Tag Archives: spirituality

Spiritual Nomad: Week Four

I started this post back in March, when I was really deep in Spiritual Nomad along with some other stuff.  Then most of it came to a screeching halt for a variety of reasons (mostly illness and injury), and here I am, still knee-deep in Chapter 4.  It’s a fun chapter, too.  I get to create my own ritual, and my own wheel of the year with my own holidays and everything!  Whee!  So let’s get going.

This week is about ritual and the role it plays in our lives.  We’ve all been to at least one kind of ritual: weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc.  They don’t have to be religious in nature.  Many are, though, and are the kind most people think of when they think of the word “ritual”.  We go through all kinds of rituals in our daily lives, though.  I do one every morning when I make my tea or coffee.  There’s a very specific set of actions that happen in a very specific order in order to achieve a very specific goal, and it happens the same way every day.  Brushing your teeth in the morning is a ritual.  Driving to work is a ritual.  Checking Facebook while you eat your lunch is a ritual.  Rituals, big and small, establish order and give predictability to our lives.  They make us feel secure.

There’s a big difference, though, between ritual with and without intent.  Ritual without intent is just a series of motions repeated in the same way.  Sure, it may bring comfort in its own way, but not in the same way that ritual infused with intent will.

For example, consider someone making their morning tea.  They heat the water, they get their cup, they prepare the tea, they pour the water, they wait for it to steep, they augment it with anything, should they wish, and they drink it.  While they made their tea, they were probably thinking about the day ahead of them, an argument they might have had with someone yesterday, what they’re going to wear, whether or not their dry cleaning is ready, so on and so forth.

Now consider someone who has made their morning tea into a ritual infused with intent.  This is just an example, of course, and is similar to how I might perform my own tea ritual sometimes.

They walk into the kitchen with nothing on their mind except making their tea.  They reach for the tea kettle and walk to the sink, paying attention to the water as it fills the kettle.  They set the kettle down onto the stove top and listen for the click of the igniter and the ‘foomp’ of the gas flames leaping into life beneath the kettle, or the creak of the electric burner heating up.  They may stand there and listen to the hiss of the flames and the other sounds around them: the HVAC switching on and off, the birds chirping, the dog or cat eating, a car door shutting.

As the water heats, they prepare their tea by getting their favorite teapot or teacup, and possibly contemplating it for a moment before setting it down.  They may even have special teapots, cups, and spoons that are only used for their tea, much like other types of ritual tools.  They get their tea out, pausing to smell it before measuring out how much they need for the cup or pot.  They pay attention to the color, smell, and feel of the tea leaves.  When the water boils, they take the tea kettle and slowly pour the water over the tea leaves.  If they are lucky enough to have something in which they can watch their tea leaves steep, they take the time to watch their tea leaves slowly unfurl in the hot water and release their color and tannins.

When steeping time is over, they remove the tea leaves from the water, or pour the tea from the pot into their cup.  They spend a moment just smelling the tea, and enjoying the sense of warmth from the cup.  Only then do they take a first, small sip, really taking the time to discover all of the different flavors and aromas of the tea, the final physical and energetic product of their ritual.  Each sip of tea can be its own ritual, in that way, taking in everything that went into making the tea, until the cup is done.

See the difference?  One is done without attention and largely out of habit for the purpose of getting the morning’s caffeine hit (or taste hit, if one just really likes tea in the morning).  The other is done with the intent of moving energy through and wrenching every iota of experience out of the simple act of making a cup of tea.  One makes the tea a goal to be achieved.  The other makes the tea a spiritual tool.  Not that one is “better” than the other.  When I’m in a hurry, I go for the quick way and in fact, rarely go for the full-on tea ritual experience.  But what a wondrous start to each day it would be, or end, if I were able to afford myself the time for that or something like it.

Now I have instructions for how to make my own ritual, which I’ll be keeping to myself, thank you very much.  Some things a girl just has to keep personal, and if you want the instructions, you’ll just have to buy Spiritual Nomad for yourself.

I did get to make my own calendar, with my favorite holidays and events on it.  Everyone has days that are important just to them, for whatever reason, and they are just as deserving as any other holiday.  So I plotted them all out: important birthdays and deaths, anniversaries, and religious holidays you won’t find on any American calendar.  I still have to make it into something that looks nice, so that can be a nice art project to look forward to.

An aspect of Spiritual Nomad I’ve not been very good at are the prayer exercises.  I just wasn’t in the habit of sitting down quietly and focusing my mind in a particular fashion.  Now that I have a meditation habit established, I think I can attempt the prayer exercises with success, and will probably integrate the two activities, or at least do one after the other.  I like getting my candles and incense out.

So that’s where I’m at.  This week’s questions took some thought.

1. What rituals have you attended in your lifetime?  Think of a ritual that you found moving, then one that wasn’t, and compare the two.  Do rituals you enjoy have anything in common that you could incorporate into those you create?

I’ve been to a variety of church services and weddings as well as pagan rituals.  I don’t like a lot of seriousness and rigidity or being commanded to do a lot of things.  I do like music and drumming.  I do NOT like the group meet-n-greet that often happens at churches in the middle of service or the tendency of pagans to hug one another.  I like chanting and the reading of verse in ancient languages.  I really like the use of lots of candles and incense and other physical methods of invoking spiritual energy (water, salt, etc.).  Mostly, though, I like not having to say or do anything at all and just try to enjoy the ritual.  So I suppose my rituals would probably involve the ritual lighting of candles and incense followed by reading something not in English or perhaps chanting something, and then probably a period of meditation (f someone had taken me to an Eastern or Greek Orthodox service when I was growing up, I might not have disliked Christianity so much).

2. What is one rite of passage you wish you could have marked with a ritual of some kind but didn’t?  If you were to create a ritual for that missed occasion, what would it entail?

It would have been nice to have had a bigger deal made about my 16th birthday.  As it is, I don’t really have any special memory about it at all.  If I could create a celebration for it and not have to worry about money, I’d probably plan a dinner party at a nice restaurant (but not too nice: we’re talking about teenagers here) and invite my friends.  We’d listen to our music and hang out and then go to the mall to go shopping until it closed.  Then we’d go to whoever’s house was biggest and party some more.  A beer or three would be quietly passed around.  Then those of us with driver’s licenses would drive the rest of us home (the drivers not drinking beer, of course).  The next day I’d wake up to car keys.  😀  And away I’d go…

Clean(er) Slate

When last I wrote, I was embarking on the ambitious task of transforming three different areas of my life: spiritually, physically, and metaphysically.  Let’s go over how I did in all three areas.

Physically, I started off well, and was then immediately hampered by injury.  It seems my hamstring tendons in my left leg get really upset when I try to do vigorous exercise now.  I briskly walked a 5K and was in quite a bit of pain the next day.  The next week I worked out on a treadmill and had some more pain the next day.  Then I went to two karate classes in a row and could barely walk the next day.  Granted, I probably should have given myself more time after the first time I hurt myself before doing more exercise, but like most people who are gung ho to change a part of their lives, I did too much too quickly.  I haven’t done anything more vigorous than a bit of yoga since the karate classes over two months ago to give my leg a rest.  I can still feel a tiny twinge every now and then, which tells me that when I do decide to start exercising again, I’m going to have to be careful about it.  Plainly I need to do more stretching than I do, as well.

The other thing that interrupted my physical endeavours was illness.  I’ve been sick so much the last few months.  I was sick in December, then again in February with a horrible norovirus (which basically makes your body eject everything from both ends for a few days and leaves you feeling weaker than an overcooked noodle), then again in March with horrible allergies resulting in a sore throat that rivaled the pain of strep, and again in April with a hacking cough that I’m still getting over because allergy season is still in full swing down here in Central Texas.

So yeah, I didn’t get a whole lot of exercising done.  I did, however, establish the (mostly) daily habit of doing yoga every morning.  I do sun salutations, even if I only do one.  The point is to just roll out the mat and do it just for the habit.  I was up to eight before I got the cold with the hacking cough and had to lay off for a few days: I’ve only just gotten back up to that.  I’m getting a bit bored with the sun salutations, though, so I went to YogaJournal.com and used their sequence builder to make myself a routine that I should be able to do in 15 minutes or less (we’ll see: I haven’t tried it yet).  Hopefully that will give my body more of a workout and be a little less monotonous.  I’d also like to get back to yoga class at my local studio now that I’m feeling better.  I was going fairly regularly until all of the injury and sickness hit, and I haven’t been back since.  My yoga buddy is out of nursing school for the semester now, too, so maybe we can help each other get to class again.

Metaphysically, I’m doing great.  My meditation practice is going swimmingly.  I missed a few days when I was really ill, since it’s hard to meditate when you can’t breathe, but other than that, I’ve been meditating for half an hour every morning after I make my coffee/tea (lately it’s been coffee).  I have a program on my iPhone called Insight Timer that has a number of bells and chimes to start and stop my sessions, and would have interval chimes if I chose to.  It keeps track of how many days in a row I’ve meditated and gives me “milestones” when I’ve reached certain markers, which is a nice little incentive to make sure I sit every day.  There are also groups I could join if I wanted to, and I could make ‘friends’ with other meditators.  Almost like Facebook for meditators.

As far as my actual sitting sessions go, I’ve been using two different techniques to help focus my mind.  I’ll either use the Japanese Zen technique of counting my breaths (I count each inhale and exhale separately, though some count each inhale and exhale as one), one to ten in Japanese (I prefer that to English for some reason), or I’ll use the technique called labeling, where I “label” each action that I detect, including my breaths.  So it would be like this: “…rising (for the inhale)…falling (for the exhale)…rising…chirping (a bird outside)…falling…clicking (the HVAC switches on)…blowing (the air coming out of the vent)…rising…scratching (the cat uses the catbox)…falling…wetness (the cat sniffs your fingers with its wet nose)…”, so on and so forth.  The point is to give my mind something to do other than bounce around doing whatever the hell it wants to.

Some of the stuff on meditation that I’ve read seems to think that if you give your mind something to do with one of these or another technique then you’ll maintain focus since the mind can only do one thing at a time.  Bullshit.  I don’t know about you, but my mind can do several things at once.  Consequently, I sometimes have to double up on my focus techniques.  It helps a lot since I have to concentrate much more heavily on both counting and labeling at the same time.  They don’t leave room for much else other than the internal space they’re intended to create.  Which is the point.  Emptiness.  Or at the very least, mindfulness.  When everything is working right, I can get to this place where I’m not feeling, I’m not thinking, I’m not worrying or doing anything else conscious with my brain.  It’s just…quiet, and I’m perfectly aware of everything around me.  Then my thinking brain realizes I’ve achieved what I’ve been going for, and it pops like a bubble in slow motion.  These snippets of awareness are rare and fleeting, but they’re becoming somewhat more frequent and slightly longer.

As far as the rest of my life goes, I think I’ve carried that awareness practice into the rest of my day, even if I haven’t done so consciously.  I’m much more attuned to my emotional states than I was before, or at least to the negative ones, so I think I’m more likely to catch them before they turn into something ugly.  They also happen less often.  I think I’m less moody from day to day, and I feel more stable.

It’s not all wonderful.  I have to make myself sit some days because I just don’t want to, though not very often.  Sometimes I get bored and have to make myself stay there until the timer goes off.  Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it and doubt its effectiveness.  Sometimes I get angry because I can’t get my mind to be still.  Sometimes I’m tired and have to focus to keep from falling asleep (though the hypnagogic imagery is sometimes interesting).  Sometimes it takes a lot of mental effort to make myself count or label and I’ll just let my mind do whatever the hell it wants to do.  I think that’s just fine sometimes.  Sometimes I think it’s interesting and even useful to see where my mind goes when the leash is let go.

Mostly, though, meditation is helping me make friends with my mind, and that can hardly be a bad thing.

Then there was the spiritual aspect of trying to change via doing Spiritual Nomad.  If you were reading a couple of months ago, you saw that I got up to Week Three, and then there was nothing.  I actually did do the work for Week Four: I just never wrapped it up and wrote about it.  So that’s another post.  Nevertheless, I did not finish the entire six week course, which I would still like to do.  The notebook is still sitting right here on my desk.

If I want to finish it, I’m going to have to do some serious personal work to do Week Five, which is all about caring for the sacred self.  Being nice to myself or appreciating my good qualities has never been something I’m good at.  I’m highly self-critical and very quick to point out when I’ve screwed up and put myself down.  Little wonder, then, that I’m not all that great at taking good care of myself.  I’m somewhat overweight and out of shape, though I’m still pretty strong and flexible.  My diet could be better.  My personal self-care habits are a little slipshod.  I dress like a teenage slob.  I make sure I’m presentable when I leave the house, but you probably wouldn’t want to see me on my days off.

Consequently I’m a little daunted by the task of treating myself as sacred.  I definitely do not treat this body like a temple.  If I did, I would eat different food, get a lot more exercise, dress better, and do a lot more things that made me feel happy and creative.  Why I don’t do these things is a mystery I should solve immediately.  More to come on that in the Week Five post.

So that’s how I did on my threefold-attempt at changing things in my life.  If it were a three-legged stool, it wouldn’t be level and might be wobbly.  Luckily these are extendable legs, so to speak, and I can continue to work on the other two.

Clean Slate

It’s been “make a change” week in my life.  I’ve had several changes I’ve wanted to make in my life for quite some time now.  Now that I’m in my early 40s, I’m feeling pressed for time on some of them, as though if I don’t get them implemented now, they’ll never get done.  Such as a decent exercise habit.  I know that it will just get harder and harder to establish the older I get.

In that spirit, I signed up for the Sea Change program run by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits fame.  There’s a new module each month of a habit to slowly change over the month, the idea being to very gradually introduce a change into your life so that it’s more easily integrated and accepted.  People usually try to do changes too quickly or in chunks that are too big, so they fail (I wouldn’t know anything about that).  This is supposed to mitigate a lot of that.  March’s module is meditation: I’m looking forward to that since meditation is something I’ve wanted to integrate into my life for a very long time indeed.

I also signed up for a 90-day weight loss challenge at my gym.  There’s a new thing to try out every Tuesday, as well as a chance to weigh in, so that adds a little bit of accountability and incentive to my goal of getting more exercise and losing some weight.  Altering my eating habits is also crucial to this being successful, so I’ll be doing February’s Sea Change module on healthy eating as well (I signed up halfway through the month so I decided to start at the beginning of March).  The changes are small enough that I think I can do meditation and healthy eating at the same time.

And of course, I’m also doing Spiritual Nomad.  I didn’t mean to do three things at once, but that’s just kind of how it turned out.  I’m good at following prescribed courses, though, so I don’t think it will be a problem.  These are all programs that I enjoy too, so that will help.

It also helps that I’m really wanting to make changes right now.  I’m pretty tired of some of the patterns of my life and would really like a clean slate to work from.  I have a lot of unnecessary negative thought patterns I need to shake loose from that are holding me back.  I’m hoping that a lot of them will fall by the wayside as I make my way through altering negative patterns into positive ones.

It’s going to be difficult in some ways, though.  If I want to meditate, I’m going to have to get up earlier, something that has been perennially very difficult for me.  I’m very attached to my waking time and sleeping patterns, and to a certain extent that’s very healthy for me since it’s important for bipolar people to have steady sleeping habits.

My biggest challenge will be in not trying to make too many changes at one time, which I’m already in danger of violating.  I tend to get all fired up about making changes in my life and then sputter out after a while.  However, some spark of what I was doing usually remains, and I’ve slowly built on desired changes over the years.  I do some yoga, not none, and I managed to quit smoking a couple of years ago.  I also exercise more today than I did a few years ago and I eat healthier.  Overall I’ve effected some pretty positive changes in my life over the last few years.  All I want to do is keep that going, and perhaps speed up the pace a bit.

So here’s to change!  And all the new and wonderful things it can bring.

Spiritual Nomad: Week Three

Ah, finally where everyone else is.  Except for the whole breathing and meditation thing.  Which is exactly where I was last year.  I’m actually getting to a really painful part of where I was in Spiritual Nomad last year.  Week Three, at least when I was doing it, is precisely when my favorite cat turned out to be dying very unexpectedly, and it just broke my heart into tiny little pieces.  I’m still pretty shattered about it.  I adored that cat, and thinking about his death still sends me into freshets of tears.  *pauses for a tissue*  Consequently, I didn’t do anything of spiritual significance after he died: I didn’t have much to thank God for right then.  She’d taken one of my best friends from me when I thought he’d be around for a few more years.

Before that happened, though, I got started on one of my favorite projects of Spiritual Nomad: the journey book, a collection of spiritually significant quotes and images.  I latched onto that project and didn’t let go for quite some time, greedily collecting images from all over the internet and my own collection of graphics collected over the years.  I had a book of wonderful quotes from one of my favorite magazines, The Sun, and spent quite a bit of time with my colored pens putting together a really lovely book.  I filled the first one quickly and went on to partially fill a second.  I filled a third with images of the Buddha and Hindu deities.  I even tried my hand at actual scrapbooking and made a few more much more formal pages centered around images of deities or representations thereof, but that was really complicated so it didn’t go very far (scrapbooking is an incredibly time and space-consuming hobby).

The other major focus of this week’s module is prayer.  I always conceived of prayer in the Christian sense: kneeling, hands together, saying “Dear God, etc…”, which didn’t resonate with me at all (probably because I’m not Christian).  It never occurred to me to think of other things as prayer, such as singing, or dancing, or even cooking.  Seen from that perspective, I saw that I engaged in a great deal of prayer: music, cooking, baking, learning, doing art, gardening, doing karate and yoga, and perhaps most importantly, by doing nothing at all.  By clearing my mental space of distraction, I make room for God, which to me is a form of prayer.  Done with appropriate intention, anything can become an act of prayer.  One’s whole life can become a divine act.

There were questions that went with this week’s module, but they weren’t really applicable to me.  Since they mostly had to do with what spiritual books were inspiring to me and I couldn’t think of any, maybe I ought to do a little more reading.  My bookshelves are packed with a myriad of spiritual, philosophical, and metaphysical books that I thought looked interesting at the used bookstore, but never bothered to actually read.  I’m bad that way.  I could probably read new-to-me books for a couple of years or more and never visit a library or bookstore.  So I think I’ll put reading up with meditation on my list of important spiritual things to do.  Hey, at least I’ve been going to yoga more often: it’s a start.

Spiritual Nomad: Week Two

I’m slowly catching up on Spiritual Nomad, which got off to a slow start due to illness.  Fortunately, I did a lot of it last year.  It’s nice to revisit everything, though.  I still have to dust and clean the shrines, but since they’re pretty much as they are when I set them up last year, they don’t really need much, if any, rearrangement.  Some of them do need more attention, though, which tells me I may have too many shrines around the house.  Some of them are just in bad places, though.  My house is a little small and cramped, so I tend to cram things where I can.  Consequently there’s a Lakshmi/Ganesha shrine on a high shelf that gets very little attention.  I should at least make a point of lighting a candle on each one once a week.  If I don’t go to church every Sunday, maybe that should be shrine and altar day.

This week’s task is a guru board: a collection of photos of people who dispel the shadows from my world.  I did this one last year, and I haven’t gained any new gurus in the interim.  I did, however, decide to take some off of the board: mostly fictional characters, whom I decided were inspirational, but not necessarily gurus.  It also left space on the board for new faces, should any present themselves.  I do need to write down why each person is a guru to me, though.

Another task for this week is to rebuild one’s altar if it was stripped bare the previous week.  Since I did this last year, all I’ll do this week is make sure there’s nothing extraneous, or missing.  Our cats use the space in front of one of the shrines as one of their main highways, so everything is being constantly shifted around on that one.  It needs some love, particularly since it’s the one honoring the main deity of our house.  She needs more honoring in general, so I’ll be focusing on that as well.  There’s also building on the practice of breathing in sacred space, so that needs to happen.

Week two came with a set of questions as well, which I also answered last year, so here are those answers, again, edited for changes in attitude in the interim.

1. Write in your journal about a spiritual experience you’ve never felt comfortable talking about because it seemed too “out there” or “silly.” Does it sound similar to any of those discussed in this week’s material?

Um, well, I married myself once. Which seemed really stupid until I saw someone do it in a much more magnificently ceremonial way. I still have the ring somewhere.

2. Once you’ve tried meditating with the three altar items you chose, try switching them out for three completely different items and doing your meditation with them instead.  Does it feel different? Being limited to only three, is there a fourth or fifth item that you really miss having in front of you in sacred space?

Not really applicable since my spaces didn’t come together that way.

3. Imagine you’re at a party and someone asks about your spiritual practices. How would you describe your unique flavor of Nomadism in, say, 30 words or less? Ask yourself this same question again at the end of the Nomad course to see how your path and your priorities change.

I usually say I’m a Buddhist Pagan, or a Buddhist Pagan Naturalist, or sometimes just a Buddhist Naturalist. Which is probably redundant. Sometimes I just say I’m Buddhist since it seems like a good umbrella for everything I believe in and do. Of course, I’ve been working on my Nomad tendencies even before taking this course, so I’ve had time to distill my religious self-definition.

4. What is one thing a lot of people you know seem to find inspiring that you just don’t get? Is it simply not appealing to you or are you resisting it for other reasons? It’s just as important to know where you don’t find inspiration as where you do – and if something feels off, it’s important to figure out why so you’ll know what to look for in future explorations.

“Women’s Mysteries”. I know my opinion is colored by personal experience, which hasn’t given me a whole lot of reason to celebrate my womanhood, but I really do not get all that stuff, or like it. I also don’t get many ritual aspects of Wicca, paganism, and modern magic. I’ve always hated the whole “cone of power” thing and have had to suppress laughter on more than one occasion, because it’s rude to make fun of someone else’s rituals and beliefs (since writing this I have participated in a ritual using the ‘cone of power’ that I found very satisfying and not cheesy in the slightest, so my opinion has shifted somewhat). I’m also not so big on the whole God/Goddess dichotomy. I understand the nature of duality of the Universe, but I don’t like the way Wicca/paganism celebrates that duality. I find it simplistic and restricting.

I can’t say exactly why I don’t like these things, for the most part. They just don’t feel right to me, although I’m still strongly drawn to other aspects of Wicca/paganism/magic. This was a point of great confusion to me for a long time, like I wasn’t being a good pagan or something. After a great while of estrangement from the greater pagan community, I realized it wasn’t the “pagan” I liked, it was the community and the chance to spend time in nature. I’ve felt a lot less restless from a spiritual perspective since I figured that out and made peace with it.

Spiritual Nomad: Week One

Last year, I did a course called Spiritual Nomad designed to help me better define my particular brand of eclectic spirituality, which is very eclectic indeed.  I never quite finished it, so I was happy to hear that the creator of the course was offering it again this year, and at a reduced price for those who had done it before so that they could revisit it and interact with other participants.  The parts that I did complete were immensely fulfilling and I wanted to see them with fresh eyes, as well as try to finish the bits that were left incomplete.  As with last year, I’m about two weeks behind, this time because I caught a stomach virus during the first week (that was fun).  So I’m playing catch-up.

I’ve already done the first task, which is to create a “path of faith”: basically create a timeline of my life marked by its important events, spiritual and otherwise, in an effort to see how I’ve gotten to where I am now.  It was an interesting exercise, one that I’m trying not to judge myself on (I’m always judging myself, to my great detriment) since my timeline wound up with a great many events on it.  Then again, my life has been pockmarked by a great many significant events that left a mark, so there’s nothing wrong with putting them all down, even if it made a timeline that took up an entire 11’x14′ piece of paper and was done in about five different colors.

I also did the second task last year, which was to strip all of my altars and shrines bare.  That was a very interesting exercise, one that clarified the spiritual energy in the house a great deal.  I got rid of a lot of things, and virtually ever flat surface in the house was rearranged in some manner.  I still have a few things that don’t have a home that need to either go to Goodwill (or a friend), or be put out in the garage for storage so they’re not just sitting around gathering dust and taking up space.  I didn’t do much with them after that, though, so this year I’ll make sure they’re all nice and clean and that everything that’s there, needs to be there.  I’m not sure if I’m up to the task of stripping all of my altars and shrines bare again, though, or that it’s necessary after what I did last year.

One thing I did not do was to sit and do my breathing exercises in front of my main shrine (shrines are spaces devoted to deities; altars are shrines where votive offerings are left in honor of said deity), so that is something I’m going to focus on, since meditation in general is a huge goal of mine this year.

There are questions at the end of each module, and I answered at least a few of them, so here are my answers to the first set, edited to reflect my attitude changed since then.

1. On the whole, has your experience with spiritual exploration been positive or negative? It is has been mostly negative, what drives you to continue?

For the first 17 years, it was mostly absent, but about half negative when not. Mom dabbled in metaphysical things like the Tarot and Ouija boards (she even made her own), which I liked, but she also got into pentecostal evangelism and had us going to churches where we spoke in tongues. Thankfully that phase passed relatively quickly and she ratcheted it back to nice, mild Methodism. Nice singing and Christmas Eve services. The metaphysical influence led me to Wicca and paganism: I got my first set of Tarot cards at 17, and I still have them. They’re quite infused with energy by now. Luckily that was a positive direction so I continued to delve more deeply into spiritual matters. I might not have otherwise. Which is not to say I haven’t had my periods of agnosticism or outright atheism.

2. Were the negative experiences you had the result of religious institutions you disagreed with, individuals or group personality conflicts, problems with the religion’s doctrine, or something else? What did you learn about your own spiritual needs from those experiences?

The shift from no spiritual life at home to saying grace at every meal, going to church twice a week, and going to those particular kind of churches was a gross aberration to my world. I got up one morning to find my mother burning her Tarot cards in the fireplace, saving The Devil for last. *rolls eyes* She made me hold a Bible when she thought something might be threatening my soul. We went to Lakewood Church in Houston, home of the Osteen family which now owns an indoor arena for their massive congregations (which is fucking funny to me, given how many heavy metal shows I saw there). It was all really fucking creepy. I’m so glad all that lasted less than a year, though I learned that I do not like religious forms that involve brainwashing and suppression. I’m not sure why anyone would, though apparently many do. My general disenfranchisement with the society I live in began about then.

3. If you had to choose one thing to call God, whether a name or a title, what would you choose, and why?

God/Creator/The One Thing From Which Everything Springs is beyond true names or titles, in my opinion. We can name aspects of God, very much like Catholicism has saints that represent very niche needs, or the thousands of variations of the Hindu deities. But to grasp the whole and put a solid label on it? Not possible, I feel.  However, I occasionally make these cute little Facebook posts in which the Divine has conversations with me, typically starting by addressing me by name, and it’s always Buddha speaking to me.

4. How have you experienced Deity most often in your life: as a discrete entity/entities, as a transcendent impersonal force, as a feeling of divine love, something else, all of the above?

The only time I have truly heard God, ironically, is in the absolute stillness of secluded Nature (hey, there’s a label right there). In that sense I probably connect most closely to aboriginal and native traditions that are very close to, or one with, the environment. I see God reclining upon the earth in mountains and hills. I hear God’s voice in the wind, in the rustling of leaves, in the tiny tinkle of snowflakes.

5. What is the least you need as an altar to supplement your practice? What would be your ideal?

At bare minimum? Probably a candle and some incense along with something to hold it. Ideally, really nice representations of the classic elements and icons of my chosen deities along with any pertinent sacred objects, all set in my usual lush decor I like to put into altars and other important places.


Back to School

Today was the first day back to school for us here in Austin.  We’ve all been looking forward to it.  Just as everyone groans for the end of the school year, so it is at the end of the summer, when we’re all sick of each other and the child is booooooored.  Even of her favorite video game, Minecraft.

Once again, I’m trying to use the beginning of the school year’s schedule shift as an opportunity to get a new routine going.  I’ve tried this for the last four years, heh.  As I was detailing in my recent post Patterns, I have a vision of how I would like my day to go.  Get up, make tea, get the family off to work and school, then meditate, or at least have some quiet time.

Well, I managed to have at least that part of the day go as planned.  After they left, I turned off the lights, lit a candle on the table in front of Buddha, sat down with my tea, turned on some calming music, and had some quiet time.  I did a little meditation to get a handle on the day’s energy.

After that, the plan was to get cleaned up for the day, but I headed back to bed for a while instead.  We’ll work on that part tomorrow, seeing as how I have to go to work at ten.

Regardless of that disruption in plans, my morning quiet time does seem to have set the tone for the day.  I feel quieter and calmer (although that may also have something to do with have the house to myself for the first time in three months).  I feel more positive.

One thing I’ll definitely be doing right away when I get up in the morning is turning on that soothing music.  I’m a huge fan of Pandora, and their Yoga station plays all kinds of ambient music that is just the sort of thing to have running in the background.  Music can set the tone of my mood instantaneously, so if I can set it first thing in the morning, that can only be a good thing.  I’ll probably light the candle next: it’s something else that can set my mood right away.

Eventually I’ll move up to an actual floor sitting session for meditating, but for now, just sitting at the table enjoying my tea is a good start.