I’m happy to share this narrated video of my Beginning Devotional Practice conference session. Naturally it’s not the same as seeing it in person but if you missed it – or want a refresher on the material – this will help you get a taste. Enjoy!
It’s February, which means it’s PantheaCon season! I have the pleasure of presenting Beginning Devotional Practice and Advancing Devotional Practice at PantheaCon this year. Both sessions are quite close to my heart and I’m very happy to be sharing this information with people. If you’ll be at PantheaCon (San Jose, CA), I hope you’ll come see one of the sessions or just find me and say hi.
A few weeks later I’ll be at SpiritCon, a new regional pagan community event taking place just north of Salt Lake City. I’ll be presenting Beginning Devotional Practice and vending some of my prints, spread cloths, and other goods. If you’re in the SLC area or beyond, consider making this part of your spring.
Last night I was sitting at the altar and thinking about how important these moments really are to me. I struggle more when my practice flags; the light and fire and sound and scent of my worship activities sustain me on a deep level, and they provide a shelter and succor that nothing else really seems to. It occurred to me, for the nth time, that this moment can’t be bought or sold or packaged or advertised; it was free from the commercial reality that I find so oppressive in my daily life. Although devotional experience can’t be commodified, plenty of people try to leverage it in the service of their own agenda, trying to position themselves as gatekeepers to genuine experiences, to Real Devotion(TM).
There’s a reason I teach and share information the way I do: I want to empower people with the confidence that helps them have the devotional experiences they are entitled to by virtue of having a spiritual reality. That is, because people have a natural, inherent, and real spiritual reality, they are entitled to devotional experiences if they want them.
So many of us – myself included! – lack the confidence to seek these experiences on their own terms because we worry about one sort of insufficiency or another. We don’t know enough, aren’t pure enough, aren’t committed enough, aren’t devoted enough. And none of these things are true. This is the truth that I want to convey to others, not because I’m some kind of expert or professional, but because I’m here struggling too. I’m haunted by my own feelings of insufficiency, and I often feel paralyzed because of them. I know how hard it is to simply show up at the altar with all my imperfections and hope to have a moment of communion with a reality that feels entirely perfect. That moment doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it’s just me sitting in the heap of doubt, sadness, and failure that I carry around with me and saying, “here I am. This is who You’ve chosen to share love with.”
I get it. I know how much this sucks. I don’t want others to get stymied in their relationships and in their practices the way that I so often do, so I aim to help people trust themselves in devotional matters. It’s possible to learn from ourselves; it’s possible – necessary, even – to become an expert regarding our own devotional life. Even though we’re continually learning and seeking refinement of our knowledge, we can gain confidence enough to trust ourselves first and best of all.
I’ve been hard at work preparing an online version of my Beginning Devotional Practice conference session. Although this is based on the same material presented at PantheaCon and other venues, an online lecture is naturally a very different experience than an in-person class. I love giving classes and sharing information in person, so this is admittedly a stretch of my comfort zone. I hope it’ll be a helpful source of information and something that people will enjoy listening to. Follow this link for a free sample of the audio portion. (Patreon supporters get a larger sample!)
I’m expecting to release the finished project around the middle of February, during PantheaCon. I hope you enjoy the sample and are looking forward to the full release next month.
This month’s virtual temple video is live!
I’ve been sticking with these although you wouldn’t know it from my channel. I’ve had a hard time keeping many videos up, which I think has something to do with the music I’ve been using (some Creative Commons tracks, with attribution). For now I’ve gone back to silent videos and I’ll get busy recording some appropriate music (or just use the old drum and bells tracks I used to use).
I’m considering halting monthly releases of these temple videos in April of next year. I feel like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do so aside from the lovely experience of putting them together I don’t have a major reason to continue. I won’t stop making virtual temple videos; I’d like to still do special releases as the occasions arise. Still, stopping these videos seems sad. Loki needs celebrating.
Some years ago I got mildly involved with a local group of religious people whose devotional priorities were similar to mine. Despite not being a member of their tradition and not even a member of their primary cultural background, I’ve been made welcome and taught a great deal. Because their path is not mine I gave myself a list of reasons why I was participating in what they had to offer. See, rightly or wrongly I figured that if I could clarify why I was there I’d avoid any muddled categories on my part. This is perhaps an entirely sound approach to knowledge gathering and participatory research (I certainly recommend goal-clarification to people feeling befuddled by their practice) but the problem with goal-setting, even casually, is that eventually you expect to arrive. You start thinking of yourself in relation to this goal – how close are you to it? how far away? what still needs to be done in order to reach that goal? etc. Furthermore, you expect to eventually reach goals but what comes next?
I’ve tripped myself up plenty of times with these built-in assumptions regarding goals. I don’t want to be just hanging out wasting the time of the people who’ve opened their community to me but neither do I want to get too involved; I have my own set of priorities that are rather separate from what this community offers and that’s my own business. I like to keep various avenues of engagement separate because – well, because it just seems more courteous. And perhaps for a while that was an entirely fine thing to do. (For the sake of courtesy, it’s still a fine thing to do.)
Every so often I come back to wondering what I’m doing hanging out with this community; although we share some spiritual heritage not so very far back, they are not exactly my people – or at least, they are not the Perfect For Me brand of spiritual community that I imagine in my head. I reiterate my goals of service and education, then go on. But again, with goals you expect to gain something and when nothing is gained, you feel discontented.
Like I’ve talked about before, the past couple years have been largely about me facing just how much anxiety I live with every single day. Anxiety, I’ve found, is closely tied to goal making and achieving. I fear things working out poorly; I hope for things to work out well; I fear that nothing will ever work out and I find plenty of evidence to support my fears. At the same time, I selectively ignore all the evidence that points to things being OK, if fundamentally imperfect. I fear all kinds of things that I have already successfully navigated – and could do again if I had to. Although I can reason through some degree of anxiety now, it still distorts my day to day. I am haunted by unresolved expectations – by goals that I mistakenly set.
If all this had to do with, say, the business of moving up on the career ladder or of achieving a cleaner house then yes, tracking progress towards a goal would be entirely reasonable. But because I’m dealing with matters of devotion, goal setting becomes a really unreasonable approach. In the Narada Bhakti Sutras we’re told outright that means are the goal – that doing devotion *is* devotion. Since in polytheism we don’t typically have really clear devotional objectives, I find that Narada’s assessment fits us as well. Our devotional practice exists in the doing; we can do our practice more frequently, with greater intensity, with greater clarity of heart, with greater personal insight, etc. but it’s all still doing devotion. There is no goal past the doing, in other words.
However useful having specific goals might have been at one point with regards to sharing space with this particular community, I fear they’re simply muddying the water at this point. I know what I want – devotion – and I know what I have – also devotion. The avenues which I engage to experience the facts of divine relationship are rather unimportant; I could choose any number of practices from any number of traditions. What’s more important is recognizing that I’m not getting closer to any abstract devotional goal – because there isn’t any, not exactly. I might fail to observe all the practices I’ve set myself to. I might fail to bring myself in full honesty to my practice on any given day. However, observing all practices and being fully honest are not automatically “succeeding at devotion”; they are endeavors that support the fact of devotional life, but they are can’t be mistaken for the entirety of devotional life. Devotion doesn’t go away simply because one fails to act or because one arrives with less than perfected honesty to the practice. (If it did, none of us would experience devotion at all and clearly we do.)
I realize this might all sound pretty opaque. I’m not sure I entirely understand these things myself. I think my basic point is that devotional experience, devotional life, the devotional fact that is being in sacred relationship, is not a goals-based endeavor. It is simply a fact, a lens through which life is experienced, a perspective, a way of relating to Things As They Are. We might adjust our interior experience of Things As They Are in such a way that clarity is allowed or obscured, but even without any personal clarity or insight we might still exist within the devotional fact. That’s all there is to it.
(ETA: None of this is to say that the “doing” of devotion – through whatever means one chooses to express the devotional fact – is unimportant. Choosing a method of expression and then following through on that choice is incredibly important and certainly forms the essential part of many people’s devotional lives. However, the doing shouldn’t be mistaken for the fact being expressed through the activities in the first place. Anyone can simply light a candle or recite a prayer – these actions only become meaningful when a person exists within a context of relationship (or desires to be, which is still a relationship, too). Without the sentiment or trust in the fact that one exists within relationship, then action is empty and lacks even the potential to be filled with the devotional fact. I admittedly hate to say that it all comes down to how you feel, but it kinda does. Of course, the fact of relationship is communal and the other party(s) may have their own idea of how devotional life should be expressed.)
As I’ve talked about before, some 20 months ago I ran into some real problems in my spiritual life. Nothing seemed to work like it used to, none of the processes I’d depended on gave me any support. The momentum I’d built up saw me through for a while, then stopped. I’ve felt magically and spiritually cold for a long time and felt like I’ve lacked even the potential for action.
To be sure, no small degree of circumstantial stress was behind this. In fact, as the mental real estate given over to my practice cleared as my practice dwindled, I got to acknowledge just how much interior stress and anxiety I was actually living with. This period hasn’t been a problem that needed solving (although I’ve frequently regarded it as such); I’ve been looking for the wisdom within it. I’ve been trying to see what went wrong, trying to discern what interior processes led me here. In my head I’ve referred to this state as “the anxiety layer” of self. I’m seeing just how profoundly anxiety and worry really impact me; I’m trying to learn how these sensations shape my perception of the world and my reaction to it.
Perhaps some small progress is being made as a result of this work. Some recent minor upheavals caused less distress, for less time than they might have otherwise. Some small degree of confidence has been gained – after all, I’ve already seen that I haven’t fallen to pieces coming through what I already have, therefore I’m unlikely to crumble in the face of new challenges.
This, my Buddhist books assure me, is the true meaning of faith. Faith is properly a form of confidence, a mental resting in Things As They Are. Stripping away the half-facts of an admittedly flawed practice (all our practices have shortcomings and room to grow) made me face the reality of my own state of being. Like other stages of growth in the past, I’ve had to learn about myself most of all, and learn about myself in absence of the features I might use to distract myself with.
This is a very slow process. It’s a very tedious one and I feel myself treading the same territory over and over again. I remind myself frequently that patience is required and that this is the work of a lifetime, not of a few months. I have to trust that I am not as broken as I feel, that I’m not as impotent as I feel, that I’m not as fractured as I feel. I have to trust that a more honest practice will result from this deepening introspection and that I will be more capable of existing within the fact of relationship because of coming to terms with myself.
While I’m waiting around to learn more about myself, I’d love to give you a reading. If you’re looking for divination services, I’ve got them. I’ve read professionally for 18 years and currently offer intuitive tarot and oracle card readings online. My current rates are $40/reading; you receive a detailed report including photos of your card spread.