Disabled Hikers

I soft launched a new project on the Equinox, Disabled Hikers: Real Information, by Disabled Hikers for Disabled Hikers. I am creating hiking guides with information that I need as a disabled person to decide whether to attempt a trail or not.

I get so frustrated with having to scour guidebooks and online articles to determine whether I should attempt a trail or not. My frustration peaked two weeks ago, when after several days of not feeling well I finally managed to pull myself from the house and go out for a short trip. After visiting a familiar trail, I decided to try another one that I had read about, and had completed another segment of. Well, it was far more difficult for my weary body than the guides had indicated. There were steep stairs that weren’t mentioned, a few very slick and narrow slopes, and other problems.

Inspiration struck. Why don’t I combine my love of hiking and the outdoors, with my dedication to activism and subverting ableism, with my writing skills? Why don’t I create the thing that I wish existed, as I so often have? I could create my own hiking guides!

So I went home and created a website. In my excitement, I posted the link on my Facebook page to share with friends, and suddenly it was being shared 50 times! And then Autostraddle included it in a link roundup, and my barely-there blog was receiving hundreds of visits. That was followed by some shares from my personal blog, which also received hundreds of visits.

The response continues to be overwhelmingly positive, and I am very honored and admittedly a little surprised. I knew this was a need but I didn’t realize how much of a need. There are many people out there doing good work around accessibility and the outdoors, and I plan to feature as much of their work as I can, but for now my focus is on building the website, creating hiking guides, and spreading the word.

DisabledHikers.com now exists, and the first guide is up, with several more currently being written. It is a hefty task – each hike, when taken with the perspective of writing a guide, takes twice as long as usual. The guide takes at least 3 hours to research, write, and edit, and an additional 1-2 hours to format, edit photos, and post on the website. Then I spend several hours promoting the site so people know about the resource. All in all, I spend at least 10 hours publishing each guide.

I’m sharing this with you only because I think there is not enough transparency about the time it takes for people to put together projects and offer them to the community. The time I spend on this is time that I do not get to spend on other paying projects and opportunities. I offer this from my heart, in service to the community, because it is something that I want to exist. And yet, as a disabled person myself, I have to be honest about my abilities and resources and their limitations.

My plan for the website includes adding hikers and guides from other areas, additional resource and technical guides, a range of media offerings, and a community forum. I’ll be making print copies of the guides to give to organizations, and eventually publish a guidebook. I’m excited about the project and the possibilities.

If you want to help, you can do that by spreading the word and sharing the website, sending me links to people and groups who might be interested in the project or in speaking with me about it, or by contributing to my Patreon.

I hope this project provides a valuable resource to disabled hikers and disabled would be hikers. While nature is not a cure-all, my time in the outdoors has been profoundly healing, has helped me regain my confidence, and given me a home that I can always return to. I want to give that opportunity to as many people as I can, both for themselves and for the places they will come to love.

 

 

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Modern Monasticism: a revolutionary vision

Modern Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism: a revolutionary vision

There are a growing number of people interested in a polytheistic monastic lifestyle, or at least growing awareness of it as a possibility. Many of these modern-day monastics lead a life in which devotion is present in every daily activity, service to others is considered service to the divine, and hours are spent in study, devotion, and contemplation rather than excessive socializing or other external activities.

I consider myself among those interested in creating this way of life and working toward building awareness and acceptance of it within western polytheism and modern culture. This lifestyle is a powerful resistance to American society; indeed, it goes against almost everything this culture values. I see four main areas of resistance in which a monastic lifestyle serves:

Resistance to the exploitation of time and labor
Our time is one of the most precious gifts that we have. Why should we spend it in service to lining the pockets of the wealthy, when we could spend it in service to the divine and each other? Our time is not a commodity to be traded and our labor does not determine our worth as human beings. Our existence, our innate divinity and connection with the divine, is sacrosanct. The monastic is not interested in accumulating unnecessary wealth, in owning more than is needed for basic needs, or in engaging in activities that do not support devotion and service. The monastic’s productive time and labor is committed to meeting their own and other’s basic needs to allow space to open for contemplation and devotion – no more and no less.

Resistance to the disenchantment of daily life
Our modern lifestyles leave little time for appreciation and connection with each other, the world around us, and the divine. Our power as creative beings in relation with a great web of existence is reduced to a few shallow moments that we can wring from the constant pressure to produce and do and go-go-go. This disenchantment, this disconnection from who we are, is the core of the systems that harm us. The monastic who steps back from the external pressure, finds joy in the simplicity of daily life, and re-enchants their days with deep contemplation and connection with beings human and divine holds a key to remembering our true selves. Like The Hermit card, they hang a lamp showing us the way.

Monastics bring enchantment back to the community. As devotionalists and frequent mystics, they serve a bridge between the mundane and the sacred, bringing the sacred into the every day and making every day sacred. Through their creativity and service, they make connection with the divine more readily available, and in contemplation they access deep truths and awareness.

Resistance to oppression and the devaluation of human beings
As Silence Maestas wrote in a post on devotional justice it is much more difficult for people facing threats to their existence to surrender to devotion. I have experienced this myself – while in, and recovering from, my abusive marriage, and while faced with the financial and housing instability that resulted from my divorce, surrender has been incredibly difficult. If we want more people to be able to lead spiritual lives, we have to make sure their basic needs and safety are met.

If one truly believes that all humans contain some spark or aspect of the divine, then anything that harms and oppresses humanity should be revolutionized. Those of us who place ourselves in service to the divine are also placing ourselves in service to humanity. Not only out of compassion for other humans, but out of love for deity.

Resistance to resource extraction from the earth
Many pagan monastics regard all parts of nature, moving and unmoving, as having their own unique spirit or to be a part of the divine. Just as we consider humans to be divine, so are all of the other beings on this planet. So, the monastic also aligns themselves with the earth and the beings of the place in which they live. The pagan monastic is often inclined to spend time in contemplative appreciation of the wild and natural world which we are a part of, and to protect and learn from those places.

The concept of extraction and exploitation is in stark contrast to the values of service and devotion; thus, the monastic practices an anti-capitalist resistance, though often without naming it that way. As such, this lifestyle is not easily accomplished in this society. There are many systemic barriers, external and internal. But the call to create a contemplative life firmly rooted in devotion and service is strong.

For myself, the past two years of trauma and insecurity has been clarifying and informative alongside terrifying; the ongoing process of shedding my old life, my old expectations, my old attachments has been difficult and painful. During this time that I have spent in relative solitude, I have experienced joy, contentment, and loneliness. But I realized that the loneliness is not new – being dependent upon an abusive husband and abusive wage labor jobs for security, caring about other peoples’ perceptions of me and my work, forcing myself to be productive when my spirit was screaming for time to just be, was in fact incredibly lonely and isolating. Upon realizing this, and the harm I was causing myself, I embraced my situation as an opportunity for healing and transformation. Yet, embracing the situation would have been impossibly difficult if it were not for the generosity of friends and strangers who provided support in many ways.

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As I allow this process to unfold, the call to live my most authentic life becomes stronger. A contemplative life of devotion and service is a life that feels right and good to me, a life that engages in as little harm as possible and is aligned with my values and connection with the earth. One of the things that I gained in coming out of an abusive relationship was an unwillingness to harbor abuse towards myself or abuse towards others. I cannot harbor blame against myself and I cannot willingly subject myself to something that I know will bring deep pain for minimal reward.

This too is not easy in our culture. The culture of the United States, so deeply rooted in capitalism and colonialism, is incredibly coercive and abusive. Wage labor is one of the most coercive aspects of capitalism: requiring us to be in service to capital or risk starvation. What do we lose, what potential does not get realized, while all of us are working ourselves to exhaustion in service to capital? That is not the practice of service I am here for. I am not here to bow to kings and capitalists.

Perhaps this is the result of being overly idealistic, mental health issues, or just my basic constitution (all of which have been “suggested” to me at some point). But I don’t think so. I think it is, as my friend Danica says much more eloquently, a revolt of the soul. Working a wage labor job feels like chaining my soul to everything that I don’t believe in. And while I recognize that I can bring my spiritual practice of devotion and service to everything that I do, including a wage labor job, experience has shown me again and again that the cost is too great. The cost to all of us is too great.

And yet, we still live in a capitalist society. There is no opting out, there is no freedom to choose; there is no true consent. So, what does this mean for someone like me, who wants to live a monastic lifestyle? How can I best move into this space of deepening into my truth and purpose and doing my true Work, while also meeting my basic needs within a society that puts a price tag on existence?

I’m most interested in creating a life in which wage labor is minimally necessary, if at all. The past year has certainly shown me that I can make do with far less than I thought I needed, that indeed I can be very happy by fulfilling my basic needs. Some food in my pack, water in my canteen, a warm dry place to come home to and a way to leave it when I’m ready, a source of communication with the rest of the world, my pen and notebook, my devotion, and my dog. That’s all.

So, what does the material foundation of a monastic life look like to me? It is pretty simple really:

  • Land that is my own/held in commons/conservation with other people
  • A small house or other structure
  • Labor focused on meeting needs, trade and service-oriented self-employment income to meet remaining needs, occasional supplementation with wage labor

I envision communities that are supportive of solitude and spiritual service, with access to a beautiful expanse of land, to be in a relationship of reciprocity with people and place.

In the interim, I am working on creating as much of this contemplative life of devotion and service as I can. I’m removing my own blocks and barriers to practice, feeling into where my service is most needed now, and opening to divine and ancestral guidance. I can only continue to flow where the current takes me, remaining hopeful that when it comes time to leap, Maa will open Her hand. I will continue to resist the conscription of my time, the chaining of my spirit to capitalism as much as I can.

I seek out support and community around these values. One such community is the Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism group (the Facebook group is currently set to “secret,” if you are interested in joining let me know). I also look to the work and friendship of Danica Swanson of the Black Stone Hermitage. I draw upon the Hindu tantric and bhakti traditions; as an initiate of Shakta Tantra, devotion to Kali Maa is the thread that weaves throughout my practice and draws me forward to awakening. There is a long history of monasticism, mysticism, and service to look to, even in the Western world. This desire is not new; indeed, there is evidence of people devoting themselves to spiritual service from the oldest of indigenous cultures. But as another wise hermit friend who practices Advaita Vedanta asked me, now that I have expressed this desire can I release it to the universe? That too is a part of the path.

Do you enjoy my writing or want to support this vision? Consider joining me on Patreon.

Eve of the Elections, Precipice of Change. And a new Grief Support group

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today on the eve of the elections to face our fear and commit our hearts to the work of a better world.

Or something like that.

If you are hoping for something light and inspiring telling you that we have the power to change everything if we wield our magic and our will, you won’t get that here today. I’m also not going to shame you into voting or not voting. If you’re feeling anxious and fearful, that is very real and I’m not going to tell you to make it go away with positive thinking. You’ve been brow beaten with all of that enough. I am going to be honest with you though and share with you where I am and what I’m seeing.

And well, I’m really really worried. I haven’t felt so ominous since the days leading up to September 11 2001. It feels like we are at the top of a roller coaster, having slowly creaked and clacked our way up, and now we know something is coming but we don’t know exactly what – a long drop probably, and a bunch of twists and turns and loops that will leave us confused and knocked around, but hopefully exhilarated at the end.

Whatever happens in the elections isn’t going to change that. It might change the speed; are we on a super fast coaster or an old wooden one? But regardless we have a long and bumpy ride ahead of us. We’ve reached a point of no return and the only way off this ride is through it.

If anything is giving me hope, it is that it seems like more and more people are finally seeing behind the curtain, are acknowledging our political machine for what it is: an elaborate and complex thing that is held up by the bodies of the oppressed, to the benefit of the rich and powerful. We are all being played by the system, pitted against one another, divided and conquered. Capitalism and kyriarchy rules us all.

That isn’t going to change by voting. Never. Two party, Third party, makes no difference. Even the most ideal candidate is vested in maintaining the machine. I’m not going to say voting is pointless, or that not voting is valid protest, but voting isn’t going to save us. No one in a position of power in the greatest Empire the world has ever seen is going to save us.

It really is up to each of us.

Change is going to have to happen on the ground in our communities. It always has and always will. This is why we are so swept up in promises and appearances of change (Obama, Sanders, and H. Clinton, and even Trump) – because real change is hard and we would still rather not shoulder the burden. But I am convinced that whatever way this election goes we are going to have to finally get REALLY REAL about building community and creating change where we are.

Focus your power and your magic and your will on that. Even if you are still vested and believe in the political-capitalist machine as it runs now. We have to figure out how to meet people where they are, where our hard boundaries are and what we will do to defend them, and how to support and be in community with others who are suffering. We have to do this now.

Doing this work won’t take away your anxiety or fear, but it will help. And it is essential to the safety of PoC, LGBTQ people, women, the disabled, the poor, and everyone who is being Othered.

I’ll be working on some more well thought out posts about tools and methods for building community. In the meantime I have two offerings to help us do that:

If you are staying home Tuesday night and want some company as the election results come in, I will be online on a video conferencing platform beginning at 5:30p Pacific time. If you want the link, just contact me or comment here. You do not need to install any software and set up anything.

As I deepen my grief work, I want to specifically focus on the needs of pagans, polytheists, animists, spirit workers, and the like. I have created a Facebook group called Pagan and Polytheist Grief Support as a place for our grief to be heard and witnessed as well as for the discussion of traditions and cultural and community based approaches to death and grief work. Whether it is the result of personal loss such as divorce, the death of a loved one, or stems from disability, oppression, politics, or ecological distress, all forms of grief are valid and welcome.

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Caryatid Bearing Her Stone by Auguste Rodin PC: S. Nagakyrie It seems like we all feel like this right now

A few updates: Pilgrimage, Grief Ritual, Many Gods West, Work

I’ve been pretty busy in the four weeks since Many Gods West. Much busier than I thought I would be, actually. But this year: Whoever keeps turning up the pressure cooker really needs to take a break. 🙂

I’ve been doing quite a bit of visioning, for myself and for community, and there are some exciting things brewing. Here are a few of them.

I’ve been invited on a pilgrimage to India for about 3 weeks in December to January. Whereas my first trip to India was actually a working trip, this will be a spiritual pilgrimage dedicated to Maa and visiting sacred Shakti sites for devotion. It is being led by a mandir in the San Francisco Bay Area that I greatly respect and I am honored to join them. My heart longs for this, but to make it happen I will need community support. I’ve launched a fundraiser Naked Before Maa: Pilgrimage to India where there is additional information and a more full picture of why I desire this so. I would have such gratitude for your contributions and your efforts at helping me share this!

I will be facilitating a Community Ritual of Grieving in Portland, OR in October. This will be similar to the ritual that I had planned to do at Many Gods West. I am also in conversation with others to bring this ritual to Seattle, WA and to hold other grief circles in a dedicated space in Portland. If you are interested in inviting me to your community to facilitate grief work, please contact me at the form below.

We’ve been getting some excellent feedback on Many Gods West 2016. If you haven’t heard already, I will be the lead organizer of Many Gods West 2017. One of the first things I will be working on is establishing a non-profit organization for the conference. If you would like to assist with establishing the organization, or with organizing the 2017 conference, you are also welcome to contact me.

I am also opening the to door to some additional contract work. Such as: Non-profit and grassroot organization work, including formation, strategic planning, and grantwriting/fundraising; Project management; Working, supporting, and brainstorming with cultural creative types; Writing and Editing; Spiritual coaching and Teaching. I also am a very experienced accountant and bookkeeper. If you are or know of a person or woke business looking for such services, or have another project that you would like to bring me in on, please contact me.

I’ll be writing in more detail about all of these things soon!

And here is a reminder about my Patreon. If you would like to support this and all of the other work that I do, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter and be a part of the community building!

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Building Polytheist Community: You Might Be Doing it Wrong

This past weekend was the second year of Many Gods West. As one of the conference organizers, I am still recovering from the last 11 months and so find myself unable to put words to my experiences just yet. I am planning to write a blog post about exactly what goes in to putting on a conference for Polytheists, Witches, and Pagans. We don’t talk about it too much and I think our communities should be able to see what goes on behind the scenes so that there is more awareness about how hard organizers work and just how much we wish we could do things like pay presenters. I would also love to see MGW East, Midwest, etc and sharing our experiences is helpful for those who want to try to do this thing. =)

As I wrote in my last post, I was also a part of the plenary panel on building polytheist community. I took the opportunity to hop on a soapbox and say some things that I really felt needed to be said. Here it is:

How do we build Polytheist community? First I want to start off with this:

We don’t build it by allowing people to attack members of our community in such a way that threatens their physical, emotional, spiritual, or financial safety. That especially includes attacks by people who are supposedly also a member of our community. If you hold some degree of privilege or position and there is nothing stopping you from standing up to such behavior that would also put you at risk and you still choose not to address it in some way, at the very least by offering support to the one being attacked, and then try to talk of community, you are being very hypocritical. And I say that in the most loving way possible, but there is an increasing amount of behavior I see happening that is hurting people and driving wedges into our communities.

And yes, sometimes addressing it does not mean making grand public displays, and we can do this while holding compassion. But there is far too much turning the other way, hoping it will just go away, lets just let them get bored and slink away until the next time. As a community builder I take this personally, because it counters everything I do and makes it that much harder. We have to be brave and willing to stare the dark, vicious, scarred parts of ourselves and our community in the eye. I also think we need many more opportunities to learn and employ tools of restorative justice.

I want to add and clarify that this applies to not only individual, interpersonal actions but also to those who use our traditions to promote bigotry and fascist ideologies.

I am working on getting the rest of my notes together into a more coherent article and will publish it here or on Gods&Radicals when it is finished.

I changed my plans for the Community Ritual of Grieving over the weekend. I recognized that it would not have been safe or responsible for me to hold a big cathartic ritual on Sunday given how tired I was, and it seemed like a lot of people were feeling “ritualed out”. Instead I facilitated a grief circle; it was so deeply moving and beautiful, I think that perhaps it was what was needed all along. The feedback I’ve received is confirmation of the deep healing potential of having our grief held and witnessed in community, and that we really do need more of these spaces. So I will be offering more of such things in the future.

I also want to say thank you to everyone who helped make Many Gods West 2016 such a success, and to everyone who has helped hold and support me during this very difficult year. You have my unending love and gratitude. I am very much looking forward to taking some down time to Just Be, and then jumping back in to co-creating more amazing things with you all.

Would you like to support my work in the community? Consider joining me on Patreon. Your financial support helps make it possible for me to offer my work to others.

Many Gods West, Community, and Grief

Many Gods West 2016 is only 9 days away. The 2015 conference marked a significant point in my life, and I really can’t believe it has only been a year.

This year, I am one of two primary organizers of the event. And let me tell you, it has been quite the adventure worthy of a novel (I’m just not sure what kind yet – contemporary drama, urban fantasy, or maybe even a Dan Brown book). I won’t gloss it; it is exhausting and underappreciated work. And I am honored to offer it.

In the process, my relationships with gods and people have deepened greatly. Doors have been opened and thresholds crossed. Friendships that I will always cherish have been strengthened. Community has been woven. And it is that weaving of community that has held me in my grief during this time as well.

I am a part of two offerings during the conference. The first is the Plenary Panel on building polytheist community (Friday at 12:30); following our opening ritual we hope that this will help set the tone for the remainder of the conference.

Community building seems so challenging. And sometimes we make it more complex than it needs to be. I think people have a tendency to envision community as a utopia, as a grand idea to be reached. We set ourselves up to fail. If we adjust our thinking a bit, we may realize that we are already always building and supporting community, and that the work of doing that is not as big and challenging as we make it out to be.

We can also fall into the trap of conflating “community” with “identity”. Community does form around identity, but if we are not careful we will form an exclusive monoculture. Communities require diversity to thrive. We treat community as something that should just happen because we all share some thing in common, and we don’t question who we are including. For marginalized people this can be a source of support, but it can also be a source of harm. Community is a process; it is continually creating, evolving, changing, dying. And it is based in relationships.

The second offering is a Community Ritual of Grieving (Sunday at 2:00pm). Grief work has been a part of my service for a long time, but it is so much more personal now. And I feel more deeply than ever before the desperate need we have for community spaces around grief, and for more ceremonies for death, loss, and grieving.

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.

That wail? The one coiled in your gut, the tip of it stuck in your throat? You fear it is too wild, too unrestrained, that if you were to let it free the force of it might just break you in two?

It is. It will. It must.

It is the sound of stars, the sound of black holes and supernova, the sound of a sun burning to its death giving us life.

It is the sound of your liberation. It is the key to your wildness and your power. Your restraint is the lock put there by those who seek to keep us quiet, passive, productive.

Let grief break you. Let our wails rise in unison, mourning all that we have lost all that has been taken from us.

And let us build a better world with the pieces, serenaded by rediscovered notes so sweet.

Grief is a part of who we are; as natural as breathing or eating. Grief and ecstasy weave together to form the tapestry of life and love. We will co-create space to access the grief that is held within, to give it sound and movement. We will then fill the space with love and our visions for a better world. We will hold and be held, witness and be witnessed.

I am very much looking forward to sharing Many Gods West with everyone. I hope the conference fills the cup of everyone in attendance, so that you may continue with your own good works.

Would you like to help support my work? Please consider joining me on Patreon, or dropping a tip into the PayPal link on the sidebar.