Posts Tagged listening

Shields – Front and Back

I’m often asked about Shields. Usually it’s in context of energy work, protection, personal defence against negativity. That’s fine, as this is something that we will likely encounter in our lives and so have to deal with.

But how often do we consider what’s keeping those shields up, or what’s behind them?

All my life, I’ve been told what to think. Society does that, after all – from marketing billboards, to advertisements on television and via social media. But also from teachers, bosses, friends and family. Everyone has their ideas and wants to share them. I’m sharing my opinion right now.

The difficulty comes when someone is determined that their opinion is better, truer or more valid than your own. You have to give in to their Truth, because they’re right. End of discussion.

I wrote of Trolls yesterday, and suspect this is a logical progression. How do we deal with those who cross that line between a thoughtful suggestion and a demand? Often the root is intention – genuine caring versus a wish to dominate or ‘win’. Sometimes the demand stems from an insecurity – others must agree with this person, or they are somehow insulting him/her by insinuating that they are actually wrong.

I’m not going to get into that again today – I’m sure you all have experience of this to some extent. But it can be hard to deal with, and this is where the request for shields comes in.

Overbearing co-workers, demanding relatives, pushy friends… these aren’t Trolls, are they? They’re usually just other people who genuinely feel that they’re doing their best, without realising how uncomfortable they make us.

Or is it actually a problem with Me? Is it that I’m being challenged in ways I’m not comfortable with, and so want to hide rather than deal with the issues?

We throw our shields up and back away. These can be psychic/energetic or physical – going home and closing the door is a good reaction, to claim your own space once again! But once we’ve done that, then what?

We can whinge about the Troll or the person forcing their opinion. They don’t understand me. Sometimes that’s true, and we must respond accordingly.

But as we stand behind our shields, taking time to think, so we can place our feet, take a breath and consider ourselves as well.

What about this is making me uncomfortable? Is it the manner in which the ideas are being pushed, or do I genuinely disagree? Can I articulate my thoughts now, in this safe place? Am I able to consider a response, or would I prefer to keep hiding? I could always just leave, or avoid the person altogether…

We fuel our shields from our selves. If the ground beneath our feet is uncertain, so the protection will crumble; but if we are able to identify our own personal Truths, then our foundation is firm.

I read of a simple exercise to find your own Truth, to see what it feels like. Give it a try:

State your name: eg ‘I am Cat’.
Now state a wrong name: ‘I am Bernard’.

Can you feel the difference?

Try other obvious lies. Play with this. ‘I’m the world’s best accordion player.’ ‘I really like cucumber.’ ‘My favourite singer is Justin Bieber’. You get the idea.

Now try stating your truths with this in mind. ‘I think that this won’t work’. ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t agree.’ ‘This might be a better option.’ ‘I don’t like that colour at all.’ Keep playing, with negative and positive angles, and levels of firmness. See what suits best.

Try stating some of the things you’ve been told so confidently. How do they feel? ‘I’m sure I can find time for that assignment.’ ‘I’d love to wear that outfit.’ Is it true? Were you just whinging, or do you genuinely disagree? Note how strongly you feel, see the difference in emotional tone.

Explore which of these statements is true to you. Each one can be a brick in your shield-wall (if it’s even needed now), but crafted with care. You are standing firm, but also remaining flexible – encouraging discussion and debate, connection and understanding, from within a place of safety that is held by you. You are standing up as equally valid, with a voice to be heard.

And you might start to notice the other person’s walls in turn. If your truths simply bounce off theirs, maybe it’s time to highlight that they’re not listening; or even to step away. Show people the truth of you, not an imagined version that they might be projecting – or which you have helped to build.

I see this a lot in Paganism, because spirituality is a topic which is deeply heartfelt to many people. Passions incite strong opinions, and often descend into all-or-nothing arguments. But they don’t necessarily need to.

I’ve been noticing those who listen versus those who don’t; individuals who seem to be seeking confrontation and argument, not discussion. Shields that are so inflexible, the person behind might not even know why they’re arguing at all – it’s just habit, or that sense of ‘because I should.’ Or fear of being exposed as ‘wrong’.

Take time to consider what’s behind your shields – and whether they work with you or keep you imprisoned.

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Listening

Yesterday, I was watching one of the nostalgia television shows that seem to be rife at this time of year. A children’s show of the 1990s had a phone-in game, where clues were given and a phrase had to be guessed by the young callers to win a prize. One rule: the phrase had to rhyme.

(Yes, those UK folk who remember such Saturday morning ‘wackiness’ may well know ‘Wonky Donkey’. Even if you weren’t there, does the name give you the idea?)

The presenter admitted that he would often go crazy into the camera lens, yelling at the audience, because each caller seemed not to understand that One. Little. Rule.  Kids called in and then just said anything, with no chance of winning because they just weren’t keeping to that simple statement. Were they not listening?!

It struck me then, just how apt this question is.

How often are we listening, really? We hear soundbites on the news and think we know the whole story. Someone tells an anecdote and we cast our own imprint onto it, subtly changing the tone, so that if we tell it in turn, it’ll be just that little bit different. Chinese Whispers in the everyday.

My partner is regularly frustrated by those who call Emergency Services demanding help, and yet on the basic request for their address, start shouting anything but – including ‘Why aren’t you here yet?’ Because they haven’t given the address, as asked. Such a little thing, subsumed by fear, lack of control, and sheer animal panic.

And yet, we always do know best, don’t we? It’s hard to shake the confidence of some people. You’re told a story that you know isn’t quite true, but when you try to correct the teller, it’s you who’s wrong (even if you were there at the time). The person who wouldn’t give their address may well report that the call-taker was stupid for not knowing (somehow) where he was, or what he wanted… despite this being impossible.

Modern technology doesn’t help. With the constant ‘What is your status?’ demand of social media, our interior monologue is constant, like the film noir voiceover as we narrate our own stories. We are the centre of our worlds, and therefore can’t comprehend data that we don’t understand, fitting it instead somehow into our worldview – even if that makes it very different to the truth. Despite the fact that the world is so complex, understanding any one tiny particle of it is a task in itself. Impossible to sum up in 140 characters.

It sometimes feels to me as if the world shifts with the telling (and mis-telling, and re-telling) of each story. Why does my recollection differ so drastically from what I’m hearing? Why is my knowledge of those ‘facts’ so different? Why does my side of a conversation seem to change in midair, as the response is so unrelated?

Ultimately, one crucial facet of the skill of listening is determining the motivation behind the story, the manner in which it’s told, the goal of the teller. What are they trying to achieve, what feelings do they want to evoke, reactions, emotions? As I said, each person colours their own tale to suit themselves. That’s part of the story. Different words carry different meanings to different people, after all.

We’re told (by Roman historians) that the ancient Bards used amazing mnemonic skills to recall verbatim the ancient sagas, passing on tales, family lineage and history, without tempering it in the slightest with their own personality, not even in the inflections of speech. This is a skill indeed (if true), and one which I think we have largely lost, despite our insistence sometimes on ‘proper’ versions of tales.

But then, I would question the value of such retelling. Is that not the other extreme? From randomly changing a story to not changing it at all? Everything changes, evolves, moves. Our understanding of history is coloured by our modern lives. Is anything we listen to truly neutral? And how valuable would it be if it was?

Part of my original Druid training was to simply listen. The simple part: to go out to a wild place in Nature, and do nothing. Sit and listen. Or walk and listen. Just hear – the birds, the trees, the small creatures, the shouts of children, aeroplanes far overhead. To feel myself in that picture of sound, my place within it, observing while being part of it.

Then the difficult bit: to listen when in the full flow of the everyday world. On train station platforms, in offices, on streets, in marketplaces, at home. The television, the radio, songs. What am I listening to? Why? What does it mean – no, really mean?

A child, screaming in a supermarket. Do you hear his words, what he wants? Or just the noise, as you will him to be quiet?

The simple phrase ‘I’m fine’ from a friend… who clearly isn’t. What are they trying to say, in the tones around the words?

A retelling of a much-loved story – Robin Hood, for example, or King Arthur. Are you hearing the flow of this story, or feeling it shaded by what’s gone before, your own experience of the tale, frustration at perceived errors?

This blog post, like most things I write, is in the hope of inspiring. Not guilt, not at all – we’re all guilty of the above faults, that’s just part of being a human in the world today. But without going back and re-reading, how much did you take in? How much of me did you ‘hear’, over the voice in your own head providing commentary? Were you judging my words, providing your own similar experiences, laughing or disagreeing? The tale is being told, here in black and white as I type. It’s being coloured by you, the reader, as you ‘listen’ to my virtual voice and make it your own.

Listen then, lovely readers, as you go about your life today. Feel the stories going on around you – and your part within that larger flow of time and space. Such a simple thing. Yet such a challenge.

What do you hear – and what do you understand?

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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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Ranting and Listening

After the personal and depth-plummeting previous post, it’s time for something a little lighter. I promised folk recently that I’d post up something I’d been wanting to rant about for a while, so… I’ll try and be balanced, here. Honest. 🙂

I often hear people say that if they won the Lottery, they’d love to organise a Pagan Communal Place. The general ideas seems to be something like a retreat/monastery, where those who wanted to could live and learn, while others just visited when they felt like it. In blissful unity, of course, all worshipping together without the problems of the Real World.

Think about that for a minute.

I think this really is one of those ideas that is far better in theory than in practice. Can you imagine what living at such a place would be like?

Consider. Those who clatter with crystals versus those who know where they came from (and which ones are beads). Omnivores versus vegetarians versus vegans. Witches, Wiccans, Druids, Heathens… while there’s the makings of a reality TV show, I really doubt such a thing could ever be done, for one very simple reason.

Pagans Are People Too.

Have you ever been in a Pagan chatroom, on a Pagan internet forum, a Pagan Facebook group? The arguments when hidden from each other behind a computer screen can be fairly epic, certainly heated and often irrational based on belief rather than fact. Again, idea is preferable to reality, and some folk like to think they live that way.

Have you ever been to a Pagan pub moot, a Camp or retreat? It’s never as smooth, peaceful and idyllic as you’d hope. Arguments fester behind smiles, passive-aggressive Heated Discussions go on in the queue for the bar, those who are aware of ‘communal space’ face off against those who treat the entire thing as an organised affair for their own personal benefit, and whinge accordingly afterwards, having not moved a finger to help…

I’m not saying these should stop, nor that they’re entirely as awful as I’ve said here. But sadly, it’s a truth at the moment that Paganism (of whichever path) tends to attract the needy, the broken and the socially unskilled. Or, as we know them, HUMAN BEINGS.

We all have our needs. We’ve all been broken. We all get confused by those around us holding different views. But for some, it’s easier to throw up barriers, stand your ground (no matter how unsteady) and argue, rather than… well, listen.

OK, some folks have views that I’d really have trouble accepting into my own worldview. The Fruitarian lady who screamed and ran from a ham on the dinner table. Those who require ‘special treatment’ when they are fully able-bodied and well-off enough to themselves be helping, but are The Chosen of the Goddess. Those with huge Magickal titles whose pedestals are so high that I hope they fall off. And, of course, those who attempt to ‘convert’ others to their way of thinking via guilt. I *know* about the poor ickle fwuffy bunnies, thanks. I’ve skinned them, and watched them get taken down by a hunting hawk.

To be honest, it’s as Eddie Izzard said. None of us suffer fools gladly, much as we might like to think so. None of us have infinite patience. But we can do our best to truly listen first.

I have truckloads of time for those who are truly passionate about their beliefs and is willing to share that (whether in story, song, art, whatever). Hearing someone speak their own truth, whether shy or nervous, is the most wonderful thing, and a true privilege. Please join me at my campfire, I’d love to hear your tale.

Seekers, too, are fully welcome. We are all on a learning journey called Life, and to admit it and settle down for a good discussion is fantastic. Especially when your own beliefs can be challenged, exercising both mental and spiritual faculties, but (hopefully) with enough humour that the light of inspiration is kindled.

However, hearing someone tell you how they personally caused a hurricane over a country in the far East because that country eats dogs makes me want to plant that person’s face into a wall. Yes, really.

I firmly believe that spirituality is not incompatible with reality. But nor is it a crutch, or an excuse for certain behaviour. I may be fairly liberal-minded, but the level of criticism that some Pagans throw at other faiths leads me to think that while they’ve had bad experiences, I don’t blame those other faiths for yelling back. Nobody has ever been converted by others yelling at them. No, I’m not going to Hell. Yes, I have considered how God affects the world today. I’ll listen to you, if you listen to me…

And don’t even get me started on those who use a made-up title to play power games with others (especially the young). You’ll get what’s coming to you, sir or madam – maybe even times three. But allow me to help…

These views are entirely mine. The examples above are all absolutely real (scarily). We are all human.I have my faults too, Lord knows. (Yes, my Lord. He’s fully aware, thanks.)

But my path encourages connection and relationship. Responsibility and consideration. If your words aren’t helping, then what are you saying them for? If you’ve made a promise, why haven’t you kept it? We all do it, but learn from your mistakes.

I think, ultimately, while the old ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all’ adage can be useful (a simple ‘smile and walk away’ response works wonders), if we as Pagans – and humans – took a little more responsibility, lived the tenets of the faith we profess to follow, and had more awareness for others of our path, we’d be taken far more seriously by those others, as well as the wider world. True respect is a powerful thing.

I’m sure this post will piss some people off. It’s not really intended to, but it’s a possible and acknowledged consequence of not being as polite as I perhaps should be. But as I said at the start, it’s a rant – so a bit tongue in cheek, but which grew out of actions that genuinely pissed ME off. Sometimes, things need to be said, or you end up yourself being fluffy and tolerant to the point of ludicrous.

If you don’t like something, that’s fine – move away. Or challenge it. Challenge me, I’m here.

Fancy a discussion?

😉

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