This post started out as a continuation of the Pagans and Depression series but ended up taking on a life of its own, so please forgive its length and rambling-ness.
Whether your spiritual path is Wicca, Buddhism, Catholicism,
or the First Church of Some Dude Named Leroy, what gives it validity isn’t the
name or the vocabulary words, nor is it the tools and trappings. What makes a path valid is its effect on your
Does your spirituality help you cope with the slings and arrows of daily life? Does it encourage you to become a better person? Does it lead you to grow and change? Does it give you tools to transform yourself and your world?
If so, then in my mind it doesn’t matter if you’re an
AnarchoFeminist Klingon Pagan or a Semi-Radical Ninja Feri. There are plenty of people in this world who
cling to dysfunctional or stagnant ways simply out of habit and tradition, and
whether those ways fall under the umbrella of mainstream acceptance or not,
religion is not spiritual if it doesn’t change you.
In my experiences in the Craft I’ve come to the
understanding that there are essentially three kinds of transformative
experiences on a spiritual path, each with its own blessings and pitfalls. Eventually all three are going to find you;
it is through the dynamic interplay of the three that we become mature
The three categories are ecstasy, practice, and breakdown.
all those Peak Experiences that walk hand in hand with our religious lives. Moments of mystical unity with
the Source, however they come, are bound to change us, and that’s why we have
them—to remind us why we’re here, what we’re working toward, and why it all
As awesome (in the true sense of the word) as these
experiences are, however, they can be the most slippery. How do we take an indescribable feeling like
ecstatic union with the Divine and translate that into our daily lives? How does that rush of joy really affect us
the next day when there are dirty diapers and office jobs to deal with?
I’ve had many ecstatic experiences in the last 13 years, but not all of them have led to lasting change in my day-to-day existence. Usually what happens is we have the Big Moment, it passes, then after a day or two of walking around feeling like a completely new human being, we start to forget. Without some hard work, we go back to the way things were within a month.
It’s absolutely possible to take that energy of inspiration and connection and use it for something, but it’s difficult, and the day after, often it seems almost like we dreamed it all. It is vital, however, to learn how to integrate mystical experience into the everyday; ecstasy is grace, transformative energy handed to us at no charge, and if we squander the gifts of the universe eventually the universe stops handing them out.
That’s where the second category, practice, comes in.
If there’s one thing you should know about Practice, it’s this: it is not
glamorous. Practice is not big bonfires
and Circles cast in flame. It’s the way you live your path day after day, sunup
to sundown, and sometimes, well, it sucks. It’s grueling work that slowly chips away at your established patterns
and illusions, and sometimes it’s painful, because in order to transform
something you must first invoke it.
My realization has been that what you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while. Your daily work may not seem like it makes a lot of difference at the time, but it serves several vital functions: it lays the foundation for all the Big Moments to come, it brings a calm and stable center to your life, and it enables you to cope better with the third category of change when it inevitably hits you.
It doesn’t matter how many trance journeys and Drawing Downs you undergo—if you don’t back it up with daily meditation and devotional ritual, none of that ecstatic energy is going to stay with you. Your practice opens you up to a greater influx of Divine energy, and it allows negativity to flow out of you more easily instead of clogging up your life.
That’s how the Pagan Community ends up with such a large percentage of people who claim to have been Pagan for twenty years yet can’t hold down jobs or relationships, are constantly drowning in drama, and have the aura of adolescent chipmunks on acid. You can’t just show up eight times a year and expect your life to come effortlessly into rhythm with the Dance; you have to commit to more than getting laid and drinking mead.
A house with no foundation will blow over in the first stiff wind.
Everyone, regardless of how long they’ve been practicing,
has times when they’d rather sleep in. Everyone has fallow periods when the idea of meditating is about as
appealing as a lobotomy performed with a rusty nail. It’s always hard. It doesn’t matter who you are. But the fact that it’s hard means it’s
Why? Because you can’t change what isn’t there. If there is no resistance, there’s no need for transformation. Resistance becomes the raw material for creating something powerful and purposeful. The energy we spend fighting ourselves is powerful energy indeed, and our job is to alter the course of that energy, diverting it from self-sabotage to self-actualization.
On the grand stage of spiritual drama, Breakdown is the diva. Breakdown is the Tower card where Ecstasy is the World and Practice is Temperance. Traumatic experiences, deaths, crises of faith, and bouts with depression (although usually less dramatic than, say, a nervous breakdown) are all tools of the Tower, tools of the chaos that periodically overtakes our lives.
Some people become addicted to the breakdown because they won't commit to practice and either don't trust or block out ecstasy. Those who believe themselves powerless or who give away their power can only affect change through what amounts to spiritual violence. The term "drama queen" really should be "drama junkie," because often that's exactly what drama queens are--they are unable to function unless life is just a big Mongolian Catastrofuck. It's an oddly pervasive form of self-abuse among Pagans; the "fringe" nature of our communities leaves the door open for all manner of potentially dangerous pathologies. Our responsibility to mature extends beyond just ourselves; it extends to our tribes and communities who need functional adults, not attention-starved children.
Why do bad things happen to good Pagans? Hell if I know. I believe there is an order to the Universe,
and that everything happens because of a complex web of choice and interaction,
but I also know that Web is far too vast for me to see its edges, or even the
weave beyond my own life. So I don’t
waste my time shaking my fist at the sky (okay, not much); instead I’d rather
figure out what I can take from what falls on me, and how I can use the embers
of the present to rise into the flame of a new way of being.
Crisis in all its forms is a vitally important catalyst for
change. It gives us an opportunity to
reassess our path, to question our beliefs, and thereby grow stronger in them
(or change them completely). “Losing
your religion” doesn’t mean you’ll never find it again. It could mean that there’s something you have
been ignoring or denying for years and the gods have finally decided enough is
enough and slapped you in the face with it. It could mean that you’ve been heading in the wrong direction and need
to step back and figure out if your life is really going where you want it to
go. Often breakdowns occur because we
repress and deny necessary change until the Universe decides, “Okay, I tried to
do this the easy way, but nooooo…so put your helmet on, dumbass, here we go!”
Then again, sometimes crisis doesn’t really have anything to
do with us initially. The fact that I
was raped doesn’t mean the gods sent the rapist to get my attention and make me
change my life. It means that some evil
motherfucker decided he had the right to use a woman’s body for his own
enjoyment and my will was irrelevant, and I couldn’t fight him off. It was not a gift from the gods, and it was
not a failure on my part to put my “good intentions” out there. It was the horrifying result of my life
intersecting with someone who had violent intentions. I had no choice in the matter. Sometimes you don’t—I don’t care what the Law
of Attraction people say. If we have
free will that means other people do too, and sometimes their will is going to
hurt us. Occasionally you’re just going
to be in the path of the tornado. That’s
just part of life.
However, once something terrible has happened to you, you do
have a choice, and that’s when the opportunity for evolution arises. When someone dear to you dies, when you are
diagnosed with cancer, when the world falls to hell all around you, no one can
dictate the person you will become, except for you.
Shit happens. It’s up
to you to fertilize something with it.
What I have found is that into every life, a certain amount of change must fall. If you work through your issues on your own with the help of your practice, you can avoid some of the Cosmic 2x4s; bad things will still happen, but you won’t bring so many on yourself. I speak from experience when I say it’s far easier to face your negative patterns through meditation and prayer than it is through your entire life collapsing and forcing you to rebuild yourself from the ground up.