personal transformation

Beltane and the Union of Opposites

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I’m joining the Tarot Blog Hop on the theme of the Beltane and the Union of Opposites.

More and more I have a challenge with opposites, or more specifically, binaries. Here’s what I mean. I think that they can be useful way to frame things, and in fact, I think people naturally think in binary terms. However, binary also creates black/white thinking. We humans get too used to the boxes, the pendulum swing…and we forget about the spectrum in the middle. This causes us no end of problems; typically when I write about that it’s in one of my leadership blog posts, but it finds its way into our magical and personal growth work as well.

On the other hand, there is some seriously powerful magic when we find that centerpoint, that balance of opposites.

The balance of opposites in the Tarot is often represented by the Lovers card, which is also the sixth card. The sacred geometry used to represent the balance of opposites is two triangles overlapping–a six-pointed star. In the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, this is represented best by Tiphareth, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiferet, which holds a position of balance of extremes. It is in the middle pillar holding the balance between Strength/Judgment and Mercy/Compassion. It’s also midway between Earth/Manifestation and Transcendant Spirit. Tiphareth is associated with beauty, balance, and love. It’s represented by a golden sun.

Now…what I think is sort of interesting–just to go on a metaphysical-nerd tangent–is that Venus (the planet/deity) is associated with a different sphere, but Venus is so often associated with beauty and love. Further, Venus (the planet) is the brightest object in our sky, after the Sun and the Moon, and thus held a lot of importance for our astronomy/astrology-obsessed ancestors. I’ve gone into some depth on this topic and how it connects to my own experience of divine communion in an essay published in the anthology “A Mantle of Stars.”

In fact, Venus is crucial for star observation and rectifying (aligning/correcting) the calendar. Every 8 years Venus sketches a wide looping spirograph around the Sun in the form of a rose-shaped pentacle. And every 8 years, you can use Venus to correct your solar, lunar, and sidereal (star) calendar to within a few minutes. Every 40 years you can correct your calendar to within a few seconds.

So we have a five-pointed star very clearly associated with the Goddess of Love. Roses, if you didn’t know, have 5 petals. Or at least, their petals are patterned in fives. Roses have continued to be associated with love and with Goddesses–in cathedrals you have rose windows, and Mary’s rosary, and you also have the rosy cross. In fact, the rose is often a symbol of the heart in the West, and occasionally it’s a metaphor for the Grail. The lotus would be the Eastern equivalent. The heart chakra is roughly in the center of our bodies and you can look at the heart as the meeting place of our various body functions–all blood must enter and leave the heart, so it is literally our center.

The Grail is another fantastic example of the union of opposites. Going back to that six-pointed star, this is actually a great visual for the Grail. The upward pointing triangle is typically associated with fire (active) whereas the downward pointing triangle is associated with water (receptive). Look at a chalice with a base; the cup part is the downward-pointing triangle. The base holding it up is the upward-pointing triangle.

And yet–here we get some mixed symbols again. The cup is usually associated just with water and is thought of as feminine, passive.

Here is where we start to run into some problems with those opposites and those boxes, where the symbolism starts becoming too rigid to be useful.

The Dangers of the Gender Binary
I’ve written in the past how I work to make rituals more inclusive for participants with diverse sexualities and allow for the entire spectrum of gender. In other words, I don’t really do the Wheel of the Year making the great heterosexual union of Goddess and God the focus of my work. I’ve written more about that in my Ritual Facilitation book, however, when I do a Beltane ritual I don’t focus so much on heterosexual sex.

It’s not because I think sex is bad or dirty…it’s that I don’t think that’s all there is to Beltane.

I can see how in an agrarian society–perhaps a village or a tribe where your entire group’s survival depended upon the fertility of the plants, the animals, and the humans–that maybe there needed to be a lot more magical and intentional work around fertility. Or at least the illusion of some control over fertility. For me, there are so many other avenues to explore in rituals. If I’m doing public ritual work, my job is to support the community with spiritual work that will serve and fill the group, and usually I’m focusing more on personal transformation work. In fact, nobody ever takes me up on sending them actual fertility energy.

I do work as an activist to support moving beyond the gender binary, and I’m also a supporter of non-dualist religious and spiritual work. I find that we often get caught up in those binaries and I think rather a lot of the problems with our society come out of the philosophical idea of dualism.

Actually, one of my challenges with most ceremonial magical traditions and orders is the fairly rigid binaries, often based upon the gender binary.

Do I think that the Sun is masculine and the Moon is feminine? Do I think that male is active, female is passive? Nope. Dualism is actually one of the really core problems I have with a lot of the dominant religions, because once you start going into that binary, that dualism, you eventually have the idea that there’s Good and Evil. And somehow, it always works out that Good is “up” and Bad is “down.” I like to call this the “gravity-based spiritual model.” Up is sky, masculine. Down is earth, feminine.

So you can see where dualism and gender binary-ism starts to cross over into a problematic area, because once you get your black/white dualism going, ultimately someone has to end up in the “evil” or “bad” box. Usually it’s women and people with darker skin. Dualism also makes bodies/the flesh/needs of the flesh “bad,” and transcendence/rising above the body “good.”

The good/evil dualism is how you end up with misogyny, sexism and racism. It’s how you end up with a sex-shaming culture, among a host of other cultural shadows.

Value of Opposites
I think there is some value to opposites, to binaries, because it’s an easy way to articulate a complicated concept. The problem comes in that we see everything fitting into those easy categories and we forget that there is a spectrum between. People are really terrible at holding paradox, at holding gray area, at holding the balance point.

And yet–maybe that’s the magic of this particular six pointed star, this particular balance of opposites.

Maybe that’s why the idea of the Union of Opposites holds so much allure for us–because it’s darned hard to do. Imagine holding two conflicting truths and not losing your mind. Imagine two people who both believe something that conflicts with each other’s beliefs, and yet, not making the other person wrong, holding the idea that their truth, and the other’s truth, could both be true without cancelling each other out.

Fire and Water
I tend to get pretty irked at the idea of assigning gender to metaphysical concepts or to planetary bodies, or anything that begins that quick slippery slope into dualism. Yes, I’m female, and yes, I’m heterosexual. In no way does that mean I’m supposed to hold a passive role, or any of the other gender associations with being female. Nor does that mean that my body is somehow bad. Or that my desire for sex is sinful or bad.

However, I do tend to like working with the concepts of Fire and Water, particularly around the idea of the Grail as well as the shamanic three worlds/tree of life. Fire and Water are opposites I can work with, as are Sky and Earth. I think of the water that falls from the sky to seep down into the ground, into the great cauldron of the waters below the ground that rise up through sacred springs to flow back out into the world, to rise up from the heat of the sun into the sky and fall again. I think of the fire that is the sun, that is the stars, the life-giving heat. I think of our bodies–gravity-bound as they are–and how we naturally reach up. When we think about reaching for something just out of reach, when we think about setting a magical intention to reach for a dream, we reach up, like the branches of the trees reach up for the sun. It’s instinctive.

And when we are working with our own shadows, our own inner darkness, it’s the closeness of the earth, the cave into the Underworld that calls us to that work. Under the earth in the cave, by the roots of the World Tree, the darkness isn’t bad. Down isn’t bad. Down and Darkness is depth, it’s the cycles of composting. Leaves composting are no more evil than our bodies are. Down and deep are the mysteries of decomposition and death. It’s the less-than-pretty things that we don’t always want to look at, and yet are part of the mysteries of life if we’d stop disowning them.

Fire and water is also the mystery of the cauldron, which was the precursor of the Grail. Without fire, you can’t heat up the cauldron. Without heat, there isn’t movement, there isn’t energy. For me, fire isn’t about gender, it’s about action. Water is about depth and dreaming.

I often think of water as that mysterious pool that holds the deep magic if I dip my hands in and reach down. It’s the waters of inspiration, the waters of life.

Grails, Service, and The Beloved
One of the mysteries of the Grail–which is a water-bearing vessel, and yet holds the properties of the Union of Opposites–is that it calls people to serve it. People often seek the Grail wanting to drink of the waters of inspiration and immortality, but the true Grail question isn’t asking the Grail what the Grail can do for you.

The Grail chooses its bearers based upon their ability to serve it. The Grail question is always, “How can I serve thee?” The Grail chooses those who are worthy to bear the vessel, those who will bring healing and inspiration. Like the heart, the mystery of the Grail is not about holding onto energy, but rather, systole and diastole–the heart must pump all the blood out of itself before it can refill.

I see that as part of that mystery of the Union of Opposites–the pulse of life, filling and refilling. The Union of Opposites is not static. It’s not a place we can stay. We get to be there for that brief moment, for that heartbeat, that moment of balance before we have to start over again. We can reach the fingertips of the divine, we can connect with that something beyond, but only for those briefest of moments.

The poetry of Rumi has often been an inspiration to me; Rumi often refers to the divine as “Beloved,” and the poems refer to that relationship with the divine as like a relationship with a lover.

But if you’ve experienced true mysticism–that is, direct communion with the divine, by whatever name you call it–you know that it’s a fleeting moment. You don’t get to stay there. You can hold onto that union for the briefest of moments. For me, it is often an ecstatic rapture, a weeping. For me it is a nondual state–grief and joy and sorrow are all one. My body is divine, it is a vessel of service, and I am simultaneously inside and outside my body. I am connected to the all-that-is. Most recently, this felt like being cradled in a great ocean, being held and told, “You are not alone. You were never alone.” I could feel that sense that the veil of flesh between us all is such an illusion. And that the separation from the Greater Whole that is the divine is just as painful for the divine as it is for us, but that there is some reason for it.

Finding that balance in the Union of Opposites, that divine connection, is the moment that inspires me. And it goes so far beyond gender and binaries.

Metaphysical Maps
All the metaphysical and cosmological models we have–the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the Tarot, correspondence tables, Astrology–I think all of it is an attempt to come up with a model and a metaphor for something that is really a lot larger and a lot deeper than that. And yet, we are human. We are compelled to design models to understand the universe. Just like mystic poets are compelled to try to capture their experience of divine communion by writing about it, even though nobody can actually convey a mystery–we can only live it for ourselves.

Our ancestors tracked the path of Venus in the sky over decades and centuries. And, other ancestors came up with the esoteric wisdom contained within the Tarot. Other ancestors figured out the wheel of the year, the cycles of equinoxes and solstices and connected those to the cycles of hunting and planting, and somewhere in there also mapped them to the cycle of human fertility, which is how we have come to associate Beltane with sex and fertility. Our ancestors have worked hard to understand the underpinnings of the universe and the cosmos, and to understand the the outer and the inner, the movement of the stars and the depths of ourselves and our shadows. Our ancestors have tried to put words to that divine communion, that perfect Union of Opposites that is so elusive.

So too can each of us work to understand ourselves. Can we find a way to find that point of balance and beauty and love without the “othering” of dualism? Without relying too much on that binary, particularly the gender binary?

It’s tough work. But then, I figure if my ancestors can spend 40 years tracking the cycle of Venus to align calendars, I can do a little bit of intensive personal work on my part to challenge some of my assumptions about the world and how things work.

What is a Union of Opposites for you? What does the Lovers card mean? And are there binaries you hold onto that perhaps no longer serve?

 

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Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: beltane, Kabbalah, Lovers, magic, Personal growth, personal transformation, Quaballah, Union of Opposites

Equinox: Planting Seeds of Rebirth

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I’m taking a break from my ongoing series on Grassroots Leadership to join the Tarot Blog Hop on the theme of the Spring Equinox. Although, the particular magical act that is the rebirth of spring–and planting the seeds for the dreams you wish to bring into fruition–is an important part of a leader’s work.

I don’t know about you, but it’s been a long, hard winter for me. I’ve been in a wrestling match with the depression that tried to take hold after my car accident in December, and I’m so grateful for the longer days and melting snow. The past month has been incredibly reinvigorating for me and I’m really ready for spring planting.

Some people are physically planting seeds at this time of year, but for most of us it’s more of a metaphor. And yet, the seasons still have their pull on the ecosystem of our bodies. I often look at the time November through the silence of winter as the time to release what we really need to let go of. To identify what seeds we need to actively not plant in our garden again.

 

I look at New Year’s Eve and the attendant New Year’s Resolutions, and those months leading up to Imbolc and the Spring Equinox as the inspiration energy, preparing for new growth. Spring Equinox, then, is a fantastic time to make a solid commitment to something we’ve been thinking about or working with.

Spring Equinox is that fresh start, that rebirth, that time to really plant the seeds of something we want to bring into our lives.

Tarot and Rebirth
Often when we pull out the cards, we’re looking for help with a decision or with choosing a direction. I know that nothing is more personally frustrating for me than when I know that I need to make a change in my life, but I feel stuck, unsure of which direction to choose. Or unsure of what’s holding me back.

Tarot can be a great way to help you get at what’s going on beneath the surface.

With Tarot cards–or just on your own–you might begin to consider first what you want. What are some of the goals that you dream of but perhaps haven’t yet put into place? It could be actual farming or gardening, or starting a family, or changing careers, or starting a business, or starting  a new community initiative or perhaps a particular creative pursuit like writing or painting. What are the things that you would like to accomplish?

You might also begin to think about what you’ve let fall away from your life–or what you need to let fall away. Perhaps it was a bad relationship, a toxic friend, a job that didn’t serve you, a mindset about money. I’ve often heard that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And yet, so many people (myself included!) have gotten stuck repeating the same old things. I know that I’ve found myself in a few relationships that were abusive–both romantic and professional.

Often what we need to let fall away is more directly related to the pain we’ve suffered in the past. Call them old wounds if you like. These are the things that were done to us in our past, and we develop coping mechanisms to deal with them. And–it keeps us alive, it keeps us sane–but those coping mechanisms ultimately hold us back. In school I was emotionally, verbally, and sometimes physically abused by my peers. I toughened up, decided I didn’t need anyone. I got defensive, I looked at anyone around me as an enemy. And a dozen other small coping strategies.

Literally, it kept me alive. If I hadn’t done all that, the emotionally sensitive younger version of me might very well have tried to commit suicide.

But later, when I wanted to connect to people, develop friendships, nobody wanted to be my friend. I blamed it on so many things…”They don’t like a fat chick. Screw them.” And, that was certainly true for some of them. Yet it was also my attitude that pushed people away. I was looking at everyone I met as if they were the kids from middle school, about to hurt me. I treated people like that.

Figuring out what to let go can be the work of years. Your own meditation or journaling might help with it. Therapy can help, talking to a friend can help. Exploration through Tarot can help you see what’s too close to your own face.

When you begin to release what doesn’t serve you, you can then look again at what you want to bring into your life. This is where popular concepts like the Law of Attraction start to come in, but it’s often oversimplified. Thinking positive is not enough–it’s the way to shine the light of hope, like a lighthouse in the distance. But there’s all the work that it takes to get there, all the work to release what doesn’t serve you and to make room for what will serve you.

What do you want in your life? Love? Friendships? Connection? Creativity? Life Force? Abundance? I want to do what I love and get paid for it, among other things. I want to write and create art and travel and teach, and connect to other people who are doing similar work and share resources with them and build something that lasts. I want to leave the world better than how I came into it.

ButterflyKey1ScaleRitualizing and Embodying Planting the Seeds
We humans are physical creatures. A lot of spiritual work seems to try to get us out of our bodies, but truly, are bodies are pretty powerful spiritual instruments.

When we sing, dance, and drum together, something changes. Our bodies help us to get into that trance state that can help us take the work deeper. It’s one thing to think about what you need to release, or what you want to bring into your life. It’s another thing entirely to embody that through singing, chanting, dancing and drumming.

Or perhaps even just to embody releasing by cutting a piece of string, or to embody bringing something into your life by burning an intention written on a piece of paper, or focusing that intention into a cup of water and drinking it.

Here is a “sketch” of a ritual that I’ve offered for groups at this time of year, and perhaps the words and the process will offer you some ideas for how you  might physicalize setting an intention for yourself to plant the seeds of hope, of rebirth. Much of the language below is something that I might use when facilitating a ritual or ceremony for a group.

Planting the Seeds of Hope
What is often useful first is some kind of a sound purification. A singing bowl, a gong bath, singing a chant or an om. Any sound with intention can help to center and focus you.

You might also invite in any spirits, allies, or other forms of the divine to assist your work. Elements, ancestors, deities, or just honoring that you are a part of the larger universe and that the work you do to set intention has ripples throughout the fabric of that universe, whether or not you can see them.

It can also be very potent to choose a physical object to work with to represent your seed such as a stone, gem, seed, or any small object.

Can you feel and smell the season turning from Winter to Spring? The seeds begin to awaken within the earth, softening with the melting snow and rains and stretching toward the rising light. The winds of change are blowing, and the tide is turning to spring and growth and warmth and life force is rising up in our veins.What seeds do you plant, what are the dreams yet to come? What are the hopes and wishes you pray for?

As you celebrate the return of the light, breathe life into the seeds of your personal dreams. Bless the seeds of hope for healthy communities and earth sustainability. Imagine…inspire, empower, and reach for the seeds of your future.

Will you hold the seeds planted in the rich earth of your heart, and imagine the tree grown strong?

When you name your seeds you bless them. What are your dreams? What are the seeds that you plant? What are your hopes and prayers for this year? What is one big dream, a tree you would like to grow? How will you send blessings and abundance to those seeds, those dreams.

 

The Seed. What is the seed you wish to plant? What seeds do you plant now, or have you planted in the earth before the cold season? What are the seeds that you wish to tend for this year? For the years after?

What is the dream that you wish for? Will you dream big? What are your hopes, your wishes? When you imagine the seed, what is the plant, the tree that it will grow? What fruits will that tree bear?  Standing in the place of now, can you imagine the tree grown strong and full? What is a dream that you hold? What is its scent, its taste, what does it look like or sound like? What is your dream of the future, one dream. Is it a dream of abundance, of prosperity.  A dream of a new job, a dream of something you wish to learn, a new business, a new project.

Perhaps it is a maple tree, swift growing. Perhaps it is an oak tree, long to grow and long to stand. Do you hold a dream for social change, a dream of healing, a dream of a creative project?  A healthy family, a healthy community?

Hold the image, the sound, the feeling. How do you hold your body here in the place where your seed has taken root and grown tall, where you can pluck the fruits of the tree. And coming back to now, when you hold the seed within your hand and your heart. What is the seed you will plant, or have planted already?

Earth

What is the soil that grows your dream? The Dreaming in the Darkness. What rich, loamy earth does your seed require to flourish? What are the nutrients your seed will need? Imagine being under the earth, in the moist darkness in the weeks and months, waiting for the thaw and waiting for the time to be right. Here is the time in the darkness, in the deep, in the waiting. When do you require darkness and silence and rest, when does that fill you and feed you?

What is the soil that will feed your dreamseed? Is it words of encouragement, is it time alone, is it the support of friends, is it financial abundance, is it family or community, what are the resources you need? What does your dream need, your seed need?

(At this time, you might plant the representation of your seed into earth, dirt, sand, or something soft.)

Water

The water that softens the seed.  Can you remember being under the earth, can you remember that darkness going on and on, the winter not letting go? What is it like to be so ready for light and heat and moisture? Have you ever been under the earth for what felt like a thousand years of darkness? And then….the waters came.
Can you remember what it felt like to have the waters touch the edges of the seed, the edges of your skin. The waters soften the seed, prepare it to grow. Can you remember the warm rains flowing down to cleanse you, prepare you?

Have you known joy or known sorrow? Why do you care about this seed? Have you felt the rains falling down on you? Or were they the waters of the stream or the lake or the ocean? How did the waters flow? Do you remember feeling? What brings life to your seed? What do you love?

Did your heart break?  The Sufi say the heart must break to make more room for God to enter. When did your heart break? Where is the love inside of you, are you in love with this seed and this dream? Can you feel the waters of your love softening the edge of the seed, filling the cup of your heart, slaking the thirst of this growing plant as it grows and grows?

How do you feel? What feelings bring life to this dream seed, to this tree that will become?

(You might bathe your hands in water here, or even pour water over yourself.)

Fire

The sunlight, the fire. What is the sunlight that feeds your plant, brings it life force and vitality? What is the will that rises within you?

Fire will be the sun and the light, the Will to make the dream happen, what lights us up. What gets you on fire? What sparks your imagination? What causes the fire in the head and heart, that life force shiver to rise up your spine? What gets you excited, what is your vision of the future? Can you feel it inside you, can you reach for that sunlight that will feed you?

Can you imagine that golden beautiful radiance and as it touches your leaves and your skin and you’re bathed in it, it fuels you and feeds you.

(You might light a fire at this point such as a candle, or even a campfire or bonfire if you are outside. Or you might also reach your hands up toward the sun itself, reaching for that fire.)

Air

The breath of life. What is the name of the divine? I am that I am. What brings life and consciousness to this seed, what gives it its name? Will you name this dream that you are planting, will you name the tree it will become? Will you blow a name into the seed, into the wind, and commit to making this seed a reality?

Will you turn and whisper its name to someone next to you, will you tell its story and bring it to life? Will you risk naming this dream, call it forth?

And will you say aloud one thing you can do, to take a step toward making this dream happen?

Fueling Your Intention
At this point in a group ritual I typically engage people in singing a chant together which builds in intensity. We sing, we dance, we play drums, until the energy of our song and movement reaches a peak. If you’re doing this exercise on your own, I recommend engaging in some kind of energetic activity in order to “fuel” the intention, the seed, that you are planting.

There are lots of ways to raise up life force. You can sing a chant or tone along with a singing bowl or a chant cd, you can go out for a run, you can go dancing at a club or a drum jam, you can rock back and forth, or do an intense workout. Heck, you can go sing a song that fits the work you’re doing at karaoke. Anything that makes a sound and gets your heartrate going is generally going to lay the pattern deeper.

If you sing, sing like it matters. Sound is energy. Life force is energy. Breathing and moving is energy.

Rebirth, Planting Seeds, and Planning
When you’ve done the work to set an intention, the work is not yet done. There’s still the long road from here–where you are right now–to there. Envisioning what “there” looks like can be a powerful motivator, and essentially strikes the “bell” that is the fabric of the universe and says, “Hey, this is my intention, this is what I want to happen.” But there’s all the rest of the work we have to do to get there.

Whenever I’m planning something–particularly something big that’s going to require a lot of work–I make a map. I identify what I want as clearly as I can, and then I pull out all the steps I’ll need to take in order to get there. It’s like a to do list, only a little prettier. I can start to get a sense of what tasks need to get accomplished first so that I can progress closer to the goal. For instance, getting a web site. Finishing a book. Getting more artwork done. Planning more traveling and teaching engagements. Or even cleaning up my art studio so that I can do more painting.

ButterflySquareApplesWhile there are a lot of thankless tasks and busywork on the way from Here to There, connecting them firmly to the big goal is a way to help you visualize and stay on track. And–if you enjoy crossing things off lists as much as I do–as you get those things done, you can see yourself on the map, getting closer to that goal. Some things don’t map out as well as others, but if you have a big complicated goal this can be a good way to break it down.

And it’s another place where Tarot cards can come into play as you’re beginning to make decisions about particular things. Tarot is a great way to look at what’s going on beneath the surface, and short 1-card or 3-card pulls can tell you a lot.

I wish you the very best in reaching for all of your dreams. Happy Spring!

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Continue reading more posts on Tarot and Creativity on the Tarot Blog hop:
Previous | Master Blog List  | Next

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Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: Ostara, Personal growth, personal magic, personal transformation, ritual, spellwork, Tarot, transformation

Equinox: Planting Seeds of Rebirth

GreenWorldTreeLargeB

Previous | Master Blog List  | Next

I’m taking a break from my ongoing series on Grassroots Leadership to join the Tarot Blog Hop on the theme of the Spring Equinox. Although, the particular magical act that is the rebirth of spring–and planting the seeds for the dreams you wish to bring into fruition–is an important part of a leader’s work.

I don’t know about you, but it’s been a long, hard winter for me. I’ve been in a wrestling match with the depression that tried to take hold after my car accident in December, and I’m so grateful for the longer days and melting snow. The past month has been incredibly reinvigorating for me and I’m really ready for spring planting.

Some people are physically planting seeds at this time of year, but for most of us it’s more of a metaphor. And yet, the seasons still have their pull on the ecosystem of our bodies. I often look at the time November through the silence of winter as the time to release what we really need to let go of. To identify what seeds we need to actively not plant in our garden again.

 

I look at New Year’s Eve and the attendant New Year’s Resolutions, and those months leading up to Imbolc and the Spring Equinox as the inspiration energy, preparing for new growth. Spring Equinox, then, is a fantastic time to make a solid commitment to something we’ve been thinking about or working with.

Spring Equinox is that fresh start, that rebirth, that time to really plant the seeds of something we want to bring into our lives.

Tarot and Rebirth
Often when we pull out the cards, we’re looking for help with a decision or with choosing a direction. I know that nothing is more personally frustrating for me than when I know that I need to make a change in my life, but I feel stuck, unsure of which direction to choose. Or unsure of what’s holding me back.

Tarot can be a great way to help you get at what’s going on beneath the surface.

With Tarot cards–or just on your own–you might begin to consider first what you want. What are some of the goals that you dream of but perhaps haven’t yet put into place? It could be actual farming or gardening, or starting a family, or changing careers, or starting a business, or starting  a new community initiative or perhaps a particular creative pursuit like writing or painting. What are the things that you would like to accomplish?

You might also begin to think about what you’ve let fall away from your life–or what you need to let fall away. Perhaps it was a bad relationship, a toxic friend, a job that didn’t serve you, a mindset about money. I’ve often heard that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And yet, so many people (myself included!) have gotten stuck repeating the same old things. I know that I’ve found myself in a few relationships that were abusive–both romantic and professional.

Often what we need to let fall away is more directly related to the pain we’ve suffered in the past. Call them old wounds if you like. These are the things that were done to us in our past, and we develop coping mechanisms to deal with them. And–it keeps us alive, it keeps us sane–but those coping mechanisms ultimately hold us back. In school I was emotionally, verbally, and sometimes physically abused by my peers. I toughened up, decided I didn’t need anyone. I got defensive, I looked at anyone around me as an enemy. And a dozen other small coping strategies.

Literally, it kept me alive. If I hadn’t done all that, the emotionally sensitive younger version of me might very well have tried to commit suicide.

But later, when I wanted to connect to people, develop friendships, nobody wanted to be my friend. I blamed it on so many things…”They don’t like a fat chick. Screw them.” And, that was certainly true for some of them. Yet it was also my attitude that pushed people away. I was looking at everyone I met as if they were the kids from middle school, about to hurt me. I treated people like that.

Figuring out what to let go can be the work of years. Your own meditation or journaling might help with it. Therapy can help, talking to a friend can help. Exploration through Tarot can help you see what’s too close to your own face.

When you begin to release what doesn’t serve you, you can then look again at what you want to bring into your life. This is where popular concepts like the Law of Attraction start to come in, but it’s often oversimplified. Thinking positive is not enough–it’s the way to shine the light of hope, like a lighthouse in the distance. But there’s all the work that it takes to get there, all the work to release what doesn’t serve you and to make room for what will serve you.

What do you want in your life? Love? Friendships? Connection? Creativity? Life Force? Abundance? I want to do what I love and get paid for it, among other things. I want to write and create art and travel and teach, and connect to other people who are doing similar work and share resources with them and build something that lasts. I want to leave the world better than how I came into it.

ButterflyKey1ScaleRitualizing and Embodying Planting the Seeds
We humans are physical creatures. A lot of spiritual work seems to try to get us out of our bodies, but truly, are bodies are pretty powerful spiritual instruments.

When we sing, dance, and drum together, something changes. Our bodies help us to get into that trance state that can help us take the work deeper. It’s one thing to think about what you need to release, or what you want to bring into your life. It’s another thing entirely to embody that through singing, chanting, dancing and drumming.

Or perhaps even just to embody releasing by cutting a piece of string, or to embody bringing something into your life by burning an intention written on a piece of paper, or focusing that intention into a cup of water and drinking it.

Here is a “sketch” of a ritual that I’ve offered for groups at this time of year, and perhaps the words and the process will offer you some ideas for how you  might physicalize setting an intention for yourself to plant the seeds of hope, of rebirth. Much of the language below is something that I might use when facilitating a ritual or ceremony for a group.

Planting the Seeds of Hope
What is often useful first is some kind of a sound purification. A singing bowl, a gong bath, singing a chant or an om. Any sound with intention can help to center and focus you.

You might also invite in any spirits, allies, or other forms of the divine to assist your work. Elements, ancestors, deities, or just honoring that you are a part of the larger universe and that the work you do to set intention has ripples throughout the fabric of that universe, whether or not you can see them.

It can also be very potent to choose a physical object to work with to represent your seed such as a stone, gem, seed, or any small object.

Can you feel and smell the season turning from Winter to Spring? The seeds begin to awaken within the earth, softening with the melting snow and rains and stretching toward the rising light. The winds of change are blowing, and the tide is turning to spring and growth and warmth and life force is rising up in our veins.What seeds do you plant, what are the dreams yet to come? What are the hopes and wishes you pray for?

As you celebrate the return of the light, breathe life into the seeds of your personal dreams. Bless the seeds of hope for healthy communities and earth sustainability. Imagine…inspire, empower, and reach for the seeds of your future.

Will you hold the seeds planted in the rich earth of your heart, and imagine the tree grown strong?

When you name your seeds you bless them. What are your dreams? What are the seeds that you plant? What are your hopes and prayers for this year? What is one big dream, a tree you would like to grow? How will you send blessings and abundance to those seeds, those dreams.

 

The Seed. What is the seed you wish to plant? What seeds do you plant now, or have you planted in the earth before the cold season? What are the seeds that you wish to tend for this year? For the years after?

What is the dream that you wish for? Will you dream big? What are your hopes, your wishes? When you imagine the seed, what is the plant, the tree that it will grow? What fruits will that tree bear?  Standing in the place of now, can you imagine the tree grown strong and full? What is a dream that you hold? What is its scent, its taste, what does it look like or sound like? What is your dream of the future, one dream. Is it a dream of abundance, of prosperity.  A dream of a new job, a dream of something you wish to learn, a new business, a new project.

Perhaps it is a maple tree, swift growing. Perhaps it is an oak tree, long to grow and long to stand. Do you hold a dream for social change, a dream of healing, a dream of a creative project?  A healthy family, a healthy community?

Hold the image, the sound, the feeling. How do you hold your body here in the place where your seed has taken root and grown tall, where you can pluck the fruits of the tree. And coming back to now, when you hold the seed within your hand and your heart. What is the seed you will plant, or have planted already?

Earth

What is the soil that grows your dream? The Dreaming in the Darkness. What rich, loamy earth does your seed require to flourish? What are the nutrients your seed will need? Imagine being under the earth, in the moist darkness in the weeks and months, waiting for the thaw and waiting for the time to be right. Here is the time in the darkness, in the deep, in the waiting. When do you require darkness and silence and rest, when does that fill you and feed you?

What is the soil that will feed your dreamseed? Is it words of encouragement, is it time alone, is it the support of friends, is it financial abundance, is it family or community, what are the resources you need? What does your dream need, your seed need?

(At this time, you might plant the representation of your seed into earth, dirt, sand, or something soft.)

Water

The water that softens the seed.  Can you remember being under the earth, can you remember that darkness going on and on, the winter not letting go? What is it like to be so ready for light and heat and moisture? Have you ever been under the earth for what felt like a thousand years of darkness? And then….the waters came.
Can you remember what it felt like to have the waters touch the edges of the seed, the edges of your skin. The waters soften the seed, prepare it to grow. Can you remember the warm rains flowing down to cleanse you, prepare you?

Have you known joy or known sorrow? Why do you care about this seed? Have you felt the rains falling down on you? Or were they the waters of the stream or the lake or the ocean? How did the waters flow? Do you remember feeling? What brings life to your seed? What do you love?

Did your heart break?  The Sufi say the heart must break to make more room for God to enter. When did your heart break? Where is the love inside of you, are you in love with this seed and this dream? Can you feel the waters of your love softening the edge of the seed, filling the cup of your heart, slaking the thirst of this growing plant as it grows and grows?

How do you feel? What feelings bring life to this dream seed, to this tree that will become?

(You might bathe your hands in water here, or even pour water over yourself.)

Fire

The sunlight, the fire. What is the sunlight that feeds your plant, brings it life force and vitality? What is the will that rises within you?

Fire will be the sun and the light, the Will to make the dream happen, what lights us up. What gets you on fire? What sparks your imagination? What causes the fire in the head and heart, that life force shiver to rise up your spine? What gets you excited, what is your vision of the future? Can you feel it inside you, can you reach for that sunlight that will feed you?

Can you imagine that golden beautiful radiance and as it touches your leaves and your skin and you’re bathed in it, it fuels you and feeds you.

(You might light a fire at this point such as a candle, or even a campfire or bonfire if you are outside. Or you might also reach your hands up toward the sun itself, reaching for that fire.)

Air

The breath of life. What is the name of the divine? I am that I am. What brings life and consciousness to this seed, what gives it its name? Will you name this dream that you are planting, will you name the tree it will become? Will you blow a name into the seed, into the wind, and commit to making this seed a reality?

Will you turn and whisper its name to someone next to you, will you tell its story and bring it to life? Will you risk naming this dream, call it forth?

And will you say aloud one thing you can do, to take a step toward making this dream happen?

Fueling Your Intention
At this point in a group ritual I typically engage people in singing a chant together which builds in intensity. We sing, we dance, we play drums, until the energy of our song and movement reaches a peak. If you’re doing this exercise on your own, I recommend engaging in some kind of energetic activity in order to “fuel” the intention, the seed, that you are planting.

There are lots of ways to raise up life force. You can sing a chant or tone along with a singing bowl or a chant cd, you can go out for a run, you can go dancing at a club or a drum jam, you can rock back and forth, or do an intense workout. Heck, you can go sing a song that fits the work you’re doing at karaoke. Anything that makes a sound and gets your heartrate going is generally going to lay the pattern deeper.

If you sing, sing like it matters. Sound is energy. Life force is energy. Breathing and moving is energy.

Rebirth, Planting Seeds, and Planning
When you’ve done the work to set an intention, the work is not yet done. There’s still the long road from here–where you are right now–to there. Envisioning what “there” looks like can be a powerful motivator, and essentially strikes the “bell” that is the fabric of the universe and says, “Hey, this is my intention, this is what I want to happen.” But there’s all the rest of the work we have to do to get there.

Whenever I’m planning something–particularly something big that’s going to require a lot of work–I make a map. I identify what I want as clearly as I can, and then I pull out all the steps I’ll need to take in order to get there. It’s like a to do list, only a little prettier. I can start to get a sense of what tasks need to get accomplished first so that I can progress closer to the goal. For instance, getting a web site. Finishing a book. Getting more artwork done. Planning more traveling and teaching engagements. Or even cleaning up my art studio so that I can do more painting.

While there are a lot of thankless tasks and busywork on the way from Here to There, connecting them firmly to the big goal is a way to help you visualize and stay on track. And–if you enjoy crossing things off lists as much as I do–as you get those things done, you can see yourself on the map, getting closer to that goal. Some things don’t map out as well as others, but if you have a big complicated goal this can be a good way to break it down.

And it’s another place where Tarot cards can come into play as you’re beginning to make decisions about particular things. Tarot is a great way to look at what’s going on beneath the surface, and short 1-card or 3-card pulls can tell you a lot.

I wish you the very best in reaching for all of your dreams. Happy Spring!

ButterflySquareApplesA quick message from me. I need a little help in realizing my dreams for the seeds that I have planted. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds so that I can continue traveling teaching work like this.

I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including chants, meditations and trance journeys, artwork, and more. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/

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Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: Ostara, Personal growth, personal magic, personal transformation, ritual, spellwork, Tarot, transformation

Assumptions, Expectations, and Boundaries

7898846_xxlIf you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it. But asking is sometimes the hard part.

“Let’s meet at ___ location at about 6pm.” What does “about” mean here? Does “about” mean, “I want you to meet me exactly at 6pm?” Does it mean that we might be there by 5:45, but that it also is acceptable if we aren’t there until 6:15?

“I like it when someone else takes the trash out.” What does that mean? Does that mean the person is hinting that I should take the trash out?

“Someone needs to design a flyer.” What does that mean? Is someone being asked to design a flyer?

“We need to clear the debris out of that room.” Who’s being asked to do this? What’s the plan? Am I being asked to help, or is this just a statement about the need to clear the debris?

“I have a train that is leaving at 6:30 am.” Is this even a question? If my intent is to procure a ride to the train station for myself, shouldn’t I be asking a specific question of someone? Something more like, “Hey, I have a train leaving at 6:30 am, would you be willing to give me a ride to the train station?”

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First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a car so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps me to get a safe, reliable vehicle for those long road trips. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work. If everyone who read my blog this week contributed $1-$5, I’d have a pretty reliable car.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/

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Back to the article….I experience that many people are afraid to ask direct questions, particularly when they are asking people to do something–or worse, to do something for them. It’s part of this whole cultural passive aggressive baggage that really hinders communication efforts.

Why are we afraid to ask for help?
I can speak for myself on this one—I’m afraid that if I ask for help that someone might say no. That someone might resent me or judge me for asking for help. That I will then be stuck owing that person or be labeled as needy. There’s a whole host of reasons. Every once in a while, my deeply-hidden people-pleaser rears its ugly head. People who ask for help are judged as needy and helpless, I think. People will resent me for asking for help.

Energetically, it feels better if I hint and then they offer. That way I’m not owing them, right? Or at least, it feels more that way. Many communications lack the specifics that would actually get us what we want.

“Let’s meet up at 6pm” is at least somewhat specific. However, if Person A said “Let’s meet around 6,” and then Person A gets pissed off that Person B didn’t show up until 6:15, that really isn’t fair. “About” is a pretty vague word. If Person A needs something to happen by no later than 6pm–such as a departure–what would work better is, “I need for us to leave no later than 6pm, so please be there by 5:45.” It’s more clear and puts their needs forward. They are setting themselves up for someone to fail them if they are vague.

Why might they be vague? Well, let’s face it, being that specific and clear can be taken as being confrontational in our culture.

Here’s something that makes it more difficult is when someone asks a question when they already know an answer. Here’s an example. Let’s say Person A knows they want to leave by no later than 6pm to get somewhere else by 7pm. But they first ask Person B, “What time do you want to leave?” If Person A already knows they want to leave by 6pm, why bother asking?

And yet, we learn how to do these polite things that actually get in the way and cause micro conflicts and set us up for frustration.

Similarly, we learn that to be clear and to hold boundaries is to sound controlling and bitchy. “We need to leave at no later than 6pm, so be there at 5:45, please,” can come across as sounding harsh and unyielding.

And yet, it puts forth a clear need. If it’s actually going to tick you off to leave at 6:05, or, cause you to risk being late, it’s really your responsibility to communicate that up front.

“Let’s meet around 6ish” is something we learn to say, but it isn’t really what we want. I experience that people get really ticked off at people who don’t do what they wanted.

However, you can’t know what someone wants unless they tell you.

Expectations Uncommunicated
In fact, I notice this a lot in relationships when one partner has an expectation of another partner but never communicates it. One partner I was with expected that if someone didn’t jump up to take care of a problem that was hinted at, that that person didn’t love him. We finally came to be able to talk about this after therapy. It was an expectation he’d learned from a family member. His frustration could be anything from, the laundry pile was too full, to, he wanted to go out to dinner.

He just held the expectation that if there was something he wanted me to help with, that I’d somehow telepathically know. And when I, of course, did not read his mind to know what he wanted help with, he’d get increasingly frustrated but not tell me that he was frustrated until he exploded in anger.

You can probably start to see how something that’s really fairly miniscule like doing laundry becomes a major conflict. We’d end up in this cyclical argument where ultimately he’d say, “If you really loved me you’d just know, I wouldn’t have to ask.”

Perhaps you too have had relationship arguments that just ran around and around the barn like this.

Expectations in Groups and Leadership
The point is–you can’t expect something of someone if you haven’t asked them or told them what you want. I’m using an example from friendships and romantic relationships, however, this happens in a group setting just as easily.

“Someone needs to design the flyer” is not asking anyone to actually do that work–but you can bet that the group leader who mentioned this is going to get upset when nobody reads their mind and creates the flyer. Or the silent expectation that everyone knows they need to be at the venue 2 hours early for setup.

If you don’t ask people to do something specific, you can’t expect them to know you needed the help. I talk to a lot of group leaders who get frustrated with people in their groups who aren’t stepping up to do the work. And yes–volunteers often drop the ball, it’s the nature of the beast. However, many of these group leaders are not properly articulating the question, they are not asking people to do a task.

Here’s a mistake I’ve made in the past–I’ve put out the email to “everyone” listing the things that need to be done for XYZ event, or the Facebook post saying, “Can anyone do XYZ?” And then I get no responses. What gets a better response is, “Hey Pat, I know you’re really a great graphic designer, would you be willing to design a flyer for the event? I understand if you are busy.” When you actually ask people for help, you might get it–and you might get the help you are actually asking for.

But if I sit there and angrily stew that nobody is helping me with tasks–and I never asked them explicitly to do those tasks–that one’s on me.

Sometimes the Answer is No
Going further, you can’t really expect someone to act in a way that goes against their nature, against their values. I’m not talking about high-minded values, I’m talking about, what you value in the sense of, where you are willing to spend your time, energy, and money.

I value having time to spend working on writing, artwork, and community building. I’ve simplified my life in order to reflect those values. I don’t value expensive food, going out for dinner, or drinking, for instance. A former partner of mine was an extrovert (I’m an introvert) and greatly valued hanging out with people, going out for dinner. He was a foodie, I wasn’t. He liked to drink, I didn’t. He would get mad at me for not caving to his wishes and coming out with him to social events that I didn’t want to spend the money on. They were events that I wasn’t going to enjoy, and I didn’t value spending my time or my money on them.

“If you really loved me you’d do things you don’t want to do because I want you to do them,” was among his ways of trying to manipulate me.

And here’s the thing–group leaders sometimes do this. Visionaries, stubborn group leaders, we do this, and we don’t mean to. It’s a mistake I’ve made in the past and I’ve worked to correct that. I’ve tried to pressure people into going against their nature, guilting people into doing something “for the event” or “for the group.”

Sometimes, when I ask someone for help, the answer is no. And as a group leader, I have to be ok with that, I have to respect someone’s “no.”

Manipulation and Expectations
Let me take a moment to step back and point out how putting pressure on people to do what you want them to do can be incredibly manipulative whether it’s a friend, lover, or someone in your group. The person who is trying to hold a boundary and say, “No, I don’t value that,” is made to feel horrible by the guilting.

When my own former partner tried to get me to do what he wanted, I began to  doubt myself. I was pretty clear at first that I was just holding a boundary. After a while, I began to wonder, “What’s wrong with me? Am I really that terrible?” Sometimes, my partner’s words led me to going against what I knew was good for me. In the context of a relationship, this can end up into a very abusive, codependent spiral. In my case, this exacerbated my existing depression and made it worse.

However, group dynamics and relationships are very similar, and a leader who is pressuring people to do things in a group–even for altruistic reasons–is still sliding on that slippery slope into an abusive dynamic. Pressuring people to taking on event planning roles might get your event done, but it’s ultimately not going to build a healthy group. I’ve learned that the hard way.

Groups are a Relationship
So when the group leader (Person A) really wants people in the group to volunteer to take ritual roles but nobody does, Person A is going to get frustrated. However, Person A didn’t communicate their need clearly, and then usually ends up browbeating people for not volunteering.

If they set up the expectation up front–or better yet, walked through what they need, and listened to their group members who might not want to take ritual roles–there would be less frustration all around.

Nobody likes the abusive dynamic of waiting for the group leader/parent to blow up at them. If the group leader puts out there, “We put on 8 sabbats, and I need at least 5 people to step in and take ritual roles each time or I won’t be able to facilitate the sabbat, how many of you are interested in volunteering?” and then perhaps also asks, “Are there any of you who really don’t want to ever take ritual roles?” and then listens to those folks share why, a conversation can happen. Negotiation can happen.

Maybe some of the folks don’t want to take roles because they are shy, but would be willing to take really small roles and learn to get better at public speaking work, but they are afraid to take on the bigger roles that the group leader is offering. Maybe some of the folks just have absolutely zero interest in facilitating.

Help people in your group build healthier boundaries–a healthier sense of self, and the ability to say no to you, the leader. And yeah, as a visionary, sometimes that sucks. Sometimes it means the event isn’t going to be as grand as your vision. I’ve been there. I have another T-shirt.

Organizing Events
Pagan Pride or another local festival is a great example. I hear from a lot of PPD organizers that they have a hard time getting volunteers, and have a hard time getting local people involved. They get frustrated when their local community doesn’t even show up for an event, or when local community leaders don’t take an active part.

But I wonder, how many PPD and festival coordinators actually work to establish relationships with local community and leaders by going to other folks’ events? Some do. Some don’t. How many festival organizers actually make the time to research local groups and go and introduce themselves? How many ask for specific help? Putting out a post, “I need help with XYZ day-long festival, I need volunteers,” is vague. “I need 10 people for 2-hour shifts at the info table greeting people” is specific.

I’ll be clear–volunteer management is not my strength. If I’m working with a skilled volunteer coordinator I can help break tasks down simply like that, but it’s not an area where I have as much skill. However, it’s an important factor in breaking down tasks because volunteers are much more likely to help when you outline exactly what you need.

Getting Other Groups Involved
Many Pagan organizers find it challenging to get other groups involved. One thing that I can say–and I’ve worked with a lot of groups in a lot of regions–is that most groups tend to get tunnel vision.

Now–sometimes this is just boundaries and focus. People only have so many hours in the day, and when you are running a small group or an activity as a volunteer, you may not have time or resources to do more. Remember–sometimes the answer is “no.” No is the answer you are giving when someone asks you to help with their project and you just never get back to them, it’s just an indirectly communicated no.

Event organizers and visionaries also get the tunnel vision of “I want everyone to like my project! I want everyone to want to donate time to this cool thing that I’m doing!” I see a lot of Pagan leaders do this. I’ve done it myself. What happens is, a leader gets a great idea for something, and gets upset that everyone is not as excited as they are, and that their requests for help aren’t met with overwhelming enthusiasm. Much less people jumping on board to read the organizer’s mind and take on tasks like vendor coordination and fundraising and programming.

However, the truth is, that not everyone is as excited about that thing as the person/group that came up with it. And other groups have other focuses. What’s also ironic–and this is something that I see a lot too–is that the folks organizing a bigger cool event, like a Pagan Pride or other day-long festival, get upset when more local leaders and groups don’t get involved, but then those organizers themselves don’t reciprocate and support what other groups are doing.

I have seen local event organizers get snippy when more people don’t support their event, and then they themselves plan fundraising and other events and other events right over the top of what other groups are doing. They don’t do it out of malice, just carelessness.

But what it can look like to a local Pagan leader is something like, “So you want me to donate my time and energy to your event, and then you just scheduled a fundraiser at the same time as my open ritual/class/event/thing and you never come to my events. Nope, not going to support your event.”

Which…is part of why we have so many petty conflicts, because scheduling accidents happen and people take things personally, but a lot of it boils down to awareness. Keeping track of what other groups are doing is a mighty challenge, and we have little infrastructure for it.

Assumptions
There’s that old saying about assumptions, and it really is true. Whenever we have an expectation or assumption about someone else–an assumption about their motivation..”They are doing this because they hate me, they are out to get me,” or an expectation, “Why aren’t they doing this thing that I need them to do for this event?” In these instances, we’re setting ourselves up for conflict and failure.

So what can we do? First is strengthening our own healthy boundaries as leaders, and working to help members of our groups strengthen their boundaries. Then there’s checking our assumptions. Is that true? Or are we just pissed off? There’s our expectations; did someone fail to live up to your expectation? Did they betray you? Or, did you never effectively communicate your expectations to your group members?

What we can do is work to be better. Notice the places where we’ve been hitting our heads against the wall and are frustrated, and work to change things so that it’s better next time. For an excellent resource on boundaries, I recommend the book “Where You End and I Begin.”

If you want things to happen, begin by asking for them. Clearly, and without ambiguity. You might get a yes, you might get a no. But at least you’ll know, and you aren’t setting yourself to be ticked off at someone later for dropping the ball. When a volunteer drops the ball, it often means that they should have said “no,” but they felt pressured to say “yes.”


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: Boundaries, clergy, communication, communication skills, community, community building, expectations, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, pagans, Personal growth, personal transformation

Pagan Leadership: Dissent, Feedback, and Group Leaders

8934795_xxlIn the previous posts in this series, we’ve talked a bit about the challenge when you have issue with a leader. I’ve focused primarily on leaders who are in the level of incurable jerk, in other words, folks who aren’t going to listen to any feedback.

Dissent is part of a healthy group. There’s a difference between dissent and dissension–dissent is a disagreement, dissension is a quarrel. The problem in our communities is twofold; leaders don’t always provide a way to offer feedback about their leadership. So people gossip behind their backs. Feedback happens. But, how can we make it more constructive?

My mentors had a rule of thumb, that if people don’t have a way to complain about leadership, a way to offer feedback, they’ll find one. And this is where we cross over into that realm of the conflicts that rip a group apart, or, spread out amongst many smaller groups within a local community. If there is a local leader who’s acting in an unethical way, or even just making some mistakes, but if that leader is coming from a place of egotism and arrogance and isn’t willing to listen to feedback, it’s a powder keg waiting for a spark to explode it.

Thus, a pretty simple piece of advice for any group leader is, if you want a healthy group, provide a method by which people can offer feedback. Feedback about your leadership, feedback about the ritual you facilitated. Often it’s as simple as being open, honest, and approachable. But the second part is, you really have to be willing to hear that feedback and not jump down someone’s throat for it.

As soon as you’ve done that, you’ve told them that you’re not actually open to that feedback.

Now–This is easily said, not so easily done. Many of us taking on leadership roles are putting our blood, sweat, and tears in, and we can be really emotionally raw sometimes about hearing how we screwed something up. Or even just hearing that someone didn’t like the ritual we did, even if we didn’t do anything wrong. I sometimes have a hard time hearing negative feedback about events I’ve hosted. So this is a piece that can take rather a lot of personal work. My article on Hypersensitivity might be of value to those of you who value hearing people’s feedback, but who also feel like negative feedback is a kick to the gut every time.

It’s a tough balance. Some feedback isn’t really useful. “You can’t host a picnic in that park, it’s in a bad neighborhood.” Yeah, sorry, I hosted a Pagan Mabon picnic in my neighborhood where there are people of color, so automatically it must be a bad neighborhood. “Why don’t you host events out in XYZ suburb where I live?” Because…I don’t live an hour and a half away in your suburb. Some feedback you can easily discard. Other feedback is useful, if painful to listen to. And a lot sits in that gray area between. On the one hand you have the advice, “Don’t let the haters get you down,” on the other hand, you as a leader do need to be able to hear genuine constructive feedback. It’s a tightrope, I won’t lie.

Leaders
Then there are those situations where there is a leader who may or may not have one of the major personality disorders, or who is just completely unreasonable. Some group leaders seem to genuinely have no idea how destructive they are, but my goodness. You try to give them negative feedback and they will singe your ears back. They tend to lean mostly on the “Don’t let the haters get you down” side of the spectrum…but the truth is, some of these leaders really are making big mistakes that are harming their group, or even the broader Pagan community.

Sometimes a local group leader doesn’t just affect their own group, they affect their whole region because they are involved in every single local Pagan thing. I’ve been asked before how you “stop” a leader like this who is really harming the local community by their actions. If you’ve read the previous articles In the Pagan leadership series, you know there aren’t a lot of great answers on this one.

Some very few of these leaders can be reasoned with. Let’s use the Pareto principle and say 20% of them. The rest may simply not budge. Some of them may have severe and untreated mental illness. Whatever the reason, you have to make a judgment call about how to engage this person. Often the only tool you have at your disposal is to simply not engage that person, to not support their events, to not send people their way.

In some cases, however, the most damaging leaders are the ones who are convinced that they are doing amazing work and that they need to be involved in everything. And here’s the sad thing–they may have initially built something really incredible. They may have started a local Pagan festival, a temple, a church, a Pagan pride.

In many instances, over time that leader’s behavior has a consistent negative impact not just on their own group, but on the rest of the community. Other community members and leaders feel the need to respond, to decry them and speak out. And this is where you end up with one of those untenable “witch war” conflicts that has no end. There is no solution.

Remember–you cannot make anyone stop. You have no power to do so, except in the rarest of circumstances.

In some rare instances, particularly when there are multiple witnesses to (and victims of) of poor behavior on the part of that group leader, it’s possible that raising all the voices together can have some impact. But again, you can’t stop their inner circle from following them–even if you know the likelihood of that inner circle eventually getting betrayed by that leader. You can’t take away their title, you can’t make them stop running a Meetup, or take down their web site. The only exception to any of this would be collecting evidence of illegal behavior.

It should be pretty clear at this point that we’re not talking about dissent any longer, because there’s no viable way to voice that dissent in a way that it’s going to be heard. We’re talking about dissension, a quarrel that really has no winners.

In some cases, I’ve seen a local community gang up on a particular leader to the point that that leader’s will broke and they retired from community leadership. However, there’s two sides to that. Often the times that this tactic is the most successful is when it’s employed by relentless bullies, not by the community members who are on the right side of that conflict. Very rarely do I ever see this tactic work on a community leader who is clearly engaging in harmful behavior.

There is always a line. There’s always a time when an abuse becomes so extreme that you (and others) may have to stand up or you can’t look at yourselves in the mirror. But understand that there’s really no way to actually make that group leader stop.

Just because you stand up and speak out doesn’t mean it’ll have an impact. And, that sucks.

Once things get to the point of dissension the conflict, by its nature, spills outside of appropriate borders and boundaries. Well–given the Pagan community’s structure and lack of structure, it’s useful to look at it as “when” that happens, not “if” and thus, how to handle it when it does.

Dissent and Group Structure
Ideally, each group creates a strong group structure with very clear agreements about how things are to be handled, and builds a group culture that’s in alignment with that, so that when something like that comes up it can be handled in-house. Not so much a sweeping under the rug, but more of a, this is the most effective way to handle this. I look at that as compassion and effectiveness rather than secrecy.

Once a conflict spills out beyond the boundaries of one group, it becomes more problematic and more damaging as more gossip and more hearsay enters the fray.

Here’s an example of how a group leader is accountable not just to their own group, but to their local community.

I lead public rituals in Chicago, and slowly over time my leadership team and committed group members are beginning to form what I suppose you could call an inner court, or rather, a more stable group that could become a working group. I’m not teaching any one tradition, so that becomes a bit more challenging to define.

However, I take a lot of interest in the local Chicagoland Pagan community, I’m a resource for other groups, and I also teach and travel nationally. I do consider myself a servant of the broader Chicagoland community, and thus if people would have challenges with something I did, I feel that I’m accountable beyond just my own small group.

If someone’s in a position like I am, where I’m often a more broad resource, there’s even less of a specific way to offer feedback because the further out from me you go, the less people know me and the less they might feel comfortable offering me negative feedback.

Thus, we have the situation where people get so mightily pissed off that they use the only avenue they feel they have a voice on–they post publicly on Facebook, Yahoo groups, or talk loudly at events, because they feel powerless. They feel they have no recourse.

However, going back to feedback…when I get hatemail about my Environmental blog posts, it’s certainly not going to stop me from writing them. That’s feedback that I dismiss most of the time. If I had feedback about my leadership, I’d take it more to heart.

However, because of the lack of structure in the broader Pagan community or in a regional Pagan community, you basically have the passive aggressive problem where 1. people hate to offer small negative feedback, they only offer feedback when they are pissed, and 2. people offering me feedback would ultimately have to trust that I’m not going to come down on them like a ton of bricks and “excommunicate” them. The only way they can know that is if they get to know me and my ethics and my integrity.

Most of the time when I experience folks who are really frustrated, it’s because they either
1. have no method of offering feedback, or
2. feedback has been consistently discounted.

As I posted in previous blogs on this series, there isn’t really a good way to remove a leader who has acted consistently in a way that is detrimental. One exception within a group that has a legalized Not-For-Profit structure is if the bylaws provides for removing a group leader or group member for specific misconduct.

People in a local community might get really frustrated by the actions of one leader. However, there’s a fallacy that crops up. Let’s use the example of a Yahoo group or a Facebook group. People there will begin referring to the Chicago Pagan community, or whatever region.

And here’s the challenge–here is no such thing. There’s the hundreds of people on a Yahoo list or FB group. And there’s the vocal 10-20 people on any of those kinds of lists. But, those people do not comprise the whole of the community. There is no central place where that entire community gathers. Those vocal few are but a subset of a local community, but when those vocal few start butting heads, the quiet masses retreat. People say, “The ___ community is just a wreck, it’s terrible.” No, it’s not terrible, it’s just that the really vocal 10 people are being upsetting. You could do your own thing. But, those fisticuffs tend to neutralize any desire to build community because they are seen as “the” community.

There is no one community. There’s individual groups, and there are leaders, and cliques, and popular people. There are vocal people. But don’t ever mistake a group of vocal or popular people on FB for “the” community. There’s the idea of “Trial by Facebook” to get rid of a group leader, but there are hundreds of people who will never see it, never hear about that. Or, see it and never speak up. There is no community, there are communities. One of the great sins of FB and Yahoo groups is the illusion that the internet group IS the community. It isn’t. It just tends to be the vocal people who spend time on FB.

I have seen the several Pagan communities (ie, the interconnected individuals and groups) basically shatter because the primary local FB group had massive fighting on it, and many of the solitaries went back undercover, and several of the long-running groups stopped organizing because they couldn’t take the drama. Nobody’s willing to step in and do anything new, no individual is inclined to get involved, because of the explosion on a FB group of 10, maybe 20 people at most.

In a word, the verbal asshats demonstrate to all the people on the edges that drama and arguing is what community will ultimately lead to. The vocal people are seen as leaders, whether or not they are. And here’s the thing–sometimes the vocal people are genuinely pissed off for good reason. Maybe they’ve been seriously wronged. But in coming out in that forum, it’s not like a court of law where some judge will come down from on high and say, “Hmmm, yes, your Facebook post is more valid than Fred’s, you are right and this leader shall be taken down from their pedestal and banned.”

What happens is the urge of the truly wronged butts up against the urge of the egotists and narcissists and the “I cannot cope with being wrong or being shamed even if they are right” folks.

And there’s no way for someone on the edges to know the difference.

Thusly why trial-by-Facebook usually fails. There are only specific instances where it can work, and that’s rare. And typically requires people who have been egregiously harmed to stand together and tell their story truthfully. When that kind of evidence is seen as being consistent, and when the people telling the story have nothing to gain from a power play, that can change the situation.

It’s the deep need of the wronged to have their pain heard and witnessed, to have justice served, to offer feedback, that is why many Pagan groups blow up particularly online. This is very common in Pagan communities where there are a number of people frustrated with a situation where they feel they have no control.

One of the most common questions that I get when I teach Pagan leadership, involves people dealing with a local situation where someone’s doing something that they morally object to, or something similar, and they want that situation to stop, but they have no control over that other person.

We want to talk about the thing we didn’t like. We want to be heard. We want to be able to effect a change. And when we can’t, our frustrations mount.

The answer is pretty clear. If you want to have your own group be healthy, spend the hours it’ll take to set up a process of feedback. Find a way to accept anonymous feedback if need be. And find a way to deal with hearing that feedback. In my case, that’s exploring techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy so that I can separate “You did this thing I don’t like” with “You suck and I hate you forever and I want you to die.”

Learn how to give effective feedback. And then, teach your group members what effective feedback looks like. I’ll likely do more articles on that in the future, but a good place to start is the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: clergy, communication, community, community building, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, pagans, Personal growth, personal transformation

Your Outcome Card: Tarot Blog Hop

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I’m taking a break from my ongoing series on Grassroots Leadership to join the Tarot Blog Hop. In most Tarot readings there’s some kind of future or “outcome” card. The reader might pull a 3-card spread, a Celtic Cross, or some other format. The outcome card is, what is the outcome of this. Essentially, it’s the card that determines your future. However, I don’t really do predictive readings. I tend to work with Tarot more from a perspective of personal growth work. What do I need to understand about this issue? What do I need to understand about myself?

When I teach personal growth work, one of the things I want to do is empower people to reach for their dreams, their destiny, for what their soul truly desires. In essence, I want them to determine their own Outcome card, not have someone tell them what their destiny is. There is a tremendous power in each person really fully seeing, feeling, smelling, hearing, and articulating their own outcome.

But many people have a hard time doing this. In my work facilitating rituals, there’s a lot to learn about people and their basic tendencies. People have basic default learning modalities–visual, auditory, kinsethetic, and other intelligences such as emotional intelligence. There’s also folks who have an easy time articulating their future goals. I call them “Reachers For.” There’s also “Movers Away From,” folks who can only really articulate things in the negative. “I don’t ever want to be starving again,” “I don’t want to have a job that sucks,” “I don’t want to date someone like that again.” They have a tremendously difficult time articulating things like, they want to go back to school, or find a more passionate and loving relationship, or succeed in their career.

Sometimes, pulling an Outcome card for yourself or working with a Tarot reader who is doing a reading can help you to circumvent that nagging “You shouldn’t want this” voice. Or the “You don’t deserve this,” or even the deer-in-the-headlights freeze that happens. I sometimes ask people, “What do you want for your life?” And they just look at me blankly. Nobody has ever asked them that before.

Sometimes I ask people in a ritual, “What do you want?” and they burst into tears. Or they get angry at me. And that’s ok. Sometimes my job as a ritual facilitator is to be a catalyst, to help someone get to catharsis. Some other ritual facilitators I know asked that question, “What do you want? What makes you happy?” Some of the people in the ritual had a pleasant, happy experience.

At least half the participants started sobbing, and realized, they hated their jobs, their partners, their lives, their children, the whole mess of their life…this wasn’t what they’d ever wanted for themselves and now they felt stuck. In this case, it was a women’s ritual, and many of these women had been caretakers their whole lives and had never, ever been encouraged to ask for anything for themselves, to just do what was put before them, pressured to get married and have a family.

I’m a strong believer that if I want out of a situation, then I need to have a goal in mind. Now–I have no problems articulating my goals. However, focusing on them is occasionally difficult. Here’s an exercise I’ve used with groups to help all sorts of people articulate, and focus on, their goals and dreams.

At its essence, it’s creating a collage that is your Outcome card. Instead of pulling a card from a deck to tell you what your outcome is, you are going to create that for yourself. By its nature, this exercise helps to get you out of your head. It’s not writing out a to do list, it’s not articulating a plan. It’s just envisioning that future moment and creating a nonverbal, visual representation of it.

This is absolutely an exercise that you can do on your own at home if you have collage materials on hand. However, it’s also a really fun exercise as a group. The benefits of doing this as a group include access to more collaging materials if folks pool their resources (and possibly a trip to the craft store). There’s also the tremendous benefit of accountability. Often when I see someone finally able to articulate their vision and their dream, it helps to speak out loud what they want. Speaking that and having it witnessed helps to make it more real.

But first, let’s get to the actual activity.

Assuming you are doing this in a small group, I suggest planning for at least 2 hours, perhaps 3.  For a 2-hour event, I typically have the schedule something like:

  • Doors open 5:30 pm
  • Workshop begins 6:00 pm with introductions
  • Trance Journey/Meditation at 6:20
  • Collaging begins by 6:30 or so
  • Winding down at 7:30
  • Inviting people to share their piece, and their story around 7:45
  • 8:00 closing the gathering, but leaving the space open for people to stay and socialize, perhaps with potluck or snacks.

I encourage folks to come in early, because there’s a basic rule of thumb about facilitating personal growth activities like this. It takes people about an hour to 90 minutes to start feeling comfortable around new people. And this exercise tends to work better when people are willing to open up and share their stories. 

Vulnerability leads to catharsis. Catharsis leads to healing and transformation, and transformation opens the way to becoming who we want to become.

For the collage part of things, I stress that people do not need to create an amazing work of art. I even suggest that if people are professional artists, like I am, that they allow their work to be rough and not focus on it being perfect. To go with the mood instead of technical perfection. Later, when we share our pieces with each other, I stress several agreements. That we are not to talk about whether or not we like a piece or whether or not a piece is “good.” We can comment on physical reality. “I notice you used a lot of red.” “I notice you used the image of wings and light.”

ButterflySquareApples2Trance Journey
The trancework that I facilitate is ecstatic and extemporaneous, and so I’m not going to write a complicated meditation for you to read aloud to yourself or to others.

Actually, I don’t really think that scripts like that work very well. I see them as more of a guideline. The kinds of trance work that I do typically involve a lot of techniques like overlapping voices and sounds, rhythm, movement, and chanting, depending on how deep I’m trying to take a group. In fact, I’m about to start recording some of these journeys so that people can do them at home.

A rather effective technique to get a group into a trance state is to get everyone singing a tone together. Essentially, it’s chanting/droning “OM” but without stopping. Each person breathes when they need to, but the overall group keeps the sound going. Those who have musical skill can add a harmonic note, or you can also add in a singing bowl or two. You can actually have one person speaking words over that toning/droning sound, such as doing a guided meditation, and having people focused on making the sound and the sound itself takes people into a far deeper trance headspace than if you were just reading the meditation off the page.

Another effective trance technique is soft drumming. I highly recommend Layne Redmond’s frame drumming, or some other soft polyrhythmic drumming.

For trancework, asking questions is always more effective than telling someone what they are seeing or doing. Just like laying down and Outcome card tells someone what they “should” do, a guided meditation often tells people what they “should” do instead of opening them up to their deep wisdom. Instead of, “You walk along a path and you find yourself in a forest,” I simply ask questions.

“What path do you find yourself traveling? What does it smell like here, what sounds are around you? What does it look like, how do you feel?” I just ask questions and let them build the experience.

For the Outcome card, I’ll often ask, “What does it feel like to be who you are right now? What are your thoughts, your feelings?What do you know about yourself? What do you desire? What do others think of you? What do you fear? What do you feel?”

And then I take them back to the path. “Moving onward on that journey, you step into the future. You step into Who You Will Become. You step into the moment of victory when you have achieved the outcome you desire, when you have reached for your dream and it has reached for you. What do you feel in this moment of victory? How do you hold your body? What are the words you would say, what are the sounds you here? What do you think about yourself, and what do others think of you? What are your feelings, your desires?”

I’ll keep asking them questions building on as many senses as I can until I feel that they have really internalized the feeling. Then I’ll ask them to return to now, to this time, to this place, and to capture that moment of victory, that Outcome, on their pages.

Paper, Glue, and Glitter
Once  the glue comes out, I’m lucky if I hear anything but the occasional grunt from people, they get so intent into their work. It can help to keep the soft music playing to help people keep focus though. Some groups will be tempted to start chattering at that time, and there’s usually someone who starts complaining about things going on in their life. That tends to bring the group down quite a bit, and you want to keep the group focused on that moment of victory, that feeling, that sensation.

Typically at the beginning of the workshop I’ll ask people to hold silence while working on their collage card so that they can respect each other person’s work and help hold focus, and I tell them there will be plenty of time to talk at the end.

I find that a regular letter-size sheet is a good size for this project; too much larger and it’s more space than they can cover in a 2-hour workshop. 9×12 can work too.

Brigid8Finding Your Magic
This type of a collage process also works when I do workshops like finding your magic. Essentially, opening to creativity helps people to get past some of the roadblocks, that hamsterwheeling in our head that traps us in “I can’t,” or “I shouldn’t,” or “I don’t know where to start.”

If we can skip past all the logistics of “How” for just a moment, then we can begin to get enchanted and enraptured by that moment of victory, that moment of magic. In fact, the word I want to use isn’t just enchant, it’s seduce. We sometimes need that seductive, siren call of our dream, of our potential future, to call us out. To call us forward past the difficulties we might face while striving to reach for that dream. To give us the strength to go past their comfort zone.

Sometimes what keeps us from reaching for what we truly want–for what Joseph Campbell calls “following your bliss,” is the wounds of our past. Those wounds can have a fierce hold on us and can keep us from reaching, from risking. And from healing.

I often say that the symbolism of Tarot is similar in many ways to a dream–multilayered, multitextured, and deep. Similarly, when we work with trancework, and with the collages we create as part of that process, that imagery and symbolism is similarly deep and multilayered.

Looking back at our collages later, we might notice more things that we didn’t the first time around.

However, this is one of the other reasons why it’s valuable to do this exercise in a group. People will look at your pieces and notice colors or images that you used that you might not have realized you were focusing on. For instance, someone might point out how many vibrant red colors you use in your piece. That, in turn, might help you to realize how much you have been wanting romance in your life. It’s an oversimplified example, but you can see how people pointing out the obvious is sometimes very useful as part of this process.

Collaging an Outcome card isn’t going to heal all the wounds of your past or make the future come to pass. Each of us still has a lot of work to do. But being willing to envision the future, opening to the enchantment of that victory, that Outcome, can begin a song of healing. It can help us to take a moment of that future victory back in time with us, take that magic into us. The song and sensation of that future, that destiny, can heal us and help give us the strength to reach, even when it’s difficult.

Pulling an outcome card from a deck can still provide a lot of value if you’re looking for clarity in a situation. However, consider the additional power you can get from working to reach for your own outcome, your dream, your destiny.

There’s really only one question to ask. What do you want?

Continue reading more posts on Tarot and Creativity on the Tarot Blog hop:
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Filed under: Personal Growth, Ritual Tagged: Celtic Cross, outcome card, Personal growth, personal transformation, spiritual growth, Tarot

Conflict Resolution Part 6: Red Flags

86155_2332Here are the red flags that I observed about the problematic person I mentioned in Part 5 (and others in similar situations) that allowed me to paint a fairly accurate profile of how they were going to behave. You’ll really want to read at least Part 5 in the Conflict Resolution series, if not the whole set of articles, to get context for the profile of behaviors below.

Complaining
There’s a difference between offering a different opinion, and whining all the time. And then, when people offer that they are frustrated about the whining, backpedaling and profusely apologizing and making it about yourself. Sometimes there are people with that engineering mindset that challenge a group’s ideas about how to do something, and that doesn’t make them a bad person. Those folks can generally learn how to phrase things in a way that doesn’t come across as “You’re wrong” all the time. A constant whiner, or someone who never likes the group leader’s ideas but who never has any useful ideas to offer of their own. The pattern’s easiest to observe if the person is constantly tearing down the group leader’s ideas. If so, it’s possibly a power play, even if it’s unconscious.

Always Having Problems
The problematic individual in the group is always having problems. Now–it’s not to say that many people don’t go through struggles. However, this person never has gas money, never has time, computer is broken, is always sick. I’m not saying that someone who is broke and sick is always a red flag. Think of this as a mosaic; it’s one piece in the pattern. If the group leader points out, “If you’re sick, you don’t have to attend the meeting,” or “We can have you phone in if you can’t afford to drive,” and their response is either a swift turnaround, “No! Of course I’ll come,” or hostile, “Why do we always have to meet where you want to?” Those are both serious red flags.

It’s All About Them
This individual can make any conversation about them. Usually about their problems. Or, about how nobody listens to them. Or about how the group always goes with someone else’s idea. In particular, they will lay blame and ascribe particular motivations to people. “You guys don’t really care about my opinion, you always go with what ___ says.” They are willing to entertain any notion that it’s someone else’s fault, not that 1. their idea might be bad, or 2. the group decided to do something based upon the needs of the rest of the group without any malice toward this individual.

Victim Mentality
This person also typically approaches everything with a victim mentality. People are out to get them. In fact, they usually come into a group with stories about how they got kicked out of previous groups by jerky leaders. Do yourself a favor and check out their story, even if you don’t know those other group leaders yet. These folks will also frequently be cursed, hexed, under psychic attack, their boss is out to get them, their mother in law hates them, the man is always trying to stick it to them…you get the drift.

Pathetic Underdog
The goal of being pathetic is to get attention. People aren’t stupid, and we learn pretty quickly that there’s different ways to get attention, and one is to be pathetic. People like to caretake an underdog. The problematic individual in a group works to be so pathetic that they get their way. The group may come up with an idea ABC for an event, and the problematic individual hems and haws, and talks about how broke they are and can’t do it, or, about how nobody listens to them, or some other sob story. They work to be so pathetic that they not only get time and attention and cosseting from the codependent caretakers in the group, but, people go with their ideas.

Very Important Magical People
This person may pendulum swing from being the most pathetic person in the group who is always having problems, to a very powerful Witch. Either they know a lot about spellwork and hexing, or, they are desperate to learn powerful magic to control others. Often these are folks who have amazingly gained the skills to harm others with magic, or to psychically attack others. Also, they were powerful people in a past life. Or, they are a reincarnated Babylonian God. They can sink into a trance and get possessed by a deity without any effort, in fact, sometimes it causes them, you know, severe problems because the Gods are always trying to get into them. They aren’t responsible for it, it just happens, and then they aren’t responsible for their actions, of course.

No Therapy
When they are in victim mode talking about all their problems, some well-meaning person might suggest therapy to this person. “My therapist was trying to kill me,” they might say. Or, “My therapist wanted to commit me. I had to get away.” Some version of therapist/psychiatrist conspiracy theory conveniently leads to why this person is no longer on their medication. Now–here’s the challenge on this one. Certainly Pagans, as members of a minority spirituality, face discrimination including discrimination from psychological professionals.

Talking to gods and spirits, casting spells, sounds like a bunch of superstitious nonsense and for a therapist, that can be a red flag for schizophrenia, among other things.So certainly it’s possible, however, these days I don’t really hear many first-hand stories of Pagans who have had issues with therapists. I have heard of medical doctors and therapists trying to scare their patients who had chosen a polyamorous/ethical non-monogamous lifestyle, but no direct discrimination against Pagans.

The actual red flags in this are the paranoia of the psychological professionals being out to get the person, and the big red flag is “I’m not on my meds, I didn’t need them.” Again–none of these on their own are a reason to kick someone out of a group. But taken in concert, they paint a larger picture of someone who is going to consistently cause conflict in your group unless they get help. And–as I’ve pointed out over and over, you can’t fix anyone. You can take them to the door and offer to help, you can’t make them go through it.

Backstabbing and Gossip
This one probably is no surprise; this person is going to feel threatened by anyone in power, and they will either charge at them head on in meetings or online discussions to try and discredit them, but more commonly they will work behind the scenes to gain a coalition of people onto their side. They will trashtalk anyone to make themselves sound better.

Grandiose
This person also is usually the first to volunteer. If they have money, they often put forth money into the group, but it’s a donation with a catch. They donate money, and what they want is power and especially attention. There was one person I worked with who volunteered to bring in an expensive band from out of town for an event, but it had to be a band of her choosing, and she later used the band as a way to take the group hostage and to get people to do things the way she wanted. If the person is not financially abundant, they might take on a lot of volunteering roles.

An experienced group leader will see someone taking on a lot of volunteering not as a positive thing but as a red flag; very often, this is a sign that someone is trying to have attention paid to them. Because, 1. Volunteers are “good.” They are loved. And given that the problematic person has a huge core of self esteem issues, they need all the external love that they can get. 2. Their ideas get used. Nothing feels better to a person with poor self esteem than the illusion that people love them, and seeing their ideas take shape and the group working to make them happen can be a balm onto that gaping wound of self loathing. But it never lasts, because they aren’t healing that wound, just numbing it for a time.

Dropping the Ball
We all have things coming up in our lives, and sometimes we can’t meet the obligations we agreed to, and volunteer tasks usually get trumped by paid work, family, and health. However, someone who consistently drops the ball is a red flag. In fact, the Grandiose Volunteering is so very often followed by Dropping the Ball. It’s a one-two punch.

I should point out that I personally have been guilty of a number of these in my life. I used to volunteer to help out groups as a web designer and graphic designer. People didn’t like me, of course, I knew that. Nobody liked me, I was the outcast, the reject, the unpopular one. But they liked my artwork, they liked my web design. They liked that I helped.

Of course, I had said “yes” to way too many projects and got overwhelmed and dropped the ball. In fact, that’s something I still struggle with. But that’s the core difference here–the problem person we’re talking about is largely unaware that they are doing all of this. I’m here to tell you that some people, when made aware, can work to change their behavior. Relentless personal work and some therapy can go a long way.

Other folks, however, are not going to change. Or, not easily change.

Big Emotions and Oversensitivity
I posted a couple of blogs and links to articles about hypersensitivity. The problem person will typically have emotional reactions that are a few orders of magnitude outside of what is appropriate or reasonable. Again, they are always the victim, so they are always going to see that people are out to get them. So when someone suggests something that opposes what this person wants in the group, they are going to throw a big drama fit about it.

It’s emotional hostage taking, and it works. The codepedent members of the group will want to “fix” the agitated individual by caving to what they want. Codependent folks cannot stand big emotions. And that’s a whole separate set of dysfunctions, but you can begin to see the interplay of group dynamics and how someone as problematic as this type of individual can survive and thrive in a group even when they are causing so many obvious problems. People hate to kick out the underdog.

Sometimes you can catch this red flag early on by watching this person’s Facebook and Twitter posts or their blog entries. I know a few folks that, after reading their LiveJournal, I realized I would never, ever want to work with them, because they laid out enough red flags right there that I was pretty clear that working with them would be impossible.

This person is hypersensitive, defensive, and always has to be right. They can’t cope with being wrong and will either bully people into their point of view, or cry and be pathetic to “win” the argument.

Highly Creative and Disorganized
You are probably asking how this is bad. And–again, like any of these red flags, it’s not the whole picture. However, someone who constantly has big ideas, but is completely disorganized and cannot realize any of them, may not be the influence you want in your group, particularly if your group function is planning a festival or Pride event. This person tends to come up with huge ideas and start them, but not finish them. Their big ideas leave messes in other people’s laps.

Here’s where this flag becomes more obvious. This person gets kicked out of a local group, or gets dissatisfied. So they create their own group. Now–this could be a physical local group, or a Facebook group. Sometimes it’s a grandiose vision to create their own tradition, other times it’s a plan to create their own event. But then they vanish; they get sick, or are dealing with a chronic illness, or their computer broke, or…or….something always comes up.

Spiteful
The person tries to hide under the veneer of pathetic, but they actually come across as pretty spiteful if you watch. They will rarely have anything good to say about people with more power or creativity than them. They betray jealousy and anger in their comments about others. They gossip. They tear others down. Why? Well–let’s remember, these people have terrible self esteem. Tearing down is easier than stepping into responsibility for themselves and becoming the person they dream of being, the person who could lead a group and be successful and manifest their dreams. Instead, it’s easier to blame everyone else.

One-on-One Time
The problematic individual will take more of your time than every other member of your group. They will be hurt or upset by something someone said and need to be talked down a wall. Or they will message you all the time wanting to know what’s up, wanting to connect to you socially even though they don’t hold that role in your life. They will take umbrage at something you said and cry on the phone with you for hours while you comfort them. Or they will want to bounce some ideas off of you and take up still more of your time while they are looking for validation.

Summary, and Personal Growth
I’m going to let you in on a little secret; and, if you regularly read my blog, it probably won’t be much of a surprise. I, personally, have done many of the bad behaviors that I listed above. I’ve been a problem person in groups before, although it wasn’t my intention. I can honestly say that I wasn’t usually belligerent or spiteful, nor was I throwing big drama fits. I was never claiming to be a reincarnated Babylonian god. However, I was often the person who got heard by complaining. I’m the eager volunteer who dropped the ball.

Why? well, I had the worst self esteem you can imagine.

I came out of the public school system a suicidal self-hating mess. I was fat with acne and so stressed out that when I was 12 I pulled out half the hair on my head. It’s called Trichotillomania, and it’s a behavior that emerges as a coping mechanism for extreme stress. It took me years and years of personal growth work to get past a lot of these things. And, the old wounds don’t ever fully heal, in the sense that, I can’t go back in time and undo what happened to me. What I can do is decide that my life is going to be different going forward.

I’m really good at picking up these red flags because that’s how shadow works–we see the dark mirror of ourselves and our own bad behaviors in others. In fact, one of the best lessons (if painful) in personal growth is to observe the people around you and what annoys you about them. And then ask yourself, “Do I do that?”

Often enough, the things that annoy you in others are actually things you do that you secretly fear will annoy others.

Only once you acknowledge these things by looking in the mirror can you even begin to address those shadows. And I cannot encompass the entire process of shadow work here in these articles, though I can offer beginnings. T. Thorn Coyle writes eloquently about working to embrace and integrate our shadows. Or you can find a good Jungian therapist.

I often say that the secret to leadership–and to conflict resolution–is relentless personal work. I’m the poster child for it. I have worked to become a more whole person. Is my work done? Heck no. I have tons of issues. But I have come a long way. So I’m here to say that people who are engaging in the above harmful behaviors can change. It’s not pretty, and it takes a long time.

And many won’t. You can’t fix them. And if someone is engaging in consistent behaviors that is going to harm your group, you may have to ask them to leave, because otherwise, in a year you won’t have a group to build, it’ll implode or explode. And then you can’t help anyone.

More articles coming up in the leadership series, so stay tuned.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: clergy, communication, community, community building, impact, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, Personal growth, personal transformation, shadow work

Conflict Resolution 5: Don’t Bother

HPIM1977.JPGI touched on this a little in the previous 4 articles on Conflict Resolution and the rest of the leadership series. However, it’s worth stating more explicitly. Sometimes, it’s not worth bending over backwards to try and sheepdog people into a conflict resolution. Sometimes, people are just going to keep causing drama.

In fact, the very drama of trying to get them into a mediated session is the drama that they want. Usually these are the egomaniacs and unstable mentally ill people I’ve mentioned before. Typically they have no idea that they are literally bending situations to create even more drama.

Some people crave attention. Going back to the underlying needs addressed in Part 2, their need is for attention, to be seen and valued. However, they aren’t getting that need met, in part because their attempts to get that need met typically involve them being whiny, annoying, irritating, or belligerent.

Here’s a couple of quick examples of “Do not pass go,” followed by a longer profile of behaviors to watch out for.

Stuck In Mythic
So once upon a time, Person A was convinced that Person B hated him. “She came into the room, and when she saw me, she left.” I asked if he’d ever talked to Person B about it. “No, of course not. She hates me.” Despite several hours of working through the Four Levels of Reality tool to get him to Physical Reality, he could not separate his mythic reality. “I just know she hates me.” He wasn’t open to me talking to Person B to find out, he wasn’t open to a mediation session, he was just convinced that Person B hated him. And in fact, suspected that many other people hated him.

In this instance, despite a lot of effort to work with Person A, who was motivated to help and be part of the group, it turned out that Person A had a number of issues. He was diagnosed Bipolar and not in any treatment, he had been abusing his partner (spitting on her, choking her, verbally and emotionally abusing her), and he had been repeatedly hitting on women in the group, or staring at their chests. I also discovered that he’d been kicked out of two previous groups for being belligerent and he had problems with female authority figures.

As I’ve said before, I always want to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but, I also have to be realistic. With treatment for his Bipolar and a few years of therapy, he could be a functioning member of a group, but he’s way past my pay grade. The primary red flag in this situation that led to me understanding all the rest was that you couldn’t talk this guy down off a wall. Once Person A was convinced of his Mythic Reality, no amount of Physical Reality would sway him. If you spend several hours talking to someone and they just can’t wrap their brain around the idea that their version of The Truth isn’t set in stone, that’s a big red flag.

Stuck in Mythic plus Antisocial Personality Disorders
Person A was convinced that Person B was out to get him–same scenario as above. He’d dealt with her before in a previous group and she had betrayed him and others. After spending several hours with Person A trying to get him to articulate what Person B had done in terms of Physical Reality (ie, taking him through the Four Levels of reality and out of Mythic and Emotional space and into Physical Reality) he literally could not articulate what Person B had done. “If Person B is there, bad things happen. Person B will betray people. Person B is a sociopath.”

Now–here’s the rub on this one.

Person A is going to consistently cause group conflicts because they literally cannot get out of their own Mythic Reality. They are stuck in their own story of other people’s motivation. However–in this particular instance–Person B really was a sociopath. You might begin to see why conflict resolution is so difficult. Often times, both parties enmeshed in a conflict are escalating things and making it worse.

In this particular example. Person B had done such a number on me by playing the victim that I allowed her into leadership positions in my group, ultimately giving her the leverage she needed to help build a coalition against me. There were other factors, including my former partner, but this led to the complete implosion of that particular group. If I’d understood the red flags for the Antisocial personality disorders and Person B’s behavior, she’d never have gained a foothold in the group.

Rule of thumb: If someone can’t articulate things in terms of Physical Reality, despite four hours (yes, four hours) of discussion on the matter, this is probably someone who is going to continue causing conflicts because of their paranoia and being stuck in mythic reality.

However, here’s a caveat. Sometimes the inability of Person A to put their finger on what Person B did may actually be a flag for Person B having one of the major personality disorders, like Narcissistic or Borderline Personality Disorder, or being a sociopath. All of those fall into the “Antisocial personality disorders” and you will never regret learning more about those. Once you know some of the flags for them, it can help you keep your group healthier.

If you have someone in your group who has one of the antisocial personality disorders, it may be extremely difficult for other group members to put their finger on exactly what is wrong, what that person did. This is in part because people with any of the major antisocial personality disorders are extremely good at manipulation. They twist people around and if you aren’t familiar with the red flags, you’ll get caught up in it. Heck, even when I do know the red flags, it’s still hard to unravel the knots on what’s happening.

Personality Profile: Problematic Group Member
Below is an extended example of red flags of a problematic individual that many of you may recognize in your own groups. Starhawk would call them the “Power Under” person. This is the person that is repeatedly causing group conflicts. I’m not going to say there is no help for this person, however, the likelihood of any conflict resolution is pretty limited. If someone is on the extreme end of these red flags, I might skip the attempt to do conflict resolution entirely and just skip to the end game and kick them out of my group.

That’s harsh, and it’s something I would only do in extreme situations, but sometimes, the game of the problem-causer is to create further drama by drawing you into a process of conflict resolution. Sometimes, the only way out is to hold a boundary and say “No” and end the cycle of drama.

Scenario:
Some folks I know in a semi-rural area are working to create a coalition of local groups. Sort of a unity council. They all live about 2-3 hours apart, but they’ve seen how hard it is to run events and try to attract people to come to rituals and put things on when there are just so few Pagans in any one area. However, if they band together and go to Town A for one sabbat, Town B, for another, and Town C for the next…you get the picture. They can share resources, not have to run all the rituals themselves, get helpers…it’s a good idea.

Of course, you can also see the challenges organizing over that big of a distance. One of the group members early on started whining a lot. She’d complain on the group page. She didn’t like the logo that one member had designed. She frequently complained that even when this coalition met closer to her side of the state, she still had to drive 45 minutes and she couldn’t afford it. She frequently complained that people weren’t listening to her ideas.

The person who is in the role of the organizer of this merry band has spent hours and hours and hours talking to the group member with the problems. In fact, I spent several hours talking to that group member on the main organizer’s behalf, since I know all the parties involved.

When the group opted to meet at the central town’s location, which was even further from the complainer’s location, the group member (unsurprisingly) complained about that, and how they always had to drive. The main organizer pointed out that people from her town had been doing most of the driving so far, and it was only fair to bring things central. Further, they were still trying to get people involved who were even further away, and that would require driving to that side of the state at times.

Some of you will be unsurprised that ultimately, the complainer left the group in a huff.

Cutting the Cancer
Now, I knew this would happen long before it did. In fact, the group organizer and I spent a fair amount of time discussing how to handle this particular complainer. She, and many other group organizers facing someone like this, want to hear how they can help that person become involved without them being a major pain in the ass. This person meant well! She volunteered for things, she wanted to see better resources for her community.

However, she also was completely the source of her own problems. She was causing the very things that were distancing her from the group, and making her feel less and less heard, making her act out more. Again, it goes back to those needs, and ultimately, to our issues, particularly around self esteem. It’s a vicious cycle.

What I’ve told to many organizers dealing with someone like this is, you’re going to have to kick them out of the group sooner, rather than later, if their behaviors are that disruptive and they are not receptive to any feedback. In this particular case, the small group of leaders was new, and having to kick someone out could have devastated their momentum. When a group is new and unsure, dealing with a major group dynamics issue can be the kiss of death. People get too angry and frustrated and bail after a big conflict.

Delay the Inevitable
You can delay how long it takes for someone like this to throw a big fit by focusing attention on them, praising them frequently, and bending over backwards to give them important-sounding tasks that they enjoy and then praising them for doing that work. And–for that matter–though I might sound dismissive when I say that, as a leader, that’s sometimes the work I have to do with group members who are not that disruptive. Some people have poor self esteem and need a little bit of extra handholding. Some group members can work their way out of the whiny power-under place.

But that’s not the type of person I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the person that no attempts at skillful leadership on your part will help. In my own leadership hubris, I’ve worked with folks like this and though, “But I know all this stuff about leadership. I can ‘fix’ them, I can help them see how they are the source of their own problems.”

With some folks who just have poor self esteem and need to build some confidence, you can. For someone who has way more red flags and is more disruptive, you can’t. It’s above your pay grade, and the sooner you recognize that, the less time you’ll invest into someone who can cause a major blow up in your group.

However–with someone like this, the longer they are in the group, the more likely they are to build a coalition against the primary leader, or anyone whom they perceive as a threat. I liken it to a cancer. You can cut off a finger, or you can cut off a hand, or you can lose a whole limb. When you kick someone out of a group it’s always disruptive and painful, but if you do it sooner rather than later, it’s less disruptive.

Red Flags
Of course–this means you have to understand the differences between someone who can change their behavior, and someone who is way above your pay grade. Ie, someone who is not going to change. I’m not going to tell you this is easy. And as I’ve said so often before–good grief do I wish that I had more capacity to help the people who are acting out in this way. Because, I believe that many of them can be helped with time, patience, pastoral counseling, therapy, and love. And if our group leaders had better training, and infinite time and infinite resources, we could help some of these folks.

But sometimes, my job is to create a stable group so that in 5, 10, 20 years, that group does have the resources and the training to help people like this. A group that is strong and sustainable can actually handle someone more problematic. A newer group with leaders without a lot of training doesn’t have a chance.

Description of the red flags for this particular group member/type got long enough that that will be Part 6.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: clergy, communication, community, community building, impact, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, Personal growth, personal transformation, shadow work

Conflict Resolution Part 4: At the Table

8240974_xxlNow that we’ve talked about a lot of the underlying causes of conflicts and the needs beneath them, lets talk about the actual process of trying to resolve a conflict between two or more people in some kind of mediated session.

 

By the time a conflict has gotten to the point where people are pissed off and not speaking and it’s a struggle to get them into a room with each other, your chances of positively resolving the conflict are pretty low, which is why the rest of the series of articles focuses on understanding conflict and unraveling it before it gets that far.

Now, there’s lots of different ways of getting people to the table. A mediation is different in some ways from a facilitated session where you, as the group leader, have the power to render a judgment and kick someone out of a group. It helps to understand what type of conflict resolution session you’re engaging in.

Agreements
First, before there’s ever a conflict, it helps if the group has an agreement for conflict resolution. I’m amazed at how many groups have no behavioral agreements at all, much less an agreement about what behavior would lead to a mediated session. Such as, if 2 people have an issue and can’t resolve it, they must go to one of the 2 mediators established by the group. If this is a conflict between two sovereign group leaders, there’s no such hierarchical commandment that they must follow, but let’s assume for the moment that the agreement exists within a group and that the parties involved must agree to the mediation or resign from the group. Or, that the people in question are reasonable enough to agree to a mediation.

Discovery
Thus, the first step is, you learn about the conflict. You will have the tendency to “side” with the person you know best, or, the person whose side you heard first. I’ve heard this called Polarizing, and it’s pretty common. It’s why in a community conflict people rush out to tell people their side first; we seem to instinctively know that people believe the first person they hear. We will also tend to “side” with the underdog, or the person who portrays themselves as the underdog. (Keep in mind that the one who comes across as the victim, isn’t always the victim.)

Don’t get mad at yourself for the instinct to take a side. Just acknowledge that yup, there you are falling for the polarizing thing. And then, work to gather more data and understand the whole situation. Just be aware of your instincts and whenever you find yourself taking a side, question it thoroughly. Interview all the parties involved. Try to do this in person, because you can learn a lot from body language, but, sometimes Skype or email are the only way to go for the data gathering, particularly if the parties live far away.

You’ll be doing a lot of listening. And fact checking. You want to understand those underlying needs. And, though your job as a mediator isn’t necessarily to lay blame (or, for that matter, to be someone’s therapist), understanding what happened is crucial. It’s important to understand if one of the parties is blatantly lying, because that impacts the next steps.

Lying
If you catch one of the parties in big, blatant, or consistent lies, it’s unlikely the conflict resolution is going to have any kind of positive outcome. I hate to be a Debbie Downer about that, but if one of the parties can’t be truthful, that’s a pretty big red flag. I’ve been in a mediated session (I was one of the two parties, not the mediator) when the other party began lying to gain the sympathy of the mediator. At the time, I didn’t know he was lying; he was talking about how his mother was dying of cancer and he was going to have to leave town in order to be with her.

So sometimes the lies aren’t necessarily easy to suss out; a chronic liar is usually a pretty good liar. Some of us have the instinct to sniff out a lie, some of us don’t. One of the best ways to suss out a liar is to get them to tell you about some things that someone else said, and then actually follow up and talk to that other person. You’d be surprised how many lies become clear when you take the direct approach.

One of my biggest pet peeves in any conflict is the “Well, people told me that they hate what Person B is doing.” “Who is people?” I ask. “Well, I can’t tell you that, they don’t want me to give their names.” In most cases, I ignore this as any kind of useful evidence. Sometimes, a liar will give out names if I pressure them, assuming that nobody would be direct enough to actually contact those people.

And the house of cards falls apart when you do, indeed, contact those folks. That’s why investigation is important, because you need to understand the story beneath the story.

Abuse
Another red flag is abuse. In so many cases, there isn’t enough evidence, it’s Person A said, Person B said, however, sometimes there were witnesses and there’s a consistent pattern of behavior. In a situation like that, particularly involving physical abuse, your services as a mediator aren’t really what’s required–getting the victim out of the situation is. Oddly enough, it’s often the victim, who is stuck in the codependent spiral, who is trying to make the mediation happen so that they don’t have to acknowledge that it’s time to leave the relationship. The mediation is actually a stalling tactic on the victim’s part.

This is one of those areas that starts to stretch beyond my pay grade, but if I tend to look at my “job” in an instance like this as the same obligation that a therapist has. A therapist holds the things shared with them as confidential, unless they learn of someone’s intent do do themselves or another harm. If I feel that someone is in danger, then it may indeed be my obligation to involve the police, or help the victimized party get out of that situation. This is an extreme situation, and honestly, this is why I wish I had more training.

I’m not going to go into the nuances of what you should do in this situation as that’s a whole post on its own, and in this case, if I stumbled into something like this, I’d probably ask the advice of Selena Fox or someone else who has far more pastoral counseling training than I personally have.

Getting People to the Table
Making the assumptions that while there’s gnashing of teeth, there’s no blatant lying, and there’s no risk of escalating physical abuse, once you have gathered all the info you can, your job is to get the affected parties into a room together. Now–depending on the nature of the conflict, this meeting might involve a larger group, or, just two people. A larger group might be warranted if two members of a coven are fighting, and have been fighting in a way that has been disruptive to the whole group or involved the whole group. Or, if there’s a complicated family dynamic with multiple injured/angry parties.

However, what I’d suggest is that you try to first meet with the core affected parties, and meet with as few of them as possible. Often the primary conflict boils down to just two people. The reason to meet with them alone is pretty simple; people will put on a bigger show with an audience, and will be less likely to be vulnerable, less likely to back down. If you can actually get the two main parties to listen to each other, and communicate, and open up, then they can resolve their issues with each other first without any group shaming going on, or perception of group shame.

Remembering those underlying needs, and shadows, always keep in mind how people’s egos and self identity will drive their actions. The poorer someone’s self esteem, the more they will be driven by wanting people to have a “good” opinion of them. The perception of loss of status is tied into our ego identity and people will dig in their heels, even if they know they are wrong, rather than face the perception of the group shaming them for being wrong.

Example: The Core Components
I was once asked to do a conflict resolution process for a family in a dispute. Once I started gathering information about this particular dispute, I realized what a mess it was, though the dispute followed a fairly logical escalation. The person who asked me to intervene had been subject to the “I’m not speaking to you” end game by the other party and wanted to find a way to keep the communication door open. She wanted me to meet with the whole family in a mediated session to address the issues of the “Black Sheep” family member.

Except…as the information unraveled, the nature of the conflict became clearer to me that it was really a conflict between two primary players, and everyone else was just caught up in the fallout. Neither one of those players was going to back down in front of the rest of the family, so to address anything, I was going to need to get the two of them alone in a room together.

That’s about as far as I got in the info gathering process before one of the parties pulled the plug on the mediation.

Is it Mediation or a Judgment?
Now–I’m using the terms mediation here, and I should clarify that I’m painting with big brush strokes. It’s perhaps more accurate to say that sometimes I’m negotiating a conflict; if I were a true mediator, I would have no stake in the conflict. If I’m a group leader facilitating a session for two other group leaders, I still have a stake in it because I want things to go well.

Similarly, if I’m a group leader facilitating a mediated session for two of my group members, it might be more accurate to call me an arbiter or even a judge, because I will at some point be rendering a decision. A mediator is just there to make a safe space to listen and gets out of the way, letting the two parties come to terms with gentle guidance. If I’m a group leader, it may ultimately come to me to render a decision that one or more of the parties might get asked to leave the group, for instance.

And yes, that can be a wrenching decision particularly in Person A said, Person B said, when you don’t have all the data. In that case, I tend to make my decision based upon how people act within the process of the conflict resolution itself.

However, I am more than happy to render a decision based on people’s behavior during the mediation process itself. How we act when we are under stress tells a lot about us. And if someone turns into a raving jerk, I may realize that that person really wasn’t a good fit for my team in the first place.

Mediators, Arbiters, and Power Dynamics
You should be aware of how the power dynamic shifts depending on your role. If you’re a group leader arbitrating a dispute, then you have a dog in the game. The people involved in the conflict will feel more pressure to be believable, for you to be on their side, since you have power to make a decision about their involvement. So they may feel more pressure to lie, for instance, or fib. Whereas, the idea with a mediator is that this person has no power to render a decision, and thus, is a safe place to vent about what happened.

In many cases a mediation will be between two parties who have a vastly different power dynamic. For instance, and employee and employer, or, a coven member and coven leader, in which case, a neutral mediator is really important, since the person without power has to feel that they will be heard. The mediator also has to have enough respect that the person with power is willing to come to the table and listen and not just brush this off as their group member whining.

In a dynamic like that, your job as the mediator is probably (depending on the situation) to help the powerless person have a voice with someone who may not be willing to listen. On the other hand, part 4 of the conflict resolution series deals with when the underdog is the problem person in the group. More on that later.

Conflict Resolution and Communication
Essentially, your job as a mediator, negotiator, or arbiter, is to unravel the truth as best you can, and to get people to listen to each other. You’re trying to help them hear each other. Sometimes, what one person is saying sounds like “Wa wa, wa wa, wa wa wa” to the other person for various reasons.

It could be that they each have a different primary learning modality, or that they are the exact personality types on the Enneagram that shouldn’t work together.

Here’s a few examples.

Jumping to Conclusions
Let’s say that the conflict in this case is that Person A believes Person B hates them and is out to get them. When you have interviewed the various parties, the best you can understand is that Person B is a little annoyed by Person A, in large part because Person A is so defensive all the time. However, Person B doesn’t hate Person A.

Now, here’s a pickle, because ultimately the conflict is resolved by convincing Person A that Person B doesn’t hate them. However, future conflicts are kept from happening if Person A realizes that their own behavior is exacerbating things and that they are jumping to conclusions. So really, this is Person A’s nightmare; nobody is that defensive without self esteem issues, and to find out that people are irked at them, annoyed by them…major blow to the ego.

The Four Levels of Reality tool that I’ve mentioned before is a big helper here to help Person A to understand that Person B doesn’t hate them. But, a further commitment to personal growth work or therapy is ultimately going to help Person A be a healthy part of the group. And perhaps that’s outside of the scope of a mediated session, but it’s part of the process of longer term conflict resolution in a group.

What Did You Say?
Another example is when people just are failing to communicate. In one instance, I was asked to facilitate a board meeting of a group that just wasn’t on the same page. The group leader was strong, ambitious, a little harsh, definitely a control freak, and motivated by a drive to be a professional. She had been putting in long hours to run events on her land, and she wanted people to step in and help, but her volunteers always seemed to drop the ball. One volunteer in particular wanted to help with things like the newsletter, but she blew deadlines and failed to get things done. She had great ideas and was highly motivated on the idea level, but she had terrible follow through. Basically, the two of them were a personality match made in hell.

When this group leader sent out long emails about her ideas for future events to the board email list, she would hear nothing back from the board, and she would sit there and wonder if anyone cared and fume and get frustrated and sad.

Let’s look at the group’s side. They had volunteered their time to make the event happen, but then the group leader became a task master and was demanding more from them than they felt they agreed to. She wanted regular meetings which they had to fit into their schedule, and she sent out long emails that they didn’t have time or patience to read. Or, the emails seemed like the group leader had things in hand, so they didn’t feel they needed to response.

They had no idea the group leader was looking for a response from them.

So what I said was, “Can you guys hear that Group Leader needs more feedback from you guys, that even if all you have time to type is ‘Yeah, that sounds great,’ that that is what she’s looking for?” And they nodded and understood. They hadn’t realized that was what was needed.

And then I said to the group leader, “Can you hear that your group is a little overwhelmed by all the communication and structure you are throwing at them? That they may not have stepped into the level of volunteering that you are asking of them? Can you work to make more space for what they have time for, and to listen to their needs?”

And she understood that. It hadn’t really occurred to her that she was asking too much, given that for years she had taken on the entire task of putting on the event. I pointed out that she was a driven, motivated individual and this event was her baby, but just because she wanted it and was willing to put in the 80 hour week, didn’t mean that everyone else was, and that she had to downscale what she was expecting of her volunteers.

I also pointed out the obvious tension, that the group members were always on edge, waiting for the group leader to snap at them. That the group members wanted to help, but they were also afraid of how angry the group leader seemed to get. However, I also pointed out that some of the group members were not meeting the obligations they had agreed to, and that this had caused stress for the group leader.

Basically, as a neutral party, I was able to communicate a lot of the subtext messages in a way that took the tension out and helped them look at it not as the two sides in conflict, but as outsiders, so they could see how they got into the spaghetti snarl and how they could find their way out.

If you really want to learn how to mediate disputes, I highly recommend getting training in Nonviolent Communication. Restorative Justice Circles are another method, and many areas offer classes in mediation training, though the rub is you’ll have to pay out of pocket in order to get training that you then won’t be able to charge for. Don’t worry; I have a longer series of posts addressing leadership, fundraising, and money coming up.

When You Shouldn’t Bother
I’ll offer an example of many of the behaviors of a problematic individual who will cause repeated conflict in your group in Conflict Resolution Part 5.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: clergy, communication, community, community building, impact, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, Personal growth, personal transformation, shadow work

Conflict Resolution 3: Is it Resolvable?

12653654_xxlWhen a conflict resolution works it’s a great thing. However, the reason I started out the leadership series by talking about unsolvable conflicts, and in specific, talking about intractably bad leaders who are egomaniacs, jerks, or who have major untreated mental illnesses…is because with anyone in these categories, it doesn’t matter if you are a master at conflict resolution. Nothing is going to heal that conflict. Nothing is going to change someone who isn’t aware and willing to change.

Love, Listening, and Boundaries
There is a power–an extreme power–in listening. In letting someone talk about why they are upset, in hearing them. Sometimes someone who seems like an intractably bad KnowItAll  can come to understand what they did and do, reflect on their behavior, and work to be better.

Some people have literally never had anyone just listen to them. Compassion and love and support can also heal some of those old wounds that lead to behavior. Another toolset that I’m less familiar with, but that I know has had a tremendous positive impact, is the form of the Restorative Justice circle.

Pagan author Crystal Blanton facilitates these when she teaches at festivals, and she uses them in her workplace. You might do a little digging around in your area via Google to see if there are any ways to experience or learn how to facilitate Restorative Justice circles. One of the hallmarks of an “RJ” circle is listening. The idea is to pass the  talking stick/stone/object around and get people to talk, and, to get people to listen.

There is a tremendous power in being heard when you’ve never felt like anyone listened to you or cared what you thought. Sometimes that’s all that someone wants in a conflict–to feel that their voice is heard.

There’s a tremendous power in hearing the pain of the other party. When people yell at each other over a computer screen, or through a third party who’s been triangled into the drama, they aren’t always hearing and sitting with and feeling compassion for what the other party is going through.

If you can actually get people to sit together and speak their pain and be vulnerable, that’s half the work right there, and sometimes just the act of them speaking and listening unravels the conflict.

However, it’s a knife’s edge of balance. I want to listen to what someone’s going through. And I want to give someone the time and space to heal and to do better, but I also need to understand when I’m spinning my wheels with someone and just giving them more opportunities to hurt me and my group. After repeated work with someone showing them compassion and giving them opportunities to make a different choice, sometimes it is time to hold a boundary. Sometimes, the answer is, “No, you can’t be a part of this group/event/community any longer.”

Mediation
I do wish this historically worked better in the Pagan community. I’ve agreed numerous times to be a mediator for several disputes, and I’ve very, very rarely been taken up on the offer.

As I mentioned in Conflict Resolution Part 1, typically there’s one party interested in mediation, and the other party refuses. To recap, most of the time when someone refuses mediation, that’s a big red flag for me. If they aren’t willing to sit down at the table and talk things out, then there’s probably no resolving the conflict anyways.

The exception to this is if someone has been abused, for instance, and the abuser is trying to use mediation as a method to re-engage the cycle of abuse with their victim. If someone has been abused and refuses mediation because they have cut their abuser out of their life, that’s a different situation.

In almost any other case, the “I’m not speaking to you” tactic is unfortunately a death knell to the possibility of any future healing. No conversations can happen, no agreements can be made, no needs can be explored. At that point there is just stewing and no way to resolve the tension.

It festers like a big boil under the skin with no way to lance it.

Sometimes I have been taken up on my offer to mediate, but sometimes the end result isn’t what the parties had in mind. Sometimes the end result is, “Yup, you guys are really a terrible mix, personality wise, and you probably shouldn’t work together.” What people want is the perfect, pretty result, and that isn’t always possible. Sometimes the result is that some folks are just a bad combination, and the pressure cooker of working together to plan rituals or events or put out a newsletter is going to continually cause a conflict.

But I Heard Mediation Doesn’t Work
The only thing that’s worse than someone refusing mediation, though, is unskillful mediation. There’s a number of situations I’ve heard of where someone was used as a mediator who wasn’t at all skilled, or who was clearly biased, and that situation managed to cause a further rift. What makes this one worse is that then everyone sees that “Oh, mediation didn’t work,” and then they don’t want to employ mediation in the future.

Or, someone who didn’t like the outcome of the mediation, will talk about how mediation is biased. When, it wasn’t biased, it just didn’t go their way.

Like with many things, the story of bad mediations gets more elaborate with every telling. The game of “telephone” can create quite an epic rumor of how terrible mediations are. Not every regional community has had something like this happen, but in some regions, because of past drama, mediation is not even seen as an option.

Trash Talking the Mediator
A bad scenario is when one gets so upset that they begin to trash talk the mediator. And yes, this does happen. The idea of mediation is that the mediator is an outside party without a “dog in the game,” so to speak. In the Pagan community, I often clarify that I am not a true mediator, because we have too much “It’s a small world” syndrome, but that I will try to come in as unbiased as I can. And there’s a benefit to having a mediator who at least understands the local politics without an hours-long history lesson.

However, the disadvantage is that if one of the parties involved gets disgruntled enough–or, if they were genuinely unstable to begin with–they may try personal attacks against the mediator. At that point it usually becomes pretty clear how the original conflict exploded in the first place, but it can cause entirely new rifts. This is why I’ve heard a number of Pagan elders say, “No way am I getting in the middle of that.” Because, they know that one of the “end games” is to try and draw in the mediator.

Too Much of a Soft Touch
Another mediation failure is when the mediator doesn’t ask the hard questions. I know of one mediation where the mediator basically seemed to just listen to the two parties talk to each other.

One party felt aggrieved and took the lead, cowing the second person into apologizing, when the situation was actually far more complicated. The aggressive person used the mediator to make the second person look like the aggressor. It’s grade-A manipulative and abusive behavior, and a mediation is supposed to provide a safe space.

While it’s true that a mediator is in general supposed to help the parties in conflict solve their own problems, there’s also a point where a mediator needs to step in and ensure a safe space for both parties. I’d offer that it’s really tricky some times to suss out abusive and manipulative behavior, particularly with people who play the victim in other to manipulate others. This is why it’s important to gather data ahead of time from multiple different perspectives.

You want to give people space to work out their problems, but you don’t want to let one party steamroll the other. A lot of mediators express that they are afraid to be perceived as taking sides, but bad behavior needs to be called out in a mediation session or you’ve just lost all your safety agreements.

In Part 4, we’ll look at some actual mediation and arbitration processes.

Meanwhile, here’s a short article on projection (ie, projecting our inner landscape onto exterior people/events) from an excellent weekly facilitation newsletter I subscribe to. http://facilitatoru.com/blog/training/what-are-you-projecting/


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: clergy, communication, community, community building, impact, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, Personal growth, personal transformation, shadow work

Conflict Resolution 2: Understanding the Need Beneath the Action

4290805_lNonviolent Communication (or NVC), and other tools I work with, are about understanding the need that underlies the action. If I can understand why someone just did a really mean thing, I can understand why, and we have an opportunity to resolve it.

It’s still not okay to be a jerk to someone, but, without knowing why it happened and why, we can’t even get at a forward momentum for resolution, everything we do will just be rehash.

Nonviolent Communication is a technique that I frequently use. The book by the same name by Marshall Rosenberg is an excellent resource. The tool does have a bit of a learning curve, but it’s especially useful if many people in a local community are working to learn and practice it.

In the Conflict Resolution Part 1, I focused a lot on conflict avoidance. I have found that the simple strategy of “when, not if” helps tremendously. Not looking at it as, if a conflict happens, but when. That tends to lower the stress level around addressing the conflict, because I’m not looking at it from the squeamish perspective of, “Maybe I can get out of addressing this.” It’s more, “When will I choose to address this?”

Because that conflict is not going to go away. What you have to do first is understand the nature of the conflict to determine how to address it.

Person Causing the Drama
The person who’s frustrated and whose needs aren’t being met is likely to consistently keep beating their head against the wall engaging in ineffective strategies to try and meet those needs.

Effective strategies is a keyword here. A lot of the process of therapy is centered around trying to reprogram ourselves to stop engaging in ineffective strategies and harmful coping mechanisms, and move towards actual effective strategies to meet our needs.

But first, we have to understand what our needs are, and acknowledge them. And we have a lot of cultural shame around certain needs. For instance, the need for sex. I probably don’t need to go into the cultural shame around this. A more complicated need is the need to be unique, to be seen and valued, to be special. But we’re told as kids, “Children should be seen and not heard,” we’re told to not want the spotlight, to not be selfish like that. You can see where our genuine needs come into conflict with societal morals and shaming.

Digging Deep: What do we Need?
My mentor Cynthia Jones at Diana’s Grove came up with an astrological model of human needs based on the 12 signs of the zodiac. I took her work as presented in a workshop, and formatted it into a visual graphic. It’s not about “what’s your sign,” it’s that each of us has all 12 signs, all 12 needs, it’s just that we have them in different weights and measures. It’s a useful metaphor to understand different categories of human needs. And these needs are normal.

However, when we learn that a certain need is “bad,” that creates a shadow. We hate the part of ourselves that needs that. And so we hide it, we lock it away. So there’s that basic human need many of us have for sex and for pleasure. Basic human need, right? But how much shame do we have out of wanting pleasure? How many of us blush about talking about sex, or try to hide the fact that we masturbate?

Needing sex isn’t bad…it’s when we end up harming others out of our attempts to get that need met that it’s a problem. Like, lying about your life to pick someone up in a bar, or cheating on a partner, or seducing a student.

Compassion for Needs
Understanding people from the perspective of a whole constellation of needs that we each have becomes a useful tool in groups to identify where a behavior that’s harmful to the group was sourced by someone’s genuine human need.

An example is the woman I mentioned in the last conflict resolution blog post, the one who wanted to be seen as “The Writer.” She had a genuine human need to be seen and valued for work she did well. That wasn’t bad. What was bad was that her attempt to be seen and valued for that was expressed by her attacking me in meetings.

Understanding someone’s need–even if they were a jerk to me–gives me compassion for them. I can then actually work with them to find a better strategy to meet their need.

However, there’s also a point where someone hits what I call the three strikes rule. If someone continues to be a jerk, even if we’ve had a “this isnt’ working” conversation a few times, then I may need to cut my ties and stop working with them, or if they are participants in a group I’m leading, I may need to ask them to leave the group. Some people are beyond my pay grade. Some people are not able to be self reflective and see their behavior and how they are harming others. And others may see it, but be unable (at least at this time) to change that behavior.

I will, in almost instances, give someone the opportunity to shift their behavior. But if they don’t, then my compassion for them trying to meet their needs has a limit. Just because someone’s trying to meet a genuine need doesn’t mean it’s ok for them to harm me, or my group. Again, I have compassion for people who are frustrated trying to meet a need. But, if they are continuing to be a jerk, willfully so, that’s where I hold a boundary.

Realism in Conflicts
This is a bit of a bummer, but it’s really relevant. Not all wounds can be healed. What I mean is, there isn’t always a pat “Kumbaya” moment where the perpetrator of an abusive situation breaks down and realizes how wrong they were, and goes into therapy to change their life, and the people who were harmed smile and forgive them and it all works out.

Life isn’t that clean.

Worse, I think, are the moments when the perpetrator of an abuse breaks down and begs forgiveness, promises to change, and then people accept them back into their lives for another round of eventually declining behavior and future abuse until they end up in the same situation, or worse.

I’ve been the victim in that situation before. I’ve taken a repeat abuser back into my life. It’s really easy to do. Even with all the personal growth work that I’ve done, and the leadership work that I teach, it can be hard to discern if someone is going to actually change their behavior, or if they aren’t.

Self Transformation
I am an optimist, and at first, I will give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and I believe in people’s ability to change themselves, transform themselves. I have transformed myself, and I’ve witnessed others do the same. It’s a beautiful thing, and people are beautiful and deserving of second chances.

Some people are genuinely just going through a rough time in their lives. I know I’ve lashed out in some nasty ways when I was going through a terrible time, or when I was stuck in depression or being emotionally abused. I’ve seen a lot of people go through something and hit bottom and come back.

Alcoholics can get clean. A very good friend of mine was hurting me and others when he got addicted to hard drugs, and he quit and made something of his life.

However, some people aren’t going to change. Maybe it’s brain chemistry, maybe it’s a lifetime of them suffering their own abuses…whatever it is, in this lifetime, they aren’t going to change how they treat people. And you can’t fix them. Let me say it again. You cannot fix them.

When faced with someone like that, I do my due diligence. I give them every opportunity. But at a certain point, I recognize that that person isn’t going to change. They aren’t going to–at least for now–engage in a healthier strategy to meet their needs. And that my staying in any relationship with them–friends, romantic, group/professional, is not healthy for me. And at that point, the only thing I can do is cut them out of my life. In some cases, that means kicking someone out of a group.

I wish I had a magic wand to just “fix” people who are hurting themselves and others. But I don’t have that.

Hamsterwheeling: Trying to Make Sense of Illogical Behaviors
When I was in one particular abusive situation, I just about drove myself nuts trying to make logical sense out of his actions. Wanting him to make sense, wanting him to want healing, wanting to understand how he could do XYZ.

It wasn’t until talking to several psychotherapists that I understood that this particular individual has all the red flags for Borderline Personality Disorder. While they couldn’t diagnose him officially (he wasn’t their client), they explained the pattern of behavior, and further, explained that there wasn’t any “making sense” out of it. That my attempts to rationalize that behavior were fruitless, they were a hamsterwheel. They were me, and my rational mind, trying to make sense of someone’s actions that were not rational.

Without help–and, possibly even with help due to the nature of that mental illness–he was going to keep doing it, there was probably no changing the situation.

In some cases, healing isn’t possible. Sometimes all you can do is cut someone out of your life. And that sucks.

Needs and Resolving Conflict
Sometimes, however, getting to understand someone’s unmet needs is the way to resolve a conflict. However, each party involved in the conflict has to be honest about what they want. And has to be honest about their needs. And that usually requires looking in the mirror and admitting to things that–culturally–we’re taught to be embarrassed about.

Often what people want out of a conflict resolution is for the other person to apologize and vindicate them, prove them to be “right.” If that’s what you want, you have to own that. But, you also need to look deeper at the needs beneath that. Why do you need that? What needs aren’t you getting met?

Often the “need to be right” all the time that is present in people who are KnowItAlls is, deep down, a need to be loved and valued by others because they themselves have very poor self esteem and a poor self image. I know a lot about this one–I used to be very guilty of it. Somehow I equated “being right” with “being good” with “I have value.” Later, I learned that being a KnowItAll was contributing to my status as a social outcast. Amazingly, once I stopped being such a KnowItAll, I had more friends, and my self esteem improved.

This is where the idea of conflict resolution connects to a process of therapy, or at least ,relentless personal growth work. If your behavior in a relationship or group is causing a conflict, you have to look at the needs you are trying to get met and the unhealthy, ineffective strategies that you are employing to meet that need.

First you have to acknowledge you have a need. Next, you need to acknowledge that you’re engaging in a harmful strategy to meet that need.

Maybe you’re being the KnowItAll and you are interrupting meetings to point out how someone else is wrong, or argue over minutia, or even interrupting someone else’s workshop. Maybe you dominate a conversation with the stuff that you know, even if others weren’t talking about your topics of interest and expertise.

Then, you need to actually commit to changing that behavior. A group leader can help you find a way to meet that need in a better way–perhaps establishing you as the person who will write an article on the sabbats, or on myths, or some other area of interest. I’ve worked with people in my groups before, including working out some hand signals or other communication to let them know when they were acting out again in a subtle way that wouldn’t shame them in front of the group.

Needs, Therapy, and Successful Strategies
A process of therapy is often very useful in continuing to explore the unsuccessful strategies you use to meet your needs, and work to establish healthier, successful strategies. Our own Ego–our self identity–is the biggest block in this process. Ego’s job is to make you look good, to make sure you like yourself. So we don’t want to identify ourselves as someone who is “bad.” That might look like, “I’m bad if I’m a KnowItAll.” (Trust me, I’ve been there on that one.)

So we have to circumvent our ego, our identity, and acknowledge, hey, I do this thing, because I’m trying to be seen and valued, and I’m not bad, I’m just going about it in a crappy way, and I can change that behavior.

However–life’s not that clean. the strategies I’m discussing above are tremendously useful for conflict resolution if people actually do them. If people are actually self reflective enough to look at their behaviors and acknowledge that they need to make a change. Most of the time, people engaging in these behaviors will rigorously dig in their heels. They will not admit to being wrong.

Because, being “wrong” is being “bad” and ego can’t take being seen as “bad.” In fact, most egomaniacal and arrogant behavior is typically covering over really, really poor self esteem. If you want a magical exercise to work on this in yourself, I suggest the Iron Pentacle exercised, particularly working with the Rusted and Gilded pentacles. I believe you can do some of this work in T. Thorn Coyle’s Evolutionary Witchcraft book, but there are also various resources for it if you Google it. If you have the opportunity to take an Iron Pentacle class, even better.

Ego, Egotism, and Conflict Resolution
Ego isn’t bad. Ego is just our identity. It’s just that our ego can be a little overzealous in its job.

For a conflict resolution to work, all parties need to understand their own needs and desires. They need to be honest about them. And, all parties need to be willing to explore their own egos, and egotism, and need to be right, and fear of being “bad.”

Again, it’s been my experience that people who are engaging in some of the most unsuccessful–and harmful–coping strategies to get their needs met, are also the folks who have the poorest self-esteem. And thus in response, they have the most overzealous and protective egoes, and that manifests in egotism and arrogance.

Those are the folks least likely to come to the mediation table, and the least likely to back down even when they are clearly in the wrong.

So, do the work to understand your own needs, and the needs of those in your group. Understand the needs beneath the conflict. Try to actually be able to articulate the needs, and the unsuccessful strategies that are harming the group. And if someone isn’t willing to hear it, be prepared to cut ties.

And keep in mind, if you’re going into a conflict resolution because you are dead set on wanting to be “right,” you probably need to do a bit of work on your own shadows around your needs, your identity, your self esteem. If each of us did this rigorous personal work, we would have far healthier groups, and less conflicts.

Stay tuned! Conflict Resolution 3 will come out tomorrow.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: clergy, communication, community, community building, impact, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, Personal growth, personal transformation, shadow work

Conflict Resolution Part 1

shutterstock_137682284I’m often asked, “How do you smooth over a conflict,” or, “How do you keep things from blowing up,” or, “How do you resolve a conflict without ruffling feathers?”

While it depends greatly upon the situation, in general I’d offer that this points to our cultural fear around conflict. We are conflict avoidant, and trying to smooth over a conflict without expecting it to be uncomfortable is the wrong approach.

What people really want to know is, “How can I resolve a conflict without anyone feeling uncomfortable, without someone getting upset at me.”

We can’t reasonably expect to work through a conflict without people being able to express that they are upset and process things out. In other words–yes. It’s going to be uncomfortable. People are going to be mad at each other. Resolving conflicts is hard work, particularly for the conflict avoidant.

Powder Kegs: Argumentative KnowItAlls
It’s also difficult work because so many people seem to have no problems going off half-cocked and tearing someone else down in the interest of proving their point. I see so many rude interactions in Pagan workshops and on Pagan groups online. I see it not just in the Pagan community, but in other subcultures and grassroots communities. I see a lot of people who are convinced that they are right, and that not only they are right, but that it’s “okay” for them to blast someone else on an email list, be rude to them on Facebook.

Here’s the thing. Even if you are “right,” it’s not ok to be a jerk. You may technically know more about something, like a particular culture’s mythology. But being a jerk doesn’t make your point. It just stirs up conflict. And within the small world of any grassroots group or subculture, such as the Pagan community, these frustrating interactions become a powder keg.

Many of these people will just shrug and say, “I’m blunt, I don’t pull my punches.” I think there’s a difference from being an activist and feeling empowered to speak your mind, and being aggressive or a jerk about it. It takes discernment, and I find that sorely lacking. So then these arguments take place, they cause rifts, and those rifts widen. I’ve seen arguments like that cause decades-long conflicts in between specific local groups in a particular region.

Conflict Avoidance: What Causes Big Conflicts?
On the other hand, I’d say it’s the consistent attempt to keep from expressing how upset we are that often leads to a lot of other group conflicts. Biting our tongues and holding things in seems to lead to the conflict getting more dramatic in the end than it needs to be.

Western culture–at least, most people I meet–are passive aggressive. We are passive in that we don’t want to engage in the conflict. We might be angry about something, but we hold it in. Until it builds, and builds, and builds, and we only feel “safe” expressing our intense emotions when they are just that, intense. When we can’t hold them back any more. When we go into temporary-insanity-headspace and we blow up at someone because we don’t care any more. Or at least, the social consequences we are so afraid of matter less than expressing our emotion. There is a perception that conflict avoidant people have that speaking up about something is just too aggressive. So when they get to the point that they blow up–the aggressive part of passive/aggressive–their frustration has built to the point that they don’t care about the consequences.

Emotionally, it seems way easier to do that than to actually sit down with someone calmly and articulate that we have a problem with something they are doing.

I’m going to take a giant leap here and relate it to people who drink socially to ease their anxiety, particularly to get tipsy enough to flirt with someone or ask them out on a date. Culturally, I experience that most people don’t feel okay with expressing particular uncomfortable emotions or needs unless they feel a little out of control, whether that’s alcohol or anger or some other social/emotional lubricant.

When, not If
In groups I lead, there’s a basic understanding that if two group members have a conflict they can’t resolve and I hear about it–ie, it begins to impact the group–then I’m going to have to butt in and they must agree to sit down to mediation to address the conflict. If they don’t, one or both of them may be asked to leave the group.

I’ve offered or been asked to mediate numerous Pagan conflicts outside of my own group, and typically I find that there’s one party who is interested in mediation, and one party who is not. Typically (though not always) the party who is not interested in mediation is probably not going to budge and is going to keep escalating the conflict. In that instance, I usually flag that person as someone that I probably don’t want to work with anyways. If they aren’t willing to back down and work to resolve the conflict, then they are just going to keep ending up in future conflicts. These are the folks who get kicked out of group after group and then wonder why.

Keep in mind, I’m painting with broad brushstrokes here. There are always exceptions.

Abuse Victims Refusing Mediation
In some (rare) instances, the person who refuses mediation is holding a specific boundary with someone who has verbally, emotionally, or even physically abused them. This is a scenario that you can suss out if you gather data and interview the parties involved. If you’re in a position of trying to mediate a conflict, you have to be really clear on the difference.

Some people will outright refuse mediation because they are the at-fault party and are unreasonable jerks, and they will continue to escalate and cause more conflicts. Some people will refuse mediation because the other party is using mediation as a way to get back into their victim’s life. It can be hard to know the difference.

In the past, I have made the critical mistake of pressuring someone into mediation who was actually the victimized party who was trying to hold a boundary and keep away from someone who had emotionally abused her. Again, it’s really hard to tell the difference at times, in part because there is a conflict, there’s huge heavy emotional issues and both sides are upset. Both sides are telling a story that makes them look better. Talking to the parties involved, and to others, is crucial to get as much information as you can. But all too often, it’s “he said she said.”

Getting Over Conflict Avoidance
When I’m working with specific parties, I’m not always concerned with unruffling feathers, at least, not in the beginning. What I mean by that is, there are way too many people (ie, most of us) that are conflict avoidant, and we try too quickly to smooth things over and brush them over the carpet.

And then we are surprised when the conflict erupts again a few months later over the same issues. Sometimes, the bandage needs to be washed out and the wound cleansed out well, or it just keeps healing over with rot underneath.

My mentors at Diana’s Grove had an elemental model of the roles of a priest/ess, ministers, and clergy, and one was to act as a healer. Acting as a healer, however, sometimes means setting the bone. It’s going to hurt like heck, but we want the bone to heal straight. Sometimes healing has to hurt.

I typically use tools from Nonviolent communication (excellent book by Marshall Rosenberg, worth checking out) in order to find out the root cause of the conflict. I do a lot of investigating, I ask a lot of questions. I try to understand the conflict from 360 degrees. If I can find out what’s actually going on, then it’s more likely I can help the people involved in the conflict come to a successful resolution. But we all have hidden agendas. Sometimes, our agenda is hidden from ourselves.

I also use a tool from Diana’s Grove called the Four Levels of Reality, which was adapted from Jean Houston’s work.

Physical Reality, Mythic Reality, Emotional Reality, and Essential Reality
Physical Reality is what physically happened, Mythic is the story we write in our heads, Emotional is our instant emotional response, and Essential reality is our beliefs about the world and ourselves that fueled that particular Myth.

Truly, a lot of conflicts come from, “Bob was glaring at me in Circle,” when in reality, Bob was just squinting at the sun. We assign a motivation to people–instantly–and it’s our emotional recollection of that that is what sticks, not the physical reality of what happened. In fact, my understanding is that emotion is the glue of memory. We tend to have the strongest memories of the most intense emotional moments of our lives.

By talking someone down through the layers of physical reality to get at what they actually know about a situation, I can help take them out of the mythic reality of their story of what happened, and their emotional reality response to it.

Ultimately, most conflicts come out of people’s Essential Reality–their poor self image of themselves. If you have a poor self image, poor self esteem, then you might find yourself feeling threatened all the time. I have found that the roots of many conflicts come from people who are overly defensive. I’ll actually do an entirely separate post just about people who are constantly victims, who claim to be under psychic attack, or people who are just always concerned that others are out to get them. However, I have two posts before the current Pagan Leadership series about the Hypersensitive Personality type, and I think that that is one factor in how we get to conflicts that get blown out of proportion.

Some conflicts come out of almost nothing; someone who is oversensitive or who has poor self esteem finds themselves under attack all the time. It’s an ego defense. And it’s a bad spiral where someone who has genuinely been victimized in the past can continue their victimhood, and cause entirely new conflicts, because they imagine everyone is out to get them.

I’m not Speaking to You
The kiss of death for healing most conflicts is “I’m not speaking to you.” You can’t really do anything with that, other than see if that time allows them to heal and maybe they will come back to you months or years later. If you try to force the issue, that person will not only resent you for it, they will lash out. They aren’t ready to talk, and forcing the issue almost always makes the situation worse in various ways.

If someone throws down the refusal to communicate, there’s nothing I can do. I had this happen to me just over a year ago. I tried the various methods available; during the conflict, I tried to reason with him and use logic, but he was way, way past logic. Before he pulled away completely, I let him know that if he did ever want to talk, I’d be open to that. I tried to use the “friend of a friend” method to get a mutual friend/neutral party to speak to him on my behalf. However, in this particular case we didn’t really have a good middle/neutral party. My friends who were his friends were fairly conflict avoidant and didn’t want to get involved, plus they didn’t know him all that well. His friends who were my friends weren’t speaking to me either.

Most of the time, if someone does the “not speaking” thing, it’s over. There’s no closure, no resolution. They have decided they are right and that’s that. In this case, however, my friend contacted me almost a year after our argument to say that he was sorry, and that he realized how totally insane he must have sounded. He and I talked it out, and without getting into the particular nature of our conflict, it’s understandable why he was triggered. He has an incredible temper, and he was in an emotional pressure cooker both because of some things that had gone on between us, as well as his job and his home life.

I was intensely surprised when he contacted me. I now am in the position of trying to honor his and my friendship and connection, but with appropriate boundaries. I believe in transformation and healing and that people can change their behavior, and on the other hand, I’m aware that he’s blown his temper like that before. So I’m still friends with him, but there are more boundaries. And, should he blow his temper like that again, I’m not going to be interested in re-engaging with him as a friend, even though he is involved in the Pagan community and I work hard to not be in conflict with other Pagan leaders.

The truth is, whenever anyone develops a friendship, an intense relationship within a magical group, a romantic relationship…any of these provide the opportunity for conflict to develop. When dating, it’s sometimes called the “3-month rule,” and I think that’s apt. After you get through the Springtime Rush of excitement, then reality hits and you discover all the things about the other person (or group) you don’t like. Things either work out, or they don’t. But, we don’t have great ways to work these things out in the Pagan community, or in other grassroots groups.

Conflict Prevention
The one thing that would prevent so many conflicts is if we all engaged in direct communication. Ie, we actually talked to people we had a difficulty with, and tried to work it out. Not in an aggressive, attacking way, but in a forthright way, a healing way, a compassionate way. Once again I recommend I-referencing and the book Nonviolent Communication to learn how to do this with skill. Even better, if you can afford it, is attending an evening or weekend class teaching Nonviolent Communication.

An example: I was working with a woman who challenged every marketing/writing idea I ever had. We were working together in a small team of people offering Pagan events to a broader community. Whenever I talked about the text for an ad we were going to take out in the local new age magazine, or our flyer, she would launch into me. She started launching on me for other things.

After this happened at three or four meetings, I knew it wasn’t going to stop. So when other team members had left the room, I finally asked her, “I notice that you really act out towards me in meetings during XYZ circumstances. What’s up?” We started talking, but we set aside time to talk when we had more privacy.

We spent six hours talking. It turned out that she’d always been “The Writer” in previous groups, and she wanted to be respected as “The Writer.” However, in this particular group, I held that role and she was jealous.

The conflict arose because she wasn’t even thinking about why she was angry at me. She was defending what she thought of as “hers.” She wanted to be seen and valued as a writer by the group and was angry that someone else (me) had claimed that turf. Ultimately, she felt bad about herself if she wasn’t seen as being “good” and doing a good job at writing. Under it all, she didn’t really value herself very well. She only valued her relationship with the group if they perceived her as “good” by offering a service she was good at. This is very common with people with poor self esteem–they don’t value themselves, they value the things that people will like them for, like a skillset they possess.

What exacerbated the situation is that I had to be fairly controlling about our marketing materials and how our group presented ourselves because of some obligations we had to our parent group. I was able to explain to her why I had to be a control freak about some of the language we used. I was under a tremendous amount of pressure from the leader and mentor who had a stake in what our group was doing. That leader/mentor wasn’t directly involved in our group, but our actions reflected on that leader/mentor and the parent group.

I had actually been yelled at by that leader/mentor for letting untrained people facilitate workshops, and admonished that everything we did reflected on the parent group. Given the nature of our respective groups, and some of the unhealthy personal dynamics that had arisen in the parent group, I wasn’t in a position where I could really talk about the unhealthy behavior of that leader and mentor. In other words, it was a powder keg.

Further, I had no idea that the group member who was attacking me in meetings had done professional writing work and wanted to do more of that in the group. All I could see was her acting like a raptor testing the fences with every idea I brought up. I knew that she had previously led another Pagan group, and initially I just just assumed she wasn’t dealing well with someone else in a position of authority. Sometimes two alphas will snap at each other like that.

It turned out to be far more complicated than that. Once we got to the bottom of that, we were able to work a lot of things out. Once our cards were on the table, we collaborated together pretty well, and I now count her as a friend. 

Smoothing It Under the Rug
When my efforts at conflict resolution focused on smoothing things over, all I did was let it further build. I kept on trying to smile and pretend like she wasn’t attacking me every meeting. When I confronted her from a place of genuine intent to heal, we were able to actually resolve things.

It wasn’t easy, and it started out with a lot of anger and frustration. We had to let the anger out, and express the frustration, before we could move along to any kind of healing.

What helped was direct communication. Yes, it was fueled by my frustration, but I spoke with this woman before I was angry to the point of just screaming at her and kicking her out of the group. I could have brought it up earlier still and we’d have had less frustration between us. I pointed out her behavior, and her impact on me and the group, and asked her if that was the impact she wanted to have, and if not, that she and I needed to work things out, and we did.

In other situations, the person might cross their arms and get more defensive, more aggressive, and dig into “I’m right,” and in those scenarios, there isn’t always much you can do. If someone isn’t willing to acknowledge they have been engaging in behavior that has negatively impacted the group–and be willing to apologize and do something different–that person probably doesn’t belong in your group. Sometimes the resolution to a conflict is asking someone to leave.

Other times, it’s digging down into the needs beneath the conflict to figure out a resolution.

Coming soon: Conflict Resolution part 2.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: clergy, communication, conflict resolution, impact, leadership, Pagan community, pagan leadership, Personal growth, personal transformation

Grassroots Leaders Who are Incurably Bad

7719793_xxlThis is the 3rd article in the grassroots leadership series. Sometimes there are leaders who are just real jerks. Maybe they have problems with egotism. Maybe they are unstable and mentally ill. Maybe they are alcoholic. Maybe they have some other problem.

As I discussed in the last blog post, when I teach leadership, Pagans and other grassroots leaders ask me, “How do I deal with a community leader that’s a total asshole,” or, “How do I warn people away from the really bad group leaders?”

The challenge is, if they are verbally abusing you or undermining you, there isn’t really a lot you can do. If you’re a member of that group, you can leave. But, you can’t (in most instances) take another group leader “down.” It’s a frustrating prospect. Let’s go a little deeper into what kinds of leaders out there cause problems so bad that you , as a leader or group member, might consider extreme measures to keep your community protected from the bad behavior of a leader.

Predators
Most of the people I’m going to talk about in the rest of the article aren’t predators, they are just jerks. However, let’s address the really bad folks first; pedophiles, rapists, abusers, psychopaths/sociopaths. There’s nothing you can do to help them or fix them. They will keep doing what they are doing until they die or are incarcerated. If someone in your group or another group leader is abusing minors, raping people, or engaging in other harmful, illegal activities, go to the police. Do not try to protect them just because they are Pagan, or an activist, or a member of any other grassroots cause. Don’t worry that them in the papers will give your community a bad name. If you have reasonable evidence, these people need to be prosecuted.

However–and I hate that I have to say this–don’t ever lie and suggest a leader is engaging in illegal activities just to strengthen your position while speaking out against them.

Making the assumption that what this other group leader is doing is not illegal, there aren’t many options. Let’s assume that this leader is engaging in harmful, unethical behaviors, and you are not “above” that person, meaning, you have no control over their actions/ability to lead a group.

Speaking Out Against Someone
What tends to motivate people quickly into the Speaking Out scenario is fear and anger. People feel powerless in response to actions by a group leader who is perceived as powerful–whether a leader of a group they are in, or of another group. They feel powerless, they get afraid, and they get angry. They post on Facebook, email groups, talk about them at Pagan gatherings to others they know. In essence, they try to spread the word–this person’s a jerk.

However, we Westerners have a penchant for the Underdog. Most of the time people who speak out against others are thought of as drama llamas trying to stir the pot, even if the person they are speaking out against is actually harming others. Whether or not they are passing along accurate information, most times this is not an effective strategy for dealing with a harmful group leader, because people won’t listen.

I’m not advocating silence out of fear of judgment. Because, so many Pagans and other grassroots groups have kept quiet about abusive, hurtful leaders, and all that silence does is perpetuate more abuse.

But, if you’re going to speak out, be really, really clear that it’s for the right reasons. And, be willing to stand in the fire. I’m not talking about the “I’ll throw away my own reputation to destroy this person” out of a vengeance mindset. And anyone working withing the Pagan community needs to think about the impact on community, and community safety, not their own vengeance.

And once again, you can’t “make” another leader stop leading a group. In almost all cases of Pagan community disagreements, it’s Person A said ____, Person B said____, with no way to prove it either way.

One exception that can help with the Speak Out method is if there are fifteen Person B’s, and you all speak out, that may have more of an impact. This strategy is only useful or necessary if the leader in question is a really bad egg. Like, really actively harming the local community, acting in an abusive way. Perhaps it’s not illegal; in most cases, sleeping with your adult-age group members isn’t illegal. Nor is manipulating people to get what you want and then throwing a tantrum and turning everyone in the group against them. However, if a leader is really damaging the reputation of Pagans locally, or is a danger to younger, newbie group members, it might be worth considering trying to take some larger and more visible community action.

You still can’t actually stop Person A, under most circumstances. In the rare instance where it’s a tradition with religious superiors, you can go to them, but I haven’t experienced that doing much good. Most traditions take a pretty hands off approach to local clergy.

Another exception is if you yourself have a lot of visibility, local clout, and fairly unimpeachable ethics.

An example: I spoke out publicly about my ex partner. I suffered some backlash initially, and it took a while for the truth to come out. What tipped the balance for people who initially supported him was when other women he had hurt started coming out about it, and he started doing crazy, rude stuff at various events. He really ruined his own reputation, I just sped up the process.

The truth will point to itself, but that does take time.

Vengeance can’t be your motivator. Your motivation has to be about the health of your community and your group. It’s a subtle difference, particularly if the group leader who is acting in a harmful way is backstabbing you personally and working to undermine your group.

Incurably Bad Leaders
Let’s take a step back and look at what this means. We’re talking about leaders that aren’t necessarily a predator, or, they’re on the legal edge of predator. What I mean is, they aren’t targeting minors, but they are targeting the vulnerable newbies in their group or at a festival to pressure them for sex. We’re also not talking about leaders who just have strong personalities and are stubborn, but who are basically good people.

I have another blog post coming up on trying to discern some of these differences, particularly through a conflict resolution process.

We’re talking about the leaders who are so stubborn and set in their ways they are completely unwilling to listen to you. People who refuse to communicate. Who badmouth you  to undermine your group because they are threatened by you. People who are unstable, who throw major temper tantrums and go absolutely postal when you offer them negative feedback. People who verbally abuse others, people who lie and manipulate others. One example that I’ve heard of in a few places is a local leader who goes to public events run by other groups, and then when they begin a ritual or workshop, will actually step in, interrupt the facilitators, and berate them for “doing it wrong” or try to take over.

We’re talking about someone who completely derails meetings by making it all about them. People who yell at their team members in front of other people, consistently. We’re talking about people who consistently disrupt any unity effort by trying to take it over or trying to destroy it–or both. Someone who joins your email list and posts rude things or hijacks threads to talk about their own events. People who are just consistently rude.

There’s actually a big difference between someone who is just a stubborn, empowered visionary, and someone who is an incurable jerk. There’s a spectrum there–any of us who step into leadership may have a little stubborn streak, but that’s different from someone who just is rude, year after year. There’s a Pagan leader I know who seems to think every local Pagan leader needs to swear fealty to him. He actually has a ceremony where he gets people to do this, he tells them they are being “made” a community elder. And during the ritual, they have to kiss his ring. I am not kidding. I don’t care if that person has served the local community for 30 years; doing that, and working to sabotage groups that don’t toe the line, is inexcusable.

If I, personally, find myself in a position of actively speaking out against another group leader, you can be sure that I have heard rather a lot of bad things about that person, and, I have fact checked and screened my sources. 

What Do You Do?
Most leaders who are being jerks I can pretty safely ignore. Maybe they badmouth me, maybe they are using and emotionally abusing a few newbies, and there’s not much I can do about that. If I do decide to speak out about a group leader, there’s a spectrum of response. If it’s someone who is on that verge of being dangerous, I’m happy to be public about speaking out–and, I pick my battles. More often there are just leaders that I don’t recommend for various reasons. So when seekers come to me looking for group recommendations, I tell them who I recommend, and who I don’t, and why. I give them the informed choice to do what they want.

Remember–speaking out will not force these leaders stop. You can’t fix them, can’t change them. If they are just being jerks, but not being sexually abusive jerks, most of the time it’s usually best to just ignore them as best you can.

Walk Away
This is sometimes referred to as the “high road,” although that’s not always an accurate statement–sometimes people say they are taking the “high road” when what they are really afraid to do is take a stand. Not that I blame them most of the time. Often, all ou can do is to walk away from a group, and to privately/one-on-one tell people about your experiences there.

Or, if you’re a group leader or part of other groups, you can very simply choose not to work with that group leader. Sometimes shunning is the only thing that you have. There are groups in the Chicagoland area I’d love to shut down, specifically the unethical sex temple there. I keep tabs on what local groups are doing. For that matter, I keep tabs on what dozens of groups are doing around the midwest and other places I’ve taught, since people ask me for consultations on problems in their area, and occasionally I’m asked to mediate a dispute so I like to know what’s going on.

Basically, I keep tabs, and I choose whom I recommend and whom I do not when seekers come to me looking for a group.

Honest Mistakes
There’s all sorts of situations which lead to bad leadership dynamics. One is just honest failure; most volunteer leaders weren’t trained in leadership. Most leaders I talk to don’t even want to be leaders. They screw up because they volunteered to host classes out of their homes and suddenly became the group leader.

And sometimes, it’s not that a leader is a bad person. Sometimes our personalities are just incompatible. The sad thing is, even when I’ve gotten a group of other leaders into a room together to plan an event together, it doesn’t usually work well. Maybe we’re all just used to steering our own plow. Even when we’re all reasonable people, we all have different styles.

I’ve seen entirely new conflicts arise out of “roundtable” and “unity” efforts like that.There’s other group leaders where I respect their work, but our work style/approach is just really different. And I recognize, if we tried collaborating, that would probably be a disaster. Not that either of us is bad, we’re just not going to be good collaborating.

Mental Illness
Some leaders have real mental illnesses. I can’t tell you the number of group leaders I encounter that have symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic PD, or any of the antisocial PD’s, or Bipolar. I myself have struggled with depression much of my life. If you meet me while I’m teaching a workshop or leading a ritual, you probably won’t know that I struggle with social anxiety.

Many mental illnesses can be managed through therapy and in some case medication, like Bipolar. Other things are more challenging, like the antisocial PD’s.

It really, really will serve you to understand the red flags for these (and other) mental illnesses. Sometimes, you can work with someone if you know what they have going on. There’s a massive difference between someone with Aspergers who is perceived as rude and speaking out of turn, and someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder who is ultimately going to try and overthrow your group leader in order to turn everyone around them into a “mirror” and make it all about them. Antagonists in the Church is a good book to start with for understanding some of the more toxic personalities; it’s written for Christian church leaders, but you can translate it to any group.

Holes in the Ego and Egotism
Some leaders just have huge gaping wounds from their past. Maybe they don’t have a personality disorder, perhaps they are just a jerk.

I’ve worked through a lot of old wounds in my own life. I used to be massively defensive, control freak, can’t ever be wrong know-it-all. Because, somehow in my teenage mind, being “right” meant I was giving the finger to all the kids in high school who made fun of me. Thing is, being right doesn’t really lead to anyone wanting to spend time with you…and I had to learn that the hard way.

Those old holes in our egos, those old wounds, become our shadows. Many leaders have these shadows. These are the shadows that can often be dealt with if we’re willing to look into the mirror, and maybe get some therapy.

Unfortunately, it seems that a significant percentage of grassroots leaders who are stubborn enough to keep a group going for more than 5 years also seem to have problems with egotism. I think this is both a testament to how difficult it is to build a strong group (it takes that kind of fierce stubbornness to put up with all the drama llamas and volunteers dropping the ball) but it’s also a testament to how we need to steward better and healthier leaders, not just leave leadership to the only person willing to do it. Who also just happens to be the person who’s crazy motivated…because, they are actually a little crazy.

So I just want to make sure that I offer that caveat–leadership training can help most folks. But, for the folks with a major personality disorder–and they can sometimes be very charismatic–it’s not going to help them.
  1. First, they are unlikely to actually attend a leadership training. They will be certain that They Know Best. Or that People are Just Out to Get Them.
  2. Even if they attend, they won’t actually internalize the ethics.
  3. They might give platitudes out of one side of their mouth, and then a week later go right back to the old behavior

Where does this leave us?
Well–about the same place as the last article. You can’t fix crappy leaders. But what I have found is that understanding why a leader is bad, and understanding where they are on the spectrum of bad, is invaluable in helping me to determine a rational response.

I’ll continue the series with another article in a couple of days, but I also wanted to forward along this link to an article Ivo Dominguez wrote that provides a few tips and techniques that you might find of use.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: clergy, communication, community, community building, group dynamics, impact, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, pagans, Personal growth, personal transformation

Pagan Leadership and Witch Wars

5169119_xxlIt’s not a Witch War. Let’s get that out of the way. In fact, let’s get rid of that term completely, because it aggrandizes conflict and makes it sound magical, powerful, cool. What is a witch war? It’s a fancy-schmancy word for an interpersonal conflict.

Why do we need the cool word for it? Well…put bluntly, and making a lot of assumptions, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that many Pagans out there have poor self esteem. Heck, a lot of people have poor self confidence.

Drama is a coping mechanism to feel better about yourself. Think about this; if you have another Witch who is gunning for you, hexing you, psychically attacking you…that must make you pretty important, huh? 

Drama
Let’s face it. Drama is exciting. Humans like drama and we like story. Otherwise novels would be pretty boring, as would movies. They’d be about a character who makes some toast, and then watches tv, and then goes to sleep without facing any conflict. There’s a reason that movies and books sell well. There’s a reason why people have been telling stories about warriors and battles since language began. We like stories. Drama and conflict are a part of stories.

However, many people gravitate toward drama in their lives. They often stir it up, even though they aren’t consciously aware that they’re doing it.

What I’ve noticed is that the people who seem to stir up the most drama in their lives often have a certain measure of self loathing. They may hate their own lives; unhappy in their relationship, their job, their family…the list could go on. Drama is a pretty exciting distraction from the parts of your life that you’re not happy with. And again, if you have a nemesis, that’s at least a relief from your own life’s worries. It can be pretty exciting.

I’m certainly not writing this from the arm chair. I’ve been that person. Heck, I write fantasy novels, and dramatic conflicts of my past (realistic or imagined) inspired some of my epic fantasy stories.

I’ve worked with a lot of Pagans, enough to see this pattern happen pretty commonly. And being in a “witch war” is way more exciting than saying, “I’m entangled in a no-win situation with a coven leader.”

Competing for Market Share
I hate to say it, but this is a core part of many witch wars. Sometimes it’s fairly obvious; I know a number of cities, like Salem, where there are big public conflagrations between store owners, because the drama brings in business. But more than that, by discrediting the “other guy,” your store and services look better and you make more money.

Usually it’s a bit more altruistic. Or, rather, seems more altruistic, but it’s the same model.

Let’s say you’ve just started up a new group. You aren’t interested in forming a coven, you just want a networking thing at a local coffee house to meet up with other Pagans. There are a few covens in your area, but nothing like that.

Much to your surprise, a bunch of folks show up, and over the course of a few months, you form a group. Things are going well. Until…

Another local coven leader starts grilling you about what you are doing. Over the next months, you discover that they are badmouthing you around town. You go to a local Pagan bookstore to propose a fundraiser there, and they give you a weird look. You finally start to figure out what’s been happening.

Why is this leader doing this?

Many times, it boils down to this; you are stepping on their toes. You are doing something that perhaps they wanted to do. People are going to your group. The other leader worries that your group will be more successful than theirs. This isn’t about money–this is about attention. It’s also about boundaries, vision, and ego.

Ego Annex
I’ve explained this concept in my boundaries articles, but basically, any visionary who starts a group, reaches for a dream…we get attached to that vision, to that dream, to that thing we created. Maybe it’s a group, maybe it’s an annual event. Maybe it’s an art project. We get attached to it like it is a part of ourselves–because it is. And when that thing is threatened, when we fear that something else will take people’s attention away from that thing, we get angry, just as if someone insulted us personally.

So it’s egotism from a somewhat altruistic place.

A leader like this genuinely feels they are protecting their group and the work they are doing. But the truth is, when a leader works to undermine another group in order to protect their baby, their event, their group, their project…it’s usually a red flag for some serious issues with self esteem or with personal boundaries.

Boundaries meaning, there is a separation between you and me. And, the group I run is not actually me. A subset of me, sure, but it’s not actually me. I understand this from the inside; I’ve gotten way defensive about other groups scheduling an event at the same time as mine, for instance. However, I had the skills and tools to take a breath and realize one important thing.

It’s not about me. They aren’t personally attacking me.

They just scheduled their event over mine because they didn’t know. I can’t get mad at them for that, I can be mad at the situation, and work to establish better communication with that other group.

However–getting back to these community disputes that we won’t call witch wars, that’s a tactic that many unstable, egotistical leaders will put into play. To undermine another group, these leaders will badmouth them. They will schedule events at the same time to make the community “choose” which event to attend.

Whether the conflict is about who is bringing in donation money, who has the more popular group, who is stepping on toes, or even an actual interpersonal dispute…what it is not is magical, neat, or cool.

Dating in Groups
Let’s play “it’s a small world.” Person A and Person B are in a coven together and they are dating. Let’s hope that neither one is a coven leader. Person B completely loses it. Maybe they are a really angry person. Maybe they are Bipolar and went off their meds. Whatever the reason, A and B break up and Person B just goes bananas, disrupts coven meetings, the whole thing. The coven leader asks person B to leave the group.

Now–some of you advanced players in this particular dance know one of the next moves. What does Person B do next? Yes! Form their own coven, of course!

As you can imagine, this isn’t going to be a group that is based up on a strong core skill set of leadership, or even a grounding in any particular tradition. Nor is this going to be one of our more stable leaders. However, this person–whether we like it or not–is out there recruiting people for their group.

So, one strategy is telling people around town that she’s unstable and her group will be bad. However, then you get a rep as a gossip monger and for having sour grapes. You can also just ignore them, which works until they start spreading rumors about you and your group.

The other thing that happens perhaps more frequently is that Person B bails on your group and joins another coven in the area, and badmouths you to those people, and they take Person B’s side. Then that coven begins to undermine yours by badmouthing you around town.

Calling it a witch war perhaps  is the balm to ease the frustrating truth. There’s no good way out of that conflict. There’s no clean resolution for it.

What To Do with Bad Leaders?
With the examples above, there isn’t really a way to oust a bad leader. You can try to go and talk to them, but making the assumption that this person is not stable (and I have some forthcoming article on this process via conflict resolution)…let’s make the assumption that no conflict resolution process has worked.

What do you do?

The only thing that most leaders can even do in that instance is shunning, just ignoring the bad leader and not engaging with them.

Most leaders who are acting poorly don’t see it about themselves. And there’s a dozen reasons for that, but I think most of them center around wounds of the ego. Leaders harming their community cannot see their bad behavior, they cannot accept that they are “bad.” Ego doesn’t cope with it well. ”It’s not me, nothing’s wrong with me.”

And if they can’t recognize that their egotism is causing community rifts–or, if they don’t care–what do we do with them? What do we do with those people, other than try to ignore them?

They will still keep leading groups, finding newbies…they will still undermine the other leaders out there…they will continue to cause problems.

Accountability and the Catch-22
When you’re dealing with leaders who are jerks, or unstable, the rub is–in order to speak out against them, you have to cause the drama you were trying so desperately to avoid. Some of the so-called “witch wars” are attempts to hold leaders accountable that created inter-community disputes that leave rifts for years.

Most people I know were raised to be non-confrontational, to be passive aggressive. When someone is more aggressive and blunt, it’s really obvious, and it’s usually (not always) someone who held their tongue before and finally blew up.

A lot of Pagan leaders have learned to sweep the bad stuff under the rug because they are afraid of starting a witch war. In fact, whistle-blowers who call bad leaders on their stuff often get blamed and shamed.

I often tell people is, the truth will almost always eventually out. It did for me. But, don’t speak out against someone like that unless you’re prepared to burn in the court of public opinion. Really ready.

And know that there are going to be conflict avoidant people who are going to beg you, who are going to demand, that you stop tearing down XYZ leader. They are going to talk about how they have trauma from all the community conflict. And they are going to bully you into not speaking out against the abuser.

Most community leaders with any compassion are going to cave, they’re going to back down from calling another local leader on the carpet for behaving badly.

We have no authority over other leaders. All we can do is speak out…except in our conflict-avoidant community, the person who blows the whistle often becomes the “antagonist,” the bad guy. And the unstable leader who caused the original problem and is being spoken out against, gets to play the victim card.

Let me tell you–it’s a mess of spaghetti. It’s really difficult to tell who’s “right” in a conflict like this once it gets tangled.

What Do I Recommend for Leaders Dealing With a Bad Situation?
I want us to have healthy groups, and healthy institutions. I want those institutions to not be institutions that betray our values. And for me, part of that is that we (Pagans) need to figure out better methods of learning how to build institutions and groups, how to be better leaders (and group members, or be leaderful group members), and how to hold each other accountable without it being a “witch war” of he said/she said.

I hate it that sometimes the best advice I can give someone is, “Keep doing what you are doing, accept that you will need to downsize your efforts, and just ignore that unstable leader.” And then, hope they disappear, otherwise, you have to wait for them to retire or die.

But in all likelihood, the really stubborn unstable leaders won’t quit.

Is There a Solution?
I’m an optimist with a broken heart. With the people who step into Pagan leadership, there is no assumption of competence, maturity, and stability. I wish I could lean on spirituality here, and ask for people to be moved by Spirit, or hold faith in the idea of Karma, or that people will eventually be accountable to Spirit.

However, I’ve seen many leaders, Pagan and not, who are absolutely convinced they are doing the “right” thing. I’ve seen Pagan leaders convinced (or at least, doing lip service) to the idea that “God/Goddess/Spirit” told them so.

There’s a saying I’ve heard in a number of fiction writing workshops, that a good villain/antagonist is actually the hero of their own journey, just a hero that made different choices than the protagonist. I use that a lot in the personal growth work that I teach; we’re all the hero of our own journey, and in the course of that journey we sometimes might trample others in the quest for our individuality, our personal sovereignty.

We aren’t necessarily trying to, but it happens. I think the mark of a mature leader is trying to do less of that trampling, but that requires self awareness. That requires self reflection.

Self Transformation
The leaders who cause the most problems are not self aware. They are not stable. These are folks who are not seeing their impact. Some, with personal reflection, will be able to. Many won’t. Maybe they have untreated mental illness. Maybe they are just egomaniacs. What I see over and over is, they aren’t going to change how they act any more than any abuser in a relationship is likely to change.

No. you cannot “fix” them.

And that’s the category of leader that I just don’t know what to do with. You can’t “make” them get help. You can’t “make” them stop leading. If they’re doing something illegal, you can try to get them arrested for it, but that’s not usually the case. Going postal on another leader who steps on their toes (ie, starts a new group in “their” region isn’t illegal, it’s just destructive.

Waiting for these leaders to die and go away is not a solution. Ignoring them and suffering their abuse is not a solution either.

Ending the Wars
However, Paganism has no central gatekeepers. Or at least, gatekeepers are fairly rare. If you went to a UU seminary, one of your teachers might say, “ou really aren’t suited to this work, come back to seminary after 5 years of therapy.” We don’t have that, and won’t.

Yet, we can do better. We must do better. I’m just not sure how.

One strategy is, stop playing the game. Witch Wars is a game. It’s a distraction, and it’s a conceit. And it’s a no-win scenario.

I think the best strategy is to do relentless personal work. To train the stable leaders and community members in leadership skills so they can at least cope with this crap when it crops up.

Harvest a new generation of ethical leaders and teach them how to do it well. And, over the next generation, look at ways that we can actually collectively work together to get past “he said/she said” into true conflict resolution.

The series continues! There will be another Pagan leadership in a few days.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: communication, community, group dynamics, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, Personal growth, personal transformation, sustainability, transformation

Leadership for Small Groups and Subcultures

7381485_xxlI think about leadership rather a lot, and I have people ask me for leadership advice with some frequency. I’ve been working up a series of posts exploring the deep challenges with leadership in the Pagan community, because I unfortunately get to see a lot of its seedy underbelly.

Though, these aren’t just issues of Pagan communities…those are just the communities I’m most deeply involved in. Other subcultural groups have these same problems through what I’d call “It’s a Small World” syndrome. Any time there are humans, these problems crop up; corporations, politicians, church leaders…any group could have these challenges. They are just exacerbated in grassroots groups without a big overarching structure.

What I see over and over is the problem of people in leadership positions who are absolutely unsuitable to be leaders. What we have are people who are unstable and mentally ill, or egotistical, or jerks…or even people who genuinely mean well but have no training in group leadership.

The question I get asked all the time when I teach leadership is, “So we’re trying to build local community, and we invited local leaders to work together. Except there’s this one leader….” and they pause, they are trying to be polite. They try to be discrete and not name names. But, I keep my ear to the ground, and eventually, I hear about most of the dirt going on in any local community where I travel and teach. I hear about the Seedy Underbelly.

The Profile: Egotistical Leader
That “one leader” is someone who eventually has thrown a total egotistical tantrum.

The trigger: another group is working in “their” area–their turf–and then that leader either verbally abuses the other group leaders and members, or quietly undermines them, spreads rumors about them, tries to keep them out of larger community activities.

Sometimes this is someone who demands the status of “elder,” or who otherwise would fit that status. What I mean is, I see this behavior a lot not in newer, inexperienced leaders, but with people who have been leaders for more than a decade, and who have a host of titles behind their name.

I hear about this problem so commonly, and people ask me, “What can I do about that leader?” What they want to know is, “How can I fix them?” And most of the time, you can’t. But what do you do instead?

Why Are You A Leader?
What I want to know is, how and why do so many people who are unstable, whether that’s untreated bipolar, narcissistic personality disorder,  alcoholism, abusive behavior, or maybe they are just rampant egomaniacs…how and why do these people end up in leadership?

Subcultures are particularly vulnerable to these types of leaders. We don’t have a system of gatekeepers, there’s no hierarchy saying, “Yes, you can be a leader. No, you aren’t suitable.” And there’s a dearth of people who actually are motivated enough to do anything.

Needing to be Seen and Egotism
In our Western culture, the need to be seen and admired is a cultural “sin,” a shadow. It’s not inherently a bad thing to want to be seen, to be valued. It’s human nature. However, when it overpowers good sense, when we ignore that shadow and disown it, that’s usually when it rises up to bite us.

I’ve done my own dance with “Look at me.” I’m not immune to these leadership sins. The times when I was running the most ambitious events were when I desperately wanted to be “seen,” to be valued. In my case, ruthless personal growth work helped me to understand that I didn’t value myself, I had poor self esteem, however, I had always valued what I could “do.” The events I could run, my artwork, etc.

In my head the math worked out to, “If I run this kickass event everyone will think I’m awesome and that’ll give the finger to all the people who abused me in school.”

Of course that isn’t logical, but, the parts of ourselves working on that level aren’t rational. They are the abused kid of our past that is still in the “car” of our self, our personality. We are all the ages we have ever been. We hold our past and our fears within us. And when we’re on autopilot, sometimes it’s a much younger, much more wounded Self driving the car.

Once I realized that I, myself, inherently have value…once I grew my self confidence, I no longer needed to run big showy events to feel “good” about myself. However, it means that I also lost a lot of the drive and motivation I used to have to run events.

And I begin to wonder about that…if there’s some tie between the wounds of our past, and the very few people who step into leadership and event planning, the very few people that actually have the motivation  to actually make that work happen…perhaps many of us who stepped into leadership only had the motivation to do so because of the wounds of our past? Because of our own poor self esteem? I don’t have answers here, only questions.

But what I’ve seen time and again are the people with the most drive, tend to be the most damaged, the most unstable.

I have seen so many leaders who had the drive and the interest–and yeah, there’s so few of us out there with the drive and interest to actually take the time to do this–but how many of us are actually motivated from a really unhealthy place? I’ve tried to come to running events from a more healthy place, but it’s a far slower process. Probably more sustainable in the long term, but it’s still a road I’m new to.

Common Problems: Instability
There are some common leadership problems that cause a nightmare of group dynamics spaghetti in Pagan communities. So often they seem to center on group members and leaders who are unstable and mentally ill, or just egomaniacs. These people cannot handle criticism, cannot handle people “infringing” on their turf, and they will blow up at other group leaders, they will undermine groups and group leaders, they will throw petulant temper tantrums.

These problems are exacerbated by the other group leaders out there who are just trying to do good work, but they have no leadership training. These group leaders may have more stability and maturity, but they make a lot of key mistakes. Honest mistakes, but these mistakes often escalate the problems and can lead to that healthier leader bailing, or to that group imploding. I mean, who wants to keep running a group when someone else is out there trying to undermine you all the time and shooting arrows into your back with gossip? It’s exhausting.

Pagan leadership plagued with group members, and leaders, who are like cranky teenagers wearing grown-up skin suits. I often wonder why I bother teaching leadership, if there’s any hope.

And again, I feel compelled to be transparent. I’m not always a paragon of stability myself. I struggle with depression, I drop the ball on things I’ve agreed to because I say yes to too much, and I’m not a pillar of financial stability. Granted, that last point is because I have donated too much of my time and money to the Pagan community…but if I were perhaps more stable and responsible I wouldn’t have let things get this bad.

I know a lot of my issues and I work on them, but I share some of the core issues of many of the unstable leaders out there.

Institutions and Paganism
I know a lot of Pagans talk about not wanting leaders, not wanting institutions that will take the “wildness” out of Pagans, however, I think that institutions and organizations are the only way we can build a healthy, useful, sustainable infrastructure.

I’m an ecstatic ritualist and mystic who wants institutions. At heart, I’m an anarchist, at least, an optimist, but I’m also a realist. True anarchy means, if I see a pothole, I fix it. I don’t wait for “them” to fix it, there’s no them. There’s only me being radically self-responsible. That’s optimistic…but, people are people. We aren’t there yet. I can’t even convince Pagans that they should make the choice to not use styrofoam at potlucks because it’s being hypocritical, if you say you’re Earth-centered. But I digress.

With Pagan leadership, I wish that Pagans and Pagan leaders were all ethical, self responsible people. I wish that Pagans were as tolerant as they purport to be. But we aren’t. I hear all the time about the deep, dark, stanky underbelly of the ugly crap Pagan leaders have done, particularly because I teach leadership.

So f we’re going to have institutions, then we need to do them well. If we’re going to have leadership and hierarchies, then we need those leaders to be accountable. And even if that leadership is shared–consensus, rotating leadership, voting in officers…whatever it is, we need our leaders to have actual leadership training. To have some method of doing the intense personal work and facing shadows so that we don’t step on ourselves.

Many of the group blow-ups I hear about are leaders who started with positive intent whose own baggage got in their way and they had a massive egotistical kablooey at someone in their group or another leader.

I’m sick of hearing about group leader after group leader who is causing these problems in their own community. Worst case, we’re talking about group leaders seducing minors–which happens. Theft, rape…it happens.

Who Should be a Leader?
I’m not the boss of anyone; we are each our own sovereigns. However, it’s also equally clear to me that there are some people who should simply not ever be in a position of leadership because they are unstable and have untreated mental illness, rampant egotism, or other various problems. I think the key here is unstable–many people with various kinds of mental illness have a regimen of meds and or therapy that they manage very well.

But the folks that don’t, the folks who are unstable, the folks who are completely not self aware, the folks who are completely egotistical…How do these folks end up in leadership?

Often the short answer is, there’s nobody else. There’s nobody else motivated to step in to do the work. It’s often the less stable of us that seem to get the leadership bug. Or maybe it’s that you have to be slightly insane to want to be a leader for a Pagan group, or run events that run the risk of not breaking even.

So many people in my leadership classes admit that they never wanted to be leaders. Here’s my admission–I didn’t want to be one either. I wanted my projects to happen, my dreams to happen. So, I had to become visible, become a leader, to make that happen.

As I’ve pointed out, I’m not always a paragon of sanity and stability myself. And, at times, I’ve stepped back from my role as an event organizer and group leader. I’ve worked on my own issues in order to become a healthier, more stable leader. But so many people I engage with seem to either have no clue how destructive they are in their own community, or, they just don’t care that they are jerks.

What Will Help the Situation?
If we’re going to have leaders, these leaders need training, and they need to be held accountable. But, that takes us back to the larger Pagan Community (or any other subculture). There’s no Pope, no ringmaster, no “this person’s above you” method of accountability.

I think most people I know were raised to be non-confrontational, to be passive aggressive. And a lot of Pagan leaders have learned to sweep the bad stuff under the rug because they are afraid of starting a witch war (which is no such thing, it’s just a personality conflict).

But what do you do?

Leaders who aren’t stable, who are consistently abusive, aren’t going to change. And you can’t make them stop. You can’t “fire” them. You can’t excommunicate them. What I often recommend–and this feels like an impotent, feeble recommendation–is to keep doing the work they are doing, ignore and shun the leader who is being difficult, and hope that you can reduce their relevance and keep up your own good work.

That’s not much of a recommendation.  Ignoring some of them does reduce their relevance to a dull roar…but they are still there. And the regular group leaders out there just trying to do good work get exhausted. Not from any kind of magical psychic attack, but just from dealing with the drama, the gossip, the pot shots, the stress.

Leadership Series
This is actually a series of several blog posts, because it’s a large topic. In a few days I’ll post about some of the problems, and some strategies for dealing with them. I hope you will join me in this mad idealistic crusade on the road to better Pagan leadership.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: communication, community, community building, group dynamics, impact, Leaders, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, Personal growth, personal transformation, shadow work, sustainability, transformation

Hypersensitivity, Freezing Over, and Coping

2044237_xxlI was recently introduced to the concept of hypersensitivity via a few blog posts, one of which I reblogged. And, whether you’re looking to just improve your own life, or, looking to be a better leader, knowing yourself is crucial. 

Here are some techniques that I’ve used to work past this tendency in myself. I should point out that I am not a therapist, nor have I had supervised Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I was therapy through a cheap clinic for a while, and the therapist suggested that based on what I was expressing, I would do really well with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She gave me some homework, and I read up on it on Wikipedia and elsewhere online.

The blog I mentioned refers to an article that I found useful in articulating some of the things I’ve struggled with in my own life, and might be useful to read before reading the rest of my post here.  http://lonerwolf.com/highly-sensitive-person-hsp/

Hypersensitive and Frozen Over
See, most of my life, I’ve experienced myself as fairly and emotionless. Actually having feelings is really difficult for me to get to–it’s not like I can just flip a switch and have emotions again. Then, something will happen and the skin on my entire body prickles and the center of my chest hurts and I’m overwhelmed with hurt or shame or anger or whatever.

When I started doing intensive personal growth work at the Diana’s Grove Mystery School, and before that at Reclaiming events, I became aware how I had adapted armor, that I was thin-skinned and the armor kept me safe, muffled. As I started intentionally trying to “remove” that armor and have feelings, I remember joking, “There’s no skin under here!”

I was an oversensitive kid. When I was 5, I’d cry at the drop of a hat seeing people in pain on tv or hearing sad music. But, in Kindergarten and First Grade is when I first started building up that armor. I was fat, and kids relentlessly teased me. Viciously. I was in pain all the time. Over the years, I built up walls. I stopped feeling, because it was the easiest way to get them to leave me alone. To stop hurting.

Years later, I’ve finally become aware that I’m not just emotionless–that I’m oversensitive. And, instead of blaming myself or being angry about that, I’ve tried to 1. acknowledge it, and 2. acknowledge that just because my emotions explode to a 10, doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way, and 3. that one rejection does not mean everyone will always reject me and I’m worthless.

That last phase in the oversensitive process is the one that consistently sends me into the depression spiral.

Techniques and Tools
I have leaned more heavily on the Four Levels of Reality tool from Diana’s Grove, which was adapted from Jean Houston. However, there’s some strong crossover. 

If you read Wikipedia and a few other online guides to CBT you’ll know as much as I do. Also, I have taken some guidance from blogs about anxiety.

The Four Levels of Reality as I use them:

  1. Physical Reality: What actually happened. “Bob shut the door making a loud sound.”
  2. Mythic Reality: The story we instantly tell. “Bob slammed the door angrily.”
  3. Emotional Reality: The instant emotional reaction we have. “I’m hurt and angry at Bob because Bob hates me.”
  4. Essential Reality: The stories we always tell, the way we see the world, because of what we’ve experienced in our past. “Of course Bob hates me, because everyone hates me, everyone has always rejected me, no one will ever love me.”

Essential Reality is a pair of glasses that coats our world. If we have good self esteem, if we like ourselves and have true confidence, then we might have a different story. “Bob closed the door really hard, I wonder if he meant to do that. Or maybe he’s angry. I should check in with him about that.”

First: Know Yourself
I have found, over time, that one of the keys to self transformation is first knowing myself. Once I know what’s going on, then I can look at what I want for my life, and how to modify and adapt. I’m not talking about “how to make yourself not hypersensitive.” In my case, I did the most adaptation I think one can do–I froze over my feelings almost completely. I remember doing it when kids started teasing me. By the time I hit middle school, I had no emotional affect.

It’s a skill I learned to cope with the world, to cope with the kids that verbally abused me every single day.

Knowing myself means–I know that I am emotionally sensitive. And, I know that I am generally frozen over. And, I accept myself, I know that I am that way. However, knowing myself means coming up with tools to work through that hot flash of shame/anger/overwhelm when something “bad” happens. I can realize, that it’s not a 10, it’s maybe a 2 or a 3, and if I look at it that way, I can reduce the thin-skin impact.

Emotions–when I have them–can be fairly overwhelming for me. However, learning that I’m actually thin-skinned has helped me to better cope with things like, romantic rejection, or, getting an email rejecting a proposal of some project, or other things that emotionally set me off. The tools within the Four Levels, and CBT, have helped.

Let’s imagine a scenario:
I’ve sent an email. Maybe I was requesting an interview on someone’s blog about writers, or maybe I was submitting an article, or maybe I was inviting someone to present at an event I’m hosting. And then the dreaded moment arrives; they send an email back, and I can see from the first line that the answer is “no.”

My gut clenches. Heart palpitates. Skin crawls. Anxiety goes to an 8, 9, or 10. I feel the adrenaline lacing through my system. I’m hurt–no wait, I’m angry that they rejected me!

I can’t even stand to read the email, my mouth is dry. Or, I opened the email and there’s the rejection. So I close it, I can’t read it. My anger turns into self loathing. Of course they rejected me, because everyone always rejects me. Because I’ll never….

Out of the Spiral
But here’s where CBT/4 levels comes in. I feel myself going into the old hamsterwheeling. Here’s the thing–I know I’ll feel better. It might take a few hours. Probably it’ll take a day; sleep always helps me. In fact, one of my challenges is that anger almost immediately makes me sleepy.

I just want to eat carbs and pass out and forget about the stuff that hurts me so bad.

However, in this instance, I can say, yeah. I’m having emotions. I’m raw. Is it worth being this raw about it? I look at my old essential realities popping up–”Everyone always rejects me.” Well, that’s not true, I have plenty of physical reality to back that up.

I look at my emotional level. “Is this worth being at an anxiety level of 9?” I think. Nope, probably not. This is more of a 2 or a 3. Yes, it sucks to have an article/proposal get denied, but, this isn’t the End of the World.

So I recognize:
1. That I’m having an emotion and that’s ok, and the adrenaline will taper off, and there’s some other stuff that I can do right now that will help me ease through that. Sorting files, facebook, whatever. Something I can do to relieve stress.

2. That this isn’t the end of my career/life, and that there will be other opportunities, and other folks like my work. And yes, perhaps that article could have been written better. Or, perhaps that person’s blog wasn’t a good fit for my work. 

3. That this doesn’t make me a bad person. That my work being rejected doesn’t make me bad, it just means I might need another pass at editing, or, that they didn’t have time, or, whatever the reason was. 

For me, the key to all of this is keeping the oversensitive emotional reaction from leading me into the spiral of depression. My tendency in the past has been:

  1. Get bad email,
  2. Get hurt/angry/overwhelmed,
  3. Ignore emails for days and crawl into bed and be dysfunctional for a week because, everyone hates me, why do I bother, I’ll always be rejected.

I’m summing up complicated feelings, and I can’t properly articulate the sheer exhaustion that I feel when dealing with some challenging situations. Eating healthy helped a lot with that, I’m a lot less tired, less brain fog. But, big emotional moments exhaust me and the self-loathing leads me into depression.

Nipping it in the bud from the start with physical reality (I don’t suck, people do like me) as well as being ok that I have a big oversensitive reaction, has helped.

Another Scenario:
Let’s go for a scenario that could be romantic, or, it could even be friend/business related. I’ll lean toward romantic, as those are more highly charged.

I’m waiting for an email from someone, and they aren’t emailing me. And it’s killing me waiting for that email and I’m envisioning all the terrible things. They don’t like me any more, whatever. Maybe it’s a romantic thing, maybe it’s a professional thing, whatever it is. I’m stuck in mythic hamsterwheeling.

So physical reality here is, they haven’t emailed me. So I remind myself that, I don’t know why they haven’t emailed me. Being in mythic hamsterwheeling land means that I’m in emotional oversensitivity land, I’m angry, hurt, sad, whatever is going on.

So I just keep going back to what I know is true/physical reality.

I try to wait a reasonable time before following up. And, when I’m less emotionally charged but still charged enough to be bold enough, I will have direct communication and ask what’s going on.

If it’s a romantic thing, I might say, “Hey, so, we’re in XYZ relationship but it’s often days between when you contact me, and I sometimes message you and don’t hear back. I want to find out if you’re ignoring me, if I’m annoying you, or if you’re having second thoughts about us, or, if you just aren’t as communicative as I am wanting you to be.” etc. That would be a truncated version of what I might say, and if at all possible I’m doing that in person or over the phone so it’s conversational, not a run-0n line of oversensitive-sounding text.

Now–the unfortunate side of boundaries-land is that the answer is often “no.”

Many of the times I’ve had that conversation, the answer has been either, “No I don’t want to communicate that frequently, ” or, “No, I don’t want a relationship.” And that can sting…or, it can be a knife in my chest.

But I also know that it’s better than sitting there angsting and wondering and waiting for a response. I’ve tried to take to heart the “He’s just not into you” approach with romantic relationships, as well as with some professional relationships.

What that means for me is recognizing when I’m getting emotionally invested, and when someone else doesn’t seem to be, and then trying to clarify that as soon as possible rather than dancing around and avoiding the conversation. My tendencies to be oversensitive lead me to heightened anxiety which makes me want to avoid these conversations like the plague. However, I always do feel better.

So that’s another physical reality I can focus on.

Yes. I’m oversensitive. My emotions are sometimes raw. But I know I’ll be raw, I know it’ll hurt. And I can keep going back to What I Know, to Physical Reality. That relationship wasn’t going to be satisfying for me if he’s not communicative or not that into me. It sucks, but I’ve cut my angsting down quite a bit by focusing on the Physical Reality.

I’ve kept myself out of a number of Black Pits of Depression that would have sucked me in a few years ago by focusing on physical reality and what I know.

Maybe one of these years I’ll be able to go through a course of therapy with a therapist skilled in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but for the moment, my own work has led me to at least some stability and greater mental health. You can learn more about CBT online, but I also highly recommend working with a therapist if you have the opportunity. They’ll help you do a better job of this than my years-long stumbling.


Filed under: Leadership, Personal Growth Tagged: leadership, Personal growth, personal transformation, self knowledge

Reblog: Are You a Highly Sensitive Person?

Find Out If You're a Highly Sensitive Person with This Test

I’m reblogging the below article as this concept is something I’ve been mulling over the past years. Most of my life, I’ve experienced myself as fairly and emotionless. Actually having feelings is really difficult for me.

And then, something happens and the skin on my entire body prickles and the center of my chest hurts and I’m overwhelmed with hurt or shame or anger or whatever.

And then I remember how I was when I was 4, 5, 6 years old, and how sensitive I was–people teasing me made me cry, seeing people in pain on tv and I’d cry. And I realize that this is a lot of why I’m an introvert, because I feel too much, too hard. I came up with walls starting at about age 5, when kids started teasing me. I remember very intentionally working to freeze over. It’s a skill I learned to cope with the world, to cope with the kids that verbally abused me every single day.

Doing a lot of personal growth work in the past decade, I began to understand that I have an incredibly thin skin, with a big set of plate armor. Once I started taking off that armor, the occasional times when I have an emotion, it’s fairly overwhelming. However, learning that I’m actually thin-skinned has helped me to better cope with things like, romantic rejection, or, getting an email rejecting a proposal of some project, or other things that emotionally set me off.

I have found, over time, that one of the keys to self transformation is first knowing myself. Once I know what’s going on, then I can look at what I want for my life, and how to modify and adapt.

Reblog:

Find Out If You’re a Highly Sensitive Person with This Test

Dr. Elaine Aron identified this trait way back in the mid-nineties, but it’s still a characteristic that’s misunderstood or just unknown to many. People who are HSPs tend to be more sensitive both physically and emotionally. Loud noises can be especially startling, for example, or clothing tags can be unusually irritating.”

*Note: check out the original article here as there are some excellent links. http://lifehacker.com/find-out-if-youre-a-highly-sensitive-person-with-this-1497152169?utm_campaign=socialflow_lifehacker_facebook&utm_source=lifehacker_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: Personal growth, personal transformation, self knowledge, shadows

Excerpt from A Mantle of Stars

MantleOfStarsA Mantle of Stars: A Devotional for the Queen of Heaven

I’m very excited to announce the publication of an anthology featuring one of my essays. I’ve included a few brief excerpts from my essay, and I’m really excited to read all of the other pieces. The anthology is edited by Jen McConnel and published by Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

About the Book:
Peel back the layers that comprise the Queen of Heaven. She is Mother Mary weeping at the cross, and Hathor dancing in the sky. She is Freyja with her wild eyes, and Frigg with her open arms. She is Yemaya, keeper of the sea; compassionate Kuan Yin; and she is winged Isis. Her starry body stretches across the sky in the guise of Nut, and she is Saraswati’s gentle song. She is Juno, and Hera, and Tanit, and a thousand forgotten names, and she is Inanna, descending to the underworld to be reborn.

The voices in this anthology are as diverse as the different goddesses who have claimed the title Queen of Heaven, but each sparkles like the stars in Our Lady’s mantle.

Excerpt from A Mantle of Stars:
Below are a number of short excerpts taken from my longer essay. Think of them as stones skipping on a pond; little glimpses in a basically linear flow.

My Path to the Lady in the Blue Light
–Shauna Aura Knight

“I didn’t know her name. I started talking to her at night, talking to that huge bright moon, to the glittering stars. I think I was twelve when I started pouring out my sorrows to her. I was young enough that everything was emotionally overwhelming. Old enough to understand that people were cruel, that my classmates were cruel, and that they were never, ever going to stop teasing me. I think it was around that age that I started wondering, every once in a while, if life was worth living if every day meant verbal, emotional, and sometimes physical torture at the hands of my peers.

Somehow, at night when I looked up at the moon, I felt that she was with me. Angel, goddess, I didn’t know….Feeling her close made me feel like I was worth something, like maybe life was worth surviving….”

***

“In my twenties, the dreams changed. The visions were harder to connect to, further and farther between. I began to dream less of the angel/goddess directly, and more of something I first called the Water Chapel, later, the Water Temple. In this Temple of the Goddess of moonlight and water, there were spiral grooves carved into the floor, sometimes carvings of water shapes and grails almost in the way the ramps up to the Forbidden City in China are carved in relief. There was always a fountain in the center, water falling down, or a grail overflowing.”

***

“When I joined the leadership program at Diana’s Grove, my intention was to learn the skills to help serve Pagan community, but also to be a better leader in order to accomplish some of the larger creative projects I had in mind, some of those being projects like building standing stones, temples, or something more mundane like art installations. I knew I had been called to Pagan leadership, and I knew that Diana’s Grove was one of the very few places where I could actually get the training to do it.

But as I began doing that work of learning Pagan leadership and priestess skills, it felt like my Goddess was further and further away from me. Those moments of divine communion seemed a thousand miles out of reach.”

***

“I’ve been reading about sacred geometry, ancient temples, and ancient legends for a while, but it seemed like suddenly the synchronicities were coming faster. Michael and Gabriel, sword and chalice. There also seemed to frequently be a connection between the Grail and the cosmic mountain or Omphalos—world navel—and at times, a connection to the dome of the heavens, the zodiac.”

***

“Archaeoastronomy is still considered fringe science to some, although I personally find the evidence fairly compelling that our ancient ancestors built computers in the form of stone megaliths and temples to track the movement of the stars and the heavens. As a kid I had those dreams about Stonehenge all the time, and for a while I thought about just building stone circles, but it wasn’t until I learned more about the actual solar and stellar alignments of some of the megaliths that it began to make sense why our ancestors might have done that kind of work. And perhaps, why I myself might have become obsessed with the idea without even knowing why.”

***

“I believe that our ancient ancestors understood the sky. And for whatever reason, they knew that it was essential to chart the stars, to record their observations in stone. It’s relatively easy to track the solstices and equinoxes, which would be essential for tracking the seasons. But some of these sites seem to have tracked incredibly complicated stellar phenomena. Eclipses, the 8-year and 40-year cycle of Venus. Even the 25,800 -year cycle of axial precession caused by the slight wobble of the Earth’s rotation on its axis.”

***

“Queen of Heaven, Venus, and Astronomical Megaliths
With a dozen wooden posts and a flat field, our priest-astronomer-megalith builders could have tracked the simple seasonal cycles. One post goes in the center as a sightline. You start at the Equinox, and put a post on one half of the circle for sunrise, one for sunset. Over the next months, you track the sun as it moves north, putting another post in to mark the sightline for the solstice. Solstice means “sun is standing still,” so you mark the northernmost sunrise of the summer solstice, and the northernmost sunset on the other side of your circle. Same thing for the latter half of the year, marking out the sunset. That calendar takes just one year to build and is fairly tolerant of error.”

***

“The truth is, I think a great deal of the “magic” of our ancient ancestors can be found in a modern cell phone: calendars, moon phases, a compass. Imagine the power that the shaman-priests had by being able to tell when the solstices and equinoxes fell. By knowing when the warm rains would come, when the snows would come, when it was time to plant. This knowledge was carried in the language of stone, in the language of myth.”

***

“My search began with the dreams, with visions of an unnamed goddess. Later, dreams of megaliths, dreams of temples filled with water and with images of a Grail, temples filled with spiral grooves, temples where water was always flowing, and where I felt connected to that goddess of the nighttime sky. In those dreams and visions, I felt completely connected to her, transcendent.

And yet, in my quest to follow the path I saw to spiritual leadership, and the path to learn more about labyrinths and temples, I seemed to have lost her….When I began leading public rituals, I thought surely I would find that place of communion, and it eluded me over and over. 

….For years, I felt a bitterness. How unfair was it that I finally understood some of the messages from my dreams, even if they were vague, and I couldn’t actually directly commune with this goddess that had inspired me and kept me from harming myself in my youth?”

***

“In my vision, I felt myself become a part of the entire universe. The universe was an ocean of love; I was laying on a bed that was the waters of the ocean that was the mother that loves us all and that is all of us, that we are not separate from. It was my goddess, but warmer, larger, more encompassing.

I felt the golden honey-light of the heartbreak of the universe breaking open on my skin in that moment, I felt the cradling rocking loving. That I was not separate from the divine. That indeed, I was not separate from anyone, that we were like water in the ocean, that the skin that separates us is an illusion. That it was all bliss and agony and love together—that the separation the universe must endure from us is agony, but only with that grief and loss can we truly recognize how potent it is to come home again….”

Table of Contents and more information at: 
http://neosalexandria.org/bibliotheca-alexandrina/current-titles/a-mantle-of-stars-a-devotional-for-the-queen-of-heaven/

Edited by: Jen McConnel
Published by: Bibliotheca Alexandrina
Price: $14.99
Publication Date: 20 December 2013
ISBN: 978-1494357948 / 1494357941
Pages: 302 pp

Purchase at:
https://www.createspace.com/4553772
http://www.amazon.com/Mantle-Stars-Devotional-Queen-Heaven/dp/1494357941

 


Filed under: Dreamwork, Personal Growth Tagged: A Mantle of Stars, archaeoastronomy, Archangel Gabriel, Arthur, Gabriel, Goddess, king arthur, megaliths, Personal growth, personal transformation, Quest for the Grail, stonehenge, Sword in the Stone, the Grail, trance journey, transformation