Goals and the illusion of progress

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.)


Reflecting on progress

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.

Walking the Heartroad ebook now availble

It’s certainly taken me long enough.

Walking the Heartroad is now available through my Etsy store as a pdf ebook; listings for the paperback version will be along soon.


heartroad-cover-front previewThis little book is very nearly 10 years old – it’s hard to believe. The conversation around devotional practice, spirit work, and related topics was very, very different back at the time I was writing in 2007, so very different that I’m more aware than ever of the book’s shortcomings. Nonetheless, it represents an enormous personal accomplishment and continues to serve as a reminder that I still have a very long way to go.

Thanks for your support.

Shrine boxes in the shop

I’ve added another four shrine boxes to the shop. These are compact, lightweight boxes that I’ve carefully painted to make them small niches or little sacred spaces that can be used right away. In a way, these came from my work with the Virtual Temple Project and sacred space-building more generally. Although they might look simple, I feel they embody some of my personal work that I find hard to put into words.

IMG_3726I’ve made these in a range of sizes to suit different pieces of statuary and other sacred items. I’ve been using them on my personal ancestral spaces and other altars.

IMG_3734The medium ones (like the one pictured here with the skull) measure just under 5″ (inside measurement). Each box is painted by hand and finished with a light coat of varnish; because they’re ultimately made with flammable materials, I suggest candles be burned a reasonable distance away from the boxes – clearly the candle here is just for show!

IMG_3749This red and white shrine box has a ribbon hanger on the back so it can be carefully hung from a wall or other vertical surface. You could keep a couple lightweight items in it.

IMG_3744Click on any of the pictures to be taken to the Etsy listing. I’ll be adding another two larger shrine boxes pretty soon (I’ll let you know here once I do). I’ve got several more in the works and I’m hopeful they’ll be done in another week or so.

Wraps and what I’ve been up to

You’ve probably noticed I haven’t done a lot of general blogging. Truthfully I don’t know what to write. Sometimes I sort of have an idea for an entry I’ll think about it and end up rejecting it. Some ideas do eventually make it into blog form, but that’s actually fairly rare compared to the number of ideas that are rejected.

I submitted presentation ideas for PantheaCon 2018; I won’t know for a while yet if I’ve been accepted but I’ll certainly keep you updated. I’ve also been invited to present at SpiritCon, a new local pagan spirituality convention taking place at the end of February 2018. I’m looking forward to participating in this event and I hope that it will be successful. Their Kickstarter has a long way to go; if you would like to see a pagan convention in the Salt Lake City area (with programming for families!) consider supporting it and sharing the link.

In anticipation of vending at SpiritCon, I’ve been working on some new wraps and other things.


These are made with interlock fabric, so they’re soft and easy to wear and care for. They’re freesize (each listing mentions the back width measurement) and made with the intention of gender inclusivity even though they’re modeled by only one of my mannequins. Speaking of conventions, I’ve made these for some people who want an easy layering option when at events; sometimes rooms are too cold but not so cold that a jacket is required – you know the struggle. Something like this is a great solution that also looks nice.

I’ve had the idea to make ritual clothing for quite a while; in addition to making all of my own I’ve also done some sacred sewing for clients and friends. I need to find/make the time to get deeper into these ideas (but first I suppose I should finish existing projects, sigh). I’ll share pictures of anything that gets made.

So that’s what I’ve been up to.

New items in the shop – wraps and shrine boxes

If you haven’t checked out my Etsy shop Coffee At Midnight lately, this is a good time to do so. I’ve been busy adding a few new items, including freesize wraps that would make great ritual garb. (Click the image to be taken directly to the listing.)


Each wrap has a range of widths and lengths; the design is very versatile so I can make wraps in any size. I’m happy to discuss custom orders! Messaging me through Etsy is the best way to begin this process.



The wraps are easy to wear and easy to care for; they can be gently machine washed and dried flat.

smallshrineboxAlso new in the shop are these darling shrine boxes. These can be used to house sacred items and to enhance their appearance during display. The boxes are hand painted and embellished by myself; they’re made from lightweight material so they are easy to store and move.


Shrine boxes come in three different sizes. There are currently four shrine box listing; more will be added soon.

There’s also lots of activity happening over my Patreon account. This is where new divination videos are shared first along with previews of work in progress, photos of forthcoming artwork, and other great stuff.