Victor Anderson, one of my beloved teachers, enjoined us to neither coddle nor punish weakness. That is a difficult proposition. We make social contracts with one another all the time in attempts to not upset the status quo, and to let ourselves off the hook. Sometimes we rebel against that and go the opposite direction, into blaming or shaming.
To work our will requires us dance to between these two, to treat ourselves and others with fierce compassion, to gently remind each other to walk our talk, and live as our best selves.
There is a lot of talk in Pagan circles right now about health. Some feel fingers have been pointed, others feel they are just acting out of concern. There is some real dialogue, some hurt feelings, some anger, and some derision. Bottom line is this: we all have ways in which we do not walk our talk. Bottom line is this: we cannot know what another’s life looks like on the inside, by observing it from the outside.
My clients and students work so hard. They work to know themselves and to come into a better relationship with their bodies, hearts, minds, and souls. They work through shame, fear, pain, and rage. When our study cycle brings us to Earth, we look at posture, food, and exercise, just as we have looked at energy generation and waste, or habits of speech, thought, or emotion. Those who choose to study with me long term all must commit to daily spiritual practice, community service, and exercise. My students have all different body types, states of health, and abilities. They all must find their own relationship with all three commitments. That is their work, not mine. We all go through our struggles as best we can. We also help to hold each other accountable.
Here’s the thing: as magic workers it is our responsibility to come into right relationship with ourselves, with each other, with the earth, with the cosmos, and with our Gods.
Here’s the other thing: we live in an over-culture that has conspired over the last fifty years to poison our food supply with chemicals and genetically modified corn by-products and destroy local agriculture. This is an over-culture that sells us things we don’t need by increasing our insecurity levels, and that tries to place the blame for environmental devastation and the gutting of our health and our communities solely on our backs.
There are two things I just said: we have responsibility and we live within a system that has stacked the deck against us and then blamed us for our problems. What do we do? We find ways to reclaim our power and internal authority. We find ways to honor our bodies and this earth. We find ways to make better choices on a daily basis. We talk to our friends if we see them consistently eating garbage, drinking soda, or not exercising, driving too much, or compulsively shopping, drinking alcohol to excess, or any number of other things that serve to disconnect us from ourselves and the earth. We don’t punish our friends, and we don’t punish ourselves, rather, we find ways to support one another toward greater health and integration. We support one another toward being priests and priestesses, mediating the sacred forces that dance between earth and sky.
Those of you who have read my writings for any length of time know that I write a lot about activism, exercise, and spiritual practice. You also know that I travel and teach a lot – though I have cut way back in an attempt to walk my talk by conserving both jet fuel and my own health. In my travels, I’ve been to festivals where people have not bothered to separate out their recycling even though a group had taken on the task of carting it off site. I have been to festivals where I was consistently offered rides in golf carts when my workshop was 20 yards away or where people have looked at me like I was crazy for exercising in the morning. I have been to festivals where the meals offered made me want to weep, because I barely recognized any of it as food.
I have also been to festivals and conferences where dozens to hundreds of people have shown up to happily do Devotional Dance after breakfast, or spar with me in the afternoon. I have been fed well, and joyously. I’ve shown up at the hotel gym in the morning only to find other Pagans there, sweating away.
We are children of this earth and we are varied. I don’t know if someone needs a ride to their workshop because they have fibromyalgia. I can look at someone and assess pretty well – fat or thin – how healthy they are overall, but I can’t really know without asking. I myself have struggled back from chronic pain and illness, even though at quick glance people would have thought I was in perfect health.
Yes, as people who largely believe that the sacred is with us wherever we are, not waiting in some distant place, it behooves us to become healthy and environmentally conscious and many other things. Many of us are trying. Some of us need to do a lot better, but some are doing our utmost best. That won’t look the same from person to person.
Here is an exercise from my book Evolutionary Witchcraft that links belief and will, helping us assess ourselves and how close we are living to our ideals. It is simple:
Take a piece of paper and divide it in two columns. On the top left side write “If I believe” _____ and on top right “then I will” ______. On the far left, write the numbers 1-10. Fill in ten things on the “I believe” side first. Once that is done, ask yourself, “how can I put my will behind this?” Then fill in the right side.
For example: “If I believe my body is sacred then I will take a thirty minute walk every day.”
Or “If I believe that the earth is sacred then I will organize a trash pickup at the local beach.”
If anything on the “belief” side doesn’t have an action we will commit to, we need to either reassess that belief, or look at changing our behavior.
As I’ve written elsewhere: We need to come into right relationship with our bodies, to not pretend they are not there, to not constantly be in battle with them, to learn to treat them with respect for all they give us, and to learn to treat them well.
We can exercise because we love our bodies, not because we hate them. We are sacred. Exercise is sacred activity.
We also need to come into right relationship with our beloved, the earth. To remember that we are Nature, and part of the sacred unfolding.
We can campaign for recycling in our area, or compost food scraps, or drive less, or buy less, not because we have been shamed into it, but because the earth is holy and we wish to treat it with love.
And next time we see someone who causes us concern, we can call up some compassion, remember we don’t know the whole story, and ask them about their lives. We can try to not make a lot of assumptions. We can learn to better support one another. We can learn to become as strong as we can. And as kind.
With you in love – Thorn