I have just returned from a Women and the Landconference held in Point Reyes, California.It was a wonderful series of panels, whose presenters were almost all women authors: poets, essayists, and fiction and non fiction writers. Given my interest in how the feminine and ecology fit together as a unified theme in needed cultural changes that might yet save our nihilistic Western culture, I expected to enjoy it. And I did, far more than I expected.
That said, this column and the next will deal with an error I heard there, and with its solution. I think the error runs through the thinking of many women and men whose hearts are in the right place. And its solution is easy once we recognize it and take the time to digest its implications. It is also very relevant to Pagans.
Right as the clock struck midnight and 2015 was upon us, people started talking about their daily practices. I suppose it's a natural enough time to review what we do or don't do every day. Mostly it becomes a bit of a wish list for how we'd like our lives to be less mundane and more spiritual and as we have the clean slate of the new calendar year to help us, why not give it a bash.
Here's the not so good news - Daily practices, for the most part, are mundane. It's about doing the same thing, the same way each and every day (or as many days as you can). Whether you are communing with gods, or tending to an altar, or sipping a cup of tea or sitting in silence it's about doing that thing when you say you are going to do it. But mostly it's about doing that thing over and over again, recommitting to a practice without the expectation of reward. Occasionally I've had that "aha!" moment but more often than not, I do my thing, my day stops for a few minutes and I then move on.
Daily Practice helps me from going crazy. No, seriously, in a world where so little is in our control, seemingly less filled with compassion and more filled with injustice, my daily practice allows me to sink into the safety of the only thing constant in my life, the breath.
I encounter people everyday, whether direct or in passing, and wonder… are they breathing? I mean, really breathing? With faces intently locked onto phones, harnessed at the computer, walking briskly, or rapidly talking, I wonder are these people breathing? What might it look like for them to simply acknowledge the breath within their body. The simple, yet realchemizing breath that fills our lungs to energize our blood and move toxins, like stress, out of the body.
“If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” has been a trope since the 60s. The desire to change the world is something I understand. I want my fellow humans to be happy, healthy, and productive; creating and inventing, and following where the heart and intuition lead. But I have to ask if anger is really the best way to change the world. Certainly it provides energy that can move people forward through difficult challenges, and it helps people support personal boundaries, and can be an indicator of where those are located. But I’m not convinced this approach is the most effective largely because constant anger is horrific for the body.
Anger is a stress response. From a physical stand point, anger and fear provoke the same biological actions in the body. Coritisol is released in the blood. This hormone circulates, causing the heart to speed up and breathing to increase so that you will have enough oxygen to act. Blood thickens so that if there is an injury we will be less likely to bleed to death. Body chemistry changes so that fats and sugars are not stored and will be available for fight or flight. All of these responses will slowly kill us if we spend all our time living in them. And this eventually leads to burn out and perhaps worse.
In my quest to bring my Paganism into my daily life, there are many challenges. I'm sure if you've tried it, you've also experienced some interesting obstacles that you never considered when you first started out. I think I've found the best "trick" to actually make it work, although it's taken a lot of reflection to actually figure out that I did it, and it that it also worked.
What do we do in the darkness – either literal or metaphorical – when our bodies or souls convulse with pain, and our minds can’t stop spinning? This is when we need a spiritual practice. The habit of a achieving a quiet mind and sense of purpose is like any other habit or skill (which is not to say they are functionally different), it is one we must practice.
I’m not talking about monthly rituals here, I’m talking about some form of daily practice, which was once referred to as piety. Piety got itself a bad name when, in the context of Christianity, it became a reference to rigid behavior that justified abusive acts. My grandfather ran away from home (permanently) because he was getting beaten for not saying his catechism correctly. But piety is simply showing reverence for deity in a consistent manner. In other words, some form of daily prayer.
One of the issues that I notice comes up a lot in the writing I see on magic is that the conceptual aspects of magic tend to be emphasized over the experiential aspects of magic. Now part of the reason for this simple could be due to the fact that writing about a topic inevitably moves that topic toward concept. However when we leave out the experiential aspects of a practice, the concept itself is diminished because what it presents is the theory without the grounding of practice. Experience necessarily grounds concept and provides the context to turn a given concept into a reality. It's important then to make a distinction between concept and experience, in order to make sure we're utilizing both in our spiritual practices.
A concept is not, in and of itself, a theory, so much as it is an idea. A concept only becomes a theory when we bring it into an experiential level. A concept attempts to describe how something ought to work as well as what the various variables are that effect the concept. A lot of the writing we see on magic is concept focused because the writer is trying to share how something ought to work with the reader, as well as providing the necessary background information that informs the concept.