Autumnal shifts

It’s been later getting cold this year than is usually the case. I still haven’t got any heating on at home, I sit here typing wearing a long sleeved shirt, and no jumper. No doubt this is climate change at work, but I admit to feeling gratitude alongside my unease. I struggle with being cold; my body hurts more and flexes less in cold weather.

I have poor circulation and can get chilblains, so autumn always means shifting away from being barefoot, and needing to wear gloves while outside. I have lightweight gloves for this time of year, and much heavier ones for if it gets really cold. My body informs my experience of the seasons in very direct ways. In the cold half of the year I have to resist what the season does to me.  Nature as manifest in my body and nature as manifest in the season are never going to be in harmony.

Of course this isn’t just an issue for me. Some birds migrate to deal with shifting seasons. Hedgehogs and bears hibernate rather than deal with the winter. Trees drop their leaves in self defence. Some parts of nature are falling into sleepy time, other parts are gearing up for a long fight to survive. There’s no one right way to experience this, and no single narrative about how it all works.

In this as in all things, I think you have to start with nature as it manifests in your own body. If you try to work with a wheel of the year narrative that doesn’t reflect how you feel and experience things, you’re always going to feel out of kilter with the seasons. You also run the risk of turning ‘nature’ into some abstract story, something to think about in rituals rather than something to live. How we live day to day defines how we experience everything. It is your body, in your landscape, at the moment you find yourself in that underpins everything else.

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Making headspace for Druidry

Often, the first stage of a spiritual activity is to clear your mind. Get rid of the inner chatter before meditation, change your inner state for ritual, show up and be present in nature. Certainly none of these things work as well if your head is full of noise.

However, rather than just silencing the noise, I find it pays to discover what the noise is, first.

There are days when I can slip easily into a meditative headspace without having to make any effort at all. There are days when I get out amongst the trees and I barely know how to be present. Forcing myself to be more present often doesn’t give me a sense of the sacred any faster, it’s just effort and discipline. If there’s a lot of noise in my head, I tend to find it’s there for a reason.

So, what’s going on? It varies from day to day. There will be things I genuinely need to think about – actions to review, plans to make, important things to keep track of. If I’m trying to do a lot of things, especially if some of them are unfamiliar, I may be overthinking. If I’ve tried to do a lot of thinking, I may feel stressed and anxious. Critically, trying to just turn it off can add to the anxiousness. It really doesn’t help if I start feeling like I’m a bad Druid for being unable to easily still my mind. It isn’t Druid-fail, it’s overload.

It may also be that I’m trying to develop an idea. What happens if I sit with that is that a few grains of thought can be transformed into substantial inspiration. Making space for ideas is a vital part of the creative process. In the early stages, creative ideas don’t always stand out from other head activities. They need finding, noticing and giving permission to continue.

What works best for me, is to make time for those thoughts I’m having and give them my full attention. If there are things I need to track, a careful process of going through them in turn will help me feel more on top of things. If there are problems to solve, it’s better to solve them. If I am worried, I need to asses those worries and see if they are realistic and in need of attention, or just a reaction to overload. If my brain is full of noise, rather than doing anything structured, I’ll deal with the noise – meet it, unravel it. Then if there’s time left, I can look at meditating.

The business of everyday life is not the enemy of your spiritual path. It isn’t something to push away to get to the good stuff. The everyday life is your life, and it may well need more attention than you’ve been able to give it. Giving attention to your thoughts and feelings is key to developing self awareness and making good and conscious choices. Take it seriously. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the noise in your head – what’s wrong is that you haven’t felt able to give it the time it needs. Sit with it, listen to it, ask it questions, and find answers. Contemplate whatever’s on your mind, and the stilling and slowing comes naturally, and does something much more enduring.

The discipline to turn off your thoughts at will has its uses. The daily practice of working through your thoughts and dealing with them offers a lot more benefits.


Learning from life

Usually I find my content for blog posts by sitting down of a morning and asking ‘what do I know that I did not know before? This week, finding blog posts has been hard, and this morning I asked myself why that was, rather than asking what I have learned.

This is a week of more hours working away from home than is normal for me. As a self-employed person, I mostly work from my home computer. Up until this summer, I’d had a bunch of routines and strategies that allowed me a flexible working life. At the moment I’m getting to grips with a selection of new jobs and this week I’m spending a lot of time on one of them. I know a lot of things I didn’t know before, about where things are kept, what of the paperwork needs revising, and I’m working on some longer term strategies. None of these things make for blog posts.

When I’m on top of things, my day to day life leaves me time for reflection. I get to step back during the day and think about what I’m doing and what’s impacting on me. It’s only since I’ve stopped being able to do that, that I’ve noticed how inherently contemplative my life normally is. At the moment, all of my reflection time is being used to figure out things about the various new jobs. In all the things I’ve taken on, part of the job is to figure out what the job should be and how to do it to best effect.

What I’ve learned this week is that I learn most when I have time in a day for contemplation.  What I’ve been doing for some time doesn’t look like the structure of a conventional spiritual practice, but it has worked that way. A process of reflecting on my experiences as I go has allowed me to learn all kinds of things, and to bring depth and richness to my life. Sometimes it’s when something isn’t feasible that its true nature becomes properly visible – that’s not an ideal way to learn, but it will do!

This period of chaos has given me scope to notice things about how I’ve been living. I look forward to getting back to calmer waters with more scope to think about things. I feel like I’ve got a lot to process right now, as well as a lot to do. What do I know that I did not know before? That I need more thinking time when I don’t have to think about anything specific. Also that there are considerable personal benefits to pondering things as I go, day by day, in the informal way I’d been doing it.


Debunking the creative life

Mostly when I’m online, I talk about my creative life and my Druidry – those are the bits of what I do that I find most interesting. However, it may give the impression that I’m living the dream – full time Druid and author. I’m not.

There was a point in my life where I spent most of my time writing, teaching, leading meditation groups, running rituals and so forth. I didn’t feel able to ask for payment for the Druid work, because I was hearing a lot at the time about how it was supposed to be service. I didn’t make a vast amount from the writing. Sometimes I wrote pub quizzes for money. I had financial support from the person I was then living with, but little money of my own and no economic freedom.

Most creative people, and most professional Pagans are in a similar situation. Either the money comes from somewhere else – an inheritance, a partner or a pension, or there is a second job, or there is abject poverty. Sometimes there’s a second job and abject poverty. The lack of money and/or the not being full time is not a measure of failure. It is nigh on impossible at the moment to make a living as a creative person.

For example, it takes Tom a day to draw a page of Hopeless Maine. It takes me some hours to colour it. Then it has to be scanned, tidied up, and the lettering done. It is a full time job plus a bit. To get a graphic novel out once a year, that’s six months of solid work for Tom and part time work for me. Advances are rare, and you’re more likely to get them on handing in finished work ahead of publication than when you start drawing or writing. That’s six months with no income, please note.

Now, work out how much money you need to live on. The cover price of the book is not the money the creator gets for a book, even if they’ve self published. Half of the cover price likely goes to whoever was selling it. From the remaining half, the print costs have to be paid, plus the publisher wants to make some money. Perhaps the creator gets £1 a copy. That’s optimistic. So, you can do the maths and work out how many books you’d have to sell in a year to have what you consider a decent standard of living. Note at this point that the average book sells about 3000 copies in its entire life.

Most of us work other jobs, because that’s the only way it’s possible to create. And if we don’t, we aren’t sat in our nice libraries pondering the world – I have friends who write at a rate of about a novel a month, and believe me, that’s intense. I have friends who spend their weekends taking their work to events and markets – while doing the creative work in the week. That’s a way of making ends meet that allows you no time off. That’s no kind of easy option. To sell anything, you have to spend time promoting it. That also takes time and energy. It’s pretty full on.

Creative people and professional Pagans alike won’t necessarily tell you what their private financial situation is. For some reason, many people assume that the default answer is full time and well off. The reality is much more likely to be part time and considering it a win if they can make ends meet.

I work other jobs. I have always worked other jobs, and I expect I always will. At the moment I’m working six small part time jobs. And because of that, we can afford to have Tom full time on Hopeless Maine, and we can keep making comics. This is normal.


Wonky realities and unthinkable thoughts

A radical change in thinking is not something we can always do in a conscious way. If, for example, your reality is broken in some way, the process of recognising this and changing it might be impossible with your conscious mind. Much of the work may be done when asleep, and it can surface in dreams.

We invest a lot in our version of reality. It’s how we navigate and what we base our decisions on. However, our beliefs can turn out to be wrong. We may have trusted the wrong people, we may have invested in something that demonstrably doesn’t work. When this happens, most of us are not quick to respond to new evidence. We hang on to the old belief even as evidence stacks up to refute it. I think we do this because we’ve invested something of ourselves in that belief, and it is our sense of self that would have to change to accommodate having been wrong.

If you carry on doing something that doesn’t work, of course you just dig yourself in deeper. The debt from the unsustainable lifestyle gets bigger. The relationship gets ever more dysfunctional. Your health deteriorates. The less you square up to a problem, the bigger it gets. What might have been manageable when it first became evident, becomes bigger and more difficult. Admitting not only to the mistake, but the consequences of clinging to the mistake becomes ever more costly. So you tell yourself that you can have the thing you’ve been told explicitly isn’t possible. And you keep digging the hole.

I’ve been here.

While I was clinging to a reality that didn’t work, my dreams reduced down to a handful of anxiety stories. Some part of my brain knew perfectly well that I was in a lot of trouble, and was trying to get in touch with the rest of my brain. I didn’t listen, for years. I couldn’t face knowing. I bent what reality I had around the broken bits to try and make it work until everything was distorted and dysfunctional. In the end, I got very ill, and change happened anyway and I had no choice but to deal with how broken my reality had become. At that point, I still couldn’t do much of it consciously.

Anyone practicing spiritual disciplines may feel that they are self aware and in control of their mind. You can do a lot of work to explore your unconscious urges and motivations, and still not be able to recognise that some part of your reality is broken. It is easy to assume that you have the self awareness not to fall into this kind of trap. That you’re too good, too clever, too engaged to be living inside an illusion. In practice, you just have the tool set to make a more detailed and carefully justified illusion. If there’s something you don’t want to consciously look at, no amount of being enlightened will give you the self honesty to easily tackle it.

This is because self honesty isn’t the key issue here. It’s how invested we are in how we think things work. It is possible to hold ideas lightly and feel easy about changing them. If someone came along with a new take on gravity or the nature of atoms, I could go along with that comfortably enough. If something comes along that impacts on a key relationship in my life, I might ignore the evidence rather than face it, because I may be too invested to be able to deal with what’s happening. Would I sacrifice that level of attachment for a more dispassionate view? No. Not being that invested comes at a cost as well. Investment itself is a form of vulnerability, but without that kind of vulnerability everything can only ever be superficial.


Daughter of Light and Shadow – a review

At the surface, this is an erotic romance novel with magic in it. There is a lot of very sexy fairy content, and great fun it is, too. But that’s not really what the book is about. This is a novel about a young woman coming into her own power, dealing with why she is, what she is, where she comes from and, seeing all of that, starting to make deliberate choices about her life. The sex might be wild, but it certainly can’t save her. The love is there in her life, but it isn’t the magic answer to everything. And as for the magic – until she deals with her own shadow self it is as likely to trip her up as it is to help her.

There’s a nice balance here between escapist, folklore-based fantasy, and concepts a person can get their teeth into. If you like your fantasy well rooted, this is the business. The fairy side is steeped in folklore and tradition, giving us fairies who are cold, other, unreasonable, fickle, charming and exceedingly dangerous. These are more like the fairies from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell than the pretty things of standard modern urban romance. The magic has a strong elemental component to it, and again there’s folklore in the mix as well as material drawn from modern Paganism. There are the witchy ancestors who so often a feature in witchlit, and there’s the question of ancestral wounding.

I’ve seen this come up a few times in various novels now. Anyone writing a modern witch with a witchy ancestry immediately hits the issue of historical persecutions. This book tackles the issue of ancestral wounding head on, while making clear that many of the people persecuted for witchcraft historically were victims who had nothing to do with witchcraft but were vulnerable in some way. It’s nicely done.

If you’re looking for fairy romance, this probably isn’t the book for you because it doesn’t uphold the habits of the romance genre very well. If like me, you prefer stories that surprise you, this is much more interesting. If you’re looking for stories about love and sex that don’t make them the only considerations in a young woman’s life, then Anna McKerrow is an author I can very much recommend. If you want passionate, full blooded witch lit with magic you can relate to and characters who live in the real world at least some of the time, this is a good book to pick up.


Identifying Predators

Last week I blogged about a very uncomfortable situation involving a poet. On that post, there’s a long conversation with someone who wanted to make the case for empathy. Neuro-divergent people have trouble with social cues and can come across badly – was the gist of it.

This is indeed a fair point, and having dealt with all kinds of situations where that’s been an issue, it’s something I’m alert to. If someone is handling things badly because of how their brain is wired, I don’t want to make things harder for them. However, it is really, really important that this does not become a way of letting predators off the hook. Compassion should be kind, but if that ‘compassion and empathy’ ignores a real danger to a person, or minimises abuse, that’s not helping at all.

I’ve yet to meet a person who wasn’t neuro-typical who wanted to use that as an excuse to creep people out and leave them feeling anxious and threatened. Although no doubt that happens too, because no group is free from people with bad intentions. Most people who aren’t good at social situations don’t want to have other people feeling threatened and afraid. However, predators will use any cover they can get, if we let them.

I invite you to read this very difficult blog post about Pagan Predators, and ask how many of those might have been excused as people who were not neuro-typical, should we choose to apply that logic. Making excuses is something often done by well meaning people who want to not have to challenge creepy behaviour.  How do you tell if someone is deliberately creep or just not coping? Especially at the early stages when they were just getting warmed up? For me, whether or not they are mortified if there turns out to be a problem is a pretty good indicator.

In this blog, pay particular attention to the guy in the tent who can’t hear ‘no’ and ignores boundaries. We don’t know what’s going on with him, but whatever it is, the behaviour is inexcusable just the same. Compassion has to extend to everyone. Ignoring creepy behaviour in case it comes from a place of neuro-divergence is not a responsible choice.

http://sarahannelawless.com/2018/09/28/sexual-trauma-in-the-pagan-community/

We aren’t doing anyone a favour if we let them cause harm because they can’t tell the other person isn’t interested. You aren’t doing neuro-divergent people a favour if you present them as largely unable to tell when they might be totally out of order – that’s a dreadful assumption that does a great many people a gross disservice. It’s a way of perpetrating ideas about divergence that actually promotes prejudice rather than challenging it. I’ve left the comments on the original post, should anyone want to read them.

 


Who dictates the shape of love?

“Ye’ll have to accept that part of being loved means ye’ll have to accept that folks have concerns about ye as well. And have the right to does so. Ye cannot jes’ want the parts of this arrangement that ye likes…” (From Dance into the Wyrd, by Nils Visser)

It’s a quote that jumped out when I read it and that has stayed with me because it nails so many things. I’ve been round this one repeatedly and seen it play out in all kinds of situations. People who want some part of the love and care on offer, but want to say exactly what form that takes, and reject the bits that don’t work for them. In my experience, the care and concern of other people is often rejected. It also seems common that resenting people who care for you for wanting some of your time and attention is normal, too.

There’s often a gender aspect to this – what I mostly see is male rejection of female concern. Female concern is labelled smothering and restrictive, it is treated as an imposition, and intrusion, a limitation on the freedom the man feels entitled to. The man in question will usually want emotional labour when he wants it, sex, food, and other domestic benefits – if it’s that kind of relationship – but not to have to say when he will be back…

Of course we all need the freedom to decide what shapes we want our relationships to take. No one is obliged to do anything because someone has said ‘I love you’. However, if you are willing to take what you see as the benefits of someone else’s love, while demanding they don’t do the bits you find awkward, that stands some scrutiny.

It is easy to use apparent concern as a form of manipulation. However, simply wanting to know that someone is ok is not an emotionally manipulative activity. It’s a need to ease real anxiety. On the other hand, shaming someone for their concern is horrible. Wanting some time from a person who benefits from your love is not unreasonable, otherwise you just end up feeling used. If they take your work, your money, your support and disappear off once they’ve got it, it doesn’t look much like love returned. In a parent/child relationship, you may decide that’s just how it goes. In a sexual partnership, it may be part of casting one partner as the parent and the other as carefree and without responsibility. Again, there tends to be a gender bias here.

For myself, I have decided that I’m not doing this again. Anyone who treats my care like an imposition, does not get second helpings. Anyone who wants my emotional labour on tap, or any other forms of service from me is not going to get away with acting as though they have the right to have the whole relationship purely on their terms.


Escaping

So much is tough and scary at the moment. The realities of climate change and extinction weigh heavy on anyone paying attention. I think we need to escape in our minds sometimes, just in order to cope.  The question is, where do we go to escape and what impact does that have on us?

You can escape by watching shallow celebrity distractions, or soap operas full of unreasonable amounts of human unkindness, or fantasies full of violent domination and might being right. You can in fact escape into things that reinforce the approach to life that’s causing all the problems. Tales of competition rather than co-operation. Tales of gratuitous consumption and the toys of the wealthy you can emulate in a shoddy, throwaway fashion. Tales of abuse and misuse.

When we escape into things that distract us, but that also reflect back that how things are is pretty much all we can do, it doesn’t help. Distractions that normalise all the worst aspects of human behaviour discourage us from feeling that people can do better. We come back with these perhaps having benefited from the distraction, but with no new tools to help us cope.

If you pick your escapism carefully, you can come back hopeful. Tales of survival against the odds, of co-operation to overcome adversity. Tales underpinned by the power of friendship. Tales that speak of courage and determination and the best that we can be and that remind us that we are all capable of heroism.

I suspect that most of us choose the forms of escapism that reinforce what we already think about people and possibilities. Those of us who crave power over will seek out the stories that give us demonstrations of that.  Those of us who imagine that chaos and violence could create a world in which we would personally thrive, may enjoy those fantasies, however far from our prospects they may really be.

There is nothing wrong with escaping into any form of entertainment that helps you cope with life. It is always worth asking what that escape is doing for you aside from distraction, and what you are bringing back on your return.


Worklife Druid

I’ve never felt easy about having my Druidry be something I do in my spare time and my working life being separate from that. I’ve been fortunate in that there are things I can do that lend themselves to taking my Druidry to work. However, I’ve done all kinds of odd jobs along the way, and there are all kinds of things that mean I can take what I believe into employed spaces. This is not about evangelising, but about walking my talk. I appreciate not everyone will be able to do all of these, but I float them out in case anything inspires anyone.

I can walk to work, or work from home. I can make a point of turning things off to reduce energy use and looking out for other opportunities to make wherever I’m working a bit greener. I can quietly support and encourage those around me in making greener choices.

I can refuse to support unethical working arrangements. Now, this one is hard and costly, and on one occasion meant me quitting a job. Being able to take that risk is possible for me because I’ve always maintained a financial safety net – there’s all kinds of privilege underpinning that. If you do have the means to vote with your feet, it is important to do so. The people who are most exploited in their workplaces are the ones with the least power to resist it.

I can stand up to workplace bullying, and support anyone who is badly treated in their workplace. I can’t always fix things. I’ve seen horrendous workplace bullying in situations where it was pretty much impossible for the person on the receiving end to get it stopped without quitting their job, and they couldn’t afford to quit. Someone who is bullied at work may have to weigh fear of poverty against what they endure day to day. They may be responsible for other people and unable to take the risks of getting out. They may be trying to find something else and unable to jump until they have somewhere to jump to. If the bully gets to write your reference, that can be difficult, and fear of how they will punish you for leaving is a real thing.

I can bring my creativity and my inspiration into any work situation. I can bring my desire to uplift, inspire and encourage other people into any job. It doesn’t have to be overtly spiritual work for me to try and be a good thing for those around me. I can give the best of what I’ve got and find ways to apply that. Much of the paid work I do is not conventionally thought of as ‘creative’ in the same way that music, fiction and art are. However, I use my bardic skills all the time. I find them relevant. I also find that the more I do this, the better I feel about myself and the jobs I am doing.

The desire to be seen as a creative professional can have creative people sacrificing their autonomy for the sake of success. You write what the publisher’s accountant likes the look of. You draw what the person offering the money wanted. You sing what you think Simon Cowell wanted to hear. Sometimes the price of fame and success is creating on other people’s terms.

However, if your desire is to be creative, you can take that into any kind of work and find a way to apply it. I say this having worked on checkouts. I spent one summer washing and packing glassware. How we are in the world does not have to be defined by the role we are cast in, and anything can be made better if you can find even the smallest ways of bringing your inspiration to the job.