She came to me unexpectedly.
Like most people I know, I have been feeling the weight of the sustained stress that has come with the chaos of the past 12+ months. Factors such as the pandemic and political upheaval have taken a toll on most people I know. If you’re feeling off, depressed, and/or like your brain isn’t functioning quite the way it used to, this is normal. Doctor after doctor has attested to the fact that our bodies and brains are wired to deal with short-term stress, not long, sustained periods of stress with no apparent end.
I work in social services with people who – on top of everything else – are struggling with daunting issues such as homelessness, lack of food, mental health or chemical dependency issues and poverty. I often feel like I don’t have the luxury of breaking down or taking time to feel my own grief and really give my body, mind and soul what it needs right now. So I put my game face on and go about my day. However, if you have ever done any shadow work you know that the things you try to shove deep down in you and out of sight have a way of seeping out and making themselves known.
One day not too long ago, in the midst of chaos, I sat down and just stopped. Running on fumes, I tried desperately to find stillness in the chaos even if it was just for a moment. I closed my eyes and began to meditate in my usual way. I visualized myself walking down a path to a beautiful glen near the ocean – a safe, peaceful space in my inner world – and much to my surprise I found myself face to face with a veiled woman in a long gown with the most serene smile on her face. To be honest, I was a bit irritated at first. I just wanted to get a momentary glimpse of tranquility, so who was this woman blocking my way?
This is how I met the Greek goddess, Hestia. While I have worked with a number of Greek deities and was therefore aware of Hestia, I had always admired and respected her from a distance. She is not a goddess I had ever felt the urge to explore in any depth. It turns out, Hestia was exactly the goddess I needed to get to know as I tried to navigate the ragged, stressful edge I have been walking on for some time.
Known as Vesta in Rome, Hestia was the virgin goddess of the hearth and was often pictured in art as being veiled. She embodied the sacrificial flame and oversaw the home, hearth, and preparation of food. It is said that Apollo and Poseidon both offered her their hand in marriage, but Hestia did not wish to marry. Instead, she asked Zeus to let her remain a virgin. Not only did he grant her wish, she from then on received a share of every sacrifice or offering to the gods and was invoked and served her due first before any other deity was appeased. There was a sacred place dedicated to Hestia in most every Greek home, regardless of which deities the residents worshipped. You can read more here.
Hestia strikes me as a more behind the scenes kind of goddess and certainly does not seem to be one who desires the spotlight, unlike other goddesses such as Aphrodite and Hera. Yet, despite her quiet and perhaps even hermit-like nature, she exudes a unique kind of power. It is a power that can be a balm for the times we are living in. In the chaotic storm that comprises our current reality, who couldn’t use some stillness and peace?
Meeting Hestia on that path during my meditation that day has greatly helped me to cope with the grief, frustration, and anxiety that come with both living in these strange times and witnessing the pain and injustices that face so many of the people I work with. I have found Hestia to emit a loving and nurturing energy, as she quietly yet firmly reminds me of the necessity of taking time for myself and my own well-being. She helps us connect with our own center so that we may listen to our intuition, to what our body and soul need, and to reset and re-calibrate our energy. She is not the flame that flickers and dances wildly; rather, she is the blaze that burns true and still. I have found her to be a constant, reliable source of peaceful energy that I desperately need in my life at this moment.
Despite her aura of mystery, I have discovered some simple techniques for connecting with her in order to access her wisdom and healing. Below are six methods that I have found helpful in working with Hestia and finding my own still center in the midst of the storm:
Create an altar dedicated to Hestia
The great thing about Hestia is that her altars can be very straightforward and simple. In my experience, a candle dedicated to her is sufficient. Since she is the goddess of the hearth, you can set aside a cauldron or other symbol of Hestia in your kitchen or on your fireplace. Take a few minutes each day to sit in Her presence in silence.
Meditation and Visualization
Meditation and visualization have been powerful tools in my work with Hestia. She has taught me to connect more deeply with myself simply by imagining a lit candle, straight and tall, running through the center of my body from the bottom of my feet up through my crown chakra. Sitting in silence with this image helps me to re-center and connect to my own stillness and the here and now. Breathwork and mindfulness techniques can also help us to learn from Hestia’s wisdom and decrease stress and anxiety.
Hestia is all about fire, and scrying in fire with intent can provide us with important insights. If you are working with a larger blaze, such as a lit fire pit, you can look for symbols of her wisdom in the embers and ashes of the fire. What images do you see? How do these relate to your quest to get to know Hestia and/or your desire to reconnect to your own center of stillness?
Express Yourself Creatively!
Fire is all about transformation and alchemy which is strongly enacted in our willingness to play and create. What did you like to do when you were a child, long before you were perhaps encouraged to do something more “serious” or “useful”? Was it finger painting, singing at the top of your lungs, or dancing freely? When and where do you feel the most creative in your life now? It is important to find activities where you can override your inner critic and not judge the quality of your final product. This experience is all about the journey within that creativity facilitates.
A month or so ago, a friend of mine suggested that I get myself a paint-by-number kit for adults and spend some time painting. I balked at first, mostly because while I consider myself to be a creative person, art has never been my strong suit. Let’s just say that no one likes to play Pictionary with me as their partner. I thought I would give it a try though, and lo and behold I have found painting to be one of the best ways to calm my anxiety and hush my monkey mind.
It may be the combination of needing to focus on what I am doing and the ability to be creative at the same time but for whatever reason this activity is my current meditative go-to when I am feeling stressed and need to be still. What will be your go-to? Try a variety of methods of creative expression until you find the one that works for you. Most importantly, have fun!
Walk a Labyrinth
There is something about the meditative act of walking a labyrinth that stills the mind. Metaphorically, we are walking to the center just as we are connecting with our own center. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, there are a couple of ways to walk a labyrinth with intent. One method is to silently focus on any questions that you have while you are walking into the center and, having paused in the center, listen and be open for answers as you make your way out of the labyrinth. Another idea which comes from author Jane Meredith is to sing or chant quietly as you walk into the labyrinth as well as when you walk out and to notice what word you land on in the song or chant both when you arrive at the center and when you exit the labyrinth. These words may provide wisdom and insights.
If your intent is solely to experience stillness and calm, simply walk into the labyrinth with mindfulness, pause at the center, and walk out with mindfulness. If you don’t have a labyrinth nearby you can construct a temporary one outside or indoors using items such as candles or rocks.
Be Still in Nature
One of the easiest ways that I have found to calm my mind and connect with Hestia’s wisdom and peaceful energy is to find a place in nature that is at least somewhat away from others. Find a place to sit and pay attention to your breathing for a few moments. State silently or out loud your intention to connect with Hestia and the center within. Imagine a net or antennae spreading out from your body with particular focus on your third eye. Next, engage all of your senses as you take in your environment.
What do you see around you? What colors are prominent within your view? What animals or bugs are in your immediate vicinity? What do you hear? Listen first to the mosaic of sounds you hear and then try to pick out the individual sounds that make up the mosaic.
What do you feel? If there are trees around, what texture is their bark? Can you feel your breath as you exhale? What do you smell? Are there fragrant flowers nearby? Does it smell like rain or more like a desert? If you open your mouth and stick out your tongue for a moment, is there a particular taste that comes to mind? Do you taste the salt in the air if you are near the ocean?
Our world is so fast-paced with constant things demanding our attention and we often don’t realize just how much our senses are being assaulted, especially our sense of hearing. Engaging your senses in this way and being silent can calm your mind and help you to find the stillness that can be a gateway to connecting with Hestia.
If you find these ideas intriguing but feel guilty about taking time to do them, I can relate. Before you let your feelings of guilt stop in your tracks, take a moment to re-evaluate. My stepdaughter recently performed a monologue in a show that was focused on what it means to be a mom. She talked about how, during the pandemic, she set the bar really high for herself. Initially she thought that since she was working from home and wouldn’t be able to socialize as much in person, she would do all of the things she intended to do if she had had more time. Write that novel. Clean out the closets. Create the most amazing curriculum for her young children to keep them engaged and learning. Learn a new language. Be the best homeschool mom in the history of home schooling!
That lasted, according to her, for a few days before she felt overwhelmed and all of her great ideas and efforts started to fall apart. She wasn’t meeting the bar she had set for herself and was beating herself up for it until she finally had an epiphany…
F**k the Bar! Perhaps setting high benchmarks for ourselves is acceptable in normal times (sometimes), but in these times? Setting the bar can be a form of self-torture and that is the last thing we need when we are already navigating uncertainty, feeling grief wash over us, and dealing with an unprecedented level of societal stress. Letting go of the bar is necessary if we are to find the calm in the storm and recharge our batteries, for only then can we embody Hestia’s strong and enduring flame. Only by taking time to connect with our own center and wisdom can we feed and tend the hearth that creates, nourishes, and offers comfort to ourselves and those we care about.
Be sure to read my book, Persephone: Practicing the Art of Personal Power, available now!