Posts Tagged office

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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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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Wishes and Work

This week has been busy. I’m working (as in bill-paying work) full-time again for the next few months, but I’ve spent so long spent writing, teaching and generally Druiding semi-professionally since Spring that it’s pretty much combined with whatever else I’m doing. As I found when I was asked in the space of two days about preparing a public talk/rite for the Winter Solstice, and also an as-yet-unspecified activity for the Spring Equinox. Both requests from my workplace…

Plus, the inevitable chat with new colleagues about exactly what I do as a ‘Multifaith volunteer’, gently answering their (wonderfully¬† curious) questions. And the still-unbelievable fact of my book as a reality (now in the editing stages, after a mad rush to finish it on my last ‘free’ week before Proper Employment).

The madness of the working world has been brought home to me again forcibly, however. The 9-5, the insanity of so many meetings, there’s no time to do any actual work. Policies that appear to bear no resemblance to reality, nor those expected to enforce and be enforced by such doctrine. The frankly mad questions, demands and ways of spending the day that make me want to write a version of ‘Catch 22’ set in an office. I keep expecting a small elf to step out from behind a filing cabinet, scribbling notes and asking me to repeat something I’d just said, because I’m actually in a Terry Pratchett novel. Absurdity abounds.

It’s teaching me to value my time all over again. The icy mornings walking the dog as the sun rises, before returning home to put on smart clothes and makeup. The tired evenings, stuck in traffic as I watch the moon rise over the river, returning home to a few brief hours of nourishing food and company. before falling into bed… only to repeat the process again daily until the weekend.

But whereas before I knew no different, having been a commuter for most of my adult life, now I’ve experienced my time as truly my own for too long. And with that comes the realization that it still is. I’ve made the active choice to spent 7.5 hours a day in an office, plus travel, with everything that entails – so I can whinge about it, wishing myself somewhere else, or I can do it in my own way.

I’ve felt the battle between the ‘masked’ persona – the suited office professional, who knows the buzz-words and has a fixed smile on standby – and the ‘real’ person – the leafy tattoos that sneak an appearance from up my sleeve, the unusual knowledge that creeps into conversation… and the real, genuine smile that seems to be the most surprising thing of all. I’m living my truth, and people are seeing it. And liking it.

I was caught staring out of the window in the middle of transcribing a recorded conversation (so headphones on, full concentration on screen and keyboard, huge tiredness afterwards). But outside were the rolling hills that border Derby, leading away into the Peaks beyond Ashbourne, remote and wind-swept, birds soaring above, clouds threatening snow… and a workmate sighs next to me. “Lovely, isn’t it?”

But she’s not sighing because it’s unreachable – she’s happy that I’ve noticed it as well. We talk a little about how lucky we are to have such a beautiful view, moving on to the stories of how we came to live here. Her face lights up as she talks of her love for the land, the community, her friends here. And my smile can’t be anything but genuine.

That’s my Druidry, active and relevant amid the busy working landscape that we’ve built for ourselves, and which is considered the ultimate in ‘normal life’. I didn’t mention the word ‘Druid’, nor ‘pagan’, nor ‘faith’. I’m simply listening, responding, allowing the tale to unfold and bearing witness. Not from politeness (or concealed boredom), but genuine pleasure in what that other person had to say. Because they’re telling their truth as well, from inside, often a little shyly because it’s not the ‘cool’ thing to be talking about. But they’re clearly glad that they can. I do my best to set the space for us to really be ourselves – and that counts for a lot.

When I tell others what I do, some of the experiences that I’ve had, I quite often get the response of: “Oh, I wish I could do that. You do such amazing things with your life.”

I do know what they mean… and I want to laugh, to tell them about the sheer amount of (unseen) work that goes into those tasks well. But what I want to say is: “Why can you NOT? What’s stopping you?”

Because I know there’d be a list of excuses, reasons that act as walls to their dreams, insurmountable barriers put up to make the 9-5 into the entire reason for living. It’s that old story of “Why did you do/say that?” “Because I should.” Or “I have no choice.”

I know it sounds unbelievable but… there is always a choice.

Sometimes it’s a matter of waiting for the opportunity – but you can still move pieces into place to make your life more your own, setting things up in line with where you want to be. Simply waiting for goals to manifest won’t result in anything. I’ve found that you get back exactly what you put in.

And yes, it’s difficult. I’ve fallen lots of times, and have had to be picked up and put back to rights. I have to remind myself daily why I’m doing my tasks. Often, it’s simply perspective. Something small will happen to remind me, and I have to be aware enough to recognise it. Which quite often results in a smile as I realize how daft I’ve been.

Remember what’s important. Be curious as to the reasons for things. Try to know your truth and live it as best you can. Not in a flighty, ‘New Age’ way – but in the sense of you, yourself, really knowing what’s true in your everyday actions, and what’s (frankly) bullshit. Why are you doing that? How can you change it into something better?

And are you brave enough to?

Step forward. You’re not alone.

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