Remembering Resilience

This is my first article for the Deepening Resilience project, a 12-week community blog project (coordinated by me). In each post, I hope to include scientific/academic information, discussion, and practices you can engage with. Check out the website for posts from other writers, and please consider joining the conversation yourself.

Defining Resilience

Resilience has become a bit of a buzzword, and as such the meaning has become muddied. The concept has roots in multiple disciplines. Ecological resilience is defined as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks.” (Wikipedia) It can also be defined as the property that mediates transition among the existence of multiple states of stability. (Abstract) Social resilience is the individual/community ability to adapt when experiencing adversity or trauma. Psychological resilience is considered to be an inherent individual trait that can be developed. These slightly different meanings are integrated in the social-ecological system, which emphasizes “the integrated concept of humans in nature … the delineation between social systems and ecological systems is artificial and arbitrary. … [T]he SES approach holds that social and ecological systems are linked through feedback mechanisms, and that both display resilience and complexity.” (Wikipedia) The application of these concepts in the context of global climate change has given rise to the field of climate resilience.

A huge galaxy shines brightly amidst smaller galaxies.
Concept image of the brightest galaxy in the universe by NASA

Deepening Resilience

Resilience has been an issue of importance in my life for quite some time; I’ve experienced my share of trauma and I’ve been asked how I manage to ‘keep going’ in the face of such pain and adversity. The truth is, I haven’t always been able to keep going… and sometimes continuing in the same way is the wrong thing to do. Resilience is not maintaining the status quo, acting as if nothing is happening – it is adapting to situations so that the larger system can go on, and sometimes that means finding another version of stability.

As humans are a part of complex ecological systems, our resilience is intimately tied with ecological resilience. We can see this writ large as we reach peak oil and the climate changes. Human actions have threatened life on the planet, and now our lives are threatened by environmental disasters, changes to food and water supplies, and of course, each other. One of the greatest challenges we face in climate change may not be the ecological changes themselves; it may be the reactions of people in power, the violence that is sure to escalate as resources dwindle, the disaster capitalists and war-mongers that swoop in to take advantage of the chaos. We must always remember that those who suffer the most are people who contributed the least to climate change, who are already marginalized, who have had their resources stolen. These are the people – and it includes many of you reading this – who I worry about, and who I hope can develop resilience in themselves and in their communities.

To be clear, I do not ascribe to the anti-civilization or the ‘humans are a virus’ mindsets, neither do I see humans as the most important members of ecological systems. I also don’t view climate change as an ideal opportunity to enact some futuristic utopia. But I do believe that humans remembering our place within the great web of life is the kind of humbling and empowering medicine that we need in the age of the Anthropocene. The world is suffering, and it will take our hearts, our minds, and our service to ease that suffering.

This is where my work towards resilience rests. I envision resilience in the place where the spiritual-social-ecological meets. It is where I try to navigate how to reconnect with place in a world that is suffering, how to resource myself amidst that pain, and how to prepare myself and others for what is to come, all while acknowledging and working through the many intersections of privilege and oppression that weave through my life. This is not a part of the seven principles for building social-ecological resilience; it is not necessarily the purview of scientific thought, but it is no less important.

This is one reason why the Deepening Resilience project is so important; there is so much need for earth-centered spirituality and socially intersectional perspectives on climate change. But it must also be acknowledged that Indigenous cultures around the world have been advocating for earth-centered responses to climate change, and as such this effort is neither new nor unique. Pagans who have settled on non-ancestral land have the responsibility to talk about these perspectives within our own communities, and to step back and offer our respect and reparations to Indigenous communities.

If you sit still in the dark, breathing quietly, the world will come to life around you. Astonishment will rise in you like the slow tide, sliding in under the soles of your feet. And then you will understand: you are kin in a family of living things, aware in a world of awareness, alive in a world of lives … Every breath you take weaves you into the fabric of life. — Kathleen Dean Moore

Practice

The way that I work towards developing spiritual-social-ecological resilience is by engaging in practices that reconnect me with the web of life, and then by helping others find their own connections. Here are two practices to try:

Breath of Life

This practice is ideally done in your favorite place outdoors, but it can be done wherever you are comfortable. Ground and center as you normally do (or try this if you don’t have a practice). Breathe naturally, noticing the world around you. Feel the air entering through your nose, flowing down your passages into your lungs. Notice the rise of your chest and stomach. Feel the air exiting your mouth, warm as it passes your tongue. Notice the fall of your chest and stomach.

Now imagine the world breathing with you. The plants exhale as you inhale, producing the oxygen you breathe. The birds and reptiles and mammals small and large all breathe with you. You inhale particles of earth and decay, connecting you with the soil and mycelium beneath your feet, with all of the beings that have lived and died. Can you hear the world breathing? Can you begin to sense your connection with the web of life? Continue breathing and noticing the world around you; notice the clouds passing by, the activity of animals around you, the sound of the wind. Just keep breathing and noticing for as long as you can, allowing “the world to come to life around you.”

Remembering

I have recorded this 10-minute guided meditation drawing on parts of Evolutionary Remembering and Gaia Meditations by Joanna Macy, John Seed, and Pat Fleming, part of the The Work That Reconnects. Settle into a comfortable position and then listen to a journey through the birth of the universe and the elements that make up our bodies.

You can also try the following on your own: Visualize the birth of the universe, from the Big Bang to the creation of our galaxy, the Sun then our planet Earth. Visualize the geologic evolutionary processes that led to life on earth, from the first volcanic eruptions to the boiling seas and the meteors that brought the building blocks of life. See the first cellular organisms, the plants that began to create our atmosphere, the fish that swam in the sea slowly making their way to land. Continue to imagine the evolution of life on the planet.

There are many resources online to help you visualize this process. This is a cool video of the birth of the universe (that I recommend watching without sound). This is a fun video of evolution meant for youth but enjoyable for adults too (or the youth within).


Be sure to check out the Deepening Resilience website for a variety of writing by other people participating in the conversation. Please join the public Facebook group and share your thoughts.

If you appreciate this article or the work that am doing to coordinate this project, please consider joining my Patreon.  You can also buy me a coffee.

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Deepening Resilience: Earth-based Responses to Climate Change

If you follow my social media, you have probably seen me talking and asking questions about climate change. Questions of how we can build resilient communities that do not cast aside marginalized people or the more-than-human worlds have been on my mind. Apparently, I’m not alone.

These conversations have led to the launch of a new project. Deepening Resilience: Earth-based Responses to Climate Change is a platform for pagans, polytheists, animists, and spiritual practitioners to discuss building resilient earth-centered communities in this time of the great turning.

We are setting roots on March 1, 2019, as a community blog project with seven topics over 12 weeks. The topics ask questions around how you define resilience, ecological grief, preparedness, and how to work with the spirits of place in addressing climate change. Hope you’ll join the conversation.

Online Grief Circle

Registration is now closed.

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.

PayPal link
Venmo: @syrennagakyrie
Square Cash: $syrenofminds

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Kali’s Tongue: Shame and Devotional Practice

2275223546_3ffee6f8eeKali’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.

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Artist Unknown

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

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!

In Grief and Gratitude,
Syren

Wild Olympics

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.

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Clearcut along the Hoh, Photo by Syren [Image Description: land scattered with stumps stretches toward a forest of closely planted farmed trees and then rises to a green mountain in stages of regrowth]
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.

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Quinault Rainforest, Photo by Syren [Image Description: a ray of sunlight through the forest illuminates moss hanging from a tree and a large downed log]
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.

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[Image Description: two open clam shells are placed on a green mossy rock, resembling butterflies] Photo by Syren
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.

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[Image Description: the sunset backlights Akalat/James Island at Rialto Beach. The island is dark against a orange and blue sky. Waves are in the foreground.] Photo by Syren
The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers Act is one way to ensure that the rare beauty of this precious place is protected. The act would permanently protect over 126,000 acres of new Wilderness areas in the Olympic National Forest, and 19 Olympic Peninsula rivers and their tributaries as Wild & Scenic Rivers – the first ever Wild & Scenic Rivers on the Peninsula. Designed through extensive community input to protect ancient forests, clean water, and enhance outdoor recreation, the Wild Olympics legislation has been endorsed by over 550 local businesses, sportsmen organizations, outdoor recreation groups, faith leaders, conservation groups and local elected officials; and more than 12,000 local residents have signed petitions in support. Sign the petition and help preserve these amazing lands. Learn more at WildOlympics.org

Mole Brigade: for the outcasts

Those who have been sent to the shadows
who exist unseen yet reviled:
retreat beneath the ground

Move under their world
with stealth and secrecy.
Take your sustenance

Grasp it by the roots,
in the darkness
from which it grows.

Create paths through
the underworld;
build caverns underground.

When it is time to rise,
push mountains
through the soil –

Shake the surface
Destabilize their world
Plant gardens in the freshly churned earth.

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