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Carving Out a Space

I had an awful dream last night.

In this dream, I was taken place to place by other people, not exactly following but not exactly leading, but ending up in situations not of my choosing where I always seemed to meet pain. Sometimes this pain was the form of people trying to get me to leave. Other times it was a more literal pain where I was being made to carry something with pins sticking out of it. In every situation, I may initially try to fight back, to draw a boundary out for myself and declare my needs and safety, but every time that declaration was ignored and met with more testing of those very same bounds. While the dreams were largely nonsensical, when I reexamined them upon waking, I found that there was a lot of my own experiences in them. A lot of me wandering around life, being forced to exist in a way I didn’t like, and never finding a way to really claim or enforce what I’ve needed.

When my health tanked, it took my ability to dream with it. I mean that in about every sense of the word “dream” — in that I no longer dreamed while asleep, and I no longer had any dreams while awake. I lost all purpose. I lost all direction. Upon starting EMDR treatment, my dreams returned to me, albeit in a patchy sort of sense. And upon switching over to Brainspotting therapy, my dreams have turned this sort of hectic mess of pieces and parts all taped together in a slightly incoherent fashion. I believe it’s my brain trying to grapple with the situation that I’ve found myself in. I think it’s trying to process while I’m asleep, to find a way to accept what is around us.

Acceptance is a common theme in therapy as of late. My therapist urged me to consider finding a way to use my voice to find some acceptance with my past. I’ve never really liked the word acceptance — it’s often been used as a bludgeoning tool (right up there with ‘forgiveness’) where people are actually less concerned with my acceptance of a given situation, but are more concerned with me being quiet so that they can be comfortable again. They don’t care if I actually accept a given situation, they only care that it appears like I’ve accepted it so that they can move on.

Further, the off-shoot to “acceptance” is usually “letting go.” “We need to find a way for you to be able to let go of your past trauma,” she’d tell me. However, the notion of letting go of something I’ve kept so close to my chest for all these years invoked a panic within me. The idea of losing the only thing that I do have, however painful it might be, was too much. And some portion of myself just couldn’t bear the notion of letting go as being a good thing.

In light of this, we have begun to call it “changing my relationship with” or “coming to terms with” instead. How can I find a way to change my relationship to what I’ve experienced. How can I come to terms with what I’ve been through, and yet still make a path for myself that is more enjoyable and content than where I’ve previously been. There is no pressure to feel things I don’t feel (acceptance) and there is no pressure that I’ll have to endure more loss through “letting go.”

Of course, the next question stirring in my brain was: how can I find a way to enforce those boundaries that I tried so very hard to grapple with in my dreams? How can I find a way to reject the pain that others repeatedly thrust and forced upon me while still maintaining some amount of relationship with them?

My therapist suggested that instead of focusing on the how, I spend more time looking at what it looks like and feels like to be in that space, that space of acceptance and understanding. I thought about that for a couple of weeks and came up with an incomplete list of what I imagine it would be like to be free of my past:

  • I would no longer be bound by fear and anger from my past.
  • If confronted with similar abuse or situations that mirror my past trauma, I would be able to maintain a clear head and stay present in the moment with minimal inner turmoil/upset.
  • I would be able to interact with people who are similar to my abusers and not carry their baggage home with me.
  • I’d be able to define my needs and enforce them. I’d be able to enforce boundaries as needed and leave situations that don’t serve me without guilt.
  • I’d be able to live the life I want, without feeling pressured to be what my abusers wanted me to be.

While I expect this list to grow and become more involved as I get further on this path, it at least gave me an end goal to reach for. It gave me a sort of destination or target to try and hit.

And more importantly, it gave me a mental image of where I want to be, and I’ve been using this mental image when I feel myself becoming worked up by my trauma. I’ve found that when I start to get caught in old trauma-based patterns, I can ask myself “is this where I ultimately want to be? Does this look like what I expect my new relationship with my past to look like?” and if the answer is no, I can try to realign myself to what I am looking for in myself. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but all in all, it seems to be helping.

Ultimately, though, this is leading up to what I am calling “carving a space.”

In an attempt to figure my own situation out, I have been watching other people’s experiences in regards to changing their diets and dealing with depression and chronic pain. A set of videos that has stuck with me are the few that Simona and Martina have released about her chronic pain and her subsequent depression. In her mind, there is a practice that she calls “building a ladder,” which is basically where she wakes up in massive pain, and tries to build herself a ladder out of the pit she woke up in. I could understand what she meant, even if it didn’t quite work for me. But as the weeks have gone on since watching that video, I have found what has begun to work for me — carving a space.

In my dream, I was a passive participant in everything going on. I only chose to speak up or act with initiative upon receiving pain, and with any amount of pushback, I would quickly devolve into sadness and anxiety. I was never good at enforcing what I need in the face of adversity. In many ways, my life has also been this way. I have felt like I’ve had no options, and that I was always stuck to the whims of the world around me. And while it’s true that children often don’t have options, as an adult, I have more choices and more freedom to create a life that I want, not one I was thrust into.

Of course, there are some things that can’t be changed very readily. For instance, I can’t easily move from this location. The idea of being in a place that is near the ocean or green and wet has always appealed to me, but I will likely never be able to do that on a permanent basis. The most I can hope for is to visit such places. Similarly, I am stuck in my body, for better or worse. While the difficulties that come with having this body are challenging and frustrating, at the same time, I need to find a way to work with my body because it’s the only one I have. Or in other words, I understand that I have options, but sometimes my options aren’t feasible or reasonable anytime soon. As such, I need to learn to work with what I have to get what I want.

Carving a space originated (for me) during a session with another person, wherein they were shown an image of their body. Their body was not shaped in a way that made living inside of their body easy. It was the equivalent of trying to fit your foot in a shoe that is 3 sizes too small. The metaphor here was trying to communicate that this person needed to find a way to make their body fit them better — through whatever means was best for them. Whether that meant exercising or taking better care of their body, or decorating it in a way that felt more genuine — they needed to find a way to mold their body to fit their actual shape.

I began to look at my life in the same way. It’s a shape that has been partially formed by others, and is partially beyond my control. However, I am able to work to carve out a me-shaped space in my life that makes life more bearable, more livable. This began with looking for things that made me happy, and partaking in those joys whenever I could. I began drawing again simply because it brought me joy. I began to do things that were only for me, and didn’t necessarily suit anyone but myself.

I have slowly begun to expand this practice to things I don’t necessarily want to do, but know that will ultimately help me do things that I want to do. For example, I want to begin backpacking so that I can go to parts of the state that are greener and have more water. And to be able to do that, I need to work on improving my health and stamina so that I can walk longer and go further. In the meantime, I visit smaller places that have things I enjoy, such as ponds that have ducks and other birds, to keep my brain happy with what is readily available to us in the here and now.

I feel like I have spent the majority of my life building things for others. Working to help others improve their lot and get to better places. For once, though, I am taking the time to improve things for myself. In a sense, it’s a matter of committing myself to the fact that I am alive here in this place, and that this is a life worth investing my time into.

For years, I have pondered on the notion of using the Self, your own body, person and life, as a shrine to devotion that can ultimately serve the gods. In a way, I think this is a part of that. I can’t claim to be a shrine for the gods and not take care of that shrine. I can’t claim to be living to the fullest for their sake if I’m not even willing to invest in myself, in my own life. I can’t expect to serve as a useful shrine, or even devotee, if I’m spending every day miserable, wishing my life was something that it’s not (or wishing that I was dead). Nor can I wait anymore for the currents of life to take me to a destination that is better. Instead, I’m finding it’s easier and more fulfilling to try and get there myself. To carve into the life that I have, and make it more livable and suitable for my needs. In a way, it’s like decorating my house, finally putting some paint on the walls and investing in furniture. It’s reminding myself that life doesn’t always have to be awful, and that I don’t have to always take what is thrust upon me.

I’m not entirely there yet, and I’ve still a long way to go to really truly embracing that on all levels, but I think I’m at least taking the first steps to getting there. And every journey has to start somewhere.

What do you think about carving space into your life to make it more enjoyable? Do you find it hard to invest in yourself or your life? What ways or methods could you use to change that?

**As a post-script, I would like to know if any of my readers would find any benefit in more posts like this that discuss either where I’m at along this journey, or what I’ve learned from therapy that you yourself may find useful in your own life. Or would you rather things stay more Kemetic/pagan driven? Thoughts?

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The Evolution of Mental Illness

I was recently participating in a discussion on Facebook about the negative voices that live in our heads, and heka that can be done to keep them at bay. In the post that was sparking the discussion, the author suggests that giving the negative voices in our heads a name and a form can help us to sit down and discuss things with them. It allows us to interact with parts of ourselves so that we can learn more about who we are, and more importantly, what causes some of these voices to speak up as they do. The long-term goal, as far as I could tell, was that by conversing with these voices, you’d hear less from them in time.

This got me thinking about the voices that pop up in my own head. Of course, I’m not talking about the voice of the gods or spirits that I work with. I’m talking about the voices that often tell me that I suck, or that remind me that I’m not doing as much as I’d like (often stated as “not doing as much as I should“). I’m talking about negative voices that often come with mental illness.

The more I began to mull over what those voices that embody my mental illness try to tell me is the “proper” reality that I live in, the more it really hit home that conversing with my internal voices probably wouldn’t do much for me. Why? Because I’ve found over the years that my mental illness evolves. You see, when I was younger, those voices would still tell me that I suck, but they’d use different reasons to showcase why it is that I suck. For example, when I was younger, I was a lot more isolated from other people, and I was frequently wracked with loneliness. So my voices would remind me about how no one really liked me, and how I could very easily just disappear and no one would notice, and I believed what my mental illness told me because I had nothing to prove them wrong. But now that I’ve worked through some of that baggage? It’s no longer used against me. If my voices want to bring me down, they know that that angle won’t work anymore, and so they choose a different soft point to poke at (such as “this particular person doesn’t like you and never will because you suck” etc.)

This is probably even remotely possible for me to detect on my end because of the shadow work that I’ve done over the past several years. I feel as though my trudging through life with all of my issues was a relatively plateaued affair until I began to actively hack at it in my late twenties via shadow work. Or in other words, my mental illness could hit me in the same spots over and over again when I was younger because I wasn’t making leaps and bounds worth of changes in the mental illness arena. The same issues and concerns I had in late high school were relatively similar to the issues and concerns I had in my early twenties. It only really shifted once I began the shadow work process.

But this highlights for me one of the ultimate caveats to shadow work that doesn’t seem to be spoken about enough–sometimes all the shadow work in the world won’t actually fix everything. I know I talked about this briefly in my post about shadow work being an ongoing process, but it really hit me hard when I realized that as I was beginning to learn how to outwit and overcome my mental illness, my mental illness was evolving to learn how to outwit me.

A side effect of this is that the voices have changed their ‘sales pitch’ to fit whatever topic is the most damaging at any given point in time. Once upon a time, my anxiety and depression could get away with telling me just about anything, and I’d believe it. But now they both have to work a little harder by formatting their statements a certain way in order for me to listen.

This probably sounds like an improvement, and in some ways it is. Due to the work I’ve put in, I can now shrug off certain statements that my brain will fling at me, and certain topics are relatively harmless to my mental health (in comparison to before). But don’t get me wrong–just because these mental illnesses seem to have to work a little harder to figure out what to tell me to get me to sink doesn’t mean that it’s still not effective. Nearly two years of being in mental illness hell is proof that these illnesses are very much in full swing and are effective at crippling me when they want to.

Another way to possibly illustrate it is to compare it to holes in a boat. If I have a boat that has a large hole in the bottom, there is no getting away from the fact that that sucks. Boats with holes don’t float very well. But let’s say that I learn how to somewhat patch this hole up, and now I have two smaller holes instead of one large one–some might consider that an improvement, but my boat still has holes in it. And that’s how I feel when I look at how my mental illness has shifted over the years. In some ways it’s an improvement, but I still have to live with mental illness. And that mental illness is still damned effective at doing what it does despite all of my best efforts.

The biggest point I really wanted to emphasize here is that shadow work will only do so much. Not many of us emphasize it enough, but there is no getting away from that fact: shadow work, therapy, all of these things that we use to try and heal ourselves from our trauma–they only go so far for some things. All of the shadow work in the world won’t erase mental illness, nor will it fix everything. You can definitely wage war against mental illness and push it back a bit, but just like isfet, it is always there lurking at the corners of ones mind. Just like with the gods working to maintain ma’at, the work we put in to stay as healthy as possible with mental illness is a non-stop, never-ending process.

And similarly, if you find that you’ve been working for years trying to get headway with your mental illness, but find that you’re still only treading water, please know this: you’re not alone. Fighting against mental illness is hard and it’s a non-stop battle, and you’re not less for not being able to squash your mental illness down entirely. While so much of the world seems to want to imply that you can somehow teach your mental illness a thing, and make it so that it no longer effects you, that’s simply not true (and honestly smacks against the fact that it’s an illness). And if my experiences are any indication at all, as you improve at waging war against your illness, your illness could get more adept at waging war against you.

Because I haven’t said it enough, remember that shadow work is a tool in your toolbox, and the same way that a hammer doesn’t work that great for putting screws into something, sometimes shadow work isn’t the right tool for the job. Sometimes you’ll do your shadow work exactly as you’re supposed to, and you’ll still come out not completely healed. This isn’t necessarily your fault, but is the nature of living in imperfect bodies that are often riddled with illness. You’re not bad for not being able to fix an incurable illness. You’re not bad for not being able to “magic” such things away. And don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

Have you found that shadow work only goes so far with mental illness? How do you combat this? Have you found that your illness has evolved or changed it’s “angle of attack” over the years?

 

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Perfect

Perfection is a tricky thing. When used in moderation, it can drive us to do better and become better. When used poorly, it can cause us stress and create problems in our lives. I think that most of us understand that perfection is nearly impossible to achieve, and yet many of us spend our entire lives trying to get as close to perfect as possible. I think that’s understandable in a way. We’re taught very early on that perfection is an ideal, and that anything less means that we’re doing something wrong, that we’re mediocre, or that we’ll never be good enough. We’re taught to fear the alternative to perfection, and in some ways, we’re taught that being anything less than your best at all times means you’re a failure.

I also think that many people want to be as close to perfect as possible because we believe that when everything is perfect, we’ll be happier. Everything would be better, and everything would be smoother and easier. The problem with this lies in the fourth sentence in the paragraph above: perfection is impossible to achieve. Especially for long periods of time. We’re flawed beings doing our best to make things work. Imperfection is really an inherent trait of humanity whether we like it or not.

Within our larger society, it’s being shown that the need to be perfect is ruining a lot of lives. It can create unhealthy attitudes towards ourselves and towards others. But what about in our smaller communities? How does perfection play into how we interact with our fellow co-religionists?

I’ve found myself mulling on this a lot recently. There has been a lot of activity within the community as to how people think one should act vs. how people have been acting. There have been disagreements about what should be our standard protocol for behaviour, and in the grand scheme of things, I think it’s a reasonable conversation to have, especially considering how close action and ma’at feed into one another. Being a predominantly orthopraxic religion means that actions speak louder than beliefs, and in order to do our best to live in ma’at, we need to be reflective on what actions are best for ourselves and the community. However, in some instances, I have found myself thinking that people expect too much out of their fellows and peers and expect too little of themselves. It’s very easy to get caught up in what you feel others “should” be doing and too easy to forget that we all make mistakes. As my grandmother used to tell me: “When you point your finger at someone, remember that there are three fingers pointing back at yourself”.

In that spirit, I might be able to make the argument that ma’at and perfection can be seen as being one and the same in a lot of ways. Ma’at is the ideal state of being/acting/doing in Kemeticism. We all strive to behave and act in ma’at and to lace ma’at into everything that we do. However, I’m pretty sure most of us would agree that we fail sometimes. Some of us fail a lot of the time. It’s all part of that being human thing I mentioned above. Like perfection, ma’at can be a useful tool. It can help us strive to become more, to become better. It can be something that enriches and fulfills our life as we learn how to weave it into our daily experiences. However, also like perfection, ma’at can be turned into a bludgeoning tool made to control and belittle others. It can be used to hurt people and make them feel like they are inadequate or that they are failures. This is particularly true when the two are married, and you suddenly see people uttering the words “you are not acting in ma’at” (or alternatively “your actions embody isfet”), which might as well be the same as “you are not hitting the level of perfection that I expect of you, and therefore you are a failure”.

This sort of culture can be incredibly damaging on so many levels. It teaches people that they can never make mistakes within the community without having to bear the stigma of having messed up. It teaches people that if they ever step out of line, they can expect a mob of people to come out and berate them. It teaches us that we have to become an almost fake and unrealistic form of ourselves in order to make people feel comfortable (which reinforces about every form of “ism” you can shake a stick at). Having a bad day? Better not go on the internet lest you make a faux pas. Find out that you made an error in a statement that you made? Good luck moving beyond that because you’re never going to remove that foot from your mouth because we won’t let you.

It makes it so that no one can really have any room to breath because they’re too worried about screwing up. In those instances, our religion becomes less about learning and growing, and more about fitting into a mold that has been laid out for us.

Perfectionism also extends beyond behaviours. There are many who seem to believe that there is a certain level or bar to hit with practices, too. If you’re not offering a certain way, you’re missing that bar of perfection and therefore a failure. If you’re not being historically accurate enough, you’re missing the bar. If you’re making too many jokes, you’re missing the bar. Or dare I say it? Not practicing and/or living in ma’at.

When used poorly, perfectionism stalls people’s growth and desire to try new things in their practice. What could be a warm and loving experience becomes something that is stifling and nerve-wracking. A lot of people come to our religion already afraid they’re going to mess up. Why do we make it worse on people by adding even more unrealistic expectations upon them? Why do we expect everyone to act exactly how we think they should? Why is it that only our personal bars and measures for success ever seem to matter? Why is it that it seems like so many people don’t have the capacity to understand that we are all learning and doing at our own speeds and paces, and doing so in our own ways? There isn’t only one way to do something or to be. Why can’t we learn to give some of our co-religionists some room to fumble around?

Now, with all of this being said, I want to emphasize here that there is an opposite end of this spectrum, too.

I think it goes without saying that I believe that we still have to have some level of standard of decorum within our communities. Not having any rules at all leaves people open and vulnerable to being attacked, abused or manipulated. So please do not take this post to mean that we shouldn’t have any rules at all. Much like with the ma’at comparison made above, it’s about balance and striking a middle ground between the members of our community. It’s about having enough structure to ensure that our members stay safe and aren’t subjected to bigotry or marginalization, but being open enough to allow people to practice freely and safely while interacting with the community. And of course, there are certain rules that I personally feel should be more important than others (such as rules that protect members and people over rules that protect the religious structure or preferences in practice), although others may feel differently.

In the end, I think that we all need to try and remember that none of us is perfect, and it’s unrealistic to expect perfection. We’re all doing the best that we can to try and manage our lives with our religious practices, and everything that is involved with both. We all start somewhere, and we all have our biases to overcome and learn from. And in that spirit, we should all be doing some self-reflection on our own imperfections, not just fussing over the imperfections of others.

How does perfection play into your community experience? Do you find that the pressure for perfection makes interactions difficult? Do you find yourself focusing too much on the imperfections of yourself or of others?

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Posted by on June 1, 2016 in Boat Paddlers Arsenal, Kemeticism

 

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Shadow Work: A Never-ending Process

It’s fairly well known that shadow work is sort of a pain. It’s difficult to work through less-than-ideal parts of yourself or your life. It’s hard to figure out how to heal damage that has been done to you, and it can be challenging to fit such heavy work into what is likely an already jam-packed life schedule. Not to mention that the gods rarely give you a game plan on how to exactly go about performing your shadow work- in so many ways, shadow work is sort of a headache in the making. It’s really no wonder that many of us stall out very quickly on trying to figure the whole shadow work thing out.

On top of everything listed above, I think one of the largest pitfalls regarding shadow work is that many of us assume that we’ll get a list of things we need to work through, and then once we’ve managed to mark everything off of that list, our shadow work is effectively “done” and we won’t have to work on it anymore. But then we usually find out later that we’re regressing and falling back into old patterns and routines. And the next thing you know, the gods show back up and tell us to fix some of the same things that we thought were already addressed and handled. Like many things in life, shadow work is something that is more effective if you incorporate it as a sort of ongoing, long-term practice or procedure within your life, but I don’t know that the gods have made that very obvious or apparent to many us.

For this post, I’d like to explore some ways to re-frame shadow work into something that is more on-going and less of a one off sort of thing. I’m going to use two examples that make sense to me as a means to help illustrate why shadow work should be a continuous thing, not a one-time process.

Example one: Shadow work is like dental work

I know, I know. “oh gods, you’re going to talk about teeth??” No one wants to hear about their oral health, especially when discussing paganism, but hear me out. As most of you probably could guess, many people come into the dentist after long periods of neglecting their oral health. It’s really not uncommon for someone to come in and say “I haven’t seen a dentist in 20 years”, and you can tell by looking at their teeth.

Typically when a mouth is in that level of disrepair (as many of us who are starting on a heaping pile of shadow work often are), you create what we call a treatment plan as a means to address all of the issues of the mouth so that the patient can be put back into optimal oral health. There is a certain procedure/method that is used by dentists to do this, and I think it is useful when considering shadow work.

The first step in any sort of treatment plan is to get rid of the big fires. That means that you address the work that is preventing your patient from eating or chewing properly. Anything that is actively painful or rotting in their head gets fixed before you work on the more superficial or cosmetic parts of their mouth. As you progress through a treatment plan, you deal with the biggest issues first and work your way down to the smaller stuff. Of course, sometimes a patient really wants their smile to all be fixed right now, but that’s not usually feasible if you’ve been slacking on your oral health for a few decades.

Shadow work is the same way. Start with putting out the biggest fires first. What is the most crucial to your daily life? What are you ignoring that has the largest impact on your living situation? What can you fix that will lessen up everything else you need to work on? Start with that first.

But here is where the ongoing comes in.

Once a patient has gotten their mouth all fixed up and beautiful again, what do you think happens if they don’t continue to upkeep their mouth? I’ll give you a hint: what got their mouth into such a state of disrepair in the first place? The answer is, as you probably guessed, a lack of upkeep. Mouths are not things you can simply stop taking care of, and expect their health to maintain all on its own. Its much like any other body part- you need to keep it clean and maintained if you want the health of said body part to last. Your mouth is no exception. If you get thousands of dollars of work done in your mouth, but then never floss or brush or go in for cleanings, you can expect that your mouth will go right back into disrepair in due time.

And shadow work is no exception.

Example two: Shadow work is like owning a house or property

Another way to frame this discussion is from the perspective of a house owner. My grandmother owns a house on property, and on the surface, everything looks relatively nice, but when you take a look at the structure of the house critically, you can tell that she hasn’t done any maintenance work for a long time. Sure, some of the stuff is superficial and not very important, but there are other things that are turning into time bombs due to a lack of maintenance. Because of the delay in getting work done, what might have originally been a $50 job is going to turn into a $500 job.

Just like with dentistry, you often maintain a house by fixing the most important stuff first, and handling the less important, more superficial stuff later on. You may want to paint your living room walls, but I’ll wager that you’ll want to fix the hole in your roof before you bother with the painting. Otherwise, all of that paint goes to waste during the next rain storm.

And just like with a house or teeth, there are regular intervals for maintaining certain things around your house. In the desert, we all know that you should get your A/C checked out before the summer months hit. Otherwise, you’re looking at spending the first super hot weekend without any air conditioning. Almost every part of a house needs to have regular check-ups and replacements. Roofs need to be re-shingled. Appliances need to have regular maintenance done. Your air filter needs to be swapped out once a month. Things need to happen all the time in order to keep a house in good shape.

Bringing it all together: Balancing action with planning

So I’ve probably driven home that regular maintenance is a good thing. But how does this apply directly to shadow work? Here are some ways that I take the above examples and use them in my personal shadow work process.

I’ve always used a system where I have high points and low points. High points would be the equivalent of spring cleaning- we (me and the gods) sit down and look at what needs to be fixed, where I want to go, what the priorities are for everyone involved. When I’m trying to figure out what you want to do in terms of shadow work, I often ask myself some of the following questions:

  • What exactly am I doing that is problematic?
  • What parts of myself do I want to improve?
  • What have I been putting off in terms of improvement?
  • Have I been slacking on maintaining anything I fixed in the past? Am I regressing at all?
  • What have others suggested I work on? Are their suggestions valid? If so, how can I implement them?
  • What am I doing that is working? How can I ensure that I keep these practices up?

Once we figure out what we want, we then plan out how to get it. Though they probably did more of the planning in the earlier stages, because they were the ones running the show initially. The further I’ve gotten into shadow work, the more I have been included in what I want to do, and how I think would be a good way to go about getting what I want (or what the gods want). I think ideally, the gods want me to be able to do this process on my own without their help.

And then the low points are resting points. As I’ve said before, you can’t work all the time, and sometimes life is too busy for me to be doing heavy shadow work. But that being said, I always have to keep my eyes open to the status of my life and person. Like I mentioned in the house analogy above, I might not be able to re-shingle my roof right now, but I can be aware that it needs to be done, and that it will need to be handled. So I might mentally prep to address that during the next meeting with the gods, even though we won’t be touching it for a while. Due to life and its cycles, there have been times when we’ve had to shelf projects and shadow work. We’ve got times where I already know I’m going to be plowing through a bunch of crap all at once (the Mysteries is a good example of this), and so kinda like running a farm, I try to plan for those kinds of personal seasons. I know when I need to plant my seeds, I know when I need to harvest, and I can rest during the recession of summer if you will.

This is the basic structure for how I maintain my shadow work “practice”. I balance out actively working on what I want to achieve with planning for how I will maintain what I have accomplished through previous shadow work. It’s an ongoing process of action and rest that doesn’t really stop (though it can be put on hold for certain life events). I start each cycle by putting out the largest fires first (if any cropped up while I wasn’t paying attention) and then progressively work on fixing everything else as resources are made available. And I think that ideally, once everything is all fixed (I still haven’t really reached this point, but I feel like I’m getting there), the goal will be to maintain myself while helping others work on their “houses”.

The more I work on shadow work, the more I believe that it’s best viewed as an ongoing process. I’ve found that by going back and reevaluating what I’ve done and where I’m at, I can make sure that I don’t slide back into bad habits, and I can ensure that I’m going in the direction that I want to go in. Practice makes perfect, and by consistently addressing my more negative traits, I am better able to fix the things that I want to fix.

How do you approach shadow work? Do you think that shadow work should be an on-going process? Or do you feel that it’s better to only perform shadow work when you need to?

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The Weight of Worth

I think it goes without saying that I have a fairly shoddy family life. My relationships with most of my family members are strained at best, and completely beyond repair in a lot cases. While they’re not the worst people in the world, they aren’t exactly the best, either. Or at least, they’re not always the best for me. Maybe if I was straight, neurotypical or lacking in mental health issues out the wazoo it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But for whatever reason, my relationship with my family is still not ideal in a lot of ways.

Because of this, I hide a lot of what I do from my family. They don’t know about my personal life or my relationship with my partner that’s been going on for almost a decade now. They don’t know about my life in the Unseen (could you really imagine how they’d react?), and they don’t know about my work with the Kemetic community. They have a passing knowledge that I’m “not Christian” and that I’m “not entirely straight”, but that’s about as far as their understanding goes, and I like to keep it that way. I worry that if they were to find these things out about me, they’d eat me alive the first chance that they got.

This can be difficult to manage, though, as there are times when I would like to share these aspects of my life with other people that I know in the flesh. There are times when I’d love to show how my work online has influenced my life offline, or utilize online or religious experiences to show my family members how they’ve got the wrong idea about me.

A good example of this is the very frequently used “you’re so angry” trope. This usually happens when I’ve managed to catch a male family member off guard by calling them out on something problematic, and they end up deflecting with a “well you’re so angry all of the time, it must really suck to be you.” Of course, calling women angry as a means to belittle them and derail the conversation into a different, more personal topic (often called an ad hominem attack) is pretty well discussed and well documented in our society. In many ways, women aren’t allowed to be angry. We’re only allowed to be nice and happy and fluffy cuddles all of the time. So when this happens, I’m not entirely surprised, just agitated that this is how a grown man chooses to handle criticism.

And as I sit there and watch this grown man throw around the whole “you’re so angry!” as if that invalidates everything I have to say, I often find myself wanting to do one of two things. The first is to tell them that I am angry, and for good reason. Who wouldn’t be angry that their family treats them fairly poorly, or that their upbringing was less than ideal and how that still effects things to this day. Who wouldn’t be angry for being a second rate citizen within our culture. Who wouldn’t be angry about getting paid less for doing more work, for being shunned by politicians, the media, and the general population. Who wouldn’t be angry for getting the short stick. I usually want to follow this up with statements about how my gods have taught me not to fear my anger, but to embrace it and use it for making change. I want to tell them about how the NTRW have pushed us all to be more accepting of ourselves and our emotions, even if those emotions are not always considered “appropriate” by our society. In this moment, I want to talk about Kemeticism and how it has influenced my ideas about anger, and to push my family member to reconsider their ideas about anger (and women being angry). But as I said above, I can’t.

The second thing I want to do is to shout back at them “no I’m not!” and to tell them that they’ve got me all wrong. I want to tell them about all of the work I’ve done online, and how I’ve worked to help others, and the joy that that brings me. I want to tell them about how my partner makes me happy and has brought balance to my life in ways no one else has. I want to tell them that despite all of my shortcomings, I’ve worked so hard to make something of myself, and that I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot despite what I was born into. In this moment, I want to talk about Kemeticism and how it’s not only enriched my life, but allowed me to enrich the lives of others and how important that is to me. But again, I can’t.

But really, both of the above paragraphs are accurate. I am angry and not angry at the same time. Like most things, it depends on the subject matter as to whether I may appear more disgruntled or less disgruntled. I’m going to have a very different emotional response to kittens as opposed to rampant sexism. And to base a person’s entire personality off of the emotions expressed over one topic is really not cool or fair, especially if you’re using it to deflect criticism of problematic behaviour.

But more importantly than all of this, is the fact that I shouldn’t have to defend myself in regards to my perceived anger. I shouldn’t have to prove my worth based off of my community work. I shouldn’t have to prove my worth because “I’m not really all that angry, I promise.” I shouldn’t have to be ashamed or perceived as less than because of the emotions that I am experiencing. I shouldn’t have to defend myself at all for expressing what I feel in a healthy manner. And I shouldn’t have people trying to debase everything I say because of the notion of anger.

The more I reflected on this, the more I realized that while I had internalized all of the lessons that Set had given me about anger back in the Pit all those years ago, I still had more work to do in regards to my anger. Yes, I can accept that I am angry. Yes, I can utilize my anger in a positive fashion. Yes, I can control my anger and channel it a lot better than I used to be able to. All of these lessons are still with me today.

But what I didn’t internalize or take with me is that I can be angry without needing to prove that I am allowed to be angry. In so many ways, I have been conditioned to believe that I can be angry and upset because I do all of these other useful things that negate that anger. There seems to be this internalized idea that I can be “less than ideal” because I do other things that live up to our society’s idea of what we should be doing with our lives (hint: it centers around being productive for someone else 24/7).

anti capitalist love notes

My worth is not based around what I do for the community. My worth is not based around how productive I am or am not. My worth as a human and as a person is inherent simply because I exist. My anger is justified and valid because it is a feeling that I have, and I don’t need to go do all of these “good deeds” in order to be justified and valid in what I already feel. I don’t need to go do good things as a means to weigh against the “bad things” that I feel.

And above all, I don’t need to pull this information out to prove to random angry manchildren that I’m really “not all that bad if you’d just give me a chance.” I don’t owe him anything, and I certainly shouldn’t have to give out personal details in order to earn his respect (as the respect should be inherent). And really, none of us should have to. Our society likes to imply that we are only valuable if we are productive, but that’s really not true. You don’t owe society a thing, and you shouldn’t have to prove to anyone that you deserve to continue to exist.

Part of my practice has been about coming to terms with who I am and how I feel, as well as learning to embrace parts of myself I have been made to deny and hate for years. And while I’ve made a lot of progress, this past year’s interactions with the manchildren in my family has shown me that I still have a lot of work left to do. As I often say, the rabbit hole has no bottom or end, and so it seems to go with shadow work as well.

 

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Devoted without Devotion

I have a hard time talking about devotion. The word devotion, much like the word worship, has a lot of baggage tied to it. And if you ask several people how they define devotion, you’ll get all sorts answers back. As it turns out, we all have a lot of different ideas about what it means to be devoted to the gods. And it makes sense why a lot of people would have differing, and sometimes conflicting, ideas about devotion, as the definitions for the word devotion run the gamut:

de·vo·tion dəˈvōSH(ə)n/ noun
  • a feeling of strong love or loyalty: the quality of being devoted
  • the use of time, money, energy, etc., for a particular purpose
  • devotions: prayer, worship, or other religious activities that are done in private rather than in a religious service
  1. profound dedication; consecration.
  2. earnest attachment to a cause, person, etc.
  3. an assignment or appropriation to any purpose, cause, etc.: the devotion of one’s wealth and time to scientific advancement.
  4. Often, devotions. Ecclesiastical. religious observance or worship; a form of prayer or worship for special use.

Some of these definitions are pretty straight forward: you spend a lot of time doing the thing, and that is devotion. Where as others definitely have more emotion involved: you feel strongly about the thing, and that is devotion.

When it comes to most discussions featuring devotion, I feel like the second definition (you feel strongly) tends to be the more prominent definition used, and that the bulk of the discussion has a lot of emotional overtone to it. A lot of people seem to believe that devotion is an act of love, or that perhaps your love pushes you to perform devotional acts. And it makes sense in a way- you don’t have to look very hard to see that many people in the wider Pagan and polytheist community have a lot of love for their gods. It’s pretty easy to find poems and hymns praising the gods; posts about how awesome the gods are, artwork and songs… the stuff is all over the place. And that’s a good thing! The gods are pretty cool, and it’s good that people feel good things about the beings that they are spending so much time focusing on and venerating.

But this post isn’t about having love for your gods. This post is about the exact opposite of that.

This post is about being devoted to beings that you don’t feel much of anything for, and how alienating and weird that kind of relationship can be.

As I’ve said in a few posts now, I don’t feel a whole lot about much of anything anymore, and if I do feel anything it’s usually on the sad/upset/negative side of things. That is to say on any give day, I’m usually either neutral or depressed. Happy, excited and positive don’t really seem to happen for me, and when they do it’s very fleeting. It took me a while to realize that this is how I’ve been for most of my life, and it likely is a byproduct of my depression.

As it turns out, this largely applies to my relationships with the gods, too. Unlike so many people who feel these immense emotions when they are around the gods, I am usually left feeling the same way I would if I were talking to anyone else. I don’t sit in front of my shrine and feel awe or humility or… anything. And even when I’m standing Over There talking to one of the NTRW, I still don’t feel anything different than what I would feel if I were talking to anyone else.

I don’t know if this occurs because I don’t view the gods as anything special, or if it’s my lack of feelings that has led me to not consider the gods as anything special. It’s really a case of the chicken and the egg-either could beget the other, and I couldn’t tell which came first, if either came first.

Not feeling anything for the gods leads to a very alienating experience in the community. It probably doesn’t seem that way on the surface, but over time I have noticed that it has become harder and harder for me to ignore the differences between my relationships and the relationships that other Kemetics seem to have with the NTRW. Of course, we all know that comparing ourselves to others is almost always a recipe for disaster, but I think its inevitable that each of us will at least compare notes from time to time with other co-religionists through discussion and interaction with one another. And it’s become very glaring to me that so many others can discuss and feel these things, and yet no matter how much I try, I just can’t seem to find the emotions locked within me.

When I first really realized that this is how my relationship actually was, I began to question if I was broken, or if I was doing something wrong. Maybe there were emotions somewhere that my depression was drowning out? But after months of looking, I still couldn’t find them. Even as the gods told me about the emotions that they have for me, I couldn’t find it within me to reciprocate, and I began to feel even worse. As I dug deeper into my own experiences and motivations, I really began to wonder why it was that I continued to work with the gods and focus on this Kemeticism thing if I didn’t really feel anything from it.

And I really think that this is key in a way. A lot of people come to religion in order to feel something. A lot of people left Christianity because they never felt anything for the god, the religious structure, or what have you. In many ways, if we don’t feel something from our actions, we stop repeating or performing the act. Many of us don’t pick religions because of logical decision making, we pick religions because they feel right to us.

The problem with feelings is that they can be misleading sometimes. I remember reading about Nehet’s reflections of tending a deity’s icon every day, and one of her recollections was that you won’t always feel super cool woo stuff every time you go into shrine. There are going to be some days where you are seriously just going through the motions and nothing else. And if you expect every single experience to make you feel something amazing or different or unique, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Being someone who has multiple mental illnesses, I know that I can’t always trust what I feel. I also know that I can’t always trust what I think, either, because sometimes it’s more my mental illness and chemical imbalances talking than myself. Perhaps its due to living this way for so long that I don’t really rely on feelings to motivate me or drive a lot of my actions. If I waited for feelings to give me the signal to get things done, I’d never get anywhere.

By the time I had reached this point, I began to wonder if it was a bad thing that I don’t feel anything for the gods. There are so many days when I feel like the only one who describes the gods as “ehhh” with a side of “wiggly hand movement”, and I couldn’t help but worry that maybe it was a problem on some level. However, neither of the gods I frequent seemed to care. Yeah, they get a little disappointed when they start talking about their feelings in regards to myself, and the best I can do is shrug in response, but outside of that, it’s never gotten in the way of the work they’ve asked me to do.

The only time it’s ever been a problem is when I’m talking with other humans about relationships with the gods, and particularly when we’re talking about devotion. Because it seems that so many people believe that action that isn’t coupled with emotion is somehow not as effective or desired.

But the truth of the matter is, you can be devoted to your gods and not have a bunch of love backing your actions. You can be extremely loyal to the gods and the religion you practice without having love flood your heart. You can be dedicated to the pantheon that you serve without having the warm fuzzies.

You can be devoted without feeling devotion. And more importantly, you can be effective as a devotee without feeling devotion. Our religion is supposed to be more about doing (orthopraxy) and less about feeling (orthodoxy), and yet it doesn’t seem to translate into how we view relationships with the gods. Even though most of the dialogue you see regarding deity-devotee relationships involves some element of emotion such as love, not every relationship needs that to be the focus in order to be successful.

Just like with my last post about pushing back against general narratives, I’m going to push against the narrative again and state that I am a devotee that doesn’t necessarily feel their devotion. My lack of feeling doesn’t make my actions any less sincere or any less effective. Who I am is enough for the gods- weird emotional ticks included. And if it’s enough for them, then it should be enough for me. And hopefully it is enough for everybody else, too.

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2015 in Kemeticism, Rambles

 

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The Good Earth

Astral bodies are incredibly vast. They can contain worlds and universes within them. You could spend an entire lifetime inside of some bodies and never see everything within. Get lost within a body, and you may never get out again.

Astral bodies can also contain relics of previous existences within them, the same way that we sometimes stumble across old ruins in the dirt.

I’ve seen it said that human bodies are like a sort of repository or record of everything you experience. And that the records may not contain only information about yourself, but of your predecessors and ancestors, too. I find this interesting, because astral bodies can be like that as well. But instead of keeping the information for only one lifetime, the body is storing away information from multiple lifetimes that exist along a single soul line within. So the same way that my human body stores information about my own existence here on earth, as well as genetic information from my parents and their parents, etc., my astral body contains information about earth bound me, and all of the other versions of myself running around on the astral as well as predecessors and previous incarnations of myself. Because astral bodies are vast.

Stumbling across one of these relics, one of these recordings of the past is incredibly interesting. I just so happened across one in the form of dirt one evening. But this wasn’t just any dirt. This was like dirt and glitter went out for a night on the town and had a baby. It was unlike any dirt I’d ever seen here on earth.

When I asked about this dirt, I was told that I was standing on a corpse. Beneath my feet lay the remains of a previous existence, a previous life form. I’m not entirely sure what this previous life form was or what it looked like, or even how it met its end. All I know is that the corpse that this dirt represented laid the foundations for new life to grow. Like plants springing out of the ground, or crops sprouting out of Osiris’ back, this dirt has given the nutrients needed to create new life.

As it turns out, the man I was walking with was one of the many end products of this fertile soil. And as it also turns out, this man was not very fond of his soul line’s predecessor, the entity that was now embodied by this soil. He and I had been working for months now to try and figure out how to fix some of the problems he was experiencing, and the origins for most of them lie in the soil we were walking upon.

It is very difficult to heal when you carry wounds and scars from your predecessors. I have a hard time healing because I still carry scars and wounds from my parents- my mortal predecessors. And my parents carry scars that were given to them from their parents, their mortal predecessors. Based off of the many discussions I’ve had about Akhu with fellow Kemetics, it is very apparent to me that having less than ideal family lineage is par for the course anymore. So many of us don’t feel secure in giving our ancestors the time of day because they were not very good people. It is challenging to build up any sort of solace or acceptance if it hinges upon people that have hurt you- blood related or not.

This is also true, I think, if the horrible predecessor is yourself.

Ever look back at things you said or did in the past and thought “Wow I was an asshole”? Ever learn that you’ve got really bad habits that need to go away, and that those habits have hurt people really badly? Maybe you’re one of those parents in the paragraph above, and you wake up one morning and realize you wrecked your kids for life. What do you do then?

That is the situation me and my companion found ourselves in. For this dirt that he walked upon was nothing more than remnants of himself. The predecessor that he hated so much was a previous incarnation of himself. And many of the reasons the work we had been doing was not sticking was because he couldn’t get over his own past, his own previous failings.

It sucks to wake up one day and realize you’ve been a horrible person. It sucks to wake up one day and realize that you’ve hurt or possibly ruined people. It sucks to know that you’ve fed into oppressive systems or perpetuated someone else’s pain and suffering.

It sucks to wake up one day and realize you’ve been a big bag of floppy dicks. That you’ve broken the main rule of Kemeticism.

I have struggled with this over the years in many formats. There have been times when I realize that I have been horrible to other people and have hurt them and I had to figure out what to do about it. There have also been times when I have been asked to help heal someone in the Unseen who has caused me pain in the past as well. It’s hard to help someone heal when you can’t overcome the pain that they caused you. It’s hard to help someone accept their own past mistakes if you yourself can’t even accept what they have done.

Life is messy like that, and in my short time both here in the physical as well as the Unseen, I can tell you that there are more people who have screwed up and hurt others than not. If you have been a bag of dicks, I can assure you you’re not alone in it.

Something else I’ve learned during my stint here is that just because you were a bag of dicks before doesn’t mean you have to be a bag of dicks now. Just because you screwed up in the past doesn’t mean that you are condemned to be horrible forever. Sometimes your old horrible self can become useful, fertile soil to create a new you, if you know what you’re doing. I say this because who better to teach others the pitfalls of falling into certain habits than someone who has had those habits themselves?

If you look back over your past and can see how you fell into the habits, situations, and destructive patterns that you did- it’s much easier to show other people what to look out for, what things to avoid, what things to do better. Because you’ve been there and you know the ins and outs of the behaviour, it’s easier for you to draw a sort of “map” to help others get out, too.

I try to tell the man that I am walking with this. I try to reassure him that just because he was prone to bad behaviour in the past doesn’t mean that he is always doomed to repeat that behaviour. I try to tell him that he can learn from his past and better himself, that he needn’t be chained to who he was. Every moment is Zep Tepi. Every moment is a time to start over and recommit yourself anew to whatever path you choose. This fertile soil that we walk upon could very well serve as the foundations for him to become someone better than he once was.

And the truth is, we are all this way. We are all our own cache of fertile soil that we can grow from. We are all able to become more than what we were, whenever we so choose to plant the seeds of change within ourselves. Even if you’ve screwed up or done things you regret, you can always choose to do better. Never give up on yourself. Investing in yourself is the best investment that you can ever make, and it is an investment that we should all be making regularly.

Do not deny yourself your new beginning.

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