Re-framing the Enemy

There’s no way to sugarcoat it; I can be pretty judgmental. It started as a defense mechanism. I mean, if I was vehemently vocal about not liking the popular kids in school, I couldn’t be upset when they didn’t like me. Since my inclination towards judgment has been with me for so long, it’s taking more time to overcome than I would like.

One of my current struggles is my tendency to label anyone who is hard of me as “the enemy.” Unless someone is a close friend, my knee-jerk reaction is to label any criticism as disrespect. It wasn’t until recently that I noticed that by labeling people who may have well-intentioned concerns as an adversary was, in turn, labeling myself as a victim. Having experienced and overcome a lot of adversity in my life, viewing myself as a victim is something that I cannot allow. To overcome this, I’ve begun consciously to reframe other people in my mind, despite my tendency to see the worst in them.

One area of my life that I get a lot of practice with this in with curling. I joined my local curling club last year with a friend, and it was a blast. Last year, we were assigned to a team with two experienced players. At first, I was afraid that they would hate having two newbies on their team, but they just wanted to have fun. Tim, the skip (captain) of the team was focused on making it fun for me as a new curler while teaching me the basics of the game. We lost, a lot. Tim didn’t care, as long as I was having fun and improving, he considered every game a win.

The season ended and I spent the next six months excited to register for the next session. My friend and I registered and were placed with another pair of experienced curlers. Through the grapevine, I heard that John, our new skip, had been curling since college. Now in his sixties, John has a lifetime of curling experience he could share with me. I also heard that John could be a bit aggressive. This made me nervous, but I was still excited to learn from him.

During our first game, I learned that aggressive was a bit of an understatement. I overthrew my first shot, and it went through the house and out of play. “You haven’t thrown a rock in six months. This is fine” I said to myself. Then I looked up and saw John throw his broom to the ground.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” John screamed. I looked at my friend, and he shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. John’s behavior during our games continued, but he was personable and offered corrections afterward. After the first few weeks, John’s outrageous behavior during the game was too much. Not only did I not care how I performed, but the thought of walking into the curling club gave me anxiety.

In my mind, John was a hothead who had nothing else in his life aside from curling. Why else would he be such a tyrant? Despite my desire to quit, I decided to stick it out since I committed to my team, but I decided that I did not want to speak to John anymore. Even during the traditional handshake before the game, I answered John’s “Good curling” with silence. As soon as the game was over, I would buy my counterpart on the other team a beer (as tradition dictates) and say my goodbyes.

During our last game, the other team placed a stone in the center of the house, right behind one of our guard stones. John called for me to curl behind the guard stone and take the other’s teams stone out of play. This is a difficult shot, and honestly, I don’t think John expected me to make it. I lined up, took my shot, and watched as it gracefully curved around the guard and hit the other stone with enough force to take it out of play.

“Wooooooooo” screamed John as he pumped a fist in the air. Confused I looked at my friend who was also celebrating my shot. My friend made me stay for drinks after the game.
While we were sitting there, John commented on my shot. He said, “You should curl like that all the time. You get so in your head, and you fuck up your shot. Just calm down and do it. It should be muscle memory.”

Was this a pep talk? From the asshole? I was confused. That’s when the lightbulb clicked. Just because someone wants and expects you to do better, even if they communicate it poorly, doesn’t make them a bad person.

Is John aggressive? Sure. Is he a hothead? Of course. Is winning important to him? Definitely. Does any of this make him evil? No way. He just works differently than I do. In fact, I would never have made that shot last year. John’s approach made me a better curler, in spite of my best efforts to ignore him.

This experience has made me reframe other people I’ve disregarded as “the enemy.” My coworker who thinks my training could improve with more role-playing, she just wants the best for our new hires. The guy at the gym who wants to give me unsolicited advice on how to improve my workout is just trying to help me get the most from my workout. My friend who tries to reason with me that the original Grease is better than Grease 2 is still an unrefined monster. I guess it’s a work in progress.

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Paranormal Activity

After a string of bad roommates, I ultimately decided that I wanted a place of my own. I found a three-bedroom house complete with a two-car garage, full basement, and big backyard. Sure, it was about twenty miles outside of the city, but that meant that friends couldn’t drop in without calling me first. Side note – guys, don’t do this. Call your friends before you show up! I moved in, and everything was great. Try as I might, I started noticing things that I couldn’t explain.

Like any good horror movie, it started with my dog. Sophie is a Lhasa Apso but thinks she’s a Doberman.  When she hears a noise, she goes to investigate. Early one morning, she woke with up growling and immediately headed out of the room. I got up to follow her and found her at the top of the basement steps. That’s when I heard the distinct sound of footsteps coming from the basement. Suspecting a burglar, I grabbed the poker from the fireplace and headed downstairs (like an idiot). I flipped on the lights, ready to attack (or more accurately, ready to scream and surrender) and found that the room was empty. I looked in the laundry room, bathroom, and the closet. Hell, I even looked behind furniture. There was no one else in my house. I repeated this ritual almost nightly until I explained it away as the house settling.

A few months passed with no developments. One Sunday afternoon, I was downstairs doing laundry. Tired of walking up and down the stairs, I decided to hang out on the couch outside the laundry room and watch some TV between loads. I was exhausted from being out too late the previous night and laid down on the couch. A few hours later, I woke up on the couch. I threw the blanket off of me and began to fold the laundry in the dryer. That’s when it hit me. I didn’t have a blanket when I went to sleep. I walked back out the couch and noticed that it was the blanket I keep in my upstairs guest room. I explained it as a sleepwalking episode, even though I’ve never sleepwalked before. Additionally, why would I go into my guest room when I only ever go in there to get it ready for a guest. I decided the rest of the laundry could wait until another time since it was beginning to get dark outside.

The basement continued to be the center of activity. I always leave the laundry room door open. The door is heavy and old, so it naturally stays wide open and is hard to latch. Plus, I’m usually carrying a laundry basket in my hand, so I don’t have a free hand to close it. I would go downstairs to do laundry and routinely find the door closed. I thought maybe I was being absent minded and closing it when I left without a basket in my hand, so I left a post-it reading “DON’T CLOSE THE DOOR” on the washer to remind me not to close the door. Despite this, I kept finding the door closed.

What finally convinced me was a friend having an experience in (you guessed it) my basement. The entrance from my garage opens into my basement. We walked in to pick up a bottle of wine to take to a party, and she came in to check out a painting I was working on. She took off her coat and threw it on the couch. While she was looking at the painting, she heard a voice behind her and turned to find her coat draped over the back of a chair, rather than crumpled on the couch where she left it. When I came back downstairs, she was sitting in my car.  When she recounted her story, I laughed and immediately exclaimed “I knew I wasn’t that crazy!”

When I tell these stories, I usually get asked two questions. The first is “why don’t you move?” The second is “what don’t you do something to get rid of the ghost?” My answer to either question is always the same. I don’t feel unsafe in my home. Based on my experiences, I think that the spirit is that of an older woman who has a motherly energy to her. She has never done anything harmful; she just wants her space to be clean and in order. I can live with that. Even so, I had to set some ground rules.

When I finally admitted that I might have a ghost, I had a conversation with it. I went to the basement with a few cups of tea and sat on the couch. I said “You are free to stay, but there’s a few things I need from you. Please don’t scare my animals or my guests. If any of us walk into a room, please keep your distance. With that being said, if someone else is here alone, do whatever you need to do to protect our home.”

I felt silly when I did this, but a few weeks ago I learned that she is keeping her word. I had to have a new washer installed after mine bit the dust. My work schedule is a bit hectic, so I asked my neighbor to let the delivery driver in and hang out while he installed the new washer. My neighbor texted that she had just let the driver in. A few minutes later she called me. I was in a meeting, so I ignored the call. She called back, so I ignored the call again. When she called a third time, I realized that the driver might have a question. I stepped out and answered her call. She was frantic and explained that door kept slamming when the worker was in the laundry room. When the driver stepped out, the door slammed again the lights turned off. With all this in mind, the driver was refusing to come back in the house and was waiting for his boss to show up. I left work a bit early to meet them back at my house. As luck would have it, my presence caused the activity to stop.

Having a spirit in my home and leaving semi-comfortably with her makes me feel incredibly witchy. I plan on moving in the next few years, and I hope my ghost will follow me. If not, I will do everything to make sure the future owners of my home will be as welcoming to her as I have grown to be.

Earth My Body

“Oh, it’s obviously broken,” I say as I look at the number that’s much too high. I step off the scale, let it clear, take off my shirt (because it must weigh 10 pounds, and step back on the scale. The same number taunts me from the digital screen. “Definitely broken,” I say to myself and shove another cookie in my mouth (probably).

I’ve made these excuses to myself for a while not. “Oh, these pants must have shrunk in the wash” or  “Or, I did have a big lunch, maybe I’m just a little bloated.” I’ve said to myself/ I’ve always been a “big guy.” It’s never really bothered me, though. I’ve always preferred art and literature more than sports and fitness.

Last year, I joined a curling club (the winter sport, not the weight lifting) and had a great time. However, I quickly noticed that I was the only one who would be out of breath and covered in sweat even though the room was freezing. The next day, it took everything in me to get out of bed because my legs burned from the exertion. After the season ended, I lost any desire to get into shape.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I was meditating on the earth element. I focused on the strength of my body, but struggled. I held the thought that my body held the strength of the mountains, but it didn’t work. I didn’t feel the normal “click” that I always do. After some soul searching, I found that I didn’t connect with the strength concept of the earth element because I didn’t feel that way about my body.

Why should I care about being strong? That has nothing do with spirituality! I thought to myself. Again, all I needed was some soul searching to understand. My body is my ultimate connection to the world. By being mindful of what goes in my body and the level of activity that my body receives is in itself a practice of gratitude. By keeping my body strong, I’m also reaping the benefits that go with it. I’ll have more energy, a better ability to focus, and arguably, being better able to move energy.

With that being said, I joined a gym the next day. It’s been a little over a week, and I’ve been committed to working out every other day. To my surprise, I’ve found that my body is capable of more than I have ever given myself credit for. This morning, I did a few miles on the treadmill, did some strength training, and headed to the locker room. I glanced at the clock and saw that I still had 20 minutes before I had to shower and head to work. Rather than leave early, I decided to spend another 20 minutes on the treadmill. I feel that as my body gets stronger, so will my will.

Raising a green smoothie in the air, I drink to my continued journey.

Memory Jar – 2017

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As soon as the clock hit 3:15pm, I decided it was close enough to 4pm for me to leave work for the day. I closed my laptop, locked my desk, and said a half-hearted goodbye as the door was closing behind me. I don’t think my feet even touched the ground until I was in the elevator.

Tomorrow is my 32nd birthday and that means a lot of things to me. First it means that tomorrow will be another short day at work and that I will have a cocktail in my hand by 5 o’clock. This weekend will be more of the same. Most importantly it means that it’s time to finally break out the memory jar and read through the adventures I experienced over the past year.

A few years ago, I saw a post on Facebook that a friend shared. The post was about the practice of writing down everything amazing that happens to you and putting it in the jar. Then, each year, you read through your memories to remind yourself how fortunate you are.

This has been the best part of my birthday since I’ve adopted the practice. Here are some highlights of my jar for the past year:

 

  • 8/16 – I had a huge fight with my friend, but he still showed up and celebrated my birthday and we decided just to let the fight go.
  • 8/16 – Put a terrible situation behind me and learned some responsibility.
  • 9/1 – I was offered and accepted my dream job. (I realize that I bitch about my job a lot. It’s nice to be reminded that I am incredibly blessed to have my job.)
  • 9/9 – Went to the World Cup of Hockey game and took part in a legitimate “USA” chant.
  • 9/20 – Began my Pagan study group
  • 10/3 – Went curling for the first time with my friends Garrett and Alex (The Olympic ice sport, not weight lifting).
  • 10/4 – Forgave, blessed, and released an old friendship that was no longer serving me. (A year ago, I would never have thought about ending a friendship, no matter how bad it was for me. It’s amazing to see that I have grown.)
  • 10/6 – Hired my first employee at my new job!
  • 10/14 – Developed my first training piece for my new job (the first time I felt like could actually perform well in my new role.)
  • 2/15 – Heard my mom brag to a friend about the Valentine’s Day dinner I made her.
  • 2/27 – I threw the best shot at our curling match and won the game for our team!
  • 3/10 – Received an unexpected and substantial bonus at work!
  • 4/1 – My best friend came back from her travels through Europe and Africa.
  • 6/16 – Graduated with my Masters!
  • 7/22 – Had a significant experience that let me know that I was on the right spiritual path.
  • 8/5 – Made friends with an enemy

Tonight, I will ritually give thanks for the gifts I received in the past year. After burning the memories, I will set intentions for the year to come. Here’s a (very) short list:

  • Continue to grow spiritually and professionally
  • Spend more time with my family
  • Travel to Africa to visit my friend who’s travelling abroad
  • Commit to Feri tradition training
  • Start my spiritually-based company

Here’s to another great year!

Turn Me On

I stir my cocktail with my straw to mix the vodka and Red Bull a bit more than the bartender did. “Well the Feri creation story says that the Goddess was alone, but complete within Herself. She was floating through space when she noticed her reflection in the curve of the Universe. She fell instantly in love with Herself, made love to Herself, and Her orgasm created everything in the Universe[1]I said before taking a sip of my drink. My friend blinked hard.

“Isn’t that a little, narcissistic? I mean, She was turned on by Her reflection” he asked. I paused and shook my head,

“No, not at all. It wasn’t just Her beauty that she fell in love with. It was Her power. Her potential” I explained. As soon as the words left my lips, something clicked inside my head. It was like a mystery being revealed to me.

“Did I lose you?” my friend asked? He stared at me and slowly sipped his beer.

“Dude, I think I made a breakthrough” I blurted out excitedly.

“The Star Goddess was able to create everything we know because She loved Herself, trusted in Her potential, and gave Herself the permission to create reality. That’s the recipe for real, transformation magick!”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” he asked, this time lighting a cigarette. I sighed, but decided to continue.

“My magick works, but it doesn’t always feel organic. I think this is what I am missing. Before I work magick, I must honor myself and honor the power of potential that lives within every choice that I make, magickally or mundanely. I literally need to look at my actions, work under the guidance of my own divine authority, and be turned on by my own capabilities. That’s the path of true magick”

“Did you want another drink?” he asks, still not following. He got up before I could say anything, but that was fine with me. I leaned back in my chair and enjoyed the afterglow of my spiritual insight.

 

 

[1] This creation story was taken from The Spiral Dance by Starhawk.

Honoring my Beloved Dead – Chante

I feel like I am writing one of these posts every other week. This one hits hard.

Chante and I worked together about 5 years ago. In fact, when I became a trainer, she took over my old position in Quality Assurance. We spent most of our work hours in the office together. Rather than focusing on work, we’d talk about anything and everything. This usually meant that on Friday, we’d have tons of work to complete before we could leave, so we’d “race” each other to see who could get their work done first. The winner would always stay to help the other.

I knew Chante and I would be friends when she came into work one morning and seemed a little down. I asked her what was wrong and she gave the candid response of “Have you ever had a bowel movement that just ruined your day?” I laughed. Hard. So did she.

Chante was the most genuinely sweet person in the world. Every morning began with the greeting “Happy (insert day of the week).” I don’t think she knew how much hearing “Happy Monday” at the beginning of another work week made the struggle less real for me. When I felt overwhelmed with work or was fighting the urge to leave early, she always reminded me to “be on my grind and make that money.”

Chante was everyone’s friend and she affectionately referred to everyone as “Boo.” This wasn’t because she didn’t know their names, she knew everyone’s name (and their kids, and their hobbies, their favorite food, their birthday…).

I used to tease her that she was only sweet because she ate too much sugar. She never argued. In fact, her go-to coffee order was an iced venti caramel macchiato with 8 pumps of vanilla syrup (they usually only have three). When we made coffee runs, I loved to see the barista’s face when she ordered.

Chante is leaving behind a very young daughter, but I know she is surrounded by love. That baby girl is definitely going to hear about her amazing mama.

Today, I honor Chante. Not at my altar, but at my desk at work while I’m on my grind. I am sipping on an over-sweetened coffee and greeting everyone with an enthusiastic “Happy Friday.”

Chante, I thank you for your smile, your laughter, and your sweetness.

The world is a little bit dimmer without your light, but you shine brightly on the other side of the veil.

Blessed may you be in this world and all others, Boo.  

Things to Expect When You Dedicate Yourself to Magickal Training

At its basic level, magick is based on the principle of cause and effect. Although most practitioners of magick understand this basic concept, some overlook the effect magickal training will have in other aspects of their lives. In my personal experience, there are several things you can expect when you begin to study magick.

  1. Relationships may change or dissolve

The goal of any magickal tradition is to help the adherent discover their true will. The practice of magick will lead the practitioner to self-possession, the state of knowing and accepting exactly who you are with the strength to follow your true will. When this happens, the relationships you have with people whose intentions may be crossed with your own, will naturally change or fall away.

The same is true for toxic relationships. Once you begin to see that the relationship is holding you back from achieving your highest good, you will be more than happy to part ways with toxic people.

The reverse is also true. You will begin to notice traits in others that resonate with your most authentic self and these relationships will flourish.

 

  1. Your emotions might be all over the place

Magickal practice, spiritual development, and psychic expansion will open up your chakras and other energy centers in ways you may not have experienced before. This may result in some mood swings at first.

For example, one moment someone may disrespect you, and the fight or flight instinct of your root chakra coupled with the communication center in your throat may cause you to defend yourself vehemently. The next moment you may happen by the final moments of  Undercover Boss where the CEO of a company gives an employee a scholarship, and you’ll burst into tears. (Hypothetically of course – Okay, yeah this happened me).

To counteract this, try chakra balancing techniques and breathing through any knee-jerk emotional reactions.

  1. Your intuition will be on point 

The more you practice magick, the better your sense of intuition will become. That small voice inside your head gets a bit louder, and that gut feeling gets a bit stronger. There have been times since I’ve rededicated myself to spiritual practice that I’ve wanted to consult my Tarot cards or doing some scrying, but found that my inner voice would lead me down the right path.

This can be a double-edged sword though. For me, my intuition has become a precise bullshit detector. Any time someone lies to me or omits information, I get a little tap on my psychic shoulder. Sometimes it has led to me getting into an argument with a friend, but overall it has allowed me to open the door to and long overdue conversation with a loved one.

  1. Your magickal proficiency will increase

You know what they say, practice makes perfect. The same goes for magick. As cited by my few “No Frills-Magick” posts, I’ve lost the need to full blown magickal practice. In fact, I have found that when I step to my altar for ritual, I can ground and center, cast a circle, and align my energies with a few breaths, rather than with the intense visualization, words of power, or ritual actions.

You may experience times in which the very act of planning a magickal working will be enough to manifest your goal.

  1. You’ll experience a mind-body-spirit alignment

The more time you dedicate to spirituality, the lines between your different parts will blur. You’ll start to understand how your mind and body are as magickal as your spirit.

For me, this manifested in a few ways. First, I’ve become more regimented in taking care of my body. I’ve been better about eating clean food, spending more time being active, and have started the process to quit smoking. In regards to strengthening my mind, I’ve started spending more time painting and reading than I have in the past.

By honoring all parts of my being, I am becoming more connected with life as a whole.

  1. Those in need will seek you out

I believe that as you grow spiritually, you become a beacon. People will recognize your connectedness and come to you for help. These may be people you know or even complete strangers. They may need advice or simply need someone to listen. The important thing here is to listen to your intuition and allow yourself to be open to their needs.

  1. You’ll require more alone time

Until recently, I’ve needed to be surrounded by people constantly. There were times I would go out every night. Sometimes, I’d even invite friends out to the bar, but not really talk to them. I just needed someone there.

Alone time has become a huge priority for me. I attribute this to self-discovery that comes with magickal practice. The more time you spend growing spiritually, the more you understand yourself. This understanding ultimately leads to you enjoying your own company. This alone time lets you recharge and take care of yourself. It reminds me of an old Wiccan adage I read (I think in Marion Weinstein’s Earth Magick), “You cannot draw from an empty well.”

  1. Your priorities will change

 

This is related to #7. As you get closer to understanding your true will, you will start to prioritize things differently. You’ll begin to see what’s truly important and arrange your life around these things.

For me, this presented itself as a need to say no to things that I hated. It seems simple enough, but I felt that there were things that I had to do. By looking at what I really wanted from life, I could see that some of these things could be easily overlooked. For example, if a friend is having a party, I don’t feel obligated to go. If I’d rather stay home and veg out on the couch, I simply say no. No guilt. No regrets. Just focusing on what I need and want to do.

  1. You might experience a dark night of the soul

A great philosopher (okay, a video game Kingdom Hearts) once said: “the closer you get to the light, the bigger your shadow becomes.” This is totally true. When you look at your life through the lens of spiritual development, you shine the proverbial light on the things you usually hide from everyone (yourself included).

Once these things come to light, you might experience some hardships. You may even feel disconnected from your deities. This is normal. Keep the faith and keep up with your daily practice. The purpose of spiritual practice is to become a more complete person, and these hardships are part of that process.

  1. You will understand that this is just the first step of your journey

Spiritual development and magickal practice are  lifelong commitments. When you begin your practice, you want to learn it all at once. You want to become Dumbledore, but that’s not how it works. You have to start slow and build upon your practice slowly. In fact, you might get far along your path, but realize that the path doesn’t suit you. Even if you start and restart several times throughout your life, you will get closer to your destination each time.

Remember, it’s okay to be Ron Weasley.