Belated Solstice Blessings and Best Wishes for a Bright New Year!
In my previous post, I discussed the need for us to adapt our spiritual practices to better address these challenging times. This involves changing your perspective, expanding your definition of spiritual, and letting go of what you don’t need. In this post, we will cover how to navigate changes in your practice, including examining your view of devotion and trying new things. Cultivating an adaptive spiritual practice needs to take place in the context of your life. This means that you have to leave space for the unexpected and acknowledge your need for rest.
Changing What Devotion Means to You
The pandemic doesn’t change your devotion to Deity, but the form your devotion takes may look different these days.
What we are able to give has changed for all of us during the pandemic. Balancing the various demands on our time is difficult during regular life, and has become almost impossible during the pandemic. You may be working from home while also watching over kids unable to go to school or daycare. You may be taking care of elderly family members, and have to keep your guard up that much more while running everyday errands. Even just cooking more than usual, since going out to restaurants is risky, can be unexpectedly taxing.
You may not have the same amount of time or energy to devote to your spiritual practice. And that is okay. Before the pandemic, spiritual devotion may have included prayers in the morning, a meal blessing at lunch, and meditating every evening. These days, I am lucky if I can convince myself to get out of bed on time, nevermind all the other things.
I think the phrase “Work smarter, not harder” can definitely apply here. Part of this involves reimagining what devotion looks like in the COVID-19 world. What aspects of devotion to Divinity are really important to you? Try to think of this in broader terms than just the actions you would normally perform.
For example, instead of “meditate for twenty minutes each day” – What do you get out of your meditation? Is that a time to calm your racing mind? A time to converse with Deity? Or to simply listen to the universe? It may be multiple things, but try to tease out exactly why you do what you do, and which of these are the most important to you when your time may be limited.
For me, daily spiritual connection with Aphrodite is essential. Now, this can be accomplished in a myriad of ways. Meditation is one of them, but so is singing in the shower or dancing around my living room. It could also be a quick prayer while I am savoring the first bite of my meal, or admiring the beautiful pink colors of the sunset.
If I am able to look at devotion as a daily spiritual connection instead of being locked into twenty minutes of meditation every evening, my opportunities open up. I am more easily able to meet that need, no matter what life may throw at me on any particular day. Changing my relationship to devotion makes that possible.
Trying New Things
While you are honestly assessing your spiritual practice, keeping what works and letting go of what doesn’t, you will probably need to try out some new things along the way. You may have identified some needs that can’t be met through the current practices that you can reasonably keep during the pandemic. You will have to be creative in figuring out how to meet those needs with the time and energy that you have.
Spirituality is a living and breathing art. One of the many wonderful things about being Pagan is that we aren’t required to follow dusty old scriptures. Our religion isn’t confined to a box labelled “church” or “prayers” or “meditation.” We get to choose how we relate to the Divine. Though our gods may be old, that doesn’t mean that our ways have to be.
Your spirituality is unique to YOU. That means it is yours to create, celebrate, and reinvent. Your spirituality can grow with you. And it should. While the pandemic may not necessarily feel like growth right now, it is. Building a stronger relationship with your spiritual practice during this trying time will not only serve you now, it will open up new possibilities once we are on the other side of this disaster.
Expanding your definition of spiritual is key here. If what you are doing right now isn’t working for you (or isn’t working well), take a step back. It may be helpful to take a look at your practice at different time scales. What do you do (or would like to do) on a daily basis? Weekly? Monthly? Yearly?
Now what is actually possible for you to do each day? Each week? Each month? Some of your daily practices may need to move to every other day, or once a week. Or, you may still be able to keep a daily aspect of that particular practice, but using a modified version. My daily prayers may not be as elaborate as they were prior to the pandemic, but they are still full of love and reverence. And that is what really matters.
Creating Space for Life
Shit happens. Whatever your path is, you should be able to turn to your spirituality for comfort in challenging times. Your spirituality should also have space for life to happen in it – the wonderful, the awful, the happy, the sad, and the simply inconvenient.
Allow space for you to feel your feelings. All of them. Allow space to process the difficult emotions we are all feeling right now. Grief at loss. Frustration at ineffective governments. Anger at people who lack compassion for others. Helplessness in the face of an invisible and insidious viral enemy.
While we are at it, don’t play the comparison game. No one wins at comparative suffering. Just because you aren’t experiencing the worst version of the pandemic right now doesn’t mean that your feelings aren’t valid. We are all under way more stress right now than we were at this time last year. It is important that we acknowledge that.
Leaving Time for Rest
If there is one word I would use to sum up these two posts, it would be “flexibility.” This type of spiritual flexibility requires introspection and really knowing yourself. Part of this is acknowledging, and really listening, to when you need rest.
Rest may seem a little paradoxical right now. Many places in the US are headed back into some version of stay-at-home/lockdown/quarantine as COVID-19 case numbers continue to skyrocket. Even if you haven’t been under direct stay-at-home orders the past few months, the vast majority of us aren’t leaving home as much as we used to prior to the pandemic.
If we aren’t leaving home, that means we must be resting more, right? WRONG.
Even if we are at home, that doesn’t mean we are relaxing. We are still under stress. We are dreading getting groceries, worrying about an elderly family member, taking care of the kids, putting the mail in quarantine, doing chores, cooking more, reading too much news, numbing out with Netflix, or any other of the multitude of things that has become “the new normal” that may never really ever be normal.
This isn’t rest.
When I say rest, I don’t just mean sleep (though sleep is still super important). There is also active rest, like the zen state that begets shower thoughts or chilling out listening to an audiobook. Rest is imperative for our minds, bodies, and spirits to heal. We are all experiencing trauma right now. We need to give ourselves the space to process that.
I encourage you to read the book Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski (or listen to the awesome audiobook, narrated by the authors) to learn more about the stress response cycle and how we can cope with these insanely stressful times using SCIENCE! According to the research cited in Burnout, we need to spend 42% of our time in rest, including both sleep and active rest. That may seem like a lot, but it’s necessary for us to keep on functioning.
That said, this isn’t something to beat yourself up over. That just adds more stress, which isn’t helpful for anyone. No one I know has been able to keep their usual sleep schedule consistently during the pandemic. My own sleep patterns have been messed up pretty much since March. I haven’t been getting the amount of sleep I need, no matter how tired I am. There was a span of over two months where I woke up every morning and had a panic attack. Not fun. I saved up for and recently acquired a weighted blanket (this one – it’s amazing), and it is slowly improving, but I am still quite a ways from where I want to be. I accept that this is a gradual process, and that I am doing the best I can.
If sleep is elusive, I try to get my rest in other ways. I spend a lot of time with my eyes closed listening to audiobooks. I also spend a lot of time cuddling my cat. Remember, the priority here isn’t “Get 8 hours of sleep a night” – it’s “Take care of yourself.” Do that in ways that work for you.
How does this tie into spirituality? Rest is sacred. The act of taking care of yourself is spiritual. If you want to add a bit more to it, like prayers or meditation before bed, you can, but it is certainly not necessary. Giving yourself quiet time to rest helps to bring together your mind, body, and spirit. It helps you to heal. It replenishes your energy for all of the other things you do. Rest makes your spiritual practice possible.
Where Do We Go From Here?
We can only go forward.
Homo sapiens is an incredibly resilient species. We have survived plagues before, and we can survive this. Things may feel impossibly hard (because they are), but we got through yesterday and we can get through today. And we will get through tomorrow, whatever comes.
By allowing our spiritual practice to grow with us and to change with our circumstances, we build a more resilient relationship with ourselves and the Divine. We create a practice that we can take comfort in, that supports us and nourishes us. We honor the Divine, and we honor ourselves.
This process doesn’t happen all at once. Have patience and practice self-compassion. Mistakes are a part of the experience. Learn from them, laugh about them, and move on. Have fun experimenting. Discover what cultivates joy and peace. And, whatever you do, do it with love, reverence, and at least a little bit of mirth.