A photo of a rock with sunlight filtered onto it.
Goddess Thealogy, Pagan Practice, Sacred Spiritual Growth

The Goddessing Cycle: Resting

Cross-posted on my SageWoman blog.

This post is the second (after Releasing) in my year of sharing the Goddessing Cycle, which is the flow of energy and draw toward ritual I experience in my relationship with Goddess. The phase of resting, for me, extends from December through February. The name is deceptive, as if hibernation and drawing inward are the focus of this season. Rather, I believe it is a time of deepening into the fullness of our inner world, and then a slow but steady rush of growth outward into the world around us.

The processes I’ll be describing below fit best in climates that become cold, bleak and snowy. I would be curious if those who live in very warm climates experience some of these moments in the peak of summer instead, when the heat (rather than the cold) makes it nearly impossible to spend time outside. Although I am presenting the four parts of the Goddessing Cycle as they unfold across the year for me, keep in mind that they may show up differently for you no matter where you live.

Image showing the Goddessing Cycle. A circle with bi-directional arrows containing the words Fruiting, Releasing, Resting and Unfurling in a clockwise order.

Simple Pleasures

There is something both young and ancient about resting. Babies (and puppies) physically sleep most of the time as their brains and bodies develop. Some people grow more dormant with age, casting off the tasks they deem unnecessary for those that are closest to their hearts. I find a simplicity rooted in resting, a request from my Inner Being/Goddess to settle into myself and search out that which is vital.

I spend several hours each winter compiling a record of the previous year, and then, from that place of reflection, creating goals for the new year. Rather than whine about New Year’s resolutions being stupid, I look at my culture’s practice of them and wonder about whether there are ancient or ingrained patterns to which we are attending when we seek to make new our attempts at self-improvement. I believe something has to stir in us to cause those of us who live in barren, frigid lands to believe that, during the bitterest of times, fresh and hopeful rousings are afoot.

An Inflection Point

During the resting phase of the year, I experience a shift in energy. The previous phase of releasing is inward-gathering, letting go of impediments and drawing toward inertia. There is a stillness at the heart of resting that we will be further exploring during the meditation I’ve created below. The stillness is a pause in fullness. It reflects a holding and then then turning outward of momentum and impulse. If we take time to practice being in the moment, we likely experience many of these inflections throughout each day, week and month, but it is only around the start of the new year that I make a deliberate practice of this redirection of my energy.

A Mediation for Resting

This ritual is designed primarily as a meditation on the moment—a way to connect to ourselves and the world around us through direct experience. It involves concentrating on one’s breath as a symbolic representation of the energy exchange that flows through each of us and through the world around us. It utilizes four of our five main senses, so adjust as needed to your own abilities and preferences. Exercise caution if you have an respiratory difficulties. You may want to record yourself reading the directions and play them back to yourself as you practice it.

Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down (outside if possible). Breathe deeply and slowly, noticing each in and out breath. Close your eyes and concentrate on the sounds around you. Spend a few minutes bringing your awareness to noises both close and far. Breathe in and hold your breath for a few seconds. As you do so, notice the stillness in the sounds around you. Where are the areas of silence? Where is the energy lessened? Breathe out as you feel the rush of sounds amplify. Where is there energy flowing? What form does the noise take and how does it sit with you? Continue this practice of finding the silence and the noise in rhythm with your breathing.

Next, turn your attention to your sense of touch, temperature and pressure. Breathe in slowly and deeply. Pay attention for a few moments to any skin sensations. Breathe in and hold your breath for a few seconds. Where on your body is there stillness? What areas seem neutral, neither hot nor cold, constricted nor loose? Breathe out and notice areas of high energy. Perhaps places where you can feel air flow or the dampness of the earth. Areas that are warmed by the sun or cooled by a chill. Continue to breathe in and out in the rhythm of movement and stillness.

Now, concentrate on your sense of smell. Breathe in and out to acclimate yourself to the scents around you. Breathe in through your nose and hold your breath for a few seconds. What happens to the smells when you do this? What pauses in you as scents disappear? Breathe out and, as you breathe in again, observe the movement of odors. Continue this rhythmic breathing, being sure to pause with each in-breath to notice the hollow.

Finally, open your eyes and drink in the sights around you. Breathe slowly for a few minutes as you examine your surroundings. Next, breathe in and, as you hold your breath briefly, find the areas of low energy. Where is there void? Where does emptiness and monotony show up? What lacks in color and texture? Breathe out and find places of movement, light and complexity. Continue scanning as you breathe in and out, pausing each cycle to see the neutral.

I encourage you to consider this meditation as a potential reflection of your inner world, especially if you are spending time as I am during this time in evaluating the past year and setting goals for the next one. I never knew I craved experiences like spaciousness and simplicity until I became more intentional in taking time to reflect. Modern-day life often sends us the message that we need to not only appear busy, but also effortless in our busyness. By finding the places where things are not moving or producing or changing, where they are still, we invite ourselves into internal areas of strength that we may otherwise view as weakness. It is okay to rest. Moreover, I believe we only find out the vastness of who we are (and/or who Goddess is) when we slow down enough to give every part of ourselves an opportunity to show up, be seen and just be.

A yorkie asleep underneath a white blanket.
Naturally Mindful

Dogs as Healing Companions for Trauma Survivors

I will never forget the conversation I had with a friend shortly before I set off to pick up my first dog. I told her I was worried I would regret my decision. She quipped that I would be wondering why I didn’t make the commitment to pet parenting earlier! Her intuition proved to be spot-on as the space my pup has opened up in my heart stirs and surprises me on a regular basis. For today’s #NaturallyMindful post, I will be sharing about canine psychological research as well as my own experiences with pet parenting as a trauma survivor.

Why Dogs?

  • Both Dogs and Humans Benefit from Shared Affection

Research indicates that both species release oxytocin, the “cuddle” hormone, during interactions such as eye contact and petting (Handlin, 2015). This may serve to lower our stress levels and to bond us to each other. In addition, caring for a dog is not only good for our heart in terms of love. It is also linked with positive changes to physical heart disease risk factors such as our blood pressure and cholesterol levels (CDC, 2014).

  • Puppies Form Infant-Like Bonds with Pet Parents

The idea that humans need to serve as the “alpha” and establish dominance over dogs has been challenged by newer research. Rather than viewing their human as master, dogs may instead see us as a parent (Palestrini et al., 2005). For me, this has meant concentrating my efforts on forming a trusting relationship with healthy boundaries and rules with my pup.

  • Dogs May Assist in Coping with Mental Health Concerns

Although it is extremely popular, the evidence for the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy is relatively sparse (Crossman, 2016). Personally, I wonder about whether the deeper bond of pet parenting is needed for sustained symptom reduction. Surveys of pet parents do reveal, however, that humans perceive themselves as experiencing positive well-being as a result of their relationship with their dog(s) (O’Haire, 2010).

Personal Reflections

Choose Wisely

Dogs can have mental health and relationship issues themselves (see, for instance, Laurel Braitman’s book on Animal Madness). I’ll leave arguments about nature versus nurture (dog breed versus training) to the side for a moment and simply say that not every relationship between a dog and a person is going to be healthy or healing. I believe that, as pet parents, we need to be taking care of ourselves physically and mentally before making the commitment to raising an animal. This doesn’t mean we have to be “healed” first, simply that it is best if we have the resources in place to deal with the unexpected. For instance, my dog had a few bad experiences (and limited interaction) with other dogs, which has led him to “yell” at passing pups quite frequently. I chose to invested in personalized training to help with these behaviors and am now planning to engage in more advanced, focused training with him as well.

In choosing to become a pet parent, I think we do well, just as with human relationships, to enter into it with as few expectations as possible. The more we pile assumptions onto the relationship, the more we are setting both ourselves and our dog up for disappointment, failure and negative outcomes. Hoping that we will forge a healing and deep bond is not automatic; it takes commitment and follow-through.

Fully Invest of Yourself

Our pets require quality time with us on a regular basis in order to develop a rhythm in our connection. When I am feeling more depressed or anxious, it can be hard for me to view care-taking as anything other than an obligation. If I give myself to each walk or play session or smell adventure, bit by bit it becomes an expression of love.

Dogs and humans can bond through grooming. My pup needs a weekly bath and frequent hair-trims, so I’ve had a lot of opportunity for this. I am unable to clip his toenails myself (there was an incident), but he allows me to do all of his haircuts. This may not be a reasonable expectation for every pet parent, but consider what you and your pet can share, even if it is as simple as brushing their hair. Many dogs also love pet massage.

Hold on Lightly

Not to the leash! What I mean here is that a relationship with a dog is inherently one of loss alongside the joy it brings. Their lives are much shorter than ours, and, even before the ultimate separation, there are other changes as well. My dog is only a few years old but has already had to have knee surgery. He is now also going blind from Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), a condition that currently does not have any effective treatment. I’ve learned, as much as I’m able, to open my hands and make an offering of my affection for him, rather than to cling to it and “demand” of Goddess or whomever that it remains exactly as I want it to be. Love is loss at times.

Appreciate the Invitation to the Present Moment

My pup is capable of anticipating the future. The word “bath” sends him into a sullen heap, and the word “park” has him barreling toward the garage door to hop in my car. In general, though, he appears to live moment to moment. This is especially true if there is a good sniff to be had outdoors! Dogs appear to be able to detect the passage of time, the type of animal who’s passed by, and so forth, based on the intensity of scents left (Horowitz, 2016), so I tend to ask him if there are any good “stories” if he insists on stopping to peruse the grass. He shows me in the moment what he is feeling, rather than holding back.

Dogs can pick up a negative emotional state from their owners and respond in a variety of ways, including shaking it out (Huber, 2017). In doing so, they show us how to move through our feelings instead of ruminating on and stewing in them. I frequently feel jealous of the speed with which my dog adapts to new situations and the resilience he displays. At the same time, his “bounce-back” inspires me to respond to challenges with a hopeful rather than resigned attitude.

My pup and I share our hyper-vigilance (although his is in reaction to other dogs and mine to humans). This sometimes adds to rather than reduces my symptomology. If he is having a “barky” day, I find I may need to distract both him and myself with a change in location or a new activity. Before I got my dog, I had frequent anxiety at night. Now, I almost always sleep well unless I’ve had too much caffeine. The reason is that he sends me “its all good” signals for a few hours before bed every night, as he sleeps on the couch while I read or watch TV. He spends the night in a crate by my bed. His peaceful slumber lets me know it is safe to relax and allows the part of me that might otherwise think it needs to be alert to rest as I know he’ll wake me if there is any danger. The moments of the night that used to feel fraught and dangerous are now secure and cozy.

The biggest change for me as a survivor that has happened since I became a parent to my dog is that I have experienced a dramatic reduction in my level of suicidality. In part, this is due to the commitment I have to him in terms of care-taking and the difficulty both of us experience if we are away from each other too long. I believe it is also due to the fact that I have a being near me many hours every day who wants nothing more than my attention and care, who loves me even when I’m angry, and who allows me to dress him in an old sweater and wrap him in blankets every night before he goes to sleep. He’s found his way to my heart and he knows it. In doing so, he’s given me a reason to press on.

If you are a survivor who parents a dog, what has the relationship meant to you? What has your experience with your dog taught you? How has your heart changed?

A sunny spot of undergrowth surrounded by tall trees.
Inspiration Fanatic

5 Elements: Creative Visual Exploration through Photography

Cross-posted at my SageWoman blog.

For today’s #InspirationFanatic post, I snapped a series of photographs* based on the five elements–earth, air, fire, water and spirit. I’ve been lacking any desire to be creative and needed a way to get plugged back into Nature. I felt connected to Goddess through this experience, especially when I found the “spirit” spot. I encourage you to go to a favorite natural setting and do the same! I’ve included a few prompts for each element in case you need ideas to get started.

Earth

I honed in on decomposition for my photograph–evidence of something returning to the earth. You might also consider finding a place where soil meets growth, or a plant or animal being nourished by the earth. If you feel stuck, ask yourself what around you feels rooted, strong and grounded.A photograph of a tree trunk rotting away into the earth.

Air

I found myself drawn to movement when I contemplated the air element. You could also look for plant or animal material that tends to get carried in the wind, such as leaves or dandelion fluff. Wispy clouds may also reflect this element. To touch this element, ask yourself what in your immediate surroundings is in motion, is breathing or is aloft.

A photograph of a tree with its green leaves in motion.

Fire

I happened upon a fire pit which felt like an apt representation of this element. A spotlight cast by the sun or dry and dusty conditions fit here, as would flames (in a safe setting of course). If you are unsure what to include, ask yourself what around you is marked by sunlight, dry, scorched or alight?

An empty stone fire pit with ashes after the fire has burned out.Water

Any body of water or aspect of rain, mist, fog or dew represents the water element. This is the element with which I connect the most easily and deeply. The forest where I was hiking ended up being a ridge high above the stream below. It was interesting to notice that my sense of immediacy with Goddess was limited when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get close to water. If you need additional inspiration, ask yourself what around you is wet, moist, hidden or heavy.

A stream surrounded by logs and trees in late summer.

Spirit

Spirit is amorphous and fully open to interpretation. After feeling disappointed regarding how far I was from water, I retraced my steps as I went to leave and happened upon a clearing in the woods through which the sunlight was pouring. I felt my breath slow and my heart open to this scene. For me, that sense of “I’m right here, right now” is always indicative of spirit.

A sunny spot of undergrowth surrounded by tall trees.

Reflection

For this experience, I let myself indulge my visual sense, which is what I perceive first in any situation. I want to conduct this type of walk again, but to focus on finding a connection to each element through my sense of smell or my sense of hearing, etc. I would also like to brainstorm other concepts that can be represented through photographs. I typically allow Nature to speak directly to me when I go for a walk in the forest and proceed without any plans. It was a nice change of pace to feel that I was seeking specific points of connection with Goddess through Nature; She answered my inquiry and showed me Her beauty.

© 2018 All rights reserved, Suzanne Tidewater

*Please forgive all the copyrights labels; I had someone steal an entire blog post including the photograph recently.

Embodied Heart, Inner Work

Bog and Peak: Welcoming Mystery

“Perhaps we should reconsider the importance of swamps. They are the meeting place of earth and water, a liminal space between the surface, the conscious world, and the depth of the unconscious. When we dare to venture into the forbidden forest, the soft ground where waters are dark, or the house of the witch, we engage with adventures and learn more about ourselves.” Eila Carrico, The Other Side of the River, pg. 47.

Trauma survivors face many mysteries—making sense the specifics of their experiences, as well as relating to self and others when core beliefs have been shattered and determining what being “healed” really entails. For today’s #InnerWork Wednesday, I’ll be examining our response to the unknown. I recently shared a poem that I wrote which blossomed into this post.

I thought the purpose of inner work was evaporation; to remove all traces of murkiness from the bogs of my heart and memory, exposing all that I am to the light. But life holds mystery; pure awareness would bore us instantly. No, I think now life is the film on water surface, the pebble-lined shore bed, the dip between road and grass. Rising and sinking, knowing and unknowing, holding and releasing, body and soul. Dwelling in the space between reality and fantasy, solid and mist, sensation and perception, allowing form to pass into the formless and back again.

I widen myself to include the bits of me I do not know. I pull myself in around the same pieces when they make themselves manifest, forming a protective hedge. This cycle of movement births a mothering of inner trust.

When Self meets Other, magic ensues. The edge, teeming with activity, evolves, grows, dies back and reforms. Boundaries exist in nature but are not created or fixed. We can have confidence in ourselves, as we mature, to feel them from the tips of our fingers as we approach Other, rather than to erect them as solid steel fortresses into which none dare enter or to run rampant through any we meet.

Edges require invitation, both across and down. To know ourselves in the places where we are hidden, we must near the drop and stay our feet until eyes surface and request our presence. Forcing parts of self out into the piercing light is just as traumatic as shoving them into the algae. In connecting with Other, voice ringing over range reigns. Asking and receiving permission to sit with another, as well as calling ourselves away as we leave, signals to loved ones that their Self will not be overrun or abandoned by our Other.

We will never know ourselves or another wholly. To awaken is not to perceive, rather, it is to sense not only what the body experiences, but to lift eyes to the mountaintop—the periphery of Other—and the turbid waters—the depths of Self—and to hold in consciousness the awareness of Secrets. To the fullest extent possible, learning to vigil these Unknowns, table set and heart open, instead of demanding their presence or rejecting their existence, enlivens the edge and entrains its spirals and eddies to soften. What bubbles up, what casts down ladder, is both stranger and old friend.

Naturally Mindful

Slow Cooking: A Sustainable and Mindful Food Preparation Ritual

Consider the last meal you ate. What were the ingredients used to prepare it? Where did they come from in the world? How did they make their way to you? To what extent did you engage your senses as you ate the meal? For today’s #NaturallyMindful Monday, we’ll be participating in a cooking ritual together. Some aspects of this practice conjure up for me the scene in the TV show Portlandia where the characters are trying to determine not only the specific farm from which the chicken originated, but also its life story. The point of the ritual, however, is not only to allow us to see where our food comes from, it is also designed to invite us to practice attention and to see the fullness of life behind even a simple behavior such as eating. It is a spiritually-centered practice, not a full-time lifestyle recommendation, as I think it could become yet another way we might begin to restrict and over-regulate our lives.

For this practice, I suggest choosing a simple meal with bold ingredients that can be cooked in 30 minutes or less (my title references the internal practice, not the cook time)! You will be eating the dish very slowly, so either find one that will taste palatable even if it comes closer to room temperature, or one that you can serve yourself from repeatedly in small portions. If it suits you, consider choosing a dish that you’ve “invented” or one that has been passed down to you. You can conduct this ritual on your own or invite others who are willing to participate to cook and/or dine with you.

Supplies

Food items (the first part of the practice includes some internet research, so make a list of every ingredient as well to use while the food is properly stored).

Recipe

Paper or electronic map of the world with pins/tag capacity

Bowl/plate and eating utensils for which you know the origins

Step 1:

Using your list of food items, research the origin of each ingredient. Try to determine not only the place of origin of your food item, but also the journey it had to take to reach you. How long ago was it last in “nature?” In what type of vehicles was it carried from its point of origin to your house? Who grew, picked and processed it? Where and how did you buy it? Take careful notes.

Step 2:

Using your notes, pin each place of origin on your map. How much of the world was involved in creating your dish? What is your reaction to this knowledge? Use your imagination to recreate each item’s travels to your location. Connect with the people, places, smells and sights that existed along the way.

Step 3:

Before you begin to cook the dish, spend some time with the recipe. Where did you get it? If you created it yourself, what inspired you? If it was passed down to you, what is its history? Who were the people that made it for you in the past? In what context did you enjoy it? What memories does it evoke?

Step 4:

Set up your cook station and lay out your ingredients. Prep each ingredient individually—for instance, cut up veggies separately. Focus on your breathing and on the physical experience of interacting with each item. Next, prepare the recipe according to the directions. If there is any sort of a wait time during cooking, use the time to focus your senses—what are you hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching as you prepare the food? Cooking is an incredibly stimulating experience that taps into all of our senses! Breathe into the experience and see how your body reacts to each aspect of cooking the meal.

Step 5:

When the food has been prepared, set a place for yourself and anyone who will be joining you. Take a moment to note the origins of the eating utensils and plates/bowls you’ll be using. Serve yourself whatever portion of food you can eat very slowly without it losing flavor as it cools or warms up to room temperature. When everything is ready, start by closing your eyes and smelling the food. What is the first scent to hit you? What small notes are hiding out, taking their time to make themselves known? Sit in appreciation of the scent-bath the food is providing, noting any reaction your body has to the sensations you are experiencing. Next, move on to hearing. Are there any sounds emanating from the dish? Listen, and listen again. Where in your body do you notice sensation? Now, move on to sight. Open your eyes and drink in the full array of colors, shapes, textures and gradients that present themselves in the dish. Where is it smooth? Where is it rough? What colors stand out? What colors do you see when you look again? Which shapes predominate? Where is the form ill-defined? Where may steam be rising? Liquid pooling? Note each aspect of the dish piece by piece, and then take in the experience as a whole, noting your physical reactions. Move now to taste, preparing one small bite. Before you eat it, take another moment to smell, listen and look at how the food has changed in form now that it is on your utensil. Slowly eat the first bite, pausing to note both the flavors the food imparts as well as the sensation of touch as it enters your mouth and you chew it. Continue to eat the dish, chewing each bit at least 20 times and pausing after each bite to examine how your body is responding to the experience. As you eat the dish, honor your body’s sensation of hunger as well as your possible fullness. When you feel satiated, discontinue your eating and take some time to reflect on the experience as a whole.

bowl free
Banana-oat bowl!

Reflections

I engaged in the mindfulness practice I created with a banana-oat dish I love. This dish brings back memories from my undergraduate experience. Our cafeteria occasionally had visiting chefs, one of whom introduced me to the deliciousness of Bananas Foster. My spinoff is missing the rum and the sugar, but has the buttery sweetness in a wholesome, protein-rich package.

In researching the ingredients, which include Greek yogurt, dates, butter, rolled oats, and bananas, I was surprised to learn that the butter I’d purchased had a longer trip to me than everything else, save the banana. The banana was the only ingredient that originated outside of the U.S.; it was grown in Guatemala. Bananas are Guatemala’s top export. In reading about the history of banana imports to the U.S., I felt sadness at the exploitation that has occurred for the workers who produce the crop. After a cursory search, I was not successful in locating a local place where I could buy fair-trade bananas. This exercise was worth it to me if for no other reason that it caused me to realize the foods I’ve been eating for decades without any sense of concern (e.g., non-animal products), are also susceptible to forces which I’d rather resist. Tropical fruits are my favorite, so I have more work to do to try to find a way to source them as ethically as I can (suggestions welcome!). The oats I used seemed to be at least distributed the closest to me, but the origin of the product itself was a bit murkier; they may be grown in Canada. I was happy to learn that oat production uses less fertilizer and weed killer than other grains and may have less of a negative impact on the soil as well.

When I added all my pins to the map to represent each place from which my ingredients originated, I thought about the many miles traveled and fossil fuel energy it took to get the food to my house. I’ve been frequenting a CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm this summer for my vegetables. It takes a while to drive to it, but it is nothing compared to the thousands of collective miles over which my food had to pass in order to unite in my simple dish. The bowl I used to plate my dish is sustainable and is hand-made from coconut in Hawaii.

In cooking the food, I was surprised at how difficult it was for me to remain present with what I was doing. My mind kept racing ahead and on to other topics: I suspect I lose out on a lot of the sensory experience food provides every day by my actions. I observed myself using smell as my primary sense, checking to see if the oats and dates had finished toasting in the butter when they started to hint at burning. I microwaved(!) the banana; when I’ve made this recipe before, I’ve used a frozen banana. A fresh banana in the microwave smells to me like a wet gym sock; the flavor was semi-palatable but I will definitely go with the frozen variety in the future.

Eating the dish was an exercise in centering and re-centering. I sat down and took a bite, completely forgetting my own purpose. As I re-centered on my breath, used my senses to connect to what I was doing, and ate it very slowly, I found myself experiencing texture in a new way. Part of the appeal of this dessert is the chew of the oats in contrast with the silkiness of the dates and yogurt. I also enjoyed the different temperatures—the yogurt was cold, the bananas were steaming, and the oats/dates were closer to room temperature. It had never fully occurred to me that food is more than smell, taste and visual appeal (except for the few textures like sea urchin that I simply cannot bear). I struggle to eat vegetables on a regular basis, so perhaps concentrating on these sensory touch-points will help to widen my palate.

On the whole, my meal sat differently in me as I thought about its origins, travels and the impact each piece of it had on my being. I wondered how the sorrowful path of the banana, at least if its story was untold, would impact my body as compared to one that was sustainably grown and harvested. I was filled with a fuller understanding of myth and story; the beauty of sitting together and hearing one’s elders speak in sacred terms about how the various indigenous plants and animals came to populate our region and make their way to our bellies has been obliterated by modern agricultural practices. The mechanization and digitization of our lives stripped from us first our connection to the land and has now, with convenience foods, taken even our knowledge of how to prepare food for ourselves. In addition, there is privilege today in having the time, money and resources to examine from where our food comes and to prepare it and perhaps grow and harvest it by hand; many people struggle obtain nourishment in the first place. Movements like permaculture and fair trade may assist us to address these concerns as a society; on the small scale, as we adjust our lifestyles to whatever extent possible, we can partake in small, sacred moments of passing a plate around the hearth, recounting the story of each ingredient and mindfully savoring each spoonful.

To what extent do you attend to the origins of the foods you eat? How far or near are their points of origin to you? How fresh are they when they arrive at your home? To what extent are you attentive and mindful during the process of cooking? Eating? Lastly, if you try any part of the ritual, please share your experience!