Wednesday, September 26, 2018

There is more than ONE way!

This is something I see come up all the time, and it makes my heart sad.  There are enough people outside the community that proselytize that their way is the 'one true and only way'.  One of the things I loved about Paganism, from the very start, was that there were many ways to practice, many paths that one could follow, and that you could find what worked for you...and it was all good!

But I am starting to see more and more totalitarian thought in the spiritual community (not just the Pagan groups, I've seen it in women's spirituality groups, gem groups, pretty much anywhere where someone can have an opinion).  It seems like people are really forgetting that not everyone is the same, and that there is no such thing as absolute Truth.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, truth as we know it is subjective.  There are so many things about the physical world that we have come to understand are really in the eye of the beholder.  Things like color, scent, sensation, these are all things that we all perceive in our own way.  And if we can accept that the physical world that we think of as reality as being subjective, how can we not see that the unseen world is also influenced by the person perceiving it?

One of the most pervasive truisms I see tossed around in the Pagan community is still the Threefold Law, Harm None and Karma.  I sort of lump these together, because they are guidelines of morality that are often treated like universal law.  Of the three Harm None is the most man-made.  It is absolutely just a caution that was created, during the early days of Witchcraft going public, mainly to assure others that we don't go around cursing people willy nilly (or at all...)

The Threefold Law and Karma are sort of reflections of themselves, that state that the universe will give back what it gets.  They are the negative version of the Law of Attraction (or the way of negatively stating the Law of Attraction).  But, they aren't universal laws by any means, and as a moral compass, they aren't something that everyone follows.

My favorite thought on these concepts it that of the Karma Police...the idea that somewhere out there in the land of spiritual entities, there are beings dedicated to making sure that bad people get their comeuppance.  I think it's a little ridiculous.  It also defies common knowledge, because there are plenty of bad people in the world who 'get away with it' for their entire lives, and by all measurements are living the good life.

The worst example I've seen of people applying these laws to other people is when strangers state that someone had something bad happen to them because of Karma from a previous life.  Seriously, if you don't know the person, how are you going to tell them that the random bad thing that happened to them is their fault?  In the same vein are the people who say that everything in our lives is a reflection of what kind of energy we send out (Law of Attraction).  It's really not cool, in my book, to tell someone with a chronic illness that it's their fault because they were sending out energy that caused them to be sick (or that they did something in a previous life that led to this life being one of misery).

I fully support people believing these things...but when you try to assign blame to other people based on what you believe, it makes you come off very judgemental.  And just in general, I don't see a reason to make other people feel bad, especially about something they might not have any control over (like past lives).

I actually got told once that I was a bad person for saying that I didn't think that Ouija boards were dangerous.  I think I was blocked for my comment too, which amused me.  The post was in regards to a scarf that was printed with a Ouija board pattern, and my personal opinion is that just printing the symbols on something (especially when it is mass produced) doesn't make it powerful.  I don't think the scarf was dangerous, and I said that.  I feel like things like this are highly influenced by your beliefs, and of course, if you believe the symbols create power, then they do....for you.  Because it is your belief fueling it (not the symbol itself).

Another big trend is in saying who should and should not be practicing things.  I know that an early restriction, for working pairs, was always that it should be a man and a woman (to preserve the duality of the genders).  But this just doesn't work for many people.  I have also seen lots of people say that you shouldn't work when sick, which for a healthy person can be a bit of good advice, but for someone with health concerns, that can be prohibitive.

Most recently, I heard of a book that suggested that anyone with mental health issues or on any type of meds shouldn't have a spiritual practice, and even if they did, they wouldn't be able to reach the same levels as other (presumably healthy) people.  This caused someone to question whether they should continue taking their meds.  That is seriously messed up and dangerous, in my opinion!  And again, it was information in a book that prompted this doubt, so it was a statement made by someone (the author) who didn't know the person AT ALL.

I know a lot of people with all sorts of health concerns, both physical and mental.  And many of them have really great spiritual practices.  Some of the people I know who have the most robust spiritual practices are people with some of the greatest health challenges.  Your circumstances don't preclude you from being spiritual!  We are all different, there is no absolute normal, and there is no benchmark for spirituality...there are no levels that we are being graded on.  You need only be concerned with what works for you, and what makes you feel right and spiritual and whole.

And I do recognize the irony of me making a whole lot of statements about how I think that people who make statements about other people are wrong.  I understand that all of this is just my opinion, and that other people may have different opinions.

So, instead of suggesting that you think the way I do, I challenge you to just stop and think.  To think about how other people might think or experience the world.  To think about how your words might effect other people (not just in what they do, but in how they feel).  To think about how your deeply held beliefs might just be personal experiences (and yes, this is something I have done, and continue to do).  And to be mindful of how you express yourself.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Reprograming: replacing inacurate information

One of the things that drew me into my path is my love of learning.  When I was first studying Paganism and witchcraft, there was a huge emphasis on study, on exploring knowledge both of the world, the Self and the unknown.  The expectation was that each person would be on lifetime journey of learning, and that through this process, we would find our truth.

But, it is inevitable that along the way you discover that things you previously learned, things that you believe to be true, are not....or are no longer true for you.  It can be really hard to unlearn things, especially after you took all that time to learn it in the first place!

This applies not only to factual information, but also information we know about more ephemeral things.  If I first learned that ritual needs to be done in a fully cast circle, I may feel like I'm not doing it right or my workings might be less effective because, in my mind, they aren't complete, if I don't cast a circle.  Likewise, if I grew up hearing that I was a procrastinator, even years after I learned to better manage my time, I still may think of myself as a procrastinator, and this will make me more likely to slip back into those bad habits.

When we don't deliberately replace faulty information, it keeps popping up, and we have to work, every time, to move past it.  We may find that our default reaction is based on this inaccurate information, which might cause issues with things we thought we've worked through.  It can be very frustrating when the things we think and the things we do without thinking are at odds.

The good news is that you can absolutely reprogram yourself.  You can root out those faulty bits of information that are lingering around and actively work on replacing them with updated information.  I was really enthralled by this image, of the brain as a machine (and his looks a little broken...don't we all feel like that sometimes!).  Our brain is often likened to a computer, which is a complex machine.  And like many machines, our brain not only needs regular maintenance but also sometimes it needs updates.

The first step in re-programing your mind is to figure out what isn't working.  This part can definitely take some investigation.  Sometimes you notice things are going wonky, but you may not be able to easily identify the exact origin of the issue.  While you can definitely do damage control right away, you can't fully fix things without knowing precisely what is causing the problem.

So, you need to start tracing back the problems you are having to their roots.  Start keeping track of where and when you are having conflict.  If you notice that every time you go to work on love magic, you start to feel moody and depressed, there is probably something going on there.  By tracking when it happens, you may notice that you tend to work on love magic at certain times, which may correlate to a previous relationship that ended badly. 

Sometimes, you need to trace back your steps and see where you got your ideas from.  Over the years, I've studied runes from many, many sources.  Some were really great, but others...not so much.  A few of the sources I looked into, in my very early days, conflicted....because they were from a video game (I wasn't so great, when I first started, at checking sources).  So, I had some varied associations with different runes and what they meant.  I had to go back through and see where the information came from to realize that some of my early sources were suspect.

For me, knowing why information is suspect is very important.  If I know the source of something, it helps me to reinforce the falseness of it.  Even when it pops up, I can remind myself that it's not valid.  But sometimes, just knowing that something isn't true isn't enough, because it still effects you.  I may know that I'm not crippled magically by having short hair (seriously, I have a book that flat out says if you cut your hair short you will loose your magical potency), but I still have that thought pop into my head and I have to negate it whenever it comes up.

Ultimately though, you want to have the new, accurate information be what is foremost in your mind, whenever the situation regarding it is triggered.  And in order to do this, you need to replace the faulty information with more accurate information.

You can achieve this through standard study methods, just like when you are learning new information.  Of course simply reading and thinking about information helps it sink in.  But taking notes, by hand, is also a huge help.  While typing is more effective for a lot of people, in terms of getting information copied quickly, writing your notes by hand activates different parts of your brain that help with retention.  If you like having typed notes (for clarity and ease of searching), consider both hand-writing or at least journaling out your notes first, then transcribing them onto the computer.

But approaching reprogramming in a purely analytical way will be slower and less effective than it would be if you included emotions and story.  These are both really great ways to cement information in, and can also be used to help weaken the hold that old information has in our brain.

I'll talk about story first, because I really feel that story creates proper context for information, and context lets us link information in a way that makes it easier to recall.  We can memorize lists of things, and many people still use rote memorization when they need to learn something.  But, if you create a story around the same information, the narrative links the items together and they become easier to remember.

The great thing about stories is they can be tailored to your needs.  So if you need to replace an association, why not write it into the story!  I really love this approach for rewriting our own memories.  When we have lived through something traumatic, or even just a bad decision that we wish we had handled differently, we can go back and change the story in our mind.  We could even include the original outcome, as something we considered or feared but ultimately moved away from.  We then change the story, retell it, so that our new standpoint is highlighted.

Often, this process naturally includes emotion, but even when it doesn't, we can add emotion.  When we have an emotional response, that memory sinks even deeper.  We always recall things that hit us emotionally easier than those that we don't respond to.  You know what your emotional triggers are, what things touch you deeply..use that information!

We are constantly learning, growing, evolving...and the information we carry with us needs to change as well.  Seek out that which no longer serves you, the false information that is holding you back, and replace it with knowledge that inspires you and calls you to a higher place. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Adulting is hard!

So, I am a newly freed adult (son is off to college), and I work from home (both writing and freelance captioning)...which means that my days are pretty much entirely in my hands.  Whether I get things done or not falls squarely on my shoulders.  I don't have daily schedules that I have to follow (unless I decide to make them!), and while I do still have household duties, I can mostly decide how and when I want to do them.

Which leaves me with HUGE chunks of time that I need to deal with.  Without outside influence, it is very easy to just let things not work on the things that need to be worked on because there is something more fun that I want to do, or because I got busy doing something else and 'forgot'.

I actually talked with my son about this, before he went off to college.  Because it is something he will be having to explore and figure out what works best for him.  He will still, of course, have some structure:  classes will happen at specific times and he will have assignments that are due on certain dates.  But, he will have more large projects and more large breaks in his schedule, and he'll have to sort out how to keep himself on track...because we aren't there to remind him!

This is a big step in adulting.  We often don't prepare people for this!  Kids always feel like the rules and restrictions they have aren't fair and aren't fun, and they think that when they grow up they can do whatever they want, whenever they want to do it and it will be awesome.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love having the freedom to pick and choose when to do things.  But I also know that I feel bad if I don't get things done when they need to be done.  And sometimes, being the adult means choosing to do the work instead of playing.  Which isn't always fun.

Hubby has been on vacation this past week.  He works hard, and he plays hard!  On his days off, he tends to go all-in on his hobbies, and it can be hard to not feel a little jealous, especially when he's doing something that I want to be doing too...but I know that I need to clean house or work on my writing, or do one of the other things that I also need/want to do.

And that is another hard part of adulting:  setting priorities when it's all things you want to do!  I have a lot of interests, and trying to find time to do them all is pretty much impossible.  So, sometimes I have to make the hard choices, and decide which of my interests I am going to feed, and how much.

I am very blessed to have work that I enjoy.  I love writing (even when it's fighting me LOL), and I love being able to get my thoughts on (virtual hehe) paper and send them out in the world.  It is very fulfilling to me.  I also get immense satisfaction looking back at the body of work I've made.

In the early days, I wasn't so good at maintaining the weekly blog.  I would let other things get in my way, or I'd forget (it now gets scheduled into my paper planner and my planner app!) and even when I did sit down to write, it felt like I needed to write BIG important stuff!  I forgot that it's a blog, and it's really my thoughts and perspective, so it can be full of ME and be amazing!

I almost never pre-write.  Only one or two times along the years have I written my blog before the day I'm posting it.  A few times when I was on vacation, I would work on it during the week, since I had NO control over when I could sit and write, and once or twice when I had big, all-day commitments, then I would write it ahead of time. 

That is one of the benefits of proper adulting...things get easier!  The more you do something, the better you get at it.  I don't stress about blogging anymore.  I don't stress about NaNo anymore....after ten years of pushing through, I have learned SO much about my limits and how much I can accomplish when I set my mind to it, that I know I can make it to the end.  I am going to be finishing up my second year of monthly stories this month, and boy was that a new challenge!

And, you know, I think that is one of the great things about adulting.  No one recognizes all those things that you do, day in and day out.  The really ordinary, grindy, work stuff.  The really hard adulting stuff!  You need to sometimes take a step back and recognize yourself!

There is this set of really amusing 'adulting reward stickers' that I've seen floating around Facebook.  And while they make me laugh, I think that sometimes we need those kinds of reminders.  So yes, absolutely celebrate all your adulting wins!  Did you make the bed when you got up in the morning....go you!  Did you get all the dishes washed and dealt with before going to sleep at night, that's a win!  Did you clean the house, even though you were tired and really didn't want to?  That deserves a cheer!

Don't forget all those things you do that are good for you too.  Did you stay home and rest because you were tired instead of going to that party that sounded fun?  That's some great self-care right there!  Did you go to bed early, even though there was only two more episodes left in that show you were binging, because you knew that if you stayed up to watch it you'd be grumpy the next day?  Way to adult like a pro!

It sounds trivial, but it's one of those grains of sand things.  Each grain of sand might be tiny, and not really heavy, but if you add a grain of sand every minute of every day, it adds up.  And most adulting things are like that...they never stop, they keep coming, and by themselves they aren't hard or taxing.  But at the end of a long day ( when you are already worn down and tired, and you know that tomorrow will just bring more grains of sand, that the flow never stops, and you see that one thing that is out of place and needs put up and the thought of moving it is absolutely exhausting.  That is when you need to pull out the big adulting guns and step up....or make a conscious choice that it is better to let things lie than to break yourself down.

That is what adulting boils down to...for me.  Making the hard choices in life, and making them consciously.  I am okay with not being able to do it all, but I want it to be my choice, not just the one that life has thrust upon me because I avoided making a decision.

So, for everyone else out there, who is struggling with adulting.....know you are not alone!  Know that it is hard, it is never-ending, and yes sometimes it's the choice between two things you love....or two things you hate.  But when you step up, when you make that choice, you have won at adulting!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Taking stock: how and why?

I am sure I am not alone in that I start the year with a goal, but I also get excited by things throughout the year, and add to my goals.  Not only that, but as I do other work, such as working moon cycles or doing journaling prompts, I'll find more things that I want to work on, and set up plans for them.  And, when I read about a new practice, I'll want to try it out!

All in all, I frequently add to my personal work load, and if I don't pay attention, by the end of the year, I'll have this whole list of things (more like a dozen different lists of things...) that I intend to do every day/week/month...and probably over half of them aren't getting done.

I think we are naturally inclined to get excited about things when we first see them.  It is new and shiny and of course we want whatever it is.  Surely it's worth the work, and the work looks kind of fun doesn't it?  We may even be very good and dive right in and do the work for a few days...before our enthusiasm runs out.

But more often, I find that I'll set myself up with new longer-term goals, and they never get worked into my routine, because I set them, and then forgot.  Or, I'll pick up a new goal, and be really dedicated to it...and my older goals will sort of slip through the cracks.

This is why I think it's very important to not only keep a master list of all the things you are working on, but to check in with it several times a year.  I actually like to keep my 'year plan' broken into daily/weekly/monthly/Sabbat categories, because those are the main cycles that I work with. 

My current (bullet journal inspired) planner has three year plans in it right now:  the one I wrote up at the very start of the year (with a half-year reflection added), one I wrote up recently to check in while looking at the next year, and my plan for next year.

At the start of the year, I broke down my year and my goals.  I listed all the things I wanted to do, and how often I planned on doing them.  I like lists, and having everything clearly written out let me see at a glance what I was looking towards.  My lists are color coded, so it is very easy for me to see which parts are daily, which are weekly, etc, which helps make the lists feel more manageable.  My list also included a section for things that I thought would be fun to add in or that I might play with, but that I wasn't committing to.  Sort of like an idea page!

And then, halfway through the year, I revisited this page.  I took out another color of pen (again, so I can easily differentiate!) and I checked in with each thing:  how well was I doing it, what needed to change, what wasn't I doing at all?  It's always interesting to see how my plan and the reality line up and where what I actually did veered off from what I thought I was going to be able to do.

One thing that is really important, when starting to check in, is to be as absolutely factual and non-judgemental as possible.  Write down what is going on, but don't justify or give reasons for anything.  Just start with the reality of the situation.  Then, you can go back through and look into the reasons why things turned out the way they did.  I think if you start by writing out why you missed your mark, it is much easier to try to make excuses instead of owning your truth.

Also, when you start going into why things didn't match up, don't just beat yourself up for not doing what you set out to do.  Sometimes situations change unexpectedly and we may have thought we would have more time/energy/resources than we ended up having.  Other times, we thought something would work one way for us, and the reality is that it didn't work at all. 

One of the main reasons for doing a check in is to make adjustments.  You aren't always going to keep the same goals!  Sometimes you may need to put things on the back burner.  You might acknowledge that it is still something you are interested in pursuing, but right now isn't the right time.  You make a note of it, to check back in later and see if it might be feasible then.

You might just need to adjust how you are working towards something.  I've definitely had to adjust my hows many times!  Sometimes, I found I needed to do things more or less frequently than I had originally intended.  Other times I needed to change the actions I was doing (I have done this with meal prayers MANY times...still working on finding that perfect fit for me!) 

Another technique I have used, for miscellaneous goals and to-do list items was called the unlist, but the idea is you don't actually schedule anything on your unlist.  Instead, you keep one big list of stuff you need to do (things that don't have specific deadlines), and every day you check in with it.  You spend some time, reading each item on the list, and seeing if you feel like working in it.

It's a really interesting approach, that sort of works for me.  The idea is that eventually you will feel like working on a thing, and then you will do it and cross it off your list.  But every single day you are at least reading it and thinking about if you want to do it.  You may also eventually decide you no longer are interested in it, so you cross it off your list.

I have some things that are on my version of an unlist (right now it's my weekly task section of my planner).  Every week, when I plan my week, I put some things on my weekly task list that aren't hard to-do's.  They are things that I would like to work on...sometime.  And I keep writing them down until I either do them or decide to take them off my list. 

What I like about this method is it's sort of passive pressure.  There isn't a pressing need to do things in this section every week.  In fact, some things have been on my weekly task list for months!  But, I feel like I'm not completely neglecting them.  I'm thinking about them at least twice a week (once when I write them down, and again at the end of the week when I check in to see what I've done).

I'm actually using my moon work to check in a lot this year.  Working with specific moons each moon cycle, I go through a whole program of different areas of my life:  family, cravings, body/health, relationships, commitments, 1/2 year check-in, physical world, gratitude/abundance, letting go, animals, protection, cleaning/cleansing.  And, since I'm working these themes with the moon cycles, I'm doing a whole intention, plan, action, adjustment, gratitude, release and rest cycle for each of them...along with a divination spread!

This sort of forces me to evaluate the different areas of my life, which I find really helpful.  But, because I am focusing on one section each cycle, I'm not feeling bombarded by the need to work on all the things all at once.  I can focus on one area of my life, make sure it's balanced and working properly, and see if there is work I need to do in that arena.  Sometimes, I will set whole goals that will carry over and be added into my general routine, while other times I'll work on something during that cycle and then feel like I am good.

Another way to approach this sort of life reflection is often called the level 10 life process.  You take the major areas of your life (typically:  family/friends, personal development, spirituality, finances, career, relationships, fun/recreation, giving/contributions, physical environment, health/fitness), and you rank them all on a scale of 1-10.  Most people recommend graphing this out (using different colors for each!), so that you can see at a glance how fulfilled you are in your life.

Once you have this basic assessment done, you can pick the areas you feel you need to work on most (often the ones you are the least fulfilled in), and set a goal or two for each one on ways you can bring up those levels. 

This is something that is really great to do at least once a year (but you may find it helpful to do several times, or even once a month).  I think it is really easy to just get into our routines, and sometimes we know that we aren't feeling tip top, but it may not be obvious what is wrong.  But, when we check out our life levels, we notice that we really haven't been doing a lot of fun/recreation or personal development.  By shoring up those weak areas, we often find that we feel much more fulfilled in general.

The big thing about taking stock is that you are actively checking in with your life.  You aren't just letting life progress without stepping in and taking control.  It is much easier to let things slip through our fingers when we aren't even aware that they are sliding.  And it is so much easier to stay on top of things when you regularly check in and adjust what needs adjusting.

Remember, there is no shame!  Adjusting doesn't mean failing.  Even choosing to not work on something isn't failing!  Making the choices that are right for you are exactly that...right!