Sometimes when I write an article, it’s based on something I’ve been asked a lot, or something that keeps coming up. Sometimes it’s when I notice a pattern, or realize I’m holding a piece of knowledge that isn’t commonplace. But on days like today? It’s when I recognize that I’m struggling, and have been having a lot of conversations with other people who are ALSO struggling.
Actual footage of one of my spirit guides
There’s always so much going on. In amongst all the making a living, making a life, trying to stay current, keeping up with housework and pets and car maintenance, nurturing friendships, getting some exercise, pursuing a hobby or two and whatever else the Universe throws at me, it’s really tough to hang onto that thread of Spirit sometimes. Activities that nurture my spirit tend to take a backseat to things I think are more pressing. Some of this is specific to me – I have a lot of interests and activities, and I’m a community organizer. But some of it? Some of it is just how we live now.
This fight is not new. I tangle with this one almost constantly, sometimes more successfully, sometimes less so. Right now I have a few tools that work, and a couple new ones that I’m field testing. In this blog, I’m going to talk about what I’m doing that works and what I’m testing out. Got some ideas? I’d love to hear them.
One of the most useful tools I have has to do with how I approach my use of effort. I learned it from Rev. Carl Gregg a few years ago. During a sermon, he talked about dividing activities into categories of Good, Better and Best. Almost everything we do has some ‘good’ to it (okay, other than my Words With Friends habit), which is part of why it’s tough to choose. So, for me, that chart looks a little like this:
This will vary a lot for everyone – where we place entries on that chart is dependent on what we think is valuable. To me, my relationship with my fiancée and the Cottage come first. What’s sad is that I knocked that graphic together quickly and didn’t even think to include ‘personal spiritual development’ anywhere. It tells you a lot about where that falls for me – into the ‘Good’ column. If I’m lucky. On good days. When I have time for it.
To use this system, you do need to sit down and actually write everything out. Write down all the stuff you do and then start labeling it appropriately. Once you know what your ‘best’ use of effort is, it’s a lot easier to focus there and let the ‘good’ parts become less stressful. Cleaning the house is important, sure, but I’m willing to trade some pet fur for being able to sit down and write to you. That’s what’s most important to me.
The other tool I have that helps me with my connection is dedicated days and times for certain things. Mondays are my ‘Refresh Offerings’ day. I didn’t base it so much on the metaphysics associated with the day of the week (although they’re pretty decent), but on the fact that I work from home on Mondays. At the very least, when I refresh the offerings on my altars, it means that I will spend a few minutes thanking my ancestors and connecting with them, then thanking Freya and Hel and connecting with Them. That entire process sometimes includes a time of meditation, but frequently it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s just five minutes or so of me speaking softly to the Powers in my life. And you know what? That’s okay. The good thing with this particular tool is that at least I have those five minutes.
To use this tool, figure out where a good dedicated spot in your schedule is for making offerings. Rather than trying to shoehorn a dedicant time into your life, figure out where there’s already a little time. Then make that your ‘offerings’ day.
The third Connection support in my life is scheduled spiritual activities. I’m the Head Squirrel Herder of Frederick CUUPS, a large and vibrant Pagan community based in Western Maryland. Our regular activities include: High Holiday Rituals, a monthly Earth Centered Spirituality Service, monthly Full Moon Labyrinth walks, workshops and classes (I currently teach one that runs alternating Thursday nights) and other assorted events. It’s a LOT of stuff – there are some weeks where I feel like I should just set up a cot at the UUCF and stay there. Since I’m the Squirrel Herder, I’m at the center of a lot of that list of events (although not all, thanks to some incredible folks who are starting to take on more responsibilities). The wonderful thing about having scheduled spiritual events on the calendar is that they FORCE me to be present for them. One of the most beneficial to my own spiritual connection is the Full Moon Labyrinth Walks. Although I set them up, they’re effectively self-service during the time of the Walk. That means that at some point during the evening, I get to do a Labyrinth Walk as well.
From the May Labyrinth walk, photo by Courtney W.
Community involvement is a good way to stay spiritually active since it addresses more than one need. We need spiritual connection, yes. But the other thing we need is social time. In the fitness world, we call this the ‘social anchor,’ – it’s part of why people who start working out by attending fitness classes, or working with a fitness buddy or trainer, are more successful at maintaining their new habit. Humans are social. If we take an active role in helping with an event, we’re also then being relied on by other people. That can help us remember to show up as well.
New Tools and Techniques
Those are the three tools I’ve been using. They have been helpful, but I’m still looking for more ways to get my life in sync with my vision for it. My challenges with time and energy management were so overwhelming recently that I scheduled a time to talk to Rev. Carl about it. He introduced me to another way of view task management that comes from Stephen Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.’ I found this ‘lens’ for viewing activities to be very useful.
What Carl pointed out, and is absolutely right about, is that the area that tends to get neglected is Quadrant 2: Important but not Urgent. This is where spiritual development practices fall for most of us. And unfortunately, while dealing with all the Urgent matters, the Important stuff that isn’t actively on fire gets passed off to another day. Then another week. Then maybe next month. And then the next thing you know, a year has passed and you STILL haven’t made much of a dent in your book list.
Carl suggested that the only way to ensure Quadrant 2 gets addressed is to block off time for it. Since our discussion, I’ve implemented a block of time in the afternoon specifically for reading. Some days it still doesn’t happen since there’s too much on fire. But, I’ve read more over the last couple weeks than in the previous month. I’ve also carried that ‘force myself to schedule time for it’ mentality to a monthly hike with a witchy friend and into vigorously defending my unscheduled weekends. On weekends when I do not have Kindred Crow, FCUUPS or familial obligations, I now avoid scheduling anything. I frequently won’t tell anyone when a weekend is free, either. I need time to heal, recover, deepen and have some days that are not focused around service to others.
Self Care Menu
This last tool set is brand new. Like many people, I get seriously bored by routine. If I do something every day, it’s really easy for me to skip it since I’ll just do it tomorrow. Spiritual connection and activities are easier to pursue if we’re in a good place in terms of our minds and emotions. We all know it, but skipping out on self care is also a pretty common Achilles Heel.
So here’s how to build your menu. Make a list of 5 to 10 self-care activities that take two to five minutes. Some examples from my own list are: self foot massage, mindful breathing/mini meditation, earthwalking in the yard, a sun salutation or two, random selection of a short reading from one of my meditation/journaling prompt books.
Then, make a list of 5 to 10 self-care activities that take 10 to 30 minutes. Some of my examples: hot bath with Epsom salts, shamanic journeying, restorative yoga pose sequence, walk in the park or on the C&O Canal trail (they are local to me, I’m lucky), put on music I love and dance around the living room.
Then, make a list of 5 to 10 self-care activities that take an hour or more. Some of my examples: get a massage or pedicure, go for a float, hiking, kayaking, attend a class, workshop or retreat focused on meditation or other self-healing, acupuncture treatment.
Now you have your menu. Choose one item from the two to five minute list to do every day. Choose one item from the 10 to 30 minute list to do once a week. Choose one item from the hour or more list to do every month. Schedule them into your calendar on your phone, set reminders before each one and defend those little windows of time with every nearly-naked Gerard Butler your imagination can summon.
This collection of tools and techniques is how I’m currently staying connected. How are you doing it? Do you have some tricks for finding time and energy you’d like to share? Hit me up in the comments below.
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