Today would typically be my next post for #GoddessingSelfCare Sunday. Unfortunately, my workload and health issues have piled up to the point where I feel like my day-to-day is a never-ending series of obligations. As a result, I need to slow myself down and respect my own limits. I want to carve out more time to dig into my spiritual practice so that what I write come as much from a place of authenticity as possible. I will still be blogging, but I am now planning to post about once a week, with additional posts as I am able. Looking forward to our continued conversations!
For this #GoddessingSelfCare Sunday, I will be sharing about sleep. Did you just yawn? Talking about sleep sometimes makes me tired 😊 Our bodies and minds benefit when we are able to get a good night’s rest. Mental health conditions common to trauma survivors are related to specific sleep problems. Specific behaviors can improve our sleep environments and we can elevate the act of sleep to a sacred practice.
Health Benefits of Sleep
Attaining a healthy night’s sleep affects nearly every aspect of our being, and is linked with living a longer, healthier life. Getting sufficient sleep at night seems to improve our fertility, immune system and metabolic functioning. The REM state of sleep appears to help our brain process memory. When we miss out on sleep, we suffer from short-term memory loss and our capacity to focus and learn is negatively impacted. Whenever I miss a few hours of sleep, I find myself having trouble keeping track of everything I’m doing and sometimes forgetting the next step in a process. Both of these experiences are indications of short-term memory deficits.
Sleep and Mental Health
Sleep problems can be symptoms of mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, and generalized anxiety. Hypersomnia can occur with depression; this would include feeling tired even after a full night of sleep and engaging in excessive sleeping. Insomnia includes difficulty falling asleep, waking up repeatedly throughout the night, and/or waking up early in the morning and not being able to go back to sleep. This can be a feature of depression or generalized anxiety. Those who have bipolar disorder may feel energized despite sleeping only a few hours a night and can eventually swing into a deep depression.
PTSD is linked with numerous sleep problems. A specific symptom of PTSD includes having nightmares reliving the traumatic event. People who have suffered trauma are also more likely to have REM behavior disorder, meaning that they move during REM sleep, which can lead to injury to themselves or those with whom they are sharing a bed.
Some sleep experiences that can be startling if you are unaware of their origins include the hallucinations that can occur while we are falling asleep or as we are waking up. You may feel or see a presence in the room. In addition, we are paralyzed by our brain every night during REM sleep. When parts of our brain come to full consciousness without a simultaneous release of our muscles, we experience sleep paralysis, which can involve awareness without the ability to move your body. If these types of experiences occur frequently, they can be a sign of narcolepsy.
Behaviors that assist us in getting a high-quality night of sleep are called sleep hygiene. Medications to help us sleep may sometimes be necessary but can come with a lot of side effects. To improve your sleep environment, consider the activities that occur on your bed or in your bedroom. If you are spending time concentrating on your computer in your bed, you might be confusing your body. You are conditioning your body to associate your room as a place to stay very alert and focused but also to a place to sleep. This discrepancy can increase insomnia. Having your bed designated only for quiet activities may help you to attain a peaceful night’s rest more easily.
To the extent that it is possible for you personally, consider creating a sacred sleep environment. Think about the sights, sounds, textures, smells and tastes that are most likely to induce a calm and peaceful place of respite, and redesign your sleeping space accordingly. I have a Goddess statue and a few trinkets in my bedroom that help me center. I’ve incorporated darker colors and blackout curtains in my design in order to bring the moon and nighttime vibes inside. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the extent to which these small changes have made it easier for me to get a restful night’s sleep.
Sleep is a biological act and does not necessarily or inherently involve a spiritual component, but I think it can be transformed when we view it as an active spiritual practice. For instance, when we dream, our unconscious mind has an opportunity to express itself. I think Goddess can speak to us during this time. In order to remember dreams, most people find it necessary to record them immediately after waking. This ensures that the vivid details will be captured. You may need to adjust this practice if you have PTSD and experience trauma-related nightmares. I have these in cycles; there are times I go without them during which I think it would benefit me to more fully examine my dreams and look for Goddess symbols.
The moments between sleep and awakening are a time when our mind can be particularly open. I tend to find myself immediately running through all the things I have to do for the day. A practice I am now incorporating is to spend the first light of dawn in a visualization. This will include creating a rich, full color picture in my mind of a nature scene, and using all my scenes to fill out the imagery. When I consider starting each day in a tropical jungle, snowy mountaintop or wind-raked beach, it seems a little easier to transition to addressing the mundane tasks that lie ahead of me. An interesting side effect of this practice has been that I am sometimes able to remember my dreams more fully, possibly because I am engaging similar brain areas.
I hope you will share tips on what you do to improve your sleep and reap its benefits. I know there are many other spiritual practices that relate to sleep and would love to learn about what you have found to be particularly meaningful. Sleep well!
Many trauma survivors have difficulty with medical procedures. These may be triggering for many reasons—they often include physical discomfort or pain, there is a power difference between the doctor and patient, and they include significant financial stressors and decision-making demands. I’m a proponent of working with a therapist to help to heal from trauma for many reasons, including the fact that mental health symptoms may make following through on medical care difficult or impossible.
I’m currently in the middle of having a root canal redone. As in, I had it done a few years ago, and now have to have the previous work removed and replaced. I was so triggered by the first experience I avoided dentists for a while, and have now found myself being verbally combative in response to those who are supposed to be helping me. Unfortunately, finding a medical professional who is sensitive to the needs of people with PTSD and trauma histories can be very hit or miss and I haven’t had a lot of success. For today’s #InnerWork Wednesday, I wanted to develop a ritual to help me transform my feelings of helplessness in order to focus my intention, my voice and my energy before undergoing additional procedures.*
Gather the following items in your sacred space:
A candle (intuitively choose the color)
A piece of polymer clay
An oracle or tarot deck
Step 1: Cast a circle or center yourself using meditation, yoga, whatever you use to ground.
Step 2: Spend some time using your inner eye to create an image of a tree covered in leaves. Use all of your senses to draw out each element of how it would look, feel, smell and sound. Spend some time mentally relaxing under its branches.
Step 3: Ask Deity or your inner Wisdom to show you the specific question you need to ask in order to ground yourself before your medical procedure. For example, perhaps there is an attitude or strength you can cultivate for assistance, or a character trait that will be strengthened by engaging in self-care and following through on your doctor’s advice.
Step 4: After deciding upon the question, draw a Tarot or oracle card and meditate on what it reveals to you.
Step 5: Decide how you wish to use the clay. You can either shape it into the body part related to your medical procedure, or you can shape it into a representation of what the card revealed to you. Or both!
Step 6: Place your clay creation in front of the candle. Light the candle, and, if it fits your practice to do so, ask your Deity or Inner Wisdom to be present with you during the procedure and to guide you in developing the traits you need to undergo it successfully.
Step 7: Imagine the tree again, and imagine yourself underneath of it being filled with strength, voice, intention and energy. Spend as much time as you need to draw in the rootedness the tree offers. Listen for any healing messages, and thank the tree for its blessings.
Step 8: Thank your Deity or Inner Wisdom for guidance, and close the circle.
Consider taking something with you to your appointment that you can touch in order to ground yourself. The polymer clay could be baked and turned into an amulet for protection or talisman for blessing for this purpose. I created a witch jar filled with hearts to represent lovingkindness, and I wear a bracelet with chakra stones that also has an evil eye to ward off any negative energies.
*Please note that I am primarily focused in this post on routine types of medical care here; if you are having major surgery or testing that could be life-altering, I definitely encourage you to seek out additional resources and consult your support system as there could be an element of grief or direct trauma involved in those situations.
If you decide to use any of this ritual in your own practice, be sure to adapt it to your own preferences and needs. It may be worth doing at least parts of it more than once to solidify your mental imagery and connection to Source before your procedure. I welcome any links to other practices you have found helpful!
On this #NaturallyMindful Monday, I want to share a bit about my journey with physical nourishment, both as it relates to my health and my social consciousness towards the environment. This post feels raw to me in terms of spirituality, as I don’t think I’m at a place where my spirituality is fully integrated into my eating behaviors and vice versa. Rather than pretend that I’ve arrived at some place of awareness and higher knowledge, I intend to create a dialogue about the struggle many of us have with eating and food and narrate where I’ve tread thus far.
I was a relatively normal weight as a child and don’t remember any particular issues with food. Everything changed when I hit puberty. I was an early bloomer and started to gain a bit of weight. Given my need for control, I decided to put an end to that right there. I started eating 500 calories a day and dropped below 100 pounds. I gave up most meats during this time as a way to avoid having to eat food others were cooking. Then I began a kind of binge-purge cycle as starvation set in. I was eventually shamed into eating more after my family discovered my purging, but my relationship with food and my body was still completely distorted.
The Junk Food Vegetarian
Once I went to college, I became a lacto-ovo vegetarian. There were very few vegetables involved in this affair. Mostly I ate pizza, cereal with chocolate milk, and bagels with cream cheese. You know, all the food groups! I gained weight and spent a lot of time thinking about my next meal. A positive development here is that I started cooking for others and discovered they liked my way of preparing food.
More Beer, Please!
I started drinking during college and this tipped me into obesity. I would eat three meals a day, go out and get wasted, and come home to cook an entire meal at 2 am. My weight went up to over 200 pounds. I’ve always thought of this as my “happy time,” because I was so out of touch with myself that I didn’t have as much anxiety and depression as I normally do.
I also reintroduced meat into my diet, brilliantly eating a multi-course meal at Chili’s including ribs after fasting for three days. There was much pain from that stunt, but I was living it up. I would consider myself to have been addicted to food (and abusing alcohol) during this time. It “worked” to make me feel better temporarily, but would have caused serious health problems if I’d stayed at that point. I think some of the chronic conditions I have now were likely started by or at least exacerbated by my behaviors.
Balance, Balance, Balance
For at least a decade, I began a hilly ride up and down the weight charts and through diet after diet. I lost 80 pounds at one point, then gained 30 back, and kept going up and down. The positive side of this ride was that I was eating an amount that was closer to what my body needed, and my weight swings became somewhat less dramatic over time. I started to eat less sugar as well which helped to reduce some of my cravings. When I religiously counted my calories, I lost pounds and maintained my weight. As soon as that stopped, the pounds came back.
The other change during this time is that I established a regular exercise routine that I have now followed for four years or so and think has become integrated into who I am. I use workout videos five times a week and walk my dog at least three times a day. As a result, I’ve gained muscle tone and improved my physical stamina.
This is where I’ve been at for about a year now. I became so tired of counting calories I decided to see if I could maintain my weight by “listening to my body.” It hasn’t worked that well as I’ve gained around 15 pounds total, but I have learned some things. One is that my health conditions like GERD, IBS and possible gallbladder issues actually cause me to overeat. I will start to feel sick and have unconsciously learned that eating a little bit more, especially if it’s carbs, will temporarily stop the pain. I’ve also learned that there are certain foods that lead directly to digestive problems, including alcohol, animal fat and fried foods. I get so sick from these foods that I’ve dramatically reduced my intake of them. Lastly, I’ve started cooking breakfast and eating it more mindfully and slowly than at any point in the past. I would love to be able to extend this to my other two meals as I think then I’d be set!
Eating the Earth’s Way
The latest part of my journey has been to begin to consider consciously both myself and others in regards to my diet. I feel torn about eating meat as I know I could not kill certain animals like cows on my own even if it was the only way to get a burger. I am at the point of giving up red meat because of this. I plan to spend a few months observing my relationship with fish and poultry to see if those are items I can live without or if I need them to maintain some semblance of a reasonable diet (aka to avoid Junk Food Vegetarian Part 2).
I also plan to take an account of what foods are “safe” for me to eat with my medical conditions and engage in more creative meal planning to try to incorporate more of a variety into my diet. Having a large portion of healthy foods trigger severe GERD makes something like a salad more challenging than it otherwise would be. I suspect there are additional ways of preparing foods that would work for me if I was willing to put in the time to try them.
The last goal I have for myself is to continue to listen to my body instead of trying to force myself to lose weight. I’m still in a range that wouldn’t cause serious health issues, especially with my level of exercise, and I think coming into a right relationship with food while eating mindfully would be life-changing. As I develop my spiritual life, I hope there is a mind-body-spirit synergy that centers and settles me into an evolved way of making food- and eating-related decisions.
I feel somewhat silly taking anyone who’s read this far through all this. At the same time, I remember at many points feeling like I was the only one who had these issues because most of my friends seemed to struggle less than I did. I do know that a history of trauma predisposes people to an increased risk of difficulties with food and weight. Many people who see food and weight as a battle to be won. I’m trying to view it instead as a relationship to develop, one in which listening, kindness, grace and perseverance will hopefully result in a sense of goddessing my food choices and eating habits.
Millennials have been on the receiving end of many forms of ridicule, including the idea that they are spiritually “flaky”—permanent seekers dabbling in a multitude of religions and spiritual practices, with no real awareness and understanding. As an “Xennial,” I disagree with these viewpoints for several reasons. First, I think spending time in the wilderness is an authentic part of the developmental process of forging a spiritual identity. Second, while there may be an exploratory period that appears shallow and superficial, for many people, this is followed by a rooting into a particular framework by which they view the world. Lastly, at least for some of us, the only way to find our spiritual home is to look for it, as the one in which we were born is ill-suited and unfit for us.
As we continue on our spiritual journeys, I think at least some of us arrive at a place of feeling like the trek has arrived at its destination. Or at least a destination for the time being. Some signals I’ve found that have let me know that Goddess Spirituality is my home are the alignment that’s happened to my beliefs and behavior, the desire I have to share what I’ve learned with others (more on how to handle this below), an ability to see outside my own situation, a passion to better the world, and an understanding that, although I may have found my place, I’m now at the station of creating hearth and sustenance from the dwelling in which I find myself. I’ll be examining each of these signs on today’s #SacredSpiritualGrowth Saturday.
1. Coalescence of Beliefs and Behaviors
When we are in harmony with our beliefs, our behaviors naturally start to align with how we see the world. We may find ourselves making lifestyle changes or decisions that simply didn’t occur to us or seemed out of reach previously. As I’ve settled myself into Earth-based Goddess Spirituality, I’ve begun to reconsider my relationship with the natural world, including the foods I chose to eat such as red meat. I’m also paying significantly more attention to the seasons, moon phases and the outdoors. I’ve wasted less money and spent less time binging on TV and movies. All our vices do not magically dry up the moment we find ourselves spiritually, but I do think they are less reinforcing because our energy is devoted to things that flow from our heart-center.
When we’re at our spiritual home, we may feel like we are being true to ourselves and authentic in our stance. My previous religious path forced me to condemn many people who I really didn’t see as evil, which felt unnatural and judgmental. I felt sheepish at times as I tried to “pretzel” myself into explanations that lessened the harshness of what I was taught. Now I feel no shame in holding up my viewpoint to the light. The spiritual framework by which I live aligns with my philosophical and moral views of the world, which has led to inner tranquility.
2. Evangelizing Tendencies
Much to the chagrin of those around us, we may be so excited by our new outlook on the world that we decide they also need to come along for the ride. Even though I know how annoying this is, I still find myself engaging in it at times. Please note that I see this as totally different from trying to tell people they need to believe something or their mortal souls are at risk. What I’m referencing here can even apply to things like lifestyle improvements such as what we eat, how we exercise and where we travel.
We find something that seems a bit off the beaten path but so “us” and so satisfying that we wish everyone could feel as good as we do. If we play it out long enough, this is typically followed by realizing that whatever we discovered still has some rough spots and scratches and maybe doesn’t look brilliant from every angle. To me, a genuine spiritual home lends itself to at least an initial burst of thrill and joy, with regular boosts of excitement from time to time.
3. Moving Beyond Self
One phrase that’s always brought a twinge of guilt to me is “navel-gazing,” mostly because I’m pretty sure I’m great at doing it. When we find our center, I don’t think this inward focus stops, nor do I think it should. Most things that get labeled as “navel-gazing” could also be conceptualized as the labeler’s failure to empathize. Knowing our own wounds, needs and desires is healthy and life-giving. From our home base of self-care where we acknowledge these things and seek to address them, I think the natural sequence is then to look up and out, to take in what others’ experiences also are, and to respond with kindness and compassion.
I’ve always felt defensive in reaction to religious doctrines that preach a loss of self or that self is evil. When I speak of going beyond self, I see it as an act that encompasses and is actually rooted in our Self—our highest Self that has let go of ego and seeks greater values than human adoration.
4. The Greater Good
Reaching further than our own self-interest naturally begs the question of where our focus gets directed. In small or in large ways, I believe the firm ground underfoot upon which we come to stand when we’ve uncovered our place provides a platform from which we can draw on our resources and respond to the needs we see in the world. Some of us are naturally drawn into community and action-based movement; others may do this work in a more solitary, contemplative manner. In either case, our firmness in who we are spiritually leads directly to our strength in responding out of love. An image that flickers through my mind here is of the counter-protests in Charlottesville recently, where people of various faith traditions linked arms and stood together against hate. Taking time to know who you are and what you represent can only deepen the commitment you’ll have to express your voice in an uplifting way.
5. Tending House
Nothing in what I’ve shared is intended to give you the idea that finding a spiritual home means the work’s done. Instead, I think this is where things get really interesting. I actually see a house in my mind when I think about this concept, and it’s in a bit of disarray as I neglected it for quite some time. When we know what’s right for us, and the spiritual part of our identity feels settled, we get to learn, grow and develop in place. I have no doubt that my viewpoints will evolve and gain significant complexity over time, and that the final version of my dwelling will look almost completely unrecognizable once I’m done crafting and letting it be crafted by Goddess. Allowing ourselves the freedom to continue to explore new nooks and crannies, dust off some unused shelves, and declutter can take our sense of spiritual presence from one of stagnation to a lively, bustling enterprise.
Please feel free to share whether you feel like you’ve reached home yet or not, and what your signposts have looked like along the way!