While talking with my husband I realized that many of the arguments I’ve been making during my conversations with hard polytheists, particularly with Galina Krasskova (read our Facebook chat here and see the post it inspired from her here), are not necessarily reflected in or supported by the evidence of my own practice.
Or, in other words, I think Galina may have been right about a few things that I wasn’t admitting.
First, a regular devotional practice is a good — even great — foundation for a meaningful spiritual life.
Galina, and other hard polytheists I’ve spoken with, put significant value around the development of a devotional practice. If they were proselytizers (which they aren’t, technically) that might be the one message they’re preaching: develop a devotional practice. Do the work.
Act as if, Galina writes.
I’m familiar with the approach. And, in spite of all the things I’ve said in the past week or so, I have benefited from it at times.
My own practice has become much less regular and much less of a devotional practice in recent weeks and months. Interestingly, it stopped being quite so devotional after I had a very profound and palpable encounter with the Morrigan. One might think that there would be even more desire to develop a sturdy, robust devotional practice after something so visceral, but that isn’t how it’s happened and I don’t know why.
The periods in my life as a practicing Pagan that were most rich with spiritual awareness and the sense of connection were times when I had the most consistent and reliable devotional practice. During these times I was also much less concerned with critical thinking as it pertained to things like the nature of the gods, or the logic (or lack thereof) behind my actions. My actions were serving a spiritual purpose. They were keeping me in relationship with the gods.
At least, they were strengthening my personal sense of relationship. I was showing up before the shrine, doing the work, and as a result I felt more connected.
Now, during this period of less engagement with a devotional practice, I feel several things:
For one, I feel as though my critical thinking skills are getting a workout. I’m much more inclined toward objective analysis. That becomes problematic when I’m unable to shut that part of my mind off. My husband reminded me that ritual — like the kind I used to do daily in my devotional practice — can work wonders for shutting that function down for a while. In many ways, that’s ritual’s sole purpose. It prepares us for an encounter with the holy.
But I’ve also experienced a desire to do something different than what I used to do in my devotional practice. I want something less wordy, less structured. I want for something that isn’t so centered around ADF’s cosmology, or language that I’ve crafted for the Fellowship. This desire for fewer words comes, I think, from the fact that words are what tend to send my mind into an overactive frenzy.
For as much as I find liturgy to be valuable, especially when it comes to the regular celebration of High Days, in my daily practice I think I want something a little more formless. I’m not sure what that looks like, or how much it would resemble any kind of devotional practice.
I think, though, that the first step is to start listening more than I speak. I’ve been doing a lot of outward-focused work, and the ideas are flowing quite steadily in that direction. But it may be time to reverse the flow. It may be time for more listening.
I stumbled across this image, The Tree of Contemplative Practices, while searching out contemplative practices. It was published on the website of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, an organization that seeks to incorporate more contemplative practices into higher ed. In my ongoing pursuit to discover what a distinctly Pagan contemplative practice might look like, I find that this illustration demonstrates that there are many, many ways of developing a contemplative practice. As I wrote in my last post, cultivating a devotional practice may be one way to do that, but I feel the need to give myself permission to explore other ways of achieving the same state of awareness.
Perhaps beginning with one of these branches is a start.
Have you found any of these practices to be relevant and meaningful in your personal spiritual journey? Perhaps they naturally fit into your religious tradition, as with the “Ceremonies and rituals” branch. But what about Silence? Storytelling? Deep listening? I know that I “bear witness” quite often on this site, and I like the idea that it may be a component of my own contemplative practice as a Pagan.
What do you reach for on The Tree of Contemplative Practices?