Posts Tagged London

Stripping Back

As some of you know, many years ago I worked as a PA (Personal Assistant) to high-level executives in London. Every day, I would be up and out the door, sometimes to the gym first at 6am before heading into the office for 8ish. I’d be home around 7pm, all being well, after a day of fairly flat-out Assisting. Helping others to get things done.

I was good at it. PAs run so many businesses from behind the scenes, and I have many interesting stories…

But the ones that I remember aren’t the professional moments. They’re the personal ones.

Grabbing a brief sit-down at an event (Vienna listed building, string quartet, canapes) and finding myself chatting to a friendly older gentleman as we both wonder why we can’t wear comfortable shoes with suits to these posh do-es. Turned out he ran a company, which ran a company, which owned various household name utility companies you will have heard of. But right then, he was a man who was tired, with aching feet, missing his family.

Another day, I received a surprised look, followed by a genuine smile when I asked a CEO how his wife was doing after a recent illness.

Taking the hand of someone at a bus stop outside the office, because there was a thunderstorm right overhead and she was scared. She fell into my arms, sobbing. We were both wearing suits, but that didn’t matter.

Every day, I would see my fellow commuters at the station, on the train and then the bus, gearing themselves up for the working battle. We’d all signed up for it, we all knew what we were doing (mostly). But in order to survive, we had to put on the appropriate clothing, the makeup or accessories. Displaying our professionalism through our plumage.

I’ve spoken before how I tended to wear a leather jacket (smart, not biker-style). It was my armour. I would spritz myself with perfume before I left the house, shrug on that coat and sally forth. I still have it. It looks rather like Christopher Eccleston’s costume as The Doctor now, but that just makes me smile more.

I’ve been pondering these basic survival tactics that used to be second nature to me, because I don’t think I have them any more. I somehow let them fall away when I moved out of London. Not that they’re not required anywhere else; I just couldn’t do it now. Which is perhaps why I’m where I am.

I sit here typing, in my small home office, with a home-made shawl around my shoulders. That’s enough protection, that wooly hug. But I have been wondering how much I still need when I head out into The World.

We all need our protections. I suspect some ladies may feel this more deeply, especially if they’ve ever walked home alone at night, but I mean simple daily disguises. Exploring the masks we wear is a common lesson in modern Pagan practice, but that’s only part of what I mean.

I’ve been researching and exploring the idea of connection with deity lately, as that’s what I’m going to focus on in my upcoming book. There’s no way to do that without diving deep, not for me. I’m not touching on the surface theory – I was to know why we seek such connections.

And I’ve been coming back to the idea of the masks we wear, the layers we cover ourselves with. What it takes to peel them back, or to have them fall away completely.

Thinking on those sudden connections in my old job, I see the simply humanity of basic connection. Looking someone else in the eye, or displaying simple care. That was rare, it seems.

We do it naturally, too. In public, many Pagans love to display their allegiance, from velvets and big hats to tiny symbols on their everyday wear.

But when we stand before our gods, what then? We might as well be naked, because all of that seems to fall away.

We use the masks to get through everyday life. I’ve been doing that less and less, and as a result have had trouble in busy places, tiring quickly and becoming overwhelmed easily. So do I add more armour, or just take smaller steps honestly? At the moment, it’s a little of both. I usually have a shawl about me, some tokens in my bag and yes, that symbolic jewellery.  But I’m still clearly me.

When I ‘work’ now in public ritual, I can be seen wearing robes and cloak – and some people are shocked to find out that I’m still a person underneath, happy to chat and able to joke about the difficulties of driving in a long, swirly outfit. I love to wear regular clothes when being a Public Pagan, but sometimes the ‘work attire’ is necessary. It’s not hiding me, but accentuating the role which I am performing. It’s not to display my ego.

As we move more deeply into our personal practice, I find these lines between roles blurs and moves. What is on the outside helps in many ways, but when we get down to it, the connection comes from within. Our heart and mind must be in accord, spirit connecting with body and inner world with outer. We must speak honestly: truth is key.

So as I speak those words in ritual, a tiny part of my mind is aware of those gods, watching and listening. I do my best for the people with me, but also for them, because even if their names aren’t spoken, I act for them. I represent my gods, my ancestors, my homeland…

And yet, when I need to pour out my soul at home, alone, my clothing offers no help whatsoever. Sometimes personal ritual is performed naked; sometimes (again), a shawl helps to put into the right frame of mind. But the masks must always complement, not hide… Because they will fail.

Those who stand up in public, in whatever role they take on, must do so truly. More people look, to see through the sham, the persona, the costume. We acknowledge why it is needed, but we want more. Those who want to be the Great High Ritualist must know how to be themselves for their congregations as well. We honour those who come to us for help by respecting them in turn, enough to share truths, to speak and listen.

I’m finding that by freeing my Self, by letting those accoutrements fall away, I’m able to connect more effectively; that is when I call, I receive an answer. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a great amount of cosmic ‘small talk’ – I can get straight to the point. And this works both ways. Sometimes, I’ll get a metaphysical ‘tap’ on the shoulder and I respond. I’ll probably figure out what’s going on in due course, but for now, just trust and do what’s needed.

As we move forward on our spiritual journey, those lines between the ‘magical’ and the ‘mundane’ really do fade. As we keep exploring, so we see more clearly what is needed and why. Then it’s up to us to have the strength and courage to respond accordingly. Even if we may look silly.

It is worth it.

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