Naturally Mindful

Elemental Meditation: Earth

This is the first installment in a series of blogs about the four elements. My spiritual walk is that of an Earth-based practitioner of Goddess Spirituality, so the element of earth was a natural beginning point. I will be describing physical features of earth and connecting them to our human and spiritual experience for today’s #NaturallyMindful Monday.

Dirt

You’re walking on the dead each time you trod across the ground. Topsoil is comprised of decayed plant material and animals such as insects, as well as inert materials such as clay. I conceptualize it as an open-air sacrifice. All that has gone before us is reused and recycled for our benefit, often without our appreciation or awareness.

We admonish children to wash dirt from their hands, and brush it off of ourselves each time we enter our houses after activities like gardening. Certainly most of us would be embarrassed if a visitor discovered some of it inside our houses, unless it was in a careful container growing plants. Words like dirty and soiled are not typically used as a compliment. We are decaying as soon as we come into existence, but we wish ourselves separate from the process. I struggle with a fear of germs, so I’m not about to take a dirt bath anytime soon, but I now see the inherent worth of something I previously avoided.

Layers

It’s easy to focus on the soil on which we tread as the beginning and end of the ground, but the Earth made of varied geological features. We spend our lives atop liquid rock and an iron core. In some places, water flows miles below, unseen. Every step each of us takes is ultimately above rock that is nearly the temperature of the sun. What would it feel like to internalize the power available to us underneath our beings? The white-hot blazing, flowing, liquid, diamond-hard, soil-soft, aerated impenetrable of the earth cannot be summarized in one word or image; it is complexity quantified. All we have to do is get to ground to literally stand on it and claim it as our birth place.

The earth’s layers help us measure the passage of time and enable us to notice key moments. Scientists theorize about when a particular event occurred based on the physical features of the soil and the chemical composition of the rock layers. As humans, we don’t physically carry our inner self enshelled within deposits of aged growth, but we do hold our past within us. For those of us who are trauma survivors, the memories of bygone fates have altered our internal landscape and left their mark on our psyche. Despite our violent pleadings, I do not think we are made wholly anew by spiritual regenerations or rebirths. Rather, I think we are sifted and stirred spiritually, like sand, until we integrate each part of our existence and self. When the process finishes, no one part can be separated from the rest.

Buried deep in the folds of the Earth, we can find hidden treasures and a wealth of natural resources. The most barren and unsuspecting vista can hold vast caches of precious metals and fossil fuels. How many of us conceal our inner gems, for fear of their flaws or imperfections? We may spend so much time and effort on perfecting our outer being, convinced that the way we look determines our inner worth, when in fact our value is tied only minimally to our constantly dimming physical attractiveness.

Roots

The earth is more than rock and soil. Plants and earth-dwelling creatures share with it a symbiotic relationship. Elements are exchanged between beast and ground, between plant and dirt. Remove one without replacement and the other suffers. Witnessing this sense of place leaves me curious as to where we are rooted, and as to what “grounds” us. So much of what sustains us, even the most basic ingredients such as our food and water, often arrives at our doorstep from vast distances. What are we made of if not our land? How are we altered by our potential disconnection from the place in which we find ourselves?

An animal who makes its home underground and a plant that survives based in part through the tendrils digging deep below will not last long if it is uprooted. At the same time, transplanting and relocation are possible. Consider the care many of us give flowers and shrubs we plant around our houses, welcoming them to their new home and ensuring for their well-being. A new pet is afforded all sorts of accommodations to make it feel comfortable. I moved 12 times or so as a young adult; it was rare to experience hospitality or even recognition in each new location. How do we welcome the strangers among us? Why are we as adults expected to be able to jump right in to an unfamiliar and novel environment? What can each of us do if we move, either physically or psychically, to a new place, in order to find the spot with the right mix of elements and surroundings to help us flourish?

The Earth is very much alive. The ground is filled with secrets. It holds the past in its decay. The dynamic ground swells and moves. It undulates with deep stirrings. Most importantly, the ground is sacred. Who we are, what we are and where we are is entrenched within it for this emanation of our life. What lessons have you cultivated as you’ve surmised the earth element? How best can we return to it the real and the mental support it gives to each of us?

Goddessing Self Care

Healing Time

For today’s #GoddessingSelfCare Sunday, I’ve decided to consider our relationship with time, and how we can slow down in order to have more time for self-care.

How Does Trauma Affect Time Perception?

A symptom of PTSD is a sense of a foreshortened future. People afflicted with PSTD may not see themselves living long, full lives because they are frequently in fight-or-flight mode with their sympathetic system stuck in high gear. I’ve literally spent years conceptualizing my life in this way. I’ve seen my experience as a battle and a struggle for survival. I’ve also viewed it as an escape attempt as I fled danger with no rest in sight. I think some of the resistance traumatized individuals may have to self-care and slowing down could be rooted in the dominance of a mindset that is focused on threat.

How Do You Move Through the World?

Earlier this year, I was planning a large party at my house and used a home grocery delivery service. The driver’s vehicle broke down and I was left having to go to the store and get all the ingredients with little time to spare. I raced through the store running the entire time, and came extremely close to dumping everything when I practically crashed into another shopper.

I get teased for walking extremely quickly; my physical presence in any sort of crowd tends to convey the message that I needed to get somewhere 10 minutes ago, and that, no matter the setting, it is a serious event that must be conquered by experiencing it as quickly as possible (back to the battle mindset). I’m well aware of the flaws in logic and absurdity of my actions, but I struggle to rein it in.

There is a certain type of person who amazes me. Someone who can stand in a grocery store and make pleasant conversation, while just standing there. Nothing entering or exiting the individual’s cart. A person for whom there doesn’t seem to be a large, constantly chiming, internal clock that drives every waking moment. These individuals are likely engaging their parasympathetic system, the “rest and digest” mode of life that allows for connection, communication, and an easier pace. Of course there is a time and place for urgency, but I suspect we are able to lead healthier and happier lives when we regulate and slow ourselves down appropriately.

How Can We Maximize Our Self-Care Time?

Self-care doesn’t always occur naturally or easily. It takes time to figure out what kinds of self-care might be needed, and to actually follow through on our commitment to it. It is so easy to brush off taking care of ourselves to free up reserves for others, our job, our home and a million other things, but there is usually a long-term cost to doing so. As I described above, our personalities may predispose us to brush past self-care and “being” in favor of accomplishing and “doing.”

In order to dedicate time to self-care, we can be to establish a routine for asking ourselves what we might be needing, and how we can best get those needs met. This could be done on a daily and/or a weekly basis. Just ten minutes of meditation and inner listening may open up a well of information that we can dig into to see where we are fulfilled and where we are lacking in satisfying our needs.

After we’ve identified ways in which self-care is needed, the next step is to transform our view of it from an indulgence to an investment. I’ve neglected my physical self-care in certain areas for quite a while. I’ve recently started to budget more fully for those needs. It occurred to me I could spend the money on activities like massages or exercise equipment. These seem like a splurge to me but, when I consider my long-term health, I can see that they might not be. Consider the self-care investments that would most benefit and equip you for life’s challenges.

I am curious to discuss how you allocate your time as it relates to self-care, and whether you’ve been sucked in to the Type A, fast-paced, always “on” mindset for which I’ve clearly fallen, or if you have other methods of managing to time pressure.

Embodied Heart

When Even Silence Buzzes

I’m not a music lover. The pulsating rhythm of most concerts leaves my ears feeling like they are bleeding, not an experience I desire or seek. In general, I hate sound much more than I find it pleasurable or interesting. I remind myself frequently that I should be grateful for the fact that I can hear unaided, and should find joy in the beautiful noises in my life such as birds chirping or squirrels chattering. But more moments than not, “be quiet” is on my mind. In today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I will be exploring my experience with sound in the context of struggling with PTSD.

I do not recall a time where I used my ability to hear in a way that enhanced my life. I grew up with many siblings in an old house with poor insulation. Every noise made by a family member echoed and reverberated through the wooden structure. After puberty, a sudden shift took hold, mainly around the dinner table and while driving in a crowded van. The sounds of others eating or my siblings inventing little melodies absolutely enraged me. Researchers still puzzle about the scientific validity, but having lived for decades with it, I am convinced misophonia, which is the hatred of certain sounds such as “mouth noises,” is a real condition. Noise that cannot be blocked because it causes physical vibrations as well as sound waves (such as bass music) sends me into a full-blown hysteria every time.

Difficulties with sound processing have been linked to conditions such as PTSD. In addition to misophonia, some individuals suffer from hyperacusis, which means they experience certain noises to be louder than they actually are. Phonophobia involves anxiety in reaction to loud noises and may be related to misophonia. A central feature of most of these problems is that certain sounds become connected to negative emotional events; the noise itself can then provoke the emotion.

When I am finally in an extremely quiet environment, the buzzing starts. I have tinnitus in both ears. It is as if my brain is never satisfied with quiet, and the expectation of disrupted peace evokes the appearance of it. I did have an ill-fated attempt several years ago at wearing earplugs overnight after showering, resulting in severe outer ear infections, so I did myself no favors there.

As I write this, I realize how little effort I’ve put into seeking professional assistance in combating my hearing problems. When I have gone to audiologists, they’ve offered no help beyond testing my hearing; they have generally disregarded my experience of difficulties with sound processing. After my latest visit, I was diagnosed with abnormal auditory perception, which means, in addition to my intense reactions to normal sounds, my brain also has difficulty putting together the sounds it is receiving. This explains the problems I have at times understanding others when they are speaking to me, and why I frequently ask them to repeat what they’ve said.

I’ve spent many hours online alternating between researching cabins on 10 acres in the woods and camper RVs so that I can escape at a moment’s notice. I know that neither of these possibilities offers any guarantee of silence. As I sit with my experience, I find it odd that silence represents something different from “peace” and “relaxation” to me, instead, it signifies the absence of suffering. I equate being able to hear other humans and the noises they generate with suffering and with pain. Certainly anyone who’s been trapped in at a child’s birthday party for too long can attest to the realness of desiring some time without shrieks to think, but my experience is such that I spend a good part of my time every day dreading potential sounds as well as clinging by a thread to my sanity when the music gets going or the gum chewing begins. This awareness is leading me to see that I need to more fully pursue interventions to reduce my suffering that allow me to live in greater, rather than less, peace with noise.

Goddess spirituality and Pagan practice are filled with sounds. Dancing, chanting, drumming and the like send up bursts of energy to Goddess in worship and adoration. I vacillate in my ability to access the well of spiritual blessings these noises contain depending upon my emotional state and general level of hyper-vigilance. Given the power and potency of sounds to ward off and call in and name and release, I now desire to have a greater ability to both disregard noises that are irrelevant to my experience and to tune in to and celebrate those that enrich my life. In doing so, I hope to learn from others about what has worked and not worked for them. What is your experience with sound? How does it affect you both positively and negatively? If there are noises that you dislike, what have you found helps you to ignore them? What allows you to enjoy the sounds you prefer?

Inspiration Fanatic

Crafty Coasters for Ritual Use

For today’s #InspirationFanatic Friday, I wanted to provide instructions for a simple and affordable craft you can add to your altar or use during ritual.

Supplies

Beads and embellishments

Needle and thread

Cork coasters

Hot glue gun and glue sticks

Ribbon or twine

Instructions

step-1.jpg
1. Sew the beads and embellishments onto the cork coaster.
step 2.JPG
2. Apply hot glue to the back of the coaster and adhere another coaster to it.
step-3.jpg
3. Apply hot glue around the edges of the sandwiched coasters, and adhere ribbon or twine to the circumference.
step 4
4. Cover the place where the ribbon or twine meets with an embellishment.
step 5
Step 5: Enjoy your coaster for use during ceremonies and/or as a part of your altar!

 

Pagan Practice

Samhain Reflection: Leaves Changing, Falling, Decomposing

Cross-posted at my SageWoman blog.

For this season’s #PaganPractice blog, I decided to share a reflection on leaves and how, in the ending of their life cycle, they can embody aspects of Samhain.

The Colors of Autumn

The orange hue of leaves is there throughout the summer! It is only revealed when the energy-generating process in the leaves stops. Something thrills in me to know that some leaves hold what we perceive as their aged color their whole existence, but it is masked for a bit by the green of the chlorophyll. What if each of us has who we will become already with us, but youth and immaturity keeps us from seeing certain truths until we are ready to do so? Other colors like purples are created once the leaf begins to decay, reminding us that some things take time to come into being.

Releasing and Remembrance

Once the temperature has cooled, trees begin to release their leaves. The leaves have exhausted their purpose and are not longer nourishing the tree through the action of chlorophyll. They fall, one by one or in a heap on a windy day. Unless tidied up by human hands, they surround the tree at its base in a vestige of past glory.

Samhain is a time to honor one’s ancestors, holding vigil for those who have passed before us. As a person who’s cut off from her family of origin, making meaning during this time has been difficult for me. Certainly I plan honor those who have served as spiritual ancestors to me, but they are either still with me or so removed in terms of time and place I don’t feel that the spiritual connection is strong enough for this practice. I love the idea of creating a shrine to acknowledge each of those who have brought meaning into our life, and spending time with it communing with them and sharing offerings of their favorite items. I did this for my cat (who I had cremated after he passed several years ago).

The image of a tree surrounded by its leaves left me with another impression. Perhaps we can also spend time during Samhain recognizing everything we have released over the course of the past year. All that has served its purpose and then fallen away. I’ve met people who are still in mourning, not for a loved one who’s died, but for a dream that was unrealized or a love that went unrequited. Decades have passed and they still cling to a paper-thin husk, devoid of energy. If I was a tree, I’d shed my leaves randomly, sometimes in the full bloom of summer, so determined am I to rid myself of anyone and anything which threatens my sense of integrity. Maybe as humans, whether we reject things quickly or hold on too long, we need at least one rite a year in which we sit and grieve for the people and situations that weren’t ever quite ours, but for which we still yearn.

I created a ritual related to the remembrance of empty shells, the haunting of losses I want to just brush past but which keep staring up at me in their fading colors and shapes. I need my practice to be tangible, so I gathered several leaves and then wrote on each of them. I then burned them one by one, letting the smoky haze muddle my eyes and my thoughts, sinking into what it felt like to remember each situation and then let it go. I spread the ashes under the oldest trees on my property, honoring their wisdom and taking comfort in the fact that they are more rooted than I.

Disintegration and Decay

It can be beneficial to allow leaves to remain where they drop; the nutrients they release as they break down provide sustenance for the tree. Eventually the leaf becomes a part of the soil, indistinguishable from its former neighbors and mingled into other materials. The leaf spends its time above ground in a symbiotic relationship with the trunk and branches of the tree, but the rest of the tree gets to keep on unfurling its existence while the leaf is consumed.

How I resist the decaying process! It is inevitable. The horizon of my life draws ever so slightly closer, even as a part of me searches for a road that will lead over the looming mountain. Our culture doesn’t even dignify our decaying by allowing us to remain where we are rooted, instead, the circumstances of our life are akin to a leaf who happens to take the plunge during a strong gale. We fling about, buffeted not only by the decisions of our past but also by the whims of whomever finds us in their charge.

We face disintegration as well as decay; the careful gathering and piles we’ve made of our life are only under our control for so long. We may not get to nurture the limbs and bark and being to which we’ve dedicated our life with our passing. Instead, we can find ourselves facing the process alone in unfamiliar terrain. But we are still who we are, and Goddess goes with us no matter where we go.

I am not afraid especially afraid of dying or of shaking out the last drops of youth that remain in the cup. But I am terrified of becoming old-old, of aging to the point where I lose my independence and self-determination. I know myself enough to know I will fight the wind, fight the cold, fight to end up under the same damn tree on which I’ve settled as my spiritual and literal home. If and when the forces of nature demand more of me, I pray to Goddess She grants me grace and patience to view the last journey as an adventure, as a final trek up that mountain. Perhaps the leaf of my existence can find a quiet place to break apart and fertile soil to join. Perhaps it doesn’t matter where we end up after all; it’s all the same forest, with each tree a world unto itself.

So for Samhain, I reflect on death and decay. Dying and decomposition. Instead of dreaming of a world beyond death, I sit in a world where death is a near-constant presence, often through violent and abrupt means. I take a bit of ash from the leaves I burned, and rub it on my feet. This way, each step I take holds that connection to dreams that end, relationships that end, life that ends. There will be time for contemplating renewal and reincarnation; the cycle of death that inevitability leads to new life. But for today, I hold space for loss and pain and sorrow and finality, knowing that in doing so, I’m letting myself look wide-eyed at what I often try to ignore, welcoming it as a part of who I am and what we all face. Blessings on Samhain as you remember and reflect.