Tuesday, 9 August 2011

the great spiritual slump

It's fair to say that most who've been on any spiritual path for a long period of time have had one. It can start off as innocent forgetfulness or a frantic schedule that just doesn't allow for those hourly meditation sessions or elaborate sabbat rituals. Gradually it turns into weeks of actually attempting to think about anything else while you avoid spiritual concerns with the warped impression that it's going to be too difficult to get back on the horse or that you literally don't have time. If the slump goes on for a few months there might come a point when you question your path completely. A discussion about beliefs comes up and you'd rather sit on the sidelines or change the subject. You haven't logged onto your Pagan community forum in months and your books on mythology, divination, herbs - they're gathering dust under the bed.

I've identified as Pagan since I was twelve. My mother helpfully applied the word to me as a way of summing up all the ideas that I was entertaining at that age - not to mention my obvious love of long walks amongst trees and greenery, which always seemed to centre me in a way social activity couldn't. Since it's been fourteen years on this path, of course there have been times when it's been less of a feature and times when it's been the centrepiece. But I just dragged myself out of a heinous eighteen month slump that left me feeling displaced and uninspired and that's by far the longest I've been without observing a single festival or writing anything in my notebooks.

I know why it happened. Big life changes, the loss of my closest Pagan ally, time spent living in a different country. These things meant I ended up being Pagan only in word, not in deed. Aside from my vegetarianism, which is a key part of my personal path, there wasn't anything I did on a day-to-day basis that set me apart from any ethical agnostic. I can look back at my notebooks now and identify the moment it all seemed to dry up and daily mindfulness became a thing of the past. I still read theology books and myths now and then, but I was a passive observer for too long.

Breaks from spiritual observance might be necessary throughout our lives in times of re-evaluation, but a slump is a different animal. It's like a dough mix of boredom made out of equal parts confusion, laziness and disillusionment. If you find yourself in one, here are some ways to attempt to sling your spiritual lasso around the Pagan horse, if you will.

Back to school
Give yourself gold stars for the things you've already learned on your path. Make an achievement list. Did you wade through the treacle of Greek mythology and live to tell the tale? Note that down. Give yourself marks for home-made foods, tinctures, clothes and altars - they all demonstrate energy, dedication and initiative. Now focus on what's left to be discovered. Make a list of the areas of study that demand your attention, the sacred sites you want to visit and the long-term goals you want to achieve. The path never comes to an end and if you're excited about the next part of the journey, you're less likely to want to give up on it.

Come out of the broom closet
I'm not an extroverted, in-your-face Pagan. Not only is shouting about spirituality not part of who I am, it's also not something that's particularly conducive to the non-dogmatic, anti-evangelical nature of my religion. However, I'm certainly open about it. If someone asks me for my theological standpoint I can eloquently and comfortably explain my position. Hiding your beliefs away can make it difficult to feel great about observing them. If your books and objects are hidden away where you live for fear of discovery or questions from others, it can be difficult to have readily available focus. While I'm not suggesting that you wear an 'I'm Pagan' t-shirt on casual Friday, overt secrecy won't help you to recognise how valuable your path is to you, and it won't help those important people in your life to see that it's made a positive difference.

Time is of the essence
I'm very guilty of telling myself that I need to dedicate at least an hour for meditation/visualisation and that if I'm learning a subject I've got to give it my all, both feet in, feel the burn, no pain no gain.. You see where I'm going with that. While sabbat rituals can be timely to write and observe, those simple every day acts that can reaffirm your faith do not need aeons of time. I know plenty of Pagans who do daily meditation for ten minutes. Finding their centre and showing reverence is slotted into an unintrusive time frame that works for them. Some people choose to observe a small ritual in the morning. Some like to kill two birds with one stone by using the time they take their dog for a walk as a chance to observe and give thanks. Fretting about where to find the time to practice can cause you to use lack of time as an excuse not to practice at all.

A problem shared is a problem halved
If you're in a slump and it don't look good, who you gonna call?
Other Pagans.
Reaching out in your own community will help to keep you involved and inspired when you've lost your mojo. The internet is your friend. There are so many active forums out there. Start a conversation. It's true what they say - Pagans can't agree on lunch. Each path is slightly different. But under the umbrella of nature-based religion there's a lot of empathy to be found and plenty of people have experienced that feeling of losing the map somewhat and needing ideas to make practice more attractive. Take a look at what other Pagans are doing. Check out creative projects on youtube. Use these portals into the paths of others to help get back on track.

Adventure time
Plan a pilgrimage. Visiting a sacred site, attending a Pagan festival, going on a lone camping trip, enjoying a retreat break or having a day of Pagan shopping could help spark the imagination. Glastonbury has been a great help to me in the past when I've felt unable to practice successfully. The town is filled with shops catering for Pagans with all the books and supplies I could ever need. Then I can take a stroll up the Tor for contemplation and Stonehenge is easily reachable by bus. It's a great day at the best of times as well as the worst. I often come back with renewed energy.

Mixing the mundane and the magical
Consciousness isn't something I arrive at only through ritual and meditation. It's also something I can easily attach to everyday acts. Eating, showering, sleeping, gardening, food shopping, walking, doing laundry and cleaning can all be fused with spiritual significance if I will it. Preparing food can be tied in with thoughts, thanks and reverence. Tidying and organising your space can be heightened experiences if you use the time to also invite inner clarity. Showering can be linked to fresh starts, new beginnings, cleansing and considering the element of water. Many Pagans talk about the difference between mundane acts and spiritual acts but during a slump it can be helpful to break down that barrier as much as you can to stay mindful even when you're feeling uninspired.