Friday, August 22, 2014

PBP: Week 34- Quickness

I was watching a show the other day on the television that involved a little country town that chose to not embrace technology, so no internet, no cell phone service, no new television shows. That town had a cinnamon festival, and the diner had a cinnamon pie. The people who visited the town absolutely loved the cinnamon pie, and I decided to look it up. The recipe isn't that different from an egg custard pie I used to make all the time (just with cinnamon!), and I am going to try it here someday soon.

But it got me to thinking. All the visitors were so impressed with this pie, and probably because it was actually home made. The modern world puts so much emphasis on things being quick and convenient: instant and disposable. We can go to the store and buy pretty much anything pre-made and ready to heat up. And I do get a lot of these convenience items. Sometimes it's a budget thing. Sadly, package meals are often cheaper than getting 'real' food. Sometimes it's a freshness thing. Living in a pretty small town myself, the fresh produce isn't always good looking, and the 'fresh' fish is just scary. And even though I am a homemaker, sometimes we need food that doesn't take a lot of work (especially if I am not going to be home until right before dinner time).

But I can't really think of anything that comes out of a packet that actually tastes as good as things that are home-made...from scratch. There are a ton of things that aren't that hard to make, at least in terms of ingredients and techniques needed. Bread is one of those things. Home made bread can be very simple, but it is time consuming. It isn't hard, though through doing a lot of bread baking I can definitely say that the difference between making a bread that is good and making one that is great is a matter of either luck or experience!

And I think this is true in the Pagan world as well. A lot of books focus on how easy and basic things are. How you can meditate for just ten minutes a day and reap the benefits. How you can ground and center in mere moments. That shielding can be done with a thought! I've even seen books that bring basic spell casting down to an instant thing: just make this gesture or say this word and send your spell out into the universe.

What a lot of these sources conveniently forget to mention is that, sure you can do a lot of these things in pretty small chunks of time, BUT it takes many, many repetitions to get to the skilled level where you get the results that they claim you get. Like many other things, you are building a skill. When you first start, you may be getting the job done, but it probably takes longer and isn't as polished. Give most people some pieces of wood, a hammer and nails, and they can probably cobble together some sort of table. But it may not be very stable and probably doesn't look too good. Give an experienced carpenter the same tools and I bet their table will be a good sight better. Give both those people some additional tools (chisels, sandpaper, stain), and the beginner might get overwhelmed while the carpenter will probably create something that is functional, durable and beautiful.

I think there is a bit of a bell curve involved in practice. When I first started, I dove in head first. I spent hours doing research, really soaking up anything and everything I could get my hands on (okay, I still kind of do this, just now it's more of a matter of wadding through the repeated information to find something new). My first time with tarot, I spent hours just sitting with my deck, looking at each card in turn and trying to get a feel for them. My early rituals were long and complex (I tried to put in pretty much every correspondence I could, and every step I had read about).

As I progressed, I started to streamline. I didn't offer up cakes and ale every time I cast a circle. I didn't cast a circle every time I wanted to do a spell. Meditations got shorter but more frequent. Instead of setting aside hours to do some sort of guided meditation, I started doing a short meditation every night before bed.

Then, I started to swing back around. I kept the small, regular things as parts of my practice. But I started adding back in the bigger things from time to time. And I found that even doing the longer, more complex rituals, I had more time for the meat of the ritual because I didn't have to work so hard to do the bones of it. Casting a circle isn't something I really have to think about anymore, I don't have to try to remember what comes when or what direction is which. When I sit down to meditate, I rarely have to spend time getting still (I still have my days where I just don't seem to want to quiet, but they are the exception rather than the rule).

I don't think it can really be said often enough, but when picking up a new skill, sit with it a while. It is all fine and good to go deep when you are still in that beginning phase and everything is exciting. In fact, that is one of the best times to really jump in and get yourself drenched (because you have the enthusiasm to soak it all up). But don't just consume the information and then let it all drain away. Just like a sponge, when you are first learning something, you are heavy with all that knowledge. You tossed yourself in the bucket and filled up until you couldn't take in any more, and still you floated about in that pool of information surrounded by it. Eventually, you have to get out of the bucket though. And outside, all that water starts to leak away, evaporate, and drain out of you. Daily practice is like dripping more water into the sponge. It helps keep the information inside of you. And (if you think of the sponge as a living creature), if you keep dripping water in it, the sponge will grow, allowing you to retain more water.

One of the things that always frustrated me about 101 books is that they sort of dump all this information on you, but don't give you a framework within which to explore it. Even something simple like a line or two at the end of each new practice explaining that you should practice grounding every day for several weeks until you can do it easily and without strain. It's kind of like throwing someone off a boat into the ocean, in the dark. They can't see the boat, so don't know which way to swim to get back on it. If you throw them a line, they can pull themselves up it, one hand at a time. It will be slow, but they know which way to go.

Quick isn't always quicker. Slow isn't always better. Everything has it's own time, and learning what your pace is helps you to know what works for you. Someone who works a full time job and has a spouse and/or children has a lot less free time than I do. Someone who is retired with no familial commitments might have more time than I do. Each of us will have different needs from our practice and a different framework to build it on. If you only have ten minutes, then you may expect to work with a practice longer, but ultimately you will have something that you can turn to within the time you have that will serve you well. Some days I think that having extra time can be a detriment (there are plenty of days where I think of twenty things I might like to do...and then piddle around because “I have all day to do whatever I want” and by bed time nothing on my list of things I wanted to do actually got done).

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