Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pagans Coming Out and the Ripple Effect of Being the 1st or Only Representive

It was December and the middle of the Christmas rush. We were doing a daily huddle to keep the team leads informed and in good spirits during this crazy time for the store. We'd just finished recognizing those who'd done an “amazing” job and we were moving on to “vibe” (this is where we make personal connections with guests that makes them more satisfied with their service and hopefully creates a loyalty to our brand) moments with the guest.

Everything was completely normal. I was happy to be in the huddle and I felt part of something larger, not the way we do in religion, but the way we do when we're a huge team sharing an ordeal together. No matter where you stand on Christmas, there is only one retail worker experience and it's agony. We need eachother's support to make it. We hadn't gotten to the sales goals or stats and already I was ready to dive in to do my part.

Our “vibing” moments was going along normally, and one woman shared her ability to sell a store credit card, which pleased her guest because it will save her 5% on all purchases in the store every time she uses it. We were about to move on to the next person's “vibe” moment when one of our bosses said to her:

“No not that story, you have to tell the one about the witch!”

The woman whose addressed looks. At first I think they are using witch to mean unreasonable demanding and mean guest. It fits with our vibing agenda to turn around potentially bad reviews into positive ones by dealing well with hostile people. I was surprised though that our boss would ever refer to a guest as a 'witch'.

Then the woman addressed shoots me a nervous glance and my stomach drops. See this woman works in HR usually so she knows the story she is being prompted to tell may be touchy. She also knows via our facebook friend relation that I am pagan. It's an open secret in store, as I think she pointed it out quietly to our other HR representative and to our owner so they could all be pc. But I've never actually shared in person with anyone at the store that I'm pagan, I don't see how it's appropriate really.

So she begins hesitantly never looking at me after the first guilty glance, “I was working in grocery when a woman approached me and asked for me to help her find spicy peppers. We're looking for these peppers and I'm trying to gather more information asking, how spicy and if there's a certain type of pepper she's looking for?”

“The woman just says, 'No it doesn't matter, the spicier the better. They just have to be really hot.'”

“So I respond, 'Wow you must be making so crazy chili or do you just like really hot foods?'”

“And the woman says, 'No I'm a witch and I need the peppers for a spell. Doesn't matter what kind just that they are as hot as possible'”

Noise immediately breaks out in the huddle and our Hr lady must stop telling her story to wait for the ruckus to die down. She's a little flushed. Half embarrassed I think and half enjoying everyone's reaction. If anyone had been paying attention to me they may have noticed I am the only one in the group not to react at all, because I am frozen now. I want to leave huddle as quickly as possible, because in this instant it becomes clear again that we are not really a unified team, not in the way I was feeling before anyhow. How could I possibly fit into a group that reacts like a bunch of classroom bullies the second witchcraft is brought up?

Our boss is nodding to the huddle, and making a joke about how we better hope we get service right for this woman or she might put a spell on us too! She makes it clear that our HR is a true professional for dealing with this woman. Even though she's just a normal lady and the fact that our HR lady basically badgered what she wanted the peppers for out of her doesn't seem to count. Our desire as a corporate to “make connections” with the guest in this case results in learning something that is apparently hilarious and/or outrageous about our 'guest'.

I've been sitting on this experience for almost two months now because it was too emotional to tackle. I think I've come to some conclusions.

The Good Stuff:
-My HR lady was embarrassed to tell the story. It has to count for something that at least human resources knows it might not be a great idea
-My HR lady did not immediately think of this moment to share as her “vibing” with a guest, which means, that no matter how unusual the instant may have been, it's not something that she's been mulling on or disturbed enough by to stand out in her mind.
-Even the bigots where were making fun of this woman felt comfortable talking about witchcraft, no one found the subject taboo or potentially dangerous like invoking the devil or inherently evil. The PR campaign to normalize the modern witch has done that much.
-The team's reaction could have been worse. People were generally surprised or amused no one seemed angry or upset.

The Bad Stuff:
-That anyone thought this was an example to tell in huddle is of course bad. If someone hunting for beads for a rosary had come in would anyone have found that worth telling?
-That one of our bosses feels comfortable to joke like that in a large mixed work group on the clock is kind of terrible. She's making fun of a guest and a religious practice in one fell swoop. I don't make fun of people who ask for a latte without espresso after all and that's far more ridiculous than wanting spicy peppers.

A personal reaction I had that shocked me at the time, but I've been able to reflect on now, is that I was furious with the woman in the story for telling anyone she was a witch and that the peppers were a spell. I was horrified with how angry I was at her. I mean it's her right to say what she wants about her faith or in this case practice to anyone at any time. I'm for National Pagan Coming Out Day. If you can safely come out do it loud and do it proud! Let them see the whole person the mother, worker, friend, volunteer, work out friend, who also is pagan.

And here this woman is 'coming out' as it were or 'being out' (what they don't tell you about coming out is that you have to do it over and over and that it's never easier or safer or more ideal) in the store and I'm angry about it. I have no right to feel that way period, but it's particularly hypocritical because of how much I advocate pagans to come out if they can.

I was dissecting her practice and finding it wanting based off of a three minute conversation I hadn't had with the woman! And I knew I was being a terrible person and doing everything I say I won't but I couldn't seem to stop this spiral in my mind. Below all this vitriol was the simple 'why do I feel this way?', 'what set this off?', and 'can this woman really be the core of so much anger?'

It took me days to realize that I wasn't mad at the woman, not really. And I don't really think any of those terrible things about her practice or what she did. Taking the time to breathe and mediate allowed me to open up my empathic center and to see literally hundreds of different perfectly reasonable scenarios for her actions. Because her actions were 100% reasonable. How many blog posts do we see all the time where we hear this story from the woman looking for peppers' perspective? The hypothetical person often considers the consequences of their actions. They have to because our number one question has to be: will talking about this put me or those I love in danger?

One thing I haven't seen in these blogs is “what happens when there is a fellow pagan in the audience when a group of non-pagans tries to talk out their experience”. For the record I was angry, upset, and helpless in that situation to address the hurt because my boss was condoning/encouraging negative reactions to this outing. In a lot of ways I'm glad she did choose to 'be out' because it told me something about these people I might not have found out until after we were friends.

I'm mad for her and I'm mad for myself. That a conversation which took maybe minutes is all the representation we as pagans have. It's a huge responsibility she took on to be that pagan face and now her words have to stand up to people who’ve made up their minds already, in an out of context situation, basically rigged so she can lose. She's been strawmanned and she'll probably never know it. How brave of her to reach out given that these are the very least negative consequences that could have happened.

Beyond learning something ugly about my boss and some of my co-workers, this has further solidified my extreme distaste with the hospitality/retail capitalist system in the US (and probably other countries). But that's a mammoth, I'm going to have to tackle in a separate post.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Creative and Spiritual Road Blocks

I think I'm coming to understand why I was so bad at school. I spend two weeks intensely reading blogs and information. Each day I woke with a new revelation and prayerful thought. Every passage was an inspiration and each day I'd move forward with a new aspiration to do this, or do that or incorporate something else.

My time off of work is spent with me tooling around or with the mate and I going to the art museum and walking Big Spring and going to pagan coffee. I feel focused and energized. My prayers, meditation, and energy work has never felt so synced. I'm so connected right now, it feels like a new level to my practice.

And then yesterday, I go to sit down to continue studying and I realize I can't read anymore information. I settled down and I looked at it all but the words are just words now, not vehicles of comprehension or meaning anymore. I don't even know what I'm reading anymore let alone being illuminated by the words. This is exactly the same way I would dive into college classes. I would live in my room and breeze through the huge thick book. I'd feel so intensely alive, and as suddenly as that unquenchable thirst had surfaced in me creating reams of papers, productive reading, and artistic interpretation, it would leave me. And I'd be exhausted, worn thin and vulnerable feeling. All that progress forward felt so good, but the feeling afterward made me feel woozy for days. All washed out and hollow. I'd have to pull back from my studies and from my life to recover that me from somewhere.

My creative mind has been hibernating. Deep slumber perhaps in part so I can built a life slowly and painfully. I know these sudden obsessive bursts with leaping bounding strides forward are not how most people function.

I thought it was gone, and while part of me was sad, another part was relieved that I would be so deeply engrossed in my own world with my own meanderings either following a path no one else seems to see or recovering from weeks down that particular rabbit hole.

But of course part of me was sad. Because there's nothing quite as exquisite as when I'm working.

Now that passion is back. It's been amazing. But as I'm at the cool down phase again: it occurs to me this time around, probably because I am mid way through my work and I still want to progress with it, but that weak wrung out is strangling me, that these bursts I get are probably why I never did very well in school. We don't live in a world where someone can work as I work successfully. Often I've mourned that we can't work three weeks continuously and have five days off, but this time around, I begin to understand why we don't work that way. I feel a little bit like those pacing zoo predators right now. Every time I move towards my book or my studying, there's an ache that pushes me back, but I want to fight through this so badly. I'm my own worst enemy these past two days and I'm hoping that I'll be able to shake it off soon so I can get back to work.

So today, I'm lighting a few candles and setting prayers up to the Divine. My Gods, the ones I'm familiar with, aren't rulers of the creative realm or of productivity. I don't think we start praying to Gods to get things, so I'm not about to offer to Athena or Demeter now, but still maybe my guides or my Gods will do something. I don't know how to ride my creative winds, so I'm going to release it to my Gods and my Guides and hope I see my sails flaring soon. 

There are somethings in life we can do on our own.  As pagans, we spend a lot of time taking the reins of our own lives.  Often we follow the natural cycles creating the right time, right place ,right ritual, right relationship with our Gods and hopefully this will all build to manifest the right life for us. 

 I'm a strong believer in finding the right rythm for each person and how this will open our lives up.  Sometimes though, the right thing is to give it up to our Gods and our Guides and how to see something, even if it isn't the results we want.  Release, its something I'd like to claim that I do often, but it's not really true.  I only usually "release" because there are no other options.  I hold and I chase and when I'm fox holed like now I release.  It feels so good right now to let go, like I've done all there is to do and now I'm being welcomed back home.  I wonder why had to be pushed so hard to do it.  

Do you release your life to the Gods or to a Higher Power?  What does it take for you to do this?  And what does release mean for you?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Imbolic: Begining with a Trial by Fire and Being Burned

I'm always trying to expand my practice. I feel very strongly that my religion is a creation mid progress. I have beliefs. I have ritual foundation work, and I have my experience with the divine. Still, I feel the always present need for more. To re-tool how I practice and to add on.

One aspect I was considering adding was a fast the week of Imbolic. I'm anemic, so it would never have been 100% traditional because I need solid food and I need to make sure my iron is right, but I was considering a juicing raw food fast for seven days.

I had great justifications for this fast. It would make me more aware of the earth's local fertility, which doesn't truly bloom here until March, but we're only six hours from Florida and we enjoy quite a bit of their early season produces. I keep talking about sustainable food and being in touch with the earth's cycles. I'll talk about small seasonal observations. But food is something we all need. It's a real and tangible piece of the human puzzle that could help make more meaning in the year. After all ancient cultures followed the seasons because of agriculture, not because it was something transcendent and holy. Following the seasons and choosing nature now a days is just that:a choice. It's as much a social, political, and economic choice as it is religious. I know I'm someone with the privilege to ignore a lot of nature if I wanted to.

Juicing, while controversial, couldn't hurt for seven days, especially considering I would still choose to each whole fruits, vegetables, and nuts during this time. It would be a financial sacrifice and one I'm lucky enough to consider, but it wouldn't hurt my health. It may even help it.

It would make me aware of what I eat and how it makes me feel. I could put real effort into considering my meal choices and what I would do with this information and my diet after 7 days.

Guess how far I got into this plan? One day and I was out. I learned I'm very attached to my coffee, too much so if the killer headache I had that made me dizzy meant anything. I learned that while I like juice, fruits, vegetables, and seeds, I'm not up for creating such an exclusion in my diet. Not being able to each chocolate or fried food made me crave it in a way I haven't for months, and as soon as I decided to stop the fast and eat like more normally, those cravings left me.

I now know I'm not drinking anywhere near enough water if how quickly the water and juice passed through me is any indication and I'm still committed to drinking at least 72oz of water a day to improve that aspect of my health.

I learned that while maybe I like the idea of fasting, my body is still in the same place I was in college when I decided fasting was dumb. I have a more nuanced idea of fasting, but it's still not for me.

Some things I got from the experience is that I need to limit my coffee to one cup a day and then try again to stop drinking it in a month. I've let my caffeine intake get way out of control with the new job at Starbucks. Truthfully, at home I drink my coffee with coconut sugar and unsweetened almond milk so it's not as bad as it could be, the problem is at work where I drink too much coffee with all those syrup sweeteners. I'm sure I'm holding on to a lot of bad addictive things my mind and body need to release.

I do need to cut my oils, butters, and sugars. Planning for this fast helped show me how far I've strayed from healthier food choices I used to make in the past. I need leaner meat and will stick to chicken, turkey, and some fish. I really like eating more fruits and vegetables, they can replace some of my current leanings and I need to stop eyeballing my oils and butters and measure them out so I'm sure. I also realized that I eat way too much. The juice and raw foods wasn't enough but what I was eating was way too much. I might need to stop cooking for the mate because catering to his taste is part of how I fell into these messy habits.

Part of me is really discouraged that I couldn't do this fast. I knew that working as I do with food everyday on my feet would make it very hard. I knew that I would have some unpleasant after effects and that I might seriously have to dis-continue the fast so that I could do the right kind of job at work. I never thought that at the end of a day I would so thoroughly and completely reject the whole concept. It's hard to decide if this is a sign that I'm weak or strong or something else entirely. Then the whole concept of weak and strong makes me wonder why I care. My Gods don't compel this. Self denial has never been a value I've treasured just for the sake of denial.

I think it goes back to this idea of being a super dedicated committed pagan. Which, honestly, I've lapses some from practice and am getting back into. Imbolic was supposed to be a big jump start. I've done some of the background work, praying, reading, re-connecting to local pagans, tentatively planning a holiday schedule and set of goals, but I was going to plunge in with this fast and yoga and mediation and writing my daily gratitude down instead of just thinking them. I'm seeing that I can't just dive into a massive series of life restructures. I hate admitting both that I'm not super pagan and that I was trying so hard to be super pagan. My practice is a building project and not an instant of divine spontaneous creation. I am not perfection, which for some reason is where I want to be, even though I follow imperfect Gods, love imperfect people, and revere a nature that is as brutal as it is beautiful. There's not even anyone to impress or let down and I'm still trying to put on a show.

Beyond the fast that is not happening, I'm waiting to do my full Imbolic ritual on Wed, my day off. It involves a lot of cleaning in part because I'm a mess and in part because for me starting something new means we have to clear away the old. Anyhow I thought I'd at least try to start my year off with honesty and real talk. My first religious rite was a lemon. And that's the short version.