The In-Gathering

As I worked through what I need after feeling invisible, experiencing invalidation or simply having a stressful day, I realized my inner world is best honored by ritual. My spirituality is at its deepest when I follow my own natural rhythms. Whenever and wherever, I can honor each part of myself. I invite you to customize the following for your own practice.

Setting the Scene

Create a space for ritual. This can be as simple as lighting a candle, laying out a special cloth, or brewing a cup of tea. It can be creating an elaborate altar or traveling to a place in nature to which you feel called. All that matters is that it is made sacred by your intentional presence.

Begin by centering yourself on your breath. Invite your senses in, one-by-one. If you having trouble focusing, play calming music or listen to nature sounds.

A Safe Place for All

In turn, welcome* each part of self. Some I chose to honor are the vulnerable, the eager, the nurturing, the brave and the wise. You may have other parts that need representation. Allow each to share with you whatever they want to share, without judgement. Ask the other parts to sit back and grant space while each one shares. Parts may make a request of others, which should be held with care.

Body, Heart, Mind and Spirit

After each part has shared, concentrate again on your breath. Inhabit every corner of your body. Listen to your body as a whole and through its systems, observing what it needs. Focus on what it may want to reveal or release.

Allow your emotions to channel and course through your body. Meet each one with a loving embrace. Notice them shift and dance.

Attend to your mental state. Notice the pattern and pace of your thoughts. Observe them come and go.

Finally, turn to your Spirit. Allow it to reveal itself to you through your senses. Touch the moon and sun cycles, the sky, earth, rain and fire and the season. Let nature guide you deeper into your soul.

Symbols of Love

Breath again, and ask of yourself, all of yourself present, what love looks like here and now. To the best of your ability, provide this love to yourself. Note any hesitancy, and then move through it with care. Embrace yourself.

A Closing Prayer

Finalize your ritual by spending time in quiet meditation, honoring yourself for making time to gather yourself whole and to recognize your worth. Incorporate whatever words and movements feel holy in this moment. Be the prayer your soul needs to feel.

*If you are new to inner/self-work and you hold a trauma history, this practice could be destabilizing. I encourage you to first work with a trusted therapist before engaging in this ritual and to take as slow of a pace as needed. Self-care practices such as spending time in nature, running a gentle bath or settling into your breath may be safe places to start to connect with parts of self.

At the Center (Daily Works of Art)

In the last half-year, there has been an internal shift unlike any I can remember experiencing. I’ve started T during this period of time, so I’m certain that coming into alignment with myself as a non-binary person has played role in this change. My image of myself has been transformed as I’ve created my present.

I’m a relationship disaster. I get close to people, building up connection and hoping that “this time” something will stick and it won’t go sideways. Every single time, though, that there is a breach of trust, when I feel betrayed, used or mistreated, my trauma surfaces to an insurmountable level and the whole thing breaks apart. My deep-rooted attachment issues win the day, no matter, it seems, how much I try to will them into the background or how hard I work in therapy to undo them. I get re-traumatized and cut more deeply after every experience. I do not heal and I do not grow in my capacity to love by failing at it. The only beings I’ve ever loved are my dog and myself. Relationships with others matter and I will continue to engage in them, but they do not complete me.

My career is equally unable to give me a sense of fulfilment or meaning, despite the fact that I know what I’m doing is valuable. Every trigger I experience there makes it harder to show up the next day. I wade through it, but I don’t derive my joy or sense of purpose from it.

I care about the human condition and the planet, but I’m not an activist. Even though topics such as human rights stir my passions and I advocate for equity, I am not enough of a True Believer ™ in any cause to dedicate my life to it. I find meaning here, but it is fraught with disappointment and despair to an intensity where it is not enough, on its own, to sustain me.

I’m left, then, with the possible sources that most people turn to for their deepest nourishment a shallow bowl of thin soup. Finally, after twenty years of suicidality and less-than-ness, knowing myself to be a loner, a Not a True Believer ™ and an unmet career potential achiever, I may have hit on why I’m here. This dish is a rich stew, with layers of flavor and body.

My core is my inner world. I know my interior to a level of detail I’ve rarely encountered in others. And yet, I scrub the corridors of my mind and sweep the reaches of my heart and still I uncover things about myself I didn’t know before. And I refuse to see the gift of self-knowledge through the lens of navel-gazing self-absorption. We die alone. Life is coming to that realization and finding a reason to keep living.

I haven’t found my inner world in order to escape there and shut myself off from reality. Instead, my physical experience is at the center of my inner world. I live embodied. No, I’ve found my core because it is the root of my spirituality and creativity. I have something to honor and something to express because, in knowing myself, I find my entryway to the universe. I do not live to romance a perfect love, to make the world a better place or to achieve a capitalist monument to money, fame or innovation. I exist to live present, sacred and as a witness to the present and the sacred.

I’m a nature photograph of only the trees and the mountain. No caption to draw attention to the threats of the future. No human figure outlined as the subject. No metaphor for the accolades I’ve garnered. Only the holy now and the lens to see it.

My way of being is not the best or the singular way through life. I fully support those whose center is the periphery of my image—the happy family camping, the environmentalist chained to the tree, the goal-setter summiting the peak. There is pain in finding my focus, because I think it is trauma more than biology that has led me to it. A life unspoiled as mine was might have a depth I cannot achieve in which everything I’ve described is blended into a harmonious entree. But my point is simply that I have something for which I exist, even if it isn’t typical, appreciated or noticed. I’ve found my purpose. Attempting to compel myself to locate it elsewhere is a distraction from my fundamental source of joy and hope. I’m in this light, of this breath, reflecting divine presence.

Observing an Insect (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Ants are creatures I most associate with beings that make piles of dirt and which swarm en masse to discarded scraps of food. However, for today’s simple pleasure, I watched ants crawl down an old oak tree. Their tiny-legged journeys inspired me.

At first, I thought the red-hued ant I was watching was solitary, which struck me as odd because ants are known for living in large groups. It eventually traveled in close proximity to another ant and I then saw more. For a while, though, it traveled down the coarse bark on its own adventure. Every scramble forward felt at an impossible angle and I wondered how it was able to cling so adeptly to the wood. The ant wasn’t racing; it meandered. It stopped every so many paces and wiggled its antennae to direct its next motion. Finally, it disappeared into an oaken crevice.

The lessons I took from observing the ant were firstly to pause and “sniff” the air on occasion, by which I mean to check in with myself and my surroundings instead of barreling through the world without reflection. I also marveled at the idea that my journey through life may seem at a certain angle and level of difficulty, but could be viewed entirely differently, were I able to shift my perspective. Finally, I loved the idea of surging into community, greeting others along the way, but also withdrawing into dark and cozy places of rest as needed. What is the last insect you observed? What did it teach you?

Observing the Sun and Moon Cycles (Today’s Simple Pleasures)

In terms of moon cycles, I connect the changes with energy surging outward and then retreating inwards, much as the tide against the shore. The moon is waning today which to me signifies a movement from the manifestation of the full moon towards the inner-directed intentionality of the new moon. I hold fall/autumn in the same phase, as I tend to start to withdraw a bit and cocoon myself more as winter approaches. It’s a good day to make a cup of tea and get cozy.

I learned today there are also solar cycles which last 11 years. Apparently each cycle usually starts off slowly and builds towards a heightened frenzy of sunspots around five to six years in. We are entering the last part of cycle 24, so there is a minimal amount of activity. Sunspots, counter to my intuition, are actually cool areas on the surface of the sun that can be related to “twists” or pent-up magnetic energy that then explodes into a solar flare. Solar flares can impact earth activities such as radio communications. Cycle 24 is predicted to end late this year or early next year, so, for now, all signs are pointing toward a slower, more deliberate pacing of life. How do you connect to moon and sun cycles? To which other cycles in nature do you most relate?

Practicing Deep Breathing (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

When I first started practicing mindfulness meditation at a Buddhist center years ago, I was confused when the person leading the session mentioned the pauses between breaths. It had never occurred to me that there could be a break between an in-breath and an out-breath! My vision for this year has included spending time in awareness of the space between the out-breath and the in-breath, as I think that it is the expansive moment of inflection I most need to allow into my life.

For today’s simple pleasure, I took time to count my breaths. I started with a count of four in, hold, out, hold but quickly became light-headed, so I shifted to four in, hold two, out four, hold two which I found relaxing and calming. I can breathe in and hold my breath for much longer than I can breath out and wait before inhaling. This matches my personality exactly, as I am more on the side of rigidity and withdrawing into myself than I am on loosing and engaging, especially when I am stressed. Breathing is the pace of our life; I desire for my pacing to become more balanced and rounded instead of sharp and drawn. What is your relationship with your breath?

A photograph of a card with a pomegranate drawing, a bronze meditation bowl with a wooden dowel, a small candle and a gray soapstone in the shape of a heart.

Honoring Each Sense (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

For today’s simple pleasure, I decided to create an altar to sensory experiences. Children are often encouraged to attend exhibits or engage with toys that stimulate each of their senses. As we age, I think we can easily become overly-reliant on one or two senses to the detriment of a full exploration of the world. Not only do our senses diminish with age, but we may experience unexpected life circumstances that reduce or eliminate a sense from our experience. Our sensory world is therefore ever-shifting, so I think that finding the sacred in it is a valuable experience.

I focused on visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory (smell) sensations for my altar. I left off gustatory (taste) and more complex brain-body interactions such as our vestibular system (sense of balance).

For my sense of vision, I included a drawing of a pomegranate tree. I liked this inclusion because it represents both vision in the outer world and the inner world of mentalizing required to create drawings. Vision is the sense on which I am over-reliant. I look much more than I listen or feel or taste or anything else. I would much, much rather read a set of instructions rather than have to hear someone explain something to me, because I can consume visual information much more quickly. Even though I view something, do I really see it?

For my sense of hearing, I included a meditation bowl that a friend gifted me. I appreciate that it can be used to create a short, high-pitched chime or, if the wooden dowel is run along the inner brim, to create a longer, deeper note. I would say hearing is a more difficult sense for me as I have a difficult time screening out or modulating any sounds that bother me. I have tinnitus as well which adds to my distress.

In relation to touch, I included a heart-shaped soapstone. It is cold, heavy and smooth, which is a combination of textures that I find calming. I use my sense of touch as a way to self-soothe quite often, and have to be careful about the amount of jewelry I wear as I am constantly playing with any rings or bracelets I have on. My tactile senses are generally a source of pleasure more than annoyance for me because of this.

The final sense I honored with my altar was smell. I included a beeswax candle and lit it as I complied my creation. Along with hearing, smelling is generally more unpleasant than pleasant for me. I hate “people smells” on the whole and become over-stimulated very quickly in perfume sections of stores. In part, I think I am sensitive to chemicals, and, in part, I have an extremely heightened disgust response which is easily triggered by any odors I deem unpleasant. Add in the occasional migraine and a low-smell environment is definitely more my speed. All that said, certain smells like fresh bread or cookies baking are delightful, and gentle scents like my candle refresh me.

The experience of creating my altar led me to re-examine my relationship with my perception of sensory information. So much of the rigidity with which I order my world as well as the anxiety I experience in public settings can be explained by my relationship with each sense. A smelly, loud environment is inevitably going to stress me out, and a visually and texturally-interesting one is going to draw me in. I absolutely loved going to the fabric store as a child, and now I know why! For yourself, to whatever extent you are able to use each sense, which ones bring you pleasure? How does this show up in your life?

Visualizing Inner Divinity (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I’ve begun sketching a crow for one of my intuitive deck cards that I am designing, so the first image that came to mind when I pulled today’s Simple Pleasure card was that of a crow in flight. I immediately connected the image of a crow with my Inner Divinity as their behavior reflects characteristics I think are worthy of holding sacred. They have a tough exterior that belies their mental strength, and, in this, they represent aspects of the sacred that may be less approachable but which are vital for connection within safe boundaries.

Many corvids, including crows, are intelligent, cunning and discerning. They are able to use tools to solve problems. Crows are inventive and able to adapt to their environment. They may even understand how money works! Crows can also distinguish humans by their faces and remember who is friend or foe.

In certain spiritual groups in which I participated in the past, there was an preference placed on emotions and intuition above the “thinking” mind, or on trusting an external deity rather than one’s own knowing. This de-emphasis on reason and logic never sat well with me, as I think justice and morality require deliberative thought informed by compassion and empathy; a meeting and melding much more than a competition between hard/soft, masculine/feminine, etc. Crows appear intimidating to me when compared to many other birds, but knowing that they bring gifts to people they like and bond with each other for many years helps me integrate the wisdom of the Divine–the need for an integration of the mind and the heart–that I believe they represent.

Spending Time in Nature (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Intimacy with nature need not involve a miles-long hike into the deep forest. Anything of the earth can provide a touchpoint that reconnects to our senses. With this in mind, for today’s simple pleasure, I took a walk to a local park to enjoy the start of the fall foliage.

I began my walk through my backyard which is filled with trees and bordered by a stream. I heard a rushing noise and thought it was odd that the stream was flowing with so much intensity on a bright, chill day. I finally perceived that the sound was instead being produced by the slightly-dry leaves rustling against each other in the birch trees. It is at once a gentle and a playful noise that I wish I listen to on repeat.

The scene then transitioned into viewing the stream which, as it enters the park, is filled with reeds. The grasses of the reeds are browning and mowed down, but a few solitary cattails stand proud. I was surprised to see insects and a bird hopping around as we had frost last night; the last breath of summer could still be heard.

After steering my dog past a distracting bunch of humans, I made my way to a park bench lodged underneath a tree. The shade the tree provided was cold, with an edge. I centered myself on my present awareness of my senses and my body’s response to those senses and felt soothed.

As I made my way home, the colors I saw seemed to radiate with a vibrancy I find only in fall. Green, red and blue seen in low humidity are crisp and energizing to me. I could make this walk a hundred times a year, but it is only when I direct my attention to my surroundings moment by moment that the inherent beauty of nature makes itself known. What was the most recent experience in nature you had? What impression did it leave on you?

Fashioning a Prayer to Inner Divinity (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

The sacred and holy is both within and all around me in my view of spirituality. I celebrate the Divine in self, humanity and nature–concentric, looping rings of connectedness that foster a sense of awe, gratitude and expansion. My sense of inner sanctity, is, then, both singular as well as representational of the greater Spirit that imbues all we do with meaning and purpose.

My prayer today to and for my Inner Divinity is that I will grow in my trust of my Sacred Self as steadfast and limitless in his/her/their capacity to encapsulate all of my inherent contradictions, flaws and mistakes. Much of the time, I find “I’m so much harder on myself than I am on others” to be a vacuous and dubious statement, but I do know that I struggle to extend grace to anyone, including myself. I’ve come into greater awareness recently of the intensity of my obsession with morality and the judgment that flows so easily from it. My ability to call up righteous indignation at the failures of justice and the oppression in the world while remaining cognizant of my own part in it is core to who I am and there has to be a place for levity, carefree open-heartedness and play.

I do not want to become more forgiving as forgiveness is nearly always tied to an inability to hold space for both pain and for the demand of the hard work of accountability. But, I do want to trust that the heavy eye of scrutiny that I cast on all I am and all I encounter can sometimes becoming light-lidded with approval of growth and transformation in the presence of evidence of learning from one’s mistakes. I despise “I’m/they’re doing our best” as much as I do “not good enough,” which is a severe approach to life. I think the only way to extend grace to myself and others is to find hope in gradual change and small victories and to take time to celebrate life without fear of “doing it wrong.” My Sacred Self is compassionate and capable of nuanced praise; I need to open my ears to hear his/her/their voice.

Journaling about a Pleasant Memory (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Given that I experience complex PTSD, dissociation, anxiety and depression, reminiscing is an activity in which I rarely engage. My memory processes are disrupted and I struggle to organize and verbalize my experiences. When I attempted today’s simple pleasure, I was pleased that I was able to come to a particular memory, one which I think foreshadowed my future enjoyment of nature, community and mindfulness.

A few decades ago, I went on a summer youth trip out of state (still within the U.S.). Youth group was not a place where I felt welcomed or understood, so I was very nervous to spend a week on this trip. We stayed in a city in a southern part of the U.S. in a large, old house where we slept on mattresses on the floor. Our meals were served family-style, which was a huge problem for me as I was a vegetarian at the time and there was meat in everything. I ended up subsisting on Pringles (TM) from a local grocery store, to the point where I could not eat them for years afterwards because I developed an aversion from my over-indulgence.

At one point, a few friends and I asked for permission to walk to the store. As we were returning, the heavens opened and we were caught in a deluge of rain. It was summertime, so it was the sort of warm precipitation that soaks but doesn’t chill a person. We had of course not prepared in any way for this and started half-heartedly running back to the house, laughing hysterically. We passed an office building and a few of its occupants looked out at us and smiled. I felt totally present in that moment, joyful that I was experiencing spontaneous silliness with other people. There was just the slightest hint of danger and rebellion in our actions, coupled with a sense of solidarity and acceptance of our (drenched) fate.

What stands out to me about my memory is that there is no way to set up a scenario to make something like it occur again. Rather, all I can do is put myself in new situations with other people and see what happens. The deepening of my consciousness that I encounter when I tap into the connectedness of humanity is the most profound spiritual experience I’ve ever had and it is one that requires a divine sparkle of “here, right now” that cannot be forced. I anticipate with joy the next time nature brings me together with others.