Support Systems

In most of my bios, at least in relation to spirituality and my teaching, I say I’m a solitary pagan. Equally in work, I am often the only woman in the room, the meeting, the group etc. Solitary and alone are by defaults to be honest.

But I got a shove last night. I can’t even say it was a nudge or a hint, obviously Brigid has been dropping the subtle hints for a while and is now fed up with me not getting them! But I got a not-so-subtle reminder that actually, while my spiritual practice is predominantly solitary and while my engineering practice means I am usually the only woman around, that doesn’t really mean I’m alone.

I have support systems.

I would not be where I am today without those support systems and honestly, the internet has made this easier by far than it used to me.

I’ll talk about as an engineer first. When I was a baby engineer, fresh out of college, full of zim and zest and zap (I had to go consult dictionary.com to find a third word beginning with z and honest, I’m not even sure it fits, but it sounds good!) I was on my way, I was going to be successful, I was going to conquer the world.

It took about 3 years before I figured out that wasn’t going to happen. In that time, I dealt with an abusive personal relationship, chronic illness, bullys as bosses, assault in work, assault outside of work by work colleagues, lack of personal safety at work… I mean I often joked at the time it was lucky I’d had good bladder training because I couldn’t go to the toilet in work without something happening. Basically, life wasn’t good. And I felt really, really bad, thinking it was all my fault.

I started a new job with a manager that turned out to be closer to a second Dad than a manager (seriously, my Dad called him out at my wedding to acknowledge everything he had done for me!) He suggested trying to find other women in engineering. He knew damn well there weren’t many around the place where we were, so we spent a few hours on the internet. Well ok, I spent a few hours on the internet, while he sat encouragingly at the next desk. He is a great man, but not a tech wizard! And I found an organisation, Women’s Engineering Society. I remember my first event was one on how to dress for work.

Seriously.

Up to that time, my work wardrobe was either a white shirt and black trousers if I was in an office, or overalls (sometimes with PJs under them) if I was on plant. To say it was monochrome and consistent and bland and basic would be a serious understatement. But as an engineer, I didn’t think I should be focused on what I wore to work. I was there to be assessed on my skills, not my appearance right? And then someone pointed out to me on the course, that even though I wasn’t in work, I was wearing a white t-shirt and black jeans to this course. Which was not too far away from my “office” uniform. It was pointed out to me that I was allowed some other colours in my wardrobe. I was permitted to wear tops and trousers that had some shape to them. Not revealing, but things that made me feel good about myself.

It was a massive shock to me that I was permitted to wear something different. Then, this wonderful woman at the course introduced me to the Debenham’s personal shopping service. (This is no longer available due to Debenhams closing in 2020 unfortunately) I thought personal shopping was for rich people, honestly. The thought that it might be offered to someone like me was a revelation. And so, I went along to the personal shopper in Leicester – which was the closest place I was living at the time. It was so cool!! I talked to this fabulously dressed woman, like seriously stylish and cool and comfortable looking! We talked about my job and what I could and couldn’t wear and what I felt comfortable in and what parts of my body I liked/didn’t like (at the time, the “didn’t like” outweighed the “like” significantly!)

I came away with 2 full outfits and loads of ideas. And I went back to the next training course with WES. And the next. And the next. Over time, I covered things like being assertive, dealing with difficult conversations, more on how to dress… the list went on. But more importantly, I met other women in engineering at all stages of their career. I met women who had worked in similar environments to me. I met women who were just starting out like me. I met women who had created a career for themselves, essentially and opened my eyes to what was possible.

That was a support system. And it helped me immensely. These days, my engineering support system includes several good friends from my college days. In fact, with one particular friend, we have a system when we’re trying to write an email that needs to be diplomatic but we are feeling very undiplomatic. We send the drafts to each other – that way there’s no mistaken sending of an earlier draft to the intended recipient. And, if I’m honest, the first draft tends to be along the lines of “listen you fucking dribble of a fuckwit”. It sometimes gets as far as “Hi X, I feel you didn’t quite understand…” These friends are like gold dust. Keep them close!!

I could see the need for this support in my professional life. It had helped me immensely over the years, so it was proven, basically. And while I’m no longer in the UK and so WES events aren’t easy to attend, I’m still on their mailing list and I’m trying to help set up a similar organisation in Ireland.

But on to my spiritual support system next. I grew up in the Catholic faith, so there were support structures there. When I was growing up, kids prepared for First Confession, First Communion and Confirmation in primary schools all across the country. Not doing so was considered strange (which is problematic in itself, but that’s not the topic at hand here)

I went to a convent secondary school, where faith was assumed and the school year usually started and ended with a Mass. When I went to college, there was a church on campus and regular masses held – particularly around exam time. So I grew up with the security of knowing there was always somewhere I could go to practice my faith.

It changes when I went to England. For a start, English Catholics were in my experience, way more Catholic than Irish ones. As in, they appeared to take their religion extremely seriously and didn’t expect to have any fun at all with it. Instead of Halloween, their children went to a Festival of Light on 31st October – something that would be unheard of in Ireland. And then the scandals started becoming common knowledge. At home, the scandals in the church were described as specific priests rather than systemic in the system. But through the 90’s and for me, the noughties, things became clear that there were inherent, deeply held, systemic and systematic issues with the whole institution of the church. To explain the differences between my own practice and that of the English Catholics I met, I thought of myself as as Irish Catholic, but this was no longer true to what I was feeling.

I have described elsewhere an awakening I had after an initiatory weekend in England after I came back to Ireland. It involved sobbing in a Travelodge for hours on end, waiting for a ferry and the Dagda coming to help me. And support me. The notion of a deity as a support system had not occurred to me before that. Saints? Sure. The Virgin Mary? Absolutely. God Himself? Why would he care about someone like me?

When I came home from that weekend, things started changing in me. I spoke a lot to my husband and even though things were tight at the time, we came up with the money for me to attend a moot in a nearby town as a way of connecting in to the local pagan community. That decision was one of the best ones I’ve ever made. I met Lora O’Brien of the Irish Pagan School at that moot (they were setting up the moot at the time) and a few months after my first moot, they held a moot pretty much just for me so I could avoid a trip I didn’t want to take. That was the start of a friendship I value dearly and the start of a support system for my spiritual growth in the last few years.

Brigid has always been in my life, although it is only in recent years that I have recognised her as the support she is. There are other deities hovering about (side-eye towards her Da here) but she’s my main deity and looks like staying that way. Through my work with Brigid and with the Irish Pagan School, I have been supported and helped through a journey that has led to me teaching, starting this blog, starting the Patreon account, starting my own school and so much more! I have been led to pray more, to conduct my own prayer sessions, as well as those for others. I have been led to a place where I’m applying to become a clergy member and representing those who perhaps are like myself in a liminal space with spirituality and carving our own path. I’ve been led to support and help others as well as receiving the support myself.

The problem with describing all this is that it’s hard to describe it without going into masses of detail, but this spiritual work has led to an overhaul of my life with much more of my time going on things that I hold important rather than things other people consider important. My spiritual support system has helped me through crises in my marriage, in my mental health, in my life in general. I have found people I know I can trust and who I know will be honest with me if they see me going astray from my values and core beliefs. People underestimate how valuable that is. I’m even including my (Church of England if you push him hard, but really not into religion or spirituality in general) husband in my rituals and my practices. He’s gotten used to candles burning pretty much constantly in the house and appreciates that incense isn’t just about hiding suspicious odours as well.

I suppose this blog post is about helping people realise that we all need support in our lives. No one can do it alone. We all need help and support in our lives and really, it is best to ensure we get that support through looking at it like a system. (I know, I’m an engineer, I like systems!) A single person can’t be a system, despite what modern views of marriage can tell us. And we may need different support systems for different aspects of our lives – that’s something I’ve certainly found. While dear friends might be willing to listen and help in diverse areas of our lives, it’s good to have people who fully understand what you’re going through as well. If you’re suffering from bullying at work, you probably have someone in your life who has gone through the same. If you’re suffering from lack of development or a feeling of ennui with life, you probably know someone who has gone through something similar. If you want to send an email pretty much filled with expletives – changes are you know someone who can help you with the editing. Or not. Y’know – whatever road you want to go down 🙂

At the end of the day though, we’re none of us islands. Even I, as an introvert who happily goes weeks without human contact aside from my husband (and him only cos we live together!), realise that I need to reach out to people and connect with people for support at times. So have a look about you. Who can you rely on for support in what situations? (Include deities, saints, ancestors, whatever you like in this!) Even when we feel we are completely alone, it can sometimes shock us when we take a look around to see how many supports we actually have in our lives.

Women, engineering, a new study, and Brigid

As many of you know, I have a keen interest in encouraging more women to join the engineering profession and continue their career paths in the profession. Recently I’ve been rethinking my own involvement in my chosen career, and as readers of the blog will know, I am looking at alternative income streams to relieve the pressure on the engineering thing at the minute.

With all that in mind, I was really interested when a friend of mine sent me a copy of How do female engineers conceptualise career advancement in engineering: a template analysis by Julia Yates and Sarah Skinner (Psychology, City, University of London, London, UK) (citation at the end of the post) It’s an interesting read and I recognise quite a few of my own behaviours in this article from over the years. It’s concerning really that as female engineers, we can both recognise the forces at work to make careers harder for us, but also hold a firm belief that we will be the ones to achieve and rise in spite of it all, no matter the cost.

Of course, some people do count the cost and work with that in mind, but perhaps I’m feeling more sensitive to these things given my recent mental health issues. The research asks two questions:

RQ1. How do female engineers conceptualise career development in engineering?

RQ2. What do women feel prevent them from fully developing their career competencies: knowing-why, knowing-how and knowing-whom?

Now it’s fair to say that the study is based in one UK company, with 32 female engineers interviewed for the study. There’s loads on the methodology in the paper – if you’re interested in that sort of thing, search out a copy of it. But I suppose, we need to be careful with extrapolating too far with the cohort studied being so limited. And I would be, except the findings tally very well with my own anecdotal evidence and experience. (Confirmation bias? Maybe!) The authors identified 3 overarching themes to the findings:

(1) promotions come to those who are widely known (seen in the narratives of 30 of the 32 participants),

(2) across the organisation, men are given a higher value than women (28 of the narratives)

(3) mothers have to contend with the conflicting ideologies of a good worker and a good mother (27 of the narratives)

Alongside these themes, there were also some findings about how these women explain away the obvious issues they see with career development as a female engineer:

  • Some feel that claims of sexism are overstated
  • Some acknowledged that women are under-represented in the higher ranks but saw this as the result of their own choice, not any discrimination
  • A number of the participants see that women do not get to the top, but they think it’s not about gender
  • Some noticed that they were excluded at times, but felt that it was for reasons other than gender including age, personality or level of seniority
  • A group of the participants acknowledged that there was some sexist behaviour within their teams but found explanations that would soften the intentions behind the behaviour
  • Some laid the blame outside the organisation, saying that it is simply because enough women are not coming through from the education system, and that is a much more widespread problem
  • A group of the women found ways to make the best of the situation, either because they are so used it, it has become the norm or through minimising the impact the incidents have had on them
  • Finally, some managed to see the positives, feeling grateful for what they have

Only 3 participants highlighted the conflict between the narratives (i.e. difficulty in career progression and mitigating explanations). Only 3. I know why, of course, it’s so you can survive in the atmosphere and think you can still manage, you can still progress, you can still work.  

At this point, you’re probably asking what on earth I’m going on about this so much for. Well, first off, as I said above, my keen interest in getting more women into engineering is widely known – although recently I’ve been feeling more concerned about that. How can I encourage women into a profession I know  will be difficult and awkward for them? But if I don’t encourage more women (and non-binary people and other non-cishet white men to be fair), how will things change? Is there a way to address the issues that this paper, and others, raise for women in the industry and continue to make engineering an attractive career?

There’s also a wider concept here that’s worth looking at. Where else do we hold cognitive dissonance in our lives? (The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes). As a female engineer, I’m really accustomed to the sort of cognitive dissonance the women in this study showed. As I said earlier, I have experienced all of these feelings, all of these thoughts in the last 20yrs. Most women I know working in industry do. It’s a part of our lives.

But with that tension in our lives, it can lead to stretch out elsewhere. It could have something to do with greater numbers of women leaving the profession than men. It could have to do with female engineers not encouraging their daughters or other female relations from pursuing a career in engineering. It can lead to greater stress and burnout for these women – it’s an extra mental load to carry.

I have no doubt that plenty of people can learn lessons from this sort of paper, and yet it will doubtless not be read widely beyond those interested in the pretty narrow field of women in engineering. I feel the issues brought forward can be addressed to any area of life however. And here’s where the Brigid talk comes in!

Because we make some choices in life almost by default, or we come into a situation that is already established, it can be hard to look at where we’re dealing with cognitive dissonance in our own lives. And it’s worth taking a look at. Where are you doing things on autopilot without even thinking about it? Where have you to compromise with your values and ethics and what cost or toll is that taking on your mental, physical, spiritual health and wellbeing?

I spent 2 yrs working for a defence company in the UK. Possibly two of the hardest years in my working career, because every day I was reminded I was working and collaborating in the creation of weapons to destroy life. It’s only now, looking back at it, that I can see where this was taking a toll on me. And I’ve dealt with assault, bullying, oppression in work in all sorts of ways, but that was external. The choice to work in the defence industry was mine. Now, it was the right choice in some ways, but I never factored in the personal toll it would take on me. It’s more than 10 yrs ago now, so the aftereffects are mostly dealt with, but nevertheless…

If something in this article resonates with you, use the opportunity to have a look at the values that Brigid espouses for you and how that conflicts or aligns with the way you live your life. For me, Brigid supports women in male-dominated spheres (the Smith), she supports those without other representation or little representation (Brig Ambue), she takes care of those in need of healing (the Healer, surprisingly enough), she cares about ethics and right relationship and right judgement (the Poet and Brig Ambue again, as well as Brig Brethach), she cares about hospitality, feeding people, ensuring people have their due (Brig Briciu). She cares about a lot in my experience. But fundamentally, it all comes down to allowing people to follow their path in life, removing obstacles, not putting obstacles in the way of others, maintaining right relationship and ethical living, however we define that for ourselves, and dealing with the consequences of our actions.

If you read the above discussion of the article, and the excerpts from it, and nothing resonates -that’s grand. Good on you! But if you can recognise the cognitive dissonance these women display and there’s a niggle at the back of your mind? Maybe take a walk through that niggle, sit with it, and see where it’s coming up for you in your life.

Yates, J. and Skinner, S., 2021. How do female engineers conceptualise career advancement in engineering: a template analysis. Career Development International, 26(5), pp.697-719.

Insomnia, dancing and making the best of it!

(Please note I’m talking about 5Rhythms dancing in this post. To be very, very clear, I’m not an expert or a teacher in this practice. I’ve been to a few sessions and I have several CDs at home that I dance to, irregularly right now!)

It’s 5:30am here in Ireland as I write this and it’s been 3 weeks since I last posted. There were good reasons to take time off over Christmas – I took time off from everything pretty much, as much as I possibly could, becoming even more hermit-like than usual. I took time and started reading again. I took time and spent it with my husband. I took time and thought about things. I took time and imagined fantasy worlds of make believe and supposition. It was fantastic and I feel more rested and energised mentally, if not physically.

Because, yes, I took time off from my physical stuff as well. I didn’t walk much for most of those weeks, my physio exercises definitely dropped in frequency and my meditation sessions dropped as well. I didn’t meet my goal of walking 4miles in 1 hour without pain, but I did walk 5km (3miles) in 1 hour with no pain, so I’m counting it a win. (The next goal is to hit that 4miles target by end of March if anyone is interested!)

Last night, I couldn’t sleep. I went to bed about 11:30pm, feeling tired and ready to shut eye and dream. And then my brain started working. This is insomnia for me. Nothing worked for me. Counting sheep, meditation – even the Jason Stephenson one that hardly ever fails me! Breathing exercises, gentle stretching/ tensing and relaxing the body a bit at a time, sips of water… sometimes this happens. The doctor has me on melatonin and once a week or so I see if I can sleep without it – turns out, not yet anyway.

So at about 4:30am, I gave up and got up. I lit a candle and put on a 5 Rhythms cd. This is a new one for me (called Double Wave by Gabrielle and the Mirrors). It became clear to me pretty quickly that I needed this. I was moving very much in the stillness part of the wave – actually hang on. Sweat Your Prayers by Gabrielle Roth was published in 1999 I think – or at least that’s the copyright date on my copy. The book is about using dance as a means of prayer or meditation. Gabrielle outlines 5 waves to move through, usually in the format flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness. This notion of dancing your prayers isn’t new – there’s 9-10 verses in the Bible that mention dancing, although funnily enough, those verses aren’t used to often in modern times, wonder why? Most religions/spiritualities that I’ve read about have some measure of dance or movements incorporated in them. So this isn’t and wasn’t a new idea as such. But this form of dancing your prayers, was I think reasonably new. It was definitely new to me anyway!! (For proper information on the practice, check out the official website here)

I speak about this because it became very clear this morning that stillness was calling to me but in a strange way. I can spend hours on end being still, except for the turning of a page or taking a sip of a drink. This morning, I felt like I danced with Brigid and she was reminding me of the importance of real stillness. The type of stillness that doesn’t put achievement above self care; that doesn’t put advancement to the fore of nourishment; that insists on pausing for a moment before jumping off the cliff into this Brand New Exciting Thing that might or might not be a good idea.

So this means right now that I need to pick up where I left off before Christmas. Make time in my day for meditation, movement, physio exercises. I can spend less time advancing my career – especially since I have serious questions about what my career will look like in 5yrs anyway. I don’t have to learn ALL THE THINGS RIGHT NOW WITH NO DELAY!!! I don’t have to fix everything right now or achieve everything right now. I can move slowly, as if through honey. I can proceed at my own pace. But in the mean time, I can spend the time to instill, properly, those habits that will allow me to speed up at a later date.

So time every day for meditation, movement and physio exercises. Time for ensuring I have food I enjoy and that works for me (yeah over Christmas, we basically survived on Christmas cake, biscuit cake, and one roast chicken lasted 4 dinners for us!!) Time for checking in with myself and making sure my energy is being replenished as much as it’s being spent. And that means drawing hard clear boundaries with myself and others. No more 9pm finishes at work. No more 7 day working. Pausing in progress to consolidate is sensible – especially when there’s a lot to be done in that consolidation.

That doesn’t mean there’ll be no more classes for a while – there’s an Imbolc ritual class coming up with the Irish Pagan School (see here) and I will be doing the 5 week course starting in early Feb as well. The five week course is getting an overhaul this year as well, because my practice has moved on from when I started it and I think it needs to reflect where I am now, rather than leaving it in the past. That would feel awkward. So, stillness doesn’t mean no work or no new material, but it does mean a bit of consolidation as I said and particularly in my personal practice of self care and nourishment – I need to consolidate hard!!

It came to me a week ago, I’m doing a 90 container with Joanna Hunter to give this some structure and the first question she asked us to answer, journal, think about was “what do I require as a human being to be nourished?” More came after that, but I’m stuck on nourished. It’s not just food, y’see, it’s life. What is it in my life that makes me feel nourished? It’s a worthwhile question to answer for yourself and I hope you don’t find it as hard as I am!

For now, I’m going to go make myself some porridge, so I can get a good breakfast inside me (made with milk and probably some raisins or honey or something with it, just in case you’re wondering. Hell, it’s a weekend, I might even throw in some chocolate!) I’m going to make a nice cup of herbal tea. I’m going to watch the sun come up (in about 2.5hrs, cos it’s still January in Ireland and sunrise isn’t until 8:38am apparently!) Then I’m going to settle in and watch the last few episodes of Wheel of Time and decide what book I’m going to read today. I may get around to folding laundry as well…

But seriously – learn from me – what do you need to feel nourished? What are the building blocks that support your mental, physical and spiritual health? What do you need to pause, consolidate or otherwise slow progress on?

Pain, suffering and raspberry leaf tea

OK, so those who menstruate and read this blog probably know what’s going on as soon as I mention raspberry leaf tea – or maybe not.

I didn’t post at the weekend, I was suffering mightily. Still am, but it’s easing a small bit. Y’see, it looks like I’m heading into menopause now, which is a shame, since we did want to have a family. It now looks like adoption and/or fostering are the way to go for us. Which is Brigid connected, let’s face it, seeing as she herself (in her guise as saint) was fostered out for definite from her father’s home anyway (little info on the mother here again!)

But anyway, it had been a good 10 weeks since my last period and with the mental health things that are going on right now, I had kinda a) lost track other than to think “it’s been a while” and b) kinda forgotten to do the pre-menstrual pain relief stuff I usually do. So that was increased pain both from length of time and from lack of self care.

It also means my flow is a lot heavier this month than usual – again from both issues. So I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do a lot of sitting on the couch, napping, having hot baths and sipping raspberry leaf tea. Husband is well trained really – he knows at this time of the month there is ONE tea I really want and he provides it on a regular basis. (He also provides food, chocolate, water, hugs, etc as needed. He’s a good man!)

I’ve never been overly found of bleeding – my periods have been usually irregular and heavy. When we went through fertility treatment, we found out my hormone levels (particularly progesterone and oestrogen) are extremely low and while undergoing treatment, I was taking supplements and injections to address that. Unfortunately, once treatment stopped, it was not possible to continue with those prescriptions so back to normal I went. Well, normal for me.

My usual pre-menstrual care involves more meditation, dance meditation, gentle movement, that sort of thing. It kinda eases the muscles around the uterus (this is based on no medical knowledge, just my experience in my own body, by the way) and sort of pre-eases the cramps. Even so, I usually have at least one full day in bed, either before, during or after my period. If work permits, I try to do it on the first day, it makes the rest of the period a lot easier. Otherwise, it’s dose myself with painkillers and keep going until I can collapse for a day. And it’s usually a lot harder, more painful, when I have to do it that way.

So, it’s not that I’m going to miss this part of my life. Not really. But I feel over the last year that I need to do some mourning for the hopes we had of having our own family, because even by my standards of irregularity, 10 weeks is a long stretch. Last time I went that long, it was a miscarriage, not a period. And it got me to thinking about the habits and rituals I have around my period and the rhythm that gives my life, the drumbeat of my body. What will replace this monthly shedding of the uterus lining?

As ever, I don’t know the answers. And I’m talking to herself about how I will manage this and guidance around the whole adoption/fostering thing. It may or may not be for us, but it’s worth trying, right?

As for now, well, now I’m off back to the couch, with Buffy and yet another mug of raspberry leaf tea. I don’t know if it’s scientifically proven, but it certainly helps my aches and pains at this time of the month! And Buffy helps too!

Daily practice vs ritual

I made a comment in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group after my last post that, really, rituals and devotionals only take up <5% of my life. Most of my practice is just that, living my life.

I meant it, but it appeared to come as a surprise for some people. I mean, how I live my life is far more important that the few hours a week I spend with Brigid. Those who have grown up within Christianity (or I suppose other organised religions as well) will be well aware of the concept of “Sunday Christians” (or whatever the equivalent in other religions is). These are the people dressed up in the finest, first into the church every Sunday, last out, always monetarily supporting the church, very obviously pious and praying and all the rest of it. And if you were stuck, as my Nana used to say, they’d not give you the steam off their piss.

That’s not the sort of person I want to be. I’m not perfect and I never will be, but for me, religion is not about the appearances. It shouldn’t be anyway and the prevalence of this sort of thinking is worrying in the modern world. Has probably led to the significant falling away in numbers from Catholicism in Ireland at least. (I’ve written about this before on the blog, go and have a look if you want to know more about about it)

That hour on a Sunday in Mass (for Catholics, and let’s face it in Ireland, anything over 35mins is really considered excessive!), or the time I spend with Brigid in spiritual practice is for me essentially. It’s for me to improve my spiritual life. And that’s a worthy cause in and of itself. But one hour a week is 0.5% of your time. It’s not enough to balance out all the rest of the time.

How we live our lives is so much more important than the time we spend in ritual. Ritual is important, yes, and it has it’s place. As does learning about our deities, figuring out their role originally and how that might have developed over time. As does learning prayers and hymns and poems, or indeed creating such prayers and hymns and poems. Yes it’s hugely important.

But what effect are you having in this world? It doesn’t have to be massive. And it’s harder with paganism because frankly, get 2 pagans in a room and on any given topic, you’ll end up with at least 3 opinions in my experience. We don’t have an official universal code of ethics as succinct as the Ten Commandments (while I associate these with Catholicism, I’m almost certain they were stolen from Judaism and changed, but I’m open to correct from people better equipped to deal with it) We don’t have black-and-white answers to most things. You have to, gods forbid, think about your morals and your ethics and how you live your life.

We were never promised easy when embarking on a course of spirituality outside of mainstream religion. It means we have to decide for ourselves what our morals and ethics are. Some things seem easy – killing another human being is wrong. Sure. But what about self defence (and no, seriously, that is not any form of support for that horrific display in the States judicial system a few weeks ago!) What if you kill 1 person instead of 5? What if it’s accidentally? Taking a life should take a toll on us, but there are situations when I can see myself doing it.

Most pagans aren’t attending a ritual once a week, in the same way Catholics are meant to attend Mass once a week. Our spiritual rituals are on longer time frames usually, particularly for community based things. So, we’re probably looking at less than 5% of our time in formal spiritual engagement. If we assume most people need about 8hrs sleep a night; even if someone doesn’t have a formal paying job, they’ll have work that needs to get done that takes at least 40 hrs a week, there’s shopping and food prep and all sorts of things. Even if we’re generous and we say we spend 1hr a day on spiritual practices, that’s 4% of our lives.

The way we do the other stuff, the daily living stuff, will have way more impact in the world for most of us than that 4%. OK, if Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos suddenly decided to use their wealth to pay off all debt in the world or focus on world hunger or something as a spiritual practice, that might have a massive effective in their 1 hour a day. But most of us don’t have that influence.

Where we do have influence is in the little things. Sending a friend a hug cos they need it. Standing up, even when it’s uncomfortable when someone is being racist or sexist or transphobic or whatever. Buying someone a coffee or a meal. Making sure we source our food as ethically as we can afford and can access. (We’re blessed in Ireland with food, but there are many, many places in this world that are not in that situation as I’m well aware!) Look at the clothing we wear and how it was made/ sourced (again, affordability and accessibility).

There is no clear set of rules or limits. And sometimes, when you come from a place of privilege, someone else’s boundaries seem like gatekeeping or just being mean. Sometimes, we can’t do the right thing as we see it because of something else. But we do our best and we do better next time.

Life isn’t simple and easy. It’s messy. It’s blood and bone and hearth and home. It’s what happens to us when we’re busy making plans. It’s what seems to last forever until it doesn’t. But we’re here now in this life and it’s up to us to do our best. Some days that might mean doing a great good, healing someone, giving someone access to something that will improve their lives. Sometimes it’s deciding not to punch someone…

The rituals and the formal occasions are good and necessary and vital for community building and all the rest. But it’s the rest of the time that makes the difference.

More recovery and stuff…

Yes it is hard to keep on a blogging timetable at a time like this. My doc has me on sleeping tablets so I can try getting 8hrs sleep a night. As far as that goes, well they’re working a little too well, with it being extremely difficult to stay awake throughout the day. Now while with many of my meetings in work this might not be too much of an issue, with the drive too and from work, it could prove difficult! So hopefully I am catching up on lost sleep and will return to normal shortly.

In other news though, I am definitely feeling better. My physical recovery is coming along nicely, with me being able to walk for an hour now. It’s still very slow by my standards, but it’s an hour of walking and it feels like a milestone reached. It’s looking unlikely now that I will reach my original walking goal this year, but it will be half completed at least so that it major.

Also, in the last week, I fulfilled part of a promise I made to Brigid 3 years ago. Yeah, three years ago. But I finally fulfilled it – of course COVID had a part in it not being fulfilled, but now it finally is. And it feels good to do it. It’s personal so I won’t divulge the actual details of the promise, but it’s good to have it done. And it shows she can be patient at times. Extremely patient in this case!!

I’ve also been to the dentist for the first time in 22yrs, which was a major deal for me. I hate people touching me unless I know them, I hate people poking me, and I hate people putting things in my mouth – ye can see how I don’t like dentists right? But I did it, and 2 out of 3 appts over now. Only 3 fillings needed after 22 yrs which isn’t too bad. I’m not going to lie – it was horrible, for all the reasons I highlighted above – but it’s almost over now. Just one more appointment next week and I’m done again for a bit. Self care is not always exciting or sexy or relaxing, but being able to eat comfortably for the years I have left on this earth will make me a better tool for herself.

None of this is easy, but it’s easy for me to look back at where I was 1 month, 2 months ago and realise that things are a lot better now and I definitely needed this time to recover. She understands healing, she understands self care – probably more deeply than any of us do. And this, too, is part of the work.

When the going gets tough…

…the tough take a step back and re-evaluate what’s a priority and what’s a nice to have.

Not what you were expecting? If I’m honest, it’s not what I was expecting either. I was a fully-paid up member of the “tough get going” club for many years. And it affected a lot of things in my life. It led to injuries to my body through over training and food restriction. It led to mental health issues through ignoring the signs that things weren’t right. It led to relationship issues because, well, you just keep going, right? It’s led to my current situation where I’m off work and trying to recuperate from burnout.

So I’m changing the format. I have been trying to do everything for the last few months, from 60+ hrs a week in work, to managing a household, to maintaining physical health and nutritional intake, to keeping hydrated… it didn’t work and things slipped up. I kept my preparation for Samhain on track, which was good – I was going to say lucky, but it wasn’t luck, I made it a priority, but I kept on making work a priority as well over almost everything else. And that’s not good for me.

So I’m currently in a phase of recuperation that I can take that step back and I’m looking at what I need to do. I’m looking at the daily, weekly, monthly tactics (students of Brian Moran and Michael Lennington may recognise some of this approach) I need to implement and continue and monitor to ensure I fulfil all my obligations, including those I make to myself.

Yeah, I’m putting myself first here. I know my day job pays the bills and requires some attention, but I’ve proved in the last few weeks that when I don’t put myself first, the day job suffers as well. My primary priority at the minute is the walking thing. Since I’ve not been driving in and out to work, I’m making massive progress on the walking thing. Whereas before, I was struggling to walk 10mins without pain, now I’m up to 40 mins – albeit extremely slowly at 4kph (or 2.5mph for my non-metric readers) but it’s a damn sight more than I was doing a month ago. And it’s proven, yet again, that small daily work pays off in the long run.

Next one to tackle is sleep. I’m still sleeping a lot, but it’s not in any sort of usual pattern for me. Last night, it was well after 2am before I could get my brain to calm down and today it’s been a real struggle to stay awake at all. So, sleep hygiene is next on the list. It won’t be today, but this is things like having a bedtime ritual or routine, making the bedroom a helpful place for sleep – quiet, dark, no blue light, etc, clean and nice bed clothes – both sheets and pyjamas here, uncluttered appearance about the place. For me, my bedtime ritual always includes meditation when I’m in the groove. I recently bought the full focus journal from Michael Hyatt’s system, because while I like the idea of journaling before bed, I also like the idea of structure and being able to empty my head of things to remember/do etc, which this journal will help with I think. Have I started using it yet? Oh no, why would I do that!! To be fair to myself, a lot of the reason I’ve not started using it is a) it arrived yesterday and b) I want to look through it and link it to my planner to get the full value out of it. So in the coming days, I’ll start experimenting with it to see where and when I should use it.

Usually, I have a bit of a check in with Herself at night as well. I hesitate as usual to use the word “prayer”, but really, it kinda is. Sometimes it’s as simple as “Good night, thanks for the help today”, or “Hell, I’m dreading this thing tomorrow, can you help?” things like that. Other times it’s a more formal meditation structure, where I follow my pattern of using the visualisation of a flame to empty my thoughts and go on a small walk to talk to her. Actually the flame thing came to me originally from a work of fiction that had nothing to do with Brigid at all – Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. (yes it’s a wiki link to all of his books – they’re fantasy and not to everyone’s taste, but I grew up with them, starting to read them in 1990 and the final book was published – posthumously – in 2013) In those books, the Flame and the Void is used by men to empty their minds and focus. I’m sure it’s actually based in some martial arts technique, but since I never did martial arts, I’m not sure at all.

Either way, the sending my thoughts to the flame is a great way for me to calm my mind. The slight issue is, nothing works 100% of the time, especially when it comes to thoughts and emotions. Terrible, isn’t it? You’d think we’d come into this world with a manual to help us out with things like this. When that happens, I try to compose a prayer, usually as Gaeilge, since that takes more effort and crowds out other thoughts and then I find myself telling a story as Gaeilge either to myself or herself.

Sometimes, I just get up and read or watch telly or something because my brain just won’t shut up, and I deal with the lack of sleep the following day. Tonight, I’m aiming to get back into that ritual a bit, just a little bit. We’ll see how it goes.

Once I get sleep back on track, food will be next and then the compilation of things like spending time with husband, housework, laundry, car maintenance, etc that need to happen just for life, y’know. Then comes the spiritual stuff and how long I need to spend on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to do what needs to be done there. And then we’ll see how work fits in. My suspicion is thought, I’ll need to drastically trim back work hours to a mere 40hrs a week – you know, actually what I’m paid for – in order to fit everything else in. Cos there needs to be downtime as well, when I’m not working, either for money or for my life, when I can just relax, zone out if I wish, do nothing. We underestimate the power of doing nothing in the modern world and I think we need to reclaim it.

So my priority list (which by the way is extremely close to my overview prep for the festivals list) is:

  1. Physical
  2. Mental
  3. Spiritual
  4. Everything else

We forget when we are trying to develop spiritually that we are still physical beings, who need sleep, food, water, etc. And the body, in my worldview, is at least as important as the soul, since without the body, we don’t have any anchor for the soul in this world.

So there’s my priorities for the coming weeks. Body, mind, soul. Put myself first. Look after myself. Keep myself in as good a state of health as I can manage (always remember health will mean different things to different people!) And once everything is in place, the structures and rituals to support me to be my best me, then this tough will get going again!

Delay in blog posts

I had intended to be posting on a Sunday but I’ve missed the last two (I’m sure ye have noticed!) On Sunday 17th October, I was teaching a class on Samhain ritual with the IPS (check it out here if you’d like to take a look) This meant for most of that day I was doing the final preparations as if I were doing my own Samhain ritual. This meant cleaning and sorting out the room I was doing the teaching in – it’s not one I usually use for ritual, so it took most of the day to clean and get sorted in the way I wanted.

This included physical and energetical cleaning, as well as a de clutter and organisation theme as well. Now, on the plus side, I’m now really happy with the way the room looks and it feels better as well. On the down side, it was exhausting, especially the energetical work, since it hadn’t been done in a while. It’s usually my work-from-home office so it doesn’t get the same attention as the other areas I use for ritual work. People don’t always appreciate that there is a difference between physical and energetical cleaning. I do think physical cleaning is an essential part of energetical cleaning, but it’s not the whole thing. So, aside from the cleaning up of about 12 months worth of dust and clutter, I was also clearing out about 12 months of energetical dust and clutter as well. Hoovering out the corners, de-spidering the room, throwing out the rubbish… but it’s open and clear now.

then there was the teaching of the class and since it was ritual, it took a bit more energy than usual. It was a great class and I really enjoyed it – fair warning, there was audience participation in this one as well as my own experience! But it was fun as well and we had a great time doing it.

As a down side from that though, as part of the usual energy drop after a ritual (for me anyway) my already fragile enough mental health took a down turn and I’ve been off work for a week and likely to be so for another 2 at least. I think I mentioned going back on the anti-depressants a few weeks ago and really, I should have taken time off then, but I forced myself to struggle on. And then, it all became too much. So for the last week, I’ve been on recovery mode. I’ve been on extra meds and will be for a few more days to take the edge off. I’m out of work (it’s ok – pay won’t be affected for this, Ireland is different from the States with this, in case people were worried) and my team are being really good at not contacting me to allow me to recover.

But it’s meant that the blog was one of the things that fell off the radar. The things that have made it onto the list of “shit I care about right now” has mostly included food, sleep, personal hygiene. And even they’ve been a struggle some days. This all means I need to take another look at that self care thing the Morrigan was charging me with earlier in my Samhain preparation. (Cos I will be doing my own ritual next Sunday, 31st October, so my prep is continuing). I’m also getting messages similar to “well if you won’t make the effort to look after yourself, we will make it so you have to”. It’s not that clear of course, but that’s the general feeling.

So, sometime before next Sunday, I will need to be spending a day or so cleaning out my usual ritual site in the same way I did this room last week. I also need to make sure I have the energy and will to do the ritual in the way I want to do it and maybe break it up if I need to. Sending myself back into crisis mode would not be helpful for anyone right now. And my doctor keeps telling me I need to be selfish now and look after myself first… this is not something that comes naturally to me. In fact, ignoring my physical and mental and emotional needs comes way more easily and familiarly to me. But here we are. I’m under both medical and deity orders to look after myself. And if that means breaking up my Samhain ritual into manageable bits, that’s what I’ll do.

There’s also been a lot of interest in my preparation for Samhain posts, so I’m thinking of running a 3 month preparation for Imbolc course as well. If you’re interested, please let me know! I’m thinking of taking a small group of people through the exercises and other stuff I do for preparation for the festival, and with it being Imbolc next, people won’t be surprised to hear it’s the one I put most effort into and it’s slightly different to the rest of the festivals – far more focused on Brigid for a start! So do leave a comment or drop me a line if you would be interested in that.

For now, I’m looking at something small I can do right now for me. (It’s lunch. Or possibly brunch – breakfast didn’t happen this morning) Then I’ll look at showering and dressing. In something fun for me rather than something purely practical. And then I may curl up with a film or something comfy on the couch and rest. Because, sometimes, rest is as important a part of spiritual work as anything else. Maybe if I say that to myself often enough, I might start believing it at a body level rather than at a mental level!

Preparation – the joy of music

Last Thursday morning, I wrote a comment about using Alice Cooper’s Poison in a cleansing ritual. I think it says a lot about the membership of that particular group that really the only comment was saying it was a great song! But it is part of my ongoing preparation for Samhain.

The chorus, in case you’re not an aficionado of the popular rock of the late 80’s, goes like this:

I wanna love you, but I better not touch (don’t touch)
I wanna hold you, but my senses tell me to stop
I wanna kiss you, but I want it too much (too much)
I wanna taste you, but your lips are venomous poison
You’re poison running through my veins
You’re poison
I don’t wanna break these chains

I know, it’s a strange one to be thinking of cleansing, but hey, the song to me speaks to the things I know don’t help me, aren’t nurturing, whether they be old attitudes I want to change, old habits I want to shed, whatever… (OK it doesn’t hurt that this song really does get that tingle going low down in my belly, but that’s not what it was used for last Thursday! Husband wasn’t awake early enough…)

The lyrics call to me of the siren song many things have or have had for me in my life. I can call out many habits or behaviours that just plain weren’t good for me, in a holistic fashion, but at the time, I wanted them, badly. I knew they were the poison of the song, but they worked and so I wanted them and even my saying I wanted to separate from them or give them up or stop the behaviour was half hearted at best. Brigid has been happy enough with my progress on these things to date, I think primarily because none of what’s left is affecting my ability to do the work she needs doing. I’m finding the Morrigan takes a different view. It’s kinda like a stern beloved teacher holding up a mirror and saying “Is this what you want your life to be? Cos you can be better!”

And yes, this came out of the mirror exercise I spoke of last week. I can look myself in the eyes these days, but I had still be skirting over patterns of behaviour that are residues rather than bedrocks of unhelpful habits. I won’t go into detail here, but my actions and behaviour are still being limited by past actions and behaviour. Some of those can be fixed and adjusted. Some… maybe not.

But “maybe not” is no longer a reason not to try. And some of this is limiting my life and causing me issues right now, so there’s no good reason not to change things. Spiritually, I’m not in a bad place. Mentally – not so good. Physically – really not good. So part of the next steps in preparation are to keep going with the cleansing and the spiritual spiral I’m on, but also to look at physical what I need to do and how I can improve things for myself.

It’s 4 weeks away now, since the 1st October was on Friday, and there is, of course, a limit to how much I can achieve in that time, but again, I was reminded that just because I may not reach the end goal, is no reason not to take the first step along the path. I won’t be any worse off than I am now!

And this is part of my reaction to the Poison song as well. I used to drive myself into extreme pain as a coping mechanism for some shite I was dealing with, and now I try to avoid that sort of pain as much as possible. But there’s a healthy balance to strike here with aches and pains. Extreme pain – no. Aches – probably yes. Tired muscles don’t feel great, but then, they don’t feel great anyway right now. So, improvement in 4 weeks is the way to go.

You know, people think this spirituality stuff is all meditation and raising vibrations and all that – no one ever mentions the endless physio exercises or drudgery of walking X amount per day or the scrubbing floors or the ruthless pruning of waste from your life… I wonder that is???

Festival preparation – inner journeys

Usually my preparation for festivals includes a lot of physical, outside-of-the-self preparation. Certainly at the start of the preparation anyway. I’ve spoken before about cleaning the house, clearing out the cobwebs, energising the corners, eliminating clutter, that sort of thing.

This year my spiral, for my preparation is usually a spiral, for Samhain appears to be taking a different turn. I’m having to focus on both the inner work of developing a relationship with the Morrigan and the outer work of tending to a community. It’s a difficult balance to hold and it’s not made easier by a demanding day job and a husband with health difficulties. But it needs to be done.

I wrote a few months ago about restarting my meditation practice. I have the night time meditation fairly well settled now, Sunday to Thursday and the morning practice settled Monday to Friday. (as an aside, I’ll be putting a link up soon for those that want a voice recording of the meditation I use most often in the morning). But I find as Samhain approaches, the meditation is changing. I’m developing a relationship with the Morrigan, since they are the deity I most associate with Samhain, the beginning of the dark half of the year.

This time of year is significant for prepping the ground for growth, for planting the seeds that need the winter for germination or growing in the dark, even if there are no obvious changes from the outside. I have a feeling my inner life is going to be going through a similar journey this year. There are times these premonitions are welcome – I’m not entirely sure this is one of them! Still, it can’t be any worse than Brigid’s anvil right? (Just as an FYI, tempting the gods like that is usually not sensible!)

So I’m using my usual meditation in the morning and Brigid is bring in the Morrigan to that time. We’re kinda like a Victorian couple getting to know each other under Mama’s watchful eye right now… but no doubt that will change. I’m not going for an apprenticeship, I’m unlikely to be loaned out to the Morrigan, this is more about manners than anything else. If I’m going to have a chat with her during a ritual on Samhain, then I’d best put in the work first.

One of the things I usually look at for Samhain is how easily I’m able to look myself in the face, look myself in the mirror. It’s a question of how honest I’m being with myself, even if with no one else. This year, that looking is happening at a deeper level than I realised and it’s looking back past my living memory. It’s tough, I can’t deny it, there are recurring images that I need to deal with, it seems, and that’s not easy even when it’s this life we’re dealing with.

But it is a simple enough exercise to work through yourself, if you want to? I find it useful to find out how easily I can look myself in the face in general, and it’s amazing the things that come up when I do. As I said, it’s simple, although read through it before you commit to it – you may not be comfortable doing it or it may push through memories or past trauma that you’re not in a place to deal with.

Sit down, or stand up in front of a mirror. Look into your own eyes. See what comes up. Usually helps to write it down, along with any thoughts or feelings that come up as well.

That’s it.

And yet, for many years, this was incredibly difficult for me to do. Depending on how bare or deep I need to look, I will sometimes do this as part of a ritual, or naked, or as part of a cleansing. But the core of it, the looking into my own eyes, is the important bit.

I would warn you, though, to set an alarm when doing this, since it can be easy to get lost in oneself as well and that’s not really good either! You can do it lying down, but I found it way too easy to sleep doing it that way, so I avoid it. In saying that, these days, I feel so tired, I sometimes think I’ll fall asleep standing up as well, so maybe it’s not the practice but the tiredness! 🙂

As I said, getting to know the Morrigan this year appears to be making changes to the things I’m perceiving about myself, the things I need to do to prepare for this journey at Samhain. I’m being asked to cross lines I never though I’d cross within myself and it’s challenging. But I’m still here, I’m still carrying on.

And no, this is still a Brigid blog, don’t worry and she’s my Main Person, so to speak, but Samhain isn’t her thing as such. I’ve no doubt she’ll turn up for the feast and be looking at the ancestors and all that, but her big day is after this, when the days are lengthening again, rather than shortening and the attention, the light, the ways are coming back to equal rather than the extremes of Samhain and Bealtaine. But I’ll also pay the Morrigan their due.

I might talk more about the spiral next week, but I’d love to hear how you get on if you try the mirror exercise. I would advise doing it straight, as in without ritual, first, just to get used to it…

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