Trial By Fire

The past few weeks have been nothing short of a roller coaster for me, but it inspired this post, so…that’s a plus!

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Sometimes the Universe will give you lessons in fairly easy or straight-forward ways. Maybe you’ll see someone else go through a hard time and learn from watching their experience. Perhaps a movie, song, or book will lead to a great, life-changing “a-ha” moment for you.

And then sometimes the Universe will just snatch the rug out from under you, throw you in the ocean, or set you on fire and go, “Okay, make it out of that!”

Both approaches get you to (hopefully) the end goal of learning something important about yourself, your life, and/or the world around you. The second set of circumstances, though, often feel unfair when you’re going through it.

“God, there’s an easier way to show me this, isn’t there?”

“Geez, Universe, really? This is what we’re doing now?”

“What did I do wrong, because I must’ve screwed up somewhere to get into this mess.”

Truth is, glass is tempered and shaped in fire. Tripping causes you to use your reflexes to protect yourself, reflexes you might have forgotten about. Being surrounded by water forces you to swim or tread. It’s a daunting task, but wow, do you feel accomplished once you emerge out of it! Even if everything is not 100% perfect yet on the other side, you came out of the fire much stronger than when you went in.

Sometimes it does take a so-called Trial By Fire in order to grow stronger. We need our Dark Night of the Soul because it often forces us to stop, to humble ourselves, and to listen because that is all we can do.

Sometimes, we need to stop.

If we don’t stop, best believe that eventually, the Universe will do it for us. Bluntly.

Still, even in those dark moments, remember that it is a learning cycle. The wheel will turn, and momentum will build again. You will get through this, and you will emerge stronger, more aware, and more in love with life itself than you were before.

You. Will. Get. Through. This.

 

 

Painting, Self-Identity, and Deviation

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On Saturday, I had a chance to do a “paint and sip” afternoon. I wasn’t even going to go at first, but was talked into it by a childhood friend of mine. The experience gave me an interesting look at creativity, our self-identity, and how willing we are to deviate from societal norms.

For these events, we are usually given a beginning sketch, and then are walked through how to essentially duplicate the picture. It’s a genius idea, because the steps are explained in such a way where you would have to really try to mess it up. It’s nearly fool proof. This picture, titled “Golden Goddess,” featured a black woman’s facial outline and shoulder. Everything else would have to be painted in.

I started deviating a bit from the start. I mixed the colors for the skin tone a bit differently, and I decided that I wasn’t going to give her a curly afro like the example because I wanted her to look more like me. I also wasn’t going to be too crazy with her makeup because, again, that wasn’t me. I found myself wishing that I had blue instead of green paint so that I could make purple and really let loose on the color scheme.

Strangely enough, it never crossed my mind to ask for blue paint.

I knew what elements I wanted to add to the painting, but I didn’t because I didn’t feel that I had the resources or access to them…even though there was plenty of blue paint on one of the counters at the front of the room. I didn’t think to ask and instead just sat, wishing.

While in the midst of this mini-crisis, I starting looking at the others’ paintings. Most were following the instructions to the letter. Then I saw one woman who had clearly decided to go a different route. Her finished goddess ended up with pinkish-red bushy hair, a green top instead of a red one, and roses around her instead of circles. It looked awesome.

My finished goddess looked like a halfway point between the example and whatever I wanted. I love her, but I know that she can be more.

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I then started looking at more pictures from the business of other painting parties. I was genuinely curious at how few people tried to deviate from the presenting pictures. There were several where I thought, “Oh, I would’ve added these colors, maybe changed that background into this.” When it came to the painting of a black woman, though, I saw the highest number of deviations to have the subject look more like the painter. So why didn’t I see such deviation with the landscape or object painting classes?

No, I’m not answering or looking to answer that question. This is more simply food for thought. How willing are you to paint outside the lines? Do you prefer to follow the norms, or pivot a little? How much do you pivot? How does art help one deviate a bit more than usual? If you know what you want to create, how willing are you to pursue it?

Monday motivation, indeed.

SG versus Therapy

I’ve said this briefly before, but I have seen this line crossed so many times now that I decided it needs an entire post. Just to forewarn you, this may turn into a bit of a rant because this is a subject near and dear to me.

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Spiritual guidance (SG) and therapy are NOT the same thing. They are also NOT interchangeable.

Speaking as a guide, I would never attempt to diagnose or treat a mental health issue. Even with my background in counseling, I am not licensed, so this is not within my scope of active practice. If I feel that therapy would benefit the client, I will readily and gladly recommend it. Having opportunities to engage in both SG and therapy can be extremely beneficial; it allows for both mental and spiritual healing with professionals working within their proper boundaries and areas of expertise.

Speaking from the experience of working as a therapist, I get alarmed when I see guides start to act more like therapists. Guides have a unique duty and focus, which is the spiritual well-being of the client. This is not the same as the mental well-being. There are many aspects of spiritual practice that, in a mental health setting, may appear to be signs of pathology. Visions could equal hallucinations. A bond with nature may be seen as delusions of grandeur. I like to use the “harm question” to distinguish the two: is this person’s beliefs or experiences causing harm (of any kind) to themselves or others? If not, SG can continue. If so, I will get other professionals involved promptly.

The other issue with blurring this line is the flip side of the coin: guides who are unable to recognize mental health issues at all. I have seen a self-proclaimed guide completely miss what to me were obvious signs of depression in a client, and instead they chastised the client almost relentlessly for being “unmotivated.” The client was called lazy, insubordinate, childish, etc. The “guide” threatened to abandon the client and stop communicating with them if they didn’t do as they were advised.

This is not good therapy or spiritual guidance. Honestly, this isn’t even respectful. This is bullying. Rather than punishing a client for not following instructions (which, by the way, you shouldn’t be spending your time as a guide doing, anyway), a guide would seek to understand the roadblocks that the client is putting up. A good therapist does this as well. There is always a reason for blockages, and they are rarely there just because the client is “lazy.” Punishing the client by fussing at them or threatening to basically abandon them is not going to get you to the reason. It only alienates the client or leads to dependency with the client constantly trying to please the guide. The client in this example should have been referred to a therapist to address the depression symptoms.

I could probably go on forever with this post, but those are some of the bigger issues I’ve seen when two different practices/approaches collide in ways that they shouldn’t.

Can you think of other ways that these lines could be blurred, and/or how to prevent this from happening?

Compassion Fatigue

First…yes, this is a real thing.

There is such a state where you have been giving so much and caring so much that you get physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually tired of it. We even have a more technical name for it: Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS).

Let me make this clear: This does not mean that you are a horrible person.

What it does mean, in basic terms, is that you have been giving more love and positive light than you have been receiving. If you are constantly hit with negative or stressful images, words, situations, and people, then it makes perfect sense that it will eventually take a toll. So, if you are a news buff who doesn’t agree with current government trends who is also trying to take care of your mother (who has dementia) while also volunteering for an animal shelter…yeah, you’re probably going to have STS at some point.

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You’re going to get tired. You’re going to find yourself not caring as much and then feel guilty for not caring as much. You will suddenly find yourself having a shorter fuse, losing or gaining weight, and maybe feeling less assured that the world is not a giant rock of despair. Yes, this is normal…it means you care.

So, being in the midst of STS setup situations myself, I started creating a routine “care schedule” for myself. Some of these really basic items include:

  • Going for a walk, or spending time in nature.
  • In lieu of the first one, taking a shower and leaving the house at least once a day (even if it’s just to sit at a park or get a coffee)
  • Not watching the news 24/7. Don’t get me wrong, I keep up with it in general, but I don’t watch any 24 hour news channels.
  • Meditating. This one can be life changing.
  • Having a couple of guilty pleasures. For me, it’s Pokemon Go (yep, I’m one of 10 people that still plays it), and two music groups I’m supposedly too old to like (BTS and 5 Seconds of Summer…don’t go judging me, lol). Also, little wonder why I get along with kids/young people so well…
  • Doing some kind of spiritual work for myself or others. This doesn’t seem to drain me at all, and I believe it is because when I’m doing anything spiritual, I am pulling from the overflow of Spirit/the Universe, and not my own reserves.

Right now, it can be a pretty difficult time for a lot of people, especially in my generation. Our parents are getting older, so we may be starting to take on caregiving roles. We have an absurd amount of financial instability thanks to everything from student loans to low wages. The political atmosphere here in the States (regardless of what side you’re on) is just…annoying as hell, to put it extremely lightly. Please take care of yourselves during this time. Also, feel free to give other ideas (either here or on your own blogs) on how you battle STS.

If you do a post about this subject, link it in the comments section!

Also, check out my previous post “To The Strong Ones” that also touches on this subject.

 

 

Be Still

This was inspired by a conversation I had with my grandfather and a video I posted on my Instagram (@sparcguidance) about the same subject.

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I am definitely one of those people who feels like they must always be doing something. If I’m not working, I feel like I’m wasting time and energy. I hate if I oversleep, even if I was up late the night before. Not seeing daily progress makes me antsy. Even if I try to have a PJ Day (you know, staying in your pajamas for the entire day), I feel guilty and stagnant.

As I vented all of these things to my grandfather, he calmly replied, “To me, it sounds like you need to just slow down for a moment. Everyone is always in a hurry to do something. When you get to my age, you’ll wish you sat still more often.”

At first, this made no sense to me. Are you kidding? This is the time to do all of the running, because I certainly don’t want to be trying to “hustle” in my 80’s. Then I thought about it. When we speed ahead, we tend to miss the signs. We miss the signals that the universe is trying to give us. I realized that I had missed a lot of previous signs to slow down. Now, I was in a place where I had no choice but to slow down because nothing was working out the way I wanted it to. Possibly more important, I was so busy trying to race ahead that I was missing a lot of beautiful things along the way. That was what I think my grandfather was really getting at. I wasn’t enjoying the scenery.

So, as we embark on the summer kick-off, take time out to enjoy the season. Literally stop and smell the roses (unless you have allergies like me…then please don’t). Go by the beach to catch the sunrise or sunset. Eat some summer fruit during your break. Above all, take time to be still. We are always running, coming, and going. Surely we can afford a few minutes (or even seconds) to take a breath and be still, can’t we?