In the Weeds

When the going gets tough, and it often does when one attempts ‘advanced living,’ what do you do?

After my weekend in Canada, my week was a rough come down. My period started; I was physically exhausted and sleep deprived. My son turned five and we threw a larger than usual birthday party. My in-laws came to town. And my husband and I took some risks while at the same time excavating some intense relationship stuff. Did I reach out to friends? Did I fall back on the foundations of my spiritual practice? Did I use my tools? Yes, no, and no.

ROOKIE MOVE, WHITING.

Now that we are coming down from the intensity of the last week I see how helpful finding some time to sit in meditation would have been. To have made kala daily. To make offerings and ask for my Allies’ assistance. The 5 minutes I spent crying in front of my altar, telling any thing that would listen that I’d really screwed things up, could have been better spent. But it was an honest outpouring.

Now begins the rebuilding and  a sort of starting over. Back to the cushion for sitting practice. My head will surely be filled with every possible distraction. Back to the cup for kala, for endless, needed purification. Back to reaching out, for connection and guidance and honor. Now that I’m more clearheaded I can remember to sink down deep, into my core, aligning all my souls.

I am reminded of a story I’ve heard about O Sensei, the founder of Aikido. A student asks him, “Why are you never off center?” He replies, “I fall off center, but I return to center so quickly you do not notice.”

That is the goal of daily practice, is it not? My only consolation is that even though I ‘forgot’ my tools this week, I find that I’ve come back to center so much more quickly than I would have before. My partner and I worked through our issues faster and more smoothly than the last time. I’ll be out of the weeds before I know it.

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Into the Woods

I went to Canada, into the woods, and thought I was going on vacation. How wrong I was.

I expected fun, laughter, and trees. I got all of that. Fun was had, in a variety of forms. There was laughter. The grey mists against the deep greens of the trees and floating on the surface of the lake fed the Alaskan part of my soul. The camp site was not as spectacular as I’d hoped and the food wasn’t very good. But it was the surprises…… Oh, the surprises.

Lake Sasamat

Lake Sasamat

The first great surprise was mead. I’d never had mead before. It seemed like every Canadian brought mead, most made their own, and it was good. One new friend is an exceptionally gifted mead maker; his pomegranate mead was divine. It made a fitting offering to the Red Goddess. I also discovered something called St. Germain, which tastes like spring flowers at sunrise.

The second surprise was meeting the founder of the Pomegranate: International Journal of Pagan Studies. Many Pagans are very smart and well-read, but I wasn’t expecting to get my academic geek on.

The third surprise was the rituals. I have mixed experience with ritual. Most of it bad, bland and ineffective. Occasionally, distasteful. Thankfully, the main ritual leaders, the Coru Cathubodua, come from Anderson Feri backgrounds (as do I) and so their style was familiar and welcome to me. The main ritual, while not particularly spiritually profound for me, was perhaps the best ritual theatre I have ever experienced. It was not all that elaborate, rather the simplicity of the ritual allowed the power and beauty of bodies, chant, and fire to express the heart of primal Paganism.

The last ritual I attended was the Women’s Mysteries ritual. I was doubtful. I love being a female bodied, child-bearing woman, but I loathe gender essentialism and the false dichotomy that ‘women’s mysteries’ and ‘men’s mysteries’ all too often entail. I need not have worried. The ritual was beautiful, powerful, profound. I think each woman stood taller and stronger afterward. Another surprise here, besides having positive ritual experience, was that I felt the Blessed Virgin make an appearance. After such a long absence, she snuck up on me and asked that I recognize her. And then the starry crown she wore, bathed in blue, merged with the Red Goddess, and I learned of her/their power of Love. She gave me much to think about, to feel about, to sort out.

Lastly, my single greatest surprise was the community. Community has long been a source of confusion for me. It is a core value for me. I am fiercely loyal and love strongly. The older I get the more I realize just how little we ever do on our own. We rise higher because of the tallest around us, and we all suffer and struggle a little more if those around suffer and struggle. But moving around makes it hard to commit. These days my strongest community are my liked minded friends, but we are spread out over the world, interacting through blogs, email and Facebook. I have missed in person connection something fierce. While I expected to meet new friends, I was not expecting to find what can only be described as a home.

The Canadian Pagan community of lower BC is unlike any community I’ve ever experienced. I was overwhelmed at first. I realized, at 37, that I am introvert. It took me a full 24 hours to feel comfortable. In fact, on my first morning I sat by the fire for three hours wondering why I had come and wishing I was back at home. I felt like I had crashed a family reunion. I felt uncomfortable including myself in other people’s conversations. They all knew each other so well and were so happy to see each other.

And then….. I clicked in. I inserted myself when I could. I chose a few people to go deep with. I let myself be confused. I forced nothing.

While there was a certain amount of cliqueishness and some obvious snubbing (no community is perfect, sigh), I felt an acceptance that I have rarely seen at other similar gatherings. I could be as bold or as shy, as wild or as tame as I needed to be; the other attendees accepted and encouraged each person to have the experience they needed to have.

I also witnessed leadership that greatly impressed me. I saw the strength of this community in their firm commitment to their vision for the Gathering, fully committed to where they’ve come from and their ideals, but equally committed to growing the community and encouraging diversity. The fact that people from as far away as Montana, Minnesota and Arizona have made this group in Canada part of their spiritual community speaks the loudest to me. I already drive 140 miles round trip each month for a tiny community of fellow students and my teachers. Now I ask myself, am I willing to drive 4 hours each way for a larger community?

I don’t know if I want to commit to that. But if I choose to commit to this community, I feel like I would be welcomed with joyful, open arms. I get the strongest sense that if I choose to commit the rewards would be great. I look forward to seeing how these new relationships and connections develop and unfold in the coming months.

I went into the woods, and magic was made, woven, consumed. I went into the woods and did not get a vacation, I found something far more transformational.

 

 

Maxim Monday: Nothing to Excess

I have many people in my life who are passionate, possibly even obsessive, about their work or their hobbies or their loves. I fall into that camp, as well. It’s important to devote the necessary time, energy, focus and love toward any thing we want to excel at – and I don’t mean excel in a sense that there is something to ‘achieve.’ A thriving relationship takes time, effort, and focus. Finishing a challenging and beautiful book might take those things too.

But to balance and refuel passion we need to know when to let up. When to take a breather. We need to counter intensity with some down time. Overworking one muscle group doesn’t lead to increased strength, rather it leads to overburdened and weakened muscles. If we paint all day, every day, exercising other aspects of our creativity could open up new avenues in our work – and prevent burn out. And so on.

I’m pretty obsessive about my family. I love spending time with my husband and kids. I’m a homebody. So I sometimes have to ‘force’ myself to go out with out them or make dates with other people (not playdates with kids!). I’m obsessive about the magickal/spiritual life. I have to get myself to read outside of my subject area from time to time.

Nothing to excess. Find balance. Be well-rounded. Does this lead to all things in moderation? Funny, I find ‘all things in moderation’ to be bland, but have no issues with ‘nothing to excess.’ I guess I think to keep everything in moderation, means never getting fired up. Never getting obsessive about something. Never realizing that you’ve forgotten to eat because your book was so good. Or realized you’ve been talking with a fascinating person for 5 hours. Never having one glass of wine too many. I don’t view those things as excess really. A life without passion or intensity doesn’t seem like living to me!

Sweet Vacation

Today I am leaving on vacation. I am going to Canada. Without my family. It’s been nearly a year since I did something longer than 4 hours without them. I am ready to recharge my batteries.

I’m headed to the Gathering For Life On Earth. Pretty cheesy name, but so far, I’ve found the people on the FB group friendly and the list of activities enticing. Plus, it’s only an hour or so outside of Vancouver, BC, so it is guaranteed to be beautiful. It’s been a decade since I’ve been to Canada. I love Canada.

Besides being in a positive and beautiful place, where I don’t have to cook or look after anyone other than myself, I am excited to meet new people in the wider Pacific North West, to see an old friend from ym California days, and get a hearty dose of ritual. It will be a balm to my chafed energy levels. I’m particularly excited to meet Sarah Lawless in person, as well as experience ritual by the Coru Cathubodua, a group I’ve heard so much about.

I’ll report back next week. Have a great weekend everyone!

A Budding Theologian

Last night I was chanting Om Namah Shivaya. My son, who will be 5 at the end of the month, was listening.

“Mama, do some chants for Kali,” he said.

“I’m chanting to Shiva right now,” I answered. “We can do some chants for Kali tomorrow.”

With such conviction he said to me, “Shiva and Kali are the same, Mama. Shiva is just a nickname for her.”

***

There’s something to think about.

Kali and Shiva. I found this beautiful murti posted at anglohindu.wordpress.com

Kali and Shiva. I found this beautiful murti posted at anglohindu.wordpress.com

Maxim Monday: Do a favor for a friend

I like this one. Probably because I’m already good at it. Probably because this one is in enlightened self-interest.

This Maxim to me is one of the foundations of community building. Now that I have children I can see the needs and benefits of doing a favor for a friend (or neighbor) even more than before! Thriving in this world takes a group effort. While I believe we have to take responsibility for our own actions, we can only thrive (and by that I mean more than just get by) when we work together. Parenting is hard, constant work. We need neighbors and friends to do the occasional babysitting favor so we can get a hair cut, see the doctor without children in tow, or maybe just get some down time.

Doing a favor is a form of sharing what we have a lot of. Maybe you’ve got time or space. Maybe you’ve got money. Maybe you have a lawn mower and your friend doesn’t. Or whatever.

Doing a favor for a friend makes their life easier. I like doing favors for my friends, knowing that often it’s an easy way to be really helpful. I like knowing that I help others often and joyfully, and that helps me feel less guilty or hesitant about asking others for help.

Little favors are a great way to build community and strengthen the everyday bonds between friends and neighbors.

(Of course, don’t forget good boundaries!)

A happy mother’s day

Being a mother is perhaps the single most life altering, spiritually powerful thing I’ve ever done. Women often write about how intense and life-changing are the self-sacrifice, the long hours, the intense demands, and the beauty of the love that children bring. Those things are all real. For parents, male and female and every other stripe, parenting is crash course in intense love and compassion and heartbreak. These are good things.

For me, being a mother is all of those things and it is also the foundation of my spiritual life, the core of ‘my ashram.’  If I had been told this when I was pregnant with my first child, I might have laughed it off as hormone induced sentimentality.

Being pregnant was powerful stuff for me. I tend to be a very thinky person, all up in my head most of the time. I over think things, I reason out and take people and situations at their word, even if my gut is urging me to notice something different. My spiritual practice has long been focused on Results and doing things Right. But being pregnant put me in my body in a profound way. The hormones coursing through me kept me emotionally volatile, particularly with my first pregnancy. I struggled to surrender to that experience. I didn’t like that I couldn’t move as quickly, as nimbly, or as gracefully with my enormous belly. I struggled with the postpartum years – being three or four or five shapes and sizes in the space of 12 months is trying, and not just on the wardrobe.

I came to be present in my body in a way I’d never had to before. It wasn’t about being strong or fit or athletic – the ways I’d related to my body previously. It was about nourishing others and myself. It was about growing and sustaining a life. A life that was ME, my bones, my blood, but also its own singular thing, distinct from me.

Nourishment.

Nourishment.

With my first pregnancy this life within life transformed my theological understandings of the divine. I am the Holy Mother. And so are millions of other women. I’m not sure I can fully articulate the mind-blowing realization of this yet. But theological ideas of interdependence, Process Theology, goddess language, and ideas of a Matrix of Being, made so much more sense. Intuitive and experiential sense that reason and systematic theology could not argue away.

I remember one day in my first pregnancy, walking home from the BART in Oakland (public transportation), looking at the many varied people around me, many of them looking pretty miserable and not particularly healthy. I realized, every single one of those people is some mother’s beloved child. Every single person began as a mewling baby. Even if some of those people were not well-loved by their particular mothers, they were grown and nourished by a body and birthed – with blood and sweat and tears. That was powerful stuff for me. It was the beginning of new chamber of compassion in my heart.

In a practical way motherhood has also forced me to clarify. If I have 20 minutes of uninterrupted time: do I sit on my laptop? do I go meditate? do I write? I have to make choices in a way that I did not before. I am also more aware of my energy levels. I am ‘on’ all day long. At this point in their lives, I still have to monitor my kids’ energy levels and often be the boundary keeper for them. There are many times I want to go make my own magick or go connect to my gods and I just don’t have it in me. Sometimes I skip it all together. Sometimes I get creative. Whereas before I might have been ‘all or nothing’ about pujas or mediation, I now find great value in perhaps just placing an offering on my altar, bowing, and saying Hail and Thank You.

I understand the concepts of macrocosm and microcosm at more personal level too. My children are part of a great macrocosm, but their world as far as they experience it is teeny tiny. I see how my understanding of the world is equally teeny tiny, even though I’ve got a larger grasp on the world than they do right now.

I grasp the concepts and realities of the Ancestors and Descendents in a way I couldn’t before. I am bone and blood and flesh of my mother and her mother before her and so on. My children are my bones and my blood. The Ancestors and my Descendents make me a mother, as much as my own choices, my own body, and those of my partner have.

I can never not be a mother. I may some day have different spiritual beliefs, certainly my views and practices have evolved over the years. But I can never not be a mother. Even if both my children vanish tomorrow (may all the gods forbid), I am forever a mother.

I’m sure plenty of people come to these realizations on their own, not needing to have children. For me, I can’t imagine that I would have come to understand them without becoming a mother.

So, all hail the mothers! All hail the Ancestors and all hail the Descendents! And all hail the Holy Mother, in whom we live, move and have our being.

Amen.