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Spirituality Without Labels

“How do you know when you’ve passed through a threshold on your spiritual path?” I asked him, thinking that he might have a huge, profound, soul-stirring kind of response.

He never has answers, of course. He just asks questions until I come up with the answers on my own. I know this, because it’s what coaches do, and I’m becoming a life coach myself. We’re trained not to problem solve, but to hold space for the client to reach their own personal truths and revelations.

Deep down, I knew. I always know, but I think I needed to say it out loud, admit it to myself, and make it real somehow. He’s good for that—sort of like a priest in a confessional, but without all the associated guilt and absolution. He’d probably hate being compared to a priest, though. I think witch doctor would be a little more accurate, since I’m the witch and he’s my shrink. (See what I did there?)

I told him that I felt like I didn’t really belong under the pagan label anymore, and I said this with a wistful kind of sadness inside. This was the community that had helped me heal from my church wounds. This was the community that introduced me to the concept of balance between Goddess and God, Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine. This was the community where I had experienced sisterhood, women’s mysteries, transformative rituals, and years of study in the esoteric arts.

Then I launched into why I hate labels, because they’re limiting. The second you label yourself, you’ve created a container that will only let you grow so much. It’s like a plant that gets root bound. If you don’t transplant it into a larger pot, its roots will keep circling around and around until they finally run out of space and the plant’s wellbeing suffers.

I felt constriction and repression in church many years ago, which is why I explored other paths. What I was feeling this time is more akin to restlessness or boredom. I was appreciative of all that I had learned and experienced in paganism, but I also had to acknowledge that the enthusiasm I felt years ago was no longer there. I wasn’t meeting teachers and elders who genuinely inspired me with their wisdom, grace, and deep connection with Spirit. It was easy for me to teach and hold space for others, but no one seemed able to do the same for me.

“Take a deep breath, and check in with your womb,” he said.

He knows my womb is my best oracle, despite all the divination tools I own. I felt my breath sinking down into my pelvis, clearing away the cobwebs and debris from my inner vision.

“I see an empty house, clean swept and ready for a new occupant. I’m walking out the door. All of my things are loaded onto a truck, waiting to take me somewhere. I just don’t know where exactly,” I said.

“Then everything you need for the next phase of your journey is going with you,” he said.

I took comfort in knowing that it all had purpose, that it would serve me well later on. Meanwhile, I rest in this in-between place of spirituality without labels, opening up to whatever awaits, calling in my next teacher and tribe, and offering gratitude…so much gratitude…for where this road has led me.

Copyright © 2018 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

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When You’re Woo-Woo as F*ck, and Your Partner Isn’t

It may surprise you to know that despite being a witchy, Goddess-powered kind of woman, I cohabitate with a man who is decidedly non-woo. It has come to my attention that there are quite a lot of us out there who maintain some type of spiritual practice that doesn’t involve our partner. It’s like we’re all keeping a holy sanctuary that our most-loved person never enters.

Does it matter? Well, that depends.

For some, it’s no big deal, as long as the partner is respectful and understanding about things like burning candles, wafting incense, reading Tarot cards, and being highly conscious of the moon’s exact phase and astrological transits. As long as love is the foundation of the partnership, it works well enough.

I’ve also known women who relish their spiritual path as their private, inner world, and they have absolutely no wish at all to share any of it with a partner. Doing so would almost feel like a violation, because they have fought so hard to create that sacred space for themselves.

For others, spirituality becomes a sticking point. They want and need their partner to be fully on board and engaged with them and their woo-woo. Questions can begin to arise like, ‘If my partner rejects my spiritual values, does he/she reject me as well?’ and ‘If I can’t share this part of my life with him/her, then do we really even have a relationship?’

In the earlier days of my break from mainstream religion, I was thrilled if the guy I was with didn’t bug me about church or try to convert me. It was even better if he didn’t freak out over words like witchcraft, Goddess, and pagan. (Having been raised in the South, I was recovering from the emotional abuse and patriarchal wounds I received from the church. The slightest mention of evangelicalism would send me running).

So, I only looked for tolerance and open-mindedness from potential lovers, and that’s mostly what I attracted. The word witch almost served as a kind of litmus test to see who would stick around, although I have to say that many didn’t care what I believed or practiced. They were far more interested in my body than my mind and spirit anyway.

I thought that men who were spiritually awake, plugged in, and switched on would be too much to hope for, quite honestly. I figured I’d be doing really well just to find one who was stable, reliable, intelligent, driven, and kind. Enter Domestic Partner #3, who has all of those qualities.

I felt that he was extremely fortunate to have parents who didn’t drag him to church or force him to practice any type of religion. I certainly wasn’t going to do that to him, either. He formed his own beliefs, which are pretty close to agnostic if I had to put a label on them. He has always been supportive of me, but we’ll never share the same views on the inner-workings of the Universe and the things I feel inside but can’t always explain.

Our relationship works, as long as my witching and priestessing takes place on the outskirts of our daily life. It works, as long as my woo-woo conversations are limited to friends and members of my community. It works, as long as I don’t connect the dots between sexuality and spirituality. It works, as long as I don’t care if he ever joins me in my inner temple. It works, as long as I keep this immense part of myself, which informs so much of my writing and all that I do, separate from all that we do as a couple.

Sometimes I do care, though I try hard to release any expectations. I’ve learned that having expectations of anyone is always a recipe for disappointment. Knowing that is one thing; putting it into practice is another. Sometimes it’s lonely. Sometimes I feel we are speaking a completely different language, and there is no translator. Sometimes I follow the flowchart back to the beginning and find that the heart-centered medicine men and sages of this world are still in short supply.

I’ve never felt that my partner rejected me personally or even my spiritual outlook directly. It’s more that I question how deeply a relationship can go if one of the most important aspects of my life can only be experienced with other people.

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Lessons from Baxter the Wonder Dog

Morning light creeps into my bedroom, and the first sound I listen for is the flap-flap-flapping of Baxter’s ears as he shakes them out.  Then he does a perfect adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog) followed by urdhva mukha svanasana (upward-facing dog).  He is a better yogi than I, as he practices these two asanas several times a day.  When he is certain that I’m awake, he begins the ‘breakfast dance,’ which consists of a lot of tail wagging, prancing, spinning, and cattle herding movements designed to communicate that I must get to the kitchen and feed him now.  So begins another day in the life, and I’m grateful for every single one I get to spend with this wonderful canine.

Baxter
Baxter the Wonder Dog

I adopted Bax four years ago after seeing his profile on Petfinder.com.  I must have scrolled through a hundred pics of homeless dogs, but I kept going back to this adorable Brittany Spaniel/Cattle Dog mix with funny ears–one stands up and the other flops down.  Really, who could resist that?  I got in touch with his rescue organization, Mostly Mutts, and they brought him to an adoption event so I could meet him.  All of the dogs were barking and seemed overly excited or stressed…except for Bax.  He was rather calm and composed, but his eyes clearly said, “Get me out of here.”

I spent some time with him, walked him around a bit, and decided that yes, he was coming home with me for good.  He was long past the puppy stage and already knew how to sit, lie down, and stay, and he was house trained.  Being a new and naieve dog owner, I thought most of my work had already been done.  Had I researched spaniels at all, I would have learned that they are one of the most sensitive breeds.  Their docile, trusting nature makes them feel everything quite intensely, and it soon became obvious that I had a depressed dog on my hands.  Having lost his original home somehow, he had been shuffled from a shelter to a rescue group to a foster family and now to me…all in the space of two months.  Losing one’s foundation and security in the world tends to affect the root chakra in both humans and dogs.  His digestion wasn’t ideal, and I sensed that he had a wheat allergy.  I switched him to a grain-free food, and he began to put on weight and grow a healthier coat.  I was pleased with his physical improvement, but he still seemed to be in deep mourning.  Having lived through short bouts of depression myself, I knew that he needed to find himself again and remember the joy of being a dog.  I had no idea how long that would take, but I was committed to seeing this through.

So I provided consistency and routine–meals at the same time every day, exercise, comfort, and a promise that I wasn’t going to leave him.  After a month of working with him and wondering if he would ever come around, he greeted me one afternoon with his Kong toy in his mouth as though he had always done this.  I threw the toy, he fetched, and I was speechless.  It was the first time he had shown any interest in playing, and I was overjoyed that he had finally healed from his physical and emotional trauma.  He was going to give it one last shot, and I was determined to make it count.  I had never been needed as much by anyone or anything in my life.  Taking care of this four-footed, brown and white-furred being really changed my priorities and my outlook on many things.  For starters, my time wasn’t entirely my own anymore.  I had to weave my own activities in between Bax’s feeding and walking schedule, which is still the case.  He needed playtime with other dogs and spaces where he could sniff and follow trails to his heart‘s content, which I still provide as much as possible.  He has been with me through two moves–one that was across town and another that spanned 273 miles.  He even gained a pack member when I finally settled down with the right guy–one who grew to love him as much as I do.

I often say that Bax and I rescued each other, and there is much truth in that statement.  What I did for him seems very small in comparison to what he has given me and what he continues to teach me on a daily basis.  Here are just a few of those lessons:

  • Sniff the wind and be alert to changes.
  • Bask in the sun.
  • Follow interesting trails–you never know where they might lead.
  • Roll around on your back and act silly once in a while.
  • When someone you love returns home, greet them as though they’ve been gone for years…even if it has just been 15 minutes.
  • Accept affection when it’s offered.
  • Approach new people and situations with an open heart and mind, no matter how much you’ve been hurt before.
  • Sometimes it takes a while to find the right home with people who really love you, so don’t give up.
  • Take naps.
  • Play as often as often as you can.
  • Love deeply, forgive easily, and sleep soundly.

Woof! and Blessed Be

Baxter crossed over the rainbow bridge on July 15, 2017 from a hermangiosarcoma (heart tumor). He was about 14 years old. I know his gentle spirit is still with me, and I’m grateful every day that he picked me to be his human. 

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Creativity

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I often say that writing or any creative pursuit is like giving birth—first, there is conception, an idea that has been planted in the mind, a divine little spark that bursts forth with energy and excitement. Think of a nebula—a big cloud of swirling dust and gas that will eventually shine down to Earth as a fully formed star. It’s that glorious moment when you know exactly what you want to create, but you don’t have all the details and materials yet. You’re just spinning and floating with the idea and sticking your big toe in the creative process.

Then, the idea begins to grow and take shape during a gestational period that can be
rather short, perhaps a matter of hours, or quite lengthy depending on the nature of the project. So, you stay with this idea however long it takes—you nurture it, feed it, and give it as much energy as you can while still maintaining your own health and sanity. You become a vessel for something greater than yourself to manifest here on the material plane. Your ego must get out of the way, along with all distractions, naysayers, and party poopers. This is not the time to let anyone say “you can’t” or “you’re not good enough”—and that includes yourself. You are perfectly good enough; otherwise, the idea would not have come to you!

Time passes, and you finally begin to work and sweat with your project. You get your hands in the dirt, your fingers on the keyboard, your paint on the canvas. This is your idea being born. This is labor. It takes strength and courage and an unfailing belief that your efforts are worth it all…and so, at the right time and place, the child of your mind and heart is born. The garden is planted, the book is published, the artwork hangs in a gallery. It is done. You have fulfilled your destiny. You have co-created with the universe, and so you rest.

I believe that everyone has it within herself or himself to be creative. It’s not just for the “artsy” people. Even if you are left-brained and addicted to your own special set of nuts and bolts, there is always something that yearns to be expressed. We are put here for this purpose—to love and to create—and we don’t have to starve or go insane to produce something of value. I was an English Lit major, so I was surrounded by creative people all the time through my college years. We were always thinking, writing, and exploring our rich, voluptuous world. Writers notice things. We take our time. We massage the details.

It’s all really about surrender and allowing. There is a poem by Rumi called “The Treasure’s Nearness” that portrays this so beautifully:

A man searching for spirit-treasure
cannot find it, so he is praying.

A voice inside says, You were given
the intuition to shoot an arrow
and then to dig where it landed,
but you shot with all your archery skill.

You were told to draw the bow
with only a fraction of your ability.

What you are looking for
is nearer than the big vein
on your neck. Let the arrow drop.

Do not exhaust yourself
like the philosophers who strain to shoot
the high arcs of their thought-arrows.

The more skill you use,
the farther you will be
from what your deepest love wants.
(translated by Coleman Barks)

My dear ones, what Rumi is saying is that you can’t harness creativity and drive it like a mule. It is always here, always with you. Surrender, trust, and allow. Blessed Be.