Category: Spirituality

Hello Gentle Readers.  I haven’t posted since July of last year.  I don’t think I’ve had much to say, really.  Even my private journal over at LiveJournal hasn’t seen much action for the last few months.  Life was kind of boring.  I took the kid to school, went to work Tuesdays through Thursdays and on Saturdays, tried to go to karate when I wasn’t sick of being at the dojo (more on that later), and basically wasted the rest of the time on the computer or playing Skyrim.  Domestic concerns were pretty far down on my list of priorities.  I felt like a total slacker, and sometimes a loser, but I still have a thin veil of depression that lays on everything, so it’s hard for me to get motivated.  That could probably be largely remedied by my remembering to  take my damn antidepressants in the morning.  *sigh*

Overall, though, I feel better mentally than I have in a while.  I still have my down periods and angry spells, but I don’t think it’s happening as often.  And if I am perceiving a difference, then I know everyone else probably is.  Because I don’t notice change in myself unless it’s fairly significant, as evidenced by how often my family has to tell me not to be so hard on myself because I’m too busy focusing on how well I’m not doing and ignoring how well I am doing.  I’ve apparently not been very successful at removing the Self Ass-Kicking Machine I seem to have permanently strapped to my back.  Or at taking off the Shit-Colored Glasses I also find myself wearing more often than not.  I wear those less and less often, though.  When I put them on, though, hoo boy.

So what have I been doing since last July?  Well let’s see here.

  • fretting over my mothering skills when Zoe was much younger: I had bad post-partum depression for 3 years after she was born, and I spent a great deal of time being sad and angry.  I also hadn’t been diagnosed as bipolar yet, and it was raging out of control in retrospect.  My life would have been considerably easier, and my family’s more pleasant, if I had stopped breastfeeding to stop the hormone flood I was subjecting myself to (I’m a freak: oxytocin doesn’t make me feel good like everyone else on the planet, it just upsets my hormone balance and makes me completely unbalanced) and sought treatment for what was a serious problem.  Actually, I did, but I was seeing a GP who was wholly unprepared to be treating someone with serious mental illness, so the treatment I did get wasn’t effective and essentially stole my memory for over a year.  I was in no shape to take proper care of myself, let alone anyone else.  So of course my parenting suffered.  I’m struggling to make peace with all of that and  the fact that those times are gone and I can never get back the time that I should have been enjoying mothering my infant and toddler daughter.
  • increasingly not enjoying my job: I have to preface that by saying how much I’ve enjoyed working at my dojo and helping to get it organized and somewhat modernized.  Still, it was an office job, one that I ultimately had for 4 years, and I was tired of clerical work.  So in January, I put in my notice.  I stayed through the end of March so that I could help organize a big training weekend that had been planned to celebrate the dojo’s 25th anniversary.  That was about 3 weeks ago.  I’ve applied for one job that I didn’t get, unfortunately (it was at a local meditation center), but haven’t done any other looking yet.  I’m enjoying the time off and not getting up in the morning with that yucky feeling you have when you have to do something you don’t want to.  Now I get to weigh all of my options, including going back to school potentially.  I’d certainly make much better money with a degree, which I only need about 30 more credit hours to finish.  It’s just paying for the tuition that’s problematic.  I already have a significant student loan debt, so I’m not anxious to add to it.  I don’t know if we would qualify for financial aid anyway.  So that’s where I’m at career-wise.
  • switching therapists: I’m on my fifth therapist since December of 2012.  I go to a sliding scale clinic whose staff rotates out frequently since they’re graduate students also looking for permanent jobs.  My first two therapists got new jobs within a month of starting with them.  The third therapist was a really nice guy, but he had some whacked out theories and opinions about mental illness (he believes there’s no such thing as mental “illness” except for maybe schizophrenia: uh, yeah dude, whatever), and he was a guy, which meant he set off all my baggage about men leftover from childhood.  His therapeutic technique annoyed me and I didn’t feel safe enough to open up to him.  So I switched again.  The new lady made me feel really uncomfortable for some reason.  So I switched again.  The new lady is okay.  I still feel really guarded, though, and I don’t know if that’s something about her or something about me.  I do know that I’m really freaking tired of being in therapy.  The whole “how does that make you feel” thing really grates on  my nerves.  I also have an attitude of  “talking doesn’t cook the rice” (a Chinese proverb) that probably doesn’t serve me very well considering talking is what you’re supposed to do in therapy.  Half the time I just want to stop going: I could use that money for other things (as it is, I spend $300-400 a month on my mental health).  And if I don’t feel like talking, maybe I should stop.  Something to think about.
  • got our daughter into a really great charter school: she was so bored at her old school, so it was with great delight that I took a phone call from the charter school in July saying there was a spot open for her.  She loved it for several months.  Then she went back to hating school, despite her grades being significantly improved by the new learning environment.  Her social concerns are very important to her, though: if there are no friends around, she’s going to be unhappy and her grades are going to suffer, and her best friend there will actually be going to the middle school that’s walking distance from our house.  So we’ll be switching schools again for the next school year.  I hope it works out, because failing that, we’ll have to resort to private schools, and that’s freaking expensive.
  • repeated family drama with my brother: I’ll spare you the details, but he pulled a stunt in August that almost necessitated my going to Seattle to be with him.  I didn’t go, fortunately for my budget, but it highlighted what a negative presence he is in my life.  I really don’t need that kind of crap anymore.  I’ve done my time tending to the insane.  I have my own life to worry about.
  • something of a spiritual crisis regarding my Buddhist leanings: Buddhism is not a comforting religion.  It’s all about acceptance and compassion, and not having expectations, because that’s clinging, and clinging leads to suffering.  But as I said in my LJ, “I’m just having a really hard time wrapping my head around how cessation of desire doesn’t equate to futility.”  I’m trapped in a philosophical loop of sorts.  I know that “all beings desire happiness”, one of the basic tenets of Buddhism.  I also know that leading a life filled with expectations typically leads to disappointment, so how does that mesh with desiring happiness?  Should I stop desiring to be happy and just be surprised when it happens?  That seems like a terrible way to live.  Buddhism is also maddeningly simplistic and minimalist, as well.  Regarding worry, Buddhism says it’s ridiculous, because you can’t do anything about the future or the past, just right now.  So fix what you can right now and forget about the rest.  How am I supposed to plan for the future with that kind of attitude?  I don’t have anyone to talk to about these things, so I feel really stuck and frustrated with my spiritual life right now.
  • start and stop exercise habit: I had a good thing going for a few months there, and then I lost the momentum.  I did get myself to karate class quite a bit more frequently starting in August because I was trying to get enough classes to get a promotion.  Good thing I did, too, because in November we had to stop driving the car because it needed a critical repair so it became really difficult to get to class since my husband didn’t get home until 6 or 6:30.  But the daily momentum to exercise?  Gone.  There are deep depressions in the carpet where my hand weights have been sitting for the last several months.  Now that I’m not working, I have awesome opportunities all day long to go to yoga class or to one of the classes at my gym, mostly weightlifting.  Not to mention the things I can do at home: dumbbells, bodyweight exercises, and walking.  I also have a bicycle.   There’s really no excuse other than laziness and apathy for me not to be exercising.  Which I still really need to do in order to get my slightly elevated cholesterol level down.  So that’s a major goal right now.  I did discover that if I use an asthma inhaler before I exercise, it’s a LOT easier, so that’s helped some.  Need to see a doctor about that.  Speaking of doctors…
  • getting health insurance because of the ACA: my daughter and I have been without insurance since 2006.  I’ve lived in fear of what would happen if she got really sick or injured.  It would be devastating financially.  I don’t have to worry about that anymore: we are all insured now thanks to the Affordable Care Act.  Before that, it was simply too expensive to insure everyone.  It would have cost more to add the two of us to my husband’s policy than it is to get insurance for all three of us.  So that’s made me really happy.  I have several things I want to see doctors for: my breathing problem (probably asthma), my heart issues (never had a proper followup to my hospital visit last year), my hormones (the bane of my existence), my skin (I have a few moles I’d like to be looked at), and getting basic wellness taken care of.  A trip to the chiropractor would be nice.  I’m looking forward to getting all of my health issues taken care of.
  • expensive things: like major car repairs, and spending $1500 at the vet to get surgery for my dumbass cat who ate 2′ of ribbon one day.  At least they let me spread out the cost over a few paychecks.  Otherwise I shudder to think of what might have happened.  That’s my daughter’s cat: she would be devastated if something happened to him.  Now we make sure nothing ribbony or stringy is left out so he won’t eat it, because he’s clearly too stupid not to.  Not long after the incident with the cat, a couple of my teeth started acting up.  I had to have them pulled, which would have been a serious financial problem if I hadn’t been approved for a line of credit at a local dental chain.  So I spent a couple of weeks in pain after having first one tooth out and then another, since it couldn’t be repaired.  Which made me miss work, which pissed off my boss.  Our financial situation just sucked for a few months, and in the midst of it I had to worry about…
  • a corporate takeover at my husband’s job: we just didn’t know what was going to happen for weeks, and it was so incredibly stressful.  To make a long story short, eventually everything got ironed out after a few negotiations (the hiring terms of the new company were very undesirable, so he managed to get a contract instead of being a permanent employee, thereby avoiding quite a bit of unpleasantness), and now he’s making more money and gets to work at home.  A winning situation all around.
  • got my green belt promotion: more than two years after my last promotion, I finally promoted again to green belt.  I’m technically a senior student now.  I haven’t been to class much since then because working at the dojo meant I really didn’t want to spend more time there (plus it was weird being both an employee and a student: I was never sure which hat to wear), but now that I’ve quit, I need to get back to class.  Especially since I have to pay tuition again!

*whew*  That’s a lot.  And I thought my life was boring!  It just hasn’t been exciting in the way I’d like it to be.  Things are fairly settled at the moment, though.  I do need to find a new job because we do miss the income (though working for a non-profit meant my paycheck was never huge), but I want to find something I’ll enjoy.  Either that or I need to completely rework the budget so I can save enough to go back to school.  Which is what I’d really like to do.  I have several possibilities that I could major in, since the last 30 or so hours that I need are all major concentration classes as opposed to core classes.  I’m all done with those.  I’m kicking around the idea of either a psychology or a social work degree.  I think the latter might be more personally satisfying, though not as well-paying probably.  I could also get a science degree in either microbiology, an old love of mine, or atmospheric science, aka meteorology, an even older love.  That’s a lot of math, though, which is not my strong suit.  I just want something that will both make me happy and give me a relatively decent income.  If I don’t start working a real job that makes real money soon, I’ll never have anything in my Social Security account for when I’m older.  Getting old freaks me out.

So my current goals are re-establishing an exercise habit, getting the house and yard in order, which are in a woeful state right now, and either finding new satisfying work, or going back to school.  And that’s life in my world.

I started this post back in March, when I was really deep in Spiritual Nomad along with some other stuff.  Then most of it came to a screeching halt for a variety of reasons (mostly illness and injury), and here I am, still knee-deep in Chapter 4.  It’s a fun chapter, too.  I get to create my own ritual, and my own wheel of the year with my own holidays and everything!  Whee!  So let’s get going.

This week is about ritual and the role it plays in our lives.  We’ve all been to at least one kind of ritual: weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc.  They don’t have to be religious in nature.  Many are, though, and are the kind most people think of when they think of the word “ritual”.  We go through all kinds of rituals in our daily lives, though.  I do one every morning when I make my tea or coffee.  There’s a very specific set of actions that happen in a very specific order in order to achieve a very specific goal, and it happens the same way every day.  Brushing your teeth in the morning is a ritual.  Driving to work is a ritual.  Checking Facebook while you eat your lunch is a ritual.  Rituals, big and small, establish order and give predictability to our lives.  They make us feel secure.

There’s a big difference, though, between ritual with and without intent.  Ritual without intent is just a series of motions repeated in the same way.  Sure, it may bring comfort in its own way, but not in the same way that ritual infused with intent will.

For example, consider someone making their morning tea.  They heat the water, they get their cup, they prepare the tea, they pour the water, they wait for it to steep, they augment it with anything, should they wish, and they drink it.  While they made their tea, they were probably thinking about the day ahead of them, an argument they might have had with someone yesterday, what they’re going to wear, whether or not their dry cleaning is ready, so on and so forth.

Now consider someone who has made their morning tea into a ritual infused with intent.  This is just an example, of course, and is similar to how I might perform my own tea ritual sometimes.

They walk into the kitchen with nothing on their mind except making their tea.  They reach for the tea kettle and walk to the sink, paying attention to the water as it fills the kettle.  They set the kettle down onto the stove top and listen for the click of the igniter and the ‘foomp’ of the gas flames leaping into life beneath the kettle, or the creak of the electric burner heating up.  They may stand there and listen to the hiss of the flames and the other sounds around them: the HVAC switching on and off, the birds chirping, the dog or cat eating, a car door shutting.

As the water heats, they prepare their tea by getting their favorite teapot or teacup, and possibly contemplating it for a moment before setting it down.  They may even have special teapots, cups, and spoons that are only used for their tea, much like other types of ritual tools.  They get their tea out, pausing to smell it before measuring out how much they need for the cup or pot.  They pay attention to the color, smell, and feel of the tea leaves.  When the water boils, they take the tea kettle and slowly pour the water over the tea leaves.  If they are lucky enough to have something in which they can watch their tea leaves steep, they take the time to watch their tea leaves slowly unfurl in the hot water and release their color and tannins.

When steeping time is over, they remove the tea leaves from the water, or pour the tea from the pot into their cup.  They spend a moment just smelling the tea, and enjoying the sense of warmth from the cup.  Only then do they take a first, small sip, really taking the time to discover all of the different flavors and aromas of the tea, the final physical and energetic product of their ritual.  Each sip of tea can be its own ritual, in that way, taking in everything that went into making the tea, until the cup is done.

See the difference?  One is done without attention and largely out of habit for the purpose of getting the morning’s caffeine hit (or taste hit, if one just really likes tea in the morning).  The other is done with the intent of moving energy through and wrenching every iota of experience out of the simple act of making a cup of tea.  One makes the tea a goal to be achieved.  The other makes the tea a spiritual tool.  Not that one is “better” than the other.  When I’m in a hurry, I go for the quick way and in fact, rarely go for the full-on tea ritual experience.  But what a wondrous start to each day it would be, or end, if I were able to afford myself the time for that or something like it.

Now I have instructions for how to make my own ritual, which I’ll be keeping to myself, thank you very much.  Some things a girl just has to keep personal, and if you want the instructions, you’ll just have to buy Spiritual Nomad for yourself.

I did get to make my own calendar, with my favorite holidays and events on it.  Everyone has days that are important just to them, for whatever reason, and they are just as deserving as any other holiday.  So I plotted them all out: important birthdays and deaths, anniversaries, and religious holidays you won’t find on any American calendar.  I still have to make it into something that looks nice, so that can be a nice art project to look forward to.

An aspect of Spiritual Nomad I’ve not been very good at are the prayer exercises.  I just wasn’t in the habit of sitting down quietly and focusing my mind in a particular fashion.  Now that I have a meditation habit established, I think I can attempt the prayer exercises with success, and will probably integrate the two activities, or at least do one after the other.  I like getting my candles and incense out.

So that’s where I’m at.  This week’s questions took some thought.

1. What rituals have you attended in your lifetime?  Think of a ritual that you found moving, then one that wasn’t, and compare the two.  Do rituals you enjoy have anything in common that you could incorporate into those you create?

I’ve been to a variety of church services and weddings as well as pagan rituals.  I don’t like a lot of seriousness and rigidity or being commanded to do a lot of things.  I do like music and drumming.  I do NOT like the group meet-n-greet that often happens at churches in the middle of service or the tendency of pagans to hug one another.  I like chanting and the reading of verse in ancient languages.  I really like the use of lots of candles and incense and other physical methods of invoking spiritual energy (water, salt, etc.).  Mostly, though, I like not having to say or do anything at all and just try to enjoy the ritual.  So I suppose my rituals would probably involve the ritual lighting of candles and incense followed by reading something not in English or perhaps chanting something, and then probably a period of meditation (f someone had taken me to an Eastern or Greek Orthodox service when I was growing up, I might not have disliked Christianity so much).

2. What is one rite of passage you wish you could have marked with a ritual of some kind but didn’t?  If you were to create a ritual for that missed occasion, what would it entail?

It would have been nice to have had a bigger deal made about my 16th birthday.  As it is, I don’t really have any special memory about it at all.  If I could create a celebration for it and not have to worry about money, I’d probably plan a dinner party at a nice restaurant (but not too nice: we’re talking about teenagers here) and invite my friends.  We’d listen to our music and hang out and then go to the mall to go shopping until it closed.  Then we’d go to whoever’s house was biggest and party some more.  A beer or three would be quietly passed around.  Then those of us with driver’s licenses would drive the rest of us home (the drivers not drinking beer, of course).  The next day I’d wake up to car keys.  😀  And away I’d go…

When last I wrote, I was embarking on the ambitious task of transforming three different areas of my life: spiritually, physically, and metaphysically.  Let’s go over how I did in all three areas.

Physically, I started off well, and was then immediately hampered by injury.  It seems my hamstring tendons in my left leg get really upset when I try to do vigorous exercise now.  I briskly walked a 5K and was in quite a bit of pain the next day.  The next week I worked out on a treadmill and had some more pain the next day.  Then I went to two karate classes in a row and could barely walk the next day.  Granted, I probably should have given myself more time after the first time I hurt myself before doing more exercise, but like most people who are gung ho to change a part of their lives, I did too much too quickly.  I haven’t done anything more vigorous than a bit of yoga since the karate classes over two months ago to give my leg a rest.  I can still feel a tiny twinge every now and then, which tells me that when I do decide to start exercising again, I’m going to have to be careful about it.  Plainly I need to do more stretching than I do, as well.

The other thing that interrupted my physical endeavours was illness.  I’ve been sick so much the last few months.  I was sick in December, then again in February with a horrible norovirus (which basically makes your body eject everything from both ends for a few days and leaves you feeling weaker than an overcooked noodle), then again in March with horrible allergies resulting in a sore throat that rivaled the pain of strep, and again in April with a hacking cough that I’m still getting over because allergy season is still in full swing down here in Central Texas.

So yeah, I didn’t get a whole lot of exercising done.  I did, however, establish the (mostly) daily habit of doing yoga every morning.  I do sun salutations, even if I only do one.  The point is to just roll out the mat and do it just for the habit.  I was up to eight before I got the cold with the hacking cough and had to lay off for a few days: I’ve only just gotten back up to that.  I’m getting a bit bored with the sun salutations, though, so I went to and used their sequence builder to make myself a routine that I should be able to do in 15 minutes or less (we’ll see: I haven’t tried it yet).  Hopefully that will give my body more of a workout and be a little less monotonous.  I’d also like to get back to yoga class at my local studio now that I’m feeling better.  I was going fairly regularly until all of the injury and sickness hit, and I haven’t been back since.  My yoga buddy is out of nursing school for the semester now, too, so maybe we can help each other get to class again.

Metaphysically, I’m doing great.  My meditation practice is going swimmingly.  I missed a few days when I was really ill, since it’s hard to meditate when you can’t breathe, but other than that, I’ve been meditating for half an hour every morning after I make my coffee/tea (lately it’s been coffee).  I have a program on my iPhone called Insight Timer that has a number of bells and chimes to start and stop my sessions, and would have interval chimes if I chose to.  It keeps track of how many days in a row I’ve meditated and gives me “milestones” when I’ve reached certain markers, which is a nice little incentive to make sure I sit every day.  There are also groups I could join if I wanted to, and I could make ‘friends’ with other meditators.  Almost like Facebook for meditators.

As far as my actual sitting sessions go, I’ve been using two different techniques to help focus my mind.  I’ll either use the Japanese Zen technique of counting my breaths (I count each inhale and exhale separately, though some count each inhale and exhale as one), one to ten in Japanese (I prefer that to English for some reason), or I’ll use the technique called labeling, where I “label” each action that I detect, including my breaths.  So it would be like this: “…rising (for the inhale)…falling (for the exhale)…rising…chirping (a bird outside)…falling…clicking (the HVAC switches on)…blowing (the air coming out of the vent)…rising…scratching (the cat uses the catbox)…falling…wetness (the cat sniffs your fingers with its wet nose)…”, so on and so forth.  The point is to give my mind something to do other than bounce around doing whatever the hell it wants to.

Some of the stuff on meditation that I’ve read seems to think that if you give your mind something to do with one of these or another technique then you’ll maintain focus since the mind can only do one thing at a time.  Bullshit.  I don’t know about you, but my mind can do several things at once.  Consequently, I sometimes have to double up on my focus techniques.  It helps a lot since I have to concentrate much more heavily on both counting and labeling at the same time.  They don’t leave room for much else other than the internal space they’re intended to create.  Which is the point.  Emptiness.  Or at the very least, mindfulness.  When everything is working right, I can get to this place where I’m not feeling, I’m not thinking, I’m not worrying or doing anything else conscious with my brain.  It’s just…quiet, and I’m perfectly aware of everything around me.  Then my thinking brain realizes I’ve achieved what I’ve been going for, and it pops like a bubble in slow motion.  These snippets of awareness are rare and fleeting, but they’re becoming somewhat more frequent and slightly longer.

As far as the rest of my life goes, I think I’ve carried that awareness practice into the rest of my day, even if I haven’t done so consciously.  I’m much more attuned to my emotional states than I was before, or at least to the negative ones, so I think I’m more likely to catch them before they turn into something ugly.  They also happen less often.  I think I’m less moody from day to day, and I feel more stable.

It’s not all wonderful.  I have to make myself sit some days because I just don’t want to, though not very often.  Sometimes I get bored and have to make myself stay there until the timer goes off.  Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it and doubt its effectiveness.  Sometimes I get angry because I can’t get my mind to be still.  Sometimes I’m tired and have to focus to keep from falling asleep (though the hypnagogic imagery is sometimes interesting).  Sometimes it takes a lot of mental effort to make myself count or label and I’ll just let my mind do whatever the hell it wants to do.  I think that’s just fine sometimes.  Sometimes I think it’s interesting and even useful to see where my mind goes when the leash is let go.

Mostly, though, meditation is helping me make friends with my mind, and that can hardly be a bad thing.

Then there was the spiritual aspect of trying to change via doing Spiritual Nomad.  If you were reading a couple of months ago, you saw that I got up to Week Three, and then there was nothing.  I actually did do the work for Week Four: I just never wrapped it up and wrote about it.  So that’s another post.  Nevertheless, I did not finish the entire six week course, which I would still like to do.  The notebook is still sitting right here on my desk.

If I want to finish it, I’m going to have to do some serious personal work to do Week Five, which is all about caring for the sacred self.  Being nice to myself or appreciating my good qualities has never been something I’m good at.  I’m highly self-critical and very quick to point out when I’ve screwed up and put myself down.  Little wonder, then, that I’m not all that great at taking good care of myself.  I’m somewhat overweight and out of shape, though I’m still pretty strong and flexible.  My diet could be better.  My personal self-care habits are a little slipshod.  I dress like a teenage slob.  I make sure I’m presentable when I leave the house, but you probably wouldn’t want to see me on my days off.

Consequently I’m a little daunted by the task of treating myself as sacred.  I definitely do not treat this body like a temple.  If I did, I would eat different food, get a lot more exercise, dress better, and do a lot more things that made me feel happy and creative.  Why I don’t do these things is a mystery I should solve immediately.  More to come on that in the Week Five post.

So that’s how I did on my threefold-attempt at changing things in my life.  If it were a three-legged stool, it wouldn’t be level and might be wobbly.  Luckily these are extendable legs, so to speak, and I can continue to work on the other two.

Spiritual Nomad: Week Three

Ah, finally where everyone else is.  Except for the whole breathing and meditation thing.  Which is exactly where I was last year.  I’m actually getting to a really painful part of where I was in Spiritual Nomad last year.  Week Three, at least when I was doing it, is precisely when my favorite cat turned out to be dying very unexpectedly, and it just broke my heart into tiny little pieces.  I’m still pretty shattered about it.  I adored that cat, and thinking about his death still sends me into freshets of tears.  *pauses for a tissue*  Consequently, I didn’t do anything of spiritual significance after he died: I didn’t have much to thank God for right then.  She’d taken one of my best friends from me when I thought he’d be around for a few more years.

Before that happened, though, I got started on one of my favorite projects of Spiritual Nomad: the journey book, a collection of spiritually significant quotes and images.  I latched onto that project and didn’t let go for quite some time, greedily collecting images from all over the internet and my own collection of graphics collected over the years.  I had a book of wonderful quotes from one of my favorite magazines, The Sun, and spent quite a bit of time with my colored pens putting together a really lovely book.  I filled the first one quickly and went on to partially fill a second.  I filled a third with images of the Buddha and Hindu deities.  I even tried my hand at actual scrapbooking and made a few more much more formal pages centered around images of deities or representations thereof, but that was really complicated so it didn’t go very far (scrapbooking is an incredibly time and space-consuming hobby).

The other major focus of this week’s module is prayer.  I always conceived of prayer in the Christian sense: kneeling, hands together, saying “Dear God, etc…”, which didn’t resonate with me at all (probably because I’m not Christian).  It never occurred to me to think of other things as prayer, such as singing, or dancing, or even cooking.  Seen from that perspective, I saw that I engaged in a great deal of prayer: music, cooking, baking, learning, doing art, gardening, doing karate and yoga, and perhaps most importantly, by doing nothing at all.  By clearing my mental space of distraction, I make room for God, which to me is a form of prayer.  Done with appropriate intention, anything can become an act of prayer.  One’s whole life can become a divine act.

There were questions that went with this week’s module, but they weren’t really applicable to me.  Since they mostly had to do with what spiritual books were inspiring to me and I couldn’t think of any, maybe I ought to do a little more reading.  My bookshelves are packed with a myriad of spiritual, philosophical, and metaphysical books that I thought looked interesting at the used bookstore, but never bothered to actually read.  I’m bad that way.  I could probably read new-to-me books for a couple of years or more and never visit a library or bookstore.  So I think I’ll put reading up with meditation on my list of important spiritual things to do.  Hey, at least I’ve been going to yoga more often: it’s a start.

I’m slowly catching up on Spiritual Nomad, which got off to a slow start due to illness.  Fortunately, I did a lot of it last year.  It’s nice to revisit everything, though.  I still have to dust and clean the shrines, but since they’re pretty much as they are when I set them up last year, they don’t really need much, if any, rearrangement.  Some of them do need more attention, though, which tells me I may have too many shrines around the house.  Some of them are just in bad places, though.  My house is a little small and cramped, so I tend to cram things where I can.  Consequently there’s a Lakshmi/Ganesha shrine on a high shelf that gets very little attention.  I should at least make a point of lighting a candle on each one once a week.  If I don’t go to church every Sunday, maybe that should be shrine and altar day.

This week’s task is a guru board: a collection of photos of people who dispel the shadows from my world.  I did this one last year, and I haven’t gained any new gurus in the interim.  I did, however, decide to take some off of the board: mostly fictional characters, whom I decided were inspirational, but not necessarily gurus.  It also left space on the board for new faces, should any present themselves.  I do need to write down why each person is a guru to me, though.

Another task for this week is to rebuild one’s altar if it was stripped bare the previous week.  Since I did this last year, all I’ll do this week is make sure there’s nothing extraneous, or missing.  Our cats use the space in front of one of the shrines as one of their main highways, so everything is being constantly shifted around on that one.  It needs some love, particularly since it’s the one honoring the main deity of our house.  She needs more honoring in general, so I’ll be focusing on that as well.  There’s also building on the practice of breathing in sacred space, so that needs to happen.

Week two came with a set of questions as well, which I also answered last year, so here are those answers, again, edited for changes in attitude in the interim.

1. Write in your journal about a spiritual experience you’ve never felt comfortable talking about because it seemed too “out there” or “silly.” Does it sound similar to any of those discussed in this week’s material?

Um, well, I married myself once. Which seemed really stupid until I saw someone do it in a much more magnificently ceremonial way. I still have the ring somewhere.

2. Once you’ve tried meditating with the three altar items you chose, try switching them out for three completely different items and doing your meditation with them instead.  Does it feel different? Being limited to only three, is there a fourth or fifth item that you really miss having in front of you in sacred space?

Not really applicable since my spaces didn’t come together that way.

3. Imagine you’re at a party and someone asks about your spiritual practices. How would you describe your unique flavor of Nomadism in, say, 30 words or less? Ask yourself this same question again at the end of the Nomad course to see how your path and your priorities change.

I usually say I’m a Buddhist Pagan, or a Buddhist Pagan Naturalist, or sometimes just a Buddhist Naturalist. Which is probably redundant. Sometimes I just say I’m Buddhist since it seems like a good umbrella for everything I believe in and do. Of course, I’ve been working on my Nomad tendencies even before taking this course, so I’ve had time to distill my religious self-definition.

4. What is one thing a lot of people you know seem to find inspiring that you just don’t get? Is it simply not appealing to you or are you resisting it for other reasons? It’s just as important to know where you don’t find inspiration as where you do – and if something feels off, it’s important to figure out why so you’ll know what to look for in future explorations.

“Women’s Mysteries”. I know my opinion is colored by personal experience, which hasn’t given me a whole lot of reason to celebrate my womanhood, but I really do not get all that stuff, or like it. I also don’t get many ritual aspects of Wicca, paganism, and modern magic. I’ve always hated the whole “cone of power” thing and have had to suppress laughter on more than one occasion, because it’s rude to make fun of someone else’s rituals and beliefs (since writing this I have participated in a ritual using the ‘cone of power’ that I found very satisfying and not cheesy in the slightest, so my opinion has shifted somewhat). I’m also not so big on the whole God/Goddess dichotomy. I understand the nature of duality of the Universe, but I don’t like the way Wicca/paganism celebrates that duality. I find it simplistic and restricting.

I can’t say exactly why I don’t like these things, for the most part. They just don’t feel right to me, although I’m still strongly drawn to other aspects of Wicca/paganism/magic. This was a point of great confusion to me for a long time, like I wasn’t being a good pagan or something. After a great while of estrangement from the greater pagan community, I realized it wasn’t the “pagan” I liked, it was the community and the chance to spend time in nature. I’ve felt a lot less restless from a spiritual perspective since I figured that out and made peace with it.

Last year, I did a course called Spiritual Nomad designed to help me better define my particular brand of eclectic spirituality, which is very eclectic indeed.  I never quite finished it, so I was happy to hear that the creator of the course was offering it again this year, and at a reduced price for those who had done it before so that they could revisit it and interact with other participants.  The parts that I did complete were immensely fulfilling and I wanted to see them with fresh eyes, as well as try to finish the bits that were left incomplete.  As with last year, I’m about two weeks behind, this time because I caught a stomach virus during the first week (that was fun).  So I’m playing catch-up.

I’ve already done the first task, which is to create a “path of faith”: basically create a timeline of my life marked by its important events, spiritual and otherwise, in an effort to see how I’ve gotten to where I am now.  It was an interesting exercise, one that I’m trying not to judge myself on (I’m always judging myself, to my great detriment) since my timeline wound up with a great many events on it.  Then again, my life has been pockmarked by a great many significant events that left a mark, so there’s nothing wrong with putting them all down, even if it made a timeline that took up an entire 11’x14′ piece of paper and was done in about five different colors.

I also did the second task last year, which was to strip all of my altars and shrines bare.  That was a very interesting exercise, one that clarified the spiritual energy in the house a great deal.  I got rid of a lot of things, and virtually ever flat surface in the house was rearranged in some manner.  I still have a few things that don’t have a home that need to either go to Goodwill (or a friend), or be put out in the garage for storage so they’re not just sitting around gathering dust and taking up space.  I didn’t do much with them after that, though, so this year I’ll make sure they’re all nice and clean and that everything that’s there, needs to be there.  I’m not sure if I’m up to the task of stripping all of my altars and shrines bare again, though, or that it’s necessary after what I did last year.

One thing I did not do was to sit and do my breathing exercises in front of my main shrine (shrines are spaces devoted to deities; altars are shrines where votive offerings are left in honor of said deity), so that is something I’m going to focus on, since meditation in general is a huge goal of mine this year.

There are questions at the end of each module, and I answered at least a few of them, so here are my answers to the first set, edited to reflect my attitude changed since then.

1. On the whole, has your experience with spiritual exploration been positive or negative? It is has been mostly negative, what drives you to continue?

For the first 17 years, it was mostly absent, but about half negative when not. Mom dabbled in metaphysical things like the Tarot and Ouija boards (she even made her own), which I liked, but she also got into pentecostal evangelism and had us going to churches where we spoke in tongues. Thankfully that phase passed relatively quickly and she ratcheted it back to nice, mild Methodism. Nice singing and Christmas Eve services. The metaphysical influence led me to Wicca and paganism: I got my first set of Tarot cards at 17, and I still have them. They’re quite infused with energy by now. Luckily that was a positive direction so I continued to delve more deeply into spiritual matters. I might not have otherwise. Which is not to say I haven’t had my periods of agnosticism or outright atheism.

2. Were the negative experiences you had the result of religious institutions you disagreed with, individuals or group personality conflicts, problems with the religion’s doctrine, or something else? What did you learn about your own spiritual needs from those experiences?

The shift from no spiritual life at home to saying grace at every meal, going to church twice a week, and going to those particular kind of churches was a gross aberration to my world. I got up one morning to find my mother burning her Tarot cards in the fireplace, saving The Devil for last. *rolls eyes* She made me hold a Bible when she thought something might be threatening my soul. We went to Lakewood Church in Houston, home of the Osteen family which now owns an indoor arena for their massive congregations (which is fucking funny to me, given how many heavy metal shows I saw there). It was all really fucking creepy. I’m so glad all that lasted less than a year, though I learned that I do not like religious forms that involve brainwashing and suppression. I’m not sure why anyone would, though apparently many do. My general disenfranchisement with the society I live in began about then.

3. If you had to choose one thing to call God, whether a name or a title, what would you choose, and why?

God/Creator/The One Thing From Which Everything Springs is beyond true names or titles, in my opinion. We can name aspects of God, very much like Catholicism has saints that represent very niche needs, or the thousands of variations of the Hindu deities. But to grasp the whole and put a solid label on it? Not possible, I feel.  However, I occasionally make these cute little Facebook posts in which the Divine has conversations with me, typically starting by addressing me by name, and it’s always Buddha speaking to me.

4. How have you experienced Deity most often in your life: as a discrete entity/entities, as a transcendent impersonal force, as a feeling of divine love, something else, all of the above?

The only time I have truly heard God, ironically, is in the absolute stillness of secluded Nature (hey, there’s a label right there). In that sense I probably connect most closely to aboriginal and native traditions that are very close to, or one with, the environment. I see God reclining upon the earth in mountains and hills. I hear God’s voice in the wind, in the rustling of leaves, in the tiny tinkle of snowflakes.

5. What is the least you need as an altar to supplement your practice? What would be your ideal?

At bare minimum? Probably a candle and some incense along with something to hold it. Ideally, really nice representations of the classic elements and icons of my chosen deities along with any pertinent sacred objects, all set in my usual lush decor I like to put into altars and other important places.


Today was the first day back to school for us here in Austin.  We’ve all been looking forward to it.  Just as everyone groans for the end of the school year, so it is at the end of the summer, when we’re all sick of each other and the child is booooooored.  Even of her favorite video game, Minecraft.

Once again, I’m trying to use the beginning of the school year’s schedule shift as an opportunity to get a new routine going.  I’ve tried this for the last four years, heh.  As I was detailing in my recent post Patterns, I have a vision of how I would like my day to go.  Get up, make tea, get the family off to work and school, then meditate, or at least have some quiet time.

Well, I managed to have at least that part of the day go as planned.  After they left, I turned off the lights, lit a candle on the table in front of Buddha, sat down with my tea, turned on some calming music, and had some quiet time.  I did a little meditation to get a handle on the day’s energy.

After that, the plan was to get cleaned up for the day, but I headed back to bed for a while instead.  We’ll work on that part tomorrow, seeing as how I have to go to work at ten.

Regardless of that disruption in plans, my morning quiet time does seem to have set the tone for the day.  I feel quieter and calmer (although that may also have something to do with have the house to myself for the first time in three months).  I feel more positive.

One thing I’ll definitely be doing right away when I get up in the morning is turning on that soothing music.  I’m a huge fan of Pandora, and their Yoga station plays all kinds of ambient music that is just the sort of thing to have running in the background.  Music can set the tone of my mood instantaneously, so if I can set it first thing in the morning, that can only be a good thing.  I’ll probably light the candle next: it’s something else that can set my mood right away.

Eventually I’ll move up to an actual floor sitting session for meditating, but for now, just sitting at the table enjoying my tea is a good start.


I was going to write this entry a few days ago, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I simultaneously wanted to write it and didn’t want to write it. I knew it would make me blubber like a baby.

Our cat, YinYang, died Thursday. We were going to give him another day of fluids and meds to see if we could turn his health around, but he just got worse and was obviously miserable and possibly in pain. So we made the decision late Wednesday night that it would be our last night with him. We gave him some pain meds to make him more comfortable and got him to stay on our bed for a while, but he kept going back to a quiet and secluded spot under a table in our yoga room. It was one of the things that told me it was time for him to go: he was holing up to die. He was also having extraordinary trouble walking. It killed me to see him lurching around the house like a drunken sailor. It had just gotten worse and worse over the week.

Thursday morning I called the vet to arrange an appointment to have him put to sleep. It was hard not to sob as I spoke to the receptionist, who was very sympathetic. We spent the morning with YinYang, petting him and telling him how much we loved him and that we would be with him to the end. I could tell he really wanted to be with us. I put some blankets on the floor so I could lay down with him, and despite his discomfort, he came over to lay down with me. Still, he was no longer purring or lifting his bum when I petted his back to scratch the base of his tail. He still wanted me to scratch his nose and face, though, always his favorite way to be petted.

Then I had to wake up our daughter, who we had let stay home from school so she could also say goodbye to him. I had to tell her that these were our last few hours with YinYang and that she needed to go spend some time with him while she could. There was great sadness: this cat had been in her life since the day she was born and it was the first time that she had to deal with something she loved dying. It broke my heart to tell her that we had to put him to sleep.

It was also the first time in a great while that I had had to deal with losing a pet. Since the people in my early life were so dysfunctional, I came to love animals more than I loved people. Even though my life now is much more functional than my parents’ were and is filled with wonderful friends whom I adore, there is still a special place in my heart for animals and I have a love for them that is singular and very different from the love I have for people. Animals were my friends when I had no human friends. As such, I have always taken it very hard when I have lost a pet.

The last time I had a pet die was when I was 14. Sam was his name, and for a month, he was super affectionate with us. Then one day he disappeared. I’ve never been sure if he knew he was going to die and so was spending time with us before he wandered off to do so, or if he was just taken by a raccoon or a possum. We were all devastated, but I was particularly upset. Sam had come with us from Michigan when we moved from Detroit and he was a source of great comfort to me in those first months away from our home. I have had other cats in between Sam and my current cat family, but they were given away to friends, so their parting was not as difficult.

Our last hour with YinYang arrived, and my husband and daughter went outside to dig a grave for him. We had already picked a spot in the back of the yard underneath an elderberry tree where he used to like to lay in the shade. I stayed inside with him. We never left him alone during those last few hours, not once. Then they were done and I got ready to take him to the vet. My husband and daughter gave him hugs and kisses and said goobye to him. He put up no protest at being put into the carrier and didn’t make a sound on the way there.

At the vet’s office, they signed me in without the usual countertop formalities: they all knew why I was there. All of the staff at the vet clinic had gotten used to seeing me last week. We were at the vet every day Monday through Thursday and they knew what we were trying to do to save him. They were very sad for me and were very kind, taking care of paperwork and payment beforehand so I wouldn’t have to deal with it afterwards. They took me to a room with comfortable chairs. I sat down and took him out of the carrier, but he wanted to stay in it. The vet came in to talk about his condition and agreed that he had taken a serious downturn. She left for a bit and came back with a sedative. I picked him up in my arms and they gave him the shot. Within two minutes he was limp. I put him on my lap and petted him, telling him I was there with him. He took a jagged breath every minute or so but was clearly between worlds at that point. The vet would tell me later that he also had heart disease and that treating the kidney disease had made it worse. Hence the jagged breathing.

Then the vet came in with the drug that would let him pass on. He was gone within a minute. She took him away for a few minutes to take the catheter out of his leg and clean him up a little bit. A tech returned with him wrapped up in a towel, and she placed him in his carrier. I sat in the room alone with him for a few minutes, then left to return home. I changed my clothes and then cut out a large piece of white cotton from my supply of fabric. I laid it out on the floor and brought in YinYang, gently laying him down on the cloth. We had one last sobbing fit over him. Then I gently wrapped him in the cloth and pinned it closed. I picked him up and we all went outside to bury him. I gently laid him in his grave, and we all smudged ourselves and him with sage smoke. Then I read a passage from the Gnostic Mass of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica:

Unto them from whose eyes the veil of life hath fallen may there be granted the accomplishment of their true Wills; whether they will absorption in the Infinite, or to be united with their chosen and preferred, or to be in contemplation, or to be at peace, or to achieve the labour and heroism of incarnation on this planet or another, or in any Star, or aught else, unto them may there be granted the accomplishment of their wills; yea, the accomplishment of their wills. Aum, Aum, Aum.

We sat in silence for a moment, then using our hands, we pushed the dirt over him. Our daughter went inside while my husband and I used shovels to finish his burial mound. Then I reluctantly went inside. It was hard to leave him.  Later that day, I placed my cat garden statue next to his mound to keep watch over him.  The next day, I noticed that tiny white elderflowers had sprinkled over his mound.  I felt a little more sure that he had gone on to a better place.

I have been through an astounding range of emotions since last Tuesday when it became apparent that there was a high probability that we were going to lose YinYang. I spent a couple of days feeling guilty and wondering if there was something I could have done sooner that would have prevented his getting so ill. But there wasn’t. His illness was hidden so well beneath his healthy-looking exterior and beneath my impressions that his slowing down was a result of his old age. A month and a half ago, when he was starting to look sickly, I though it was because of the massive flea attack all of the cats were dealing with, because they all looked a bit ill. When he didn’t improve after having flea medicine applied to him, I thought it was because the medicine had made him feel ill. Two or so weeks ago, I decided he needed to see the vet, but it would have to wait until payday because I had to pay the deposits for my daughter’s summer camps. By the time payday came, it was too late.

I am trying to absorb the lessons of YinYang’s illness without making myself feel guilty. Future cats will immediately be taken to the vet upon my observing that they have lost even an iota of weight, that they are eating less, or have a drop in energy level, no matter how young or old they are. Cats over ten years old will get annual blood tests to check their kidney, liver, and heart values. I will also pay more attention to how much water they drink. Cats in kidney failure will drink tons of water. I noticed just this morning that I haven’t had to fill the water bowl nearly as much as I did when YinYang was still alive. He was plainly consuming huge amounts of water, and I didn’t notice.

None of this is my fault. I’ve never had cats this old. I didn’t know what to look for. But it doesn’t make his absence hurt any less keenly.

Little things keep making me sad, like walking by my daughter’s bedroom where he liked to sleep on her purple rugs.  Or seeing the three blue glass bowls we use to feed the cats. The third bowl seems lonely now. Just this morning, I walked by my daughter’s room and stopped at the door, thinking a pile of clothes was the cat. I imagine that’s going to happen a lot for a few months.

I will miss YinYang so much. He was so unique and had so much personality. We called him the DogCat. He came when he was called and was very protective of us and his home. When he was younger, he had a regular patrol that covered our house, our neighbors, and the three houses across the street. He was king of the street at 16 pounds, and every cat on the block knew it. They would come into the yard, take one look at YinYang, and go right back the way they came. Which was funny to me, because he was such a sweetheart. He’d beat the crap out of any cat that came too close, though. And if you were a large dog, your ass was grass. YinYang attacked no fewer than three dogs during his life that outweighed him by at least a factor of three, if not bigger. Two of them belonged to friends, which embarrassed me terribly.  Dogs were the only thing that changed YinYang from loverboy to asskicker.

He was the most affectionate cat I have ever owned. He could actually be annoyingly pushy about getting his pets. My husband and I sit in the yoga room every afternoon after he gets home from work, and we talk about our day. YinYang would always come and push the door open a few seconds after we had sat down, making one of us get back up again. Then he’d bump his head into whatever set of hands happened to be closest and free. If that didn’t work, he’d climb into the lap of whoever was in the armchair. Let me tell you, when a 16 pound cat gets in your lap to demand pets, he is unignorable. And we seldom did. We adored that cat, and he adored us back. I will miss running my hands over his giant, incredibly soft body. He is the most awesome cat who has ever lived, and I seriously doubt that I will ever have a cat that will match his personality and depth of emotion. People who say animals can’t feel, can’t feel themselves, and if such people could have spent any time with YinYang, their minds would have been changed.

You will be sorely missed, YinYang. I hope that you are frolicking happily with your sister, Daisy, in the Great Catnip Field in the Sky in the Land of Slow Mice.

It seems to me that there are probably as many ways to pray as there are people on the Earth.  We also seem to group together according to how similarly we pray, I’ve noticed.

When first I asked the question of myself, “How do I pray?”, the answer was, “I don’t.”  Immediately followed by, “Bullshit.”  I don’t think it’s possible for someone who proclaims to feel spiritual energy as readily as I claim to, not to pray.  There must be some way that I pray, however subconsciously.  I need to expand my definition of what “pray” means.

At its most basic, “praying” is whatever method I choose at that particular moment to try to speak to God.  I have used many methods of prayer over the years.  There’s the regular verbal kind that most people think of, of course, though I don’t see that as the most fulfilling, personally.  There’s the musical kind of prayer, with which I am the most familiar.  I can play saxophone, flute, and a variety of hand drums, and any of them has felt more like praying than any words than I have ever used.  There’s the artistic form of prayer, with which I was intimately familiar for several years until I tried to mix prayer with business and turn my art into a way of living.  That turned out badly on both fronts and I have only recently begun to use art as prayer again (due in no small part to Spiritual Nomad).

Gardening is a form of prayer to me, as well as a form of meditation (so is fishkeeping).  In fact, music and art are also forms of meditation to me.  Maybe that’s why I have found both meditation and prayer so difficult whenever I have tried to pursue each one individually.  I think something needs to serve both roles in order to be a truly fulfilling exercise.  In any case, yes to gardening and fishkeeping as forms of prayer and meditation.  They’re also the things that put me into closest touch with my primary aspect of God, which is Nature itself.

I also pray like a scientist, which is something of a paradoxical notion in our society.  Science and God seem to be mutually exclusive in America, and perhaps the Western World in general.  I see no difference between the two, though, and am constantly frustrated by the world’s attempts to keep the two separate.  We could do even more amazing things if we stopped trying to keep the two things apart.  To me, a tornado is not just a series of mathematical equations that describe atmospheric shear, turbulence, potential energy, and wind speed.  It’s one of the most powerful forces on the face of the planet and almost certainly ranks up there with the other great meteorological forces of the solar system.  Yes, it may just be an artifact of rising and sinking airmasses combined with the Coriolis effect, but that does not diminish its power or beauty nor the feeling in my heart when I see one (though to date I’ve never seen one in person: I’m not sure I need to to appreciate its grandeur).  If I had to call a single place on Earth my temple, it would be The Sky.

Two other forms of prayer and meditation: cooking and baking.  Each is slightly different.  Cooking is more intuitive and is open to the “dash of this, bit of that” method of kitchen things.  Baking is less forgiving and is more like chemistry to me (probably because it is).  Both demand healthy helpings of love for optimum taste.  If you can’t taste the love, I didn’t do it right (read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel for an excellent fictional treatise on the magic of food).  There’s a great deal of peace and calm that come from slowing down enough to really enjoy the processes of cooking and baking.  If they’re hurried and are done only for the purpose of physical nourishment, there’s not so much energy in that.  We don’t usually enjoy those meals very much.

A form of prayer and meditation that I am remiss in not mentioning yet is karate.  It’s difficult to describe the seemingly conflicting energies of force and calm, but there’s a push/pull kind of thing going on that is like waves lapping on a shore.  There’s a rhythm at work that will break me if I work against it, but propels me if I don’t.  Karate’s very much like yoga in that way, which is yet another form of meditation and prayer that I very much enjoy.  It even involves a bit of prostration, which feels a lot like bowing in karate and is calming to me.  It is enjoying these two very physical forms of prayer that makes me want to explore yet another physical way of praying and meditating: dancing.

Dancing scares me in much the same way that singing does, though even moreso.  If I am frozen into silence by the sound of my own voice, I am petrified to stone by the thought of moving my body in a rhythmic way.  I’m not sure what about dancing is different from karate and yoga, though I’m guessing the former is much more freeform and less rigid than yoga and karate forms.  And I do have trouble operating without guidelines, which is what dancing seems to demand.  Rules and dancing seem diametrically opposed, even though I don’t dance (yet).

So those are more hidden forms of prayer for me.  Dancing is also there, but I haven’t used it yet.  Unlike the form I am currently using: writing.  If writing is prayer, I pray at least every other day, if not more.  The more I write, the more I want to write, and the more I like what I write.  I use it so often that it now defies description, unlike other more obscure forms of prayer that aren’t hidden to me, but are less well-used: exercising and running.  When I do those things, I can feel the rusty bits fall off the cogs and can see down the path to where they can take me, but I do them so infrequently that they never gain any momentum.  That’s going to be one of my goals this year: practicing my more physical forms of prayer as often as I can.  Of all of them, I feel they’re the best for me in all aspects.

Other ways that I have prayed before are by using mudras in yoga and meditation.  Mudras are essentially meditative or prayerful hand gestures.  There are tomes filled with the different ways the Hindu deities as well as Buddha will hold their hands, each signifying something different.  I’ve also read Tarot cards, though that is another method that doesn’t get used very often and probably should.  It’s not such a hard thing to draw a card a day to meditate upon.  Along those lines, astrology can be a form of prayer for me if it’s done as a daily reading.  It’s a way of opening myself to whatever the energies of the day might bring.  Over time, it’s just a generally good method of keeping myself “open”.  Which is a good thing for someone who gets really rigid sometimes.  I also very much enjoy walking meditating/praying.  I can do this with or without a labyrinth.  It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other and nothing more.

Perhaps my most powerful method of prayer in the past, has been to do nothing.  Others would call it meditation, but either the descriptions I have read of meditation fall as short as my own do, or I’m getting to a place that neither meditation nor prayer can reach by themselves.  I have to be in the right space to do this, and when I am in that right space, it happens automatically.  I have experienced this in fleeting moments, all in Nature, but every one of them perfect wells of peace, calm, and oneness.  I have wished I could bottle those moments and take them with me, they are so perfect.  And they are why I yearn to travel to the distant and isolated corners of the world, because that is where those moments happen.  In a Texas field devoid of sound save for the blowing wind.  In a car bespying distant, purple-hued mountains for the first time.  On a plane to a new place and seeing a lightning bolt jag from the sky to a spot on the shore left blazing by the light.  Driving through ancient, wet, green forests, or the endless expanse of the desert.  They just happen, like striking the edge of a singing bowl and reverberating for days past their experience.

Perhaps I have not been as bad at praying as I thought I was.  🙂

When we last left our intrepid spiritual traveler, her altars had just reassembled themselves. Since then, I’ve just been letting them occupy their space and sink their energy tendrils into the house. I’ve also continued to work on my spiritual scrapbook like a madwoman. I don’t know what it is about that particular project that I find so appealing, but I really like it. My first scrapbook is over 75% full already: about 60 pages. I have another designated exclusively for a set of Buddhist and Hindu greeting cards I bought at Half Price Books a few years ago but have never used. I’ve sliced them in half for easy gluing and saved the backs for their descriptions.

There’s still a table full of altar-y stuff in the yoga room. It’s everything that hasn’t yet found a home elsewhere in the house. I’m leaving it there so my husband can pick through it and find things for his own altar space. I also wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it all. I can identify a few things that I don’t want any more, but most of it I like and want to keep. Most of it will go into a big plastic bin except for a few things that just really want to be out.

As usual, I’ve gotten stuck on another bit of the Spiritual Nomad instructions. Since the first week, I’m supposed to have been doing breathing exercises/meditations for a few minutes each day in front of my altar spaces, whether empty or full. I haven’t done any yet. I think it’s because the word “meditation” or the phrase “breathing exercise” instills anxiety in me as I remember past attempts to do these things and how frustrating it was. I’m bipolar. It’s a daily effort to keep the inner dialogue quiet enough so that I can function in the rest of my life. Sitting down to do nothing but listen to my breath is akin to putting a megaphone from that dialogue’s mouth to the rest of my mind: it’s deafening.

So I’m trying to abandon the whole “listen to my breath” thing since that clearly doesn’t work for me. I’m going for a quiet conversation, instead, since shutting everyone up isn’t really an option. Not for now, anyway (I can see how it could be possible after a very long time of increasingly quiet mental conversations, though). Seeing the exercise in that way lessens the meditative anxiety, but not completely. There’s still that whole sitting still thing. I’m currently a bit of a large girl: sitting still for a long time isn’t very comfortable for me. I guess I could always sit in a chair instead of on the floor, or arrange myself differently on the floor. Laying down is always nice.

These are all excuses flung up by some even farther corner of my mind that really does NOT want me to do anything even remotely resembling meditation. It gets really angry when I try to come up with ways to get around these excuses, essentially poisoning my meditation practice with a lot of inwardly directed hostility. After a few sessions of that, I give up. Seriously, who the fuck wants to sit down with themselves and end up feeling like they’ve just had a horrible fight with someone? Which in essence, you did?

Little wonder, then, that I don’t think too highly of meditation. Monkey mind, my ass. More like an 800-pound gorilla running amok in my head. Plus my authority-driven mind is yammering at me that I’ve ruined the whole thing by skipping parts or doing them out of order. “You idiot, you’ve reassembled the altars before meditating in front of them for exactly seven days while standing on one foot and bleeding out a chicken! You’ve got the mixture all WRONG! The fabric of life itself is torn asunder!”

*sighs at self*

If I get nothing else out of Spiritual Nomad, it’s to lighten the fuck up and be more accepting of my particular bizarre flavor of Otherness Acknowledgement, which doesn’t like words and in general regards them to be flimsy human constructs that always fall short of truly describing their subject, as though they were mere shadows projected upon a wall, a la Plato. Which is an odd perspective to have as a writer. As such, it is the rare mantra that doesn’t feel completely forced (Sheila Chandra‘s “Om Namaha Shiva” is just such a mantra) and it’s difficult for me to come up with words to go along with a spiritual activity that don’t sound completely silly to me.

I know I’m just trying too hard. All of the non-verbal exercises have been extraordinarily helpful: I should give the others more of a chance instead of subverting them before I even try. All I have to do is sit down and light a candle and some incense, for heaven’s sake. Those are things I *like* doing! I should stop trying to ruin them with a lot of overanalysis. Then maybe it wouldn’t make part of me so angry to try to meditate or pray.

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