Sunset Blues

The birds sing their farewells to the sun as it slowly sinks below the ridge tops.  Shadows begin to muster for their nightly gathering as the frogs warm up to voice their hymns to the night.  Darkness is held momentarily at bay as the last golden rays float lazily across the valleys.  An ever-cooling breeze brings with it the somnolent sweetness of honeysuckle and the faintest whiffs of woodsmoke from a distant fire. It is the time of day that begs for stories to be told, for the voices of the blessed dead to be heard, and for the living to remember that which has passed.

Evening twilight has always been my favorite time of day but it’s rare that I take the time to watch the light fade from the sky and open myself to the stories wanting to be told.  There are always other priorities, other obligations that must be met. It seems that the more life becomes filled with things to accomplish and do, the further away I move from those things that I find most fulfilling. I have had a tendency to take on projects that aren’t my passion – whether out of a sense of obligation, duty, or just a need to be able to check things off of a to-do list. I broke from this pattern of behavior over the winter, as my focus had narrowed to recovery, rest, and very little else.  Now that I’m getting back to old routines, I find myself again getting wrapped up in the minutiae of to-do lists and projects. As I do so, the same old frustrations creep back into my thoughts.

Much of my discontent with my online life springs from this same source.  As I mentioned in my last post, my first priority was tackling those spaces over which I do not have significant control.  While I may occasionally check in or lurk to read interesting posts, I will be mostly absent from those spaces. Social media will probably also go the way of the dinosaur.  My plan is to continue this blog, assuming I can find both the inspiration and energy to write posts.  If priorities must be made, posting here will need to take a distant second to activities that are directly related to my practice.  It’s a fair trade-off, I think, as it’s hard to write about my path if I’m not actually following it.

This evening, I found myself sitting on a westward facing porch at sunset.  In the fading amber light, fireflies danced and shadows gained substance. The living drank toasts to those who had gone before and drew strength from retelling old stories.  The dead, in their turn, whispered of days past, ensuring that their memories will not soon be forgotten.  In these moments, I am most alive, most aware of the path under my feet.  I would not trade moments like this for all the screen time in the world.

Pondering My Online Presence

Thanks to that Very Serious Illness mentioned in my last post, I have spent the last four months in an extended, largely involuntary downtime during which there was a great deal of introspection and reflection but very little in the way of public communications.

During some of the longer and more medicated hours of pondering, I’ve considered quite seriously ending my public  online presence as a practicing pagan. By that, I mean that I would stop blogging here, stop posting in pagan forums and communities, and close the social media accounts that are used strictly for interacting with other pagans and eclectics.  In short,  I’ve considered limiting my spiritual expression to activities to the worlds where I am actively practicing and only interacting with those actually a part of my practice.  What difference would it make I wondered – to myself, to my deities, to other seekers?  Does the world really need one more voice spouting their opinions and views? More importantly, does my path require this public face? If not, what am I and others getting out of this?

The question also came up of why I began to question my online presence in the first place.  Is there something going on that is making me feel that I need to withdraw?  Has there been some shift, either in myself or the overall online pagan collective, that makes me question my presence there?  Is this a case of self-doubt, an identity crisis brought on by health issues, or a true need to re-examine what I do?

I have been working through these questions over the last few weeks and am only just now beginning to come up with some answers. Nothing is set in stone yet but here are the salient points so far:

  • Changes are needed, that much is certain.  Much of my spiritual online time during the past year has left me feeling firstly angry and hurt and then empty and drained.  I have too little resources to spare for something that makes me unhappy.
  • My Lady has reminded me in a very loud and firm voice that this does not need to be an either/or situation.  It is possible to come up with a better online presence that does not leave me feeling drained or unwelcome.  She has been silent, however, on how this is to be accomplished or why continuing to maintain an online presence is important.
  • My first priority needs to be to decide how much of myself to invest in spaces that are not under my control as these places are the source of much of my questioning (e.g., online communities and forums).  There has been a trend toward  a few very vocal folks proclaiming that theirs the is right and only way and that anyone who do not agree should be verbally beaten down and/or dismissed as pariahs.  The question is whether  it is worth the effort to maintain a presence in those spaces or if I should focus my energy elsewhere.
  • Guidelines and limits need to be set for myself if I chose to continue with a public presence, particularly in reference to those shared spaces.

That’s as good and brief of summary of the last few weeks as I can give.  Things are ever changing; the only question that really remains is what those changes will bring.

Adversity, Adventure, and Some Other ‘A’ Words

I am running behind on the alphabetical posts for the Cauldron Blog Project, but since I’m one of the instigators of this year’s event, I feel like I should make a belated effort at an ‘A’ themed post. Trigger warnings may be needed, as this will be a bit of a rant exploration dealing with adversity in the form of serious illness.  Here we go, ready or not…


I am supposed to be angry at the universe, breaking down in sobs at regular intervals, falling to pieces at every opportunity, and endlessly moaning and bitching about my misfortunes.  At least that’s what some of my family, friends, and acquaintances seem to think.  I was recently diagnosed with a Very Serious Illness (TM) and therefore must respond in a Very Serious and Grave Manner (likewise TM).  When speaking with others about this VSI in a VSGM, I must have the inevitable Very Serious Mental Breakdown (also TM) accompanied by some Very Serious, Very Public Emotional Drama (aka TMI).  This, of course, gives the people expecting all these Very Serious behaviors a chance to have Very Serious Discussions (aka Gossip) about how the poor little thing is handling this… such a shame… so broken up…  tsk, tsk, bless her little heart.

Screw that.

That’s not me and, to the endless disappointment of some folks, it’s not how I behave. I have a way of dealing with adversity that’s rather Zen-like, mystical, and mysterious, but I’ll try to distill it down to a few words without getting into really deep metaphysical or spiritual waters.  Hmm…  how about this:  I put on my big person boxers, say my equivalent of the Serenity Prayer, and then go deal with the problem.  Notice that nowhere in that statement is a mention of wailing, breaking down every time the VSI is mentioned, or falling on the floor in a sobbing heap. Also absent are demanding to my gods that this not really be happening, or wailing the words “Why me?” or “It’s not fair”.

YMMV, of course, and I acknowledge that my attitude about adversity goes against the grain of our reality TV-loving, drama-embracing society. I don’t care that it does.  What I do care about is that I have several people telling me, in essence, that I’m doing it wrong (it= how I am reacting to having a VSI).   For those folks, another ‘A’ word applies (hint: 7 letters and ends in ‘e’ with the middle part reading ‘sshol’). Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I do draw the line at being told how I should react to something that’s happening to me by people who have not walked in the same shoes. Of the all the stupid things I’ve heard duringthe last month, “You need to cry and get it all out” is my favorite (because apparently I am holding back a sea of tears – news to me!); second is “You shouldn’t make jokes” (because this is a VSI and humor does not comply with the required Very Serious Very Grave Manner); third place is “Don’t upset people by mentioning it. Tell them it was an accident.” (because it’s much better to lie than to upset perfect strangers who ask very invasive personal questions).

The eclecticism of my path has given me a certain set of tools for coping with adversity – a mindful awareness of my thoughts and feelings that allows me to acknowledge them without needing to always react to them (Buddhist influence there), a distinctive lack of fear where death and dark corners of my inner self are concerned (Valley of the Shadow of Death? Have a summer cottage there with all the threshold work that I do), a desire/ability to learn from whatever lessons are handed to me (between Isis and the Morrigan, this is a requirement) and a tendency to find humor in everything including catastrophe (all Loki, all the time). All of those things meld weirdly together to produce the outlook that adversity should be treated as an adventure, rather than an occasion for self-pity.

Here’s the thing about adventure: It isn’t always easy, nor is it safe.  There are going to be monsters and traps along the way.  There will be those who will help and those who will harm and you won’t always be able to tell the difference.  There will be lessons that hurt and lessons that enlighten.  There will be fear, but there will also be laughter.  You can’t know what the end of an adventure will hold… it may be treasure, it may be disappointment, and it may be the end of this life and the beginning of a whole other kind of adventure.  You can’t always choose the adventures that you experience, but at every step, you get to choose how you act and react.  You can pine away for the comforts of the life you’ve left behind or you can embrace the changes that come your way.  You can try to withdraw and hide from what is happening or you can take an active role in the events that will inevitably unfold.  You can listen to the advice of those who have never set foot on an adventure or you can learn as you go, listening to your own heart and gut and accepting the wisdom of those who have walked the same road. What will you choose when adversity comes knocking on your door?

Changing Doorways

A note before we begin:  This post was written as a part of the Cauldron Blog Project 2015 for the monthly themed post for January, “Doorways”.


A beige-colored door opens, it’s matte silver handle turning silently.  All eyes in the waiting room turn to the nurse clad in cerulean scrubs as she calls out a name. The smiling brunette woman next to me rises from her chair and crosses the room with a light, carefree step.  On the other side of the nondescript door waits a consultation with a plastic surgeon who will tell her how he restore a more youthful look to her aging visage and how her external self will better align with the youthful soul that resides inside of her.  She crosses the threshold confidently, knowing that what awaits her is a desired and welcome outcome. The doorway is merely a barrier between her and what she wants and she disappears behind it with a bounce in her step.

A few minutes later, the door opens again and the same nurse calls my name.  I limp stiffly across the waiting room and take a deep slow breath before stepping through the doorway.  It is not the same door that the facelift candidate had just passed through.  Physically, the door has not changed and there is no palpable difference for those still in the waiting room.  Still, it is a different doorway that I pass through and it will take me to a much different place than the previous threshold crosser.  It is a doorway beyond which an uncertain future lies.  On the other side of that door lies conversations about skin grafts, scar tissue, and minimizing the damage of a necessary but disfiguring upcoming surgery.  Someday, I hope to walk through that door again, triumphantly with a curving J-shaped scar on my leg and a clean bill of health.

Doorways are like that… they serve as a  boundary between where we are now and where we are going.  Each of us goes through a different doorway, even when we pass through the same physical space. They delineate and divide spaces and when we pass through them, we are in a state of transition.  Awaiting us on the other side of every door way is a change of some sort in our environment, circumstances or ourselves.  There are doors that we pass through gladly, embracing what lays beyond. Others we avoid if we can and enter only if there is no other acceptable alternative.  There will also be doorways that are locked to us, through which we may not pass even if we greatly desire to do so. A doorway that has just opened for the passage of another may be suddenly slammed shut and locked when we approach it… or we may find that doors open to us that others are unable to access.

The doorways that we encounter on our spiritual paths are like this as well, be they physical or metaphysical, mundane or magical.  These doorways often require more careful consideration than the physical doorways we encounter in our day-to-day lives.  While stepping through the doorway into another room or building might sometimes be  life-altering, those that we cross in our spiritual seeking nearly always are.  Ideally, our spiritual doorways lead us to places and beings that bring positive growth.  However, any seeker who has been on their path for more than a few hours can tell you that there is often a large gap between this ideal and reality.

Spiritual doorways may be a source of frustration more often than they are a source of enlightenment.  Often we don’t know what lies beyond those doorways and our desire to end our own ignorance may propel us through doorways we may not have otherwise gone.  We may cross through a doorway to find that what is contained inside is not what we had imagined it to be from the other side. The doorway that a friend has passed through may lead us to a very different place than they journeyed, possibly to places that we did not wish to go or that cause us to rethink our entire path. We may also find ourselves banging on locked doors, demanding access to the mysteries that are denied to us.

Whatever the circumstance, this is much certain… every doorway leads somewhere different and everyone who steps through that doorway finds themselves on a different journey.  We cannot expect to cross the threshold without a change in who we are, what we do, and how we relate to the universe around us. Go ahead… knock if you’re feeling curious, cross the threshold if you’re feeling brave.

New Year, New Project

Happy New Year’s!

After bidding 2014 a less than fond farewell of the ‘don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-in-the-ass’ variety, it’s time to look to the new year.  My very short resolution list doesn’t include any spiritual goals this year, because there isn’t any particular area that I want to expand or build on right now.  I’m not feeling complacent about my path, but rather just being realistic about what areas need the most attention during the coming year.

So what’s the plan for this blog in 2015? I plan to write more regularly again, rather than just the sporadic random posting that happened during the last year. To that end, I’m participating in this year’s Cauldron Blog Project, a dual level challenge that has monthly themes as well as alphabetical posts every two weeks (possibly every week if I feel really ambitious).  This means that I will need to post at least… gasp… three times per month.  Sadly, this seems, at the moment, a formidable challenge.  Will I keep up with this schedule?  I’ll let you know around this time next year.

Ritual Calendar – June (Belated)

There are some ideas from my last post that I want to further explore, but I’m just not in the proper frame of mind to do so just yet.  In the meantime, I’ve promised myself that I will finish my ritual calendar posts before 2015 rolls around.  So, six months late, here are some thoughts on the summer solstice.  I feel like this needs to be fleshed out a bit more, but wanted to get the bones of it down.

June Ritual – Celebrating the Day

Timing
  • Perhaps unnecessary to say, but this should be done on the solstice.

Themes

  • Seasonal renewal
Purpose
  • Celebration of the solstice.
Preparations
  • Determine the time of the sunrise and sunset.
  • If doing the full ritual, plan for outdoor activities and gather any needed supplies.

Ritual- Minimalist Version

  • Go outside at sunrise and face the east. Acknowledge the rising sun and what it means to you.
  • At the end of the day, go outside and face the west. Give thanks for the gift of light.

Ritual- Full Version

  • Greet the sunrise by going outside and facing east.  Offer an acknowledgement of the coming light in a way that you feel is appropriate (prayer, yoga, etc.).  Confirm your commitment to celebrating the gift of sunlight throughout the entire day.
  • Spend the day engaged in outdoor activities.  If possible include a picnic or outdoor cooking (a solar oven would be ideal) and offer a part of the meal to any solar deities you feel are appropriate.  Whenever you can, reflect on how the daylight makes your activities possible.
  • If you can do so safely, use the sun to kindle a fire that will be allowed to burn throughout the night.  If this isn’t practical, allow a candle to sit in indirect sunlight during the day to infuse with the sun’s energy.  Light this candle before nightfall and allow it to burn through the night.
  • At sunset, face west and offer thanks for the gift of daylight.
  • As the darkness begins to descend, focus on the fire (or candle) you’ve lit, meditating on ways that you can carry light within yourself even in the deepest darkness.

Modifications and Notes

Outdoor activities can be adjusted to suit the abilities and needs of the individual practitioner.  The point is not to cram as much activity as possible into the day, but to simply get outside and honor the gift of extended daylight hours.

Weather will need to be taken into account, of course, and modifications made as necessary.  In the event that the weather absolutely does not permit outdoor time on the solstice itself, I’ll usually delay until another day when the weather is more suitable.

 

It’s Not Me, It’s Not You, It’s the Ghosts

I knew it was coming, sooner or later, that inevitable moment when Sam would say “We need to talk” all the while avoiding my eye, looking about as if he expected phantoms to pop up in every corner. I won’t rehash it verbatim, but in essence, it was a conversation with which I am familiar.  It’s the conversation that usually begins with some kind of compliment or loving statement like “You’re a really nice person” or “I really like having you in my life” followed by an unspoken “but”.   Eventually, at some point after a lot of hemming and hawing, the speaker gets around to the heart of the matter:  “It’s not you… it’s not me… it’s the ghosts.”   “The ghosts” being some statement about the threshold work that I do.  The conversation ends usually with a severing of ties, either for the reason of non-belief (and the implication that believing is somehow a character flaw or personality disorder) or  of a fear of the work itself.

At the end of the day, the conversation becomes about the speaker’s comfort zones.  Modern western society is, on the whole, uncomfortable with death.  Spirit work tends to be dismissed in popular culture as a form of entertainment that attracts mostly curiosity seekers who want to experience the adrenaline rush of a good scare.  While most people can accept ghosts-as-entertainment, the thought that there might be something more to it frightens them.  Even those who profess a belief in spirits are often happiest when keeping them at arm’s length, usually as the subject of some distant tale to be told rather than something to be dealt with directly.

I am under no illusions that what I do will ever be widely accepted, so I do tend to limit my disclosures when dealing with people on a face-to-face basis to those who absolutely need to know.  Sam was on that short need-to-know list for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is that he’s been on the receiving end of my work.  Samhain brought it home to him that the work that I do is a lot bigger and more encompassing than he  had imagined.  As he put it, it is one thing to hear about it second-hand or get a small glimpse of it, it’s entirely different when the person sitting across the table from you lives and breathes the work.  The “enormity” of it is not something that he’s equipped to deal with right now. I recognize that and would rather absent myself from his life than be a source of consternation when he’s already facing so many other challenges.

A long time ago, I made the decision that I would answer these conversations with understanding rather than resistance. There is no argument that I can put forward when someone tells me that they cannot cope with who I am or what I do. I am what I am and the work that calls to me is the work that I am meant to do above all else.  It is work that springs, not from some morbid desire to dwell in shadows and dark places, but from a well of love, compassion, and duty.  It fulfills me in a way that nothing else does.  I cannot change that aspect of myself for the comfort of others, nor can I cease  my work to spare the feelings of one person.  Letting go, and doing so as graciously as possible, is the only solution that I’ve found that limits the pain involved in severing ties.

I’m not entirely sure why I felt the need to put all of this into words.  This post is perhaps one part apology to someone who will be hurt and angry that I did not fight to keep Sam in my life, one part warning for those who take up threshold work with any seriousness that there’s more than one way to lose someone in doing this work, and one part recording of where I wander as I tread my path.  In any case, there it is, ghosts and all.