Get out of your comfort zone
So this has been making the rounds lately, being reblogged in a number of places. And while I agree with some of the basic arguments – everyone’s path is unique, what works for one might not work for another – I would like to be a voice of dissent on what I see as a trend amongst some people who claim the roles of spirit-worker, mystic, god-slave, shaman (the post in question being just one example, and the following is directed at everyone to whom it is applicable).
I know the road can be tough, and I acknowledge that there are times when one has to be gentle with oneself, to keep oneself intact enough to continue. But I think one should also ward against making too many excuses, letting oneself off the hook too many times, avoiding the things that challenge and daunt us. When have mystics ever been content with what comes easily? When the overpowering urge comes to unite with one’s god, to part the veil between the worlds, to speak with spirits, to heal the sick… do you stop trying the minute you reach the first plateau or achieve a moderate success? Is it sufficient to be a little connected? Do you list off all the reasons it’s too hard, or scary, or dangerous, or exhausting, to keep pushing and get to a deeper level? That might be fine for others – not everyone needs to be a spirit-worker, after all – but you get out what you put in, and if you never challenge yourself, you will never discover how far you could have gone, both for yourself, and for Them. (And this is really true for any Art.)
Of course, what actually challenges you will be different than what challenges someone else. It’s true, not everyone needs to push their physical limits (although I’d maintain that everyone who does spirit-work also needs to be deeply in touch with their physical self, and in our culture that’s usually going to require some work and even hardship); for some the challenging part will be mental or emotional. But if you are shying away from doing so because it seems too daunting, that’s a cue to look harder at that, not ignore it. If you’re treading water because you won’t really face what challenges you, you’ll never get past it to the next challenge (and the next reward). Backing off from anything that seems difficult will get you nowhere.
And yes, I’d say that there are entire types of Work – spirit-work, shamanism – that do require you to put the gods and spirits first at all times no matter what, and if that sounds like a raw deal, then don’t pick up that Work. Find something more suited to your personality and priorities in life. But to say you can be these things, and yet not really commit fully, not really do the hard Work, it demeans the path. It becomes about appearances and titles, with nothing substantial behind them. If I want to be a surgeon but can’t get through the corpse dissections and don’t really feel like taking so many biology classes and would like to just do it in my spare time, should I call myself a surgeon because it seems more glamorous than just saying I’m interested in healing and the human body, amongst other interests?
Sure, the specifics required of each person vary widely. But I do think there are some core principles that apply across the board, or nearly so. You’ll find this if you study wide-ranging spiritual vocations through time and across the world (and yes, I think it’s vitally important that we do this, and that we take the experiences and practices of those mystics seriously, because they actually did what we are aspiring to do – certainly their cumulative knowledge is more useful in these tasks than the self-help mentality of today). If you’re not willing to step out of your comfort zone to get closer to your gods and spirits, and to fulfill your Work, then maybe this isn’t the path for you. There is nothing wrong with being a devotee, a worshipper, a celebrant. You can have deeply meaningful and real experiences that way. But if you embrace a mystic vocation – and that’s what we’re talking about here, or else these words have no meaning at all – then you’re going to be pushed in ways you never even imagined, and you’re going to need to accept that, even learn to love it.
It’s good that we can be there for each other when needed, that we can understand the hardships, even sympathize when a person fails their challenges (no one will escape failure at least some of the time), but I don’t think it does any of us any favors to always validate each other’s excuses and lack of effort. Every time I see someone post about how it’s okay to not really push themselves, or why it’s just too hard at the moment (even if those moments are more frequent than not), I notice that these sentiments are echoed and validated by numerous people, probably in part because it makes them feel better about their own issues. We all have issues. We all struggle. But why aren’t we more ready to encourage each other to surmount those challenges, to excel and live up to our stated vocations? Are we just too afraid of seeming mean or judgmental? Well, I’ve never been afraid of that (I’m certainly not here to make friends, that’s clear to me).
Again, I’m not talking about every polytheist here. I’m not even necessarily talking about god-spouses or people with intense devotional relationships. But I think those on a specialized, intensive spiritual/magical path would benefit from a little less coddling and a little more motivation, even provocation at times. If done right, it can be a spark that re-ignites a powerful fire. And we need that, we need it so much. Both individually (I know I do) and collectively, for our own sake and for the ones we serve, who deserve our very best effort.