Archive for October, 2016

Layers and Labels

Years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to study archaeology. Just for a couple of years, at ‘A’ Level, when a teacher volunteered to go off-timetable for the few who were interested. It was fascinating.

We learned about the layers of history that are visible as you dig downwards through the earth. From the concrete of the crust beneath our feet, through to the soil… but so much more besides. The strata of the ground we walk upon holds as much history as the rings within a tree, each gently layering one atop the other to finally reach the current time. What we see and take for granted – unless, perhaps, it is breached by excavation or earthquake.

Did you know that skin has a similar layering system? Despite archaeology being ‘an ology’ and so SCIENCE!!! (ahem), I know little about such things (so apologies to those who do) – but lately I happened upon this:

skin-strata

We carry this around with us constantly, and all unaware – again, perhaps until something goes wrong and we are forced to notice as these partitions are breached. People would often ask about my dermal piercing; you can see from the image above why it didn’t hurt, as the dermal layer and nerves are separate. Admittedly by mere fractions of millimetres, but even so. The mysteries of the human body in action.

I’m reminded of this recently as I’ve been progressing on my healing journey. Talking therapy has thrown up various thoughts and ideas, with previously very ‘normal’ foundations being rocked as I challenge them, discovering how fragile and sometimes even false they are.

I’m performing archaeology on the strata of my mind, right now. Layers are being peeled back, light is being shone on ideas that seemed as solid as concrete, but are in fact as easily penetrated as the membranes of our skin.

I’ve seen ritual undertaken to explore this idea, usually using external props such as masks that can be peeled away or used to represent different facets of ourselves. I’ve helped others break down the emotional or spiritual walls they’ve unconsciously put up around themselves, initially for survival but then becoming trapped within.

I’ve seen the layers of armour my husband and his battle-brothers strap onto themselves before taking the field at medieval tournaments. We all put on clothes each day to protect and warm ourselves, but also to represent who we are, from hidden undergarments to outer uniforms. But how often do we consider the strata of our minds? The layers that can only be seen when we stop to take notice – what we choose to show to others in terms of personality or persona, compared to the sub-layers of neuroses, fears, desires… all of those mysteries that the psychologists are still exploring.

Part of the realisation of this mental landscape is identifying each section, realizing what it is and why it is there, perhaps with an ‘aha!’ moment of remembering when it was put in place. As with the external masks and protections, internal walls go up in response to abuse, misunderstandings, trauma: scar tissue over the delicate breached skin.

In one sense, I was concerned at the idea of picking at these mental ‘scabs’, but then I saw that the excavation was more like rebreaking a bone to set it properly, or restitching a wound. We throw up our defences without much skill, often reflexively I think, and so it takes gentle care to see what happened and help the healing process.

All of this is done with acknowledgment and intention, and with the help and guidance of one who understands. It has to be, otherwise another false layer is simply being added to cover those wounds. I have various lovely friends who have tattooed their skin around external scars – not to cover and obscure, but to make those tears their own.

This is a process, and as I move forward in life, so it is part of the healing journey that I’ve been on this year. I know I’m not alone, and am so glad that I’m finally at this stage where I can undertake such difficult work.

But in the course of shining a light on old wounds and determining what is ‘real’ and what is ‘false’ – what is truly ‘me’, if you like, what feels like my truth versus implanted protective armour-mechanisms – I’m discovering just how many labels I’ve taken on.

This is something I’ve considered for years, ever since I started exploring my Paganism. Because there’s a label, eh?

As I took on the label ‘Pagan’, then ‘Druid’, then ‘Priest/ess’, so I considered what that meant to me. More and more, I wonder if these truly represent me, or if they’re for the benefit of others – verbal shorthand to give an idea of what it is that I do. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a mixture of both, but what any label means to one person may be completely different to someone else. That old Getafix idea of the white-bearded Druid, for example.

It always frustrates me that people seem to want to define others by those labels. What you should and shouldn’t do, because you are [insert title here]. ‘You can’t do that, you’re a —-‘. This is where the labels start becoming walls, traps, false foundations which identities are then built upon.

‘I have to do this because I’m that’ may be helpful sometimes, but what if it isn’t? I love messing with expectations (not being a white-bearded Druid, for example), but as I’ve said in the past, I also love to hear people’s stories. Nobody is defined by just one or two key words, but by many, many aspects of their personalities. As I get to know them, I see the ones they present to the world – the external strata, if you like – and then perhaps the deeper layers, if I’m permitted so far in.

I’ve often been accused of wearing my heart on my sleeve, but as I undertake my mental archaeology, I realize how much has actually been lost over recent traumatic years. No – not lost, but subsumed. It might have been for my own wellbeing, but what have I actually been showing to people? I’d rather honour those who pay me attention by being the ‘real Me’, not some false front, and I think I have done that – but insofar as I’ve been able. When people have said ‘Oh, you don’t really mean that’ or ‘That’s not you though, is it?’ I’ve been confused, wondering if they know something I don’t. But no – they’re just objecting when I don’t fit into their image of me. That label isn’t enough, so I must be reminded to get back into the box!

I’m looking forward to exploring this more. Of course there’s trepidation, and inevitable pain as layers are stripped back… but also frustration that they had to be put in place at all. But that’s life, isn’t it? The key here is that I’m digging now, learning to my own self be true, to Know Thyself… all of those ancient truisms that are part of life’s journey.

It’s interesting that my dermal piercing recently removed itself after many years, popping free after a little pain and discomfort. Herein lies the parallel, of outer reflecting inner. I can only keep reminding myself that I would rather live truthfully than surrounded by nonsense. If I challenge the labels others place on me, or even simply ask ‘Why?’ then no insult is intended – just curiosity. Because what’s going on in here is a true excavation, but also a positive step in the ongoing battle of my own health.

And as I find myself, I find my smile again. Because that’s something I have always done easily and honestly.

Much love, my friends. Journeying onward.

Advertisements

Comments (1)

Outside

When people ask me what Paganism is, I always start with a baseline. Because (let’s face it) Paganism is hard to define in a soundbite. Any spiritual path is, due to inherent complexities of belief, subjective individual perspectives… stuff most people aren’t really interested in.

Interestingly, I was also asked years ago to help explain Christianity to a lovely couple of Muslim co-workers at a temp job. My friendly manager jumped in, and we ended up using a whiteboard to illustrate. The Muslims then did likewise – and it was both fun and pretty enlightening, as you try to explain something that’s by its nature pretty amorphous.

But anyway. Paganism, I tell people, is seeing the sacred in Nature. Baseline, as best I can determine. Do any Pagans not believe this? I haven’t met them yet, if so. And I’m not sure why they would call themselves Pagans, because this kind of is the foundation of the definition.

Then come the differences. What is ‘sacred’, what is ‘natural’, how do we view this, how do we practise… it’s tricky, but it’s also interesting, to me, because this is where we can explore. Why we do what we do, but also why others do it in their own particular manner. Not saying anyone’s wrong, just poking a bit to challenge and understand.

Lately, I’ve been considering the meanings behind words we use to describe spiritual connection (specifically, how they’re often misused – or is that just the word-meaning evolving? A topic for another day). And I realized how so many of our ‘modern’ ideas are almost binary: right/wrong, us/them,  black/white… Science/Nature.

Not to go into too much detail, as it’s all out there if you want to look it up, but the idea of Science VERSUS Nature seems to have come about during the Industrial Revolution. In order to understand the world better, thinkers, scientists and engineers decided to use a mechanical model. This meant that complex forms could be understood by looking at their component parts, with a view to potentially tinkering with those to help or enhance, to find answers to Why Things Are the way they are.

So came the idea of physical versus meta-physical. What is empirically real – provable by Science – as opposed to what is not.

But the answers failed to be found, as each discovery simply posed more questions. Shades of me and my whiteboard and pen, trying to define a religion within finite space and with a language that didn’t quite help.

And again… I don’t think this is a bad thing. But I can see the frustrations when the ideas of the world don’t fit into neat little boxes. We’re reminded we can’t know everything… but we can still connect with it. We have to, in fact, or we die.

We see the sacred in Nature. And not just see. We use every one of our senses – and more besides. We seek that connection… and when we get a taste/touch/glimpse of it, we realize how indefinable, immense and complex it is.

But that is ok. That’s one of the first steps on this journey.

Here’s a task for you today. Pagan or not, it doesn’t matter – if you’ve got this far, I’ll assume you’re still interested.

Step outside. Take a few minutes. Do it. No excuses. If you absolutely can’t (and I’m speaking to my lovely readers who may not be physically able here, not just those who are confined to office cubicles), then get to an open window. Trust me.

Feel the Outside, with every one of those senses. The air on your face, perhaps rain or breeze. Birds singing, people talking, dogs barking, vehicles, phones, music. The ground beneath your feet.

How does it all feel? Close your eyes if it’s safe to do so, and reach out a little. If folk give you funny looks, don’t panic – you won’t see them.

Now. Notice your thoughts. How’s your brain dealing with all of this? Feeling stupid? Looking at the time, at the commitments you have to get back to, worrying about things to do… just catch that internal monologue in the act. Tell it you’re Outside. Remind it that you’re Pagan. You’re Doing a Thing. Shut up. All of that noise can wait.

Then notice the world again. Go deeper. You’ve put aside the mundane concerns, you’re having a spiritual moment within the everyday. This is your own small ritual. Reach down, reach out… connect.

Because that binary reality isn’t an accurate depiction of life, not really. It’s a way that people chose to help them understand, and that’s fine – as a model.Not the Ultimate Truth.

You touch the natural world while hearing and feeling the human-made – concrete underfoot, tiny computer in your pocket, machined clothes, make-up, processed food.

As you stand outside, your brain may want to go back in. This isn’t right, people will think you’re weird, there’s stuff to be getting on with! Or perhaps… as they look, seeing someone who has simply stopped, pausing to breathe… they might be envious? How many have the courage to ask you what you’re up to? How many more would want to join you? Would they be able to let themselves? Just smile.

The difference between Outside and Inside is a closed portal – a door or a window. You have the power to move through it (doesn’t that sound magical, just by thinking in those terms?). Civilization creeps outside, while the natural world effortlessly sits inside: earth, air, water, fire…

If you are Pagan, seeing the sacred all around, you can step outside to better connect. But you then take that with you as you move forward with your day. As your senses have opened, your awareness has been reminded of what is there all the time, just waiting to be seen, acknowledged, appreciated. It’s all combined, part of life. City or country, wild or tame, sacred or profane… we engage through taking the time to witness it, to be part of it. Any time, any place. We should not be afraid to do this. It’s not about ‘finding time’.

And it’s up to us what we do with that, ultimately. I’ve tried to turn a huge and almost indefinable feeling into words here, to convey my thoughts and understanding. We can let it inspire us, channelling through our own personal creativity in whatever way suits us best – prose, poetry, art, music, computer code, pottery or Lego… we use the technology (as I use this laptop right now) to pin down feelings, just for a moment. There’s that model again, something that allows our human brains to come to terms with cosmic reality.

We can’t see air, but it’s there and we use it. We may not understand electricity, but it we know how to harness it. I’ve always known in my heart that flying in a huge, heavy metal box above the clouds is a very particular form of magic that I’ll never comprehend, but I’ve done it.

And so I know that feeling the particular energy of the night-time is not strange. Joy at a sunrise, the primal pleasure of a fire in my hearth… or the warmth of a nourishing drink in my hands, sharing laughter with friends or witnessing someone else’s tale on screen or page. Our ancestors have done every one of these, using whatever technology they had. We reconnect with the world and we reconnect with our selves, our families, friends, stories… the wild and the tamed, intertwined.

As Pagans, we notice. And we are grateful and glad. Marking Nature as sacred in our lives, as they are lived.

Comments (2)