Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The magic of falling leaves

I love fall, I always have.  There is something in the air:  it's cool but not cold, often breezy but not super windy, and there is this smell that I just adore.  And a huge part of this is the leaves falling off of the trees.  I think that is where the scent is the drying leaves.  They come in all colors of the rainbow, and the wind makes them dance across the ground.

Even when I was little, and had to rake leaves as a chore, I loved fall.  And of course, part of the process of raking leaves involved jumping into the piles you had made (which meant more raking...but it was worth it)!  There is something very satisfying about feeling the leaves crunch around you.

This time of year brings a rainbow of fire colors.  The leaves turn all shades of yellow, orange and red.  There is something fantastically beautiful about seeing one tree with a healthy mix of colored leaves, and a carpet underneath of fallen ones. 

I'm also a fan of unconventional beauty.  I appreciate monochromatic themes, and leaves that have fallen to the ground often come in shades of brown.  But there is still something about the different shades and the variance of shapes that creates an intricate landscape.

Beyond simply taking in the splendor of the season, there are many ways to work with falling leaves.  They speak to me of transitions and of letting go.  The leaves must transform, changing their color and very essence from living receptors of sunlight to dried bits that will become fertilizer, returning to the soil to enrich it and helping new growth.  The tree must let go of what had been a vital part of itself, in order to make itself ready for the coming winter.

One of the simplest ways to work with fallen leaves is to find one, and imbue it with something you wish to release.  You can cup it between your hands and send the energy of what you are letting go of into it, or blow your intention into it.  If you want a more elaborate ritual, consider painting your release onto the leaf (you can even paint one side to represent what you are letting go of and the other side for what you are making space for by letting it go).  You can also sew your focus into the leaf, just like you might sew a word into cloth.  Once your leaf is infused with your intention, you simple release it to the wind, and let it get blown away from you!

If you have a lot of things to release, or something that is made up of a lot of little parts (like clearing your house of unwanted junk, or letting go of a bunch of Facebook friends who you don't resonate with), add this clearing to your physical clearing of leaves.  Find a spot outside, with at least a handful of fallen leaves. 

First, you will name the leaves as things that you want to release.  You can name them specifically:  the person who always posts hateful memes on Facebook or the stack of old magazines that has been growing in your living room corner. You can also name them in a more general way:  anyone who will bring conflict to your news feed or things that serve no purpose in your future.

Then, gather up all the leaves, keeping your focus on pulling together the things you are wanting to be rid of.  If you have a yard, you can rake up all the leaves in your yard, but if you don't have a yard that isn't a problem either.  You could sweep together leaves on your front porch or on a balcony.  If you don't have either of those, you can also go to a park or public place, and gather up a handful of leaves to use. 

Once your leaves are gathered, you will want to dispose of them.  If you have a large yard and typically mulch your leaves, feel free to do that!  When you have added them to your mulch (even better if you shred them first...), visualize them anchored to that place now (instead of free to return to you).  Another great option is to burn the leaves.  If you gathered a small pile (like from a park), you can burn them in a cauldron (or other fire safe container), or even one by one in a candle flame.  If you have quite a lot, you can pile them into a fire pit!

When you are burning the leaves, you are not burning them as representations of the things you named them...but as the connections between you and the things named.  So don't worry if you named leaves after people!  Your intention isn't to cause harm to them, simply to cut the ties between you so that you can each go your own separate ways.  The same holds true for items named.  It is perfectly fine to donate, give away or otherwise share the items you no longer need!

Another fun project with fallen leaves is to use them for a transformation goal.  If you are working on creating change in your life, you can harness the energy of the fallen leaves to not only enhance your work, but also serve as a reminder and reward!  You will want to gather a selection of leaves, so that you have one for every step you are working on.  For example, you might be working on studying runes, you you can get a leaf for each rune. 

You can mark your leaves however you like, either simply writing on them, painting them or sewing on them. Once you have marked them, you can display them somewhere that you will see them (and thus be reminded of your goals).  If you were lucky enough to find some fallen branches with leaves still attached, you can put them in a vase as a centerpiece.  Or you can find some nice branches and use glue or florist tape to attach loose leaves to them.  You can also make a garland with them, fixing the leaves onto a string.  Alternately you can create a collage or painting representing your goal, and then stick the leaves on top of it.

But as you complete each step, you remove the leaf from your display!  This leaf can be released to the wind, buried or burnt, giving thanks as you do for the progress you have made.  This becomes quite a visual reminder, either making your display more sparse (great for goals that involve letting go or reducing something) or revealing the picture underneath (wonderful for transforming).

You can also use it for building habits, either having several leaves for the same thing or using each leaf to represent doing the habit for a set period of time.  So if your goal is to improve your physical health, you may have a leaves for eating healthy portions, working out or getting enough sleep.  If you have one leaf for each time you do it, plan out how long you want to work on your goal, and make sure you have enough leaves for each step!  Then, every day you do a workout or feel you ate an appropriate meal, you can pull a leaf off!  If you want your leaves to represent periods of time, then you can remove a leaf when you go through an entire week without indulging in guilty snacks or when you workout three times that week.

The flipside of this practice is to have your leaves represent bad habits that you want to let go of.  You set a goal date, for example you might want to avoid posting negative thoughts on social media, and you want to work on it for the next month.  You would make your leaves represent those negative thoughts, and make your display, but this time, every time you falter, you remove a leaf.  When you do, pause for a moment, and remember why you want to stop this habit.  Thank the leaf for reminding you to keep strong in your focus, and then release it.  Whenever you see your display, take a moment to appreciate how many leaves are still up there!  And, when the time has come to an end, you can bury, burn or throw away the remnants, offering up your gratitude for the progress you have made!

Falling leaves are a wonderful tool, that are plentiful this time of year!  They teach us to not only see the beauty in the changes all around us, but also to be able to transform when we need to and that letting go of things that don't serve us helps us make room for new growth.  So take some time, this fall, to work with the falling leaves, and see what changes they can bring to your life!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Celebrating Accomplishments

I just got back from a luncheon, held to honor high school seniors for their outstanding academic achievement.  My son is being scouted by colleges, and though there was definitely a pitch in there for the kids to go to the school that was hosting the luncheon, it was also a nice little recognition of the work they had done in school.

I am not a fan of participation rewards.  I don't think every kid should get a trophy just for showing up.  I do think that recognizing accomplishment is a big thing though.  And it's personal.  What is a big deal for one person (kid or adult), may not be to another.  Everyone should get recognized for the things they excel at, and the things they have worked hard for.

There are a lot of people who go through life without being acknowledged for the things they do, and to me this is sad.  Someone may be a super hard worker, put everything they have into the things they do, but because their job is menial or because they aren't the top seller or the name that everyone recognizes, they go unseen.

My son does really well in school, often without trying.  While I do congratulate him on that, we both also know that it's something that just happens for him.  The things I choose to acknowledge more often are the things that I know don't come easy for him.  When he suggests changing when we do the housework, because he has other plans, instead of putting it off and then complaining because he has chores, I let him know that I'm proud of him. 

I also try to make sure the people in my life know that I not only see the things they do, but that I appreciate them.  I think sometimes, that recognizing the little things can carry more weight than celebrating the big ones.  I've expressed this idea when it comes to things like Valentines Day and Anniversaries:  by all means celebrate them, but don't let that be the only time you let the other person know how much you mean to them.

Even something as little as a thank you can make someone's day.  As much as I love cooking for my family, it can sometimes be a long, tedious process.  I don't always feel like doing the prep work, or taking the time to make dinner.  But it always makes me smile and feel glad I did when hubby or son tell me it tastes good.  Even if it's something simple.

One place that we may find it hard to honor our accomplishments is in the spiritual realm.  Not only are many of us solitary, but it feels sort of counter-intuitive to more or less brag about our spiritual life.  Or we may even feel silly being proud about something that we feel like we should have mastered ages ago, but we really struggled to get a handle on.

I don't think there is anything wrong with wanting to recognize making progress in your spiritual path!  In fact, I think that pausing to honor our path and the steps we are taking along it, can be an important part of our growth.  Sometimes, it doesn't feel like you have actually gotten anywhere until someone else tells you that you've done a good job.  It's like we're programed to not trust our own judgement.  Having someone else (or many people!) congratulate you, really helps it sink in that you did it!

I also think that if I am struggling with something, then there is also someone else out there struggling.  If I share my store, really being open about how hard it was for me to learn or get good at something, not only does it let other people help me celebrate my victory, it helps let other people who may not have figured it out themselves see that they aren't the only one who has struggled with it...and that there is hope for them too!

So many parts of our life have markers for different levels of accomplishment.  In school you may earn awards, and there are graduation ceremonies.  In many clubs you earn badges or stamps or collect stickers for passing different benchmarks.  Your job my recognize numbers of years served, a set amount of sales made or a certain number of successful projects.  Why not have a similar plan for your spiritual life?

Some of my favorite books include a plan of study.  I like having things laid out in a logical order.  But this also gives me goals and benchmarks.  Many times, if there is an exercise given, there is either an amount of time you are supposed to dedicate towards it (once a day for a month, or until you can do it for 30 minutes straight), or some other tangible level of 'being done'.  This makes for easy places to celebrate your progress.

But it is also something you can come up with on your own, for whatever it is you are studying, working on or working through!  Whatever your path is, think about where you are at right now and where you are headed.  Come up with both long and short term goals, and break those down into steps.  You may set dates for when you want those steps to be done by, or you may leave it undated and go with a more fluid "it will be done when it's done" approach.  But think about different places along the way that you might consider celebrating.

And then plan some sort of celebration...and sharing that celebration with at least one other person!  How you celebrate may change depending on what type of goals you had.  If you wanted to finish a year and a day study of your chosen path, you might have a big celebration planned at the end.  If you want to do a daily draw every day for a month, you might plan a smaller recognition of making your goal.  You may even feel like inviting other people to join you on your challenge and make it a group celebration!  This works really well for group study, whether it is a group that meets in person or only online.

Some accomplishments may be so very private that you may feel you don't want to share at all.  I would challenge you to still share, at least in part, with someone who is very dear to you and who you trust.  You don't have to tell them all the nitty-gritty details, but you can at least tell them that you were working through some stuff, and that you feel you have made real progress and that you want to honor that. Just having someone there, to hear and support you, can be a huge booster.

And if you are really struggling, you may want to honor that as well.  Sometimes our accomplishments aren't that we won, but that we persevered!  If you have been really working on something, and it's just not turning out the way you thought it would, you might gather together some friends, especially anyone who has been through something similar, and honor your experiences by sharing what you have been struggling with.  You may find that, by talking it out, you walk away with a new approach.  Or at the very least, with a new resolve to keep trying...and people who are cheering you on!

Lots of things in life are hard, and it is easy to get discouraged or to feel like you are just lost in the shuffle.  Taking the time to stop and acknowledge what you have been doing, and celebrate yourself and the people around you helps lighten the load and gives you energy to continue onward and upward!  Celebrating other people can bring surprising benefits to our own lives.  And allowing other people to celebrate us, gives them that same opportunity!  So look at your life, see what you have been up to that deserves a little spotlight...and celebrate it!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Honoring your Elders

I think that there are many ways in which modern life has lost things.  Community is definitely one of these areas.  I don't think we have as tight of a community as we used to, before people started moving and traveling and becoming so busy.  And while technology does help bridge some of those gaps, some things seem to get lost in the cracks.

One of these places is our relationship with our elders.  In days gone by, if almost everyone in your village was born, grew up, married and died there, you were in close contact, not only with your own familial elders (grandparents and what not), but also you knew the other elders in the village, because you grew up with them your whole life.

I have lived fairly far away from my own grandparents for most of my life.  I was lucky enough to see them pretty regularly though, typically once every other summer (we would visit one side of the family one year, and the other side the next year).  I was also expected to write letters as a thank you anytime I was gifted money, and they had to be more than just a thank you, I had to talk about what was going on in my life.  When I was little, I didn't appreciate writing the letters, but now that I am grown, I am glad that I did, because I have always felt like I knew my grandparents fairly well.

I was also expected to spend time with my elders (whether it was my grandparents or other older relatives).  I have spent many hours talking with my grandparents, and even with my great-grandparents (when they were alive).  I grew up talking with people and listening to their stories, so I never learned to think that older people weren't interesting.

I have had other opportunities, in my life, to talk with elders, both those related to me by blood and those who aren't.  And some of those experiences have been deeply moving.  I think there is a lot we can learn from people (of all ages), and that sometimes the elderly get overlooked.  Sometimes it is because they do things at a slower pace, or because they have trouble communicating, or even perhaps because they like different things.

What I find really telling though, is that connection with another person, and learning from them, bypasses all these barriers.  It doesn't matter if you personally enjoy the same things as they do, when you listen to them, if you open yourself, you can often learn things.  That thing might be "wow, I'm glad I didn't grow up having to do that....", but it lets you appreciate the other person more for what they have experienced.

Language may feel like a huge obstacle, but many things transcend the spoken word.  When one of my great-grandmothers was living in a nursing home, there was another old lady there, who bonded with my great-grandmother.  Her name was Mary, and her family didn't come visit her, so we always included her when we visited with my great-grandmother.  Mary didn't speak, and it wasn't always obvious if she fully understood what we were saying.  But she was always smiling, obviously liked my great-grandmother, and she would gesture if she wanted something (she collected can tabs) or wanted to give you something (she gave me some plastic beads, which I still have).

And though I am a big fan of actual face time, I know it's not always possible.  If you have elders in your life, it may mean you need to slow down and take a different path to connecting with them.  Facebook and texting might work for some of your elders, but others might prefer a phone call.  Or consider actually writing them a letter and mailing it.  There is something really elegant about mail (and you can include pictures or other things that might mean something special).

I also find it sad that sometimes elders have no family left to care for them.  Even if they are in a facility that sees to their needs, and even when the staff is wonderful and cares for them on an emotional level too, I think that when people choose to spend time with elders for no reason other than to spend time with them, that says something and it can be felt.

When I was in high school, we had to do community service.  Though technically I didn't have a choice, I really enjoyed my community service.  I worked with the humane society, and they had a special set of animals that volunteers took to different places (like the hospital and nursing homes) to visit with people in long term care.  The care facility I visited had several people who had been there for a long time (we were told that there was one bird that was a particular favorite, and if we didn't bring her, people would be disappointed).

Watching people interact with the animals was wonderful.  There was such a delight and fascination.  We brought two rats once, and many people wouldn't touch them, but they were interested in long as one of us was holding them!  And while the animals were there, people talked.  I got to hear all kinds of stories about their lives.  It didn't matter that I didn't know them, there was still sharing and connection going on.

There may also be elders who are not near us or who have already passed, but we can still learn from their wisdom.  I think that often we tend to look to vital, young people when we look at history's heroes, but there are lots of people who had huge contributions later in life.  Being able to read about these elders lets us partake in their wisdom and experiences, even if we didn't have the opportunity to meet them in life.

The one thing I don't agree with is the idea that all elders are worthy of respect JUST because they are old.  For me, respect is a thing that is earned, and you earn it by how you act.  I have known horrible, cranky, mean old people.  And while they may have their reasons and justifications (just like horrible, cranky, mean young people might), it doesn't mean they are automatically somehow better, just because they are old.

What I do think is that our elders can be powerful messages about how our own future might turn out.  If you see someone who has become someone you would never want to be, look to see how they got that way.  Sometimes they just start out mean, but sometimes they respond to the things life threw their way and their choices forged them into who they are.  If you don't want to become them, you can learn from their journey and make different choices.

I feel elders are a precious resource, and that we need to honor them in the way that they deserve to be honored.  I have lost some of my own elders and know that there are things that I missed having the opportunity to do.  Time with our elders is precious and we should treat it (and them) as such!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

All work is sacred

I think that a lot of our experiences in life come from our perspective.  We can seriously shift our outlook and what we gain from the things we do by changing how we look at them.  There are quite a lot of things that happen to us that we have no control over.  But we do have control over how we approach them.

There are a lot of tasks we have to do that we may not particularly enjoy.  Whether they are things you do for your job (or other activities you use to provide income), things you do for family or loved ones, things you do around the house or even the more tedious parts of a hobby or activity that you otherwise enjoy.  It is very easy to focus on how we have to do these things, and on how non-fun they are.  We can get caught up in complaining or feeling annoyed by having to do them.

But this doesn't have to be the attitude we adopt when faced with tedious tasks!  I have talked before about how we can find the magic in every day chores and how we can look for fun in the things we have to do.  Today I wanted to talk about thinking about the things we do as sacred tasks.

Sometimes it feels like finding time for the sacred is a loosing battle.  There is so much stuff we have to do that even taking a moment to ourselves feels like it stresses us out even more.  I always seem to forget that when I think I have no time is when I most need to take that moment (and that afterwards I am almost always WAY more productive, so that small time out actually helps me instead of hindering me).

I also think that sometimes we spend so much of our personal energy in just getting through the day that when all of our to-do lists are finished, we just don't have anything left to give.  I know that I often feel like just sitting in my comfy chair at the end of a long day and putting something brainless on the tv.  I know it's been a really hard day when I don't even have the energy to read (a for fun book, not something serious).

I believe we all have a purpose...well actually I believe we have many purposes!  I think there are things we are meant to do and things we are called to do.  Some may not feel fun, but we can appreciate how important they are.  Some may feel like they are deeply personal and we may not appreciate how they impact other people (yet often they do).

Since so many people spend so much of their time tied up in their job, let's start there.  Whether your job is something you do to put money in your pocket (and often food on the table) or something you do because you love it and are lucky enough that it also pays your bills, typically speaking a job has a lot of things that we often have little say in.  If your boss tells you to be at work on Monday and to do a specific task, that is what you do (if you want to keep your job).

Every job I have ever had in some way or another involved helping people.  In customer service, it's pretty straight forward:  customers come in and you help them get their needs met.  If your job involves creating products, then you are still helping people (by making things they need or want).  Each part of your job can be traced back to doing something that in some way (whether large or small) helps other people.

Instead of thinking about how tedious it is to restock the shelves, think about how much nicer it will be for a customer to be able to find what they need when they come into the store.  Instead of groaning at having to put another roll on that conveyor belt, think about how happy a child will be to eat that roll.  Putting our thoughts on other people can often help shift our focus off of ourselves (and what we may be finding unpleasant in the moment).

I think there is a really deep spiritual connection to helping others.  I feel this is why service is such a huge part of so many religions, and often required of religious officials.  I don't think we need to dedicate special time for community service in order to help people (though there is absolutely nothing wrong with deciding to do so).  There are a million ways we can help people, in the things we already do, and by recognizing and acknowledging the things we are doing, we send that energy out into the world.

The same thoughts help me go through household chores.  I don't like to clean, and some parts of cooking (like the endless prep work!) are not quite fun.  But I love my family, and I want to make things they like, and to keep our house both clean and inviting.  Taking care of the house (and my family) are part of my role as mother and wife.

And I think our family roles are important to our sense of self.  Regardless of whether or not we are on good terms with our extended family, whether we are in a relationship or if we are a parent, we are part of a family.  Many of us work with ancestors in some way.  Working within our family roles can help deepen our connection to our ancestors.

It can be hard, especially if you struggle with family ties.  I am very blessed in that I have good relationships with most of my family (and even my in-laws).  But I have had my struggles too, and through continuing to examine my relationships (especially with my Mother, whom I have always loved, but not always felt comfortable relating to) I have seen the ways in which they have changed (and the ways in which I have learned to understand them better). 

I also think that our relationships with other people, whether they are family, friends or strangers, influence our relationship with deities, spirits and other beings that we  might interact with spiritually.  We can use the actions we take in this world, that support our relationships with each other, to also strengthen our relationships with worlds beyond. 

If you work with a deity or spirit that watches over your home, they probably would be quite pleased with any work you do in the house.  Beings who are devoted to family would be honored by actions that care for (or work at understanding and coming to terms with) your own family.  Acts of kindness towards a stranger may incur the favor of spirits you might not have worked with yet.

Even play or activities you would do just for fun, can have sacred undertones.  Laughter is a powerful energy, and we need joy in our lives.  Art is well know for it's ties to the sacred, and it doesn't matter if you feel you are an artist or not.  If you create, from the heart, and because you are moved to, you are making art.  And that art can be a wonderful tool or gift for the divinity in your life!

I believe that creativity sparks new thoughts in all parts of our life.  When we think outside the box, even in play, we are practicing being creative.  And creativity is all about creating...which I feel is the root of magic!  We practice and work to be able to create the things that we want to draw into our lives, and in fact to create the life we want to life!  Play is a great way to tap into your creative juices, often in a way that encourages you to experiment and just have fun. 

Spirituality doesn't have to be a solemn thing!  There is this idea that when we laugh or joke we aren't taking things 'seriously' (which I guess technically is the dictionary definition of the word), but we can absolutely be serious ABOUT our work while still being mirthful or finding the humor in a situation.  In fact, depending on what you are working towards and who you are working with, embracing the silliness might be a part of your spiritual life.  I definitely think a lot of tricksters would appreciate a good laugh.

I am all for sacred time, and setting a priority to have time we dedicate to connecting with our inner selves, our divinity (both within and without) and our spiritual life.  But I also think that there is a lot to be gained by looking for the sacredness in the every day actions we are already taking.  Taking a different perspective, searching out those sacred lessons and opportunities, might make you enjoy certain things more!  And wouldn't that be a blessing.