Maxim Monday: Do what you mean to do

Intention. Do what you mean to do. Do what you say you will do. Follow through.

These phrases are what come to mind with today’s maxim. Along with the aphorism: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But see, words and desires not followed through on were never really intentional. They were empty words, half-considered actions.

This maxim asks us to do several things. First, we have to decide what it is we want to do. What is it we mean to do? What is the outcome I’m hoping for, or the action I’m trying to perform? Then, we need to mean it. We need to sincerely want to accomplish that action and do the things necessary to make it happen. Finally, we have to Do. We have to follow through and do what we mean to do.

Sometimes, what we mean to do is not what ends up happening once we are mid-action. Or the results are entirely different. I think that’s ok, because with this maxim it is only asking that we intentionally choose what we want to do and then do it. We cannot be responsible for every outcome, although in some cases that is easier to do.

On a bigger scale, I think about this maxim and larger intentions, like loving my husband, educating my children, cultivating my health, growing in my spiritual practice. Those are things I want to do. How can I do those things?

For some one who is usually caught up in a struggle between Doing and Being, I don’t find this maxim triggering at all. In fact, I find it rather soothing. I don’t have to Do everything, only the things I mean to do. Those bigger intentions listed above are not things that happen once or are accomplished in a weekend. They occur over long periods of time, maintained with regular effort. I do not have Do it All in one sitting. No, I just work on what I mean to do, steadily and intentionally.

Today I am feeling rather overwhelmed with the huge lists I’ve made – lists of bills to pay, holiday preparations (both for this week’s Thanksgiving and for the upcoming Yule/Pancha Ganapati/Christmas cluster), and other responsibilities. Today I’m picking a handful of tasks and I will do them. I want to actually accomplish a few things and strike a few things off my list, so I want to be realistic in what and how many tasks I choose. Then I have to follow through, which might mean less tea and internet time. I want to do what I mean to do.

What do you mean to do today?

A Day in the Life

I see the light peeking around the edges of the curtains. I know I’ve slept late. It’s Tuesday. Monday nights mean choir rehearsal, and I don’t get home until 9.30 – well, past my bedtime! It was another night of me not being able to sing, thanks to my myriad colds. I can’t dwell on self-pity for too long: the children have heard Adam putzing in the kitchen and they come climbing into my side of the bed for morning snuggles. Just as we’ve attained fair and equal snuggles for all, Adam comes in to tell us it’s 7.30 and breakfast is on the table.

They scramble off the bed and race to the table. I make my way slowly: bathroom, find robe, open up the windows in the bedroom. When I get the table I see bowls of oatmeal in front of the kids and a spinach omelet waiting for me.

Olympia artist Niki McClure's calendar

Olympia artist Niki McClure’s calendar

Adam gets the kids dressed while I take the briefest of showers. Once dressed, I pack lunches and snacks, and off we go. We’re bundled in boots and thick coats. Last night’s downpour surely meant there would be puddles this morning, but no. As we walk up the hill to school, my son informs me that Papa was wrong; he didn’t need his boots after all.

I drop one kid off at kindergarten, another next door at a preschool. Happy kids are happily learning and playing. I descend home, down the hill, feeling wiped out. I’ve been awake an hour and fifteen minutes.

Once home I survey the mess of the kitchen. I feel overwhelmed by all the To-Do’s cluttering up my head. It’s Tuesday, so we have nothing to do tonight, except enjoy one another. It’s Tuesday, which also means it’s Kali puja day. First, though, I need to sit.

I make a cup of green tea and sit myself on the horrid burgundy corduroy couch. I enjoy the thin sunlight shining in through the windows. I sip my tea and do the barest of responding to comments, threads, and emails online. I watch a news clip on the Fukushima disaster. I begin berating myself for all the things I’ve left undone: a book review or two, blog posts I keep meaning to write, emails to be written, Christmas presents to sort out, and oh yeah, there’s a book on hold for me at the library.

I’m tired of feeling tired and sick of being sick. Self-pity threatens to eat me whole. I remind myself that I’m pregnant, it’s autumn, and I have two small kids that bring every sniffle home. What might fell them for two days will no doubt fell me for five. I’ve been sick every week for 5 weeks straight. But it will pass. I remind myself of that: this will pass.

I shut my lap top, drain my tea-cup, and peel myself off the couch. It’s nearly ten. Walking into the kitchen I realize I haven’t bought fresh flowers this week, so I grab a fat medjool date and head to my altar. I lay the date in my offering dish, light my candles and incense, and do the most basic of pujas. Still, puja feels good, like visiting an old friend. While sitting in meditation I think of my 2013 collage up on the fridge. I realize that this last part of the year was ‘set aside’ for rest. My collages are surprisingly prophetic. Sometimes I forget this. I drew the Moon and the Hanged Man for the last few months of this year. While the wheel of the days continue to turn and opportunities continue to knock, I need to realize that this time period for me is one of quiet, rest, and internal contemplation.

My altar this day

My altar this day

With that helpful reminder fresh in my head, I bow and make prayers. I pray for my Feri teachers, who are in need of healing right now. I pray for myself, also in need of some immune support. I ask that I might get the rest I need, learn what it is I need to at this time, and gather the strength I need for whatever is to come after this season passes.

It’s now 10.30. One hour until I pick up my daughter from preschool. I decide to throw in a load of laundry, then drive out to my friendly local farm and get eggs. I return in time to get lunch heating in the oven before walking up to get the girl.

Walking home in warm coats

Walking home in warm coats

Lunch is last night’s shepherd’s pie with a green salad. Adam and I talk about how his work is going, the realizations I had in meditation, the news I picked up on the farm; our daughter reminds us at least six times that her birthday is coming up (it’s not until February, but she is obsessed).

I tidy up the kitchen. Daughter asks for a bath, so I run the bath, brew a cup of tea and sit to write. Just as I get into the piece she’s through; I dry her off and dress her. She asks to watch Rastamouse while I write. I finish up and move on to general mental housekeeping: answering more emails and making lists of everything: Christmas lists, prepping for the various coming holidays, etc.

Cup of tea drained, more cartoons than I care to admit, and one distracted descent into Facebook, I finally get to work on my lists before reading to my daughter and letting her play with marbles. Only half way through my lists, my husband and I decide to do an impromptu drive-by of a potential house (we’re still house hunting) before going to pick up our son from kindergarten at 3pm. The house’s location isn’t quite right.

Once home everyone gets snacks. I go back to my lists. The kids get two cartoons before spending the rest of the afternoon drawing, reading and making a mess of the living room. We work on reading homework and I field a meltdown. I’m still trying to organize my lists. I am interrupted every few minutes. I give up and decide to work on it after the kids are in bed.

4.30 rolls around and I realize I need to fold some laundry and start on dinner. After reading the kids two more stories. We do a quick tidy up, which is dismantled minutes later. The youngest comes asking to play with rice. I dye some rice orange and the kids make a fine mess in the kitchen while I cook. The boy asks for a bath, which he runs and then picks up his mess while the bath fills. This is a first.

Orange rice for the win

Orange rice for the win

Dinner cooks. Adam watches basketball. I sweep up the rice and start lighting some candles. I light the family altar candle, say the Holy Mother prayer and a few others for some family needs. I discuss the meltdown issues with Adam (stress at school).

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Dinner is lamb and pork meatballs, sweet and sour sauce, roasted cabbage, and chard – all homemade, all super tasty! Everyone asks for seconds. It’s been chaos for the last two hours, but I’m feeling peaceful and sated at the table.

After dinner I go to the super awesome neighbors across the street for a quick chat and to pick up some keys. I walk over in my slippers. When I return, the end of the basketball game is on and the kids are reading on the couch. I finally fold the laundry and put it away. I make a cup of throat coat tea for myself and the boy. It’s time for the kids to get ready for bed and, of course, they get squirrelly and riled up. Adam gets them in their pjs and brushes their teeth while I write a little.

Pjs, toothbrushing, focus, night-time pees, get out of the laundry basket, time for bed, which story do you want, please focus on you, get in bed. While Adam works on the dishes, a story is read by me, hugs and kisses doled out. Adam goes in to sing them to sleep. It’s not terribly successful tonight.

I finally finish making my lists and get organized. I sort out what I want to accomplish tomorrow (add pictures to this post, post it, write up a book review, vacuum the house, don’t forget to buy milk and eggs, and get that package from the post office). I finally open this week’s Economist. And now it’s time for me go to bed. It’s 8.30 and I can’t wait to crawl into bed and do it all again tomorrow.

The Power of Self Care

I recently wrote a two-part series on health (you can read them here and here). For those that bristle at the word ‘health,’ maybe because it’s a word that seems over-used to the point of meaninglessness and is often used to level judgment on people, perhaps thinking about it in terms of self-care will be a better entry point to the same idea.

In my previous posts I talked about eating well, getting enough water and sleep, finding ways to move that make your body happy, and finding professional and/or friendly support. All of those things are important, not just for our over all health, measured in terms of aches, pains, immune strength and fitness, but also in terms of happiness, peace of mind and personal stability. It’s much easier to be present with our lives and loved ones when we’re well rested and well fed and not hurting.

Self-care is something that I’ve learned only late in life. I’ve always been interested in health and fitness. I swam competitively growing up. I’ve never enjoyed staying up all night long. But the way I thought about health was much more along the lines of ‘don’t get fat;’ it was a form of superiority and virtue, so I thought. Over time I’ve let go of that thinking.

I remember two friends I had in high school and college. These guys were popular, smart, and high achieving. They attended prestigious colleges and when they came home for summer, they worked jobs with lots of responsibility and long hours. They worked hard and played hard. Their motto was “we can sleep when we’re dead.”

At 20 that seemed doable and even ideal. Now, as a mother of small children, in my late 30s, that just seems insane. However, that thinking seems to infect more areas of life than just the habits of ambitious 20-somethings. I remember working out with kids who would push so hard they’d vomit. I know loads of people who are getting through their days on coffee and sugar. It’s not that these things are just unhealthy – as if health is some sort of finite, definitive term that we can measure objectively; I find these ways of approaching life as acts of unkindness and even, in the extreme, acts of self-torture.

Kindness, going easy on ourselves, self-care – these things are generally looked upon as lazy or wussy; at best a sign of indulgence, at worst a sign of weakness. There’s something in American culture that aims to reward the person who works 60+ hours a week, pulls all-nighters, does gruelling daily work outs for a six-pack, or starves themselves thin. Somehow that’s virtuous. But those who happily eat bacon, get 9 hours of sleep a night, goes gently walking for a few miles only a few times a week, or chooses a slow-track career option in order to avoid an expensive commute or gain more time with family is often considered unambitious.

I’d like to extend self-care into our spiritual practices and even into the very private area self-talk. While I think I’ve got a strong handle on all the things I’ve listed above (eating, sleeping, major life choices, etc), I still struggle with bringing self-care into these two very personal areas.

I am ambitious and I want results! So that must mean elaborate pujas, regular spell work, making sure I do all my exercises every day, and so on, right? Well, no. Sometimes it means not doing anything. Sometimes it means just sitting and breathing and checking in with my parts. Maybe the way to honor a particular holiday is to not celebrate it, rather than stress out and go through the motions.

Not Doing is not something I’m good at. Over the years my husband has helped me trust that I can Not Do and my world will not end. I am coming to trust that when he says ‘lean on me, let me carry your load today’ he really means it and I can actually let go. There is freedom in this space. Eventually I get over my cold (or my migraine, what I’m struggling with lately) and go back to my regularly scheduled activities with renewed vigor.

But it’s hard. It’s hard to accept that letting go of Doing is an act of love for myself. This leads me to self-talk. The voices I hear in my head are mostly me trying to guilt me into Doing. ‘The gods will forget about you if you don’t make your weekly puja.’ ‘How are you ever going to grow in your skills if you aren’t practicing them daily?’ ‘You haven’t read tarot/run the Iron Pentacle/made a house offering/etc in weeks, what kind of a witch are you?’ Yeah, those voices are kind of mean. Nipping those voices in their wilted little buds is a necessary form of self-care.

I’ve come to realize that negative self-talk is a form of self-sabotage. More damaging to my skills and relationships than taking a day off or a week off, or doing the easier of the pujas (or whatever) is this self-talk that aims to undermine my very desires. Those voices don’t make me rush to my altar any quicker or practice my vocal exercises any more often; instead, they make me run even farther away from what I love. I want to hide under the bed, out of sight of such a nasty bully.

Self-care is an act of power. It’s not an act of power over – over others or even over myself. It’s an act of power with – I bring myself into right alignment with my loved one and with all of my parts. And what is a witch if not a person unafraid to harness power? I aim to increase the power and efficacy of my witchery and all the areas of life into which I put my efforts!

Getting a handle on all aspects of my Self and my health is powerful stuff. Better physical and mental health is an act of love to myself and to those with whom I have commitments. Learning to accept self-care and the care of others is an act of surrender  and commitment to what is really important: my relationships – with family, friends and my gods, and to the desires I work towards regularly.

Maxim Monday: Use your skill

All of us are skilled at something. Maybe you are a violinist, a carpenter, or speak two languages. Maybe you knit or craft or bake the best muffins in your town. Maybe you kick ass at video games, play a mean game of foosball, or know how to carve wooden swords. I don’t know, but I’ll bet all of us are good at more than one thing. So the questions this raises for me are: are you valuing the skills you have? And, how are you using them?

Often times our skills can be put to use for the benefit of others. Sometimes we get to make money with our skills or use them in our day jobs. Many times our skills really shine when we use them for own pleasure.

Whatever your skills are, I encourage you to use them. You’ve likely worked hard to develop them, or at least spent many hours over the course of your life developing the skills you’ve got. Using our skills is a sign of pride in ourselves, can be a gift, a help or a blessing to those around us, and honors the work that we’ve done to hone our skills. Plus, when we use our skills they get better.

I’m good at several things: I am a skilled reader, a decent writer, and I know a lot about religions. I can cook and I can sing. I can organize like a mofo. I am trying to use the first set of skills in a more professional way. I have spent a lot of time, effort and money developing those skills – I’d like to use them!

I cook three hot meals a day for my family; this is an act of love and service. Cooking and hospitality also bring me a lot of joy and weave into the vision I have for my life, my community, and the world at large.

Singing is another skill on which I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money. Not singing seems like a waste of all of that effort. Besides, singing brings me joy, and I’ve also promised Kali I would sing! My husband tells me that my singing brings joy to him and others.

Lastly, I organize my household, but in the past I’ve used this skill extensively in my professional life, and I hope to do so again some day.

All of those skills utilize different aspects of my self. They all bring me different kinds of satisfaction. I am guessing that your skills do similar things for you: tapping into the varied parts of who you are and bringing you pleasure.

Let us value the varied skills we possess and encourage one another to use our skills for joy.

Serpent Songs, A Review

By now you probably know that I am an unrepentant fan of Scarlet Imprint, publishing house of fine occult books. For my birthday at the beginning of June, my husband gifted me with Serpent Songs, a collection of essays whose central theme is traditional witchcraft. I squeed with delight. The book is beautiful to behold, as I expected. The textures of the paper feel good in the hand; the color and printing are a delight to the eye.

Image taken from Scarlet Imprint's web page.

Image taken from Scarlet Imprint’s web page.

That said, I found this collection to be very hit and miss. Several of the essays I loved. Some I found entirely uninteresting. One essay in particular made me so upset that I wanted to hurl the book across the room. And not in ‘intellectually stimulated and challenged’ upset sort of way.

Let’s start with the awful and get it out of the way. Shani Oates, Maid of the Clan of Tubal Cain, has written a bloated essay in the purplest of prose. I read it three times, hoping that it was me and not her. Alas. Ms Oates writes as though she has mined a thesaurus for the most beautiful words she can find. There are lovely phrases, yet nothing seems to have any meaning. I suspect that she may have been writing in code. Many Craft practitioners do this, so as not to reveal secrets or break oaths. But some authors, like Serpent Song‘s editor, Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, are gifted at both writing in code, yet giving non-members plenty to chew on without condescension. Ms Oates essay reeked of outsider exclusion. Given that Scarlet Imprint writes for the smart occultist, without an emphasis on a particular tradition, I am stumped as to how this essay was included.

There are also some rather dull essays, ones I thought only marginally interesting. They reminded me of things I read in graduate school. I thought they might have been more at home in a decidedly academic collection.

But then there were several essays that more than made up for the others. I enjoyed Johannes Gårdbäck’s essay, ‘Trolldom.’ It’s a subject I don’t know much about. Gårdbäck, a Swede, used the tale of assisting a couple to inform the reader of many aspects of Trolldom, Swedish folk magic. It was interesting story telling and informative, too.

Several of the essays are ones I will come back to again. I was particularly impressed with the two contributions from Basque sorcerers, Arkaitz Urbeltz and Xabier Bakaikoa Urbeltz. This is a tradition I knew nothing about until reading these two essays. The way the home and hearth are central to their tradition, way of life and understanding of their world spoke to me in a deep way; I related and felt challenged to think more deeply about connection to home and place. One essay discusses Mari, a goddess I had heard stems from the Basque tradition, and is only found outside of it in the Feri/Faery tradition I practice. I felt these two authors did a beautiful job communicating their beliefs and practices in poetic, yet clear ways.

Sarah Lawless contributed a beautiful article on the ‘Mysteries of Beast, Blood and Bone’ which ends the volume. It is animistic in tone and practical in focus. It was a delightful ending to a mixed bag of essays, ranging from incredibly annoying to boring to possibly practice altering to profound.

Overall this book is, as are all Scarlet Imprint’s tomes, for the serious collector or practitioner. This book contains some of the worst writing I’ve yet to see them publish and some of the most beautiful and interesting. As always, there are several versions of this text, finely bound and digital.

Maxim Monday: Down-look No One

This translation seems really clunky to me. I suppose it means to say “don’t look down on anyone.” If this is the accurate translation, I have to admit that I fail at this one. I don’t suffer fools lightly. As I get older I find I am more patient and compassionate. Those two things help soften and reduce my tendency to condescend.

But basically, I suck at this one. I think the less said, the better.

Happy Halloween!

Today is the rather secular holiday of Halloween, where kids dress up in costumes and eat absurd amounts of candy. We’ll be observing by doing about the same, only going easy on the candy part. My son is going as a ‘skull ninja’ and my daughter found a dragon suit to wear.

There is something lovely, especially for a kid, about getting to walk around in the dark, autumnal weather. The leaves crunch under the feet. The cold (or rain) nips the nose. You get to knock on doors that you might never touch all the other days of the year. And the extra candy is always a sweet treat. Especially if you have a mother like me or mine, who doesn’t let much sugar into the house!

Tonight we’ll observe just like regular Americans, enjoying the holiday for what it is. Tomorrow and Saturday our family will observe this time in our own, more meaningful way.

Here are some past posts I quite like on this time of year. Enjoy!

Samhain Ritual

Kids & Halloween

The Not-So-Dumb Supper