Is this the Pinnacle of the Trail?

Is this the Pinnacle of the Trail? April 2, 2024

Is this the pinnacle of this path, you ask?/The Peak photo courtesy of Pixabay

I’ve written before about how setting goals can be a beneficial process. A goal is about attaining something that is currently out of reach and will take time, work, dedication and often sacrifice, to achieve. It’s possible to focus so intently on the actions involved in the process that once we accomplish the goal we can feel a bit empty and numb, perhaps even lost and without purpose.

I began learning Gardnerian Wicca in early 2020 and only recently reached its “pinnacle”  by taking 3rd degree in February. I didn’t have any passionate intention of attaining 3rd at the beginning of that path but I immediately found a family I had been looking for my entire life. I was drawn to this path by my guides and through a trusted friend. Of course, I was also intrigued by what I could learn from those who have inherited knowledge. I was also old enough to know that this would be the only time I would have this experience in my lifetime. By that, I don’t mean that I had the intention never to have another initiatory spiritual experience but that I knew this would be the only time this was new and original to me, and that any experience that may come later would be secondary. I knew it would be a challenge and y’all should know by now that I live for that. I have finished all the requirements and done all the things. But most important was the internal work required to create a knowledgeable and compassionate leader in the tradition.

And now, I can reflect on my path and where I have been. Working through the degrees deeply changed me and how I chose to live. It comforted me through the death of my father and will continue to provide support as I handle the deaths/losses of other important people, it moves me into new circumstances, intensifies my relationships, rewards me with abundance, and exposes my weaknesses so that they may be acknowledged and addressed. (Therapy is always a good idea.) I had chosen at the beginning to let go and let things happen organically; yet, things happened a lot faster than I expected and where I am now was never my plan.

Along the way, I lost friends, some people who I thought I was close to, have ghosted me, while others have embraced me. I made hard decisions in difficult situations that I never wanted to deal with. I developed new attachments and had them ripped away. I was shown that beauty and strength can be found in pain, peace in chaos, and structure can lead to freedom. I’ve learned not to invest too deeply into my expectations.

Although I have reached a level where I am no longer considered a student and have moved into autonomous teacher/leader mode, I realize there is much more work to be done. I am just beginning to feel into this new space of being and to allow myself to relax and be present. Just as we do before any ritual, there is a moment of mindfulness for grounding and silence, a time to go within and empty ourselves so that the Muses may enter and inspire. This is that time, to be present and view my life from a higher perspective before I forge a new, individually unique path.

I’ve acquired several bits of information over the last few years that I hope will serve my community in the future.  I’ve learned that every person in my life is a lesson and a reflection. If I connect with a person, it is easy to figure out what we have in common. If that person makes me uncomfortable, it’s likely because I have a shadow aspect about my personality or a past trauma that is being revealed and it is time to address it! Each person has something they can teach me, but I have realized this works at its best when I can remain unattached and observe objectively.

I’ve learned that making a detailed plan isn’t always beneficial. I try to be aware that when I plan in too much detail I may be setting myself up for disappointment by choosing attachments and limiting the magic’s ability to unfold on its own.

Changing your relationship to attachment is a life changer, it is not something that Westerners practice unless they have studied Eastern philosophies. Attachment is sometimes conceived as the equivalent of Love. We are attached to the people, places, actions, things and beliefs which give us comfort and validation. But in Wicca, unattachment is an aspect of working with the Gods. We work to be a conduit for the Gods in our communities and to teach that to others. We connect to the divinity that is all of us; we are also not attached to being Divine, which would manifest as ego.

Take in the View

I choose not to be attached to opinions. I choose not to be influenced by fears. I can focus on the moment, be present and thoughtful and not rush to answer. That’s a hard thing to do when someone is expecting an answer right then, often they find their answers in the interim. Those are my choices… carrying them out is another whole accomplishment.

While I already knew that we wouldn’t get out of this world alive, I’ve come to realize that (at least in Virginia, because we currently don’t have the Death with Dignity Act) I may not get to choose how and when that happens and it is unlikely one can be fully prepared for that style of transition. I have experienced Death when she swoops in unexpectedly and I’ve sat and waited the long hours when she’s been invited and seems to be taking her own sweet time in addition to the scenic route, and maybe she stopped for ice cream at an overlook too.

The things I’ve learned from Death is that the most valuable moments are messy and emotional, filled with strange beauty and deep meaning. I’ve watched people hold their tongues and emotions to preserve their illusions. I’ve learned that some people have lost their self-awareness and have begun to believe the masks worn to uphold societal norms are more important than being authentic. That ego still presides over behavior when true strength is found in the ability to reveal one’s weakness, pain and fear; justifying this behavior as protecting the dying person… but from what? Nothing could be more horrendous than ignoring the enormity of the scythe in the room.

I’ve learned that to support others spiritually, my own spiritual, mental and physical health must come first. And most importantly I’ve learned to say No. Thank you but no. No, I can’t stay up any longer. No, I’m not available. No, there isn’t enough. No, I have other responsibilities. Just no. I sincerely thank you for the opportunity but I must decline.

There are numerous things I’ve learned from my two leaders/teachers (HPS and HPX). Some of the most important were that leaders are still human, we must create and keep boundaries and to balance compassion with strength. Ash and Tyler are extraordinary people, I have never met anyone like either of them. I deeply love and respect them, their commitment to our tradition, and their ability to model a collaborative and selfless partnership.

I can go on for pages listing all the interesting and useful things I’ve learned in just the last few years. In reality, the majority of them have been about myself. I have surprised myself by meeting challenges and overcoming tasks and emotions that caused me to struggle. Being a bit ADD I found it interesting that I never became bored, tired or overwhelmed by the effort required. I loved every minute of the climb because I knew the end of being a student would end all too soon. I can look back and see how these years have made me a better person and increased my usefulness in the world.

Immediately after my elevation to 3rd degree, a series of difficult situations were delivered in full force with painful, probing jabs into my need for validation, shaking my confidence and making me question my perspective and abilities. Ultimately, these trials only confirmed my commitment to my community. This gave clarity to my path and intensified my desire to serve with integrity and compassion, create my own boundaries and realize I’ve received the freedom to stretch my creative wings.

The hardest lesson of all is to learn to trust myself.  It feels strange to know there isn’t anyone to judge me. Granted, anyone is allowed to have an opinion but it’s up to me to decide the value or importance of that opinion. So far, I have only experienced respect, open conversation and support between leaders. We are genuinely fascinated by our different interpretations and teaching styles as each of us has earned autonomy to teach and pass our tradition on our unique way.

However, teaching our tradition isn’t the difficult part. Creation and maintenance of a sacred space, maintaining respect, managing emotions (and possible trauma), staying empathetic even when I’ve been drained, protecting individual and group privacy and knowing when to shut something down before it leads to unintended effects are a lot to manage, all while providing a laboratory for spiritual exploration and self-examination and hosting it like a potluck and semi-regular spiritual retreats. And continuing to study and expand my own pool of knowledge, working a job and attempting to have free time.  Whew… Did I really sign up for this!? I ABSOLUTELY DID, knowing full well that was what would be involved.

Is this the pinnacle of this path, you ask? It’s become a deeply loved part of my life.  Developing a spiritual practice is basic but attaining a praxis of never ending deepening is up to the practitioner. Teaching/Leadership is a symbiotic relationship benefiting the teacher’s spiritual path as much as the student’s. In addition, I know the value spiritual development has had on my life. If I can help even one person at the same level as I received, my life will have had value. I am not and may never have the expertise of a professional spiritual leader, but I know that my skills and practice will deepen and grow as long as I continue to push myself into uncomfortable areas that stretch my skills. This makes me a better Wiccan, HPS, leader, student and human.

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