PaganSquare is a community blog space where Pagans can discuss topics relevant to the life and spiritual practice of all Pagans.
Any leader or rituallist is going to get feedback. In Part 1, I addressed some methods to discern what feedback is useful and what isn't. It's also important to learn how to give good feedback, which is what I'll go into here.
While I love hearing, "That ritual was great!" what this primarily tells me is that this person (or the people telling me this) had a good time. It’s not, however, specific. “I loved the chanting!” or, "I've never experienced a ritual like that, I was able to connect to my ancestors in a way I couldn't ever before," is more specific and thus, more useful.
I've facilitated rituals where I had an equal number of people tell me, "The energy in that ritual was great!" and, "The energy tonight really kind of sucked." So what makes good feedback?
Just weeks ago I had the honor of leading the main ritual at Paganicon, a Pagan conference in its fifth year taking place in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I felt the main ritual went really well, and over the course of the weekend I received a lot of positive feedback from people who had a deep, transformative experience during the ritual. I also heard from the convention staffers that fully a third of the feedback forms positively mentioned the ritual or one of my other workshops.
As a teacher and ritual leader, it's always really exciting to hear that my work has had a positive impact!
However, after I returned from the event, I was directed to a blog post from another presenter at Paganicon who really disliked the ritual I facilitated. In fact, this presenter also had some problems with my presence on at east one of the three panels I spoke on. And it made me think a lot about feedback and leadership.
Some people find comfort and deep learning in solitude. Others find inspiration and wisdom in the interaction with others, where the edges of our souls meet. I find a good balance between the two in my life, needing solitary reflective contemplation and the shared words, laughter and brilliance of my friends to encourage and nourish creativity. I have a strong circle of female friends with whom I share ritual practice, dance, creative crafts and good food, alongside weekends away, sometimes as "girly" weekends, sometimes as spiritual pilgrimages.
I have found ritual with these ladies deeply inspiring, and the bond that it creates reminds me of the sanctity within all our relationships. However, I mostly practice my Druidry on a solitary level, literally walking the wild paths of the heath or deep into the heart of the forest alone. In those moments I feel a deep connection to the world around me, whereas in ritual with others I feel a deep connection to them.
I think a balance is definitely required, in working both alone and with others. But here I shall speak of working alone, and the benefits that can be obtained from following a spiritual path with your own wits, instinct and inspiration to guide you.
I think that more of us need to spend quality time alone. I realise that in our society many people already feel alienated and isolated, but I wonder how much of that stems from not really being able to properly be with your self. I worry about the next generation, who have phones and tablets and a constant barrage of virtual communication that they can resort to anytime they are left alone. I remember a time when my husband was away for a work conference, and feeling the need for human company I went down to the local pub to chat with others from the village at the bar. There was conversation between the customers and the publican, but as soon as she left to go to the kitchen conversation died, and people went straight to their phones rather than talk to each other. I sat there, wondering what on earth has gone wrong with our society in that we cannot talk to each other anymore, but I digress.
The need for other human companionship can be strong, and it's not a need that we should ignore, being a social species. However, what I would posit is that we certainly do need to learn how to be alone, to listen to ourselves, to become attuned to our thoughts and behaviour in order to better understand ourselves. I strongly feel that when we understand ourselves, we understand others and can be in the world with more empathy and compassion. Often I have taken time out away from the world in order to better understand it - in this I feel a very strong connection with monastic traditions. By removal from the world and the thoughts of others I can better hear the gods, the ancestors and the spirits of place all around me. By spending time alone with my thoughts I learn the cycles that they go through, paying attention to them and really noting them. With a little Zen, when we actually pay attention to our thoughts they don't control us as much as they might otherwise, offering us an opportunity to live with real intention instead of leading reactive lives.
Spending time in meditation alone, learning how the mind works we can then begin to hear the songs of others as naturally our thoughts quiet down. We have paid them attention, and now that our thoughts have received the attention they desired, they no longer crave more. We hear the birdsong, we feel the sunlight on our skin, the wind in our hair where otherwise we might have been distracted by thoughts, feelings, emotions and situations. The world opens up, and we are once again reminded that the world is more than just us - that we are a part of a beautiful living, breathing system where everything is inter-related. It is an exquisite gift.
Spend more time with yourself. If you can, spend half an hour, an hour or a couple of hours each day alone, perhaps going for a walk or meditating. If at all possible, go on a weekend solo retreat, or a week-long solo retreat in a place that inspires you, where you can really connect with what is important and with your own beautiful self. Learn to love that self for what she is, for who she is and connect with her, giving her as much time as you would your dearest friends.
When we learn to love our own self, that love will then spill out into the wider world, nourishing and sustaining others.
For more on the solitary path, see my latest book The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid, available now through Moon Books.
So many of the leadership problems that I see in the Pagan community come down to issues of our personal identity. There are leadership techniques for building healthy communities, models for understanding group dynamics, and tools to mediate conflicts. But the truth is…all of that stuff is a house built on a faulty foundation if we don’t also do our personal work.
To do that work, we have to understand identity.
And we also have to admit that all of us need to do this work. Unfortunately, the way identity functions can make it hard to change our own bad behaviors, and ego is pretty good at denial. When a group blows up you’ll often hear, “It’s just too much ego.” They’re sort of right, but it’s a little more complicated.
It's hard to believe that Mama Gina is still a relatively new artist in the world of Pagan music. With her third album, Solitaire, due to be released very soon, she is soon to be no longer be known as the new kid on the block, but rather take her place in the pantheon of Pagan music royalty.
Solitaire has depth and character. Gina'a soulful voice shines in this well mixed and engineered album. The addition of backup players and singers brings a 1970's pop feel to her song "Goddess Walking". I honestly was reminded of the band America. Since they are one of my favorites, that's a good thing. "Old Ways" takes an intimate look at the spirituality in modern times. "Weed" shows off her bluesy side while telling a great tale. She gets to her tribal roots with the powerful "Old Snake Woman" and gives the listener a smile with "Mama Gaia's Going Through Menopause"....
What does it mean to bless something? To honour your blessings? How can we feel truly blessed?
Most of us only come across the term “blessing” after someone has sneezed, but for me as a Druid it is an integral part of my religion. Alongside “prayer” however, the word can evoke memories of perhaps anti-pagan establishment. If we can set aside these connotations and simply see the word for what it is, we can fill our lives with a wonder and enchantment, or perhaps re-enchantment that can otherwise escape us in today’s modern, secularised world.
So what is a blessing? A blessing is when we awaken, when we fully come to the here and now and see the wonder of life. It is to be absolutely awake and aware of who we are, where we are, and how we work in the flows, rhythms and cycles of life. It is being aware of the gods and ancestors, of how each part is played. When we have awoken to this reality, life may flow easier, we may move through our days with more grace and compassion.
Being aware of our many blessings goes hand in hand with gratitude. If we give thanks for the blessing of lengthening sunlight, we awaken ourselves to the solar cycle of spring and the light half of the year. The sun gives freely of her gift, and this gift is a true blessing. When we give freely, when we are true to our selves and working for the greater good of the world, we too are blessing the world. The rain that brings the flowers is a blessing. The person who helped us out of a dark place is a blessing. A piece of music that sings to our soul is a blessing.
Being aware of these blessings takes us outside of ourselves, allowing room for a greater perspective that our narrow perception of the world can override. We have to shut off the internal monologue to be able to be aware of a blessing, to give and receive blessings with an open heart.