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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.

Letting Practice Do You

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.

Guilt and Spiritual Practice

Perhaps it’s a product of our results-oriented society that people have a tendency to feel guilty about their spiritual practice. Or maybe it’s left over, for some of us, from our childhood religions which admonished us to live in a certain way for fear of not achieving salvation. I mean, wow, there’s an excuse for some self-loathing! Not only am I not living up to my spiritual commitments, but now I’m damned for it! What excuse could I possibly have for being *so* lame?

The thing is, in the Craft, that’s not so much of an issue. I’m sure there are differing views on this, but, as I understand it, there is no judgment day at the end of life or at the end of the world.* There’s just another bend on the cycle. And whether the other side of that bend finds me still being “me” or not is of little consequence.

So, then, what is spiritual practice for? Specifically in the Witch’s worldview, but also more generally – from wherever you are standing. Many people would agree that the point is to be “a better person,” whatever we mean by that. My understanding is that the point is to help us become more authentic, more centered, more able, more effective. What good is my practice if it doesn’t help to align me with my True Will, my divine nature – that part of me which knows why I am here and what I want to accomplish – so that I can do what I am here to do in the most effective way possible. Whether you believe that what you are here to do is an assignment from God or just the whim of your particular bag of flesh, why would you want to be anything less than successful at it?

Witchcraft is about relationship. Who am I? Who are the Gods? Who makes up my communities in location, family, friends, peer groups, religion, ancestry, ecology, economy, spirit, and so on? I don’t know about you, but I do my work to better understand myself and where I fit into the many (many) groups to which I belong, by choice or by circumstance. It’s about making allies, being cooperative, and coming together in ways that produce mutual benefit instead of mutual harm.

And at this, you might say I’ve failed again and again. You might say we all have. I know that I’ve picked stupid fights with people I love. I’ve sought revenge over something petty. I’ve neglected to call people. I’ve offered lame excuses to get out of obligations. And again and again, I’ve let my practice slide, allowed myself to tilt off balance, let the internal grime build up until I couldn’t see through my clogged-up filters.

What to do when we suddenly wake up and say, “Oh, man. How’d I let myself get here?”

It’s so easy to slip into guilt. Because we have this “goal” and it’s off in the distance and if we don’t stick to the path we’ll never “get there.” Because we know we’ll never be “perfect” but gods damn it, I could have been better! Bring on the guilt! Let’s beat ourselves up for not trying hard enough! Let’s look at all of our tools lying on the floor in disarray, collecting dust, and instead of picking them up and cleaning them off and putting them back to use, we can lament over all of the work we haven’t done yet!

Yes! Guilt! Woo hoo! It’s so much FUN! But let’s be honest… guilt is just one more way to put things off. It’s one more way for us to disconnect. It’s one more excuse to not even try.

It’s likely that if you feel guilty about “failing” at your spiritual practice you are also baiting yourself with some unrealistic goal that simply doesn’t exist. Even if you are working towards attaining a specific skill, you haven’t failed because you can always start again. Are you imposing a phantom timeline on your work? There’s probably no quarterly earnings report that you have to worry about here. Is it really appropriate to be so upset that you made a choice to better your life and then didn’t get very far? Why not make the choice again, instead. Why not evaluate where you are today and take the next step from there. Sometimes this means starting over, and even that is nothing to feel ashamed of. There’s a reason we call it “practice.”

Even if you really can’t start again, for whatever reason, you are still presented with the opportunity to live in full authenticity, in dynamic balance, and in right relationship to the people, spirits, animals, and things around you. Because the big secret is: your goal is right here. There is no journey that leads anywhere but deeper into yourself. Your aim isn’t to be a “better person” someday. It’s to define what being a better person is for you, and to be that now. It’s a challenge to remember that and to be present enough in each moment to make the effort. But the challenge is not insurmountable. Each breath can be your reminder.

Breathe in:    I am here.
Breathe out:    I change the world.
Breathe in:    I take what I need.
Breathe out:    I give it back.
Breathe in:    I am alive.
Breathe out:    I am connected.

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t take our practice seriously, or that we should let ourselves off the hook by saying “well, I can just start again tomorrow.” No. Instead, we can let each moment house our practice. We can let each breath bring us back to presence. And with each exhalation, we can let go of any guilt for having not tried harder, for having not done our best, for having slipped into complacency.

* There are, of course, myths that speak of a judgment at the end of life. One I am definitely familiar with, as a devotee of Thoth. Perhaps I will revisit this topic someday. For now, I’ll just say that my suspicion is that these myths – like all myths – can be interpreted at face value, or they can be keys to a deeper understanding of mystery.

Next time: Letting Practice Do You

Melek Ta’us.
Melek Ta’us!
MELEK TA’US!

My mind is void of prayer, yet I pray to you, nonetheless. Fill my head with your voice!

My heart is absent of prayer, yet I pray to you, nonetheless. Fill my chest with your pride!

My stomach is empty of prayer, yet I pray to you, nonetheless. Fill my belly with your power!

Stand watch over me.
Brush away what clings upon my Fetch.
Fill my Shining Body with your breath.
Join me in song as I call down the Sacred Dove.

I am your mirror. May your beauty by reflected in me.

Ha! Behold, how beautiful I am!

No More, No Less

You cannot be anything more than human.
You cannot be anything less than divine.
But what potential, a human life! And what terror, in even the smallest God!

What does it mean to be human today? Where do you hold your divinity? Do you attempt to surpass your humanness? Are you hiding your divinity out of fear or shame?

For me, today, being human has meant feeling pain, sorrow, and anger. And a whole host of other “negative” emotions. Sometimes, when life comes at me hard, I get stuck there in spite of all of my practice and my best efforts. And I remind myself that that’s okay. I try to let the emotion flow through me. But, as always, there are some blocks.

Being divine, having the power of choice, means moving into the moment and embracing the power to change. My power to choose influences the power of change all around me. Today I remember that it’s one thing to choose, and it’s another thing to claim, to act. So today I chose to heal, to fill up, to revitalize my Shining Body. Today I chose to sing! Literally.

Singing loosens things in me, helps me to step back into the flow. It is a unique meeting of my human and divine parts. Oh how the Fetch loves to open up the mouth and belt out a melody! And the Talker revels in the twists and turns of lyrics. And the Godsoul moves through those very human sounds, those very human words, and imbues them with sacredness and the power of change.

That’s what works for me. I used the tool of song, along with the tools of ritual, cleansing, and a host of the Feri tools, to awaken myself to my divinity and reground into my humanity. What tools do you have? What choice can you make? What brings you back to center?

You are no more than human, for you are in human form. You are no less than divine, because the divine moves in you, through you, and around you. And you are also animal, wild, free. Can you connect to each of these? Can you bring them together today?

I talk a lot about Shadow Work. I haven’t talked about it much (if at all?) on this blog, but it’s a big part of my spiritual philosophy. It’s also something that’s been on my mind a lot for about the last three months.

There are many ways to engage Shadow and do the work of healing and (re-)integrating the darker, wounded parts of self. Some of them are deep, involved, difficult, often scary. There’s also the simpler everyday task of self-observation.

Last week I was having a talk with an old friend while sitting on the beach under the peculiar mix of night’s sky before us and the harsh lights of street lamps and the various buildings looming behind us. As is usual with this friend, we were talking about the world, its ills, its wonders, and where we fit in all of that. We were talking about changing the world. Of course this led me to the topic of self-knowledge and integration. His reply? “I don’t think people have any business trying to ‘know’ themselves. It’s pointless. That’s something you’re never going to figure out until like the moment right before you die.”

He had a good point: you can do your work and be effective in the world without ever really “knowing” yourself. But I wonder, if you don’t know yourself, what kind of effect will that “effectiveness” have? So do you spend your time trying to learn who/what/why you are, or do you spend it taking action? As I explained to him, my opinion is both.

As with all things, balance is necessary in the quest for self-knowledge and effective action, integration and banishing, Shadow and Light. We don’t have time to get it perfect before we make a move, but that’s no reason to not keep aiming for a little bit better than our current best.

Shadow Work is an important tool in this process. So is ‘Light Work.’ So ask yourself:

  • What am I afraid of? What is that fear trying to protect me from?
  • What am I passionate about? Where will that passion lead me, if I let it?
  • What am I hiding? Who am I hiding it from?
  • What do I have to offer, and am I utilizing that talent?

We each have our specific gifts and our specific challenges. Can we rise to meet them all? Pick one today and see where it leads you!

P.S. It’s soooo late. I hope I was coherent! 😉

This is the fourth annual Brigid in the Blogosphere. I love it. This is my frist entry on this new blog. May there be many more.

I’m wandering
and the tide ebbs in and flows
the world is spinning, spinning
and the warmth of sex returns to grace the land.

I’m wondering
where is this lonely path leading? and
who is this Woman who calls to me? and
what is this Bright Lady’s name?

I’m faltering
starting and stumbling only
to start again, clearer, cleaner, and
with a little more frustration than the time before.

I’m altering
deep in the crevices of mind and heart
the ways in which I step
the roughness of my touch.

I’m coping
stirring the coals that sustain my fire
adding the dross and debris as kindling
boiling the waters into a potion of change.

I’m hoping
praying to my own soul for forgiveness
speaking the truth with compassion and courage
growing delight in my inner dark places.

Imbolg is here once more.

-Jonah

Check out some of the other entries by following links to the blogs in the comments here:
Invitation to the Fourth Annual Brigid in the Blogosphere Poetry Slam