Stress Management

Warning: this week I’m talking about methods I use currently and have used in the past, some of which are more and less helpful than others. Specifically, I will be writing about alcohol consumption and other activities, which when carried to excess, can be less than helpful

It’s been a really long month this week. Yeah. One of those. I have three major multi year projects going on in work and balancing the stakeholders from each of them – there’s huge overlap in the stakeholders but they appear to forget from one meeting to the next what’s going on. Big audit in work next week as well. Husband still not well and looks like he’s getting worse. House shopping – which is bloody painful.

So, yeah, it’s been a week.

And I’ve talked a lot about popping open a bottle of wine, or ten, tonight. It’s something I do fairly often. I rarely actually do pop open a bottle of wine when I’m like this anymore however. I used to – time was, there would be multiple bottles of wine consumed by me on both Friday and Saturday nights. Took me a long time to pull myself out of that habit. But sometimes I want to feel like I might pop open the wine and enjoy it and the relaxation it brings. The problem is it rarely brings the relaxation any more.

So, I’m going to talk about stress management today. Now my best means to manage my stress is through small, daily actions. And yeah, I mean daily. For me it comes to

  • a good night’s sleep
  • eating food that supports me and is enjoyable
  • moving daily
  • getting fresh air daily
  • drinking enough water daily
  • having “space-out” time regularly
  • regular, daily meditation

It’s not very exciting is it? I can say that this week, I’ve managed 1, maybe 2 of those and it’s showing. So I’m into crisis management now and here’s where the talking a bout hitting the wine tonight helps me. Even if I do open the wine tonight, I’m most likely to have 1 maybe 2 glasses of wine. Because I know that drinking more will leave me feeling worse tomorrow. I’m not dancing it off, I won’t be eating a bit meal with it, I’ll be sitting on the couch watching telly and reading and chatting to the husband. There’s nothing wrong with me having a glass of wine like this mind, but any more than 1-2 glasses and I won’t feel good tomorrow. And I need to feel good tomorrow…

Why?

Well, tomorrow starts the work of regaining the above habits again and it takes time, effort and energy to do that. I mentioned a few months ago about starting to rebuild my meditation practice. I’m not as far on as I’d like with that, partly because when I’m going to bed, my head is still racing from the day and I can’t settle to meditate, so I’m listening to YouTube videos from Fundie Fridays, the Illuminaughty, John Oliver and things like that. They’re entertaining, but hardly the same kind of experience as a meditation from Jason Stephenson (my go-to meditations here are this one and this one – no connections to them, but I love the meditations) Either way, it’s affecting both the amount and quality of my sleep.

Which then leads on to me making less informed or sensible choices when it comes to getting up in the morning – or at least when it comes to breakfast. ideally, I will have either an egg or porridge based breakfast. This is what works for me to set me up for the day, especially when I have a busy day and the gap between breakfast and the next time I eat can be 8hrs. (Please no advice on food or fasting or the types of food I eat. Please. I know what works for me ok?) But when I wake up late, cos I haven’t slept right, or I wake up on time, but I’m really sluggish and can’t get moving. So I end up either not getting breakfast or stopping by McDonald’s on the way to work. (Again, neither bad choices, they just don’t work long term for me). That then leads on to lunch being grabbed from local garage (white bread roll with coleslaw, cheese and tomato with a bar of chocolate) or from Tesco’s (chicken wrap with bbq slaw, crisps and orange juice with a choccy bar) Again neither particularly bad choices but not what works best for me. Then it could be 8pm when I get dinner which means I’m back to not sleeping properly again etc, etc, etc. And you’ll notice no movement, no fresh air, no spaced out time, water is hit and miss and meditation disappears again.

And I’ve had a few weeks of this all knocking out of sync.

But I also know that I can’t just dive back in to all these activities from a standing start. I’m still healing from having my toenail removed a month ago and walking is extremely difficult. Sitting down to meditate when I feel wired is almost impossible. Taking the time to take some deep breaths of fresh air is inconceivable when my work backlog is growing by the minute. So what do I do?

Well, this weekend, I’m doing my best to ignore work. It’s 18:25 here in Ireland as I write this and my work laptop and accompanying equipment is packed away, ready to travel into work on Monday. I’ve spoken to my darling husband about what we’re having for dinner and it looks like either fish or stir fry, so easy food to eat, but also nutritious and filling. I may end up having that glass of wine, but I won’t be deciding that for another hour or so.

Tomorrow, I’ll spend some time spacing out, actively spacing out. I’ll go outside and hobble around the garden getting some movement and some fresh air. I am planning on baking, because I find that something fun to do, but will also give me foods for breakfasts for a few days that are grabbable and easily eaten while driving. I can make sure I have enough clean tops, trousers, bras, knickers and socks for the coming week and lay them out. I can remove as much activity as possible from during the week so that even if I do get caught in work or am ridiculously late home, I have the next day set up already and ready to go. I can start each day fresh and not feel like I am falling behind more and more each day.

For the immediate crisis management though, I am comfort reading tonight. I have chocolate on hand. I may have a glass or two of wine. I have a few films lined up on Netflix I think. I have immediate, short term, “suspension of belief” type activities set up so that I can escape for a while for a few hours. I have used all these tactics in the past to push away life for months on end. That’s not healthy for me. But for a few hours, for one night, it might just get me through and set up for prep work tomorrow…

I can hear people asking, “Where’s Brigid in all this? Why isn’t she supporting you?” Well, bluntly, she is. But she doesn’t stop me spiraling like this cos she sees the work needing to be done. And while my mind and body are more than tools to me, they are tools to her, and sometimes tools need to be driven near to breaking point, then refurbished to get through a shit time. And that’s what we’re doing here. My body and mind have been driven to near breaking point, but not at breaking point, so now, I take the time to refurb and recover. I’m also going to plan in a spa treatment for next weekend to a) give myself something to look forward to and b) give myself some official, designated “space out” time.

I tell my stories when things aren’t going too well because very often, when we look at people’s lives on the internet, we see the curated, clean, special version. We don’t see the mess, the pain, the times when things aren’t going so well. And while a lot of places talk about stress management, very few of them talk about ways to deal with it in the moment. So me talking about drinking several bottles of wine tonight – most of my co-workers know I’m not a big drinker, so they know it’s exaggeration. They also know it’s a way for me to let off a little bit of steam to keep the explosion in check for a while longer. They’ll also notice my language getting a bit stronger, my general attitude degenerating a bit more. And when they ask me how I’m doing, I make a solid effort to be honest rather than covering it over with “I’m grand”.

Sitting still doesn’t help with stress most of the time. Drinking really doesn’t help with stress most of the time. Over eating, over exercising, over sleeping… for a long term solution, none of this helps with stress long term. But short term? Well now, that’s a different story…

Irish Ethnicity and following an Irish deity

There was a really interesting discussion in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group on ethnicity and how it related to following, working with, being devoting to an Irish deity, such as Brigid as someone who possibly has no blood links to Ireland. And I thought it worth discussing at a deeper level than a Facebook post can allow – I mean, you can discuss things very deeply on Facebook, it just doesn’t come naturally to me to do so…

Anyway. Thanks for Brandon for his original post and thanks to everyone who answered. For this post, I’ll take a look at what ethnicity means, what it can be used for, the issues with it as a route for spiritual practice and a reiteration of what I believe I have said before on working with Irish deity. Hmm… this could be a long one…

Dictionary.com was my first stop – I mean, I had ideas in my head about what ethnicity was but I wanted to start at the beginning and move on from there. What I got was the below:

noun,plural

eth·nic·i·ties.

  • an ethnic group; a social group that shares a common and distinctive culture, religion, language, or the like:Representatives of several ethnicities were present.
  • ethnic traits, background, allegiance, or association:The graph shows class enrollment by gender and ethnicity.

Now for somewhere like Ireland, there are a bunch of cultural, religious and language signifiers that we may not all partake in, but we are mostly aware of. For example, I couldn’t explain the rules of hurling to anyone, but I can still recognise a good game from a bad game and can understand why, on the Monday morning after a match between the two counties my office borders, there’s little enough work going to be done until the match has been replayed at least 5 times, with every puck of the ball examined and critiqued. It’s also hard to explain to outsiders just how Gaelic Games is permeated through the national psyche. I often joke to my family that I’ll start taking an interest in sport again when Meath start playing football again (that’s Gaelic to the foreigners among ye, not soccer!!) It also looks like I may have to make good on that promise shortly, given the changing outcomes of the minors and U-21s in recent years.

These common cultural signifiers have built up over centuries, or even longer. Iománaíocht (or hurling) is referenced in our oldest sagas. Setanta’s boyish skill with a hurley was how he protected himself and gained the name Cúchulainn. (I have my difficulties with Cúchulainn himself mind, but there’s no denying he had skill with a hurley) The Catholic Church is another ethnic identifier with Ireland. Again, not all Irish people have a close relationship with the Church, but most of us, indeed, when I was growing up, the vast majority of us were at least close acquaintances with the institution. In our schools, in our hospitals, in our politics, in our pubs even, the Church was there, whether seen or unseen. Not all Irish people are members, not all Irish people are followers, not all Irish people are devotees, but if you talk about going to Mass, or that one priest that always stank of drink, or Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at 9pm… these are things that the majority of us will know about.

So, there are cultural ties that are a common holding to the people of this island. We have darker ties as well – the history of colonialism, the devastating effects of social conservatism, strongly supported by the Church, on certain elements of the population (namely, anyone who didn’t fall in line or who had the temerity to suffer from abuse), the economic hardships of the mid-20th century, the generational memories of famine and want. You don’t need to have 7 generations buried in the local graveyard to tie into these memories. How we each individually choose to deal with it is our own business, as long as we’re not hurting anyone else, but it’s all there to be dealt with…

it’s easy with Ireland, we had a fairly low immigration rate for centuries, unless you count our colonisers, which I don’t. Although to be fair, they did add to the gene pool, however willingly or unwillingly the gene pool accepted them. That doesn’t mean there’s anything like a “pure, Irish bloodline” mind you. We’re a nation of mongrels, in my opinion, with our very creation myths coming from the Book of Invasions (Leabhar Gabhála Éireann, or Lebor Gabála Erenn in old(er) Irish). It outlines seven waves of invasions of Ireland of different people and is probably worth a whole series of posts. But the message is clear: Ireland has been invaded a lot. And the seven waves don’t count the Vikings, the Normans, the English…There’s a very worrying trend that “ethnicity” is related to bloodlines and really, that’s just not possible in Ireland. I know, 23andme and all the other genetic data farms are highlighting DNA evidence of coming from Ireland in an ancestral sense, but seriously, that’s based on the genetic data of the people currently in Ireland who are willing to share their genes like that. It’s not the be-all and end-all.

And, to be clear, I also understand that it’s easy for me to say this, being born on this island and being clearly Irish and having that direct link to the land, the people, the history… it’s not as easy for people born elsewhere, but it’s not impossible. But I’ll move on to North America now…

Purely because it’s meant to be a great melting pot (well the States at least, I don’t think Canada has quite the same approach?) and yet, as I saw on a Facebook post recently, unless you are a member of one of the indigenous tribes of the continent, you’re a coloniser. It’s a harsh history to have to deal with. Plus, America is often denegrated for it’s lack of history – people in Europe reasonably regularly pointing out they have houses older than the country of the USA. (I mean, you could argue that Ireland as a country is younger, but I wouldn’t advise it in the hearing of any Irish people. It just took us a while to shake off the colonisers physically and frankly, we’re still working on it emotionally!)

We deal with Irish Americans a lot in Ireland. Coming home, connecting with their roots, spending those all-important tourism euros… There’s two sides to the story though. We, who have had the joy and privilege of growing up on this island know our culture, how it has developed, how it has changed, how it continues to change and develops. The tourists coming home for the first time in generations are trying to match the tales their parents, grandparents told of an older Ireland. Clinging on to those traditions, the ones they could anyway, was hugely important in remember who they are and where they come from. But Ireland moved on without them – to the point, we now get Irish American claiming Boston is more authentically Irish than Ireland… I hope most people reading that sentence might see the problems with it.

But I have sympathy for the Irish American trying to get in touch with their roots. there are a lot of people out there trying to sell a version of Ireland that doesn’t exist any more. Look at The Quiet Man, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, Far and Away… I won’t comment on recent films, because I can’t bring myself to watch them yet, but it’s evoking the sense of an Ireland not familiar to anyone in Ireland today. Or at least, not familiar to us outside history anyway. There are of course, genuine and authentic people, willing to work (and get paid for) helping those trying to get in touch with Irish roots, but sometimes that requires some personal learning and growth on the part of the student as well.

I would say though, that observing my Irish American cousins across the ponds (cos of course I have them! one group in and around New York, another lot around Boston, another lot that started around the Toronto area but are now spread across most of Canada. Yeah, Irish families abroad can be prolific, especially after a few generations…) there is a definite Irish American ethnicity that is distinct from, if related to, the Irish ethnicity. Doesn’t make it worse, but it is different. There is more focus on the old songs, Irish dancing, holding to Catholicism and the guidance of the church. In Ireland, I think my generation was the last of the ones that learned the old rebel songs in school, not that we don’t recognise them. But we don’t sit around in the evening singing away to ourselves. I mean, we’ve got Netflix, like…

You don’t need to be Irish, or even descended from Irish ancestors to work with Brigid, or indeed any other Irish deity. But the reason I say so often you need to understand the Irish culture before diving in deep with Brigid is because you need to understand the context you’re working in. Bloodlines doesn’t give you a boost here – unless you make the effort to learn about Ireland, modern and ancient, you won’t understand the shorthand most people use in cultural settings. Just because your great-great-grandmother came from the Burren doesn’t necessarily give you a special connection to the land there, especially not if you’ve never set foot there. Yeah, it’s shit that people say this isn’t it? You’ve been told your living on colonised land that you have no right to and then the land of your ancestors say you have no rights to their land either. It can lead to being rootless and feeling very adrift and forsaken.

But here’s the thing – you don’t have an automatic right to any land or culture, just because your ancestors came from there. You can earn the right by putting in the work though. Same as us all – none of us get rights, with deity in particular, through one off actions or requests. It comes from building the relationship. Learn. Adopt the beginner’s mind. Don’t expect people to reach out to teach you. There’s loads of good sources on the internet these days. Learning about modern Irish culture could be as easy as signing up to some of our online newspapers (The Irish Times is our paper of record, but it’s fair conservative in nature; thejournal.ie is one of my usual sources, the Indo is another one and the Irish Examiner, although for many people the Irish Examiner is still the Cork Examiner… the Corkonians might suggest that’s the usual Dublin-centric bullshit though) It could mean learning our language – and I don’t necessarily mean Gaeilge here, but there is a distinct slang and dialect associated with Ireland. We tend to refer to it as Hiberno-English as a joke, but from 10yrs living in England, yeah, it’s a different language really!

Sure, learn our history, there’s a lot there, but try learning it from Irish sources. You may be surprised about how much of our history has been rewritten/ adjusted from a colonisers point of view. Check your sources, read the critiques of the work in question as well. Not every Irish author will give you an emotion-free, factual account either, and honestly, it would be strange if they did.

Now, I’m talking here about getting to know Irish deity, but this can all be expanded or adjusted for any deity outside your own culture. Another note of caution on ethnicity as well – most Irish people are lucky to track their families back past their great-grandparents. it requires a lot of work and effort to even get that far. Getting back through the various upheavals, famines, risings, etc is extremely difficult. This is why you’ll find it extremely rare an Irish person will say in seriousness, “I’m descended from this famous king/being/person/chief”. We know damn well how impossible it is to track back factually, through the records, that far. You may well have family traditions that you’re heir to the chiefdom of such-and-such, but being brutally honest, all it is is a family tradition. It might be true, it might not be, but declaiming it and expecting people to observe that will lead you into difficulties. And the further back you go, the less likely you are to be believed or taken seriously. (This is just physcial ancestors of course. Spiritual ancestors are a real thing, in my opinion, but again, be cautious about basing an entire spirituality on nothing other than an assumed spiritual ancestors – check your sources, even when your sources are yourself!)

We need to touch a bit on colour here as well. There’s a really disturbing trend I’ve seen online that only white people can be of Irish descent. For a start, that’s pure bullshit. There were Irish slave owners in the States. Remember Scarlett O’Hara? She is very clearly of Irish descent, the damn plantation was called Tara, ffs. And, not to put too fine a point on it, I can’t believe that Irish slave owners were more adverse to using their slaves as they wished than anyone else was. There are several famous black people in the States with obviously Irish names (Eddie Murphy, Robert Kelly are the two I can think of immediately), not to mention people like Phil Lynott and Paul McGrath who have closer links to Ireland (both born and reared here to Irish mothers, with connections/time spent in England rather than the States). Samantha Mumba, Alicia Keys, hell we even claimed Barack Obama through his great-great-great-grandfather (seriously, check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DerVmiZeUDw and yeah, in the grand Irish tradition, it’s a pisstake, ok?) Whether we go back a hundred years or more or we stick with the last forty years, being Irish does not mean you must be white. Yeah, for years, we didn’t mix much outside the country, but mixing a small bit and not mixing at all are two different things.

Your ethnicity doesn’t award you the right to work with Brigid. Your ethnicity doesn’t forbid you from it either. We’ve all got generational shit to deal with (I mean, in India, the Irish were colonisers because of the British Army being one of the few employers available…) Being Irish means you get the joy and wonder and pain and torment of growing up in this country, getting that relationship from the start. It’s like when an Irish person turns up in New York and has to deal with the subway system (I never risked the bus system, that was a step too far!) It takes a while to get used to it… Same with learning about Brigid, learning about the context and culture she comes from, same with the shorthand those born into her traditions use through familiarity. Learn from good sources, use the internet carefully, and if someone declares themselves the One True Authority and Gatekeeper, avoid them like the plague!!!

Why bother with deity?

I’m a firm believer in reciprocal relationships. As in, any relationship I have, there’s a natural give and take from both sides. There are times when the give can be predominantly in one direction and the take in another, but that then balances out over time.

Take parents for example. For most parents, their kids are mostly on the taking end for the first few decades of their lives. The parents can get joy and love back from the kids of course, but a parental role is, traditionally, a giving one. The returns are far more nebulous and hard to define than the obvious food, clothing, shelter they give out. (Please note, I’m not saying all parents do this – I am very well aware, there are truly awful, negligent and neglectful people out there and there are children who have endured a lot. There are also parents who can’t actually provide all they want for their offspring and regret this as well. Not everyone has equal experiences and I want to note that here)

But for most parents in my experience, there isn’t a checks and balances act going on. There isn’t a grand balance sheet keeping account and ticking off 1 hug = 0.5 breakfast or anything like that. But there is energy flowing both ways.

My experience of deity is something like this. No, I really don’t believe Brigid is up there in the sky, keeping accounts of everything I do or don’t do for her, and doling out rewards or punishments in accordance with that. I believe that Brigid will look out for me and help me, as best she can, for as long as I indicate I want or need that assistance. And I indicate I want or need assistance by my words, my actions, my thoughts, my prayers. And sometimes she goes with what I need rather than what I want, but that’s her prerogative. She doesn’t owe me anything.

Now there are times when we will come to an agreement on specifics. Such as, I will engage with a particular activism activity in exchange for her specific assistance in something in my life. It doesn’t ever guarantee a specific outcome cos other people have free will and need to consent. And, as well, the specific outcome I thought I wanted may not come true, but usually something else will. As far as I’m concerned, her help is real.

As an engineer though, my brain is screaming for proof of this and it’s hard to provide. And here’s where we come to a hard truth. As humans, we like to think there is a Higher Power to appeal to. Whether it’s the Christian God, pagan deities, the Universe, Mother Earth, whatever, when the shit really hits the fan, we like to have someone to appeal to for help. Now there are all sorts of psychological studies and other studies out there looking to back up or disprove Voltaire’s famous quote: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him“, but there’s also some truth there as well.

While it’s nice to imagine all of us depending on ourselves and finding inside of ourselves the necessary energy, determination, fortitude to keep going when things get tough, I think for most of us (yeah, not all, but most) there are times when calling on an outside power is comforting at least. It’s important to note that in the poem Voltaire wrote, he was showing the importance of the afterlife, and punishment therein, for upholding societal order. The thinking was that the idea of eternal damnation is important for assisting in maintaining social order, since the fear of the afterlife might force most people into good and honest living. This works for a Christian view of life, but not so much for those of us who follow a different path (this might lead to some sort of partial explanation as to why non-Christians were less than welcome in Western societies over the year: how could someone be trusted to behave appropriately without fear?)

I don’t subscribe to this view, and I think it’s one that has fallen out of favour in recent years, particularly in view of the failures of Christian churches all over the world. I’ve written before on the failures of the Catholic Church as an organisation. But the view of morals and moral living still permeates a lot of Western society. (The reason I’m saying Western society here is because I have little to no experience of life outside of Europe and North America).

I will say this though -I firmly uphold the belief that there are no atheists in foxholes. (The origins of this saying are murky at best, with several origin stories discussed in the wikipedia page…) In times of extreme stress, terror, pain or loss, most of us will turn to a Divine Being of some description, whether looking for help or screaming in pain or cursing them to the nth degree… The feeling that there is something outside of ourselves to appeal to, to beg, to plead, to curse… it’s weirdly comforting.

And of course, I believe in the existence of this Divine Force. There have been too many times in my life that I’ve been saved from things through no logic or rationale for me not to believe. And I “choose” to work with Brigid as my main representation of the Divine. (“Choose” might not be the right word there, but it’s not like she holds me hostage or anything!) I also work with other Beings, as most of ye know.

In saying all that, for most of us, those “foxhole moments” are not an everyday occurrence though (unfortunately not all of us). So what, on a day to day basis, is the point of a deity? Why bother to work with them? For my own views on this: well, we are more than our physical bodies. We are ensouled, we are spiritual beings, we are forces of nature. We need to nourish and grow that part of us as much as we need to nourish and grow our bodies and our intellect. We are more than the parts that make us up. And that part, the part that is more than the parts that make us up, is the bit that the Divine gets involved in most of all.

In Irish paganism, our deities are not necessarily omnipotent, omniscience or omnipresent (all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present). They’re a slight step closer to human than that. But that slight step closer, does not mean they are human. They have powers beyond our ken, so to speak. They are good at getting shit down. They help their people. They care for the land and the people. They are here with us, but also elsewhere. When we’re working in line with them, things get, not necessarily easier, but perhaps slightly smoother. I don’t want to downplay all the efforts that go into the work they support by saying it’s easy or easier, because that’s unfair to the people involved. But when we work in line with our deities priorities and desires, things happen.

I can only assume that if you’re reading this blog, you have a belief in deity. That’s great. But I also believe it’s important to examine why we belief in deity and what we mean when we say we believe in deity. This kind of reflection is not where I’m most comfortable – as an engineer, I much prefer the bashing things with hammers bit – but it’s still hugely important. Knowing what we believe, knowing why we believe it, realising how our beliefs change and grow over time, are all hugely important in our spiritual journeys.

So go on, examine a bit: why do you bother with deity?

Meditation

Everything comes in cycles. Sometimes the cycles are easy to spot, sometimes they aren’t, but I believe, well ok, most things come in cycle. I’m in a cycle at the minute of rebuilding a meditation practice after a few months hiatus.

There are spiritual benefits to meditation, of course. I’ve said plenty of other places that prayer is when we talk to deity, meditation gives deity an option of answering back. Or, y’know, saying something completely off topic, cos… deity. But I’m not talking about the spiritual benefits today. I’m talking about the mechanics (for me) of building up my meditation practice (again!) and the physical benefits I see from this.

A good night’s sleep is really a foundational aspect of my everyday health. If I get 8hrs, I’m good for the day, mostly able to handle whatever is thrown at me. My ability to deal with life decreases in proportion to the amount of sleep I get. If I’m down to 4hrs, unless it’s a very easy day, I’m going to struggle. (Actually, my team at work can back me up on this!) Falling asleep to a guided meditation is one of the best ways I have to a) ensure that good night’s sleep and b) start rebuilding my meditation practice. I’ve long been a fan of 2 of Jason Stephenson’s guided meditations on Youtube. I’ve yet to hear the end of either of them, which for me is brilliant. Of course, he won’t work for everyone, but there are loads of choices out there to try and see how you go. I’m at the point now where I’m wondering is it a Pavlovian response I have to these meditations, that I’ve trained myself to associate these meditations with falling into a deep and restful sleep. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter which it is, they work! (for me – your mileage may vary. Individual responses to voice and music are well… individual!)

So that’s step one. I’m going to be open and honest here. I’ll probably keep at that for about a month before I add in anything extra on the daily to the meditation practice. But this is a really good first step for me.

Next though, I’ll be going back to a deep meditation around the time I start menstruating. This again serves two purposes. 1) It forces me to take some time out on the days I’m menstruating to relax and listen to my body. This won’t be a guided meditation, it will be one of my own visual meditations I’ve adapted and used over years. Usually it’s a visualisation of a journey to my womb or to check in with my womb and spend some time with her. Which leads be to the second purpose: 2) It helps me check in with my womb, afford myself the space to acknowledge what might or might not be going on either physically or spiritually with my womb and from there lead out into the rest of my body. This deep meditation (I call it deep because I usually need longer than my normal daily meditations and I make a bit of a fuss about it for myself – nice blankie, warm room, candles lighting, that sort of thing) is time for me. It’s time when I am called on to do absolutely nothing else other than be. There is no other focus for that time other than me. Now this can be uncomfortable when I’m not feeling particularly happy with myself, but it’s almost always worth doing.

The reason I’m going to look at my menstrual meditation next is because I’m due in the coming days, actually slightly overdue if I’m honest, but I have things ready to go when the blood appears. Now, not everyone menstruates and not everyone who does menstruate wants to acknowledge the event or considers it a part of who they are. Honestly – perfectly alright, no matter where you are with that. I would encourage you to look at some cycle, whether it’s a given day in the month or a moon phase or equinox/solstice thing or a fire festival thing – some regularly occurring event, where you can tie into it and spend some extra time in meditation to check in with your body. Again, checking in with the womb is probably not for everyone. Sure more than half the population doesn’t have a womb, so y’know, may not resonate at all. But the important thing for me, in this situation, is the checking in with myself. My womb is a part of my body I rarely think about in day-to-day life unless I’m bleeding, so it’s a good “way in” to the rest of my body. I can’t dismiss it as easily as I can an arm or a leg, I need to make the effort. Really – the liver, the pancreas, the appendix, the lungs, heart, stomach… any of the major organs would fulfil the same purpose.

Next I’ll be looking at morning meditation. This will probably happen in a month or 6 weeks, I’ll start adding “morning meditation” to my morning rituals again. This tends to be a more free form meditation. I use the Insight Timer app on my phone, have the sound of a blazing fire going, sit back, get comfy, close my eyes and focus on emptying my mind. It’s a pain in the arse, I’ll tell ye know, when I’ve not done it for a while and to start with, I’ll be looking at 5mins and probably not achieving that every day. But if I do it, 5 days out of 7 (cos my weekend routines are different), I will get there. I find 20mins is a sweet spot for me on this. It’s short enough that I can fit it into the morning routine, even with my long commute but it’s long enough that I see real benefits throughout my day. As for these benefits? Well, I come out of most sessions feeling refreshed and capable. My mind is calm, or at least calmer. My body falls into that loose but prepared state and I feel able to move my body, get creative with my brain, all that good stuff.

If I’m starting off where even 1-2mins seems impossible for my morning meditation, it could take me months to get up to the 20mins again. But it’s worth it. And the progress is rarely linear, just as an FYI. Some mornings, it feels like I can meditate for hours (I don’t have time most mornings, but it’s a feeling of disappointment when the timer goes off). Some mornings, even after I’ve increased to 10 or 20mins, even 30seconds feels impossible and the time until the timer goes off seems endless. When that happens, sometimes I give up and sometimes I keep going. Quieting the mind sounds so so easy, but it’s really not and sometimes the only benefit I get is the resting of my eyes while I mentally mutter and fume my way through this “waste of time” (it’s not a waste of time, but some mornings it feels that way!)

Once I have my morning, night and monthly meditations up and running I feel like I’m in a good place with meditation and I will see the benefits. I’ll be calmer, better able to problem solve and be creative, better able to deal with people, better able to manage my life. Things that were insurmountable problems before become manageable or even small annoyances. Life is better for me when I meditate. I also use mindful movement and movement meditation maybe 2-3 times a week which helps keep me in tune with my body.

There are other occasions when I meditate as well – if I have a big decision to make, if there’s a massive problem I can’t see a solution to, if I need some alone time, if I’m in a lovely area, if the sun is just that nice on my skin and I want to slip into a mindfulness meditation just to enjoy it…. but if I have my morning, night and menstruation meditation practice up and running, things are on a good track.

Now, this is my approach and what works for me. No one size fits all though and you may find that this is way too much, way too little or just doesn’t suit you. What I will say is, if you are in doubt about the benefits of meditation, go have a search on Google Scholar for the benefits of meditation. Google Scholar is a great resource that searches academic works rather than general web pages. When I did a quick search there now, I got 322,000 results for “benefits of meditation”. Some of these will be behind a paywall, but if there’s an article you really want to read, most authors will send you a copy of their work if it’s a paper and if they still have it, once you ask them. I mean, y’know, don’t demand it, but a polite email works wonders.

If you’re starting from scratch or returning to meditation after a hiatus, as I am doing, it’s important to remember to build things up slowly. This is like any other muscle you work in the body – if you hit it too hard at the start, there’s a possibility of injury. Or in the case of meditation, maybe not physical injury, but meditation burnout maybe. As well, maybe you don’t think you meditate, but you pray the rosary regularly – that’s a form of chanting meditation in my opinion. Maybe you don’t think you meditate, but you take a daily walk where your mind focusses on the beauty around you and absorbs nature’s goodness – that’s a form of meditation in my opinion. There’s all sorts of different meditation, so if you’re interested, there’s bound to be something out there to help you. And remember, life happens and gets in the way sometimes and we all need to start again sometimes.

Start small, work your way up to where you want to get to and keep at it.

Impact vs Intent

This has popped up a few times in various groups over the last few weeks so I think it’s time to explain my thoughts here.

Fundamentally, I believe that impact is more important than intent. Let me state that clearly here and now so if you don’t agree and think I’m not a person you want to follow, listen to, hang around with etc anymore, you can exit here and now.

The reasons I feel impact matters more than intent is because I feel that we very often inflict an unintentional impact on other people without even realising it. We can make a joke, not realising it hits someone at their core and they realise we don’t actually think of them as the same human as everyone else. We try to do the right thing and end up hurting someone unintentionally. (Check out this link for some more on the governmental issues with the law of unintended consequences: https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/540/handouts/french/unintconseq.html )

And we’re all done this, we all know this. But if, as the general thrust of Irish paganism aims towards, we are looking towards maintaining a healthy community and we are all working towards that goal, surely looking at the impact of our actions and statements is far more important than worrying and proclaiming our intentions. Look, I know, I hate admitting I was wrong or misguided or misinformed as well. I really bloody hate it. But that’s no reason not to admit it – it’s not worth harming those around me just so I can avoid a bit of discomfort.

Now I’m not talking about whether Angel or Spike was a better boyfriend for Buffy (it was Spike, obviously!) or whether Batman or Superman was really the better superhero (yeah, couldn’t give a damn about that one!), this is about upholding people’s right to exist and live their lives as they choose. While I don’t follow the Wiccan Rede (Do what you will an’ it harm none), and while I think there’s deeper layers to it anyway beyond the immediately obvious, there is a measure of this thinking here.

Why would you want to hurt someone else? To maintain boundaries? To return pain inflicted on you? To protect others? There’s all sorts of reasons we might intentionally aim to hurt someone. And to a certain point, I don’t have an issue with that. Where I do have an issue is retaliating for someone being who they are rather than what they did/do. For me this line is drawn in looking at people’s existence versus their behaviour. So, I would find it hard to tease someone or harass someone for their religion, gender, sexuality, romantic persuasions, etc, but teasing them over a shared experience, some historical fashion we both indulged in etc. Equally, if someone has inflicted real harm on me, I’d be looking more at appropriate reactions to the behaviour, not attacking their religion, colour, sexuality etc.

However, we all cross that line somewhere. It may be that what is a reasonable action to take or comment to make against someone who is of a majority religion may not be for someone who is not of that religion. For example in Ireland, the vast majority of people (70+%) are Catholic, although practicing Catholics would probably bring that figure a lot lower. So joking about Catholicism or having heated debates about the problems with the Catholic Church in this country or in the world, probably grand. No one here is getting discriminated against cos they’re Catholic. But if someone is pagan and they’re uncomfortable in their work or home life about disclosing that, then making leading remarks or calling them out on pagan leaders and their issues in places where people in their workplace or home might hear them, probably isn’t a good idea.

If you’re not sure about the potential impact of something, try asking. I can’t guarantee a polite answer or even an answer at all, but that as well will tell you something. If you make a joke and you think about it later and aren’t sure if it’s ok, ask. If you can’t ask the person themselves, ask someone who might know around you. Say something like, “Hey I did this thing or said this thing earlier and thinking back, I’m not sure if it was ok. Can you help me? Do I need to apologise?”

Now, of course, slip ups between friends are easier to deal with that public issues. A government cutting social welfare in an attempt to get more people back to work, but failing to follow through on offering either training or more job opportunities, thus leading to an exponential rise in the existence and use of foodbanks… Well, I’m not sure that can be considered an unintentional impact, but it’s certainly an impact. Reparations should be made – and bloody quickly! And those governments should be held to account or voted out. But that’s just my opinion. Not looking at anyone in particular there at all now…

So where does it leave us in every day life. Consider your audience. It’s easier for most of us to accept at a high level that all human beings are entitled to live their lives, exist, as they choose in relation to religion, colour, sexuality, gender, etc. But when it comes to imagining the unintended impacts of our actions and statements, it can be easier to consider a particular person, especially if we have limited experiences or dealings with people who aren’t exactly like us. (I appreciate for the more global nations this may seem ridiculous, but seriously, I grew up in rural Ireland in the 80’s, I was 10 before I met my first black man and in college before I met my first black woman. And my experience is not that unusual for the time. )

You may think you’re addressing someone’s behaviour (well, if they’d only dress correctly…) when in fact, that could be felt as an impact or attack on someone’s culture (that’s what’s fashionable/ acceptable in the culture they come from). The dangers and long term impacts of forcing people to conform to some uniform ideal are well documented. Don’t be that person.

And if you do find yourself acting in that way, step up and apologise. I’ve done this in the past and there are people gone from my life that I can never apologise to now. Learn from it. Do better next time. Assess, as best you can, the potential impact of your actions and statements. Consider why your need to get this off your chest is more important than the potential impact on the person you’re speaking to.

Learn to do better. We all need to do this, there is no perfect person in this world and we’ve all done shitty, horrible things. The trick is to do better in the future. And remember that your intention is rarely more important than the impact your actions and words cause.

Lá Fhéile Bríd

All-focus

There are of course different days and ways to celebrate Imbolc, even going by hard calendar dates, it ranges from 31st Jan – 2nd Feb, but out of habit for some pagans and definitely for followers of the saint, 1st February is St. Brigid’s Day or Lá Fhéile Bríd (pronounced Lá ‘le Bríd because the “h” makes the “F” silent). So let me tell you a story…

This morning, in the dark, a woman got up and out of bed. She made her way around the house, not needing a light, completing her ablutions, gathering her candles, the matches, lighting the matches – after a brief struggle to find the damn things, putting them out in the window.

She gather the brait, for she had two, from the door, they made it through the night, thank the gods, and folded them and put them away.

She went out, barefoot and wrapped in a robe, into the dark and wet, to greet the coming sun (although to be fair, she doesn’t stay out long, cos it’s bloody freezing and her feet hurt!).

Then she came back inside, stuck on the kettle and sat down at the computer.

Yeah, this is what I did this morning. Lighting a candle is so much a part of most celebrations, I tend to light them regardless of the holiday. I’ve haven’t come across a deity yet who takes offense at a lit candle. And of course, with herself and her links to fire, she really never says no to a candle! And it’s a signal to people passing by, because there’s few adults in Ireland who won’t be aware today is St. Brigid’s Day, whether they celebrate or not. The cross won’t be seen, but the candles will and maybe noted for the future.

And maybe they won’t. It’s not important either way, more that there is a light, shining in the darkness. She gave us the wherewithal to signal at night, by her whistle, she does, at times, light the way for us when we are lost, although to be fair most of the time she’ll give us the tools we need or tell us where to find them and let us get on with it.

Today, there is evidence that there are solar installations around the country that mark Imbolc, in a similar way to the chamber at Newgrange marking the winter solstice. The Tomb of the Nine Hostages at Tara is one example of this, although I’ve not seen it, and won’t this year either. But they’re not as well known as the solstice ones. And as well, there’d be few enough people venturing out on a cold February morning like this, with the country water logged after the 3 months of winter (winter in Ireland running from November to January, and today marking the first day of Spring. No, really.)

Last night, we were going to celebrate with a full roast chicken dinner, with mashed spuds and green, followed by apple tart, but it was so late when Al got back from shopping that we decided to skip the chicken (otherwise, dinner would’ve been 9pm and that was far too late!) so we have the mashed spuds, with plenty butter and the broccoli and green beans in a sauce from Joanne Faulkner’s latest book, Good Food, Better Sex. (We’ve not had the chance to try anything else from it yet, neither have we tried sex, but the sauce tasted damn good!)

Plans change, from year to year, from day to day, from cycle to cycle. There’s no harm in that, the same way there’s no harm in me jumping into a good hot shower now, after my foray outside in the cold and wet.

Lá ‘le Bríd, a chairde!

Praying

I find praying difficult. I’m grand with the whole having a casual chat with herself, communicating through meditation and journeying, that sort of thing, but prayer itself? Actually sitting down and composing a prayer and uttering it aloud? Not my thing.

But a few weeks ago, someone asked for prayer in exchange for something else. And I was told I couldn’t refuse. Well now, of course I could have refused, we all have free will, but it was a strong intimation I shouldn’t on this occasion decline. So I didn’t. And I’m two into a 3 session commitment, where I’m leading about 45mins of prayer.

It’s hard. It’s really hard. I find myself almost trying to put it off, but I’ve committed to a time of the week to do it. And now, with 2 out of 3 sessions done, I’m finding myself really looking forward to going back to not formally praying again on a schedule. But then I started thinking – as one does.

Prayer is a part of the relationship with deity. And I speak quite casually of chats with Brigid and some others, but that isn’t to say the relationship is casual. It’s like any other relationship – it needs work. A lot of the time, that work is actual work for me – engineering, healing, writing. But sometimes, the work is prayer and meditation, personal work, finding the limits of who and what I am.

And while prayer isn’t a major part of my devotional activities, it’s still there, when I look. I joke about lighting a candle – but that’s a prayer. Even my “casual chats” are sometimes a prayer more than a chat. Every time I asked for help, for clarity, for assistance – that’s a prayer. So it’s not praying as such I have a problem with, it’s formal, designated time for prayer. Prayer where I actively open myself up, prepare, mentally and physically, take my time formulating and composing. That’s the kind of prayer I struggle with.

And there’s nothing wrong with this. Either the struggling or the formal prayer. Prayer is an important part of spirituality really. I’ve said it before – prayer is when we speak to the gods, meditation is when we listen. And I’ve been reminded this last week, that while being self sufficient is a bonus and a positive thing most of the time, there are times when we all need help and this is where prayer comes in.

Prayer can be a means of deepening our relationship to deity. Prayer can be a means to ask for help or understanding. Prayer can be a means to keep one channel of communication open when it seems all else is falling apart. Prayer can be many things.

I still believe the gods help those who help themselves as well – as in, we actively need to work towards our aims as well as asking them for help – but there is a role for them to play when we reach out and ask them for help. They rarely step in unasked. And as well, sometimes they do something so big that a formal thank you is important as well. Taking the time to compose thoughts and images so that it forms something cohesive is time spent honouring them. And so, it’s more about the balance for me then. Would you spend weeks preparing to thank someone for a small favour? Or cobble together a 2 word thanks for something that gave you life changing benefit? Sometimes we don’t always realise the scale of the help at the time of thanking, but with deity in particular, there’s always time later on to come back and make the big thank you.

I’m not saying I’ll be continuing the prayer sessions once I have the 3 completed, but I will say I’ll be looking at ways of making more space for formal prayer in my life I think. Although it might be a more private activity…

Happy New Year

I hope all are waking this morning looking to face the new year and here’s hoping, praying and begging that 2021 is better than 2020.

1st Janury is always for me a reminder that Imbolc is fast approaching. I mean, the Christmas season isn’t finished as far as I’m concerned until 6th January (Nollag na mBan in Ireland) so the decorations will be staying up until then at least, but now I’m looking towards the 1st February and plans for how to acknowledge the occasion will be forming.

A good clean of the house is nearly always part of the equation. After the scrub it gets for Christmas, this isn’t as bad as it might be, but it’s always worth while. An acknowledgement of the lengthening days as well is always good – it’s from about now ish that the days get longer again after the daily shortening up to the solstice period. A re-walking and claiming of the bounds and grounds is also part of my Imbolc habit.

None of that gets done today though. Today is usually a very quiet day – although this year, most of the Christmas season is quiet. We’ll potter about, doing the least we can get away with, rest and face the New Year with the best face we can.

This year in particular, I got a nudge to finish things up before the end of the year. Whether it was squeezing in a few more books I’ve read or dealing with a situation between an old friend as best I can, I ticked a few things off the mental load in the last few days to face the new year feeling a bit less burdened. And while on other years, other times, I might have done a ritual last night to burn away what I didn’t want to take into 2021, this year, I’m planning a ritual tonight with my husband to declare what we want to bring into 2021. Making it a positive rather than a negative action.

What we’ll be doing is simple, but it helps focus the mind. We’ll talk and discuss plans for the year between us and then each will take a few bits of paper and write down what we want to do this year, whether is save money, or write a book or visit a particular place, we’ll write it down and then we’ll bury it somewhere, with the intent that these plans grow.

Now just writing things down on its own won’t manifest them magically of course. We actually have to take action as well by ourselves. But writing them down, with ceremony and intention, will lead those plans to be firmed in our minds. Having discussion on what we want as a couple will help ensure we’re not planning in isolation, but are working together, even if on different things. And having done this once, we can continue having these discussions throughout the year to make sure we’re both still happy and on track.

It’s almost like how the best performance reviews work in industry, but so rarely do.

As well, we will eat well today. We will hydrate. We will move about. We will watch some truly shite telly. It’s not all about the doing and the manifesting. Sometimes it’s about the being as well.

However you’re marking the changing of the calendar, I hope you’re safe, warm, fed, hydrated. I hope 2021 is better than 2020. I hope we hit 2022 with a lot more hope and joy and peace. (Yup I said 2022, I don’t think 2020 will be washed away entirely by 2021, but we can work on it!)

How are you planning on marking the turn?

Still hanging on…

This post is more of an FYI than anything else. I’m hanging on, grimly, until the final audit of the year is over on Wednesday evening. I fully expect to collapse at that point and I’m working from home on Thursday/Friday so absolute basics only.

It struck me then that my absolute basics has changed over time. These days, food, shower, clean clothes are the absolute basics. Almost everything else can wait a day or two (And if I’m honest, shower and clean clothes can be pushed out for a day as well in emergencies).

But anything more than a day or two? Movement, meditation, connection with people all come into it. I’m an introvert, in that I gain energy from being alone primarily, but I still need solid connection with people on a regular basis as well. Even if it’s a random WhatsApp message or Facebook like or something – anything more than a day or two with zero contact whatsoever, and I start to feel the effects.

Of course, there are people I’d be perfectly happy never to hear from again, but those sods rarely live up to expectations.

We can survive almost anything life throws at us with the right support systems, in the general run of things, but we need to recognise what those support systems are and how long we can survive without them. So if one friend is busy or otherwise engaged for a few weeks or months, I’m ok. If ALL my friends were busy or otherwise engaged for a few weeks or months – I’m going to suffer.

If you’re not hanging on by the skin of your teeth, now might be a good idea to have a look at what support systems you have, what are absolutely vital and essential, which ones have a bit of redundancy built in (redundancy in the engineering sense here, whereby if one bit fails, it’s ok, there’s another bit to pick up the pieces), where you feel exposed, where you feel comfortable.

And then see if you need to change any of that.

Because, we all have work to do and it’s a damn sight easier when those support systems are there when needed, rather than frantically trying to build them in an emergency.

Endurance, Determination and Pure Stubbornness

I didn’t post on Sunday. I was just pure exhausted and took the weekend off to sleep and read. It was badly needed after an intense audit in work and just general mid-COVID fatigue. And she herself gave me a good slap up the back of the head to remind me about self care.

I was reminded about the need to look after myself in one of the Irish Pagan School groups, when I found myself reassuring someone that there is No One True Way, there is no One Size Fits All when it comes to spirituality and, indeed Irish spirituality in particular. Our individual practices can look extremely different and yet be in right relationship for us.

Why is this titled Endurance, Determination and Stubbornness? Well, because there are times when life itself needs all of the above and the lines and delineations between the three become blurred at best and nonexistent at times. I’m clinging on to my current practice by the skin of my teeth right now. It’s been cut right back because of business at work mostly, but also because of the level of background stress I’m under.

My practice at the minute consists of a book I’m writing on Brigid, a commitment of 2000 words a week. I skipped last weekend, but I’m still ahead of schedule so that’s not too bad. It’s also including some breathing exercises and a daily walk on the treadmill. (If I’m honest, the daily walk on the treadmill is not so daily)It’s also including sleeping habits, eating habits and self care in general. Last weekend it included a ritual bath – which is very similar to a normal relaxing bath for me except instead of reading a book, I lie back and meditate or journey. Or pray. Or sometimes a mix of all three.

I’ve got a break in work coming up in 3 weeks time and I am literally hanging on by my fingernails until that time. I’m hoping for a mental break at that point to be able to reset and recuperate before the Christmas break. And that mental break is also part of a spiritual practice.

It’s really, really easy to think we need to keep going all the time at 110%. It’s really easy, especially with someone like Brigid, to think we have no options but to keep going. But we do – we always have options. 2020 has been a shit year. COVID 19 has had a massive impact on the whole world and there’s this underlying stressor in the zeitgeist about that whole thing. Then we add in the usual day-to-day stressors – work, family, friends, home, money, life…. People are still falling in love, falling out of love, managing kids, not having kids, struggling with a relationship, dealing with abuse, dealing with something they’re not sure is abuse or not, dealing with insecurities, worries… all with the added layers of a global pandemic.

We don’t have to go at 110% all the time. In fact, if we try, our bodies or our minds tend to force us to take that break. So have a look at your life right now and if you, like me, are hanging on by a thread – make some plans. Maybe you can’t take even 5 seconds right now, but plan for when you might be able to.

What can you do to help yourself cope right now? And don’t forget, praying for help is always an option!!!