So the wheel turns again, and we are back to Spring Equinox, every facebook post from my pagan friends is a lovely bright image, full of flowers and hares, and uplifting words, usually I see the same ones doing the rounds (with one notable exception, I must ask her where she finds them!) and they all give the same message; Rebirth, Renewal, Returning warmth and light, the Goddess has fully returned from her time in the Underworld, and new life blooms around her. The images conjure up a vision of bright newness and you can almost smell the flower’s delicate scent – it’s a heady mix isn’t it….
Except when it isn’t. Except when you’re ‘not feeling it’ nor, possibly, have you felt it in quite some time. Then it’s just another Sabbat that you aren’t feeling as connected to as you want to, or you’re missing your group because yet again, life has got in the way and you’ve had to cancel, or you are a solitary and keep thinking it must be nice to have someone to share the celebration with. Sometimes all those facebook posts just leave you feeling more isolated and alone.
The thing is, we often feel overwhelmed and unhappy with life, all of us,. It seems to me, from observation and from recent comments from work colleagues, that the pace of life is getting more frenetic, the rising cost of living combined with employers expecting us to work all hours for less money means we have even less time to devote to our families, let alone things of a spiritual nature.
For myself, a key collegue has taken retirement, and I really don’t blame him. He has a lovely wife who is suffering dementia, a lovely family with two grandchildren that he dotes on, and very tellingly his post on facebook said ‘now it’s ME time, time for MY FAMILY and MY Life’ – doesn’t that right there tell you a lot? His gain however is going to mean heavier workload for me.
I see posts from people on the Path who are not feeling as connected as they want to, from people who are searching spiritually for something but are not finding it, who are feeling completely isolated and, worse, insulated from their connection to the earth, and to their spiritual paths. They are faltering, wondering if it’s right for them after all, seeking in the dark, and finding very little. Know what I reckon a lot of it is?
Stress. That one single word we all know about, we hear it during every celebrity led campaign online or on the tv, but here’s the thing it’s usually something happening to Someone Else, somewhere away from us, never do we realise when we, ourselves, are going through merry hell and not realising exactly what a toll it is taking.
The dictionary definition of stress is this
a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances:
That pretty much sounds like everyday life for everyone doesn’t it? It’s true that a certain amount of stress is necessary for living, it gives us motivation and incentive, but too much of it…too much, especially if combined with a lack of sleep (which the condition leads to anyway because even if our bodies are still, our minds are whirling at a thousand miles an hour and nothing is restful) can be a very bad combination. It can affect both our mental and physical health. Sometimes very severely.
The world is waking up to how dangerous Stress can be, but somehow those of us too busy trying to make ends meet, agree, that it’s a terrible thing, but it’s happening to Someone Else, not us, because we’re FINE. (dammit) and we don’t have time to stop.
I call it ‘getting locked in your brain’ thoughts go round and round inside your head, and soon you’re feeling miserable, then you start the blame game. You’re overwhelmed and it’s All Their Fault, and then you feel awful because you MUST be an appalling person because you just thought that-awful-thought! and I’m sure many out there are resonating with that, especially those who have a solitary sort of life for whatever reason. It gets to the stage where you fear talking to people because you’ve forgotten the basic ability to communicate, and what’s more that communication break down extends as far as communicating with your own body, your own needs and your own mind.
This bit’s important – you’re HUMAN, and you’re not perfect, and you know what? That’s absolutely fine, because even with all that stress you’re under you’re still YOU, and you still matter, and you have family that loves you. Got that? Remember it. We’ll come back to it shortly.
The Spring Equinox, like the Autumn one, is the time when night and day are of equal length, right along with the bright flowers and the happy hares leaping all over, and the impossibly long and tangled haired Maidens (and I swear mine’s long and never yet have I managed to get leaves to artfully hang in any of it, try that and someone asks if I had a row with a hedge!) I love those posts! but there’s a deeper message, a deeper resonance with this Sabbat. During the Autumn Equinox the focus is about the oncoming dark time, which can either be seen as a time of rest and recuparation, OR it can be seen as a descent into the Darkness. Winter is a hard time for all, even with the conveniences of modern life, everything is just more difficult. Especially for those who are struggling with health or money issues. The gorgeous snow that we had makes life hard for many and the lack of sunshine also takes it’s toll. It is no wonder that many people feel exhausted and unable to cope by the end of it! Autumn Equinox is a time when the emphasis is on the natural dark time of the year is on the rise, and indeed the Dark is a place where we can get lost. If we fall into a certain frame of mind.
Spring Equinox is that moment when this darker period is finally banished, the balance between the Dark and Light is a reminder that you can’t have one without the other, because nature holds both within her, but Spring is the promise that the Light is returning, that new life is appearing, the warmth is returning and life begins again. Read that part again, LIFE begins again. LIFE – you know, that thing you used to enjoy?
and you will again.
Now we’ll take another word that doesn’t get so much attention but also plays a big part in mental health, Perfection. We are constantly bombarded daily with glossy advertisements for how our lives should look, from the car we ought to be driving to the clothes we ought to be wearing over the body that ought to look like the celebrity of the week. You know what? Bollox! (my apologies to those now hitting the ‘back’ button, I couldn’t find a stronger word….) in our minds we have this vision of how we feel we ought to be. When things are going well and we’re feeling in control, the setbacks don’t seem to matter. We can rationalise them with a balanced view, if something didn’t go right, so what, we’ll do better next time. For those who are struggling tho, that setback feels insurmountable, this didn’t work so of Course we are a terrible person and have no right to be trying to do any of this, we should crawl back into our hole and allow the world to pass us by. Something goes wrong with the family, and immediately we are bad parents, or we can’t do our planned full Sabbat ritual and therefore we are also terrible pagans and, and and…
It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy too, we are so het up about getting things ‘right’ that the nerves kick in so badly, or some small thing seems so utterly terrible that what little confidence we had is shattered, again.
Quite a lot of this is because we can’t match up to our self imposed vision of the perfectionsim we think we have to achieve. Our parenting skills should be second to none, our Spiritual path should be infused with incense and candles with every Ritual attaining the spiritual highs and, yup, you guessed it, perfection.
Those who are feeling disconnected are often in such a daily rush to get everything they need to do finished that they don’t have ‘time’ to do the things necessary to keep themselves mentally healthy. Everything is a chore and anything else added to it becomes just another chore that ‘has’ to be done, and in the great scheme of things and our culture of everything coming before Us, be that work or family, ‘we’ are normally last on the list to get the things that we need. Furthermore what goes first is our Spirituality, we can’t feel anything anyway, so why bother?
Now, since you’re here and reading this blog, (for which, thank you) I can assume that you have either had a few stirrings of a pagan feeling, a connection to what is Out There and Within at the same time? Try to think back and remember what it was that drew you? was it the sense of Mystery, the knowledge, that wasn’t knowledge but more of a feeling? something undefined was calling you? The magic of the moonlit night? Whatever it was, it’s STILL THERE.
When we get stressed we become disconnected, we become so internalised that there is no room for anything outside of our immediate, desperate need to get our allotted tasks done, the desperate scrabble to reach the end of the day when we can snatch a few minutes with the family before falling, exhausted, into bed, where even if we sleep, we will wake feeling just as tired as we started. We become sometimes cross, sometimes agressive, sometimes weepy, and sometimes all three often at once! We may even start lashing out at those who mean the most to us. The very nature of this turmoil separates us from that still, central focal point of Us, we can’t possibly connect because we not only don’t have time, but our emotions, nerves and feelings are all so het up that the very ability to look within is lost to all the nervous emotional energy and circling thoughts. It does not mean that connection is lost, only our ability focus on it and connect and work with it. We maybe try it once, it doesn’t work because we are perfectionists and it didn’t work perfectly immediately, so we didn’t try again.
So what can we do.
The NHS lists many things that we can do to help our stress levels.
Lets go through them one by one from the point of view of a pagan – of any flavour 🙂
1 – Be Active – Exercise releases natural chemicals into the brain that help us deal with stress, and allow some respite from the unrelenting worry, running around all day after other people does NOT count as exercise! 🙂 at least not in the same way. Part of the exercise is the mental relaxation along with the physical exertion. Remember the chant ‘earth my body, water my blood, air my breath and fire my Spirit’ all encompassing the whole? Think of that, each element is held in balance with all the others, and your physical body needs to resonate in balance with your mental health and your Spritual health. Anything you can do to address an imbalance with the three can be seen as a spiritual act of kindness towards ourselves. It doesn’t have to be elaborate exercise, anthing we can do that moves our body, dance, walk, cycle, if you’re lucky, ride the horse, gets us moving, gets that blood moving, and that will begin to rebalance our physical and mental bodies. Here’s an article that details it from a scientific point of view.
2 – Take Control – this means not giving up, not thinking that nothing can be done to change the situation and therefore you’re stuck, forever. That’s not the truth of the matter, that’s the stress talking! Taking control is a form of saying ‘No’ to the Universe, No I am worth more than This, No! I am a Son or Daughter of the Dieties, I will not suffer in silence any more. It is standing in our Power. Remember the mental control required in magical work? there is no difference here, taking control in difficult situations can be a magical act in itself. Look deeply at your situation (possibly after some exericise!) and look at ways that little things can change, can someone help you with your tasks? can someone else take any of your workload (because if you go under they’ll have to anyway…) Can you negotiate different hours? move some tasks to other days? Do what you can, even a little control is a huge step.
3 – Connect with People – be that family, friends, spiritual group, coven, grove or just the Witch down the road. and TALK. The more you bottle things up, the worse it gets, and the more difficult it is to talk, it’s a vicious Circle of the type we don’t want! (coz within paganism generally Circle’s are good) No matter how much you feel you can’t possibly tell anyone how you’re feeling, I can assure you they want to know. Family comes first of course, and you may have unknowingly been impossible to live with recently. Tell them what’s going on. if you’re a member of a magical group, presumably you’re there because you felt drawn, and they have experience of issues like this and can make suggestions that are unique to you. Go out and enjoy time with friends, even if you have to ring one and apologise for not having been in contact – if they’re good friends they’ll understand – the best ones insult you then turn up with chocolate and a pep talk – alsu usualy insulting (british humour for those who are reading this and going – what?) The main thing is to connect, to get out of your head, think about something else for a time.
4 – Have some Me time – easier said than done, but again if you really go under then you’re going to need far more Me time. Do something each day for YOU. From a pagan point of view even five minutes spent meditating, communing, using the Tarot, chatting on an online pagan forum, that is time for You, I find even the lighting of a candle begins to move me to that ‘otherness’ that we strive for. Don’t expect too much, you’ve been fighting this tide for far too long, start small. If you write, write how you’re feeling (you never have to show it to anyone) if you draw, create something that indicates how you feel. Read a book or watch a vlog, listen to a pagan podcast. Do something that recoonects you with your path. Again, the balance of mental health, physical health, and Spiritual health is crucial, and anything that begins the healing of these is a good thing.
5 – Challenge Yourself – new goals give us new focus and something to think about besides how bad things are perceived to be. Perhaps get that tarot pack you’ve been eyeing up, learn to use it. Revisit any courses you have been on before, learn a new technique, try a new meditation. The list is endless. Or of course do something entirely mundane – everything here still counts towards your spiritual, physical and mental health. Once you regain your balance things WILL improve.
6 – Avoid Unhealthy Habits – the site lists such things as alcohol, smoking and caffeine. which may or may not apply to you, but there are many other unhealthy habits, too much junk food? staying up waaaay to late <ignore my guilty look here….> letting the things we want to do slide because we don’t have time to do them justice. which inevitably leads to a bigger job later on. Try and make one healthy change to your daily life each week. Again this is work on the spiritual because it will balance out our bodies in a holistic way. It is work on the physical because our health is crucial, and it is work on our mental health because so often our lifestyles are what is causing the issues in the first place.
7 – Help Other People – This gets us outside our own insulated brain and thinking about others, which helps with the connection. There are plenty of pagan groups out there crying out for volunteers, or even just attend something in your local area and help out there. (I used to wash up the tea cups at the Moot – coz, you know, better at writing than talking lol!) Do something for a work colleague or friend. It’s breaking that habit of internalising and communicating again. Personally, I’ve been involved in the stone painting craze that’s gripping much of the world at the moment, paint a stone, hide it and bring a smile to a random persons face. No obligations, just doing something nice for a random stranger.
8 – Work smarter not harder – The site says prioritise what needs to be done and leave the less important things to last. This is crucial since it’s often work that we struggle with most. Prioritise tasks, try new ways to see if you can streamline things, change things around if you can. Pre plan meals so you’re not trying to fit cooking (or worse, takeaway because you’ve no energy left for cooking) into an already bursting schedule. Ask friends or relatives to take the kids, or ask them to help out in some other way so you can spend some quality time with your children and other half. The Work-Life balance is crucial. Even if things seem insurmountable, try to find ways to change the situation you are in.
9 – Try to Be Positive – Love ‘n’ Light anyone? The serious side to this is that a postive mental outlook can really work wonders BUT if you have already lost that it’s incredibly difficult to get it back. Try to make a concious effort to turn the thoughts you are having around, if necessary, seek medical help. If things are really bad and you can’t do this alone there is no point in suffering on when perhaps a visit to the doc or a counselling session will help. We are not actually meant to be martyrs, we just seem to like it! Combined with the other suggestions I personally feel that this is one of the more difficult things to do, and again, talk, let others lead you to that postive outlook if you can’t get there on your own. Whoever can help you with whatever situation, seek them out. Once you have a few of the more frightening obstacles you feel are in front of you knocked down by common sense or a determined HPS/HP you will find that it’s easier to knock the rest down yourself. Start aiming!
10 – Accept the things you can’t change (but run them past the other bullet points first!) if things are going bad, let it happen, let it all fall as it’s not always healthy for one person to be trying to stop the tide. A wise person said to me not so long ago ‘let go of the steering wheel’ – I think completely unaware of my job (driving – and tell that to the insurance company) I thought deeply about it for several weeks and she was right. We, well I, have a tendency to try and control every aspect of my work and home life, many of us do. Sometimes it isn’t healthy to either be the one everyone relies on, or the one who always does the organising, or even the one who picks up the pieces. Delegate, communicate, accept.
I’m going to add 11 here – GET SOME REST. I joke that I’m the queen of sleep deprivation as a lifestyle, but it does have a very serious side, absolutely any little nagging doubt or issue is magnified sevenfold (not even threefold…….. may even go up as far as nine..) if we are exhausted all the time. GET SOME REST. Try it,
What brought this post on? Lots of things, seriously, I’m fine, but what really helped me, believe it or not, was a hefty dose of a particularly vicious flu. I have heard (from every source available, apparently I missed it at Yule) it’s doing the rounds and both partner and I got it at the same time. Enforced rest, I even had to get signed off work! This is only the second time in twenty years. I literally could not do anything at all besides sleep, nibble food (which I couldn’t taste) and sleep some more. I came back feeling better than I had in years. Which IMO says a lot. So there you have it, some long and rambling advice. Remember, the Equinoxes often have a way of bringing issues into focus, because nature abhors a vacuum and there needs to be a balance. Seek out that balance in your own lives. Do what you can for yourself and for others. Seek your way, and follow the path that draws you to it. However difficult that path may be, wherever it leads you, if it meant something to you once, it will do again, Any small step along it, is progress.