Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Study, Practice and avoiding burnout!

Life is a procession of ebbs and flows.  Sometimes we are full of energy, and just bursting at the seams to delve into whatever we are focused on at the time.  Sometimes we don't feel like doing much of anything.  And yet, life continues to move on, whether you are ready for it or not.  We all want to have a steady practice, and we all have things we wish to learn.  So how do you keep up with your regular practice without loosing it all in the slumps?  And how do you keep the momentum going in your studies without reaching the point of burnout?

I have the two-edged sword of time.  For the most part, I have almost free reign over what I do with my days.  This allows me to pursue the things I want to pursue at my own leisure.  The downside of this is that I can really overwhelm myself, especially when I try to tackle too much all at once.

There is always stuff going on!  If you are like me, and have interests in a wide range of things, this can get quite frustrating.  I get invites to all kinds of virtual events that I can participate in from the comfort of my own home.  I have signed up for a handful of them.  Many of them are SO chock full of interviews or sessions, that even with a full, free day it can feel overwhelming to do them all.  And many last for a couple of weeks, so it isn't just one full day, but many in a row.  Often sessions are only up for a day or two, so I feel compelled to watch them all, every day.....or I might miss out.

The most basic thing I have learned about this is to really prioritize my time.  I don't ask myself if I want to do something, but rather if that thing is the thing I want to do most of all today.  Sometimes I have to really sit down with myself and acknowledge that more things sound interesting than I have time for...and that if I don't do them now I might never have the chance to do the again...but that ultimately I will be happier if I don't do them all!  It is something that often takes work, and can be tempting to do 'just one more' thing that we actually have time or energy for.  The more we think about it, the more we are tempted.  But if we take a deep breath and really tune in to how we feel, we may find that the thought of spending that time is actually exhausting, and we need to let it go!

Another thing that I find sneaks up on me quite easily is a schedule full of little things.  I have quite a few projects going on, most of which don't take much time individually.  However, when you start adding them up, if feels like they all got magnified!  It is very important, when thinking about everything we have on our plate, to actually look at it all, from time to time.  This is one place where I find a calendar absolutely vital.  If I start filling out my calendar for the week, and actually pencil in all of the things that I do, even if they only take 5 minutes, sometimes I realize that I am overbooking myself.  And when you do something like this, always plan on things taking longer than you think they will!

Sometimes, you can adjust things to make them fit together better.  I have a few things that I do on particular days of the week.  I have other things that I am doing this year on the moon phases.  When I plan on my moon work, I will look at my calendar and try to fit the moon stuff in on days that I don't have a bunch of other things.  I also try to balance out really mentally intensive stuff with things.  I have been working a lot with the Futhark runes lately, and just picked up an immersion class in Womanrunes.  Being that both are symbol systems, and both studies were going to involve a lot of introspection, journaling and deep exploration, I decided it was best to not try to do both at the same time. 

Always keep your commitments in mind, when people ask you to do things!  I sort of keep a tally in the back of my head, about all the stuff going on.  That way, when someone asks if I can help with something, I know how busy I am (or am going to be in the near future) and have a rough idea if a new project will be too much.   Most of the time, when someone asks you to help with something, you need to consider not only the thing itself, but how much other work will be involved with that project.  Writing an article may not take much actual time for the writing, but you also have to consider how much time it will take for you to come up with your topic, do any research, write, edit and submit the article.

We are not built to be rushing about every waking hour.  Too often, modern society promotes the idea of moving non-stop from morning until night.  We are always trying to multi-task, to do things quicker and to cram more into our days.  I catch myself, sometimes, trying to rush through things that really shouldn't be rushed (like meditation or breath work).  Or trying to do multiple things at once (which normally means I don't do either well).  It is so much less stressful to take a few things off our plate, to slow down and do things well, one at a time.

Even when we have unlimited time, trying to work a big project all at once, can bring us into burnout.  I love learning new things!  When I am introduced to a new idea, my gut reaction is to delve in with both feet.  I will look up a dozen articles, and try to read them all.  I will want to practice it for hours a day.  And if I let myself go that route, I almost always hit a brick wall not to far in.  If, on the other hand, I place limits on myself, doing only so much every day, then I can avoid that feeling of being overwhelmed and stick with it.  Not only does parceling it out in smaller bites make it less likely that you will burnout, it makes it easier to keep up the practice!  If I feel like I need to be doing 40 minutes of meditation a day, and I'm not really feeling it one day, I am more likely to skip it than if I set my sights on 10 minutes a day.  Practices are much easier to deepen once they are set in our routine.

It is also very easy to get stuck in just one way of doing things.  But that can actually hinder us.  If we are trying to learn a new concept, most of us start with finding out information in some way, whether we read articles, find a video to watch or ask people.  Most of us know how we learn best, and we tend to stick to that way of learning.  Once we have our method down, we do the same thing, every time we want to learn something new.  Our brains are amazing things however!  The more we stretch them, the more work they do for us.  Find new ways to challenge yourself and enhance your learning.  Definitely start with your basic method, but then seek out new ways to explore the topic.  Think about how you might teach it to another person, and try it out.  Make up a game that is played using the skill or knowledge you are learning, and teach it to your friends.  Find an app that helps you practice.  By changing up how you are approaching your topic, you engage different areas of the brain, and you are not as likely to get bored or burnt out on it.

We all want to get the most out of life.  But if we are always overloading ourselves and feeling like we can't even catch our breath, we aren't enjoying what we are doing!  Slow down, and let yourself really get into what you want to do...and then make sure you have time to rest, rejuvenate and refresh yourself!  I think you will find that you get so much more out of the things you do, and because you are enjoying yourself and focusing on what is actually going on instead of what you still have to do, you will not miss the things you don't get to do.

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.