Column: Spiritual Decluttering

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This has been a really rough summer for many people around me, and for my own family. As we approach Labor Day, the start of September, the peak of what should be a festive holiday weekend, I find my heart and thoughts turning to tuning out pain. There has been so much of it, from natural disasters to political fireworks to unifying eclipses. We’re on a wild roller coaster with no brake sand it seems, no way to get off.  So we default to what we know: we multitask. We busy ourselves. At this time, during Mercury retrograde, I thought about the craziness during a workplace drill.

This was a type of drill that might not have happened or even needed to have happen a decade or even two decades ago on a consistent basis: the violent intruder drill. What would you do if some individual came into your work space to do harm with weapons, or even to take hostages for some reason? You can flee. You can stay. You can attack.

For our drill, we practiced the second option. We hide in our work spaces with the doors locked and  the lights out. If you are lucky enough to have windows, the blinds are closed. No one moves. You hear the sound of your colleagues breathing. You smell what they had for lunch. You experience silence.

Astronomical clock in Prague [Anthony Dodd].

In the darkness, stillness can be hard when you are not used to it. It gives you time to breathe, to communicate with the gods, and to be. We are human beings who occasionally need to stop.

As we took this drill, I considered how multitasking and the speed of doing things affects not just the mundane, but the spiritual.  Retrograde periods are good for reflection, just as drills in silence are an unfortunate and necessary reminder of how we instinctively hope to act in an actual emergency situation. We practice what we do not do often, to allow it to sink in when we need it most.

Likewise, we spiritually need to pause and look at what matters to us on a spiritual level. Consider it spiritual decluttering to wash away the detritus that can seep into the cracks and pores of our selves. Some embrace this process as a part of a specific spiritual path on a regular basis. Others may want to do this, but life gets in the way.

While this is an individual choice, here are some things that I found in my own search during that 15-minute drill.

Five minutes: have I taken the time to say good morning to myself, to whatever deities I worship, and to my body? Have I acknowledged the earth by standing firm with my feet planted on the floor or ground? Have I filled my lungs with air in gratitude for the ability to do so in greeting? Have I splashed water on my face and hands to welcome the morning? Have I taken in or visualized fire, by turning on a stove and cooking a meal, seeing the sunlight streaming through a window, or lighting a candle?

Five minutes: have I overextended myself and my time? Do I have so many commitments that I am not even sure what day of the week it is when I get up in the morning? If I have children, a partner, a circle of friends, a loving family, have I stopped to appreciate who they are as individuals and what they mean to me? Have I considered who matters in my life and why?

Five minutes: beyond labels, have I looked at what makes me the self that I am? It is easy to get stuck in the labels of partner, mother, daughter, spouse, coworker, priestess, minister, member of a religious group, member of a larger community, neighbor, friend, craft-worker, writer, traveler, adventurer, and caregiver. Yet, the essence of a person is not by labels, but too often labels are used as a convenient way to categorize the self or those around us.

For some, a label provides comfort and definition. If that works, great. In the rush of the cosmic chaos and rebalancing that has been the most recent months this year, labels are safe. Labels are secure. Labels mean not taking the risk of exploring the self. In times of uncertainty, it helps to keep what is known, what is familiar, and what is guaranteed. In the age of social media, public shaming and outing has reached larger proportions. The world can know who you are as you are labeled in seconds or minutes. A few clicks of the keys can reveal your mask to the world: group affiliations, professional connections, political preferences, and even musical likes. Click to label and keep those who fit. Click to label and discard those who don’t.

Five minutes to stir under the mask, to remove the labels, to scrape away the remains from craziness and a hectic life is not much, or is it? When you are so busy that you can’t find the time for a shower, or a meal, five minutes to yourself may seem like paradise.

Maybe your five minutes is in the bathroom, or at 4 a.m. before everyone else is up, or in the parking lot before or after dashing into work. Maybe your five minutes is when your child is sleeping or while you are waiting in a doctor’s office or clinic.

In our busy world with hectic schedules, multitasking is common. Holidays or vacations are a great time to look, to connect, and to look again. We rest, we play, we rediscover who we are. Our spiritual lives do not have to be casualties of busy lifestyles. When I think of starting out in my current tradition, I can’t remember when I slept. Every day was a new beginning, every week was a ritual or a group activity, every Monday meant a new week with new opportunities to be present and refreshed. I was fully and completely focused on the spiritual, letting it flow into and embrace what I thought was my actual life, the mundane portion. In building devotion to the tradition, a side effect became increasing focus on the merging of all aspects of the self, rather than compartmentalizing the self. Finding five minute was not a problem.

The new tradition becomes the routine, and the spiritual high dissolves into the ordinary normal. Life speeds up and forgetfulness can creep in on occasion. It is not deliberate and it can happen to anyone.

At times, I forget and for that, I am sincerely grateful for these retrograde periods. Like the workplace drill, using the retrograde period to merge and purge can bring joy and peace. When we embrace a Pagan path, we make choices on a regular basis to live within our ethical, moral, and religious values. This is especially true for those who are solitary.  Our spiritual lives do not have to be casualties of our societal fast pace unless that is what we choose.

Just as you can see many websites, books, and social media pages on decluttering our physical space, there are as many ways to declutter the spiritual space.

How often do we ask about what we absolutely need to maintain spiritual vitality in our lives? If we are not going to live on a mountain, in the woods, desert, or on an island, then we will need to create our own list or groupings about what matters most. Even living in a remote area is no guarantee that effort will not need to be made. We don’t need to find physical isolation or to win the lottery to afford a good spiritual life.

[Alane Brown]

Is our ritual experience everything we want it to be? Are we just going through the motions or are we coming out renewed and on fire? If ritual has gotten repetitive, boring, or required, then ask why. This is where being solitary can help: if you are the only one doing everything, then you can more easily change what is before you. You can look at your magical journal, your record of past rituals and their after effects and figure out what is different. Being a member of a group is helpful as well: there is nearly always someone who is in the cycle of cleansing, renewal, and rediscovery who has an ear to listen.  Sometimes you will be that ear for someone else; sometimes you seek others as a sounding board.

Have we learned anything new? Books are great, but what about the experience with the gods themselves? Have we explored new divination methods? Is there something that we have forgotten from the past that we are now ready to try that we would never have done a year or a decade ago?

Are we still holding onto practices, books, or ritual items that no longer are useful to our new or current direction? Perhaps a good cleansing and subsequent donation will help pass on what we no longer need to those who can use them now.

Have we shared what we love and what we know with others? Picnics and family gatherings are fun times to make and share memories. Time with one’s community can mean giving to new arrivals or initiates what they can use now and pass on later when they feel ready.

Terracotta figurine of a mask of Dionysos [public domain].

During this holiday weekend, my personal goals are to recycle some books, to review what matters, and to renew my commitments. I give back or toss away negative thoughts and goals. I remove what no longer suits the space or life that I wish to live. I stand in truth and honesty with the labels others have given me or ones that I have given myself. Do they still fit? Do they matter?

Finally, I work with my gods to renew my devotion, worship, service, and love for who I am with them and what I do because of them.

In the end, that was a pretty profitable workplace drill, and it only took fifteen minutes.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.