Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Finding structure as a solitary

One thing that I think can be very hard for people working on their own is to find structure the helps them keep on task.  It can be so easy to let things slide, to not really build those habits or simply to forget in the bustle of daily life.  This is one place that I feel being part of a dedicated coven or group really shines, because you have not only a set structure and events that are laid out, but you have other people who are encouraging you to keep up.

While some people work very well with self-motivation, and can not only create a plan for what they want to do but also stick with it, for others this can be a huge struggle.  When you are just starting out, you  may not know what a good plan would be, or how long it will take to become familiar with something, so creating a schedule for yourself can be quite a daunting task.  Even once you are more established, some of the day to day parts of your practice may seem almost trivial to create a plan around, and the larger, less-regular parts can still be easy to loose track of.

One thing I am really loving with the modified Bullet Journal setup I am using this year is that I have the ability to create trackers for just about everything that I want to do.  I have a page for gratitude, where every day I write down the one thing that day I was most grateful for (then chuckle about how many of them are food related).  But I also use daily checklists to keep track of things (and check them off which is highly satisfying).  I haven't yet made dedicated habit trackers, though I have thought about them.  I have seen some really lovely ones which were highly decorated and fancy, as well as simple ones where there were just a set of numbered boxes and as you complete your habit each time, you check off a box.

The power of using tools like this is that once you get in the habit of checking in with your tracker every day, it is a simple matter to see if you have things you should be doing.  I like to set my regular things up at the start of a week (which this year is on Sunday), so that I can go ahead and note down the things I do every week (like writing my blog!).

But just because I am a solitary doesn't mean I don't have support systems to turn to as well.  I definitely find that when I want to work on new and bigger projects, having other people to witness what I am working on helps keep me mindful and on track (especially if they check in with me to see how I am doing or I know they expect me to check in with what I have been up to).

You can either join a group that suits your needs or make one up of your own if you know people who you think might be interested in joining you.  The nice thing about virtual groups is that it doesn't matter where in the world you are, or when you do your work.  If you want to join/make a moon group of people who want to do some kind of practice in tune with the moon cycles, you can each do your own thing, and not only will the group help keep you on track but it can be really fun to see what kinds of things the other people are up to.

I also find short(ish) challenges to be great ways to kick start a new practice.  They say it takes three weeks to set a new habit, so that is a great time frame to start with (though I also like extending it for a full 28 days to match the moon cycle!)  There are many ways to approach a challenge, but the simplest is to commit to doing one thing every day for a set amount of time.  So if you wanted to do more meditation, you could challenge yourself to do daily meditation every day for a month.  Or you might challenge your friends to do an act of kindness every day for three weeks.

Challenges are really fun when you get multiple people involved.  When you share what you did to work on the challenge and can encourage the other people (if perhaps they missed a day or are feeling overwhelmed or stuck).  When I am part of a challenge, I love seeing what other people are doing, and always try to comment on anyone's post if they are struggling (because even though I often do very well with challenges, I know how hard it can feel and I hate for people to think that they don't have support).

For me, that is what it all comes down to:  finding people who share your interests and who will support you in your quest to follow those interests.  It may take some doing to find the right people.  I have joined groups before that said they were devoted to a particular thing only to find out that they really weren't.  If you want support in a particular facet of your life, you keep searching until you find what you need. 

You may also want to consider whether or not you want your support to be a huge group or a small one.  I belong to groups of vastly different sizes, and the energy in them is definitely different.  In a huge group, there is often tons going on, many posts every day, and lots of people to talk to.  But you can sometimes feel a little lost, you may not be able to follow every post and you may not feel like you know any of the other members well.  In a small group, you will probably know everyone quite well but there may be times where very little is being said, and if the other people are also busy, you may not quite feel like you have enough support to keep you motivated.

Not only will some size groups work better for different people, they also work better for different subjects.  If you want support around something that is deeply personal, you may not want to share your experiences with total strangers or tons of people, and yet to really get feedback you have to share quite intimate details.  A smaller group may be better for you.  Or you may just not feel comfortable in large groups for any reason, so sticking to a smaller group would definitely be the way to go.  But for some things, especially if you are feeling a bit uninspired and want to see lots of different people's ideas and thoughts on a subject, then you may want a larger group.  Or you may feel like you need lots of people cheering you on for something that is really tough for you (but not so personal), so the larger group may work out better for that subject.

And, with any kind of group work, sometimes you end up in a group (or looking into a group) that just doesn't click with you.  Perhaps the people in it have a very different world view than you, or perhaps they are working at things from a different angle.  You may not even know why it doesn't work for you but something about that group makes you uncomfortable.  Then it's definitely not the group for you!  Always trust your instincts, and even in a virtual situation, if you don't feel it's right for you, then don't participate in it.

I think that structure mainly comes from within and from without.  It is up to you to try different methods and see what works for you.  It is quite likely that you will end up using a combination of different things to tailor to your personal needs, whether it is some kind of personal tracking or group support or challenges.  But I feel this is one of the biggest hurdles for many solitaries, and once you find the structure that works for you, things run so much smoother!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Working with Self-Love

Love is a tricky subject for many people.  We have so many societal pressures, not only to find 'the one' but also the 'right' one.  There are such crazy ideas surrounding love, that many of us grow up sort of conflicted about relationships and what we want in life.

Not only that, but we are sort of taught to believe that if we aren't with someone, then we are somehow lacking, as if we can't be a whole and amazing person on our own.  And yet, we also tell people if they can't love themselves, how is anyone else going to love them (or how will they ever love someone else)? 

I think there is great value to loving yourself, and it has nothing to do with how you interact with other people.  I do think that if you love yourself that will spill over into all your relationships (not just romantic ones), but I think that the reasons for loving yourself have absolutely nothing to do with others.

Self-worth is something that I feel like I have struggled with for all my life.  Most of my childhood memories involve being an outsider.  When I was little, my Chinese looks made me stand out when we lived in America, and when we lived in Hong-Kong (my father was military), being American made me stand out (and not speaking Chinese).  As I grew, I was definitely drawn to sub-cultures, from Goth to Pagan.  I started to embrace the things that made me different, but it wasn't an easy process.  I was often envious of the 'normal' kids, the ones who fit in and (I assumed) didn't worry about what other people think.

But the truth is, that everyone worries about what other people think (at least sometimes).  We all compare ourselves to people we see, both in our personal life and in the media.  Comparison is sort of a fact of life.  You don't have to let it define you thought.  Much like we can look at an apple and a book and say we love them both.  We can acknowledge they are different without making a judgement on which is 'better'.

One of the things that I have always liked about witchcraft is that it has tools for shadow work.  I think that there is something very powerful in exploring all the parts of yourself and coming to not only accept the 'darker' aspects but seeing how they serve you and learning how to not let them control you.  Taking that power into our own hands is something that many people never learn how to do.

I think the first step to loving yourself is being honest about who you are.  You can't love yourself if you are denying parts you don't like.  This can be really rough, especially if you have deeply rooted issues.  But it can also be very liberating to claim those parts of ourselves.  We are all perfect exactly as we are....even if we may want to change and grow and become better versions of ourselves.

It is highly contradictory, but we can be perfect and imperfect at the same time.  I think of it in terms of soul and body.  My Self, the inner ME that is who I am is absolutely and utterly perfect.  It can't be anything less than perfect because I am a unique person and my Self is all the things that make me up.  My body or my mind may have things that I don't care for, and those are things I can work on.  But those aren't part of my true Self, the part of me that exists beyond this body and this mind.

I also have learned that there are many sides to each thing.  What may at first seem like a detrimental trait may actually be a strength.  Or what you thought was a strength might be holding you back.  If you are struggling with seeing things in a new (or true) light, it can be helpful to ask a trusted friend or family member, someone who really cares for you, to help you see how things are (or could be).  There are lots of physical things about myself that I'm not too fond of, but my husband see's completely different (and isn't shy about telling me how much he loves them).  He is also pretty good at letting me know when he doesn't like something (after much assurance that Yes I do actually want to know).

A good exercise for learning to see yourself truly is to pretend you are looking at someone else.  You might want to start very small, pick one tiny part of yourself to actually look at.  Maybe you will examine your hand, or use a mirror to look at an eye.  Try to see as much detail as possible.  Experiment with writing out a description of that part of you, as if you were explaining it to someone else.  Start by using as many descriptive words, but without any type of judgement.  So you could use smooth or wrinkly but not ugly.  You may find that you don't like certain words and want to explore why those things have negative connotations to you.

The next step is to start finding things you like about that part of you.  If this is really hard for you, start with very basic things.  I like my hand because it lets me type, it lets me touch things, I have all my fingers.  Don't think about things you don't like.  I get nerve pain in my left hand/arm, that is pretty consistent, and I don't have full feeling in all my fingers.  But I still have full range of motion, and most days it doesn't stop me from doing things.  So I can look at the positives, I can choose to focus on the good and wonderful things that my left hand can do (like write and feed me....even though I am right handed!)

This is the first step to loving your Self...loving small parts of yourself.  You don't have to limit it to physical things either!  Think about qualities you have.  You may be punctual, creative or stubborn.  Think about why these are good qualities!  And just because you spend time focusing on why you love a quality doesn't mean that you can't also do shadow work on it.  I am definitely stubborn, which most of the time is a wonderful quality.  I know that I can dig my heels in and get things done...just because I made the decision to do them.  But I also know that I can beat my head against a wall for no (good) reason.  I can work to change the latter while still embracing the former!

The same goes for physical things.  In fact, it can be quite helpful to focus on the things you love about the things you are trying to change.  By keeping your mind on what is great about a thing, that is what you are calling more of into your life.  By thinking only about what you dislike.....that is also what you are calling more of.  Thoughts are very powerful things, and we can let them control us or we can use them to make change.

Another good exercise involves self-talk.  There are many things we tell ourselves, throughout the day.  If the thoughts you have are negative, this can create a lot of obstacles in your life that aren't necessary!  Changing those thoughts can be quite a process, but one simple thing to do is to start paying attention to the thoughts that go through your head.  You may be surprised how many times you have certain thoughts once you start making an effort to keep track of them!  Once you notice that you have a pattern of a particular thought that isn't serving you, try modifying it.  It can be quite hard to not think things, but instead, every time you find yourself having that thought that you want to be rid of, add a modifier to it.  If you often think to yourself, "I'm so tired," you can add on, "Because I worked really hard yesterday."  To take it a step further, you can also include a small action that will help counteract your negative thought.  In this case, you might add, "so I am going to spend several minutes doing a breathing meditation."  Then go do it!

Self-love is definitely a work in progress kind of thing.  We all have bits of ourselves we aren't so fond of.  Hopefully, we all have things we also like about ourselves, even if we have to dig a little to uncover them.  The more you can recognize all the wonderful things that YOU do and all the things that make you special, the more you will come to love your whole self...even the parts you don't really care for. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Weather prediction

Sometimes I mourn the loss of our awareness of the world around us.  One thing our ancestors did that never ceases to amaze me is to notice and theorize about the changes in the environment and what that meant.  We have become quite cut off from nature and it's changes, and I often feel that this creates in us much more of a sense of chaos about how things happen.

While general astrological observation is endlessly fascinating to me, I also find weather lore to be really nifty.  There are patterns all around us, and the lore and sayings that have been passed down over the years often are the result of generations of observation and interpretation.

Today, we mostly rely upon weather reports and other digital indications of what the weather will be, but there are a few remaining pieces of weather lore that maintain a place of prevalence in our lives.  For Americans, the one that probably springs right to mind is that of Groundhog Day. 

When I was looking into the connections between the Sabbats and other holidays (especially modern secular holidays), this is one that definitely surprised me.  I consider Imbolc to be the start of spring, and Groundhog day is based on weather lore that indicates whether or not winter will linger or spring will start.

While it is most famously known as Groundhog day, it isn't actually always a groundhog that is used to predict the weather.  In America, there is also famous tortoise and nutria that have festivals surrounding them looking for their shadow, and in Alaska it is the marmot that is looked to for weather advice.  Outside of the USA, both the bear and mouse are thought to be portents.

The basic idea of Groundhog day is that when an animal emerges from their den, they will either see their shadow and be frightened by it and return to their den or they won't.  Which really has more to do with whether or not the sun is out and shining on that day. 

There is another story that I love about this time of year.   This is the tale of Cailleach, a Gaelic Goddess of Winter.  The story goes that on Imbolc (or Brigid's Day), the Cailleach gathers her wood for the rest of winter.  If she intends to make it a long winter, she will make that day bright and sunny so that she has plenty of time to gather lots of wood.  If the day is overcast or rainy, then she will not have enough wood to make winter last.

In England, there is Saint Swithun's day (which is July 15), and his legend says that the weather on his feast day will last for 40 days.

Statistically speaking, the accuracy of Groundhog Day predictions isn't good.  However there is some scientific backing to Saint Swithun's weather lore (that the weather in the middle of July is part of a larger weather pattern, so would hold reasonably steady for the coming month).  I wonder if much of the Groundhog Day lore operates on a similar basis, so perhaps it isn't the weather on Imbolc specifically but rather the general time period that predicts the coming months.

I also read an interesting theory that Groundhog Day was created as a sort of tie breaker between the conflicting opinions of the start of spring.  Some traditions feel it starts on Imbolc, while others tie it into the equinox.  So instead of continuing to argue about which way was right, the Groundhog was called upon to make the decision every year.  In years where he saw his shadow, spring would start at the equinox, but on years he didn't it would start at Imbolc.

There is also a fair amount of weather lore that is tied into sailors, which stands to reason as knowing what the weather was going to be like would have a huge impact on a ship that was out to sea.  One phrase that many people are familiar with is "Red sky at night, sailor's delight, Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning."  This saying is based on a phenomenon where particles in the air change the color of the light that is seen.  Along with the typical movements of weather systems, when this redness in the air is seen will indicate a change in the weather depending on whether it is seen at the start or end of a day.

A similar saying involves the moon and sun, "When halo rings the moon or sun, rain's approaching on the run."  The halo, or ring, around the heavenly bodies is caused by light refracting off ice crystals high in the sky.  This high up moisture is often followed by lower moisture, which means a higher chance of precipitation.  An interesting related phenomenon are known as sun dogs, which are bright spots to the left and right of the sun, and they indicate a change in weather is coming.

Looking into this kind of lore can be a fascinating subject.  There are tons of sayings and beliefs about what different things mean, some of which have (equally fascinating) scientific roots while others have been disproved and remain as interesting stories.  I am a firm believer that the more I know about a thing, the more I can use that knowledge to my own advantage.

When it comes to weather lore, the obvious benefit is being able to predict what the future weather might be.  This may help you plan for events (knowing what to bring/wear) or even decide when you want to do things (if the weather is looking like it will be bad tomorrow, you might choose to get your errands run today instead of putting them off).  But it can also let you tap into the energies that are present around you.

You may wish to charge special crystals under the light of a ringed moon, to harness that ice energy or the potential of the storm to come.  If they sky is clear on Imboc, you might spend more time working with that winter energy, or laying in preparations against lean times.  A red dawn might prompt you to do a working that will promote change internally.

If you want to uncover your own weather lore, add significant weather indicators to your magical journal.  If you see something special:  unusual shaped clouds, odd wind behavior, animals doing something different, note it down.  And then start paying attention to what happens in the next few days (or longer!)  It is by paying attention to what is going on and then looking back and seeing what patterns you start to notice, that you develop your own body of lore.  Remember, you will want to see the same cause and effect several times before it starts to form a pattern!  Less than that may still be significant, but not useful for predicting what is to come.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tending the Flame

I love the phrase "Hearth and Home" because it has such a warm and inviting feel to it.  And that is definitely how I want my house to be, not just for guests but for all of us who live here (human, furry and spirit alike).  And though my house doesn't have a traditional hearth or fire in it, I still associate the qualities of fire (protective, giving light and warmth, bringing people together, cooking) with the home.

There is a connection between the Flame and Brigid.  I was exposed to the idea of Flamekeeping (keeping a flame lit for Brigid) on one of the forums I am on, where they have a sub-group dedicated to it.  I love the idea of keeping an eternal flame even though that is not something that fits well into my personal lift.  I have learned (through experience) that I can't leave a candle burning unattended or my cats with come and investigate (or sit with their back to it and their tail in the flame seemingly unaware that their fur is singing).  If I don't have a tiny candle in a large glass jar (where it will be relatively safe from investigation), I either extinguish it or take it with me if I need to leave the room.

One thing that an eternal fire brings to my mind is community.  In most of the historical mentions I have read, an eternal fire was often something that was tended by a group, so people would tend the fire in shifts.  Last year I joined a Creative Spirit Circle, a group offered up by Brigid's Grove, and I feel this sense of community there.  My local group also communicates a lot online (because though we technically are 'local', between jobs, cars and free time we don't get to meet face to fact as much as we would like). 

There is something really special about sharing spiritual moments with other people who both understand and may be inspired by what you have gone through.  Even as a primarily solitary practitioner, my personal path would be much diminished if I didn't have other people to share with.  I can't count the number of times that I have been inspired by something someone else has done, or how other people's shared stories have enhanced my own practices.  And, I love when I can share something I have seen or done and someone else mentions that it was useful to them.

Getting back to the idea of the hearth, I definitely feel the heart inside the hearth.  I think that the concept of the hearth is the heart of the house.  It is the energy that fills your house, and if it is a well tended hearth then the house will flourish, no matter what is going on.  Sure, you will always have setbacks, but how you respond and navigate the obstacles in life will be greatly influenced by the nature of your hearth.

It doesn't matter how many people you have in your household, each and every one of us can bring our own light to the fire.  We all have a unique energy that we contribute, and even if you are the only one there, the way you treat your house will impact how you feel at home. 

It all comes back to heart for me.  You can do the same action with love and without, and it will be perceived differently because you put your heart into it.  Made with love is a real thing!  It isn't always about what you do, but truly about how you do it.

There are things we do around the house on a regular basis that can be transformed from simple tasks to acts of love by shifting our focus.  We all eat, but when we prepare our food, whether we are cooking something from scratch or heating up a frozen dinner, we can do it with the intention of caring for our body and our self (or the other people we are feeding).  When we eat, we can honor and thank everything that is on our plate or in our glass.  This in turn helps us appreciate the sacrifices that were made for us, and reinforces our self-care.  Caring for yourself is definitely part of tending the hearth!

We also take care of the house itself.  This may include house cleaning and repairs, but also simple things like locking the door when you leave or at night.  Any action you do to keep your house safe and 'healthy'.  I may never come to like housework, but I do find that it becomes something more than drudgery when I use it as a way to show my devotion.  I use cleaning time as a way to honor Frigga, and there are many other deities or spirits that would welcome such acts of service.  Or you could even just think of your house spirit and of making them happy so they can watch over your house and all who dwell within.

I think that there is great value to be had in connecting with the spirit of the place we live, whether you consider it to be a thinking being or an energetic field.  The concept of Feng Shui tends to the energy of the house, and many of the techniques that are used in this practice can be adapted for regular use.  One thing that is very helpful is to start to be aware of certain parts of your house feel off.  Perhaps there is a room you just don't like being in.  Or a picture that you avoid looking at (even though you liked it before you bought it).  Tend to the energy of your house, like you would tend a garden.  Sometimes you need to pluck plants that don't belong (or relocate them to somewhere they would grow better).

It is also always a good idea to work with the other people and animals living in your house to create a harmonious living environment.  We may already talk with the other adults in the house, but don't forget little ones or pets as well.  They have just as much stake in the home as you do, but may not always have a voice to speak.  That doesn't mean that you can't listen for their messages, just that you need to listen more attentively. 

One thing that can be useful is to have a household altar space.  It can include things from everyone in the house, and be used as a focal point to work on hearth related issues.  You may want to include a deity you feel your home is strongly connected to, whether it is a deity that is concerned with home things or just one that everyone in your house is drawn to.  This is a place you can make offerings or light up a symbolic flame (even if you don't keep it lit all the time for safety reasons).  You could also use an electric lamp for times when you can't have fire.

Tending the flame of our hearth is a matter of cultivating our affection and letting it shine out from us to those around us.  Our house becomes a receptacle for this energy we create and holds what we send out.  If we work at honoring our house, those that live in it and ourselves, it will always feel like a home.