The question of safety: part two, planning and running an event

As promised, here’s part two of my post on ritual safety from the organiser/priestess/etc. point of view, (part one, focusing on the participant point of view is over here.) I should note my experience here: besides priestessing for various and assorted rituals over the past few years, I’ve also been on our local Pagan Pride board for the last three years. Situations of concern have been very limited in both places (a few people feeling faint, a few times someone had trouble coming back from meditation, etc. over the course of at least 100 rituals) and I think that a lot of that is due to thoughtful planning and awareness. That said, I haven’t seen everything, and I definitely welcome other thoughts and suggestions in comments.

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The question of safety

Today, I’d like to talk about ritual safety. And there’s a particular reason I want to talk about this. Many people reading are probably already aware of the deaths of three people due to an extremely dangerous sweat lodge set up at a New Age training in Sedona run by James Ray.

One of my favorite blogs, Making Light, posted a fantastic analysis of many of the issues involved (practical, philosophical, and everything in between). One reason I was so glad to see a detailed post go up there, however, was because another of that blog’s contributors, Jim Macdonald, is (besides being a SF author) a wilderness EMT who’s been doing a long series of occasional posts about various medical calamities. One of the things both writers do a great job of is showing others what people can do that’s actually helpful in avoiding crises when possible, spotting problems early, and giving the best possible chance for the best outcome if they still happen.

The comment threads on Making Light run long (hundreds of comments are pretty common), but I encourage taking the time to read them: the community culture (and some clear moderation when needed) keep them very useful, coherent, and meaningful (even the thread-drift is handy). In this case, there are more links to supporting information and a great discussion of other ritual and spiritual safety issues throughout. (There is also a great thread on the Pagan news blog, The Wild Hunt that’s worth reading)

However, all of this got me thinking about issues of ritual safety in the Pagan community, and I thought it might be useful to put some of my thoughts into electrons. Continue reading

The question of ‘sending energy’

I’ve been in discussion in the last day with someone who asked others to send energy on 9/11 to help solve problems in the Middle East. And I realised why these requests bother me (and why I don’t do things that way).

In short: I think that a vague general ‘send energy to help really big vague cause’ is equivalent to walking to a lake, pouring in a cup of water, and expecting it to end a drought. If just a few people do it, you don’t get very far. But even if a thousand or a million people do it – you might have some more water in the lake, but you still have a drought. You haven’t solved the underlying problem. Instead, you have a bunch of people who’ve spent time and energy doing one thing – and so couldn’t spend that time and energy doing something that would have a more direct benefit on the world. (Our time, and the number of things we can do in that time, is a finite number, of course.)

As I said in reply to this particular discussion, I think it’s a lot more useful to focus on the things I most directly affect.

This has guided me to work in education (where adults can have a lot of influence on the next generation – both directly with the students they work with, and more broadly as those students grow up and talk to other people.) But you can also have a substantial effect through volunteer work in the local community – or just plain conversations with family and friends about the issues that concern you.

One of the things I like about this approach that you get direct feedback – when the energy you’re pouring out is personal and close to home – about how well it’s working. You can see a direct change in the world around you (or not) and adjust what you’re doing until it’s the change you want. That goes whether you’re sending out energy, or doing physical tasks.

I’ll give one recent example: over the summer, I rearranged my library. (My, in the sense that it’s the one I’m responsible for, as a teacher librarian at a school.) I wanted to create a more intentional sense of space use, and to avoid a couple of ongoing issues. That’s a physical action – but it’s rooted in a desire to change the energy of the place, and to direct the kinds of intentional work I want there (things that are a lot more fuzzy and indirect.)

And yet, despite those things being indirect, I’ve had *many* comments (from both faculty and students) about how much they love the new space. Not from everyone, of course. (A few students have been put out that the corner I can’t see from my desk no longer has tables, and instead has shelving). But in general, people have been very enthusiastic – and more to that, the noise levels and traffic patterns have worked out the way I hoped. (Lots of quiet conversations, but not tons of people being purely social, or distracting others.)

But I also recognise, that at this point in the school year, I don’t have a lot of ‘spare’ energy. I’ve been working 50 and 55 hour weeks. I’m still getting my sleep schedule down so that I get enough sleep before I wake up at 5:30. I’ve been coming home tired, with my brain full, and my energy at low ebb – because I’m spending a lot of my energy and attention getting my work year off to the best possible start, and doing my best to support the students and faculty I work with.

That leaves very little energy left to send out vaguely with no particular direction.

And doing so, in fact, makes me wary. Besides the fact that I don’t actually thing it’s terribly effective, one of my first jobs as a priestess is to take care of myself – because no one’s going to do it for me. It’s up to me to make sure I eat a sensible diet and get enough sleep. It’s up to me to get some exercise in there. And it’s up to me to make sure I don’t drain myself to the point of uselessness unless it’s truly a critical need.

The past few weeks, I’ve been able to do a good job at work (though I find my concentration disappearing rapidly at the end of the day sometimes, no matter how much I try to get it back.) I’ve been able to keep my home mostly clean (though I have some cleaning to do today.) I’ve been able to check in with friends and have some enjoyable social time.

But I also know I need to take care of myself, or I won’t be able to do all of that next week. And the week after. And so on. (And I have some things – like our upcoming Pagan Pride weekend – that are going to demand more and more energy from me between now and the event in early October.)

And I’m also aware of some other things. H1N1 has started going around at the school I work at (and as a librarian, I’m particularly prone to exposure.) Exhaustion does a number on your immune system. That long-term management of chronic conditions (asthma and migraines) means I need to be extra careful not to drain my reserves (especially in the fall, which is my worst season for allergies.) And I need to balance the shielding and personal energy management that being around a lot of teenagers with strong emotions tends to require for me.

Which means that “send general energy to a vague cause” is not only not high on my list of things to do, it’s not even on the list at all. It almost never is, unless I’m in a situation where I actually have excess energy (and the attention and time to direct it properly) which .. well, rarely happens. A couple of times a year, maybe.

Instead, I’m going to keep doing the stuff that’s closer to me, that I can see a direct impact in, so that I can use my energy, my focus, my attention, my time in a way that has as much impact as possible. And where I can adjust and refine what I’m doing so that it’s as effective as possible. I certainly continue to do things like communicate desires to my elected officials, or to encourage and support places that produce greater understanding of people from other cultures or places on the planet. But most of what I do is closer to home, and those more distant things are things that have a clear direction, specific desire, and a well-defined goal.

Little bits of techno-magic

I touched on some of this in my post about my new job – but I wanted to come back to it.

I’m a librarian, an infovore, and I consider being able to manage information one of the greatest forms of power. This means I’m on and around computers all day – and that I tend to build in little tiny pieces of ways to redirect my attention where I can. Here’s some of my ongoing and recent ones.

(I’ll note here that I use a Mac at home – in this case, a shiny new MacBook, which is why I’ve been thinking about this. I use a PC running XP at work, and work requires 5 different sets of passwords for various things.)

Music:

I create playlists in my iTunes for all sorts of different things: sabbats and elements, but also for particular kinds of working. For the long-term job ones, I used songs that were about things important to me. (Love of learning, sharing information, giving people tools to make informed choices, connection in community, etc.)

Desktop images:

I pick images for my computer desktop that reflect what I want in my world at the moment. (Right now, they’re very simple blue backgrounds from Marmalade Moon because I wanted something simple, but I’m also very fond of the art at Digital Blasphemy . I pick them based on my focus, on what I’m using that computer for, and on something that reminds me of beauty and attention to detail whenever I look at it.

The computer name.

I name my technology. (For people who think this is silly, I’ll say that I’ve had tremendously good luck with hardware over the last nearly 25 years I’ve been using computers. Stuff has occasionally failed, but it’s always been recoverable and I’ve had plenty of warning. Whether or not the two are related is hard to determine, but it doesn’t seem to hurt.)

I name my car, my iPod (a bad pun: her name is Polyhymnia, and she contains mostly Pagan chants and other related music much of the time), my computer. I pick names that reflect my hopes for the use: my previous computer is Esoterica, and my new laptop is musica humana (the term for the human music, the harmony between human spirit and the music of the universe, as opposed to musica mundana/musica universalis (the music of the spheres) or musica instrumentalis (instrumental music, a step away from that union, and considered more ‘mechanical’ in classical theory.)

Yes, it’s music-geeky, but it’s also a constant reminder to myself of where I want my focus to be. (In this stage of my life, using the music as a springboard for everything else I want to do. Everything comes back to the Song and the heartbeat.)

Passwords:

Speaking of typing all the time, my personal passwords generally reflect a current goal or interest. So, for example, when I was really hoping that the job would work out in my favor, I used ‘fruition’ for several passwords. (It is no longer any of my passwords, I rush to say.) It’s a great use for passwords that need to change every couple of months – I found that picking a related term helps me remember them.

You can do the same thing with an affirmation or a favorite line of poetry. Take the first letter of every word, change a few for numbers or symbols, and you have a great (and very strong) password. For example, if I were to use the following:

I am capable and competent and love my job

I might condense that first to: IACACALMJ
If I wanted to make it more secure, I might do: !AC&C&LMJ

Easy for me to remember if I say the phrase to myself – but hard for someone else to guess.

Technology and the coven

So, my day job as a librarian has a certain amount of spillover into how I priestess – I’m very committed to connecting people to information they care about, and this goes just as much for the coven setting as for the library.

But how to do it? Sitting this week at a library technology conference, I realised I really wanted to talk about some of the great resources out there, and how they can be used to make group work a little easier.

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