Inner Work

Mindful Amid the Snowfall

Cross-posted at my SageWoman blog.

For today’s #InnerWork Wednesday, I’m borrowing from my previous practice of mindfully observing a leaf and applying this concept to winter, specifically, to snow. If you live in a climate where it does not snow, most of the practice could easily be adapted using crushed ice.

Sensory Exploration

Begin by using four or five of your senses to observe the snow.

Sight

What colors are reflected by the snow? How might the depth of the snow affects its hue? What patterns and shapes does it contain? As the snow falls, how does it change in shape, texture or form, and to what do you attribute the changes? Where is it ordered, and where do you see disorder? What happens where the snow meets other objects? How do the edges of where the snow has landed differ from deep areas?

Sound

What is the sound of snow falling? What noises do you hear as it affects various objects and structures? What sounds emanate as you walk or travel over it? Drop the snow to the ground. What sounds does it make? Pack some snow together. What noises are created?

Texture

Cradle a bit of snow in the palm of your hand. What does it feel like? What energies do you find emanating from it? Pack some snow together again. How does the texture change when it is held lightly versus being crushed? How does the sensation of temperature alter as you hold the snow? How does your body respond to holding it?

Smell

Sniff the snow and notice any hints of smell that emerge from it. To what extent is it affected by its surroundings, and to what extent is its scent, if it has any, its own? What scent does snowfall lend to the overall environment around you?

Taste

Depending upon where you live and the pattern of snowfall, experts have some recommendations regarding tasting snow. Crushed ice may be a good alternative here. If you choose to eat a small amount, note the taste, smell and texture as you first eat some versus when it dissolves in your mouth. How does the temperature of your mouth change the form?

Mindful Transformation

If the energy feels right, collect four samples of snow, perhaps from different places around you. You’ll be connecting each sample to a different element and experience.

Earth

If you have a potted plant or another indoor source of dirt, bring some snow inside and bury it in the soil. What is it like to flip the order—snow under earth? How is the energy affected by the introduction of this cold form of water? Alternatively, you can spend time observing snow melt into the soil on a warming day.

Air

Wait until there is a breeze, and release some snow into the air. What trajectory does it take? What are the characteristics of its flight? Where and how does it land?

Fire

Expose some snow to candlelight or sunlight. How does its characteristics change in the light? What happens as it is transformed into liquid water by the heat?

Water and Spirit

Snow is the water element in crystallized form. It differs from ice mainly in density—a snow-pile will be comprised of both air and water while a block of ice is mainly water. The shape of each snowflake is in part dictated by the temperature at which it forms. Snow can also contain bits of dust. In this way, it is truly an intertwining of each of the four elements.

Enshrine the remaining sample of snow in a jar on your personal altar or in another sacred space. Notice any thoughts and emotions that arise from doing so. Continue to use your senses as you incorporate it into your altar space and ritual practice. When the winter season ends, you may return it to the water element in the spring rains, or you may choose to keep it as a permanent part of your altar.

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?

Sacred Spiritual Growth

To Do: Ask a Question Every Day

I recently listened to an interview on NPR with Walter Isaacson about a new book he’s published on Leonardo da Vinci. In the interview, he discussed da Vinci’s practice of recording fascinating to-do lists. He noted a favorite, buried within a list, of “describe the tongue of a woodpecker.” Da Vinci was no stranger to dissection and the examination of corpses, so one can only speculate the woodpecker would likely not have been alive if he attempted to study it.

I found inspiration in da Vinci’s practice, if not the particulars of his method. Poking around dead animals is not my forte. For several months, I’d written down a natural feature that I wanted to observe—such as trees—each morning during my morning ritual. The practice was becoming a bit stale, so I’ve decided to take it a step farther by delineating a specific question or curiosity, the analysis of which I wish to uncover during the course of the day.

Da Vinci placed an emphasis on consulting with experts, asking them in particular about the ways in which mechanical processes and structures worked. In today’s world, we don’t necessarily have a “Giannino the Bombardier” to whom we can turn, but we do have the Internet which is replete with information. Something in me balks though, at this process of “asking Google.” We can now install devices in our house to which we can literally ask any question, and they will provide an answer. The human, the physical, the effort is removed, replaced by an automated and unedited response. What would it look like to see the wisdom of our fellow humans and of our own skills of observation, to have to put energy and time into gaining knowledge? How much more fully are our minds shaped and expanded by this type of learning, versus a few second of a search through digital databases?

If we embark on the quest for a more intimate connection with the world in which we find ourselves, what or who should be our subjects? How do we record our findings? What do we do with the knowledge we gain? I’ve tried on the life of a scientist briefly, and the infighting, politics, scandals and backstabbing quickly showed me the extent to which human flaws pervade even the noblest of discoveries. It was not for me. But, my curiosity about the world beckons, and I desire to intertwine it with my spirituality. I wish to hone my powers of observation to more fully appreciate my place in the Cosmos and to better equip myself during my inner work to flow within the natural energies that surround us.

Where this has led me is to a deeper understanding of a possible use for a Book of Shadows. I do not practice magic with the belief that my thoughts can directly alter outcomes, nor do I believe I can summon forces to do my bidding. As I’ve noted many times, I see my spirituality primarily as a conduit for inner change, as well as a mechanism by which I can better experience the interconnectedness of all of life and existence. With this in mind, I see a Book of Shadows as a place to record those instances in which my observations have transformed my inner being, as well as the practices by which I achieved such outcomes.

The natural world is my primary sacred space, the place where I nearly instantly move on more than a physical plane, the place that causes me to leap for joy and which brings tears of appreciation for its beauty to my eyes. Therefore, detailed study of the plants and the animals and the sky and the moon and all of Goddess’ realm seems, for me, a natural companion to ripe spiritual musings.

Isaacson’s discussion of da Vinci made note of the many half-attempts and false starts contained within his writings and drawings. He demanded perfection of himself, reworking some of his famous paintings for years. Yet, the intricacies of what he didn’t complete are just as revealing as those he finalized. Most of our own observations will not lead to any great insights regarding the world, but I think the idea that, on this day, for this time, a particular person saw, felt, touched, heard, tasted or smelled something that no one else experienced in the same way is, absent of anything else transpiring, a beautiful and brilliant moment resplendent in the sacred.

Goddess Thealogy

Walking the Labyrinth: Cycles and Circles of Existence

Have you ever watched a group of people as they move through a labyrinth? Their movements are very different from how we normally travel through the world when we focus on getting from point A to point B. They weave in and out, moving sideways in a cadence reminiscent of the flow of a river. They seem to be getting farther from their destination, only to make a turn and appear significantly closer. Labyrinths are physical manifestations of natural and internal phenomena; the cycles that bring us to life and lead us downward toward our demise also transition us into new phases of existence. In today’s #Thealogy Thursday, we’ll examine the concept of circles and cycles within Goddess Spirituality as well as within our own lives.

Cycles within Goddess Spirituality

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always imagined the year as a circle, like a clock face. July is at 12 o’clock, October at 3, the New Year at 6, and March at 9 (realizing as I write this it isn’t evenly divided!). I assumed everyone else had the same general layout and was surprised when the people to whom I spoke about it gave me weird looks. Not everyone sees time as a loop! Cycles and circles are everywhere in Goddess Spirituality, so it’s no wonder it had an innate appeal to me.

Some of the main processes that are viewed as metaphors within Goddess Spirituality include the moon, the menstrual cycle, seasonal changes, and the life-death-rebirth paradigm. Life emerges, transforms, undergoes entropy and then recasts itself in a new form. I sometimes think the purpose of life is to grapple with the fact of its eventual ending; it is in realizing our finite nature that our existence become a precious community.

As someone who struggles with mental health concerns, it has been helpful to see that, through this lens, the current focus on keeping one’s thoughts tuned only to high vibrations falls flat in defining the full context of our biological and psychological cycles. We may have experiences where we rightfully resist unnecessary negativity, but expecting everything to come up roses if we just keep our focus on the positive is simply unworkable in my opinion. There are moments we exist in full thrall dancing in sunlight and swirling with energy, but it is antithetical to the basic nature of existence to expect bliss to last or that we will arrive at it as a destination.

“Circle Within A Circle”

With these dynamics in mind, how then can we make sense of the unfolding of our own lives? I’d started this blog post as it related to thealogy; I then read a great article by updownflight on recovery and mental health. The dialogue we had regarding that post sparked a realization in me that there is an intimate connection between Goddess’ cycles and the long-term cycles of our own lives.

I’ve begun to visualize the labyrinth when I consider my own growth and development. This viewpoint allows me to see how far I’ve come in an area, but also feel connected to the “layers” below or adjacent to my journey that inform where I’m at right now. The word “meandering” keeps coming to mind in the sense that I might not make it straight from A to B, but I’ll get there eventually.

I wrote a previous post regarding finding my spiritual home. As I deepen my understanding of my spiritual walk, I see that there are transition points where I do see progress. This image below of the triple labyrinth speaks to me as it connotes an ongoing pathway that transitions from one realm to the next. Something shifts, but we’re still connected to who we were and who we will become.

triple map

I spent a lot of time in the past 5 years or so envisioning my “future self,” knowing that a shift was going to happen eventually. Writing this blog has been that shift, as I see myself making manifest the inner work I’ve been doing. “Future self” dreaming has taken a backseat for now, as I’m living in the next version of who I am. I’m certain that this is yet another cycle, one that will eventually restart with a sense that something is going to be birthed in me followed by movement into another spiral.

I do not want to imply here that movement is always positive. I see the spiral as existing in three dimensions, so that there are times of decent and times of ascent throughout our journeys, even as we traverse another layer. Moments can snag us so strongly that we are convinced there is no way out, or we can reach peaks that we are certain have permanently elevated us beyond the earthly plane. And yet, there is that moment where we look back and see it was high or a low point in our journey, rather than something separate from the rest of our existence. Mythology is ripe with images of Goddess descending to the underworld or rising to the sky as she makes manifest her will and destiny, and, at times, as fate unfolds beyond her control.

I am freed from comparing myself to others when I use the cycle, circle and labyrinth models. It may be trite to state that “we are each walking our own path,” but I think it takes on a different meaning when we see it through the visual imagery of the labyrinth. People may seem out of reach during a particularly high or low point in their journey, or during a moment when they are nearing a transition in their life. Accepting that our paths interweave in sometimes unpredictable ways, with strange angles, curves and points of coordination, may allow us to release some of the hold we desire to have over another person’s timeline and progress.

I am very curious to see how you conceptualize the unfolding of your life; the metaphors you use to describe time and the cycles you experience. I plan to unpack more regarding the connection between trauma, mental health and how we see our journey on an upcoming #SurvivingnThriving Tuesday.