Naturally Mindful

Elemental Meditation: Earth

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?

Goddessing Self Care

Healing Time

For today’s #GoddessingSelfCare Sunday, I’ve decided to consider our relationship with time, and how we can slow down in order to have more time for self-care.

How Does Trauma Affect Time Perception?

A symptom of PTSD is a sense of a foreshortened future. People afflicted with PSTD may not see themselves living long, full lives because they are frequently in fight-or-flight mode with their sympathetic system stuck in high gear. I’ve literally spent years conceptualizing my life in this way. I’ve seen my experience as a battle and a struggle for survival. I’ve also viewed it as an escape attempt as I fled danger with no rest in sight. I think some of the resistance traumatized individuals may have to self-care and slowing down could be rooted in the dominance of a mindset that is focused on threat.

How Do You Move Through the World?

Earlier this year, I was planning a large party at my house and used a home grocery delivery service. The driver’s vehicle broke down and I was left having to go to the store and get all the ingredients with little time to spare. I raced through the store running the entire time, and came extremely close to dumping everything when I practically crashed into another shopper.

I get teased for walking extremely quickly; my physical presence in any sort of crowd tends to convey the message that I needed to get somewhere 10 minutes ago, and that, no matter the setting, it is a serious event that must be conquered by experiencing it as quickly as possible (back to the battle mindset). I’m well aware of the flaws in logic and absurdity of my actions, but I struggle to rein it in.

There is a certain type of person who amazes me. Someone who can stand in a grocery store and make pleasant conversation, while just standing there. Nothing entering or exiting the individual’s cart. A person for whom there doesn’t seem to be a large, constantly chiming, internal clock that drives every waking moment. These individuals are likely engaging their parasympathetic system, the “rest and digest” mode of life that allows for connection, communication, and an easier pace. Of course there is a time and place for urgency, but I suspect we are able to lead healthier and happier lives when we regulate and slow ourselves down appropriately.

How Can We Maximize Our Self-Care Time?

Self-care doesn’t always occur naturally or easily. It takes time to figure out what kinds of self-care might be needed, and to actually follow through on our commitment to it. It is so easy to brush off taking care of ourselves to free up reserves for others, our job, our home and a million other things, but there is usually a long-term cost to doing so. As I described above, our personalities may predispose us to brush past self-care and “being” in favor of accomplishing and “doing.”

In order to dedicate time to self-care, we can be to establish a routine for asking ourselves what we might be needing, and how we can best get those needs met. This could be done on a daily and/or a weekly basis. Just ten minutes of meditation and inner listening may open up a well of information that we can dig into to see where we are fulfilled and where we are lacking in satisfying our needs.

After we’ve identified ways in which self-care is needed, the next step is to transform our view of it from an indulgence to an investment. I’ve neglected my physical self-care in certain areas for quite a while. I’ve recently started to budget more fully for those needs. It occurred to me I could spend the money on activities like massages or exercise equipment. These seem like a splurge to me but, when I consider my long-term health, I can see that they might not be. Consider the self-care investments that would most benefit and equip you for life’s challenges.

I am curious to discuss how you allocate your time as it relates to self-care, and whether you’ve been sucked in to the Type A, fast-paced, always “on” mindset for which I’ve clearly fallen, or if you have other methods of managing to time pressure.

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.

Embodied Heart

When Even Silence Buzzes

I’m not a music lover. The pulsating rhythm of most concerts leaves my ears feeling like they are bleeding, not an experience I desire or seek. In general, I hate sound much more than I find it pleasurable or interesting. I remind myself frequently that I should be grateful for the fact that I can hear unaided, and should find joy in the beautiful noises in my life such as birds chirping or squirrels chattering. But more moments than not, “be quiet” is on my mind. In today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I will be exploring my experience with sound in the context of struggling with PTSD.

I do not recall a time where I used my ability to hear in a way that enhanced my life. I grew up with many siblings in an old house with poor insulation. Every noise made by a family member echoed and reverberated through the wooden structure. After puberty, a sudden shift took hold, mainly around the dinner table and while driving in a crowded van. The sounds of others eating or my siblings inventing little melodies absolutely enraged me. Researchers still puzzle about the scientific validity, but having lived for decades with it, I am convinced misophonia, which is the hatred of certain sounds such as “mouth noises,” is a real condition. Noise that cannot be blocked because it causes physical vibrations as well as sound waves (such as bass music) sends me into a full-blown hysteria every time.

Difficulties with sound processing have been linked to conditions such as PTSD. In addition to misophonia, some individuals suffer from hyperacusis, which means they experience certain noises to be louder than they actually are. Phonophobia involves anxiety in reaction to loud noises and may be related to misophonia. A central feature of most of these problems is that certain sounds become connected to negative emotional events; the noise itself can then provoke the emotion.

When I am finally in an extremely quiet environment, the buzzing starts. I have tinnitus in both ears. It is as if my brain is never satisfied with quiet, and the expectation of disrupted peace evokes the appearance of it. I did have an ill-fated attempt several years ago at wearing earplugs overnight after showering, resulting in severe outer ear infections, so I did myself no favors there.

As I write this, I realize how little effort I’ve put into seeking professional assistance in combating my hearing problems. When I have gone to audiologists, they’ve offered no help beyond testing my hearing; they have generally disregarded my experience of difficulties with sound processing. After my latest visit, I was diagnosed with abnormal auditory perception, which means, in addition to my intense reactions to normal sounds, my brain also has difficulty putting together the sounds it is receiving. This explains the problems I have at times understanding others when they are speaking to me, and why I frequently ask them to repeat what they’ve said.

I’ve spent many hours online alternating between researching cabins on 10 acres in the woods and camper RVs so that I can escape at a moment’s notice. I know that neither of these possibilities offers any guarantee of silence. As I sit with my experience, I find it odd that silence represents something different from “peace” and “relaxation” to me, instead, it signifies the absence of suffering. I equate being able to hear other humans and the noises they generate with suffering and with pain. Certainly anyone who’s been trapped in at a child’s birthday party for too long can attest to the realness of desiring some time without shrieks to think, but my experience is such that I spend a good part of my time every day dreading potential sounds as well as clinging by a thread to my sanity when the music gets going or the gum chewing begins. This awareness is leading me to see that I need to more fully pursue interventions to reduce my suffering that allow me to live in greater, rather than less, peace with noise.

Goddess spirituality and Pagan practice are filled with sounds. Dancing, chanting, drumming and the like send up bursts of energy to Goddess in worship and adoration. I vacillate in my ability to access the well of spiritual blessings these noises contain depending upon my emotional state and general level of hyper-vigilance. Given the power and potency of sounds to ward off and call in and name and release, I now desire to have a greater ability to both disregard noises that are irrelevant to my experience and to tune in to and celebrate those that enrich my life. In doing so, I hope to learn from others about what has worked and not worked for them. What is your experience with sound? How does it affect you both positively and negatively? If there are noises that you dislike, what have you found helps you to ignore them? What allows you to enjoy the sounds you prefer?

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.