Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Alter-Craft: Keeping It Simple

I read a lot of Pagan based forums and one of the main things I have noticed when it comes to people who are new to the Pagan path is that they have a lot of questions on Alter creation. Alter creation is a very personal thing and also depends often on what your spiritual path centers on. I can honestly see how new people can get very confused with alter craft.

The books tell you to represent all the elements, the books tell you the elements must be represented by certain objects, the books tell you the pentacle must go here or the wand must go there….that you have to have a wand, that you have to have special crystals or that you have to set up your alter on specific moons etc. The books can, for the most part, go fuck themselves.

I don’t say this to shock anyone or to show disrespect to other people’s spiritual path. I say this to liberate those of you who might be having an Alter based melt down. Books are books. They represent a helpmate, guidance if you will, to aid in those who are looking to learn more. When you become more comfortable in your practice and when/if you begin interacting with Pagans who have been practicing for a long time, you will find that the actual process of Paganism is much freer, much more organic then some of the books on the market will have you believe. It’s the path that you ultimately choose and the intention of the alter that often dictates the creation process.

I often use AA slogans. I come from an AA family and they have been ingrained in me from a young age. They are useful because they hold their own simplistic truths. In this instance I would say “keep it simple stupid.” Some of my more meaningful and beautiful alters have been the most simple and heartfelt.
I criticize Hollywood the most for this sort of thing. Television shows and movies lead people to believe that in order to wield power we must have “stuff.” The energy in ritual comes from within, it comes from the universe, it comes from our community and it comes from our deity of choice. It does not come from the “stuff” we purchase or collect for our alter. Most items only have the energy we imbue them with. 

You don’t need to go out and purchase beautiful cups, expensive jewel encrusted wands and large brass pentacle alter makers for your alter to hold power and meaning. Unless they hold some kind of significance to you, don’t take on the burden of that expense until you want to or you are ready to. You don’t need to bury it in feathers, mounds of stones or vessels full of water, herbs and salts. There is no need to have a rock from every corner of your property or a leaf from every tree represented in your radius. You don’t want to confuse your intention. You want to focus your will like a lighthouse in the darkness.

The singular light of one lone candle—charged with our energy—can be the beacon representing your will and intent.  This can be enough. We must first find the power within. We must find the strength to know that we, as we are, are enough. Once you find that, items on your alter can help focus your intent.

The key to a personal alter is to find things that speak to you—that speak to your intentions and help you focus your energy. Begin simply and build as you change and the seasons and situations around you change. Life and Spirituality is only as complicated as you make it. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Perception is a Harsh Mistress

Like the title states, perception is a harsh mistress.

For better or for worse our perception of a person or event or even a thing blinds our view of it and changes us. I don’t believe we can ever escape this. We are only human after all and I think, at least of late, there has been a very hard push on humanity to foster perfection.

For the purposes of this post let’s focus on the term “Body Shaming.”

What is it exactly to “body shame?”

The definition is as easy as the name. When we think a woman or a man is too thin, we’re body shaming. When we think they are too fat we are body shaming. Any criticism, no matter how minor, any opinion no matter how trivial comes under this new vogue umbrella term.

Is it fair to criticize others on their physical appearance? I’m thinking that answer is a no. It’s not fair. A lot of people cannot help the way they look and pre-conceived societal notions of beauty change moment to moment. I mean hey, just look at the renaissance and the early 90’s.

I applaud the fitness industry’s brave new world of “let’s all love each other no matter how we look” and Hollywood’s new stance on “why can’t women eat?” I totally love the fact that people have yet again coined a new “term” they can now use to shame others who shame others who shame others.

I am highly attracted to cyclical hypercriticalism. It’s my favorite, along with wine gums. Wine gums are awesome.

I don’t want to “body shame” people…. When I wake up in the morning, my first thought isn’t “Hey! Let’s go find a fat man to verbally haze!” No, really… it isn’t.  In fact, I seem to collectively make it through the entire day—everyday—not giving a flying fuck about the bodies of the people around me.

It’s amazing the sense of freedom having an actual life is. I go to work, I stress out about my job. I go to the gym and I lift very heavy things and I put them down. I do so with other men and women who are lifting heavy things and putting them down. Occasionally I will notice one of them is wearing shoes I’d like to buy. Then I come home, I make dinner, and I watch television commercials full of brain washing and still… somehow… I manage to see them for what they are and not buy a container full of chemicals to make me instantly [insert social desirable stereotype here].

Occasionally I’ll see an actress on TV who is skeletally thin. I use the term skeletal in a factual sense here as I can see, with my eyes, her actual skeleton which, if this is the look she is going for, is quite impressive. Occasionally on the street I will see a man who barely fits into his enormous sweat pants eating a double cheeseburger and drinking from a 2 liter coke bottle (true story!). 

I see these people. You know what though? They are not my problem. If a woman wants to starve herself to look a certain way then it’s her decision. If a man wants to fuel his body with high calorie foods then it’s all on him. When do we stop blaming society for making us sick, for making us fat or for making us thin?

As a pagan I am a true believer in free will. As I always say, are we not our own gods? If each of us contains, by nature, access to the power of will then where can the blame be placed but upon our own heads?

My will chooses Muirakai. All my focus is on her. What is her power? What is her will? How can she better serve the goddess, the universe and the men and women around her? 

There is something bizarre in humanity that makes us want to “focus on what other people are doing.” I hear it all day long.

“Oh. My. God. Look at what he’s eating.”
“She went to lunch for over an hour.”
“He’s buying his kids an iPad for [insert mainstream seasonal religious holiday here].”
“Her ass is so fat in those pants.”

You know what? Her ass might be fat in those pants but who gives a shit? Sometimes it’s all in perception like “My ass is so FAT in these pants! YES!” because some people are really into a fat ass. Goddess knows I’m working on my squat pattern for a reason. These gluts won’t stock themselves.

My trainer always quotes “comparison is the thief of joy.” She’s not wrong. When we let assholes rent space in our head we relinquish our power and let the actions of others dictate our path. Life is not immune to comparison and I am not on board with the total and utter censorship of my internal workings for better or for worse.

I refuse to hold myself to standards outside myself. One day I might look at someone and I may, in my head, “body shame” them. Sometimes I “body shame” myself. I know that both of these actions have internal consequences but I’m not going to make a pledge to not “body shame.” I don’t make pledges. As a pagan I understand that the energy I release into the universe comes back to me for good or ill.

We don’t want to judge others, but we sure will judge ourselves for judging others and we sure will judge others who judge us or who judge others in front of us. Why? Because we are just so amazing that we feel we need to hold the world to a certain set of standards that even we cannot comply with. Piss off. 

I’m not going to delve into the dark world of existentialism today. One woman’s evil is always another man’s good.

We are complex creatures filled with power, laughter, passion, fear and anger. We are horrible to each other. We love and support each other. We kill and we birth. We wage wars internally and globally. We seek peace and reflection. We seek to hurt and we seek to heal.

I cannot control the people around me. I do not try to. I cannot possibly force another life to adhere to my whim. If you want to “body shame” me then feel free. I’m emotionally OK with it. I would rather celebrate the will that enables you to think freely then celebrate the brainwashing that removes your free will.

Perception is a harsh mistress. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

It Takes Time To Kill Bears

No bears were harmed in the writing of this post. 

A new trainer at my gym wrote a very personal and very honest blog post about his struggles with body image. It really blew me away. I don’t spend enough time talking about the women and men who are my trainers at the gym that I belong to. This is mostly because I want to honor their privacy. Due to the nature of this blog, although I am well out of the broom closet, I generally tend to not use many details when it comes to other people in my personal life. They don’t even know I write this blog. My trainers Christa and Karen have been amazing in the past by sharing their own personal struggles with body image.

Recently they took on a new trainer named Luke and it was his turn, via his blog The Strong Kitchen, to share his own personal journey with the way he views and has viewed his body. I thought it was such an amazing feat of courage to post such an article as he has only just joined the gym as a trainer. His honesty not only raised my already high opinion of him but also made me realize how special the trainers in my life are, how true they are to themselves and to those who train with them. 

Male body image is something, as a woman, I know nothing about. I can only imagine they go through very similar things that women do. Yet I feel I don’t know how men are trained by society to see themselves or how socially they feel around others if they do not conform to whatever the societal “norm” is for them. In his article he mentions that he used to wear more than one shirt because he was self-conscious. I, on the other hand, abhorred layering because it made me feel fatter. I felt like another layer would add to me… not slim me down. Men are expected to go shirtless at the beach, which until now, never really seemed odd to me. Yet, to be honest, that is a lot of skin…and I can see now how men might feel vulnerable in that manner—especially if they feel that they do not meet their ideal body image.

His article really gave me a lot to think about in my own life. It made me ask myself questions on how I view my own body. These questions are not unfamiliar. I ask myself questions all the time about how my Pagan views shape and change the way I see the world. I specifically ask myself how they help motivate me and aid me as I try to reach my own personal fitness goals. I have never really thought about how they affect my body image. It’s not a secret that I grew up in a Christian orientated household. It is also no secret that I harbor no ill will towards any religion. The best and most honorable thing about this great country of ours is that, for the moment at least, we still maintain the freedom to choose our religious preferences and practice them freely without fear. Even though I grew up with a basis in Christian oriented faith, it was most assuredly a very easy and very free thinking sect of Christianity to which I belonged. My parents were not the kind of people to censor things. My sister and I grew up on a healthy diet of reality and Rocky Horror Picture Show. Therefore, even as I made the transition into Paganism, my opinions on my body did not change drastically.

A very young Me, ready for Samhain!
Among our own, we know each other as a very free style of peoples. We generally tend to enjoy our lives. Even the charge of the goddess tells us: “Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” Although finding my best body and testing my personal limits is my choice, brings me pleasure, and is therefore a ritual with which I choose to honor the goddess… not all in our group feel similar. We are not taught nor are we in the habit of teaching others to be ashamed of the physical body—no matter how it manifests itself. I have posted before my beliefs in the pros and cons of this and for the purpose of this post will state that often times it has given me more strength then weakness. 

College Me, I'm the one on the Left!
That didn't mean that, as a female child living in America, that I didn’t feel bad about myself. I was always larger than my friends in grammar school. I was the heaviest one in ballet class. I did get made fun of a little bit in middle school and I most assuredly did not win the boy I was crushing on when I was 13. I grew into my Pagan beliefs more as I entered high school. Aside from trying to tell myself that I needed to shed my layers of self-hatred and accept my body I also needed that miracle to occur that happens about the time that one’s growth spurt occurs. A major part of my mental dysfunction when it came to my body was that I didn't begin menstruating until I was Fifteen. That is a long ass time to wait. I think even my mother was beginning to get nervous. I was not an athletic child nor was I unusually thin. There was no reason, other than nature’s whim, that it should take so long. When it did happen, the growth spurt I was looking for also occurred and I was, in my opinion, finally a decent size. I had gotten some more height and was finally thinning out from a chunky middle school Muirakai to a sleeker Muirakai bent on heartbreak and destruction. (I’ve always had a soft spot for destruction.) I felt very confident. I liked the way I looked. I probably wasn’t eating as much as I could have been but at least the choices I was making were complete crap. (That last bit was sarcasm. In case you were wondering.) I might eat only once a day and that choice was probably a slice of pizza and a chocolate chip cookie. I digress...back to the story.

More College Me, and that time when I cut off all my hair....

I was never the thinnest of girls. I know this and although I was self-conscious in some ways I was not at all in other ways. For the most part, I wore what I wanted (mostly a mixture of jeans & sweat shirts and full on Gothic regalia) (Yes, I go big or not at all.) and I didn't care so much what others thought about that (I didn't have to. I had a lot of friends in high school… no real tales of woe here; everyone was generally very supportive of each other). I did have one boyfriend who probably not so delicately would have liked me to be thinner. He once said to me “You know…I’d never really dated a girl with your body type before. It surprised me, when I liked you so much because I think all the girls I’ve dated have been really really thin.” Now this sentence of his has actually stayed with me over the years, but at the time, although it disheartened me, it didn’t push me to change the way I was. Even after this incident I didn’t identify myself as “fat.” I’m not sure how much of this was because I was happy with my height/weight/body image etc… or how much of it was due to the fact that I was completely and utterly clueless that change was even possible or how it would be accomplished. I really think I felt that I was the way the goddess fashioned me and there was no further I could go.   

I do not feel, despite my imperfect form, that I had ever felt shame. I suppose if I had felt a little more shame, I might have made it through my younger years with a little more of my reputation intact. I was the girl your parents warned you about. I even have a war story or two and more than a few tales of “I couldn’t tell my mom I was hanging out with you.” The Pagan in me, in that respect, could not be dissuaded from all sorts of madness. (I told you I had a soft spot for destruction.) I regret none of it. I have always felt my strength comes from trusting myself and the universe with my path. 

I choose and my choice is my own and I live with it and I let it happen and I let it shape me.

England, circa 2005
When I moved to England in 2004 for graduate school my weight dropped drastically. In 2005 I found myself the thinnest I had ever gotten.  I was eating with portion control because I had limited funds and I needed to make sure all my dinners were also lunches. I cooked a lot. I didn't have a car and I walked everywhere. I was also stressed out with the writing of my thesis and giving in to a lot of bad habits. I used alcohol as a meal replacement and I was under pressure to produce work. I wasn't sleeping very well—but that has been the case most of my life. (Sleep? Eh, who needs it. Throw that shit away.) When I came back from England I was engaged to my best friend, dealing with immigration issues trying to actually marry him, and I was depressed that my academic life as I knew it was over. I was trying to find my way back into a life that hadn't yet been created yet. I think that’s when I started eating my feelings. (Like ya do…)

218 lbs of Me in the first 1X shirt I ever purchased.
I would join Tuff Girl Fitness in March of 2011 

Three years ago, I woke up and realized I was 218lbs. I had no idea how it happened. I mean, I have a pretty good idea now how it happened, but it was such a gradual transformation that I felt like one day I woke up, looked in the mirror, and was blown away by the person I saw starring back. I had no idea how to remedy it. I have mentioned before how new I am to this idea of fitness and thankfully I was able to find the trainers and the gym that I belong to now. Body image is such a strange and unusual beast. At what point did I begin to feel unhappy? At what point did I suddenly feel self-conscious about it? I think it was when I began buying clothing labeled “Plus Size.” I never thought I would ever need any size larger than an XL and the XL label never bothered me. The 1X label bothered me. At my largest, I was shopping for jeans in a size 18 which was only one size away from a 20 which instilled in me a fear I almost couldn't deal with. I think most of the fear stemmed from the fact that I didn't know how to reverse the process. I wasn't opposed to changing my habits, but I didn't really know which habits were leading me down this trail.

I have already begun my fitness journey. 
My relationships began to suffer. I felt a loss of confidence and in that loss I felt the connection I had with myself begin to fray and sever. My connection to the world around me frayed and severed. I felt lost and trapped within myself. I couldn't shop in normal stores anymore. Clothing I had loved and saved for years no longer fit—clothing with memories, clothing for rituals, clothing that I had connection with began to disappear from my use. I felt like I couldn't get out of my own way. I was uncomfortable in theater seats, I got tired walking short distances, and the photos of me began to torment me endlessly. Who was the girl in these photos?

Me & My Best Friend/Husband on our 6 year Wedding Anniversary
I am kicking ass at the gym. Kicking. Ass. 

That was when I found my current gym, my current trainers, and I found myself again. I always knew I was a spiritual person, but I was blown away by the spiritual journey this new level of fitness brought me to. Perhaps it was my mournful prayers to the goddess that I wouldn't pass out during copious amounts of mountain climbers… or the immense sense of peace I felt after every workout… or perhaps it was the rage release I felt slamming down ropes and connecting with my inner Shiva, who knows. All I know is that connection happened to me once more and on a level I wasn't expecting. I felt like myself again. I felt like my ties to life were mending. I was making friends. I was running and hiking and living in ways I never imagined for myself. 

One Week Ago, Before Kicking Ass in The Warrior Dash
I love this man. He came with me on my path and we are stronger for it. 

I do not worry about my body. I do not have weight goals even now. I don’t even have size goals. (Although I did recently hit a size 8 in my jean size which was specific to me at the time. It reminded me of my size 18 jeans when I began this crazy journey and helped me gain perspective on how far I have come.) I just show up. It’s the feeling I’m addicted to, the use of my body. Being fit has made me a more complete person and I cannot give that up. I trust in myself along with the universe. I know that when I am scaling a 15 foot wall during a mud run that I can climb that rope and flip over the top with ease because I know I have trained well and my muscles can hold me. I never look down, I don’t have to—I’m already on my way to the next obstacle.

I choose and my choice is my own and I live with it and I let it happen and I let it shape me.

At 32 years old I feel the best I have ever felt. I feel comfortable and confident. I feel like I can face every challenge that comes because I have faced all the others that came before. I can only continue to walk the path, face forward, and feel the excitement of the unknown and the anticipation of what might be around the next bend. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Goal Setting: How Not To

When all this "fitness" began, I never set out to win any world records. In fact, I wasn't sure how I felt about it and I wasn't sure if I’d stick with it, so I tried very hard not to have any expectations at all. Everyone tells you that the clear path to success is through avid goal setting. I think that it can be, but like with everything, not everyone responds to goal setting. I find that my goals are more abstract in nature… if you can even address them as “goals” to begin with. I think I’m emotionally OK with this. My trainer, in the beginning, used to stress the need to have goals to “crush” and then set more and “crush” those too. After a year, a “goal-less” year, I was beginning to panic. Would I lose my interest or steam if I didn't start goal setting soon? I didn't want to run a Mud Run or a 5K. I wasn't sure how much I wanted to lift. I didn't have an ideal weight or clothing size to aim for. Really I just wanted to keep going. That, in the beginning, was the only goal I had: To. Just. Keep. The. Fuck. Going. When you are not a “fitness” prone person, when you are in the rough stages of introducing your body to your first “muscle” however tiny and almost invisible… you don’t want to scare anyone. I didn't want my brain to over think it. It’s like Wheel of Fortune Card in Tarot. I just wanted to relax and let it happen…whatever “it” was and whatever came from “it,” I wanted to relax and travel the path where it led me.
So far the path has been good to me and the Universe challenging but ever changing. Last summer (2012) I ran a mile for the first time. I never had any inclination to run but my sister signed her and me (and my husband) up to run the Rugged Maniac. As I wasn't a runner I thought I’d better start. We went to the track and I would run the lengths and walk the turns, rinse and repeat until I was running more than I was walking. I suddenly had a goal. I had to run a mile. I knew I’d never make it through a 5K obstacle course if I couldn't, at the very least, run one mile. Soon the dreaded goal was achieved. The day I ran that mile I can tell you the whole track new it. Walkers and children and the elderly all held their ears as a colorful medley of obscenities left my lips in an end zone dance to end all end zone dances. I never thought I’d see the day.

Well, the Rugged Maniac kicked my ass from here to Zimbabwe. I know some of you are reading this thinking “but it was sooo easy!!” Yes, I’m sure it was. But I have to tell you, those motocross hills killed my stamina and even though the obstacles (excluding a few higher walls in the beginning) were really easy, it was the running that kicked my butt. I just couldn't keep up. I did finish and was very proud of myself for pushing through the pain to finish strong with the rest of my group. I just wished I could have been just that little bit better. Bam! Just like that…another goal was born: to not suck as much on the next one. Bam! Another goal: that there would even BE a next one. (This year’s torture is The Warrior Dash!) Eh… see what I’m doing here folks? See what’s happening? They’re breeding like rabbits these goal thingys.
I guess the moral of this tale is the following: Goals are good. Crushing goals is even better…but don’t panic if you don’t know how to get them. Sometimes you have to begin a journey for the journey alone. It wasn't until I began actually walking this new path that I began to find my direction. Recently I had the opportunity to run the Stratton Faxon New Haven Road Race. I ran the traditional 5k (3.1 Miles) in 38 minutes. I was very proud of my time. My only goal for the race was to run the whole thing…no matter how long it took me. I was very pleasantly surprised to come in under 40 minutes. Next year my goal is to knock time off my time and to get better and better every year. I like to keep my goals reasonable. In the recent gym “Meet Up” we had (a meeting where we all get together and discover our new personal records for various lifts we study in class) I managed to meet or surpass all my goals. I benched a PR of 110lbs, I back squatted 170lbs and I surpassed my conventional deadlift goal by 10lbs for a total of 210lbs. These things all took time to reach and even now I’m not certain what my next set of goals will be for the next meet up.  But I know as I continue the path I’ll get a good idea of where I want to be and the goals will come.

I pull the Wheel of Fortune a lot in my readings. I know that the Universe wants me to trust in myself and walk the path. Where ever I end up is where I’m meant to be. I have no expectations other than to perform to the best of my ability, continually testing my limits and trusting in the path set out before me… even if I cannot see further than around each bend. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Real Magic

“Real magic can never be made by offering up someone else’s liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back. True witches know that.”
–Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

This quote has always resonated with me. From the moment I first read The Last Unicorn, it has been one of those key quotes that has stayed in my mind and helped direct my actions academically, magically and even in my own quest for fitness.

The Unicorn is speaking to Mommy Fortuna whose quest for power, in her own way, has led her to the capture of a harpy (as well as the Unicorn herself). Mommy Fortuna uses what magic she possesses to transform sad every day animals into creatures of yore to delight crowds and to make money. She believes that her illusion is the only way that the Unicorn will ever be “seen” as a Unicorn because no one truly believes in magic and therefore they are blind to it. Mommy Fortuna makes it known to the Unicorn that she will do all in her power to keep her, even if it means to harm her friend Schmendrick the Magician. The Unicorn reminds her "Real magic can never be made by offering up someone else’s liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back. True witches know that.” The unicorn is reminding Mommy Fortuna that she can never truly achieve her aims through the sacrifices of others.
In my own life, I knew that academically I could not sit back and write mediocre work and reap the benefits of high grades and achievement. I had to study. I had to give up sleep and make sacrifices of my time in order to reap the benefits of my hard work. I was tearing out my own liver, not knowing if I would achieve the marks I desired, but hoping that my sacrifice would be equal to my reward.
We who practice the arts can infer this from the rule of three. Or the following popular bumper sticker:

No one rides for free. What energies we give out come back to us. In this way, when we practice our craft, we are giving our “livers” out to the universe… opening ourselves up to whatever recompense or payment the universe decides to take from us in response to our asking. Everything in nature is a delicate balance of give and take. Witches must make offerings in order to wield the energy in accordance with the natural order. Our offering might be time spent doing community service work when we’d rather be reading or finding ways to help protect an endangered species. An offering can come from energy when we send out healing thoughts to those in need. Doing good deeds, helping others, collecting food for food shelters and blankets and food for animal shelters… these are all offerings we make to balance out our use of the energy around us.
The pursuit of fitness is truly equal to me in this regard. It is easy to incorporate my beliefs into training.  If I want to achieve a 200lb dead lift then I must offer up my “liver” to the quest of it. To create the magic of this lift, I must make offerings of my time in order to train. I must make offerings of my comfort in order to build the muscle that will aid me in the lift. I must offer up my ego and utilize lighter lifts with multiple repetitions in order to better hone my strength. Sometimes I have to sacrifice “comfort foods” in order to better fuel my body or sacrifice a night out on the town in order to make sure I maintain my level of training. I also believe that by fueling my body and testing it physically I am honoring the energies around me by not taking my physical body for granted. Not letting an ounce of strength go to waste. Not letting my inner self become more important than my outer self. The most important temple I have to wield my energy is my body.

Real magic comes to me when I am willing to give offerings of myself. Let me never believe that I can command change without offering up the gift of myself.  Let me never know a moment when I take for granted the power of my physical self and the magic that it can perform.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tarot Tuesday: Four of Swords

Tarot takes the four P’s of witchcraft to the max: Practice, Patience, Persistence and Perception. This means that instant gratification need not apply – or as they say in AA, “The elevator is broken; you’ll have to use the steps.” (My father is a recovering alcoholic with almost 20 years clean and sober.) If you want to get better at Tarot, you have to use it—every day. It’s the best way to learn the cards.

I come from the standpoint also that although the more complicated spreads are useful, spreads need not apply either. They are great if the reading you are doing requires a path to follow, but I find my most successful readings are when I let the deck “do as it will.” I know my deck enjoys a lighter leash as it were so I give it the lead most days and let the energy free flow. It also depends on why I’m reading, who I’m reading and how I’m feeling.

So aside from that, I’m still learning. It’s important to always be in training. A part of my training is a nightly readings and my “check in” card pulls. When I “check in” I’m using a card pull to spontaneously “tune in.” One card can aid me in focus in a way multiple cards cannot.

Although I would say the Rider Waite deck is probably the most widely used deck, I use a deck called Tarot of the Old Path. I like this deck for multiple reasons—specifically and most importantly the graphics. The pictures on the deck are the best way to help you learn to interpret the cards. I think people forget that or don’t realize that when they begin to learn—which is why choosing the right deck is so important. The pictures speak to me in a visual and emotional way which helps me study and interpret them.

Disclaimer: each card in the Tarot deck has many interpretations. Please understand that this is a blog post and not a book whose sole purpose is the interpretation of the card I have pulled on any given day.

Today’s Pull: 4 of Swords

Visual Image (Tarot of the Old Path): A woman stands in the center of a castle, palms facing out at us. The four swords are sheathed in the castle walls and her eyes are closed. She is slightly windblown and looks to be bracing herself while still looking peaceful and calm.

Meaning: The four of swords is my R.E.M. card. The band R.E.M. is part of a mnemonic device I use to interpret this card. In their song “It’s The End of the World as We Know It” one of the most recognizable lyrics is “eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn.” My “easy” interpretation of the Four of Swords card is that it is the “Eye of the Hurricane.” It’s a peaceful card, a separation card. The woman is standing alone, safe within the confines of the castle and protected by the swords. She has her palms facing outwards as if pushing the world back from her for just a moment. The storm isn't over though—you can see the effects of the wind as it moves her head covering and her clothing, but for a moment she has separated herself. Like in the eye of the hurricane, she is experiencing a moment of peace.

What The Card Signifies to Me:  The Four of Swords was an interesting pull for me today and I’ll tell you why: I've been balls to the wall recently. Training, working, personal obligations, personal projects, family obligations, and my own physical goals and writing goals are a few of the things pulling me in different directions. When I pulled the card this morning I was feeling very tired. I felt both physically weary and mentally strained.

Pulling the Four of Swords signifies to me that I need to take a step back from the storms I am currently experiencing. I need to realize that the obligations and goals that I have will remain, but for a moment I need to seek a moment of separation. Perhaps this separation will re-charge me to resume the battle? Perhaps I will gain a new perspective that will help me realize some goals that have been eluding me? It was a good card to pull for today and a nice reminder that I can’t run full speed every moment of the day, every day of the week. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Back in 2 Black & 1 Purple

So I went on vacation. That is actually what happened. I went on vacation, after a particularly looong winter, spent a disgusting amount a money, had an AMAZING TIME…and came back home and it all went to shit. You know, like it does.

The exceedingly valid (ahem) excuses began:
            I had to catch up at work…
            (I did…really.)
            I had to catch up with my clean eating…
            (Cooking and planning takes time.)
I had to get back to the gym…
            (Sore muscles and a mediocre deadlift does not a happy Muirakai make)

And then before you know it it’s July. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. So far some of the highlights have been a marvelous visit from my little English in-laws, a new 5k record, and a new fast time to my post-workout mile. The downside so far is my complete un-pagan-like lack of gardening skills, the scorching heat we New Englanders have been dealing with since the end of June, and the fact that I have not progressed as I would like with my pull ups at the gym. Oh what a world…

Anyway, the writer-ly witch hat has been dusted off and placed back on my head. Yes, at a jaunty angle. The first post back is always the toughest! Now the pain’s all done with we can get back to the heart of the matter.

So my damn pull ups suck.

Urghs! (Insert unladylike swear words here.)

Chest to bar bitches! Chest to bar! Every. Damn. Time. That’s the goal. Good form never hurt anyone’s chances of success.

We use very large rubber bands (attached to the pull up bars) to aid us in doing pull ups—those of us who cannot dead hang yet. I need a total of 30 pull ups for my training program once a week. They are in sets of 10 and they come after my 15 push presses and are performed between my 4 sets of bench presses. Yes. That’s a lot of arms. So in light of this, I use two black bands and one Purple. The Purple band is like 1.5 black bands. The other option is a red band which is like .5 black bands. So safe to say, I’m using A LOT of bands to haul my chest to that bar 10 times in a row. Sometimes, I have to stop at pull up #6 and rest. It does not matter as long as I get good strong pulls and my chest hits the bar. Not my chin, my chest. But I have been at this now for almost two years and I have actually downgraded rather than upgraded. This was really a result of the increased amount of pull ups paired with the need for chest to bar not just chin to bar, but it still feels like I have fallen behind.

Intermittently we get snippets of inspirational emails from girls who have just started the gym or have been going for a few months and their happiness with their progress. Emails that read: “I just started 6 months ago and before this I never thought I would be able to do a dead hang pull up! Not only have I moved from the 10lb weights, I can do 56 dead hang pull-ups in less than 3 seconds….” Now… that might not be EXACTLY what the emails say… per say…. But this is how it translates in my slightly fermented New-England-heat-wave brain. It fills me with this sense of… you’re not working hard enough. All these newbies are progressing faster than you. Now I can bench press over 100lbs. But I can’t lift my chest to the bar without the help of massive industrial elastic nightmare bands.

We do we do this to ourselves. What causes our internal monologues to turn against us? Edgar Allen Poe always talked about the perversity of human nature, wrote about it faithfully in almost all his stories—our need not only to stand at the precipice but to imagine jumping to our deaths. We cannot help it—our affinity is both towards life and against it. I see my internal monologue in this light also. It both affirms my hard work and my struggle while simultaneously kicking me at every opportunity. It compares me to others. It says “Good Job! But she… that girl over there…she can lift more. You’re not as good as she is.” I also know for a fact that other people feel similarly to me. We all have this heinous shrew in our heads and she just will Just. Not. Shut. Up.

So I’m just going to have to keep going and block out the shrew. Like everyone else does. But I’m going to do it my way:

The supplies:
Red Candle.
Charged writing paper.
Red Pen.
Spell note: Red = Serious Shit. Passion. Fire. Intent.

The Note/Spell:
Dear Freyja.
There’s a suspicious bitch in my head.
She’s trying to tell me I’m not good enough.
Now I know this isn’t true. Like you, I’m a bad ass bitch.
I’m beautiful and sexy as hell.
I eat deadlifts for fucking breakfast.
You have my permission to unleash your goddess of war fury
on her back-stabbing ass. Destroy her and in your honor,
I will work harder, live better, and be the best I can be.
Blessed be,

I’m going to charge the candle with my intent. I’m going to repeat in my head my successes. The things I've gained from my hard work. My dreams for the future. My passion for my goals. My fire. My life force.

Then I’m going to burn that note straight to the goddess where her good works will aid me in silencing the internal hate megaphone that slows my progress.

It’s good to be a Pagan.