Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Spiritual Social Media

We live in a world dominated by social media.  No matter where you turn, something is prompting you to check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any of the countless others.  I've had to use social medial to contact businesses or inquire about services.  And of course, when it comes to social interaction in the modern world, not only are you faced with social media, you are faced with using many different forms of it.

I'm not the most savvy of social media users.  I do use Facebook quite a lot, and I love Pinterest!  I am sort of confused by both Instagram and Twitter.  And that pretty much is the extent of my social media experience!

But I think that the potential exists to not only make social media work for us, but to use it as a tool to create real and wonderful change in the world around us.  Social media definitely gets a bad rap.  Many people feel that Facebook is so full of negativity, and so addictive, that they need to walk away from it entirely (only to often get dragged right back in a little while later).  I think, that like many other things, Facebook is fine in moderation, something I talked about when I wrote about Fixing your Facebook Feed.

I also think that many social media sites discourage actual conversation and interaction.  I think this is why I have never really gotten into either Twitter or Instagram:  neither feel to me like they encourage actual discourse, but rather are just places for people to post something (either a picture or a short word blurb) and then other people can react with emojis or likes or whatever (you can totally tell I don't use these....)  I am a big fan of Bringing back Conversation, and I am pretty wordy most of the time, even though I am also a fan of stickers, I prefer to type in paragraphs rather than short blips or pictures.

And a lot of people feel that because so much social media is focused on sort of superficial things, that it isn't something that can encourage deeper conversation, spiritual growth or true connection.  I very much disagree!

Don't get me wrong, I do tons of silly and 'just for fun' stuff on social media.  I am a sucker for cat videos, for amusing memes, and for those crazy reddit 'wouldn't this make a great story...' threads that get screenshot and posted.  I often surf social media as an escape, looking for something to make me smile or just as a distraction, as a way to waste time.

But I also have some very great groups that I am a part of.  I belong to groups for just about everything that I am interested in, and I love being able to connect with people who share those interests. 

In particular, I am a part of many spiritual groups.  These groups not only encourage great conversations, but they are also uplifting.  I get to see beautiful memes with inspiring words, things that just make me feel good and happy and like there is hope for the world.  And this is a very important thing, in the world today. 

I also know that if I am struggling, if I am having a hard time, I can post and there will be people to help me.  If I need advice, I can ask and get many different perspectives, numerous options for things to try.  If I just need to be heard, I can have my words witnessed.  If I need comfort, people will support me with words and images and the outpouring of love is amazing.  And that is a pretty incredible thing!

But we can do even more, with the tools of social media!  Many people really like those chain letters, you know the ones, where you will get a message from someone, often with an image, and be asked to send it on to X number of people, who will all be blessed, or get luck or receive money or something along those lines.  I remember when those were printed on paper and mailed with stamp!  Now, I'm not typically a fan of these types of chain messages, mainly because I don't like to flood my friend's messenger with random message.

However, I like the other versions, where you post it on your wall and invite people to participate.  I've done chain activities like this, where every day you post one thing about yourself you are proud of, one thing you are grateful for, one person you love, or even a book that changed your life.  To me, these are so fun, AND they spread positivity.  It is a more active thing, because you are making it personal.  You are taking the time to think about the topic, to make your post, and to invite other people to join in.

I do a version of this in my local group.  It all started with a year of gratitude.  Every week, I'd post a topic, and invite people to share something related to that topic that they were grateful for.  It was an amazing experience, and I loved doing it so much that I did another sharing project the next year.  We followed it up with sharing a photo, which was also really cool, to see each week a new picture from so many different people.  Then, last year, we did a fellowship sharing.  Each week, we would share some kind of personal detail, some aspect of our life and about our selves.  And this year, we are doing Magic Mondays, sharing how we experience and express our spiritual path.

And this is why I love discussion.  Each week, each topic, is an invitation to share, to start a conversion.  People can absolutely just post a picture or a single word, or even an emoji or sticker, if that is how they wish to respond.  But they can also share a story, or a memory, or give a little instruction.  And often one person's response will spark a conversation.  People will reply to what was said, and it becomes something so much more.

I love the sharing of memes, as I think there is something really powerful about the combination of words and image.  When we share a meme, we are identifying with what is being said.  Sometimes it's just about the laugh, but sometimes something much deeper is being shared.  And, we can enhance that through invitation or intention!  We can invite people to find a similar meme or to share a thought about the meme.  Or we can infuse our meme with an intention, the intention to bless everyone who sees it, or to inspire people to take action, or to make people feel loved.

I have been using memes as part of my Year of Magic.  Even something as simple as sharing a blessing for a Sabbat is increasing the presence of my spirituality.  It is one small way that I can help educate people, to show them that what I do isn't scary or evil.  To help normalize other faiths and practices.  I am blessed that I am able to do this, on my personal page, with my legal name right there.

It was hard, the very first time.  I didn't use to post spiritual stuff on my page.  I knew everyone could see it, and that was a bit scary.  I was worried about how people I knew, but who might not actually know all the pieces of me would feel about what I was saying.  I had friends, good friends, who were also Christian, and I was worried they would hate me (they didn't!).  Then, I had family who had friended me, and that was a whole new level of weird.

But, every time I posted something personal and meaningful, I reminded myself that I was being true to myself.  That I might be making it a little bit easier for someone else, someone who might not be able to post the way I could, and who was feeling alone.  That my posts might help create change, so that one day no one would have to be afraid to speak the truth in their heart.

I also share memes to express the things in my life that I am grateful for.  Part of my work with the moon cycles includes expressing and sharing gratitude during the Disseminating moon (right after the full moon).  I choose to do this in meme form, to not just share to the people directly involved (although I do that also sometimes), but to the world.  It's my form of shouting it from the rooftops. 

I think about it in the same way that I think about asking questions.  They always say that if you have a question, it is likely that other people also have the same question, and so by asking it you are helping them as well as yourself.  I feel that way about being grateful.  Not only may other people feel grateful for the same things, and my sharing might remind them to express their own gratitude, but also, people may feel unappreciated, and my gratitude for the people in my life, while not directly speaking to them, might make them feel more appreciated by the people in their life who may not have remembered to say anything. 

The power of social media is in it's ability to pass information to large quantities of people, across the globe, in seconds.  What information we choose to pass is entirely in our control!  We can harness that power, and share things with intention, with purpose.  We can share to shine light on the past, to change the present and to create a brighter future.  What are you sharing?

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Shadow work

Life is full of all kinds of challenges, but one of the biggest can be ourselves.  There are so many ways in which we hold ourselves back, so many ways in which we self-sabotage.  We create problems that we put in our own way, often denying it was us in the first place.  Which makes it extremely hard to clear them out of the way, because every time we start to make progress, we turn around and put the exact same blocks right back where they were.

Self-help is something that has been popular for a while.  Go into any book store or library and you will find a well stocked self-help section.  While many of these focus on the light side of things (how to build yourself up), some do delve into the shadow side. 

Shadow work is something that I feel very strongly about.  I think that in order to really understand where we are at, we need to see the whole picture.  We need to know ourselves, good and bad.  We can't grow and improve if we are constantly tearing ourselves down.

Shadow work doesn't mean doing away with your darker aspects.  Many of the darker parts of ourselves are there for a reasons.  We have anger to protect ourselves, and sorrow to help us adjust to loss.  The goal of shadow work is to understand these parts of ourselves, to see why we do what we do, to own our process, and to harness it to work for us instead of against us.

Now, if our shadows are sometimes parts of ourselves that we can't see, how do you figure out what they are so you can work on them?  I find that looking for things you avoid, or things that make you uncomfortable is a good place to start.  When we want to deny the existence of something, we will try to avoid it.  And, of course, an obvious sign is when we verbally deny that we do something.  It can be helpful to ask a loved one if there is something we do that we then refuse to admit that we do.

I also think that we often find frustrating, in other people, things that we don't want to own in ourselves.  So pay attention to things that you complain about (even if it is only in your own head) when other people do. 

Once you've identified some things that you think you need to work on, how do you actually start to improve?  For me, the first step is always to explore that aspect of myself.  This might mean doing some meditation and contemplating it.  There is almost always journaling involved.  But I also find that looking for it, outside of myself, helps me see things more clearly.  It also gives me a different perspective.  So, I might look for a book or movie that has a character that either struggles or embodies the thing I'm wanting to explore.

The really interesting thing about looking for parts of ourselves in things that are outside of ourselves, is we can not only see the similarities, but we can also see the differences.  I definitely struggle with insecurity, so when I see a character that is ruining relationships by being overly jealous or clingy, it does help me understand my own emotions better, but I also know that these are not behaviors I do (okay, I'm a little clingy sometimes, but not in the restrictive way, just in the 'I want to go with you...' way).

I love exploring both heroes and villains who share a similar trait, because I think that it shows how someone might be overwhelmed and turn towards doing harm instead of trying to overcome a struggle.  But, I also think that sometimes villains illustrate how a shadow can be a strength, even if they use that strength in a way that we may not agree with.

Consider, for a moment, someone who is constantly angry.  When cast as a hero, that anger most often is a flaw, something that they try to repress or control because it always turns on the people they care about.  But, when it is the villain who has the anger, it becomes their drive, it fuels them and keeps them going when they encounter obstacles.  Obviously, letting your anger control you isn't good for anyone, but anger can be a great motivator, and if you learn to harness it and make it work for you instead of ruling over you, then you can steer where it takes you and control yourself so you don't hurt other people because of it.  Anger is one of the things that keeps me moving forward when I hit struggles...I get angry and need to conquer whatever it is that is holding me back (really great when learning something new!)

One big thing to remember, when working with your shadows, is that this isn't something you will necessarily conquer the first time you work on it.  It is more like peeling away layers of paint on an old piece of furnature.  Each time you work on your shadow, you will chip away a little more, or go down one more layer.  You may need to take a break, and that is okay!  Pushing yourself too hard too fast, like with most things, does more harm than good.  But, if you keep working at it, soon you will be down to the base wood.  And then you can begin the process of repairing any damage and then building up a new and fresh layer of varnish to protect it!

Shadow work is one of the reasons I was first drawn to my path.  I was never afraid of my own darkness, but I was respectful of it.  I knew that it could be harmful, both to myself and to those around me.  I wanted to learn how to work with it, how to control it, and how to use it to help me.  And I knew that in order to do all that, I had to understand it.  I had to go into the shadows to become comfortable with them.  But ultimately, it is so worth it!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Evolution of the Self

I love the idea that change is a universal property.  All things change and all things are constantly changing.  And that includes us!  Our sense of Self may feel eternal, and I do think on a deep-spiritual level, we have eternal qualities...but I also believe that we hold the capacity to create ourselves, every minute of every day.

One of the basic concepts of the Law of Attraction is that our thoughts create the world around us.  It's one of those things that people often look at just the surface of the idea, and think it looks crazy.  But the deeper you delve into it, the more it makes sense.  The more connections you see between spirituality and science, and the less fantastical it becomes.

We are often so focused on the external world, that we don't look at the root of it all:  how the Self changes and how those changes ripple outward.  One of the reasons why I first started walking this path I am on is because it demands a level of self awareness and acceptance.  You start off with the premise that YOU are responsible for your actions, your growth, your path, your evolution.

And while I do think that we all start off at different places, we are gifted (or challenged) with certain qualities and capabilities.  But, for the most part, we can work and change just about everything!  I was blessed with parents that told me I could do whatever I set my mind to, and who also made me appreciate the benefits of hard work.

It sounds like an inspirational poster, but science has been looking into how our thoughts effect not only our mental outlook (which is why affirmations are so powerful), but also how they literally effect our body chemistry and how our physical selves are made up.

When you have a thought, you are creating a connection between the things that thought is associated with in your brain.  The more you have similar thoughts, the more connections are made.  If those thoughts are emotional, there are often chemicals released by the brain, chemicals that create responses in our body. 

What is really interesting to me is that the cells in our bodies become attuned to the chemicals we habitually expose them to.  Not only do they become more receptive to them, but as they die and are replaced (as a natural part of their growth cycle), the new cells will come into being with more receptors for the types of chemicals their 'parent' cells had the most exposure to.  Our body will actually become better at experiencing certain emotional responses, through repeated exposure to them.

So what does this mean?  It means the more you experience feelings of love, the more your will feel love!  The more you practice feeling calm, the more your body will respond with feelings of calm, and the quicker it will respond.  But also, the more you let yourself be angry, the more likely you will to be overwhelmed with anger!

Knowing this, you can take your own life into your hands (or rather your mind).  You can take time to build up practices that embody what you want to feel in your life.  If you want more calmness, you can meditate.  If you want more love, spend time looking at pictures of people (or animals!) that you love.  Find your triggers, figure out what makes you feel a certain way, and adjust your life based on what you want to have more or less of.

We can feel physical sensations when our brain tells us we feel them.  There is a really interesting experiment where someone will sit, with one of their hands on the other side of a barrier (so they can't see it), and a fake hand will be placed where they can see it.  Both the fake hand, and their real hand, are stroked with a pen, so they see the movement and feel the sensation.  But then, the fake hand is pricked with a pin (or hit with a hammer!), and the person feels a reaction...because their brain has identified that fake hand as part of them.  A similar experience is when people who have lost a limb feel phantom sensations, because their brain remembers having that limb.

An interesting application of this is using visualization to increase physical competence.  By fully visualizing a physical action, say for example shooting a basketball into the hoop, your body will actually become better at doing it, almost effective as if you had spent the same amount of time physically practicing shooting hoops.  Adding visualization alongside a physical practice makes both more effective.  Even better, when you visualize, you can practice making the perfect shot every time, so you are creating repetition with the best possible outcome.

It can feel very intimidating to try to think about retraining your mind, especially if you suffer from repetitive thought patterns.  But, there is a lot of work being done right now in how to break free from these bad habits that our brains have developed, and to start changing how we react to things.  One simple way to start creating change is to notice where you are having undesirable thoughts, and to find something positive to say in response to the automatic, negative thought.

For example, if you are in the habit of feeling frustrated when you get a setback, and your mental talk is always something like, "Of course this would happen, I always have bad luck!" you could reframe that thought to, "Okay, I made a mistake, but now I know next time to do something differently."  If even that is too hard for you, start by taking a deep breath, and just being grateful that you are there, and that you can take that breath.  You could try telling yourself, "Things feel bad right now, but I am alive and that means I can try to make it better."

The biggest thing to remember is that this is a process.  And that EVERY single time you take a step forward you are creating change.  It will take time, and it will take doing the same thing over and over.  And there will be mistakes, there will be days where you just can't think positive or you slip back into your old habits and don't notice it until much later.  But that is okay!  Just give yourself a little mental hug, and tell yourself that you can do it, and repeat your positive thought, and keep your eyes focused on where you want to be.

Our bodies are amazing things, and we are just now starting to really explore the breadth of what they are capable of, and the connection between mind and body.  There is definitely a case to be made for the accuracy of, "I think, therefor I am."

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Personal Freedom

Being an American, Freedom is something that we talk about all the time.  We celebrate Independence day, the day in which we declared our freedom as a nation.  There are a lot of hot topics involving Freedom, from slavery to troops to the right to marry.

But I think we don't always stop and think about what Freedom truly us as individuals.  Figuring out what makes you feel Free is the first step in achieving that Freedom in your life.  And what makes one person feel Free could make another person feel completely caged in.  This is where I think a lot of people make mistakes regarding Freedom...they assume that what works for them is what everyone else needs too.

The idea that always comes to my mind involves independence and feminism:  being a housewife.  I am a housewife, and I have been for most of my adult life.  I have worked, and I worked both before and after our son was born.  I also consider being a housewife as work, just a different kind of work.  Being in charge of the house, is a job that never ends, it doesn't have days off, and things have to keep happening, no matter what else is going on.

And in a lot of ways, it's like a never ending cycle.  As soon as you do one job, it starts building up to need to be redone.  Dishes washed will get dirty.  When you cook a meal, you know that soon there will be another that needs cooked.  It's a lot of maintenance work, a lot of keeping track of what needs to be done and making sure it gets done on time.

I also feel like taking care of my family is part of my job.  So making sure that everyone's schedules work...which sometimes takes some finangling!  But also, the emotional health of my family.  I tend to how my family feels.  This might mean massages for hubby after a long day of work, listening to son when he's frustrated about things, making sure they both are getting enough downtime when we get busy with whatever has come up.

There are a lot of people that would find this constricting.  I won't lie, sometimes I do to.  I don't have a car, I am often here, at the house, by myself.  I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the never-ending nature of what I just the sheer repetitiveness of it.  But most of the time I love it.  I love taking care of my family, I love being able to alter what I am doing as needed.  I love being in charge of my own life.

For me, this is a Freedom, and for other people it would be a prison.  For some people, working a 9-5 job that they love is a Freedom, while for others they only feel Free when they have no schedule at all. 

There are so many paths in this world, that it is time we start realizing that someone else might have chosen the path they are walking, no matter how alien it seems to us.  It can be a hard thing to do, especially when another person's path feels unhealthy to us.  And it can be really hard to see where the healthy boundary is, because what works for one person could be a toxic thing for another.  Sometimes, the people involved can't even see which side of the line they are on.

Which is why it is so important for us to examine, define and understand what our own measure of Freedom is.  We need to know why we crave the things we do, to make sure we are coming from a healthy perspective.  There are a lot of things that we might seek out for the wrong reasons, but we think we are doing what is right for us.

Mental struggles can make this really hard.  There are places in my life, that I can only see clearly when I'm not in the middle of them.  When I'm in a good mental space, I know where my troubles lie, and I know what I am going to struggle with.  I even know what I need to do to avoid or overcome my issues sometimes.  But when I am deep down in it, I can't see the other side.  All I can do is feel where I'm at, and take things one breath at a time.

This is another place where we can see Freedom:  Freedom from our own internal issues.  And this Freedom can take many different forms.  For some, Freedom might mean getting professional help, while for others they just need that one friend who will be there to listen to them.  Freedom might mean a strict regimen of medicine and therapy, or it might mean finding alternative treatments. 

Sometimes, Freedom also means acceptance.  Being Free to be who we are, no excuses, no changes....just to BE.  It may mean that you acknowledge that you will have down days, and that it's okay.  You may need someone to be your keeper, so that you can feel Free to go through what you are going through without worrying about whether or not you are going to hurt yourself or someone else.  You may need to ask for help, to handle your normal responsibilities while you are unable to.

Freedom is a beautiful thing, no matter what shape it takes.  Freedom lets our hearts sing and gives us wings to fly.  It lets us be who we are, and lets us shine in our own unique way.  So find your Freedom, figure out what makes you feel amazing and Free and the most you that you can be.