Being open to change

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When you’re looking at any kind of introspective, internal, transformative work, you should have space in your life to do it. If you’re already in the midst of other major changes, you may want to wait before diving deeply into learning a new religion, or especially in seeking out an initiatory path. Those other changes may be amazing and wonderful – but you’ll get a lot more out of all of them all if you don’t overload yourself.

In other words, when we seek to change ourselves, we should probably plan as if we’re going to succeed, and leave space to learn about and integrate those changes, rather than trying desperately to juggle too many things in the air.

Seeking change, and coping when it comes calling:

Any time we seek out change, we create the potential for more change, for more shifts in our lives: that’s true whether we’re talking about a new friend, a new job, moving to a new place, or a new religion. But it’s even more true when we pick something that’s deliberately designed to create certain kinds of change – and that goes for most things that focus on making us more self-aware, whether that’s pursuing an initiatory tradition, or whether that involves counseling or other approaches.

That means that there’s a good chance that the tidy little boxes we’ve fit our life into may start shifting and toppling over, or just not fitting our stuff right. On one hand, this is a totally normal part of growing and learning. On the other hand, it’s not.. well, tidy. Or predictable.

Many people going through initiatory work find that there are significant changes in their lives, in who they spend time with, what they do in their free time, what they’re comfortable doing as a job, even changes in their expression of relationship orientation or gender identity. Many people find that they make changes to their food, exercise, or other daily life choices (like where they live, and how much stuff they own.)

These changes are often a very practical and logical outgrowth of learning more about yourself, and about focusing in on particular values, interests, and goals. (One note: a group or teacher shouldn’t force these changes on you, though healthy groups may ask you to consider your habits, past choices, and related things in these areas, and see if they still fit what you want or value.)

Your available time will almost certainly change.

You may give up some hobbies or interests to have time to spend with a group, in religious practice, or in personal study and learning. You may pick up entirely new and different hobbies.  Either of these may mean you see  lot less of some friends or acquaintances. When you’re free may change – if you need to be at a ritual at a particular point, you might not be able to stay out as late the night before, or go to other events that same day.

Your friendships and relationships may change.

Some people will grow with your changes, and continue to be good friends or partners or lovers. Other people may struggle with this, or be hurt (or hurtful) over your changes. Some people end up divorcing or leaving long-term relationships. Some have major breaks with lifelong friends. Some completely change their social circle. Others find other solutions, keeping old friends and finding new ones. This is great when it happens – but since friendship is a two-way street, you can’t be sure that will be true for you.

If a lot of your friendships were based around doing things together, you might end up feeling lonely unless and until you find new friends in activities you’re now interested in. You may decide you have less time for friends who focus on other things, or who don’t respect your choices and boundaries. You may have more trouble with family gatherings (if your family isn’t comfortable with your choice, or you don’t share any of it with them). You may grow distant from people you used to be close to.

Your priorities may change.

You may find that movies, books, or entertainment you used to enjoy becomes frustrating, upsetting, or just plain not interesting any more. You may decide you want to spend less time watching TV, and more time gardening, cooking, or on another hobby. You may rearrange your finances so you can make different food choices, or housing choices, or employment choices. And all of these things may ripple out in other parts of your life.

What does this mean?

As a result of a lot of experience, most initiatory-focused groups have learned that some advance warning can be a good idea – and that people already going through a vast amount of change may want to sort that out before they add more to their plate. It takes time to integrate new things into your life. Having too many new things can overwhelm you (and there’s increasing research about some of the long-term health and well-being consequences not being so great, too.)

If any of the things in the next section apply to you, think about whether now is the right time to commit to an initiatory training setting, or whether it might be better to wait until that thing is more stable in your life. Many of the things I’ve listed are great – they’re just really hard on you if they’re all stacked in the same 12 month period.

When to rethink:

It’s entirely possible to explore Paganism in a variety of ways. Likewise, there are times in your life when you may not want to (or do best) adding in more intensive practices or focus (this includes initiatory training, but also intensive focus on your own.)

If the things below are part of your life right now, you may want to rethink your timing on one or more pieces. You’ll notice that most of these things affect some combination of your available time, your available energy, and existing (or upcoming) commitments you may have in your life. That’s because that combination is particularly challenging to navigate.

Beginning or ending a formal education program.
Beginning because you’ll need to adapt to a new schedule, deadlines, how long it takes you to do things. Ending, because it often means you’re looking for a new job or other significant changes in your life.

Beginning a substantially different job. (i.e. one with a lot more responsibility, different kinds of work, etc.)
Better to get settled in your work before adding one more thing. It usually takes 6-12 months to settle into a new job and get comfortable if you’re doing tasks that require a lot of specific knowledge about your job.

Being pregnant, or wanting to become pregnant in the near future (6-12 months).
Pregnancy is a mystery all its own, and you’ll likely find at some point during the pregnancy that you’ll want and need to focus on it (in addition, your energy levels, willingness to spend time away from the comforts of your home, etc. may vary a lot.) There are also some ritual and other practices that may not be a good fit during pregnancy.

Having ongoing health issues that aren’t stable:
While ritual and magical work can be very helpful in supporting health, formal training or intensive focus may not be a good fit just yet. You may be extra tired, dealing with finding the right medication dose, or figuring out side effects, all of which can impact magical and initiatory work.This also goes if your partner/spouse/someone you live with is having major medical stuff going on, too.

(There’s a reason why dealing with chronic illness is sometimes described as ‘third shift’ work after employment and basic household needs: it can take a lot of time and mental energy to juggle appointments, information, and questions, as well as to adjust to changes in what you can expect from your body and mind.)

Very tight restrictions on your schedule, available evenings, etc.
If you’ve only got one night you could possibly meet with your teacher or group, you may want to wait until your schedule is a little more open. Remember that you’ll also need time for learning and work on your own (whether that’s assignments or practice or daily devotions. (If you’re learning on your own, this one is less of an issue.)

A major shift in a relationship:
Divorce or the break-up of a longtime relationship where you live together, in particular. But also if  you’re looking at planning a major wedding, or if moving in together is a big production for some reason (integrating pets, kids, competing schedules and needs, etc.) All of these things take time to settle.

What kinds of changes can more easily be balanced?

Fortunately, other kinds of changes can be a bit easier to balance.

Moving, buying a house, etc.
While these can be big changes in your life, the major drain on your time and energy is fairly short, and you often have a reasonable amount of flexibility in exactly when something needs to happen, so you can plan ahead to avoid conflicts with your training. (Or take a very short break, if you need to – under a month, for example.)

Starting a similar job:
While starting a new job brings some challenges, a job that’s pretty similar to your previous one will have a lot less new stuff to learn than something that’s a major change in location, duties, or schedule.

Handling ongoing health issues you’re familiar with:
The thing about chronic health issues is that you do at least start learning what you can expect, and how things change from day to day, week to week, and season to season. Once you’ve got an idea of those, it’s much easier to figure out what you can commit to in terms of group work or training.

What should you make space for?

Now that we’ve talked about different things that might also be taking up parts of your time and energy, what do you need to have available if you’re considering group work or initiatory training (the first point here) or learning on your own?

Time with the group.

Some things will be scheduled and you will be expected to be there (rituals, classes, etc.) For most groups, this will likely be somewhere between 3-5 hours most weeks, but with some possible longer requirements (for Sabbats, all-day classes, etc.) depending on how the group schedules. Healthy groups tend to schedule well in advance to give people time to make whatever arrangements they need.

If you’re travelling to meet up with a group, you’ll obviously have fewer mid-week schedules, but might be there all weekend every month (or two, or three) instead.

Practice and learning on your own

Some things need to be done, but you can decide when to do them (practice at home, reading, other assignments) How much time and focus this takes depends on the path and group, but being able to focus on a daily practice for 10-20 minutes most days, plus some amount of other reading and conversation is probably a good plan.

Things that need prompt attention

Some things will come up that will want prompt attention. You will have an experience, need to talk to someone soon, have a breakthrough that changes how you look at a part of your life. These are often very good things, but they may mean you’ll want to talk to someone sooner than the next time you meet with the group, or need to spend time sorting it out. That means setting aside time for a conversation whenever the person you want to talk to is free, which may not be at your ideal time. Or it might mean having to find time to do extra research, ask questions online, or talk to a close friend to help you sort through emotions.

Longer, slower changes.

Some other changes may float to the surface and take time to sort out. You may have a few nights of odd dreams, shifts in your values around your lifestyle (which foods you want to eat, how you want to spend your free time), and other things like that.

Think of it like a journey:

Just like when we travel, there are some places (and times) it’s easier to take a break, and some it’s harder, the same thing is true with a religious journey.

If you’ve ever taken a long car trip, you know what I mean. There’s a big difference between stopping at a rest stop with a lovely little restaurant, and a reasonable hotel than there is stopping at one of those rest stops that’s just bathrooms and vending machines and maybe the nicest view for fifty miles.

That means that some places are easier to stop than others in our religious journey. While it’s certainly possible to pause or take varying amounts of time at a given stage, the process can have a rhythm of its own. Once you get started looking at the world in a different way, or learning new skills, it can be hard to stop.

Experiences build on experiences, too. Becoming more aware of varying kinds of information might make you more open to sensing energy, for example, which means you’ll need time to learn how to integrate that information or learn skills to help you filter or understand what you’re taking in.

Obviously, things do come up. People in your life – or you – may have a health issue come up. You may need to change jobs, or go back to school, or care for a loved one in a way you hadn’t anticipated. And healthy groups and teachers will definitely understand that, and find ways to work with it.

During the times of change, you can certainly explore a potential group, attend public rituals, open classes, and other events. Just hold off on making a substantial commitment to a group until either your life has space for more change, or you’ve had a detailed and thorough conversation with the teacher or group leadership about how to make everything work out for all of you.

[last edited December 26, 2016]

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