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Hello, lovely readers.

If you have been reading for a while, you might remember that the first post on this blog was about gratitude. It’s been some time, since then. I haven’t blogged as much as I could have (though I have some plans for a long series of upcoming posts, so watch out!). But I’m not worried about that. I’m grateful!

Gratitude is one of the most touted and built-up subjects in a wide variety of spiritual paths and traditions. But, you know, other than “be grateful!” and the occasional admonition to write lists of things you are grateful for, I haven’t seen much on how we are expected to cultivate a sense of gratitude in ourselves. How do you grow something like that when you’re living in such an ungrateful world, when everyone around you has an overblown sense of entitlement, and when maybe it’s just not your natural inclination?

So I decided to take a radical approach. I decided to grab gratitude and pull it in for a big, sloppy kiss. The result of that is The Radical Gratitude Experiment!

I invite you to join me for this experiment. It’s a unique class, and a unique opportunity to crack open the doorway to your own potential for feeling, expressing, and living in thanks. It’s not tradition- or even religion-specific. It’s a celebration of life, joy, love, and the surprising and uncanny powers of gratitude.

I hope that you’ll join me! You’ll be thankful you did 😉

For more information, click here.

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On Practice and Pentacles

Sometimes, having a daily practice can be difficult. And when I say “difficult” I mean fucking hard. And on days like today, when I have the I-don’t-wannas getting in the way, I know it’s because I need my practice more than ever.

Things have been in flux in every area of my life, including my personal space. So it’s easy to look at my altar and think that it’s not exactly where I want it to be, it’s not set with the things I’ll need, there are clothes I left on the floor where I’d like to put my cushion. It’s easy to turn away and find some distraction to substitute for the calming effects of the breathing work, the centering effects of grounding practice, the deepening effects of sitting meditation. But, whatever I might find, they are poor substitutes. And they don’t last long.

And this morning, I felt that, in addition to the I-don’t-wannas, I just could face the sheer effort involved. Because let’s be honest – the physical and mental actions required of a daily practice are very simple and usually very easy, but the actual practice is anything but. What could be easier than placing a few things on a table? Or filling a glass of water? Or lighting a candle? How hard is it, really, to say a prayer? To sit still for a several minutes? To imagine a few lights and colors?

All of those things are easy, taken individually. But it’s the combination that is a challenge. Because when arranging things on a table is really setting an altar, you have to question what you want to bring to your life today. When pouring a glass of water is really a spell of internal cleansing and alchemy, you have to confront those things you’ve allowed to hold you back. And when lighting a candle is really inviting in the Gods…

But as I attempted to seek out hollow distractions, something in me was craving spiritual practice. I had a brief yet potent vision. It was a simple image, but one that means so much to me it could not be ignored. The image was a pentacle.Pentacle

In my Elemental Tools class, I like to say that the pentacle asks us: “Where do you stand? Are you willing to start from here?”

The altar isn’t set. Can I set it? There are clothes on the floor. Can’t they be picked up? I just don’t want to practice. Can I bring that to my practice with me?

I can, and I will. Because the difficulty of practice, when it is difficult, makes choosing practice that much more powerful.

(And sometimes… practice is easy!)

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Hello, Lovelies!

I had intended to post this poem yesterday, but, apparently, I spaced. I think a poem is a good way to start the week, don’t you? So here is a poem I wrote to be read as a grounding meditation. I hope you enjoy it.

Grounding Poem
by Jonah Dove

You sit tenderly here –
close your eyes
– and what do you see?
What do you see?

A gentle root growing
as if from a tree,

reaching down, reaching down
through the damp, dark ground,
towards the heart of the mother –
resting deep, resting sound.

You feel warmth waiting here –
take it in
– and what do you see?
What do you see?

A bright glowing orange,
a molten hot sea.

Pull it up, pull it in
through your root, through your skin
and fill up with this iron,
like the iron within.

You sit here, enflamed –
feel your heat
– and what do you see?
What do you see?

A strong branch growing,
as if from a tree!

Reaching up, reaching higher
towards a heavenly fire
through the air, and through vacuum,
starlight, its desire.

You touch now a star –
so, so bright!
– and what do you see?
What do you see?

Radiant power
shines infinitely!

Bring it here, bring it down
where it touches your crown
and surrounds you with starlight,
a bright, glowing gown.

And again, here you sit –
be centered
– and what do you see?
What do you see?

These two powers merging
most radiantly!

Bring them in, let them shine,
in your heart now entwined,
and flow out in this space
to make all things Divine!

Now open your eyes –
breathe deep
– and what do you see?
What do you see?

Blessed be, friends, and may that divine light always radiate from your Shining Heart.

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Recent events in my life have left me altered. There have been shifts within me, and changes thrust upon me. These shifts are coming from my teachers, my Gods, my friends, my place of employment, my ever-deepening spiritual practice, my own body… everywhere. Everything. Everyone. Because, as my teacher, Thorn, recently pointed out through a quote from Thomas Merton’s book Thoughts in Solitude, there is no division between the “mundane” and the “spiritual.” It’s all unified.

I put a lot of stock in the power of the traditional tools of the Craft to encode and – with time, effort, and meditation – reveal sacred mysteries. Mostly I’m referring to the Elemental Tools: the Wand, Athame, Cup, and Pentacle. Of course there are more, varying by tradition, but these are the four I resonate with most and they are quite common. There is a fifth, extremely common magical tool – shared by most (if not all) Craft traditions, and, indeed, world religions – which is sometimes taken for granted: the Altar.

It’s at the altar where these life changes occur. The altar is where I can bring these changes to examine them and frame them within my spiritual landscape, along with those things that feel stuck, steady, strong, weak, out of control, too big, or too small. The altar is where I can pray for guidance around any of these things. Because the altar is the place where I have access to my center, the Gods, and all the powers of creation.

At the very least, an altar can be seen as a place to do spiritual work. I’d venture a guess that most religious people (consciously or not) view it as a sort of interface point between humanity and divinity. I see it as the hub of the universe – the place where the four elements meet with the active and passive polarities of spirit. A sacred place, indeed.

But there’s another mystery in the altar – an individual mystery for each of us to contemplate. And that is: what you put on your altar, you put on your life. By placing anything on an altar, by any of the above definitions, you are affording it sacred attention. Divine attention.

Yesterday I asked myself a question that I try to revisit every now and again. It’s a question I invite you to ask of yourself, if you find you are brave enough.

What is on the altar of my life?

Considering the magnitude of my last month in this life, that question seems far weightier than usual to me. What IS on the altar of my life? What am I giving that divine attention to? What am I spending my energy on? And does that align with what I profess to hold sacred and important? Does that expended energy propel me towards my goals, or is it spent holding me back?

  • How many times did I look at my phone yesterday to check Twitter or Facebook? And how many times did I check in with spirit?
  • How many hours a week do I spend watching television? Not that many, really, but am I more devoted to catching my favorite shows than doing The Work of This God?
  • How much “entertainment” do I consume? How much art do I create?
  • How many silly wants do I chase after? How many true needs of the world do I rise up to meet?
  • How often do I give fear the honored place on the altar? How often do I instead put courage there and take real action?

There is nothing wrong with putting fear on the altar. Sometimes fear needs divine attention. But do I pray to the fear, or do I pray to face and overcome it? Do I use social networking to build connections and relationships, or to feel social while distancing myself from anything real? Do I use entertainment to relax and rejuvenate, or to deaden and forget? Sometimes the answer to each of these questions is “Yes.”

The great thing about an altar is that, really, it’s a table. It’s a special table, sure, but it’s a table, nonetheless. It can be cleared. It can be cleaned. It can be set anew. And in the same way, we can each clear off the altars of our lives and choose what goes back on them. What do I want to give my attention to? What do I need to give my attention to? And what drains to my energy and attention can I sacrifice to make more room for those things that really matter to me?

Blessed be.

P.S. I’ll be recording a guided meditation from my Elemental Tools class soon, hopefully within the next week or so, around this topic. I will post it on this blog when it’s ready, so check back for it.

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Beltane has come and gone, and, oh!, what a gloriously beautiful day it was here. I got to take a nice long nap and a leisurely stroll with the dog. Later, we ran around picking wild flowers to decorate our circle. And the night saw us reading poetry to each other, and to the Gods and the Fey, by firelight (if you count the tiny “starter log” as a fire!). After ritual, food and wine were shared. It was a truly wonderful day.

So as that day passes, I will share with you the farewell blessing I read to the spirits last night in the spirit of a ritual of poetry. I hope you enjoy it.

Goodnight, Spirits
by Jonah Dove, Beltane 2010

This night has been most blessed,
and we bless you in return.
Take our blessings with you,
as we take what we have learned.
Goodnight, you sweet, sweet Faeries –
to your sideways realms, away.
Goodnight, you Gods of power –
stay in our prayers each day.
Goodnight, you mighty Angels –
your protection has been felt.
Goodnight, you Guides and Spirits –
we appreciate your help.

As the night is turning colder,
not one of us can stay.
But we know we we’ll meet you every year,
on the blessed Beltane day.

I hope you, too, had a blessed Beltane, and that the coming summer has many more blessings to offer us all.

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Hello lovlies! Here is my contribution to the Brigid in whatver-we’re-calling-it-this-year silent poetry reading. It’s a couple of days late because I’ve been sick, but I could not just pass up the opportunity to write a new poem, now, could I?

I hope you enjoy it!

World’s Turning
by Jonah Dove

Here I sit
silent. waiting.
A center, they say, around which the
whole world turns.

Watch me stand
and stretch. and walk.
It is you who moves
– not me –
the whole world turns.

I drink and dance and play with you.
Your heart beats only because mine
tells it to.
You are my dream,
here in my head, where the
whole world turns.

One day, if I’m lucky
– and usually, I am –
I’ll catch your eye just right
or give birth to you one night
or get moved, so, by your plight
or meet you in delight.
And see
in my waiting
a center (they say) in you.
A foreign place
around which my
whole world turns inside out.

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Related to the topic of guilt for not engaging fully in spiritual practice is the sense of struggle we sometimes have with practice itself. Especially if our goal is daily practice, it can be hard to live up to our own commitments and expectations. And in fact, it can be disappointing when we do live up to them and see little or no results.

My experience with this sort of difficultly, and my conversations with others who have been struggling, has shown me that it often arises from a fundamental flaw in the way we approach the practice. I call it “Checklist Spirituality.”

Let’s say you make a commitment to yourself (or your teacher, if you have one) to engage in a specific set of practices every day. So you make yourself a list. I’m going to say these prayers, sit in meditation for this long, and do visualization X and energy work Y. Sounds doable, right? And for a while, it is. For a while, it’s more than doable – it’s refreshing! It’s delicious! It’s rewarding! “Oh,” you think to yourself, “it feels so GOOD to do this work. I can really tell how much more centered I am. I can really feel myself engaging with life in a different way!”

After a while, though, this feeling of newness wanes. It becomes harder to live up to our commitment. We start to grow complacent. If we’re able to be disciplined, we might still work through our checklist, but it’s become a chore. It’s become a bore!

The problem here is that we’ve disengaged. Instead of really working our practice, we’ve turned it into another to-do list. Did I sit? Check. Say my prayers? Check. Perform a cleansing? Check. Well, guess what. Check marks do not a spiritual practice make.

What are the fundamental practices in your spiritual tradition? What are the basic principles that you are called to return to? If you can identify what those fundamental practices are, I can give you a clue about making them more effective: Even if you’ve done these things a million times, there is still more to be learned from them! The basic practices ARE the advanced practices. They each have layers of influence and meaning. They can each touch you on deeper and deeper levels, if you’ll allow them to.

And that is the key word: Allow.

Magic is not something we do. It is something we allow to move through us. It is something we are.

Yes: there are things we must do to make way for that to happen.
Yes: there are things we must study, exercises we must do, training we must engage in.
Yes: we must learn to hone our will, become present, move from stillness.

But mostly we need to get out of our own way. Our most basic practices, which we return to again and again, are designed to bring all of our parts together towards the same purpose (our True Will, the Work of this God), remove internal and external obstacles, remind us that we are connected to everything, and get us to a place – in body, heart, mind, and spirit – from which we can do what we need to do. The main thing to remember is to show up. If you can’t do your work, just take one step. Sit down, be quiet, start breathing. See what happens.

What’s likely to happen? Magic will move through you. Give it time – you will feel a shift. You will know what needs to be done.

And if you don’t, look to your tradition and I’ll bet you find some answers. Are you feeling flighty, unfocused, frazzled, or drained? That’s what grounding is for. Are you feeling lost or confused? That’s what divination is for. There are reasons for each little rite, every cleansing, every Tarot spread, every exercise, every protection charm, every enchantment, every healing, every spell. Which one will help you now? Engage with it. Allow it to change you.

This is one of the reasons we go through all of our study, do all of our exercises, and do things like set altars and make offerings. Each of these things gives us a chance to open up and shift our consciousness towards something closer to our ideal. Seeing your altar as you walk by it is an opportunity to remember your practice and your relationship with your Gods. Going through the grounding meditation over and over again sets up a mental pathway so that you can access that power when you need it to feel more calm, focused, or strong. We form these connections which lie dormant, waiting for us to remember that we have them at our disposal.

In this moment, we can open up. In this moment, we can shift. In this moment, we can show up to our practice and let the practice do us.

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