BY E.J. OAKLORE
It is natural in stressful times, when darkness encroaches, when everything in our life seems to be falling apart, that we lose sight of our spirituality; the very thing that ought to keep us from such despair.
Our spirituality is supposed to be our light in the darkest of times, the guidepost that keeps us on the right path, ever struggling against the tide and which, with enough effort, brings us to some kind of peace with our circumstances. It shapes and refines us. It helps us to remain focused on the positive, on solutions, rather than on the negative. But sometimes problems come at you so fast, and with such abundance, that we fall into the trap of not having time to take out of our day to re-center ourselves; to do the things we need to do to keep our spiritual devotion at the forefront of our minds and hearts. And it is at these times that we suffer the most, because we suffer from not only the problems we face in life, but from the feeling of being disconnected from that which is our most inherent and built-in comfort; the spark of the Divine inside of us. It is at those times when we are most alone … or at least, when we feel most alone. But it is an illusion. It is an illusion of our own making. Fear, stress, loneliness and depression, like what I was suffering through, these things become self-perpetuating because we are under this illusion.
There were times when I little realized how easy it might have been to break this cycle, freeing myself of that illusion. My heart and my mind were so preoccupied with the negative in my life. It is important to note here that negativity is a self-perpetuating cycle. Not to be cliché but, like really does attract like … probably one of the most repeated concepts in self-help books and other treatises meant to inspire positive thinking.
Finding moments of pure, ecstatic joy is a funny and amazing thing. They don’t happen even half as often as they should, and we spend our whole lives in pursuit of them.
Ironically, it is the one pursuit in our lives that we most easily fail to keep faith with. For so many of us, marginalized by our circumstance and the stresses of everyday life, the drama of dysfunctional family and self-serving personalities all around us, it is so easy to find ourselves in a self-perpetuating cycle of negativity, which is fueled, principally, by focusing on that negativity rather than on the blessings in our lives.
Having a negative outlook perpetuates negative outcomes, while focusing on the positive brings blessings into our lives. If you’re reading this, no doubt you’ve read others treatises that were built around this thesis. You may be wondering, why is it every author seems to push this? Don’t they understand how hard life is? Don’t they know it’s impossible to have a positive attitude all the time, when you consider how much drama and negativity there is in the world?
I assure you, there isn’t a single person that has ever written about this concept that isn’t aware of how difficult life is; who doesn’t struggle with their own demons and negative thinking. Being positive and actively seeking moments of joy is not easy. I don’t think any author who’s written on this subject aims to suggest that it is.
What I see most in people when I speak on this subject is that the pressures and stresses in their life leave them feeling powerless to affect any kind of positive change, and that ecstatic joy is so alien a concept that it might as well be a nebulous fantasy.
But being Pagan means so much more than worshiping according to ancient, pre-Christian tradition; it means that we have embraced a path in which the Old Gods speak directly to our souls and give us the power within ourselves to affect the circumstances without. Paganism is all about self-empowerment. It is also about simplicity. The ancient Celts believed that making a change manifest was so simple a thing as to only require applying thought. Celtic scholar, poet and author John O’Donohue suggested this in his book, Anam Ċara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom:
“If you send out goodness from yourself, or if you share that which is happy or good within you, it will all come back to you multiplied ten thousand times. In the kingdom of love there is no competition; there is no possessiveness or control. The more love you give away, the more love you will have.”
This concept, of course, is not exclusive to the Celtic way of thinking. Rather, it is found in many spiritual traditions around the world.
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” — Proverbs 17:22
It is remarkable to me the number of people I meet who follow a spiritual path but who are not happy; who focus persistently on the negative influences around them. And let me be clear that I do not mean to suggest I don’t struggle with this myself. I struggle with it every day, in fact. Wiccan cosmology concerns itself greatly with the idea of “willed change”. And that speaks to the heart of matter; that what you want, you must will; and what you will, you must be. This brings to mind another famous expression most of us have heard somewhat often; “Be the change you want to see in this world.” Mahatma Gandhi is most often credited with this quote, but that attribution is arguable. It is most likely a paraphrase of any number of thoughts and ideas on the subject. Still, its meaning is important.
Certainly the phrase doesn’t mean to suggest that through positive thinking or personal transformation alone you can change the whole world. We know that is a bit of an over-reach. But it absolutely can transform your little part of the world; the sphere of influences around you. By changing your own attitude toward life, you will change other people’s attitude toward you. This thought is reflected in something we know Gandhi actually did say:
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”
So how do we transform our everyday thinking? How do we transform ourselves from being a persistently negative person to a positive person by nature?
The first step is to begin to identify the positive things we do have in our life, and to both inwardly and outwardly express gratitude for them. Make it a point to begin every day with a devotional practice – it need not be any elaborate ritual or long-winded prayer, merely make a small commitment to take a few moments each morning to say out-loud what you are grateful for in your life, and genuinely feel grateful. Include a prayer in which you thank the Gods for revealing Their blessings, sprinkle in a few moments of transcendental meditation and … *POOF* … you’re on your way to transforming your life! Doing just this alone, with no other effort whatsoever, I have found will transform my entire day. Do it every day and you will transform your week, month, year … you get the picture.
Is it really that simple? Yes. Yes it is. Is there more you can do? Of course! The rest involves changing our daily primary focus, and actively seeking those moments of total abandon and ecstatic joy. As we seek them, we find that they are not so elusive, when we combine our search with a daily devotional practice and a shift in our way of thinking. The last step is actively and willfully transforming negative into positive.