Naturally Mindful

Elemental Meditation-Air

Within Paganism, the Air Element is linked with aspects of creativity, self-expression and mental engagement. For today’s #NaturallyMindful reflection, I will be exploring the connection between the physical properties of air and the spiritual implications of our relationship with it in this second installment of my series on the elements (see Earth). I’ll also be examining some of the psychological effects our relationship with air can have on us.

Lines and Swirls

The movement of air is intimately related to the fire element of the sun; wind is forged when air is heated by the sun’s rays and expands. We often describe human growth and development in the language of both light and air. Beginnings are “enlighted.” Change is “in the wind.” Wind not only originates with the fire element, it can in turn fan the flames of infernos. Contemplate for a moment the ways in which empowerment and inspiration are inter-played in your own life with aspects of movement and evolution. What can we learn from the dance of wind and fire?

Wind moves in three dimensions at once by flowing in straight lines or swirling in spinning vortexes. How often we as humans desire linearity—for things to progress forward—with no strange angles or curves! There is a beauty, though, I think in the undulations of a field of wheat or the rocking of branches to and fro in a storm. The trajectory of our lives is likewise uneven and flitting; accepting the unpredictability and possibility of what is to come can be exhilarating in the way it frees us from expectation.

Air is ever-present yet the quality of its movement is inherently transient. We feel its force and then it’s gone. Our mental processes are likewise temporary. Mindfulness meditation practices sometimes make use of imagery related to air to help individuals with anxiety loosen their grip on the need to obsess over fear-provoking thoughts. For instance, the person may be encouraged to imagine the thought as a balloon, which can be released into the air and watched as it floats away.

In Breath and Out Breath

The air we inhale is not made primarily of oxygen. Our lungs are responsible for selectively filtering the oxygen out of the mixture of gasses, moving it to our blood. Humans require a constant supply of oxygen in order to produce energy to “run” the cells of our body. Without it, our brain quickly dies. It amazes me to think that every human in existence relies on an “invisible” gaseous substance every moment of their life. Each in-breath feels like a tiny miracle within this framework.

We exhale air in which the oxygen content has been transferred to carbon dioxide. Trees and other plant life absorb this carbon dioxide and transform it back to oxygen. This symbiotic relationship extends to other aspects of our breath, as trees also block harmful particles in air.

Breathing exercises that focus on regulating the pace of our inhalations and exhalations can reduce stress. Individuals who suffer from the effects of traumatic events may find attuning to breath to be a grounding experience. The next time you engage in this mindfulness practice, extend your awareness to the sources of the in-breath and the gifting of the out-breath to nearby vegetation.

A Voice to the Void

We harness the power of air each time we speak. Consider that each time you say something aloud, your body, through an intricate balancing act, is constricting and releasing air just so in order to pronounce each syllabus. It takes us years as children to master this choreography; there are plenty of individuals for whom, due to physical conditions, a precisely-timed pirouette of sounds proves elusive even in adulthood.

The space between objects within our galaxy is filled with the Interstellar Medium, a near-vacuum compromised only of very tiny particles made of substances like “crystals” as well as thin gases such as hydrogen. Our voices do not directly reach this void as far as I understand physics, but it is fascinating to me to consider how much “hot air” many of us generate on a regular basis in speaking without genuine need or purpose. Ritual chanting in Pagan practice becomes elevated to a sacred act for me when I consider collective voices calling into the night.

Air is ethereal, there but unseen. We need it and we shudder to think what it means for our existence when breath ceases. It give life to our innermost thoughts as we render them to spoken word. What has the air element meant for you in your life? In what ways do you connect its physical characteristics to your psychological and spiritual life? How might you alter your relationship with it, for instance through awareness of your breath?

Naturally Mindful

Elemental Meditation: Earth

Cross-posted at my SageWoman blog.

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?

Naturally Mindful

Nature Adventure: Geese in Flight

For this #NaturallyMindful Monday, I wanted to share a series of photos I recently took of geese at a pond. I was looking for a nature shot and thought the geese were serene as they skimmed through the water. As soon as I started using my camera, the geese took flight from east to west in front of me. I’m not sure what lead them to move, but it was beautiful! We stood there for a moment and then my pup decided to start to get a little antsy so we left the area. I didn’t see a Yorkie doing too well chasing after an entire flock!

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Geese in pond.
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Taking off in flight.
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In action.
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After touchdown.

The experience reminded me of the power of present-moment awareness in nature. I guarantee there have been many times in my life the same event could have occurred and I would not have paid any attention to it. There are definitely times and places for inner focus and work, but personally I now take every opportunity possible to practice mindfulness when in nature.

Tips for Discovering Treasures While In Nature

  • Pay attention to your breathing as a centering point, especially if you find yourself becoming distracted or feeling overwhelmed by the amount of stimuli coming at you.
  • Use all of your senses. I am very visually-driven so I tend to focus a lot on what I’m seeing, but attending to the other senses such as what I’m smelling, feeling on my skin, and hearing is also very powerful.
  • Take in the scene in multiple scales. What are the littlest parts of your surroundings that you can feel, see or hear? What are the key parts of the scene? How does the entire area around you fit together into an ecosystem?
  • Release any judgments you find yourself having towards the experience of being nature. Notice them instead and allow them to pass through your mind. Return to your breathing in order to re-center. For example, if I start to get annoyed because it is a bit hotter or cooler out then I like it to be, I can observe myself and how the temperature affects me, and then see those thoughts dissipating as new experiences fill my mind.

I hope to hear from you about your experiences in nature!

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

Naturally Mindful

Feast and Famine: Personal Reflections on Spirituality and Eating Habits

On this #NaturallyMindful Monday, I want to share a bit about my journey with physical nourishment, both as it relates to my health and my social consciousness towards the environment. This post feels raw to me in terms of spirituality, as I don’t think I’m at a place where my spirituality is fully integrated into my eating behaviors and vice versa. Rather than pretend that I’ve arrived at some place of awareness and higher knowledge, I intend to create a dialogue about the struggle many of us have with eating and food and narrate where I’ve tread thus far.

Starving Puberty

I was a relatively normal weight as a child and don’t remember any particular issues with food. Everything changed when I hit puberty. I was an early bloomer and started to gain a bit of weight. Given my need for control, I decided to put an end to that right there. I started eating 500 calories a day and dropped below 100 pounds. I gave up most meats during this time as a way to avoid having to eat food others were cooking. Then I began a kind of binge-purge cycle as starvation set in. I was eventually shamed into eating more after my family discovered my purging, but my relationship with food and my body was still completely distorted.

The Junk Food Vegetarian

Once I went to college, I became a lacto-ovo vegetarian. There were very few vegetables involved in this affair. Mostly I ate pizza, cereal with chocolate milk, and bagels with cream cheese. You know, all the food groups! I gained weight and spent a lot of time thinking about my next meal. A positive development here is that I started cooking for others and discovered they liked my way of preparing food.

More Beer, Please!

I started drinking during college and this tipped me into obesity. I would eat three meals a day, go out and get wasted, and come home to cook an entire meal at 2 am. My weight went up to over 200 pounds. I’ve always thought of this as my “happy time,” because I was so out of touch with myself that I didn’t have as much anxiety and depression as I normally do.

I also reintroduced meat into my diet, brilliantly eating a multi-course meal at Chili’s including ribs after fasting for three days. There was much pain from that stunt, but I was living it up. I would consider myself to have been addicted to food (and abusing alcohol) during this time. It “worked” to make me feel better temporarily, but would have caused serious health problems if I’d stayed at that point. I think some of the chronic conditions I have now were likely started by or at least exacerbated by my behaviors.

Balance, Balance, Balance

For at least a decade, I began a hilly ride up and down the weight charts and through diet after diet. I lost 80 pounds at one point, then gained 30 back, and kept going up and down. The positive side of this ride was that I was eating an amount that was closer to what my body needed, and my weight swings became somewhat less dramatic over time. I started to eat less sugar as well which helped to reduce some of my cravings. When I religiously counted my calories, I lost pounds and maintained my weight. As soon as that stopped, the pounds came back.

The other change during this time is that I established a regular exercise routine that I have now followed for four years or so and think has become integrated into who I am. I use workout videos five times a week and walk my dog at least three times a day. As a result, I’ve gained muscle tone and improved my physical stamina.

Body Attunement

This is where I’ve been at for about a year now. I became so tired of counting calories I decided to see if I could maintain my weight by “listening to my body.” It hasn’t worked that well as I’ve gained around 15 pounds total, but I have learned some things. One is that my health conditions like GERD, IBS and possible gallbladder issues actually cause me to overeat. I will start to feel sick and have unconsciously learned that eating a little bit more, especially if it’s carbs, will temporarily stop the pain. I’ve also learned that there are certain foods that lead directly to digestive problems, including alcohol, animal fat and fried foods. I get so sick from these foods that I’ve dramatically reduced my intake of them. Lastly, I’ve started cooking breakfast and eating it more mindfully and slowly than at any point in the past. I would love to be able to extend this to my other two meals as I think then I’d be set!

Eating the Earth’s Way

The latest part of my journey has been to begin to consider consciously both myself and others in regards to my diet. I feel torn about eating meat as I know I could not kill certain animals like cows on my own even if it was the only way to get a burger. I am at the point of giving up red meat because of this. I plan to spend a few months observing my relationship with fish and poultry to see if those are items I can live without or if I need them to maintain some semblance of a reasonable diet (aka to avoid Junk Food Vegetarian Part 2).

I also plan to take an account of what foods are “safe” for me to eat with my medical conditions and engage in more creative meal planning to try to incorporate more of a variety into my diet. Having a large portion of healthy foods trigger severe GERD makes something like a salad more challenging than it otherwise would be. I suspect there are additional ways of preparing foods that would work for me if I was willing to put in the time to try them.

The last goal I have for myself is to continue to listen to my body instead of trying to force myself to lose weight. I’m still in a range that wouldn’t cause serious health issues, especially with my level of exercise, and I think coming into a right relationship with food while eating mindfully would be life-changing. As I develop my spiritual life, I hope there is a mind-body-spirit synergy that centers and settles me into an evolved way of making food- and eating-related decisions.

I feel somewhat silly taking anyone who’s read this far through all this. At the same time, I remember at many points feeling like I was the only one who had these issues because most of my friends seemed to struggle less than I did. I do know that a history of trauma predisposes people to an increased risk of difficulties with food and weight. Many people who see food and weight as a battle to be won. I’m trying to view it instead as a relationship to develop, one in which listening, kindness, grace and perseverance will hopefully result in a sense of goddessing my food choices and eating habits.