Taking visualization further

Wiccans and Pagans often talk about and use visualization. Although I’m not the first person to point out that it’s misnamed, I’d like you to consider Laiima’s excellent musings about how she perceives the world in different ways and how you might enhance or change your visualizations.

If you’re just getting started with visualization, try exercises like the Tree of Life meditation, but don’t just concentrate on the visual. Use your imagination to construct a sensory experience for yourself that uses as many of your senses as you want: touch, taste, scent, and hearing, plus many more – how about balance, temperature, movement, and pressure?

If you have a dominant sense, either in terms of learning or in terms of perceiving the world, you might start with that one, while you learn to let your imagination run free, then add others. Or concentrate on more details than you have before – Laiima’s concentration on touch conveys how much information can be communicated through a very small amount of contact. Try it and see – and feel, too!

Grounding and Centering: The Tree of Life

This is a common visualization exercise; it’s common because it’s a simple and effective way to begin to relax and be present in the moment. Here’s my version of it, which gives you an idea of how you can lead yourself through it any time. While you’re learning it or if you prefer to have external guidance during a visualization, you may want to record yourself reading it aloud and play that back while doing the exercise.

Sit or stand comfortably and close your eyes. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Concentrate your awareness around your center of gravity, in the middle of your body. Visualize a seed or sapling there, ready to take root. Become aware of where your feet or sit-bones are connected to the earth, and imagine yourself as the sapling, taking root through your connection to the earth.

As you breathe in, feel yourself gathering your energy, and as you breathe out, let your roots dig deeper into the soil. They tunnel down and spread out as they grow. Feel yourself connecting with the dirt and stones and even the water table, deep below you. With each breath, push your roots a little bit further, gently, because roots will find their way around and through any obstacles that present themselves. As you get down to the bedrock, feel your roots touch the stones, and connect with the veins in the stones themselves, so that your roots go down into the very bones of the earth.

Pause there for a moment and let that connection strengthen. Let whatever is bothering you flow down and out into the earth and be diffused, and draw up from your roots whatever energy and sustenance you need. Feel the stability that your roots give you, so that you are balanced and steady.

Now, when you take a breath in, draw that flow up into yourself, into your trunk, and as you breathe out, start to put out leaves and branches. Breathe in, and feel the energy of the earth combine with your own to feed those branches,  and as you breathe out, feel them grow, reaching up through the sky. Let them divide and spread, so that some are thick and strong, and others end in delicate twigs that sway as the wind blows through them. Feel your leaves seeking out the sun’s energy, or the moon’s, or both. That energy flows into you, and mingles with what’s already there, strengthening your trunk and feeding you all the way down to your roots, too.

Rest there, letting the energy flow into you and through you, letting it nourish you, heal you, and replenish you.

When you’re ready, gently draw your roots and branches back in. You can do this by visualizing them shrinking back into you as you breathe in. You know they will always be there, and that you can extend them again, and connect with your environment again, at any time. For now, let them retract into you, so that you gradually become aware of the shape of your own body again. When you’re ready, open your eyes. Move gently when getting up after this.

Meditation Moment: Mindfulness in Motion

Now that summer is in full swing, I’d like to suggest a very different approach to meditation: physical activity. This is a great time of year for people to get outside, even for a few minutes, and combining meditation with moving around can be fun and easy. Please be cautious and adapt any of these ideas to your personal health and circumstances.

The kind of activity that I have in mind doesn’t have to be a big sweaty ordeal; in fact, it doesn’t have to feel like a lot of exertion at all. If you have to constantly push yourself, and as a result you’re feeling uncomfortable and unhappy all the time, you can’t possibly experience it as a form of meditation. It’s true that experienced athletes can work through heavy-duty exercise, but that kind of single-mindedness is not something that most of us are prepared for, and it can be a very inward focus that is pretty isolating.

On the other hand, some people prefer to totally “zone out” during exercise, listening to music and losing their concentration entirely, so that even a half-hour workout seems to go by in just a couple of songs. Although it can be very calming, that lack of awareness isn’t what I have in mind either. Instead, I want to suggest that you try being present in your body and aware of its surroundings while you are in motion. To achieve this, choose something that you can enjoy and that you can do comfortably for ten or fifteen minutes without getting too tired or distracted, like a walk, a gentle swim, or an easy bike ride.

Since you want to pay attention to your environment, choose a place where you can enjoy pleasant surroundings. A loud, smelly highway is not something you want to direct your attention towards, and it may be equally distracting or worrying to be on a densely wooded path where you’re constantly worrying about being eaten alive by mosquitos and running into a rut in the path that will pitch you off your bike to land head-first into a patch of poison ivy.

What you want to try to do is to stay aware of your body – your whole body – and to keep your body and mind relaxed and open to the sensations of your experience. Try checking in with different parts of your body randomly. What are you feeling in your hands? Your knees? Your shoulders? Where are you storing tension? As you get into the rhythm of activity, does that tension change, stiffen, or move to another part of your body?

Focus on the contrasts, the yin and yang of your environment and yourself. Contrast the motion and stillness around you with your own, and stay aware of how your perspective on your surroundings shifts as you move through your activity. As with any other kind of meditation, when your awareness fixates on one thing, relax and return your attention to your breath, or to a focal point such as the rhythm of your movement or the stillness of your center of gravity. Your mind will wander; when it does, bring it back, without recrimination or increased tension, just returning it to your chosen focus.

Stay open to the sensations of your surroundings, but don’t let those sensations overwhelm you. Just as you do with thoughts and feelings that arise during a session of seated meditation, acknowledge each sensation and let it go, so that you continue to be aware of the whole experience. If you enjoy a more moderate level of exertion, don’t let that escalate to the point of distraction; stay present in your body rather than taking your mind away just so you can go a little bit faster or push a little bit harder. The goal here is mindfulness, not mindlessness.

Some kinds of exercise are often taught with a meditative focus, such as qi gong and yoga. If you engage in one of these, whether you’re experienced or a novice, use the same approach of being open to the sensations in your body and your presence in your surroundings. If you have an established practice already, perhaps you could try doing part of your routine in an outdoors setting where you don’t usually get to go; see how the different context affects your practice and your awareness.

In exercises that consciously incorporate the breath, make sure that you’re not ignoring the rest of your body. As you breathe in and stretch a little bit further, notice how your breath and movement interact. Are you starting and stopping movements in time with the breath? Is your movement causing you to breathe, or vice versa? Is your breath steady and smooth, or ragged and irregular? How about your movement?

Even an activity like light weightlifting can be an opportunity for mindfulness. Rather than experiencing each repetition as a chore, or a contest, direct your attention away from concerns or pressure you put on yourself and into your awareness of your muscles and movement. Try using your breath to support your movement, much as you do when breathing into a tight part of the body while stretching, rather than holding your breath. How does the sensation in the muscle change with each repetition? When do you know that it’s enough; when your body tells you so, or when you’ve reached a predetermined number?

Meditation can be a way to be in better touch with your body, as well as your mind and heart. The awareness cultivated in meditation ought to be an awareness of ourselves and our surroundings as we interact with them, not just an isolated inner awareness. Finding mindfulness in motion can be a way to cultivate an interactive awareness of both mind and body.

Meditation Moment: The Skill of Forgetting

We often think of forgetting as a problem, something that only happens by accident, something that we want to fight against. Our memories are vital to who we are and how we live; loss of memory is one of the most feared aspects of aging for some people. But memory isn’t always a good thing. The traumatic, intrusive memories of PTSD are just one example of memory run amok. Think about what your mind would feel like if you could never forget anything, even the most trivial details, like the thousands of license plates you see on the road in the course of your life. Having to sort through all of those to try to remember your own would be a nightmare. We would drown in the details, which is why forgetting can be a skill.

In investigating the effects of cannabis, science writer and nature lover Michael Pollan discovered that the plant makes compounds with structures similar to neurotransmitters involved in the extremely complex process of regulating remembering and forgetting. In his book The Botany of Desire, Pollan went on to speculate that part of the experience of being high might come from cannabis temporarily altering this system by impairing our memories, letting us experience the world as fresh and new rather than through the filter of our memories and expectation.

As he put it, “It is only by forgetting that we ever really drop the thread of time and approach the experience of living in the present moment, so elusive in ordinary hours. And the wonder of that experience, perhaps more than any other, seems to be at the very heart of the human desire to change consciousness, whether by means of drugs or any other technique.” (162, emphasis original) This amazing mindfulness and presence in the present is one of the things that meditation makes available to us without the use of mind-altering substances.

I have suggested using a focus for meditation, such as a candle, object from nature, or a favorite image. But it’s easy for us to substitute our abstract conception of a thing for the thing itself. We can think of our internal imagination and memory of what a candle is or looks like rather than what is actually in front of us; we meditate on our idea of what a rose is or ought to be rather than on this particular, unique rose in the here and now. It’s almost as if we like to substitute some idealized Platonic representative of a whole class of objects for the immediate reality.

One way to get around that tendency is to treat an encounter with a focus object almost as a game to test your observation skills: what is this particular stone like? Can you visualize it clearly when you close your eyes? Could you pick it out of a group of similar rocks? What makes it unique or distinctive?

This seems like it would be an exercise of memory, but where forgetting is needed to help us lay aside our expectations and experiences so that we can perceive the particular object we’re focusing on more clearly. The gift of memory isn’t just the freshness and wonder of being absorbed in the world but also the ability to take in our experiences more accurately. Memory, especially in the form of expectations and assumptions, can give us blind spots where we simply can’t absorb information that is contrary to what we already know or think.

To practice the skill of forgetting, try using an object from the natural world that will change over time as your meditation focus. A leaf, a cut flower, a plant with a bud about to open, or anything that will show changes over a few days to a week will work. Try approaching it each day as an entirely new experience. Let go of how you saw this thing yesterday; don’t let that memory override your actual perception of the object today. Look at it as a whole, not just noticing the changes. When your mind brings up comparisons and changes over time, acknowledge the thought and then bring your attention back to the present moment and the current reality of your focus.

A similar challenge is to try to describe something in nature without using its name; an herb might be a plant, an annual, a member of a certain family, have flowers that butterflies or bees enjoy, home to a spider’s web, something that needs water and sun (but not too much of either), a producer of oxygen and consumer of carbon dioxide, a seasoning in your favorite dish, home to pests or resistant to them, and on and on. Describing the herb this way makes us more aware of the way it exists in a complex web of ecological interrelationships, instead of concentrating only on the way the herb exists in relationship to us. It’s almost a way to see the plant on its own terms rather than on ours.

This fresh perception and the wonder that it brings with it are the gifts of forgetting. Even for a little while, this kind of forgetting can be soothing and healing. Forgetting, used wisely, can be a valuable skill. Make meditation a time to practice it.

Meditation Moment: Bringing the Outdoors In

Last month I wrote about how being deeply present in a single moment helps us relate to all moments; this month, I want to extend that approach to thinking about space as well as time. As Pagans, we tend to cultivate our connections to the world around us, especially the natural world. Meditation can help us deepen that connection.

Many of us practice in urban areas, but still want to connect to the rhythm of the seasons and natural cycles. It can be ideal to find a location outdoors in which to meditate, but few of us have the luxury of doing that every day. So we need to find ways of bringing the outdoors in for us to connect with during meditation.

The goal here is to be present in a particular place, just as last month we talked about being present in the particular moment. We want to be present with this individual stone, or shell, or flower, or twig; not with all stones, or all flowers, but this one, in particular, in all of its uniqueness. It is an example of the place it came from, a connection to that one spot. But just as being present in each unique moment helps us connect to all moments, narrowing our focus to a deeper contemplation of this one location can paradoxically help us appreciate the totality of the world we live in.

Meditation’s connection between the minuscule and the majestic – now and all time, here and everywhere, myself and all living things – makes this contemplation of nature much more than a decoration, more than a superficial acknowledgement, and into a deep act of awareness. When we want to have a more meaningful relationship with the web of life and the natural cycles that support it, we can start small. Recognizing the uniqueness of one thing and the richness in one small corner of reality helps us appreciate that each corner is similarly rich and full.

If you can make meditating outdoors in a particular spot an occasional addition to your regular practice, that can help you establish a relationship with a specific place. Then taking a small reminder – a stone, a leaf – back to your usual meditation space is part of an ongoing process of connection anchored in that location, not just a scattershot series of one-off connections with a multitude of places. Even if there’s no special place where you can go and meditate, maintaining a connection with a particular spot is a better way to anchor yourself in the rhythms of nature; connect to one tree or one group of living things in your area, and use reminders of them as your focus for meditation.

If you really want to connect to the seasons in that place, make sure to change your focus on a regular basis. Take your reminder back to the place you got it, and return it to nature with your thanks, then find something else, something new, to focus on, to help you experience the constant change and wonderful variety found in your particular location. Especially at this time of year, when flowers are blooming and trees are unfurling their leaves as fast as possible, don’t let your focus get fixed on a single object to the extent that you ignore the changes taking place in your little corner of the world.

Get physical about your experience of place, too! The physical world engages our senses in ways that an abstraction like time can’t. Feel the texture of trees’ bark with your fingers, taste the tart sweetness of blackberries later on, listen to the birds and the wind in the leaves and the patter of the rain. And yes, stop and smell the roses – and the honeysuckle and lilacs and everything else, too.

I mentioned that a connection to place can serve as a kind of anchor. Just as the ability to draw one’s attention to the present moment can be a part of grounding and centering, the deep awareness of a particular place can also be a form of grounding – the literal meaning behind the metaphor. That familiarity with a location can be a touchstone, a reminder of the relationship that we hearken back to every time we pause over a meal or give thanks for coming home safely after a trip.

And since you know that by connecting to your one place, you are also connecting to all places, even when you are in unfamiliar surroundings you know you have the ability to ground yourself there as well, to tap into the connection to the same deeper reality, and if you need to, to become familiar with this new place as well.

The beginning of this month is the celebration of Beltane; it’s time to fall in love again. One of love’s amazing qualities is that it takes us outside of ourselves. By engaging with someone else, we gain a whole new perspective on the world, and on ourselves, and we gain the opportunity to change and grow in ways we could hardly have imagined alone. This Beltane, consider falling in love with the land. When we do, when we bring the outdoors in, if we fully engage with it and start to develop a relationship, it too, like all good loves, will take us outside of ourselves.

The Goddess and Weakness

I went into my lobbying efforts with a deliberate desire to put my ethics into action and to dedicate that work to the Goddess as I know her and as she exists in every woman and every man. That mattered to me, and it helped me do a good job. I had some interesting experiences along the way, which I share here for others’ interest; these are not meant to be definitive for anyone but me, but I was surprised at the ways I experienced things that matched up with what other people have talked about in terms of ethics and some of the best means of responding to injustice.

I meditated and prayed before I began; I repeated my personal oath, as I do every day, and I promised myself that I would work extra-hard to measure my actions by that oath as I went into this new and challenging effort. As I started out, I had a deeper measure of calm than I expected, and at times, when I was taking a deep breath and refocusing myself, I felt that I could slip in and out of in a very, very light trance state, one where my personal awareness of deity and the beings around me was heightened, and one where my personal ethical commitments were foremost in my mind.

I used grounding and centering techniques repeatedly throughout the day. This was extremely helpful in dealing with the nervousness that comes from doing a new and challenging task, and especially when learning how to talk to staffers and present myself. When I did a quick review after each drop-in visit, I first grounded and centered, and that moved me right past the “I can’t believe I fumbled that word!” and “Oh my god they probably think I’m an idiot!” and on to the useful, important matters of how to improve for the next time. Of course, grounding and centering is also the best way to prepare before starting the next such encounter, too. It helped me not get trapped by anger or frustration or hopelessness.

Most of all, grounding and centering let me speak not just from my place of strength, but from my place of weakness. When I made the one real connection that I counted as achieving my personal goal for the day, I made it by speaking honestly and openly about how truly frightening these proposals are to me, and how truly dangerous they are to me. I was able to be strong in my weakness rather than try to cover it with anger.

Oh, I’m angry, too, and sometimes I showed that, but most of all, I wanted to show people that they’re not just causing anger, they’re causing fear, and they will cause harm if they continue on this course. Anger can be answered with anger. But a heartfelt admission of fear, especially a well-justified fear, is often harder to dismiss, harder to meet with cruelty and ignorance and abuse. Weakness became my strength.

In a lot of ways, I used the same approach when I went to silently counter the anti-abortion protesters. I couldn’t have done that, and certainly couldn’t have been as (minimally) successful as I was, without the grounding I relied on. If I hadn’t already thought deeply about the ethics of the situation, it would have been all too easy to get drawn into an argument with them, or to be shamed, or hurt, or appalled, or infuriated by their lies and hurtfulness.

And to tell the truth, I did feel all those things. But using the intent I had established for myself ahead of time as a touchstone let me feel, first and foremost, a kind of grace and peace that surrounded me, enfolded me, and healed all those hurts so that I could go on to do what I wanted to do. I exposed my weakness to them in a different way, by being silent, by not justifying myself or engaging with them, but simply being there. It sounds trite to say that their responses proved me right and reinforced me in my endeavor, but it was true for me.

Chanting very quietly to myself helped me ignore them physically and mentally, but it was also the perfect exercise for why I was there in the first place. Pulling up part of that light trance state helped me see the man yelling at me as not just someone who wanted to hurt me, but as also someone who has been hurt, who is trying to do the best he knows how, who also has a connection to the divine within him. As a result, I was able to focus on the feelings of sorrow and hope for his healing, to be filled with mercy and grace even as he yelled at me. He, too, comes from the Goddess, and to her he will return.

I was able and willing to be weak, and silent, and to let my fear become also part of the grace, because of the absolute conviction that what I was doing was right, and necessary, and worthwhile. I paid the cost, and paid it gladly, and would do it again. And by approaching it that way, the cost was made almost nothing.

I realize that can sound kind of condescending to the anti-abortion protesters. In fact, I’m pretty sure I heard them praying something about asking Mary to forgive sinners very loudly right behind me, with the clear intent that I was the sinner they had in mind at the moment. (The particular people I saw seem to have been part of a tiny fringe Catholic organization.) I’m not saying that I had the right to be condescending to them and they didn’t; I am saying that I tried to make my external actions not condescending (while theirs were more so) and that this understanding helped me do something that I think, on an external judgment of impact, was an ethical action.

I can’t say that the Goddess was acting through me – in fact, even though I prayed to Ogma for eloquence and assistance in my speaking, it was precisely when I was talking to staffers that I felt not at all trance-like – but I do think that I succeeded in dedicating my actions to the Goddess. Some of the basic energy management techniques I’ve been exploring were a huge help, not just grounding and centering, but also the idea of a shield that automatically earths or transmutes negative energy sent at me. It was amazing how quickly the situation got easier for me, especially with that visualization in mind.

I have no training in nonviolent protest or civil disobedience beyond a bit of light reading, but what I felt was truly wonderful and powerful. It was also deeply spiritual, much more so than I expected. I can see myself doing that again in the future.

Finally, I want to send a huge thank you to the friends and family who sent me good energy and prayed for my endeavors that day. I felt it, (again in ways I didn’t expect!) and it helped, and I couldn’t have done it without you. This is what the work is about – and we are doing it together.

Meditation Moment: Connection and Context

Last month, I talked about letting go of time to be wholly in the present moment. Worrying about a few pieces of the past or future disconnects us from the present moment, and also leads us to ignore the rest of the past and future as well.

Being wholly in the present moment is an experience of mystery and delight; each present moment, taken by itself, connects to all the moments, past and future. The immediacy of the present moment and the eternity of all moments have more in common with each other than they do with our usual ways of understanding and experiencing time.

Meditation can be a way of connecting opposites, both practically and mystically, and can help us see objects, experiences, and even ourselves in a wider context, with a more holistic vision.

Here’s a practical example: beginning drivers often feel overwhelmed with the amount of information coming at them. They feel like they need to be looking in all directions at once, watching every other car, looking for traffic signals and signs, and monitoring the dashboard. Trying to pay attention to everything makes it difficult for them to pay attention to any single thing.

As they learn to drive, they learn to limit their attention to only a few things at a time. They learn where to look to anticipate what’s going to happen, and they learn what parts of their visual field they can ignore. They learn when to check the dashboard and when to keep their eyes up on the road; they know when the rearview mirror is important and when it’s only a distraction.

We all learn ways to filter our attention: we can pay attention to everything, which means we end up not noticing anything, or we can pay attention to some things and ignore others.

Meditation lets us learn to use those filters in different ways. When we narrow our attention to the present moment, we can perceive that moment’s uniqueness. Such perception paradoxically widens our attention; we become more receptive not to the everyday noise that surrounds us but to the broader mystical context of each moment in time.

One meditation technique that I enjoy uses a juxtaposition of opposites and invites contemplation of similarities and differences to both harness the straying nature of the mind and emphasize connections such as this. The first time I did it, I was focusing on an arrangement of stones that consisted of mostly jagged, dark pieces of shale with a few round, clear marbles scattered throughout. Any similar contrast of yin/yang, dark/light, hard/soft, or similar will work.

Start out contemplating one end of the polarity, and when your attention wanders, bring it back to the other end of the polarity. Consider the dark, flat pieces of shale, and then shift to the round, translucent marbles. How do they express polarity? How are they similar? Is there a unity between the differences? As you keep doing this, shifting between the two becomes easier, and eventually the union of the contrasts becomes the main point of contemplation.

This contemplation on contrasts is a way of deliberately shifting what is in the foreground of our vision, what it is we’re paying attention to. When we contemplate one piece of a contrast, the counterpart is in the background; reversing the situation shows us that our attention determines what we perceive as foreground and background.

A beginning drawing exercise is to draw not an object but the shape of the space around it. This is another example of switching one’s focus to the background rather than the foreground. Exploring the contrasts between them, where they meet and interact, lets us understand both better. It leads to a more holistic vision that embraces both.

Starhawk described the difference between this holistic vision and normal awareness as the difference between seeing with a flashlight and seeing by starlight. The starlight vision sees patterns and shapes; it brings out the relationships between things rather than separating the world into foreground (which is attended to) and background (which is ignored).

Cultivating this alternative mode of awareness can give us a different perspective on ourselves as well as on our perception of time. Normally, I have myself in the foreground of my awareness: what am I doing, thinking, feeling? What do I do next?

As Pagans, many of us are familiar with a technique known as “grounding and centering,” and although there are many different ways to do this, most of the ones I’ve encountered are essentially adaptations of this meditation technique to reconnect our selves with our contexts.

Some people prefer to ground and center by getting in touch with the Earth first, usually through visualization, and then to draw on that connection to feel calm, collected, and refreshed within themselves. Others go about it in the opposite order, by sinking into their own consciousness first, and when they’ve touched their own core, then they connect to their surroundings. Either way is valid.

When we ground and center, we recognize how we exist in concert with our surroundings, and being more firmly aware of ourselves helps us connect to our whole world, just as being present in the moment helps us connect to all moments. The extremes, self and all, connect in the same paradoxical way as now and forever. If we widen our attention to our broader context first, we also end up with a better awareness of ourselves as part of that context by shifting our focus of attention away from ourselves.

We are often prompted to “ground and center” when beginning a group working. This instruction is more than a reminder to participants individually; it’s a necessary preface to asking individuals to open up to others. What connects us, after all, is our shared context, and locating ourselves as individuals within that larger situation prepares us to recognize and connect with others in a deeper way than we could if we approached them from only our isolated point of view. Recognizing the shared context lets us see what we already have in common with others, rather than seeing them as totally separate, isolated individuals.

We filter our attention in many ways in everyday life; learning to use those filters for our own purposes gives us valuable tools. Meditation and the specific practice of grounding and centering are ways we can cultivate the holistic vision, the starlight vision, that lets us connect with our context.

Ostara Ritual

This is the script for the Ostara ritual that I led this evening. The actual ritual had some changes along the way, as usual, but this is a pretty good representation of it.

Pre-ritual introduction: Welcome to Sacred Circle’s Ostara ritual. I’m Literata, the ritual coordinator, and I wanted to give you a heads-up about a few things that will be happening in ritual. We’ll be using music at a few points: if you know the tune or pick it up along the way, sing along, or clap, snap, or tap your feet! There are a few ritual phrases that whenever anyone says them, everyone echoes: Hail and welcome; hail and farewell, and Blessed be! For the ritual food and drink this evening, we have apple juice and bread with anise and lemon flavors. The bread is not vegan, but the rice cakes on the additional plate are. Any questions? Ok, please turn off your cell phones. I’m going to put on a short song, and you can use that time to settle in, to ground and center, and then we’ll start!

Song: Laydies Bring Your Flowers Faire by Heather Alexander

We are here to celebrate the spring equinox, the midpoint of spring when light and dark are in balance. The first buds are beginning to open on the trees and seeds are germinating.

Circle casting: Weave and Spin by Ruth Barrett as all hold hands.

Quarter calls: Powers of the East, Element of Air, your breeze caresses and refreshes us, and spreads the sweet scents of spring blossoms. Come to this circle to bring us inspiration and wisdom. Hail and welcome! (All echo.)

Powers of the South, Element of Fire, your warmth heralds the oncoming summer, and you give energy to everything that lives and grows. Come to this circle to bring us vitality and passion. Hail and welcome!

Powers of the West, Element of Water, your tides flow through us with every heartbeat, and your spring rains soak the fields to help the seeds sprout. Come to this circle to bring us emotion and intuition. Hail and welcome!

Powers of the North, Element of Earth, your solid form is our constant support, and you provide nutrients to questing roots and grow the food on which we depend. Come to this circle to bring us strength and nurturing. Hail and welcome!

Deity invocations:Gracious Goddess, Mighty God, Beloved Lord and Lady, hear our call to you! We invite you to join us at this moment when the growing light and waning darkness are balanced, as the buds are opening, at this turning point of the Wheel.

Come to us as the Spring Maiden, young and beautiful as a newly-opened flower, whose footsteps awaken the grass to grow again, whose breath is the spring breezes. The Lady is come, and welcome!

Come to us as the power of the growing Sun, the energy of days that are becoming longer than the nights, whose warmth feeds the rebirth of life. Lord of the waxing year, you are young and your power is still developing, spreading warmth and encouraging growth. The Lord is come, and welcome!

Guided meditation: Sit down so that you can be comfortable. Close your eyes and take a deep, cleansing breath. And out. And another. And out. And another. And out. Feel your connection to the earth below you, to the sky above you, to your brothers and sisters around you.

Now see yourself as a seed – a single grain of wheat that was harvested at Lammas and has been stored over the winter. Before you know it, you find yourself planted in the earth. It is dark and cool, and the earth surrounds you, embraces you.

Then the rain comes. It soaks through the soil, and it soaks into you, through your hull, and you begin to expand, as you drink in the water. After the dormant time of winter, your cells become active, beginning to grow, beginning to divide.

You grow so much that the seed hull can no longer contain you: it cracks open, and now you have tendrils that begin to move through the soil, questing, seeking for more water, for the nutrients you need. Although you are tiny, and the earth is heavy, it is moved by your persistence, by the strength of the life that is in you, that begins to grow. Some of your tendrils sink deep into the earth, becoming roots, moving through the earth to find the food you need to grow.

Some of your tendrils begin to feel warmth: the rains are over and gone, the sun is shining again. Your main stalk races towards the light and the fire, shooting up through the earth towards the warmth you crave, and at last you emerge into the air.

Here, you begin to unfold, leaves spreading wide to be caressed by the spring air, getting energy from the sun, drawing on your faithful, sturdy roots as you grow, as you embody the spring miracle of returning life.

Feel how much you have changed since you were the small, hard seed, buried in the earth; feel how the Elements and the power of life have enabled your transformation into a new form, one that is active and growing.

Now slowly begin to become aware of your own body again. Feel its boundaries, its shape. Feel how the experience you’ve just had applies to your own life.

Since we’re not actually plants, we experience the process of sprouting in different ways. But one thing remains the same: the opening up. When we draw down the moon or the sun, when we draw spirit into ourselves, it is a way of planting a seed, a seed of love, within ourselves. And when that love germinates and grows, it opens us up from the inside out, changing us, cracking open our preconceived notions and things that were holding us back, helping us break out of the shell that had surrounded us.

Think about how you want to experience sprouting in your own life, and settle on one intent. When you have that intent firmly in mind, take a few more deep breaths, and when you’re ready, open your eyes.

We’re going to do a self-blessing based on that idea as a way to plant the seeds we want within ourselves and within our own lives. How we do the self-blessing is to touch each of our chakras, the power points of the body, in a line from the root, near your groin, to the crown, on top of your head. I’ll say a short blessing for each one, and you can personalize your intent for what you want in your life.

Self-blessing: (Touch root chakra.) Lord and Lady, bless our roots, for we draw on them to support us and to nourish the seeds we plant. Blessed be!

(Touch second chakra, on belly.) Lord and Lady, bless our bellies, as your love and ours lets us plant the seeds of our desire within ourselves. Blessed be!

(Touch third chakra, at solar plexus.) Lord and Lady, bless our energy so that it feeds our growth, as the seeds we plant begin to sprout. Blessed be!

(Touch fourth chakra, over the heart.) Lord and Lady, bless our hearts so that as we grow, our hearts are opened to feel love. Blessed be!

(Touch fifth chakra, over throat.) Lord and Lady, bless our throats so that as we grow, our throats are opened to speak the truth. Blessed be!

(Touch sixth chakra, over third eye.) Lord and Lady, bless our vision so that as we grow, our understanding is opened to awareness. Blessed be!

(Touch crown chakra on top of head.) Lord and Lady, bless us, from root to crown, that this springtime nurtures our growth. Blessed be!

We have planted the seeds of love and new life within us again with the coming of spring!

The Great Rite: (Holds juice, lowers wand into juice.) This juice was pressed from apples which were the fruit of last year’s growth.

(Holds bread, cuts bread with knife.) This bread was made from wheat which was the bounty of last year’s harvest.

Seeds and fruits were transformed into food to nurture our bodies and spirits. (Pass bread and juice around circle.)

Song: We Are the Flow by Ruth Barrett

Let these be for us the blessing of the Lord and Lady for the seeds we have planted within ourselves today!

Thanks and farewells: Lord of the waxing year, thank you for your presence here and your blessings within us. Hail and farewell!

Spring Maiden, thank you for your presence here and your blessings within us. Hail and farewell!

Thanking the Quarters: Powers of North, Element of Earth, we thank you for your presence here and your blessings of strength and nurturing. Hail and farewell!

Powers of West, Element of Water, we thank you for your presence here and your blessings of emotion and intuition. Hail and farewell!

Powers of South, Element of Fire, we thank you for your presence here and your blessings of vitality and passion. Hail and farewell!

Powers of East, Element of Air, we thank you for your presence here and your blessings of inspiration and wisdom. Hail and farewell!

Circle Opening: May the Circle Be Open by Robert Gass.

When we actually did ritual, I cut the first and third songs because they weren’t necessary with the smaller group we had. Four people did the quarter calls from notecards I handed out; thank you very much! I know I read the guided meditation much too quickly; my apologies for that. I’ll learn better. A blessed Ostara to all!

Daily practices: sacralizing the everyday

In one of Slacktivists’s recent posts, he writes about he wishes there were more ceremonies or rituals to acknowledge important turning points in one’s life. He gives the example of a Jewish community creating a community-wide ritual for a young person getting his or her driver’s license. This is one thing the Pagan community has done pretty well: we love creating rituals for all kinds of things. One of my friends wrote an absolutely fantastic transition-to-motherhood ritual, for example. But we don’t talk as much about the little rituals that are part of our daily practice.

These rituals are part of sacralizing the everyday. I believe in deity that is immanent as well as transcendent, so things like eating meals and leaving and returning to my home are interactions with spirit as well as with matter; they deserve to have their own rituals, even tiny ones. Those rituals make my daily practice not something that happens once, but something that is a constant process. Every ritual is a moment, even if just a breath, to ground and center, to adjust my perspective, to remember what’s important, to include the spiritual context of my life.

So I thought I’d share a few of my mini-rituals with you, and ask you about yours. How do you make the mundane magical and the straightforward spiritual?

One of my most important ones is my adaptation of a mezuzah. I have a trinity knot, which has spiritual significance for me, carved from cherry wood hanging just inside the door. When I go out, I touch it and murmur a prayer for myself as I travel and for my home and all who live in it. When I come back in, I touch it again in recognition that I am home and in thanks for the safe return.

I’ve found that this ritual’s meaning deepens over time. A lot of Pagans do some form of house warding or blessing. I visualize that delineation of the home’s space as like a cord looping around the edges of my home, with the ends tied together in a knot that rests in the trinity knot. Every time I murmur my blessing, it is also a way of reinforcing that boundary. It says, this is home, not because the outside is bad or dangerous, but this is home, because this space is ours, and we make it so, and we fill it with love.

I think this is especially important for me, because as a military spouse, I move frequently. Even as a child, I moved frequently; I don’t have a sense that I’m “from” some place in particular. So the place I live now doesn’t have years of familiarity that make it from a house into a home. It won’t be my home for very many more years. So I use rituals to make it my home now, and to acknowledge that on a regular basis, and I’ll use ritual to thank and release the space when we leave. Then I’ll hang my trinity knot in a new home, and continue the cycle.

The trinity knot and its prayer are about how home and family are linked. This is home, for now, because this is where my family lives and loves. When my family moves, we’ll still be family, and we’ll be able to transfer our wholeness in that way into a new space. And since my acknowledgment of that remains the same, the habit and meaning have a chance to accumulate, even if not in the same spot, but in the same time: in the same time of my experience as I go in and out of my home.

Another ritual is a blessing over meals, which is common to many religions, but for me explicitly acknowledges the cycles of life and death that are bound up in the meal. (It’s the whole plant-harvest-replant cycle of the Wheel of the Year in a dish!) I also have an altar that honors my ancestors, my living family, and those whom I consider part of my “chosen family,” my close friends and loved ones. I light a candle and incense there nearly every night, and if I have prayers to say for those folks, that’s when I do it. Journaling can be a ritual. What rituals do you have? What do they do for you, in your life and your practice?

Meditation Moment: The Opposite of Multitasking

The act of meditating is mostly about not doing anything else at the same time. That’s why last month I discussed how to measure the time of your meditation practice without letting the act of measuring time become overwhelming; you have to be able to let go of worrying about time.

When we let go of being concerned about one thing, most of us seize onto something else to concentrate on. If it’s not the time, it’s the laundry; if it’s not the laundry, it’s the dog; if it’s not the dog… We are constantly tugged on by the past and the future, and as a result, we spend very little time in the present. Author Terry Pratchett used the phrase “temporally unfocused” to describe this situation: we end up existing in a little blur around the here-and-now, smeared out into a cloud by all the worries, concerns, memories, and other things that drag at our attention.

The act of meditating is mostly about not doing anything else at the same time. Meditation practice is time and space set aside for directing our attention in ways that we choose, deliberately, instead of letting it get pulled all over the place by other matters.

It’s not that the issues clamoring for your attention are unimportant: they might be of life-changing importance or they might be totally meaningless, anything from “Did I do so badly on my performance review last week that I’m going to get fired next month?” to “I want to scratch my elbow.” The point is that these things are all temporally unfocused: none of them are in the present moment. Our hopes and fears, our memories and dreams, our regrets and anticipations, are all about some time other than the current moment. They are about our past and our plans, not about our present and our presence.

The act of meditating is mostly about not doing anything else at the same time. It’s not about what we did yesterday, or a moment ago, or about what we’re going to do later today or even a moment from now.

Being present in the moment, from moment to moment, is a process of trying not to inhabit our past or our future. This is the opposite of multitasking: when frantically multitasking, it may seem that we are always in the moment, but that is an illusion created by the frantic sense of “Do this now!” that we get when we switch between tasks. Multitasking is more a way of never being in the moment, because there are so very many different moments to be in. The more we try to inhabit all of them at once, the less we are in any single one of them.

The act of meditating is mostly about not doing anything else at the same time. Meditating is unitasking.

In order to practice unitasking, to practice inhabiting only the present moment, we try to minimize external distractions, like keeping track of the time. Even then, our minds are excellent at churning out yet other distractions, like the endless to-do lists that haunt us in our quiet moments. This is normal and is not a failure; as long as you have a mind, it will wander. Simply bring it back to the present moment. This is where having a focal point can help: whether it’s your breath, or a candle, a mantra, or a simple image, keep returning to something that exists in the present moment.

The act of meditating is mostly about not doing anything else at the same time. Meditation is a practice, not a performance.

Even with a focus, it’s easy for our minds to zip around like a butterfly that’s been drinking expresso. Practicing meditation is not about pinning the butterfly down, it’s more like casting a net around the butterfly and very, very gently decreasing the directions it’s allowed to flitter about. Eventually, if you do it gently enough, the butterfly might just settle onto the one blossom you put in the center, or at least it’ll spend a moment there. Meditation is an equally gentle process of returning the mind and attention to a central point – the focus, the present moment – and gradually reducing the amount of time the mind spends fluttering about in other directions.

The act of meditating is mostly about not doing anything else at the same time. Meditation is passive but dynamic.

Some people approach meditation as something that they do, as an active process. It leads to trying to meditate but actually spending most of their time concentrating on the idea of meditating and wondering whether they’re actually doing it yet. This mistake results from confusing “dynamic” with “active.” Being present in the moment is passive, not active, because actively trying to get to the present moment is likely to result in worrying about it rather than actually doing it. Just because it’s passive doesn’t mean meditation is a static situation where nothing changes. Meditation is a dynamic state, not a static one. The comparison to a butterfly describes how our minds refuse to stay static and unchanging: they go off in a different direction at any given chance. In practicing meditation, we use that dynamic nature to return constantly to our focus in the present moment. This gentle redirection is not so much an active process as a passive process of drawing that dynamic nature into a more centered situation focused on the present moment.

The act of meditating is mostly about not doing anything else at the same time. So what are you doing right now?