Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul is a phrase used to describe a period of time where it feels like you have lost your connection to light.  While often used to refer to a spiritual crisis where one feels like they have lost their connection to the divine, it can also be a more general period in one's life where things feel hopeless or unbearable.

Dark Nights may happen multiple times in your life, or you may never experience them.  They may last for short periods or they may stretch on. 

But Dark Nights also often function as a Guardian at the Gates.  They are a final purge of the negative thoughts and emotions we have born before we pass through to a new awareness or inspiration.  You can think of them as a last ditch effort of the 'old you' to keep you from growing.

Even knowing what you are going through, it can be very hard to navigate a Dark Night.  You may find you have no motivation, or it feels like everything you try ends poorly, or that you are all alone.  Each Dark Night is different, and each person faces their Dark Night slightly different.

Always remember that though the Dark Night process might lead you back to the light, if you every feel completely overwhelmed, definitely seek outside help!  Talk to a friend, a loved one or your doctor, especially if you feel any inclination to harm yourself through action or inaction (if you stop feeling motivated to do basic self-care).  Just because a Dark Night is a deeply personal thing, it doesn't mean you can't have allies along the way!

Sometimes, you may feel the need to turn inward.  To really allow yourself to be with the feelings you are going through.  You may feel called to sit in meditation, to spend time alone and dreaming, to journal or create art to express the dark feelings you are having or the need to scream and vent your frustrations.  As you do these things, pay attention to how your feelings change.  Do you feel like you are going deeper into them or are you releasing them?  Take some time and write about how you felt before, how you felt during and how you felt after.

In the depths of a Dark Night, many times the things that used to bring joy and happiness into your life don't seem to shine as brightly.  Even when you are exploring your own darkness, make sure to keep a little light shining.  Take a moment or two, every day, to focus on something beautiful, something that is uplifting or joyful (even if you aren't quite feeling it).  You may look at pictures, listen to a song or smell some flowers.  Think of it as a little reminder of the joys in life.

I often have times where I feel hollow inside, like I am nothing but a shell.  For me, at these times, I really need to nourish and replenish myself.  It is the time that I focus on self-care in a very tender way.  It is almost as though I feel there is something broken inside me and I need to fix it.  I may take long baths, spend more time with personal grooming (like brushing my hair or putting on body lotion) or give myself a foot massage.  I almost always move slower, so I will make sure to take extra time for everything I need to do.

I find nature very soothing when I am distressed.  To me, nature is neutral.  Nature doesn't want something from me, it doesn't judge me, it just IS and this lets me just BE as well.  I don't always have transportation, so sometimes spending time with nature means sitting on my back porch and watching the field behind our apartment.  Sometimes it means laying on the floor and petting my cats.  Sometimes it's going out at night, staring up at the stars and the sky and just breathing.

Breathing is definitely another thing I do.  Getting in touch with my breath is very primal for me.  It is something we can consciously control that is vital to life.  When I focus on and control my breathing, taking slow, deep, deliberate breaths, it is like the first step in taking back control of my life.  In one tiny way I am directing how my life is going.  When I am in a really dark place, this is extra soothing for me.

Crying can also be very cathartic.  I cry often, but not always when I want to.  Sometimes, when I am feeling especially emotionally wrung out, I sort of know I need to cry, but I can't.  I will either turn to music that is especially moving to me, or to videos.  I have a couple videos that are pretty much guaranteed to move me to tears.  No matter how empty I feel inside, some things seem to always touch me.  Shared loss, or sacrifice (especially stories that are heart-wrenching but have a happy ending) really gets to me.

I think one of the worst things about a Dark Night is it makes you feel alone.  You feel like no one could understand that emptiness inside.  Or that no one cares about you.  Or that you just aren't good enough.  Or that the things you do have no meaning.  It is like sitting in the dark, and you can't see that there are other people sitting in the dark with you.  You can't see that other people are battling their own darkness and their own loneliness and their own feelings of inadequacy.

But if you reach out, you can feel them.  If you close your eyes, you can hear them breathing in the darkness with you.  You can feel the heat of their bodies, and smell their skin.  We are never truly alone!

So anytime you are facing your own Dark Night, explore the darkness, search for your light, and battle your Guardian at the Gate...and never forget that you are not alone.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What makes a ritual GREAT!

Ritual comes in all shapes and sizes.  We can do ritual by ourselves, with our family, with our social group, with the larger community or (with the many digital options) with people across the globe!  And yet I think there are some qualities that make rituals great that are often overlooked.

It is lovely to attend a ritual where everything goes smoothly, where everyone who has a part plays it perfectly, and where the group meshes together towards the common focus seamlessly.  And yet, I absolutely don't feel that is necessary to have a great ritual.  I've been to quite a few rituals where a lot has gone 'wrong', but I walked away deeply moved and had a great time.

So what is the purpose of ritual?  I think that rituals can have many different goals, but ultimately they all help renew us.  They touch a part of us deep inside, that connects to the sacredness of life, and help us to keep that spark nourished and healthy!  Even when the ritual is exploring our darker aspects or perhaps it is a light and humorous ritual that encourages silly play, both can replenish our inner resources that get drained through the stresses and activities of life.

I think one of the very basic 'rules' of ritual is that it is a safe place.  Everyone at the ritual should feel that they are safe, not only on a purely physical level, but also on an emotional one.  This isn't to say that deep and serious topics can not be touched, but simply that the other people at the ritual are there to support you and not to tear you down.  It can not be a great ritual if people are mocking or judging others, especially when sharing personal details.

Ritual is often a place where we push our own boundaries, and sometimes we need other people to help us, but ultimately, we should feel like we can say no to the things we are truly not ready for.  We should never feel pressured at ritual to do something we are not comfortable with, no matter how simple that act may be.  I actually haven't been a pure participant at a lot of rituals.  I've often been asked to take a role in the ritual, and sometimes I was uncomfortable stepping into that role, but I have never felt like the person asking me would judge me for saying no.  In fact, it was that level of support that allowed me to say yes, to do things that made me uncomfortable, and to slowly raise my comfort level in ritual.

And as much as we do want things to run smoothly, a great ritual can adapt.  Life happens!  Sometimes the person you thought would do a thing at ritual can't make it, or has to drop out at the very last moment.  I truly believe that when we gather for ritual, our hearts are what shape the experience and when everyone is open to the ritual experience, it becomes beautiful no matter how horrible the bugs are, if it starts raining, if it is bitterly cold or blisteringly hot, if someone completely messes up their role, or if the candles won't stay lit.  We have the choice to focus on what is going wrong and spiral out of our sacred space into focus on all the things that have happened, or we can shift that energy into moving forward!

One of my very early ritual flub experiences was when I was just learning and me and a friend were trying to do a ritual, but something struck us as funny and we ended up just lost in laughter for several minutes.  Once we could compose ourselves, we got back into it, and finished our ritual.  Afterwards, we were talking about it and came to the conclusion that it was one of those things that was just part of the human experience.  Neither of us felt that the gods or the spirits we had called to our circle felt slighted in any way.  We weren't making light of the ritual, and once we had settled down, we were able to refocus and complete what we had started.

And I think that is a very important thing:  to finish, even if you have to drastically alter what you had set out to do.  A great ritual has a start and an end.  If you start ritual, you need to also close it.  If something happens in the middle that calls you away, whether it is something from within the ritual, like a participant doing something unexpected, or from without, like a natural disaster, the ritual should be attended to as soon as possible.  You may be able to pick it back up and continue on.  Or you may have to do a quick ending to allow everyone closure.  Even with something as simple as saying, "We thank all who have come this day to our ritual, but due to unforeseen circumstances we need to close this circle and end this ritual.  Be blessed as you go forth!"

Ritual is an amazing thing and it is the simple stuff that makes rituals great.  It is the heart and soul of the participants, the willingness to drop into the moment and to work towards whatever the focus of the ritual is.  Ritual does not need fancy tools or perfect conditions to be great.  So never fret if your ritual takes an unexpected turn or two.  That doesn't mean that it isn't still a fantastic ritual!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fixing your Facebook Feed!

Yes, I'm back to talking about Facebook.  It's sort of all pervasive, and I have quite a few friends that I care about who I am not able to see regularly, and it is how I keep in touch with them.

There is so much talk about how toxic Facebook can be, especially after a big tragedy (or string of tragedies).  Whatever is the hot topic of the moment will be plastered all over.  It is an easy way for people to express their horror, frustration and fear. 

And yet, when I go to Facebook, it isn't to be inundated with that kind of negative energy.  I've seen a lot of studies about how Facebook can be emotionally undermining. 

But it kind of reminds me of Pandora's box...the box has been opened, and we have been flooded with all this bad stuff.  There really isn't a good way to put it all back in the what do we do about it?

First, I definitely understand the need to have our opinions heard.  Stuff happens, and we have strong feelings about it.  We want to express those feelings so they don't remain bottled up inside.  That is all fine and good, but think about how often we are sharing the same frustrations and anger.

The problem isn't that we are talking about this stuff.  In my eyes, the problem is that we never go from talking to doing.  And even our talk doesn't transmute into discussion.  It is like the internet has us all stuck in troll-mode:  never-ending rant's!

It's like we get stuck in a complaining loop.  Someone will post a link and their thoughts on it, and people will comment, and everyone just goes around agreeing that it is horrible and that something should be done.  This kind of negative energy feeds itself:  the more you focus on it, the more it clings to you.

The good news is that there are lots of ways to transform this energy into something that makes things better.

One of the simplest ways I think is to find non-verbal ways to express our feelings and reactions to a thing.  Images and music are both readily available (and sharable!).  I know that both sometimes have words, but I feel that the words are almost secondary in these cases.  Try finding an image or a song that embodies how the event makes you feel, and share that!

But I am Pagan, so I have another whole world of things I can do!  First and foremost, when I encounter something that really upsets me deeply, I consider my need to do inner work on the subject.  I think that when we rant or complain about something, we are often just venting what is on the surface without really delving into the deeper roots of what is wrong.  By going inward, by really searching out the tendrils that are supporting our reaction, we can start to unravel our own true responses...and that is the first step to healing!

From there, we can start to work towards creating change.  I definitely feel that change starts with me, so whatever I uncovered in my inner work, I can now work to heal it.  It may mean that I do work with associated emotions or memories.  Or it may mean that I work with my own failings to fight off the fear that I may be a victim (or that I may share some blame...)

Once we have done the personal work, we can start to reach out.  So many times we stop before this point, but we have an amazing global connection through Facebook, and that means that we can organize people towards making actual change!  I think the first step is to turn the conversation from what is wrong to how things can improve.  The more people we can get involved in this conversation, the more that ideas will start to shift.  Until ideas shift, people will continue to act from the flawed concepts that society has taught us.

Connection is a HUGE key.  We toss around so many catch phrases about this issue or that cause, but what really moves people, what really makes them stop, listen and start to change, is when we make the people real.  Words and ideas come later....feelings come first!  If you have a story, a personal story, that is brave and share!  That is one thing that I absolutely love reading in my feed:  stories about people helping other people.  Or people connecting to people and finding out they weren't what they thought they were (stereotypes).

It is so very easy to judge by a first impression.  But that is only a split second of time..and from your perspective!  Often, when we look deeper and longer, we find that the other side is full of people too.  People who feel very deeply about things.  Sometimes, when we look we find that we misunderstood their motivations entirely.  And sometimes that makes us wonder if perhaps they are misunderstanding us as well.

Of course, there will always be situations where even after you look and see what is behind the hype, you can not stand by and support a situation.  And we must stand up for what we believe in!  Again, we start at home, start within, and do what we can.

But let's start talking about what we are doing!  Share the magic you are making to create a new and better world!  Band together and weave your workings into bigger things!  Imagine a world where social media becomes a tool to bring people into harmony...all resonating on the same frequency and all shining that light out into the world where it can lighten someone else's life!

The hatemongers are already spreading their filth everywhere.  They are posting and yelling and talking and ranting and that is what we see in our feed when we check in.  That is what the people who are struggling with these issues in their personal lives see:  all that hate and anger.  When we share our frustrations, we are feeding that feeling of helplessness!

Instead, let's share the love!  Let's create a new way of doing things...where when bad stuff happens we start looking for ways to make it better.  To show the victims that they are not alone, and their issues are being heard, and there are people who are willing to do something about it.  Just imagine, if your words, if your telling your story, about how you met a person, or lit a candle, or did a spell or said a prayer, what if those words were enough to keep just one person looking forward.  Now imagine if everyone you know on Facebook did the same....what would the internet be like then?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Power of Writing!

I write...a a variety of forms and for a variety of purposes.  And there is power in writing.  Through writing I can express a thought in my head, and share it with people across the globe, and for future generations.  As long as my words remain, my voice can be heard. 

But writing is also a huge part of my practice.  I write to help myself learn, I write to help clarify ideas in my head, I write as a form of devotion and I write to share ideas.  Each type of writing serves a different purpose and role in my practice.

I've written before about magical bookkeeping, and my stance on that is still mostly the same.  I am not really a fan of writing down the details of everything that I do.  However, there is a benefit to writing about what you have done.  Not necessarily in a step-by-step instruction manner (although, for some workings this is very helpful, and it can be handy when you are first starting out, or if you intend your BOS to be handed down to another), but in a more introspective manner. 

Often, when we do a ritual or spell, we have a reaction to the working itself.  Especially if the work involved some sort of meditation or visualization.  It can be very helpful to jot down some notes about how we felt after the ritual, as well as any major things that came up in the visualization.  When we come back and look at what we have written, we often find further insight into whatever the problem was at hand (the purpose of our working).

Another major way that I write is to copy down information for myself.  When I read a book (especially one I have on loan and do not own myself) or some information on line, if it is interesting to me, I like to take notes, so that I can have the important stuff on hand.  Also, by putting the information into my own words, I can make sure I understand the is much harder to take notes when you don't quite get a topic.  I try to avoid copying text directly, except for specific and relevant quotes, as I don't feel that helps me as much.

I find that writing things for other people to read is sort of an expansion of my note taking.  When I am gathering information for a blog post, article or other piece that is intended to be shared with the world, I not only want to make sure that my ideas are clear in my head, but also that they are clear in a way that is approachable to the reader.  For me, this often means that I really have to be clear with my words...what might work for me as a note, wouldn't work in a public piece because I might use little phrases or comparisons that don't make sense to other people.  I find that when I write for other people, I often clarify ideas for myself as I really am working to make sure that I am expressing myself well.

On almost the other end of the spectrum is real introspective reflections.....or more traditional journaling.  Many times when I go deep and journal about something, I'm not thinking about whether or not my words are 'right' or if my meaning is truly clear.  Sometimes, I'm not actually sure where I am going with something as I write it.  It isn't until later, when I go back and read what I have written, and think about it, that the meaning becomes clear.  But this kind of writing really taps into parts of my brain that don't often get to speak.  Sometimes it is a matter of taking a symbol, a dream, a picture or some wisp of thought and trying to express it in words.  There is a crossing of a barrier here, and tapping into that deeper part of myself helps me to uncover things that I don't get to by just reading and thinking.

Then there is more artistic styles of writing.  I find that writing fiction allows me to explore different perspectives, to play with ideas or things that might not be physically possible for me to experiment in my daily life.  It also allows me to take multiple perspectives on the same topic in a way that shows how the same idea can be approached by different people.  I find it really a great brain exercise to write from the point of view of someone who isn't me.  It is a great tool for trying to bridge a gap or understand someone who is very different from you:  sit down and write out the situation from their point of view, as if they were trying to explain it to you.

Stories are also a great way to work through memories or trauma that is bothering us.  Sometimes, just getting the words on paper can help.  And, we can make the character someone that is not us, which helps us take a step back and react as an observer instead of the victim.  We could write ourselves in as the hero, or the helper, or any other role that we think might help us.  Or, we could simply allow ourselves to put all those feelings and thoughts we have about a situation down and get them out of ourselves.

And finally there is poetry.  I think that poetry of all kinds lets us break the rules of speaking.  We don't have to use full sentences or talk in complete ideas.  Poetry lets us speak in riddles or comparisons, to spend an entire piece focusing on emotions or sensations.  I find poetry a really good way of expressing deep emotions.  I also really adore poetry as an offering or worshipful act. 

The one thing I will say, is that everyone is a writer.  Whether you choose to write for yourself or for others, whether you write fiction, fact or whimsy, you can write!  There is no wrong way to write (at least not in my book), and if you don't feel confidant at first, then just write for yourself.  Let yourself play with words, secure in the knowledge that you never have to show them to anyone else if you don't want to.  Let words help you work through your problems, explore deeper parts of yourself or express things that you have inside of you!