Sunday, February 19, 2012

Headaches, Hidden Hurts and Healing

I awoke this morning with a fierce headache.  It was the kind of headache where it feels like someone is drilling through your skull in several locations, over an eye, above an ear and at the very top of your neck where it connects to your head.  This is not the way I wanted to start my weekend.  I slowly got out of bed, pausing at times until the throbbing stopped just long enough to take a few more steps to the bedroom door.  I made it downstairs where I promptly put on my prescription sunglasses to filter out the bright sunlight streaming through my kitchen windows which was making the pain in my head worse.  I made coffee and then sat in a chair by the kitchen counter, my hands on either side of my head, tightly holding my skull together.  I truly thought my head would crack open from the pain.  As I sat there, I attempted to ground the pain, to send it away from me through some visualization and meditation, but it wasn't working.  I just couldn't focus on anything but the pain.

After what seemed to be an hour but was actually a few minutes, the coffee was finally done brewing.  I quickly made a cup and, before even taking a sip, held the steaming hot cup against my face and against my temples until the searing pain subsided a bit.  Heat often eases headaches for me.  Sipping the coffee and trying another round of visualization, I was able to get the headache to a dull roar.  While I sat in my kitchen, I thought about what was causing this headache.  I had sufferred from three similar headaches over the past week as well as a few smaller ones that came and went quickly.  Perhaps it was the fact that allergy season was staring earlier this year due to our mild Winter.  Maybe I needed new glasses.  Maybe it was the long hours of computer use over the past week.  I even went to my chiropractor (who is also my boss) for a tune-up on Wednesday.   She got everything back in aligment except my neck which she is usually able to "crack"  without too much trouble.  My neck just would not "go"!  It dawned on me as I sat with my coffee that maybe all of the above were playing a role in these massive headaches but that there was also some other subconscious underlying reason.  I thought and thought and then -bingo!- it came to me.  My husband has been working some very long hours over the past month or so, not getting in until around 7 o'clock every weeknight and going in to work on weekends.  This has not only been very stressful for him but for me as well.  I am picking up his share of the chores around the house.  I'm handling most of the issues that arise around the house or with our son and not really discussing these things with him because I don't want him to feel too much pressure.  Resentment was beginning to rear its ugly head.  It had lodged itself in my neck and shoulders and was creating these horrific headaches.  I needed to let it go!  I knew what must be done.

I went about my morning and my day, feeding pets, doing laundry, getting the grocery shopping done and doing some light cleaning around the house.  My husband was luckily around all day so he was able to help with all of this.  At one point, I said to him, "It's so nice to have you back!"  In saying this, my shoulders began to relax a bit.  But it was not until later in the afternoon that I was truly able to let all the tension go. 

I grabbed my gardening gloves and headed outside.  It was a beautiful day - sunny, clear skies, a cool breeze, and warm but not quite Spring-like yet.  I knelt down at one of my garden beds, the one designated for this year's vegetable plantings, and began moving aside the pine branches I had placed over it after Christmas this year.  Then I moved aside the decaying leaves I had raked onto the bed in the Autumn to mulch down over the Winter.  There, underneath these natural insulating layers were many earthworms working the soil, preparing it for me, for the plants I would soon be setting there.  I placed my hands on the soil and silently asked Mother Earth for some of this fertile creative energy to replace this tension and stress, to rid me of the building resentment and the the ensuing anger.  I felt the transfer of energy, a tingling through my hands, up my arms, and swirling around inside me.  I did a few slow cleansing breaths, visualizing the negative energy leaving me like exhaled black smoke.  I felt the muscles in my neck begin to loosen.  My shoulders no longer felt like they were up around my ears.  My teeth unclenched and my jaw relaxed.  With many thanks to Mother Earth and a feeling I can only describe as renewal, I set about checking my other garden beds.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pagan Pathways

I have been a practicing witch for over 20 years but have only really been out of the broom closet for the past 7 or 8 years.  When most people first find out that I am Wiccan, they have many questions.  Some are the stereotypical questions about spells, brooms, covens and the like.  Others are more spiritual wherein people want to know the real story about Wicca or how I came to make the decision to follow this path.  Some people are very accepting of my spirituality and others are “freaked out” by it.  Then there are those who ask me the big question:  Will you teach me?  For me, this is a very loaded question because it means determining whether the person genuinely wants to follow the path or is just disillusioned by their own spiritual path and is not really sure what they want from it.  It means determining that a person’s intentions are clear and true to themselves.  That’s a huge responsibility and, quite frankly, scares me a bit.

I was first introduced to Wicca when a friend of mine introduced me to a young woman with whom he felt I had much in common.  He was so right.  My friendship with this woman grew very quickly and soon she was my mentor in the Craft.  I never asked her to teach me and she never offered to teach me.  The only question I seem to remember being asked was if I “would like to know more” about Wicca.  She suggested a few books to read, explaining that the first and foremost book on the subject was Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance.  My mother picked up a copy of this for me and I spent a weekend reading it and then another week re-reading it more intensely.  She also told me that another must was When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone, which I quickly purchased and read.  My friend also bought me a couple of other books, one on visualization and the other on Celtic magick, that she felt I might find useful.  The other books I picked up along the way.  All of these books are still the core of my Wiccan and Pagan studies library.  I spent that first year reading everything I could on the subject, practicing meditation and visualization, and learning the basic how-to’s on my own.  These led me to know that this was the path I was meant to walk.  It encompassed all I believed about the world, about my spirit, and about nature.  It spoke many truths to me and I was listening intently to all of it.

During that year, my friend was always willing to answer any question and to clarify any information for me.  She educated me in the ways of witchcraft by being foremost my friend.  We would spend countless hours on the phone having very deep spiritual discussions.  I would go to her downtown apartment and she would show me her current altar set-up or give me impromptu tarot card lessons.  She passed down some of her magickal items she was no longer using for me to rededicate for my own practices.  If she bought too much of a certain herb, she’d share the excess with me.  If she found out new information about a subject, she’d immediately share it with me. 

Yet, she never taught me how to cast a circle, call the quarters, draw down the moon, or cast a spell.  Yes, we discussed these things, especially the core elements of ritual and how they can be entirely personalized, but she left them up to me to experience at my own pace, in my own space and time.  I didn’t question why because, as I felt my way through my first rituals, I felt the energy I could raise and saw my magickal work come to fruition in many instances.  It all felt so natural to me.  She knew that it would be that way for me.

This may not be the traditional way one is introduced to Wicca but it served a great purpose to me.  It ensured that I understood the history, the core principles, and the ethics of witchcraft.  It also led me to my path through my own realization that my intent was clear and true to myself, that I knew why I was taking this path and that it was truly what I wanted.  In the years since, I have reinvented my practices to incorporate them on a more daily basis in my life.  I have discovered the pagan beliefs and principles that truly speak to me and those that do not.  I have come to terms that I excel at certain things more than others, like divination with runes versus tarot cards.  I have found that I have an affinity for everything herbal – spells, remedies, and cooking.  I guess you could say I have matured within the Craft and gained much wisdom from many people I know and many people I only know from reading their works on many varied pagan subjects.  I always felt comfortable with Wicca but now it feels like home.

A few years ago I was asked to teach someone.  I agreed because I was secure in the knowledge that I could do this.  I had been practicing for so long and was confident that I could impart my knowledge to help someone onto the Wiccan path.  I gave this person the list of core suggested reading and told her that, when she had finished reading The Spiral Dance, first a thorough once through reading and then a lengthy re-reading with the exercises, we could discuss what she had read and what she would come to understand from reading it.  She seemed very impatient as she began reading the book, asking me when we would get to me actually teaching her.  I wanted her to read that book first because I wanted her to be sure that this was the path she wanted for her life, for her spirit.  She continued reading the book but, to this day, I am not sure if she ever finished it.

The whole thing sort of fell to the wayside and really wasn’t discussed again.  A year later, that same person told me that I was a bad teacher.  I sort of laughed it off and told her that I was sorry, that I was bogged down in too much of the physical world at the time to really teach her.  That was partially true.  I was in the middle of some personal changes and did not have a whole lot of time to dedicate to teaching someone.  But the other truth was that it just wasn’t happening naturally as it had with me and my mentor.  Something was not right about it.  I felt like she really wasn’t in it for reasons that were true to herself.  She wasn’t “eating up” the information like I had, like I have seen others do.  She didn’t seem to be feeling that initial connection to the path that most of us feel when we take those first fledgling steps upon the Pagan path, that feeling that everything you always subconsciously knew was true but was not told by anyone suddenly is right in front of you and you are near tears because now you see the truth.

Instead of voicing this to her, I took on the badge of “Bad Teacher”.  And even if I had spoken up, the badge may still have been placed on me to wear like a scarlet letter.  I internalized this for a long time, even agonized over it a bit.  It was not until this past Autumn, when another witchy friend of mine was having a similar issue with a friend of hers, that I even really spoke about this.  We chatted back and forth about it at length via the internet and we came to the same conclusion:  that neither friend really knew what they were looking for from this journey yet.  Perhaps they would eventually come to it but, until then, we would just stay, in their eyes, “bad teachers”.  We needed to move on, secure in who we were, what we were and what we knew about ourselves.  What they thought of us just did not matter.  If they stayed our friends, great.  If they did not, fine.  (In both cases, the friends remained friends!)

So recently, when I was approached by a person and asked if I would teach her, I was truly confident in my answer.  “If you would like to know more, I would be glad to help you with it”, I said.  I referred her to the core reading on the subject as I had been told all those years ago.  She had many questions including when I could initiate her or when she could initiate herself, when she could perform a ritual, and when she could cast a spell.  My answer to her?  “When you are secure in the knowledge and confident that this is the path you are to take, you will know you are ready for those things.”  But I also told her that I would be there for her, to answer her questions as she walked the path, to share the path with her.

My mentor is still my very dearest friend to this day and is truly a kindred spirit.  We lose touch from time to time as she lives on the West Coast and I on the East now but we always end up back on the phone for hours having deep spiritual discussions, or conversations of the current state of affairs in the world, or just laughing about growing older.  We educate each other.  We learn from each other.  And what have I ultimately learned about teaching someone about the Pagan path?  The student is only as good as the teacher and the teacher is only as good as the student.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Of Holiday Blues, Rainbows and the Promise of Spring

It’s been a very long while, hasn’t it?  Once again, I must apologize to those of you who look forward to my blog posts but life has been crazy (and I mean crazy crazy).  The holidays really knocked me down several notches.  I just wasn’t into them this year.  Finances were tight and time was even tighter.  The state of affairs in the world had me steaming angry and feeling that all was becoming hopeless.  I did everything I was supposed to do for Yule, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations – cleaning, decorating, cooking, shopping, card-writing, etc.-and they wiped me out.  Somehow, right before Yule, I managed to find just enough holiday spirit to carry me through the next two weeks.  I came out the other side relatively unscathed, thank the Goddess!

January brought much sadness with the death of my cousin’s 12-year old daughter, Olivia, who had Juvenile Huntington’s Disease.  Although she was free from suffering, her passing hit all of us very hard.  My heart aches and my soul feels heavier each and every time my mind wanders to her smiling shining face, which is very often.  I also keep “bumping into” all things about The Wizard of Oz, one of her absolute favorite movies.  So I think this is her way of telling me that she’s happy wandering somewhere over the rainbow where she is now able to skip, play, run, jump and all the other things she could not do in this plane of existence.  I occasionally have this vision of Olivia sitting under a huge old tree at the end of a rainbow with my mother and my aunt (her grandmother).  They are reading aloud to her and she is playing with butterflies as she giggles and smiles.  I’m not sure if it’s the way I wish it to be or the way it really is, but with each vision I find myself crying and smiling at the same time.

With my uncharacteristic melancholy at the holidays and Olivia’s passing, the last half of January felt a bit unsteady.  My husband was working very long hours and bringing tons of work home (he still is), I was throwing myself into my book writing and catching up on normal household activities, and my son had so many school events that I had trouble keeping up with his schedule.  There had been no time to really just stop and reflect.  Until a few days before Imbolc’s arrival, one day blurred into the next.

Two days before Imbolc, I found that things began to slow down greatly for me.  Although the hubby was still working like a madman and my son still had a school event in the coming weekend, I did not feel that insane pressure.  I felt more grounded and centered.  I settled into a pace of preparing for Imbolc and doing the more mundane chores of daily life.  I was able to make considerable progress in my book, something which had all but been forgotten in the hustle and bustle of December.  I was able to read a few pages of a book each day.  Chores seemed to get done more quickly and more easily.  I was even able to take some time out of my day to head out to my garden and do a bit of straightening up, to feed the birds and watch for any newcomers, and to just be with nature for a while.  It was so nice.

But why did everything suddenly seem easier and lighter?  Why did there seem to be enough time in the day to get all done and still do some things for myself?  Why was I feeling a greater sense of peace?

It was the promise of Spring.  My spirit was sensing the subtle changes in the Earth, in the slant of the sun’s rays, in the budding life below the surface of the soil and was trying to relay this information to my mind, to my conscious self, which had been bogged down in everyday life.  The darkness of Winter was beginning to slip away.  Imbolc was almost here and it was heralding the coming of Spring!

Today, I took my time walking home from the office, enjoying the cool air and bright sunshine.  So far Winter has been strangely mild here in the Northeast.  Hardly any snow has fallen and we have not experienced bone-chilling temperatures.  My garden is a bit confused.  My hyacinths are coming up, my lilac has buds on it, and my parsley has continued to grow throughout the season.  There is still plenty of time left in Winter for a  Nor’Easter to head our way, which will wreak some havoc on my garden and the critters that live in and around it.  Yes, I would like to see some snow because it is what Winter in the northeastern/mid-Atlantic United States is all.  For now, I’ll take the promise of Spring and let it carry me forward into and through each day.