Inspiration Fanatic

5 Elements: Creative Visual Exploration through Photography

Cross-posted at my SageWoman blog.

For today’s #InspirationFanatic post, I snapped a series of photographs* based on the five elements–earth, air, fire, water and spirit. I’ve been lacking any desire to be creative and needed a way to get plugged back into Nature. I felt connected to Goddess through this experience, especially when I found the “spirit” spot. I encourage you to go to a favorite natural setting and do the same! I’ve included a few prompts for each element in case you need ideas to get started.

Earth

I honed in on decomposition for my photograph–evidence of something returning to the earth. You might also consider finding a place where soil meets growth, or a plant or animal being nourished by the earth. If you feel stuck, ask yourself what around you feels rooted, strong and grounded.A photograph of a tree trunk rotting away into the earth.

Air

I found myself drawn to movement when I contemplated the air element. You could also look for plant or animal material that tends to get carried in the wind, such as leaves or dandelion fluff. Wispy clouds may also reflect this element. To touch this element, ask yourself what in your immediate surroundings is in motion, is breathing or is aloft.

A photograph of a tree with its green leaves in motion.

Fire

I happened upon a fire pit which felt like an apt representation of this element. A spotlight cast by the sun or dry and dusty conditions fit here, as would flames (in a safe setting of course). If you are unsure what to include, ask yourself what around you is marked by sunlight, dry, scorched or alight?

An empty stone fire pit with ashes after the fire has burned out.Water

Any body of water or aspect of rain, mist, fog or dew represents the water element. This is the element with which I connect the most easily and deeply. The forest where I was hiking ended up being a ridge high above the stream below. It was interesting to notice that my sense of immediacy with Goddess was limited when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get close to water. If you need additional inspiration, ask yourself what around you is wet, moist, hidden or heavy.

A stream surrounded by logs and trees in late summer.

Spirit

Spirit is amorphous and fully open to interpretation. After feeling disappointed regarding how far I was from water, I retraced my steps as I went to leave and happened upon a clearing in the woods through which the sunlight was pouring. I felt my breath slow and my heart open to this scene. For me, that sense of “I’m right here, right now” is always indicative of spirit.

A sunny spot of undergrowth surrounded by tall trees.

Reflection

For this experience, I let myself indulge my visual sense, which is what I perceive first in any situation. I want to conduct this type of walk again, but to focus on finding a connection to each element through my sense of smell or my sense of hearing, etc. I would also like to brainstorm other concepts that can be represented through photographs. I typically allow Nature to speak directly to me when I go for a walk in the forest and proceed without any plans. It was a nice change of pace to feel that I was seeking specific points of connection with Goddess through Nature; She answered my inquiry and showed me Her beauty.

© 2018 All rights reserved, Suzanne Tidewater

*Please forgive all the copyrights labels; I had someone steal an entire blog post including the photograph recently.

Sacred Spiritual Growth

Resourcing Our Spiritual Needs: Unfiltered Inspiration

Cross-posted on my SageWoman blog.

Do you find yourself craving inspiration on a soul level? I believe that external stimulation nourishes us not only physically, emotionally and mentally, but also spiritually, and functions as a vital ingredient for our well-being. For today’s #SacredSpiritualGrowth Saturday, I will be investigating how slow and attentive engagement with the world around us can produce this sustenance.

Inspiration comes in at least two varieties: wild and processed. The first, the unfiltered variety, is not simply nature as it also includes human-cultivated materials that have not yet been fully assembled. It allows us to take things sense by sense, and to either simply appreciate each as it stands or to engage our creativity by constructing unique permutations. Processed inspiration sounds less appealing, but in fact has gone through one of the most creative machines there—another human’s mind. Each work of art and scientific finding is a human’s diamond. My mind internalizes and makes its own meaning of this product, but what is presented has been synthesized and layered through another’s concentration and effort. I never saw art or inquiry as vulnerability until I held it in this light. Taken together, wild and processed stimuli offer us an unlimited supply of fodder for creativity and growth. I will be tackling both topics in my #SacredSpiritualGrowth posts; today’s blog will consider the first by contemplating how we can engage our senses directly.

Raw Sensory Indulgence

Rather than an exhaustive list, I’ve included specific examples from my own life with an eye toward highlighting the impact of working with each sense individually.

Sight

The primary place in which I am delighted when I engage my sense of sight is in nature. As I’ve spent more time in outside, one of my favorite practices is to “look again,” by which I mean to take in a scene until I think I’ve captured all the nuances it holds, and then to challenge myself to reset the parameters and find an entirely new set of data coming at me. What was previously a simple glance at a tree or hedge evolves into an eco-sphere of activity from this vantage-point.

Human creations, in their raw form, can also connect with us on a visual level. For instance, as a child, I was drawn to fabric stores. I wasn’t very good at sewing and so I was unsure about why they held such appeal for me. I believe now that it was simply the full glass of colors, patterns and textures I was able to drink in with each visit that appealed to me. In the same vein, a row of paint samples may seem mundane but, through its activation of our visual system, we may perhaps find ourselves dreaming in full color.

Sound

Inspiration does not need to come only from experiences we find pleasing. I’ve written before about my difficulties processing certain sounds. I find the most peace in listening to birdsong and the rush of water in a stream, but I believe mechanical sounds and the babble of humans in motion can also provide fertile ground for the growth of our auditory attunement. Consider finding various places where you can sit for a few moments with your eyes closed, and simply listen.

Smell & Taste

Smell is a visceral sense that I believe worth of indulgence. As I described previously, I can get carried away in places such as spice shops. Each spice offers not just a sensory experience all its own, but can also allow an unfolding of emotions and memories. Displays with essential oils or botanical herbs and, of course, natural areas filled with flora allow for a variety of scents that are easily accessed in one location. Rather than rushing to partake in the next fragrance, try pausing and finding the faint whiffs amongst the strong in each smell.

Taste can be a bit more difficult to indulge in nature unless you have a guide who can tell you which items are edible. With or without this opportunity, another possibility is to taste each ingredient in the next dish you make as you assemble it. I think here about how often I barely perceive the flavors of entire meals I eat, much less each component that goes into it.

Touch

We “see” through more than our eyes. By touching various objects with our fingertips, we come to know reality in a way that is difficult to capture in words. One of my favorite encounters is touching the bark of a tree; I feel that a window into its soul is opened each time I do so. Allowing the sun to alight on our face or the rain to wet our feet speaks to us on a nonverbal level. Walking barefoot instantly grounds and reconnects me to Goddess.

From Inspiration to Creation

After engaging with these and other senses, we need not rush to synthesize them into something “creative.” Mindfully being present and absorbing the experience as it stands may be all that is needed; genuine inspiration cannot be rushed or manufactured. Personally, I feel a small shift inside me whenever something has ripened from its original green into a tasty morsel ready to be digested; when I respond to this intuitively, I am almost always delighted at the result. When I instead try to move on without pausing to meet this sensation, the bitter pulp of unready fruit tends to quickly dissuade me from my desire to get on with it.

Taking the entirety of my list of opportunities into account, I think that most of us have more than enough around us throughout the day from which we can draw inspiration. Rather than a lack of stimuli, I suspect what gets in the way of inspiration is in fact mindlessness—glossing over or rushing through material so quickly that we fail to absorb even a fraction of what is being presented, as well as becoming overstimulated and then detaching by distracting ourselves through screens and thoughts of the future or past. The next time you feel completely overwhelmed, take a look at your surroundings. Are you attempting to attend to multiple layers of stimuli at once? Are you trying to both complete a physical as well as mental task? One activity at a time, in fact, one sense at a time, is a revolutionary way in which we can begin to appreciate nuance, complexity and variety. I invite you to stop at the next green plant you meet and get to know it. My suspicion is that you will walk away with more understanding of the world than hours of electronic scrolling could ever afford.

Magic & Phrase

Trust: The Journey

I.

American interstate.

Every metal beast believing its demon worthy

Of being last to leave and first to arrive.

Truncated forests reduced to boundary line.

People, once awoken, see themselves veering into the islanded field

Declaring the reed and grass as heartbeat and home.

Why do painted lines obey the cars?

II.

House of worship.

Calling on our dear providence, weary of weakness induced,

We supplicate that which we already possess.

Voices, only male, trilling dominance as salvation.

Female in form: Madonna or whore

Forced without choice, patterning our birthright.

The mantle we strive to shoulder pleasing and, in failing,

Burn it unmourning as defiled as we are.

III.

Social media.

She traces outlines in the fogged mirror.

Razor thin edges of who she, wisp, idolizes.

Body worthy only in breast and hip and ratio

Of pregnancy to submissive glance.

Her appeal loose flakes to her self-love.

Silver-hair and wrinkle holy gifts

She banishes same as bare flesh to contour.

IV.

Public gathering.

You count first the outcasts, then the leaders, then lastly, the judgmental ones.

Knowing full well to count thrice.

You widen your vision to encompass the uneven horizon

Declaring your name and all the sharpened shards who, molten, forged you.

Uttering actualities until nearby the birds pause and squirrels cease chatter

Nature curling up breathing the air of sovereignty embodied.

You believe your feet to tremble but roots encircle, collecting, as they descend.

V.

Inner sphere.

Transforming midst gates of Inanna and Persephone

Underwater, under world that demands my sacrifice.

All the while eyes forward, lean into the weight

Of boulders cast of shame.

I thought the scenery was superfluous.

Now, branch and pebble and bird feather are

Substance and bone of my offering.

Inspiration Fanatic

Five Favorite Goddess Spirituality-Themed Tarot and Oracle Cards

For today’s #InspirationFanatic Friday, I decided to review five of my favorite sets of guidance cards (in no particular order) that I find to be relevant to Goddess spirituality. I chose to cover this topic in regards to inspiration as the artwork in particular in these decks is very meaningful and fuels my creativity. Not only do these cards feel affirming to me from a Goddess spirituality perspective, I also find the cards themselves and the guidebooks with which they come to be supportive to me as a trauma survivor. Sometimes the messages are difficult to hear, but I do not find myself triggered by them on a regular basis. The impact they have on me feels at its most intense like a gentle nudge instead of a shove or a harsh word. This reaction could of course vary from person to person.

I am not a professional tarot reader nor do I claim to have particular skill or insight into interpreting cards. For me, the use of such cards is primarily as a means of inner work, not as a way to divine the future. I tend to ask specific questions of Goddess before I pull cards and often journal about my interpretations.

My list is limited to the cards I’ve personally purchased, so I am very eager to hear your recommendations for additional resources. I do not have an affiliate relationship with any of the creators, so my insights are not unduly influenced. I’ve also included a list at the end of my post of cards I hope to soon add to my collection.

  • Womenrunes: The runes on these cards were originally created by Shekhinah Mountainwater and revived by Molly Remer. They are easy to draw and can be combined to provide personalized messages. I’ve inscribed an entire set of them on river stone and a few on my arm! The guidebook is poetic in nature, leaving a lot of room for intuitive interpretation.
  • Soulful Woman Guidance Cards: This deck speaks to me on a regular basis and is one of my “go-to” choices. Part of the reason is that I sometimes dislike having to thumb through a small guidebook in order to figure out what each card means. With this deck, I am able to gain insight quickly as there is both a theme and an affirmation printed directly on the card. The artwork feels accessible and I find the insight I gain from using this deck to be motivational.
  • Sacred Rebels Oracle: These oracle cards contain some of my favorite artwork. The creators of the deck included art from women from across the globe. Each time I draw a card anew, I realize there was something in the image I missed the first time through. The guidebook has plenty of description of how to grow from the meaning of the card without being too prescriptive. I do notice a thread of the “law of attraction” peeking through at moments, of which I am not a fan, but the overall message is positive and uplifting.
  • The Good Tarot: The imagery of this deck is ethereal and soft to me. There are aspects of traditional tarot, but the focus is more on affirming where a person is in the present day instead of forecasting future developments. Additionally, the four elements are represented which I find helps me connect to the meaning of the cards more fully than cups, swords, etc. The guidebook is pretty sparse with a summary paragraph or a few sentences for each card; this is my personal preference as I like to intuit meaning rather than feeling like I’m being restricted by an overly descriptive narration.
  • The Goddess Oracle: I find this deck to be particularly useful when I’m feeling in need of the presence of Goddess in my life. The guidebook to each card invites the reader on an inner journey in which the person communes with the Goddess. I found the writing to be a bit formulaic in its approach here and would have liked a bit more background on the historic and cultural significance of each Goddess. The artwork is beautiful and inviting.

On my wish-list:

  • Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards: I am a huge fan of Judith Shaw’s artwork and writing. There is an elegance and warmth that exudes from her paintings, and in the descriptions she’s shared of her artwork, I can see the thought and research that has gone into her creations. I can’t wait to purchase this 35-card deck!
  • Infuse Your Life with Joy and Delight Inspirational Card Deck: I’ve been following Illisa Millermoon on Instagram for a while, and I find her joy to be contagious! She shares about her daily life, including her Sparkle Quests, and her creative process, and I can see the energy that’s been poured into this 52-card deck (as well as all the beautiful colors!). Can’t wait to have it for myself.

What are your favorite oracle or tarot cards, and why do you prefer them? To what extent do you include decks that “challenge” you in your work? How do you conceptualize your use of the cards? Is it a conversation with Source, divination of the future, inner work, or another process? Do you see the cards themselves as a spiritual entity and/or a conduit through which you can act in relationship with Deity?

Goddessing Self Care

Reconciling Compassion and Healthy Boundaries

For today’s #GoddessingSelfCare Sunday, I will be examining what it means to be compassionate within the context of healthy boundaries. Compassion includes feelings of empathy and acting in ways that are caring and kind to others. It does not apply solely to other people, in fact, I believe it has to start with compassion toward ourselves. In this way, self-care and compassion are intimately related.

Compassionate behaviors are habits I am forming, not ones that comes naturally to me. I’ve shared about some of my personal journey in my #Embodied Heart posts. The traumatic experiences I’ve faced, among others, have made it difficult for me to respond with empathy to others, even though I can intellectually see things from different perspectives. I am especially afraid of acting like a martyr or being taken advantage of by others to whom I might offer gentleness. Given my struggles, I felt a desire to determine what it means to be compassionate and to remain boundaried at the same time.

Compassion Antidotes and Their Function

Before I fully explore what it means to be compassionate, I first need to look at what I’ve held in its place inside. In my studies of social psychology, I’ve come across several concepts that can serve to blunt or mute our responses of compassion. These include at minimum hatred, prejudice, self-righteousness, dehumanization, self-importance, greed and detachment. My particular drugs of choice are hatred and self-righteousness.

I have been able to hate with the same intensity with which others love. A part of me is actually proud of the sustained force with which I can hold grudges and feel anger towards certain people. When I sit compassionately with this part of myself, what is revealed to me is that my hostility serves as a yardstick, shoving away any attempt to treat me with disrespect or to humiliate me. Somewhere in me, I believe that if I am filled with sufficient hate, no one can hurt me or take advantage of me. The truth, thought, is that my Inner Being, which is infused with love, is much stronger than any outside individual’s attacks could ever be. No one can possess my soul or the core of who I am, no matter how they treat me. Now I just need to convince the hateful part of me of this truth.

Self-righteousness is especially complicated for me because I was raised in a religion that eschewed even “false humility.” We had to be humble, really humble, and even acting humble wasn’t enough. The odd thing was, there was a lot of arrogance and I-know-best guised in “God told me…” My scientific education has only served to increase my propensity to self-righteousness, because I can quickly pull on my body of knowledge to correct any errors in logic that I perceive when another person is talking with me. A good part of my internal dialogue during conversations with others, especially when they are sharing a struggle, is “shut up, shut up, shut up” not because I doubt myself but because I can tell I am speaking from “I know best” instead of “what do you need right now.” After a few decades of low self-esteem, my high self-confidence is all too happy to make herself known. What self-righteous behavior protects against, at least for me, are feelings of helplessness and uncertainty. I feel a ton of uncertainty about how to fix the things I don’t like in my own life, but I often believe that I have ten solutions at the ready for anyone else who needs help. I have a lot of work to do to form a solid trust that other people know what is best for their own lives and that building them up with a compassion that celebrates their Inner Being is the truest solution of all.

Acts of Compassion That Respect Our Inner Beings

With the ways in which I normally disengage myself from compassion in mind, I turn now to ideas about how to elicit compassionate behaviors. I opened this piece discussing boundaries, but I’m also inspired to conceptually consider Inner Beings as a point of departure. I feel very confident that I am my own best healer, and I am beginning to see that this is true of other people. In this light, choosing actions becomes simpler.

In cases where someone is acting in a way that provokes feelings of hatred in me, I can respond with love. I believe that we each have a responsibility to turn to our own Inner Being first, so I first would need to engage in self-care and seek the wisdom of my Inner Goddess (this behavior would take on different forms, depending on someone’s religion and culture). This would often mean that I would not respond immediately to a provocation but would take my time to soothe myself and remind myself of my worth first. From this empowered and embodied place, I can set boundaries and speak my truth, doing so in a way that broadcasts genuine care for the other person as well as myself, instead of malevolence. If the other person is not treating me in a way that I feel is respectful of my Inner Being, I can speak to them in a way that acknowledges their “best self” in the hopes that they will then access this part of themselves. If this fails, I can stand firm in my expectations that I be treated respectfully and can show them this same respect. As I write this, I realize that I do actually already engage in this behavior in professional settings in terms of how I hold boundaries, but I frequently forget to turn to my own Inner Being and acknowledge myself first. In my personal life, I’ve put minimal effort into doing any of these behaviors. It is much, much easier for me to hate than to love. Recognizing the energy that it takes for me to be compassionate seems like a positive self-care step I can take right now.

In cases where my self-righteous, fix-it-now, and intolerance of incompetence are heightened, I can sit with the part of myself that resists any feelings of helplessness and uncertainty. I can remind myself that other people have access to their own Inner Being who is standing by, ready to help them at any moment. Perhaps, in relating to others who are feeling overwhelmed or indecisive, encouraging them to check in with that part of themselves is wise. In addition, if I do give advice, I need to do so from the place of my Inner Goddess, not from a place motivated by impatience, anxiety, arrogance or frustration. When someone makes a mistake, I need to show them the same kindness I would want to be shown in the situation.

As I write these thoughts, I find myself wondering why other people, in fact, a good number of people with whom I’ve become acquainted, are so much more able to show compassion than I am. As I listen to my Inner Being, I see immediately that I was not shown genuine compassion growing up, likely because my parents did not receive it earlier in their lives either. Within my religious context, compassion came with a huge price tag of self-desecration. In order to be cared for by a higher being, one had to believe that they were scum and unworthy of being loved. I cannot stomach this viewpoint and I think it is a perversion of true compassion. Compassion honors and cherishes; it does not demean and demand a discarding of all parts of self.

Empathy and compassion are likely, at least in part, learned behaviors. If there was no one who taught us how to act in these ways growing up, I suppose we must teach ourselves. With the viewpoint of an Inner Being in each of us, it has become clearer to me as to how to navigate boundaries and needs when engaging in acts of compassion. I believe I’ve only scratched the surface of this topic and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. What is your relationship to compassion as well as to compassion “antidotes?” How do you determine how to act in situations that cause you to feel anger or helplessness? What for you represents your “Inner Being” and how do you access this part of yourself and/or Divinity during times of struggle?