Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Honing your practice
When we talk about building a practice, we almost always are talking about adding new things to our practice. We want to add more daily magic, we want to mediate more, build a regular divination practice, work with the Sabbats, work with the moon, study herbs and stones and animals. The list is long and really impractical if you never remove things.
Paganism has strong ties to both the ebb and the flow. We work through all the cycles of the moon, from growth to release. We work the wheel of the year from planting to harvest. But we often skip this part of honing our personal practice: the part where you deliberately let go of practices.
There are lots of reasons why we stop doing a practice. Sometimes it was a learning exercise, and we feel we have mastered it. Sometimes we get too busy, and even though we'd like to continue working with something, we simply don't have the time. And other times, we just forget, and it's not until months later that we realize that we haven't been keeping up with something. All these things are natural, but we would prefer to make our practice deliberate, and that means deliberately taking stock and seeing what needs to be kept and what needs to be let go of.
When we first start out, we often have more time. We are super excited to be learning, and we can take on a bigger load. Over time, we hold onto the practices that really resonate with us, and we build up a repertoire of personal practice. We have things we naturally do everyday, without thought, things that are just a part of our lives now and we feel lost when we don't do them. Our available time fills up, and one day we realize that we just don't have any more time left to give, no matter how enticing that new practice is.
This is where we need to make time to stop and take stock. Sometimes, we feel an obligation to do things, or to do things a certain way. We may feel like we have to observe the Sabbats or the moon phases, and that we need to do full ritual (along with the associated ritual prep and journal work afterward), and we find that this takes up a big chunk of our available time.
In life, it's rarely the choice between good or bad, it's normally a choice between good and better or between bad and worse. When we look at our practice, we can examine what really fills us up. And we can weigh different things to build the practice that works best for us. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves the really hard questions. Would thirty minutes of meditation a day fit my life better than sitting down and checking in with a divination method? Can I cut back on my formal rituals and do lighter things sometimes so that I have time to study new subjects? Will I feel more fulfilled by spending time working in my garden or by singing (or can I sing while working in my garden!)?
When we stop and make this process deliberate, when we really take the time and are honest with ourselves about what we need in our live and what really helps us, this is when we create the best possible path for us...in that moment. This is an ever-changing and evolving thing! You may find that a practice that wasn't quite fitting you a year ago is exactly what you need now. Or that the thing that had top priority last time you checked in, isn't quite working as well now.
It is totally okay to change, as often as needed. The great thing about walking your own path and being in charge of your practice is that you can make it what you want, and you can alter it as needed. The bad thing about this level of personal responsibility is that if your path isn't working, then you have to step up and fix it...no one else is going to do it for you.
Sometimes this process will be one of elimination. You will have to try different ways of doing things, and look back and see what worked best. This is one place where journaling really shines. If you are looking at how you do rituals, and you journal about your experiences, you can then go back and see how you responded to each way of doing things. When journaling like this, you definitely want to write a bit before, directly after, and then maybe a day or two after that. This allows you to recall more of the whole process.
It might be that you find the setup really tiresome, and so you can think of ways to streamline the process so that you can get to your actual ritual quicker. Or it might work better for you to draw out your setup, doing it over the course of several days, so it is only a few simple things each day and you don't have to do it all at once. It might also be that the actual ritual itself tires you out. You may find that you are drained after doing a full ritual, and you have to figure out what parts of ritual take the most out of you. Finding different ways to approach these bits might help you find alternates that work better for you.
One very important thing to remember is that this is YOUR practice. It doesn't matter what a book says, what your friends say, what the Pagans on line say. You need to find the practice that fits for you. If you can't mediate for thirty minutes a day (and I don't....), but you want to mediate more...then you will need to look for ways to add that in. Perhaps you can mediate for a short period every morning (this is what I do), and then pick one day a week to carve out a longer period to meditate. Perhaps you don't like meditation at all and want to find some other restorative practice that works for you.
There is no absolute right and wrong way to practice. If you want to do full rituals for the Sabbats, great! Figure out how to do that in a way that fits your life. If you want to honor them but don't feel the need for a proper ritual, think of other ways to bring that awareness into your life. Maybe you will find a book of seasonal poems and pick one that fits to read and reflect on. I set my desktop and phone backgrounds to match the season. You might dress up your altar (or you might leave it...either way!), seeking out something new to add to your setup each year.
Divination is another place that can have a lot of variance. It is a very common suggestion to do a daily draw, often of just one card, when you are first learning. This is a really helpful practice when becoming familiar with how to relate to your cards (also great for connecting with a new deck). Many people enjoy doing this just to tap into the energy of the day or get a peek ahead. Other common practices include working divination before doing spellwork, at the Sabbats, during the moon cycle, as a weekly forecast, and of course when you have a specific question. Lots of people record their draws, either online (in a social media post) or in a journal.
I love divination, but I often find the record keeping part draws me out. I really dislike trying to post on social media (hence why I almost never do). Even jotting bits down in a journal makes the practice feel heavy for me. So, for the most part, I don't journal my readings. I do a daily draw (of sorts, I use rune dice and the WomanRunes deck, so one card and one rune picked). And I enjoy doing a simple spread for the new moon. I don't typically do a reading before doing spellwork. But of course, you will have to decide for yourself what works for you.
I am also a huge fan of study. I love learning new things, and I'm pretty interested in just about anything and everything that is related to spirituality or magic. I absolutely do not have time to actually study all of that. Sometimes I find myself in the position of needing to edit my study. I might really dive into the things that I am called deeply to, and then look for intro style books (or just talk to people) for subjects that aren't really my thing. For me, the distinction comes down to: is this something I actually want to DO or is it just something I'm curious about. I am curious about a lot of practices outside my faith, but many of them are not my style at all, and not something I will be adding to my personal practice. So, I can get an overview (often to see if I can take a main idea or detail and incorporate it into something I do), but then I don't need to read a whole bunch on it.
Ultimately, the goal is to refine your practice. To keep it sharp and focused. You want to be doing the things that call to you and to find the best representation of them in your life. You will want to seek out the things that you do 'just because' or the things that other people have told you that you should be doing (but you really don't get invested in them when you do them), and start figuring out how to let them go. You might need to find alternative practices, or you might need to do work to let go of those outside influences. But when you have a finely honed practice, it will be smooth and easy (yes it will still often be work, but the work will be enjoyable!), and it will be something that builds you up instead of leaving you more tired than when you started.