We are all carrying grief. Personal loss, social injustice, ecological change, and ancestral grief weave through our lives in threads that we all share. We must come together to grieve as a community, while also honoring that each of our paths through grief is unique and ultimately solitary.
I am offering an online grief circle on Saturday January 19, 2019 at 12 pm Pacific time. The circle will be held over an online video conference platform. I will hold the space and facilitate the sharing of our grief in all of it’s expressions, and lead everyone in a short ritual that you can easily complete wherever you are. We will invite in gratitude and compassion. From our open hearts, we can find a way to move forward.
I am offering this online grief circle for a sliding scale donation of $10 – $20. Register using the form below, and then make your contribution. If this is a barrier for you, please include a few sentences about your need in the comment section on the form. (Current patrons at $10 or more tiers may attend the circle at no cost)
When you register I will send you an email with suggestions for how to prepare yourself and your space for the circle and more details on what to expect.
Square Cash: $syrenofminds
Kali’s iconography frequently depicts Her as standing with one foot upon Shiva, sword upraised, holding a severed head, with her tongue sticking out between closed teeth. One interpretation of this imagery is that Kali sticks her tongue out in shame of stepping on her consort, Shiva. However, in the Devi Mahatmya, Durga manifests Kali to destroy the demon army by using her tongue to lap up the blood of Raktabija, who produces a new demon with each drop. This seems to be an important message about the nature of shame and the power of the Goddess.
One of the problems that frequently arises for me in devotional practice is shame. My discipline is far from perfect, and when I lapse in my sadhana (practice), I quickly enter a tailspin of shame. If I can’t even do this, how can I be worthy of Maa’s love? How can I be worthy of calling myself a devotee? How can I belong to community or be of service when I can’t even consistently manage my daily practice? And on and on, the shame spiral feeding back into itself until a lapse of a couple days becomes a couple weeks or more.
Eventually, I psych myself up to ‘surrender to the consequences’ of my unworthiness and neglect and sit back down at the shrine, ready to accept my punishment as the terrible child that I must be.
Mother’s ‘reputation’ as a rageful and vindictive goddess has taken root in some areas of western polytheism and goddess spirituality, but I have found that Her love, though tough, and Her grace, though subtle, are boundless. I have been cruel enough to myself in this process; there’s no reason for Ma to be cruel, and anything She has to offer has to better than my continued suffering.
Shame is definitely a potent poison. Though, as Brené Brown says, it is one of the most universal and primitive human emotions, it seems to me that shame has a particularly powerful hold on people in the west. Brown (2010) defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
In reflecting on my past experiences in western polytheist communities, I think of all the times I heard some variation on “the gods are dangerous” and “be careful or you will be punished” and “only these specific types of people are true devotees.” What internalized ideas do these messages speak to? Is achieving a sense of belonging more difficult in our communities? Do we receive stronger conditioning about our flaws?
There is certainly some truth to god/godds being ‘dangerous’ and best approached with intention and awareness. But our ideas of relationship and punishment are so colored by Puritanism and power hierarchies, by religious traditions that have told us we are not worthy of direct connection with divinity; we are tainted and should be ashamed of ourselves. Original Sin has sentenced us all to a life of shame and unworthiness.
It’s easy to understand why shame has infiltrated western pagan and polytheist communities – our egos are finely attuned to it. According to Dr. Linda Hartling, we react to shame in one of three ways: move away by withdrawing, move toward by people-pleasing, or move against by trying to gain power over others. I wonder how these tendencies translate into our devotional relationships? Are the messages we share about how to approach divinity influenced by these reactions?
Ultimately, in my worldview, shame and our reactions to it are a defense mechanism of the ego. When we forget that we already belong, that we already have unconditional love, shame rears it’s head and sends our ego into a whirlwind. Ma’s love is the love that destroys ego, destroys our shame.
Is the interpretation of Kali biting her tongue in an act of shame influenced by beliefs about the nature of women and social customs? Perhaps. Concepts and experiences of shame are not limited to our culture, by any means. Admittedly, I am speaking in very broad terms in an attempt to tease out some of the ways shame interacts with devotional practice. I can’t speak for an entire culture, my own or anyone else’s. The question of shame in devotional practice is one that I continue to explore, as I work through my own experiences.
The more I reflect on it, the more it seems to me that our shame is Kali’s shame – this too is Her – and part of our work is unraveling the influence of that shame, of unbinding ourselves from it’s clenches and freeing ourselves of the cruelest parts of our ego.
P.S. I should add a disclaimer that my committed studies and practice with Shakta Tantra are only 3-4 years old, and that I have a lot to learn. My experiences in western paganism and polytheism go back two decades (though I don’t hold the same identity anymore). Again, I am only speaking of my experiences as I currently understand them.
P.P.S. I’ve recently shifted my social media engagement, where I would frequently post ‘Thoughts in Three-hundred Words.’ I’m trying to move back to blogging more regularly, and will hopefully publish short pieces more frequently. Click follow or subscribe if you want to read them.
Brown, Brene. (2010). The gifts of imperfection. Hazelden: Center City, Missouri.
Grief is Natural: an Elemental Journey Through Loss is a creative experience of exploring grief and understanding loss. Utilizing an elemental framework, we will seek the alchemy of fire, water, air, earth, and spirit to transform grief from a taboo to an integral part of life.
Grieving is holy work. It is a natural part of life. It is as much a part of us as love, or breath, or birth. As much a part of daily life as eating, or the singing of birds.
Unfortunately, western culture is extremely deathphobic and grief separatist. Our culture treats grief like an illness, to be dealt with in the sick rooms of our own hearts, never to be brought into public view — or what? we will infect others? It is this avoidance of grief that creates illness – the illness of separation and unhealthy expressions of emotion (or lack thereof).
We must grieve before we can create. We must learn to mourn what has been lost before we can build something better. We must honor that which is hungry and grief stricken within us. We must give voice and space to grief and to celebration.
This 7 module course is designed to inspire you to explore your grief, to embrace your losses, and to build a new world from the ashes. It includes creative exercises, journaling, meditation practices, and ritual suggestions. It is appropriate for everyone, regardless of your level of experience with the exercises or your spiritual background. You only need a willingness to sit in the holy space of your grief.
This course will available to my patrons at the $10+ tiers. You will receive the course before anyone else. The first two modules are ready to post at the end of the week. The remaining five modules will be posted over the next 6-8 weeks. That means you can access the beta version of this course for as little as $20. You will have the opportunity to provide feedback, helping to fine-tune the experience. You will also have the option of being listed in the course acknowledgements, with a link to your online presence.
To participate, sign up at my Patreon for a pledge of $10/month or more. (Sneak preview: patrons at $13/mo or more will be receiving access to another course early next year). You can delete your pledge at anytime. Already a patron? Just increase your pledge to $10 or more to receive the content.
Thank you for support and please do spread the word!
Here Be Giants
Once there were giants
Not creatures of myth
– though they too are for another story –
But beings of earth and water and sky
They stood, gathered sentinels
Roots reaching as deep into the earth
As their trunks rose to the sky.
They were the center of everything
entire ecosystems existing on every square inch
They helped make us, protected us
Their breath our breath
Reminding us of our role here:
Stay grounded, reach for the stars
Form communities, shelter each other
Be the union between earth and sky.
But we forgot how to listen
Ignored the whispers in their branches
We felled the giants
Severed them from the earth
Severed ourselves from the connection
The giants fell
So then shall we,
to rise again only
in their grace.
I drove north along Highway 101, the Washington coast rising and falling in great curves that seemed to match the sound of the waves breaking upon her shore. I was at the wheel of a 20-foot moving truck, navigating the road that was bringing me to my new life, my new home, on the Olympic Peninsula. As I passed clear cut after clear cut, I couldn’t help but feel that this stripped landscape reflected so much of my own loss. Then the view shifted: great trees dripping with moss leaned beside the roadway, the rain no longer pelted my windshield but fell with gentle grace, slipping softly down the trees’ branches. Every shade of green filled my sight, an impossible vision of life and growth following such desolation. I was home.
In the short time that I have lived here, I have placed my feet on dozens of trails. When I experience the Olympics, awe and gratitude often strike me to the core, like a ray of sun suddenly slicing through the canopy and illuminating the forest floor in a shocking glow. This has inspired me to protect this place and all who live here: human and nonhuman, plant and wildlife, rock and river. I think of all those who are no longer with us and all those who are yet to come. I want to honor the memory of the past and preserve the inherent possibility of the future. This love drives me to protect clean water, forests, and fish, now and for the future.
Love of this place has also inspired me to give back to the community and welcome others. Disabled Hikers was founded to help support and inspire the disabled community to explore the Olympics – you are welcome here, too. There are a number of trails that are accessible for a range of abilities, and there is a growing movement to improve accessibility and options for disabled people. It is definitely one of the things that I love about this place. There is so much potential here, but if the sources of our inspiration and the reasons for visiting are destroyed, that possibility is lost too.
The Olympics have given me a home. They have been a source of beauty and joy and solace; they have challenged me and taught me about who I am. Nature reminds us of our own wildness, of the connection we have with the world and with other beings. This connection remains whether we acknowledge it or not, and demands our attention and reciprocation.
We are all carrying grief; whether it is grief of a personal loss, grief of the injustice we see and experience every day, or grief of ecological loss, grief is something that we all share. We must come together to grieve as a community, while also honoring that each of our paths through grief is unique and ultimately solitary.
I am offering an online grief circle on Sunday June 24 2018 at 11am Pacific time. We will gather on Google Hangouts to share our grief in all of it’s expressions and then invite in gratitude and compassion. From our open hearts, we can find a way to move forward.
Registration is limited to 10 people. When you register I will send you an email with suggestions for how to prepare yourself and your space for the circle and more details on what to expect.
Dear people who are aghast at the abuse in this country and the presidency and want to do something,
Welcome. Glad you could make it. We need everyone to jump in on this.
But here’s the thing: you’re late to the party. If you’re white and middle+ class, you’ve just arrived from the airport with coats in arms and bags on the floor. But coat check is full, and your baggage is tripping people up. Find another place for it, maybe at your white neighbor’s house.
Rather than making a “fashionably late” entrance, come in quietly. Listen to the conversations in the room to figure out what has already been said – you’ve missed out on hours of discussion. Pay attention to what people are doing, and ask if you can help clean up a bit so the party can continue. This is not the time to climb up on the counter and propose a party game.
Find a group that is talking about something you want to be involved in, and ask if you can join the conversation. Listen and ask respectful questions – again you’ve missed out on a lot of discussion.
Leave the party to check on your baggage frequently.
Once people at the party have gotten to know you, you’ve listened to their conversations, and you’ve unpacked your bags, you can propose the next activity. Always remember that this is not your house, and that you are a guest of the First People here.
If you find yourself succumbing to a cycle of rage and fatigue, remember this:
The news cycle is meant to inflame and desensitize you. Watch for the patterns:
A horrific story breaks. In a rush for ‘ratings’ (which also means likes and shares now) articles are published that highlight the horror. People rightly become enraged and want to do something.
And the articles keep coming, and keep coming.
A few days pass. Right about the time everyone is feeling overwhelmed, new information rises from the grassroots level (which is how long it takes for thorough information to be released). This information contains nuance that was previously missing.
Unfortunately, this cycle of overwhelm does not leave much space for the understanding of nuance. Everyone is experiencing some level of fatigue and secondary trauma.
This information is received as a relief, as a sign that “oh it isn’t as bad as we thought, thank god.” It becomes a reason to question the entire atrocity.
So shortly afterwards, the rage is forgotten, the story is shelved, and we wait for the next cycle with little change happening.
There is no conspiracy in this. It is the nature of information = profit and the enforcement of the status quo. But if you know the cycle, you can break the way it influences you.
Yes, what is happening is that bad. Yes, there is nuance and information that is lacking, especially at first.
Here is my suggestion: pick 1 – 3 issues that you will commit to working on and focus on those. You will be more effective and less fatigued. This is especially important for spoonie fam, and for all people who are experiencing the direct harm of the oppressive systems in this country.