“Rest.”

“Rest,” she says, and licks my nose.

Neighborhood Bear

At Twilight Covening, for the first time, I worked with Mama Bear.

She watched me start my first Journey, trying to find the biggest hurt I carried, watched as I went over every “what if” and “should have” and “why am I not better at this?” It took longer than it felt – apparently everyone in my clan went deeper than we thought. “What if” and “should have,” apparently, are my biggest hurts, the things my brain weasels bring up every time I have a down.

She supervised as Raven brought in His unkindness, His conspiracy, and took me apart, piece by piece, removing the masks and the layers and the identities and the skin and meat and sinew while the trees reached up with their roots to hold me there. She grunted and roared and told Him to hurry up as He claimed my very core, claiming me as one of His own while Sir nodded in agreement.

She walked with me in the last Journey, helping me navigate as I shifted into something part-bear, part-stag, part-raven, and napped on the rock in the sunshine. She licked my nose in good humor and patience, waking me from that last Journey.

She will not walk with me much further; I am Claimed by too many others, after all, and my path is not hers. But her lessons ring still, even as my Sir and Lover dies, even as Mother Danu grows quiet and thoughtful, even as Cousin Ganesha retreats. Her lessons are repeated by the soft “awk” in my ear, the gentle clacking against my hair.

“Rest,” she said. “Learn to do less. Learn to expect less of yourself. Wick has named you West Virginia Mountain Mama. Mountains may move slowly, but their movement changes the world.”

“Slow down,” she said.

“Rest,” she said.

Reintegration by force

I came home from Twilight Covening last night, late. Around 4:00, as my passengers and I were finally hitting signal off the mountain, my Kit called. He had left messages that I could not get until I got off the mountain.

His sister died Saturday morning.

It’s complicated. We don’t yet know the circumstances for certain. She was not an easy person to deal with, not because of an unpleasant personality, but because – in a nutshell- she was an addict with bipolar disorder who left behind three children who had been removed from her care, as well as parents she used up whenever it suited her and a brother and nephews who were exasperated by 25 years of bad behavior.

But she was still family. There was someone there I never got to meet – someone they knew from long ago, someone funny and kind and smart, someone buried by illness and addiction and bad choices and “it’s all good no matter what happens” denial – and so they mourn her.

I have never returned from a retreat with such a cold, abrupt, forceful shift back into reality. Processing hasn’t happened yet. My reintegration day is a shattered mess. My desire to be strong for my Kit, for my family and clan-by-marriage, is warring with my inability to resume immediate control, since my whole amazing incredible weekend was spent surrendering that control.

There was no good way for it to happen; the outcome is unavoidable, and I blame no one. I’m not sure I even blame her. I was angry in ways and for reasons I won’t dwell on here. After a hard cry this afternoon, a fight with the instincts of wanting to be the caretaker and wanting time to come back from the Mountain, I have found a place of calm.

I cannot hold up my Kit or my clan right now, not the way I would normally. I am still caught between Mountain and Mundane. But right now I can be there. It is a start.

Twilight Covening comes again.

I have missed it for the past two years. Now that things are stabilizing financially (thanks to Kit’s new job), I am going back to Twilight Covening.

Of late, I have been utterly overwhelmed by Life. This, if you’ve been around for a while, is not unusual. We’re still in the midst of the House Saga (very close to actually buying it now, thanks to family help). There’s still stuff to unpack, because my nerves about being able to stay kept me from unpacking much more. We’ve had a plumbing problem in the kitchen that we might (might) have finally solved. And add to that doctor stuff, anxiety stuff, day-to-day responsibilities, and business stuff, and BOOM. There goes the spiritual life again.

I feel like one of the weirdest godslaves ever, really.

I did manage Ganeshotsav this year, good and proper, including the nose piercing I still owed Him. And we finally got the main altars set up. That all helped immensely.

But going back to Twilight Covening is a relief… and utterly nerve-wracking.

The selection process was shockingly easy for me. And I got my first choice – Kodiak, which is built to help us learn to nourish our Work and our Selves. This is part of why I’m relieved, because yet again, I’m restless and exhausted and way too often on the edge of burnout.

No, I didn’t keep up with yoga. No, I didn’t keep imced or the Fool in balance. No, I didn’t keep any of the lessons I learned at my last Twilight in 2013. I’ve let Life overwhelm me again, and over and over again let me berate myself for being a lazy Pagan and a bad godslave and everything else, which is a cycle that is really terrible, honestly, and you shouldn’t do that and neither should I, but welcome to my brain.

So I need this. I need this badly, and Kit’s insistence that I go, that I use part of his hard-earned first paycheck to register, is a relief.

But I’ve missed two years of the mountain. And going back after being away from anything so long makes me nervous as hell. I’m back to being that, “Oh no, trying new things, help?” person, at least for the moment.

Sir is quiet. Danu my Mother is quiet. Ganesha my Cousin is quiet. The Folk and Redwing and Raven (who has more say in my life these days), and Tamalut… they wait. Not to see what I’ll do, not to see if I’ll fail. They wait for me to learn and to grow and to find my way out of the hole I keep putting myself in. They set the path. I need to turn my feet to walk it more often, and more consistently. For my own health; for my own heart; for my own healing.

So back I go. Back to the cold stone, the warm leaves, the high mountain, the low sky. Back I go.

Imced, The Fool, and The Tower

Homecoming came at 11:45 on Monday night. I miss the mountain – the gorgeous weather, the people, the fellowship – but there is serious relief in being home as well. My Kit, my kids, my cats, my bed… yeah, there’s a lot to be thankful for at home.

My clan this year was Camel, focused on yoga. Yoga is many things, but much of it is breath. Yoga is the mind surrendering to the breath and the body, quieting the chatter and focusing on maintaining the flow.

Much of yoga is balance. Balancing the body in the pose; balancing the breath with the imcedmovement. And when I drew a tile for my weekend goals, it was imced. The weaving comb represents, among other things, balance, or a need for balance. I was surprised. In hindsight, perhaps I should not have been.

That’s hindsight, though. In the moment, I was surprised.

My favorite depiction of The Fool, from the Shadowscapes Tarot  by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

From Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Sunday night’s ritual continued the theme, but added a wrinkle. There were dark places during my walk, areas where I could not see the terrain below. In order to continue, I had to trust the darkness, the unknown. Imced was needed… as was The Fool. Be ready to fall in the pursuit of your answer, and embrace the fall.

I did the walk twice, focused on my questions. In what form or manner do I find imced? I wondered during the first walk. I was asked, “Why is this your question?” and suddenly found myself in tears. When asked, “Did you find your answer?” I could only nod, because the tears were pouring down my face. To speak would have meant complete breakdown; if I needed the breakdown, I promised myself, I would have it later.

My answer was chaos.

I touch on it a lot, but don’t detail much about my day-to-day life. First thing: I adore my family and would not change my life in general. That said, I’ve mentioned a few of my Kit’s various challenges, which have only gotten more so over time. We both have day jobs, and then the household has to be managed as well (including cats, a teenager who shows signs of fibromyalgia, bills, and so forth). Kit tries hard to help, but because of his various conditions, much of it falls on me. I knew it before, but somehow this weekend it hit me that much harder that I have caregiver fatigue. For months I’ve been teetering on the edge of actual burnout. And no, I haven’t sought the support that would help me cope, nor have I taken the time to take care of myself. My mind has been in complete chaos trying to keep up with everything, and I have felt entirely helpless to change it.

This weekend, I was shown that I am not helpless.

Imced is order. The Fool is, to some extent, chaos. One cannot exist without the other. I cannot impose order in my life and expect it to stick – it’s neither realistic nor desirable for me. So it came time to determine my next question: “How do I balance order with chaos?”

Again I walked the circuit. Again I was asked the questions. This time, I did not find my answer. This time I was Told, “This is what you must learn. This is your winter Work.”

For eight years, I have had the tool to find that balance. Yoga.

Have I mentioned that I’ve always loved it? There are a million excuses as to why I haven’t pursued it more, but with encouragement from my clan, my friends, and my family, those excuses are fading.

16-Tower

Close to the exact print I received.

I finished the Sunday ritual feeling sore, but accomplished. I had my Work; I had my tools. I sang with the Covening and prepared for a good dinner.

And then I received my tarot card.

Ouch?

I don’t know tarot as well as I know my Stones, but there are a few cards that have stuck with me. The Fool is one; the Tower is another. It means change – dramatic change, out of which one does not escape unscathed. Per the Shadowscapes deck I have:

Upheaval and sudden change, crisis, releasing all emotion, suffering a blow to the ego, revelation and seeing through illusions.

It doesn’t mean bad change, nor does it mean good change. But dramatic.

My immediate reaction was fear. Now that I have a little distance, I can see where it would apply to my winter Work. I can see pain and some upheaval on the path ahead. Finding balance is never easy, and with yoga in my toolbox, I can imagine a complete deconstruction of my ego. (This is not a bad thing, but it will not be easy.)

Monday morning brought gentle yoga to restore from the night’s hike, a little sunburn, and a delightful ride home. I have brought home that gentle yoga routine and continued it, ten minutes or so every day, to keep from seizing up or losing my groove. Meanwhile, an awesome friend (who is a certified yoga teacher) will be helping me set up a daily practice, and for that I am crazy grateful.

Today is my second day back at my day job, headed back into my daily routine. This time, I feel more prepared to cope.

I am a Camel. I have resources to get through the changes ahead. I am not helpless, and I am certainly not alone.

camel2013

My clan, and the gorgeous lake at the mountain.

A Fable

It was the night of the Visioning Ritual, and she was nervous. The water spirit before her clan was speaking about burdens, both her burden and the burden of the participants, and in her hurry to be ready, she was not paying full attention.

Taking her place in line, she took a sharp rock from the basket. Her burdens – rough and sharp and demanding. She clung to it as they moved down the path, made unfamiliar by the dark. Her clan was lined up on the shore of the lake, and instructed to throw their burdens into the water. She reached back and hurled with all her might, and felt a great weight lift from her shoulders.

Suddenly, there was a nudge from her left; a large stone was being passed to her, and she took it in confusion. She hadn’t heard anything about this, and she didn’t know what to do with this sudden weight. In her confusion, she held on to the stone. It was much larger than the one she had just thrown, but not terribly heavy.

The clan was instructed to cover their eyes, and she felt her hand guided to a rope. She hefted the stone to her other side, cradling it while the clan was pulled along by the rope, falling into step with her fellows.

Step, step, step, step… she barely noticed the ache building in her arm as she marched in darkness, feeling her clan around her. They were stopped, separated, instructed to remove their blindfolds, and shown to the next doorway in the path, one by one.

Now she was alone. Now and then she would catch up with a member of her clan; sometimes she would encounter another spirit with instruction; at times she would find the member of another clan on the path. She shifted the stone in her grasp now and again, first to one arm, then the other, then both. The night was warmer than expected; she stopped once, setting the stone down while she removed a layer, fastening it to her waist before picking the stone back up and resuming her path.

Roots jutted out from the ground to stub her toes; rocks rose up beneath her feet, some steady, some slippery. The stone in her arms seemed to be growing heavier, her arms aching to hold it while steadying herself on the steep, rough path ahead. She tried to concentrate on the path, but the growing weight was distracting.

She reached another spirit, who held out another basket. “Take a stone,” she was instructed. It was the same size as the first, smoother by far but still holding edges that bit into her fingers. “Your burdens returned,” she was told, “smoothed for their time in the water, but not gone. You still must face them.”

The path continued ahead, but now she was upset. None of the spirits she had met that night had addressed the large stone she still carried. No word, no deed had given her any hint of what to do with it. Now she was carrying two stones, and she was getting warmer still.

Again she stopped, to think and catch her breath. As she pulled off another layer, she felt her arms scream with the weight they had carried for who knew how long, felt the new stone in her pocket. “Why am I carrying this rock?” she asked herself.

She couldn’t answer. With one last look at it, she left it on the ledge, continuing on with only her own small rock secure in her pocket.

The next day, she told the story to her clan. The leaders exclaimed, “You stole the water spirit’s burden!”

“I seem to do that a lot,” she replied. “I take on the burdens of others – even when they do not ask – and never ask myself why. Last night I asked myself, ‘Why am I carrying this rock?’ When I couldn’t answer, I put the rock down.”

So… why are you carrying that rock?

True story. This occurred during my second Twilight Covening; I was the one who stole the water spirit’s burden. I found out later that I was not alone – I found at least one other person who carried the larger stone through the entire ritual. It is now a source of much humor among my friends, who (rightly) laughed out loud when I told them the story. It is also a fantastic metaphor for taking on burdens that are not ours to bear, and we now ask each other: Why am I carrying this rock?

Expect Nothing.

The Wheel turns back to autumn; next week I run away from “civilization” to the top of a mountain. Twilight Covening is here again, and as ever, my existence is being turned on its ear.

When signing up for Twilight Covening, one chooses four clans in order of preference. This year, mine were Deer, Camel, Sow, and Lynx. I signed up early, bounced along with the friends who I will see there again, and started making packing lists.

I expected this:

Google/Wikimedia

Google/Wikimedia

And perhaps a little of this:

meditationuk.blogspot.com

meditationuk.blogspot.com

Well, I got my assignment on Sunday, and true to form, that’s not what I’m getting. It’s more like this:

treehugger.com

treehugger.com

With a big side order of this:

healthmaven.blogspot.com

healthmaven.blogspot.com

A quiet meditation clan choice gave way to a clan of activity. Yoga is spiritual and contemplative, but it is so in the context of physical activity. Talk about a surprise! And with barely two weeks to prepare, I’ve had to completely rework my packing list and start picking up more fitness clothes to get me through a weekend that will be much more active than I expected. The fun thing about TC: One has to think in layers, so I’m looking at getting practically a new wardrobe.

I really should have seen it coming. Every time I get ahead of myself and start expecting things, the Universe goes, “Nope!” and does a 180 on me. I haven’t yet learned to expect nothing and prepare for everything.

PLOT TWIST!

Although this is lots of fun.

I am learning to take such surprises in stride, but my initial reaction was one of slightly terrified OH HOLY WOW WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO? (That seems to be a theme in my life.)

Where is my dear, quiet Sir in all of this? Laughing His head off, of course. He loves when curve balls come my direction, even if they aren’t of His making. It keeps me on my toes, keeps me Awake and jolts me out of my comfort zone.

The very nice thing about this, though, is that I won’t be alone. One of my old clan-mates is going to be in Camel with me, as will one of my best friends for the past decade. (Which reminds me – if you haven’t read her blog, GO READ IT. She’s on a completely different path from me and is totally awesome.) Yet another good friend is my carpool to and from the mountain, and it’s his first year going. It’s going to be a fun year at Twilight Covening.

But, as usual, PLOT TWIST!

Divination Duhs

Or: What You Already Knew, You Knucklehead.

One thing that struck me about Twilight Covening this year was the amount of divination involved. I had my Kahina Stones with me and did a couple of readings for myself. There was a clan activity which involved single-card tarot and Stone draws (good practice for me). Tarot cards were, as ever, offered after the Visioning Ritual. Finally, there was the rune reading I received after the Ritual.

It was the most I’ve ever dealt with divination. Everything that came up was, of course, just telling me what I already knew.

I expected the Stones to be that way. They know me, after all, and Tamalut won’t let them deceive me.

During the clan card pull, I got the Moon. Intuition and imagination. Surprise! (Or not.)

The card I received after the Visioning Ritual was the six of cups. Unexpected blessings.

The rune reading I got from Jane, who is very, very matter of fact. It was three – past, present, future. Past came up gorgeous, fruitful and wonderful. Present came up as something I’m ignoring; to quote Jane, “And you know damn well what it is.” The future? Fine, as long as I get the thing I’m ignoring taken care of by Feast of Lights in February; the 2nd happens to be a hard-and-fast deadline for The Conundrum.

I’m not surprised or bothered; I’m comforted. I’m going the right direction. I know the Work I have ahead of me. I’m Hearing correctly. So off I go.