Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Enough is too much!

I'm a big fan of big projects, I've picked one for the past four years.  Something that I wanted to add to my practice, something that covered an entire year.  I am always adding to my life, adding new writing projects, adding new hobbies, adding new things to learn.

The problem is that I am not good at letting things go.  I look at my life, and think "Oh, I've got time to do one more little thing..." but then when I actually go to DO the thing, I find that I'm overwhelmed.  Just thinking about the stuff I have to do in a day sometimes makes me want to scrap it all and just do something to avoid everything else.

There is an interesting phenomenon called decision fatigue (or ego depletion), that basically says that we have a finite supply of mental energy...the stuff we use to make decisions, the stuff we use to stick to our convictions...willpower.  And that the more we use this mental energy, the more overwhelmed we feel, no matter how we are spending it.  So, if you take a dozen of those 'fun' internet quizzes (what type of sandwich are you?  where is your ideal home? ), you will actually find yourself worn out simply because you had to make a series of decisions to complete them.

This same energy that we use to make choices is also what we use to stick to our plans, to follow through with things that we may or may not be struggling with.  Remember everything is a choice!  If I know it's Wednesday, and I have a blog to write, I still have the choice of not writing it.  Sticking to my choice (to write a blog post every Wednesday) uses up some of this energy.  It uses less than if my goal was 'to write a blog post every week' (because then I'd have to make the choice to write the blog PLUS choose which day to write), but it still uses up some of that energy.

I do a lot of planning in my life, because it helps streamline my choices.  If I leave my days wide open, if I don't plan anything...I tend to avoid choices altogether.  I won't stop and make real decisions about what to do, I'll just do whatever comes along, and then at the end of the day, I'll look back and realize that I didn't do anything that I had actually wanted to get done.

Planning also helps me spread out the choices.  I can plan for things and get my choices narrowed down, so that I don't have to spend energy to make them later.  I make lists of possible blog topics, when things pop into my mind, so that when it's time to actually sit and write, I have a list of ideas (and pictures, which can spark ideas!).  I still have to pick one of them, but it takes less mental energy to pick one from a list of four than it does to come up with one out of the blue.

When it comes to larger goals, I try to break it down the same way, to limit the number of choices.  If I make a commitment, I see that as no longer being a choice.  Yes, I know there is always the choice not to do something, but for me that really isn't a choice, I hate failing to complete something I have set out to do, and having made that commitment means that I have extra willpower on hand to follow through with my choice.

So I may have picked 'rune study' as my goal for the year, but I break that down into much smaller chunks:  read in my rune book for each bi-weekly period, post a weekly rune-inspired question, write down the rune affirmation every day in my planner. 

Sometimes, I'll intend to add more in, like daily rune study, but I'll hit that wall of overwhelm.  I am finding there is a point at which my brain just doesn't hold any more information.  It's like trying to stack a bunch of balls on a plate...eventually you put one too many and they all come crashing down, and a few roll under things and you completely forget about them.

The odd thing is, you really do completely forget about them.  Last year I worked every day on my spiritual practice, tying actions into the phases of the moon and the Sabbat cycle.  This year, since my focus was on runes, I swear I turned around and it was Imbolc!  I had hoped to continue working regularly with the moon and the Sabbat cycle, but I lost track of what the moon phase was...because my brain was busy working on other things.

What is important to remember is that when you are at your limit, it's like a glass of water full to the brim.  You can keep adding water, and for a small time, it will cling and mound and hold together, but then, at some point, the tension breaks and it spills (often below the rim, so you actually loose stuff!)

When we keep ourselves so busy we are always pushing our mental limits, we leave ourselves no room to adjust to the crazy stuff that life likes to throw at us.  Things will inevitably come up, and if you are already stretched to your breaking point, you will snap and something will fall.

Everyone's threshold is different, and we too often compare what we feel we should be doing to what we see other people doing.  We forget that we aren't them, and that our capabilities might be aligned towards different things.  I have no problem coming up with the stories behind people...but naming them is hard!  I actually often rely on random name generators so that I don't have to come up with names for people in my stories (especially for incidental characters that aren't central to my story).  I will just click to generate random names until one pops up that I like, and boom, done!  But I can knock out a few paragraphs about what that person likes, where they are from and what they've been up to recently without a problem.

It seems counter-intuitive, but sometimes the best way to stay on top of things is to pull back.  If we are finding ourselves feeling overwhelmed and drained too often, perhaps it is time to think about reducing the stuff we do.  It can be really freeing to look over the things you do and figure out what you can stop doing.  The great thing about most things is that if we find we truly miss it, we can pick it back up again!  But sometimes, we let something go and it's like a HUGE weight just got lifted from us, much bigger than the thing we are releasing.  It's not just about not drowning, it's about having room to breathe.

So, remember to leave yourself some wiggle room, and when you notice that you are loosing that space, see what you can do to reclaim it.  Recognize your strengths and your weaknesses and find the best way to play to both.  Try setting things down, and seeing how you feel about not doing them.  You may be surprised by just how big of a change this will make in your life!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Sacred Self

There are times where science and spirituality seem to agree, and I think the fact that we are 'more' than just our bodies is one of those.  We may never fully understand exactly what we are or what we are made of, but we instinctively know that there is more than the obvious.

There is a poem I adore, written by Nikkita Gil, and it's called 93 Percent Stardust:

We have calcium in our bones, iron in our veins,
carbon in our souls and nitrogen in our brains.
93 percent stardust, with souls made of flames,
we are all stars that have people names.

Science says nothing is ever created or destroyed, only changed, and so the 'stuff' that makes us was once other things.  Over the ages, how many other things were we once?  The things we touch and interact with every day, those might have once been people.  In a very real sense, all things are connected, because the bits that make us up break down over time and get recombined into new things.

We talk about the body being a temple, and it is possible that we once were.  But on a much more abstract level, how can we not see ourselves as divine, if we contain within us bits of all of the rest of creation?  Okay, I know that we probably don't have a bit of everything, except that if at the very start of all things, and in all the time since, each thing breaks down and becomes new things, then we could very well have a tiny speck of all that once was!  And how incredibly amazing is that!

We don't often think of ourselves as being special.  We look for the magic outside ourselves, and we miss the wonder that exists within us.  We see our body as a physical thing, and yet, we are almost entirely empty space.  If you were to condense the matter that makes you up (so that there was no empty space in the atoms that make us up), we would be smaller than a particle of dust, and the entire human species would fit inside the space of a sugar cube!

I remember reading about this idea back when I was in school.  I don't remember precisely what I was reading, just that it was talking about how we were mostly empty space, and that if all the physical bits inside you lined up just right, you could pass right through other 'solid' matter...because everything is mostly empty space.

It really makes you wonder, how we see and feel things as being solid, when they are so insubstantial.  And if we are mostly space, if the 'stuff' that makes us who we are is so tiny, then we must be mostly mind, mostly spirit, mostly that other stuff that science struggles to understand.

I love the image that the air I breathe today is the same air that my ancestors once breathed.  I like thinking that all the living beings on this earth are connected by the constant breathing that we do.  Our lives start with an inhale and end with an exhale. 

Many cultures treat the breath as sacred, and sharing a breath with someone is an intimate way of greeting them.  One of my favorite novels has a bit where one of the characters is dying and asks someone she loves to take her last breath.  He captures it with a kiss, and I wonder if kissing is simply an extension of sharing breath with someone.

We don't live in a world that encourages you to see the magic in everyday things, let alone in yourself.  But every once in a while, it's good to stop, to really think about the crazy, miraculous things that led up to us being here.  The fantastical nature of our being, of the bodies we possess and the spirit that goes so far beyond the reach of even our own understanding.

We think that we are fleeting, that perhaps no one will remember us when we are gone, but think of the many people who lived in ages past that we know of, many of whom weren't well known in their own age.  And even those who's names may not be known, we are learning more and more about.  We have stories handed down from generation to generation that speak of the people who weren't written about.  We dream, and remember things that we have no way of knowing. 

There are connections there that can only be found by looking for them.  We are sacred, because we a part of the world, of the past and the future.  We are so much bigger and smaller than we appear.  When we remember this, we become the universe, we become the all.  And how can we not be fabulous then?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Love doesn't require perfection!

As Valentine's Day approaches, love is in the air!  But this is also a time when many people struggle.  There is a pressure from society to be loved, and we often have a hard time loving ourselves.  We may feel we are not worthy of love, for many reasons, or we may know, on an intellectual level that we deserve love (both from within as well as without), but we don't really feel it.

There are a lot of thoughts on love, and the way we talk about love as a society says a lot about us.  I always adored the Greek words for love.  You have eros, which is what we tend to talk about as romantic or intimate love.  It is the love that lovers feel for each other.  Then there is storge, which is familial love, often the love between parents and children.  Philia is brotherly love, but also the love we feel for our friends.  Agape is universal love, the kind of transcendental love that we think of divinity having for all things.  Pragma is really interesting, it's sometimes called enduring love, like the kind you find in a long lasting marriage, where a working relationship takes priority over passions.  And finally there is philautia, which is self-love.

I think that, at least in the US, we often have a very stilted view of love.  We twist up the definitions of love and sex and worth, and end up thinking that we have to earn love, and that somehow we have to be 'good enough' to deserve it.  We think that only the best people get love, and we build up this crazy idea of what we need to be or have in order to attain love.

And at the same time, we use the world love for all kinds of trivial things.  We love the new movie, or nachos or pretty dice.  I'm not saying that these things can't light you up, and you can't love them, but I do find it strange that we have no problem saying we love things, but we struggle to say we love people.  And we really struggle to say we love ourselves.

I am lucky enough to have a wonderful husband, and we've been together for 20 years now.  I love him, and he's definitely not perfect.  Our relationship isn't always perfect.  We fuss and fight, and he annoys me at times.  I still love him.  When he snores at night, I don't love him less (though I do wear earplugs).  When he snaps at me because he's tired, I don't stop loving him (but I might snap back).

It's funny, because we often don't think of any of these things as deal-breakers when it comes to loving other people (okay, some things are deal-breakers, but we don't only love perfect people!), but when it comes to ourselves, we often use our faults as reasons why we aren't deserving of love.

The one that I struggle most with is issues of self-image.  I don't always like the way I look, and sometimes that makes it feel like I am not loving myself in the way I should.  But I would never look at my son and think, "He hasn't shaved recently, he must be lazy, that makes him a bad person"  (I have pretty much had that exact thought about myself....)

I saw a meme the other day that I thought was both brilliant and sad at the same time.  It was talking about self love, and how whenever you are feeling bad about yourself, to pretend you are a cat.  Because people will look at a fat cat and gush about how cute it is.  They will look at a tiny (short) cat and gush about how cute it is.  They will look at pretty much any cat...and it is cute.  But we don't see ourselves with that kind of variety.  We think that there is ONE type of attractive, and if we don't match it exactly, then we aren't worth loving.

This kind of thought process is extremely harmful!  We aren't even always aware of it.  We don't realize how many times, throughout the day, we have negative self-talk, and how that impacts our sense of self, our capacity for self-love and our ability to accept love from others.

I am very insecure about my self when it comes to other people.  Hubby tells me (often!) that he loves me, and sometimes I still have to ask, "But why?  What is it about me that you love?  Why do you like me?"  I have to remind myself that my friends love me, and they like me for who I am...and that they don't care if I am having a bad day or if I don't wear makeup...they love me anyways.

Sometimes we need to take a step back, to recognize what matters and what doesn't.  To see what is superficial and what is essential.  Love looks for your heart, it doesn't look for the little things that dress you up.  And most of the things we stress about are little things! 

As we approach Valentine's Day, I want to challenge everyone to start looking at the world through eyes of love....and to start by looking in a mirror!  Look at yourself as if you were a stranger, or your most beloved person in the world.  Look at yourself as if you were a cat!  If you aren't feeling the love...pretend!  Act as if the person in the mirror was the person you adored MOST in the world.  Think about all the reasons why you love this person (who is still yourself....).  Then, try thinking of one thing that you would normally beat yourself up about.  Perhaps you have a bit of extra weight, or you don't like how your nose looks, or you think you should have been working on that big dream of yours more.  And as your thinking about this less than idea thing....remind yourself you love this person (or cat...), and see how this changes how you think about that one small issue.

Because I can tell you right now, I don't think of other people's flaws in nearly the same, critical light that I think of my own.  I know plenty of people who share my flaws (and some who exceed me), and I am harshest on myself.  I hold myself to impossible standards, and learning to be kind, to love myself, is a journey!

If you are still struggling to see yourself in a loving way...turn to a trusted friend.  Ask them to help lift you up, to encourage you and to sing your praises.  I love building my friends up like this, it's really fun to say nice things about other people, and to know you are bringing a smile to them, especially when they are down!

Take some time, this holiday, to do something nice for yourself...just because you love yourself.  Get yourself a little treat (perhaps that favorite chocolate, or a fancy drink you love), spend some time pampering yourself (I like giving myself foot massages...and thanking my feet for all the work they do carrying me around all day!), and send yourself a little love (maybe write yourself a love note and tuck it somewhere you will see it throughout the day). 

Once we start loving ourselves, we will find it even easier to love other people!  If we can all spread just a little love, the whole world becomes a bit brighter, a bit lighter, and some of the nasty stuff that has been running rampant might just be a little less prevalent.  I truly believe that if more people loved themselves and loved each other...SO many problems would be solved!  So love yourself...and know that I love you too!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Multiple New Years!

With Chinese New Year just passed, this will be the third new year I've observed this 'year'!  The start of the new year is something that is honored in many cultures and practices around the globe and throughout time, and yet when exactly it occurs is something that varies widely.

In my personal practice I tend to think of 4 different 'new years'.  There is the calendar new year, falling on January 1, then Pagan new year (Samhain), Chinese new year, and my personal new year (birthday).  Recognizing another cycle of our earth around the sun is something that I find useful, as it gives me time to reflect. 

I'm not a huge new year person.  I never really got all worked up for the new year.  I didn't dive in deep with resolutions or throw huge parties (though I have attended some!) or watch the big shows (I always thought it was a little odd to watch the countdown in other time zones).  But I have my own traditions for the new years, and each one ends up being a little different.

Probably the one I do the most for is calendar new year.  Since I do personal planning, calendar new year is when I swap calendars (obviously lol).  This often means that the way I approach the year will be different.  Last year I was using two planners, one dedicated to magic and the other was a Bullet Journal style planner.  My medium term planning was more intense last year:  I had to draw out pages for every month and week.  I tracked my progress in more things.  I planned more (by the moon phases, by the week and by the month!).  This year, I'm more tuned into my feelings with my planning, and I am taking things more day by day.  And this focus, which will shape my whole year.

I also set my year long focus for the calendar new year.  This is something I started to do several years back, when I realized that I wanted to direct my spiritual growth more.  I picked one thing (though a big thing) to focus on for a year.   Spreading it out over a year gave me time to really explore it, and also to integrate it more than a shorter course of study.  I enjoyed it so much, I have kept doing it, naming my years (my Year of Magic or Year of Runes). 

This is very similar to picking a word of the year (which technically my Year of Magic started with the idea of Magic being my word of the year).  There is a subtle difference I feel between having a word of the year and a yearly focus.  A word of the year, to me, is more of a theme:  it is one word to sum up your year in it's essence.  A yearly focus is more of a plan:  it is a desire to explore one topic over the course of a year.

Now, when it comes to Pagan new year, it took me a while to come around to this one.  I knew that many considered Samhain the pagan new year (if I remember correctly, this view is based on the Celtic calendar).  Since there is no Sabbat on the calendar new year, it makes a sort of sense that the Wheel would have one of the Sabbats as it's turning point.

I didn't really resonate with why it was Samhain until quite recently, and it was because of a fiction book.  In this book, there was a culture that believed that their 'dead rode with them until the long snows' (they were a horse based culture).  So, anyone who died during the year was basically still hanging around, until winter came.  And there was a ceremony they held to say goodbye to the dead as they journeyed beyond the snows.

This spoke so much to me of Samhain, and about how we honor the dead who passed during the year.  And I really like the idea of marking the changing of the year based on when the dead pass further along their journey.

For my local group, this is our one big ritual of the year:  Day of the Dead.  If we are only going to do one ritual, this will be it.  So it is the time when I get to see people who I may not see for the rest of the year, my extended Pagan family.  It feels very celebratory for me.  I like that it is at Samhain that we get together.

I don't celebrate Chinese new year as much as I'd like.  Even when I was little, we would get red envelopes sent from my grandparents, but rarely did much otherwise.  I love the little traditions though.  The idea of eating long noodles to represent long life.  I am half-Chinese, but I have always loved what little I have known of Chinese traditions.  It is something that I intend to explore more.

And then there is my birthday.  I'm not really a birthday person, in the sense that I don't expect a big fuss.  Often, we don't do anything super special on my actual date of birth (we celebrate holidays loosely in my house, depending on work schedules and things like that....we would rather be able to relax and enjoy something than try to get it on 'the right date').  And since we married on my birthday, it's a kind of double celebration for us (which I both like and don't has it's pros and cons!). 

I've never really stressed so much about getting older.  When I was young, it was definitely cool to be older, but I wasn't in a real rush.  And now that I am older, I'm not freaking out about having turned 40 or the grey hair that I have.

I do find it a little interesting that we talk about our age (or don't talk about our age lol), but we don't really think of our life in cyclical terms, like we do calendar years.  I think my absolute favorite way to think about years of my life is in gamer terms!  I saw this while searching for birthday meme's to wish a friend a happy birthday, and I fell in love with the idea.  "Instead of saying that I'm 30 years old, I'm going to start saying I'm a 30th level adventurer!"

And really, if you think about it, you aren't just an adventurer (though life is certainly an adventure!).  I am a level 40 human, but I am a level 22 Pagan/witch, and like a level 34 student (because I never stopped learning!).  This also makes me a level 19 wife (will hit 20 this year!), and a level 18 mother.  It's amusing to think about it this way, but I also think it's really thought provoking.  Every time someone asks me how long I've been doing something, and I actually count up the years, I am taken aback by how long it has been!

There are cycles within cycles throughout our lives.  We live in multiple worlds all at once, and so it is only natural that we have multiple starts to each 'new year'.  And there is nothing wrong with celebrating and honoring each in it's own way!  When you think about the different parts of your life, you may find that you want to honor a turning of the year for certain ones.  You can decide when that 'new year' will begin for you, and how you want to celebrate it!  And that is one thing that makes life so is completely customizable!