15 Quiet Minutes: Beginning

One of the goals I set for myself this month was to take fifteen quiet minutes each evening to meditate, pray, check-in with myself, write in my journal, etc. I’ve been enjoying it so much, and thinking of so many ways to use that time, that I’ve decided to create a series of blog posts called “15 Quiet Minutes”. I will share ideas for meditation, spiritual practices, nature practices, and creative practices that will help us all take fifteen minutes for ourselves in the evenings to relax, unwind, still our minds, and connect with our hearts, our creativity, with nature, and with the Sacred. I plan to publish a new post around each full and dark moon. I wanted to leave a couple of weeks between posts to give us time to try out each new practice and see how it works for us. I have lots of ideas, so the series will continue for several months at least. I hope you will join me in taking 15 Quiet Minutes for yourself each day!

Today’s post is about beginning. First, figure out when you can fit this practice into your life. Take a look at how you spend your time, and see where you may be able to claim fifteen minutes for yourself. I am doing my practice in the evening as a bracket to my morning spiritual practice, as a way to end the day the same way I start it, with some quiet time to sit with myself and with Goddess. However, if evenings are not possible, find a time of day that will work for you. You may do it in the morning if you don’t already have a morning spiritual practice, or in your car or at a park during your lunch break. Choose a time that will work best for you and your schedule.

Next, set a goal for yourself, and make it as realistic as you can. If you think you will only be able to take fifteen minutes for yourself twice a week, then choose that. It is better to start small and be successful than to set an unrealistic goal, fail to meet it, and then give up altogether. My current goal is five evenings a week. I’ve kept this goal before, so I know it is doable for me, and it gives me a couple of evenings a week to be lazy and spend too long watching Netflix without feeling like a failure.

Whatever goal you choose, write it down. Write it in your journal or in your planner or on a sticky note stuck to your bathroom mirror. Writing down goals really makes a difference! I like to put little check boxes next to my goals so I can check off each time I do the practice (so if I plan to do it five time each week, I make five little check boxes). If you love checking things off lists, this might work for you, too. If you tend to be more motivated by being held accountable by other people, then you might want to tell someone supportive about your goal, and let them know when you accomplish it each week. Do whatever you think might help you be successful.

You’ll also want to figure out where you can take fifteen minutes to yourself. If you already have a room to retreat to, that’s perfect. If you have an altar, that may be the place where you’ll choose to do a lot of the practices. Some of the practices will be done outside, and the creative practices will require a bit of space on a table, counter-top or floor to spread out your materials. If the only privacy you can get is in your bathroom, or in your car, that works, too! You’ll want  a quiet place where you can put your phone on “do not disturb” and turn off the TV and music.

The first practice is one of the simplest, and one of the most challenging—meditation. If the word makes you cringe a bit, I understand. I’ve tried doing simple meditation by following my breath so many times over the years, and I just end up frustrated and bored. I’ve found that I need some other kind of focus, like a visualization, in order to sit quietly for any length of time.

One of my favorite visualizations is to see my breath coming in as a wave of golden, sparkling energy, and as I breath out, that energy moves out through my skin, so that I am surrounded by a cloud of golden light. You may even imagine yourself dissolving into this cloud of golden light.

Another visualization that I have found really useful is to see myself floating in space among the stars. Just floating, without a care in the world, surrounded by the darkness of space and the beauty of the stars. You could also visualize yourself floating on the ocean waves, or in a still pool, gently rocking in a hammock, or laying in field of flowers. Choose a visualization that makes you feel absolutely calm and at peace, and focus on that for fifteen minutes. Bring your attention back to the scene you have created—feel it, smell it, hear it—whenever your attention wanders.

If you prefer guided meditations, I’ve used this one several times and really enjoy it. This is a great loving kindness (or metta) meditation. You can do a search on YouTube for other guided meditations that you might like.

I’ve found the Meditation Timer app useful for timing my meditations (it looks like it is only available for iPhone, but there are lots of other meditation timer apps available for Android). Another great resource is the Beginning Meditation audiobook by Sally Kemper, which includes several different types of meditations to try.

Don’t worry, if you absolutely hate to meditate, there will be many other suggestions for things to do with your 15 Quiet Minutes. If you don’t want to meditate, but want to start taking fifteen minutes for yourself now, you might try just sitting still and letting your mind wander for fifteen minutes. Just fifteen minutes of peace, of doing nothing, of telling your “to do” list that it can wait, and watching the world go by. Ahhhh, doesn’t that feel good?

Until the next post, I wish you blessings upon your 15 Quiet Minutes, however you choose to use them. Enjoy!

Going with the Flow

Flowing with the Rogue River. Goddess pendant from Brigid’s Grove.

I had big plans for the little staycation/personal retreat that I took in May. There was going to be lots of reading! Lots of journaling! Lots of meditation! I also planned to finish my spring cleaning, but other than that I intended to do lots of quiet inner work.

There was one problem with my grandiose plans—I didn’t take into account the energy of the season. If there is one month of the year that is absolutely buzzing with busy energy here in Oregon, it is May. Every week there is a dazzling new array of wildflowers decorating the hills and roadsides. Baby birds are arriving at the feeders noisily begging Mom and Dad for food. Everything is green, lush, vibrant and bursting with life.

With this riot of energy going on around me, I could not sit still. I easily got all my spring cleaning done and then some. But when it came time to read or journal, all I wanted was to get out! I wanted to be out doing things, not sitting around reading and thinking. I fought myself for a few days, feeling like I was wasting all this precious time and not accomplishing what I planned before it finally occurred to me—I was definitely not going with the flow of the seasonal energy.

It is certainly true that we can choose busyness over spiritual practice as a way of avoiding sitting still and facing ourselves, and I’m sure there was some of that going on with me. But I also believe that a big part of my struggle was related to trying to do quiet, introspective things when the whole tide of energy around me was filled with activity. It was also the most active, energetic time for me in my own monthly cycle. With all that energy buzzing around, no wonder I couldn’t sit still!

Over the past few years, I have gotten good at knowing and working with my personal energetic cycles, but this reminded me of how important it is to honor the energetic cycles of nature as well. It isn’t often that I find myself feeling so lively—I would have been much better served by putting that energy to work for me rather than trying to fight it.

This experience has taught me to pay better attention, and to learn to go with the flow of the energy, not only of my personal cycles, but of the cycles of nature as well. If my plans haven’t taken into account the energy of the season, I may find myself swimming against the current, making whatever I am trying to do that much more difficult. It is one of those things I knew intellectually, but apparently needed to be reminded of in a more experiential way.

Do you consciously work with the energy of seasonal or lunar cycles? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Dark Moon or New Moon? Is There a Difference?

Today is the New Moon. Or is it? Image from the Deluxe Moon app, which I have on my phone.

Over my years as a Pagan, the difference between the New and Dark Moons has been a source of confusion. It was a question I often pondered, but could never seem to find a satisfactory answer to. A few years ago, I found this post, which made a lot of sense to me, and supported what I intuitively felt about the Dark versus New Moon question. Today, while doing some research for this post, I also found this article which provides more information. I definitely recommend reading these two posts, because they go into more detail than I will here about astronomical versus astrological/magical phases of the moon.

The gist of the matter is that I have come to see that the date marked on most calendars as the New Moon, is actually the Dark Moon. It is the point at which none of the illuminated face of the moon is visible from earth, the moment when the moon is neither waning or waxing. The moon is also rising and setting with the sun on the day of the Dark Moon, which is why the Dark Moon is in the same astrological sign as the Sun (remember, what I’m referring to as the Dark Moon is what is most commonly referred to as the New Moon). In contrast, the New Moon is when the first waxing crescent is visible in the sky right after sunset, which is usually 2-3 days after the Dark Moon.

Why does it matter? Part of what always bothered me was the lack of symmetry to the way we generally see the lunar phases. Traditionally there is the Full Moon, which is the moon at its peak of light and power, and then two weeks later what is commonly called the New Moon, where we again are focusing on planting new seeds and making plans. There is no honoring of the Dark Moon, the phase of rest and retreat, a time to pause and take a breath before moving again into the waxing phase of the moon. To me, it makes so much more sense to honor the active power and energy of the Full Moon, and then to honor the dark, quiet mysteries of the Dark Moon at its opposite point in the lunar cycle.

In our culture we tend to value action and productivity above all things. Pausing, resting, and regrouping are not honored. In fact, we tend not to respect most of the things associated with the Dark Moon—the elderly, intuition, the unseen, death and dissolution. And yet, it is from the darkness, from the void that new things are created. We take form in the darkness of our mothers’ wombs. In many creation stories from cultures around the globe, the world is created out of darkness, out of the void. Seeds sprout in the darkness beneath the soil. Psychologically, it has been shown that boredom actually leads to greater creativity. It is only when we stop doing for a while that we can listen to our inner voice of creativity. We need to take periodic breaks, we need to do nothing occasionally and let our  minds wander. Honoring the Dark Moon each month reminds us of this.

The energy of the Dark Moon is quiet and introspective. It is a time for being instead of doing. It is a great time for meditation, path-working, divination, journaling, and creating art intuitively. Magic workers may not work any magic at all, or work banishing spells to rid themselves of unwanted energy or conditions. I generally do my monthly wrap-up writing in my moon calendar on the day of the Dark Moon, and I don’t start writing down goals and plans for the new lunar cycle until at least the day after the Dark Moon, and sometimes two or three days after, when I start to feel the energy of the moon waxing again. My Dark Moon ceremonies are centered around quiet meditation, getting in touch with the fertile power of the darkness, and possibly doing some divination if I feel the need.

I realize this may be a bit mind-blowing or confusing if you’ve never considered it before. But I encourage you to do what I did a few years ago—sit down on the night of what is marked as the “New Moon” on your calendar, get quiet and still, and meditate on the energy you feel around you. Reach out to  connect with the lunar energy. How does it feel to you? You may find that you are sensing Dark Moon energy—quiet, still, introspective. If you do, maybe you’ll want to join me in celebrating the Dark Moon every month.

I love the energy of the Dark Moon phase of the lunar cycle. I love being reminded to rest, breathe, and pause. For me, today is not the New Moon, it is the Dark Moon. In a couple of days I will see the waxing crescent in the sky, and I will welcome that energy, but for today I honor the dark.

Resources:

To understand how the moon is always 50% illuminated, but we only see a portion of the illuminated section, I found this video helpful.

Vacation Time!

Retreat time (Goddess figure from Brigid’s Grove)

Okay, it’s really more of a staycation. Or a personal retreat. I’ve been feeling the need to take a couple of weeks and withdraw from being online much. I plan to take a break from blogging, and maybe even from posting on Instagram very often.

I celebrated my birthday on Saturday, and I’ve noticed that I tend to feel a need to withdraw and contemplate my life around my birthday. In Mysteries of the Dark Moon Demetra George writes that many people experience a dark moon phase in their lives the month before their birthday, and I have noticed that April can tend to be a challenging month for me each year. This year, however, I was busy working on my Etsy shop and catching up with life after being sick through most of March, and I never really took any downtime for myself.

Now, I have some space opening up and the opportunity to have a couple of weeks alone, and even though I feel like I should keep working, I also know that I am really longing for a break. I feel like something is brewing inside me, and I need to take some time offline to listen to myself.

I plan to spend time reading, journaling, taking long walks, painting, finishing up my spring cleaning, renewing my spiritual practices, and sitting outside watching the world go by. I also have a friend coming to visit for a couple of days, which I’m really looking forward to.

I should be back to blogging again in a couple of weeks. Until then, I hope you are enjoying May—isn’t it one of the most beautiful months?! May you enjoy every minute of these flower-filled days!

A Tarot Spread for Beltane

Beltane (May 1) is almost upon us, and the lush, vibrant energy of deep spring is in the air here in southwestern Oregon. I have been especially captivated by the dogwoods this year, both the lovely white and pink ornamentals growing in yards, as well as our native Pacific Dogwoods that stand out on wooded hillsides, their flowers glowing white in a sea of fresh green leaves.

Almost all of our trees have leaves on them now, although some are still small, fresh, and tender. With all the rain we have had, the grasses are thick and lush, painting the mountains a vibrant green.

Yesterday, I saw a Starling feeding its young, and it won’t be long before there are juvenile Black-Capped Chickadees, Lesser Goldfinches, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Downy Woodpeckers begging for food from their harried parents at my feeders.

Every time I go for a drive it seems that the hillsides are covered in a new variety of flowers. This week the hills were covered in a blanket of pink Rosy Plectritis flowers, with a scrubby, gray-green species of Ceanothus covered in white blossoms among them.

A hill covered in Rosy Plectritis and Ceanothus.

Rosy Plectritis, up close.

May Day (or Beltane) is a time of riotous beauty as flowers bloom all around us. It is lusty, lush, and abundant. However, few things are producing seeds and fruits at this time, the energy is instead the energy of potential, and it still requires nurturing to ensure a full harvest. Right now, we simply celebrate the return of life, the return of fertility, and the potential of future fruitfulness and harvests to come.

I have created this tarot spread for Beltane to honor the energy of this season, and to help us find vibrancy and a zest for life in our own lives.

Question: What do I need to know during this next turn of the wheel? (From Beltane until Summer Solstice)

  1. Overall Theme
  2. Key Opportunity
  3. Key Challenge
  4. What do I need to nurture in my life during this time?
  5. What should I move away from that keeps me from celebrating and enjoying my life?
  6. What should I move towards to more fully participate in the simple joys and pleasures of life?

I’d love to hear how your reading goes.

May you have a blessed Beltane!

Discovering the Benefits of Praying with Prayer Beads

One of my handmade rosaries (available in my Etsy shop).

I had an interesting experience last week. I haven’t been using my prayer beads as regularly as usual over the past few weeks, but I always have a rosary or two beside my bed. As I climbed into bed one night last week, I felt the urge to pick up my rosary and pray, even though I really wasn’t feeling very spiritual that evening. But as soon as I picked up my beads and started repeating the familiar prayers, I felt…calm. Centered. Connected to Goddess. It was like all of the prayers I had prayed with my beads were still contained within them, a sort of magic that transported me into a space of connection with and devotion to Goddess, just by picking up the beads and repeating the prayers I have prayed so many times before.

This wasn’t a flashing lights and trumpets kind of experience, it was a quiet and gentle, but it was still profound. First, it showed me the benefit of regular spiritual practice. Our spiritual practice isn’t going to be filled with sparkles and fairy dust every day, but some days it will. And when we are in a difficult or dark place, turning to those practices we have done so many times before can help us find our connection to the Divine again, can help us find the spark of light in the darkness. There is a kind of muscle memory in our practices that helps imprint the good experiences we have had while doing them in the past, and sometimes just by going through the motions, we can move ourselves back into the experience of those positive moments again.

I have had a similar experiences while knitting or cross stitching. It seems that when we are doing something repetitive and engaging our hands in the process, our minds retain information and experiences more easily. I actually had an organic chemistry professor in college who encouraged us to knit or crochet in class because he thought we retained the information better than when we were furiously trying to take notes. Often when I’m working on a needlework project, and pick it up again, I’ll have vivid memories of what I was watching or listening to the last time I worked on it.

In a bit of wonderful synchronicity, the radio show “To the Best of Our Knowledge” did a whole episode yesterday on handwork, and how doing things like knitting and drawing can help us become calm and better retain information. I also found this study showing the physical benefits of repetitive prayers and mantras.

I think the reason I love working with prayer beads so much is that it combines both repetitive prayer and the tactile sensation of moving beads through our hands—a two-for-one combo of practices that are known to help us move into a calm, centered, meditative state. It’s no wonder that using prayer beads is a popular practice in so many religions.

Some days praying with my beads is just routine. Some days my mind wanders and I have trouble focusing. But by repeating the practice, I realize now that I’m creating a bit of magic for myself that can help me through the difficult times in my life. I’m creating a connection to Goddess that is there for me when I most need it. Sometimes just picking up my beads and holding them makes me feel better.

What spiritual practices do you use, and how have they helped you through the challenges in your life? I’d love to know!

No, We Aren’t Spiritual Failures

The spiral necklace that I wear every day, to remind me that life is a journey.

I’ve been struggling with my spiritual practice ever since hurting my back and then being sick for three weeks with a cold. I got out of the habit of my daily morning practice, and out of the habit of reading, meditating, praying, or journaling in the evenings, and it has been hard to get back to it since I started feeling better. It is easy to start feeling like a spiritual failure.

So many of us find most of our spiritual community online. We follow spiritual people that we admire on Facebook and Instagram, and many of them only share positive posts showing their lovely treks in the woods, their morning spent journaling over their coffee, their altar glowing with candles for their evening rituals. It is encouraging to see these kind of posts, and I try to keep my posts positive, too, but this isn’t the whole story for me, and I’m guessing that it isn’t the whole story for anyone else, either.

Life gets messy. We get sick, or our family members or friends get sick, and our practice languishes. Or you may struggle with anxiety or depression like I do, which can sometimes hit us out of nowhere and leave our spiritual lives as well as our everyday lives in shambles. Dirty dishes pile up, beds don’t get made, our altars get dusty. Yet we see these other people online who seem to have it together every day with perfect homes, perfect children, perfect spiritual lives, and we start to feel like we’re doing sometime wrong, failing in some way. That we aren’t trying hard enough, or maybe we’re on the wrong path, or maybe we’re just not cut out for living a spiritual life.

However, over the years I’ve come to realize the ups-and-downs of our spiritual lives are just normal. I’ve gone months, even years, without a regular spiritual practice, feeling adrift and unsure about my path. But I always get back to it eventually, and as I’ve practiced more regularly over the years, as I’ve gotten more clear about my path and more dedicated to it, I experience fewer periods of uncertainty, and they don’t last as long as they used to. But they still happen, and that is okay. I am not a spiritual failure.

I think this is why the spiral is one of my favorite symbols. To me it represents our journey, both our journey in this lifetime, as well as over many lifetimes. Sometimes we are moving towards the center, feeling tuned in and connected to Goddess/the Divine. Other times we are on the outer edge of the spiral, feeling like we are moving backwards, away from Goddess, away from our spiritual center. But it is all part of the journey, the moving inward, and the spiraling outward, and wherever we are on the path is simply where we are on the path, we don’t have to judge it. We are not spiritual failures.

Our spiritual practices are important, and they are definitely worth working our way back into, even during those times when we don’t feel like it (I have a whole other post planned soon about that!), but sometimes, we just aren’t going to do them. Sometimes, we are going to feel disconnected from the Divine. Sometimes, we aren’t going to have any inspiring photos to post to Facebook or Instagram. Sometimes we are going to doubt ourselves, and doubt that we are on the right path. But we still aren’t spiritual failures.

Spiritual growth comes from the struggle to get back to our practices, to find our center again, to reestablish our connection with Goddess, even if it takes months, or years. Maybe sometimes all we need to do is just yearn for that connection, even if we aren’t taking any active steps to get back to it. I hope that is true, because some days yearning is all I have. And some days I don’t even have that. Yet, I’m still not a spiritual failure.

I write this for myself as much as for anyone else. I don’t have the answers, really. I just know that I periodically spiral away from my spiritual practice, and I miss it, and I spiral back towards it again.

Maybe there are some people who find a spiritual practice, a spiritual path, and stick with it perfectly without any issues, but that hasn’t been my experience, or the experience of most people who I know. And if it hasn’t been your experience, either, don’t worry: you aren’t a spiritual failure.

You’re just a human on a journey to reconnect with the Divine. You’ll find your way back again, and so will I. There is no way for us to fail at this, because there is no final destination, no perfect way to be. It is a continuous journey, whether we’re moving forward or backward, or standing still. We can’t get it wrong.

Blessed be the journey!