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!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


In honor of the date, I thought I'd delve a bit into Jediism!  Today is May the Fourth, also known by many in the Star Wars Fandom as Star Wars Day ("May the Fourth" be with you...).  Though I have watched Star Wars since I was a little child, I don't actually consider myself part of this fandom.  I do enjoy the movies, they just aren't on my top list.

So why do I want to write about Jediism, the faith that grew out of the Jedi from Star Wars?  Firstly, I think that the tenets of Jediism are quite worthy of discussion.  And secondly, I am endlessly fascinated by any system of philosophy or faith that grows out of a fictional source and becomes something real and usable.  And I think that Jediism does just that.

What exactly is Jediism?  While  many consider Jediism to be a religion, I think it is more of a Philosophy (but I also consider Buddhism in it's truest form to be a Philosophy).  From what I understand, there is no deity worshiped by the Jedi (and yes, followers of Jediism are called Jedi).  The Force is acknowledged, but not as a divine source, rather an underlying energy present in all things.

The biggest theme of Jediism seems to be to do service to the world.  A Jedi should strive to do their best in all things, not to benefit themselves, but to benefit others.  Justice is very big, and doing the right thing is something that is quite important.  In order to know what is right, a Jedi is expected to have a clear mind, and to approach things from a non-personal perspective, not letting their own motivations sway their decision.

In a lot of ways, Jediism shares many tenets with other religions.  I definitely feel that it has a more monastic approach than is common for lay people.  There is a definitely call to rise above, not other people, but your own past self. 

I definitely see a lot of focus on peace in Jediism.  Not only peace on earth (between people) but inner peace as well.  And I definitely think that both are very admirable goals.  It is really easy for people to get so caught up in their own perspective and desires that they cease to notice when their actions are hurting other people.  I honestly believe most people would like the world to be a happy, peaceful place.  I just think that sometimes we loose sight of that bigger picture...or we forget that happy doesn't mean the same thing to everyone.

Though practicing Jedi maintain that Jediism is only inspired by the Star Wars universe and the ideas contained within, they point out that they do not view the movies, books or other fictional sources as religious material.  I think this speaks not only to the author and director, that their world became so real as to inspire people to want to live up to the ideals they learned from them, but also to the creators of Jediism, for having the bravery to take a concept from a fictional source and refine it into a working, living path to follow.

I think that it takes a lot of courage to do something like this.  Many people will look down on Jediism as a 'made up' religion, not worthy of anything but ridicule.  I don't agree with that at all.  In fact, when I was reading through the Temple of the Jedi Order's Doctrine of the Order, I found that I agreed with pretty much everything I read.  I could see myself walking a Jedi path. 

I have seen a lot of discomfort in the Pagan world before when belief systems crop up that are rooted in fiction.  And I understand where the fear comes from.  It is still a fairly common belief that Pagan people believe in made up things.  And so systems that are actually inspired by made up things can be used as 'proof' that what we do isn't legitimate.  However, instead of discounting such systems simply because they have fictional origins, perhaps it is time to actually look and see how they function.

Jediism not only gives a pretty solid guidelines for living a good life, but it also encourages Jedi to create a better world.  And that, to me, is a pretty worthy goal.