Sacred Spiritual Growth

Mistaking the Familiar for the Safe: On Whose Path are You?

There was a major snow storm in my area this winter. My Yorkie, despite his diminutive size, typically vies for the lead with me when we go for a walk, ambling wherever his little heart desires. After the snow, however, we ended up with snow drifts three or more feet deep after shoveling the driveway and walkways. As I walked him, I became nearly claustrophobic as I sensed how much his world had temporarily shrunken. He could only go where I had cut a path for him. As I observed his behavior, I wondered about the extent to which each of us might engage in similar behavior in terms of our life choices. For today’s #SacredSpiritualGrowth Saturday, I will be exploring the implications of making decisions based on what we’ve known, rather than in relation to what is possible.

In another post I have coming out soon, I wrote something to the effect of “mistaking the familiar for the safe.” This line brought chills to me as it hit at the core of much of my existence. How often do I make decisions that are comfortable because they line up with previous choices I’ve made, only to later realize that I was unnecessarily limiting myself? Or, alternatively, when might I try the opposite of a frequent course of action, not because I really buy into it, but because it allows me to rebel against my own norms?

Psychological theories of social learning and conditioning provide ample explanation as to why we might act in ways that curtail or cut off the truly revolutionary choices and actions in our lives. We can easily become habituated to a particular series of events, ones that to an outsider would appear frightening or “crazy.” This is of particular concern for childhood abuse survivors, who may allow individuals into their lives who act harshly or in a demeaning manner, simply because that is what they have come to expect from people. In addition, the rewards offered by individuals who are abusive in the form of “sincere” apologies, contrition, promises to do better and literal gifts are often sufficient to entice survivors to believe that this time will be different or to question even their own perception of the abusive incident that now seems dulled under so much “love” and hope.

How do we go about making decision and interpreting events in ways that expand our horizons rather than contract them? A concept on which I’ve been mulling for some time now is that of an “Inner Goddess.” This is one of many ways of stating that I believe there is a wisdom in the universe into which we can tap that is greater than the sum of the parts of ourselves. Something about perceiving it as housed inside me reduces my fear of it, although thealogically I see Source/Self/God(ess) as both within each of us and intertwining through every piece of existence, permeating space-time without the normal adherence to the laws of classical physics. The nature of this energy can be endlessly debated; my interest instead is with the practical lived experience of centering myself in Her and instantaneously being granted a clear-sighted vision of my life that I know at my core shreds my normal limitations of habit and conditioning. My main obstacle is that I return repeatedly to living without accessing this higher consciousness. I follow the path that either my own fear and anger or another person has decided to carve for me, tracing and retracing the same worn footfalls. My earnest hope is that I can now root myself in Being that is somehow the trajectory of path itself, the sum of everywhere I’ve already wandered, the birds-eye view of the pattern my wanderings have and will whittle out, and the ground on which I walk.

Where has your path in life led you to mistake the familiar for the safe? Do you have a sense of an energy that transcends your own learning history? If so, what has been transformed in your life as a result of the guidance that this energy has provided to you?

Naturally Mindful

A World Underfoot: Meeting Goddess in the Smallest Creatures

Picture a girl or woman coming across an insect unexpectedly. Perhaps you just heard her shriek. Women have been trained to let men stand in and defend them from this fearsome beasts. It’s kind of strange if you think about it, given that any physical strength advantage is relatively meaningless in response to something about an inch or smaller in length. I think I’ve fallen into this squeamish behavior myself for long enough; it’s time to put on my hiking boots and get to know some of Gaia’s smaller beings. As a practitioner of Earth-based Goddess Spirituality, I wanted to take some time on this #NaturallyMindful Monday to explore ways in which we might learn spiritual lessons from insects as they reflect the presence of Goddess.

Bees

Many insects, including bees, function as a collective. The queen bee is responsible for laying eggs and releasing a pheromone to give the bee colony a unique chemical perfume. The female worker bees feed her, tend to the hive and take care of the offspring. The drones have it pretty rough; they exist to mate with the queen. They are killed in the mating process or kicked out of the hive to starve during winter.

In re-familiarizing myself with the types of bees in a hive, I was surprised to learn that the reason some bees become the queen or a worker is actually due to the type of nurturance they receive in the developmental process. They are raised in different parts of the hive and fed differently. The worker bees are not sexually mature because the queen’s scent constrains their biology; they will begin to lay eggs if she dies.

I see an analogy here to the maiden and mother in Goddess theology, with Goddess being present in both forms. There are times where there will be an aging queen and young daughter bee in the same hive, which allows us to incorporate the crone concept. To the extent that we use the three-fold model, the part in which we find our resonance relies not only on our own biology and age, but also the familial and communal relationships in which we find ourselves placed. Perhaps it is time for you to move into a new role, but you must first negotiate with the maiden, mother or crone in your life in order to transform that relationship as well.

Ants

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Ant society is pretty impressive. Their colonies are so well integrated that they basically harness their individual computing brainpower together so that the colony acts almost as one being. I think here of Gaia, and the idea that the entire earth could be conceptualized as an entity. Some human societies create an image of an individual, distinct from society, who can act autonomously. This may be true to an extent, but the metaphor falters when the intricate ways in which each of us is dependent on the rest are explored.

Ants go to war, fighting to the death to protect their territory. If we see the Earth as the territory of humans, what does it mean to protect it? Does fighting over artificial boundaries really make a lot of sense when we are all one and the same? On the other hand, on a psychic level, how do we draw our boundaries and marshal our resources to protect our inner work?

Earthworms

Depending where you live, the main time you may see earthworms is after it rains. They aren’t purged from the ground because of the high water content. Instead, because they absorb oxygen through their skin, a cloudy, humid moment is the perfect time for them to try to relocate.

This makes me think about transitions in our lives. We may appear to be underwater, or even drowning, but we are instead sometimes taking advantage of our circumstances to launch ourselves into our next regeneration. So many Goddess myths have to do with the Goddess going to the underworld, only to return in a new form.

Spiders

I couldn’t resist studying up a bit on spider cannibalism. Female spiders often eat male spiders. In some cases, they do this after mating, which might give the male spider’s genes a better chance of being passed on because the female has a tasty bit of food to keep her going as she produces offspring. In other cases, aggressive female spiders just seem to kill all the male spiders that they come across, without mating with them! The female spiders of the Stegodyphus variety commit matriphagy, meaning that they allow their young to dissolve and eat them.

These behaviors strike me as extreme examples of sacrifice. I’ve noticed many Goddess mythologies have this element of someone needing to die in order for others to live and prosper. We can take this literally in relation to humans in terms of the cycle of life, death and rebirth, or we can think metaphorically about what in each of us needs to be birthed, sacrificed or regenerated in order to move forward with our lives.

Cicadas

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A cicada who’d just fulfilled its short life above ground.

I will never forget the moment my dog, who was about a 5 lb. puppy at the time, suddenly stopped on our walk. I sensed something was off. I noticed something large in his mouth; the next thing I knew, out flew a cicada! He apparently helped it shed its crunchy shell. Their song leaves me feeling I am in peak summer; I experience myself transported back to a time before electronics and artificial lights when I hear its cadence.

Cicadas can teach us about rhythm, ebb and flow, fertile and fallow. Some species develop underground and only emerge in adult form every 17 years. This year, they have actually been seen almost half a decade early in some parts of America, likely because of climate change. What responsibility does each of us have to respect the earth, and protect the natural patterns that sustain her? For our own lives, what happens when we get out of sync or try to rush things before their time?

I am curious to hear about the insects you’ve met and what you’ve learned from them. Taking time to remind myself of some of their behaviors and characteristics will undoubtedly shift how I see and respond to them. I can really see a place for a mindfulness practice here of spending time simply watching insects live out their roles and behaviors. The childlike wonder, with its desire to trace the path of worms and pick cicada shells off the trees, has likely faded for many of us, but maybe it doesn’t have to if we see it as a gateway to Gaia—a door to a world of cooperation, sacrifice, loyalty, rhythm and life itself.

Cross-posted at http://www.witchesandpagans.com/sagewoman-blogs/goddessing-heart/a-world-underfoot-meeting-goddess-in-the-smallest-creatures.html

Sacred Spiritual Growth

“Am I There Yet?” 5 Signposts That Indicate You’ve Arrived at Your Spiritual Home

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!

Goddess Thealogy

Kuan Yin Contemplation

It’s #Thealogy Thursday! This contemplation can be done indoor or outside; I think it is perfect for a slightly cool morning with the dew still on the grass. You will need tea; there is actually a type of tea named after Kuan Yin which is supposed to have mythical origins. As you practice this contemplation, you can also set aside a small portion of the tea as an offering.

Prepare a cup of tea. Slowly drink it, mindfully savoring each sip. Experience it filling you with warmth and coziness as you drink deeply. I like to gaze at an image of Kuan Yin as I do this, in order to begin to prepare my mind for contemplating compassion. If you’d like, you can practice divination with the tea leaves when the cup is finished, asking Goddess for insight into what compassion means to you.

Next, take a few minutes to sit in silent meditation. Let the warmth the tea started in you expand into your entire body. Feel your muscles relax as you breathe in love and compassion, and breathe out any lingering negativity or hostility. Feel your body solid on the ground and your heart-center alive with you. Ask Kuan Yin to reveal to you a simple, concrete act of compassion you can do today. Let yourself linger for a moment on the sacrifices she made, drawing inspiration from her legend. Thank her for the insight she shares with you.

Surviving & Thriving

Why Goddess Spirituality Matters for Trauma Survivors

I want to consider the specific benefits those of us who are trauma survivors and who are interested in Goddess Spirituality may glean as we grow in our practice for this #SurvivingnThriving Tuesday. Some individuals, myself included, see Goddess Spirituality as their spiritual home in and of itself. Others incorporate aspects of it into their own religion or spiritual beliefs. I think there is something incredibly powerful and raw about seeking the Divine Feminine, practicing her rites and embodying her strength, love, compassion and wisdom.

Centered in the Body

For many people who practice Goddess Spirituality, one of the aspects of it that is vitally uplifting is the emphasis it places on our bodies. They are not viewed the seat of our sin or impurities, instead, they are the very source of our strength. Instead of molding them to fit society’s expectation for our weight, appearance or gender expression, we can define our own positive relationship with them. Female biological processes like menstruation and bearing children are elevated to spiritual acts. Death is not something to be feared or defeated; it is a passageway back into the Universe, back into the ether, with new beginnings just around the corner.

When we cease to be alienated from our bodies, when we connect with each cell and celebrate its connection to Source, we can shed so much struggle. I spent decades trying to conform my body into what it “should” look like and judged my behaviors as “good” or “bad.” I still categorize my actions as healthy or unhealthy at times, but the strict dichotomy with which I approached myself and others has diminished.

Non-Linear Thinking

Goddess Spirituality, at least as I practice it, allows for dialectics and contradictions, letting them blur rather than insisting on The Truth. This feels like a much more honest way to live my life and honors the traumatic past through which I struggled. Many of us with trauma histories were hurt by those who were supposed to love and protect us. The tender moments were interspersed with horrors. I think this is very difficult to resolve psychologically. We do not live in a just world where karma or action-consequence are clearly delineated.

I’ve gotten riled up when others have tried to paint the world as composed of people who are basically the same, just “flawed” in their own unique ways. There’s flawed and then there’s flawed. And still, I know that the people that harmed me are not completely evil 24/7. The sense of Goddess being, at the same time, triple in form, or revealing Herself through many myths and legends, none of which fully capture Her Essence, helps me release some of this struggle into the unknown, in the vastness of our collective consciousness, from which it returns to me in a new form with a new layer of understanding. The cycle, like the moon cycle, repeats.

Many Representations of Universal Love

Goddess shows Herself to us as we search to understand Her. Many of the individuals I know who practice Goddess Spirituality and/or paganism describe feeling called by a certain expression of Goddess Energy. I’m working my way towards this. I am continually energized each time I learn about another Goddess or another Divine Feminine practice. I do not think there is one way to “do” Goddess Spirituality, nor is there one representation which fully captures Source. Many Goddess myths include experiences that could easily be conceptualized as traumatic in nature, which may speak to survivors at different parts of his or her recovery.

Meaningful Ritual and Ceremony

Group ritual that celebrates Goddess is sometimes tied to female biological processes such as a girl’s first menstrual cycle or pregnancy. It can also be expanded to inner moments of transformation, such as when an individual chooses to dedicate himself or herself to a particular Deity or embarks on a new creative undertaking. Some individuals who practice Goddess Spirituality consider themselves Pagans and conduct ritual to mark the Pagan Wheel of the Year. I’m ambivalent about specific group ceremony directly related to healing for trauma survivors as I think there is a very high bar in terms of education, training, experience and safety for trauma survivors to benefit from this type of work.

One can also be a Solitary Practitioner of Goddess Spirituality. This is what I consider myself to me, although I do participate in some Pagan holiday celebrations. As a Solitary, I am able to fully tap into my creative energies to create healing spiritual practice. I also benefit from access to many online and written resources that I tailor to my specific situation. I intend to more fully flesh out specific rituals for healing from trauma that I can adapt to my own needs, again, I think this is best sought after a survivor has an established therapy relationship and sufficient support in place in order to avoid accidental re-traumatization.

Goddess Spirituality is a dynamic, growing practice and body of knowledge with ancient roots. Trauma survivors looking to incorporate it into their spiritual practice may find the rituals, Goddess representations, and thealogy inspiring. Please feel free to share how the two topics have been integrated into your experience.