Like I said, there were several things I didn’t get the chance to say or to get into very deeply during my PantheaCon session. This is one of them and this deserves its own space.
Contentment with one’s spiritual life and fulfilling satisfaction with religious experiences is a surprisingly elusive subject. Within paganism, when one is dissatisfied, one is entirely free (and may even be encouraged) to go and try out other forms of engagement. Without putting too fine a point on it, I think we rather feel that spiritual fulfillment is a human birthright; if this is a form of fulfillment that an individual desires, then that individual should be entirely empowered to go and achieve it. When that fulfillment is elusive it is time to try another form of achievement.
Because this broader paradigm places virtually the entire weight of spiritual fulfillment under the category of “things people can achieve on their own if they’re just left to their own devices to take care of” the idea that a person within this paradigm might experience dissatisfaction in their spiritual life and be unable to solve that problem is not one we frequently encounter. When it does come up, the advice usually runs along the line of helping the person feel empowered to take charge of what they want out of religious engagement.
People of more or less polytheist leanings tend to have a slightly more nuanced grasp of this problem. After all, no aspect of polytheist religious engagement is absent of the knowledge that this engagement involves some degree of input from personalities-not-ourselves – be they ancestors, land spirits, deities, guardians, and so forth (I call them collectively Powers for simplicity’s sake). Therefore, religious dissatisfaction within this paradigm may be in some way related to how the Powers fit into our engagement.
In terms of a polytheist devotional practice, such a thing might play out in feelings of dissatisfaction and feeling like one’s engagement is not enough because the desired satisfaction remains elusive. Because a polytheist devotional practice includes the Powers’ input into the engagement, dis/satisfaction with the engagement will also include some degree of dis/satisfaction related directly to the Powers.
Simply put, if a person thinks they’re supposed to be getting something very particular as a result of devotional engagement and that thing doesn’t occur, they will naturally wonder if they are doing something wrong in relation to the Powers. This leads very quickly to “I don’t have enough” syndrome.
“If I just did something different-”
“If I just had that expensive tool-”
“If I just read more books-”
“If I was just prettier-”
“If I was just more skilled-”
“If I just had a more dedicated practice-”
“If I just tried harder-”
“If I was just like this other person-”
“If I just had better skills-”
“If I was a better devotee-”
“If I was just better-”
“- I would be closer to Them.”
These thoughts are not just toxic. They are poison. They are corrosive. They will destroy your internal spiritual landscape until all that’s left is anger, jealousy, resentment, and self-pity. When this occurs our sacred beloveds are nowhere to be found; there is no room for Them anymore.
This particular variety of jealous, resentful anger has the potential to absolutely destroy you. It nearly did me. I still struggle with feelings of “enough”, with spiritual satiation, with accepting that I have divine relationships that are full and perfect and entirely complete. Some of us so strongly desire these Powers that we make any promise, do any ritual, compromise any shred of good sense just to get closer to Them.
I want to tell you that that’s not the way it works. You might think you’re getting closer to Them just because you have an impressive list of completed rituals and some impressive promises that you’ve inched just a little closer to Their shining proximity. It might seem entirely logical to change yourself to more closely resemble someone that you imagine sits near the Powers (whether this person is real or imaginary) so that you too could have a swallow more of that sweetness. But before long you’ve simply wasted a lot of time and gotten yourself tangled up in a lot obligations and lost yourself in the midst of transforming into some person you imagine would be better at this whole loving the gods thing – and nothing at all has changed. They are still as elusive and hard to grasp as ever.
You’re not any closer because you’ve failed to make sufficient effort. You’re not any closer because you actually aren’t that far away – you just think you are.
See, you’re actually perfect.
Everything about you and your relationships with the Powers is full and complete and perfect.
Nothing can change that perfection and it’s certainly impossible to make better; after all, it *is* perfect. Seeing it as anything else is to invite a tragic level of irreconcilable dissatisfaction – irreconcilable because if you look at any mystic or devotional poetry, you’ll see that the longing never ends. It never ends.
Our choice is to suffer as a result of seeing the contours of our sacred relationships as lacking some quality or to discover the absolute perfection that we are already part of.
Your relationship is perfect. Your relationships are perfect. This is their fullest expression and you already have it.
Get better at being in this relationship not because you want to fix it somehow; it’s not broken. No, you strive to improve it through improving your ability to savor it. You orient your mind to it and rest in its full perfection. The challenge is becoming calm enough to notice that it has been perfect all along.
(Some of us, sadly, are thoroughly cursed with desire that we will find no satiation in life. Perfection does not satisfy, but of course neither do our efforts cause anything to change in any meaningful way. Imagine trying to resolve this fundamental rejection of Things As They Are. Because I am who I am, I’ve looked for a third choice: I’ve settled for striving for contentment, not fulfillment, and I try very hard not to let this desire for something I can never have override my good sense – except that I have let it, multiple times even. It only ever ends in the very worst kind of tears.)