If there’s one fundamental truth about human nature, it’s this: bad habits are hard to break and good habits are hard to make.
Spirituality is an active thing; spirituality without action is just belief. In theory, it’s a two way road. You do things for the universe and it does things for you, however you want to define “universe.” But it isn’t always easy to be active, especially when you’re busy or depressed or just aren’t feeling your spiritual path.
Being a consummate spiritual seeker, I get the apathy thing a lot. Part of it, granted, is apathy masquerading as a carry-over from my childhood. My mother is one of those people who needs to be in control of her space, whether or not others in the household suffer for it, and she does it in a charmingly passive-agressive manner that still never fails to get on our nerves. She’s better about it now that my father and I have learned to set up boundaries and be crystal clear about our respective spaces, but as a kid, I really struggled with it. The major issue was that if I left something undone, she would do it without giving me a chance to clean up after myself. If there was a bowl on the counter for a minute, she would wash it. If there were clothes on my floor for a few hours, she would put them away. A thousand little things like that. Additionally, since I was constantly ill both physically and mentally for most of my young life, I was never assigned routine chores, and even simple things like making my bed were never emphasized. I never learned how to do laundry. I was never grounded.
And the result was that I never learned a proper work ethic. To this day, I unconsciously see anything besides play-time as work and labor and too much effort — I can often force myself to do things when necessary, but any chance that I can take to skive work and procrastinate is taken, whether I intend it or not. If I really want to do something and feel passionate about it, that’s a different story, especially if that thing gets me away from important, boring effort regarding the things I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve always despised this part of myself and have worked furiously to change it, but old habits, especially those that emphasize the easy lifestyle, are incredibly hard to change. Aside from the fact that it’s the right thing to do, there isn’t much motivation to alter a mental habit that allows you to loaf around.
Of course, this loops over into spirituality. Being a ping-pong ball between religions for years, I would do all the right things until it came time to do the hard things, the habit-making things, the rituals and work…and then my attention would lapse and I would make excuses, even to the point of leaving the religion because it was too hard. Although it was partially due to ethical and philosophical disagreements, much of the reason I left Kemeticism was because the natron bath ritual was too time-consuming and difficult and scary. Throughout my two-year exploration of Islam, the one thing I never got around to doing was salat, or the multiple daily prayers, because — you guessed it — it was too much work to learn the prayers and actually do them five times a day.
A lifetime of that makes you feel kind of gross, y’know?
Religion, therefore, has always included some deep measure of guilt, not for sinning (although I had my fair share of that in my conflicted Christian days) but for being a slacker. And remember what I said about how if something was important enough, if I felt passionate enough about it, I could easily do it? Well, there’s the problem — no system of faith could quite elict that passion, and so I bounced from religion to religion in desperation, looking outside myself for motivation instead of looking inward to see the real problem. Catholicism came closest, with its near-pagan variety and its heroic atmosphere and its dead languages, and the only thing standing in my way were Catholics themselves, whom I was deeply suspcious of, and watched carefully for any signs of homophobia or racism or fundamentalism. Which is no way to live. I later realized, of course, the benefits of a solitary path, no matter what religion one follows, but no one ever said I was a quick learner. (In some ways I feel uncomfortable talking about Catholicism in these posts, given that it’s the Pagan Blog Project, but to hell with it, this is my blog, and my rules. If Catholicism plays a big part in my mostly-pagan WIP path, then that’s a part of the Blog Project.)
Having an active spirituality is even harder when you don’t really have a spirituality. I mean, I do, clearly, or I wouldn’t be writing these posts. But being an eclectic whose path resembles nothing in particular, cobbled from my Catholic years and my Muslim years and my pagan years, it’s extraordinarily difficult to figure out the structure of things. What rituals do I use? How do I pray in different circumstances? What are my gods? What are my taboos? And the answer to all of those is “I don’t know,” because they’re all still works in progress. It’s like writing a book in which I’m sure I’ll figure out the plot as I go, but I really could use that knowledge now, and leaving empty scenes in my life as I try to work around the gaps is incredibly frustrating.
I keep asking myself what I want from my path, and the answer I generally get is that I want it to be a way of living. Not just a thing I write about in my journal, or a thing for which I wear symbols, or a thing I read tarot about — a whole lifestyle that influences how I see and interact with the world. A few months back, I did a thought experiment in which I devised a society and religion that seemed, to me, a platonic ideal of my philosophies and needs. Part of that involved creating a daily “religion schedule” — the things I would ideally do upon waking up, before meals, at bedtime, etc. I think to gain any ground on the apathy subject, I need to return to that thought experiment and really develop it. But most of all I’m going to need discipline — which is, of course, one of the main aims of religious devotion, and by using discipline you develop it. I have to remember to Do The Right Thing even when that “passion” isn’t there to motivate me, because sometimes I’m going to be tired or apathetic and I need to learn to push myself when the drive isn’t there.
To start slowly, I want to begin my “religious” day by waking up to an alarm, writing a few pages in my journal, then my washing my hands, feet and face when I get up. I would like to eventually memorize Desiderata and say that every morning and evening as an affirmative prayer. God knows when I can motivate myself to do it, but I’d like to do a short round of yoga every day when I get into my office. In the evening, I’d like to either read something religious at bedtime, or use my prayer beads to relax.
These things all together are not terribly much to ask, take up very little of my day, and could have enormous psychological benefits. If I can do them for a month without procrastinating, I can be fairly sure I’ll stick with them on even hard days — and from there, I can push myself to do more challenging things.
A substantial and long-lasting religious practice is something I’ve always desired, long been envious of, and deeply want to make a pivotal part of my life from which all my other actions revolve around. Spirituality isn’t a game or a once-a-week thing for me, although I’ve been treating it as such for years. Can I do it? We’ll see! But I know for sure that the Blog Project will continue to inspire me to try, to be harder on myself and develop the work ethic I never had a chance to cultivate, simply by virtue of writing things down.
Language is a magical thing.