Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Focus your year!

Four years ago, I did a Year of Gratitude with my local Pagan Group.  Each week I posted a category, and encouraged everyone to share something in that category that they were grateful for.  It was something I had seen posted (though I did adapt the categories a bit), and I thought was really fun.

That year of Gratitude started a new thing with me.  In the following years, I have done a "Year of" in my local group.  After the Year of Gratitude, there was a Year of Photo Sharing (again, I'd post a category, and everyone could take a picture that represented that to share with the group).  Then there was a Year of You (all the categories were stuff about yourself, so we could get to know each other better), and this year was the Year of Magic (since it's a Pagan group, all the topics were about our personal practice, spirituality and magic).

Three years ago, I also started doing my own personal Year of, which became what my focus for the year was.  I started with a Year of Moons, and it was probably the most structured Year I have done.  I wanted to explore the moon cycles, and the energy of each specific full moon.  I look at the moon cycle in an 8 phase model, so I wrote a post for every phase of every moon that entire year.  I hadn't really thought about the fact that this meant writing something every 3-5 days!

I made it through the Year of Moons and I was really floored by how much I had learned.  So, the next year I decided to do a Year of Divination.  I scaled back a little, but I was still doing two daily draws, a weekly card, a New Moon spread, and I did two year-long spreads at the start of the year.  And a few random divination related additions through the year (that was when I started writing Tarot shorts, where I would draw a card and then write a little short story inspired by it).  I added to my divination collection this year, not only decks, but two charm oracles, a Witch rune set and working with dice divination.

This past year was my Year of Magic.  I wanted to focus on the yearly cycle, so I revisited the moon work I had done in my Year of Moons, and I added in daily magical work (even if that work was just to meditation or share a magical meme), as well as dedicated Sabbat work for each of the eight Sabbats.

Normally, around the start of the year, I talk about yearly goals, but this year I really wanted to share this "Year of" practice, because I feel like it operates differently than a goal.  When you set a goal, you are picking something concrete you want to accomplish:  a mile-marker you want to reach.  With a "Year of" focus, I was instead picking where I wanted to keep my focus throughout the year. 

I was definitely inspired by the word of the year practice (I just made my word the focus of action as well as feeling).  And there were definitely goals associated with each year, specific practices that I wanted to do a specific times.  But more importantly, there were things that I wanted to keep in the forefront of my life, for the entire year.

A Year of anything feels both huge and little at the same time.  I definitely acknowledge the magnitude of dedicating myself to one thing for a year.  If I were to add up all the stuff I do in a Year, and set it as a results-based goal, it sounds super huge, and intimidating.  My Year of Moons was 96 posts...brand new stuff that I was thinking about and then writing about...and it was needing to write a new post every few days.  My Year of Divination was 62 readings plus daily draws.  My Year of Magic was planning and working through two different cycles, in 3-5 day chunks, plus 40 dedicated journal reflections (on each month, on each moon, and twice for each Sabbat), plus daily magical planing and work.

But looking at it one step at a time, one day at a time, I could focus on a small bit, and those little bits added up to something amazing.  Often, when I work on studying a big subject, I'll jump in with both feet, and I'll submerge myself in the topic.  I'll spend days reading and taking notes...and I'll burn out.  I'll set it aside, and realize, years later, that I never went back to it.

With the Year of projects, because it was scripted, I would do only so much at a time.  I didn't work ahead, because that wasn't part of my process.  I focused on the step I was on, and that was it.  I didn't think about all that was to come, or even think much on all that I had already done.  Each day I just thought about my focus, about what I needed to do that day (or the few following if it was a planning day), and I broke it down into the one thing I needed to work on.  I broke things even smaller than I would normally, and it just worked.

This year, I am going to be doing a Year of Runes.  I have been working with runes on and off for decades.  I have always been fascinated with them, and I have worked through several books before, each time taking my understanding just a bit deeper.  This Year, I have a book that outlines a year-long study, focusing on each rune for a two-week period.  There are suggestions for activities, but I can also take that time to revisit what I have already learned, to meditate, to experience the galdr and other ways of taking in the rune. 

As I like to twine things together, I'll probably use the rune I am working on as my focus for my community Year of.  I haven't decided yet what exactly that will be (this year really did sneak up on me...), but I was considering revisiting the Year of Gratitude, so I may work with that (picking the categories by the current rune).

The Year of method can be applied to whatever focus you want!  You can have a Year of Self-Care, a Year of Meditation, a Year of Journaling or a Year of Peace.  You can plan daily activities, weekly activities, or just tune in with your focus in the morning when you wake up and at night before you go to sleep.  You might place your focus word somewhere that you will see it every day, so that it can be a reminder of where you want your head to be.  You might plan to check in with yourself a few times throughout the year, to see how you are keeping up with it.

Make it your own!  Build a Year that works for you, with your life, that gives you the things you want from it.  But pick a dream, your dream, the thing you want to experience over the course of the year.  Pick how you want to live your life, and then make this Year the year that you choose how your life unfolds. 

Life is sneaky.  It has twists and turns, and it throws unexpected things your way.  You may set up the best plans, but then something happens and you realize that what you had planned just won't work.  The great thing about a Year of is that it is a focus, so you can just keep your eyes on your focus and look for small ways to work towards it.  Even if all you do is repeat "This is my Year of..." to yourself, you are sinking that idea into your brain.  You will be surprised how often you will see it reflected back at you!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Celebrating outside your tradition

It's that time of the year....when the arguments about what we should or shouldn't say begin again.  Firstly, I think it's a silly thing to argue over.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you celebrate Christmas, and you wish me a Merry Christmas, that is awesome!  If you celebrate Yule, and you wish me a Blessed Yule...that is also awesome!  Wish me a Happy whatever you celebrate, and I'll be pleased...because I understand where your wishes come from.

This is something that I think people forget, when they get hung up on the words that are said.  The message behind the words is the person is wishing you well.  They want good things for you, and are expressing this to you.  And they are most likely saying it in the words of their personal other words, they are saying it in a way that is meaningful to them.

We live in an information age, and yet so many people have a serious lack of understanding about things that don't directly effect them.  If you aren't Jewish (or don't have close Jewish friends or family), then it is pretty likely that all you know about the Jewish faith and practices are what you have seen on tv....and we all know how accurate tv is!  The same can be said for every faith and every celebration. 

Sure, sometimes news gets things right, and you may have a basic idea about what something means, but the chances of that are really small, and unless you are watching really good documentaries on celebrations and faiths, you are really only getting the tip of the iceberg.  To go deeper, you may need experience.

Now, I'm not talking about any kind of cultural appropriation.  I'm not suggesting that you try to sneak into any kind of private rituals or ceremonies.  But many religions have services that are open to the public and welcome guests who are respectful and open to new experiences.

I was blessed with a father who took me to a wide selection of churches.  I also attended church with some friends a few times in high school (along with the teen bible study class).  It was never my faith, but I enjoyed most of the services I attended.  Even the ones I wasn't so fond of (one of which I mainly disliked because the Pastor was yelling into a scratchy microphone that was deafening and horrible sounding....literally gave me a headache), I found that if I listened for the underlying message, I walked out with some food for thought.

But more than that, I learned about what other people thought and believed.  I got to see how they practiced their faith, and what things were important to them.  I grew closer to my friends who practiced that faith, and I was better able to talk to them about things because I had some shared language with them.

In the Pagan realm, there are so many different traditions and practices, and I am again blessed with a group that has many people walking many paths, and we share what we do when we get together.  I have been a part of rituals that are very different from what I do in my personal practice, and it is always fascinating.

I especially love being invited to holiday celebrations that I may not be very familiar with.  Traditions are endlessly fascinating to me, and I adore seeing how other people celebrate and what ritual actions they do.  Whether it is a blessing said over a meal, a way of exchanging gifts or well wishes, or certain foods that represent different qualities, I love learning about how people around the world and throughout time have celebrated.

I think that respect is a key factor here.  I haven't met anyone yet who hasn't been open to respectful questions.  And part of respecting other people is also respecting their limits.  So if you ask about something, and get told that is something that isn't something that is talked about (or isn't something that is shared outside of a particular group), you don't push.

But most groups have quite a lot they are happy to share.  The more you can listen with an open heart and mind, the more you will gain from the experience.  When someone shares something with me, I never think about which way is better or worse, but I do something think about how similar or different practices are.  In my mind, both are interesting.  It is really fascinating how many similarities there are, when we stop trying to make this better than that.  But finding something truly new means you get to try something new (or at least think about something new)!

And this is something else you may have to remember:  you may be allowed to watch some things but not participate in them.  For example, if I am in a Catholic church, I don't take part in communion (I have in the past, when I was a child, but I don't anymore).  I feel like it is for the people who follow that faith, and unless specifically invited to join in, I just remain seated during that part of a service.

At other times, you may alter a practice, but it is polite to do it privately.  When I attended church services, I would say my own prayers sometimes, but it was always silent.  I would never try to talk over the other people praying, to make sure my voice was heard.  That just isn't right, in my mind.  But I don't have any problem with saying my own, silent, prayers to the deities I work with, when prayer time is called for.

People are scared of what they don't understand.  The more we can come together, as a global community, share our celebrations and our beliefs, the more we can understand our fellow men and the less scary other practices will be.  We expand our knowledge, our vocabulary, and when we meet new people, we have words to communicate our understanding of them, which helps bridge gaps that can otherwise form into disagreements based purely on misunderstanding.

We need to start looking for ways to come together, not ways to drive each other apart.  We can't afford to keep picking fights with people because they look different, talk different, act different.  We need to try to see where they are coming from, and a great way to start doing that is to look at what people celebrate.  Celebrations are joyous events, and often mark important things.  Knowing the roots of a celebration shows you what is meaningful to people, and how they express that.

So, if you are invited to a celebration, especially one that you don't really understand, don't automatically say no!  Give it a chance, especially if it is being hosted by someone you would like to be closer to (or in a faith/culture shared by someone you care about).  Ignorance is something that can be fixed, and exploring other tradition's celebrations is a fun way to combat it!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Advent Holidays!

When we think of Sabbats, or of other holidays, we often think of them as a single day.  Some people get even more specific, and think of them as a particular time within a day (especially for Solstices and Equinoxes, where there is a moment at the tip of the fulcrum).  But the idea of celebrating a Solstice on a particular day (often marked from either sundown the previous day or sunup the day of) is something that is ingrained deeply in many people. 

And yet, this is a very common question and concern that pops up for many people:  is it okay to honor the Sabbat on another day?  There are so many reasons why holding to a strict time for a holiday might now work well for someone.  Perhaps they have to work that day, or they have family stuff going on.  If it is for a group ritual, not everyone might be able to make a day.  Middle of the week might mean there is a conflict with children, or you may need to get up early the next day for work.  You might be sick, or just not have energy that day.

Now, group work is a bit more complicated, because for most people, finding time to meet with their group is hard enough, but extending a celebration over several days is virtually impossible.  So, for group work, holding one ritual, on a day that is most convenient for the group as a whole is the best thing. 

But for your personal practice, there is nothing that says you have to do all your holiday activities on just one day!  In fact, I'm finding that only spending one day on a holiday leaves me feeling like I am not fully appreciating all it has to offer.  It serves to separate that celebration, and makes it feel disconnected, like "Oh, I'm going to honor this thing, and now I'm done."

If I think back to my childhood, taking Christmas for example, while we did most of our big Christmas celebrations on Christmas morning (opening gifts), we started doing Christmas stuff pretty much when Thansgiving was over. 

There was a lot to do, and I wouldn't consider us huge celebrators of Christmas.  I don't remember us having Christmas parties, though we did attend a few church services (normally we'd get invited to someone's church nativity play, so we'd go, watch the kids act out the Christmas story and sing carols).  But we listened to Christmas music, decorated the tree and house (which was at least one day's worth of activity!), and we always read the advent story.

I loved the advent!  Even when it wasn't a chocolate advent (but of course those were the best!), but we had a reusable advent calendar, with little windows that we could open every day, and a book to read alongside it.  I enjoyed that daily build up.  I felt like it heightened my appreciation of the season.

And we always baked cookies, to leave out for Santa.  We would open one present on Christmas eve, and then the rest in the morning.  I always had rules for how early I was allowed to wake up my parents (and that's a rule we kept with our son....7am was when Christmas started lol).  We would open presents, have a nice breakfast and enjoy the day.

Looking at the Wheel of the Year as an ongoing cycle, I really think the perspective of one Sabbat naturally turning to the next makes more sense than having eight points around the wheel that we recognize, but kind of ignore the whole rest of the wheel.  I also think that extending our holidays, spreading out our activities over a span of time, not only deepens our connection with them, but it lets us do more in little makes our celebrations more manageable, even when we are busy.

My practice has evolved a lot over the years.  When I was starting out, most of my ritual work was done in purely temporary space.  I had an altar that was always set up, but it was more of a small bit of sacred space.  When I wanted to observe a Sabbat, I would break out all my stuff, go to the largest chunk of floor space we had (so the living room), lay out a blanket and then set up my circle and altar for that specific ritual.  So my Sabbat altar was only up for the ritual itself.

Somewhere along the way, I started adding seasonal bits to my main altar.  But I wasn't very organized about it.  I didn't always remember to change my altar to match the Sabbats (and I didn't have things for all of them...actually I still don't, though I make do with what I have). 

Then, this past year, it was part of my year long goal to not only honor every Sabbat, but to keep up with my altar and changing it every Sabbat as well.  Being the first year that I've actually done this, I had altar set up as part of my 'right around the Sabbat' practices.  Typically I'd swap altar decorations a few days before the Sabbat.

So, while this did help give my actual rituals less set up, it didn't have the flow that I wanted.  I think next year I'm going to swap my altar a week or two after the Sabbat, so that I have a more fluid changeover.  The same for my computer/phone backgrounds (I've been noticing this a lot this computer is still set for Samhain, and it feels sort of weird and disjointed).

Since I've been thinking about extending holidays, I've encountered some really lovely ideas for putting this into practice.  And I think a lot of people still like having that proper Sabbat ritual (even if it is a day or two shifted to fit your life), but taking some of the preparations and other activities and spreading them out in the weeks before and after.

Crafting is one thing that I think can definitely be spaced out.  Many Sabbat rituals include both recipes for seasonal foods, but also ideas for things you can make and include in your ritual:  decorative brooms, wreaths, dollies, wands...the list is endless.  But you don't have to actually wait until your ritual to make your crafts!  You can take a day or days, earlier in the season, to work on making things to use or bless in your ritual. 

If you are doing solitary rituals, like I do, you may not do ritual food for Sabbats (I don't).  But that doesn't mean you have to miss out!  Most ritual foods honor the things that are in season, or the spirit of the season, so why not look to Sabbat recipes for meal inspiration throughout the Sabbat season!  This is especially great if you need to bring a dish to a gathering.  And since many Sabbat recipes aren't obvious, you can bring these dishes to any gathering, not just a witchy one!

I love dressing for ritual, but this is another thing I don't do in my regular practice.  Most of the time, it's just me, and I don't have a lot of ritual clothing, so I do ritual in whatever I'm wearing.  Even for group ritual, I may try to dress to match the season, but sometimes weather or other concerns will be more pressing.  I will wear what I need to in order to stay warm, or to be protected from sun and bugs, and then try to dress around that.

I do try to add seasonal touches with jewelry though.  I love jewelry, and I have pieces that speak (to me) to the different seasons, and so I'll often pick seasonal jewelry to wear, which really helps me to stay in the spirit of the season.  I also like to match my nail-polish to the season, so I will pick colors based on what part of the year we are in.

To take a note from the advent calendar, you can create your own advent calendar for any of the Sabbats!  You might find lovely quotes or images that really speak to you about the Sabbat, and make a beautiful calendar that lets you open up a window each day.  Or, perhaps you have a list of activities you want to do, and you can write them on slips of paper, and tuck each one in an envelope, so you get to surprise yourself with which activity you will be doing on a given day.  You may even include small gifts for yourself, things you have found that embody the season.

Breaking free from the idea that a Sabbat is a single moment in time can really expand your experience of the Wheel of the Year.  It can help you to weave your practice into your life, and to find ways that work best for you.  It can spread out the celebration, so you don't feel stressed or like you can't find time to do what you want to do.  And it can make you more mindful of what is going on, both in the world around you, and within yourself.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Creating Cozy

I love winter, I always have.  I think part of my enchantment with the season was my love for snow as a child.  It changed the world.  There was something really magical about waking up and seeing familiar places transformed.  This delight has never left me.

I have always loved the cold to.  Now, don't get me wrong, I kind of hate being cold, that bone-deep chill that doesn't seem to go away.  I chill easily (and overheat easily....I'm all kinds of wacky with temperature lol), and it takes me forever to warm back up once I get cold.  But I think that is why I love cold weather...because the process of warming up is so much fun!

When you are cold, and you surround yourself with something warm, it's absolutely magical.  I don't think there is any feeling like it.  No matter how refreshing standing in front of the air conditioner is when it's a million degrees, that is relief, not cozy.  Bundling up and feeling warm after being cold is something entirely different. 

I'm a blanket gal, but I am sort of picky about blankets.  I like blankets that are big, there is nothing worse than trying to snuggle under a blanket and not being able to get both your shoulders and feet under (which at 5'10 is a very real struggle!).  I like soft blankets, I want it to feel nice against my skin (and I've found that soft is often warmer...).  As nifty as those color changing sequins are that are all the rage right now, the blankets with them make me cringe. 

And when I say I'm a blanket person, I have blankets everywhere.  There are three on my side of the bed, two in the living room, one on my computer desk chair.  And when I'm really cold (which happens a few times a month), all of those will get piled on the bed or I can't sleep.

This time of year is steeped in cold, and because of that, we spend less time outside.  There is less light in the day, and we are out in it even less than we could be.  It is a stressful time for many people, with family obligations, gift-giving and busy schedules.  It is a time that many people struggle with feeling down.

The thing with cozy is that it embodies the feeling of home.  That happy, safe, loved sensation, where everything is right in the world.  And we can create this feeling by infusing more coziness into our lives.

Cozy can mean different things to different people.  Take clothing for example.  Many people think of big, warm sweaters as being cozy, and I do as well.  I love finding sweaters that swallow me up, that dangle past my fingertips, and well past my waist.  But I also find fuzzy leggings cozy.  It's the stretchiness, which is like being surrounded by a hug.  Kind of like those thunder jackets they sell for pets.  It's a fine line, it has to be tight enough that you can feel it, but not so tight that it starts pinching. 

I love spicy food, but only certain spicy foods are cozy to me.  Chili is one of them.  I love having chili in the winter, when it's cold.  Soups are also cozy, but they have to be hearty.  Chicken and dumplings, with a nice thick broth, or beef marrow with barley...yum!

Hot drinks are great for calling up cozy.  Many of us have favorite hot drinks from childhood, whether it was hot chocolate with marshmallows or spiced apple cider.  As adults, we may add tea or coffee to that list.  I actually loved instant chicken noodle soup (the kind with almost no chicken or noodles, that comes dried in a packet).

That soup was my favorite when I wasn't feeling well, and I think that's another time we naturally seek out cozy things.  Whether it is a physical illness or an emotional one, when we aren't feeling our best, we want to sink into a big puddle of cozy.

One thing that really makes me feel cozy is watching a favorite movie.  This is a tradition for many families over the holidays, and it brings up so much nostalgia and memories.  But your cozy shows might just be a personal favorite, that you've watched so often that you know all the words, but it always makes you happy.

I have books that fill this need as well, and I know that when I'm feeling certain ways, I can turn to them.  I can loose myself, for a while, in their pages, and it's easy and will make me feel better.

We can also share cozy!  Snuggling with a child, a loved one, a friend or a pet...these can all be wonderful ways to embrace being cozy.  I love when our cats come and lay on me.  There is something super peaceful about having a little warm, fuzzy, purring body draped bonelessly across your lap.  It makes me feel calm and loved, knowing they feel that safe with me.

I don't always wait until I'm feeling down to turn to cozy.  Sometimes, I just feel like spending an evening doing something nice and indulgent.  I'll pick out some favorite snacks, pull up a show or movie on the tv, grab a blanket and nest.  Which is quite literally now, because our living room furniture is giant bean bag chairs (which is awesome!).

You know you've embraced the cozy when you don't want to get up.  But it's not just being lazy or dreading doing whatever you need to do once you get up, instead it's that sensation of being so content right where you are that you don't want things to change.

Coziness is one of the reasons I loved winter as a child.  It gave me an excuse to come in, cheeks and hands cold, take off all my cold (and often wet) cloths, put on something warm and dry, get something hot to drink and snuggle in front of the tv with a blanket.  I still love that transition, from cold to cozy. 

So, when the weather is biting and your feeling frazzled with all the holiday rush, take some time to find your own cozy!  Use it as a reward, and keep the image of cozy in your mind, as you go about your tasks, knowing that when you get done, cozy is waiting for you.  Sink into cozy, and let it renew you. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Taking stock

Between Thanksgiving and the end of the year (with New Year signaling new goals for many people), this time of the year is often when we check in and see how we've been doing.  We may have set goals that we are measuring our progress in, or we may just be looking at our life in general and seeing where we might want to set new goals.

Either way, the tendency is to undervalue our own progress and actions.  It's a 'grass is always greener' kind of outlook, and it's crippling.  We look at the world around us, and we think that everyone else is doing 'more' or 'better' than we are.  We tend to gloss over our own successes and we see the obstacles we've overcome not as triumphs but rather as reasons why we aren't as far forward as we think we should be.

This belief that we are somehow failing at our own life is very belittling.  It makes us feel inadequate, and puts us in a very unhealthy mental space.  Being able to truly evaluate where we are at, not only lets us appreciate how far we have come, how much we are actually doing, but also to be able to really tune into what we want to improve upon.  Without having an accurate starting point, we find ourselves intimidated by the scope of what is before us, and are more likely to shy away from it all together.

I am a list maker, and I really believe that lists are powerful things.  But they don't have to be a physical list, with checkboxes or numbers, written on paper.  You can create a list in collage form, adding pictures to represent different parts of your life.  You can list with art, adding color or symbols for different aspects of different goals.  You can list with physical representations, adding beads or slips of paper as you go along.

The strength of a list is it is a way to physically see how much we are doing.  The process of building the list really encourages you to examine different ways in which your goals are manifesting, things that you might be tempted to overlook if you are just idly thinking about them.  And it can be really motivating to see, whether you are progressing well or not.

And while we shouldn't rely on other people for our validations, it can be very helpful to use other people as a mirror with which to examine ourselves.  The trick here is to not compare our life to their life, but rather to use them as a way to look at ourselves more see our life as they might see it.

Sometimes, I don't feel like I am doing so much.  I feel like my life is just trundling along and I'm sort of just here, not really engaging.  But then, someone will ask me a question, or I'll go to explain myself to someone else, and in trying answer their question, I'll realize what all I actually do.

Questions that always make me realize just how much I have going on:  What is your morning/evening/daily routine like?  What kinds of crafts have you done?  What is your writing schedule like?  What books are you reading/have you read?

Checking in doesn't always have to be about things you do either.  I often struggle with feeling like I need more stuff in my life.  The concept that we need things to be complete is one that has been trained into us since we could understand the idea of owning things.  And sometimes, I get caught up in the new and shiny stuff, and it creates this very real sense of lack in my life.

It's not that I don't have things, but rather like I forget that I do (how crazy does that sound?) and that I feel like the lack of things makes my life bare.  This can make things like feeling gratitude much harder, especially if you are in groups where people are constantly sharing their new stuff (and in a group it is easy to loose track of who is sharing what, so it may feel like everyone is getting tons of new things, while in reality, lots of different people are getting one new thing).

Recognizing the abundance in our lives, and embracing how much we have is one of the ways to be grateful.  This doesn't mean that you won't want (or deserve) new things, simply that you acknowledge the lovely things you have, and feel blessed by their presence in your life.

Sometimes, this is as simple as talking about what you have.  Perhaps someone will ask about your tarot decks, and you realize that you have quite a list to share.  Or you might feel like a social outcast, but then your birthday comes up and people you didn't even realize thought about you are wishing you a happy birthday.  Sometimes it means getting out all of your dice (or whatever it is you are feeling a bit of envy towards) and putting them all in one place and just seeing them all together (especially if you tend to keep your things spread out all over).

Seeing what you have also lets you better decide what you need.  I have very particular tastes when it comes to things like art styles I like, so there is a tendency with me to have divination cards that clump together.  I know I want a variety in my decks, so that I can use decks to speak to any topic I may want to look into, and often I don't really think about what I don't have until I really want to use it.  If I check in regularly, however, I can better think about where the holes in my collection are, and what I might want that fits those spots, instead of only buying whatever the newest shiny is, even though I already have a handful of decks that work in that realm.

When it comes to goals and plans, checking in lets you see where you are doing really well (and should celebrate) and where you are struggling (and might need to adjust).  It may be tempting to not look at your progress, especially if it is something you are really struggling with.  I have been fighting with my weight for...decades now.  And I am not nearly as diligent as I should be with paying attention to this area of my life.  I tend to just sort of let it slide, and do things when I am feeling particularly low/sluggish (I know I feel better when I am more active, but that doesn't mean I always want to workout!), but I also avoid things like tracking my progress (weighing in or measuring myself), because I know it will be a harsh reminder of just how far I have to go, and how little effect my actions are having.

It can be demoralizing, when you feel like you are working hard, and you aren't getting anywhere.  To me, this indicates one of two things:  either you need to really be honest with yourself, check in hard and see if you maybe are crediting yourself with more effort than you are really putting in, or you need to look to see if there is something you aren't seeing that is changing the outcome.  Always check in first, because that is the most common way that things aren't working.

I know I often over-exaggerate things, even to myself.  I will think that I am 'eating healthy' but I'll ignore the seconds I have at dinner that make me miserably full for hours or the nights I sit watching a show and don't realize I've eaten half a bag of chips.  Or I'll say, "but I'm doing my exercise every day" and just pretend that a few minutes of playing with hand weights is enough to make me actually loose weight.  But when I sit down, when I write it out and really look at what I'm doing, and how often I'm doing it, I can see that I'm letting myself be blinded by what I want to be, and not seeing what actually is.

Sometimes, however, when you sit down, and you look at things, you realize that you were doing really well.  You may have cut your food intake, been really mindful about your snacking, changed your meals so you were eating more fruits and vegetables, and not only done 20 minutes of cardio 5 times a week, but also regular strength training workouts.  And you still are not seeing any change.  This is a clear indication that something else is going on and it's probably time to get a second opinion.  There is nothing more frustrating than doing all the right things and not getting your results.  Finding out what the issue is lets you change what you are doing to something that works better for you.

But all these things require you to really focus on what is actually going on in your life.  It means you have to stop telling yourself little white lies, stop allowing your mind to make excuses, and really see what's going on.  It might mean calling on a trusted friend, and asking them what they think of your situation.  You might find it helpful to ask strangers, who don't know you at all, because they won't be trying to avoid hurting your feelings by skirting the truth.  In all honestly, a combination of all of these is probably the best approach.  The more different angles you look at the situation from, the better and more clear a picture you will have (and the more obvious it will be if one of the angles you looked at was biased).

Seeing where we are in life lets us move forward, not only with a real sense of appreciation, but also with clear sight.  We aren't floundering around in the dark, hoping that we are making progress, but rather we are able to acknowledge both our strengths and our weaknesses...and plan accordingly.  We can adjust as needed, because we can see what is working and what isn't.  And, at the end of the day, we will find more satisfaction in ourselves, because we know that our perspective is valid.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Pre-emptive (Holiday) Self-care!

Holiday season is a wonderful time of year.  We get together with family and friends, we have lovely food, we exchange gifts, and we celebrate!  But, for many people, it can also be extremely stressful.  There are many reasons why the holidays can be draining, but one of the main ones is that we don't take proper care of ourselves.

There is a tendency to overextend ourselves, to want to do things bigger and better than last year, and to say yes to everything.  And many times, this comes from a deep place in our hearts, because we want to do nice things for people we care about, we really do want to attend all the parties, and we saw that really cool idea that looked amazing and we can't wait to try it out (even though it looks like it will take forever to actually do).

I've said it before, and I'll say it again (and probably keep saying it...forever...because we all need reminding!) that you can't do for other people if you are exhausted.  Our time and energy are limited, and we have to start with ourselves, we have to make sure that we are devoting proper attention to our that we can do all those things for other people that we really want to do!

I think this really starts with good, basic self-care.  You know, the kind you should be doing all year long, but tend to 'forget' when you get busy.  Making sure you get enough sleep, eating foods that nourish your body, drinking plenty of water, listening to your body.  There is a tendency to try to do more as the holiday's approach, thinking that if we 'just get all the prep work done, then we can relax and enjoy the holiday'.

But this can end up being a flawed plan, as we may end up so tired (or worse yet, we may fall sick) that we actually can't enjoy anything.  It's a bit counter-intuitive, but if we stop and take breaks when we need them, if we actually take care of ourselves, we will have more energy and be able to do SO much more than if we keep trying to push through on pure will and end up running on empty.

Now, as I said, this is not so much special holiday advice as just a reminder that we need to keep our regular self-care going over the holidays.  For many of us, holidays bring additional challenges, and this may require more thorough self-care.

I have done a 'back to the routine' spell for many years now, to help recover from the holiday season.  It is natural to take some time to recenter after a busy or stressful time, but we don't want to only rely on after care.

One thing that many people struggle with is crowds.  This might be crowds in the stores while shopping, crowds at a party you are going to, or crowds at a family gathering.  Crowds might mean something different for everyone too, or even different things depending on who they are.  I am pretty comfortable with a group of 20 friends, but a party with 20 strangers would not be so fun for me.  Large crowds while shopping are normally okay, but highly charged holiday shoppers are another story!

I know that when I'm going out to a particularly busy place, I may need to prepare.  For me, this means taking a moment to accept that I'm going to be uncomfortable, but to remind myself that I will make it through.  I have pieces of jewelry that make me feel safe, and I often wear them.  I have clothing that makes me feel more 'me', and that is often worn too (clothing can be my armor!  even underclothing, that no one but me will know about...).  If I am going out on my own, I'll typically use headphones to help create space between me and other people (and block out the ambient noise which can bother me). 

I still sometimes need some recovery time when I get home, depending on how crazy it was, but things go a LOT smoother if I take the proper precautions.  I do the same for big family gatherings.  Part of my preparation for family gatherings is going through the questions I think I'll be asked, so that I am ready with appropriate answers. 

Now, I am fairly out of the broom closet, though I do try to not shove a bunch of witchy information in my family's face (unless they directly ask me about something).  Beyond my faith and practice, there are other topics that often lead to less than enjoyable conversations with family (video games being a big one).  Even something like someone asking me what books I've been reading puts me on the spot depending on who's asking (I read some books that touch on pretty adult topics, so if one of my teenage cousins asks, I don't necessarily want to share all of that with them).

If I plan ahead though, I can come up with honest and true answers, that still let me avoid talking about things that neither I nor my family necessarily want to talk about.  If I don't prepare, then I end up frantically trying to come up with something appropriate on the spot and typically just saying something like "Oh, I've just been doing stuff around the house..." (which even in my head sounds a little lame)

I am definitely lucky though, the absolute worst I might have to face is a lecture about how I could be 'doing so much more' with my life, but I know that many people have to worry about dealing with people who will physically or mentally abuse them.  In that case, you may need to have a more thorough plan in place.

First, you need to really consider if you want to go to something that you know someone abusive will be at.  If you are ready to talk about it, you might inform the people hosting that the person in question is not someone you feel safe around, and if they are going to be there, that you won't be able to attend.  If you aren't ready to talk about it, you might find another reason to not be there.  Remember, self-care is the most important thing!  If you don't feel safe, don't go!

Sometimes, things aren't quite so cut and dry.  You may feel that the good outweighs the bad, and the person or people you aren't comfortable around can be managed.  Your self-care might include making plans with other people there, so that you aren't ever alone, or even more active interference, so that if someone tries to start acting in an inappropriate manner, someone you trust will be there to let them know that it's not okay.

Holidays also tend to be super busy, even if you have a plan and lots of helpers, so make sure that your self-care plan includes time for relaxation and unwinding.  I start all my days with a bit of meditation, but I also think that doing more when you know you will have a busy day, is extremely helpful. 

Find the organization plan that works for you!  I love lists, but I tend to prefer paper ones, versus electronic reminders.  I know that lots of people like using apps to keep everything on track.  You may prefer to do the big things yourself, or you may ask other people to do things to help out. 

Don't be afraid to set proper boundaries as well!  If you really want to attend two parties in one weekend, you may want to plan on heading home at a reasonable hour from the first, so that you aren't overtired the next day. 

These boundaries can extend to monetary matters as well.  It can be helpful to set a budget, so that you can stay on track.  If you know that you are going to be attending several parties, you can plan to set aside money for food you are going to bring.  I try to plan out holiday gifts several months in advance.  Not only does that mean that the cost is spread out over a longer period, but if something goes awry, I have plenty of time to get it fixed.  And if I am hand making things, I have lots of time to get them done!

Holidays are wonderful, and can be so much fun.  Even more so, when we take proper care of ourselves so we can fully enjoy all they have to offer.  So do yourself (and everyone around you!) a favor, and really tune into what you need to do for yourself first, this holiday season.  Make yourself a priority, so that you can do all the things you want to do for other people, without worry.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


Let me start out by saying, that no matter how cute I think the name Friendsgiving is, I also kind of actively dislike it.  I think it sets a bad precedent for prioritizing families during the holidays.  Now, as I've said before, I am blessed to have good relationships with not only my own family, but also with my in-laws.  Holidays were never bad for me (no matter how much we may joke about wishing we could just stay home and lounge about in our pajamas....we really didn't mind doing family holiday dinners).

But not everyone is that lucky.  Some people just don't get along with their family.  Perhaps family doesn't approve of your religion, your partner, your life choices...or who you fundamentally are (orientation etc...).  Some people aren't invited to family holiday events, while others are invited, but know that if they go, they will really feel bad before the night is over as they will get nothing but attacks, both subtle and overt.

I did a little looking into the whole Friendsgiving thing, after having the stray thought that maybe it came from the tv show Friends.  Well, that may be why it gained in popularity, but it is believed to have been around a while before that.  The basic idea is that the friends weren't able (or wanting) to go home for Thanksgiving, so they did their own dinner.

Now, like I said, I love parts of this.  I love that friends bond together, celebrate holidays and create family.  But I don't think it needs it's own designation.  I think holidays are meant for more than family, and I think that chosen family (which is your very dear friends, you know which ones, the ones who you actually love being around, all the time, the ones you want to share everything with) can mean more to many people than their actual relations.

Of course, I am not saying turn your back on your family.  But if it's not healthy for you to be around them, then don't!  I don't care if it's Thanksgiving, Christmas or your Great-grandmother's 100th birthday.....if you are diminished or hurt by spending time with your family, then don't do that to yourself.  You don't owe them anything.

Thanksgiving itself has a fair amount of controversy these days (of course, what holiday doesn't anymore???).  The whitewashing of the origins of the holiday leaves a bad taste in many people's mouths.  So, I do understand the idea of trying to remove yourself from the name and any associations with it.

But, what is the true heart of the holiday, as we celebrate it today?  It is giving thanks, for the wonderful things in our live, and sharing a meal with people who make our lives better...or at least that's what it means in my mind. 

And who you invite to your Thanksgiving meal is your business!  Ask yourself who are the people who enrich you?  Who brings you joy, and who do you want to be around?  Those are the people you should invite!

While we're at it, let's reclaim the dinner too!  It has become sort of a running joke that people can't just be with each other anymore, they have to be on their phones or devices.  With Thanksgiving, so many stores have taking the whole Black Friday thing and blown it out of proportion (I swear, I won't go on a whole rant....I promise....I'll just say it's Black FRIDAY, not "Black whenever-we-want-we're-just-calling-it-this-to-get-you-in-the-door-stuff-isn't-even-really-on-sale"). 

We stopped going to Black Friday sales quite a few years back.  We came to the realization that it just wasn't worth it.  The amount we saved wasn't worth the time invested, let alone having to deal with crazy shoppers!  But, if you enjoy Black Friday stuff, then enjoy it!  Just don't let it ruin other engagements because you are so caught up in the fever.

It's okay to unplug now and then.  The world isn't going to come crashing down if you don't see that text right away, or don't check your social media every five minutes.  You won't ruin your year if you miss one sale.  If you are going to spend time with people who you care about, especially for a dinner to honor what we are grateful for, let's really tune in and be present.

You know, this thought could apply to so many things, not just holidays, and not just Thanksgiving.  We are so busy, so much is going on, all the time, but we need to set aside times where we can unwind.  Where we can just BE, with the people who bring us joy.  Where there is no agenda, nothing to get done. 

Find the things that you love doing, and share them with people who also love doing them.  Don't worry about what people might say.  If you wanna have friends over to watch a sports game, have at it!  If you wanna play board or video games with your on!  If you wanna just chill with some music, rock on!  Maybe you just wanna have snacks and talk all it! 

Let's stop trying to do what we think we 'should' be doing, especially around the holidays.  It's not about trying to recreate those Hallmark moments (which are totally photo-shopped anyways....), holidays are about celebrating life.  And you need to celebrate YOUR life, in whatever form it may take.  Celebrate the things that make your life better, the things that make your life uniquely yours.  And if someone else doesn't like it, that's really none of your business, so just let it go.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Redefining warrior

We have two big holidays where we honor our soldiers:  Veterans Day and Memorial Day.  Veterans honors those soldiers who are still living, while Memorial focuses on those who are dead.  The brave young men and women who have fought, throughout the ages, in wars, to defend their country, to protect the ideas and values that they cherish, these are definitely people that deserve our recognition and respect.

But I think this is a good time of year to also remember the many other people, both living and dead, who fight in ways that may not be obvious.  I think that warrior is not always a title of violence or physical prowess.  A warrior is someone who fights, someone who pushes through, someone who perseveres, someone who survives.  And there are many ways to do these things, many fronts on which these 'battles' might take place.

We are living in a time of strife, a time when there is SO much wrong in the world, so many different ways in which the things we believe in are getting attacked.  People around the world are being threatened for their religions, their lifestyles, their choices, and even for just being who they are.  It feels like we were progressing, like things were getting better in the world.  We were making steps towards a brighter future, and there was starting to be acceptance and understanding.

And then everything began to crumble.  It's like the ground is being pulled out from under us, like all that hard work to move forward is being ripped away and we are being thrust even further back than where we started.  The people who are making these attacks are getting bolder, are feeling justified and supported, and are gaining leverage.

We may be afraid, and we may be hurting, but many people are also fighting back.  Warriors of all shapes and sizes are stepping forward and drawing lines and saying, "NO, we won't take this any more."

I think that the defining quality of a warrior is that of action.  A warrior takes action, when other people stay still.  This action can take so many forms!  It might be organizing a group, to speak out and educate the masses about what is really going on with a hot topic issue.  It might mean opening your home, your heart, and your shoulder, to someone who is out of hope, building them up so that they don't feel like their world is gone.  It might mean telling your story, when it is so painful that it breaks your heart to even think about it.

Everyone fights in their own way.  Sometimes, the most warrior thing you can do is get up, and just keep moving forward.  No one else may even know the struggle you are going through, but you know.  You know that it took EVERYTHING to get yourself moving that morning, to not just lay in bed and do nothing.  You know that it is all you can do to go through the motions, that the bare minimum is the absolute most you can do today.  But you do it, and you make it through the day.  Never let anyone tell you that your inner struggles are any less than someone else's!

Sometimes, being a warrior means feinting...pretending to be docile, to give in, to go along with whatever crazy thing is going on, because you know that pushing back in that moment would just make things worse.  So you batten down your hatches, you put yourself back into that horrible situation, because you know you are just waiting for your moment.  You know, that if you can just make it through, if you can just hold on long enough, your time will come, and you will have the opportunity to break free.

A warrior also knows that sometimes retreat is necessary.  Retreat doesn't mean giving up, it means taking a step back and planning how you will regain what you have lost.  It means acknowledging when you are at a disadvantage, and recognizing when fighting would only hurt you more.  Sometimes we face such overwhelming odds that we simply have no hope of wining.  Sometimes it's better to let one battle go, so that we can focus on how to win the war. 

But other times, a warrior knows that sacrifice might be the only way for the cause to win.  Sometime's it's just so much bigger than you, and you throw yourself onto the swords, knowing that you won't make it out whole, but also knowing that your sacrifice will be a catalyst for the change that you so desperately want to see.  We may not live to see the war won, but we may decide that our personal loss is worth it, just to know that future generations will not have to go through what we did.

It is easy to get distracted by the people who are the loudest, the most in your face.  And many of these people are warriors too, and are fighting to create change.  But we mustn't forget the quiet ones, the behind the scenes warriors, the ones who tend to go unnoticed. 

When you look at a pivotal moment in history, there are typically a few big names that pop out.  But if you keep looking, you will start to see the countless warriors that surround those big names.  The people who were fighting, right there along side the ones who became famous.  Look a little further, and you will see the people who fought in support roles, the ones who made it possible for the ones on the front lines to be there.

There are people who gave everything they had to support a cause they believed in.  There are people who cry themselves to sleep every night, because they have nothing more to give.  There are people who have lost pieces of themselves, not obvious ones, but deep, inner pieces of themselves, that they can never get back.  They are forever changed, because they fight against the things that they can not stand.

We must remember the people who fight, the people who push for change, the people who that tomorrow might be a little easier, a little better, a little brighter, for us all. 

I think it fitting, that here in November, we take a moment to remember all the fighters in our lives.  Think about the people who have stood up for you, the ones who have fought for you, the ones who have sacrificed, so that you can be where you are today.  Think about the people you have known, and then look further back, and look for the forgotten warriors in history, who fought to create the world we know today.  Think about the people who have fought the exact same battles we are fighting today!  And think about the people who are fighting so those battles might never be fought again.

Remember them.  Honor them.  Respect them.  Warriors don't just fight in wars, they don't all wear a uniform.  You might not notice them, if you pass them on the street.  But if you look for them, you will find them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Exchanging gifts

It is Halloween, which sort of marks the start of gifting season.  Pretty much, from here to at least February feels like one gifting holiday after another (for me, it lasts until May, because of birthdays and anniversary!).  Now, don't get me wrong, I adore gifting.  But I think we have lost some of the spirit of gifting.

Society tells us that the gifts we give represent how much we care about another person.  It's sort of become this contest of who can get the 'better' gift...and better has come to mean more expensive.  We have begun to treat a gift like a representation of how much we feel the other person is worth.  The more expensive the gift, the more you value the other person.

And it's not a sliding scale either.  It doesn't matter if you only have one dollar to your name and the other person is a millionaire.  If they give you a gift that has a retail value of a hundred dollars and you spend your last dollar to buy a set of colored pencils and then spend a hundred hours drawing them a picture, many people will still value the more expensive gift more.

I like the meaning of the Futhark rune Gebo when it comes to the idea of gifting.  That the 'gift' is an exchange.  I have talked before about how I don't think there is such a thing as truly selfless giving, and I still believe this.  But I think there is absolutely such a thing as heartfelt giving.  And that is what giving should be:  felt in the heart.

When we gift, even if the gift isn't being reciprocated, or is anonymous, we are sending out energy.  And there is energy being received!  This might be a thank you, it might mean catching a glimpse of the person using the thing they were gifted, or even our own visualization of how a stranger might appreciate our gift.  Part of what makes gifting so special is that feeling we get when we truly give from our heart.

Now, you might remember that I mentioned Halloween as the start of gifting season.  I think that we have lost sight of what gifting means in many areas of our lives, because we are taught to expect being given things.  I think Halloween illustrates this really well.

Many of the roots of trick-or-treating have a much more direct exchange in the gifting.  Children would offer to pray for the house, or show them a 'trick' (recite a poem, sing a song, perform a skit) in exchange for their treat.  Now, this isn't something that we do today, but in a way you could consider the child's costume and their pure joy of the holiday their trick being offered when they ring your bell and ask for a treat.  You can always tell the ones that are really into it, the ones who delight in putting on the costume, whether it is a store bought one or handmade.  And those are typically the ones who don't even look at what they get in response, they are just happy with the whole process.

Christmas is another gifting holiday that has become so commercial.  My favorite example of the bad spirit of Christmas is Dudley from Harry Potter, who gets upset because he has one less present for his birthday (yes I know it's not Christmas, but the same idea) than the previous year, and throws a fit, even though is father explains that some of this year's presents are bigger.  I don't think that gifting should be a competition, either with each other or with previous gifts. 

I like to think of gifting as sending a message.  What is my gift saying to them?  I have always tried to find gifts that I think someone would really like.  It's not about me, it's about what would delight them.  Part of my joy in gifting is finding something that really makes the other person light up. 

Gifts don't have to be physical things either.  We can gift other people with many things that don't cost us a dime.  We just have to look at someone else, and think about what we would want, if we were them.  If you know someone who is always busy, and never has time, they would probably appreciate a gift of service:  helping them take care of some kind of task.  Many older people really appreciate gifts of companionship:  taking the time to really visit with them. 

One important thing, when contemplating gifts, is to remember to separate your own desires from what you honestly think the other person would like.  And this can be hard, especially if you get really excited about things!  I constantly have to remember that, while hubby and I share a lot of common interests, we approach those interests in different ways, so I have to make sure that I'm not looking for gifts that are more aligned with my own tastes instead of his.

On the flip side, when we receive a gift, especially from a child, we need to think about how the gift is being given.  Children are very good at giving from their hearts, but they also tend to give gifts that they would love.  They often haven't quite figured out how to see things from other people's perspectives yet.  And it can be heart-breaking when they give something, especially when they are very excited about it, and it isn't received with the same joy.

But this applies to everyone, not just children.  When you receive a gift, especially if perhaps you were expecting something different, or if the gift isn't quite to your tastes, think about what the other person is trying to say with their gift. 

I have received my share of 'not my thing' type of gifts.  Family is especially notorious for gifting you what you think they need or what they want you to want.  And that last one is particularly tricky.  Because they love you, and they often think they know, better than you do, what is best for you.  So they try to give you what they think you should want, instead of what you actually want.  And again, their feelings get hurt if you aren't properly appreciative.

I think the bottom line, when it comes to gifting, whether you are giving or receiving is to remember that it is an exchange and a message both.  Gifting is a conversation, and you have to look beyond the surface, and see what lies underneath.  Whichever side you are on, it may fall on you to make that stretch, to see the gift in the light it was intended. 

But when you do, when you start to experience that exchange as one heart speaking to another, the rewards are so much more than the stuff that is being given.  Gifting becomes a true spiritual act, and receiving a gift is a matter what the gift itself actually is.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Harnessing your fear!

"Fear holds you still when you need to move, and moves you when you need to be still.  Fear makes you silent when you need to be loud, and loud when you need silence...Fear closes your throat, makes it hard to breathe.  Fear weakens your hand and blinds your eyes...Fear is a danger.  Know your fear.  Face your fear."  (from Warlord by Elizabeth Vaughan...great book trilogy!)

I was just re-reading this trilogy, and this quote stuck in my mind.  Fear is something we all struggle with, at some time or another.  Fear effects us all differently, and even different fears can evoke different reactions in us.  Physical danger makes my heart race, but it makes me dig my heels in and push through.  Fear of things that I can't control (like fear of sickness) causes me extreme anxiety and can cripple me, no matter how hard my brain tries to logic it's way out of the fear.

We fear things that are happening, things that have already happened (both their repercussions as well as the fact that they might happen again), and things that might possibly happen.  We fear things we know are serious risks as well as things we acknowledge aren't that big of a deal...but still they scare us.

Fear has it's roots in survival.  Fear pumps us full of adrenaline so we can handle whatever is threatening us.  But even though many of us don't face life or death situations every day, our bodies don't know this, and we experience the fear response for less deadly threats.

If you look at the words at the top of this post, you will see many of the words inside the letters...things that fear makes us feel.  And sometimes we loose sight of the fact that these feelings are often illusions, they are created by our fear to make us avoid the thing that we perceive as a danger.

I think one of the most powerful things we can do is to name our fear.  We may be temped to avoid even thinking about the things that cause fear in us, but in order to begin to work with our fear, we need to know what it is.  Naming our fear gives us something to hold onto.  It lets us define what scares us, and that in turn allows us to start to see where the roots of that fear go. 

And this is important.  The roots are what feed the fear!  The fear itself might be big and strong and seem like we could never even begin to work through it.  But if we follow the roots, they get smaller and smaller, and branch out, and we find one that is manageable.  One root that we can work on, and by working on that one root, we weaken the whole fear.  Root by root, we begin to change how we relate to the fear.

Sometimes it's not about removing the fear.  Another quote I like says that courage isn't about not feeling fear, but rather feeling the fear and acting anyways.  Much like an ominous noise coming out of the darkness, fear can sound huge and terrifying, but the more light we shed on it, the more manageable it feels.  We may find, that by simply exploring our fear, by figuring out what it is and why it is triggering us, that we are no longer afraid of it.

But sometimes, no matter how much we uncover about our fear, no matter how much logic we apply to it, we are still gripped by it.  Then, it becomes a journey of how to work within the confines of your fear.  In some ways, I feel like this is a form of conditioning.  Each time you face your fear, even if you find yourself paralyzed by it, you become a little more accustomed to it.  Sort of like easing yourself into a cold lake.  When you first dip your foot in, you pull back yelping.  But each time you put your foot back in, it feels a little less frigid, and eventually you are in the water.

One of the tools for working with fear is to use your own body's responses.  When we are afraid, our heart beats up and we breathe faster.  By working in reverse, by focusing and breathing slowly and steadily, we can in turn lower our heart rate.  This will create a calming effect in the body, and can help deal with some of the feelings that fear brings up in us.

I also find, that when I have worked through my thoughts on something that is causing fear in me, and I have come to the conclusion that it isn't a true threat, then I often go for diversion therapy.  I turn to something that I can loose myself in, often a tv show or game.  I deliberately try to distract myself, so that I can break that cycle of emotions that the fear is creating in me, so that I can free myself from the obsessive thoughts and foundless worries.  And I find, that if I can break free from the hold that fear has on me, it will retreat, for the time being at least.

The great thing about fear is that sometimes you can use it for it's intended purpose:  to pump you up when you need to face something difficult.  This is one place where my stubbornness really gives me an edge!  There are many fears I have, where I know that I am stronger than they are, and that all I have to do is run head long into them and I can break through them.  Again, I don't do this with things that are truly dangerous, but it works great for things where fear is holding me back from acting, especially when it is fear of success (one of those really insidious fears that makes no logical sense...but plagues us anyways).  Momentum is a great way to combat these kinds of fears, because once you get moving, you can focus on the movement and it will help you keep those fears at bay.

Fear is a tricky foe.  It is overpowering, can be ever-changing, and is invisible.  We sometimes can't even put our fears into words.  And yet, if we pick at them, if we refuse to let them beat us down, if we keep getting back up, we can use them to propel us forward.  We can become the master of our fears, instead of letting fear master us.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Worlds within books

I believe in the power of books.  Books are truly magical things!  Not only do they create a form of immortality (much like music, the author echoes forward through time, kept alive by everyone who reads their words), but they literally create worlds.

Whether it is a fiction or non-fiction book, the author is still infusing their words with their beliefs.  You can read many non-fiction books on the same subject, and walk away with a feel for each of the authors.  The same facts take on different feelings, based on how they are presented, and even the voice in which they are written.

This is both utterly brilliant and a little bit dangerous.  We tend to treat the written word, especially when it is presented as non-fiction, as Fact (with a big F...kind of like Truth).  We don't always acknowledge how much shading an author can put on facts, even when they are doing their best to be impartial.

But worse, many authors present their opinions as fact, or take the facts that they know and deliberately word them in such a way that they support the authors viewpoint.  I think these kind of books still have value, but we, as readers, need to stay aware of the power of an author's voice, so that we can see where it is leading us and make our own observations about what is...and what isn't.

With fiction, the message can be even more subtle and devious.  Because we read fiction as make-believe, we often ignore the themes in the book, focusing on the story and dismissing bits that we would have protested in a non-fiction book...because it's not real, right? 

It's good to stop and think about the themes in books, especially fiction books.  I don't feel like we should stop reading books with troublesome themes, in fact rather the opposite.  I think that books that explore problem issues, either by making them something the characters in the book are fighting against, or by creating a world where they are normal, gives us different perspectives about the topic.  Sometimes we need to see things taken to an extreme in order to really understand how problematic they are.

Another great feature of fiction books is they allow you to step into someone else's shoes.  The characters in the book share their point of view with you, and through their eyes you might see what it's like to be a different gender, race, culture, nationality, socioeconomic status, or any number of things.  We naturally connect with characters in books, and it feels very different to go through experiences with a character in a book than it does to hear about a problem just being explained.

Books can be a safe way to experience things that we may be drawn to that would be dangerous (or impossible) otherwise.  From sword fighting to mountain climbing, we can live vicariously through reading, without the inherent risks involved.  In a similar vein, a great writer can create a visceral experience for us of things that we might not be able to afford.  The most expensive foods and drinks can be yours with the right words!

And this is where books become pure magic.  When we become invested in a book, we can loose ourselves and the world around us.  We get transported to this whole other world, and we become another person.  Much like with visualization, we experience what the character experiences, and a talented word smith can capture the essence of something so you really feel like you are there!

This is, of course, wonderful fun, but it can also be so much more!  If you feel helpless in a situation, you can read about a character who is in a similar situation, but has tools to fight back.  Sometimes, this is enough to get you through it, especially if it is something you have no control over.  But other times, this can actually cultivate the strength in you to change your own circumstances.  You might not use the same methods, but you can call upon the spirit of a character to make your own move.

If you were considering trying a new thing, but weren't sure you want to commit to it, you can read a book that lets you try it.  Perhaps there is a different path that you find interesting, but you aren't sure you really fit it.  You might find, through reading about it, that the parts you were unsure of have melted away...or you might discover that the things you thought would be amazing have aspects you hadn't considered.

Books can (and should!) be read for enjoyment.  I love reading all kinds of books, from really deep, heavy thinky books that I really have to be alert and in the right mood to read down to fun little fluff pieces that just make me happy and take no effort.  But just because we enjoy them doesn't mean that we can't also explore them in deeper ways.

Let yourself sink into the books you read.  When something is described, slow down and let it's image (or scent, or taste....) form within you.  Savor it, the way you savor your favorite treat.  When a character has an emotion, let it fill you.  It is quite common for me to cry while reading.  If you enjoy a book, no matter what kind of book, embrace it!  Don't let anyone else tell you that you are too old (or young, or whatever) to like that kind of book.

And when you put the book down, ruminate on it.  Let it's ideas swirl around in your mind.  Allow thoughts and reactions to bubble forth.  Perhaps you might like to journal about how it made you feel or what it made you think. 

Revisit your books.  It is amazing, no matter how many times I read a book (and I have books I've read a dozen times, and re-read about every year), I always come up with bits I don't remember, or things that mean something different to me now, because I've changed since the last time I read a book.

Let books be your therapy, your touchstones, your security blanket.  I have books I turn to when I'm in certain moods.  Sometimes I want a book that combats a mood...but other times I want one that compliments it.  I like to wallow in my moods, I like to surround myself with emotions.  I know which books to read when I need to feel certain things. 

Books are incredible, and there are so many ways to use them.  Challenge yourself to try new books, or to experience your favorite books in new ways.  See what you can uncover, in those huge worlds between the covers.  Because you never know where you'll end up, when you open a book!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Everyday Witchcraft!

One of the common comments I see, when talking to other's about their spiritual and magical practice, is that they can't afford all the things.  And this makes me sad, on two levels.  I am a very "Ooh look at the lovely stuff!" person.  I adore all the pretty ritual tools, the fancy ingredients and the elaborate rituals.  I definitely don't practice like this.  I do have some gorgeous tools...but I also have no problem working with whatever I happen to have on hand.  And I think that there is a lot of wisdom in using what you have.

I've written before about practicing Thrifty Magic, and talked a bit about how to be thrifty in your practice.  But today I want to talk a little more about how our ancestors might have practiced.  I definitely think that there were people practicing at all wealth levels, from the nobles down to the poorest of the poor.  And it only makes sense that people used what they had.

One of the things that really drew me into this realm of spirituality was the level of personal involvement.  I don't need to attend a temple and find a priest to practice.  I am my own Priest/ess, and wherever I am is my temple.  I love the idea that I am doing, in my own way, something that my ancestors (of the heart if not of the blood) did, many generations in the past. 

There is something very cool about the idea of every person being able to have a relationship with divinity, or with the Gods that they choose to work with.  And, along those same lines, I love that folk magic takes these lofty ideals of magic and uses them in ways that normal people would use.

I sort of think of this as everyday magic, or peasant magic.  It's not the type of thing that a priest/ess in a formal temple would do as part of a religious ceremony, nor is it the type of thing even that the villagers would do at a seasonal ritual (although both of those are great in their own way!), but the stuff that commoners would do, through the course of their normal days.

And if you think about it, some of the existing texts, the spells and rituals that were written down or passed down in story, sound exotic to us, but these might be things that were commonplace in another time.

Instructions might include that you should harvest your own herbs, to show that you didn't need to buy fancy herbs from far away, but the ones that grew in your garden or the forest near your home would be perfectly fine.  Many of the suggestions for time of harvest might be based on very practical things that we just aren't familiar with anymore.  Picking herbs in the evening, they would be dry from the day's sun and not yet covered in the night's dew, so possibly better for drying.  Some flowers open and close with the sun's light, so might be seen as more magically potent for different purposes depending on whether they were harvested open or closed.

Even the tools we use in our practice, can be distilled down to common things that were used in the house already.  The cauldron was the big soup pot, that could be hung over the fire to slow cook stew all day, and would also be great for brewing up salves, medicines and potions.  The broom would sweep the floors and getting that dirt out would brighten the energy of the house. 

Things that are purely ritual now, might have their origins in more practical use.  The Witch's ladder comes to mind:  a string on which significant objects are tied and hung for various purposes.  But this is very similar to the way that herbs or even game, was hung for storage.  When we banish, we are often told to bury something in the earth or release it into running water.  If you think in terms of sickness, things buried in the ground not only get transmuted into nutrients, but they are removed from the sight and scent of both animals and people, so less likely to be tampered with or to bother the people living nearby.  Running water would literally carry the thing being banished away from you, again, an excellent precaution if there was sickness involved.

To me, there is something really elegant in taking ordinary things, things that you use for regular purposes, and using them to create magic.  It really underlines the belief that the magic comes from us, that we create the magic (as opposed to the magic coming from the crystal or the tool). 

When you really think about why people turned to magic, it was to solve problems.  They either wanted something or wanted something to go away.  They used magic to give the world a push, but I feel like many things were taken at face value, in a matter of fact way that we have lost.  We understand so much more now, so things that were assumed to be true, in days gone by, we now shroud in mysticism.  We see our actions more as symbolic, with the true work being done energetically, and we tend to want to make things feel more magical.  It's like we can't really believe that they will work if they are too simple, too ordinary.

But I don't think the magic, the universe or any of it, cares if we use fancy woo-woo methods or simple, ordinary ones.  I've said it many times before, and probably will many more to come, but we need to trust that what works for!

And it is okay if multiple things work.  If you can do ritual with all the bells and whistles, but you can also do ritual by tracing a circle in the dirt with your finger, do either of them work any less?  I can bake bread that uses four, very simple ingredients, and I can also make bread that needs fancy ingredients and involves a dozen steps.  Both will fill my belly, and isn't that the whole point?

So, if you ever find yourself thinking that you can't do something, because you found a version of it that requires things you don't have (or things that you can't do), ask yourself what is the core point.  What is the ritual trying to accomplish.  And what other way can you reach that same goal.  It's not about how you get there, it's about where you are going!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Remembering the Forgotten

This time of year, we often remember and acknowledge our ancestors:  those who have come before.  Many of us honor the people, blood related or not, who have influenced us and made us who we are today.  Whether you have a dedicated ancestor practice or not, many people are drawn to connect with ancestors during this season.

But, sometimes it's like talking about past lives:  everyone wants to have been someone important, but no one wants to have been a farmer or servant.  Of course, we should remember the mighty dead, the great heroes and the important people who created great change in their day, change that echoes and influences the world today.

But we should also remember the ordinary people (gosh I really disliked all the words I thought for describing this:  normal, simple, smaller....perhaps unseen?).  There are a million, million lives that no one remembers.  And whether they made great ripples or not, we know that the  slightest action will create huge waves as it builds through time!

It takes work, to connect with and remember the less obvious people.  You may not know much about them, you may not even have a name to work with.  Perhaps you know that your grandmother talked about her grandmother, and how she worked hard every day, just to keep food on the table, and to keep all the kids clothes clean and well patched.  Or how your great uncle used to be able to whistle like any bird, and you used to listen to him for hours as a child.

Even further back, how many great people were able to rise to greatness because of the many people around them who did little things.  How many unsung heroes were there?  People who lived and died in anonymity, but still worked hard and risked everything for the causes they believed in.  For every historic figure, who made great bold gestures, ask yourself how many other people, forgotten in the history books, acted to support those great gestures, in their own way.

In wars, we remember the leaders and the people who stood out, but every soldier was out there, on those battlefields, fighting for their lives.  We look back, and we pick a side that we agree with, and we like to think that everyone on the other side was a bad person.  But how many people had no choice.  How many soldiers were conscripted to fight?  How many fought to protect or save their families?  How many were lied to or fought out of ignorance?  Do they deserve our disdain?

People are complicated, and the obvious story isn't always the true one.  One common thread, when thinking about ancestor work, is what do you do about family members that were horrible to you?  Or family members that lived lives that you don't agree with.  Perhaps you have a criminal ancestor, or one with radically different political or social views than you.

I can't tell anyone how to practice, but consider this:  did that ancestor teach you a lesson?  They say that those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.  And we often say that people were 'from a different time' to excuse behavior that wouldn't be acceptable today.  When we look back an ancestors, who did things that were not condemned in their time, perhaps we can honor them in the light of teaching us that those kinds of behaviors are not right. 

In our local Day of the Dead ceremony, we name the beloved dead.  Everyone attending has the opportunity to add names to the list that we read and honor.  And let me tell you, even with only a dozen of us there, the list gets long!  This is something that happens, as you uncover more and more ancestors who have influenced you, especially as you start to name the forgotten in your list.

I don't feel that we need to name each and every ancestor, every time we work with our ancestors, to honor them.  At any given moment, our heart is leaning a different way.  Some days, we may be angry and defiant, and called towards our rebellious ancestors.  Other days, we may be feeling quite content and full of love for the simple things, and it is the ancestors who were focused on home and hearth that call to us.  Or, we may be fully engaged in a new project, and hearing the call of our innovative and studious ancestors!

I like calling out to more generalized categories of the dead, and honoring specific people who I am connecting with most deeply in that moment.  I may address 'all my ancestors of blood and bone, all my kin of heart and spirit, my sisters and brothers of path and art,' before calling out actual names. 

I also feel very moved when honoring the lives lost in disasters, but I think it is important to remember them as a collective, not by specific names (unless I actually, personally knew people involved).  If there were one or two names that were made famous, I think it is better to remember 'the victims of the hurricane/shooting'.  Nothing hurts my heart more than the thought of someone, lost and alone and ultimately forgotten, in a big disaster like that, where the media has focused on certain people, and left off mentions of the countless others who were effected. 

One of the ways I honor the forgotten is to read the lesser known stories.  And not just about the big moments in time.  There are heart-touching stories about every period, about every type of person, in all walks of life, around the globe.  There is something really poignant about hearing about how people have adapted, how they have struggled and overcome, and how they made do with what was available.

Pictures are another great way to connect with the forgotten.  Looking at a powerful picture transcends language.  It doesn't matter if you know anything about the person's culture or time period, there is a connection there that brings their live into yours, no matter how many years have passed.  I really love looking at pictures that travelers have taken, especially of ordinary people going about their regular lives. 

We live in a wonderful age, where we have access to these pictures and stories, through libraries and the internet.  We can explore the past in ways that people of other ages simply couldn't.   And we can sample so many lives in so many eras.

When we look at the people who came before, we tap into their story, and they are remembered.  We may not know who they were, or the specifics of what they were doing, but we can imagine.  We can ask questions and think about what it might have been like.  And we can honor their memory, in whatever form we experience it.

And to me, that's what it's all about.  If their stories can echo forward, to reach and effect us, then our remembrance can reach back (or out, to wherever they are now).  Let us not only remember and honor the shining stars, but also every light in the darkness that we can make out....and even the dark spaces in between, the places that we know have light, even though we can't see it.