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 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 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 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!