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Crochet Pumpkin for Autumn Equinox

New Beginnings at The Autumn Equinox

Today is Mabon, or the Autumn Equinox, a time in the year when the day and night are of equal length. The long summer days are behind us now and we’re heading into the dark of winter. It’s a time for celebrating your successes (it falls in the middle of the harvest) and bringing things to a close. If there’s one lesson that I think this day brings, it’s that all things must end, but life still brings beauty with it – after all, Autumn may mark the end of Summer but its rich colours are a new kind of beauty to enjoy!

Crochet Pumpkin for Autumn Equinox

It’s a slower time of year, a time when we begin to draw within ourselves a bit more and snuggle up close to the ones we love. But just because things slow down, it doesn’t mean that they stop altogether. For me, September has always been a time of new beginnings. I imagine this is partly because the new school year always starts this month. But it isn’t only that, I think Autumn brings a sense of inner reflection, a time for seeing where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to be and it is the perfect time to start laying down roots for the coming year.

Which is why it feels perfectly timed that this Autumn I am heading into a whole new project which has been gradually growing in my heart for many, many years and has finally reached the point of realisation. I am starting a new blog…

Now, before I go any further I want to say that this new blog is not a replacement for The Family Patch. I love this little space of mine and I will continue to use it for personal updates and sharing all my craft and home based posts. However there is an aspect of my life that has never really fitted well here, an area that is far too expansive to be just a part of this blog. And that’s what the new blog is for.

I don’t want to share too much with you right now, as I am still putting it all together. But today seems like the perfect time to share this new beginning with you. I’d also like to invite you to join me in this new venture, because this new blog is going to be different. It’s not going to be so personal, but rather a gathering of ideas and (I hope) a community of people interested in “raising spiritual kids in a modern world”. It is far bigger than anything I have done before, and I sometimes wonder whether I am getting in over my head, but I just know that I need to try this.

It all began when a name popped into my head during one of my morning Kundalini Yoga sessions. I don’t know where the name came from, but it just felt right. I’ve enjoyed letting the idea blossom and despite often questioning the name and how it will work, nothing else seems to fit. So, I’m trusting in it and going with it and will see where it leads.

It is an absolute joy to be working on and it fills me with so much excitement for the future. But I need your help. I’ve reached a point where no amount of self-reflection or research is going to complete the plans. This new blog is about community, and for that to work I need to know what others want and how they may like to be involved. So, if you have an interest in spirituality, particularly if you have children (of any age), and are happy to help me with this next stage of development please do fill in the form below so that I can get in touch with you.

 

Finding Peace in the Chaos with Mantras

Chanting For Peace

It’s no secret that life is pretty crazy here at The Patch. This year has seen us face redundancy and relocation, and whilst things are slowly beginning to settle down it is still far from peaceful. I’m currently balancing two new jobs, whilst building up my blog again (which is fun, but takes a lot of time). TJ is dealing with lots of changes at work, which is stressful enough without the added concerns of his own health. And Little Man is trying to adapt to life in a new city, which isn’t all that easy for a 3 year old to fully understand.

So with all this going on in our lives, I find that there is constant chatter in the back of my mind. I think at a mile a minute normally anyway, but with so much to think about on a daily basis right now it has become much more complicated. At the beginning of the year I set out some goals for the year. These included being more mindful, worrying less, and living more purposefully. Whilst on the surface it may seem like I am getting there, my internal dialogue is still constantly worrying about what the future holds and missing what is happening right now. I am, in essence, losing myself to the chaos around me, rather than finding a centre of peace within it.

Finding Peace in the Chaos with Mantras

And I want to change that. I want to embrace something which becomes a natural part of my day, setting me up for whatever happens by giving me some sense of internal peace. I have tried it before, making a promise to myself to pray, meditate or try yoga everyday, but it just hasn’t ever worked out. I get distracted, or I feel sick, or I just don’t feel I have the time, and it all falls by the wayside. Until now…

Whilst I was packing for our move, I tried listening to various radio stations, albums, podcasts etc but found I simply couldn’t focus on what I was listening to and focus on packing at the same time. It became more stressful than helpful. Until I discovered this version of Gayatri Mantra on youtube.

I don’t know how to describe how perfect it was… over 2 hours of music and chanting that was so easy to learn and sing along to. Focusing on the repetition of the words alone, even though I had no idea what they meant, was so therapeutic. I could think about what I was packing whilst chanting, because the pattern meant that it became easier to sing each time. I want to say that it meant I didn’t have to focus too much on the words, and that is true, but there was some thought involved because what essentially happened was that the mindless chatter and panicked thoughts that usually ran through the back of my mind began to disappear.

I’m not sure this is exactly how most people use mantras, but it is certainly working for me. Over the past few days I have listened to the Gayatri Mantra again whilst sorting out the bedroom, getting reader for work, pottering around the house… and the more I do it the more I find myself singing without the music too. I’ll be walking to work and it suddenly pops into my head, or I’ll be preparing lunch and the words just slip out. The combination of music and words seems to work so well for me, and I am beginning to really love the way that it quietens the fearful or chaotic thoughts that run through my head, helping me to find a calm centre from which to approach my day.

The weirdest thing is, I’d have never thought that chanting would be my thing! TJ first shared a few with me this time last year when he was learning some as part of his Shamanic Practitioner course. One of them was another of Deva Premal‘s tracks, and when he first played it to me I could feel the power within it, and I did enjoy joining in with him once in a while. But I never really made the time for it. Last year was, in very different ways, equally as chaotic as this year has been and I just don’t think I was in the best place to appreciate what it could offer me. I felt chanting was something I had no time for, especially as I read Eat. Pray. Love last summer and saw the dedication that was involved by the author during her time in India. Little did I know that even the smallest amount of time spent in this way would make a massive difference.

But now I know, and I want to embrace this wholeheartedly. I’ve decided that I want to make time for chanting every single day, even if it is only for 10 minutes in the morning as I jump in the shower. I’m hoping that, in time, I will find a way of making some dedicated space in my days for really focusing on the mantra, feeling the music flow through me and understanding what the words actually mean. But I know that if I set myself too great an expectation I will only give up. So for now I’m going to just try and make sure it is a daily activity, no matter how small.

I feel a particular affinity to the Gayatri Mantra, so I am going to try and stick with that for now, to really try and understand its meaning before moving on to another one. I’ll let you know how it goes. And if you chant, please do let me know what your favourite it, how you integrate it into your day, and what it means to you – I’d love to hear about it!

Unitarian. Druid. A Strange Combination?

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For the past ten years I have spent an awful lot of time thinking about where I fit in when it comes to faith, spirituality and indeed religion. It has been a rocky road because although I know what it is I believe, finding a name for that and thereby a way to express it has been challenging.

For many, many years I honestly believed that faith in God must equate to being a Christian. It sounds utterly naive now based on everything I have learned in the past ten years or so, but let me paint the picture. My family weren't religious. They had beliefs, but we didn't attend church or home groups or anything. My experience of religion was through school and the odd church service with Brownies, Guides or the few months I spent singing in my friend's church choir. 

So when I went to university, I automatically joined the Christian Union. And that was when it all got complicated…

I found myself in a place that didn't feel right. Things that I had held dear were not only questioned but sometimes downright ridiculed and I went through a major spiritual crisis. I felt lost and alone and I didn't want anything to do with that world.

Luckily I found support online through some spiritual (New Age) forums and began to open up again. I even decided to spend my three month stay in Germany not only volunteering with the Salvation Army but also staying with a family there too. And I had a wonderful time.

Those three months did a fine job of healing a lot of the hurt I had felt and broke down my defensive barriers because they taught me that what I had experienced previously was an extreme and not the norm. I felt happy and loved during those three months and still write to some of the officers every year as I remember my time there so fondly.

But however much that experience brought me back from a place of being hostile towards Christianity, it also left me more confused than ever. Conversations led to my realising that my beliefs weren't always that far from those of what I'll call "mainstream Christianity" for want of a better term, but I still had some major differences that I personally felt stopped me from connecting with the Christian community.

Things like "original sin", "predestination", and the concept of the "Trinity". 

Oh and the fact that I practise Reiki, believe Angels are sent from God to help us all, and that every living thing has a soul that survives beyond physical death.

It didn't help that when I tried once more to connect with a Christian community online to try and figure this all out I was kicked off the forum for "saying the wrong thing". Whoops!

You'd think I would have just given up and gone my merry way in the spiritual community that seemed to have no pre-requisites, right? But there remained a part of me that missed the connection that belonging to a "real life" community brings. And this only grew once I fell pregnant with Little Man and started to think about how I would raise him.

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So when TJ started suggesting we should look again for some "Pagan" groups to join I initially felt rather excited. 

Except, upon reading more I began to wonder if I really was fully Pagan either. It seemed as if I was somewhere in the middle, between liberal (perhaps very liberal) Christian and loosely Pagan, not really fitting in one world or the other.

Yet the week we spent in Glastonbury earlier this year brought home just how much I miss the community spirit of togetherness. We had a wonderful time celebrating Beltane, and we held a beautiful little blessing for Little Man in the Chalice Well Gardens…

Blessing 9

So when TJ decided he really felt like Druidry might be where he felt his heart taking him, I listened with interest as he explained how some Druids consider themselves to be Christian as well and that the two don't necessarily clash.

I don't pretend to know all that much about Druidry as that is TJ's area, not mine. But it did make me wonder just how that would work. So I looked for more information, reading bits here and there, and eventually coming across the term "Unitarian".

It wasn't a new term to me. TJand I had actually been to a Unitarian church a couple of times, but for some reason I had never fully looked into it. And the more I read the more I realised I had probably been "Unitarian" all of my life, without really knowing.

Suddenly I felt less alone. I realised that there are groups out there that will help me as I develop further in my faith and that can offer support as I do the best I can in raising Little Man to seek his own relationship with God. 

And with all the other changes I've been making lately I feel much more confident and secure in sharing this with him, and with others. Whereas before I would carefully write such things as "my faith has helped me through HG" or avoiding the subject altogether, I now want to share that as it is crucial to understanding some of the things I am going through. And whereas I often used to avoid joining in with people when they discussed a topic, I feel able to take part now.

I found this amazing resource this morning answering common questions about Unitarianism and I found myself nodding along with so many parts of it. But the thing that really made my heart sing was this:

"We favour a simple and inclusive definition of the word Christian. Thus a Christian is any person who seeks to live in accord with the life and teachings of Jesus, who identifies with what is best in the Christian tradition, and who, perhaps, sees in Jesus a revelation of the God who is immanent in all people. This is the wellspring of love that permeated his nature and his ministry."

Cliff Reed "Are Unitarians Christians?"

I never felt comfortable saying I was "Christian" but in actual fact I have a huge amount of love for the life that Jesus led. I want to be able to show Oscar the Bible as a part of his upbringing in a way that allows him to think about it and decide what he believes to be true in his own heart. Because I ultimately hope that Little Man will have the freedom and courage to explore various paths before choosing that which he experiences as bringing him into a closer relationship with God, however he understands God to be. 

And that makes me feel glad. 

As a family we can celebrate those things we all share in our beliefs and still celebrate those which are different. We can pray and read the Bible, but we can also meditate, celebrate the Wheel of the Year, plant a Sacred Grove, and be open to learning more about the faiths of others. 

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Oh baby boy… this is going to be such a wonderful journey for us all!

I totally understand that this post may not sit very well with some people. I am leaving comments open on this post as I am happy to discuss this with anyone who wants a mutually open conversation built on respect for differences as well as celebrating similarities.  But I am not open to comments that aim only to either end in a massive theological debate in a hope to "prove me wrong" or simply undermine my own relationship with God. I have had plenty of those in the past and this isn't the time or place for it. Any such comments will be deleted. Thank you. 

Spirituality and Kids

Okay, so this post is a biggie for me. I generally only write very vaguely about my spirituality on the blog (and other places online, and in person, to be completely honest). It's a combination of not knowing quite how to explain what it is I believe and being afraid of sharing it and gaining negative reactions and/or getting myself into theosophical debates with people who have very specific sources of information to refer to when I don't. 

TJ bought me a book called "Pagan Parenting" for Christmas and there is a section within it that sums this up very nicely:

"[…]This raises the question of whether to be totally honest or to pretend to be like everyone else. It is a question faced daily by anyone on the fringes of the majority […] Children growing up with metaphysical beliefs will often not share this side of themselves with mainstream friends for fear of rejection and ridicule.[…] A large part of one's public profile is deciding what should be encompassed within that role. For most followers of mainstream religions, this is not even a question that comes to mind. Unless the individual is extremely devout, religion is not often a part of their public persona. They neither hide it nor broadcast it. It is like skin color, hair color or anything else that is an integral part of who we are without needing to think about it."

In many ways I'm like the child mentioned in that. I have an instinctual urge to be honest and open about who I am and what I believe, but there is that fear of ridicule or rejection. And if I feel that myself, it is only to be expected that Little Man will pick up on this and learn by my example how to fear these things too.

So being honest, first to myself and then to others, is essential if I truly want Little Man to grow up knowing it is perfectly okay for him to explore his own spirituality and choose his own path. I can't tell him to do one thing when I am doing something opposite myself. 

TJ is much better at living his spirituality than I am. He likes ritual and "being a part of something" and it was his idea to dress up for Beltane when we were in Glastonbury this year (in fact he bought the dress for me because I was taking my own sweet time to decide on something!)

But I don't really like ritual. I feel embarrassed when doing it, and personally find it takes my mind and heart away from the matter at hand. I love the idea of it and know it works well for so many people, but I'm just not very good at it. 

So whereas TJ finds quite a lot of help and ideas in various Pagan sources, I continue to find myself falling somewhere just on the outside, not quite sure of where I belong. There is no uncertainty in what it is I believe, that's a mistake people sometimes make when I say this. I know quite strongly what is essential to me and those things that I haven't quite figured out yet, well that's what life is for, right? But expressing it and living it is another matter.

You may wonder why I feel this need to be open about it all. Surely the quotation I used at the beginning of the post points out that a lot of people do keep their spiritual and public lives separate. The problem for me is that although I can quite happily keep them separate for the most part, there are times when my spirituality is essential for explaining my outlook on life and how I get through certain things.

For instance, before we started trying to conceive I had come to a certain "peace" with the thought that if we were "meant" to have our own child we would but if not it meant that there was a different path for us to follow. This "peace" wasn't easy and of course my heart desperately wanted to experience carrying my own child. We were incredibly lucky to have that opportunity, but the hell of a HG pregnancy (further complicated by Obstetric Cholestasis) means that there were times when I truly wondered what I was meant to "learn" from this and what it meant for our future. I still don't know the answers to those questions, but my spirituality still helps me by reassuring me that even if I don't know the answer, someone (or something) does!

And so this reassurance is something that I want to share with Little Man. I want him to know that even when he feels at his most vulnerable and most alone, there is someone he can turn to. I want him to see beyond what is obvious and look to the deeper meaning behind things, to see the connection between all life and all living things so that respecting nature and our environment and other people is more than just something he is "expected" to do. 

I want him to understand that mummy and daddy do certain things for a reason. That we choose to use cloth nappies, try and eat healthy, locally grown foods when we can, and want to do all we can for those around us because that is our way of honouring the life we have been given and the life all around us. 

And the only way I can do this, truly do it, is to live it. Which means stepping out from the fear of rejection and ridicule and being true to myself and my spirituality. And this also means honouring and sharing TJ's own individual spirituality (which is different to my own) and in turn honouring Little Man's too. 

But how do you do this without risking that same rejection and ridicule for your child? What if something I do, some choice I make or some post I write on here has a negative reaction that comes back to Little Man? Judgement waits around every corner and although I believe in being as open and honest as you can be, I do know that sometimes holding back is a good thing. 

Where is the balance? How much of yourself do you share, to avoid confusion and to have trusting relationships with others based on honesty and truth? It's such a difficult thing to know and if I was scared about it before, I'm even more scared about it now that my actions could negatively affect Little Man. Without a "mainstream" understanding and image to guide and support us, where do we start?

I don't know if I'll ever know the answer, but I do know that it is an important question to ask!

Beltane in Glastonbury (and some revelations)

Last week we celebrated Beltane in Glastonbury (my favourite place on earth) and it was truly magical.

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Photo courtesy of Nicole Fischer

We weren’t just there for the festivities, but it was jolly good to join in with the celebrations that happened around the Chalice Well area.

There was drumming (which Little Man loved) and dancing (which Little Man loved) and people dressed in all sorts of finery (which Little Man found fascinating). In fact it all made me rather emotional in a way I cannot quite describe, but let’s just say that seeing the procession coming past the Gardens made me well up with tears slightly as we joined the end of it.

We also had a blessing for Little Man (very small, just us and our friend Nicole) which I shall write about another time. It was very special for us.

But more than all of that, we came home with a renewed sense of passion for seeking out our own spirituality and being who we really want to be. TJ has actually never struggled with that as much as I have, but even he felt a difference being in a place that was so open and accepting.

I have held my beliefs very close to my heart for many years because I never knew where I fit in nor how others would respond. But I always knew I wanted any children I had to grow up knowing that whatever they felt to be true was okay. And suddenly I realised that unless I start living as if my own beliefs are okay to be shared he will never learn this.

Like so many things that have happened this year, it is the very fact that I no longer need to make changes for me but also for Little Man that I am able to take a leap of faith and try a different way of being. Things I have battled with for years suddenly seem to be falling into place as the changes necessary become so much easier to make. And it feels like the right time to start sharing these things on the blog too. Because, after all, this blog is first and foremost a place to record our lives as a family!

So instead of thinking about what I *should* post about, I’m going to start writing about things which mean something to me. Even if they are totally meaningless. And instead of worrying that I haven’t managed to post for a whole month, I’m just going to go with the flow. And instead of splitting my time between a mountain of projects and never feeling I have the chance to stop, I’m making my priorities and I’m going to try my hardest to stick to them.

A week in Glastonbury, without any internet and with a beautiful atmosphere around me, has made me realise what is important in my life.

I actually felt free without worrying whether I’d answered this person or checked up on that person, and though I still want to keep up with the lives of friends and family, I’m no longer going to stress about missing something once in a while.

And knowing I had only my family and the necessary things (like laundry) to deal with, made me a much happier and calmer (and more organised) person. TJ even mentioned he preferred this Amanda, the one who wasn’t constantly stuck to her computer or running from one thing to another. And I have to admit, I quite like her too!

So, Beltane in Glastonbury was a truly wonderful experience. But our holiday meant so much more to me. And I hope to share some of those things with you soon… but only when I have the time.

Keeping Faith… Why I believe…

First of all, I must say a massive thanks to all those of you who left comments and sent messages to me following my previous post. I am overwhelmed by the response, for I don't think any post I've written has ever inspired so many people to leave a message. I guess being honest and sharing even those most scary thoughts really does make for good reading!

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So I thought I would expand on this openness and start a new series about the more spiritual nature and inspiration in my life. I have steered clear of going too deeply into this subject before through both a fear of alienating my readers and bringing judgemental, argumentative or theological responses that I cannot answer. 

You see, if someone asks me "what" I believe, I find it difficult to answer. This isn't just because of a fear of rejection, but also because it is hard to define something that is more a feeling and intuition than a solid and measurable thing.

I also feel rather weakly equipped, for although I know the basics of the Bible and Christianity (for example) when their scriptures, teachings or theologies are presented to me as a way of discussing or debating a certain issue I am often at a loss. This does not mean I dislike such conversations, as they can be very interesting and revealing, I just find them difficult when the other person has a range of quotations and religious examples to make their point and I have to somehow take what I feel in my heart and make sense of it with words.

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I may be good with words, but something as personal as faith is very hard to define (and defend, if arguments do arise). Even more difficult can be explaining to someone how you believe in pretty much the same thing that they do, are willing to accept their beliefs as spiritual truths, but are unwilling to accept and follow their religion. I still haven't figured that one out yet…

But ask me "why" I believe, and that I can answer far more easily. 

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I believe, because I do.

There has never been a time in my life that I cannot remember feeling that someone was there. My mind has always been enquiring: as a child I remember lying in bed trying to figure out how we know if we are dreaming or not, and where our thoughts occur because they are far too big to fit in our heads. I could imagine whole worlds in my mind's eye, so where was this world occurring? 

I never once stopped questioning things, but I never once questioned that God existed. (I use the word God as it is what I am most comfortable with, but there was a time in my early adulthood that I felt religion has taken the word away from me and I looked for alternative words such as Source and Energy but eventually I came back to the word God as it felt right for me). 

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I've spent years talking to someone, telling them everything from what I was feeling to what I was planning on doing. It was like a conversation took place in my mind, but there was someone else there to hear it. I even laughed and responded to some unheard reply sometimes, never quite knowing exactly why. I may sound mad, but it is how I live and I'll take madness over loneliness any day.

It didn't matter who this person was, I just knew that someone was there, guiding me, comforting me, and inspiring me. When I became too self-absorbed and run-down by life's events I lost the feeling of security that came with knowing someone was there, but still I talked, sharing my grief. And when things got exciting, I jumped for joy, knowing someone was watching.

So although my answer "I believe, because I do" may sound like a cop-out, it truly is the best way to answer the question of why I believe. To not believe is as alien a concept to me as to not hope or fear. 

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And I cannot blame this on some aspect of my upbringing because my parents never really spoke of anything beyond the visible until after my granddad died when I was 9, by which stage my belief was well and truly founded already.

Sure I came across aspects of religion in school, but never enough to form the strong bond I had with this unseen force. And besides, I only have to look at my conversations with "God" during the times I was angry with religion to know that no matter what questions I had about the specifics of it all, I could never doubt the existence of something beyond the world I see.

Incidentally, I believe in a lot more things than God, but the point is not to discuss that. I only mention it to point out that whilst our environment and upbringing can affect our ideas of the world to an extent, it really is our own ability to create our own beliefs that makes them as strong as they are.