Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Letting Go: Mourning the Right Decision

We like to think of things as simple. If we choose the right career, the bills will get paid and vacations will be possible. If we find the right life partner, the birds will sing us awake in the morning and we will fall asleep with the sounds of love and laughter in our ears.

But life is not clean and straight-lines. It isn't fluffy clouds and rainbows. And, most of all, it isn't simple.

At the deepest level, we want our decisions to be clear. We want to make the right choice and feel the rightness. We want weights to be lifted from our shoulders. We want a smile to creep across our faces with how right we were.

Right decisions should make us feel good. But they don't always. Sometimes, we are faced -  with an impossible choice and, no matter what path we choose, it won't feel good. We will still need to mourn the death of that other possibility.

I once lived in a house with a great bedroom. My bedroom had a 3/4 bath attached. My bedroom had a (non-functioning) fireplace. My bedroom had a closet under the stairs, so the ceiling - and even the closet door - had a severe angle in it. My bedroom had a broken doorknob, so I could take the doorknob with me as a kind of lock on my bedroom door.

When we moved, we moved to a farmhouse. I picked out my bedroom, which had a vent through which I could see down into the living room. Even better, I could listen to the movies and TV shows my parents watched after I went to bed. My brother and I could pack up snacks in a back pack and roam the large hills in which this new home was nestled. When the rotation was right in the summer, the mooing of cows would wake us too early and set us on our adventures. We touched electric fences, stared down bulls, climbed to the tops of the tiny mountains around us.

The choice to move was a good one. Never for one moment did I think it was the wrong choice. Yet, as we packed up to move out of my bedroom with it's angled closet, 3/4 bath, and broken doorknob, I cried.

Looking back, I see the wisdom that my 10 year old self had in that moment. Even when it's the right thing to do, you may still need to mourn the path you did not take.

I have made a decision. I have several dreams for my life. Most of them are possible to do at the same time, but I realized that dividing my time and resources as they currently are will result in neither of them being fully realized.

I have to give one of them up to let the other come to fruition.

It's the right choice that I've made. I am also pretty certain that I will eventually pick the other dream up again. In the meantime, I am sad.

I'm sad that I had to make the choice. I'm sad that I can't carry both dreams right now. I'm sad that all the work I've put into the dream left behind has been, well, left behind. I am sad, but I made the right choice.

We need to allow ourselves to give vent to the negative emotions without worrying about whether it's appropriate to HAVE those emotions. Emotions are always appropriate. Behaviors based on those emotions are a different story.

Let yourself mourn the right choice. You can be scared when you move. You can be sad when you had to cut a toxic person from your life. You can feel guilt when you can't afford to help someone out.

These feelings are okay. Feel them. Honor them. Then move on with your right choice.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Dark Night Demands: Pressures and Misunderstandings about the Dark Side

I am very good at understanding where my emotional baggage comes from. I'm pretty darned good at figuring out where others' emotional triggers stem from as well. This is a handy little talent that I use to help myself and others work through their Dark Side stuff, the messy, muddy junk we need to face, deal with, or even just acknowledge in order to move forward to become the best version of ourselves we can be.

That's the whole goal - the best version of myself. I've been doing this on and off (more on than off) for 20 years, consciously. I'm not exactly a slouch, but I'm also the first to admit that this is not a destination goal. This is about a journey of constant self-improvement.

And sometimes, there's pain. Sometimes there's heartache. Sometimes, on this journey, you stub your toe, or get a cramp, or strain a muscle. Sometimes, you sit down and have a cry.

When this happens to me, my husband annoys me. Don't get me wrong - he thinks I'm awesome and sexy, always right and pretty darn perfect. He's great 99% of the time, but he always asks me why I feel the way I feel.

I'm sure you are asking "geez, why would that be a problem?" And you have a bit of a point, but the issue is that there are assumptions about that question.

Me: I just feel really down and kinda like crap.
Hubby: *fully aware of all issues due to financial stress, extended family drama, whiny children, having major deadlines coming up, etc* Why do you feel like that?
Me: *shooting him an are-you-kidding-me look* Just... never mind.

See, the problem there isn't that there isn't an answer, or I don't want to face the answer, or any of the usual traps in working with the Dark Side. The problem is that the answer is a million straws on this camel's back. And none of those straws is a problem that can or even should be given that kind of focus. In fact, they are all being addressed as they can be.

The problem is, there's a kind of taboo on letting oneself feel cumulatively crappy. Feeling bad is only as valuable as letting you know what to fix (or letting hubby know what to fix for me). And that is a problem.

I can deal with the individual issues, just like I can carry several boxes at once. If I pause to catch my breath and let a frown show on my face because the boxes' edges are cutting into my hands, there's a certain understanding. That stuff is heavy and things can suck without being deal breakers. Sometimes you just cuss a bit while suffering through it.

We don't give ourselves permission to do that, emotionally. If I feel overwhelmed, I need to change something. If I feel depressed about money, I should get another job (or cut back on my imaginary daily coffee at Starbucks). If I'm a little depressed from the stress of constantly reassessing my ever-changing schedule due to adding deadlines, running errands, or dealing with kids, than I need to scrape my plate clean.

The problem with that is, I don't need to change something. I don't need to get another job. I don't need to scrape my plate (except for after supper). I am dealing with my life. I'm just stopping to readjust the boxes. It doesn't mean I should leave my things by the side of the road rather than keep carrying them.

Those kinds of black-and-white, hyperbolic solutions are a huge problem in the spiritual community. And it's completely unrealistic.
  • If you don't love it, throw it out. - Ha! Buh-bye taxes! Sorry, IRS, I just didn't "love" doing that kind of paperwork.
  • Anger is a hot coal that burns you not the other person. - I will not apologize when someone tells me that I don't know what I'm talking about because I'm a woman under the age of 60 (as if those people give 60+ women respect either) and I get steamed because of it. ANGER IS A SIGN OF A BOUNDARY BEING VIOLATED, NOT A FLAW!
  • Think happy, be happy - Think rich, be rich. Think healthy, be healthy. All those "if you think it, you will be it" things are only 15% correct. Yes, there's something to be said for taking a breath and faking confidence until you feel it, or singing upbeat songs to lift your mood. HOWEVER, it is sold as a panacea for all your ills and neither your landlord nor fibromyalgia gives two brown logs about your happy thoughts.
Interestingly, science actually supports the idea that we should give some vent to the minor frustrations in life. Pain is reduced when you cuss, as anyone who stubs their toe on that stupid coffee table knows. Naturally, there is a difference between letting yourself sit down and feel/experience the crap that you feel, and wallowing in negativity.

So the answer is, I just feel like crap, sometimes. And that should be enough.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Beltaine: Celebrating the Fullness of Life

This post is also available HERE.

Each Sabbat brings with it a special meaning as part of the wheel of the year. The journey through the seasons is not just a physical one, but also mental and spiritual.

As we approach each Sabbat, we can grow with the seasons when we know the lessons each one brings us. This series explores the Sabbats' spiritual meaning in the context of modern Pagans.

Beltaine is the time of year when we celebrate the fertility all around us. But fertility doesn't just mean producing biological offspring.

We, as humans, produce many things. We have the minds, the drive towards technology, the ability to create in the most awe inspiring ways. It is this that is the spark of the divine, and celebrating fertility means celebrating that spark in all its forms.

Whether you focus on raising children or organizing activities, whether you create works of art or craft items both beautiful and practical, you are manifesting the Divine Mother, the fertile earth, the Seed of the Wild God.

It is important for us to remember that even the most basic of activities can be divine. We can be founders of companies, making changes to honor the others in our work, or we can be "burger flippers," contributing to the conveniences that nourish our communities as we push for even more in our world.

How do you honor the divine in your work? What dreams of fertility do you hold dear?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Nine Noble Virtues: a Modern Take - Truth

The Nine Noble Virtues are a modern invention, so it seems my title is redundant. However, little seems to have been done to bring the concepts themselves from the past into the present.

I do not consider the NNV to be a historical reference. I do consider them to be a modern way of understanding cultural and even subconscious values that were stressed, if not perfectly, by those peoples lumped together as Norsemen.

This series will explore my thoughts on these values and, hopefully, start conversations about them in a modern context.

The hardest thing to face about the Truth is that, despite all of our beliefs and efforts to the contrary, it can be subjective. This means that what is Truth to one person may not be Truth to another, and that doesn't necessarily make one of them wrong.

How do we navigate a world where one's Truth is so embedded in one's experiences? How do we hold on to what is right when there are so many shades of gray?

The only thing we can do is to discover our own Truth. This isn't as easy as it sounds, either. We all have a shallow idea of truth, but it isn't until we do the work of self-reflection and self-awareness that we learn our deeper Truth.

And, in case that isn't tough enough, we must also learn to understand (though not necessarily agree with) the deeper Truth of others. Only then can we know what we stand for, and what we will stand up for.

Truth is very much entwined with courage. It takes strength of mind and self to be able to dig deep into our beliefs and our selves to uncover our Truths. It takes a fortitude of spirit to stand up for what we believe is right in the face of people defending, sometimes violently, their own beliefs.

Recently, I was faced with an opportunity to stand up for something. Even those who believe the same as I do didn't necessarily agree with the standing up part. While I admit I was emotionally exhausted and unable to make a good showing, I still stood up for what I felt was right.

Sometimes, you don't get praised for doing what is right by your Truth. Sometimes, others don't understand, either because their Truth varies just that much from yours, or because they don't have the courage to take the actions that you do (or vice versa).

The part that sucks is knowing that, to a certain point, all of these things are valid. But you don't owe anyone the compromise of your Truth, just as they don't owe you the same. Any re-evaluation must be for you.

Odin knew the power of Truth and the importance of constantly seeking the Truth. He was the Wanderer, walking the worlds for years to learn about different peoples and beliefs. He knew the value of speaking the truth, and of withholding the truth when necessary.

There is value in all knowledge, and in understanding others, we know more about ourselves.

And that's the Truth.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Ostara: a Time of Growth

This post is also available here.

Each Sabbat brings with it a special meaning as part of the wheel of the year. The journey through the seasons is not just a physical one, but also mental and spiritual.

As we approach each Sabbat, we can grow with the seasons when we know the lessons each one brings us. This series explores the Sabbats' spiritual meaning in the context of modern Pagans.

Ostara is the Spring Equinox, straddling the line between the cold Winter nights and the warm days of Spring and Summer. While Imbolc brings the light to the year, the warmth of that light takes a bit longer, welcomed by Ostara.
This marks the time when we need to get serious about getting things planted. If we haven't started yet, the time is coming soon. Seeds should be sorted, plots of land mapped out - the future depends on whether we plant the right stuff to harvest and eat in the winter.

This applies to our metaphorical seeds, as well. Soon, we will no longer be trapped indoors by the weather. We will be free to do all the activities we need to. The days are still getting longer, giving us more time and energy to be active.

What "seeds" are you preparing for this year? What plans do you make?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Pain in the Pain: Intellectualizing & Erasure

Pain comes in many forms and several degrees. There is physical pain, emotional pain and combinations therein. Most doctors have a handy little pain chart so that people can express the levels of pain that they feel.

Yet many chronic pain sufferers note that medical staff will often downplay their pain, as if the person feeling it - literally the only person who can feel it and, thus, assess it - doesn't really know how it feels.

We see the same thing happening with emotional pain. Lost loved ones, break-ups, betrayal - people frequently hide their pain to avoid someone telling them "it isn't that bad", or worse, comparing it to a similar event in their own lives.

Here's the thing, experience and the nuances of bodies and relationships automatically means that there is no way for you to know how another person is experiencing their pain. Period.

If someone lost a grandparent, and you lost a grandparent, maybe they had a close relationship that makes their pain different. Maybe they regret not having a closer relationship. Who knows? Not you.

If someone exclaims that what they feel, physically, is the worst pain they've ever felt, why would you say that's not true? Maybe you have broken a bone, as well, but was it in the same spot? Do you both have the same sensitivity to pain due to numbers of nerves, myelination, how close pain receptors are to the damaged part? Do you have the same pain experiences to base the "worst" on?

I'm going to say no.

We like to do this. We compare and contrast what we see in other people against what we have actually experienced for ourselves. And we judge them, usually with the bias in favor of our own experiences being "worse." Like it's some kind of sadism competition.

I've done this myself in varying degrees, but sometimes, the situation is a socialized one.

I have to admit, when videos started up showing men "experiencing labor," I laughed as hard as any woman. Why? Because I've spent my entire life with men comparing various injuries to labor, as if repeatedly tensing every muscle in your body tighter than you ever thought they could clench to push out a baby could somehow compare to... anything else.

It bothers me because, while women are often portrayed as fragile, sensitive and overly emotional, they are also seen as being flawed in experiencing their own bodies. If people are fragile, doesn't that mean they really DO experience more physical pain? If people are emotional, doesn't that mean they really DO feel more emotional pain?

An article recently declared that doctors have "admitted" that women can experience menstrual cramps at the same pain levels as heart attacks. I turned to my husband and said "This is why women don't know they are having a heart attack; they are used to that level of pain."

What I didn't say is that they are also told that the level of pain many women experience on a monthly basis is also something they are humiliated for. Why would anyone admit to that level of pain after years of being put down, ignored, or bullied for experiencing? Wouldn't you blow off the pain of a heart attack too?

Emotionally, the situation is parallel. If someone is sensitive, they are often humiliated or bullied over it. If they complain, we say things like "I went through the same thing" or "you just need a thicker skin." Then society doubles down on this by arguing that (mostly) women need to leave abusive partners.

I guarantee most people on pain medicine
wished a massage would fix it.
Dude! They've been told all their lives to put up with it, and now you want them to suddenly know better? Dude...

We also tend to bully and humiliate and shame people who take medicine for pain management, prioritizing controlling drugs over finding solutions to the addictive nature of our most effective pain drugs, prioritizing "more spiritual" treatments over pills, and shaming people who just can't deal with something they are experiencing but that the shamers are just guessing at.

As there are millions of gods and goddesses representing millions of nuances of emotions (love, sex), actions (war, protection), ideas (truth, honor), and more, we need to HONOR the emotional and physical differences in people's experiences and perspective of pain. We need to stop making it about what we THINK, and start making it about what they FEEL.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Nine Noble Virtues: a Modern Take - Discipline

The Nine Noble Virtues are a modern invention, so it seems my title is redundant. However, little seems to have been done to bring the concepts themselves from the past into the present.

I do not consider the NNV to be a historical reference. I do consider them to be a modern way of understanding cultural and even subconscious values that were stressed, if not perfectly, by those peoples lumped together as Norsemen.

This series will explore my thoughts on these values and, hopefully, start conversations about them in a modern context.

Oh, great irony, that I am talking about discipline now. I've put off working on this post for a week now, and I'm working on it now to avoid my editing work. But now that I've acknowledged my own procrastination, it's only fair to point out that procrastination is a self-esteem issue, not a discipline issue.

But what is discipline in this modern world? Is it something of a military structuring of one's life? Is it punishing children until they behave? Is it that ethereal concept of Will? I don't believe it is any of those. Or maybe it is connected to all of them, or they are connected to it.

Discipline in the world of the ancient Norse lands would not be any of those rather solid concepts. I think the best way of translating the idea into modern lingo would be the word "adulting."

I know, I know, but bear with me. In the past, being disciplined would have consisted of self-starting, often at or before the crack of dawn, to take care of a variety of animals and domesticated plant-life. It would have meant that you had to be aware of your environment to avoid dangers and to actually see what needs to be done - no drifting through life half-aware. It would have meant troubleshooting issues as they came up, using practical solutions rather than the disposable, throw-money-at-it methods we often use today.

It would have meant crawling up on the roof to replace thatching, even if you just didn't feel like it that day. And you had to pre-plan for that to have the thatching ready to put in place. It would have meant that even when you thought you had done enough work, you still had more to do.

Got kids? You still need to clean house and cook food. Got a sore foot? Too bad the fields won't plow themselves. Toothache? Doesn't change the fact that goats gotta eat, too. Tired? Well, a nap here and there isn't too bad, but best not get a reputation for sleeping half the day away.

To put it into a modern perspective, we are a bit spoiled, though I argue that we do deserve the benefits we have. We go to a job that is often laid out for us. We are told what to do and how to do it, and we get compensated for that. Then we go home, and therein lies the problem.

See the 8-hour workday, 7-day workweek was NEVER intended to be lay-about time for us. It was specifically so we would have time to do the work of family instead of putting in 18 hours for a boss. But now, we forget to do the work of family. We need to be disciplined.

That discipline can mean so many things. Perhaps it is taking the time to save and invest money wisely to allow for the future prosperity of your family. Perhaps it is doing repair work around the house, or paying someone else to do that (both are equally valid as money represents time and effort that you've already put in, plus you economically lift another in their job as a plumber, etc.).

Perhaps it means going to a food bank or filling out forms for benefits that your family is eligible for but you don't desperately need. We tend to wait until we desperately need "charity" before we use it, but that increases the chances you will need it longer because you fell farther into need before making changes. If we looked at these things more as a parachute and less as the ambulance waiting for us to hit the ground, we could recover from life's little hiccoughs faster. (Check out my post on Hospitality for more on this!)

Discipline means that your wants and wannas, your feelings and hurts, all take a backseat to the reality of what needs to be done for the betterment of the family. Discipline is doing things in spite of your immediate desires in order to meet long-term goals.

Downgrading from a smartphone to a flip-phone for two years to save money is discipline. Making a budget is discipline. Learning to cook so you can cut food costs is discipline. Even consciously making a choice that has an immediate negative effect on your family's finances so that someone can get a degree or certification that will have a long-term positive effect on those finances is discipline.

And, today, discipline is getting back to my editing.

What do you think of my assessment of this virtue?