For those who don’t know what I mean, here is a little bit about the spoon metaphor.
Disclaimer: this topic did not come to me out of the ether. I saw a post on twitter about someone who was doing a podcast on the subject which made me think about it myself. I’ve been hunting twitter for that post and my response but I can’t find it. My apologies to the lovely person who first gave me the idea for this topic. If you know who you are and see this, please let me know and I’ll update my post to give you credit. (edit: I think it was this video. Thank you, E. for sending it my way. There are good suggestions in the video. This does not mean I support the channel or the creator – I don’t know this person at all. This video, however, offers good pointers).
I have severe chronic pain issues. Having worked as a ballet dancer for the first part of my working life, I was sidelined by injury and retired in my early twenties. While I loved my work, it left me with spinal damage, torn ligaments that never properly healed, tendonitis, arthritis, and chronic pain. Later, I developed fibromyalgia and severe migraines. Ballet taught me many things that I have carried over into my spiritual work and devotional world. I can work through a great deal of pain (whether that is healthy or not is a totally different question! Often I’ll be so focused on a task that I won’t realize my pain levels are creeping into seriously dangerous territory until I stop working. Once my concentration is broken, suddenly I’m hit with massive pain and it can lay me out for a long while. I do not advocate this for anyone, but, it’s a habit that I picked up as a dancer). I can use pain productively, as in ordeal where pain is one of the catalysts for going deeply into an altered state. I can force myself through pain if something needs to be done. I can function until I can’t, or rather I can function but then I pay a high price for it.
Learning to admit when I have to stop, and to take better care of myself before I get to that point has been one of the most difficult things I have ever had to learn. I have an aversion to laziness that only someone raised with dictums like “idle hands are the devil’s playthings” could have. It took me a long time to really accept that self-care was not laziness. I’m still somewhat dubious about where self-care ends and self-indulgence begins but I find it helps to think about self-care as a marathon. What is going to help us stay the course long-term? I bring myself back to this in my academic work, where I am all too often struggling with pain, and I bring myself back to it with my devotional practices too, especially as I get older. So, this is not an easy topic for me to approach in a way that I think will be valuable to you, my readers – even though I’m going to try to do just that here. All of this is complicated for me in that I think it is terribly easy to use one’s pain or circumstances as an excuse to do less, as an excuse to forego devotion all together and I have a knee jerk reaction to that, or to fostering that in myself or anyone else. It’s not always easy for me to balance these two things. Couple that with being an Odin’s person and very work-oriented.
I want to love my Gods better so much it hurts. That being said, devotion should not be torture. It should be something that is as natural and easy to us as breathing. There are going to be those times where we’ll struggle, or where we might have to slog through resistance but devotion should be the thing that sustains us and lifts us up. It’s important to build good devotional habits from the beginning and I think it’s so incredibly perverse that it can be so easy to build bad habits and so damned hard to build sustainable good ones. What is with that? Then chronic pain or some other physical or neurological condition comes along and complicates things. Like it’s not hard enough already? Argh. So, I have found that it’s perfectly ok to bitch, whine, and moan about this. Frustration with our limitations is natural. If you need to vent, allow yourself to do so. It doesn’t make you a bad polytheist to want to pound a wall sometimes in sheer frustration!
More importantly, I like to say that we are as we have been made and the Gods are not going to fault us for the peculiarities of our corporeal forms. If you’re having a bad day physically or a bad brain day and just can’t do the type of devotion you usually do, that’s ok. There is zero reason to be ashamed. Don’t beat yourself up. There are enough people in this world who are ready to do that for no reason at all. Just pick yourself up and do what you can do. If it’s just a whispered prayer that’s enough. The Gods know your heart. The best you can do is the best you can do at any given time. It’s ok if that varies considerably from day to day. Do what you can do and know that the Gods see you and it is enough.
I think it’s natural for us to plan for our good days. I would suggest having a series of plans for your bad days, and then those days that are worse. When XYZ happens (when I wake up with a migraine so bad I’m screaming for instance, or with my joints so inflamed I can’t get out of bed) what is the devotional game plan? It may not be much. It may be a single prayer, like Sigdrifa’s prayer that I have committed to memory. Usually we can always pray – maybe not too coherently – but at least there is some kind of reaching out. If that’s the best one can do, then it is enough.
I think it’s really important to establish a base line for the very worst days. Prep for that. Know that they will happen and that’s ok. That’s not going to be the new normal. It’s temporary and there’s no shame in it. Do what you can do – and you yourself are the best judge of that. When you are feeling better and are able to do more, then do more. It’s that simple for me. I have the goal of giving 110% but when I fall short, provided I’m doing the best I can, I don’t beat myself up. I just regroup on the days I feel better.
Self-care is part of the work. We can’t do devotion without at least a modicum of self care. For those like me with chronic pain, that may mean getting enough sleep, eating regularly, staying hydrated, doing what exercise one can…I know if I disrupt my sleeping patterns for more than a night or two, I’m going to get hit with a migraine. It’s almost certain. Learning how my chronic pain works and what triggers it and doing my best to avoid those triggers (not always a possibility, I might add) has been an important part of my own self-care.
A friend of mine, when we were discussing this said, “Proper self-care is the first service you can offer your Gods because you are Their instrument and if you aren’t keeping that instrument in proper care, you’re neglecting your first duty to Them. You’re breaking something beautiful that They have created.” She’s right. “Always ask yourself how your behavior is benefiting Them.” If you’ve crossed from self-care into non-productive self-indulgence (1) (because feeding the soul with beauty is not a bad thing) then step back and see how you can get back on track within your limits. My friend continued, “always ask: is this behavior on course with what my Gods intend for me? Am I still on the same road with Them? If you feel you’ve deviated then perhaps it’s time for a reset, perhaps you’ve crossed from necessary self-care into behavior that is damaging to your development.”
You know best when you’ve crossed those lines, just like you know what your body best needs to function. Don’t be afraid to prioritize self-care when those bad days come. It’s not just making sure you aren’t in physical pain, but making sure that internally – mentally, emotionally – you’re in a good place. Do what you need to do to feed yourself on all levels. Feed your eyes with art. Feed your mind with poetry, with books, with things that inspire us to live better, to live fully, to live joyously. Listen to music that echoes the voices of the Gods in every note. That’s self-care too.
- This is such a terrible term. Luxury isn’t bad. Beauty isn’t bad. We need to feed our eyes and ears and tastebuds, and our entire sensorium with beauty to be healthy. Beauty lifts us up to the holy. Beauty is sacred. We should enjoy life and enjoy our work at least some of the time. I don’t have a word other than “self-indulgence” though for when one falls out of right alignment with the Powers and with oneself. I will say this: that line is going to be different for everyone anyway.