December 12, 2013

The Difficulty of Day-to-Day

This week has been something of a study in the difficulty of maintaining a day-to-day practice for me. After more than two years of unemployment, I finally landed a job, canvassing for an organization that does fundraising for multiple progressive causes. I was excited, but also terrified. I can be pretty good at brief, superficial social contact, but I do have fairly bad social anxiety. I was raised a Nice Southern Girl, and (believe it or not) can have some trouble being assertive face to face. Would I be able to knock on doors and interrupt people's evenings? Could I be insistent enough, persuasive enough, to get contributions?

I prayed and made offerings, asked for the blessings and protection of my gods, thanked Hermes for giving me the opportunity (I've been praying to him daily for work).

I carefully thought about my morning and evening rituals, and made adjustments. Instead of charkha spinning in the morning, I would do it in the evening, because it's meditation and I want to be able to do it for at least half an hour, and not have to think too much about time limits while I do it. I would, instead, spin the Purple Thread in the morning, to make sure that I spun morning and night. I'd give myself a break on my Tarot study for a few days, while I adjusted. And soforth.

What I had not quite counted upon was the overwhelming pain I would be in after walking for five hours straight. By the time I got home that night, I was in agony and exhausted. I could barely eat dinner and was falling asleep on the couch. By the time my wife got me up to bed, I was in too bad a shape to even wash my face and hands in my usual lustral rite before bed, the one thing I do no matter what else is going on, which is specifically so simple and basic that I thought I would always be able to do it, even if I could do nothing else, so that I would have some piece of ritual every morning and every evening, no matter what. But no. I pretty much collapsed into bed.

The next morning, I was still in so much pain that I dared not sit on the floor or a low stool to spin the Purple Thread or do some of the other small morning things I do, because I was worried I wouldn't be able to get up. I managed lustration, and my morning prayer to Hermes (in thanks for the new job and to pray for work for my wife), but that was all. Again, I could barely eat, and couldn't pack myself a lunch at all. I could barely walk, actually.

But I was determined to try to work. We need the money, badly, and I hate to give up, it's a good cause, and I didn't want to throw this opportunity back in Hermes' face. I broke down crying three times on the drive to work, though, and I was still hobbling like my grandmother used to, and it was quickly obvious that I simply would not be able to do a second day, much less as many days as it would take to get me into condition, if I could ever get into condition given the (terrible) state of my knees. I had to resign. Fortunately, they liked me a lot, told me it wasn't my fault, and if, after I'd rested and healed up some, I thought I could manage a street campaign (which is standing still instead of walking), I should come back next week and they'd see about getting me signed up for that.

That was yesterday. I made it home and took a nap, had a couple of good meals, and went to bed early and slept for thirteen hours. I did manage lustration before bed, but nothing more. Today, I'm still in a fair bit of pain, though better than yesterday. I could still only do lustration and prayer to Hermes this morning. I hope to manage more tonight, but am not at all certain that I will.

I think a lot of pagans -- not all, or even most, but a pretty good chunk -- really like the idea of a daily practice and want to keep one up, but when, inevitably, Stuff Happens and they cannot do it for a day, or three days or a week, they lose whatever habit they've built up, or they get discouraged, or they get upset with themselves for not doing it, and they stop. It's easy to do, and I've done it many times myself.

When I was first learning simple, empty-mind breathing meditations, one of the hardest things for me was not to get upset and give up when I started thinking about something. Minds think. It's what they do. It's why it takes discipline and work to empty your mind of thought, or even to keep it to one specific and intentional train of thought. Minds think on multiple levels, and it is even harder to get rid of or focus lower-level, background thoughts than it is to get rid of foreground thoughts. So the idea is that, whenever you find yourself thinking, you don't get upset, you don't get frustrated -- because those, too, are thoughts -- you just push it aside, empty your mind again, and keep going. As often as it takes, you empty your mind.

I find that this is a good principle to apply to any kind of regular practice, mediation, ritual, practical, whatever: interruptions will occur, and it's essential to understand that going in. It's not your fault, you're not bad for not being able to do it this time (or the next time), you're not in trouble. You just bring yourself back, as often as you need to, to your practice. So I haven't done Tarot study or charkha spinning or a number of other things since Monday, and some of them I might not have the energy or physical ability to do again until Saturday or Sunday. That's ok. I will do them when I can, as often as I can. I will simply bring myself back into the practice.

Sometimes that will break down, and I will not manage to bring myself back into my practice, and I may go months or even years without a daily practice. Then I have to begin again, almost from scratch, to build a practice that works, that is something I can do every day. Or as my circumstances and schedule change, I have to heavily modify or pare down my practice. And that's ok, too.

As pagans in a decidedly not-pagan (and largely secular in many ways) society, we are at a disadvantage when it comes to daily practice. Whatever difficulties having a society or community with a single dominant religion may bring, when that religion has a daily or otherwise regular practice that everyone follows, it is far easier to simply make it a part of your routine, because it is a part of everyone's routine. If everyone around you lays out a rug and turns towards Mecca to pray five times a day, it is much easier for any individual to do so than if they are the only person in their office who does so, or one of only a few. Further, so many pagans are so individualistic in their practices -- me included -- that one person's daily practice will often be entirely unique, even if their monthly practices are the same as others'. (I'm sure there must be traditions that have a prescribed daily practice that everyone is meant to follow, but offhand I don't know of any.) We cannot rely on others around us to reinforce our patterns and habits.

Daily practice always has its difficulties. When the culture or community, or even household, in which you live does not share your daily practices, it gets harder. Secular life, schedules, physical and mental health get in the way. In order to build and maintain a regular practice, we must understand these simple and obvious facts. And we must hope and expect that our gods will, too. It's been true throughout time. Mortal life is messy and complicated.