So often, when someone wants something spiritual to happen to them, us grumpy kids tell them they’ve got to do ‘the Work’ in order to achieve it. Yet, how often do we really stop and define what that means? What ‘Work’ have you done to get to where you are in your spiritual journey?
I know many people are waiting with baited breath to hear about what happened to me on Dec 28th, but I’ve been busy, you see. Busy doing all sorts of things that fall under that category of ‘Work’, whether or not it looks like it.
First and foremost, doing the ‘Work’ means taking care of yourself. Making sure you’re eating foods that do good things for your body, whatever you’ve found that makes your body, mind, and soul operate at peak performance. If you’ve trying to make (or maybe force) a spiritual evolution to happen, but you’re eating crap food all the time and not getting enough sleep/exercise/rest/meditation/healing, it’s just not going to happen. I’m sorry if I’m the first person to be telling you this, but I find there are certain things that make my body, and therefore my abilities (or whatever you want to call them) like hearing the Gods, or being able to decifer what They might want from me, easier to accomplish. For me, it’s about eating foods with actual nutritional value – meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts – staying away from things that slow me down, like stuff with too much sugar (I’m diabetic), or foods that make my brain feel sluggish (high carb foods like breads, pasta, potatoes, etc). But you’ll find that there are just as many diet suggestions for spirit workers as there are spirit workers; some must refrain from gluten, soy, MSG, preservatives, meat, alcohol, certain drugs (prescription or not), etc. Ask my girl about trying to plan a series of meals for a group of spirit workers, trying to take everyone’s dietary needs into consideration and still find choices that everyone can eat – it can be an uphill battle sometimes. But we all choose to eat these peculiar ways because it helps us be at the top of our game, keeps our bodies and spirits functioning at maximum, and giving us enough energetic ‘spoons’ for those marathon days of doing very focused Work.
Sleep/rest is also important, both making sure you don’t get too much as well as not enough. It is true that sometimes that can be the most difficult obstacle to overcome – our society is evermore pushing us towards this unobtainable ideal of being productive at all hours of the day and night, only sleeping when it feels absolutely necessary, but you can’t do this sort of stuff if you’re exhausted, or suffering the symptoms of too much sleep, either. And rest isn’t only naps; it also means taking time off, doing things that are purely for enjoyment, rather than something goal-driven. It means finding some friends to play a board game, or going to the movies to see something fun, or spending an afternoon in an art gallery allowing yourself to be inspired. Many shamans I know engage in some sort of handicraft, and although the products themselves may have spiritual significance, it’s also just nice to spend a quiet afternoon knitting or working in the forge or playing with clay.
Spending time with people who are not your clients or co-workers can sometimes be important. I’m very much an introvert, needing lots of alone time to feel human, but even I need to get out sometimes and not be forced to talk about whatever Work I’m doing. I need to feel community, to be around family-of-choice, to feel loved and supported and jovial ties of friendship and adoration. Yes, sometimes being around people of any sort might accidentally trigger an “on duty light”, but it’s totally acceptable in most cases to gently let someone know that although you see and acknowledge their need, you’re presently relaxing, and will talk to them about their spiritual crises another day. If they can’t accept that, then find other people to be with. It’s of critical importance when you socialize in the circles you also Work for, that people recognize and respect those boundaries between “Del the shaman” and “Del the dude who wants to hear some dirty jokes, please”.
Once your body is tended to, doing the ‘Work’ also means tending to the mind. You can find spiritual inspiration in a lot of places; reading helps me tremendously. Sometimes it’s the more obvious books on Loki or spirit work or the spiritual philosophies or this or that religion; but I’ve found just as much food for thought in works of fiction, poetry, art, and science. Whatever ignites your curiosity, what makes you think and introduces new and different ideas or ways of seeing the world, can be considered ‘Work’. I also watch a lot of documentaries, especially when reading seems like too much focus for my mind (like when I am feeling ill), because they show me sides of life that I may not have been exposed to, or concepts/philosophies that make me question my own dearly held beliefs. You need to stimulate your mind, give yourself permission to question what you believe to be true, and usually that only happens when you’re faced with someone else’s beliefs and experiences that differ greatly from your own.
Prayer and contemplation are also very ‘Work’ oriented. It’s nice to have a beautiful table laid out with all your pretty spiritual tools and other offerings, but what makes it an altar, and not just a display cabinet, is taking the time to actual sit in front of it and use it as a focus for worship, contemplation, offering, prayer, and meditation. Your altars should be a gateway of connection with that which you hold dear (and yes, you can have altars to ideas as well as Gods; I have seen some gorgeous altars to the concepts of sanity/mental health, family, harmony, peace, musicianship, and love; these were not dedicated to any specific Deity per se, but just the archetypical concepts themselves). Building and maintaining your altars can also be seen as ‘Work’; if your altar is covered with dust and neglect, it can be an obvious sign that you’ve lost your focus. You need a strong foundation before you go on adding al the shiny additions to your spiritual life, and if you can’t find the ten minutes it takes to dust off your statuary and replenish your perishable offerings, you probably shouldn’t be trying to take on much else. Granted, sometimes the Gods keep you hopping, and the altar maintenance gets away from you, but then please go back to “rest and relaxation”, and maybe combine the two – stopping all the furious blogging and answering email; turn off the computer and go make sure your altar is in order.
Also, ‘Work’ means listening, and if you’re not turning down the volume on you life, you’re not going to hear anything. If you’re running from one distraction to the next, you’ll never hear the quiet voices inside. It can be easy in our American culture to feel odd or disjointed when you’re not actively distracted – look at how many people feel the need to have the tv on while doing something else entirely, like studying or cooking – and I’m totally not immune to this. Every so often, I will catch myself in the middle of running from one distraction to the next, and have a hard time recalling the last moment of real silence I experienced. People frequently complain, when I am starting to teach them about meditation, that their brain won’t shut up. They rarely understand that is a side effect of never listening to it; it feels like a good friend who has been dying to talk to you for weeks, and so as soon as the opportunity arises, words come spilling out in rapid succession for hours on end. It’s as much about paying attention to all the odd things your brain wants you to know, as it is about reaching the silence beyond that. If all you can manage today is to spend one minute in complete silence, even if that minute is eaten by the brain telling you all the other things you could be doing with that one minute, it’s better than not doing it.
It also means taking time for others. I have a terrible reputation for being busy; almost every email I get from friend or client alike starts with “I know you’re a really busy person, but I really need/want…” Don’t make this mistake. Even if you are really busy, if you’re serious about having a stronger connection to the Gods, you have to make time in your life for Their ‘Work’ to manifest, and if you keep up this aura of never ending toil, neither the Gods nor the people in need will come to you out of fear of adding more to your plate than you can handle. This goes the other way, too, that sometimes when my life is legitimately busy – oh, say after a major surgery combined with a move – that you just accept that mundane life is going to have to take some precedence for a while, and your spiritual pursuits will just have to wait until things slow down a bit. But we humans, we are masters of filling up time with all kinds of commitments, distractions, and other obligations that keep us from the uncomfortable feeling of being at loose ends, of not having anything to do today; but if you don’t cultivate that sense of openness, you’ll miss all the spontaneous opportunities that come from just being available.
This does mean, however, that part of the ‘Work’ is also learning to say “no” to things. Although that online class looks mighty tempting, I need to seriously think about the commitment it will take to finish it, and weigh the time sacrifice against all the other things I could be doing with that time. I used to do a lot of community theater, and when I read about my friend’s shows I get this sadness in my heart; I start to wonder to myself if I could actually audition for something one of these days, but then I remember how much time and energy goes into rehearsals, learning your lines, getting your costume together, run-throughs, productions, cast get-togethers, parties, etc; it’s just not feasible for me. It’s very hard for me to hear that “no”, even though it’s coming from me, but it’s a “no” I have to say to myself over and over again.
The other side of learning when to say “no” is learning when to say “later” to spiritual pursuits. After reading a passage in a book, a blog post, or a magazine article about something spiritual, we frequently want to figure out how to make that manifest in our lives RIGHT NOW. We forget for the moment that we’re going to school full time, or working 80 hour weeks, or trying to raise a child, and we just want that ecstasy that we feel rolling off the page when we read about it. It’s hard to hear, but sometimes mundane life wins. If you need that 80 hours in order to pay your bills; if your child needs you full time until kindergarten; if getting your degree means having more free time later to pursue such things; then you have to radically accept that although it would be nice to have the time to work on spiritual things, now is not the time to do it.
This happens to us spiritual-type people, too. We try to force the obligations of our spiritual Work, in addition to the mundane realities of rent/bills, family, other jobs/commitments, relationships, into one schedule, and it becomes clear that maybe we need to take a break from one or the other in order to get what we want out of life. Although opportunities to run away from the mundane side do occur, they come much fewer and further between than the other way around. Maybe you’re the kind of lucky that can find someone to pay all your bills while you spend a year in spiritual retreat, or maybe if you focus on working in a monetarily-satisfying way for a certain amount of time, you know the payoff will be the ability to spend days in meditation. But more often than not, it’s the other way around; where sometimes even us crotchety shamans have to turn away from the communities we serve and do whatever it takes to pay the bills for a while.
Another part of the ‘Work’ is developing solid relationships with the communities you intend to serve. It’s impossible to be a shaman without a community. I know it goes against a lot of the dramatic idealism of many spiritual-types who like the archetype of shamanism, but one of the big differences between being a spirit worker and being a shaman is that we absolutely, positively, need a community to serve. And no, your immediate family does not count. A community must be big enough to support its shaman, if not financially, at least with a legitimate amount of need. These communities sometimes don’t even know they need a shaman until one (or many) arrives. I’m sure no one in the kinky community was standing around thinking, “Man, we need us some shamans”, but as soon as Winter and I appeared to our local kink communities, we found ourselves with more Work than we could handle. But this means that we both have to do things to strengthen that bond, to let the community know that we belong as well. We have to go to events, and spend time at parties, and teach classes, and move within our people so they know we are there, that we have reputations of being not only spiritually-upright, but also upright in our knowledge and understanding of that community. It would be difficult at best to serve a community that you didn’t understand the culture of, and the only real way you get that sort of understanding is by being a part of it.
These are just some examples of ways of doing the ‘Work’ that will lead you towards whatever next evolution you desire. It’s just a jumping off point, for you to make your own. What do you think you need to do to make room in your life for the kind of changes you want? How do you let your inner self know that it’s time for growth? Are you taking care of yourself, of your responsibilities and needs, so that you have the freedom of thought to tackle these tough issues? Do you have a solid enough structure that when you come through your evolution and need time and space to rest, that it’s already set up for you? What ‘Work’ are you doing?