Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Moving forward by going slower

I'm a multitasker by nature, I tend to try to do a half a dozen things all at once.  Sometimes I really struggle to focus on just one thing.  But most of the time, it's my desire to do it all, to have it all, my interesting in so many diverse things, that drives me to try to do everything at once.

There is a quote that says something like:  You can't do two things at once as good as you could do each of them separately.  And I think there is a certain validity to this.  Of course, if you can focus your entire attention on something it would benefit from your undivided attention.

Sometimes, we have no choice.  We may have a limited amount of time, or three things may need to be done all at once (you might need to cook dinner, wash dishes and finish putting away the laundry) and if you try to do them one at a time, something doesn't get done.  Typically, however, these are things that don't actually require our full attention.  If I'm not fully engaged in folding the towels, my life isn't going to suffer much from it (now cooking dinner might be a bit more vital!)

Ultimately, it's a sacrifice of quality for quantity.  You accept that you don't need to perform a task at 100%, that perhaps 90% is good enough, and so you manage to do something else at the same time (which also won't be done to it's full potential).

But, other times, we just try to do a bunch of things all at once because we are in the habit of it, because we don't feel like we can slow down, or because we want to have it all...and haven't recognized that we aren't really enjoying any of it because we are splitting our focus.

My own lack of attention is most obvious when I try to listen to  something and do something else at the same time.  Listening for content that is:  listening to a lecture or talking to someone on the phone.  If I am doing something that involves listening and trying to retain memory of what was said, and I do just about anything else at all (even coloring...), I'll realize that I haven't heard a single word that was said.

My son just moved into the dorms, and so I'm now at home, alone, for a good chunk of the week.  And, I don't really have any hard and fast schedules, other than to have dinner ready when hubby gets off work in the evening.  So, I have a lot of leeway in how and when I do things.

What I've been finding is that being able to sit and finish a task, from beginning to end, without interruptions, is really nice!  There is a serenity to knowing that there is absolutely nothing else that needs doing except for the thing I'm focused on. 

I'm also finding that I often end up getting more done by the end of the day.  For me, the real struggle is breaking away from busy tasks at the computer.  Things that I know are wastes of time, or that don't need to be done:  checking my email multiple times during the day, scrolling through Facebook, having multiple tabs/files open on my computer and trying to work on them all at once (I've done this before...had different stories that I was trying to write, at the same was crazy!)

It's easy to dismiss these kinds of things.  After all, if you don't have any new emails, it only takes a few seconds to look, doesn't it?  And scrolling Facebook is like a break, and breaks are good for productivity aren't they?  But, the danger is that they suck you in, and before you know it, you haven't just checked your email once, you've checked it twenty times in the past hour.  And you didn't take a short break and then return to your task, you've been scrolling Facebook for hours!

And then, trying to swap back and forth between tasks creates this sense of tension.  Every time you swap, it's like your brain has to check in with ALL the things you are doing, to make sure that each one is coming along.  This creates a lot of anxiety for me.  I actually like to track my goals for the day, in my planner, with a checklist, because it lets me avoid this need to double-check and make sure I'm getting everything done.  I can just flip to today in my planner, check off anything new that I've finished, and see what is left to be done...and then pick one thing to focus on and not worry about the rest until that one thing is done.

I also find that I'm less likely to get distracted (by things I'm not even doing!) if I'm focusing on just one thing.  If I'm trying to juggle three or four tasks at once, it's very easy to think, "Oh, what's one more to add in?"  But, if I'm tuned in, then it's much easier to remind myself that I need to finish what I've started, and then I can do something else.

One sort of strange observation too is that, when I slow down, and really focus on what I'm doing, the task becomes more fulfilling and less tedious.  I'm not a lover of cleaning, but when I clean, I am now trying to stop thinking about "how quickly can I get this done, ugh I hate cleaning," but instead, taking it like a form of active meditation.  I'm letting myself feel the motions.  I'm thinking about creating a clean and tidy space (which is soothing to me), about refreshing a room, and not about the fact that I'm vacuuming (the thing I dislike most!)

At the end of the day, I find I'm much more content, even if I didn't technically 'do' as many things...if I actually enjoyed the things that I did do.  Rushing through things just to do them just feels like I'm going through the motions.  It's like I'm doing things just to show other people I did them, and not because I actually wanted to do them.  Even the things that I don't necessarily like doing (like cleaning), I appreciate the results of.  A clean house always feels better, so while I may not like the process of cleaning, I still want to do it because I want the house to be clean.

So, if you find yourself constantly stressed and wound up tight because you are trying to juggle everything all at once, try slowing down.  Find one thing, even a small one, that you can do while doing nothing else.  Take a moment or two longer, and really sink into it, don't rush!  Let yourself appreciate the time spent, the actions you are taking, the results you are creating. 

When you do have to do multiple things, see what absolutely has to be done at the same time, and exclude everything else.  If you must do a few things at once, adding more to your plate will make things worse, not easier! 

And don't forget to apply these things to the stuff you really WANT to do too.  If you have a new book you want to read, then carve yourself some time to settle into your favorite place to read, with a lovely drink and just read.  Don't only read while you have food in the oven, or in a waiting room..because your reading will be interrupted and won't feel as indulgent.  And you deserve to indulge yourself!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Cyclic offerings and reverence

I'm not a cleaner.  Don't get me wrong, I clean...but I'm definitely not one of those people who feels the need for everything to be spotless all the time.  I'm actually sort of at odds when it comes to cleaning, because I have some things I am very particular about.  I hate sticky!  I dislike when I touch things and they feel dirty.  I don't like dust on things...but I can live with dust until I have to touch it (or it makes me start sneezing).

Which is good, because with three cats, things are dusty pretty much as soon as I stop cleaning.  I aim for cleaning twice a week...but I can skip one if need be without feeling filthy.  Regular cleaning includes vacuuming, sweeping and of course dusting.  But with a duster.  I don't remove everything off of every shelf, wipe down all the objects, wipe down the shelf and then return everything.  I use a duster, get all the big areas, and then whenever I notice that specific items still look dusty, I'll go in for a more in depth cleaning.

You might be asking yourself what all this has to do with offerings and reverence.  Well, the picture at the top is my computer desk altar.  I like stuff, and I have quite a lot of it!  I like little items, and my sacred spaces are often quite busy. 

I always feel a little guilty when I notice dust on the altar (even when I JUST dusted...literally I can go put the duster away, look back and there will be dust!)  Sometimes I think that if I were 'really' devotional, I would keep my altars tidy and clean...always.  Then I remember I live in the real world, and while I do think that keeping my sacred spaces clean is a sign of reverence, I don't feel like any of the beings I work with expect me to do nothing but clean.

My spirituality is a living one.  I am not a paid priestess in the sense that my main job in this life isn't to tend a temple or attend a particular deity.  I think that idea is super cool, and romantically wonderful, and if I were to find a job that let me do that as a job, yeah, totally sign me up for that!  My spirituality is a part of my regular life, woven in and out with family and personal activities. 

And I'll be brutally honest:  if I wait to do a full clean on my sacred spaces (as I described earlier, taking everything down, wiping/washing each item, wiping the surface and then putting everything back)...well it rarely gets done.  I have the best intentions, but it's one of those things that just builds up in small, tolerable bits, until one day you look up and it's no longer tolerable.

Also, I am not a one-deity gal.  I have my primary God and Goddess that I work with, but I also work with, and have items in my sacred space, for many more.  When I think about altar maintenance and care, I think of honoring the deities involved.  If I had an altar devoted to a single deity, it would be an act of worship to clean and care for that altar.  My current desk altar has close to 20 different beings represented.  Trying to take proper time to honor them all, at one time, would not only be chaotic, but also spiritually exhausting.  I think I would feel, before I got to the end, that I wasn't giving my proper attention to each one, which is not my intention.

So, I've found a way to work around all of this, in a way that works for me.  Since I clean twice a week, I have two opportunities a week to tune into my sacred space, to pick one part of it, one statue or one being, and to give them a good cleanse and devotion.

How this works, practically speaking, is that I take from one to a few things off my altar, and give them a proper cleanse.  If it's something that can be washed, it gets washed.  If it's something that can't be gotten wet, I'll give it a good dry brushing with an old toothbrush (seriously, you need these to clean, they are super handy!).  So, I have a couple of things on my altar that belong to Odin, and would focus on him, cleaning his sections and items, and taking time to tune in, to say prayers and offer my reverence and gratitude up.  Then, next time I clean, I might cleanse the Buddha statue, and rub his belly for luck and abundance.

Over time, everything gets cleaned, and probably more often than it used to, when I tried to do it all at once.  But each part gets focused on, in exclusion.  It's like spending one on one time with each of your friends, instead of trying to maintain the friendships only by meeting with all your friends at once.

I do think that spiritual work should sometimes include work.  I don't seek to avoid effort or time, but I do seek to find ways to make things work for me, so that I can really give each action my proper attention.  I don't want to be skimming through or just going through the motions when it comes to spiritual work (now when it comes to vacuuming, yes, I can tune out and just get through it!)

The beauty of breaking things into small actions is it removes most of the obstacles.  I may legitimately not have time or energy to do a full cleaning of my sacred spaces (yes spaces, I have multiples!), but I can take a few minutes to clean one thing, to speak to one being, to offer up one prayer.  And the next time, I can do it again, to a different deity, spirit or ancestor.  And one by one, everyone gets time and attention.  One, small step at a time.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


Glamour-bombing is a practice that is pretty new to me, at least in that name.  I learned of the term from a forum post, where you leave little bits of magic and wonder out in the world, for other people to find.  There are a lot of very similar practices to this, which all boil down to: doing nice things for strangers.

This is a trend that I've seen in many forms recently, and I think it's brilliant.  Several years back, Pay it Forward was the catch phrase, and it was often more tied up in actually paying for things.  You might buy a coffee for the person standing behind you in line, or give your pocket change to the person in front of you at the store, because they were going to put back something they couldn't afford.  During the height of the hype, I even saw sets of bracelets being sold with the intention of passing them out to anyone who admired them.  One manifestation of Pay it Forward that I loved was leaving little love notes with a dollar paper-clipped to them in dollar stores, for either kids or adults to find!

But, it doesn't have to be something monetary.  There are tons of beautiful stories on the internet that illustrate the Pay it Forward principle, where someone was having a rough day, but decided to do something really small, even as little as smiling at someone they passed on the bus, but that person then felt a little better and decided to hold the elevator for someone who was rushing to catch it.  Each act of kindness builds into a bigger chain reaction, as each person does a tiny bit more for the next person.  In the stories, it always loops around and the very first person will receive something lovely, and it all started with their simple act of kindness.

While this makes a beautifully heart touching story, I think it rarely manifests as cleanly as this.  When we do nice things for other people, it's not about thinking what we will get in return.  But we do get something back!  If I am having a horrible day, but I'm out in public, I don't want to share my moodiness with other people, so I'll make a point of trying to smile at strangers and do nice things (because if I don't make the effort, I know I'll just be grumpy and kind of mean).  Just by doing these things, with the intention of being nice to other people, I tend to feel better myself....especially if people respond with a smile or a thank you, it just makes me feel good!

There is a practice called geocaching that I think is super fun.  It's like a huge treasure hunt, where people make and hide caches of stuff, all kinds of little treasures to find.  You go hunting and you can trade something of your own for something you find.  I think it's brilliant!

I really love the idea of anonymous surprises best of all.  Inspirational rock painting has become really popular lately.  Our library has even hosted rock painting workshops.  Not only do you paint the rock, often with a word like Love or Believe on it, or a short message like "You are beautiful," or "You are worth it," but then you go out and stick it somewhere for someone else to find.

You could do the same thing with cards or small works of art.  Draw or paint a little picture, write an uplifting message on the back, and then stash it somewhere to brighten someone's day.  Leave Valentines at the bus station, or notes of encouragement in doctor's waiting rooms! 

Going back to the Glamour-bomb idea, when you add in magic, there is so much more you can do.  Any of these acts can be blessed and dedicated to helping the person who finds it.  Infuse your rock with prosperity energy, bless your picture to bring healing to the person who sees it, or perhaps your note will carry the intention of banishing worry and stress from whoever reads it.

I read an article a while back, about a woman who performs Reiki on her city.  I think that sometimes, we think about the natural world, our focus is there, and not on the people and the modern world around us.  We do ritual and make offerings to the moon or deities, but we can also bless and energize the city we live in.

This opens up SO many nifty options for magic work and blessing!  If we are stopped at a red light, we can send our intention to the light, to keep everyone safe as they navigate the intersection.  When we shop, we can bless the checkout lanes, so that things run smoothly and everyone stays calm.

When I first started working with the loving-kindness meditation, I read that you start with yourself, then when you are comfortable filling yourself with loving-kindness energy, you can share it with your loved ones.  Then with strangers, then your enemies.  I think magic work can do the same!  We often wait until things impact our lives, until we are kicked in the rear and prompted to respond, but we can be proactive and spread magic to bring joy and delight into other people's lives, whether we know them or not!

I want to live in a world where everyone wants to help other people.  Where we are invested in each other, where the ultimate goal is for everyone to be happy and fulfilled.  And I truly think the way to get there is by helping each other.  If we only focus on our own struggles, we only help ourselves.  And while we might be able to struggle through on our own most of the time, sometimes we need help.  If we never help other people, how can we expect other people to help us? 

Instead, if we do what we can to lift other people up, they can in turn help even more people.  When one person is having a bad day, there are dozens to help them through it!  And once they are back on their feet, they can help someone else who needs them.  If we are all neck deep in the muck, we can't help anyone!

So go out, and bring joy to strangers!  Find small ways to leave surprises that will make someone smile.  Bless everything!  And Glamour-bomb the world!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tarot: beyond tradition

Tarot has a long history and lots of very detailed symbolism that is present in many traditional decks.  But every day, new decks are being created, some of which break free from the pattern.  On top of this, there are many oracle decks that don't use the tarot format at all, but can be really great to use in divination.

Many people learn to read based on traditional meanings associated with cards.  They make take a course or do a study of the Rider Waite or Thoth decks, or they may just learn the meanings that came with the particular deck they bought.  But either way, they start with a basic understanding of the cards, as explained to them by someone else.

I love tarot books.  I especially love tarot books that go beyond the strings of words and basic explanations, and really tell the story behind the cards.  My favorite tarot guide books do exactly that:  tell a story for the cards.  Being a storyteller myself, I've always remembered stories better than other forms of information telling.  I may not recall all of the details, but I can get the gist of the story from the first telling.  By tying the meaning into a story and building that story off of the imagery in the cards, this creates a very easy way for me to remember what a card means, because I can look at the card, see the story, and then recall the meaning of it.

Even with decks that don't do this, I love creating stories about the cards.  When I read, I tend to read intuitively, which is to say that I look at the cards, and I see what story they are telling me.  The stories I see in the cards will definitely draw on my whole body of knowledge concerning the symbols that are on the cards themselves.

And this is something fantastic about building a personal symbol library.  When we have an experience, whether it is a dream, reading oracle cards, or taking notice of something that happened to us, we reference our symbol library to find meaning in what has happened.  We may not even be aware of all the symbols that we have connected, but we will see something, like a read heart symbol, and think of love, or a dagger and think of danger.

One of the things I've been doing recently, with my monthly tarot readings, is to sketch a symbol or two from each of the cards, as you can see in the picture above!  I will note down which card it is (and at the top of the page, I always note which deck I used, as well as the focus of the reading, and any spread I use if I'm using a particular spread), but then I will see where my eye is drawn on the card.  Sometimes it is whatever is central in the card, whatever the main theme of the card is, but sometimes it is a side detail. 

I then journal about what I see, not just the symbol I have drawn.  I will write my impressions of the card, of what I think it represents, and what it is saying to me.  After I have done this for all the cards, I'll go back (with another color of ink...I'm really big on using many colors when I journal!) and really try to tap into what I feel the ultimate meaning of that card is, in it's position in the spread.

Speaking of spreads, I do love looking up other people's spreads.  And, the Celtic Cross is still one of my go-to spreads.  But, I've also been making my own up, for my monthly readings.  Each month, I'll draw cards to see what the moon cycle has in store for me.  And I'm using the meaning for that specific full moon, based on my moon work a couple of years back.  So, throughout the year, I'll focus on 12 or 13 different areas like:  relationships, animals, protection or harvest.

Sometimes, there are spreads that will match what I'm wanting to look into, but sometimes there just isn't.  So, instead, I'll make my own!  I tend to start with questions or areas in which I want more clarification.  In my planner (where I record my readings for each month), I'll draw a little rectangle, and then write what that card will tell me around the border.  I like being able to tune my reading to exactly what I want to explore, and drawing out the positions (with what each position stands for) helps me when I go back and look at my readings later, for further contemplation.

Tarot journaling is something I do as well.  I originally started to do this for every card in every deck I owned, but then at the time I only owned a few decks!  I would lay out all the Fool cards, and see what similarities there were, and write about the Fool in general.  Then, I would pick one of the Fool cards, and write about that card specifically:  what I saw on it, and what it meant to me.

This is sort of an evolution of what I did when I got my first deck.  As I mentioned, I don't always resonate with the lists of words, and my first deck (the Cosmic Tarot) had big sections of those lists for each card.

*note*  I've since learned that some other readers treat the word lists as another layer of divination, much like I do picking out one or two symbols on a card, they pick the words in the list that stand out to them when they read a card.  I think that's really cool, and suggest trying it out!

But, at the time, I was having a hard time remembering what the card meant, and I felt kind of like I needed to memorize the little book to be a good reader.  Instead, I sat down, and went through my deck, one card at a time.  I just sat with the card, looked at it, and let myself see it.  I let myself play with what the card might mean.  I asked myself questions about all of the things I could see in the card.

If there were birds, how many were there, and where were they facing?  What color was dominant on the card?  What did the people look like?  What did the card make me feel? 

It took me probably a couple of hours, I didn't try to rush, but spent as long with each card as I felt I needed.  And when I was done, I really felt connected to my deck.  I felt like it truly belonged to me.  I still wasn't super confidant about my interpretations (to be honest, to this day, I'm still not always confidant!), but I felt like I had started on a journey to connect with the deck, and my introduction was complete.

I don't sit as long with every new deck I get, but I do sit with them all.  I go through them, card by card, and explore what they have to share with me.  I like meditating with or on a card, even if I don't write about it afterward.

But I also think that drawing a single card as a focus for a journaling session can be truly insightful.  Sometimes, when I sit to journal, especially if I am working with something like a daily journaling practice (that doesn't have a specific prompt or focus for each day), I'll feel at a loss.  I won't know what to write about!  If I draw a card, it gives me stuff to start me writing, and I always end up discovering I had more to say than I thought.

Drawing little symbols from the card can be a fun addition to this kind of journaling practice.  I think doodling is natural to many people, but we may feel self-conscious about the quality of our art.  Doodles are, by their very nature, just quick sketches!  They don't have to be super detailed, or artistic.  My little tarot sketches in the picture aren't even complete all the time.  The bottom left shows a bunch of daggers that I reduced to little V shapes!

Writing and drawing make us think in different ways.  When I sketch, I tend not to think in words.  But I may be reminded of other images.  It can be a lot of fun to make sketch notes, to let one image flow into the next and then just sketch out whatever comes to mind. 

All of these little practices are ways to work with your tarot or oracle cards that don't require formal study.  They are just you, sitting with your cards, learning how you work best with them!  You may find that one technique really resonates with you, while another you don't like at all.  Or, you may feel drawn to do one thing one day and another thing another day.  Giving yourself room to play with your cards lets you have the freedom to see what comes up, instead of trying to direct how they work.  You may find that it makes it easier to connect!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The art of waiting

Our culture values convenience and instant gratification.  We are constantly striving to make things quicker.  We have been taught to give immediate feedback and expect to see results in real time.  Our modern life requires some amount of quick turnaround, and yet, for many things, this not only isn't realistic, but it denies us the opportunity to appreciate the time in-between.

It can be hard to make the transition, from this fast paced world to a more laid back spiritual way of looking at things.  Nature doesn't follow a schedule and things take as long as they take.  You never know when exactly something is going to happen, and while there are plenty of things that have immediate consequences (poke an ant hill with a stick, and you will see an instant reaction!), most things unfold slowly, almost imperceptibly slow.

I think this is partly why nature fascinates us so much.  We know changes are happening, we can see them when we let long periods of time pass, but when we sit and watch, everything feels timeless.  I was fascinated by time lapse photography when I was little, watching a seed grow or a flower bloom was absolutely magical.  I recently saw a beautiful 'year in one image', where an artist had taken a picture of a group of trees, every hour of every day for a year, and then compiled those into one picture (check the blog link out, it's amazing!)  This sort of thing is fascinating, because it demonstrates the vastness of the changes that happen over time, and yet if you were to go to that spot and sit, it might feel very static.

I think many parts of our life are like that.  It can feel like we are stagnant, like every day is the same as the day before and every day to come will be like today...which can feel quite heavy.  It can be hard to start something new, because we don't see any progress, and it feels like we are doing all this work and getting no where.

But, I think there is a beauty to stepping back and allowing time to unfold.  To focus on the waiting, on the process, on the becoming.  When we shift our focus from the desired outcome to the journey, we pay attention to the moment.  We change how we interact with time.

When you are anxiously awaiting something, time drags.  It feels like every second is forever, and what you want will never get here!  The more intensely you desire something, the longer time seems to stretch.  Every action you take feels like it not only takes forever to finish, but it also feels like it doesn't give you much progress.  You feel just as far away from the end as you did when you started the task.

But, if you start shifting your focus, if you pay attention to the actions you are taking, not where they are taking you, time bends in the other direction.  Time feels  like it doesn't exist.  You get so caught up in what you are doing, because you are focused on the actions, on the feelings, on the sensations, that you aren't thinking about the end at all.  You look up, and time has passed without you even noticing it!

Sometimes, we find ourselves waiting, without anything to distract us from our desires.  Some spell work is like this.  We set our intentions, we do our work, but then we send our energy out into the world and we must simply wait until things happen.  It also reminds me of applying for a job.  You do the work, you apply, you do your interview...but then you have to wait. 

This passive waiting can create feelings of impatience with other areas of our life.  We want so much for something to happen, that everything else feels less desirable.  Things that used to bring us joy are dimmed, and we have to take a step back from our longing, and return to where we are at, so we don't let other areas of our life suffer while we wait.

Waiting sort of reminds me of the holding parts of breath work.  I love breathing exercises, and many of the ones I do use counted breaths:  you inhale and exhale for a certain number of counts.  My favorites also include holding, both at the end of the inhale, when your lungs are full, and at the end of the exhale when they are empty. 

This type of breathing exercise is very deliberate.  You are controlling your breath, you are altering it's speed and limits.  It can be deceptively hard, because some breathing pushes you past your regular rhythms and you have to really try to reach those higher counts.

And when you have already pushed so hard to get to the end of the inhale count, you might feel that you can't hold it.  You were already feeling like you couldn't inhale any more, and that was two seconds ago!  But I find that if I stop trying, if I stop pushing, and I just let myself float, there is this really easy quality to holding my breath.  It isn't an active thing at all, it is very passive, it is a waiting, and it becomes effortless.  I might struggle to inhale and exhale on an eight count, but I can hold for a count of four even after I'm shaking from the effort of breathing, because I don't have to do anything, I just have to wait.

There is a real special quality about that waiting, and it is subtly different when I am holding an inhale versus holding an exhale.  Holding an inhale feels like being lost in a moment of joy.  We think of waiting as something we do when we desire something that we don't have, when we are looking to fill ourselves.  But we can wait and hold the moments of wonder and happiness when they come to us.  Sinking into the moment and holding onto it becomes a form of waiting in reverse.  Often, when good things happen, we are already looking towards the time when they are going to end.  We know that time is fleeting and that any perfect moment will inevitably end.  Sometimes, we can miss part of that moment, because in our mind we are already moving past it.

But, just like holding an inhale, we can 'wait' into the moment, and let it fill us, without moving past it in our head.  We can slow down, and stop rushing towards the next experience and just enjoy the one we are in.

Holding an exhale has a sense of emptiness, but I don't feel it is akin to loneliness, for me it is more that I have created a space that can be filled.  That held exhale is waiting for the next breath.  If I didn't exhale, there would be no room for more air, no way to breathe in.  I think that sometimes we push forwards, we strive for things, because we feel like we need to fill the spaces in our lives.  If we stop, and sit with the emptiness, if we let it be and wait with it, we can really appreciate what is coming. 

Waiting can be challenging, but learning to embrace the wait can teach you a different way of moving through life.  There is an acceptance and a peace that comes from allowing things to unfold instead of trying to push them along on your own agenda.  Take your cues from your breathing, and work with all the parts:  the inhale, the exhale and the holding!