Spiritual Growing Pains (AKA Dealing With Your Shit)

If you’ve been on a spiritual path for very long, you know that there’s always baggage. There’s childhood trauma, past relationship pain, self-sabotage, the imposter syndrome, trust issues, betrayals, depression, anxiety, fears, and times you genuinely just fucked up. Despite your best efforts, despite the hours and hours of therapy, despite the meditations and forgiveness practices, despite all the pieces of paper aflame in your burning bowl, you still have shit to deal with.

Sometimes the issues that arise are related to something else going on in your life. There is a trigger that brings all the past pain you thought you had resolved bubbling back up to the surface. You may discover that what you thought was a well-healed scar is actually still a festering wound in need of some serious first aid.

At other times, problems may seem to arise at random (though in my experience, very few are truly random.) You may discover that you are unintentionally blocking something you want to manifest by holding onto a pattern that was in your past, but not what you want in your future. You may discover that healing does not, in fact, have a destination – like many things in the spiritual life, it is a journey, and you may never reach a perfect state of being “healed.”

And that’s okay. Accepting who you are and where you are at in your healing is the first step to moving forward. You have to know how bad the wound is in order to treat it. You may get a cut and think it’s no big deal. However, if you don’t properly wash out the cut, even when the skin has healed back over, there can be infection lurking under the surface.

We are all imperfect, fallible human beings. We can’t fight that, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try the best we can to deal with our issues with grace and compassion – for ourselves and all involved.

Take Care of Yourself

In the mundane world, the best first aid for spiritual growing pains is to take care of yourself. Practice self-compassion. Eat healthy food. Get enough sleep. Spend time with people that love you. Focus on something you are good at, and do that thing. Exercise. Take your vitamins and prescription medications. Go outside. Do something productive. Lay on the couch for a day, if you need to. Listen to your body. It knows what it needs.

Throw Away the “Shoulds”

When I was going through my most recent spiritual growing pains, a close friend told me to “throw away the shoulds.” I should be feeling this. I should have said that. I shouldn’t do this. Take all of that internal chatter and throw it out the window. Right now.

Because “should” doesn’t really matter. You feel that way you feel. No amount of thinking “I shouldn’t feel this way” is really going to change that. It just puts you in denial, and further from actually dealing with your problems.

We also tend to invalidate our own experiences with “shoulds.” We often use rationalizations to downplay our feelings and reactions. That happened so many years ago – I should be over it by now. My friend didn’t actually mean to hurt me – I shouldn’t be so upset. If a shark bit off your leg, you wouldn’t think “I shouldn’t feel pain because the shark didn’t actually mean to hurt me – it was just trying to survive.”

With shoulds, you are effectively doing the same thing with your feelings. My mother thought she was raising a strong, independent daughter when she told me not to cry in front of anyone. She thought she was doing what was best for me. Does it still hurt that I couldn’t share my emotions with her when I was growing up? Of course! Her intentions, however good, don’t negate my feelings.

Feel Your Feelings. All of Them.

Part of taking care of yourself also involves expressing the emotions you are feeling. Give yourself permission to feel them all, and feel them fully – just make sure you have a safe space to do this in. (Therapy is great for this.) Cry. Let out your body-wracking sobs laced with pain and hurt. Yell (somewhere the neighbors won’t call the police on you, and don’t yell at anyone, even the person who hurt you.) Throw a tantrum like a 2-year-old when you are alone in your room. Let it all out. Feel where the emotion is in your body and concentrate on it, going totally into the feeling.

Find some way to healthily express that emotion. Find a song that encapsulates that feeling and sing or dance to it. Paint. Write. Talk with a friend (just make sure you don’t inadvertently take that emotion out on said friend.) Run until your legs give out. Cuss like a sailor at your microwave. Find a punching bag. Take a martial arts class. Express the emotion through your body. Let it flow through you and out of you.

Processing

Once you’ve felt the depths of your emotions and expressed it in some way, you need to process what happened and why you are feeling what you are feeling. Therapy is also great for this, and you have a trained professional to help you. Talking things out with a wise friend is wonderful. Writing can be an excellent self-reflection tool.

Start with the facts – just what objectively happened and nothing more. Then layer on your interpretations of these facts. What motives did you assume the other person had? Why were you in this situation in the first place? How did you feel about what was happening? Learn to separate the facts from your experience. None of this means that your experience wasn’t real. On the contrary – it was very real for you, and that means it deserves respect. Being able to separate the facts from your experience just allows you to be a bit more objective so that you can learn whatever lessons the experience has to teach you.

Healing

The process of healing has already begun. Don’t be surprised if it takes some detours, loops back around to different steps again and again, or doesn’t go in a traditional straight line upward trend. The healing process is as unique as each person and each experience.

I know I’ve already touted the benefits of therapy in this post and others, but if you notice that your emotions are exceptionally intense or last for an extended period of time, PLEASE seek professional help. Therapists are specifically trained to help you through this process. Some therapists are better at it than others, and if you aren’t getting the help you need, look for a new therapist. That said, before you go looking around, make sure you are doing your part of the work, too.

Healing takes place over time at different levels. The particular issue I’m working through at the moment was from events that happened almost ten years ago. I’ve gone through several different levels of “I’m over it” and “No, really, I’m definitely over it now!” throughout the years. I was not over it. I am not over it. Not completely, anyway. As annoying as that is, I can still see the growth I’ve made since it first happened, and that gives me hope.

Spiritual First Aid

None of this process has to be done in a spiritual vacuum! I encourage you to actively make your spirituality a part of your healing process. Pray to your Goddesses and Gods. Light candles. Make offerings. Do magick. Perform energy work. Use crystals. Balance your chakras. Burn that shit away. Grow plants. Make charms. Cook delicious food with magickal herbs. Meditate. Sit in sacred space. Take a salt bath. Go for a hike. Plunge in the ocean. Sing songs of worship. Enjoy sacred movement. Make the Divine a part of your daily life.

And, above all, know that you are not alone.

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!

Adventures of a Struggling New Empath

When I underwent my initiation for Aphrodite, I knew that some things in my life would change (perhaps quite drastically), while others would remain more-or-less the same. The first week after my initiation was fairly uneventful. There was the excitement (and nervousness) of sharing the story with my other pagan friends (and muggle friends, too), since I hadn’t told anyone about it beforehand. Aphrodite was still there, though she had been pretty constantly with me for a while. The silence space in my everyday life seemed fuller, which I know doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but that’s the only way I can think of to describe it. The real weirdness started happening about two or three weeks after my initiation, and I was not anticipating it at all.

First, some background: When it comes to energy, I’ve always been more of a projector rather than a receiver. I’m pretty loud and expressive, and I feel emotions in a very big way. As I discovered when I started doing emotion journaling for DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), I either feel things as a 10 or not at all. If I’m happy, I’m elated. If I’m sad, I’m in anguish. If I’m angry, I am livid. Using some of the emotion regulation skills in DBT, I was able to modulate this to a certain extent, so that every time I felt sad I wasn’t immediately a crying puddle, and that if I was annoyed, I didn’t yell at my boyfriend. This proved very useful in the mundane world and made my life a whole lot easier. (Yay DBT!)

Even after DBT, as a general rule, I put out a lot more energy than I take in. If you spend any amount of time in the new age or Pagan blogosphere, you will probably come across articles about how to effectively cope with being an empath. Throughout my years of being Pagan, I could relate to these somewhat. I’ve always been very perceptive, and I’ve generally been able to read a room and know what my friends are feeling, though that has come more from body language and tone of voice than any feelings of energy. (Or at least that’s what I thought, anyway.) Once I found a Pagan community, and started hearing my friends’ stories about how they perceive energy, I concluded that I was perhaps more empathic than the average muggle, but not very empathic compared to a lot of the Pagans I knew. And I was okay with that, for the most part. I did miss being able to contribute to the conversation about what energies everyone was feeling, so about a year ago, I asked one of my super empathic friends for some pointers on sensing energy. She gave me some, and I tried them out, but nothing seemed quite right for me at the time.

I started being able to sense my own energy much more clearly after I started practicing Tantra (which was about a year and a half ago). I could identify in my own body some of what my friends were talking about and what I had read about, but I still couldn’t sense the same in other people. I had mostly given up on trying to feel those things from others about six months prior to my initiation. I knew had magickal strengths elsewhere, and that was fine by me.

Fast forward to the last couple weeks of January 2019: I was at work when the first instance of the weirdness happened. A client came up to talk to me and I immediately was inundated with an overwhelming feeling of “get him the fuck away from me as fast as possible,” accompanied by an energetic barrage of ick that can best be described as “getting slimed.” I couldn’t avoid talking to him, so I did everything I could to disengage him as quickly as possible and put some physical distance between us. I didn’t know what was happening, and in the moment, I forgot completely about grounding and shielding, Witchcraft 101 stuff. All I knew was that I needed him to be as far away as possible, and that I suddenly felt very, very psychically dirty. It felt like I had energetic slime dripping off of me – not of a particular emotion, but just a general horrible, awful feeling.

My coworkers and I dealt with the situation, and I finally had the wherewithal to remember that I’m a witch, and I keep selenite in my purse. I got it out and put it in my pocket, did some discreet deep breathing, and was able to ground and center mostly back to normal, though I really, really wanted to take a shower. (And I did, when I got home that day.)

The second instance of weirdness happened the following week, when a client came in visibly upset. I could feel the waves of sadness, anguish, and fear rolling off of her, even though I did not directly interact with her. The feelings immediately brought me back to some moments in my past where I felt the same. A little more experienced now, I got out the selenite immediately, held it in my hand for a few moments, and then stuck it in my pocket. I got back to equilibrium a bit faster this time, though the experience still rattled me.

I started keeping selenite in my pocket daily, and after a couple of weeks it was genuinely “used up.” I had charged crystals before with particular intentions, but had never felt from the crystal that it needed cleansing before. I usually cleanse my crystals as a matter of course, typically by running them under water, but selenite is a salt and will dissolve in contact with water. The next go-to for cleansing would be bright sunlight, but we had several weeks of overcast days back-to-back. I had to navigate without the selenite for about a week before the sun finally came back out, and I could definitely feel the difference.

After the second instance of weirdness, I consulted my empathic friends to get their tips and pointers. I asked “Do you guys deal with this all the time?” and they laughed at me (good-naturedly). I wondered if this would become my new normal, and honestly I wasn’t terribly excited about it. It was exhausting, and even though I knew the skills to cope, it wasn’t fun. I could see how empath skills could help me in my work with Aphrodite, so I was still accepting of it, and vowed to adapt as best I could.

Since then, I’ve gotten better at shielding. I used to just shield once a day, but now I need to multiple times a day. I also have to shield differently depending on the situation. My usual shield was a bubble of golden white light, and while that still works for a bedtime shield and around my friends, out in the rest of the world, I need something stronger. Fire works well, and I call upon Aphrodite for help with that. At first I tried a fire shield sourced from my own power, but that was too personally draining, and as a result, ineffective after just a few hours. A friend also gave me a Protection blend of essential oils that works quite well. I can surreptitiously anoint myself throughout the workday, though even just having the vial in my pocket is pretty effective.

For crystal help, I learned the importance of cleansing my selenite and keeping it close to my person, not just in my purse nearby. I discovered that black tourmaline, which I had been using to absorb negative feelings and anxiety, only works well for my feelings, not for those of others. I still love black tourmaline, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the right stone for this job. My friend suggested hematite, and I picked up a hematite ring to keep on my key fob for work and that has done wonders.

Other types of cleansing help, too, though they aren’t as immediately helpful for the work environment. Palo santo, sage, and other incense can purify anything left over in my energy field once I get home. Taking a shower also helps immensely, and I typically diffuse some essential oil to go with it (recently eucalyptus because my nose has been stuffed up, but lavender is also nice, as is cedar).

Whether my empath powers are toning down, or I am just dealing with it better, I haven’t had any more occasions of being “slimed” recently. I have been able to pick up on more subtle energies with my friends (whom I typically don’t strongly shield around), but so far not much else from other people, which has been a relief.

I know a lot of new empaths have a very hard time adjusting, and while my experience was difficult, there were a lot of things that made it easier for me. First and foremost, I knew what was happening. I had read countless articles and talked with friends about this subject, so I was aware of the nature of empaths and knew more or less how to respond, even if it wasn’t as reflexively as I would have liked. I also had friends I could talk to about my experiences and get their insight and help.

The other very helpful thing I’ve had on my empath journey is that I know very clearly what feelings are or are not mine. A boatload of therapy and personal introspection has helped with that, along with knowing exactly how my feelings feel to me. I can clearly separate my feelings from others’ feelings, which I know can be very confusing for many new empaths.

As for where my own empath journey is headed… We’ll see! Things seem to have toned down, so I don’t think it will be an intense “all the time” thing, but it will be something helpful to draw on in certain situations. It has certainly helped to hone my witch reflexes and recognize the importance of some magickal practices that I had done somewhat consistently, but now must do daily and with a purpose.

In the meantime, I am still learning, and I know I have a ways to go!

Going Deeper – Are You Ready to Dive In?

So you’ve decided that you want to begin a relationship with Aphrodite (or another Divinity that feels right to you). A deep, personal relationship. Maybe you want to become a devotee, dedicant, or priestess (or priest; we are open to all genders here). What do you do next? There are some important considerations to take into account, and then I’ll talk about first steps to connect with your deity in another post.

Important things to consider before embarking on a relationship with any Divinity:

1) Where are you on your spiritual path?

Are you relatively new to Paganism? How long have you been called to this path? “New” can be a relative term, and some people who are relatively “new” to Paganism or Witchcraft are able to hit the ground running with the basics and move on to deeper things more quickly than others. These people have usually had a “calling” for a long time, or finally realized that they were “a witch all along and didn’t know it,” but this isn’t always the case. If you are starting out, I would recommend a MINIMUM of six months of study in various Pagan traditions before moving on to deep personal relationships with deities. Most traditions recommend a year-and-a-day of study before moving on to the next level. Taking some time to study and reflect is essential because: A) You want to have a pretty good idea of what path feels right to you before you start diving deeper, and B) You want to know exactly what you are getting into if you pursue a relationship with a particular deity.

What books have you read? What methods or traditions have you studied? I’m not saying you need to study every single tradition out there before you start going deeper with one particular tradition or Divinity, but it’s a good idea to get a general overview of modern Paganism and see what resonates with you. Even if you end up deciding that your first tradition or deity was the One, at the very least you have a good background with which to participate in the larger conversation of Paganism. Check out the Resources section of my website for some of my recommended books for beginning study and exploration.

2) What is your spiritual skill set?

Do you have a daily meditation practice? Do you have any experience with going into and out of trance states safely? How much are you in touch with your intuition? Do you know basic energy anatomy and how to move and raise energy? Developing a deeper relationship with any deity is going to be difficult if you don’t have some basic spiritual tools.

Having a good meditation practice is essential for a deep spiritual life, as well as for magick and energy work. Now, meditation is different for everyone. I’m not talking about the complete “clear your mind and have no thoughts at all for 20 minutes” (but if you can do that, good for you!) Meditation is mostly about being able to hold an intention, whatever that intention may be.

Some of my favorite ways to mediate are:

  • Dance! (or other movement) – Put on some music you love and get lost in it. Don’t focus too much on your movements, just do what comes naturally.
  • Hiking/Walking Meditation – Focus on observing (without judgement!) everything around you: how the ground feels underneath your feet, what sounds you hear, the colors you see, et cetera. If you find yourself following a train of thought, bring it back to gentle observation.
  • Mantra or Affirmation Meditation – This involves repeating a specific phrase or mantra as the focal point of the meditation. I like using these when I’m feeling down or upset. “I am loved” or some variation of that is one of my favorites.
  • Breathing Meditation – Focus on your breath. You can either think “in… out” with your breaths or count your number of breaths or the duration of your breaths.
  • Focal Point – I don’t do these very often, but lots of people have success with image meditations or mandala meditations. This can involve a real image or one you hold in your mind (though the latter is more difficult). It can also involve any other visual focal point, like a candle flame or water flowing over rocks.

There are lots of other ways to meditate, but the important thing is to find a way that works for you. Meditation will allow you to develop focus for magickal and energy work, as well as be able to open up your mind to the Divine.

Trancing is a level up from meditation, and I don’t suggest trying it without a trained teacher or a good book. Trance-portation by Diana Paxson is a good place to start. I have had a number of wonderful and fantastical Divine encounters whilst in trance, but it is not something you want to jump into the deep end with.

Intuition is a very personal thing, so journeys to get in touch with your intuition are going to be as varied as each individual. Most good introductory magickal/spiritual skill set books will have suggestions for this.

Energy is so important! At the very least, you should know your own energy anatomy, and how to raise and control energy within your own body and within a circle. For years I focused on external energy raising, which was all well and good, but it was only when I started working within that I discovered the amazing possibilities of energy. Working with your own energy will also teach you when another (Divine) energy is present or channeling through you.

3) Do you have a pantheon?

If you do, great! Maybe you found a pantheon that resonated with you during your year-and-a-day of study. Awesome! I didn’t. And that’s okay. You don’t have to have a pantheon. (Though there are some Pagans who may tell you otherwise.)

I’m an eclectic witch. Even though I work with a Hellenic divinity, I don’t follow the Hellenic pantheon or Hellenic traditions. The only other Greek deities I work with on occasion (and I mean very occasionally) are Hestia, Hecate, Persephone, Demeter, and Dionysus. And that’s okay. No one has come to smite me yet.

Your path is just that – YOURS. No one else can tell you what is right or wrong for you. (I assume we all can agree with a general “Do no harm, but take no shit” policy at the very least.) When it comes to which deities you worship and how you worship them, your best authority is you.

4) Have you dealt with your personal shit?

Ah, perhaps the biggest question of all! Have you dealt with your personal shit? Have you been on the personal growth path long enough to at least know what your problems are, if you haven’t already dealt with them? This can run the whole gamut, including but not limited to: mental disorders, fears, insecurities, family issues, physical health, romantic relationship issues, energy blockages, resentments, self-esteem, prejudices, addictions, and healthy boundary setting. Do you know what your core values are? What drives you as a human being? You should know yourself, or at least be making an effort to do so, before you begin pursuing a deep relationship with a deity.

I highly recommend therapy. For everyone. It doesn’t matter how well-adjusted you think you might be – none of us escaped childhood or early adulthood without some battle scars (and possibly some festering wounds). It’s also just nice to have an impartial third party to talk about your life issues with who won’t pass judgement on you and is there to support you. You do need to find a good therapist, though, and that may take some time. You need to find someone whom you “click” with, who provides helpful advice, and who is hopefully pagan-friendly (if you want to talk about spiritual stuff with them).

All of this to say: You don’t actually need to wait to pursue a relationship with the Divine. You can start today (and should, if you want to!) These are just some guidelines for that next step, some recommendations that I either had, or wish I had had, when I began my journey to Aphrodite. That being said, The Divine is (for the most part) understanding. If you are just starting on your journey, or are in the beginning phases, don’t be afraid to reach out! Pray, make offerings, sing, dance, meditate! The Divine can, and will, help you in your preparations for deeper connection. Like I said in the beginning, these guidelines are for those wanting to pursue a dedicated, daily relationship with a deity – like that of a devotee or priestess (/priest). And if that deity likes you, they will most certainly give you some guidance along the way.

This is Part One in a series on Going Deeper with your Pagan Practice. Read Part Two here.