Wow! Between the comments here and LJ, I had about four dozen replies! I’ve done my best to reply in turn, though here I’m going to address some of the common themes I saw in people’s replies. But I do want to thank you all again; this has really helped to give me food for thought, and readjusted my perceptions of Intense Paths to something more realistic. (I also have about eight billion more books to look up 😉 Devious people, recommending even more books I can’t buy right this moment!)
So here are a few things I saw running through a lot of the responses:
–The big, bad changes are actually for mutual benefit (with a few exceptions).
This is actually in alignment with a lot of my experiences in the past. Let me give you a brief lesson in the history of Lupa. In 2002, I was living in Pittsburgh with my then-fiance with whom I had an increasingly unhealthy (for both of us) relationship. I quit a rather miserable job at a veterinary clinic and ended up working for Clean Water Action, an environmental nonprofit, as a field canvasser. I started in July, and in September I and three other people from that office got shipped out to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to A) help Democrat Tim Johnson win the senatorial campaign and B) inform the people of Sioux Falls that the Big Sioux River, their main water supply, was so filthy that there were measurable amounts of pig waste and pesticides in their tap water.
I’ll spare you the details; needless to say, having three months away from Pittsburgh was a major catalyst and broke me out of a bunch of stagnation in my life at the time. Upon my return I broke up with my fiance, took over our apartment, and proceeded to live on my own for the next three and a half years, with a couple of relationships along the way, as well as a fling or three. I also overhauled my spiritual practices, completely rediscovered myself more than once, and in short did all the self-searching and streamlining I hadn’t been able to do when A) living with my parents, including all the way through college, and B) living with a significant other. This included some pretty disorganized times, such as the eight months in 2004-5 where just about everything in my life changed. Then, more recently, 2006 had me move across the country, get married, go into an entirely new profession, get published, and a few other more minor changes.
So pretty much the entire time since the Autumn of 2002 my life has been in a state of flux to one extent or another. Looking back, while there was no doubt some pointless flailing along the way, I also did a lot of learning and cleaning out of things I didn’t really need. In a lot of ways, the events of the past five+ years have prepared me for where I am now. I can’t say I liked every change that occurred, but I can see where a lot of the major ones were learning experiences, or ways of clearing things out of my life that I no longer needed, but was loathe to let go of.
I’ve had some recent shake-ups, too, that have helped me to realize what’s necessary in my life right now, and what I can stand to let go of for the time being. I suppose my anxiety with the prospect of having even more things taken away “for my own good” is that I wonder how much more I really need, and also that I’m finally finding some sense of stability in life. For example, while my marriage isn’t absolutely, totally perfect and without flaws (whose is?) and we’ve had some shake-ups, a lot of the recent occurrences have shown me the strength in it. I suppose what I really want is to have something in my life that won’t change to the point of being lost to me, and that while it may evolve, it’ll still be there. I know change is normal, and particularly normal for this sort of dedicated spirituality, but I’m ready for at least some settling down, too. Buying a house in the next few years would be nice, for example.
On the other hand, I’m open to constructive change, too. I wouldn’t mind being self-employed, and being able to do so in a way that still lets me have a comfortable life would definitely facilitate my path. (Working two jobs, on the other hand, would not so much.) And that’s a related theme I’ve seen a lot–that it is okay to come to the table with my own agenda. There are certain things that I want within reason, and certain things that are off-limits. It’s been very reassuring reading about others’ experiences with this sort of thing, being able to negotiate rather than just taking whatever’s handed to you.
Just for the record, I haven’t had any indication, for example, that I’ll lose everything. I think the main concern is that I’ll dedicate enough time to shamanizing, and that it’ll be less about my life collapsing again, and more about shifting around priorities. Given that I don’t have children (nor do I plan on them), my husband is quite supportive of my spirituality, and I’m getting better at time management and self-discipline, the only things that would need to be removed are those that have become irrevocably harmful. In retrospect, that’s what’s been removed in the past, anyway.
–The false dichotomy of mundane/spiritual
This is something I’ve struggled with some. In my experience growing up in the U.S., you keep your spirituality distanced enough from your everyday life that you form a dichotomy between spiritual and mundane. Otherwise you risk becoming that person who only does what the Bible says no matter what, or refuses goes out of the home without a fifteen card tarot reading every day. In other words, it’s not cool to be Ned Flanders.
Additionally, being pagan, there’s that whole mentality among some, not all, non-pagans, that if you let your paganism permeate your life, you must be in a cult and you’ve been brainwashed and therefore your religion is bad for you. Or, alternately, you must have been one of those weird kids in school who read books on Wicca and you just haven’t grown out of it (because everyone knows that Christianity is a more grown-up religion than believing in all those gods and goddesses!)
Finally, in “conventional” neopaganism, there’s the much-flogged idea that you do your mundane actions before your magic–you send out resumes to get a job, and then do the job spell.
This perpetuates that dualistic perspective that I still deal with. So I really need to find ways to marry the two without either A) becoming completely out of touch with “reality” (however you want to define it, and B) accommodate the increased amount of spiritual woo I’ll most likely be dealing with. So it looks like a paradigm shift is in order. I’m already somewhat in the process of doing that what with making changes to my life to be more eco-friendly, as well as increasing the amount of daily communication with the powers that be that I have. That’s still not quite the same as being “on call” 24-7, though, and being ready to have my routine disrupted as necessary.
–Shamanism isn’t necessarily a permanent condition
First, I agree with the concept that we do get a few chances to opt out before taking the big plunge. I know one of these will happen at the end of my six months, where I’ll get to decide whether to move forward or not (though whether, if I refused, I’d get called again later is another question entirely–depends on how badly I’m wanted, I suppose). But another thing that brought up is the idea that one’s path can evolve even past shamanism, such as into another form of spirit work (some folks consider shamanism to be a type of spirit work) or other calling. This seems to be different from just backing out entirely; instead, it’s finding that shamanism no longer “fits”, and finding what fits better for who you are at that point and what’s needed from you.
–Remember, it’s not all horrible and terrible!
I think this reminder comes because so much of the modern material on shamanism is…well…fluff. Things like claiming the Native Americans are actually from Atlantis and making everything about crystals, etc. Part of why I’ve been focusing so much on traditional forms of shamanism is because I haven’t had that much exposure to it, and I don’t feel that a lot of neoshamanism goes deep enough, just based on my previous experiences as a magician. However, I think I sometimes veer too far into the “shamanism is not fluffy–it’s scary and dangerous and it’ll eat you alive!” stuff, and forget that there are good parts to it, too. I have to remember that just because my relationship with the totems intensifies, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll become more distant or harsh all the time. And for all the Animal Father may scare the hell out of me at times, he’s also been quite supportive at times, too. And I have to remember that while my training does help me become a better “vessel” for shamanizing, there are also things that benefit me personally as well.
These are the main thoughts I’ve had from reading over peoples’ responses. Again, I really appreciate the brain food, and people setting me straight on what the things I brought up are actually about. Y’all are awesome 🙂