Affirming Mind-Body-Spirit Writer Project, Sacred Spiritual Growth

Spiritual Disillusionment

For a time, I naively though I’d settled the question of finding my spiritual home in Goddess Spirituality. However, as I’ve really started setting the place up, opening locked doors and peering behind cabinets, I’ve stumbled upon a messy and foul-smelling cellar which I will start to examine for today’s #SacredSpiritualGrowth Saturday. The incense and sage of newness and excitement is now permeated with the stench of unprocessed bias in my house. And the longer I sit in disappointment, the more I see the tunnels of racism, classism and other worms of decay in myself.

I view what I’m undergoing as a developmental progression. I had a “honeymoon” period of learning new concepts and meeting new people, during which everything seemed polished and crisp. Over time, as with any human endeavor, the cracks and dampness started to show. In my particular case, the largest fissure, running straight through the center, is the belief that people should not be allowed to self-identify as womxn and should be excluded if they do not fit certain characteristics. There are also issues such as a lack of appreciation for intersectionality, and, in some corners, a heavy emphasis on either following the Goddesses of Northern Europe or on mixing and matching elements of various cultures without deep attention to their contextual meaning. In the wider Mind-Body-Spirit world, a large portion of the classes, courses and resources, aimed mostly at womxn, are allocated only to those with hundreds or thousands of dollars of disposable income. All is not “love and light” indeed.

My personal reflections on my experience thus far include:

Consider Renovation Rather Than Relocation

As I described above, finding the cellar crammed with ugliness caused me to want to escape. I care too much and feel too connected to Goddess to do that, though. I know this is my spiritual home. I’ve determined it’s time to contribute, on an individual and collective level, to sorting the mess and remaking the areas that aren’t life-giving.

If you’ve read my blog for any time, you’ve known me to be very concrete in my way of being. So, I am simultaneously digging more into minimalism and slow living in order to make my physical existence a reflection of my inner world (or is it the other way around)? Goddess Spirituality can be made more inclusive, affirming and those of us who practice it can go a lot further in our stance of solidarity; the same is true of the greater feminist and mind-body-spirit worlds. I am but one of many who are doing the work.

Go Deeper

I have been aware for some time of my specific spiritual calling, which is to help myself and others fully embrace all aspects of ourselves in a way that moves beyond shaming and blaming. One of the most helpful framings of bigotry in all its faces that I’ve encountered is to see it as Shadow. I absolutely experience this in myself; I’ve given surface recognition to my areas of bias but encounter a wall of shame when I try to go further. There is an internal voice inviting me toward this impasse, to sit with it and, together, from what is hidden and what I know, to dismantle it brick by brick. I’ve written previously of my inability to see my own hidden potential and mystery; I think it is likely across the way from these unexplored badlands. The light-bulb moment of recognition that my calling aligns directly with my disillusionment roots me in my purpose.

Take It In

As a trauma survivor, my bias is toward perceiving the world as a threat and to believing the only solution to be a dead sprint. In this shadow work in which I’m now engaging, though, I am learning very quickly that healing and change must be from my innermost cells first. I need to read and listen, to seek mentors and teachers, and to ponder and reflect much more than I cajole and demand change from others. Every time I believe I’ve slowed my walk sufficiently, I look around me and see how much ground I’ve covered without integration. Breathing in stillness and awareness is the concept on which I’m meditating.

Expect No Point of Arrival

I can never assume that I’ve dug in sufficiently to my areas of privilege or checked off enough boxes on my “standing in solidarity” card. Rather, as society’s norms change, I will do well to keep advancing along with them. I’ve been especially irate in witnessing, in an online forum, woman after woman proclaiming that her advanced age meant everyone else had to shut up and listen to her bigoted viewpoint in relation to transwomen. I can absolutely discount my elders far too easily and often and I can refuse to acquiesce to anyone, no matter their age, who refuses to see and respond to the harm they are causing. My anger belies my fear of calcifying into rigidity and inflexibility as I grow older.

In the service of self-examination and adjustment, I do think it is perfectly appropriate to pause and disengage from time to time for reflection. I may need to reassess the connection between my spirituality and my inclusivity. I may find that my own areas of struggle leave me drained to the point where I need to recharge before further engagement. My shadow-selves might need to process their shame and transform it into rededicated action.

If I am honest with myself, I will likely find that my motives need refinement. I need to assess whether my actions are performative, giving lip service to the “right things” for attention or recognition. In recognizing my own biases, I must be wary of then using this awareness to feed my demons of self-loathing and self-hatred. I may find that I long times to have my feeble attempts “count” and to then retreat into silent complicity. When I really dig into it, it is the personal stories of the effects of discrimination that inspire and compel me to go deeper; if my desire as a trauma survivor is to have my experience witnessed, in having been invited to see the inner world of another, I will not turn away. This motivation will hopefully, in time, become more fully grounded in an unshakeable and uncompromising dedication to have all people equally valued as human and worthy.

Anticipate Discomfort

I think it is wise to ask myself the question, “What do I want to get out of my spiritual practice?” If I’m honest, a lot of what I want is for it to help me feel less anxious and depressed. There is nothing wrong with this, but, for me, part of the process of spiritual maturation has been to remember, as I mentioned above, that on which my calling centers. In order for wholeness to be realized, I will go through some unpleasantness. It is necessary to reach the ends of myself and my typical responses, which, in the case of much of the oppression in the world, has been to be a silent but concerned bystander.

I’m trekking a few feet now into the tall grass, without a path, where there might be ticks and snakes and other trolls of threat. I’m tired of toeing the line and expecting someone else to clear the path for me. It takes courage to question my spiritual mentors and holy books; it takes even more courage to stay at it and stay with it after I realize there isn’t a meadow of wildflowers just past the brush. Although I may find myself on rough and uneven footing, I can know that I will emerge matured in my faith. More importantly, in joining with others in rooting out the invasive weeds of bigotry and hatred, the growth of our shared humanity can flourish. Mature spirituality does not shy away from injustice and suffering, instead, it welcomes the inner work and outer action needed to ensure the dignity of every person.

In what ways have you encountered spiritual disillusionment? What strategies and suggestions do you have for responding to it? Of what form are the individual and collective shadows you are meeting made?

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.

Inner Work

Approaching Our Fears

Cross-posted on my Sagewoman blog.

For today’s #InnerWork Wednesday, I will be uncovering some of the psychology behind “facing your fears” and discussing how we can incorporate Goddess Spirituality into this experience. The topic is timely for me as I will be getting MRI testing in the next few weeks and am concerned about how it will go for me. I saw the machine in person and have been feeling anxious imagining myself undergoing the process.

Children often shrink back from new stimuli. They question their safety in the presence of the unknown. As adults, we are tasked with gently guiding them in approaching things that may seem scary but which are actually benign. Unfortunately, many of us as children did not receive a hand on our shoulder, bolstering us to take small steps. Instead, we may have been chided, slapped, ridiculed, abandoned or worse when we expressed fear. Subsequently, we may struggle in adulthood to approach that which scares us. (I will pause to note here that susceptibility to anxiety is also heritable, so some of us have a biological makeup that predisposes us to fear-based reactions).

Moving towards things that are frightening but which we know are not inherently dangerous acts in opposition to the avoidance behavior that maintains anxiety. The more we avoid things, the more we teach our inner little self that we should in fact be scared and that we aren’t safe. Taking incremental steps forward, especially in the presence of a supportive and kind individual, can radically alter our relationship with fear.

In approaching feared scenarios, the typical rehearsal of imagining every potential catastrophic result can be replaced with small approximations of the situation. For instance, in preparing for my upcoming MRI, I’ve closed off an area in my house to create a small corridor and laid in it while listening to audio of MRI sounds. My confidence has grown as I’ve gotten near my threshold of panic and stayed there with it until it subsided. I’ve also had a few moment of hysterical laughing as my dog tried to “rescue” me from the tunnel!

Where these psychologically-grounded behaviors can break down for me personally is that, when confronted with certain stressors, I lose the adult me. I am all little self, terrified of the situation and convinced I cannot make it through it. When I’ve had social support to which I am able to connect in these instances, I do much better. Approach is sometimes possible with a steady hand on my shoulder, voicing belief in my capacity to befriend that which terrifies me.

What do we do, though, in instances where we are alone or when we are having difficulty accessing another’s compassion? In this place I am, let’s say, in the experimental phase as I have not forged a rock-solid connection between my Inner Being and my little self. My primary approach, if the situation is predicable or repeated, is to stay present with my inner child and to, if my capacity in the moment gets thwarted, return to Self as quickly as possible. Behaviors such as maintaining a steady breathing pattern, slowing down the situation and practicing positive self-talk can assist in this undertaking.

I want to stay connected to Goddess in every moment, even the scary ones. As I mentioned in a recent post, I am taking a forest therapy class. On my first walk, we were instructed to notice things in motion as we progressed slowly down the path. I was suddenly overcome with a sense of being able to take in the entire scene, including us humans walking, and saw that we were in fact moving along with other parts of the forest. I felt deeply connected to Goddess. I think here we have an opportunity for developing a sense of compassionate presence by imagining ourselves, as we go near that which frightens us, being held in the gaze of Deity who is infusing the situation with Her love, caring deeply about our worries and holding all possible outcomes in the palm of Her hand.

We can easily shame ourselves in instances in which we know we’ve been waylaid by anxiety and through which no comfort, support or “adult” seemed present. I believe all we can ask of ourselves is to continue to try again, knowing that at times we’ll fail to follow through as completely as we would have hoped we’d do, and that there may be fears of which we will be unable to get within arms-length. Anyone who scolds you with a “it’s no big deal” when you express hesitation is failing to empathize with you just as completely as you are wanting to avoid. Hearing “I can tell it’s very scary for you. How can I support you in approaching the situation?” from someone is, to me, a clear sign that the individual could be a good candidate for the unwavering presence that we all need as our little selves learn there are now people, including ourselves, who can be trusted to surround us in the all-encompassing grace of Goddess.

Which ways have you found to be the most beneficial in responding to situations that cause you anxiety? To what extent does the conceptualization I’ve shared of little self and adult fit your experience? How do you access your spirituality in anxiety-provoking experiences?

Embodied Heart

Reimagining Our Flaws

I have been sitting with deep feelings of inadequacy for days now. The genesis of my current state was caused by negative feedback I’ve received in a few areas of my life, which then cracked open the feelings of shame and self-loathing with which I’ve always struggled. I have little interest in believing myself competent, superior or gifted in all areas of life; protecting my self-esteem comes at too high of a price if it costs me my honesty and authenticity. For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, we’ll be taking a deeper look at how to shift the paradigm away from projections of perfection into a viewpoint that captures our ugliness and envisions grace in its bumps and asymmetry.

Feeling judged, rejected or abandoned is an invitation into a deeper relationship with our inner world. We cannot truly know its state without keys to unlock the doors of what we hide from ourselves. I believe we spend much time shoving away anything that could cause us discomfort or make us question our abilities. If we sit with these difficult emotions, we may gain entry into internal places which we’ve never tread. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I have been amazed at the specific connections I am able to make (within the safe context of therapy) between my current feelings and my past experiences. It can be disheartening to realize we’ve been playing at the same script for decades, hoping this time the ending will vary, but it may be that only through this awareness that we can fully know ourselves and can then help to heal those little selves of past pain. The less we shy away from difficult realizations, the more the awareness they reveal can improve our self-care.

Goddess as Universe grants us an open window into how to respond to our foibles. I view Her as the ultimate creative force. Any time life dies back, She has in a sense “failed.” However, She is just getting warmed up. Into the void She tosses seeds, sprinkles showers and directs sunlight. There is no lasting failure, only the possibility of new growth.

We do not operate on the same time scale, so our failures feel more acute and permanent. Our corporal beings may not outlast our bare earth or charred stumps. This is where the interconnectedness of all beings comes into focus as a healing conduit to change. Perhaps we ourselves cannot not regrow or replenish completely, but our actions of turning over the decay and watering it through our tears could lead to future fertility. Grieving our losses and our neverhads is part of the heartbeat that flows between generations and through time. We may never say of a loved one “she mourned well” but our lives will undoubtedly be fuller and blossom for her having done it.

Grieving and gratitude symbiotically imbue with life essence the undergrowth of our life in places where traditional markers of success may go unmet. To whom would you entrust your soul, a person for whom roses take hold instantaneously or someone who has cut back the ivy, found only ruin beneath, and still stands in appreciation of the warmth of the sun through the clearing? Suffering and failure may not be grace, but pain—held with sorrow and appreciation for what remains—is the core of authentic life.

I think there are two way-stops on the pathway to grateful mourning. Many times we may barely take two steps forward, so strong is the pull to deny where we lack and to smile our perfect-toothed grin of false pride. Believing ourselves infinitely gifted and impervious to what others think may appear strong but belies the thin soil on which we stand. Those brave enough to journey onward may get sidetracked by esteeming incompetence—shallow mourning or masochistic desires for our defects to define our identity. In these instances, we take depressive emotions and pity as substitutes for vanity. Being given attention for where we fall short, we swallow the prickly gift and wear our suffering as an emblem commanding respect.

These are very difficult statements as I think they reveal a hard truth—suffering by itself is movement but I think we can go further. We can metabolize our pain, digest our lack, and recycle it to the world through our weeping and our uplifted hands in praise of that which we do have. Those are the people I most want to know, those who know where they are weak, who care for their weaknesses, and who move through them to integrate them into their strengths. Those who have spill many drops of grief for what life has cost them, and who are not afraid to have it take from them even more because they know the value they may pay will return a thousand-fold in future generations.

What is your relationship with your weaknesses and flaws? Where in your life have you, through mourning and/or gratitude, transformed your suffering? Are there other way-stops in which people may get stalled before access grief and gratitude?

Goddess Thealogy

The World Altar

For today’s #Thealogy Thursday, I want to share a spiritual knowing that revealed itself to me. I do not in any way claim that it is Truth, but rather, share it as an outpouring of the blessing it gave me. I’ve written recently of my difficulties with finding family, so this envisioning held special meaning to me. I find my belonging and my being encapsulated in it.

In my vision, I saw four altars: to Self, a romantic partner, my family of origin and my children. Everyone would have these stones of sacrifice, although the recipients of our dedication may vary. In relationship, each altar becomes a table of living reverance, on which we gift of ourselves. When the object of our devotion is no longer in our lives, the altar transforms to a grave – table to headstone. The meaning of the relationship and the lessons learned from it inscribed themselves on it. My altar to my family of origin is a grave as that relationship is irrevocably severed. For romantic partner and child, I hold the liminal space between conception and decay, uncertain as to whether to mourn their absence or whether to pour of myself to enliven the dedication. On my altar to Self, I make sacrifice; I invest in myself and venerate my body. At times, I’ve clung to its rocky facade as the only relic I had.

As this knowing unfolded, I saw myself turning ’round in this sacred place. The landscape was dotted with circular altars. One stood out from the rest. The altar to Goddess, to Earth, to the World and Universe, to all of Being. So large that every human and every creature could fit around its circumference. Sacrifices here return to the giver in abundance. Life-giver, guardian of the deep, all that is. Tunneled in every direction from this altar was a web connected to each of the individual altars; She under-girds all we do.

Everything to which we dedicate ourselves exists within this medium. There is no escape in the most affirming way possible. Sure, we can enslave ourselves to false pillars from which no life has ever emanated. We can serve graves and mourn the living. We can spend decades holding fast to the cold marble of bygone or neverhad, unaware of the abundance which would flourish if we would simply unfix our gaze. But we don’t have to anymore. More than knowing, I experienced this reality—the belonging to and for and how that for so long has evaded me.

I find a profound justice in this model of the world. No matter the altar, each of us meets our end on this outstretched plain. She calls everyone to Her when they die, returning all to Herself. No one gets to write the last lines of their story except for Her.

In the glow of this revelation, I think transcendence occurs when we are able to glimpse our altar to Self turning to grave and relish the gathering dust as our final gift to the world. We can die not clinging to the edifies of what was or should have been, but prostrating ourselves in gratitude for what has been received as well as taken. Only in the exchange of being held and losing refuge do we meet love.

Does this mean we should not grieve what is gone and what could never be? No, but I think we do well to know when it is that we face memory and when it is that we face possibility. Mourning is relevant, sacred and true. It may mean we spend time clinging to and scrapping at rock, willing life where it no longer blossoms. If we give ourselves over to it wholly, I think mourning eventually allows us to set our back against tomb and to recircle ourselves with all who celebrate Her. Love is daring to devote ourselves to Self and others, with an embodied understanding that time loops us all into non-existence or at least recycles every bit of who we are. Life is so precious that nothing endures.

Toko-Pa Turner has noted that sacrifice means to make sacred. My vision revealed the depths of this for me in a way that has unbound my heart and released my holding to flimsy and false rockface. I have home now, stone steps and the wide berth of granite that goes on forever. I rise to meet Her there, carefully placing each flower and spoon of honey and grain offering in turn. She consumes them as She envelops me. I am remade each time I offer myself, returning lighter and deeper and fuller. There is nowhere we can go without Her, and no one She cannot transform at the World Altar.