Are You Projective or Receptive?

(Spoiler: You’re both!)

When I first started to take part in discussions in Pagan communities, I was astonished at the number of stories about people “feeling” things outside of their being. Whether it was empathic abilities or sensing someone’s energy field, I didn’t have a personal point of reference. I didn’t feel other people or energies inside my body. I have pretty keen social skills, and I can read a room or someone’s body language and discern basic emotions, but the idea of just “knowing” it or viscerally feeling it was completely alien to me.

Throughout my life, I had never been a very “receptive” person. Sure, I was open to new ideas, and some other mundane-world definitions of receptive, but energetically, I was not. I was almost always doing something. I put more time and effort into the vast majority of my friendships than I ever got in return. I rarely relinquished control of a situation to just “go with the flow.” I had a horrible time trying to “clear my mind” for meditation. And I never, ever, surrendered to anything. Until very recently, I put out WAY more energy than I took in from the world.

Not all of this was necessarily “good” energy, either. I have really big, overwhelming emotions, and I’ve had them all my life. If I feel something, I feel ALL of it. If I’m happy, I am overjoyed. If I’m sad, I am devastated. If I’m angry, I am livid. I also wear my heart on my sleeve, so anyone around me can tell what I am feeling at any point it time. I have absolutely no poker face. According to my Pagan friends, this is true of me energetically as well. I broadcast my emotions in waves radiating off of my body. Sometimes I can feel it, but the majority of the time, I cannot.

All of my emotions are very visceral, too. When I am happy, I feel this lightness in my chest and it feels like bubbles are coursing through my veins. When I am angry, I feel the blazing inferno in my solar plexus. When I am sad, my heart literally aches. I think most people feel emotions somewhere in their body, even if it is only a little sensation. My sensations were so overwhelming that they completely hijacked my brain. This was a bit of a disaster with negative emotions, to the misfortune of whomever made me sad or angry. Many years of therapy later, I have a bit more control over my emotions, and I know how to consciously keep from broadcasting them to the world (at least most of the time).

Projection was my default state until I was about 25 years old. It wasn’t always about emotions, and there were many good aspects to it as well. My projection made me a captivating performer, an enthusiastic public speaker, an engaging educator, a skilled social butterfly, and pretty good at doing magick. However, always being projective meant that I had a lot of difficulty receiving messages from the Divine, which began to be a much more important part of my spiritual practice around that time.

I didn’t start to be able to receive communication from the Divine until I reigned in my emotions and energy projections. After that, things slowly started to open up. I was much more in touch with my intuition, I could hear Aphrodite more clearly, and I also began to pick up on external energies more easily.

One of the messages that Aphrodite had for me (and required for me) was to be able to surrender. My OCD and anxiety had turned me into quite the control freak, and I didn’t want to let go of anything. I could barely surrender my thoughts during meditation. Through a series of events, it became very clear that I had to surrender – to Her and to the flow of life. I had to surrender my fear of letting go (along with lots of other fears). I had to allow things to happen – not make them happen, which had been my default for so many years.

I did not like it one bit! It jettisoned me far from my comfort zone and into an alien land. The best I could do most of the time was to throw my hands in the air and say “Well, here goes nothing!” This surrender was also intimately tied to overcoming my OCD and anxiety, which added whole another layer of complexity to things. It was rough going for a while. I felt completely energetically spent at the end of each day for several months. It took much more effort for me to let go than it did for me to control. It was an exhausting lesson to learn, but it was important.

After a few months, it became easier. It no longer required as much effort to surrender. I trusted Aphrodite and the world a bit more. I could receive things a lot more easily – be that a Divine message or kindness from a friend. Meditation became almost effortless, and I even started unintentionally slipping into a meditative state sometimes. My sensations of outside energies got stronger. I was able to receive, both spiritually and in the mundane world.

I believe that everyone has projective and receptive abilities. For some, one will be much stronger than the other, and that’s okay. It just means you will have to work a little harder to develop the other skill. I also don’t believe that being projective and being receptive are mutually exclusive. While it’s true that for me to find my receptive self, I had to tone down my naturally projective state, I have since had moments of both big receptivity and projection. A good example of this would be receiving energy from Aphrodite, combining it with my own, and projecting that energy during a ritual or magickal working.

Everyone’s process for reception and projection is different. I can tell you what worked for me (therapy and Divine intervention, mostly, but also following a few tips from my empathic friends). Recognizing which category each of your actions falls into is a great place to start. This can give you some idea as to what your primary mode might be, or if you tend to be ambidextrous.

After you determine your “default state,” explore activities that encourage the opposite mode. Some receptive activities include meditation, deep listening, empathy, sensing energy, divination, and pretty much any activity involving surrender of some kind. Some projective activities are raising energy, dancing, public speaking, planning an activity, going completely into your emotions, and doing things for others.

As you do things outside of your comfort zone, you will discover new capacities for using and sensing energy. Try combining two different activities of the same type to see how they feel, and two activities of the opposite type. As you develop your personal and magickal capabilities, you will be able to simultaneously hold projective and receptive energies. This was revolutionary to my spiritual practice. I hope it is positively transformative for you, as well!

Trials by Fire

I’ve found that spiritual growth is rarely a linear progression. There are times when it is slow and steady, and times of plateau where not much happens at all. Then, there are times when it’s a trial by fire.

Right now is one of those times for me.

I’ve had various other times of what I would consider exponential growth in my spiritual life. My first was the discovery of Paganism. I read all I could about Paganism and Wicca until my parents pulled the plug on it. It was a huge revelatory process, and it resonated so much that I stuck with it. You can read about my first foray into Paganism here.

Unfortunately, after that initial exploratory period, I hit a plateau for about ten years. I knew the core of what I believed (Namely that nature is sacred and that the Divine is feminine as well as masculine), but I just stopped there. At that time, it was enough for me. I wasn’t living in an environment conducive to spiritual growth, and what I had more or less suited my needs. So I plateaued.

My next big phase of growth was when I joined my Pagan group. It was so wonderful to be surrounded by other Pagans, to hear their different thoughts and viewpoints, to see rituals performed in a variety of ways, and to get their recommendations for books and ways to deepen my practice. I also had a greater need for my spirituality to evolve at this particular time. I had just started graduate school, and it was already shaping up to be a shitshow. I needed something bigger to connect with and rely on. I found that in my community and through exploring my faith.

I learned the ins and outs of belonging to a spiritual group over the next several months, taking on a leadership role within the first year, and becoming a member of our governing council within two. I learned all the calls and responses in Pagan ritual – what you say when calling the quarters and during cakes and ale. I learned how to lead a public ritual (even though the first ritual I was slated to co-lead got snowed out (twice) and rained out (once) and still hasn’t happened!) I led Sunday Circles, Full Moons, and Sabbats. It was a time of joyous growth.

My first hint at a trial by fire happened a little over a year and a half ago. I started directly experiencing deity in an entirely new way. It was much louder and persistent than ever before. I got closer to Aphrodite, leading up to my dedication to her in January of 2018. I also gathered up the courage to work with my first “dark” goddess, who happened to be a goddess of transformation and change. I had to gaze bravely into the darkness, and confront what I saw there. I was lucky that Cerridwyn was very gentle with me, but it was far from easy.

It turns out, when you tug on one of the Jenga blocks, they all come crashing down.

All of my insecurities bubbled up to the surface. I had to learn how to communicate with a new goddess in a completely novel way. I was lucky that I had a group of spiritual friends with which to share my experiences, but that also meant that I had to get comfortable talking about my spiritual journey with others. I had to be radically honest, in service to myself and to my friends. I discovered that what I thought was my career path and spiritual calling (to teach people how to be close to nature) was not a financially sustainable pursuit. I started feeling tugged in a completely different direction by my spiritual path, one that involved a lot more talking about sex and relationships and a lot less talking to trees. My grad student insurance expired, and I began seeing a new therapist in my new network (which is a whole process in and of itself). I finally started to get a handle on this whole “emotion regulation” thing, but there were still days I would end up in her office crying. It was a lot of change, but it was good change.

I also experienced a much quieter trial leading up to my initiation. I reached out to my friends and community members to talk with them about what they expected from the office of priestesshood. There wasn’t a lot of change in my spiritual practice, but more of a going deeper into my current practices, and forging a stronger connection with Aphrodite. Reflecting a few days before my initiation, I laughed to myself a bit, and told myself if that I didn’t know any better, I would describe myself as pious! It was a time of transition – from dedicant to priestess – and I was prepared and ready for it.

I was less prepared for what followed my initiation. As I wrote in Adventures of a Struggling New Empath, I acquired some new empathic abilities after my initiation that were difficult to cope with at times. There were also some surprising “priestess projects” that I was assigned that tested my comfort zone. But none of it compared to my current state of affairs.

I’ve been preparing to step more fully into my priestess role by doing something kind of serious and big for one of my friends. And pretty much ever since I committed to doing it, my life has been a raging Trial By Fire. It’s almost as if it’s a challenge from the universe – “Are you sure you’re ready for this role?” – while also showing me how much I have (and haven’t) grown in the past few years.

It has been very similar to a second ordeal (after the ordeal of my initiation), but over a longer period of time, and touching the more mundane aspects of my life as opposed to the spiritual. (I don’t believe the spiritual and the mundane are truly separate, but this trial did have a different quality to it). A good number of things happened over the past couple of months that were unexpected and hit on my various triggers and sore spots.

I found out that one of the casual members of my Pagan community was actually good friends with my ex in college (the ex that cheated on me and lied to me about being transgender). She told me about this right before Circle one Sunday morning, which was terrible timing for going into sacred space. My ex and I hadn’t spoken in years, and I was not at all expecting that old wound to rear its ugly head, much less in a place that I consider safe and sacred. I learned that I’m not quite as healed as I thought I was around that whole situation, and it’s impacting how I interact with this person. (We got along fine beforehand, and I considered us friendly acquaintances).

I know that my ex’s actions shouldn’t affect how I treat this person, and I’m trying really hard to not let it influence my behavior, but honestly I don’t want to talk her. I’m walking the line between wanting to completely ignore her and knowing that I can’t because I am a leader in this group (and, you know, I’m a mature and rational person and all of that). My current plan of action is to just be honest with her – Let her know that I still have a lot of pain from that past relationship, and that it is influencing my interactions with her. It’s nothing she has done – It’s more personal work that I have to do to heal. It’s been eight years since everything happened with my ex, and I thought I would be over it by now, but I guess not.

I also received the news that I wasn’t going to be able to take the next steps in my career that I was planning on (see my Lessons in Faith post for more details). Everyone around me was absolutely shocked at the news, which made me feel a little better, but didn’t actually do anything to change the course of events. I’m still regrouping from that and figuring out my next steps.

Work has been rougher than usual. One of my coworkers doesn’t like me very much, and that has created some tension at work. I confronted her about not pulling her weight sometime back in February (we work on a team, so I or my other team member have to pick up the slack if she doesn’t), and she did not take it well. I ended up talking to our supervisor about it, and thankfully he is understanding and more or less knew what was going on.

Unfortunately, the work situation still isn’t much better, and there were three consecutive weeks where my coworker barely spoke to me, which is difficult to deal with when you work four feet away from each other all day. Confound that with the fact that I’m a struggling new empath who is starting to pick up on others’ feelings, and it is not a fun place to be. I had to shield just about every hour on the hour and it was so mentally, physically, emotionally, and psychically draining.

The past couple of weeks at work have also been difficult because my office could currently be the site of an epidemiological study. My supervisor came in with a cold for a few days, and then the rest of us started dropping like flies, so we’ve also been perpetually short-staffed. AND we had a big health scare from a potentially infected client (not a cold, but something more serious) and they had to bleach everything she had touched while she was at our facility.

It all turned out okay, but it has NOT been a great time for my OCD and germaphobia. I absolutely HATE being sick, so having to take two days off of work to suffer and sniffle was awful. On the plus side, when I’m already sick, my OCD usually goes down because I’m like “Fuck it, I’m already sick, do your worst doorknob.”

Lots of other little things happened, too. My selenite palmstone broke, somehow jumping out of my purse (which has never happened) and cracking in two on the tile floor. I also had some interpersonal drama, both with a friend and with my boyfriend. I was perpetually not getting enough sleep, no matter what I tried. I had to get some maintenance done on my apartment on two different days, and my OCD is very much NOT OKAY with strangers being in my home.

Yet, despite all of these things, there was never anything I couldn’t handle. Nothing that completely overwhelmed me (though there were certainly times I felt overwhelmed). I could deal with all of it, more or less successfully. While it was not fun to experience, at the end, it is nice to reflect back and know that I can handle pretty much any shit that comes my way. And that is a very empowering thing.

I made it through this trial by fire, with only a few minor burns, and those will heal with time. It did highlight some areas in which I still have personal work to do, and I am grateful for that. It also encouraged me, that despite my personal insecurities, I really am cut out for this whole priestess thing. I can dealt with all of that personal stuff (because our own personal growth is never done), and still help other people in a meaningful way.

So, while I did not enjoy it, I am thankful for my most recent trial by fire.

Lessons in Faith (-OR- How I Learned to Like Spicy Food)

I’ll be honest: Faith for me is really, really hard.

I’ve never been good at having faith. Even as a child, I was too much of an independent thinker to “have faith” and accept what others say at face value with no questions asked. While I view this as a generally good thing, it did not allow me to take comfort easily from others. (“How do YOU know it’s all going to be okay?” demanded petulant, eight-year-old me.) From the spiritual side of things, I grew up in a vaguely Protestant culture with some warm fuzzies along with the fire-and-brimstone. To me, the idea of “giving your problems to God” seemed very disempowering on a personal level, and a really terrible excuse to not deal with your own shit on an interpersonal/societal level. Until the past year, I wouldn’t even call my religion “my faith.” The word never resonated with me for a number of reasons.

One of the reasons I am bad at having faith is the perpetual struggle with my OCD. My OCD is convinced that nothing is ever okay, EVER and worry is the appropriate response to pretty much anything. Everything ranging from “That plate that clearly just came out of the dishwasher must have gotten dirty on the way to the kitchen counter. WASH IT AGAIN!” to “It’s my second day at my new job and I’m doing everything wrong and they are going to find out I’m a fraud and I have no idea how to deal with children and I’M GOING TO GET FIRED!” has been running through my head since I was twelve years old. When it comes down to it, OCD is basically a lack of trust that things will be okay, and all of the obsessive thoughts about it not being okay and compulsive behaviors to make life feel a little more okay. (OCD sucks, by the way, though that’s a post for another time.)

Another part of my difficulty with faith stems from betrayal from people in my past whom I thought I could trust. My ex from high school and the first part of college cheated on me and lied to me about being transgender. (I walked away from that relationship with two checked suitcases and a carry-on full of emotional baggage.) My parents have also broken my trust over the years. When I was younger, they wouldn’t take me seriously when I tried to talk to them about Paganism. When I was older, I discovered that they lied to me about several family health issues, as well as some foundational beliefs about our family. (Surprise! I was born out of wedlock and didn’t find out until I was 22 years old. AND I only found out because my parents had a knock-down-drag-out fight with my grandmother that ended with us not speaking to my dad’s side of the family. Hooray!) It wasn’t even so much the content of the lies, but the act of lying itself that really hurt me. I’ve had several people whom I considered close friends abandon our friendship for no discernable reason, including my roommate/best friend in college.

Graduate school was a complete and utter disaster that led me to doubt my intelligence and self-worth as a person. It destroyed most of my trust in the world of higher education. Job hunting after graduating was demoralizing and shattered the illusion of “if you work hard and are talented at what you do, you’ll get a good-paying job you enjoy.” (HA!)

Never was my faith tested so much as when my boyfriend moved out. I was depressed. I was suicidal (no plan, just wanted to quit existing so the pain would end). I felt like I had no future because grad school was simultaneously going down the tube. I had one more semester of grad school, and that was it. All my life plans went up in a poof of smoke in the space of a year. And I was a complete wreck.

Finding the right kind of therapy helped a lot, as did finally taking the right psychiatric medications for my OCD and anxiety. It made the day-to-day bearable, and I went from crying myself to sleep every night to only occasionally sobbing into my pillow. But the therapy and the medication didn’t take away the great existential dread of “What am I doing with my life?” It didn’t give me a purpose. It didn’t give me something bigger to believe in. The Divine, specifically Aphrodite, did that.

As I mentioned in my first post on My Journey to Aphrodite, I sought her out in crisis. In grad school, I had everything I trusted pulled out from under me, and I was drowning in the sheer helplessness of it all. Before my boyfriend moved out, I had already discovered that I wasn’t going to get my PhD. I still had one semester to go before earning my Master’s, but grad school was already a closed book. When my boyfriend left, I couldn’t take any more loss. I knew we were worth fighting for, and I would not give up on our relationship. I would move earth and sea and sky for us to heal. I would prove to him and myself that I would not be ruled by fucked-up circumstances or my mental disorder. It just took my world ending for me to gather the muster to actually do it.

I wasn’t courageous about it. Hardly. I cried ALL THE TIME, and went kicking and screaming into my new way of life. Every time I made progress in therapy, there would be a set back. Every time I thought my boyfriend and I were getting to a better place, he would suggest breaking up again. Every time I went to school, I was on the verge of tears. Every time I tried to look for a job, I’d have a panic attack. Every time I tried to think about the future, I thought I had none. But I kept on – Because Aphrodite gave me hope.

I felt Her with me those dark nights sobbing into my pillow. My rituals and prayers to Her became a comfort – an extreme feeling of right-ness in my world that had gone so wrong. I began to see other possibilities, new ways of being that I hadn’t thought of. A way out of the dark tunnel. And above all, a reason to want to get to the other side.

My life began to have new meaning. I was invested in my friendships and heavily involved in my Pagan community. I found a job sharing the joy and sacredness of nature with others. (It ended up being a dud because of a terrible supervisor, but I still felt like I was making a difference.) I learned to live on my own and to tolerate emotional discomfort in a way I never had before.

Part of being able to change was proving to myself that I could, and having faith that it would be okay. I started doing all sorts of things to test myself. I started leading public rituals. I got more sexually adventurous with my boyfriend. I took some courageous steps at work. I set firm boundaries with my parents. I touched doorknobs and didn’t wash my hands. And I tried to like spicy food.

I had never understood spicy food. Why would anyone want to be in pain while they eat? And who would think that was enjoyable?? At the crux, my dislike of spicy food was very much parallel to my OCD. I didn’t trust that things were going to be okay. I didn’t have faith – in myself, in the world, or in the Divine. I would touch this shopping cart handle, get sick, and die. I would eat this spicy thing, the pain would go on forever, and I would never be able to taste anything again. My boyfriend would break up with me, I would be heartbroken, and the emotional pain would never, ever stop. There was never a scenario in which I got through the terrible thing, and was stronger on the other side of it.

Learning to regulate my emotions in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) helped a lot. A phrase that one of my therapists used will stick with me for the rest of my life: “If you have a jacket, and it’s cold, wouldn’t you put the jacket on so you wouldn’t be cold anymore? If you’re sad, and you could do something to make yourself not as sad, why wouldn’t you do that thing?” I didn’t have to stay in the sadness. I didn’t have to live in the fear. I could do something about it. The sadness didn’t have to last forever. And it wasn’t disingenuous to not want to be sad – just like it’s not disingenuous to not want to be cold.

My world cracked open.

So, in addition to doing a lot of other brave things to make my life better, I started to eat spicy food. At first, it was awful. My roommate in college loved wasabi peas, so I bought a container at the grocery store. I tried a few and immediately regretted it. My nose was on fire, my eyes were watering, and my tongue was numb. My whole face was consumed in an inferno of torture, and I was SURE my tastebuds would never taste delicious ice cream ever again. And then… it was over. I wasn’t dead. I could feel my tongue. My sinuses felt clearer. And I was OKAY. So I ate a few more. The same terrible, torturous fate awaited. My nose, eyes, and tongue burned – but I knew that I was going to be okay, and I actually enjoyed it.

I trusted more – in myself, in the world, and in the Divine. I took more leaps of faith. When something bad happened, I assumed it would turn out okay instead of imagining the worst possible scenario (not all the time, but at least some of the time). I did more magick because I wasn’t as afraid of screwing things up. And it was all okay.

I took a big leap of faith when I quit my job to get away from my terrible supervisor. I didn’t have anything else lined up, and had been casually applying for jobs for months already with no luck. I couldn’t take it anymore and I knew I had to get out of that situation. I didn’t have a back up plan, but I trusted that everything would work out. It did. I found another job a few months later, right before all my bank accounts hit zero. It certainly wasn’t a luxe life, and it was definitely stressful, but it was all okay.

The whole inspiration for writing this post is that I recently had a crisis of faith. What I thought would be my next big step in the realm of my career and the fusion of my mundane and spiritual work isn’t going to happen. At least not right now. I was devastated when I found out. I cried and I felt like a worthless piece of shit. And I was angry. Angry at the external circumstances, and yes, angry with the Divine. In a fit of emotionally charged frustration, I shouted at the sky, “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?” Because I thought I knew. I thought this was it. And it was not.

To be honest, I’m still coming down from that place. I know I need to take some time to talk with Aphrodite seriously when I can actually listen and not be caught up in my own head. I haven’t come up with a Plan B for the future yet (though to be honest, as far as Big Life Plans go, I’m on Plan D now). I hate feeling directionless, so I’m sure that will happen sooner rather than later, but I definitely need some time to process everything I’m feeling and really tune in. However, despite all of this, after the first couple of days, I’m not actually angry anymore. I’m disappointed, but I’m not sad. I have this indescribable feeling that things are going to go in a very interesting and better direction, though I have no idea what that is at the moment.

But I have faith. And I believe that things will be okay. Because they will.