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.

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.

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.