Posts Tagged depression

Mercury Rising

It’s Monday. I made it.

The last week has been horrendous. Hellacious. A battle on every front, during which I could only seem to stand my ground, moving neither forward nor back. “If I can make it to Monday,” I would tell myself, “Then it’ll be ok.” ‘Make it to Monday’ was my mantra.

I’m sure we’ve all had times like this. Periods of difficulty, where each day seems to last at least a year, with so much thrown at us that we feel like simply giving up in the face of the deluge.

I’m no expert in astrology, but we’ve just come out of a period of Mercury retrograde – a time of pause and reflection. Because basically, if you try to do anything… forget it. It is not happening. Stars or not, this sums up the last few weeks. Mercury, God of travel and communication, was going backwards.

No matter what I did, I was stymied. Talks fell through, emails went unanswered (or receiving vague and unhelpful answers at best) – the world seemed to be moving, but just not the part I was in. Writing didn’t flow, any work was a challenge. So many pieces of technology broke or failed; even my shoes fell apart. Sometimes it felt as if I was bashing my head against a wall. What was I supposed to do with my time?! I do like to keep busy; even when relaxing, I like to be doing something, be is reading, knitting… whatever comes to hand. Even these simple activities couldn’t keep my attention.

And then last weekend, my first ever animal friend, who had been in my life since his ‘rescue’ from a local sanctuary, took himself out of the living room window with a brief final look at me… and vanished. He’s been ill for a while, had Harry the geriatric cat – an inoperable ear condition that meant he was fairly deaf (and so wonky enough that he missed when jumping at objects, which confused him no end), losing his sight, with no teeth and all the signs of senility.

He was scared of the mattress, because of how it felt underfoot – but he snuggled into bed with me when I was alone after my divorce. His loud purr from my lap was such a comfort. We’d play ‘licky/kicky’ games together on the stair (he grabbed and kicked at my fingers, I’d tickle his belly).

But now, it seemed, his time was done.

Lovely folk confirmed to me that ‘this is something cats do’ – they take themselves away to find a quiet place, where they won’t be found. In one sense, that hurts; but in another, I understand.

I found myself nodding. Because over these same past few weeks (months?), I’d been thinking the same. When the darkness seemed inescapable, with no way out… I’d considered taking myself away, for the sake of everyone.

Yes, I know – irrational. Depression does that. Things that would seem manageable, easy to deal with when perspective is ‘normal’ can be almost the end of the world when you’re down in the dark. Getting dressed is a challenge; leaving the house akin to scaling Everest. It may not be ‘all about me’, I may be selfish and inconsiderate… but sometimes there just isn’t anything outside your own head. That’s how it can feel. And it’s so very scary.

Last week, it seemed that knock came after knock. If I could just make it through… I kept telling myself, over and over. It wasn’t all about me. But feeling trapped and alone (even if I wasn’t) made it seem so.

I had to trust that Harry had done what he thought best. I had to trust myself, that I had the strength to survive (and that survival was, in fact, the right decision). This, too, will pass.

Mercury was taking me deep.

Years ago, when I first dipped a toe into Paganism, I sat in my bedroom and meditated, nervously asking for any deity who might like to take me on to make themselves known. I was curious, but had no real idea what I was getting into. But I had made my decision, and asked the question. I’m not sure what I expected, but certainly not who arrived.

A beautiful lady with the head of a cat stepped forward, shining and golden. I was taken on, as a kitten perhaps: a trainee priestess of Bast.

I had no idea what I was doing. But I was so staggered at the force of the experience, I resolved to simply (!) do my best.

Over the years since, my Lady has moved more into the background; a constant presence, but letting me learn what I have to. I’ve come to understand the fluidity of Deity, how personification is a human need, but which those forces which guide us can use to help us see what needs to be seen.

I’ve worked closely with other deities since, from Sekhmet to Hekate, Herne and Loki (not all at once!). I’ve learned. But She has been there, to be glimpsed when least expected. In no way separate from my life, but constant, present, in all Her aspects.

Harry was my friend, companion and guardian – but he was always his own person. I’m now in a house full of canines (all male). Life takes us on strange, winding routes.

I’ve made it to Monday. I’ve been reading the tales of others this morning, online and in print, the curling paths of life. Simple actions have taken on the importance of prayer – I’ve made it (this far).

We ebb and flow. Ourselves and those forces that we connect with – the stars, the gods, those living beings we share space with, larger forces of Nature that we are subject to. We touch and part. We learn and teach, inspire and are inspired.

I think back to the past week. To those shining lights which glowed all the more strongly for the hardness that they broke through. A call from a friend; a simple message. A request, a shared thought, a gift. A story can be the most powerful of connections, a smile the greatest achievement. A memory, held close.

Monday morning. The next week stretches ahead. My body is free from pain; my mind free from darkness. I honour what is past, promising not to forget. And step forward.

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Living Connection

Perhaps it began with that British urge to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’. During the Second World War, I believe – when things were so bad that it was just beyond comprehension. How on earth were we doing these things to each other? How were we supposed to respond? Stiff upper lip. Keep buggering on. It’s almost a joke on the British, that stoicism and determination. A sign of strength.

Then, in the 1990s, I remember the concept of the ‘New Man’ began to creep in. It was now, apparently, allowed for men to cry, to take on ‘un-manly’ jobs – such as housework, or being a stay-at-home father. Post-natal stress was also found to be real.

As the Millennium turned, we suddenly realized what a mess things had become. And in the chaos and confusion, we still didn’t know how to handle things – what we’re doing to each other, and how to deal with the consequences of our own decisions. Buggering on was no longer an option… and statistics began to come out of how many people were on some sort of anti-depressant medication. Or children being treated for ADHD. We tried to deal with it by quantifying it with data, making goals for treatment to show that we’re doing something. Even if it wasn’t necessarily healing.

Lately, it seems that sneering is the next stage – denial, perhaps. Showing emotion is passe now, depression a ‘trend’, a band-wagon to jump on. That awful phrase, ‘just seeking attention’, used to trivialise another person’s pain. Physical ailments such as allergies are acknowledged as real, but then sniffed at by cynical non-sufferers – after all, the coeliac, asthmatic or epileptic is probably just being awkward. There’s a hint that the disabled are viewed in a similar manner (just consider the attitude of ATOS, or even public transport providers). But we can’t talk about that, because it would be Rude. Politeness leads to Political Correctness (not at all the same thing), which leads to disregard. Back to Stiff Upper Lip again – on both sides. ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ has become a buzz-phrase.

None of these responses even gives a nod to investigation or understanding. Nobody really listens to the deeper story.

I’ve always been confused by this. Early in life, it was power-games – one person asserting themselves by abusing or taking advantage of another. Then it was the disregard for what certainly felt like a very real emotion or situation:

“I’m in pain, help me.” “Oh, no you’re not, pull yourself together.”

“I don’t understand.” “Well, you should, you must be stupid.”

I never understood what made one person’s opinion more valid than another; why one truth was somehow truer. And, for a long time, it seemed that I was always the one who was wrong, presumably because of this lack of understanding.

This isn’t self-pity, by the way. As a child (and a teenager) I spent a good deal of time just honestly confused. There appeared to be rules for life, and nobody had let me know what they were. School cliques, in particular, seemed to have the monopoly on ‘how to behave’. This then turned into ‘Workplace Policy’ – put in place, apparently, to help everyone… except those who needed it.

I’m aware, from my working life, that a lot of the Systems that are now in place were originally set up with good intentions. Doctors actually do want to make people better. Teachers want to instil joy of learning in pupils. Scientists want to explore and discover.

But the Systems have trapped us. Because we’re so aware of what we should be doing, what boxes we need to tick, what goals to hit… We’ve become an Orwellian or Swiftian nightmare; the satire has become real. Real People have been subsumed by dehumanising Systems.

What our hearts tell us is right is not considered important. Anything subjective, unquantifiable, emotional, is somehow invalid. How do you make a statistic out of happiness, health or pleasure? What is an appropriate level of inspiration or love? Too little isn’t sufficient; too much is inappropriate. I’d love to see how such things are charted.

As Orwell predicted, language is being turned against us. Forms must be filled in correctly, situations described accurately; if you can’t work those Systems, you’re practically useless, and so fair game. Punishment: benefits cut, medication increased, even home taken away. Never mind that you don’t have the skills (physical or mental) to even approach those Systems at basic level. Double-plus ungood – reject.

People often ask me if I think more people are returning to the ‘Old Ways’ as a response to modern life. I’m not entirely sure. I can see what they mean – but, in all honesty, I think we’re looking back to the past now in an effort to find something that we feel we’ve lost, which contemporary life is not providing. We’re not literally seeking ‘Old Ways’ – modern conveniences are rather nice, especially hot food, clean water and flushing toilets. Nor are we seeking Secret Hidden Knowledge about the Absolutely Infallible Way to Live (although some are always claiming to have this). We’re seeking to reclaim our truths as human beings. Or even as animals, living creatures sharing a planet.

This is where my Druidry strikes a chord. For me, it’s always been about those truths, you see – things that I know to be right, both personally and at a fundamental human level. What works for me should work for you too – not in a fascist manner, but simply as the same species, part of a (theoretically) like-minded tribe, at the point where we connect. We’re all seeking the best way to live our lives, a fact that’s very easily forgotten when we start behaving as Us/Them. Our relationship with each other is being lost, and we need to find it again, to explore and to (re)learn.

Studying Environmentalism, I read about how eco-lawyers are seeking to recognise the rights of non-humans. How? Well, while we can’t understand them linguistically, we can safely presume that all living things have the desire to go on living. The next step is the quality of that life. Not luxuries – basics. Nourishment. Happiness. Love. You know, those unquantifiable things. Which some folk feel they have the right to take away or devalue.

OK. Now, presumably we, as living, (apparently) intelligent and articulate human beings, have those same desires? We all eat, sleep and breathe. We have more in common than we do difference.

Life can sometimes seem like a movie – but perhaps one where we’ve lost our script. Everyone else seems to know what to do, and we lose ourselves in the rush to keep up, find our place, do what we’re supposed to. We’re appalled by news stories about the world around, but don’t know how to react. We’re encouraged to have opinions, but not to actually take any action (beyond ticking ‘Like’ on a Facebook page). We feel that our power has been taken away.

Yet we’re still part of that world. We’re starting to see through the filters, the Systems. We don’t want to ‘bugger on’, we want to battle on, to change and to put right. We need to see clearly, to understand the individual stories that make up the general picture.

Remember – or reforge – your connectedness. Whatever you’re doing, whoever you’re looking at, imagine that they are a friend or close relative. Look more deeply into their story; sometimes the most important information is what the news, or the first impression, is not saying. See past the spin, the cynicism, the ‘appropriate level of understanding.’

We each live our story. We write our own script. We connect with everyone else, doing the same. What’s important to you is probably just as important to them. Ask ‘Why?’ Then, when you don’t agree, say ‘No.’ Find alternatives.

Every day has little victories, tiny acts of heroism. For some, just making it through is a huge achievement. Let’s stop the cynicism, the disregard. Let’s celebrate each other a little more, recognising and providing help when needed, congratulations when deserved, and questioning of what we’re told. See variety and potential in our different levels of ability. Be brave and battle on. Learn from our ancestors.

Live.

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Reconnection

Hello again!

It’s been the longest hiatus in the history of this blog, but I’m still here. Thank you for your patience, lovely Reader. Believe me, the wait could have been very much longer, but this post wants to be written. On we go.

The lack of blog pages recently has been a result of the finalising before deadline of my second book. Writing daily, polishing, preparing, reworking and repaginating, then editing… hard work, yes, but very enjoyable. I do love to write, and quite often would find myself going over my daily word target because I just got so caught up in what I was doing. Once ideas start to flow, there’s no stopping them – and that’s no bad thing.

However, this has meant that there was little room for other things. No problem, I thought – once things are submitted and in, I can get on with whatever comes next. And this has been true, up to a point. I’ve been working (equally hard) on my upcoming Druidry Course, to start in June. I’ve preparing for talks over the Summer, and upcoming Handfastings. Life doesn’t stop.

One thing I always forget, though, is how much this takes from me.

A while ago, I was chatting to my Mum about the talks that I give, and how tired I was at the end of them. She didn’t understand. “What do you mean? It’s just you, talking for a few hours.” And so it is, when all’s said and done.

But when I do something truly, properly, thoroughly and honestly, it’s putting in the whole of my being, focusing entirely on that task. It may be ‘just talking’, but that’s never been easy for me. I do my utmost to convey my meaning in my words, baring my soul for the benefit of those listening. I don’t think I could do less, nor would I want to. That dishonours both myself and my audience, those who’ve chosen to spend those hours listening to me.

In the same way, what I write takes time. I read back as I go, tweaking phrases here and there, telling the story that I want to tell, in fact and in tone. It might only take a few minutes to read, but hopefully it’s worth it. There’s too much out there that’s just a waste of time, frivolous and easily forgotten. I try to inspire, even a little. I am always grateful for your attention.

So this isn’t just a personal whinge about a late blog post because I’m tired – that’d be far too easy. This is, as in everything I write, a little piece of my truth.

Because what I forget is that when I give up part of myself, I am left depleted. Depending on how much I’ve put ‘out there’ to others, I’m exhausted, energies drained and often head-spinning into collapse. I’ve learned tricks to help with this – after all, it’s no different from overdoing it in any other way, from over-exertion in exercise to a strenuous exam. You prepare, you go the distance to complete the task, then you rest and recharge.

Writing a book isn’t accomplished in one mad burst. It takes time, over many months. By the end of it, I’m ready to submit the manuscript because frankly, I’ve said what I want to say, anything more would be excess, and I’m sick of it all. Time for the next thing, this one is done. Press ‘Send’.

But this topic was especially hard. Writing about darkness, depression, pain, challenge… what did I expect? Some parts flowed well, others were virtually ripped from me. Once that button had been pushed, the manuscript submitted, I was left adrift. What now?

I understand that this isn’t unusual for creative folk. When one project is finished, there can be a ‘cold turkey’ period of recovery, almost like a post-natal period. Some authors start their next book immediately, so that this lull is negated. I’ve some fiction begun and Book 3 in motion. Ideas are gestating, and I’m glad to say that I don’t think that will stop anytime soon.

This didn’t stop me from experiencing what appeared to be virtual exhaustion over recent weeks. Hardly the energy to function on the worst days, unable to answer emails or messages, too depleted to get on with much beyond the most basic household jobs. To be expected? Perhaps. Not pleasant to experience, though, and beyond frustrating from this side.

I admit, sometimes I push myself too hard. I want to be doing, getting on – I try to accomplish something every day, even if it’s small. A little more on my latest knitting project. A baked creation for the household. A few words written, even just ideas. Part of it is being self-employed; part just needing that challenge as a person.

When this isn’t possible, I grind a little more to a halt. Days of nothing are contagious, leading to more nothing. “You’re done, that’s it, you can’t do any more,” says the internal voice. “Might as well stop.” This blog post nearly didn’t happen for those reasons.

Put another way: if the exhaustion I’ve felt is proportionate to the energy put into Book 2, then it’s going to be a humdinger.

What’s keeping me going, you see, is my Druidry. From the deeply personal meditations of wandering alone, to connecting with others who just want to share – the lived experience of my Path is both holding me up and moving my feet. Plans for ritual, study ideas, personal practice, tangible things; even looking forward to the eventual release of Book 2 in the Autumn (still an unbelievable idea!). While I have needed more time to myself to recharge¬† (usually spent reading or knitting), the getting out and exploring of ideas with others has been a joy.

It may have drained me more effectively (and more quickly) than it usually would. But that’s just something I’m having to learn to deal with, until I’m back up to ‘normal’ power again. A good part of my time is spent pushing against tiredness, that voice that tells me to stop, there’s no point, nobody’s really interested. Because I’M interested. I don’t believe I’ll ever have ‘reached the end’ of my Path, that it’s possible to know everything or have experienced every part of my spirituality – even with death. There’s always more.

I’m trying not to overdo it, to take things at my own pace. It’s difficult to work out what that is, sometimes. But pushing myself by simply grabbing the laptop and starting to type – as I am right now – helps. Stepping to the window and looking out – helps. Breathing in the fresh air, the hope of Spring (finally!) – helps. Seeing my own thoughts, reflected and reconsidered through the imagination of others – helps beyond measure.

I try to remember what brings me happiness and laughter, what fuels me. Stories, always – from Doctor Who to Shakespeare. Key phrases leap to mind at random moments, from the ‘winter of discontent’ (very true) to the dream of ‘when the hurly-burly’s done’. The exploratory weirdness of Steampunk is catching my imagination lately as well. We seem so caught up in lost cynicism as we wait for the overdue Spring to truly arrive that we forget what potential there is out there in our imaginations, what we just haven’t noticed yet.

When stuck inside, do we sit on the sofa and mindlessly lose a day – or do we make a fort? Do we take our own meagre scraps of energy and ability and create something, no matter how small, or do we moan and lash out, blaming others for our own lack of action?

The everyday world is full of news stories that may drag us down further, with apparent hopelessness and the difficulty of making any change at all. But I’m just trying to do my thing, here and now. When it all seems too much, I try to see beyond the fog of sheer negativity that all too easily can come down to block everything in/out. Reconnecting with the world around, those of like mind, those kindred spirits – this keeps me reminded of why I do strive on.

Bless you, my friends. Still moving forward.

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Blood Sacrifice

I’ve been a little lax in my posting of late. This isn’t for lack of ideas. I think it’s purely that winter is now beginning to bite: the blink-and-you’ve-missed-it short days, the extra layers of clothing, the need to stockpile kindling and food in case of snow… and the urge to hibernate.

Life, of course, goes on. I’ve been out and about, less than usual perhaps, but still doing. A little Druidry here today, and a little slice of life, if I may.

Last week, a talk at Sheffield University Pagan Society; yesterday, a guest speaker to a Sociology lecture at the University of Derby. One informal, one formal, but both requiring me to get out there, put my professional hat on (metaphorically, before you ask) and tell my tale again…

Each time, it’s different. A different audience, a different flavour to my words. New challenges, new questions, new faces. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and will ever do – and yet, I love it. Connection, sharing, inspiration. And bearing all.

Because one of the questions that always seems to come up in some form or another is that of Sacrifice. I’ve spoken of it before on here, but while winter is the time of fire festivals, burning the old to make way for the new, it’s not really the time to get out in public and get naked (again metaphorically, but physically too!). You don’t want to bear your soul to total strangers. Stand up and say ‘listen to me, I’m interesting?’ Nope.

So… perhaps that is my sacrifice to this season? While crawling out from a cosy bed/home/sofa to work is something that we all have to do just to pay the bills, my work is so intrinsically tied up with my own personal story, my soul-truth, that to walk this path at all during this season is the most challenging thing. It’d be much easier to take the easy route, that of the toddler whining ‘but I don’t want to!’ Tough. Wrap up warm on the way out, it’s nippy.

Sacrifice is giving up something that is valuable to you. At this point, that’s very much my Self. My time, my energy (not in abundant supply), even my smile some days. The black dog bites and holds on, and I’ve had panic attacks in the middle of crowded places. So standing up in front of crowds… you can probably imagine how nervous I get. Even answering emails is tricky right now. Writing this has involved a LOT of deletion and rewriting to get the tone precisely correct (and I’m still not sure I’ve quite managed it).

But it’s not all about my fear – that’s a constant, burning away in the background, to be overcome daily. My sacrifice is also giving up that sense of self, the very act of bearing all… but in a manner that can be understood. The balance of listening to what is asked of me, as a Priest, a teacher, a representative of my spirituality, and truly hearing. Going beyond the words of the question to see the eyes of the querent, what they want to know, what they can’t quite put into simple language but strain, hope, need me to understand.

I’ve promised, over and over again, to do my best, to walk my truth, to tell my story as honestly as I can, and to help for as long as I’m needed. I presume that if nobody were listening, then this blog wouldn’t get any hits, my inbox would just contact requests for money from overseas diplomats, and I could say what I liked because nobody would be listening… but currently, this isn’t the case. More and more people are asking. I’m amazed and awed that so many fellow Pagans, of any path, are rising to meet this growing group of seekers. I have no doubt that come Spring, my every weekend will be busy again. This is why I keep talking, writing, doing.

But in the meantime, sometimes it’s a battle day-to-day. I sacrifice and I survive.

A while ago, I told a good friend that I tried to do something creative every day. Even a tiny thing, but something, so that the day hadn’t been wasted. This is still true. Writing is best (when I haven’t written anything for a while, I think I’m unbearable to be around), but knitting, baking, some form of random creativity… all good.

This week, as well as the talks, I had more colour added to my right arm sleeve tattoo. Now this isn’t a very active creativity on my part – essentially, I lie there and let an artist draw on me with needles, paying him for the privilege of several hours of pain – but that ink will stay with me for the rest of my life.

 

Tattoo Equipment

(The preparation table. All of these colours went into one small area of skin, with those needles…)

 

I’ve had a lot of positive comments on my tattoos over the years. When I was younger, I never dreamt I’d ever have so much of myself covered – but every single one has meaning. And much of it is to do with my Druidry.

My first tattoo was a triskele, in the safe, quiet, hidden base of my back. My second: surrounding it with silver birch leaves, hand-drawn by one of my oldest friends. The statement of my learning, my stepping into the woods, joining with the trees, indelibly feeling my own connection to the wild world.

Since then, I’ve an Awen hand-tapped into the top of my back (after dreaming that Bobcat was doing it – I think her hand was more drilling it into my head), and both arms covered with leaves, flowers, seeds… the old joke being that sooner or later, if you push me over in a field, you’ll lose me.

Although the tattooist chats happily as he works, with conversation a good distraction, the flow of endorphins, adrenaline and sheer physical reaction to the needle creates an interesting effect. I’ve not undergone ceremonial or ritual tattooing as such, but every single sitting could be considered to be that. Your inner self reacts to the battering that your skin is taking, and there is an inevitable effect.

The tattoo is a statement, certainly. But it could also be considered a sacrifice. The blood, the pain, the wearing of an image with a deep meaning behind it, honouring your own body through the act of pain for the goal of adornment. To me, it’s far more than vanity.

Every tattoo on my body (except the triskele, my initial ‘baby-step’) has been paid for with money earned from my Druidry. I used to be able to pay the bills with my day-job, thus allowing me and my partner to permanently mark the relationship between our public rites and ourselves with ink. Now, that money is needed for those bills – so this work was even more of a luxury… and a statement.

Reading this post back, my black dog friend is telling me that this post is full of whining, self-righteous, indulgent justification for my work, my decisions, my irresponsible frivolity of ink. Perhaps.

To me, my life is currently filled with sacrifice. The sheer standing up each day to live my life, my spirituality, my job, with integrity and responsibility. Overcoming the ‘oh Gods, you can’t do this, why are you even trying’ voices. The sense that I’m not as strong as I think I am. Yet the beauty of my path is there, indelibly marked into my body. Present in the messages of thanks from those who hear my words.

I stood before my Gods in a crowded classroom and called to them, sincerely – and they listened. I honour them in my actions, my decisions, even my cock-ups (provided I learn from them). I honour them in my moving forward, not giving up, even when the black dog urges me to take that ultimate step and just give up, stop. My life is my sacrifice at this time, my giving up of self when I really do not feel able.

Things will calm down, of course. The season will turn, the light will start to join us more frequently, and I’m certain that I’ll be reminded regularly that I’m actually doing ok. I walk this path because I’m called to, and that’s by real people as well as spiritual entities – both of whom keep me moving in the right direction, kicking me if I stray or stay still too long.

So. My challenge again. What am I doing?

Moving forward. Slowly, in the dark, sometimes painfully, but moving.

Tattoo Nov 2012

All art here was inscribed by the founder and creative genius that is Andy Bowler of Monkido Tattoo Studio, in Belper, Derbyshire.

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Druidry in the City

It’s always a challenge to combine your spirituality with your ‘regular’ life. This is one of the joys of Druidry, and a strong factor in what originally attracted me to it: that lack of dividing line. Something that would help when there’s an impossible deadline, a sardine-can of a train journey, another late night at the desk.

Druidry really isn’t a fair-weather path, something to do when you ‘get a minute’. It’s constant, lived, breathed, investigating your personal connection and relationship with the world around all the time. And let’s face it, if anywhere/one needs it, it’s the worker, the ‘wage-slave’, the office and the streaming multitude of lonely commuters.

Don’t believe me? OK. Do you really think your Gods are only present when you call them, wearing the right clothes and performing the correct rituals? Our ancestors saw the spiritual (in terms of real, named spirits) everywhere. From the water in the cooler to the energy in the computer wires. The natural world is where we live, even if it’s concrete, glass and granite.

I’ve written about it before, but wanted to just write something practical today for those of you out there with your noses at the grindstone (farmer or financier).

When you get the chance today, either get outside or at least to a window. Look around. Breath (yes, I know fumes aren’t fun, but use your judgment). Feel the air – natural or processed? Be aware of the light on your skin – sunlight or bulb? Notice the difference.

Ground yourself: feet on the floor. Listen to what’s around you, feel the buzz of people and activity. Then listen harder, to the undertones. Worry or enjoyment? Stress or happiness? Look inside, at yourself. Are you knotted up with the weight of expectations, or flowing with your tasks, your duties and responsibilities?

Notice the spirits around you. The lone tree planted in a pavement and ignored, save by the birds. And then the gods of modern life, that we bow down to: the Lord of Deadlines, the stern dictator of Commuter Etiquette. Eris is Lady of Computers, if anyone is! Make whatever offerings (coffee? chocolate? small symbols on the desk?) are appropriate, and ask them to be kind as you work with them.

Realize how blindness and ignorance threatens our awareness, as we walk past the homeless man, fail to help the crying girl lost on a roadside, or do nothing for the fellow apparently unconscious on a train platform. See the God of Fear that prohibits our actions, due to propriety or overruling awareness of How We Would Look.

This is not an exercise in guilt. This is an urge to Wake Up. Feel your spirituality as it runs through you, every minute of every day. What are you doing with it? How it is informing your awareness? Ultiumately, how is it helping?

Now. On Monday morning, from the moment you leave your home, walk with awareness. Really look around, at the land, the creatures, your fellow workers. Forget the MP3 player, even the book on the train or bus. Look around. See the land you walk through, natural and man-made. Don’t judge, just bear witness. Consider how you move within it. Let your spirituality inform your actions.

Try to carry this awareness through the day, putting perspective on your actions – especially if you ‘don’t have time.’ Why are you doing what you’re doing? Not in a negative sense – who will benefit from your efforts? See your link in the chain, from immediate co-workers to end users. Washing up may be a chore, but it allows clean utensils to enhance meals, to fuel others. Call centre conversations are immensely frustrating, but is this because one of those involved isn’t really listening? How are you helping, others you are beholden to help, and yourself?

Remember your connection. It’s always there, as are those who walk with you. Just stopping to take a deep breath and bring your true self back from panic or frenetic activity is a sacred act.

Your Gods, your ancestors – would they be proud of you for what you do, even if it’s just making it through the day? Thank them for the realization that ritual is possible wherever you are – and for their help in the daily battle.

You\re never alone. You just have to open your eyes.

Addendum: I’m now slightly late this morning, because I was compelled to write this piece. I’ve just completed the Greater Morning Ritual of the Coffee, however, and wanted to share – preparation with awareness and gratefulness, now taking a moment to sit and enjoy it. Before rushing off to get ready for work…

Enjoy your day, kind reader x

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Within the Cauldron

It was remarked to me this week that based on my blog posts alone, folk might find it difficult to talk to me. I’m always appreciative of feedback, but this was a bit surprising – I try to be chatty, inject my writing with humour to make it accessible (rather than just ‘do this’ absolutism or suchlike). The writing represents me, after all.

Then I considered her words more deeply.

These little essays of around 1300 words each are tiny slices of my life, thoughts that have been germinating based on whatever’s going on at this moment. Since I started writing here, my views have no doubt changed on some issues. Quite a few are topics that I’m still working through. That’s life. It’s interesting to see how such notions have evolved (and continue to, moving forward).

Also, I’ve no idea who’s going to be reading my words as I write them. Presumably your good self, whoever you are – as I’ve often said, thank you, I do appreciate your interest. But the internet is the ultimate public forum. This blog is now read widely enough that the majority are those who don’t know me (instead of the reverse).

I’m no guru with Ultimate Cosmic Answers. The fact that I’m writing this means, quite simply, that I’ve got an idea and I’m going to write it publicly, in order to share it. That’s all. Take from it whatever you will – I have no control over that. But my intention is to provoke thought and hopefully inspire or help in some way.

So this post is a combination of an idea that’s been rumbling around my mind for a while, one that isn’t often looked at in Paganism (or generally), but which should be. It’s an intrinsic part of our lives, our spirituality, our quest for meaning and our relationship with ourselves and others. It’s also extremely personal to me, as some of you may know.

Life is hard. Fact. All spiritual systems deal with this to some extent, as we try to work out why we’re here and what we’re doing with the time we have. Buddhism specifically moves its ideas around this key tenet. We all have our ‘crosses to bear’.

Life also has its ups and downs. But for some of us, those times are more pronounced than others. I’m not sure who sets the standards, but there are those of us who are affected by events more deeply than others – or at least, less able to ‘cope’ with that very British attitude of ‘carry on regardless.’ This doesn’t make us any less strong; sensitivity and empathy is not a weakness. It means our perspective is different, that’s all. Perhaps seeing reality in slightly finer detail than those who coast through, apparently with no problems (but I’ll tell you a secret: they may just be hiding it better).

For a few years now, after some extremely bad life events, I’ve been suffering from depression. Apparently it’s ‘unipolar’, rather than the currently popular ‘bipolar’, but this means that without (fortunately gentle) medication, I’ve been stabilising at such a low mood level, I’m pretty much useless. The world is covered by a grey cloud, everything seems worthless – especially me.

At its lowest ebb, I admit that I’ve had the thoughts that the world would be better off without me. My pain overflows, I’ve cried for hours, held by my wonderful partner, but feeling even worse for that somehow; I hate how my own battle affects him, but am so inexpressibly grateful for his strength when I’m working through my darkness.

Every task, no matter how small, seems insurmountable. From talking to friends, getting on with household jobs, even going otside – everything’s impossible, as my brain fights to somehow escape my head, panicking like a threatened animal before lapsing into catatonia and hopelessness.

And it’s all very well to give me a list of my achievements during this time, reasons for why I’m not worthless. But that’s easy, says the Black Dog – you’re just really good at fooling people. They don’t know the real you, the selfish cow, the pointless, useless woman. Every insult ever given, every criticism, they are all paraded in front of me.

I have no idea what biological purpose this serves, other than some mysterious misfiring of neurons in my mind, but at base level… it hurts. To the extent that I’ve described it to others, and they’ve just stared, unable to comprehend the battlefield that I and so many other people face regularly.

But this is how we deal with it. Through story, metaphor, visualisation. If it’s a battlefield, what are my weapons? If it’s a Black Dog, how do I tame it? I can’t escape, I can’t ignore it – so turning to face it, in the knowledge that it’s transitory, that ‘this too will pass’… the challenge is to survive.

And this is the gift of the darkness. By diving deep into it, standing to face it and yelling ‘OK, that’s IT, I’ve had enough!’ you’re reclaiming your strength, standing within the darkness and allowing it to be part of you. And then moving forward. A very Druid perspective, as we use our love of story and awareness of the Otherworld to actively help.

I’ve actively worked with my Darkness. I’ve been held in a ritual setting while I face it: crying, screaming, emotionally stripped bare. But then I’m forced to face my own strength, my inner fire, my urge to survive. And my Gods, standing with me. My loved ones, my ancestors. I’m compelled to open my eyes and see. I’ve been dragged physically outside, forced to face reality – of which the pain is a part.

In the ancient writings, the Ovates are described as those who stared into the darkness, to prophecy and learn. Their eyes became black with magic, as they stood with a foot in the Otherworld and one in this realm. You cannot come back from such a thing unaffected. I’ve been told that during my time facing the Darkness, my eyes became black. Terrifying, but perhaps unsurprising.

Last year, I was accidentally made to step into the Darkness. In a public rite of many dozens of people, working with the Cauldron of Cerridwen to inspire through its powers of transformation. But that wasn’t my journey, I was no Gwion Bach. I was with the Goddess as she screamed, within the Cauldron, finding my power in the darkness. Through my pain.

I was held by a true White Goddess at that time, as my heart cracked in the middle of a field one Saturday afternoon. Others avoided us, perhaps thinking it part of the rite (I’ve never understood our societal fear of a crying woman, why this makes people run, but there it is). Some even took pictures from the sidelines. Here’s one:

My stick holds me up, as I’ve often said. My old, woolen, scorched cloak wrapped close. The wisdom of the Goddess before me – white angel on one side, black cauldron on the other.

And I know that this is my role. I’ve been told it often, by others far wiser than me. I hold the space, provide the balance, using my time in the darkness to help others going through it. But it’s not over – I go through it myself still, regularly. Varying shades of black. The trick is to get through it. The fear is that one day, I won’t. We all fight this battle – it’s called Life, and we cannot always win.

In the meantime, yes: I doubt myself regularly. I’m very aware of my responsibilities as I stand publicly as Priest. But I have vowed to do my best for those who ask. I offer this vow again, with my blood and my spirit. I stand as true as I can be. I tell my tale honestly, that others may hopefully be inspired. I live more strongly because of my awareness of the need for balance. I appreciate the purpose and challenge of both the Light and the Dark.

I’m a real person. Please don’t ever be afraid to talk to me if you wish.

 

As for depression, there are so many resources that can help, depending on your preference. Once told by a GP to ‘go away and cheer up’ (the absolute worst thing that can be said to a suffering individual), being me, I headed off to the bookstore. I’ve included a list of gems below. But that’s not what I’m talking about today. If in doubt, visit the MIND website for resources and ideas – they have been a lifesaver.

Sunbathing in the Rain

Journeys with the Black Dog

The Trick is to Keep Breathing

And the absolutely wonderful documentary: ‘The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive‘.

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From the Darkness…

In every story, there is a challenge to be overcome – that’s part of life. But how often is it the overcoming of personal darkness? Not glamorous, but deep, painful and with no guarantee of a light at the end.

Life is not an either/or of light and dark. I’m sometimes confused by pagans whose purpose in their work seems to be to ‘bring light to the world’. The principle is noble, but the reality would be fearsome if followed through to its natural conclusion. Nature’s balance is not a straightforward binary, nor does it follow humanity’s ethical priorities.

We need the darkness as much as the light. One cannot exist without the other, but more often it is true to say that both exist in close relationship. Too much of either and we are simply left blind.

The balance is a fine one, and few of us are unaware of it. Cerridwen’s cauldron inspired… and also poisoned. Merlin held the life of the land, before going mad in the forest.

These are not stages we should close our eyes too. We cannot hide from the dark (what’s inside our own eyelids, after all?), but it is part of the journey to see the difficulties that may be encountered as we brace ourselves to walk into those dark and unknown woods.

I’ve been reading ‘Touched with Fire’ by Kay Redfield Jamison, which discusses the possible link between creativity and manic-depression. I picked it up as a result of last week’s ‘Dr Who’ episode, which focused on both the joys and depths experienced by Vincent Van Gogh.

Part of the journey of the druid is to step into the dark woods, both externally and within ourselves. The Bard is the ultimate creative, channelling inspiration to make something powerful from his passion. The Ovate takes this further, journeying intentionally into the darkness to find healing and knowledge until his eyes turn black with what he sees.

And it hurts. I’m currently receiving treatment for depression, due to the events of the past year, but while not manic, have experienced the deepest lows as many of us have. I regularly have to take myself away in order to pull myself back out again, so that I can function in the everyday world.

I’ve seen countless articles on how more people are going through such times, with general reflection on how it is the fault of the world and the society that we live in. Perhaps. But saying this is part of the human condition is untrue – non-human animals clearly feel both sadness and joy. Emotions exist for a reason, whether they be pleasant or not. It is up to us how we explore them and use them to move forward.

Spiritually, I try to use the knowledge and experience of my own darkness to help as best I can. Sometimes, even the knowledge that others have been through what you are yourself suffering is enough; sometimes you need someone to be there with a cup of tea, holding a candle to aim towards, or a rope to get you out of the hole. Sometimes you need a partner to sit down there with you, just being there. Your own space is important, but it can be your own worst enemy – and you’re not always the best judge when vision’s clouded by the darkness.

It’s never easy to understand, but it’s part of life. When the connection to life is lost, then that candle is in danger of flickering out – the depressive suffers the ultimate ‘side-effect’ of their illness, as did Van Gogh and so many others. It is up to us to remember that the connection is always there.

Step outside. Reach for a trusted hand. Make and enjoy a cup of tea. But see the value in that connection and channel it as best you can. As I am here, right now.

We walk onwards.

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