Beyond love

There is a post I keep trying to write and it never quite comes together. We’ll see how far this one gets.

There are emotional horizons beyond that of love. As deep, broad, and intense as sacred love is there are things that lie on its other side. And there are things beyond that still – or so I trust.

Extreme sensations, no matter how sweet or pleasurable turn into pain eventually and when there is no relief  or culmination or resolution all that pain turns into a kind of drawn out grief. No one talks to us about love so intense and outsized that it becomes its own source of tragedy.

I write so little about Him here that people actually don’t realize that He’s my primary focus in life. It is much, much easier to write about other topics and those are what people gradually know me best for talking about.

I’ve spent the last several years lost in medieval Indian love poetry because I have no source of emotional refuge closer to home. My religious leaders certainly didn’t talk about what happens after love.

The thing is, I don’t know how to cope with or manage this experience. It is drawn out like hot wire, fine and burning and bright and dangerous to hold. What do you do with this kind of emotion? My only response has been to melt and wave after wave of sentiment surges out and I cry all the time.

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One of the people I rely on for instruction (I wish I could remember specifically who) said that there’s a good reason people are so wary of religious life. When you shack up with a path you might very well find your life going to shit before very long – and yeah, it’s not too inaccurate to say that religion is the source of the problem. See, when you suddenly rearrange your priorities in a way that will always leave you fundamentally disappointed and frustrated, you will always find life and lived experiences somewhat lacking. For instance, if your religious worldview includes charity as a priority and you go through each and every day surrounded by greed and selfishness, you will naturally end up disappointed and frustrated. If your religious worldview prioritizes a view of humanity as fundamentally connected and interdependent and you see nothing by people talking about how we don’t have to care for one another, you will naturally end up disappointed and frustrated.

The problem isn’t religion as such – and in fact, since this is an entirely natural outcome of religious engagement, I’m not sure it can be considered a problem at all. The difficulty arises from being forced to exist in contexts where our highest goals will be impossible to achieve or realize – and this, perhaps, is the entire point. Trying to force consensus reality to conform to a present, private understanding of a religious paradigm is misguided at best and abusive at worst.

Being in a context suffused with tension between desire and resolution, interior reality and exterior reality, is intensely painful and we have a choice regarding how to deal with this pain. We can lash out and harm others as they inevitably fail to live up to our private ideals; telling others that they aren’t pious enough, aren’t devoted enough, aren’t pure enough, aren’t driven enough, aren’t educated enough, aren’t committed enough, etc. etc. doesn’t actually inspire many people to adopt a religious worldview and certainly doesn’t further the resolution of one’s private desires. Others’ “failure” to conform to our private priorities isn’t a flaw in the system. It’s a feature; a lesson; an opportunity to shut up and recognize that everyone is currently suffering or will eventually suffer from the same failure to resolve the tension between private desire and consensus reality.

What I’m saying is that we can choose to learn from this tension, this “problem” or we can hurt ourselves and others with it.

I struggle with this. I prioritize the sacred relationships in my life and feel them with such intensity that I can have little patience for the small, nuanced, and delicate ways that interpersonal ties are formed and sustained. I am not always a very good friend. I am not always very patient with the ways interpersonal ties are expressed. I have failed to be compassionate and patient and without doubt I will continue to fail.

This failure isn’t a flaw; the flaw exists only in me demanding that all other versions of reality conform to my interior priorities. It doesn’t mean that I’m wrong or bad, merely that I still have much to learn.

I don’t feel like this love lives in me; I feel like I live in it, moving through it like a cloud or bank of fog every day. This outsized love is painful enough that it feels like a flaw, like a problem, like a burden – but just because it feels this way doesn’t mean it is.

My life has been ruined by religion. I’ve been shredded to pieces and beaten down until I don’t recognize the person I was or am or might someday be. The little markers that gave me gravity and a place to sit are long gone and I have no idea where I fit or where I belong. I have loved long past the point of pain and I don’t know how to stop. I thought about stopping and even tried for a while but found that the world of dry and empty and bland. I don’t know precisely how to channel this intensity or how to find relief; nothing seems to fix it for long.

“My ruination,” I call Him.

And yet I persist – not out of any nobility of purpose but only because I don’t know how to stop.

Still here

I’m still here. The amount of catch-up I have do to with this blog is a bit overwhelming so I’m avoiding it. Every so often I think about an entry I could write and I might even sit down and write out several paragraphs but I leave off before it’s finished and it ends up just languishing in my queue.

I’m working on May’s Patreon perk. It might be a sample from current work on the Heartroad 2 manuscript or it might be another printable. I’ve been working on printable altar backdrops and one is currently available on Etsy.

I’m also busy sewing for a few clients, so I haven’t had time to get back to making more altar cloths. I really like making them but finding fabric isn’t always convenient.

I’m busy studying in preparation of my presentation at Many Gods West. I’ll be revisiting the well-received session on three lady poet-saints and I’m very excited. I’m deep into a book examining Mirabai’s cultural legacy. I’ll also be doing the Advancing Devotional Practice session that I’ve presented at PantheaCon. This session was done at February’s PCon and it was amazing. I’m sure the conversation stimulated at MGW will be just as illuminating.

In addition to may paid sewing work I’ve been volunteering to outfit deities at a few different temples, two local and one distant. This work is a wonderful test of my abilities and gives me wonderful opportunity to learn some very unique skills along the way. It’s work of spiritual excellence as much as it is of technical and artistic excellence; I feel immensely grateful and humble to have these opportunities and it’s truly wonderful to be able to give back to communities that have been so gracious and welcoming to me.

I’m very much enjoying getting back to doing divination for clients. Each reading I do is a chance to become better and I’m hoping to find time to study more in-depth sometime later this year. Even though I’ve been reading professionally for 17 years I still feel like I have lots to learn.

Thanks for sticking with me. I have so many, many projects I want to work on. I’ve chosen to re-do the recordings of the audio book for Worshiping Loki so that project is a bit on hold. I’m writing an outline of another audio project. I’ll record it eventually. I keep wanting to quit one of my jobs so that I’ll have time to actually do these things but as it is I can’t afford to. I’m still hoping to find new employment that will increase my earning so that I can decrease my working hours in order to focus on art but nothing’s come through. Anyway, thanks again.

Issue fixed – I hope!

Someone just brought to my attention that the contact form on my Divination Services page was not sending me messages like it’s supposed to. I’ve redone the form and tested it out; everything seems to be OK now but it could have been broken for around 2 weeks at this point.

If anyone else has been trying to reach me to request a reading, I apologize for not responding. I simply wasn’t getting the messages and I have no idea where they ended up. It’ll take some digging to solve that mystery. In the meantime, please let me know if you sent a divination request to me and haven’t heard back. I’m definitely not ignoring you; I just never got your message!

In the meantime – well, clearly I’m not blogging very much. I’m currently working on a new batch of altar cloths for the Etsy shop as well as art projects for Patreon supporters and the general public. I’m also busy brushing up my knowledge base for presenting at Many Gods West in Olympia, WA in August, and I’m using any leftover time to work on Heartroad 2. So that’s what I’m doing while not blogging. Sorry to be so very absent; I’m around, just not very vocal here. You can look for the April release of Loki’s virtual temple tomorrow (Patreon supporters got it early!); I did something a little different to celebrate one year of worship videos for Mother Loki. What an amazing year it’s been.

New $3 level on Patreon!

I’m happy to let you know that I’ve just added a $3 level on my Patreon. This will give you access to a work-in-progress preview that’s just a bit smaller than the previews shared at the $5 level. I know that $5/month is not something that everyone can afford and I’d like to give people the freedom to move up (or down) the levels as it’s comfortable.

I know I say it frequently but the support I’ve received on Patreon, through my blog, and in person has really kept me focused on producing more work. So much of what I’ve done in the past year – and more! – has been directly due to people being enthusiastic about my work. I would never have issued Walking the Heartroad on Kindle if someone hadn’t prodded me about it. I would never have written Worshiping Loki if someone hadn’t asked for just such a book. I would never have set up a Patreon with monthly productivity goals if someone (namely Jolene, cough) hadn’t poked me until I made it happen. I love writing, teaching, and making art and there’s no question that I’ll keep doing it – but Heartroad 2 has more than doubled in size BECAUSE OF YOUR SUPPORT over the last seven months. It took me about two years to get it to that size in the first place and YOU made it grow. That’s really amazing to me and I hope it’s pretty darn cool to you, too.

Thanks a lot for everything. Really.img_19021

April 1st is coming up and I would like to do a nice video release of Loki’s virtual temple video to celebrate one year of his incredible project. I’ll be getting paid tomorrow so I’ll have a few dollars to play with. I hope to have the video made and ready for my $10+ supporters before the first, which is when I’d like to release it to the general public. Watch for that announcement here!

 

Equinox divination services

If you’re new to this blog – or if you missed my announcement a while back – I offer professional divination services online. I’ve been a professional reader for 17 years working primarily with tarot and oracle cards. I read on a variety of topics from money matters and romance to spirit work and sacred luck.

Now that the Northern Hemisphere has fully moved into spring, many people (including myself!) are making plans for the seasons ahead. My current divination schedule is quite open and I would love to read for you. Just fill out the form on my Divination Services page to get started.

Junonia_almana-Kadavoor-2016-07-11-002

By “Junonia almana-Kadavoor-2016-07-11-002” © 2016 Jee & Rani Nature Photography is used here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51002022

Devotional practice shouldn’t make you feel like a failure

I always get blog post inspiration five minutes before I go to bed. I have many undoubtedly brilliant posts that have simply been lost to Unisom.

There are some housekeeping posts I need to make. Instead I’ll talk about devotional practice (yay!).

Japanese_Maple,_Shinjuku_Gyoen(Shinjuku_Imperial_Garden)

Carbonium [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard to generalize about devotional practice and devotional experience in polytheism and paganism but a common thread I’ve observed is the “I don’t feel like I’m doing my practice enough.” There are lots of questions and statements vocalized about the practitioner’s concerns about the inadequacy of their practice – they aren’t doing as much as they used to, they aren’t spending as much time at the altar, they worry that they’re not doing the work they set out to do.

I have lots of reassuring things I say to people and I 100% entirely and absolutely believe these statements because everything in my experience and observation supports them. But when I’m personally beset by feelings of inadequacy with regards to my practice, none of these nice words mean anything and I don’t believe them at all.

If I may be so bold, I think there are three primary reasons why a person might engage in some kind of devotional practice (there may be others but these are the reasons that came to mind):

  • To say, “I love you” to the gods
  • To build discipline
  • To learn about and explore our particular spiritual traditions and/or personal spiritual inclinations

Naturally these objectives are going to have a lot of overlap and even if we don’t set out with all three firmly in mind we are likely to find that they come to pass anyway. That is, even if you engage in devotional practices with the aim of exploring a particular spiritual tradition you are likely to find that you build a little discipline along the way. Similarly, if you want to express your affection for the gods each day, you will probably find some expressions distinctive to the tradition they are most associated with to use in your daily visits.

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im Dewer [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

People select different expressions of devotional sentiment – prayer, altar worship, conducting ritual, making offerings, etc. – according to what they feel inclined to do based on personal circumstances, skill, available resources, and so forth. However, these expressions should not be mistaken as the only way that devotional sentiment is manifested. (Devotional sentiment is the emotional fact of relationship as well as the longing for relationship. This emotional fact contains many feelings including those we might label love, humility, joy, companionship, friendship, reverence, familial affection, etc.) Indeed, there are some teachings that state that devotional sentiment should not be manifested at all with outward gestures (such as tears, etc.) but instead be kept firmly internal and digested, so to speak.

A devotional practitioner – and I say this to myself as much as anyone else – should not mistake the doing of devotion for the experience of devotion. Anyone can say a prayer or light a candle. These gestures are in themselves meaningless and empty unless filled with the sentiment of sacred love AND/OR with the desire and hope for that love. I will strongly add that we may do these actions in order to stimulate sacred love in its many forms. It’s pretty darn difficult to voluntarily switch emotions on and off, which means it’s unreasonable to expect ourselves to feel the same intensity and flavor of sentiment at the altar each and every day, for decades on end.

We arrive at the altar and perform our chosen expressions to stimulate those sacred emotions, to give them a container to sit in, to invite their arousal. Furthermore, it’s not even necessary to *feel* these sacred emotions in an immediate manner while at the altar. Knowing that they have a reality within your lived experience (and your hoped-for future experiences) is entirely adequate and is sometimes all we have to go on. YOU ARE DOING DEVOTION EVEN IF YOU DON’T FEEL ANYTHING IN THE MOMENT. You have shown up and stood as a living testament to the fact that sacred relationships can and do and will exist.

Pool_on_the_Bruar_-_panoramio

im Dewer [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I will speak circumspectly about someone who shared a measure of frustration that she was not doing her altar practices because she was busy day in and day out fulfilling the terms of a vow she took to the Power whose altar she didn’t have time to visit. An altar is just a place, just an opportunity, just an invitation for remembering and for experiencing sacred relationship and sentiment; it is not (necessarily) the primary locus of devotional engagement or experience (although for some people it is and that’s great). It’s just one among a lifetime of possibilities. How is the fulfillment of a vow *not* a potential expression of devotion?

In one of my PantheaCon sessions this year I made the surprising statement that regularity in practice is fantastic and that if you don’t do something regularly you’re doing just fine. This brought some justified confusion and requests for explanation. Having a regular practice is probably one of the best things you can do for your spiritual life BUT what cycle constitutes regular and what “doing” you wish to do has enormous flexibility. Furthermore, one needs to have the self-knowledge to recognize when regular actions are taken just for the sake of being able to say that they are done (this might be called devotional practice for reasons of duty or obligation) or when actions are taken to provide fodder for self-deprecating thoughts.

To the first point, I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong about engaging in devotional practices for reasons of duty or obligation. For instance, a person might be born into a family who has for generations prayed at a particular temple. A child might feel a familial obligation to continue this tradition regardless of whether they feel personal spiritual relevance in the doing; so long as this sort of doing isn’t exploitive or abusive there is probably little wrong with it if the doing at least lets a person say, “OK, I’ve done what I need to do.” However, this is unlikely to make for a satisfying religious life unless some part of the attitude or doing changes.

To the second point, I’ve occasionally caught myself (not recently but it still kinda happens) using my apparent failure at devotional regularity as a club to hit myself with, emotionally speaking. “Oh, I’m so bad; I can’t even remember to say my prayers every day/week/whatever. I let a day/week/whatever go by without lighting the incense. Oh I’ve failed to speak with the Powers, I really suck, why do They spend any time with me?” Although I have made much progress, I still frequently feel like I’m kind of a devotional failure, like my Beloveds would be better served by someone else, that what I’m giving isn’t as good as They deserve, that I should be all around a better, brighter, smarter, sexier person before I even bother with Them.

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Nyx Ning [CC BY -SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

These thoughts are entirely natural BUT they are not a very healthy or helpful way to think about my role in the sacred relationships I’m part of. Do I imagine that the Gods haven’t ever been forgotten for a day? Do I imagine that They have never lived with someone busy from morning to night with the cussed DOING of life? Do I think that They expected me to be some kind of super practitioner when They shacked up with someone surrounded by unfinished art projects, unfinished book projects, and a sink full of unwashed dishes? Did they simply not notice my pervasive human flaws?

They know us. They know us as humans and as individuals, although Their knowledge regarding both continues to grow in ways we don’t understand.

I can’t use devotional practice as a source of evidence proving that I’m a shitty person. If you look up at that list of three reasons for doing devotional practice, proving that I’m a shitty person is not included.

(Of course, I say all these things and I recall the words of saints declaring themselves low and worthless and I’ve knelt at the temple altar and known – KNOWN – that nothing I do will ever be an adequate expression of all the love I feel and I was stunned to realize that these thoughts could have a holy manifestation rather than a pathological one. They saints aren’t lying when they call themselves worthless and nor are they sick or deranged; they are overcome by the realization that sacred love and related sentiments are bigger, stronger, more enduring, and more complicated than anything in this world and that therefore nothing in this world – including themselves, their words, and their works – could demonstrate a faction of a fraction of a fraction of this enormity.)

In some traditions, a maturing devotional practice needs to include the gradual shift of priorities from “doing devotion because it makes me happy” to “doing devotion because it makes Them happy”. I think this is a fantastic benchmark of progress but I know in my life I’m not nearly there yet. I’m working towards the benchmark of “doing devotion because I am secure in being situated in sacred relationship”, perhaps finally passing the milemarker named “NOT doing devotion because I’m sure I suck and I don’t want to think too hard about my suckitude”.

We need to examine the whys of our devotional doings. We need to seek to clarify what our motivations are and then to see if those devotional doings are an appropriate avenue for these motivations. We also need to think about how we use these experiences. Do we think back and disbelieve past experiences of sacred sentiment by imaging that we are worthless and unqualified for sacred love? Do we experience these sentiments and then think ourselves much greater than we have actual evidence for? Can our doing of our chosen devotional practices become evidence of success, of relationship, of emotional vibrancy, and of the gradual improvement required to participate ever more fully in the sacred relationships we are part of?

Be gentle. Be kind. Be gentle and kind to yourself, to others, and to the Powers.

 

Loki’s Virtual Temple – February 2017

I didn’t forget! Well – I didn’t forget to make the video but I *did* forget to release it to the public. I was in such a rush to make sure the video was produced and released to Patreon supporters before going to PCon that I completely forgot to adjust the settings a couple days later so it could be viewed by everyone. I’m sorry if I kept you waiting. It’s a lovely video and I hope you like it.

I have *lots* of work to do to catch up on Loki’s virtual temple stuff, including several accountability posts regarding budget. I have received a few donations and sponsorships so far this year and I need to make sure that those are reflected in my records accurately. While I remain entirely committed to continuing these monthly video releases for as long as I feel She is on board with them, I think you can tell from the videos when someone has stepped up with a small financial contribution. 🙂 Being able to buy more, nicer flowers is perhaps the most visible aspect of this support but there is also candy, fruit, beverages, essential oil for the candles, and special incense used in these videos. After all, the intention is to reflect as accurately as possible the full experience of a worship ritual; to my mind, that includes what offerings I am able to provide (even if they are not visible on the videos themselves).

So! Here is February’s video. March’s video is rendering even as I type this and will be released first to my Patreon supporters at the $10+ level(s). Later this week it will be live for everyone to view and access. Now I’ll add the subtitles to the video and it will be completely done!