An odd anniversary

Three years ago, effectively (technically November 30th, but it was the Monday after Thanksgiving), I woke up feeling just as lousy after 5 days off as before I started.

The next six months were hell. Two months to get a diagnosis. Two more before it even started to kick in. Two more before I could see the faint glimmerings of myself behind the cloud of cottonwool and exhaustion. My job did not renew my contract.

It turns out that was an excellent thing. It took a year of being unemployed to begin to recover. I job hunted throughout, but these days, I am so very grateful no one hired me before my current job. I had a year of being able to sleep in until I woke, of taking a 3 hour nap more afternoons than not – but still being able to get things done, at my own pace.

(During that year, I turned out 4-5 detailed and individualised cover letters and other applications a week. Oh, and planned a Pagan convention, created my Seeking site, did a bunch of teach-myself-new-tech projects, and a fair bit else. But there was a lot of napping, and resting involved.)

And then I moved to Maine, and it’s taken me a year and some to feel like I have an idea where my limits are. I’m now at a point where I can work a full day, and do good things at work, and come home and have the brain and focus to write. Or clean for 30 minutes without feeling completely wiped out at the end.

It’s taken a long time to recover. It’s made me so very aware of the friends I can count on, and the ones I can’t. Of trusting my intuition looking for solutions in unlikely places. (I remain convinced that my Feldenkrais lessons saved my sense of self in ways I can’t begin to describe.)

There are still challenges: my religious practices (the formal stuff, not the little stuff that’s warp and weft of my life) has not yet recovered. The thought of organising public ritual exhausts me still. (Though I’m dancing around what it would take to do a Pagan coffee-and-talk gathering once a month.) The same thing is true with my social life: I like my co-workers (and am closer friends with one), but a lot of my social interaction is with friends in more distant places. I want to fix some of that this year.

And it’s taken a long time for other things, too. To not flinch and bury myself when I know I’m behind on work. (Because I now have a boss who is very reasonable and reassuring. And where I can get feedback for the asking, rather than meetings once a month that are prone to rescheduling and interruptions and other stresses.)

But this weekend, I was rereading Lord Peter, the collection of short stories by Dorothy L. Sayers.

There’s one in there, where – look, I’m spoiling a story that’s been in print since the 30s, okay? – that I’d not read since before my diagnosis. Of a woman, hypothyroid like me, and what happens when she doesn’t get the tiny bit of hormone she needs each day. And what it’s like when she does. The dawning of a life, again, that seemed loss. And the dawning of having the energy to engage with the world again.

I woke up today feeling not-great (I have the horrible cold that’s going around, I’ve had it since last Monday, and I missed a Thanksgiving gathering I’d really been looking forward to. My week was mostly sitting on the couch knitting and attempting to nap.) But I also know that I’m getting better, and it’s temporary.

Three years ago, I was not so sure.  And worse, not sure how to fix it, and who might be a help.

Thanks, again, to those who were. (You know who you were.)

One spirit in the dark

There’s a chant out there from the Spiral Rhythm CD I Am – that goes

One spirit in the dark, like a candle wavers.
Many spirits joined as one, burn with the power of the blazing sun.
There is strength in community, the circle empowers you and me.
The circle binds yet sets us free, as we will, so mote it be.

I listened tonight, as I walked home from my evening reference shift at work (random music shuffle is a form of divination and sometimes consolation) while I was thinking about a recent post on the blog Making Light which essentially asks “What happens when new spiritual experience opens up under our feet, and we’re not sure what to do with it?”

My answer is far too long for a comment there – and I knew this before I even started typing – so I figured it would be a fine post here instead. (Look! This blog still exists! Really!)

Continue reading

Echos over time

About half an hour ago, I finished the major work I wanted to do for this year’s Samhain.

It reminded me of one of the powers of tradition. In my tradition, the Samhain ritual has been one we’ve done in much the same way for my time in the tradition (ten years and a bit). Of course, it’s been adapted – for number of people present, for number of people to take roles, for overall energy.

This year, I’m 1500 miles away from others in the tradition. (And in fact, I’ve been in Maine for 13 weeks.) And I’m working by myself, so many of the pieces of my tradition’s practice are simply not going to happen.

And yet, there are ways in which I stepped into ritual tonight, and all the chords of all those rituals were right there with me.

I hear certain music, in the dark, in the midst of ritual, and there is no space but the space of the circle, no time but those shared moments of dark and remembered grief, and yet hope for the coming year, mingled and echoing across the years.

Bites of food in ritual remind me of how amazing ritual foods taste – there is nothing in the world like the first bite of pomegranate on Samhain night, or even of the meat pie that’s been my contribution to ancestor feasts for those ten years. [1]

So what did I do?

Continue reading

Floating, not falling

Still working around to getting enough brain to do a substantial post (or more than that, really) but I’m slowly getting there. (And I have real plans to do one of the meaty posts this weekend.)

The thing I want to talk about right now, though is that I’ve been mulling over my inertia over getting a new solid personal practice going here, and why that is. Some of it has been situational (a stomach bug, wrenching my foot, so that anything that involved movement took longer), and then the cat doing the same thing to herself (different mechanism), so I’ve been worried about her. (She’s doing a lot better.)

But part of it – the part I keep coming back to – is the title of this post.

I keep feeling like I’m floating – and that that floating is okay. I don’t know if I’m the only person who did (okay, still does) this – but given a chance at a sufficiently empty pool, one of my favorite things to do (beyond just floating) is to spin myself. Part of it is making a 360 circle in terms of where the top of my head is pointing in the pool, but the other is simultaneously rotating on my own axis: right shoulder and hip up, over, so I’m face down in the water, then bringing the left shoulder and hip back and up, so I’m facing up again. Repeat until gloriously dizzy, and deeply relaxed. Do not try in anything like a crowded pool.)

It’s that feeling. That there’s a lot going on, but at the same time, everything is settling into place, and what I really need to do is stay out of my own way, and stop overthinking it.

So, y’know, I mostly am. I’m starting to be less overwhelmingly tired after work, up for doing slightly more than keeping up with friends online, some simple knitting, and a lot of computer game playing. One of my classic markers of how well I’m recovered is way down (how long it takes me to get through my morning/evening online space checks: on good days, it’s 30-45 minutes, depending on how much I comment. On slow brain days, it’s 3 times that or worse.)

More soon. But floating. Not falling.

Ten years perspective

About ten years (and two weeks) ago, I went to the first Seeker class with the group I would later join. It met in the back room of a coffee shop that isn’t there anymore, and several of the teachers left the group a few months later for various reasons.

It was not my first introduction to Paganism, or Wiccan-based practice, or magic. After all, I’d been reading fantasy books with characters who were Pagan for quite a while. I’d had some powerful experiences in college that lead me to explore some basic magical concepts like centering and grounding.

And I’d always believed that the Gods were many and varied, notes and strands of melody singing out in the cosmos in infinite combination, as only someone who was raised on daily stories of Greek mythology can.

I’d also taken my time.

I’d been an active Catholic throughout high school and college (after becoming Catholic when my parents returned to Catholicism when I was 13). There was a lot I’d loved about my college Catholic community, in particular, but I also had frustrations. (The role of women in the church. A desire to create ritual, not just facilitate it. A growing certainty that my GLBT and polyamorous friends were not doing something wrong or sinful, but something that was often complicated, given society’s biases, but something that could be and often was joyous, loving, and wonderful.) There are still things I think many Catholics get right, and do wonderful things with – but it’s a place I visit, and chat with, not a place I could live.

I was approaching 25, engaged, working at my second job after college, going to grad school part time. I’d moved halfway across the country the year before, and I’d taken the time to figure out what I wanted out of my religious life.

After a lot of reflection, I knew I was a happier person when structured complex ritual was a part of my life (at least sometimes). I wanted a path that included music in some way. That worked with the polytheistic view of my world. Something that had a cohesive way to explain some of the magical and energetic experiences I’d had. And something that could help me … be better. Do better. Learn more.

I looked at other religions, too. But I kept circling back to some strand of Paganism.

And so, I found myself in the same place as hundreds, thousands of people before me. I’d read some books. I’d browsed Witchvox. I’d wandered and lurked through alt.religion.wicca and alt.religion.wicca.moderated on Usenet, and various mailing lists. I’d gone to a few public rituals in the community, and gotten a better sense of what I really wanted. I’d sent out some emails (embarassing ones, in hindsight, but hey.)

Three separate people ended up pointing me at a particular group, also on my short list from that Witchvox research. And so I said “Eh. Let’s try them first.” And then had to wait until they offered introductory classes at a time that fit with my grad school schedule.

And so, that May, I found myself in that room, with a dozen other people, and four or five people from the group, depending on the week. Over the five classes in the series, the number of students got smaller. (That’s pretty common in things of this kind.) I heard a lot of things I already knew. (Book knowledge has never been the problem for me.) But I was listening, more, to “Is this a place I could see myself? Are they doing things that will stretch me in the right ways?”

I thought they were. And now, ten years later, I’m even more sure of that.

(I should note here: I don’t think my path is everyone’s path. In fact, I think it’s the right fit for very few people. I’m a lot more interested in helping people figure out what their thing is, the thing that makes their spirit sing and dance and delight the way mine has.)

Those ten years have brought amazing changes to me. I got married – and divorced. I dedicated with the group in September, initiated in early 2003, and went on to gather in my second and third degrees. I hived off to form a new group – ok, that one is still in process, because the rest of my life needs to settle. But I look forward to that.

And in between, my life’s shifted and changed. I’ve gained a relationship with two deities very near and dear my heart, in ways that I would never give up, even though I still have a hard time talking about it. And a number of other deity relationships that, while less immensely personal, I treasure and delight in.

I’ve had ritual experiences that fundamentally changed how I viewed the world, in the best possible ways, that gave me more understanding of myself, of what I could offer, of what I could become given a nudge into the void in the right direction.

I’ve had the privilege of being part of other people’s spiritual learning. I taught Seeker classes myself for the better part of four years, was the primary teacher for Dedicant classes for a year, wrote a number of rituals, and have had endless conversations online (as well as writing a lot of supplementary and discursive commentary.) Some of which people say is very useful.

And I’ve been part of other people’s initiations, an experience I always treasure and am humbled by. I’ve also seen other friends move away from Paganism, into paths that call their hearts, and considered it a part of my job as their friend to help them think about that in all the ways that lead to a clear decision, not the one I might prefer.

And somewhere in there, I’ve learned to actually have visuals in my meditations, and explain how I sense and experience energy to people who don’t hear it. I’ve figured out (mostly) how to pace teaching for people who are not like me in how they learn. And I know where a lot more of my own personal sore points and foibles are, and what to do about them so they stay my problem, not someone else’s.

And if the mark of a healthy spiritual life is in the connections it brings me, my life is infinitely richer now than it was those ten years ago. The deity relationships, of course, are a delight, even when they’re also a challenge. My friendships aren’t always local, but they run deep and true and strong. And there are these people, my tradmates, who I don’t always agree with – but who I love, and cherish, and know will always be a part of something dear to me. And while stuff was not always smooth and peaceful around the time I hived, I’m particularly proud of the fact that I’ve kept good relationships with the group I trained with. (And I deeply enjoy visiting them when I get the chance.)

I also look back, from this perspective, and wonder.

I’ve spent five years on the board of a local Pagan project (Twin Cities Pagan Pride), where I was part of the board that took the event to a two day event, got 501(c)3 status in our own right, and most recently have shifted to an outdoor fall festival (the public education part), and a brand new event in the spring focused on creating a space for the Pagan community to come together and share and challenge and learn (that does not involve camping…) That’s pretty neat stuff, all by itself. Helping to create a brand new moment, an event that brought people joy and wonder and learning – that’s what I live for.

I’ve written rituals, and been part of debugging others. I’ve helped friends through major medical and personal difficulty with far more patience and flat out usefulness than I would have ever imagined I had. I’ve held people when they cried, and given them help that let them face challenges in new ways. I’ve written an absurd amount, but every time I write, I get better. I’ve pummelled my brain to figure out a new way to explain something to a student or groupmate who was struggling, and I’ve done my best to figure out how to resolve conflicts in a way that was effective but compassionate.

And I’ve gotten my share of nasty emails, insults, dismissals, and much more. And of course, some places I’ve failed. Some of it well deserved, mind you. (As I noted above, I am not perfect.) And I certainly have my frustrations: with myself, with community issues, with patterns and cycles that I don’t need to repeat. I’ve had friendships change and drift away that I miss and wist for – while knowing that part of that has to do with ways I failed, somehow.

There are two things I most treasure about my religous and spiritual life these days, and a couple of others that continue to delight me.

First, that I have (as you might guess given that the word ‘phoenix’ shows up in both group names in the tradition) a number of tools for self-transformation and growth that I can use to change things in my life. That doesn’t mean those changes are instant (the past year is painful evidence of that). And it doesn’t mean I’m in control of the process.

But I feel like my training, my group work, my tradition, has given me experience enough to walk to the edge of the cliff, and jump off, and trust I’ll find my wings before I hit the ground. Not that I do that carelessly, of course. But I did it for each of my three initiations (just as it was part of the process of finding a group in the first place). And it’s lead to my facing a complicated and challenging job search, and some miserable health circumstances with a lot more grace and dignity than I would have thought even five years ago.

Doesn’t mean everything goes my way. But it does mean I tend to be less miserable in the process.

Second, I delight in having a wide range of tools at my disposal. Sabbat ritual? Simple. Meditation to help with a particular issue? Probably have one I can edit up fast. Daily or regular personal practices? Got a good sense of what might and might not help for a given situation. Ability to create my own solid, meaningful, effective ritual space and do what I need to? Yep. And a fair bit more.

It’s not that I know everything – but I feel pretty competent in a general sort of way. (What an elder deep in my affection refers to as being a professional trained stunt priestess.) It’s a lot like my other vocation, my profession. I don’t know everything there is to know about being a librarian, either. But I have a pretty good idea of what kinds of stuff I don’t know, and where it might come back to bite me, and what to do about that if it starts becoming relevant.

And that’s a pretty amazing place to be living. Lots of people don’t get here.

Then there’s the delight. Those perfect shivers of time where everything clicks in a ritual, and the chant and the incense and the colors and shapes, and the people beside you all slide into place and echo down the years. Those moments of perfect clarity in the service of M’Lady and her Lord. The inspirations of creating a chant, a ritual moment. A burst of flame from flash powder one Mabon, of the sun rising over the east bank of the Mississippi with the Morris Dancers dancing the sun up (a part of my personal practice).

Not all the moments are glorious. There’s the eternal downpour of one Beltane, where I thought I’d never get dry and my shoes squelched for days. The ritual where I worked so hard anchoring that I slept for nearly a day solid afterwards. The difficulties of any group of people doing complicated things that expose sore spots and weaknesses and frustrations. And, very occasionally, people doing things that had no excuse, that left their scars on those I care for. But all those things taught me something I would not wish to lose, too.

There were, also, of course, many hours of homework, of practice, of doing things that didn’t quite work, didn’t quite click, trying to figure out what I was missing. Of cleaning the temple when I’d rather be doing any number of other things. And there were those moments of frustration when I didn’t live up to my own standards, or let someone down. Of not knowing what to do about something, or not doing what I knew I should.

But we pick up, and we go on. When religion works, it helps us change and grow and become better, more glorious, brighter in the world.

There are things I know now I didn’t know five years ago, or even three. That’s as it should be. And it makes me wonder what I’ll know in early 2013, ten years from my initiation. Or in five years, or ten.

What I hope is that the richness, the delight, the wonder, the awe that are part of my life now are more so then. That there’s a greater stability and deep roots to anchor the work and writing and teaching and sharing I want to do, both as a librarian and as a priestess. That I’ve had a chance to learn more things, and be surprised, and do more things I’d never dreamed of.

And I really wonder what the larger Pagan communities will look like then, and what I’ll be particularly passionate about doing in them. I’m looking forward to finding out.