Sacred Spiritual Growth

What’s the Lesson In This For Me?

Throughout human history, many people have tried to make sense of why negative events occur in our lives. One idea that is sometimes proffered and with which I take issue is that we should “learn a lesson” from these kind of experiences and that they will invariably serve as a source of strength for us. On this #SacredSpiritualGrowth Saturday, I’ll elaborate on our ability and cause to seek insight through difficult trials. I do think there is some truth to the concept that we can learn and growth through, rather than despite, minor unpleasant life events.

To me, experiences that rise to the level of trauma are not necessarily or inherently good for us nor do they always make us stronger. I would give back much of what happened to me in my childhood in a heartbeat; I don’t think I’m a better person because of it. If you’d made sense of your own trauma in a different way, I completely support you in this as I think there are multiple valid perspectives we can hold towards suffering.

Traumatic Experiences

Traumatic experiences are those events that threaten our life or our sense of safety in a major way. They may leave us feeling betrayed, broken, lost and without hope. They shake the core of how we see the world and our sense of right and wrong. Life may seem unfair and unjust as a result, and we may feel alienated from “other people” who we perceive to wear rose-colored glasses in their assessment of how life tends to go.

These kinds of experiences can lead to a sense of spiritual growth; in fact, there is an entire body of research on “post-traumatic growth.” One moderating factor in enhancing development after trauma is social support. In other words, my take is that people are most able to grow after a tragedy when they feel supported by others during and after the trauma. For example, if a natural disaster strikes and causes issues with housing and employment, people may gain strength in their faith if lots of people are there to assist them and to lend aid during recovery.

Where trauma is especially likely to cut a ragged wound is when we go through it alone, and when we experience others as turning against, not towards us, as we try to recover from it. The individual who is rejected from every possible place of refuge, and whose life begins a downward spiral after a natural disaster is less likely to emerge from it, at least for a long time, with a sense of a deeper spiritual connection. On some level, I think the Divine becomes conflated with other people for most of us, so that to the extent that we feel distant from people, we are likely to experience a breach between ourselves and the Divine.

Everyday Obstacles

I think there are minor inconveniences and everyday types of problems that come our way through fate that we can use as a catalyst for spiritual growth. There is no clear dividing line between traumatic experiences and everyday obstacles. What one person finds minor may be a major trigger for another individual. I am not concerned with deciding for others the types of life experiences that fall into this category of “growth fodder.”  Discern for yourself the bumps along the way that you can use to make meaning and to draw out the character traits you seek to display.

I believe life unfolding in a way that runs counter to our plans invites us to contemplate certain questions. These include:

  • What do I really need in my life, and what just takes up space? What builds me spiritually?
  • What are my priorities for finding meaning in my life when my goals are thwarted? Do they align with my actions?
  • To what extent do I turn to Divinity and/or to my spiritual home when I am overwhelmed?
  • To what extent do I allow others to connect with me and offer spiritual balm to the raw and vulnerable places in me which negative situations provoke?
  • What are the spiritual rituals and practices that are particularly nourishing to me during difficult moments? To what extent do I follow through on them when they are really needed?

Signs of Spiritual Growth

How do we know if the lessons we are learning from everyday obstacles are spurring spiritual growth? I’ve listed a few signs below. They are not prescriptive or definitive! I found myself feeling like I was coming up short on every single one of them. I urge you to give yourself permission to view even a very small step in the direction they suggest as a sign you are reaching another layer of the spiritual dimension.

  • The first reaction to a negative minor setback is less and less to simply react. We are able to more fully engage the “deep thinking” part of our brain and/or to respond with a wider range of emotions than we used to be able to access. This emotional maturity is intertwined with spiritual growth in my view as it is a necessary first step before we evolve to a place of having our natural response be spiritually-centered.
  • We can more fully stay on track with our spiritual focus even when things aren’t going our way. We continue our daily rituals and meditation. We engage in deep conversations with others.
  • We are more able to own our own role in situations that occur to us. For example, if I act in a hostile, abrupt manner towards others, and then do not get the help I need from them, they are not simply incompetent. I’ve increased their inability to help me by treating them rudely. This place of personal responsibility can then empower us to make more viable choices as to how we handle moments of challenge.
  • We increase our ability to display the values and beliefs to which we ascribe in terms of how we face obstacles. For instance, if we believe being in nature provides an opportunity to connect with the Divine, we seek outdoor spaces as a respite during difficult situations.
  • We expand our focus to include giving attention to the things for which we are grateful and to the hopes to which we hold fast, even when other areas of our life are experiences in suffering.

In examining these concepts, I’ve written only in reference to the impact of external events on us. We are also buffeted by the winds of our internal thoughts and feelings. I suspect there may be a similar division in regards to inner experiences. As someone who struggles with the symptoms of multiple mental disorders, I find these akin to traumatic experiences in that the best I can currently do with them spiritually is to accept them. Some individuals encapsulate their mental health conditions as a part of their identity and see themselves as incomplete without them. As for me, I do not think they have improved who I am and I’m not pleased to have them in my life.

At the same time, the inner shifts in mood and thought that we all experience, such as a fleeting bad mood or a temporary anxious thought, can perhaps lead us to deepen our spiritual walk as we dig in to what it means to be human. We can sit with the negative moment and examine what it has to offer us. I would not want to be perfectly happy and stress-free all the time, because I think life would lose nuance and color in a mono-state.

As I mentioned several times, I have but one perspective on the idea of life teaching us lessons, and I hope to start a conversation about what your view on this is. I am very interested in seeing how the division I’ve made squares with your experience of your spiritual journey, and the extent to which the signs of spiritual growth I’ve shared fit how things have gone for you. Perhaps together we can hone in on some tried-and-true ideas for those moments when things don’t go our way.

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.

Inner Work

Pendulum as a Tool for Navigating Your Inner Direction

For today’s #InnerWork Wednesday, I’ll be focusing on pendulums. I think a pendulum reveals our internal wishes and desires. I share recommendations for choosing a pendulum, as well as methods with which you can work with one as a guide to your intuition.

Selecting a Pendulum

As with any intuitive tool, I think it is best to choose your pendulum in person if at all possible. One may speak to you that you wouldn’t expect if you were scrolling through photographs online. I prefer pendulums made of stone or crystal. Take the energy of the string into account as well.

Consider the chakra to which the particular color or content of your pendulum refers. Given my experience as a trauma survivor, I work with my root chakra frequently. As a result, I’ve found that stones that are black or red tend to be my favorites.

As you examine various pendulums, you may notice a change in temperature or energy when you find the one that’s right for you. A particular one may feel like it is “calling” you. Take as long as you’d like and keep searching if none stand out to you; it will be worth the wait!

Creating a Pendulum Board or Grid

I created my pendulum board intuitively by dialoguing with the pendulum about what each direction would mean. After a particular focus arose in my mind, I would allow the pendulum to move to show me which way that energy would be indicated. Most followed what I would have expected, but some ran counter to my typical way of setting things up.

I then made a record of that for which each direction stood. It should be noted here that I don’t view the ends of the arrows as strict dichotomous opposites. Instead, I allow that there may be times the pendulum will move with intensity, indicating a strong pull towards one choice, whereas other times it may be less intense, showing me inner ambivalence and uncertainty. It is not the pendulum’s job to resolve doubts, instead, it is there to illuminate truths and conflicts I might not otherwise want to face, and to help me work my way towards solutions that honor both self and others.

A pendulum could also be used to select or interpret the meaning of an oracle card. In creative work, it could help you hone in on the specific color, texture or shape that you could incorporate into your piece. While journaling, consider using a pendulum to select where to go next if you feel stuck. Once you develop a relationship with the pendulum you’ve selected, it can serve as a useful tool to access your unconscious mind and inner desires.

If you work with pendulums, how did you go about selecting the one(s) you use? How have you used pendulums? What have they shown you about your inner world?

Sacred Spiritual Growth

Developing A Personal Spiritual Philosophy of the World

As part of my own spiritual evolution, I decided to create and then answer a series of questions in order to help me further articulate my faith journey. My goal here on this #SacredSpiritualGrowth Saturday is to promote individual self-exploration, not to proselytize. I’m quite nervous to share my take on things, in part because I want to ensure the environment I create on my blog is welcoming, inclusive and diverse; statements of faith can quickly steer things into a more divisive and charged space. At the same time, I felt a sense of reclaiming my spirituality as my own when I articulated the specifics of it, knowing full well 99.9% of what I’ve written would be rejected by the religion of my youth.

I would love to see your responses to the questions I’ve proposed; feel free to select a few questions that most deeply resonate with you and respond in the comments, or create your own post by tagging this post and then describing your own spiritual philosophy by answering each question in response.

The Big Questions

What is the purpose of life? Why are we here in this time and place? I don’t have inner clarity over whether life has a purpose or not, but, if it does, I think it has something to do with our lives unfolding as an expression of love to ourselves and others.

What happens after death? I felt certain for years that death was the end and there was no afterlife. Through theories like quantum physics, I’m willing to speculate that there may be more after we die in some sense. I do not believe in karma or heaven and hell, but I’m can wrap my head around reincarnation on some level.

To what extent do humans have free will? I think we have varying degrees of free will, depending on the extent to which our frontal lobe functions properly as adults. I think there are many, many factors that influence the effects of our will.

Are humans basically good/bad/something else? I do not believe humans are inherently good or bad. I think we have varying degrees of healthy or unhealthy behaviors and characteristics. I think many of our behaviors are the result of our natural tendencies. This is contradictory to what I just wrote, but I do think some people are at least very close to being evil as I’ve been on the receiving end of behaviors I can’t classify any other way. I hope I develop a more nuanced view in these instances as I grow and heal.

What are the implications for those who view the world differently than you do? I think it is none of my business how others choose to conceptualize the world, with one exception. I believe in certain absolute human rights, and I think we need to do all we can to change beliefs that undercut basic freedoms all humans should have.

Can people control their circumstances (such as will something to happen or not happen) through mental intention? I do not believe we can directly control our circumstances through willpower, although I think we can subtly influence our own unconscious mind in ways that may lead to different outcomes than would have otherwise occurred. I have experienced a few moments of coincidence that really made me think magic is possible.

What is the nature of justice, and what is the role each of us plays in ensuring it occurs? I’ve blogged about my thoughts on this. I do not think the world is just and I’m not convinced true justice exists. I think we can each hold each other accountable if we are in close relationship, but I also think there is a place for letting go and accepting the unfairness life holds.

If you conceptualize Deity…

What is your conceptualization of Deity? Who is Deity? I believe in Goddess as a reflection of my Inner Wisdom and the collective human unconsciousness. I think we are all intricately connected through Her. I celebrate Deity in Her feminine form, but I also see avenues beyond this. I do not rule out masculine divinity, but I also do not give energy towards it at this time. I also envision gender-fluid or gender-less spiritual practice at some point in my future.

I do not adhere to a particular viewpoint on Goddess but am eclectic in my approach. I see nature as a direct reflection of Goddess and do not see an inherent difference between the inner and outer worlds or the natural and spiritual worlds.

To what extent is Deity involved in humans’ individual lives? I think Goddess pervades all of human experience but allows us to make our own choices. She provides guidance to the extent to which we are open to receive it.

How can you communicate with Deity? I believe each of us can approach and communicate with Goddess without an initiation or training. At the same time, I think we can learn from each other the ritual and practice that most easily and deeply connects us with her.

What affects your relationship with Deity? I think my relationship with Goddess is affected by my relationship with self and others. I will experience alienation from Goddess to the extent to which I experience alienation from myself and those around me. I also think that carelessness towards the Earth and natural resources will disconnect me from Source.

Can your Deity directly change your circumstances (miracles, etc.)? I feel ambivalent towards this idea. If it occurs, I think it is a highly unusual and rare experience and does not occur for personal gain.

If you do not conceptualize Deity…

              What elevates your beliefs and practices to the level of the Sacred?

What are some areas of areas of your spirituality over which you have less clarity? How can you go about growing in these areas? I do not have a lot of exposure to some of the more traditional pagan viewpoints, such as Wicca. I have a general conceptualization of Maiden-Mother-Crone, but when I’ve attempted to write about it, it falls flat. I am going to be doing more reading and seeking Goddess on an experiential level to deepen my understanding in this area.

Another area of disconnect happens when I read the original mythology of a Goddess; it is a struggle at times for me to see Her through a contemporary lens. I want to sink into the stories in Her presence more fully so that I can emerge with a richer understanding of Her journey.

Personal Values

What labels, if any, do you give to your faith journey? Why? I consider myself to be a practitioner of Earth-based Goddess Spirituality. I consider myself part of the community of Pagans. I am currently a Solitary Practitioner but I am exploring the role of Priestess in my life. These labels help me to identify others with whom I share common beliefs.

What are the spiritual values that you espouse? The core spiritual value I strive to uphold in my life is to do whatever I can in my life to become the best version of myself, with the knowledge that this will then lead me to relate in the healthiest possible ways with those with whom I come into contact. My best self is loving, kind, graceful, patient, bold, wise and balanced.

Articles of Faith

How do you show your affiliation with your Deity, and with the community of like-minded individuals? What are the implications of these behaviors for those who think differently from you? I am starting to both wear and surround myself with symbols of Goddess. I think the more important identification is the way in which I present myself and my participation in Pagan/Goddess events. I try at all times to speak about my experiences in a way that makes clear I do not see my path as the only path, while also honoring the deep impact it has had on me.

What rituals and rites do you celebrate to mark important holidays and moments of transition? I celebrate the Pagan Wheel of the Year. I also want to become involved in celebrating certain aspects of womanhood such as pregnancy, birth, and menopause.

What sites are sacred, and how do you show them reverence? There are some places I would love to visit such as the White Spring at Glastonbury. My practice is to see every place as potentially sacred, especially in natural settings. I think ritual to honor Goddess, as well as a simple mindfulness practice in a sacred site, are acts of reverence.

Relationship Implications

How do you share your views with others? What is the purpose of sharing your views? I share my views here on this blog as well as with those I trust in person. My main reason for doing so is to create a conversation, because I know that I have much work to do to reclaim my faith as my own, and I need to bounce ideas off others and hear their perspectives to grow.

How should you treat others? How should you expect to be treated? I would tend to follow the Wiccan Rede here: “An it harm none, do what ye will.” I believe I should respect others’ ability to make decisions for themselves as well as support them, and I hope for the same from others. I do not believe in sacrificing who I am or what I stand for in order to maintain a relationship.

What is your responsibility to nature? How can you uphold it? I have a long way to go here. I want to respect nature and conserve natural resources. I’m trying to take small concrete actions and make incremental changes that reflect my beliefs in this area.

Goddess Thealogy

Goddessing Our Personalities

If someone asks you to describe your personality, how do you explain who you are? I tend to discuss my personality from a psychological perspective (introverted, conscientious, etc.), but I’m also beginning to think of who I am and where I’m at in my development from a spiritual viewpoint. I believe the easiest way to do this is to start with an understanding of who Goddess is. For today’s #Thealogy Thursday, I’ll be discussing traditional views of Goddess, as well as newer conceptualizations; I’ll also interweave ways we can see ourselves in Her form.

Traditional View

The most familiar way of viewing Goddess to me is the three-fold model of maiden, mother and crone. I’ve referenced Starhawk’s classic The Spiral Dance for my explanation here. The maiden relates to the beginnings of development. She is free-spirited and filled with possibility. There is knowledge and experience she hasn’t yet tasted.  The mother is found in creativity, in new life, in fullness. She loves and lives out her destiny. She knows herself and satisfies her desires. The crone shows up in wisdom and inner work.  She intuits that which is needed, even if it means loss, because she knows loss leads to renewal and rebirth.

I conceptualize our personalities as consisting of all three at once, in various forms and expressions. I don’t think this viewpoint is consistent across practitioners of Goddess Spirituality, but personally I want to find a balancing point between each expression in me. Others may take these three typologies more directly, focusing their practice within one aspect of Goddess, and conceptualizing themselves in one of the three visages at different points as they age.

Alternative Presentations

In The Spiral Dance, Starhawk also refers to a pentagram of life aspects, including new life, opening, fertility, inner work, and dying. The main difference between this and the three-fold Goddess prototype is the addition of the second stage, which involves self-definition and autonomy. I appreciate this addition because I struggle with Goddess models that place the group above the individual as the ultimate “feminine” way of being in the world.

Goddess can also be seen as nature, not just in nature. She is the very earth itself, and the moon above. I’ve deepened my practice of viewing myself and humanity through the metaphors presented in nature. My understanding of concepts tends towards the practical and the concrete, so this practice is extremely appealing to me because I find myself returning to the stories to make sense of various situations.

Lasara Firefox Allen’s Fivefold model, laid out in Jailbreaking the Goddess, is a way to view Goddess that is less strictly tied to female biological processes than the traditional model. Her typology includes Femella (Goddess as innocent), Potens (Goddess as warrior), Creatrix (Goddess as creator), Sapientia (Goddess as wisdom), and Antiqua (Goddess as aged one). I will need to spend more time with this model to determine how well I think it captures Goddess’ essence.

Goddess Archetypes

We can also use specific archetypes or mythologies to connect to expressions of Goddess at particular moments in our lives. I’ve found correspondence books to be helpful in this regard. I also use Goddess tarot and oracle cards to select the aspects of Goddess that I need to embody to handle specific situations.

Part of the beauty of myth is that it gives us a narrative to which we can attach our own comings and goings. I’ve perused the Women Who Run With the Wolves book by Clarissa Estes, and I’ve found that the story of Baba Yaga pops into my head in some situations. There may be certain stories that you find interweave themselves into your life, perhaps because you identify with one of the characters.

Goddess is much more than our individual personality and characteristics. She exists whether we see Her in ourselves or not. My perspective on Goddess spirituality is that it blends the esoteric and mundane, and that it has meaning for our personal lives. Somewhere in the many myths, visions, and conceptualizations of who She is, we are.