for virtual rituals!  I have participated in some that are sent out by email, where the ritual structure is sent to everyone, and each participant does the ritual at the same time, but on their own.  Or where everyone may even do the rituals at different times, but still tap into the group dynamic and energy through mutual focus. 

I have also been a part of rituals done in chat rooms, where the ritual leader will type out descriptions of what they are doing, and then invite everyone else to join in, typing their own responses.  This works best with smaller groups, and if everyone is very comfortable typing (it can easily become slow and clunky if there are too many long pauses as everyone is typing).

Another option is with video or phone chat.  Often in this case, the ritual leader will be the one on video or the one who is speaking, while everyone else listens in.  Sometimes there is a chat box where participants can type and be heard, or can key in and speak, but mostly it is one speaker leading the group, and the rest following along.  While not quite as interactive as a traditional ritual, they can be absolutely lovely, and really immersive with a great leader.  Plus, it can be less intimidating for people who are just starting out as there is nothing they have to do besides listen.

Finally, some people have utilized the potential of video games (especially mmo style ones where everyone can create a character, move about and even place objects) to host even more immersive virtual rituals.  This may not appeal to some people, but with the technology breaking into 3-D gaming, there is the possibility of fully virtual rituals in the fairly near future.

There are a lot of pros and cons to virtual communities.  It can sometimes be hard to connect as deeply to people you only know online.  For all that they are used so much, many social networking sites or other virtual ways of interacting are quite clunky and not really great for true conversations.  On the flip side, it can be a lot easier for many people to engage in a discussion online, at their own convenience, when they might never actually be able to make a physical meetup (or the physical meetup might only be able to accommodate half a group because of scheduling issues).

Ultimately, there are lots of tools for us modern Pagans to make use of.  It all comes down to how you choose to use them!