March 18, 2005

Growing Pains.

When I say that my religious life is defined by my "relationship" with the Divine--I mean it. I mean that it goes beyond just giving me simple answers to Big Questions or providing me with what I "need" materially or existentially; that it involves love and gratitude which, although ultimately fulfilling, are not always easy or pleasant experiences; that I understand the Divine as a personal (though not limited) deity which (though universal) manifests in the particulars of the world and in my personal life, the way a spouse's love is not some general abstract ideal, but a living force that can be experienced directly and uniquely. And, just like a new relationship, a new phase of a religious journey can seem all giggles and roses. For the first few months, every experience is wonderful and heightened, and there are no foreseeable obstacles or problems. But, like all relationships, the process of maturing and growing closer invariably brings difficulties and struggles. And so, as I began along this new part of my path, I knew that eventually the other shoe would drop.

And, about eight months in (two years, if you count not just the time I've been practicing, but the time since I began researching and reading)--it finally has.

I've been feeling sick recently. It's that time of the year when variations in weather and temperature, plus long days inside, all conspire to make everyone I know sick as a dog. Myself included. Luckily, this year I've escaped the worst of it; still, the past week or so I've been under the weather, with a persistent headache. As such, it's been hard for me to concentrate for any length of time, to read or even watch television. I kept trying to give myself breaks. "I won't meditate tonight," I'd tell myself, "I wouldn't be able to relax, anyway, so it'd just be wasted effort that would end up delaying my recovery even further."

The more I made excuses for myself, the less I would practice. The less I practiced, the more unadmitted guilt and anxiety I began to have. And in my life, major crises of conscience have always manifested themselves psychosomatically, so as my anxiety grew, I felt even worse. Then finally today, it hit me. I had become so focused on the practice of my Craft that I'd formed mental blocks about it. I'd convinced myself that it was hard work, work at which I was still just a clumsy beginner, and that I wouldn't be effective or successful unless I was feeling perfectly healthy and up to the task. I'd decided, unknowingly, that any work that made me feel tired or worn was psychically unhealthy, since working with Divine energies should always leave me feeling great and refreshed (knowing the tree by its fruits, that sort of thing). I'd forgotten that every practice involves work and tough times, sometimes, even those which are healthy and fulfilling.

I've gone through similar times before. Especially when it comes to doctrine. I want so much to understand that I lose perspective and feel pressured to know absolutely everything and, what's more, to fit it into a neat little system of belief. Of course, that type of attitude ends up distracting my focus from actually being in relationship with God. Just like trying to perfectly describe everything about my boyfriend, trying to label and categorize him and his actions, would end up interfering with our intimacy rather than helping it. This time, my focus on doing became all-consuming, and the pressure grew intense to understand my religious life only in terms of the Craft, so that when I didn't feel well enough, I started to think I was a failure, that I was being drawn away from God.

It was a slow dawning insight this afternoon. I can't quite articulate it. All I know is that I've made a few resolutions: (a) that I will meditate or pray each night, regardless of how I feel; (b) that I won't beat myself up if my practice doesn't live up to my own expectations; (c) that I'll work through my difficulties and trust that God will take my crap and make the best of it, as She always does. And all I can say is, after having made these resolutions, I began to feel physically better almost immediately. I felt ready to go on and try again, to step up to the challenge of the work, secure in the knowledge that my best effort was good enough, and God would take me the rest of the way.

I just hope I can remember these insights next time I get these pesky growing pains!


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