Tuesday, May 1, 2018

A Time of Reclamation

I used to skate. Not competitively, not at a high level, and not even very consistently, as other demands upon my limited finances and time would invariably come in to displace it, but skate I did, and I loved it, even though I’d go sometimes for months or even years without ever touching the ice. My most recent period of time away was the longest ever, nearly a decade during which I might have occasionally hit a short public session but never went beyond doing slow laps around the rink among the crush of other ice tourists; that ended last summer when I somehow found out that there were adult-only drop-in sessions happening at the rink about a mile or so from my new home.

It turns out that you can lose a lot in a decade. Mentally, I remembered how it felt to do various things, but my muscles had forgotten all they’d learned, and I was miserably adrift. After a couple of awkward attempts, I realized two things: that I wanted not only to get back what I’d lost but to exceed what I’d ever had, and that I’d have to relearn the very basics and build from a strong foundation in order to do so.

And so it is with the Craft.

Spiritually, magickally, I've been in a fallow period for what feels like the longest stretch since I started serious practice. The truth is--and it's a truth that my very bones instinctively recoil from--I'm older now, firmly middle-aged and starting the downward slope toward Old, and with age comes a raft of unpleasant realities like illness and injury and overwork and exhaustion and family issues that devour our time and drain our energy and leave us with very little left over. Faltering and bowing beneath the immediacy of mundane concerns, the spiritual bleeds out almost unnoticed, until at last you realize its absence when you reach for it and can't find it anymore.

When I felt the pull to resume my skating practice, I was fortunate in that there were resources in place to direct me toward my goal. I enrolled in Learn-To-Skate classes under a patient and perceptive coach, and now some seven months later I’ve gone from wobbling uncertainty to starting to feel a measure of control and competence. I’m still only about halfway through the core curriculum of basic skills, but I can track my progress, see and feel those skills sharpening, and see the places to which they might lead me. There is no corresponding method for recovering my Craft; while there are some training programs out there, they’re not my path, so I’m left to my own devices, much as I was when I first began. I have years of study, practice, and experience to draw upon as I start again, flexing disused “muscles” that creak and protest. But where to begin?
  • Do something. Anything! The most I’ve managed in months are the simplest of stripped-down ritual observances, hardly more than light-a-candle-burn-some-incense (and sometimes, not even that elaborate). Start with something simple, like a Tarot or other card drawn and contemplated. A quick acknowledgment of the season or phase of the moon. Dust off a deity statue and think for a moment about what She or He represents to you. Start small, but start.
  • Meditate. And by that I mean, sit your ass down and apart from all the myriad things constantly clamoring for your attention. Log out of social media. Turn off your phone. Shut down your computer (it probably needs a restart anyway). Throw the TV out the window. In silence and stillness—things so very alien to our daily mundane lives—can you begin to remember what brought you here in the first place, and what still sings in the deep of your mind, drawing you to return.
  • Read. Read pagan blogs and news sites to get a bead on what’s happening out there. Read books, old and new. Dig out some of those old favorites that so intrigued and inspired you in the beginning. Read historical and sociological studies of the Craft and contemplate your place within that milieu. Read magickal and occult-themed fiction (see my Recommended reading page for some ideas) and consider the themes presented.
  • Study. Grab a how-to like Buckland’s Big Blue (or Huson or Cunningham or Roderick or Ravenwolf) and start working your way through it. Resist the part of you that will sneer at such basic fare, just as you must resist the part of you that’s already telling you that there’s no point to any of this, that you don’t even need the Craft, that it’s all bullshit, whatever; that’s outside programming that you’ve internalized over years of stress and sorrow and struggle, and it serves no positive purpose in your life. Remember that your spiritual and/or magickal practice once served you well before things came along to distract you, before other people worked their mischief to dissuade you. Know that you can get back what you’ve lost or given away or squandered or had stolen, but know also that it won’t come without work.
  • Start over slowly. Just as my body had become unaccustomed to the work of skating, and getting all the parts to align properly was frustrating and painful at first, the other parts of me are fighting the painful process of starting over with spiritual discipline. It’s like moving through molasses, fighting a current uphill, pick your metaphor; but it’s worth the struggle, worth the pain, worth the fight, when you remember what you gained from it before: purpose, accomplishment, satisfaction, excitement, power, peace, knowledge, balance, etc.
  • Practice. Thinking about skating and reading about skating is inspiring and useful, but I have to actually physically skate in order to make progress. Go back to step one above: Do something! It doesn’t have to be terribly complex; the simpler you start, the less daunting it will be, and the less likely you’ll be to cave in to those seductive voices telling you to junk it all and go back to dicking around on Facebook (believe me, I know those voices all too well). Start small, and build upon it. Develop your practice. Add in disciplines. Strengthen yourself incrementally.
I'm not saying it will be easy and fun (although sometimes, it will certainly be one or both of these things); there will be struggle and stress and you'll hate it and fight yourself and want to quit, but if you keep with it, I promise you that you will start to see and feel results within a short while. Try to cultivate what in Zen Buddhism is called shoshin, "beginner's mind." Look within and find that feeling again, that sense of wonder and mystery and excitement that first led you to this practice in the first place. Open to it, nurture it, and see where it can take you this time; it may lead you to places you'd never even considered the first time around.

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