Embodied Heart

Going There: Addressing Bias within Goddess Spirituality

Who’s your audience? In many contexts, knowing one’s audience allows the presenter, the spiritual leader, the writer, whomever to tailor their message and to allow those who are invited into the conversation to feel included, respected and witnessed. As a trauma survivor, I’ve been in plenty of settings where my needs and life experiences placed me “outside” of what it appeared the speaker or writer had conceptualized in presenting their material. For instance, statements such as “God is in control” or “everything happens for a reason” don’t meld well with the lived reality of the violence of childhood sexual abuse.

I’ve been repeatedly confronted with social media posts within Goddess Spirituality contexts that have irked me and caused me doubts about the extent to which my faith community is equally receptive of all people. When I first became interested in Goddess Spirituality, I unconsciously assumed it was inclusive and welcoming of everyone, no matter their personal identities. As I’ve dug deeper, I’ve learned there are factions and biases I hadn’t anticipated.

One of the most apparent controversies is in relation to the “embodied” aspect of the spiritual practice. For some, embodied Goddess Spirituality and the physicality of being in a female body from birth through death are inseparable. Specifically, menstruation and childbirth are viewed as core aspects not only of one’s womenhood, but also of one’s feminine spirituality. I accept and appreciate this viewpoint and I long for it to be extended into a more inclusive model to which anyone can relate, regardless of body composition and gender expression. My Goddess is more than a uterus.

I frequently encounter the presentation of those who seek Goddess/the Divine Feminine as being white, wealthy, educated, young, attractive, straight and capable of child-bearing, adorned with the trinkets of borrowed culture without a deeper appreciation of their context or the potential exploitation that undergirds their use. Even if the expression of Goddess that people chose to pursue is within their own culture, they may accept the historical accounts of a particular Goddess without a dissection of the misogynistic or racist roots in which Her story was likely planted. I’ve attempted to circumvent these issues by conceptualizing Goddess primarily within the context of Nature. She has spoken to me in this presentation; I also question if I am self-limiting in order to stay “safe.” My Goddess transcends human characteristics, can I also connect to Her in a way that stands in solidarity with those who are oppressed, respects the unique forms cultures have made of Her, and evolves my understanding of Her as social norms change?

Those who are indifferent to others being excluded and devalued bear a mark of responsibility for those who suffer. I balk too at people who normalize their own inaction by dehumanizing the oppressors; no human is worthless. I have struggled to even dip my toes in this topic for fear of offending people and fear of being harassed. At the same time, if we are not in a particular group who is being marginalized, I think it is our responsibility to educate ourselves as to the situation and its effects, and to “call in” at least the indifferent to a place of self-examination where we wrestle with the difficult questions. Based on where I am at right now with my healing and mental health, I do not see myself seeking out direct engagement with those who discriminate within my faith community on a frequent basis, however, I think this is needed and I anticipate it as a potential area of self-evolution.

I wish to deepen my spirituality beyond blaming and shaming to an authentic and compassionate ability to co-create spaces that do not equivocate on certain norms of inclusivity and that enable each participant to meet the Divine in all Her forms.* There are situations in which not every person will be welcome—I would not knowingly allow abuse perpetrators into a trauma survivor group, for instance. The three specific areas that I count as priorities personally are welcoming people of all gender expressions (as they self-define!), balancing a wish to present material that is accessible to people of many identities with a desire to avoid co-opting and diluting individual cultural expressions, and drawing into fuller connection with my own shadow biases and hidden prejudices within a supportive community. I toggled for hours earlier this summer as to whether to restrict my Summer Self-Compassion Camp to women; I chose the “safer” option, in part because I was unwilling to express my internal conflict to others. I want my audience, as well as all who are drawn to Goddess Spirituality–whomever they may be–to know that they are seen, heard, worthy and welcome.

If your spiritual practice takes the form of Goddess Spirituality, to what extent have you grappled with the issues I shared? Where have you felt included or excluded in your spiritual walk? To what extent do you challenge yourself to confront your own biases and to call into conversation those who are indifferent to the suffering of the marginalized? Do you directly confront those who are oppressive, and, if so, what strategies have been effective?

*I acknowledge the paradox of my discussion in that I also conceptualize Goddess using female pronouns. This, to me, is a thealogical issue that is beyond the scope of this particular post.

Naturally Mindful

Natural Communication

Did you know that the trees are talking to each other via fungi “email?” Dr. Suzanne Simard uncovered a network of communication that trees use not only to let each other know how they are doing, but also to release and share some of their excess nutrients. In addition, they seem to be able to tell which of the other trees near them are related to them! The oldest trees in the forest have many connections through their roots to surrounding trees and appear to give an extra boost to their own seedlings.

Many practitioners of Earth-based spirituality incorporate communication with the natural world into their sacred work. This can include communicating with plants and wild animals. I’ve left pets out of this conversation because I think they deserve their own post! If we are going to engage in communication with wild beings, I think it’s best for it to be in a way that honors the Earth’s diversity and resources.

Plant Ears

Part of my inspiration for this blog came from The Goddess Attainable’s post about talking to trees. In her writing, she describes her relationship with a particular tree. I hope I can meet a tree companion with whom I develop a long-standing friendship!

I did have an interesting experience with a dying ash tree in my local park. I’d walked by it for years, and for some reason felt it calling out to me earlier this year. I started sitting underneath it most day reading with my dog. My intention was one of mourning as I sensed its time was short, and I wanted to honor it by being at least one human who paid attention to it. Within a few weeks, the local Parks Department cut it down. I feel a sense of loss and emptiness going by the space where it was and have started trying to get my town to replant a new one.

Throughout human history, various groups of people have believed that humans can communicate with plants in a way that benefits their growth. I’m not aware of a scientific explanation for the sense of being able to communicate with plants, but, like the fungus tree root network, it’s possible it’s something we just haven’t yet uncovered. I have come across theories that if we engage in activities like singing to plants on a regular basis, we are releasing carbon dioxide which they can turn into oxygen, and we are subjecting them to small vibrations which could affect their growth patterns. Although I think my singing would cause most plants to curl up in fright!

Animal Friends

When you happen upon a group of social wild animals, the squawking or chattering you hear might be much more than “Danger! Danger!” Research on prairie dogs suggests they can characterize us by features such as how tall we are, what colors we have on and how fast we are moving. Animals engage in complex communication with each other. Even wild animals are able to let us know what they are thinking.

Birds are one animal that has meaningful interactions with humans. I walked by one of my bushes in my yard and had a robin nearly barrel into me. This happened a few times before I investigated and discovered she’d made a nest with a little brightly colored egg right inside the bush. I tried to reassure her I wasn’t going to mess with it. She then made a habit for a little while of greeting me as I took my dog out first thing in the morning, giving me the side eye and coming up near me, so I think she got the message.

Not all wild animals are cute and cuddly. I met a coyote strolling by my house who was eying my Yorkie like a prized steak. I firmly told it that it wasn’t welcome to him. I was shocked when it stared right back at me and took its sweet time meandering down the sidewalk. We’ve encroached on animal habitat to the point where they look at us like “eh, yeah, you don’t scare me anymore.” The boldness in communication from the animals belies a stark reality of the negative impact of humans failing to recognize our impact on the environment.

Reciprocal Communication

To me, if we are going to spend time in communication with plants and animals, it’s best for it to be a two-way street, meaning we spend at least as much time or even more listening than we do speaking. We can check in with certain plant life and creatures on a regular basis, noting how the seasons and weather affect them. We can ask them what they want to share with us and practice gratitude for their presence. We can also honor their existence by engaging in sustainable, environmentally-friendly behaviors, and advocating for better treatment of our natural resources.

One aspect of this practice of speaking and listening with nature in which I want to grow my ability is to appreciate the richness of the biodiversity around me. For instance, my “talking” with insects is often to threaten to kill them. I don’t intend to start letting the mosquitos treat me like a banquet, but I do want to notice some of the bugs and vines that I might otherwise overlook.

When we tune into the natural world, it can be amazing to discover how much life the small patch of earth we call home contains. I find myself sometimes overwhelmed by where to start, so I’ve decided to choose a specific tree and a type of animal that I will be consistently observing for the next year in order to watch for patterns and changes. I think journaling each day regarding what I see is going to be quite revealing! I would love to hear about your experiences and observations.

Surviving & Thriving

Goddessing on a Budget: Deep Connections With Self

What comes to mind when you think about connecting with yourself or another person? What does a healthy relationship entail? A viewpoint that resonates with me from psychology is called attachment theory. It suggests that each of us has a “working model” that we unconsciously forged in childhood. As a result of our relationships with our caregivers, we determined whether or not others would be there for us and whether or not we ourselves are trustworthy.

Many of us with trauma histories struggle to engage in healthy attachment patterns. Several people have told me that I really “know myself,” and I feel that my connection with myself is my strong suit. Experiencing deep connection with others feels at times within my grasp and at other times like it across a huge chasm. Perhaps you feel the same way. Or, your style may be the opposite—apart from your relationships, you aren’t sure who you are. In any case, our spiritual journey is centered in these relationships with self and other, and part of our ramble with Goddess is uncovering the tremendous wealth that can be found in safe and affirming relationships. Today I will begin our exploration by examining our relationship with ourselves.

Body Rhythms

“I hate my body!” How many times in our lives have we given ourselves this message? I recently participated online in Priestess Brandi Auset and Tracy Givens’ free Sacred Sexual Wellness class in the Mystery School of the Goddess. The course had a profound impact on me in that it contained the idea of viewing our bellies as sacred, and promoted nurturing them with practices such as massage. I had never once in my life seen my stomach area as anything other than a part of me that was too large and frequently uncomfortable because of my medical conditions. What does it mean to let myself see it as sacred, worthy in its own right?

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Proudly stand in the sunlight and celebrate your worth!

Goddess spirituality flows from our connection to our bodies. Loving and accepting them just as they are is not just a mental health exercise; I see it now as a sacred act. Consider how much money and time you have put into making your body feel “acceptable.” I know I’ve made quite an investment. What would it mean for each of us to put that energy into a positive connection with our physical being?

As a practice in self-acceptance, I encourage you to spend some time thinking about a part of your body, if any, that you dislike. During your daily ritual, as you connect to Goddess, imagine yourself surrounded by light as you sink into a feeling of warmth. See the light and warmth nourish the part of yourself that you dislike. Your body is sacred! You may want to journal or process through artwork how it would be to truly cherish it.

Spirit and Heart

When was the last time you really sat with yourself and checked in with your spirit? Did you listen to your inner wisdom or did you bark out directions about the tasks you should be doing more often and the ways in which you’ve let yourself down? I’ve spent a bit of time exploring Inner Work in my post on Daily Rituals. Learning to read your own emotional states and to express your hidden spiritual knowledge allows for a healthier relationship with self.

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If you would like some guidance in accessing your inner self, a Mystery School I have found to be helpful is In Her Name. The first realm is called “Realm of Self” and allows for inner spiritual exploration. This particular school is self-paced. There are opportunities for partial scholarships for those who need them.

Listening Mindfully

Inner messages may come to us whether or not we want to hear them. I often find that I’ve traveled a path or made a decision unconsciously before my “thinking mind” catches up to the news. Goddess goes before us. Gain comfort in knowing that you have answers inside yourself for many of the dilemmas you will face, and give yourself trust and faith to believe in your inner wisdom.

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I strongly believe that negative voices or uncomfortable truths in us should not be banished, forgotten, or denied. They are there for a reason and deserve to be heard just like the upbeat, happy parts of self. But, stuck in their own cycle and detached from Goddess, they can be overwhelming at times. Attempting to manage our shadows without support may not always serve to aid in our spiritual journey. If you are finding yourself dealing with these messages, I encourage you to take the time to find a therapist who is not only educated in working with trauma but is also open to helping you incorporate your personal spirituality into your healing process.

Sacred Space for Self

By listening to body, spirit, heart and mind, I think we open the door to sacred synchronicity. Areas of confusion and doubt can be washed away, replaced by confidence and trust, if we treat ourselves as worthy. You deserve love, attention, care and relationship! Hear through the negative messages you’ve internalized to your underlying fear, anger, and sadness. Transform those wounded parts of yourself both through professional assistance if needed as well as your spiritual walk with Goddess.

Surviving & Thriving

Goddessing on a Budget: Trauma-Sensitive Considerations for Daily Rituals

In my first post related to daily rituals, I examined the benefits of personal ceremony and explored suggestions for ritual styles. Today I’ll be focusing more specifically on trauma-sensitive topics related to frugal daily rituals, including how to concentrate your energy during ritual as well as options for short meditations during more challenging situations.

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Staying Present During Daily Ritual Practice

Establishing focus during ritual can be quite a task when external or internal distractions present themselves. Depending on your individual situation, finding a quiet time and space may require sustained effort. Do what you can to manage distractions that are under your control, such as keeping electronic devices away from your sacred space.

For those interruptions that are outside of your control, sinking into Goddess’ presence and reminding yourself of Her grace in all situations may help you concentrate. If you have young children who tend to get most interested in what you are doing the moment you’re busy, try to schedule ritual times when they are asleep or include them in parts of your practice. They will likely enjoy the “music and dancing” time!

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Distractions can “cloud” our intentions during ritual.

Sources of internal interference during ritual may include thoughts of the past or future, as well as physiological issues such as pain or headaches. I like to think of my internal processes as messages. These messages matter and should not be ignored, but they also do not necessarily mean I need to immediately drop everything to “read” them.

If I feel physical discomfort during a ritual, I check in with myself and note whether shifting positions or coming back to the particular part of the ritual a few minutes later might work better. If an issue keeps entering my mind during a ritual, I discern whether or not it is rising from my inner work in the moment or from an anxious part of myself. If I feel like it is based on anxiety and can be handled later, I thank that part of myself who’s letting me know it’s important, and affirm that I will address it at a more appropriate time.

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Minute Meditations for Difficult Times

We all have “one of those days” where everything seems to go wrong or we feel bombarded by stressors. We might find it impossible to settle ourselves for an extended meditative experience and may feel disconnected from Goddess. Instead of engaging in self-blame, give yourself permission to modify your practice in ways that feel comfortable to you. In these moments, I find taking just a minute or two with Spirit often changes my perspective and emotional state. These micro-meditations cost very little and are also a good match for times where you need to release energy after a tough encounter.

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1. Sensory Activation

Using our senses connects us both to Spirit and to ourselves:

  • Smell—keep a variety of scents nearby to bring yourself back to reality when you feel stressed. A few I use to help me ground are lemon, clove, sandalwood and sage.
  • Touch—use self or partner massage on tense areas like your shoulders. A weighted or soft blanket may feel soothing. A ritual bath for your hands or feet can incorporate many of your senses, including touch. Petting an animal releases the “cuddle” hormone oxytocin.
  • Vision—gaze at your personal altar to reconnect yourself to the Sacred. Spend some time in nature, noticing as many individual plants, animals and natural formations as you can. Participate in a Goddess meditation.
  • Hearing—listen to your favorite music. Chants can help to release some energy, whereas instrumental music may help to calm the body’s rhythms. Read poetry aloud.
  • Taste—I will be sharing a blog in a few weeks about taste with a particular emphasis on cooking as a medium for sacred practice. Taking a moment to savor a favorite flavor mindfully may recharge your soul.

2. Centering Chant

A centering chant can be sung aloud or in your head to help you return to self and ground. You can create your own chant or use one of many Goddess-focused chants. Chants typically include simple lyrics and repetitive sound, giving them a mantra-like quality.

As someone who incorporates Buddhist and Hindu thought into my practice, I also enjoy humming the cadence of the chakra that I needing the most alignment in a particular moment. Meditative Mind has published free versions of many chakra activation chants on Youtube. Each chakra has a different corresponding sound:

  • Root—Lam
  • Sacral—Vam
  • Solar Plexus—Ram
  • Heart—Yam
  • Throat—Ham
  • Third Eye—Om
  • Crown—Ah

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3. Counting the Breath

I’ll never forget the moment I was feeling highly anxious and the person I was with stared me down, stating “take a deep breath.” I’m pretty sure I held my breath just out of spite! Deep breathing can engage the relaxation response, but it can also increase anxiety if it is used at the wrong moment or as a way to try to stifle emotion.

I have found counting breaths to be more useful. A meditation teacher of mine remarked on finding the space between the out-breath and the in-breath. I tended to breathe so quickly I couldn’t follow her logic. Years later, I downloaded a free app called Prana Breath that specifies a set number of seconds for the breath in, pausing, breath out, and then waiting before starting again. I finally found the pause!

4. One-Card Tarot or Oracle

Meditating on a tarot card or oracle can allow your mind to see a situation in a new light. A few questions you might ask Goddess before intuitively choosing a card include:

  • What do I need right now?
  • What am I missing in my current view of this situation?
  • What strength in myself could help me cope?

Most cards include gorgeous imagery along with words or descriptions. Take time to really explore the image and see what arises in your heart as you do so. I am often amazed at how many uplifting details artists are able to incorporate when I really study their work!

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My Inner Tree Oracle deck from GabyGCreations.

Intuitive cards are a commodity where I can get into splurging. I now invest in one deck at a time, purchased from Esty artists. This allows me to really take my time to get to know each card and evaluate how I respond to it in my inner work. Being able to communicate with the person who created the deck is an extra perk.

Goddessing Through Daily Ritual Takes Practice

On the whole, the personalization for which daily rituals allow means that they can be modified to provide a safe place for individuals who have a trauma history. Accessing simple, structured meditations when we are too overwhelmed for a full ritual gives us security in Goddess’ presence moment to moment. Pacing ourselves through obstacles that might hinder our practice emboldens our experience of positive spiritual progress and direction. Next week I will expand our palate of Goddessing on a Budget by digging into the ways in which deep connections nourish us on our spiritual journey.

Inner Work

Goddessing on a Budget: Practical Tips for Daily Rituals

This is the first of two blogs on how to goddess on a budget using daily rituals. We’ll be exploring the positive effects of daily rituals, as well as different forms of ritual. In this post, I’m restricting my focus regarding ritual to those experiences that can be undertaken as part of a solitary practice on a regular basis. I think this is a safe place to start for many trauma survivors and offers the added advantage of allowing for personal tailoring to suit your style.

Benefits of Daily Rituals

Rituals, even simple ones, can have powerful effects. Whether or not you ascribe to a magical viewpoint that hones in on the shift in energy they can bring, taking time each day for ritual sets you up for positive emotions and experiences. There is limited research suggesting partaking in rituals can be healing for individuals with PTSD.

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A note of caution—any ritual you are conducting related to your trauma history should be developed in collaboration with a mental health practitioner and a spiritual guide, and you need to be supported in processing your experience. The focus here is on daily rituals anyone can do to maintain their spiritual practice, not on rituals specifically related to healing from trauma.

5 Components to Build Your Daily Ritual Style

As you peruse the list below, I suggest thinking of the spiritual activities you both enjoy and that you realistically can make time for consistently. Next, determine the time of day when you tend to be both calm and alert. Take into consideration creative cost-saving adaptations to your plans. Lastly, make sure that you are tapping into multiple senses in your daily rituals to increase their impact.

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For me, I finally began to follow through practicing personal ceremony when I let go of any predefined ways of how it was supposed to look and when it was to occur. I found it easier to start with an evening ritual and eventually built in a morning version. You get to decide where, when and what you want to do!

1. Personal Altar

There is definitely such a thing as spiritual bling! Once you make the decision to have a personal altar, it is very easy to get carried away and perhaps overload both your table and your budget.

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“It’s not hoarding if it’s crystals!”

I change my main altar four times a year, with each solstice and equinox. Instead of encouraging impulse buys, this pattern gives me permission to purchase a few new items every few months.

If you ascribe to a particular religious or Pagan tradition, there may be a pre-determined altar layout system that you can choose to follow. Because I am a Solitary Practitioner of eclectic Goddess spirituality, my altar reflects some traditional elements and a lot of my own preferences.  An inexpensive purchase that has yielded a lot of possibilities for me has been to buy tiny bottles.  I filled them with ash, dirt, water and a feather to represent the four elements, placing them around the main Goddess figurine on my altar.

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Goddess figurine is from brigidsgrove.com

Contemplate including only those items which feel “safe” and uplifting on your altar. Some of the Tarot cards and even stones I’ve bought are challenging to me. I work with them, but I keep my main altar as a sacred place to which I can return no matter my current emotional state.

Survivors may find themselves in an environment that rejects visual displays of faith. In this situation, items like pocket altars or nature “decorations” might provide a touchstone. Perhaps a mini altar in your car or office drawer could bring Goddess into your life in a safe way.

2. Mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation involves present-moment awareness. It can be a sitting meditation or it can include ordinary tasks like eating and walking. Mindfulness has the potential to be a double-edged sword for individuals with trauma. It can be incredibly healing as it contradicts dissociation, but it has the potential to escalate anxiety and other issues if used without support or in situations where those leading the practice are not sensitive to survivors’ needs.

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If you are new to mindfulness, exercise caution and work with your mental health professional as you explore various teachers, traditions and exercises. Personally, I enjoy many of Tara Brach’s teachings and meditations. If and when you find a mindful meditation technique that fits you, consider incorporating it into your daily ritual either before divination/inner work to center yourself, or as a way to return to your surroundings after your intuitive time.

3. Yoga

Yoga comes with many of the same caveats as mindfulness. It can be an amazing way to connect with Goddess through your body and through movement, and it can also activate traumatic memories. Some yoga teachers take extra classes on trauma-sensitive methods, so think about asking whether or not your potential instructor has done this if you are joining a new class. I think it is worth investing in at least a few classes if you have never tried it in order to get feedback on your poses, but it can also be done at home. I sometimes include Mountain and Tree Pose as a grounding part of my daily ritual.

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Tree Pose can be very grounding.

4. Inner Work

Inner work is typically incorporated in the middle of a daily ritual. It might include:

  • Reading Tarot, oracle cards or runes
  • Journaling
  • Moon intentions and workings
  • Artistic endeavors
  • Conversing with Goddess (speaking and/or listening)
  • Creating crystal grids
  • Fashioning flower mandalas
  • Balancing chakras
  • Reiki
  • Conducting formal ritual to celebrate a holiday or occasion.

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A personal outcome may directly evident as a result of your day’s inner work, or, more likely, it may take time for the messages and intentions to manifest. Give yourself permission to find the inner working methods which speak to you the most. Inner work might benefit from a few supplies, but you can also save money with projects like drawing runes on stones or branches or creating chakra charts to learn more about your personal energy.

5. Movement and Music

Goddess Spirituality can include raising energy as a key part of daily ritual. You get to be loud! For me, this is an area of both opportunity and challenge, and one where I like being a Solitary Practitioner. I do not care to subject others to my dancing and singing! The joy and playfulness that movement set to music offers are free and add dimension to your experiences. Find or create your own instruments and songs. I’ve turned casting my circle into a rhythm that I sing every time I start and end my ritual.

Goddessing Each Moment

Today I’ve shared about some motivational reasons to engage in daily rituals, as well as several tips for finding your own way of goddessing. I believe a huge part of healing work is learning to give ourselves grace and freedom to tailor at least our space and personal time to our own preferences. In this way, daily rituals can become a celebration if you open yourself up to learning about those things that affirm and speak to you on an individual level.

My next post will be aimed more directly at the trauma-related issues that can arise during personal rituals, and will provide suggestions for handling these issues.