Life in Absentia

I just looked at the date of my last post and gave a little sigh.  Eleven weeks since last I posted here, yet I’d hardly paid attention to the lapse and only realized it when someone finally asked where I’ve been.  I’ve been living mostly in absentia, which unfortunately is not some underdeveloped up-and-coming corner of eastern Europe.  Life has been getting accomplished but without my being present for it in any meaningful way.   I’m in the process of re-grounding myself in my own skin and becoming more actively engaged in my life again but it’s been a slow process.

I cannot recall if I mentioned here that I’d decided to seek counseling in the aftermath of Sam’s hospitalization.  After a couple of false starts with counselors who weren’t the right fit,  I found someone who has actually helped beyond my wildest imaginings.  In our second session, he suggested that there might actually be something other than wonky brain chemistry causing the dysthymia, the constant fatigue, the night time panic attacks and anxiety, the memory issues, anemia, etc.  It’s taken a few weeks to get a diagnosis but it turns out he was right.  The bad news:  a sleep disorder that’s potentially life threatening and that has likely gone undiagnosed most of my adult life.  The good news:  The condition is easily treated and I’m becoming a functional human being again.

I want to catch up on the ritual calendar posts for April through June (and very shortly July), but those will wait until another day.  Same with catching up on all the random spiritual things that have cropped up over the last few weeks.  I will be making an effort to post more than once a season, in any case, and will do my best not to let months elapse in silence.

 

 

Breaking the Cycle

“Maybe I have been here before.
I know this room. I’ve walked this floor.
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I’ve sen your flag on the marble arch.
Love is not a victory march.
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”
– Leonard Cohen, “Hallejuah”


Since this refrain has been looping through my head all week, perhaps it’s  fitting introduction to this month’s Cauldron Blog Project theme: Calendars, Cycles, and Patterns.  While I love the idea of spiritual calendars and finding patterns in my work, there are some cycles that are actually detrimental to my practice.  The fact that I’m walking around with the above song stuck in my head is a fair indicator that I’m deeply enmeshed in one of those cycles – one in which I find myself scrambling for any scraps of self-love and self-worth that I can find.

The last few weeks have been difficult.  Things that are happening now carry the echo of old hurts.  Patterns of behavior that began with one or another painful event in the past are being repeated now, much to the detriment of myself and others who would be a part of my life.   Seeing these patterns reemerge has given me the chance to see that the tools I used to cope at the time were not – and still are not – the ones that I actually needed to process those events in a way that was healthy.  I’ve persevered, but in doing so, caused lasting harm in other ways.  In trying to deal with pain in my own ridiculously stubborn and independent way, I have closed myself off from meaningful connections with others, nursed a deep-seated distrust of others’ motives, and created a mental framework that does not allow me to either love or trust deeply.  Yes, a few people did some pretty awful things to create this outlook, but I’ve come to realize that while I cannot change what happened, I could have reacted to it in ways that were less self-destructive.

So what to do to break the cycles that are detrimental?  Simple: Learn to trust again.  Find a way to love that is sustainable and nurturing.  Ask for and accept help when I need it instead of insisting that I can handle everything on my own.  Communicate what’s happening below the surface, particularly when it involves others.  Focus on the rewards of opening myself to others rather than the risks and dangers.  Cope with the fallout of what’s happened without withdrawing or shutting down. Admit my own shortcomings and failings without endlessly being plagued with self-doubt.  Accept that what has happened cannot be altered, that I can only change the way I react to it. Be wholly present in this world when not actively engaged in shadow or threshold work.  Find a way to accept that not having all of these skills already does not make me in fatally flawed or unlovable.

Alright, maybe this isn’t so simple.  One step at a time, I think, beginning with enlisting the help of others.  I did reach out to other people this week , to ask for general emotional support and to schedule counseling.  It doesn’t like much, does it?  Such small steps, such giant leaps, to break the cycle.

Solstice Reflections – Making It Work

Belated solstice blessings to those who celebrate the changing of the seasons.

Some of the lovely folks over at The Cauldron celebrated the holiday with the annual Up All Night: A Technopagan Winter Solstice celebrations. Those with far more energy and better capacity to go without sleep than I possess stayed up until dawn to celebrate the longest night of the year (with support from Southern Hemisphere friends celebrating the beginning of summer).

I’m a little bit envious  of those with the stamina and ability to stay awake through the long night. As much as I love the idea of staying up for the longest night of the year, I’ve learned over the years to temper my enthusiasm  with the knowledge that doing so will wreak havoc on my sleep patterns, already badly skewed by dysthymia and seasonal stress.

Each of us has unique challenges in how we celebrate our paths.  For me, the challenge is one of balancing the work that I must do with the health issues that might be aggravated by that work.  This time of year throws up some obstacles that require me to scale back on my celebrations and ritual work – the cocktail of dysthymia, holiday stress, and lack of sunlight have the potential to be disastrous for me.  This means being vigilant about prioritizing everything that I do and being aware when my ability to handle things wanes. Staying up all night was out of the question. So I did a little ritual, stayed up a bit later than usual, and acknowledged the changing season to the best of my capabilities.   Next year, perhaps there will be more, perhaps less, but there will be, at the least, an acknowledgement of the turning of the season.

PBP Week 45 – Words and Worlds Within

Brains, those masses of tissue and blood in our heads, I can grok.  I’ve held one in my hands* and I understand them from biological and anatomical perspectives.  What I have difficulty grasping  is how we interact with our own brains, that is, how our minds work.

The mind is an extraordinary and sometimes baffling place.  Mine  allows me to remember all twenty lines of Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” which I learned for a class  in 1986 . That same mind steadfastly refuses to recall where I parked my car twenty minutes before at the shopping center.   As I said, extraordinary and baffling… with dashes of wonderment and annoyance thrown in for good measure.

Our minds can create entire universes within our skull cases.  Some would argue that those universes aren’t created in our minds, but exist independently in reality and  are merely perceived by our minds if we open ourselves to them.  We could talk about astral spaces, about inner spaces, about travelling or journeying in our heads, about telepathy, about dreams, about nightmares, about hallucinations, about visions and visitations.  We could talk about those things, because all have to do with how our mind works (or possibly doesn’t work). Instead, though, I’d rather focus on these questions:  How much weight do we give to what goes on in our own heads? Should we believe what our minds tell us, particular when we are talking about realities and worlds that may not exist outside our skull cases?

 

My Perspective (YMMV)

For me, I find that it’s necessary to do a lot of mental filtering and fact-checking before I accept anything as a truth or reality.  It isn’t that I’m closed-minded about extraordinary/paranormal/mystical/etc. experiences, just the opposite, in fact. The problem is that I have far too much going on in my head and only part of it even vaguely resembles ‘truth’ or ‘reality’.   Ever heard the saying “Don’t believe everything you think”?  I’m pretty sure that one was created for people like me.

It’s almost embarrassing the amount of garbage that goes through my head.  First of all, I have a vivid imagination, so that a single thing or event can trigger an entire fictional story in my head.  A leaf drifting slowly to the ground becomes an airship for a family of tiny refugees driven from their arboreal home by an invasion of  an ant army.  A shoe abandoned in an odd place warps itself into the story of a kidnapping by time-travellers seeking to stop a future catastrophe.  It’s a great tool when I have my writer’s hat on, but proves not so useful when I need to look at something objectively.

Second, there are the issues – my issues – with anxiety and depression.  My brain spouts some very nasty and negative things.  These are messages that, if I choose to believe them, would leave me completely unable to cope with life.  If you have no idea what I mean, imagine that you have someone in your life who constantly verbally abuses and berates you.  Now imagine that this abusive person spews abuse and negativity in a voice that sounds just like your own.   Imagine further, that you have no option to walk away, that this person is with you 24/7 and can  speak at any time both in your waking hours and in your dreams.  Got all that?  Then you understand, at least theoretically, what depression and anxiety are like for me.  What goes through my head as a result of these illnesses is utter and complete garbage and I have learned to recognize it as such. Still, it’s there and must be dealt with if it tries to assert itself as reality.

Third, I simply think too much, about too many things.  If someone directs me to clear my mind, they might as well tell me to pluck the stars from the sky (and just using that turn of a phrase led to this whole stream of thought that involved Gaiman’s Stardust, MIB, and interstellar travel – see what I mean?!?!).  There are always thoughts, big and small, streaming through my brain.  What I’ve learned about it is this: Not everything that goes through my head is valid, believable or worthy of the time and energy that it occupies.

That last bit lies at the heart of how this whole rambling relates to spiritual paths, so I’m going to say it again for good measure:

Not everything that goes through my head is valid, believable or worthy of the time and energy that it occupies.

One of the hardest learning curves in my life has been grasping this concept.   I’ve come to recognize that many of the difficulties along my spiritual path have centered around this particular struggle to discern what in my head is worthy of belief and what is worthy of the rubbish bin.  Somehow, I think that this will  always be a challenge for me.

A Broader Perspective

For most of us following an eclectic pagan path, we don’t recognize any single book or teaching as our ‘gospel truth’.  We do recognize however that there are some fairly extraordinary things that happen in our universe and that some of those things happen within our own head.

However, it’s important to realize that the human mind is capable of hallucinations, deceptions and lies, just as much as it is capable of revealing universal truths. We have a responsibility to ourselves, and to the gods that we follow, to attempt to discern between the ramblings of our own minds and what is important, valuable, and true.  If our eclecticism is to be useful to us, we must be able to make those distinctions, lest we end up with an unmanageable and conflicting hodge-podge of beliefs.

 

*In case anyone gets too worried about the holding a brain comment: I am not an aspiring Frankenstein conducting experiments in my laboratory. Instead, I am merely over-educated, squandering part of my undergrad years with human anatomy, physiology, and forensics coursework.

Eclipsed

Last night, my little corner of the world had the good fortune of relatively clear skies for viewing the lunar eclipse. For the astronomy geek residing in my brain, the eclipse provided a glimpse into the workings of the heavens.

For another part of me, the event provided me with a new perspective on things. Friends and regular blog readers have by now figured out that the last few months have been rough. Sorrow and struggle have been daily companions and whenever I feel that I am about to part company with these two, they borrow a little deeper into my soul.

Life has been filled with darkness as of late, but the eclipse has reminded me that the darkness is only temporary. Like the moon, I now travel in darkness, shadowed by something greater than myself, the gravity of which I cannot escape. Like the eclipse, this darkness is only a temporary state. In time, I will again stand apart from darkness and reflect the light and beauty of the universe. This darkness is only an impermanent shadow, from which my soul will emerge full again.

Random Thoughts – Putting a Window in that Wall

When life is not going well, I tend to withdraw into myself and put up barriers that would make a certain wall in China look less than Great. I am a Cancer after all and we excel at the fine art of retreating into our shell in times of turmoil. We also tend to snap at those who would try to come near us during those times, often whether they deserve it or not. Cancers have been known to snap at their dearest friends when feeling vulnerable; never mind what we do to those who we hold less dear. It’s not right, but it is how we sometimes cope.

I have to admit that, in recent weeks (ok, since October) I’ve been playing the role of the crab a little too well. Those who know me well are aware of all things that conspired between Andy and myself, some of which I’m just not willing to share publicly. Sometimes I feel like I was handed a couple of very precious gifts only to have them taken back and smashed to bits in front of me. I miss him and I miss the life that I only had a mere moment of. Aside from love and loss, life in general just hasn’t been very kind lately. So I’ve been slowly building layers of brick and mortar, withdrawing from my own life.

Closing doors and shutting out people is a well-honed skill for me. I excel at it after a childhood of constantly moving and a lifetime of battling depression. It’s a good skill to have, unless of course, you close all the doors and shut everyone out. I’ve been edging closer and closer to doing just that.

Fortunately, I have a couple of friends and one guardian angel who will not stand for it. If the walls start getting too high, they start taking bricks down as fast as I can put them up. Between them, they always find some way to bring me out of myself. When simply saying “Stop behaving this way”, one of them always manages to come up with a more subtle way to bring me out of my shell. This time they did it by giving me several pokes to check in with an online group where I had previously been fairly active.

After much resistance, I finally took a quick peek at the group. Someone who reminds me too much of myself (a depressed hermit crab!) had posted that day for the first time in weeks, a post full of deep pain, sorrow, and hurt. It was what I needed to snap me out of my self-imposed isolation and into action. It is impossible to stay withdrawn when I know that someone else needs desperately words of encouragement and acceptance. The geas to comfort and aid those I can is too strong and ingrained in me to be ignored. So I put a window into the wall I was building. I’m not quite ready to completely emerge, but I am ready to let in some light and air. Thank you to the people who helped me do that; you cannot know how much it means to me. I thank my Lady every day for putting you all in my life.