Devotion. It’s a wrought word, full with personal associations, and so I write it tenderly, for any and all that have been injured by traditions that forced or coerced dogma and rigidity, those direct or indirect punches to the developing, authentic self.
I know about those hits, personally, both from family and culture. I was raised Catholic, by a family of humans. You know as a human myself, especially now as an (haha or at least more) adult one, I’ve come to understand the mistaken ways that spoken words, especially the indoctrination of ideas meant to help engender personal connection to the sacred, if not aligned or applied–especially if opposite of one’s actions, cause harm. Least of which, if nothing else, harm that might look like lasting doubt, confusion, cynicism if it happens a lot when one is small.
Denial and Self-Harm. Mental Health.
Starting at a fairly young age I began to become pretty good, soon enough really good at self-harm.
In my experience, self-harm relies on denial, self-denial that is, in order to exist. Self-denial is a learned trait. I’ll suggest here the importance of eyeing how one’s family cultures, and micro then macro Cultures, like our communities, institutions, regions, heritages etcetera–any larger group that we are exposed to, have passively or directly informed our ideas. The stories we tell ourselves, the beliefs we have. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola-Estes calls Culture the “family of our family”. If this is true, it is worthy to take time and consider who we are, who we have become, and how this was shaped by our resistance, acceptance, or denial of the norms taught to us. Specifically the ideas we absorbed without questioning, specifically if we were indoctrinated by authoritarianism in the home or culture to believe that questioning is wrong.
This sort of depth work I suggest is the call of Soul.
Denial is protective, a survival instinct for so many if learned in the home or culture of origin. Rigidity and dogmatic authority frequently are underpinned by denial of certain values, reactions, emotions, people even, and deeper still? By denial of certain aspects of one’s real self. Denial is a learned behavior, and most harmful when perpetuated on ourselves, towards ourselves. Implicit to this understanding of denial? It creates itself: so many folks perpetuating authoritarianism, and the ones injured by it, often don’t even see it.
Shadow Work. Soul Work.
What is denied chronically, meaning regularly, especially if it’s a standard or norm we impose upon ourselves, we might say becomes repressed. In psychodynamic (psychological dynamics, like in relationship tendencies that are rooted in us) psychology, repressed aspects or material may underlie many compulsive behaviors. Meaning substance abuse, or disordered (harmful) eating or relating to sex, emotional issues like codependency or patterns of outbursts, and even things like unchecked, compulsive use of social media or spending money may become a means of acting out what the conscious mind is busy holding down.
Cultural systems can take place in collective denial. Denial of wrong-doing, for instance. Or of aspects that are considered Other or outside of the Norm. Of groups of people, or needs. Denial is a contagion. Remember this.
Denial, also, is meant to be healed. What can be seen, what can be talked about, can be transformed. This is the beauty of our shadow work. Looking at the parts we’ve been taught to shame, or self-deny. Moving what was once dark, or unseen (unconscious) into the light of sight. This shadow work I call soul work, or alchemy.
So me? Along comes the sort of self-imposed destruction that brings me eventually to the door of recovery from substance abuse. This is a bit over 20 years ago, when I had no intention of quitting what I thought then was just a hard partying lifestyle. At the time, I was also super hooked on Joe Campbell, specifically the 8 cassette tapes of his PBS interview in the 80’s with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth.
Campbell made his life work out of study as a world mythologist and theologist. He had the temperament of Mr. Rogers, and spoke so personably and informed about his belief that every human’s psychology has in its roots a need for the function of the sacred.
Learn about this, the areas of the brain that light up only when engaging in prayer or meditation. Not to a who or what specifically, but as result of personal engagement in the act of devotion.
I was 3 months clean from drugs and alcohol when it was suggested to me in a 12 step room to “surrender”. It was Valentine’s Day, 2001, a fact of anniversary I just realized in writing~ahh, how the body inspires, is wiser than we are in collective memory and cyclic-wisdom! Two years of Campbell at that point and still I CRINGED if you said the word God around me. Surrender? Back then the very term brought forth immediate images of hell and a scary third grade priest, right up against the flood of resentment I didn’t realize I carried over behaviors of the “Catholic” men I grew up around. But it was February, see? The time 12 steppers talk about open-mindedness.
So it was asked of me to name, to look at my prejudices (I also was asked to look this word up, in the dictionary, and write the definition, which we discussed and settled on an easy to recall meaning: pre-judgments, based either on experience or idea) around the word God. I was then asked if I’d be willing to try and set those pre-judgements aside, come up with my own feeling of what would be safe and sacred for me, and then try to surrender all my pre-judgements, and in fact life as I’d been leading it up til then, to that idea. In further discussion with other spiritual people I was coming to admire, it was reasoned that if I had not before tried that out, really honestly tried surrender on those terms, which were my terms, but also, totally new, too, then how could I honestly say I knew what the results would be.
This tenant, becoming open to challenge my pre-judgments, began that first night of surrender to lead my way ever bumblingly into adulthood. It was the start of me looking at previously unexamined ideas and beliefs, and figuring out how to see them and transform them, if that’s indeed what I needed. It was the start of healing from denial, and therefor healing from self-judgement and shame.
As well, it became the beginning of my relationship with devotion.
Lately, I have been walking through a life change that has required me to get really real, like ugly real about some base level fears, really fundamental, challenging stuff. BIIIIG EMOTIONS, olllld beliefs, and, as human as I am, the denial of these because, ugh, come on honestly now, who likes to feel bad or afraid??
It is Lunar Imbolc week, today is the dark moon. Time to be with, in, the shadow of Mother Earth. In the shadow shit! Mid-Winter. With tomorrow’s Lunar Imbolc New Moon, we begin the tilt towards Spring. Already the birds titter in the brambles, the mud smells balmy here like Spring. Sap is rising, even as we anticipate snow overnight. It is Imbolc, when in practical and soulful ways, we can take the Dark as a necessity for the Birthing process of new Light. We can tend the Light, within.
Not just for Pagans, but for any and all different or alike who consider themselves to be spiritual, or on a spiritual path, I felt compelled this week to share about Surrender, especially of our Shadow Material. And exploring Open-mindedness, and considering the power of Devotion.
Since the full moon I have had three opportunities now to really sit, and drop deep, and get into private, personal ritual the way I love to do. It feels like it had been SO long~and it had, really, since just before we lost my Pap in October, since I did this. Did it the way I need to. To engage in the true power of Devotion, of absolute surrender to the Mystery, to what I call the Great Love or Divine Oneness. Surrendering all my denial, my fears, my immobilizing doubts, my shame.
This is a felt, experienced act that I rely on for my primary sense of rootedness and belonging in the world and in my relationships, as much as it also includes a variety of small ritual acts personal to me. I cannot emphasize enough the restorative magic in it, and more, the serendipity of Timing in the mundane world that always occurs for me afterwards as result. Especially when done purposefully during a holy time. A pagan holy tide, or other.
I wish to share as an Imbolc Offering to my readers three pieces of Wisdom I’ve come to rely on from direct walking of a gnostic or esoteric (meaning personally applied spiritual lessons) path of Devotion in my own Recovery process for 20 years now.
Because those years ago my return to the Sacred was based in open-mindedness, for me I eventually needed at least one concrete idea that I could name regarding what I was surrendering to. I settled on Love. For me, all spiritual principles are rounded out if applied in love, and Love itself is a power I know the feeling of and believe in connecting to…I believe, from practice, in the Truth of Divine Love. Because that is something based in devotional practice, that belief in Truth of Divine Love, it also acts as a faith-holder. Meaning, when ungrounded, numb, stuck, terrified, angry, and or without faith, which continues to happen bc I am human!!! The act of surrender in devotion always returns me to greater Love for the small things, and that always returns me back to experiences that have taught me to Trust. So it rounds out, in practice, in process. I keep it simple: how’s my experience of love?
Sovereignty is something I credit my teacher and Elder Starhawk with teaching. Though I am unsure if she calls it that, it is what I call my experience of practicing learning to be accountable to all parts of me as an act of unconditional self-love. This really shifted in practice when I studied with her at an Earth Activist Training, in 2012, also this exact time of year in fact! In Star’s words, in ritual, it is an acknowledgment of the 5th Sacred Thing. This is one’s personal access to Spirit. My interpretation of this in practice, is the application that all Beings are Sacred, are a singular expression of the Wholeness of the 5th sacred thing. As I continually apply this personally, and ground my mental health practice and teachings in it, it translates in rich and deep, simple and honest ways of coming to more and more unconditionally loving acceptance of all parts of Me as Sacred. And as within, so outside me…meaning to practice seeing all beings as Sacred, I must begin, within.
I cannot think of a practice more accessible than beginning with your own breath. Through it, we access our emotional bodies, our intuitive bodies, our energetic bodies, and our personal connection to Spirit. We access our Sovereignty. Trauma bodies respond to and re-regulate with certain styles of breathing. Breath practices vary, they are many, and practically all mindfulness practices are based in some sort of connection to the breath. Just explore what’s out there, practice different techniques, that’s the key, actually keep trying to practice. Breath slows us down. It invigorates us. It inspires: to me, at the very edge of my nose is access to the Great Wondrous Mystery of Life, it is as simple as contemplating the gift of Breath.
All my Love and well wishes, and reminders~ Be good to you. Remember you are Sacred. May you explore this, on your terms, beginning within, beginning again, just for today~