Competition and Ego

In an earlier post I talked about how we’re taught to compete with each other for a sense of self-worth, fighting over status like zombies fighting for the last brain – a more apropos metaphor the longer I consider it. That was an observation about larger society in response to a specific question. Maybe I was too nice in that post, because it’s already circled back around in a way I wasn’t expecting (more fool me). I recently got pulled into a pissing contest between spirit-workers and wanted to scream.

This “I’m a better spirit-worker that you because I (insert thing here)”, or “You don’t meet my standards because you don’t (insert thing here)” is fucking embarrassing, people. It’s like we’re trying to get the cute quarterback to ask us to prom.

THIS IS NOT HIGH SCHOOL, AND WE ARE NOT COMPETING WITH EACH OTHER.

Do I need to repeat that, maybe with exclamation points and italics? Put it in iambic pentameter? Write a catchy little song? Make a cute graphic with a kitteh? How’s this?

Because cats are apparently internet magick

Who are we trying to impress? Ourselves? Each other? It’s certainly not the Powers we claim to serve. And that means we’re missing the whole damn point.

Spirit work is about serving the Powers. That’s it. Not your ego, not someone else’s standards, the Powers. Are the Powers with which you work happy with what you’re doing and how you’re doing it? If “yes” then you’re doing it right. If “no”, then change things until They are. Period. It’s a very simple concept, and yet we keep screwing it up.

I know this can be hard, especially when we’re just starting out. There are so many reasons to depend on other people. Listening to the Powers is challenging, and it’s easier to listen to other people then it is to tune in to other Voices. We want the sure knowledge that “we’re doing this right”, and we just know we have to be right all the time or the Powers won’t like us anymore. On and on and on. I get it.

But, again, spirit work is about serving the Powers. We have to listen to Them. It’s the job description. So frankly? GET OVER IT. Do the hard thing. Get out of your own way. Listen only to the voices that matter and further your own work. Practice discernment and seek understanding. Then engage with what you’ve learned and live it. Talk to other people about how to listen better/more deeply, to get new ideas and explore the parameters of accepted truths. It’s even helpful to hear about another person’s journey and be inspired by it. Don’t listen to anyone else about what exactly your work is or should be. That’s between you and the Powers, no intermediary required.

Seriously, people. A bike ride from New York to California can’t be compared to a plane trip from London to Australia in anything but the loosest sense. That reality doesn’t change when we start talking spiritual paths instead of physical ones. Trying to compare – and worse, rank – spiritual journeys? It’s futile, exhausting, time consuming, and stupid.

If we devoted half the time/energy/thought/judgement to our own work that we spend worrying about how everyone else’s work is progressing we’d all be further along.

So stop the bullshit already. I don’t want to write captions for more kitten pictures.

Challenges and Possibilities

The relationship between any spirit-worker and the Power(s) with which they work is unique, and so are the specific challenges. If it was all smooth sailing it wouldn’t really classify as “work”, right?

I don’t know about most spirit-workers, but for me there seems to be one core challenge with each Power I engage, and each little challenge is another perspective of the core concept. I get the logic behind it. This method teaches me all the many facets of each issue by forcing me to face them one at a time. My relationship with my Lady is no exception. The core issue with Her is the concept of possibility, and the challenge has been particularly vexing of late.

My Lady is very much a liminal goddess. She dwells at the betweens, and the winds of change are Hers to call. Stasis of any kind is against Her sense of “How Things Should Be” – to Her mind, the only constant is change.

I, however, am fairly OCD by nature. I like routines, I like order, I like predictability. I like having a plan and rules and boundaries. It’s why I’m so effective with project/event management. I get agitated if there is too much transition going on at any one time, and coping with change in multiple areas of life simultaneously makes it difficult for me to function in any of them. I consider life to be a juggling act, and with every change one of my bright rubber balls suddenly morphs into a sharp dagger. It disturbs my rhythm.

She’s been careful with me on this one. I am MUCH better than I was with it, and over time I’ve learned some flexibility with things, picked up a few coping mechanisms along the way. I’ve gotten good at juggling one dagger amongst the balls, and can occasionally manage multiples for brief periods. Most of the time She’s been careful to work within that. Now is not one of those times. We’re pushing the envelope, challenging several fundamental things I had thought were handled (silly me!), and we’re doing it all at once. Eek!

Challenge #1 is the whole concept of urban monasticism. She’s telling me now that this will change over time. I’m not sure what it means yet, but the comfort and support of a monastic lifestyle isn’t one I can expect to have indefinitely. I love the structure this lifestyle gives my days and the focus it requires, the way it keeps me grounded and focused, and have been resistant to losing that. She’s holding firm, though. I’ve started (once again *sigh*) substituting the method for the goal behind it, and that She won’t tolerate. She wants me to remain grounded and focused no matter what’s going on in my life. So something new is looming and I’m not sure yet how it will manifest. This makes me sad, and nervous, and I find myself trying to cling more tightly to the idea instead of gradually allowing myself to move away from it.

Challenge #2 is how I’ve viewed myself in the context of groups. In the past I’ve tended to shy away from leadership roles. I am well aware that I am not a special snowflake. I’ve preferred to facilitate rather than lead, suggest rather than order, and have left the official positions of authority to those who enjoy them. Most leading I’ve done has been leading by example. While that’s definitely part of my nature, focusing solely on that is ceasing to be an option. I’ve been told – firmly – that I’ll be taking on more clearly-defined leadership roles over the next few years. I’m willing, but it’s going to result in a lot of adjustments I’m not exactly eager to make (mainly for time-management reasons, but those priorities are likely to change as well).

Challenge #3 is work-related, and by extension home-related. My current employer will be laying me off in June. I can either be rehired in 3 months, or look for work elsewhere that actually matches my skills and experience. And if I’m doing that, why stay where I am to do it? That hits two of my “panic buttons” at once, and is causing me some additional nervousness. The whole situation is up in the air right now, and will be until I get a little more information.

Challenge #4 is my personal life. Yes, the whole thing. *laugh* Over the last few years I had pretty much internalized this idea that long-term relationships just weren’t practical for me. The commitment required would simply be too much to juggle with all of my other commitments. I was fairly comfortable with that, actually, and didn’t consider it much of a sacrifice. That’s been challenged of late, and I am again open to the possibility.

This is, I think, one of the side effects of working intimately with a Power that a lot of people miss. The Power refuses to stay compartmentalized. There is no “spiritual life” and “work life” or whatever – there is simply “life”, and They can affect all of it should They have the desire. My Lady refuses to allow me to close any doors in my life – especially the ones I’m most comfortable closing. She’s trying to get me to appreciate the inherent possibility of every moment, the idea that every second is a ball of potential waiting to take form if only I have the eyes to see it. Until I reach that point this will continue to be a recurring challenge, and will pop up where and when I least expect it.

Sacrifice and Perspective

Sacrifices can be as varied as any other offering, but usually seem to involve inconvenience, abstention, or discomfort. Fairly common examples include giving up sex, experiencing pain, and fasting. I’m good with that. I start differing even from many of the other polytheists I’ve met when we get to the why, though. Why do we do these things?

The answer can be as varied and nuanced as the practices themselves, but the most common rationale I’ve heard is that if it’s unpleasant and you do it anyway, it means more and thus has a greater value than it might otherwise – to you, the Power who requested it, and perhaps even the world at large. This is a perfectly acceptable reason. It is not, however, the intent behind my practice of sacrifice. While I am not your typical spirit-worker in a lot of ways I’m also not a special snowflake – this perspective can be useful for anyone doing this kind of work.

I think the reason for the alternative view is that I’m working with different Powers than a majority of the people talking about this kind of thing. The whole “unpleasant = value” equation never figures in. Sacrifice is, in my relationships, not a reason in and of itself but a method. Something being difficult or painful is not the point. It’s more about clearing away that which has passed its usefulness to provide space for new growth.

My Lady uses the methods She uses with me because these are the methods that work with me, not out of personal preference. That’s it. If my head worked differently She would use other methods.

A few years ago my Lady demanded that I take a temporary oath of celibacy. Oh, I was pissed. I worked in the sex industry at the time, most of my social contacts were through the kink community, and I had 3 very regular play partners (one of whom I lived with). I loved sex – still do – and saw absolutely no reason to stop engaging with people on that level. Besides, being surrounded by it 24/7 and being unable to partake felt like cruel and unusual punishment. I argued, protested, resisted, came up with excuses, you name it. She was firm, though, and to put a cherry on my “are You serious?” sundae She had it start on Beltane. I was not amused (although my friends thought it was hilarious).

And within a week I felt like a total dumbass. I had more free time, my head was more open, and I unearthed this huge mess in my head I hadn’t even realized was there. Six months into it my life had drastically changed, and at the end of a year my life had so dramatically improved that I asked to make it permanent so I wouldn’t lose any ground (and got a no – I almost cried). I am a much healthier and more balanced person now because of the whole experience.

The thing here? She did not then and does not now care about my sexual partners or lack thereof. My celibacy didn’t do a damned thing for Her. The sacrifice was for me, to give me space to grow and change some patterns that were becoming problems. Celibacy was the method She used to guide me and teach me because that’s the only method that would have worked for me.

Even the more typical Ordeal-oriented sacrifices I’ve done for Her – the tattooing and piercings and brandings, the silences and the fasts, the floggings and the lashes – can be examined under this lens. To really learn a lesson I sometimes need it imprinted on blood and bone. If I don’t experience it and don’t feel it, it’s not real. The deeper a lesson is the more I need to physically feel it. My Lady works with that because that’s my need, not Hers.

For instance, part of my dedication ritual to Her was a flogging. I treated it almost like a hazing, like I had to go through this painful thing without complaint to prove myself worthy to serve Her or something. My top knew my (very high) limits and at my request purposely pushed them to make me work for it. After about 45 minutes, when I was about to fall to my knees again, I rather bitchily asked Her for a little help, since She wanted this and all.

From that moment until the end I didn’t feel a single blow land. Not one. My body moved with the impact, but that’s it. She had been waiting for me to request aid. My asking for help – not the pain itself – was the point. I already received so much from our relationship that asking for more felt like I was being unreasonable or demanding, so I simply didn’t ask. Ever. My Lady won’t help without request. My devotion (aka stubbornness) tied Her hands. In this case the Ordeal was simply a way She could force the issue in a way I couldn’t ignore. I’m much better about asking now.

This view of “sacrifice as method and not goal” isn’t one I see out there very much, and I somehow doubt that my Lady is the only one to approach sacrifice in this manner. It’s an incredibly valuable technique, however, and the perspective is useful. Knowing the reasons why a sacrifice is being requested might help us engage the experience more fully and get everything we can out of it.