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.

~ by Dver on August 31, 2012.

15 Responses to “Get out of your comfort zone”

  1. Wonderful post.

    I agree with this very much, and it’s something I’ll be keeping in my mind for a good while and musing over.

  2. This is excellent and is totally what I needed to read today. Thank you.

  3. This is very true. And I think you have clearly stated before how everyone seems to be a magical worker, shaman, spirit vessel etc. nowdays. I am a devotee and that is quite enough for me. I do not really understand why so many others are so high on these titles, they scare the wits out of me.😉

    • I do wonder if the “everyone is a spirit worker” trend is partly because pagans and pagan-like people are already marginalized in places like North America and Europe. So all the “fringe roles” get lumped into one pagan more often than if pagans were the majority.

      Granted, I do think that a lot of them have “special snowflake syndrome”, but I look at my own life’s liminal tendencies and how it presents as a major theme in many aspects in my life, including career, social habits, and religious customs. The various fringe roles seem to go hand in hand.

      • I think ‘the everyone is a spirit worker’ is the new ‘every pagan is a priest/priestess’. Yes, it does make a lot of sense in some ways. Much has been said about that pagans can all experience the gods. There is a discourse of equality in paganism, though recently people like Galina have written that when the gods are involved, there may be no such thing as a level playing field. Yet these recent objections only prove the rule, that generally we all like to be equal.

        The term ‘spirit worker’ or ‘godspouse’ does designate a specific religious role, even if it does not fit in a clear hierarchy. And within paganism, with its love of equality, we tend to democratise these terms fairly quickly. Yes, we can all be spirit workers in theory. But are we? It seems as if pagans jump at these terms, because we think they legitimise our actions and opinions, though of course they do no such thing. These terms aren’t just descriptors. When we use them, we use them for many other reasons sometimes unknown to us. I do not mean to say that those who call themselves godspouses, spirit workers or whatever are frauds. I am saying that when we use these terms in this manner, they tend to, over time, lose some of their descriptive power. Yes, spirit workers are all different and have their own paths, but I think, in the end, this equality game may mean that the term looses all meaning. A lot of people have commented on whether ‘paganism’ still means anything. And why it is that is does not have a clear meaning any more. Again this is partly because of the democratisation of language.

        Gosh, this has become an entirely different response than I was meaning to write. Apart from the semantics, let me say this. Three years ago I never came across the word ‘godspouse’. The term became popular because it accurately described a very real type of relationship with (a) god(s). Yet, the term became even more popular and some pagans use it much in the same way as ‘priest(ess)’ in the past. And yes, asides from the will of the gods, we can all be priests or godsspouses or spirits workers in principle. But are we all, in practice? Connecting these some of these words back to certain actions – spirit workers do spirit work – is not a bad idea.

        And partly when I consider what most spirit workers do (instead of are), I rather not be a spirit worker. And I think a lot of young pagans might feel the same when they take a close look at what it involves. I am all for equality, but not for watering down words to create the illusion of equality. I for one, have my hands full with getting to know Persephone and I have no wish to take on such a heavy duty which being a spirit worker clearly is. And perhaps laypeople like myself should be a bit more vocal, and reclaim this particular word😉

        Gods, I am rabling, aren’t I.
        I am rambling, sorry.

        • I would actually disagree that everyone can be these things, even in principle. Not everyone has the natural talents and predisposition required, and *that’s fine.* I will never be a great athlete, no matter how much I wanted to, my body isn’t built for it. Likewise, someone who has trouble even getting into an altered state of consciousness is not going to be much of a spirit-worker, nor do they need to be. Saying people are suited for different things isn’t a judgment the way some people seem to think it is. Just like saying there are different races isn’t in itself racist, just reality. We need to be able to make useful distinctions without being so worried about coming off as judgmental.

  4. Awesome. In my own work I get pushed more than I was at first comfortable with, now I’m getting to the ‘roll with the punches,’ flow. Shit’s gonna get hard, and even harder – welcome to spirit work. I know of too many Pagans that want the title, but water it down until it’s unidentifiable, with no pushing, challenges – just, ‘feel good vibes.’

    I agree with the ‘stop the coddling.’ Even to those who are devotees, magicians, etc., it’s the challenge that makes the lesson stick. If it wasn’t earned or hard-won, would you remember it?

    I have to step out of my comfort zone a shit-load of the time. But that discomfort gives me a comfort I hadn’t known before – and a damned honest one to boot. Still think you’re awesome Dver.

  5. Something I feel is lacking that does need to be discussed across the board with spiritwork and healing is ethics and education. No, you don’t have to go to college to become a spirit worker, but you have to do better than read a few Llewellyn books, and don’t tell me nonsense about how your god told you to braid your hair (or other little things) without EVER questioning them and their motives (and the consequences of your actions).

  6. While I agree with what you’re saying here, I fail to understand the connection to Naiadis’ post.
    How do you interpret a post about how to deal with a close deity/mortal relationship as a “post about how it’s okay to not really push themselves”??

    • Well, the title and theme of my post was based in particular on this quote:

      “Nor do I think one necessarily has to surrender one’s comfort zones in order to fulfill their part of a relationship with their gods — and yes, I’m still talking about spirit workers and god-spouses.”

      She also listed the following things that people *think* spirit-workers need to do, but they don’t necessarily, while I would say that (for the most part) they *do* need to do them:

      “That, if one is going to claim the title spirit worker and/or god/spirit-spouse one must: be about pushing one’s physical limits; be about putting the gods and spirits first all the time no matter the cost; be about surrendering everything and anything to the gods at a moments notice even if they don’t understand the reasons why. On top these ‘musts’ there is also the idea that those who have gone before obviously know what they’re doing.”

      But as I said in the beginning of my post, that was just one example and in general I am responding to a larger trend I see where people (often constantly) make excuses for why they’re not doing their Work, why they haven’t gone further on their path, why they aren’t feeling connected, etc. (usually those last ones are directly connected to the first one), and commenters are unwaveringly sympathetic and enabling rather than ever trying to encourage them to challenge themselves and reach for something more.

      We are also all so concerned with the idea of “YMMV” that we refuse to acknowledge even the most basic of tenets, like – if you put in the Work, you will see results more than if you don’t. The stress on the idea “every path is different” can become a deflection from dealing with the possibility that we may actually screw up on our own unique paths sometimes, and also disallows anyone else to acknowledge that fact or give a reasonable kick in the backside to get us going again.

      I know that personally, when I’ve expressed concern with my progress or lamented failures or things of that nature, I have received a lot of sympathetic platitudes but rarely anyone telling me I can do better, try again, try harder. I recognize that most people don’t want that sort of provocation, but I do think spirit-workers need to be stricter with ourselves than the average person, and to seek motivation and challenge rather than comfort. Our whole culture is predicated on seeking comfort, and it certainly isn’t a conducive mindset to the type, degree and extent of Work most spirit-workers need to be doing.

  7. […] amassed quite a few snippets that I find to be very motivational and inspiring, along the lines of challenging yourself. So for those of you who haven’t checked over there lately, here are some ideas to get you […]

  8. Thank you SO much for this Dver. There is way too much emphasis on YMMV. There are even forums now where absolutely no dissent is allowed because someone may be offended since their path is ‘different’.

    Problem with paganism and heathenry in general is that there are no standardized educational/experiential criteria. There are no qualifications. As you mentioned, phrases get watered down because anyone with a wet dream about a deity can say they are a god-spouse and heck, their mileage varies so no one can blink at them. Or geez, they get a divination from someone and don’t agree with it so go to another person and another till they find one who pats them on the head and says, ‘yes, you are what you want to be’ and bango… we now have a spirit-worker/ spouse/ shaman/ whathaveyou.

    I’ve seen people who practice basic ancestor veneration (basic mind you) and then turn around and call themselves spirit workers. People who take a course in core shamanism and then say they are shamans. It just boggles my mind but even more so it saddens me.

    I don’t think the solution will come any time soon. Since everyone’s ‘mileage varies’ it will be a hard road to go to get any kind of true criteria or measurement for what actually ‘makes’ a spirit worker, shaman, god-spouse, etc.

    So where do we go from here? Do we look to and model from other traditions that have formalized lineages and hierarchies? Do we invent our own? Will anyone listen and who will be the leaders in this?

    • I don’t know the answer. I don’t think the answer is to create hierarchies and specific criteria – the tricky thing is, there ARE many different sorts of paths (though they are, as I said, certain guidelines for the Work regardless), and some can be very individualized (gods know mine is in many ways), and I’m not sure it would help to go too far the other way and lock in all sorts of rules and requirements. Not to mention, that only works within a closed system where everyone participates and acknowledges the authority. In our situation, people who didn’t agree with the criteria would just go off on their own, and we’d have the same issues as now.

      I think the only thing we can do is keep saying this stuff, loudly, where other will hear (read) it, and hope to influence those coming into this. Those who are in groups could also work to implement some sort of standards within the group.

      One of the problems, I think, is that the younger generation getting interested in this stuff has absolutely no patience. They don’t want to hear that they might need to work for a decade before getting good at something. They want all the sparklies right away. I’d imagine this is what many traditions face, even non-religious ones, at certain times – how many crafts these days, for instance, are waning because no one wants to apprentice for years to learn them well. This is an instant gratification generation even more than most, thanks to the current technology. Unfortunately for them, spirit-work is OLD technology, and it works at a different pace.

      I think most likely, the fad will pass like they all do, and those who were really in it for the long haul and doing the Work will persist, and eventually it will become clear who is who. I just hope that in the meantime, new people who get truly called are not put off, or distracted by some fantasy.

  9. Very well said. Everyone has challenges to face but the important thing is that we meet them, and meet them well. Challenges are meant to be acknowledged and overcome. That’s how we have the best possible impact on this and the other worlds. Overcoming, transforming, and becoming are part and parcel of how we get this very important Work done.

    Thank you for yet another thoughtful and timely post!

  10. Very well said. Everyone has challenges but the important thing is that we meet them, and meet them well. Challenges are meant to be acknowledged and overcome. That’s how we have the best possible impact on this and the other worlds. Overcoming, transforming, and becoming are part and parcel of how we get this Work done.

    Thank you for another thoughtful and timely post!

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