Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Embracing the Shadow Side

I subscribe to quite a few spiritual newsletters, and one of them today was talking about how we have the choice in every moment to act from a place of love or a place of fear.  This is a pretty common idea, that we may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it.  I am definitely on board with this, what I am not on board with is the idea that we should always be choosing the side of love.

Okay that sounds a bit shady doesn't it...I mean why would we want to choose to act from a place of fear?  Let me explain!

Fear exists for a reason.  If you are out in the woods at night, and see a wild bear up ahead, that fear exists to warn you of danger and to prompt you to act in a way that will preserve your life.  Sure, you may love the bear, but it is wiser to act on your fear and to slowly back away, than it would be to run forward and hug the bear.

Of course, this is an exaggerated example, but it feels to me like the overwhelming attitude in a lot of spiritual circles is that we should all be trying to rise above our darker aspects, to face our shadow and overcome it, and to fill our lives with love and light and everything wonderful.

I'm all about the joy.  I love when things are fabulous and everything is going my way.  But I am also very entrenched in my own darkness.  Sometimes this isn't in my benefit, but I naturally work very well in dark places.  I embrace parts of myself that are dirty and violent and low.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again for good measure:  I believe life is about balance.  I've done the 'wallow in my own darkness' thing (yes I was a little bit goth in my day...yes goth, it was before emo was a thing), and it wasn't healthy for me.  But I don't think trying to abolish and eliminate the darkness would be either.

So how does this pan out in everyday life?  I think that is one thing that the email that started this train of thought got right.  In every moment we have a choice in how to react.  We just have to have the piece of mind to be able to choose what actually serves us best in the moment.  And sometimes, reaching for love and trying to surround ourselves with only light IS a fear based action.  We are running from our own darkness because it scares us.  And I think that is a very different energy than embracing the light for it's own sake.

I've been thinking a lot about self-esteem and body image a lot recently.  This is another place where I find this tricky balancing act.  It is a pretty well known fact that hating on our body as it is now isn't a fun way to live.  Sure, many of us have things we would like to improve upon, but that doesn't mean we need to shower ourselves in negative self-thought all the time. 

I sort of think about it like I would approach a small child.  When my son was little, there were tons of things that he did that I wasn't too happy about.  And if he was old enough to know he was doing something wrong, he would get an appropriate punishment.  But it was always accompanied with a suggestion for a more appropriate behavior and a reminder that just because I didn't approve of the action he took, that didn't mean that I didn't love HIM any less.

And I think that is a great way to approach much of life.  We look at the things we do/think/feel and we can acknowledge when those things aren't what we want them to be.  We can give ourselves that moment of 'oh I really shouldn't have done that', but then we should definitely follow it up with some kind of positive action towards what we wanted to do and a reminder that we are all human and mistakes are okay (just try not to make a habit of them).

But I definitely think it is healthy to have an outlet for those darker emotions as well.  Things happen that suck.  Life isn't fair.  Sometimes you just have that horrible day, everything is going wrong and it feels like people are going out of their way to do you wrong.  Embrace it!  Run with those emotions!  Rant about it on paper, dance it out to your favorite angry song, pull out the crayons or finger paints and scribble all those ugly feelings out, or build something (like with clay or legos) with the intention of destroying it!  And then turn that dark energy into a focus that will move you forward.  Channel that rage and stubbornness into standing up for what you need.  Use those emotions to give you strength when people try to take advantage of you!

I think sadness is another emotion that people shy away from.  I am a crier.  I don't always want to be (it's messy, uncomfortable, and part of my brain tells me it is the action of someone who is weak).  I definitely cry a lot more than I would like at horribly inconvenient times (I hate crying in the middle of an argument...and I swear I never do it to be manipulative).  I cry while reading books or watching tv (even commercials).  But there is something very cathartic about crying.  Especially when I stop resisting it and just roll with it.  I definitely find that I feel the sadness more deeply when I do.  And there is a profound purity to deep sadness.  This sense of emptiness as if nothing in the world can ever touch you again.  There is also a sort of peace and calm.  When you are in this place nothing can hurt you because you have nothing left to loose.  It is a sort of certainty that can't be shaken.

The thing I find about these darker aspects is that they take work (although I also find that the light takes work, for me at least).  When you first face them, it is easy to be overwhelmed, to fall into their power instead of being able to harness their power to work for you.  It is only by sticking with it, by working with them and really being mindful about it, that you start to be able to ride the wave, to be able to direct the storm instead of being battered by it. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Art and how to create like a child!

At the start of the year, I participated in a virtual retreat, which centered around creativity and self-expression.  It featured art quite heavily.  Now I definitely think of myself as an artist.  I have always loved art, took art lessons in school and privately as a child, and still love to create stuff.  I have my own personal self-critical thoughts about my art, but I still love to make it and quite often love what I have made.

My son does not consider himself an artist.  He is only a teenager, but he very firmly believes he is horrible at it (no matter how many times I assure him that he is fine at it, or that when his English teacher assigns a poster project with drawings on it, he will not be expected to create something perfect). 

I don't think art is something that anyone is horrible at, if they truly are letting their inner self speak on the page, then that is a form of truth that is honest and beautiful.  I think that it is a horrible thing that people think that only picture perfect pieces are worthy of the title of art.

I scribble stuff with crayons!  Little stick figures, or smiley faces or whatever happens to come out.  One thing I absolutely love about crayons (especially my box of crayons which are never sharpened, and the colors sometimes look drastically different from what you think they will look like) is that they sort of force you to be okay with simple drawings and playing with color.  Flesh is rarely flesh colored, grass might be sort of aqua and the sun more orange than yellow (because really, yellow doesn't show up well on white paper...)

One of the things I love most about art is color.  I have been a fan of coloring since I was a child, when my art teacher introduced me to layering colored pencils.  I did it first on this picture I had drawn of some monkeys.  After sketching out the outlines, I would then pick one section to color.  That section got colored in white first (which was definitely challenging to see if you were covering it all!)  And not just sketching with the white had to be carefully filled in with small circular motions...basically I was creating a white pencil layer to smooth out the rough pockets in the paper.  Then, I would lay in the actual color, again with the little circles.  Finally, it would be gone over again with white, which would smooth out any last inconsistencies. 

Sounds tedious...and it was....but I loved it!  Something about the meticulous nature of the practice, definitely very meditative, but I also adore how it turns out...deep, rich and silky.  I have also found that layering colors on top of other colors gives a nice effect too.

As much as art and magic have been parts of my life forever, it feels like I never really connected them until recently.  Sure, I have always done some things that cross the line (like making divination cards or prayer mats or even just drawing sigils or making runic patterns), but making actual art for magical purposes was new to me.

And this is one place I think that art play can be very powerful and definitely does not have to be technically accurate.  One of the things I was introduced to was a practice where you seek inspiration or guidance through art.  So you think of something you want guidance on, then grab a pen/pencil/crayon and close your eyes and scribble.  Then you look at the scribble, turn it around and around until you see something in it...and then sketch to fill out what you see.  It's pretty interesting to see what comes up, what sticks in your head and wants to be drawn, and what surprises you.  I recently did one of these thinking about family issues, ended up drawing what I saw as several hooded figures in front of a big moon, and then just filled it in with color.  It was sort of disjointed for a while, and I absolutely couldn't see how it related to my issue, until I then sat down with a pencil and just let the words flow like the color had.  And ended up getting a message about how to build stronger ties and where to get wisdom from.

I've also been playing with collage lately, mainly to make vision boards.  What I love about collage is you really don't have to draw anything at all.  I don't actually subscribe to any magazines, but I love catalogs, and sometimes the library will have stacks of old magazines for free, which I will pick up if they look interesting.  So I'll flip through and see what images and words call to me, clip them out, then start playing pasting them on to a board (or paper).  I will often use some paint to put color on the page first...not really painting anything particular, just adding bits of color here and there.  Then the collage goes over that, then I might take more paint and add swirls or lines (or use a sharpie!)

I think there is great power in letting our inner child play like this.  Consider grabbing a box of crayons, colored pencils or markers (they are always on sale at the start of the school year), and when doing spellwork, instead of writing out what you want, sketch it.  Do stick figures, or find a coloring page that represents what you want (there are tons online you can print out!), or even just let the emotions fill you up and scribble (it doesn't have to look like anything at all).  The great thing is that your subconscious will connect that image with your goal!  If you like chanting or have a statement you are working with, you can add that verbal component as well (or just toss on a song you love that fits!)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Fangirl, Fanboi, or just plan fan....

I am definitely a fan of quite a few things, from certain video games (and yes, there are video game companies that I will be predisposed toward games they make because I am a fan), authors, tv/movies, anime, genres (werewolves, I'm looking at you!) and topics (witchcraft, witches, magic, Pagan, Occult....the list goes on!)

Of course I have been aware of the term 'fan' for years, but Fanboi was a new one to me about the time I started reading fanfiction.  The way I encountered it, a fanboi was someone (yes typically male) who was particularly devoted to a fandom (Harry Potter was the one I learned it from).  And I had heard the term used for females as well.  Fangirl was something I came into through anime, often in reference to the stereotypical teenage girl who fawned over their favorite band (or tv star). 

Neither Fanboi or Fangirl have particularly good connotations.  Both imply that the person who is a fan is very over the top, obsessed (sometimes to dangerous levels), and somewhat unhinged in their devotion.  It conjures up images of stalker fans and people who are so devoted to a particular thing that they refuse to accept the possibility that it might have flaws.

I had never really thought about the word fan in the same light, so imagine my surprise when I looked up the etymology of it (I am a HUGE etymology fan too *grin).  Fan is a shortened version of fanatic, which apparently came into English usage in the 1500's, meaning 'marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion', and was made popular in reference to baseball fans.  It's roots are in a Latin word meaning, 'insanely but divinely inspired', and was originally a reference to a temple or sacred place.

I think it is really interesting that the deep roots point to divinity.  To me, it sort of speaks to the idea that the workings of the Gods aren't always something that makes sense to the human mind.  But really all versions of the word fan imply a sort of crazy obsession.

I don't really consider myself insanely devoted to things.  At least I like to think that I make sense in my interests.  But there are definitely things that I will seek out, that my eye will always be drawn to, or that I will be predisposed to like, just by the nature of their being.

It is like pulling teeth for me to pass by something witch related.  I have a site that lists free kindle books, that I look at every day.  I was originally grabbing everything magic related that came up on the list, but quickly realizing that quite a lot of those books weren't really worth my time to read.  Either they were very basic, intended to be a 'first look' kind of book, and stuff that I have read a dozen times or more already, or they were very opinionated, and not opinions that I agree with.  I have slowly started to be more discerning with my tastes, though I still at least look at the summery of everything in my fandom's that crosses my path.

One thing I find really interesting about being a fan is that it definitely colors how I view the world.  I will catch references (Easter eggs!) and that adds whole layers to things.  The part of me that loves puzzles finds this immensely satisfying.  But even when the reference isn't intentional, I definitely find myself comparing things I encounter in my daily life to my favorite fandoms. 

In Pagan realms, this often means that I will look at the world through the lens of magic:  I consider things and how they might be useful to me in my path.  I especially love fictional magic based stories and worlds.  I think it is really interesting to see how magic is believe to work in different ways.  Even when the ways of magic from a fictional source are absolutely not possible in this world, I think that exposure to those ideas can challenge our thoughts on how magic works and what might be possible.

I love the fact that, in today's world, being a fan of things that aren't sports is becoming not only tolerated but actually quite popular.  Tv fandom's are huge.  And again, not just the traditionally popular ones, but the breadth and range of things that people are delving into is breathtaking.  I love that we are now encouraging people to really embrace what calls to them, and that if they want to take a thing they love and build their wardrobe around it, decorate their house with it or act like it...they can do this!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A new Year, New projects!

Two years ago, I participated in the Pagan Blog project, which I enjoyed immensely.  Sadly, it ended, and last year I attempted to do something similar with the Cauldron Blog project, but (as you can see by the state of my blog) didn't go as well. 

I definitely get inspired by things, jump into them with both feet and the best of intentions, and sometimes end up burning out and abandoning them.  Last year was quite underwhelming for me on a lot of fronts.  I had also intended on using a desk calendar as a sort of 'yearly log', not only was I marking down my daily rune draw (which I actually kept up with), but also intended to jot little notes down everyday.  Just things I learned, phrases that stuck with me or other tidbits like that.  That project only lasted a few months.

Life is a process, and the more I move along, the more I learn.  I definitely learn as much from where I falter (when I take the time to look back and examine my unfinished projects) as I do from my successes. 

I want to blog more.  I am a big fan of words, of talking about stuff, and the blog format works really well for me.  It forces me (through the knowledge that it is out there and that other people can read it) to formulate my ideas in a way that (I think) will make sense to other people.  There are times where those little niggling doubts jump in my mind, asking why I bother, not that many people will read this, will it even be interesting to anyone? 

But I keep in mind the vast number of words I have read that have touched my heart, often in the most surprising of places.  The way I figure it, if even one line in one of my posts means something to someone out there, then it will have been worth it.  Actually, even if it only helps me, I definitely learn by writing!

One of my start of the year projects is going through my favorites (on my browser) and dealing with my plethora of links.  I have been using delicious (an online link saving site) for years now, and had accumulated quite a lot of links.  Some are so old that they are broken, some are about things I am not super interested in, and oddly enough I had quite a few Wikipedia pages saved (seriously, I have no clue why I saved those links as I could just wiki search and find them again probably quicker than looking for my saved link).  I am on the letter E now, of my alphabet of tabs, and am down to 900 something links.

One thing that was quickly apparent, as I started this link-purging process, was that my taste was and remains broad and a little crazy.  My brain wants to know things...about everything.  My dad said something to me a while back, talking about books.  My bookshelves are a similar mess of too many and all subjects.  And I had made the comment to my dad that I just had more books than I could read (I think it was right after I had gotten my kindle, so with all the free digital books out there, I literally could read non-stop for the rest of my life and still probably not finish reading all the content that I have).  And he told me that even though I might be interested in everything, my time was limited.  So I had to make choices about what I wanted to spend that limited time doing.

That is a really powerful thought to me, and it has become a sort of measuring stick for me.  I don't ask myself anymore, "is this something I want to know about," because pretty much the answer will be yes.  Rather, I ask myself, "is this the thing I MOST want to know about right now."  And as I am writing these words, it occurs to me that is sort of how I am approaching much of the rest of my year, not just in learning but in doing as well.

I have the luxury of staying at home.  Many days, other than cooking dinner for my family, there isn't much I actually HAVE to do.  And this leaves me in a very tricky spot.  I acknowledge how lucky I am to be in this dilemma, but the fact remains that I have wasted many a day doing what amounts to killing time just because I had no clear focus.  I did what was here and not what I really had a drive to do, and then at the end of the day looked back and wondered how I managed to go an entire day and not do anything.

So, this year, the calendar makes a return, but my focus has shifted.  I am taking the time to schedule myself for the day.  I am planning what I want to do in the morning, so that I can keep going back to that list of things and keep myself on track.  I am setting aside time for me...time to do whatever I may feel the need to do that day.  Today, it was actually taking a nap.  The first week back to a school schedule (I do get up with my son to see him off to school still) after the holiday late nights.  We are all night owls, given the choice, we will sleep from about 1 or 2 in the morning until around 11...needless to say breakfast isn't eaten often on holidays.  So I end up sort of sleep starved the first week, as I get used to actually going to sleep at a more reasonable hour.

My other main focus for this year is to tune inward and open up.  I am wanting to focus on moon cycles, and in just the past two months have definitely realized that I am much better at doing than I am at opening myself up and really being aware of what comes to me.  And I feel like I am closing myself off to so much by not being able to listen well.  So I am on a moon based track this year, a listening and a stillness and a looking inward.  But of course the moon has it's phases so there will be plenty of action too.  It actually is kind of crazy how quickly time flows, now that I am working on really being present throughout the phases, realizing that some of them are a mere 3 days keeps me on my toes!

And so, for anyone out there reading this, there will be more blog posts this year!  I am not sure what they will be about yet, I don't have a particular plan for them.  But they are on my schedule, every Wednesday (possibly more!), so check back and have a wonderful year!