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Goddessing Self Care

Self-Care for Rejected Parts: Processing Setbacks

How many times in the past week have you cursed your “bad luck?” I’ve examined how to respond to judgment and to failings in previous #GoddessingSelfCare posts. For today’s third and final “Self-Care for Rejected Parts” discussion, we’ll be looking into how to determine the degree of control we’ve had over a situation, as well as how to cope with it if it is an experience out of our control (aka, a setback/bad luck). I have taken a practical and psychologically-oriented approach rather than a spiritual focus for this discussion.

When Bad Luck Strikes

The cause of setbacks tends to be more external and situational when compared to failures. Setbacks occur in experiences that are largely out of our control. Note that some people see everything as a setback and nothing as a failure, which limits their growth potential because they feel powerless to better their lives. Others see everything as a failure and nothing as a setback, which causes unnecessary guilt and shame because they believe everything can and should be preventable.

We are bombarded with the message that life isn’t about what happens to us, rather, it is about how we respond to it. There is of course some truth to this, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that we have respective areas of privilege and oppression, suffering and ease. For example, as I’ve begun inner work to dismantle my privilege, I’ve come to a hard realization that I can be obtusely ableist. I get instantly enraged in day-to-day situations when someone does not listen well; for instance, when I’m asked the same question repeatedly or someone gets my order wrong. I tend to be able to absorb a lot of information easily and quickly and so I assume everyone who does not show the same behaviors lacks not capacity but “try.” What I fail to hold in my mind in those moments is the fact that others may process differently than I do and that they may be facing unseen difficulties that are affecting our interaction.

My graceless behavior extends itself to setbacks. I don’t perceive myself as experiencing them, as I think everything that went wrong for me was a failure because I could have prevented it if only I’d been smarter or faster. This creates a feedback loop where I amp myself up when I in fact need to slow down. If I’m being brutally honest, I have to admit that I struggle to emphasize when others face obstacles that are difficult to surmount. I typically hold that things would have gone better for them if they’d only planned better or thought things through more fully. There may be some truth to my opinion in particular instances, but, if our shared humanity is my bedrock, my rejection of their vulnerability rejects all of us in our vulnerable areas, harming where I want to be healing. The first step to experiencing a setback is to see it as one. The absurdity of life coupled with its inherent injustice means we will face unexpected events that require us to deepen into love rather than to wall-off in frustration.

Setback Characteristics to Consider

My thinking here aligns with theory and research on the characteristics of stressors and their corresponding effects on coping. In general, negative events which we think are due to bad luck that impact many areas of our lives for lengthy periods of time and which compromise our personal sense of mission are likely to be perceived as major stressors. Those we think we can overcome quickly, which are periphery to our life goals, and/or which affect only one area of our life tend to be easier to digest and manage.

How Long-Lasting Is the Setback?

To what extent is the setback temporary versus permanent? Unpleasant situations that are likely to be long-lasting tend to wear on us more than short-term stressors. Sometimes all the scared or angry parts of me need to hear is that whatever is going on that I don’t like will be short-lived, if in fact that is the case. For situations where a setback is likely to persist, I’ve found it most useful to remind myself of everything that is under my control that I’m doing to try to adjust to or to rectify the situation.

How Much Surface Area Does the Setback Cover?

Is the setback covering one area of life or does it seep into many areas? Reminding ourselves of all the things that are going right or over which we do have control can be calming if the setback is limited in scope. For more widespread calamity, adjustment may take more time.

How Integral is the Setback to Your Life Goals?

How significantly will your sense of purpose in life be impacted by the setback? I am personally very sensitive to negative interpersonal feedback and feel highly distressed when I receive it. However, staking my well-being on it doesn’t align with my core self or purpose in life. Knowing this fact helps me cope. Difficulties in peripheral areas that do not hit at our major life goals are likely born more easily than those that threaten the values we hold dear.

After analyzing the time-frame and significance of a setback, we will likely be left with a better understanding of whether it is something that needs simply the passage of time and patience to overcome, or whether we will need to shift our perspective on life itself as a result. Serious set-backs require more than a spa day or shopping binge to overcome, as we may find ourselves asking “who am I with(out) ___.” In other words, our very identity may be shattered or shaken. We will consider both insignificant and grave setbacks as we look into self-care for our affected parts of self.

Self-Care for Setbacks

Minor Setbacks

As a trauma survivor, I find it difficult to gain perspective on small instances of bad luck. Before abuse occurs, there is something a build-up, warning signs or other blips. After living through such events over the course of years, anything going off course for an instant can bring up an expectation of “here it all goes again.” I think we do well to show each other kindness (but not to enable) each other when we “over-react” to stressors; what you experience as “no big deal” may feel life or death to another.

In addressing insignificant experiences of bad luck, such as a broken windshield or a cold that leads me to cancel a fun event, I have found it useful to center myself on who I really am and what I really want from life. I let myself have the meltdown if it feels like it was “one too many things today” but I then try to put it into perspective. I personally do not find it even the smallest bit helpful for others to try to do this for me, as all I experience their “but remember ‘insert good thing’” as is invalidation. I have to work my way back to myself and to my purpose, both as a responsibility and as a necessity.

For negative interpersonal stressors over which I had little control, I find body-based self-care to be particularly useful. I easily dissociate if someone is unexpectedly rude to me, so it makes sense to me that grounding and returning myself to my physical being is calming. Exercise, a long walk in nature, breath-work and stretching tend to be my mainstays here.

It may not always be in my best interest to do so, but if I find stress and/or bad luck has built on itself and nothing is going my way, I tend to succumb to a bit of overindulgence. This includes eating out more than I would like to and/or purchasing crafty, self-care or luxury food items that I don’t really need. In moderation (which I definitely do not always have), I think there is a time and a place to live a little, but I also hope to weave my “treating” of myself more fully into other methods of coping so that it does not become or stay my default.

Serious Setbacks

My thoughts here are limited to perspectives I have personally found helpful in facing setbacks. I detest the idea of being prescriptive or of pouring shame onto fresh wounds of someone who is experiencing a major life setback. We cope in different ways; you finding your way through in your own time and space is all that matters.

I do believe that one way to honor ourselves (and each other) in dealing with significant setbacks is to allow for grief and mourning. Modern society often gives us the message that we must succeed and exude confidence, beauty, wealth and health at all times. When this doesn’t occur, we may feel like failures. Knowing it is okay to allow hurt and disappointment in, as well as sorrow and pain, and to bear witness to it for each other is integral, in my opinion, to a well-lived life. Bites of bitterness sensitize our taste-buds to the sweet moments.

As part of our grief, we may find ourselves opening to the full experience of life and experiencing gratitude. I desire safety, security and comfort above all in life, but a single-minded attachment to these outcomes can numb me to the wider range of feelings and possibilities that my experiences contain. Near-misses, especially, jolt me into increased hope and happiness for the moments in which I can be present.

Major setbacks may lead to a necessity for us to realign our values and sense of purpose. The dreams onto which we held may no longer be possible; who we thought we were or would become may no longer exist. This doesn’t mean, though, that we are meaningless. Instead, it can offer a window into a new construction of self that can be—although not what we envisioned—our truest and most authentic version.

Stressors, even major ones, do not have to compromise the good we can do in the world. The only way I’ve even glimpsed this reality is when I first open to the parts of self I’d rather reject, and secondly when others in my life have shown me compassion for the pain and suffering I’ve endured. It is a process to which I return on a sometimes daily basis. Finding nourishment in what feels like the breadcrumbs of life, thereby transforming them to plenty, requires time, social support and a mindset that welcomes one’s whole self.

How do you differentiate between bad luck and personal failing? Which characteristics of these stressors make them particularly challenging or easy to address? How do you cope with minor and major stressors?

Embodied Heart

Alone in the World

For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I want to share about my experience of being a witness to aloneness. I am not totally, finally and in all ways alone in the world. I have friends and co-workers (and a dog) who care about me. But on the “most important relationships” marker, I am without, as I do not have a romantic partner or child and am not in contact with my family-of-origin. Rather than attempt to downplay my lack of familying, I’ve come into awareness of the power and value of this position.

What I saw in my mind’s eye was a circle, but it was entirely darkened without any light. I saw those of us there, the alone ones, furtively cowering and enclosing ourselves away, ashamed of our position. Society tells us people are most worthy when they are “good” children to their adult parents, married, and parenting their own children. For each of those conditions that are removed, worth decreases in many people’s minds. This can be very subtle—not an outright rejection but rather a no-holds-barred fight to help the person escape the circle of darkness.

We see it that way, I think, as a pit. Somewhere no one should be—alone—and certainly not for very long if it happens. I’ve witnessed people staying in relationships far past their expiration date to avoid falling into this pit, as well as denying that, for all intents and purposes, they were in fact in it.

In my vision, I saw myself striking a match and lighting a candle in this place without brightness—illuminating that which is often denied, discounted or maligned. A knowing settled into me as I did this that I am probably in this for the long haul. Most people I meet who are in a state of aloneness are there temporarily, after a major relationship shakeup or loss. They stay there briefly and then move through this place. I do not wish to delay them on their journey. Rather, I want them to know that even in a place of feeling abandoned—unheard and unseen—they are still witnessed. They are witnessed because I (and others like me) are there shining light, existing unabashedly in this small corner of human existence.

All it took was for me to write one blog post and to speak my aloneness in one public setting for this aspect of my journey to feel solidified. I have been in this place for a decade, by and large, and yet have spent almost the entire time shrinking from who I am and feeling distinctly less-than the familied ones. Now I know I’m not, and that treating this way of existing as something to be rushed through or forgotten desecrates the sacredness which with I think it is imbued. Not everyone is willing to stand in the midst of experience that bucks our evolution and desires and own being there.

I am not totally at peace yet with this place. I have voices internally (and sometimes in the real world) telling me that I am here to spare myself more grief—that I am “skipping” the hard parts of being married or of raising children. But this place is its own kind of sorrow. What I’ve seen as my purpose in life becomes clearer here—if I can speak myself whole in this way, I open space and give others permission to speak themselves whole in their places of grief. If we live long lives, we lose loved ones, sometimes unexpectedly and often too soon for our hearts to catch the blow. We are awful as a society at acknowledging, honoring and holding space for each other in these losses. Those of us who, like myself, are willing to simply stand, light in hand, and remind people around us that both they alone and their grief is seen, heard, holy and worthy, may not achieve the happy ending for which every story pulls, but we play a crucial role in the process of mourning.

What is your experience of being in a place of aloneness (without family)? How does it differ from the “in relationship but feeling alone” dynamic? To what extent do you, in whichever places your story has taken you, hold vigil for those who suffer similar losses or who grieve similar failures to find relationship?

Goddess Thealogy

The World Altar

For today’s #Thealogy Thursday, I want to share a spiritual knowing that revealed itself to me. I do not in any way claim that it is Truth, but rather, share it as an outpouring of the blessing it gave me. I’ve written recently of my difficulties with finding family, so this envisioning held special meaning to me. I find my belonging and my being encapsulated in it.

In my vision, I saw four altars: to Self, a romantic partner, my family of origin and my children. Everyone would have these stones of sacrifice, although the recipients of our dedication may vary. In relationship, each altar becomes a table of living reverance, on which we gift of ourselves. When the object of our devotion is no longer in our lives, the altar transforms to a grave – table to headstone. The meaning of the relationship and the lessons learned from it inscribed themselves on it. My altar to my family of origin is a grave as that relationship is irrevocably severed. For romantic partner and child, I hold the liminal space between conception and decay, uncertain as to whether to mourn their absence or whether to pour of myself to enliven the dedication. On my altar to Self, I make sacrifice; I invest in myself and venerate my body. At times, I’ve clung to its rocky facade as the only relic I had.

As this knowing unfolded, I saw myself turning ’round in this sacred place. The landscape was dotted with circular altars. One stood out from the rest. The altar to Goddess, to Earth, to the World and Universe, to all of Being. So large that every human and every creature could fit around its circumference. Sacrifices here return to the giver in abundance. Life-giver, guardian of the deep, all that is. Tunneled in every direction from this altar was a web connected to each of the individual altars; She under-girds all we do.

Everything to which we dedicate ourselves exists within this medium. There is no escape in the most affirming way possible. Sure, we can enslave ourselves to false pillars from which no life has ever emanated. We can serve graves and mourn the living. We can spend decades holding fast to the cold marble of bygone or neverhad, unaware of the abundance which would flourish if we would simply unfix our gaze. But we don’t have to anymore. More than knowing, I experienced this reality—the belonging to and for and how that for so long has evaded me.

I find a profound justice in this model of the world. No matter the altar, each of us meets our end on this outstretched plain. She calls everyone to Her when they die, returning all to Herself. No one gets to write the last lines of their story except for Her.

In the glow of this revelation, I think transcendence occurs when we are able to glimpse our altar to Self turning to grave and relish the gathering dust as our final gift to the world. We can die not clinging to the edifies of what was or should have been, but prostrating ourselves in gratitude for what has been received as well as taken. Only in the exchange of being held and losing refuge do we meet love.

Does this mean we should not grieve what is gone and what could never be? No, but I think we do well to know when it is that we face memory and when it is that we face possibility. Mourning is relevant, sacred and true. It may mean we spend time clinging to and scrapping at rock, willing life where it no longer blossoms. If we give ourselves over to it wholly, I think mourning eventually allows us to set our back against tomb and to recircle ourselves with all who celebrate Her. Love is daring to devote ourselves to Self and others, with an embodied understanding that time loops us all into non-existence or at least recycles every bit of who we are. Life is so precious that nothing endures.

Toko-Pa Turner has noted that sacrifice means to make sacred. My vision revealed the depths of this for me in a way that has unbound my heart and released my holding to flimsy and false rockface. I have home now, stone steps and the wide berth of granite that goes on forever. I rise to meet Her there, carefully placing each flower and spoon of honey and grain offering in turn. She consumes them as She envelops me. I am remade each time I offer myself, returning lighter and deeper and fuller. There is nowhere we can go without Her, and no one She cannot transform at the World 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.