Building Resilience

Amidst wildfires, storms, governmental power-grabs, and rife despair, what are you doing to build resilience?

I'm not talking about building grim determination, though that might be part of what's necessary sometimes. I'm not talking about pretending to be fearless, though that can help boost your confidence on occasion. I'm not talking about hoarding resources or planning for doomsday, though the idea to do this has been increasingly tempting of late.

I'm talking about building true resilience, the ability to refocus on your own life, your own strengths, your own gifts, your own creativity.

I'm talking about building community resilience, through vulnerability, truth-telling, compassion, forgiveness, and kindness.

I'm talking about building global resilience through sharing economies, collective empowerment, and elevation of our common purpose: to live as well as we possibly can in these fragile, impermanent bodies.

How are you building your resilience? Are you allowing yourself the time and energy to nourish your body with good food, drink, pleasure, and play? Are your nourishing your mind with critical thinking skills, useful information, and care-full plans, as well as media breaks, meditation, and respite? Are you nourishing your spirit with art, music, and wild devotion to whatever you hold sacred?

Your resilience depends on you doing these things. Our resilience depends on us doing these things. Today, pick one resilience-building activity from each category: "I will give myself good food. I will stop myself from clicking the headlines that make me anxious. I will spend time at my altar. I will chant a mala. I will anoint myself with luscious scent or soft lotion. I will treat my body, mind, and spirit as if they are important to me and to the collective, because they are."

Being the Change

From an informative 2011 article in The New York Times:

Perhaps you’ve noticed a bumper sticker that purports to quote [Gandhi]: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” When you first come across it, this does sound like something Gandhi would have said. But when you think about it a little, it starts to sound more like ... a bumper sticker...

Sure enough, it turns out there is no reliable documentary evidence for the quotation. The closest verifiable remark we have from Gandhi is this: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”

Well, another reminder...things are not always as they seem. But just because Gandhi did not say that exact quote, nor did Nelson Mandela, Henry David Thoreau, the Buddha, or any other number of notable thinkers actually say exactly the quotes that appear on mugs, t-shirts, and memes, doesn't mean the sentiment isn't valuable. It just means we have to work a little harder to a) document our sources, and b) apply ourselves to the actions that keep us from sliding into the torpor of bumper-sticker activism.

Note from Captain Obvious: If you want to be the change you wish to see in the world, you are going to have to change. What's more, you may end up having to change in ways you don't think you want to change, or in ways that feel uncomfortable to you. There is no escape from the completeness of your intention to change when you actually sincerely ask for change.

So, today, really try to identify one thing you will do to be the change you wish to see in the world...something that actually involves YOU CHANGING. What will it be? Putting a note in your phone to bring re-usable grocery bags? Literally sitting down and being quiet instead of sharing your opinion when a person who has less privilege than you starts talking? Setting a timer to ensure you take showers of fewer than 5 minutes in duration? What will it be? Because to be the change, well, you have to be the change. It starts at home in your own body, actions, and space, and then rather than ending there, it proceeds forth from there.

I'm planning to make a big change in my life in 2017. Through two new projects, I plan to shift more fully into the role of advisor and support for the many people who are doing the beneficial work of creating and sustaining sacred circles and spaces. Watch this space next week when I announce:

  • my new Patreon page where you will be invited to help me develop and test Priestess, my forthcoming book about methods for living a sustainable life of sacred service
  • a monthly video conference class to help assist people who are building Pagan and polytheist temples. This class, called "Raise the Temple" will be offered by donation with 100% of proceeds benefitting CAYA Pagan Congregation, a nonprofit 501(c)3 Pagan, polytheist church.

Steady Through

You're at your desk trying to finish the report that is due by the end of the day, but the phone keeps ringing, there are emails and texts popping up like mad, you're distracted because you're worried about that scratchy throat that's just beginning, you're dreaming of your big escape this weekend for some quiet time, and, oh wait, there's the phone again.

Your kids have been screaming at each other nonstop for three days, all of your laundry needs to be re-washed because the cat peed in the hamper, you've got your period, the argument you had with your partner still hasn't worn off and the feelings are right below the surface, you can't find your wallet, and you forgot it was your mom's birthday. Again.

All of the bills are due four days before payday, the doctor's office has now sent three notices that you need to pay for the test you thought was covered by insurance, you're pretty sure you have a cavity and need new glasses, your phone warranty expired just before you dropped it last week, and the airline fares to go visit your family for the holidays just keep going up before you get a chance to buy your ticket.

For many different reasons, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Work, family, finances, email, and even social activities can pile up, causing irritability, anxiety, jitters, imbalance, and worry.  These difficult emotional states have a tendency to not stay put within the echo chamber of the mind. They want to go out into the world. They overspill their borders and start to seep out, touching and tainting everything in reach. These emotions lead to snapping, withdrawing, avoiding, blaming, and getting cranky about even things that usually give us joy, like someone's silly joke.

It's easy to think that our external circumstances determine our emotional states, and to some degree they do. Our external circumstances, if nothing else, provide our minds with things to latch on to, complain about, resist, and avoid. But the choice to do any of those things is still a choice. The emotion arises automatically, but we do not have to follow it when it starts to run away with us.

Instead, we can stay steady through. We can acknowledge that, yes, things are difficult right now; yes, I am feeling annoyed; yes, I am overwhelmed; yes, I am afraid about the future. But then we can choose to persevere, to continue doing what must be done step by step, and in doing this, we dissipate the negative emotional response instead of clinging to it.

However, when the emotion arises and we choose to follow it, we will be led through an exhausting obstacle course, wherein everything and everyone becomes just another problem on the pile, whether that's true or not. When we reach this state, even helpful and generous offers from others feel like a burden, and this can cause us to deny ourselves one of the greatest things one human being can give another: help.

Down through the center of your being, starting at the crown of your head and reaching down through and past your tailbone, is a shaft of light. When stress, daily drama, and expectations start to beckon you to go cycling through a new wash of negative emotions, just retreat into that shaft of light for a moment. When you are bathed in that light, the light of "Now," see if you can find it in you to choose your responses to your emotions rather than feeling overcome by them. Everyone experiences overwhelm sometimes. There's no reason to judge ourselves for it. But there's no reason to latch onto it, either.

Take the Time

"I don't have the time."

"I've been too busy."

"I have other obligations."

Every day, it is tempting to blame our schedules and obligations for the lack of time to spend in devotional activities such as meditation, altar-tending, communing with nature, or personal divination. After all, there are so many things that we have to pay attention to: work, home life, family life, community obligations, and more. Each of these is a major distraction from dedicated spiritual activity, right? It's hard to find the time to do the small things that give us spiritual centeredness and consolation when we have so much going on. It's hard to find the time for self-care when we have so many duties. It's hard to find the time to still the mind when we are saturated in a world of nonstop communication.

This is the story about time that we tell ourselves when we realize that yet another day has passed without a visit to our shrines or a session of seated meditation or that walk we planned to take so we could listen to the trees. So often, we sacrifice spiritual self-care to another, more seemingly vital, activity. And, let's be honest, sometimes we sacrifice spiritual self-care so that we can sit on the couch and watch a TV show or play on our phones. It's not always work that takes a higher priority than our spiritual lives. In fact, sometimes we build up our spiritual activity in our minds as "work" and then we seek to escape it instead of fulfilling it with joyful hearts.

But what if you took the time, nonetheless?  What might that change in your mind? What if you could remember that the spiritual activities that you think of as "work" actually refresh and rejuvenate you? What if you wove spiritual activity so closely into your life that it became as natural to you as brushing your teeth or eating food every day?

What if you did not wait until it's too late?

For the next week, try this every day: attach one aspect of spiritual practice to a non-negotiable daily activity. Bring your child with you to the shrine to recite one single hymn or light a candle. Take 5 minutes of silence in the morning right after you put on your clothes. Spend three minutes in quiet gratitude at the start of each meal. Recite one mala of OM MANI PADME HUM during your commute, quietly or internally if you have to. If you have to walk to the mailbox, take the long way and talk to a tree. Append your practices to your obligations, and therefore sanctify those obligations. See what happens when practice is woven into life instead of separate from it. See what happens when you choose to control your time rather than letting it control you.