Posts Tagged living

Work and Self

I’ve written of this before to some degree, but it’s been relevant again to me lately, so I’m hoping that these words help to tease the thoughts out a little.

I’ve never been good at resting. I’m a terrible patient when ill, as well – I always want to be doing something. Knitting is a wonderful option, as it involves doing while (potentially) watching television or chatting to someone else. Reading has always been my drug of choice, and I’m never far from a book (or several).

But in terms of actually resting my mind, stopping the busy-ness of thoughts running through my head… that’s been harder, lately.

Some of it could be considered self-induced pressure. The difficulties and delays around Book 2, work and home life with their inevitable ups and downs… generally, life is good. I have been taking days out ‘for me’. But if anything, those times are worse – the feeling of ‘you should be doing‘ takes over, making my thoughts frenetic, desperate, seeking occupation: “You’re being lazy, you don’t have time to stop…” This, of course, makes things still worse, as then it’s impossible to focus. Not a pleasant experience.

Burning out from sheer doing is seen as a modern affliction. There are news stories about it all the time, plus an entire industry of self-help books telling people how to slow down. But, like anything of such importance (and intangibility), true rest isn’t something that you can buy.

From a Druid perspective, this lack of focus means lack of connection. You’re too frazzled to really engage with anything, which means that nothing gets done well. Your To-Do list might slowly be ticked off, but are the results really of value, or just ‘good enough?’ Has your doing really been the best that you can do? Is the Universe telling you something, but you just can’t hear over the noise of your own activity?

We all feel driven in some way, I think. We have families to care for, jobs to do, responsibilities and cares. None of these are bad, not at all. It’s when we lose ourselves in the morass of obligation and ‘To Do’ that things become difficult.

I was told years ago about the importance of separating Work time from Home time. This was when I worked essentially from 7.30am until 7.30pm (at least), with gym before and other commitments after. Home time was a bit of reading or television before bed.

Then I found tricks to help me change from one ‘mode’ to another. Shedding work clothes for my comfortable jeans. Stepping out into the garden, or getting my hands stuck into bread dough. Yes, I had time. See? My time.

Recently, working from home has made that difficult. I can’t really change clothes, but I’ve made space that is specifically ‘work’, which encourages that attitude and allows me to focus on writing, for example. But there’s no way I can hold a routine, a 9-5, because of my partner’s shift work, and the simple demands of what I do.

The error here, however, is something that I have to keep reminding myself of. You can’t really separate your time in this way. One hour may be for ‘work’, one for ‘family’… but you’re still you. The goal may be different, but you’re still using up your own energy, modifying your own perspective as needed but with the same subconscious thoughts going on. You’re still you.

As I said above, the difficulty is not losing your Self in whatever it is you’re doing. While putting your own needs aside for those you really care about is one thing, losing your life to lesser demands just makes you feel even worse.

I used to submit my annual holiday request form in January (for Druid Camp in July). Two weeks before Camp, my boss in London – a kind and generous man, but incredibly driven – would ask if there was any way I could put the holiday off, to stay in the office, because he needed me. I always said ‘No’ and tried to laugh it off – but it made me both sad, that he was asking, and guilty, because I said no. One year, I was actually on the field at Camp when a friend’s phone rang – it was her boss, asking for her help with something which he couldn’t do himself. That is life subsumed by work in the worst of ways.

When work is seen as more important than life – than your own well-being (expectations of coming in while sick), than that of others (sharing that sickness), or simply for the bottom-line – you are contributing to a system that is itself very sick. Sometimes saying ‘no’ it itself a revolutionary act. I remember my supervisor’s face when I told her that no, I couldn’t come in on that May Bank Holiday, because I was performing a wedding at Stonehenge. If I didn’t go, it didn’t happen. She gaped like a fish – there was simply no way to argue that office needs were more important. I was more than just another worker; I’d just marked myself out as an individual.

But I didn’t start by talking about ‘work’ (ie a salaried job), did I? That’s because doing – as in, doing something of value – is virtually synonymous with work. ‘Real’ work. Which, it was suggested recently, is not what I do. Is it?

Let’s leave aside the issue of remuneration. Let’s suggest that tasks undertaken, no matter what they are, have value concurrent to the effort put in. So, if you rush something and do a half-arsed job, the result won’t be as valuable/good as if you had given your all. The result may actually be indistinguishable, but you, in your heart, will know the difference.

I don’t want to be doing that anymore. I want my doing to be worth something – to others, maybe, but certainly to me. If I can’t do something properly, that’s the time to take a break. I need to resume the habit of realizing that focusing on my pleasurable activities is just as valuable as those big events on weekends.

Returning to focused daily practice. To times when the ever-present internet connection is put aside. To simply following the words on a page, or the clicking of needs, or kneading of dough. What do I have to show for those actions? Bread, a shawl, and inspiration. Food, warmth and ideas.

What am I doing, indeed.

I may have obligations and responsibilities. I will fulfil them, honourably rather than half-heartedly. I try my best. Those who truly know me will understand that. Those who criticise without thought or truly seeing, those who attempt to take advantage… well, yes, it hurts, but consider that lesson learned. Give and take has to be on both sides, and if I’m treated badly for my efforts, that will inevitably colour our relationship in future.

Part of this is fearlessness. Not feeling terrified of messing up, of getting something wrong, of missing deadline, of an anticipated look of disappointment (real or imagined). Part of it is rising to a challenge – to remember that what you are doing in life is for you as much as anyone else. Not selfishness, just personal truth.

At the end of the day (not metaphorical – actual bedtime), can you look back and be happy with what you did? Likely good things and bad, but that’s life. Can you sleep well with that? Because there’ll be more tomorrow.

Are we ready for whatever we’re doing next?

We step forward. A constant challenge.

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Sacrifice

Note: I did originally take this down, for reasons previously discussed – but I’m re-posting it on request. Make of it what you will.

This post has been gestating for some time, on request from interested readers; it seems this topic has struck a chord with many (perhaps unsurprisingly). But before we start, it will NOT feature talk of goats, chickens, reading the future in intestines or other such bunkum.

You wouldn’t believe how often I’m asked about that.

Druidry is a nature-based spirituality, with a focus on relationship and connection. Sacrifice is a natural part of this, as we ask ourselves what we can do to enhance our own life, knowledge, experience and worship/practice. This does not mean bowing down before anything in abasement, or making offerings as some sort of trade – I give this up, so please give me luck/money/love.

Sacrifice doesn’t work like that (except in stories – and look at how such requests often turn out). I respect myself, my gods and my ancestors more than to presume our relationship is nothing more than basic bartering.

I also get confused by the general assumptions about sacrifice as a faith-based action. Take Lent, for example. To remember Jesus’ wanderings in the desert, Christians give up something of value for 40 days (if folk even remember that this is the reason behind it). Very good… but to me, giving up chocolate or sweets as a gesture, which isn’t even very well kept or intentioned, is lip-service at best, insulting at worst.

In that scenario, Jesus gave up everything, to take himself away into the wilderness to be challenged. Such stories are not uncommon. Buddha went from Prince to ascetic in his quest for Enlightenment and meaning. In the Arthurian mythos, Merlin went totally mad and took himself away into the forest to face his darkness (both actual and internal).

This is a life-lesson. Despite what some New-Agers want us to believe and aim for, life is not intended to be all sweetness and light. But nor is it a time of bleakness, pain and darkness. Life is what we make it, and to fully live with awareness, we must walk that line of balance between light and dark, pain and pleasure, knowledge and ignorance.

At various points in our lives, we will be forced (whether voluntarily or not) to face our own darkness. We will be challenged. We cannot avoid our fears forever, nor should we try.

Sacrifice is an act of intention, removing ourselves in some way from our ‘comfort zone’ in order to learn and experience. It’s not just a daily or monthly detox, whether for mind or body. It is a serious matter, not to be taken lightly – because if you do it right, you will indeed be challenged as a result.

As with many things in Druidry (and life), you get back what you give out. If you give up chocolate, you may lose a little weight – but if your intention isn’t really present, the act of sacrifice may be ‘naughtily’ broken, or simply forgotten after a set period. As I said, this is both disrespectful and fairly pointless. Why bother, if you aren’t putting your all into it?

If you are truly, honestly and honourably facing your own darkness in order to sacrifice your fear… expect a life change. If you are making the decision to become a vegetarian for the rest of your life – another life change. Giving up sweets as part of a true decision to control your own impulses, experiencing that difference and questioning your own actions – a simple action, but with great effect because of the motivation behind it.

If you resolve to explore your relationship with your gods or ancestors, regularly and actively, you’re sacrificing your time, your own life. That’s immense. So do it right. This is a true sacrifice: difficult, yes, but absolutely worth it.

What is your relationship with the thing that you are sacrificing? If it’s of no real value to you, why should it be of value to the one you’re sacrificing to (including yourself)? Think of something that you can’t do without. Soap operas, coffee, cigarettes, medication… all different drugs, with different (side)effects. Giving up alcohol, after a certain point is reached, can be fatal. Explore your true needs. What can you really do without? What’s just cosmetic, what’s an indulgence? I wouldn’t recommend sacrificing an insulin dependency, but perhaps investigating the possibility of reducing prescription medication, exploring alternatives.

Sacrifice is a responsible act. We take responsibility for our choices as we make them – that’s a learning process in itself, in these days of throwaway decisions and unforeseen consequences. How do we honour ourselves and those who are connected to us (both human and non-human) by our daily lives? What do we take in, that others suffer due to lack of?

Sacrifice is difficult, often due to the unforeseen obstacles of modern life. A few years ago, I read about a charity that was seeking books for children in developing countries. These youngsters had never read the ‘Classics’, and likely never would get the chance to – but they were grateful for every real book that they could get hold of, just for the chance to experience those stories for themselves. Books were treasure – a fact that I’ve always believed, but now here, in an entirely new way.

I was deeply moved. Imagine the tales that I loved, the books around my house that are absolutely part of my life, and have been since before I could read. I had taken them for granted. Would I give them up for those children? Absolutely.

I started to make calls and write emails. Before long, the obstacles started. The charities that deal with getting books to those schools and homes didn’t actually want physical books – they wanted the money to buy them. Alarm bells started ringing in my head, as the countries in question are notorious for corruption. I wanted to send boxes of Wordsworth Classics (£1 editions of out-of-copyright works), thinking that I could afford to send more of those than a box of £5.99 paperbacks. I’m not rich, but want to do something.

Ultimately, it wasn’t possible to do this. I’ve since done charity work, actively giving up my time (and a lot of my own books!) in order to help from this side, but short of going to those countries to actually tell stories, there’s little way to go from intention to action.

But that was part of the step to exploring what my sacrifice was. My books; my stories; my ability to tell tales. I can work in my own community, and give up my own time. I can do my best to pass on the magic, to inspire and simply connect others to their own stories through my own words. I dove deeper. What was I doing?

And here I am. 🙂

What would your sacrifice be? It’s not a simple question, but I just ask you to consider it. What don’t you want to give up, that you need to? How ready are you to face change?

Sacrifice isn’t about death after all – it’s about life.

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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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